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January 26, 2016

Last week, British government investigators accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "probably" ordering the murder of critic and one-time KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. The U.S. isn't going that far, but a high-ranking U.S. Treasury official is calling Putin corrupt, on the record with BBC Panorama, for its show on "Putin's Secret Riches"

"We've seen him enriching his friends, his close allies, and marginalizing those who he doesn't view as friends using state assets," said Adam Szubin, the acting U.S. Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, in charge of U.S. sanctions. "Whether that's Russia's energy wealth, whether it's other state contracts, he directs those to whom he believes will serve him and excludes those who don't. To me, that is a picture of corruption." Putin "supposedly draws a state salary of something like $110,000 a year," Szubin added. "That is not an accurate statement of the man's wealth, and he has long time training and practices in terms of how to mask his actual wealth."

So just how wealthy is Putin? That's one of the closest guarded secrets in Russia. Szubin declined to comment on an apparently secret 2007 CIA report that estimated Putin's worth at $40 billion, but in the video below, Russian journalist Stanislav Belkovsky gave Panorama that same number, $40 billion in assets, a number he says he drew from his "confidential sources." "I'm still sure Putin is the richest man in Europe, one of the richest men in the world," Belkovsky said.

In 2008, Putin colorfully dismissed the claim that he was Europe's wealthiest man, saying "it's simply rubbish. They just picked all of it out of someone's nose and smeared it across their little papers." Regarding the new allegations, Putin's spokesman told the BBC that "none of these questions or issues needs to be answered, as they are pure fiction." The BBC also noted that "President Putin declined to be interviewed for Panorama." Peter Weber

1:37 p.m. ET
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Bill Cosby will go to trial over a sexual assault case dating back to 2004, a judge ruled Tuesday in a preliminary hearing. Cosby's team had argued that the case was based on hearsay and shouldn't be tried, but the judge ruled that there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial. The 78-year-old comedian faces three counts of felony indecent assault against Andrea Constand, an employee at his alma mater, Temple University. Constand was the first of more than 50 women to come forward and accuse Cosby of sexual assault over several decades of his career.

Cosby is due back for arraignment on July 20, when a trial date will be set. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison. Becca Stanek

12:55 p.m. ET
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Late BMX legend Dave Mirra has become the first action sports athlete to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, ESPN reports. The neurodegenerative brain disease, commonly known as CTE, is linked to dementia and depression and is thought to be caused by repeated trauma to the head.

Mirra died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Feb. 4, and his wife Lauren told ESPN that in the months and weeks leading up to his death, he "wasn't himself," becoming oddly distant or wildly emotional. "When I looked at him, I could see straight through him," she said. "He was lost, he was helpless."

Mirra's brain was examined by University of Toronto neuropathologist Dr. Lili-Naz Hazrati, who said there was evidence of abnormal tau protein deposits, the trademark indicator of CTE. In his BMX career, Mirra endured several concussions, and in addition to a fractured skull sustained at 19 in a car accident, he briefly tried boxing after he retired from biking. Hazrati said Mirra's brain was indistinguishable from those of CTE-diagnosed former hockey and football players. "The key is brain injury," Hazrati told ESPN. "Regardless of how you get it … you are at risk for this."

Lauren Mirra received her late husband's diagnosis in March, but her interview with ESPN published Tuesday is the first time she's spoken publicly on the subject. Read the whole thing here. Kimberly Alters

12:33 p.m. ET
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Romera Jucá, the interim planning minister of Brazil, has stepped down in disgrace less than two weeks after taking office. The reason? Leaked recordings apparently show him plotting to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office in order to end the investigation into the "Car Wash" corruption scandal, Folha de São Paulo reports. The scandal involves alleged money laundering and kickbacks at Petrobras, the state-owned oil company, and in the recording Jucá speaks with former oil executive Sergio Machado. Both men are targets of the investigation.

Rousseff has been suspended from the presidency since May 12, when impeachment proceedings against her were initiated over a different scandal involving alleged manipulation of government accounts. Seven of the 24 people interim President Michel Temer appointed to his cabinet are subjects of the Car Wash investigation, and Temer himself was recently fined for violating campaign finance rules.

In the recordings, Jucá speaks of a "national pact," apparently involving both the military (which has surrounded Rousseff's house) and several members of Brazil's Supreme Court, which he says will quash the investigation as soon as she is removed from office. Ryan Cooper

12:27 p.m. ET
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Dave Eggers, Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Cheryl Strayed, Amy Tan, Stephen Elliott, and Jonathan Lethem are among hundreds of novelists, poets, and essayists to have signed a scathing "open letter to the American people" opposing the candidacy of Donald Trump.

"As writers, we are particularly aware of the many ways that language can be abused in the name of power," the letter begins, going on to list numerous objections to Trump. "Knowledge, experience, flexibility, and historical awareness are indispensable in a leader," the letter reads, while "the history of dictatorship is the history of manipulation and diversion, demagoguery and lies."

The letter has received more than 450 signatures and is calling for more:

So far the list includes 10 Pulitzer Prize winners as well as dozens of other award-winning authors. See the full list of signatories at LitHub. Jeva Lange

11:42 a.m. ET
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All in all, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is pretty pleased with his performance in the 2016 Republican presidential race. Despite suspending his campaign in March after losing his home state, Rubio told The Guardian in an interview published Tuesday that, in any other election cycle, his campaign would've been solid. "A lot of times it feels almost like the guy who built this really strong building," Rubio said of the GOP contest, "and it was in the right place, and it was the way these buildings have always been built, but he got hit by a Category 5 hurricane."

That hurricane? Donald Trump. "It's not that we lost," Rubio said, "it's that Donald Trump won."

Read Rubio's full take on the election — including the one debate moment he's still kicking himself over — at The Guardian. Becca Stanek

11:36 a.m. ET
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Nyquist, the racehorse who won the 2016 Kentucky Derby earlier this month, will not compete in the Belmont Stakes on June 11. Trainer Doug O'Neill told Daily Racing Forum Tuesday morning that Nyquist has an elevated white blood cell count as well as a slight fever, and will be treated with antibiotics and remain at Pimlico Race Course stables in Maryland rather than be shipped to New York for the Belmont Stakes.

Nyquist's Triple Crown hopes were dashed May 21 at the Preakness Stakes when he was bested by rival Exaggerator. Trainers had hoped the Belmont Stakes would be the "rubber match" between the horses. Kimberly Alters

10:54 a.m. ET
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China is constructing its first space tracking, telemetry, and command facility outside of its borders in Patagonia, Argentina, and some critics are already expressing concerns that it will be doing more than just looking at the stars.

Chinese military personnel will reportedly operate the space center, although officials have claimed the antenna is "totally civilian, and is not operated by military personnel." While the official purpose of the project is to monitor the moon, others believe that it could also be used to intercept communications from foreign nations' satellites.

The Diplomat points out that in 2015, the former representative of Argentina to the Arms Trade Treaty said the base would have a dual use. It would possess "the capacity to interfere with communications, electronic networks, electromagnetic systems" as well as "the capacity for receiving information about the launching of missiles and other space activities, including of drones, and movement of strategic arms. It has the capacity to collect information of enormous sensitivity in the eventuality of a military competition."

What critics also say is concerning is that China has used this "peaceful use" excuse before — in its highly controversial annexation of islands in the South China Sea.

The space station will be operable beginning March 2017. Jeva Lange

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