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February 19, 2016
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Donald Trump's double-digit lead in South Carolina has dwindled to a close race. Trump now leads Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz by just five points in South Carolina, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released Friday — down from 16 points a month ago.

Real Clear Politics, which averages several polls, still shows Trump with a big lead of 33 percent to Cruz's 18 percent.

The NBC/WSJ/Marist poll was conducted Feb. 15-17, surveying 722 likely Republican primary voters. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percent. Jeva Lange

9:42 a.m. ET
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During one of the most memorable moments of Monday's presidential debate, Hillary Clinton evoked former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado to illustrate Donald Trump's misogynistic and racist way of speaking about women. But even as Trump has doubled-down on criticizing Machado's weight, rumors have arisen of the Venezuelan beauty queen's alleged involvement in a murder plot in her home country. Given a chance to respond to the allegations Tuesday, Machado told Anderson Cooper, "You know, I have my past. Of course, everybody has a past. I'm not a saint girl. But that is not the point now."

Cooper had brought up the 1998 incident in which Machado was accused of driving a getaway car for a murder, but was never charged. "The judge in the case also said you threatened to kill him after he indicted your boyfriend for the attempted murder. I just want to give you a chance to address these reports that the Trump surrogates are talking about," Cooper said.

Machado said that the reports "are not the point now." "That moment in Venezuela was wrong, was another speculation about my life because I am a really famous person in my country," she said.

"[Trump] can say whatever he wants to say," Machado added. "I don't care." Jeva Lange

9:41 a.m. ET
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Donald Trump is down a state director in Georgia. On Tuesday, the Trump campaign's Georgia state director Brandon Phillips resigned after local news station Channel 2 Action News uncovered that in 2008, Phillips was arrested and pled guilty to charges of criminal trespassing and battery for destroying a laptop and slashing someone's tires. Phillips was slapped with a $1,500 fine and three years probation, though he was released from probation after a year.

Then, shortly after being released from probation in 2009, Phillips was reportedly arrested for "an alleged altercation involving a gun," Talking Points Memo reported. The charges were later dropped after he completed a "pretrial diversion program."

Phillips played a role in securing Trump's victory in the Georgia presidential primary and he also worked to "wrangle skeptical Peach State Republican delegates to support Trump's nomination at the party's July convention," The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported.

Billy Kirkland, a senior adviser for Trump in Georgia, will reportedly take over Phillips' role. Becca Stanek

8:54 a.m. ET

Hillary Clinton has emerged from the first presidential debate with a small bounce in the polls, Politico/Morning Consult has found. In a four-way race for president, Clinton is up three points among likely voters at 41 percent to Trump's 38 percent; in a poll just prior to the debate, Trump was ahead by one point.

There weren't terribly many minds changed after watching the debate, though. Politico/Morning Consult found that only nine percent of likely voters switched who they are going to vote for after what they saw Monday night. Still, the record-breaking audiences were apparently glued to the screen, with 55 percent of viewers polled watching the entire 95 minutes, half saying they would watch it again, and 62 percent agreeing the whole affair was "entertaining." (Comparatively, over a third of people thought it was "depressing.")

Contrary to the Trump campaign's boasts, most viewers in the Politico/Morning Consult poll think Hillary Clinton was the winner of the debate — 49 percent said so, compared to 26 percent who said Trump was the winner. Eighteen percent of Republicans even thought Clinton won.

The polls were conducted online Monday and Tuesday, reaching 1,253 likely voters. The margin of error was 3 points. Jeva Lange

8:39 a.m. ET
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Donald Trump's advisers may have publicly praised his performance in the first presidential debate, but in private they're reportedly fretting about how to fix the candidate's missteps before the second debate on Oct. 9. The New York Times reported Wednesday that Trump's team is rolling out a revamped strategy for Trump's debate prep — and this time, he will be practicing:

Some of the advisers want to practice getting under his skin, as Mrs. Clinton did, to gauge his response, but they offered no details about doing so. Others wanted practice sessions built around the next debate's format, a town-hall-style meeting, where Mr. Trump is likely to engage with undecided voters asking him questions and, at times, move from his chair to walk the stage. Mr. Trump has little experience with the format, which can be challenging for people who do not practice managing their body language and movements.

Several advisers also want to impress upon him the need to stick to a strategy and a plan of battle against a female candidate — the kind of opponent he has less experience facing — rather than spend time polishing a string of disparate zingers that Mrs. Clinton, a skilled debater, was able to easily parry Monday night. [The New York Times]

Unlike Trump's preparation the first time around, which consisted mainly of informal conversations with advisers, his advisers will reportedly encourage him to practice with a podium and do mock debates. And his advisers are going to push him to carry his successes in the first 30 minutes of the debate through to the very end — instead of, as The New York Times put it, growing "erratic, impatient, and subdued."

Head to The New York Times for more on Team Trump's frustrations with the first debate and strategies for the second. Becca Stanek

8:33 a.m. ET
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A black man was fatally shot by police in El Cajon, California, on Tuesday afternoon, after officers responded to a call saying that he was "not acting like himself" and endangering himself by walking in traffic.

Officers say Alfred Orlango, 30, "failed to comply" when they arrived on the scene, and allegedly kept his hands in his pockets as he paced around. He then "rapidly drew an object from his front pants pocket, placed both hands together, and extended them rapidly toward the officer," police say. One of the officers responded by discharging a Taser, while the other officer shot the man multiple times.

Orlango was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Police have since determined that Orlango was not armed, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Friends say Orlango was "mentally ill and had a mental breakdown that caused him to act out in the minutes leading up to the shooting," The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The woman who called police claimed she mentioned in the call that Orlango was mentally ill.

A crowd of about 200 people gathered at the scene of the shooting Tuesday night in protest. Becca Stanek

8:30 a.m. ET
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On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif), the ranking Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees, released a statement accusing Russian intelligence of "making a serious and concerted effort to influence the U.S. election," adding that "such actions could come only from very senior levels of the Russian government." The White House first asked Schiff and Feinstein to remove a part due to classification concerns, then had sought to delay that statement, first for one day, then three, says Ali Watkins at BuzzFeed News, citing "sources familiar with the matter," apparently both from Congress.

The White House has not publicly accused Russia of hacking Democratic organizations, though intelligence sources have blamed Russia for months, and one of the congressional sources told Watkins, "You can't have the White House telling a legislative body how to operate.... And [we] thought it was important." Watkins did not speculate directly on what might be motivating Obama, nor did her sources, but she did note that "one intelligence official told BuzzFeed News that, by confirming Russia’s role in the hacks, it could effectively validate the public’s concern over the security of the upcoming election. 'Do you really want that shitstorm?' the official said." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Peter Weber

8:04 a.m. ET
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A two-year Dutch-led investigation has reportedly confirmed that the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Ukraine in 2014, was hit by a Russian missile. Russia has denied the allegations, including that pro-Russian rebels were responsible for the missile that resulted in the deaths of 298 people.

Relatives of the MH17 victims were briefed on the investigation's findings ahead of a news conference, The Associated Press reports. "Investigators said they had proof, including communications intercepts and radar data, that a mobile Buk missile launcher had been moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia, then was returned after the Boeing 777 was destroyed," AP wrote based on information from Hans de Borst, whose 17-year-old daughter was a victim.

Investigators aren't expected to name who they think was responsible for the missile being launched, but that the findings are ultimately intended to serve as evidence in a criminal trial at an unspecified future date and time.

Russia said Monday they have radio-location data proving the missile was not launched from rebel-controlled territory, and that they will turn it over to investigators. Jeva Lange

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