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July 7, 2016

The San Diego County medical examiner ruled the death of James Derek Lovelace, 21, during Navy SEAL training a homicide.

Lovelace was participating in a training exercise May 6 in the pool area of the Naval Amphibious Base on Coronado when he was observed in distress in the water, the autopsy report, released Wednesday, states. During the exercise, an unnamed Navy instructor repeatedly dunked him underwater over the course of five minutes, the report says, something that SEAL instructors are not supposed to do. The report concluded that while the incident could be viewed as an accident, "actions, or inactions, of the instructors and other individuals involved were excessive and directly contributed to the death."

Only 25 percent of candidates make it through the grueling six-month SEAL course without dropping out, and Lovelace, of Crestview, Florida, was in his first week. The pool training is called "combat swimmer orientation," and the candidates must swim and tread water while wearing masks, boots, and fatigues. Lovelace previously had been treated for asthma and a heart abnormality, which the report says could have been a contributing factor in his death. While Lovelace is at least the fifth SEAL candidate to die during training in the last three decades, this is believed to be the first time a candidate's death has been ruled a homicide, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Navy is still investigating the incident and has not yet decided if charges will be filed. Catherine Garcia

7:08 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's fellow defenders have not embraced Ed Whelan's elaborate multi-tweet theory that Christine Blasey Ford is accusing the wrong specific man of holding her down, groping her, and stifling her screams as he tried to remove her clothes at a high school house party in the early 1980s. Ford said there was "zero chance" she would confuse Kavanaugh with the other man, now a middle school teacher whom Ford said she "socialized" with in high school and has since visited in the hospital.

Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House distanced themselves from Whelan's doppelgänger theory. But Whelan "had told people around him that he had spent several days putting together the theory and thought it was more convincing than her story," The Washington Post reports, citing "two friends who had talked to him." And he wasn't the only one considering the idea, the Post says. "Kavanaugh and his allies have been privately discussing a defense that would not question whether an incident involving Ford happened, but instead would raise doubts that the attacker was Kavanaugh, according to a person familiar with the discussions."

Whelan, a former clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia and former White House colleague of Kavanaugh's, has been an adviser on Kavanaugh's confirmation push along with his friend Leonard Leo, the head of the Federalist Society. His mistaken-identity theory was not well-received on Twitter, but if he really believes it to be true, Whelan probably has enough clout to get President Trump to order an FBI investigation. Peter Weber

5:47 a.m. ET

Congressional Republicans planned to run for re-election on their biggest legislative accomplishment, the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul they passed in December with zero Democratic votes. Taxes are the top issue in GOP ads, mentioned in a third of those that ran Aug. 29 to Sept. 12, USA Today reports, but more than two-thirds of those ads attacked Democrats rather than defending the GOP tax cuts. An internal survey commissioned by the Republican National Committee suggests why: By a 2-to-1 margin, voters believe the tax cuts benefit "large corporations and rich Americans" over "middle class families," according to Bloomberg News, which obtained the poll.

The survey, completed Sept. 2, found that 61 percent of voters said the tax overhaul helps the rich while 30 percent picked the middle class. Independents agreed about the wealthy benefiting by 36 percentage points. Overall, 44 percent of voters approved of the law, 45 percent opposed it. "Voters are evenly divided on the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act," the report said. "But, we've lost the messaging battle on the issue." (According to the Tax Policy Center, 25 percent of the law's gains will accrue to the top 1 percent by 2025, rising to 83 percent for the top 1 percent by 2027.)

"Most voters believe that the GOP wants to cut back on" programs like Social Security and Medicare "to provide tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy," the RNC survey concludes, attributing this to "a fairly disciplined Democrat attack against the recent tax cuts." Clearly, Democrats running on ObamaCare and Republicans shying from touting tax cuts was not how Republicans thought this would play out. "If we can't sell this to the American people," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the Senate passed the tax bill, "we ought to go into another line of work." Peter Weber

4:15 a.m. ET

President Trump visited North Carolina on Wednesday, after the waters of Hurricane Florence had subsided in some communities, and he had a lot of things to say about boats, telling the owner of one destroyed home that at least he "got a nice boat out of the deal," Stephen Colbert noted on Thursday's Late Show. "His comments are so disturbingly inappropriate relative to this tragedy, the only way we could make them remotely palatable is to turn them into a children's book. So gather round, kids, it's time to read a little book we at The Late Show put together called Whose Boat Is This Boat? Comments That Don't Help in the Aftermath of a Hurricane. Just a quick reminder, these are all actual things that he said to the storm-ravaged people." Also, the illustrations are actually pretty great. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:29 a.m. ET

On Thursday, ABC News reported that Michael Cohen, President Trump's longtime personal lawyer and "fixer," has spent hours talking to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators about Trump's dealings with Russia and whether he had offered Cohen a pardon, which could amount to obstruction of justice.

The ABC News report cited "sources" for its scoop, but ABC's Meridith McGraw captured a tweet from Cohen's account, quickly deleted, seeming to confirm (in the third person) that Cohen had volunteered "critical information to the #MuellerInvestigation without a cooperation agreement."

Journalist Yashar Ali suggested that Cohen had been test-writing a tweet for someone else, and he appeared to be right, when Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis posted the tweet from his own account.

But Davis had a different explanation:

The bottom line would seem to be firsthand confirmation that Cohen is cooperating with Mueller. And that's potentially bad news for Trump. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m. ET
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As Terry Lauerman can attest, there's no better place to enjoy a cat nap than at an animal rescue.

Lauerman, 75, visits the Safe Haven Pet Sanctuary in Green Bay, Wisconsin, every day. The shelter's founder, Elizabeth Feldhausen, told HuffPost on Thursday that Lauerman walked into the facility about six months ago, armed with a cat brush, and said he wanted to help with grooming. Safe Haven rescues cats with disabilities that otherwise would likely be euthanized, and Lauerman spends about three hours a day there. During each visit, Lauerman will pick up a cat, start brushing it, and then doze off, still holding the feline.

Lauerman will sleep "for about an hour, then he'll wake up and switch cats," Feldhausen said. He knows all the cats, she said, and told her volunteering is "as great of an experience for him as it is for them." On Facebook this week, the shelter wrote a post praising Lauerman, and it immediately went viral. Lauerman said he hopes the attention will result in more donations to Safe Haven, and he also praised his fellow volunteers. Safe Haven is grateful for his dedication, writing on Facebook, "We are so lucky to have a human like Terry." Catherine Garcia

1:58 a.m. ET
Nhac Nguyen/AFP/Getty Images

Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang died Friday from a "serious illness despite efforts by domestic and international doctors and professors,” state-run Vietnam Television reports. He was 61. Quang was appointed president in April 2016, and he last appeared in public on Wednesday, at a Politburo meeting and a reception for a Chinese delegation. He was one of three top leaders in the nation, along with the prime minister and Communist Party chief, and experts described his role as largely ceremonial. Before becoming president, Quang served as minister of public security, and before that he was a police general. He grew up in a small farming community south of Hanoi. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m. ET
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Republican activist Steven Alembik wants the world to know he's not a racist, and he used a bunch of slurs to prove it.

On Sept. 8, Alembik tweeted that former President Barack Obama is a "F---ing MUSLIM N----r." When asked about this tweet by Politico on Wednesday, he at first said he didn't think he wrote it. After looking at the tweet, which he deleted after speaking to Politico, Alembik acknowledged he use the N-word after Obama made an unflattering remark about the Republican Party. But he is not a racist, Alembik explained. "When I write anything inflammatory, it's because I'm seriously pissed off. I'm an emotional human being."

On the apparent theory that digging a gigantic hole is better than a small one, Alembik kept talking. "So somebody like Chris Rock can get up onstage and use the word and there's no problem?" he asked. "But some white guy says it and he's a racist? Really?" Alembik grew up in New York in the '50s, he told Politico, and then proceeded to use a string of racial slurs against Jews, blacks, and Latinos to show that back in the good old days, everyone was calling each other names based on their religion and ethnicity.

Alembik has donated more than $22,000 over the years to Ron DeSantis, Florida's Republican gubernatorial nominee, and hooked DeSantis up with a speech at Mar-a-Lago. In a statement to Politico, campaign spokesman Stephen Lawson called the tweet "disgusting rhetoric" and said DeSantis condemned it. When asked by The Associated Press if DeSantis would return any of the money he received from Alembik, Lawson said no, it has already been spent, but DeSantis will not accept any additional donations from him. For more on Alembik and DeSantis' own controversial statements, visit Politico. Catherine Garcia

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