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July 19, 2016

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) might need to review the definition of plagiarism. In an interview with the Today show Tuesday morning, Christie said there was no way, as a former prosecutor, he could make the case that Melania Trump plagiarized portions of Michelle Obama's 2008 speech at the Democratic convention in her address to the Republican National Convention on Monday night. "Not when 93 percent of the speech is completely different than Michelle Obama's speech," Christie said.

That other 7 percent, Christie said, was just the two expressing "some common thoughts." "Almost word for word," Today host Matt Lauer chimed in.

Watch the exchange, below. Becca Stanek

1:19 p.m. ET

President Trump called for the deportation of Guo Wengui, a fugitive Chinese businessman living in New York City, but was talked out of the plot by aides who, amongst other things, noted that Guo is a member of Trump's Mar-a-Lago club, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Some U.S. national security officials view Mr. Guo, who claims to have potentially valuable information on top Chinese officials and business magnates and on North Korea, as a useful bargaining chip to use with Beijing," The Wall Street Journal adds.

Guo has been a thorn in the side of Chinese authorities, publicly alleging the corruption of high-up officials. Because the U.S. and China do not have an extradition agreement, Beijing has gone as far as to send agents on fraudulent visas to put pressure on Guo at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, where he lives.

The Chinese government has tried to reach Guo in other ways, too — by sending Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn to personally deliver a letter denouncing Guo to President Trump:

"Where's the letter that Steve brought?' Mr. Trump called to his secretary [in an Oval Office meeting in June]. "We need to get this criminal out of the country," Mr. Trump said, according to the people. Aides assumed the letter, which was brought into the Oval Office, might reference a Chinese national in trouble with U.S. law enforcement, the people said.

The letter, in fact, was from the Chinese government, urging the U.S. to return Mr. Guo to China.

The document had been presented to Mr. Trump at a recent private dinner at the White House, the people said. It was hand-delivered to the president by Mr. Wynn, the Republican National Committee finance chairman, whose Macau casino empire cannot operate without a license from the Chinese territory. [The Wall Street Journal]

Read the full report at The Wall Street Journal. Jeva Lange

11:54 a.m. ET
ALEX BRANDON/AFP/Getty Images

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Monday, where he signaled the U.S.'s desire for a peaceful resolution to the 16-year war in the country. Tillerson appealed to "moderate voices among the Taliban" during the unannounced trip, going so far as to hypothetically offer government posts to such individuals.

"There are, we believe, moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever. ... So we are looking to engage with those voices and have them engage in a reconciliation process leading to a peace process and their full involvement and participation in the government," Tillerson said, per The Associated Press. "There's a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan."

Foreign Policy notes that Tillerson's covert trip is likely a reflection of the Trump administration's larger plans for the country:

Tillerson said the United States wanted to make it clear to the Taliban and other militants that the United States was in Afghanistan for the long haul and the militants would not prevail militarily. [...]

The diplomatic overture signals the Trump administration's eagerness to wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. In August, [President] Trump pledged open-ended support for Afghanistan following fierce internal debates and foot-dragging after having campaigned on ending the costly 16-year war. [Foreign Policy]

Read more about Tillerson's trip at The Associated Press. Kimberly Alters

11:10 a.m. ET

The infrastructure devastation and civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led coalition siege to retake Raqqa, the Islamic State's de facto capital in Syria, is comparable to the World War II carpet bombing of Dresden, Germany, the Russian defense ministry charged in a statement Monday.

"Raqqa has inherited the fate of Dresden in 1945, wiped off the face of the Earth by Anglo-American bombardments," said Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, alleging that coalition humanitarian aid projects in the aftermath of the fight are motivated at least in part by an effort to conceal the extent of the damage. Moscow's embassy to the United Kingdom tweeted a photo comparison:

An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the Dresden bombardment; the number of coalition-caused deaths in Raqqa is as yet unknown, but estimates are usually in the hundreds rather than thousands.

Russia is not the first to draw attention to the high civilian casualty rate of the anti-ISIS campaign. In June, United Nations war crimes investigators reported that increased coalition airstrikes produced "staggering loss of civilian life" and led to "160,000 civilians fleeing their homes and becoming internally displaced." U.N. investigators have also accused Russia of committing war crimes in Syria by performing airstrikes that violate international law. Bonnie Kristian

10:44 a.m. ET
Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

Nine months into his administration, President Trump's tweets have fallen into a familiar topical groove: Trump's suffering at the hands of the media, his suffering at the hands of Democrats, his suffering at the hands of Republicans, his suffering at the hands of the basic constitutional structure of governance of the United States — you get it. But one topic on which Trump's feed has been comparatively silent of late is Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, including whether Mueller should be fired.

Per a Monday report from Politico, that's because White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who joined Trump's team over the summer, has convinced the president of the serious legal risks of public comment while the probe is underway.

"It's one thing to have an adviser to tell you, 'Boy, if you say this it's not good politics, it's not good for us,'" said Solomon Wisenberg, who worked on Kenneth Starr's investigation of former President Bill Clinton. "It's another thing to have your white-collar lawyer say, 'This is extremely harmful to you legally to say this.'"

Cobb himself told Politico that he could not "take credit for the change in the president's tone on Russia," praising Chief of Staff John Kelly and Trump himself for helping to effect the difference. Still, Cobb said, Trump's new tact on this issue has fostered a "good relationship in terms of trust" between Mueller and the White House. Bonnie Kristian

10:34 a.m. ET

On Monday, NBC's Megyn Kelly responded to claims by former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that in his 20 years at the network, nobody ever complained about his behavior as being inappropriate. "O'Reilly's suggestion that nobody ever complained about his behavior is false," Kelly said on Megyn Kelly Today. "I know because I complained."

The New York Times reported this weekend that Fox News renewed O'Reilly's contract after agreeing to a $32 million sexual harassment settlement with a longtime analyst. O'Reilly was ultimately ousted from Fox News in April over mounting allegations. Kelly, who accused former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes of harassment, worked at the network until switching to NBC in January.

On her show Monday, Kelly quoted O'Reilly, who in 2016 claimed he was not "interested" in sexual harassment because it made his company look bad. "Perhaps he didn't realize that his exact attitude of shaming women into shutting the hell up on the grounds that it would disgrace the company is in part how Fox News got into the decades-long Ailes mess to begin with," Kelly said, reading from a never-before-publicized email she sent to Fox News' presidents in November 2016.

With a deep breath, Kelly concluded: "This is not unique to Fox News. Women everywhere are used to being dismissed, ignored, or attacked when raising complaints about men in authority positions. They stay silent so often out of fear." Watch below. Jeva Lange

10:19 a.m. ET
ED JONES/AFP/Getty Images

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has revealed a secret letter her office received from North Korea asking for help to divert the Trump administration from nuclear war. The letter is believed to be one of several covert communications Pyongyang has sent to multiple Western governments, an unprecedented move by the isolated regime.

"If Trump thinks that he would bring the DPRK, a nuclear power, to its knees through nuclear war threat, it will be a big miscalculation and an expression of ignorance," the document warns. "The DPRK has emerged a fully-fledged nuclear power which has a strong nuclear arsenal and various kinds of nuclear delivery means made by dint of self-reliance and self-development. The real foe of nuclear force is a nuclear war itself."

Thus, the letter continues, North Korea's foreign ministry has taken "this opportunity to express belief that the parliaments of different countries loving independence, peace, and justice will fully discharge their due mission and duty in realizing the desire of mankind for international justice and peace with sharp vigilance against the heinous and reckless moves of the Trump administration trying to drive the world into a horrible nuclear disaster."

Bishop said she views the communication as a sign that a firm stance toward Pyongyang is working, while Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull dismissed it as "ranting and complaining about Donald Trump." The Independent has inquired whether the United Kingdom received a similar letter. Bonnie Kristian

9:41 a.m. ET
South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images

The U.S. Air Force is poised to return nuclear-equipped B-52 bombers to ready-to-fly positions on runways at the Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, Defense One reports. The planes used to be a fixture on the runways during the Cold War, but have not been on 24-hour alert status since 1991. "The world is a dangerous place and we've got folks that are talking openly about use of nuclear weapons," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein explained to Defense One. "It's no longer a bipolar world where it's just us and the Soviet Union. We've got other players out there who have nuclear capability."

While the order to prepare nuclear-armed planes on the Barksdale runways hasn't been given officially yet, Goldfein said preparations are being made in anticipation of it being issued:

Already, various improvements have been made to prepare Barksdale — home to the 2d Bomb Wing and Air Force Global Strike Command, which oversees the service's nuclear forces — to return B-52s to an alert posture. Near the alert pads, an old concrete building — where B-52 crews during the Cold War would sleep, ready to run to their aircraft and take off at a moment's notice — is being renovated.

Inside, beds are being installed for more than 100 crew members, more than enough room for the crews that would man bombers positioned on the nine alert pads outside. There's a recreation room, with a pool table, TVs, and a shuffleboard table. [Defense One]

"This is yet one more step in ensuring that we're prepared," said Goldfein. "I look at it more as not planning for any specific event, but more for the reality of the global situation we find ourselves in and how we ensure we're prepared going forward." Read the full report at Defense One. Jeva Lange

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