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November 7, 2016

On Sunday, 10 days after upending the 2016 presidential race by informing Congress that the FBI found new emails potentially "pertinent" to the Hillary Clinton email investigation, FBI Director James Comey said never mind, telling Congress that after reviewing "all the communications that were to or from Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state," the FBI has "not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July," when Comey had said no reasonable prosecutor would indict Clinton. Donald Trump, who has been saying on the campaign trail that the new emails would certainly lead to criminal charges, took a new tack after Comey's announcement.

Clinton is "being protected by a rigged system," Trump said at a rally in Michigan. "You can't review 650,000 new emails in eight days. You can't do it, folks."

Trump doesn't use a computer, so maybe he gets a pass. But Trump wasn't the only one touting the idea that computers at America's top domestic law enforcement agency can't check text at a rate of more than 1 email per second. Bernard Kerik, a former New York City police commissioner, and retired Gen. Michael Flynn, a top Trump adviser and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, had remarkably similar responses:

So, how long should it take? Your laptop could analyze those emails in minutes or hours, according to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden:

The idea that it's not particularly time-consuming to check 650,000 searchable electronic documents shouldn't have been much of a surprise to anyone who has searched through their own email inbox, or used Google.

As it turns out, a "senior law enforcement official" told NBC News, nearly all of the pertinent emails on the laptop shared by Anthony Weiner and Clinton aide Huma Abedin were duplicates of those already seen by the FBI, and the handful that were new were unrelated to government business. Peter Weber

12:54 p.m. ET
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Stephen Bannon wrapped up more than 11 hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, where his refusal to answer questions repeatedly frustrated lawmakers. Bannon reportedly invoked executive privilege, telling the committee that he couldn't answer their questions about anything he was involved with after the election because he'd been advised not to by the White House.

As it turns out, Bannon and the White House were practically on a direct line. Bannon's lawyer, Bill Burck, advised his client on what questions he could or could not answer by speaking on the phone "in real time" with the White House counsel's office, The Associated Press reports, based on a conversation with someone who was not authorized to talk about the arrangement publicly. "We said to Bannon, 'Don't answer those questions because we haven't agreed to that scope under the process,'" a White House official told CNBC.

In a different version of events, a person close to Bannon told CBS News that "Bannon's lawyer related topics about the transition and administration to the White House, and they told him that he was not authorized to answer questions on those topics unless the committee reached an accommodation with the White House on the proper scope of questioning."

In addition to being slapped with a subpoena at the House Intelligence Committee hearing — which did not prevent Bannon from continuing to refuse to answer questions — The New York Times reports that Bannon was subpoenaed last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a grand jury. Bannon has since struck a deal with Mueller and "is expected to cooperate with the special counsel," people familiar with the arrangement told CNN. In doing so, Bannon is expected to avoid the grand jury in favor of an interview with prosecutors, although it isn't clear yet if the subpoena will be withdrawn. Jeva Lange

12:34 p.m. ET

Outgoing Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to decry President Trump's authoritarian tendencies.

Flake specifically referenced a February tweet from Trump, in which the president declared that the "FAKE NEWS media" is "the enemy of the American people." "It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our president uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies," Flake said.

The Washington Post points out that Stalin used a phrase similar to Trump's tweet to justify the execution of his enemies. The words were denounced three years after Stalin's death by then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Flake, a frequent Trump critic, was especially bothered by the way Trump "inspired dictators and authoritarians with his own language," noting how Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro have all invoked the phrase "fake news" to justify or lie about their actions.

Although Flake's speech aired on various news networks, The Washington Post's Erica Werner pointed out that the only audience on the Senate floor was Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and a smattering of reporters. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:38 a.m. ET
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U.S. Border Patrol agents actively impair humanitarian efforts along the southern border, a report published Wednesday revealed. The report — commissioned by two humanitarian groups, No More Deaths and La Coalición de Derechos Humanos — claims that U.S. immigration enforcement officials intentionally destroy water containers left for immigrants crossing the scorching deserts, "condemning people to die of thirst in baking temperatures," The Guardian reports.

The study analyzed an 800-square-mile swath of desert near Tucson, Arizona, where people often leave water for border-crossers, The Guardian explains. Between March 2012 and December 2015, Border Patrol agents reportedly damaged 415 containers of water, sabotaging more than 3,500 gallons.

While the report notes that wild animals do occasionally account for the destruction, U.S. Border Patrol agents are the water saboteurs "in the majority of cases," the groups claim. One Border Patrol agent is quoted in the report describing the strategy, saying: "I remember people smashing and stepping on water bottles. I remember that being imparted onto us in one way or another."

The report asserts that destroying aid supplies is a "systemic feature of enforcement practices in the borderlands." Read more at The Guardian. Kelly O'Meara Morales

11:25 a.m. ET
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The team working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate Russia's influence over the 2016 election is reportedly inspecting "suspicious" transactions involving Russian diplomatic personnel, BuzzFeed News writes. Among the transactions flagged by the Russian embassy's bank and reported, as is legally required, to the U.S. Treasury's financial crimes unit is a payment of $120,000 to then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak just days after the presidential election and an attempt to withdraw $150,000 from the embassy's account less than a week after President Trump's inauguration.

In particular, Kislyak's payout raised eyebrows because it was marked as "payroll," although it didn't fit into his normal pay routine. Likewise, in the spring of 2014 some 30 checks to embassy employees totaling about $370,000 raised suspicions because "bank officials noted that the employees had not received similar payments in the past, and that the transactions surrounded the date of a critical referendum on whether parts of Crimea should secede from Ukraine and join Russia," BuzzFeed News writes.

Just because payments are flagged as suspicious, though, doesn't mean they are necessarily illegal. As people in the intelligence and diplomatic communities told BuzzFeed News, "there could be justifiable uses for the money, such as travel, bonuses, or pension payouts." That is now up to the Treasury Department, Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mueller to review and decide. Read more about the suspicious financial activity, including a small Washington, D.C., contractor who received some $320,000 from the Russian embassy, at BuzzFeed News. Jeva Lange

10:01 a.m. ET
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Americans have very little confidence in the major institutions of democracy, including the courts, political parties, presidency, and fourth estate, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll has concluded. Of all the institutions, though, Americans had the least faith in Congress, with just 8 percent saying they have a "great deal" of trust in the lawmaking body.

The Republican Party followed closely, with only 29 percent of respondents saying they have a level of confidence in the political party that controls the House, Senate, and presidency. A not-much-better 36 percent of respondents said they have confidence in the Democratic Party. Sixty-eight percent of Americans have not much or no confidence in the GOP, while 62 percent said the same of the Democrats.

On the other hand, Americans have enormous faith in the military, with 87 percent of respondents reporting a degree of trust in the institution. In 1977, that number was 30 points lower, with just 57 percent of Americans having some or a great deal of confidence in the military. "There have been some big changes in the last 40 years," points out NPR, "including the draft being abolished and fewer and fewer Americans knowing someone serving in the military."

Other institutions that instill only limited confidence in Americans are organized labor (winning the confidence of 49 percent of adults), courts (winning the confidence of 51 percent of adults), and public schools (winning the confidence of 43 percent of adults). The media fared as poorly as the Republican Party, with an entire 68 percent of Americans having not much or no confidence in the press.

The poll reached 1,350 adults on Jan. 8-10 and has a margin of error of 2.7 percent. Read the full results here. Jeva Lange

9:12 a.m. ET

Eric Trump defended his father against charges of racism Wednesday, claiming President Trump sees just one color — and it isn't exactly a natural human shade.

The president came under fire last week after he reportedly dismissed immigrants from "shithole" places such as Haiti, El Salvador, or Africa during a meeting with lawmakers. He then allegedly offered up immigrants from Norway, a country that is 94 percent white, as a favorable alternative.

Eric Trump nevertheless dismissed such reports, suggesting on Fox & Friends that the demographic differences between Norway and the continent of Africa have nothing to do with it. "My father sees one color: Green," said the president's second son. "That is all he cares about. He cares about the economy."

Eric Trump went on to add that his father "does not see race. He is the least racist person I ever met in my entire life. It is total nonsense." President Trump, for his part, has denied using the specific vulgarity that has been attributed to him and told The New York Times on Sunday night: "I'm not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed, that I can tell you."

Watch Eric Trump's interview, below. Jeva Lange

8:28 a.m. ET
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House Republicans and Democrats are polling their caucuses Wednesday on a House GOP proposal for short-term spending extension to avert a government shutdown on Friday at midnight, but with Democrats insisting that the next spending package include a solution for the 700,000 DREAMers and Republicans balking, a government shutdown is a distinct possibility.

President Trump and his fellow Republicans have already started framing a government shutdown as the fault of Democrats, "but Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, as well as veterans of past budget battles and campaigns, say that argument isn't likely to fly — not while the GOP runs the House, Senate, and White House and a deeply unpopular president sits in the Oval Office," Politico reports. Adding credence to that assumption is a new poll by Hart Research Associates of 12 battleground states, where 42 percent of respondents said they would blame Trump and congressional Republicans for a shutdown while 31 percent would blame Democrats. The same poll found that 81 percent of voters in those states support adding a DREAMer fix to the spending bill.

Still, "even though they're privately confident they have the upper hand, Democrats don't know for sure how it would play," Politico says. "The public supports DREAMers in the abstract, but would that support hold if the cost were a government shutdown?" In the last government shutdown, in 2013, Republicans took the blame — but still made gains in the next year's midterms, taking control of the Senate. "The clearest lesson from 2013 is that a government shutdown hurt Congress' popularity generally," Ed Kilgore writes at New York, with both parties taking a hit.

On the other hand, both parties would win if they passed a bill to protect DREAMers. A bipartisan Senate proposal was derailed by Trump's opposition and "shithole countries" comment, but Reps. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) have a new "narrow and bipartisan" bill to protect DREAMers that could potentially break the logjam. Peter Weber

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