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December 8, 2016
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Edgar Welch, arrested on Sunday after firing a military-style rifle inside the Washington, D.C., pizzeria Comet Ping Pong, told The New York Times via video chat on Wednesday that he drove up from North Carolina to get a "closer look" at the restaurant at the center of the false "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory and had no intention of firing a shot. "I regret how I handled the situation," he said. "I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way." Internet articles led him to believe that the pizzeria was the center of a child sex ring run by associates of Hillary Clinton, but "the intel on this wasn't 100 percent," he said, adding that just because there were no children "inside that dwelling," it doesn't mean there is no Pizzagate pedophile ring.

Welch, a 28-year-old father of two, says he doesn't believe in conspiracy theories, but listens to Alex Jones, who regularly spreads conspiracy theories on his radio show and websites. Jones is "a bit eccentric," he said. "He touches on some issues that are viable but goes off the deep end on some things." The Pizzagate myth, built through creative interpretations of emails hacked from John Podesta and released by WikiLeaks to harm Clinton's presidential campaign, is spreading outside of D.C., roping in not just late-night comedian Stephen Colbert but also the Austin pizzeria East Side Pies.

The owners of East Side Pies became aware of Pizzagate through some strange comments on the restaurant's Facebook page, then were pointed to Reddit threads linking their pizzeria to the fake story. The Austin American-Statesman's Matthew Odam runs down a few of the red herrings:

The online posts have made wild and baseless accusations about East Side Pies. They interpreted the restaurant's logo as a symbol of the "Illuminati," questioned the meaning of photos of pizza-eating children on East Side Pies' Facebook account, inferred that a picture of staffers with former Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell was proof of nefarious political ties, and claimed co-owner Michael Freid, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, had "connections to the CIA." [Austin American-Statesman]

Owen Shroyer, who makes videos for Alex Jones' Infowars and hosts his own podcast, posted a 2.5-hour video detailing his own nutty investigation of East Side Pies on Saturday. Austin police and the FBI are investigating the threats and vandalism of a pizza delivery truck. Peter Weber

2:32 p.m. ET
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After a year-long background check, President Trump's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, has at last been granted permanent security clearance, a White House insider told The New York Times on Wednesday. Kushner was among a number of administration officials who had his temporary highest-level security clearance downgraded earlier this year.

The White House official who spoke about Kushner's status claimed that the long process was not unusual for someone "who has a complicated financial history and many foreign contacts," as the Times writes. And while Kushner is reportedly being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller — CNN reports he sat for a seven-hour interview with investigators in April — that probe apparently did not play a part in his clearance status.

Kushner notably had some difficulty filling out his disclosure forms, serially leaving off contacts and meetings, such as one with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016. Jeva Lange

1:57 p.m. ET
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The NFL Players Association is not happy with the NFL's new "respect for the flag" policy.

On Wednesday, NFL owners approved a new rule that will require any football player on the field to stand and "show respect" during the national anthem before each game. Players have the option of staying in the locker room until after the ceremony, but if they don't stand while on the field, they will face a fine. Many NFL players have opted to sit or kneel during the anthem as a way to protest police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S., drawing criticism from people who say it's an inappropriate way to make a point.

"The NFL chose to not consult the union in the development of this new 'policy,'" read the statement from the Players Association, the organization representing NFL athletes. "NFL players have shown their patriotism through their social activism, their community service, in support of our military and law enforcement, and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about."

The union went on to say that the new rule ran in opposition to what NFL executives had previously told players. "Our union will review the new 'policy' and challenge any aspect of it that is inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement," the statement concluded. Summer Meza

1:12 p.m. ET

A federal district court judge in New York has ruled it's unconstitutional for President Trump to block users on Twitter. The president's Twitter feed was ruled to be a "public forum," and by blocking users, he is in violation of the First Amendment.

Part of the decision came down to the fact that when Trump blocks a user, they are no longer able to reply to his tweets, Reuters reports. "Once it is a public forum, you can't shut somebody up because you don't like what they're saying," argued U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald earlier this year.

The ruling could potentially have even broader implications:

Buchwald ultimately ruled that "the viewpoint-based exclusion of the individual plaintiffs from that designated public forum is proscribed by the First Amendment and cannot be justified by the president's personal First Amendment interests." The lawsuit was filed by the Knight First Amendment Institute and Columbia University and a handful of Twitter users. Read the full decision here. Jeva Lange

1:01 p.m. ET
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Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney, was paid at least $400,000 to arrange a talk between Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, BBC reported Wednesday.

Trump and Poroshenko had a brief meet-and-greet at the White House last June, but sources in Kiev told BBC that Ukrainian agents facilitated the meeting with Cohen as part of an effort to establish a "back channel" to Trump. Cohen's role in the arrangement would have legally required him to register as a representative of Ukraine, which he did not do.

Cohen accepted money to fix a meeting between the two leaders that went beyond the brief Oval Office handshake, sources said. Poroshenko reportedly wanted to address allegations against Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has been charged with a number of crimes related to dealings in Ukraine. Ukrainian officials stopped investigating Manafort soon after the June meeting.

BBC reports that Poroshenko and Trump entered an "understanding" of sorts, with the U.S. selling Ukraine arms, coal, and diesel trains and Poroshenko believing there to be a "non-aggression pact" between the two leaders.

Cohen denied the story, and BBC notes there's no evidence to suggest Trump was aware of any alleged arrangement. Read more at BBC. Summer Meza

12:56 p.m. ET

President Trump spent Wednesday morning stoking fears of a Deep State conspiracy against his 2016 presidential campaign after a report last week that an FBI informant met with several of his staffers during the early investigation into Russian election meddling. Conservatives in the House have demanded a review of how the Justice Department and the FBI handled that initial probe, and the White House has invited two senior House Republicans to a Thursday meeting to give them access to pertinent confidential information. Democrats were notably not invited, and have called the move "partisan."

Curiously, Democrats in the House have an ally in longtime Trump loyalist Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). Appearing on MSNBC on Wednesday, he told host Hallie Jackson that the Democrats "definitely should have been" invited to the meeting.

"Look, we need to be bipartisan about this, and I think it would be a lot more credible of a process if we were more inclusive," Gaetz said. "I think more members of Congress outside of the Intelligence Committee ought to be able to participate in this discussion and debate about what kind of country we want to have." Watch the discussion below. Jeva Lange

12:33 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, NFL owners approved new rules regarding proper "respect for the flag" and the national anthem. While players are no longer required to be on the field for the anthem, "a club will be fined by the league if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem."

Players who want to protest may stay in the locker room until after the ceremony, and each team is allowed to "develop its own work rules … regarding its personnel who do not stand." The announcement follows quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to kneel in protest of racial injustice during games in 2016, which prompted other players to follow suit, drawing outcry from critics, including the president.

Read the new policy below. Jeva Lange

12:13 p.m. ET
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The U.S. will not budge in its insistence that North Korea completely denuclearize, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged on Wednesday.

Speaking to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Pompeo said that the U.S. was prepared to "respectfully walk away" from North Korean officials if they demanded too many compromises, reports Reuters.

President Trump is scheduled to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore on June 12, but on Tuesday Trump said there was a "very substantial chance" that the summit would not take place. Other officials expressed doubt about North Korea's commitment, telling The Washington Post that a North Korean delegation didn't show up at a planning meeting with U.S. leaders.

Pompeo was more optimistic, telling lawmakers that the U.S. is still preparing for the meeting with the assumption that Pyongyang will be open to giving up nuclear weapons in exchange for lessened economic sanctions. The U.S. will refuse to kowtow to North Korean wishes, the secretary of state said. "A bad deal is not an option," said Pompeo. "The American people are counting on us to get this right." Summer Meza

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