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September 26, 2017

President Trump's former adviser and longtime friend Roger Stone characterized his conversations with a Russian government-linked hacker as being "limited" and "benign" after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

As part of his defense, Stone also released screenshots of his August and September 2016 conversations with the entity Guccifer 2.0, an alias that took credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials have linked Guccifer 2.0's materials to Russian government hackers. In August 2016, Stone argued for Breitbart News that Guccifer 2.0 acted alone and was not working with the Russian government.

[…] Mr. Stone sent a private Twitter message to the Guccifer 2.0 account, saying he was "delighted" the entity was back on Twitter, according to the material he released. Twitter had briefly suspended the account.

"F--- the state and their MSM lackeys," Mr. Stone added, using a common disparaging term for the mainstream media.

According to Mr. Stone's release, Guccifer 2.0 responded: "thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!!" The entity then asked if Mr. Stone found anything interesting in the documents posted — a question to which Mr. Stone’s release suggests he didn’t reply. [The Wall Street Journal ]

The screenshots indicate that Guccifer 2.0 attempted several more times to talk to Stone although Stone offered limited replies.

"[Stone's] significance starts and ends with the question as to whether he worked with Russians while they were interfering in our election," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones on Monday before the hearing. "He demonstrated at least a willingness to work with the Russians. Was this just willingness or was this an active working relationship? That is still unresolved." Jeva Lange

9:51 a.m. ET
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The New York Police Department reported Monday morning that there was an explosion in the subway station below the Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street and 8th Avenue in Manhattan during the morning commute. Law enforcement officials who spoke with The Associated Press say the explosion, which occurred around 7:45 a.m. ET, was caused by the detonation of "a pipe bomb strapped to a man."

"One male suspect is in custody," the NYPD tweeted. Four people were injured in the blast, including the suspect, the New York City Fire Department said. None of the injuries are life-threatening.

The NYPD responded by evacuating the A, C, and E subway lines and shutting down trains traveling through the nearby transportation hub at Times Square. By 9:50 a.m. ET Monday morning, the system was largely back up and running, though most trains are still bypassing the affected area.

"This was an attempted terrorist attack," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The Port Authority bus station sees 250,000 travelers and commuters pass through it every day, the New York Daily News reports. Jeva Lange

This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

9:18 a.m. ET

Guillermo del Toro's aquatic fairy tale, The Shape of Water, leads the 2018 Golden Globes with seven nominations, followed by fellow Best Picture, Drama, nominees The Post and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with six each. The trio will compete in the category against Dunkirk and Call Me By Your Name.

In the television drama category, just one show — This Is Us — belongs to a traditional network, competing against Netflix's Stranger Things and The Crown, Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, and HBO's Game of Thrones. In the Best TV Musical or Comedy section, Black-ish, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Master of None, SMILF, and Will and Grace will go head-to-head. The Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical category hosts The Disaster Artist, Get Out, I, Tonya, The Greatest Showman, and Lady Bird.

The biggest snubs were in the Best Director categories, where major women directors — Greta Gerwig of Lady Bird, Dee Rees of Mudbound, and Patty Jenkins of Wonder Woman — failed to be nominated. See the full nominations at the Los Angeles Times. Jeva Lange

9:14 a.m. ET
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai convinces two other FCC commissioners to vote with him Thursday, as expected, he will dismantle net neutrality, potentially allowing internet providers to slow down traffic to certain sites and favor others based on business or other decisions. But Pai has actually been on a deregulation spree at the FCC, and since he was named chairman in January, he has "rewritten the rules of the information age so thoroughly that there's no mode of communication under his control where the rules aren't looser than they were a year ago," David McCabe says at Axios.

Most of the changes allow for various forms of media consolidation, so one company can control more of local markets, but collectively they "will likely alter the way people experience the internet, broadcast TV, and even AM radio" for years to come, McCabe writes. Pai has also taken a whack at regulations that will affect nobody's life, like deregulating the telegraph industry. This move may not do anything, really, Axios notes, but it "was a boon to Pai's political rhetoric around deregulation."

Pai seems to embrace his reputation, joking at a dinner on Friday about industry "collusion" and being a "puppet" of Verizon, where he served as associate general counsel. Peter Weber

8:58 a.m. ET
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

In a story published Monday, four women told Eater NY that they had been sexually harassed by celebrity chef Mario Batali. Three of the women had previously worked for Batali, while the fourth was never his employee but works in the restaurant industry.

The women all described instances in which Batali touched them inappropriately; one alleged the chef "compelled her to straddle him," Eater NY wrote, while two described Batali groping their breasts. Another said Batali repeated grabbed her from behind, "like a disgusting bear hug," often while they were in close quarters in the back of a restaurant in Manhattan's West Village.

Eater NY additionally reported that Batali has a reputation for making sexually charged remarks, including questions about female colleagues' sex lives and "what color underwear they wore."

In a statement, Batali did not deny the allegations, saying "much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted. That behavior was wrong and there are no excuses." He said he would "step away from the day-to-day operations" of his business, whose enterprises include the Eataly restaurants, in order to "try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed."

Read more at Eater NY. Kimberly Alters

7:41 a.m. ET
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly going over the 18 days between when White House officials learned that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmailing and when he was finally fired on Feb. 13, 2017 with a fine-tooth comb, NBC News reports. Questions surrounding the more than two-week period are at the heart of a potential obstruction of justice case against President Trump himself, people familiar with the investigation revealed.

"The obstruction of justice question could hinge on when Trump knew about the content of Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. during the transition, which were at the crux of [then acting Attorney General Sally] Yates's warning [to White House Counsel Don McGahn], and when the president learned Flynn had lied about those conversations to the FBI," NBC News writes based on conversations with such sources.

Yates told McGahn on Jan. 26 that Flynn had lied to senior members of President Trump's administration about sanctions conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. At that point, Vice President Mike Pence had already mistakenly reassured the public that Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Kislyak, making Flynn vulnerable to blackmail since Russia would have then become aware he had misled senior administration officials. McGahn, also on Jan. 26, reportedly briefed Trump himself about Yates' warning. Trump has claimed he didn't ask Flynn to resign after that initial conversation because McGahn did not make it "sound like an emergency."

"Mueller is trying to determine why Flynn remained in his post for 18 days after Trump learned of Yates' warning, according to two people familiar with the probe," NBC News adds. "He appears to be interested in whether Trump directed him to lie to senior officials, including Pence, or the FBI, and if so why, the sources said." Read the full scoop at NBC News. Jeva Lange

6:58 a.m. ET

On Sunday evening, the cryptocurrency bitcoin began publicly trading on the CBOE Futures Exchange, and bitcoin futures quickly shot up as much as 26 percent, triggering two temporary halts to calm the market. Bitcoin has been on a tear, with its value rising more than 1,600 percent this year alone, but before Sunday's launch of a futures exchange market, technical difficulty and other concerns had left many investors on the sidelines. The CBOE exchange and coming futures markets from CME Group and Nasdaq aim to make betting on the world's most famous cryptocurrency open to a wider pool of investors in a more regulated market.

The CBOE futures are only a sliver of the global bets on bitcoin, with contracts nominally worth $40 million trading on the exchange in its first eight hours while some $1.1 billion traded against the U.S. dollar, Bloomberg says, citing Cryptocompare.com data. There are about 16.73 million bitcoin in circulation, collectively worth more than $260 billion, and about 40 percent of those are owned by maybe 1,000 people, Bloomberg reports, giving those "whales" a lot of influence over the price of the cryptocurrency.

There are a lot of unanswered questions and issues about bitcoin going more mainstream, including taxes, volatility, transparency, energy use, and whether bitcoin is in bubble territory. Bitpay's Sonny Singh and Bloomberg's Cory Johnson discussed some of the issues over the weekend.

Right now, investors should probably expect a roller coaster. "It is rare that you see something more volatile than bitcoin, but we found it: bitcoin futures," Zennon Kapron, managing director of Shanghai-based consulting firm Kapronasia, told Bloomberg. Peter Weber

5:29 a.m. ET
Hussain Radwan/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday, Saudi Arabia announced that it has lifted a ban imposed in the 1980s on commercial movie theaters. "As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the kingdom," Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, the minister of culture and information, said in a statement. "We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018." The opening of cinemas is the latest reform attributed to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, including allowing women to drive next year and permits for concerts and other types of entertainment.

The move was expected, industry sources tell The Hollywood Reporter, with investors already having built theaters inside new developments. Alawwad celebrated the decision as both an economic and cultural "watershed moment" for the conservative kingdom. "By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as [enrich] the kingdom's entertainment options," he said. Cinemas were shut down in the first place amid a wave of religious conservatism. Peter Weber

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