December 11, 2017
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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

9:49 p.m. ET
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On Wednesday, congressional negotiators finalized a $1.3 trillion budget bill that must be passed by both the House and Senate by midnight Friday in order to avoid a government shutdown.

The 2,232-page bill was released in the evening, and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that "no bill of this size is perfect. But this legislation addresses important priorities and makes us stronger at home and abroad." The bill increases military and domestic spending but does not give President Trump all of the money he wants to build a southern border wall or address the protection of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. It also allows for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct research on gun violence, but not advocacy. Catherine Garcia

9:01 p.m. ET
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Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told people close to him that President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, shared with him the names of Saudis who were disloyal to him, and also told the crown prince of Abu Dhabi he has Kushner "in his pocket," current and former White House and government officials told The Intercept.

Before his security clearance was downgraded, Kushner read with interest the President's Daily Brief, filled with classified intelligence, and after Mohammed bin Salman ousted his cousin from the crown prince position last June, the briefing contained information on the situation and names of royal family members opposed to his move, three people told The Intercept. In October, Kushner made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, and at the time The Washington Post reported he stayed up late "planning strategy" with the crown prince; a week later, Mohammed bin Salman launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown, detaining hundreds of Saudi royals and businessmen.

One person told The Intercept it's likely the crown prince would be able to get the names of his critics without Kushner's help, and he could have told people he received the information from Kushner so it would look like the United States backed his actions. A spokesperson for Kushner's lawyer told The Intercept Kushner did not discuss any names with the crown prince. Catherine Garcia

7:36 p.m. ET
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While still employed as the FBI's deputy director, Andrew McCabe authorized an investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied while testifying during his congressional confirmation hearing in January 2017, three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Sessions' lawyer, Chuck Cooper, told NBC News the probe ended without criminal charges, and a Department of Justice official said Sessions had no idea about the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last week, just days before his retirement was set to kick in. At his hearing, Sessions said he never met with any Russians while serving as a campaign surrogate for President Trump; it was later revealed that Sessions did meet multiple times with the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S. Sessions went on to defend himself by saying the interactions took place in his capacity as a senator, and they were not important enough to remember.

One person told NBC News that after Sessions' testimony, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) referred a perjury inquiry to the FBI. This is a common occurrence, they added, but these inquiries rarely end in prosecution because they are very hard to prove. Catherine Garcia

6:47 p.m. ET
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The family of Mark Anthony Conditt, the Austin bombing suspect who died early Wednesday after he blew himself up in his car, said they are "devastated and broken" by what happened, and "had no idea of the darkness that Mark must have been in."

In a statement to CNN, members of the Conditt family in Colorado — not his parents in Texas — said they were "grieving" and "in shock," and "right now, our prayers are for those families that have lost loved ones, for those impacted in any way, and for the soul of our Mark." Law enforcement officials said that late Tuesday, they identified Conditt, 24, as a suspect in a string of bombings across Austin, which left two dead and four injured, and were moving in on a hotel in Round Rock to arrest him. Conditt drove away, tailed by police, and after he drove into a ditch, detonated an explosive that killed him. Police have not revealed a possible motive.

Two of Conditt's roommates were detained and questioned, and police said it's possible he planted or mailed other packages before he died. The Los Angeles Times reports that in a blog he started in 2012 as part of a class assignment at Austin Community College, Conditt described himself as a conservative "but not politically inclined," and wrote posts in favor of the death penalty and against abortion and making gay marriage legal. Conditt was home schooled and fired last year from his job at a manufacturing company, and one of his former friends told the Times that "a lot of people jump to conclusions and want to make him out to be a conservative terrorist. But I think it has more to do with loneliness and anger than it has to do with anything else." Catherine Garcia

Editor's note: This article originally misstated who released the statement about Mark Conditt. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

4:52 p.m. ET
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg responded to the growing Cambridge Analytica scandal in a lengthy Facebook post Wednesday, outlining a plan to avoid a similar breach in the future.

Zuckerberg described the timeline of events that led up to to what he called a "breach of trust," in which the data analytics firm reportedly accessed private information from tens of millions of users without permission. The Facebook co-founder said that many measures were already in place to prevent such an issue, but introduced a three-pronged plan for the future: investigate all third-party apps that log sensitive data, further restrict third-party developers from accessing personal information, and create a tool for users to easily control which apps can access profile data.

Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with reported ties to President Trump's campaign, obtained access to information that was originally collected in accordance with Facebook's policies, reports CNN. But the data was transferred to third-parties without permission rather than deleted, even after the company told Facebook it would dispose of the information. The breach was originally reported by The New York Times and The Guardian on Saturday, and Zuckerberg had remained silent on the scandal until Wednesday's post.

"I started Facebook, and at the end of the day I'm responsible for what happens on our platform," wrote Zuckerberg. Lawmakers are calling for Zuckerberg to testify before the Senate to address privacy and accountability issues for web-based companies. Summer Meza

3:35 p.m. ET

A crew of three astronauts blasted off Wednesday afternoon, embarking on a flight from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station, where they will spend five months conducting research.

The Soyuz MS-08 rocket successfully launched NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, along with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, into space. The crew will orbit the Earth for two days, before docking at the ISS on Friday, where they will join three other astronauts, who are from Russia, Japan, and the United States.

Once all six members are at the station, NASA reports, they will conduct research to test how certain materials react to a space environment, study the effects of microgravity on bone marrow, and develop the "Veggie" plant growth facility that provides astronauts with "salad-type crops."

Watch the liftoff below, via CBC News. Summer Meza

3:21 p.m. ET

On Wednesday, President Trump defended his controversial decision to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on his re-election earlier this week, tweeting that "getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing" and adding, "PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!"

The Washington Post had reported that Trump was warned in all caps by national security advisers not to congratulate Putin, although he went ahead and did it anyway. Aides also told the president he needed to condemn the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in England earlier this month, which has been widely blamed on Moscow; Trump didn't bring this up, the Post adds.

Analysts say Russia's election was undemocratic, and there are videos showing ballot box-stuffing. Jeva Lange

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