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March 30, 2017

During a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing Thursday on Russia's meddling in the 2016 presidential election, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) revealed that people who worked on his failed presidential bid were the targets of foreign cyber attackers.

Rubio said that in July 2016, not long after he announced he was running for re-election to the Senate, "former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia. That effort was unsuccessful." A second attempt took place one day ago, he added, going after the same people and coming from "an IP address from an unknown location in Russia." This effort was also a failure.

Clint Watts, a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute Program on National Security, testified in front of the committee, telling the senators that "Russia's overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum. Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered through these efforts." Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) shared during the hearing that hacking attempts had been made against his office as well. Catherine Garcia

2:15p.m.

Democrat Jared Golden beat incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin in Maine's 2nd District on Thursday — and made a little bit of history along the way.

Poliquin actually secured 46.2 percent of the vote to Golden's 45.5 percent with 95 percent of precincts reporting, per The New York Times and Politico. But Golden still came out on top due to Maine's ranked-choice voting system. It's the first federal race decided by ranked choice, and Golden's win means Republicans have now been ousted from every single congressional seat in New England.

On Election Day, Golden was slightly behind Poliquin in total votes, but neither candidate reached a majority, the Portland Press Herald reports. Maine's ballots also asked voters to rank their second-choice candidate, leaving the race to be decided by voters who'd ranked an independent candidate first. Golden prevailed in the second-choice round, with 10,232 votes to Poliquin's 4,695.

Maine voters have twice supported ballot initiatives to institute the ranked-choice process, the Press Herald notes. But Poliquin still questioned the legitimacy of the election on Thursday, saying he "won the constitutional 'one-person, one-vote' first choice election on Election Day" in a statement. The two-term congressman also promised to challenge the election results in court.

Regardless of the court's decision, we'll still have Poliquin's remarkably bad campaign ad to enjoy for generations. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11p.m.

The United States is considering extraditing one of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's political enemies in an attempt to get Turkey to "ease pressure" on Saudi Arabia, NBC News reported Thursday.

The Trump administration has been examining ways to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania with a green card for almost two decades, the report says. This effort is reportedly directly tied to the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who Turkey says was murdered by Saudi government operatives in Istanbul. NBC News reports that Gulen's extradition would be a way to "placate Turkey over the murder."

A U.S. official reportedly says there has been pushback against the possibility. "The career guys were furious" at the suggestion, said the official.

Turkey formally requested Gulen's extradition in 2016, after blaming him for an attempted coup, NBC News reported at the time. If extradition isn't an option, the Trump administration has also weighed the possibility of making Gulen relocate to South Africa. Turkey disputes the report and says there is "no connection" between Khashoggi's murder and the Gulen case. Alternatively, the release of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who was sentenced to prison for evading sanctions, has also been considered, NBC News reports.

This news comes after Saudi Arabia once again changed its story about Khashoggi's murder, concluding the journalist was killed in an on-the-spot decision after previously calling his murder premeditated. News about Gulen's possible extradition drew immediate criticism, with NBC News' Benjy Sarlin summing it up: "So if I have this right," he wrote, "Trump looking into handing a prominent dissident over to an authoritarian regime to get them to ease up on a second authoritarian regime for murdering a second prominent dissident?" Brendan Morrow

1:47p.m.

Facebook may soon have to embark on another apology spree.

In a massive investigation published Wednesday, The New York Times painted a picture of "cascading crises" that have overtaken Facebook over the last two years. Crises which, per the Times' interviews with more than 50 people, Facebook ignored or used political ploys to keep quiet.

Facebook's plague of Russian interference has been well documented, and Facebook has largely maintained it learned of widespread attacks after the 2016 election. But the Times reports Facebook was alerted to Russian hacking in the spring of 2016 — a year and a half before admitting its Russian interference findings and launching its much-derided cleanup effort.

Conservatives have long claimed Facebook was biased against their content. The Times did find that Facebook had tight ties with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). But it also alleges Facebook hired the GOP-run consulting group Definers Public Affairs, which crafted articles to "blast Google and Apple for unsavory business practices," and downplay "the impact of the Russians' use of Facebook," and attacking liberal political donor George Soros.

Neither Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg nor COO Sheryl Sandberg commented on the Times' article. Facebook released a Thursday statement denying five of the article's claims, including that was "slow to investigate" Russian interference, and said it never asked Definers to "spread misinformation" and "ended its contract" with the firm Wednesday night. Read more at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:14p.m.

Plans for some Rohingya refugees to begin returning to Myanmar from Bangladesh will not proceed because officials say none are willing to go back, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees, members of a minority ethnic group that is largely Muslim, fled to Bangladesh to escape violence and persecution in Myanmar in the past year. Bangladesh's plan was for about 2,000 of them to begin returning Thursday, per BBC News. But the United Nations, which has classified the violence in Myanmar as "textbook genocide," brokered an agreement that means that nobody can be forced into going, and many say they are terrified at the prospect. "We are scared to return to Myanmar because if we go they will kill us," one refugee told CNN. Human rights organizations agree that it is not yet safe for the refugees to return, per AP.

Some refugees staged protests in refugee camps ahead of the planned start of the repatriation process, and the head of Bangladesh's refugee commission had said that they "have not found any volunteers" who would return but would "continue looking," CNN reports. Officials told the refugees that buses were ready to take them to Myanmar, but they chanted back, "We won't go!"

Now, the refugee commission says that the refugees are "not willing to go back now" but they will keep trying to "motivate them so it happens." Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday condemned Myanmar's actions, saying that "the violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse." Brendan Morrow

11:54a.m.

After being arrested for alleged domestic violence, attorney Michael Avenatti is claiming the same person who recently tried to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller is responsible.

"First Mueller and now me," Avenatti tweeted Thursday. "When we are fully exonerated I am coming for you Jacob Wohl aka Surefire." Wohl is the far-right conspiracy theorist who claimed earlier this month a woman was about to come forward to accuse Mueller of sexual misconduct. This claim quickly fell apart when the supposed accuser never showed up to a press conference, during which Wohl offered multiple spellings of her name. Afterward, it was revealed that a photo supposedly of Wohl with the accuser was actually of his girlfriend — although the woman later denied they ever dated.

Now, Avenatti is alleging the same thing is happening to him, although he offered no evidence to back up his claim. He was arrested Wednesday by the Los Angeles Police Department for alleged domestic violence, but he called the allegations "bogus." Avenatti's client, adult film actress Stormy Daniels, said in a statement Thursday that the allegations are "serious and obviously very troubling" and that she will "be seeking new representation" if they are true, although she says "we should all reserve judgement until the investigation ... is complete."

Surefire Intelligence, Wohl's organization, tweeted "Surefire Intelligence strikes again" in response to the news of Avenatti's arrest, although Wohl denies involvement. Wohl responded to Avenatti's Thursday tweet by writing, "This guy is a SICKO!" He also says he reported Avenatti's "threat" to law enforcement. Brendan Morrow

11:28a.m.

The U.S. is officially levying sanctions against Saudis allegedly tied to the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The 17 Saudis slated for sanctions were "involved in" the operation that "targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States," the Treasury Department said in a Thursday statement. The move comes just hours after Saudi Arabia announced charges against 11 people allegedly connected to the murder, The Washington Post reports.

Thursday's announcement marks the biggest step the U.S. has taken against Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi's killing. Khashoggi was murdered Oct. 2 after he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Justice Department announced a month ago it would revoke visas from those it had connected to the murder. The new sanctions will "freeze any U.S. assets and prohibit any Americans from dealings with" the targeted Saudis, the Post reports.

A senior aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was among those sanctioned Thursday, per the Post. Still, both the U.S. and the Saudi government both avoided implicating bin Salman, who has a close relationship with President Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Turkish officials have long maintained that the Saudi government was responsible for the murder, but the U.S. has repeatedly avoided directly accusing Saudi officials, including bin Salman. Saudi Arabia previously suggested Khashoggi's murder was a rogue, premeditated operation, but claimed Thursday it was ordered on the spot. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:43a.m.

President Trump reportedly hated that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn't have an Ivy League education. But it didn't stop Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker from rising to replace Sessions after his ouster last week. And it's far from the most unusual thing on Whitaker's resume, The Washington Post reports.

While securing his undergraduate and eventual law degree from the University of Iowa, Whitaker was "something of a local legend" on the Rose Bowl-bound football team, the Post details. The Iowa native moved to Minnesota and became a general counsel for a grocery store chain after graduating, then returned home in 2001 and launched a failed bid for state treasurer. Next up, Whitaker bought a majority stake in trailer manufacturer, purchased an entire day care center, and co-founded a concrete company.

Whitaker worked at a small law firm the whole time he was back in Iowa, and was "plucked from relative obscurity" to become a U.S. attorney in 2004 under former President George W. Bush, writes the Post. In that job, Whitaker was accused of targeting an openly gay Democratic state senator with extortion charges. Whitaker has denied the allegation, per the Post. He stepped down as U.S. attorney in 2009, and after a few more business ventures, ended up at the DOJ.

Attorneys general "typically boast judgeships, partnerships at prestigious firms, and senior roles in the Justice Department," the Post writes. So it's no wonder Whitaker had what one federal court expert called an "an extraordinarily weak and unusual background for a U.S. attorney." Yet somehow, the Trump loyalist and critic of the Russia probe beat the odds and took charge of them all. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

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