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May 19, 2017
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The ongoing probe into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign has reportedly identified a current White House official as "a significant person of interest," The Washington Post reports. The individual was described by people familiar with the matter as being "someone close to the president," although the sources declined to name names.

So far, President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, have been the public centers of the investigation. Neither is a part of the current administration. "Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, as well as Cabinet members Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson," the Post writes.

Kushner, for one, was a "prominent voice advocating Comey's firing," CBS writes. On Friday, The New York Times reported that Trump told Russian officials he had fired Comey in order to ease the pressure of the ongoing probe.

The White House also has acknowledged that Kushner met with [Sergey] Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S., in late November. Kushner also has acknowledged that he met with the head of a Russian development bank, Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanctions since July 2014. The president's son-in-law initially omitted contacts with foreign leaders from a national security questionnaire, though his lawyer has said publicly he submitted the form prematurely and informed the FBI soon after he would provide an update.

Vnesheconombank handles development for the state, and in early 2015, a man purporting to be one of its New York-based employees was arrested and accused of being an unregistered spy. [The Washington Post]

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post that "as the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity."

The Washington Post adds that "people familiar with the matter said investigators on the case are more focused on Russian influence operations and possible financial crimes" and that "the probe has sharpened into something more fraught for the White House, the FBI, and the Justice Department — particularly because of the public steps investigators know they now need to take." Read the full scoop at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

5:29 p.m. ET

The temperature reached near 70 degrees in Washington, D.C., on Monday, so Sen. Rand Paul broke out his flip-flops.

The Kentucky Republican had long maintained his opposition to Mike Pompeo, President Trump's nominee for secretary of state, stating repeatedly that he intended to vote against Pompeo because of his hawkish instincts. During Pompeo's confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee earlier this month, Paul pressed Pompeo over whether Trump's use of military force in Syria without congressional approval was constitutionally sound, and said that Pompeo's view of the war in Afghanistan is at odds with Trump's desire to withdraw from the country.

But on Monday, Paul said that after speaking to Trump and Pompeo, he had "received assurances" that Pompeo does not in fact want to prolong America's presence in Afghanistan. Trump "believes that Iraq was a mistake, that regime change has destabilized the region, and that we must end our involvement with Afghanistan," Paul wrote on Twitter, and on Monday he "received confirmation that [Pompeo] agrees" with Trump.

For that reason, Paul announced that he would vote to confirm Pompeo after all. With Paul's support, plus the backing of three moderate Senate Democrats, Pompeo seems poised for confirmation by the full Senate later this week.

5:28 p.m. ET
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President Trump said one thing, but his flight records said another.

Trump reportedly told former FBI Director James Comey twice that he never stayed the night in Moscow, Russia, when visiting in 2013 for a Miss Universe pageant. But flight records reviewed by Bloomberg, combined with social media posts, appear to indicate that Trump indeed spent a full weekend with business associates and pageant developers in the Russian capital.

The findings contradict Trump's main alibi denying the veracity of a dossier that alleges salacious details about his interactions with prostitutes in Moscow. Even though Trump told Comey on two separate occasions that the dossier "couldn't be true" because of how little time he spent in Moscow on that trip, Bloomberg reports that Trump flew to Russia in a private jet owned by his business partner, rather than on his own jet, making his timeline a bit muddier.

Trump fired Comey last year, and aspects of his explanation regarding the trip to Moscow are detailed in Comey's recently released memoir, A Higher Loyalty. The dossier, compiled by a British ex-spy, remains unverified, though Comey has said some aspects of it were "corroborated by other intelligence."

Social media posts, such as a Facebook photo posted by a Russian restaurant, show that Trump was in Moscow the night before the pageant began. He partied with the pageant's host on a Friday night before spending Saturday touring Moscow and attending the pageant. Trump's own tweets show that he spent more than a full day in the city before flying back to New York early Sunday morning. Read more at Bloomberg. Summer Meza

5:00 p.m. ET
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Nine people were killed and 16 injured Monday afternoon when a man drove a van down a Toronto sidewalk, authorities said. The driver of the vehicle is in custody, though authorities have yet to identify a motive.

The incident occurred down a busy stretch of Yonge Street in Toronto's North York neighborhood. Toronto Deputy Police Chief Peter Yuen told reporters that authorities would be on the scene for "days," and that the investigation would be "complex."

An eyewitness told BBC News that she saw a white car plow through pedestrians. "So many people [were] shouting, 'Stop the car,' but he didn't," the woman said. "He just [kept] moving." Kimberly Alters

This is a breaking news story that will be updated as more details become available.

2:31 p.m. ET
iStock.

Something stinks in the far reaches of our solar system.

A study published in the journal Nature Astronomy on Monday suggests that the clouds that form the upper atmosphere of Uranus are largely composed of hydrogen sulfide gas — the same compound found in rotting eggs that produces their signature odor.

Scientists have speculated about whether Uranus' clouds contained hydrogen sulfide or ammonia, which is found in Jupiter's and Saturn's atmospheres, Space reported. But until now, there has been no concrete proof; Jupiter and Saturn, meanwhile, are much closer to Earth, and thus much easier to observe. The "lucky break" that allowed researchers to finally observe the miniscule gas particles in Uranus' atmosphere was the Gemini telescope in Hawaii, said Leigh Fletcher, one of the co-authors of the study.

Based on what they've discovered about Uranus, scientists now theorize that Neptune's atmosphere may contain hydrogen sulfide as well — which may make humans reluctant visitors to the far-off planets. But Patrick Irwin, the study's lead author, says the rotten egg smell would be the least of anyone's concerns: "Suffocation and exposure in the atmosphere" would be a much bigger problem to worry about, he quipped.

Read more about the study at Space. Shivani Ishwar

2:18 p.m. ET
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Nashville police have confirmed that the 29-year-old man suspected of opening fire in a local Waffle House over the weekend has been taken into custody. Travis Reinking, of Illinois, opened fire early Sunday morning in the restaurant, killing four people and injuring four others. He fled the scene nude after being disarmed by another Waffle House patron, James Shaw Jr., and had been the subject of an intense manhunt.

Reinking was arrested last July by the Secret Service on charges that he was in a restricted area outside the White House, and had four of his guns seized, including the AR-15 rifle police said he used in Sunday's shooting. Jeva Lange

2:05 p.m. ET
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Under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education has dramatically scaled back its efforts to probe potential civil rights violations in schools, a ProPublica investigation has found. Whereas the Obama administration made investigating racial disparities a central priority, under President Trump the Department of Education has moved away from that goal, shuttering at least 65 Obama-era probes without mandating any reforms.

The investigation, published by ProPublica and Mother Jones on Monday, explains how under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Education sought to identify "disparate impact," defined by ProPublica as a theory that "holds that differential treatment by race amounts to discrimination whether or not there is overt or intentional bias." With that guiding tenet, the department investigated school districts across the country in search of institutionalized discrimination.

But under DeVos, those efforts have been severely curbed, ProPublica found:

... [T]he pullback is already happening. In a June 2017 internal memo leaked to ProPublica, one of DeVos' top officials ordered investigators to limit proactive civil rights probes rather than expanding them to identify systemic patterns, as the Obama administration had often done in school discipline cases.

Since then, the Education Department has closed at least 65 school discipline investigations opened under Obama [...] In at least 50 cases, the department attributed the shutdowns to "moot" allegations or insufficient evidence or details. [ProPublica]

In one of the investigations, of a small school district in Bryan, Texas, federal investigators found at least 10 instances where black students had been punished more severely for the same infraction as their white peers, and district data showed black students were nearly four times as likely to be suspended as white students, ProPublica reported. But in 2017, the probe was effectively shuttered due to "insufficient evidence," with the school escaping any mandated reforms.

Read more at ProPublica. Kimberly Alters

2:01 p.m. ET
Metro Nashville Police Department via Getty Images

The 29-year-old man suspected of killing four people at a Waffle House in Nashville this weekend before fleeing the scene believed Taylor Swift was stalking him and had hacked his phone and Netflix account, CNN reports. Travis Reinking's parents called the police in May 2016, with the responding officer writing that "Travis stated he did not want to hurt Taylor Swift or anyone else, he only wanted the harassment to stop." A paramedic described Reinking's behavior as "delusional."

Last July, Reinking was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service due to trespassing in a restricted area near the White House and claiming he wanted to meet President Trump. His four guns were taken away by the police and given to Reinking's father, who has "acknowledged giving them back to his son," Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said. One of the seized weapons was used in the Waffle House shooting.

Reinking had a history of apparent paranoia. At one point he claimed that people were "tapping into his computer and phone," and he said he felt like he was being baited into breaking the law. He is still being sought by the police. Jeva Lange

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