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May 23, 2017

Sean Hannity's network has retracted a story about the 2016 death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, and Rich's parents have written an appeal for people to "stop politicizing" their son's murder, but the Fox News host is refusing to back down.

"I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com," Hannity said on his radio show Tuesday. "I retracted nothing." The Hannity host made his comments after Fox News retracted its story from May 16, which alleged that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks before he was shot and killed; police say he was likely murdered during a botched robbery. There is no evidence that shows Rich's death was related to WikiLeaks releasing stolen DNC material, and following outrage from the public and Rich's family, Fox News said the story "was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed."

Hannity, whose executive producer received a letter from the Rich family asking that the show stop peddling a false narrative, said he has an "agenda to get to the truth. I'm not saying I have answers yet, but I'm digging deep, and I have a lot more information than all of you do at this point." He also said that people who are "accusing me of pushing a conspiracy theory, you are the biggest hypocrites in the entire world."

Not long after Hannity's outburst, The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Mary and Joel Rich under the headline: "We're Seth Rich's parents. Stop politicizing our son's murder." The conspiracy theories being pushed regarding their son's death are "baseless" and "unspeakably cruel," they wrote, and "the amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth's murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth's memory is torn away from us." Catherine Garcia

1:37p.m.

Remember that anonymous op-ed in The New York Times that sent shock waves through Washington in September? Its author was never publicly identified, but Omarosa Manigault Newman claims the Trump administration solved the mystery behind closed doors.

Manigault Newman, a former White House communications aide, told MSNBC Wednesday that she has heard "from my sources" that the Trump administration identified the op-ed writer and has "quietly removed them from the administration." She also said, citing "rumors," that the White House has been relatively quiet about the whole situation because of "how high-level that person is supposed to have been."

The anonymous Times op-ed came from a senior Trump administration official, who claimed there was a "quiet resistance" among officials in the administration who are "working diligently from within to frustrate parts of [Trump's] agenda and his worst inclinations." After its publication, the White House reportedly began a frantic internal search to find out who wrote it, with the president at one point narrowing his list of suspects down to 12. But after a while, the op-ed buzz faded, and there was never any additional reporting about its author.

Manigault Newman had previously floated the idea that Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, could have written the op-ed, although considering Ayers is still working in the White House and is, in fact, reportedly the leading candidate to replace Chief of Staff John Kelly, her latest update contradicts that theory. However, she maintains that the op-ed's language is similar to "something that would come out of Pence's shop." Watch her comments below. Brendan Morrow

12:28p.m.

Fox News is taking press room solidarity to a new level.

After President Trump's administration stripped Jim Acosta, CNN's chief White House correspondent, of his press pass last week, the network filed a lawsuit alleging a handful of Trump officials violated Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights. And in a Wednesday statement, Fox News President Jay Wallace revealed the network would file an amicus brief on CNN's behalf.

At a Nov. 7 press briefing the morning after Election Day, Acosta refused to give up his microphone after Trump blew off his questions about the migrant caravan. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later accused Acosta of "placing his hands on" an intern who tried to take the microphone, and tweeted a doctored video of the incident. Sanders didn't mention the allegation again on in a Wednesday statement.

Fox News was the first to announce it would file brief to support CNN's lawsuit on Wednesday, and a gaggle of press organizations quickly followed.

Fox News previously sided with CNN after reporter Kaitlan Collins was banned from a Rose Garden event in July. Fox News' Bret Baier also supported CNN after a February 2017 press room banning, comparing it to when CNN and The New York Times backed Fox News after former President Barack Obama's administration tried to block the network from a press event. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:59a.m.

Thousands of firefighters are continuing to battle northern California's Camp Fire, which has already claimed 48 lives, 130,000 acres, and 7,000 homes as of Tuesday night. But in the town of Paradise, efforts have shifted to recovering bodies from a charred landscape.

Coroners, cadaver dogs, and forensic specialists have arrived in the destroyed Butte County town, searching for remains they fear "will be burned beyond recognition and perhaps beyond identification," The New York Times reports. "As advanced as we are, we are literally down to buckets and shovels" to dig out bodies, a county sheriff's spokesman told the Times. Finding those remains is completely dependent upon dogs because, as one specialist put it, "How do you tell a bone from a rock at a certain point?"

Here's what the devastation looks like, in 5 photos. Kathryn Krawczyk

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10:55a.m.

The Department of Justice on Wednesday released a memo defending President Trump's appointment of Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as constitutional.

When Trump forced Jeff Sessions out of the administration last week and replaced him with Whitaker, it set off some debate over whether the decision was actually legal, with the key concern being that Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate. On the one hand, some have argued Whitaker's appointment violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, which says principal officers of the United States must be confirmed by the Senate. Others, however, have argued Whitaker's appointment is constitutional and that as long as he's only there on a temporary basis, he doesn't qualify as a "principal officer."

Now, the DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel has weighed in, saying that while "presidents often choose acting principal officers from among Senate-confirmed officers ... the Constitution does not mandate that choice," reports Bloomberg. The memo also argues that Whitaker's appointment is consistent with the Vacancies Reform Act because he was serving in a senior position at the Department of Justice for over a year before Trump selected him, CNN reports. Whitaker was Sessions' chief of staff at the Justice Department up until last week.

CNN also reports that Trump sought out legal advice about appointing a senior DOJ official as acting attorney general before he fired Sessions, although it's unclear when that conversation took place. Whitaker's appointment is the first time since 1866 that an acting attorney general has been appointed without Senate confirmation, Bloomberg reports. Brendan Morrow

10:19a.m.

The election recount in one key Florida county is going to stretch on even longer than expected, and it's all thanks to outdated voting machines.

Palm Beach County's election supervisor, Susan Bucher, said Tuesday night that nearly 175,000 early ballots would need to be recounted yet again because some of their machines overheated and produced incorrect tallies, The Miami Herald reports. This means they lost a day and a half of work, says The Washington Post. As a result of these technical difficulties, the recount is going to be further delayed, Bucher explained. She had already said the county would likely not be able to make the statewide deadline of Thursday at 3 p.m.

Recounts were ordered in Florida over the weekend after key races, including the closely-watched gubernatorial and Senate elections, came down to a margin of less than 0.5 percentage points. This legally requires a machine recount, which normally would need to be completed by Thursday, Nov. 15. A judge recently extended the deadline in Palm Beach to Nov. 20, although Secretary of State Ken Detzner is taking that decision to federal court, reports the Palm Beach Post. If the county misses the new recount deadline, it must submit its original count as the official result.

Officials in the county are working 24/7 to recount the ballots, Bucher says, but they only have eight machines there, per The Miami Herald. The outdated equipment being used was made by a defunct company and only allows for one race to be recounted at a time, The Palm Beach Post reports. $11 million has been set aside for new equipment, but it has yet to be purchased. Brendan Morrow

10:05a.m.

Facebook's employees are feeling the sting of the company's rough year.

After stocks fell and questions arose about data security, Facebook internally surveyed its employees to see how they were gauging the chaos. The results showed a massive drop in morale and worries that Facebook's moral compass had turned south, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Of Facebook's nearly 29,000 employees, only 52 percent said "they were optimistic about Facebook's future," the Journal reports via the survey. That's a 32 percent drop from this time last year. A similar portion of 53 percent "said Facebook was making the world better," dropping 19 percent from last year. Employees were also concerned the company was putting growth over innovation, and indicated they were thinking of leaving the company sooner than in years past.

Optimism may have been high a year ago, but it's not as if Facebook's situation was particularly rosy back then. Concerns over the site's spread of misinformation emerged right after the 2016 presidential election, but enthusiasm didn't drop significantly, the Journal notes. Instead, the Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in early 2018, coupled with criticism of the company's leadership, seemed to trigger a morale landslide that first appeared in Facebook's April internal survey.

A spokeswoman acknowledged the "difficult period" Facebook has endured, but told the Journal people are still "pulling together to ... build a stronger company." Employees say they're noticing the darker mood, though it seemed to get brighter after last week's catastrophe-free midterm elections. Read more about Facebook's woes at The Wall Street Journal. Kathryn Krawczyk

9:45a.m.

President Trump has been roundly criticized for skipping a veterans event in France over the weekend, and on Tuesday, a retired Army officer offered a particularly scathing assessment of the affair.

Barry McCaffrey, a retired four-star Army general who served as former President Bill Clinton's Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, told MSNBC's Brian Williams Tuesday that Trump skipping the event in France was "insulting." The president did so simply because he wanted to "stay out of the rain, eat cheeseburgers, watch TV, and tweet angry denunciations of his many enemies," said McCaffrey, per Mediaite.

Trump was in France with other world leaders to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War I, and he was scheduled to visit a cemetery where American soldiers are buried but canceled at the last minute. The White House at the time cited the rainy weather, saying it would not be safe to travel by helicopter, reports The New York Times. Trump days later threw the Secret Service under the bus, saying he wanted to travel to the event by car but they wouldn't let him.

But McCaffrey, an outspoken critic of Trump who has previously called him a "serious threat to U.S. national security," doesn't buy that explanation, and thinks Trump stayed home out of pure laziness. Watch McCaffrey's comments below. Brendan Morrow

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