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October 18, 2017

Two new reports suggest that Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top associates were directly involved with attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. election, including an interview with exiled former oil oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Putin jailed on iffy charges for a decade. "I am almost convinced that Putin's people have tried to influence the U.S. election in some way," Khodorkovsky told MSNBC's Ari Melber, and the likelihood that Putin "personally" tried to cooperate with President Trump's campaign is a "9 out of 10," he said, adding: "Whether or not that proposal was accepted, I would let the people responsible for investigating the matter answer that question."

When he ran Russian oil giant Yukos, Khodorkovsky's human resources chief was Sergey Gorkov, now the head of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), who met with Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner in December — the White House says it was a diplomatic nicety, VEB says it was Kushner family business. Khodorkovsky described Gorkov as a "fine employee" who "carries out orders," saying of the Kushner meeting, "I have no doubt that he wouldn't do anything on his own behalf." He said Gorkov was likely ordered to meet with Kushner by either Andrey Kostin or Herman Gref, Kremlin-backed bank chiefs with close ties to Putin.

Separately, CNN reported Tuesday night that Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian catering magnate dubbed Putin's "chef" in the Russia press, is believed by U.S. intelligence to have financed a Russian "troll factory," the Internet Research Agency (IRA), that used social media to spread fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Prigozhin appears to be the unidentified "close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence" an unclassified U.S. intelligence assessment called the "likely financier of the so-called Internet Research Agency of professional trolls located in Saint Petersburg," CNN says. Peter Weber

5:35 p.m.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has no naive expectations of President Trump.

On a Monday visit to Kansas, Pompeo was asked a very valid question given the rest of the Trump cabinet's track record: How long do you think you'll remain secretary of state? "I'll be there until he tweets me out of office," Pompeo assured, adding that it doesn't look like that'll be happening, "at least today."

Pompeo was a GOP congressmember for Kansas until he was tapped to lead the CIA under Trump. He's since gone on to become secretary of state, but also took some domestic trips in the past month that seemed to hint at a return to politics. He visited the traditional presidential first-stop of Iowa in early March, something Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) called "a little unusual," per The Washington Post's Jackie Alemany. He then stopped by Texas and Kansas, furthering speculation that he may run for Senate or governor in his former congressional state, ABC News notes. With his Monday comments though, Pompeo shot that idea down — at least for now. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:16 p.m.

Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue and the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand are all "part of a club that nobody wants to be a part of."

That's how Tree of Life President Sam Schachner described his congregation's relationship to the two mosques that lost 50 worshippers to a mass shooting on Friday. And that's why the congregation has launched a GoFundMe fundraiser hoping to raise $100,000 for Christchurch's Muslim community, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette details.

In October, a gunman killed 11 members at the Pittsburgh synagogue, prompting "overwhelming support ... from our Muslim brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh," the GoFundMe details. Tree of Life is still continuing to recover, the GoFundMe says, but it still wants to recognize that the New Zealand worshippers are "going through the most difficult moments in your lives." So the synagogue is asking its supporters to show victims in Christchurch that "the entire world is with them," it wrote on the GoFundMe.

The GoFundMe started Saturday and had raised $2,736 a bit less than 24 hours later, the Post-Gazette notes. As of 5 p.m. EST on Monday, it had skyrocketed to $17,305 with donations coming in constantly. Read more about the campaign at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, or find the GoFundMe here. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:14 p.m.

It's not every day that chocolate stirs up controversy, but Cadbury — a major British chocolate company — felt the wrath of the United Kingdom's archaeologists and museum curators over the weekend after launching a misguided advertising campaign.

The marketing push, which has been temporarily taken down, was meant to promote Cadbury's Freddo Treasures chocolates by encouraging customers to go out and hunt for real treasure around the U.K. in the region's "top treasure hotspots," reports The New York Times.

The ads included text such as "grab your metal detector and go hunting for Roman riches" or "dig up Viking silver on the River Ribble," saying "the treasure's fair game."

The only problem is that digging in those protected spots would literally be looting. And the protectors of Britain's historic sites and artifacts let the corporation know it. Tim O'Donnell

4:22 p.m.

The chaos that is Brexit continued in classic form on Monday, despite a reprieve from the voting carousel that took place last week, as the March 29 departure deadline rapidly approaches.

The speaker of Britain's House of Commons, John Bercow, said on Monday that he plans to block a third vote on Prime Minister Theresa May's European Union withdrawal agreement — which faced two resounding defeats in Parliament already — unless May could present a "substantially" different deal this time around.

Adding to the drama is the fact that Bercow did not notify May's office of his decision ahead of time, which subsequently, The Washington Post reports, created "further uncertainty" about Brexit's future.

"We are in a major constitutional crisis here," Robert Buckland, the government's solicitor general, told BBC in a television interview, per The New York Times.

Parliament is still waiting to hear whether Brussels will agree to an extension of Article 50 that would delay Brexit beyond March 29, but, as May has noted, an extension could only prolong the problem. Still, the prime minister will travel to EU headquarters on Thursday to attempt to broker an agreement. Tim O'Donnell

4:09 p.m.

New legislation banning "fake news" and making it illegal to "disrespect" the government online has just been signed into law in Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation that says fines of up to 1.5 million rubles, or about $23,000, can be imposed for spreading "unreliable socially significant information," Bloomberg reports. It also bans exhibiting "blatant disrespect" online for Russia or its "authorities, the public, the Russian flag or the constitution," per Reuters. Showing this "blatant disrespect" can result in fines or jail time.

Under the bill, a state media watchdog can block websites that will not remove material that is determined to be in violation of the law, per The Washington Post. Critics fear, The Straits Times reports, that the legislation "is vaguely worded and would have large scope for abuse," allowing Russian officials to easily silence critics.

One expert told the Post that this new law "gives the prosecutor's office an extremely high authority and almost completely eliminates the Russian (albeit completely non-free) courts from the game," while another warned it gives the prosecutor general "essentially unconstrained authority to determine that any speech is unacceptable under the new law." Brendan Morrow

2:50 p.m.

2020 Democrats may have found their common enemy — and it's not President Trump.

Last week, former congressmember and Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke joined the wide field of Democrats aiming for the presidency. But instead of Trump using O'Rourke's increasingly popular name to rile up his fans, it was actually fellow Democrats who started shoving "Beto" into their fundraising email subject lines.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was one of the first Democrats to welcome O'Rourke into the race, firing off a very kind email complete with an exclamation point. But she quickly pivoted, pointing out that "more candidates" could easily mean less support for her, so you should donate and show "you're with Elizabeth." Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) was a little more blunt, pointedly naming O'Rourke when she said she wanted to "engag[e] in substantive debates" with the extra-large 2020 pool and using just O'Rourke's name in the subject line.

Yet it was Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) who had the harshest dig, acknowledging in a Monday email that yes, O'Rourke crushed Sanders' 24-hour fundraising record. But you know what, "we more than likely had a lot more individual donations than he did," Sanders' email sassily continued.

Even if Democrats aren't necessarily pointing out O'Rourke as an enemy, it's pretty clear using his name as a subject line gets clicks, New York Magazine's Gabriel Debenedetti points out. And of course, throwing an extra layer of drama into the fundraising scramble doesn't hurt either. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:45 p.m.

If you thought making decisions for a fictional character was difficult in Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, steel yourself for the challenge of making them for an actual human being.

Netflix on Monday announced the new live-action series You vs. Wild, which will follow the adventures of survival expert Bear Grylls as he traverses "dense jungles, towering mountains, brutal deserts and mysterious forests," per Deadline. But unlike Grylls' previous shows where he attempts to survive in the wilderness like Man vs. Wild, this one will be interactive, meaning viewers make decisions that guide where the episodes go.

Netflix's description of the show teases some "tough decisions" while adding that "whether or not Bear succeeds or fails is totally up to you." As Grylls himself told Variety: "The stakes are high in this one!"

This is the latest example of interactive storytelling from Netflix after the success of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch, a movie released as part of the popular sci-fi anthology show. At various points during Bandersnatch, viewers are asked to pick one of two possible choices, and this causes the story to branch out in different directions and results in multiple potential endings, although some choices lead to dead ends. When it was released in December, The New York Times reported that Netflix planned for more pieces of interactive storytelling in genres "from horror to romantic comedy."

You vs. Wild is the streamer's next step, although while Bandersnatch was just one film, this is a full eight-episode series. It will be released on April 10. Watch a trailer below. Brendan Morrow

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