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January 25, 2018

A deep state "secret society" referenced in a text message between senior FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page might have been meant as a joke, the conspiracy theory's instigator, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), admitted on Thursday.

Johnson, along with an army of conservative commentators, have been claiming that the text between Strzok and Page is proof of an FBI conspiracy against the president. A message from Page sent the day after President Trump was elected read: "Are you even going to give out your calendars? Seems kind of depressing. Maybe it should just be the first meeting of the secret society." The message has "no apparent tie to other messages sent before or after it," ABC News said.

Nevertheless, Newsmax claimed "the language of the messages is troubling and its implications could well lead to the largest political scandal since Watergate." Added Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.): "There's a text exchange between these two FBI agents, these two supposedly objective facts-centric FBI agents, that perhaps this is the first meeting of the 'secret society.'" Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) also contributed: "When folks speak in those terms, they need to come forward to explain the context with which they used those terms."

Johnson, though, walked back his claims about the "secret society" on Wednesday, saying: "Everything I take with a grain of salt." Then he took an even bigger step back on Thursday speaking with CNN's Manu Raju, telling him "it's a real possibility" the text message was just a joke.

Well, either that or it's as big as Watergate. Jeva Lange

2:15 a.m.

Just three decades ago, there were less than two dozen California condors in the wild, driven to the brink of extinction due to poaching, habitat destruction, and lead poisoning.

Biologists quickly came up with a conservation plan: capture the remaining condors and start breeding them in captivity. They got to work, and today, there are more than 300 condors in the wild and 500 total in the world, including birds still at breeding centers. In March, biologists discovered that a condor released into the wild laid an egg at Utah's Zion National Park, and earlier this month, they determined that the baby bird — the 1,000th chick to hatch thanks to the California Condor Recovery Program — is still alive and well.

"We're seeing more chicks born in the wild than we ever have before," Tim Hauck, condor program manager at the Peregrine Fund, told NPR. "And that's just a step towards success for the condor and achieving a sustainable population." The California condor is the largest bird in North America, with an average lifespan of 60 years. Hauck said condors are "very unique" in that they are "extremely personable. They'll have individual personalities." Conservation efforts are nowhere near being finished, he told NPR, but he's excited at the possibility of having a population increase every year. Catherine Garcia

1:42 a.m.

The live-action Lion King had an incredible North American debut, bringing in $185 million over the weekend — the biggest domestic opening of all time for a Disney remake.

The previous record-holder was Beauty and the Beast, which earned $174.7 million during its March 2017 debut. The Lion King also had the biggest Disney opening outside of Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm, beating Incredibles 2, which earned $182.7 million in 2018.

Additionally, The Lion King had the largest domestic launch ever for a PG movie, once again beating Incredibles 2, and the biggest July opening of all time, edging out Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, which grossed $169.2 million in 2011.

Directed by Jon Favreau, with voice work by Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, Seth Rogen, and Billy Eichner, The Lion King "resonated across the board," Disney distribution chief Cathleen Taff told The Hollywood Reporter. Catherine Garcia

12:41 a.m.

Islamic State militants who were able to survive intense fighting in Syria this spring have been slipping across the border into Iraq, settling in rural areas and joining new insurgent groups, security officials said.

Over the last eight months, about 1,000 fighters have made their way to Iraq, some by foot but most by car, officials told The Washington Post. Most are Iraqis who left to join ISIS in Syria, and they are now helping other militants with sniper attacks and roadside bombings outside of Iraq's major cities. Experts say they are mostly targeting security forces and community leaders.

This month, security forces started working to root out militants along Iraq's 370-mile border with Syria, and have found multiple bomb making factories, the Post reports. The insurgency is primarily in the central and northern part of Iraq, security officials said, and the Iraqi government does not believe the ISIS fighters will be able to take over huge areas of land. Catherine Garcia

July 21, 2019

A new law in Oregon championed by teen activists lets students take mental health days like they would sick days.

Previously, schools only had to excuse absences due to physical illnesses. The teenagers wanted schools to treat mental and physical health equally, and erase the stigma that can go along with mental health treatment. Activist Haily Hardcastle, 18, said she was inspired by the students in Parkland, Florida, who campaigned for gun control following the deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Those teenagers "showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation," Hardcastle told The Associated Press. "Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth." She is hopeful this will "encourage kids to admit when they're struggling" and seek help. Jason Wilson of Eugene, whose 14-year-old daughter Chloe died by suicide in 2018, told AP this is a major step, as "we need to do everything we can to open up that dialogue between parents and children when it comes to mental health." Catherine Garcia

July 21, 2019

Authorities in Costa Rica are sounding the alarm about tainted alcohol.

Since the beginning of June, at least 19 people — 14 men and five women — have died in the country after ingesting alcohol with toxic levels of methanol, Costa Rica's National Health Ministry said. The victims were between the ages of 32 and 72.

Methanol poisoning can cause dizziness, headaches, confusion, and drowsiness, and is often linked to counterfeit alcohol. The Costa Rican government has confiscated approximately 30,000 bottles of alcohol believed to have been tainted. Catherine Garcia

July 21, 2019

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will not seek re-election in November 2020, he revealed on Sunday, and while he is stepping down as president of the New Progressive Party, he has no plans to resign as governor.

Earlier this month, 900 pages of conversations between Rosselló and several of his top aides and advisers were leaked, showing them mocking the victims of Hurricane Maria and making sexist and homophobic comments about critics and political opponents. This set off protests, and more are expected Monday in San Juan.

"To every Puerto Rican: I have heard you, and I hear you today," Rosselló said on Sunday. "I have committed errors and I have apologized. I am a good man that has a grand love for my island and for all." Last week, Rosselló said he was "not proud of what I did," but needed to "move forward" and "continue on with the work I"m doing for Puerto Rico." Catherine Garcia

July 21, 2019

The U.S. Southern Command announced Sunday that a Venezuelan fighter aircraft on Friday made an "unsafe approach" to a U.S. Navy aircraft in international airspace, "endangering the safety of the crew and jeopardizing" its mission.

The Navy aircraft, an EP-3 Aries II, was conducting a "detection and monitoring" mission over the Caribbean Sea when the incident took place. Southern Command said it reviewed video that showed Venezuela's "Russian-made fighter aggressively shadowed the EP-3 at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time." Venezuela's military has since accused the Navy plane of violating "security of air operations and international treaties."

The U.S. government does not believe Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro was fairly elected and instead supports opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Southern Command said Maduro's regime "continues to undermine internationally-recognized laws," with Maduro ignoring the suffering of his people and using Venezuela's "precious resources to engage in unprovoked and unjustified acts." Venezuela has claimed that so far this year, more than 76 U.S. aircraft have tried to enter the country's airspace, CNN reports. Catherine Garcia

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