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October 26, 2018

The FBI has confirmed that at least some of the 10 "potentially destructive devices" sent this week to prominent critics of President Trump were delivered through the U.S. Postal System, and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed to Fox News on Thursday night that some of the packages originated in Florida. Several news organizations have reported that several of the packages passed through a postal facility in Opa-locka, in Miami-Dade County. The Miami-Dade Police Department said its bomb squad is helping federal partners at the USPS Opa-locka facility "as a precautionary measure."

But since none of the 10 explosive devices actually detonated while being handled in the postal facilities, "investigators now suspect that either a would-be bomb maker is inept or the packages were intended to spread fear rather than inflict injury or death," the Los Angeles Times reports, citing two people with knowledge of the investigation. "We are treating it as suspected explosive devices," New York Police Commissioner James O'Neill told reporters on Thursday. "This is something that should be taken seriously. As far as a hoax device, we're not treating it that way."

The bombs seized Wednesday were packed with what's believed to be pyrotechnic powder and broken glass, The Associated Press reports, based on X-rays seen by law enforcement officials. Authorities are warning that there could be other pipe bombs in the mail, and they could be lethal. Retired ATF explosives investigator Anthony May tells CNN that based on X-rays, he hasn't seen "enough means to initiate this device, whether by design, whether by accident," and if "it was designed that way, then the individual's motivation was simply to spread fear, instill fear." Peter Weber

8:25 a.m.

Time has named a group of journalists who were targeted for their reporting as its 2018 "Person of the Year," recognizing what the magazine called "the guardians and the war on truth."

The first journalist recognized is Jamal Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist critical of Saudi Arabia murdered at the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. This is a rare instance of Time selecting a person who is no longer alive. The list also includes the journalists at The Capital Gazette in Maryland, who were the victims of a shooting in May that left five dead. Next is Maria Ressa, who has been indicted following her critical coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Finally, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who were arrested while reporting on the killing of Muslims in Myanmar, are also recognized.

On Today, Time Editor-in-Chief Edward Felsenthal explained that the "manipulation of the truth is really the common thread in so many of this year's stories," and the magazine wanted to highlight individuals who have "taken great risks in pursuit of greater truth."

The runner-up was President Trump, who was last named "Person of the Year" in 2016. Time typically only selects the U.S. president during years when they are running in an election; former President Barack Obama was named in 2008 and 2012, and former President George W. Bush was named in 2000 and 2004. Coming in at third place was Special Counsel Robert Mueller, with Felsenthal noting on Today that he has had a "remarkable year" and that "we're at the beginning of the crescendo of this story." Brendan Morrow

7:57 a.m.

President Trump got into a public feud with his former secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and he's shaking up his White House, and Seth Meyers saw a bit of look-over-there misdirection in Trump's antics. As Tillerson explained, "Trump is fundamentally lawless — not only does he think he's above the law, he doesn't even understand the law," Meyers said on Monday's Late Night, and we just "got the clearest picture yet of his serial lawbreaking."

On Friday, federal prosecutors "made it pretty clear that the Justice Department has damning evidence on Trump's ties to Russia" and also "spelled out as clearly as possible in this document that they believe the president of the United States committed a crime by paying hush money to cover up affairs," Meyers said. Trump, who claimed total vindication, also acknowledged he hasn't read the documents. "Every day there are new revelations that seem to fade away, but this feels like a watershed," he said. "The Justice Department just called the president of the United States a criminal."

"That's right, the president has been implicated in multiple felonies — let that sink in," Trevor Noah said on The Daily Show. "And just to be clear, this isn't even the collusion-with-Russia thing, or the obstruction-of-justice thing. We haven't even gotten to those yet. These felonies are about Trump paying hush money to his mistresses."

"It's pretty clear by now, Trump is in some deep sh-t — and he has to know it's getting serious because people on TV are saying so," Noah said. "That's right, things are so serious that people are talking about President Trump going to prison. And I know many people might want to see Trump in prison, but not me, okay? I do not want to see Trump go to prison — mostly because if you put Trump in a prison jumpsuit, it'll just look like he's naked. And why should we be punished for his crimes?" Watch below. Peter Weber

7:30 a.m.

Who will replace Kevin Hart as host of the 2019 Oscars? Turns out, maybe nobody.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is reportedly "freaking out" after Hart, who was hired to host the awards, relinquished the responsibility, Variety reports. Homophobic tweets of Hart's from years earlier had resurfaced, leading the Academy to tell him he must apologize or he'd be replaced. The group was reportedly hoping he would simply apologize and stay on as host, but Hart instead decided to step down, although he later apologized anyway.

But the Oscars are just two months away, and Variety reports the Academy was "blindsided" by all this and had "no contingency plans in place." The group is reportedly considering a variety of options for how to proceed, including the possibility of just putting on the show without a host. That wouldn't be unprecedented; it last happened in 1989. The idea would be to instead rely on a line-up of different presenters, or as one insider said, "a bunch of huge celebs, something SNL style, and buzzy people." This could include a monologue delivered by a group rather than a single host.

There's still the possibility of an actual host being hired to replace Hart, but the problem is the Academy is now reportedly quite worried about hiring someone who could be too "edgy." Whatever they decide, they better do it fast, as the 2019 Oscars is scheduled to take place on Feb. 24. Brendan Morrow

6:34 a.m.

President Trump's search for a new chief of staff has take on "the feel of a season of The Apprentice, his former NBC reality show," The Washington Post reports. "Candidates for the job are unsure of the status of the president's deliberations and are being kept largely in the dark from the White House." But there is one major different between reality TV and reality, The New York Times adds: In real life, Trump "famously avoids one-on-one interpersonal conflict," and he absolutely hates firing people.

After months of deliberation, Trump had decided he wanted to poach Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff, Nick Ayers, to replace his own chief of staff, John Kelly. To make room for Ayers, Trump "had been trying for awhile to pull the trigger on firing Mr. Kelly," the Times reports, adding:

Famous for the "You're fired!" catchphrase and also for hating confrontation, Mr. Trump had looked for others to do the work for him last week — even attempting to arrange for Mr. Ayers to fire Mr. Kelly — according to three people familiar with the events. Finally, Mr. Trump persuaded Mr. Pence and Mr. Ayers to join him in hashing things out with Mr. Kelly in the presidential residence on Friday night. But instead of sticking to the plan to let Mr. Kelly leave with dignity, which Mr. Ayers and others in the White House had urged the president to do, Mr. Trump decided to announce it himself on Saturday. [The New York Times]

Ayers turned down Trump's job offer on Sunday, after Trump had been telling people Ayers had accepted the position, the Post reports. Still, the Times adds, "on Monday, according to several people close to the administration, the president was more focused on his success in dispatching Mr. Kelly than on his anger at Mr. Ayers." Peter Weber

4:53 a.m.

The Late Show found a reason for White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to smile, finally.

Yes, "the White House right now is going through yet another big shakeup," Jimmy Kimmel said on Monday's Kimmel Live. President Trump nominated William Barr to be attorney general — "I saw the headline 'Trump Nominates Barr,' I thought he picked Roseanne," Kimmel joked — and Kelly is out in January. "The president's having a hard time finding someone to replace him," Kimmel said. "It's a tough situation: How do you convince a rat to jump on a sinking ship? It's against their nature."

Kimmel revisited some Trump tweets — when he mocked former President Barack Obama for having three chiefs of staff in three years, when he attacked ex-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as "dumb as a rock," and when he praised him.

But Kimmel dwelled on Trump's early-morning Monday tweet about "No Smocking Gun" despite digging by "Democrats" and ex-FBI Director James Comey. "Typos aside, this is some argument, because Donald Trump is defending himself by reminding us about the hush money he paid to a porn star and a centerfold, which he calls a 'private transaction,'" Kimmel said. "He's clearly panicked right now — I would not want to be a bucket of KFC in Washington tonight. And what about the 'Smocking Gun'? This isn't the first time he's tweeted the word 'smocking.'" For the good of the nation, Kimmel gave Trump a quick lesson about "ck" words versus "ke" words, like "jock" versus "joke."

On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert dug a little deeper into Comey's testimony before House Republicans — the proximate trigger for Trump's "Smocking Gun" tweet — and then dissected the tweet. "Now some say that's a typo," he said, "but today at a fiery briefing, Deputy Press Secretary Bill Farblah defended the president's tweet." And in the fake press conference, "smocking" suddenly made sense. Watch below. Peter Weber

3:36 a.m.

Russian national Maria Butina will plead guilty Wednesday to working as an unregistered Russian agent "to establish unofficial lines of communication with Americans having power and influence over U.S. politics," with help from her American boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson, and under the direction of Kremlin-linked banker Alexander Torshin, according to a draft plea agreement obtained by ABC News. "Butina sought to use those unofficial lines of communication for the benefit of the Russia Federation."

A 30-year-old purported gun-rights activist, Butina has been in jail since her arrest in July. She signed the plea deal on Dec. 8, and according to CNN, she is already cooperating with federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C. According to the plea deal, Butina said she and Erickson (identified as U.S. Person 1) drafted a proposal in March 2015, later sent to Torshin, in which she wrote she'd already "laid the groundwork for an unofficial channel of communication with the next U.S. administration," which she predicted would be Republican.

Butina traveled the U.S. and met with Republican presidential candidates in 2015, and in December of that year, she helped arrange a trip to Moscow for senior NRA leaders and donors, pushing them to meet with senior Russian officials, including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Dmitry Rogozin, a deputy to Russian President Vladimir Putin. After that trip, according to U.S. prosecutors, Butina sent Torshin a message, translated to read: "We should let them express their gratitude now, we will put pressure on them quietly later."

Erickson, who's also reportedly a target of federal prosecutors in Washington, wrote an acquaintance in October 2016 that he has "been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [unnamed political party] leaders through, of all conduits, the [unnamed gun-rights organization]." On MSNBC Monday night, Rachel Maddow connected some speculative dots between the NRA, Russia, and the Trump campaign, and she noted Torshin's sudden "retirement." Watch below. Peter Weber

1:50 a.m.

In a 13-minute address to France on Monday evening, an unusually contrite President Emmanuel Macron laid out some new "strong measures" to address the "economic and social emergency" gripping the country, exposed by four weekends of "yellow vest" protests. Macron said his government would pay for a 100 euro monthly raise in the minimum, eliminate taxes on overtime pay in 2019, cut an "unjust" tax on small pensions, and ask profitable companies to give workers a tax-free bonus this month. He also said he would travel France to begin a dialogue with mayors, regional civil leaders, trade unions, and other stakeholders in France's success. He did not pledge to reinstate a special tax on the richest French citizens.

It is unclear if Macron's concessions, following his scrapping of a planned fuel tax, will defuse the yellow vest protests. Protest leaders said they would continue taking to the streets, but some analysts said they expect the movement to fizzle as Christmas approaches. It's also unclear how France will pay for the proposals, estimated to cost $9 billion to $13 billion. As notable as Macron's fiscal proposals, however, was his uncharacteristically soft tone. "I take my share of responsibility" for the anger roiling France, Macron said. "I might have hurt people with my words." Peter Weber

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