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May 19, 2017

Late Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that back in June 2016, House Republicans were discussing the hack of the Democratic National Committee (WikiLeaks had not yet begun to publish the stolen emails), and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested that "the Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research that they had on Trump," and when House Speaker Paul Ryan asked who they "delivered" that information to, McCarthy replied: "There's two people, I think, Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump. Swear to God."

After the House GOP leaders denied that the conversation ever took place, The Washington Post said there was audio of the conversation, and McCarthy called the comments a "bad attempt at a joke," pointing to laughter in the room. But it turns out that Russian spies actually did try to recruit Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), one of Moscow's staunchest defenders and President Trump's loyalist allies in Washington, The New York Times reported Friday.

In a secure room, with Reps. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) present, FBI agents told Rohrabacher in 2012 that Russian agents were trying to recruit him as an "agent of influence," someone Moscow could use to steer policy, wittingly or not, former officials tell the Times, adding that the FBI did not think Rohrabacher was actively working with or accepting money from Russia. Rohrabacher said the FBI agents specifically warned him that a Russian Foreign Ministry official he met with in Moscow "had something to do with some kind of Russian intelligence" and "looked at me as someone who could be influenced." Ruppersberger recalls: "Mike and I reminded Dana that Russia is our adversary."

The meeting shows that "the FBI has taken seriously the possibility that Russian spies would target American politicians," The New York Times says. But while the FBI is trying to figure out any connections between Moscow and Trump's inner circle, House Republican leaders are poring over the Washington Post article to figure out who leaked their private conversation, worried that there are more leaks to come, reports Jonathan Swan at Axios. "The most widespread theory in House leadership is that the secret recorder and the leaker was Evan McMullin, who as a former leadership aide participated in the June 15 conversation and confirmed the private conversation to The Washington Post." There's no evidence that McMullin, who ran as an independent conservative presidential candidate in 2016, is the leaker. Peter Weber

1:08 p.m. ET

The administration of Duke University in North Carolina removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the entryway of its historic campus chapel Saturday morning. The limestone carving was one of 10 figures memorialized near the chapel door; its face was vandalized Wednesday amid controversy over the similar statues honoring Confederate figures that are displayed throughout much of the country, especially in the South.

"I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university," said the university president, Vincent Price, in a statement on the decision. "The removal also represents an opportunity for us to learn and heal."

The statue will not be destroyed, though Price did not say how it would be preserved, only that it would be used to help students "study Duke's complex past and take part in a more inclusive future."

North Carolina's Gov. Roy Cooper (D) has endorsed the removal of Confederate statues on public land in his state; as a private university, however, Duke is neither compelled by that encouragement nor constrained by a 2015 law limiting removal of the monuments. Bonnie Kristian

12:52 p.m. ET
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump and first lady Melania Trump will not attend the annual Kennedy Center Honors, the White House announced Saturday, to "allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction." Also canceled is the White House reception for honorees traditionally held after the ceremony every year since 1978.

Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein and president Deborah F. Rutter received the announcement happily, issuing a statement thanking the administration for "graciously signal[ing] its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees," they said, adding, "We are grateful for this gesture."

Before the Trumps' announcement, three of the five artists to be honored — producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie, and dancer Carmen de Lavallade — said they would refuse to attend the ceremony, reception, or both in protest of the president. "In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in," de Lavallade said, "and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House." Bonnie Kristian

12:09 p.m. ET

Thousands of counter-protesters marched in Boston Saturday to demonstrate against an event billed as a celebration of free speech but slammed by critics for ties to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.

The original demonstration was organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, and its schedule for the day included two speakers with ties to the alt-right, one of whom marched in Charlottesville. Boston Free Speech has since distanced itself from white nationalism, pruning its speaker list and "denounc[ing] the politics of supremacy and violence."

Those changes did not deter counter-protesters — bearing signs condemning Nazism, the KKK, and all varieties of white supremacy — from turning out in vastly larger numbers. Police have been determined to prevent violence among demonstrators; so far, there is one report of a man in a Trump hat being punched in the face.

By 1 p.m. Eastern time, the Boston Free Speech rally ended after attracting about 20 people. Police escorted attendees through the crowd of counter-protesters. See scenes from Boston Common below. Bonnie Kristian

This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available.

10:56 a.m. ET

President Trump spent Friday at Camp David meeting with defense and diplomatic advisers to discuss a range of topics centrally including the 16-year war in Afghanistan. On Saturday morning, after heading back to his vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey, Trump posted a tweet hinting a decision about the conflict's future had been reached:

What that decision may be remains to be seen. During his campaign, Trump was skeptical that continuing the war would lead to victory or serve American national interests, though he was inconsistent on the question of whether the 2001 invasion was a mistake. He has mulled options, reportedly including everything from withdrawal to sending thousands of additional U.S. troops, for months.

A Friday statement from the White House seemed to indicate that deliberation process was still underway. "The president is studying and considering his options," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time."

The ouster of former chief strategist Stephen Bannon may play into whatever decisions were made Friday; Bannon favored a more restrained approach in Afghanistan while Trump's remaining advisers, most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, are believed to prefer a more activist approach including a troop surge. Bonnie Kristian

10:35 a.m. ET
Irina Shvets/Getty Images

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a stabbing attack Saturday morning that wounded eight people in the Siberian city of Surgut, Russia. The attacker reportedly ran down a main street in Surgut, stabbing at random until he was fatally shot by police. The ISIS statement was published several hours later.

Russian authorities have yet to comment on the attacker's identity or motives, though they called for calm and announced four of the injured are in critical condition.

This attack comes close on the heels of multiple other fatal terror attacks elsewhere in Europe this week. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the vehicle rampages in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain, on Thursday and Friday but has yet to claim Friday's stabbing in Finland. ISIS often claims responsibility for terror attacks with which it has no organizational connection, only ideological affinity. Bonnie Kristian

10:04 a.m. ET
Vesa Moilanen/Getty Images

Police in Finland arrested a man accused of stabbing eight people, killing two and injuring six more, on Friday in the southwest city of Turku. Police reported that they shot the 18-year-old Moroccan man in the leg after his alleged attack.

"The act had been investigated as murder, but during the night we received additional information which indicates that the criminal offenses are now terrorist killings," authorities said Saturday.

Eyewitness reports of the incident offer conflicting accounts; some say the suspect was heard yelling "Allahu akbar," but others say the screams were people saying "watch out" in Finnish. Bonnie Kristian

10:00 a.m. ET

A California man named Jared Tucker, 42, has been named as one of the victims of the terrorist attack in Barcelona on Thursday.

Tucker was on a delayed honeymoon to Spain with his wife, Heidi Nunes, celebrating their one-year anniversary. He stepped away from her to go to the bathroom when the vehicle attack began. "Next thing I know there's screaming, yelling," said Nunes. "I got pushed inside the souvenir kiosk and stayed there hiding while everybody kept running by screaming." The next morning, Tucker was identified among the 13 people killed.

"It's been bitter, but I don't know what my feelings are," said Tucker's father, Dan Tucker. "I'm not angry so much as I just don't understand it. My wife's in shock." A widely circulated photo of Tucker and Nunes, shown in the tweet above, was taken a mere hour before the attack.

Investigations are ongoing Saturday as authorities have linked the Barcelona attack to incidents in Cambrils and Alcanar on Friday and Wednesday, respectively, which bring the total killed by the three acts of terrorism to 15. Bonnie Kristian

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