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September 24, 2018

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Monday wrote a letter calling the sexual assault allegations against him "false," "uncorroborated," and "grotesque."

In the letter, written to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee's ranking member, Kavanaugh defended himself against new allegations from Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh exposed himself to her while they were in college. He also reiterated his denial of the wrongdoing alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, who says Kavanaugh forcibly groped her while they were in high school.

"There is now a frenzy to come up with something — anything — that will block this process and a vote on my confirmation from occurring," wrote Kavanaugh, who said these "smears" threaten to "debase our public discourse."

"Such grotesque and obvious character assassination ... will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from service," he predicted, asserting that he would "not be intimidated into withdrawing." Kavanaugh additionally said the allegations were part of a "coordinated effort" to destroy his reputation, which he said is based in his dedication to "the equality and dignity of women."

Kavanaugh and Ford are set to testify Thursday about Ford's allegations before the committee. Read the full letter below, via Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur. Summer Meza

10:33 p.m.

President Trump made some pretty big promises Tuesday night during a rally in Orlando.

The event marked the official launch of his re-election campaign, and during his nearly 90-minute speech, Trump vowed that if he gets a second term, "We will come up with the cures to many, many problems, to many, many diseases, including cancer. We will eradicate AIDS in America, and we're very close."

Trump made several false claims, including that he passed the largest tax cut in history — it was the eighth largest, and smaller than two of former President Barack Obama's tax cuts, The Washington Post has noted — and that the unemployment rate has never been lower (it was 3.6 percent in May, but as low as 2.5 percent in 1953).

He railed against socialism, said Democrats are "more unhinged" than they ever have been, and in a moment straight out of 2016, criticized Hillary Clinton, which triggered the crowd to start chanting, "Lock her up! Lock her up!" In one sign that Trump might be ready to leave the past behind him, he asked the audience to help him decide between sticking with "Make America Great Again" as his slogan or switching to "Keep America Great." The Guardian reports that by the amount of cheers, it was apparent the crowd preferred KAG to MAGA. Catherine Garcia

9:50 p.m.

Scientists from the University of Alaska Fairbanks were stunned when they discovered that permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is thawing 70 years earlier than predicted.

"What we saw was amazing," Prof. Vladimir E. Romanovsky told Reuters. "It's an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years." The scientists made their last expedition in 2016, visiting a remote location only accessible by propeller plane, and couldn't believe what they saw — there were depressions and ponds and lots of vegetation, a completely different scene from what they saw during their first trip a decade earlier.

Unusually hot summers triggered the thaw, and it is likely other areas of the Canadian Arctic are also affected; the scientists are preparing to expand their study. When permafrost thaws at a fast rate, large amounts of heat-trapping gasses are released into the atmosphere, and that concerns scientists, as this will make global temperatures rise even faster. "Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it's happening before our eyes," Greenpeace International Executive Director Jennifer Morgan told Reuters. "The premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately." Catherine Garcia

8:26 p.m.

DNA evidence exonerated them and another man confessed to the crime, but President Trump refuses to apologize to the Central Park Five for demanding that they be executed.

In 1989, a woman was beaten, raped, and left for dead in New York's Central Park. Five black and Latino teenagers were accused of the crime, and later recanted confessions they said were made under duress. The teens — dubbed the Central Park Five — pleaded not guilty, and while none of their DNA matched samples from the crime scene, they were found guilty. Later, a convicted murderer and rapist confessed he was the perpetrator, and it was determined his DNA matched the samples. After being wrongfully imprisoned, the Central Park Five were exonerated and later reached a settlement with the city of New York.

Ten days after the crime was committed, Trump paid for full-page ads in four newspapers, calling for the Central Park Five to be executed with the message: "BRING BACK THE DEATH PENALTY. BRING BACK OUR POLICE!" A new Netflix miniseries about the case, When They See Us, has the country talking about the Central Park Five, and American Urban Radio Networks correspondent April Ryan asked Trump on Tuesday if he would ever apologize to the men. "You have people on both sides of that," Trump responded. "They admitted their guilt ... some of the prosecutors think the city should never have settled that case and we'll leave it at that."

One of the men, Yusef Salaam, wrote in The Washington Post ahead of the 2016 presidential election that Trump "has never apologized for calling for our deaths. It's further proof of Trump's bias, racism, and inability to admit that he's wrong." Catherine Garcia

7:40 p.m.

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday for an ordinance it hopes will tackle the "growing health epidemic of youth vaping."

The supervisors voted to amend the health code to ban the sale and distribution of e-cigarettes in the city, and the final vote is expected next week. "This is about thinking about the next generation of users and thinking about protecting the overall health and sending a message to the rest of the state and the country: Follow our lead," Supervisor Ahsha Safai said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2018, 4.9 million middle and high school students were vaping, up from 3.6 million in 2017. The e-cigarette company Juul is based in San Francisco, and says vaping is a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. "The prohibition of vapor products for all adults in San Francisco will not effectively address underage use and will leave cigarettes on shelves as the only choice for adult smokers, even though they kill 40,000 Californians every year," Juul spokesman Ted Kwong told NBC News. Catherine Garcia

6:58 p.m.

Federal authorities seized 33,000 pounds of cocaine Tuesday from a ship at Packer Marine Terminal in Philadelphia, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania said.

This was one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history, with the cocaine having a street value of more than $1 billion. The U.S. attorney's office said several crew members were arrested and will face federal charges. There have been several major cocaine busts on the East Coast this year, with authorities finding 3,200 pounds at the Port of New York and New Jersey in February and drug dogs sniffing out 1,185 pounds just a month later in Philadelphia.

The drugs were found on a vessel called the MSC Gayane, The Associated Press reports, which made stops in the Bahamas, Panama, Peru, and Colombia. The ship's owner, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., said in a statement it "takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its services." Catherine Garcia

5:36 p.m.

President Trump's 2020 reelection bid is attracting a questionable crowd.

Trump is holding a Tuesday night rally in Orlando that officially launches his 2020 campaign, and hours before it began, thousands of supporters were already out waiting in the rain. Those supporters notably included swaths of white supremacists and believers in the often-destructive QAnon conspiracy, who marched in groups to wait for Trump's arrival.

In the hours before the rally, Trump backers in "Q" merchandise were everywhere. QAnon believers think Trump is discretely overthrowing entrenched government forces, Democrats, and Hollywood elites, and that there's an anonymous high-level government agent who goes by "Q" constantly updating followers on his progress.

Groups of white supremacists calling themselves "Proud Boys" also donned matching polos and marched toward anti-Trump protesters outside the rally, flashing "okay" hand gestures that reportedly represent a "W" and a "P" to make "white power." Orlando police stopped them from getting too close to the protesters.

And as The New York Times' Maggie Haberman spotted, one person waiting outside the Trump rally combined both those ideologies into one sign.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Sentinel's editorial board issued a very timely opinion ahead of the campaign launch, saying they haven't decided on a certain 2020 candidate to endorse, but that it certainly won't be Trump. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:24 p.m.

Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) teamed up from across the aisle on Tuesday to raise concerns over President Trump's decision on Monday to deploy 1,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East.

The two senators wrote a letter to the president, asking him to clarify several aspects of the decision, including where, specifically, the troops will be deployed, what their mission is, and if they'll be used to apply pressure on Iran. They also asked Trump to relay to them what the "new, specific imminent threat from Iran is."

The senators were joined by a bipartisan group of fellow senators, including Jeff Merkley (D-Or.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Ct.), and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in signing the letter. Together, they emphasized that Congress has not authorized war with Iran and "no current statutory authority allows the U.S. to conduct hostilities against the government of Iran." The letter concludes with a request for a joint Defense, State, and Intelligence community briefing by the end of June to address the situation. Read the full letter here. Tim O'Donnell

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