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April 12, 2017

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Wednesday morning, amid growing U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria. The meeting started off with a warning from Lavrov, who said Russia has "seen very alarming actions recently with an unlawful attack against Syria," and considers it "of utmost importance" the U.S. refrain from "similar actions in the future." Tillerson acknowledged the "sharp differences" between Russia and the U.S., adding "We both have agreed our lines of communication shall always remain open."

At a G7 summit in Italy on Tuesday, Tillerson had issued Russia an ultimatum, saying it must side with the U.S. and other Western nations or with Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah; Russia President Vladimir Putin responded by inviting the foreign ministers of Syria and Iran to Moscow on Friday. "Our policy is consistent and it's formulated exclusively on the basis of international law," Lavrov told Tillerson on Wednesday, "and not under the impact of current opportunistic motives or false choice: 'You are with us or against us.'"

Russia has not said whether Tillerson will meet with Putin during his two-day visit. Putin once personally awarded Tillerson an "Order of Friendship" medal, but on Wednesday he said Russia's already poor working relationship with the U.S. has "most likely has degraded" since President Trump took office in January. Trump, in a Fox Business Network interview to air Wednesday morning, said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is "an animal" and warned Putin he's "backing a person that's truly an evil person. And I think that's very bad for Russia, I think that's very bad for mankind, it's very bad for this world." Peter Weber

10:57p.m.

During an interview Wednesday with The Wall Street Journal, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election is "appropriate and independent," and when everything is over, "the public will have confidence that the cases we brought were warranted by the evidence, and that it was an appropriate use of resources."

He would not speculate on when the investigation might be finished, but did note that the probe has already uncovered a massive effort by Russians to interfere in the election. "I have a solemn responsibility to make sure that cases like that are pursued and prosecuted, and I'm pleased the president has been supportive of that," he said. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation.

Rosenstein also would not comment on a report that he suggested secretly recording President Trump, an allegation he has denied, or how that affected their relationship. "The president knows that I am prepared to do this job as long as he wants me to do this job," he said. "You serve at the pleasure of the president, and there's never been any ambiguity about that in my mind." Catherine Garcia

10:10p.m.

Wednesday was Don McGahn's last day as White House counsel, The Associated Press reports.

A person inside the White House confirmed that McGahn has officially stepped down, after a 21-month tenure. During an interview with AP on Tuesday, President Trump said Washington lawyer Pat Cipollone would replace McGahn, and the president reportedly had a 20-minute farewell meeting with McGahn on Wednesday. McGahn served as the Trump campaign's general counsel, and in August, Trump announced McGahn would leave after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.

During his time in the White House, McGahn pushed for young conservatives to fill the Supreme Court, and reportedly threatened to quit in 2017 when Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He also cooperated with the Mueller investigation, sitting for about 30 hours of interviews. Catherine Garcia

9:03p.m.

While President Trump has been adamant about waiting for an investigation to take place before making any judgments, Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post on Wednesday many senior members of the administration concluded last week that the Saudis ordered the murder of missing journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi disappeared from the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, and Turkey has said he was murdered inside the building by 15 Saudi agents. Turkish officials say they have an audio recording that proves Khashoggi was killed and dismembered, and U.S. officials have said privately they do not doubt this account, the Post reports. There is no definitive proof that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, but there's also no reason to think he did not plan the operation, U.S. officials said.

The Trump administration and Saudi royal family are now trying to come up with an explanation for what happened that does not implicate the crown prince, the Post reports. U.S. intelligence reportedly discovered before Khashoggi's disappearance that the crown prince was trying to lure him from his home in Virginia to Saudi Arabia, and he told friends he did not trust overtures he was receiving from people inside the Saudi government.

Trump speculated earlier this week that "rogue killers" were behind Khashoggi's suspected death, and on Wednesday became defensive, telling reporters he's "not giving cover" to the crown prince. Giuliani, Trump's adviser and lawyer, told the Post "the only question is, was it directed from the crown prince or the king — or was it a group that was trying to please him?" He added, "I know the bloom is off the rose with the crown prince." Catherine Garcia

7:52p.m.

Investigators from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office have been peppering Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, with questions about his longtime friend and onetime business partner, Roger Stone, several people with knowledge of the matter told ABC News on Wednesday.

Stone served as a political adviser to Trump, and once ran a lobbying firm with Manafort. Manafort recently pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy in Washington, D.C., and was found guilty of financial crimes in Virginia, and is now one of Mueller's cooperating witnesses. Mueller appears to be focusing on whether Stone or his associates communicated with WikiLeaks or its founder, Julian Assange, before it released emails meant to damage Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign.

Stone made several statements before the emails were released that seemed to show he knew WikiLeaks was going to publish the information, and close to a dozen of his associates have been interviewed by Mueller's team, with many also appearing before a federal grand jury. Stone told ABC News he's known Manafort since childhood, and is "highly confident" his friend "is aware of no wrongdoing on my part during the 2016 campaign, or at any other time, and therefore there is no wrongdoing to know about." Catherine Garcia

7:14p.m.

The Judy Blume classic Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret was first published in 1970, and after decades of turning down producers, the author has agreed to turn the book into a movie.

Blume granted the rights to producer James L. Brooks and Kelly Fremon Craig, who collaborated on the 2016 movie The Edge of Seventeen. Fremon Craig will adapt and direct Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret, a book that she told Deadline is "a right of passage for women and girls."

Margaret is a sixth grader dealing with moving from New York City to New Jersey, her parents having different faiths, making new friends, boys, and the changes that come with growing up. "It's rare for me to run into a woman or girl who hasn't read it and every time I've mentioned it to a woman, they clutch their heart and let out this joyful gasp," Fremon Craig said. "There's something so timely and full of truth, and I remember for me that at that age, it felt like a life raft at a time when you're lost and searching and unsure." She has just started working on the screenplay, and said Blume sent her an email saying "if someone were to make a film of one of her books, she hoped it would have the same tone and feeling that The Edge of Seventeen had." Catherine Garcia

6:28p.m.

At least 19 students were killed and 53 wounded in a shooting at a vocational school in Crimea on Wednesday.

Of the wounded, 12 are in serious condition. Police say the suspect, 18-year-old Vladislav Roslyakov, killed himself inside the Kerch Polytechnic College library. He was described as a "shy loner," The Associated Press reports, and local officials said he just recently was granted a permit to own a shotgun and only a few days ago purchased 150 cartridges. Sergei Aksyonov, regional leader of Crimea, said Roslyakov was "walking around and shooting students and teachers in cold blood."

There was confusion throughout the day, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying at one point the victims all died in an explosion at the same time Russia's Investigative Committee said the students were all shot. Explosive devices were found on campus. In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, and this is Russia's greatest loss of life in an act of school violence since the three-day school siege in Beslan in 2004, which left 333 people dead. Catherine Garcia

5:33p.m.

Indicted Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) is bringing in ex-White House strategist Stephen Bannon to help him stave off what could be a narrow loss this fall. In other words, his campaign isn't looking so good.

Since the congressman was indicted on insider trading charges in August, his formerly massive lead has nearly slipped to Democratic challenger Nate McMurray. His fundraising totals crumbled during the third quarter. And on Wednesday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee officially made the GOP-held district a top priority.

Collins, who was Trump's first public supporter in Congress, originally planned to suspend his campaign after being hit with criminal charges. The western New York Republican surprisingly revived his campaign in September, but his supporters didn't seem to get the message. Federal Election Commission filings released this week reveal Collins took in just $33,000 in the most recent fundraising quarter — a third of what he received in the quarter before that. Just about $750 of those dollars came from Collins' actual constituents.

In another blow, a Siena College/Spectrum News poll released Tuesday placed Collins a mere three points ahead of McMurray, well within the poll's 4.7 percent margin of error. The news led the DCCC to put New York's 27th Congressional District on its "Red to Blue" list on Wednesday, The Buffalo News reports. That likely means DCCC funding is headed McMurray's way.

Collins still has about $1 million to last the rest of the race, while McMurray has a little less than half that, per FEC filings. Collins also has Bannon slated to rally for him — and every other New York Republican — at a small-town fire hall in his district later this month. Kathryn Krawczyk

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