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December 6, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating a Trump campaign adviser's frequent appearances on RT, the television network funded by the Russian government, The Guardian reports.

Ted Malloch is an American academic based in London. Right-wing author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, himself a target of the Mueller probe, told The Guardian Malloch is his friend and told him all about the questioning. "They thought maybe he was coordinating with Russia — and RT is Russia," Corsi said.

The network has a relationship with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who lives in Ecuador's London embassy. The special counsel says Russian intelligence operatives passed along hacked Democratic emails to WikiLeaks, and investigators are looking closely at one day in particular: Aug. 2, 2016. The Guardian reports that visitor logs show RT staff came to the embassy that day to interview Assange. RT denies passing along information from the meeting to anyone, including President Trump's friend and Republican operative Roger Stone. Catherine Garcia

3:11 p.m.

The Trump administration may not ultimately get to create the highly-anticipated Space Force — that will fall on congressional shoulders — but the White House has made strides in expanding the U.S. military's role beyond the Earth's atmosphere anyway.

Per CNN, defense officials confirmed on Tuesday that four star Air Force general, John Raymond, will head up the newly established U.S. Space Command.

Raymond currently oversees the Air Force Space Command (an entity separate from U.S. Space Command) and will remain in both jobs indefinitely. Defense News reported that if Space Force is, indeed, approved by Congress and established as a sixth branch of the military under the Department of the Air Force, Air Force Space Command could dissolved into the new unit. U.S. Space Command, however, will remain separate either way and will focus particularly on coordinating satellite efforts of all military branches.

Space Force remains highly controversial in Washington, but Space Command, which actually existed between 1982 and 2003 and does not require Congressional approval, has generally proven itself popular among lawmakers, as it will reportedly help the U.S. counter growing anti-satellite capabilities from possible hostile nations like China and Russia, per the Colorado Springs Gazette. President Trump announced the re-establishment of a U.S. Space Command last December. Tim O'Donnell

2:25 p.m.

Chicago's mayor and police superintendent on Tuesday tore into prosecutors for dropping the charges against Jussie Smollett, saying they stand behind their conclusion that he orchestrated a fake hate crime against himself.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Tuesday that all of the charges against Smollett being dropped is "without a doubt a whitewash of justice," arguing it sends the message that someone in "a position of influence and power" is treated differently than everyone else. Emanuel said that a grand jury had decided to indict Smollett after only seeing "a piece of the evidence" police had, complaining that Smollett has now "gotten off scot-free" after abusing hate crime laws "in the name of self-promotion" and asking, "Is there no decency in this man?"

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also said of the Empire actor, who had been hit with 16 charges but now has had his record cleared, "it's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period." Chicago "is still owed an apology," Johnson also said while criticizing Smollett as having decided to "hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system" when he should have wanted to clear his name in court.

Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, on Tuesday had said that Chicago police should not "try their cases in the press" or "convict people before they are tried in a court of law."

Joe Magats, the assistant state's attorney, told The New York Times' Julie Bosman on Tuesday that "we didn't exonerate" Smollett. Magats said that "we stand behind the investigation" but that "we work to prioritize violent crime" and that "I don't see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety." Brendan Morrow

1:53 p.m.

President Trump just performed the biggest 180 of all time.

After years of railing against Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's conduct surrounding Russian election interference, Trump finally got to see Attorney General William Barr's primary conclusions from the investigation on Sunday. Barr's letter said that, while Trump wasn't exonerated, he wouldn't face charges following Mueller's report. But Trump has proceeded to flip that determination on its head, going so far as to say "the Mueller report was great" and "it could not have been better" on Tuesday.

Trump went on to claim the report declared there was "no obstruction" and "no collusion," adding to his Sunday tweet claiming Mueller's report concluded "total exoneration" in his favor. That's not true. Per Barr's letter, Mueller's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, but also left it up to Barr "to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime." Barr decided there wasn't enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:51 p.m.

Ronald Reagan riding a velociraptor while firing a gun at his Soviet rivals. Luke Skywalker riding a Tauntauns on the ice planet Hoth. Aquaman emerging from the sea on the back of a giant seahorse.

Those were just some of the most striking visuals that Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) propped up on an easel stand during the session before the Senate's procedural vote on the Green New Deal, a plan to revamp the U.S. economy to eliminate carbon emissions introduced this year by freshman congresswoman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). At first glance, it is clear that context is sorely needed.

When Lee had the floor he declared that he wasn't afraid of the Green New Deal like some of his colleagues. Instead, he said, he would consider the proposal with "the seriousness" it deserved, prompting his use of the wild images.

Velociraptors, he said, had as little to do with ending the Cold War as the Green New Deal will have in stopping climate change.

Then the performance began. A deadpan Lee said that without the airplanes the deal mulls eventually banning, Alaskans will have to get around on "carbon-neutral" Tauntauns, a fictional "reptomammal" from the Star Wars universe. Hawaiians, meanwhile, will have to resort to crossing the Pacific Ocean on the backs of giant seahorses. Lee did admit what we're all thinking, however. "It would be really, really awesome," he said. Watch Lee's speech here starting from the 2:08:36 mark. Tim O'Donnell

1:45 p.m.

When President Trump announced last week that he was unexpectedly canceling some North Korean sanctions, it left more than just his Twitter following confused.

On Friday, Trump tweeted that the U.S. Treasury had announced "additional large scale sanctions" on North Korea, but he was already withdrawing them. The problem was, the Treasury never made that announcement — and it never intended to, Bloomberg reports.

Per four sources who spoke to Bloomberg, Trump's tweet last Friday didn't actually refer to sanctions that had been announced "today," as he wrote. He reportedly was talking about sanctions against two Chinese shippers, which the Treasury had announced Thursday. The Treasury accused the Chinese companies of helping North Korea avoid separate American sanctions issued over its nuclear program.

So sure, the sanctions Trump reportedly referenced technically involved North Korea. But it's also totally reasonable that Trump's tweet left current and former government officials "stunned," Bloomberg writes. State Department, Treasury, and White House officials wouldn't even mention the tweet for a few hours. They eventually settled on releasing an unattributed statement saying those Chinese sanctions hadn't been reversed, and that the government wouldn't "wouldn't pursue additional sanctions against North Korea," Bloomberg continues.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders later explained the tweet as Trump saying he "likes Chairman Kim and he doesn't think these sanctions will be necessary." Yet according to two sources who spoke to Bloomberg, those sanctions weren't anywhere in the Treasury's plans. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:28 p.m.

Jussie Smollett has just spoken publicly for the first time after having all of the criminal charges against him dropped.

Smollett, the Empire actor who police said staged a fake hate crime against himself, on Tuesday said that he has been "truthful and consistent on every single level since day one" and that he would "not be my mother's son if I was capable of even one drop of what I was accused of."

The actor also said he would "not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this." Now that the charges against him have been dropped, Smollett said he would like to "get back to work" and "move on with my life," closing by saying he will "continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

Smollett had said in January that he was the victim of a hate crime, saying he was attacked by two men in Chicago who put a noose around his neck and screamed, "This is MAGA country!" Although police said they originally treated this as a hate crime, they later said that Smollett actually staged it himself, accusing him of paying two men to attack him. Police blasted Smollett in a press conference, with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson saying what he did was "shameful." Smollett later pleaded not guilty to 16 felony charges.

But in a stunning turn of events, prosecutors on Tuesday unexpectedly dropped all of the charges against him, clearing his record and sealing the case. Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the police should not "try their cases in the press" and use the media to "convict people before they are tried in a court of law." Chicago police have yet to comment on Tuesday's events. Brendan Morrow

12:24 p.m.

The public still won't hear details regarding Purdue Pharma's push to market the painkiller OxyContin. Testimony from members the company's founding family, the Sacklers, won't happen either.

The pharmaceutical giant reached a $270 million dollar settlement on Tuesday with the state of Oklahoma, and legal experts argue that the settlement could help set a floor amount for other lawsuits filed against Purdue and the Sacklers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Oklahoma's attorney general claimed that Purdue's aggressive marketing tactics for OxyContin and other prescription painkillers helped fuel America's opioid crisis; the two sides reached the agreement just two months before the scheduled trial.

The New York Times reports that $100 million from the settlement will fund an addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, $70 million will pay Oklahoma cities, counties, and Native American tribes and to reimburse the state for its litigation costs. The Sacklers, who were reportedly not named in the lawsuit, will contribute an additional $75 million over five years.

Other companies involved in the lawsuit, such as Johnson and Johnson, have not settled, however. The trial, therefore, is still scheduled for May 28.

Purdue and the Sacklers, meanwhile, still face more than 1,600 opioid lawsuits from 37 states, and numerous cities, counties, and tribes across the United States. For the time being, though, the public won't hear "full recounting of Purdue's actions in promoting OxyContin to doctors and underplaying its addictive properties," writes the Times. Tim O'Donnell

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