April 20, 2017
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On Thursday, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that Jehovah's Witnesses are an "extremist" organization and banned the group from the country.

The state-run news agency Tass reports that all of the Christian denomination's assets in Russia, including its headquarters in St. Petersburg, will become state property. "We are greatly disappointed by this development and deeply concerned about how this will affect our religious activity," Yaroslav Sivulskiy, a spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia, told Reuters. "We will appeal this decision, and we hope that our legal rights and protections as a peaceful religious group will be fully restored as soon as possible."

Previously, literature passed out by the group has been banned and some members have been arrested or had their property seized, NPR reports. There are about 8 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the world, with 170,000 followers in Russia. Catherine Garcia

6:19 a.m. ET

In June 2016, Rick Dearborn — then chief of staff to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and in charge of candidate Donald Trump's policy operation — sent an email to Trump campaign officials passing on an invitation from someone identified only as "WV" for top Trump officials to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, CNN reports, citing multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter. The email was among 20,000 pages of documents that the Trump campaign and White House turned over the congressional investigators. Dearborn is now President Trump's deputy White House chief of staff.

"WV" refers to West Virginia, a source tells CNN, and it isn't clear who the individual is, his or her connection to Russia, or whether Dearborn followed up on the request. In the email, he "appeared skeptical of the requested meeting," the source told CNN. Dearborn and the White House declined CNN's request for comment. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported on a series of emails from a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who was also attempting to set up Trump team meetings with Russian officials. Sessions, now the attorney general, headed the foreign policy team that included Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another Russia-linked Trump campaign adviser, and investigators are reportedly interested in learning any role Dearborn played in setting up meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

U.S. intelligence experts suggest that the emails show Russians trying to finds points of entry into the Trump campaign. Kislyak, now retired, told CNN from Russia that the idea he tried to recruit Trump campaign members is "nonsense." Peter Weber

5:07 a.m. ET
Vice News Tonight via AP

On Wednesday afternoon, one of the leaders of the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Christopher Cantwell, turned himself in to police in Lynchburg, Virginia, and he's being held in the local jail pending transfer to Charlottesville, where he's wanted on two felony counts of illegal use of tear gas and one count of malicious bodily injury with a "caustic substance." Cantwell, 36, was featured prominently in a widely viewed Vice News documentary about the Charlottesville melee — among other things, he says he thinks the murder of anti-racism protester Heather Heyer was justified and backs a white "ethno-state" — and he made a tearful video last week fretting about this possible arrest.

Cantwell said he thought he might face charges due to a photo of him pepper-spraying a man directly in the eyes, but justified that action in interviews, saying he was defending himself. The Vice News documentary has been viewed more than 44 million times. Peter Weber

3:55 a.m. ET
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On Wednesday, a federal judge in Corpus Christi, Texas, ruled that a softened voter ID law Gov. Greg Abbott (R) had signed in June was still too onerous and discriminatory against black and Latino voters, and Texas vowed to appeal the ruling. Texas passed the nation's strictest voter ID law in 2011, allowing registered voters to cast ballots only if they showed a Texas driver's license or ID card, concealed handgun license, U.S. passport, U.S. citizenship certificate, or an election ID certificate. The new law keeps those requirements, but allows people to vote if they present a bill or other document showing name and address and sign an affidavit swearing they had a "reasonable impediment" to getting an approved ID, on penalty of jail.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzalez Ramos said the affidavit's harsh penalties "appear to be efforts at voter intimidation," and said the failure to expand the list of applicable forms of ID amounted to intentional discrimination. Gonzalez Ramos had first struck the voter ID law down in 2011, and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that it disproportionately burdened minorities. On Wednesday, she held out the possibility she would once again require Texas to get federal pre-clearance for electoral laws under the Voting Rights Act, making it the first state put back under federal oversight since the Supreme Court significantly weakened the law in 2013.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) called Wednesday's ruling "outrageous" and pointed out that the Justice Department has sided with Texas since President Trump took office, after supporting civil rights groups challenging the law under former President Barack Obama. Senate Bill 5 was passed by the people's representatives and includes all the changes to the Texas voter ID law requested by the 5th Circuit," he wrote. Earlier this month, a separate federal court said that the voting districts Texas Republicans had drawn in 2011 were also racially discriminatory, ordering the state to redraw two gerrymandered districts before the 2018 election. Peter Weber

3:05 a.m. ET

President Trump's strange campaign rally in Phoenix on Tuesday night "started with a bang," Trevor Noah said on Wednesday's Daily Show, but he was being sarcastic. It actually began with Vice President Mike Pence and HUD Secretary Ben Carson, there to "luke-warm up the crowd." After treating his audience to a Ben Carson impersonation, Noah played some of Trump's "fire and fury," stopping at the part where Trump threatened to shut down the government if Congress doesn't give him money for his Mexico border wall.

"What do you mean, the government's going to shut down?" he asked, indignantly. "Mexico pays for the wall! That's the only reason I watch the rallies, is to see the hits. You can't just change the words to your songs, Trump!"

"Now, although most of Trump's rally was an outstanding rejection of sanity," Noah said, "there was a key issue he had to address, and that was demanding justice for the real victim of Charlottesville: himself." Trump spent about 15 minutes reading parts of the evolving and devolving statements he gave after the violent Charlottesville white supremacist rally, and Noah played some of the video, shaking his head. "I'm so glad we didn't elect an irrational woman as president," he joked.

But of course, Trump carefully omitted the newsworthy parts of his statements. "You can't leave out 'on many sides,'" Noah protested. "That was the whole reason people were mad." In any case, Trump managed to divide America further, and the Trump side doesn't sound so bad, Noah said, playing part of an interview with a Trump supporter. "You know, in a way I envy these Trump supporters, because they're living in a state of bliss," he said. "For everyone else, Trump's presidency is a little more painful." Watch below. Peter Weber

2:05 a.m. ET
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Powerball officials say a sole ticket-buyer in Massachusetts has won the massive $758.7 million jackpot, the second-largest Powerball win in U.S. history, after correctly picking all six numbers for Wednesday night's drawing — 6, 7, 16, 23, 26, and Powerball 4. The lucky Bay Stater snapped a streak of 20 jackpot-less Powerball draws. There were also some lesser winners — two tickets sold in Florida matched the first five numbers, earning $1 million apiece, while four people won $200,000 and 24 players won $50,000. Powerball tickets — sold in 44 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands — cost $2, and the odds of winning the jackpot were about 1 in 292.2 million. The winner can take a lump sum of $480.5 million or opt for 30 payments over 29 years. Most winners choose the cash payout. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m. ET

On Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared a pre-emptive state of disaster for 30 counties, and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) set up a crisis task force to prepare for Tropical Storm Harvey, expected to make landfall in Texas on Friday night or Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane. The National Weather Service and state and local officials are especially worried about Harvey because it is slow-moving and expected to dump 10-15 inches of rain or more on Houston and surrounding areas over the weekend as it crawls northeastward. The National Weather Service issued its first-ever storm surge watch for Calhoun County, Texas, some 150 miles southwest of Houston, meaning that water could rise 4 to 6 feet above ground.

Harvey "could become the first major natural disaster of the Trump presidency," warns Eric Holthaus at Grist. "This is the kind of storm you drop everything to pay attention to." It has already been a wet August for the Texas Gulf Coast, and so the ground is saturated and primed to flood, while Houston is especially vulnerable to devastating floods because of poor city planning and lots of pavement, he notes, and the worst models have 20 to 40 inches of rain dumping on parts of Texas and Louisiana.

Then there's the warming climate, Holthaus says:

Floods like the one in the worst Harvey forecasts have come at an increasingly frequent pace. Since the 1950s, the Houston area has seen a 167 percent increase in heavy downpours. At least four rainstorms so severe they would occur only once in 100 years under normal conditions have hit the area since May 2015. With a warmer climate comes faster evaporation and a greater capacity for thunderstorms to produce epic deluges. ... If Harvey's rains hit the coast with anywhere near the force of the most alarming predictions, we'd be in for disaster. And judging by how New Orleans and Houston have handled recent rains, coupled with the state of federal disaster relief, we're not ready for it. [Grist]

You can read more about Harvey's dangers at Grist. Peter Weber

1:34 a.m. ET

For their first wedding anniversary, Susan Landis gave her husband, Sam, a gift that changed his life: A DNA kit that connected him to the family he'd spent decades wondering about.

Sam Landis was adopted in 1974 by a couple in Cincinnati. He was six months old at the time, and because it was a closed adoption, he was never able to find any of his biological relatives. After Susan gave him the DNA kit, they waited for the results and ultimately connected with a cousin, leading Landis to his birth father, Greg Baker. "I don't have any regrets and I know he doesn't either, and the time was just right for us to meet," Landis told WLWT. "It was God's timing."

Landis and his wife flew to Orlando, where they met Baker, his mother, and his wife; Landis also found out that his birth mother died in 1997 and that he has a half-sister. "When I saw him and he looked just like me, there's no doubt," he said. "A DNA test wasn't even needed. I can't even explain the joy that I felt and then when I got to hold him and hug him. I felt that we belonged together." Baker told WLWT he always wanted to search for his son, but respected the fact it was a closed adoption. "I always thought about him, always prayed for him," he said. Catherine Garcia

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