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June 25, 2019

Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, once Hugo Chávez's head of security and later Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's spy chief, is telling all about what he says he witnessed while serving as one of the government's top officials.

Figuera was named the head of SEBIN, Venezuela's intelligence police, last October, which landed him on a U.S. sanctions list in February. A month later, Figuera was approached by the opposition and joined the plot to push out Maduro, he told The Washington Post in an interview conducted last week and released Monday. He said that working as head of SEBIN made him realize "Maduro is the head of a criminal enterprise, with his own family involved," and he was ready to defect.

Figuera told the Post he learned that an assistant to Maduro's son ran a company that had a monopoly on gold, buying it from miners for a steal and selling it for much more to Venezuela's central bank, among other high-level corruption. The government also looked the other way as groups like Hezbollah and the Colombian guerrilla organization ELN operated inside the country, he said. "I found that the cases of narco-trafficking and guerrillas were not to be touched."

The uprising against Maduro was launched April 30, but it ultimately failed. Figuera told the Post he's not the only top official who joined the effort; he named the chief justice of Venezuela's supreme court, who has publicly denied being part of the plot. Maduro was nervous during the uprising, Figuera said, and once Maduro summoned him to the country's most infamous prison, he knew he had to flee. He went to Colombia, and on Monday, arrived in the United States. "I'm proud of what I did," Figuera told the Post. "For now, the regime has gotten ahead of us. But that can quickly change." Read more on the plot to oust Maduro and Figuera's story at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

11:20 a.m.

Marvel can rest now.

Avengers: Endgame has officially passed Avatar at the worldwide box office and become the highest-grossing film in history, Disney has announced. The Marvel superhero event took in $2.790 billion by Sunday, Disney said, topping Avatar's previous record of $2.789 billion, reports The Hollywood Reporter. This is the first time the highest-grossing film worldwide unadjusted for inflation has been a movie not directed by James Cameron since before 1998's Titanic.

The milestone for Endgame, the culmination of more than a decade of Marvel Studios' storytelling, comes nearly three months after it landed in theaters with a mind-blowing domestic opening weekend of $357 million and a global opening weekend of $1.2 billion. For some time after, box office prognosticators were skeptical that Endgame could leap past Avatar, but a re-release prior to Marvel's Spider-Man: Far From Home helped provide a boost, and Disney also "found additional money when reconciling the movie's final global earnings," the Reporter notes.

The timing of this announcement couldn't have been better, either, as Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was able to inform fans about the studio's achievement at the start of its Saturday San Diego Comic-Con panel, during which Marvel went on to preview its next several years of post-Endgame movies and TV shows, announcing a fourth Thor film featuring Natalie Portman as a female Thor, a new Blade reboot starring Mahershala Ali, and much more.

Given Endgame's unprecedented level of anticipation, it's difficult to imagine another film on the horizon that might outgross it, with one exception: Avatar itself. Several sequels are coming, and it's possible Disney will re-release the original Avatar prior to its follow-up, allowing Cameron to become the king of the world once again. For now, though, the Avengers have won the box office fight of their lives. Brendan Morrow

11:03 a.m.

Fox & Friends may have been at the root of President Trump's racist tweets directed at four democratic congresswomen last week.

A report from The Washington Post, which relied on information from 26 White House aides, advisers, and lawmakers, details how even Trump's own top aides believed he did not understand the political ramifications of what he had done last Sunday when he tweeted that Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) should "go back" to the "places from which they came."

It turns out that Trump was reportedly watching Fox & Friends, one of his favorite shows, after waking up in the morning when he decided he thought it would be a good idea to "elevate" the congresswomen, whom he reportedly believes make good political foils.

Senior adviser Kellyanne Conway reportedly then had to explain to the president why the tweets had caused such stirring outrage throughout Washington and the media landscape.

While it's unclear what specifically about the show's segment on the congresswomen might have inspired the particular sentiment behind the tweets, it looks like another potential example of the reputed influence the cable news network has on the president's opinions. Read more about the fallout of Trump's tweets at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

8:23 a.m.

It was once again Iran's turn to send out a warning.

Tehran's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Hamid Baeidinejad, warned the U.K. on Sunday against escalating tensions following Tehran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. On Saturday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the U.K.'s response to the seizure would be "considered, but robust."

Baeidinejad said British political voices calling for action were "quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region." He added that "Iran is firm and ready for different scenarios." The United States, France, and Germany have all expressed support for the U.K. Still, British Chancellor Philip Hammond said the government would pursue "every possible diplomatic route" in hopes of reaching a resolution with Tehran. Hunt said Parliament will be updated about "what further measures" the government would take on Monday.

In a recording of radio exchanges between a British Royal Navy frigate and Iranian armed forces vessels right before the seizure, the Iranian forces can be heard telling a ship, likely the Stena Impero, "if you obey you will be safe," while the British navy tells the ship that, because of international law, its passage must not be impeded. Tehran said the Stena Impero crew was in "good health." Tim O'Donnell

July 20, 2019

The 138th health care worker in the Democratic Republic of Congo was infected during the country's current Ebola outbreak, which was recently declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization.

Helen Branswell of Stat News reports that infections of health care workers are generally common at the start of an outbreak before people realize that the disease is spreading, but the recent "steady stream" of infections is puzzling.

That's because the workers are aware they are at risk of infection and many have been vaccinated, including the worker who was recently infected. In short, Branswell doesn't "think this should be happening."

Branswell went on to write that the disease is "not relenting," citing that there have only been three days in July when the Ebola case increase was in the single digits. In total, since the beginning of the epidemic last August there have been over 2,400 confirmed cases, and over 1,600 confirmed deaths. Tim O'Donnell

July 20, 2019

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) is the latest member of Congress to report on harrowing conditions after a visit to the southern border, where he and other lawmakers toured border facilities in Texas.

In a Twitter thread, Schatz described overcrowded quarters and a "harsh odor" filling the air, while writing that he spoke with some men through a chain-link fence that said they had been held at the border for more than 40 days.

He also shared a story about one mother with a young daughter who apparently has not been eating. The mother is supposed to travel to New York on Sunday to get her asylum claim adjudicated, but faces several challenges.

Schatz said that he "broke down" afterward, and called out President Trump, whom he blames for creating such a harsh environment at the border.

Read the thread here. Tim O'Donnell

July 20, 2019

Puerto Rico hasn't come up much in the Democratic primaries, but several candidates expressed support for civilian protests in the territory on Friday.

As citizens continue to protest in light of the revelation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló's profane private chat and corruption probe involving several former members of his administration, Carlos "Johnny" Méndez, the president of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives, created a special committee on Friday to advise him on whether Rosselló committed impeachable offenses.

U.S. lawmakers, including presidential candidates, have added their names to the list of people calling for new leadership in the territory. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) compared Puerto Rico with her home state of Hawaii.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) also expressed solidarity with the protesters, while former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro said he believes Rosselló should resign.

The leaked chats showed the governor and 11 of his top aides exchanging profanity-laced, homophobic, and misogynistic messages about their fellow politicians, media, and celebrities. The messages also contain at least one joke about those who died during Hurricane Maria. Tim O'Donnell

July 20, 2019

Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the moment humans first set foot on the lunar landscape. And while that's brought with it some dazzling displays of commemoration, it has also put the discourse on the present and future of human space exploration front and center. The two surviving Apollo 11 astronauts weighed in on Friday evening.

Reunited in the Oval Office to celebrate the anniversary, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins both spoke about NASA and it's future plans after President Trump asked them their opinions. It's safe to say that they weren't entirely in agreement with the direction the agency has been going.

Collins, who remained in the command module while Aldrin and the late Neil Armstrong surfaced the moon, said he supports NASA bypassing a return to the moon — which is the current plan — and going straight to Mars. Aldrin, who is known for being direct, said he's disappointed with the state of human space exploration over the last decade or so. He also said that he doesn't support NASA's plan for a small space station around the moon from which to stage lunar landings, pointing out that Apollo 11 had no need.

Trump told NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who was also at the gathering, to listen to the "other side." It seems not even the anniversary moon landing can escape Trump's desire to stir the pot. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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