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Republicans, Democrats and witnesses on Thursday were fighting in microcosm the national political argument over the demonstrations — and some violence — that have followed the police killing of George Floyd earlier this year.

The greatest peril posed to American elections is that the cloud of fear and uncertainty about them will cause citizens to stop believing they matter, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Congress on Thursday.

Wray was asked in a House Homeland Security Committee hearing about his No. 1 concern as the FBI and other agencies work to quash the manifold foreign threats posed to this and future elections. He said the worst danger isn't something within the power of a foreign government.

Russia's interference in this year's presidential race relies as heavily on disinformation and agitation as the "active measures" of 2016, but less so on cyberattacks targeting state election infrastructure, FBI Director Christopher Wray told a House panel on Thursday.

Foreign nations can select from many weapons when targeting a democratic election, but two broad strategies boil down to: changing minds or changing votes.

The FBI and Big Tech platforms are trying to combat foreign disinformation by rooting it out early and often to deny it mass and momentum, Director Christopher Wray told Congress on Thursday.

The more fake accounts that can get started sharing false stories or increasing agitation, the more consequential those efforts can become, Wray said.

So his strategy working with platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has been to act as swiftly as possible to step in and stop those efforts at the seedling stage before they grow into something more substantive and problematic.

FBI Director Christopher Wray says individuals who self-radicalize online and take advantage of readily available weapons pose the most significant threat domestically.

Wray was asked during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee what domestic group poses the greatest threat to the homeland, and whether it belongs to the political left or the right.

The FBI doesn't see politics in that way, he said.

The empty chair at the House Homeland Security Committee on Thursday can't answer members' questions about the recent goings-on within the Department of Homeland Security.

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf rejected a subpoena to appear, but DHS says acting Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli was prepped in his place.

The chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security condemned acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf's failure to appear in response to a subpoena on Thursday.

A House committee has convened a hearing on threats to the homeland with top intelligence and security officials — albeit with some notable absences.

Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe is not appearing after recently announcing changes to how members of Congress would be briefed on election threats. In a statement on Wednesday, he reiterated that he does not intend to give broad briefings "in order to protect sources and methods," although he said he still will talk with small groups of select lawmakers.

Updated at 8:22 a.m. ET

Attorney General Bill Barr blasted his own Justice Department prosecutors as a "permanent bureaucracy" that all too often abuse their power to go after high-profile targets in a process he likened to "headhunting."

In remarks Wednesday to a largely conservative audience celebrating Constitution Day at Hillsdale College, the leader of the Justice Department asserted that he's the one who should make the big calls in cases of national interest.

Scientific American has been in print for nearly two centuries, but it has never endorsed a presidential candidate — until now. This week, the magazine announced its endorsement of Democratic nominee Joe Biden for president.

"We took this decision very seriously. You don't give up 175 years of tradition for nothing," Laura Helmuth, the magazine's editor-in-chief, said in an interview with NPR's Morning Edition.

The magazine's endorsement reads:

If President Trump wins Wisconsin again, he'll have Republican stalwarts like Mary Ludwig to thank.

"I always vote Republican because I'm so against abortion," she said, sitting next to a lake in the Milwaukee suburb of Oconomowoc on a recent summer evening.

Ludwig has some reservations about Trump; she says that she doesn't like the "offensive" things he says. On the other hand, she also has things she admires about him: She really likes his kids and thinks he's handling the economy well.

A plan to save popular video-sharing app TikTok in the U.S. is taking shape behind closed doors in Washington, though President Trump cast fresh doubt Wednesday that the deal as it stands would satisfy the White House.

The urgent talks are happening with only days to go before Trump's executive order to shut down TikTok's business in the U.S. will take effect.

The Senate and House intelligence committees say they expect top national security officials to once again provide in-person briefings on potential threats to the November election.

The director of national intelligence, John Ratcliffe, caused a stir last month when he said his office would no longer provide face-to-face briefings to Congress. He said the sensitive information was routinely leaked to the media.

Ratcliffe, a staunch supporter of President Trump, said he would keep Congress updated through written reports.

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Distributing a vaccine or vaccines for the coronavirus will be one of the biggest challenges the next president faces, Democratic nominee Joe Biden said Wednesday.

"The development of a vaccine is only part of the battle. Distributing a vaccine to the entire population is as complex and challenging as one of the most sensitive military operations," he said in prepared remarks in Wilmington, Del., after he received a briefing from a panel of vaccine experts.

Michael Caputo, the top spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services and a longtime ally of President Trump's, is taking a 60-day leave of absence after a social media tirade in which he falsely accused government scientists of engaging in "sedition."

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The Justice Department announced charges on Wednesday against five Chinese nationals in connection with the hacking of more than 100 American and foreign companies as well as of nonprofits and universities.

The department also charged two Malaysian businessmen with conspiring with two of the indicted Chinese nationals to target companies in the billion-dollar computer game industry. American officials say Malaysian authorities have arrested the businessmen, who now face extradition to the United States.

The Trump administration is turning to the Supreme Court to try to revive the president's attempt to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the census numbers used to determine each state's share of seats in Congress.

Updated at 6:50 p.m. ET

President Trump on Wednesday again said widespread distribution of a vaccine against the coronavirus would happen before the end of the year, directly contradicting Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield. The CDC chief testified earlier Wednesday that a vaccine would not be widely available until next spring or summer.

Trump said he expects the government to be able to distribute a vaccine "sometime in October," though "it may be a little later than that."

Football and the presidential campaign have intersected yet again.

President Trump on Wednesday cheered the Big Ten Conference's decision to resume its college football season in late October.

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It looks, for now, like President Trump has bounced back a little after bottoming out.

The president was at a low point against former Vice President Joe Biden, but in the past month, even though Biden still has an edge, the landscape has tightened some, according to the latest NPR Electoral College analysis.

Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET

Top congressional Democrats are calling for a federal investigation after a nurse who worked at an immigration detention center in Georgia filed a whistleblower complaint alleging a lack of medical care and unsafe work practices that facilitated the spread of COVID-19.

She also says that immigrant women received questionable hysterectomies, an allegation that lawmakers seized on in statements issued Tuesday.

A Google executive faced bipartisan grilling in the Senate on Tuesday over the company's dominance in digital advertising, in a preview of arguments the tech giant is likely to soon face from antitrust regulators.

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Updated at 9:43 a.m. ET Wednesday

A bipartisan group of senators is offering a potential solution to a scheduling conundrum plaguing the 2020 census, with just over two weeks before counting is set to end.

Michael Caputo, the top spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed to NPR on Tuesday that he made comments during a Facebook Live event on Sunday that have attracted attention and concern – but he said that some of the comments had been taken out of context.

The longtime political strategist did not dispute that he said he believes there are scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who are trying to undermine President Trump and accused them of "sedition."

People filed indoors for a massive gathering in violation of state guidance. There was no social distancing, and mask use was uneven.

President Trump's rally Sunday in Nevada underscored the differences in how he and Joe Biden are approaching campaigning in the presidential race's final weeks.

North Carolina Democratic Senate candidate Cal Cunningham said Monday during a debate that he would be "hesitant" to take a vaccine for COVID-19 approved by Election Day, leading Republicans nationwide to characterize him and Democrats as "anti-vaxxers."

Cunningham, an attorney and former state legislator, is trying to unseat first-term Republican Thom Tillis. The race is one of the most closely watched this year and could decide which party controls the Senate.

When asked a hypothetical question about a vaccine, Cunningham said "he has questions."

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