Colorado student arrested for murder and Trump compares legal woes to Alexei Navalny's death: Morning Rundown

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This year will be one of the most challenging for democracy yet. Election deniers tone down their claims as they run again this year. And astronomers believe they have discovered the universe's brightest object. 

Here’s what to know today.

This year will see more elections than ever. But don’t call it a win for democracy.

This year will see the most elections since such records began. (Max Butterworth / NBC News)
This year will see the most elections since such records began. (Max Butterworth / NBC News)

In 2024, around half the world will go to the polls — some 4 billion people in 76 nations — the most of any year on record. Some of these elections will be widely considered fair, such as those already held in Taiwan and Finland; and the so-called votes in Russia, North Korea and elsewhere will be an outright sham.

The centerpiece, even for many outside the United States will be the contest between President Joe Biden and his presumed opponent, former President Donald Trump. “This is a big stress test for democracy globally,” said Kelley E. Currie, who has held senior State Department roles, including under Trump, for whom she was the U.S. ambassador for global women’s issues. “The autocracies are linked up and working together,” she said, adding that “2024 will be an important inflection point for us.”

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Meanwhile, Russia, China and others will likely continue the election meddling that Western intelligence agencies now routinely expect, despite Beijing and Moscow’s denials. This year’s Global Risk Report by the World Economic Forum said misinformation and disinformation were the top risks of the next two years — more so than war or climate change.

Never before will so many people around the world have had the opportunity to vote, but rarely have democracy’s core tenets been so fundamentally threatened.

Prominent election deniers are running again in 2024, but some have toned down their claims

At least 17 Republican candidates who made false claims about the 2020 election the focus of recent campaigns are running for office again in 2024. But this time around, most of them aren’t making the debunked claims to voters that the race was stolen from Trump.

“That message didn’t work,” veteran Republican strategist Alex Conant said. “Republicans want to win in 2024. They know they’re not going to win in 2020 — there’s nothing we can do now to change what happened.”

Kari Lake is running for the Senate after making her support of Trump’s claims that the election was stolen from him a centerpiece of her failed 2022 run for Arizona governor. She still hasn’t acknowledged she lost the race. But her 2024 Senate campaign has not focused on election denialism, instead focusing on issues such as border security and the economy, while also pushing for the importance of “honest elections.”

Many of these GOP candidates are running again in crucial swing states, whose responsibilities in some cases could be tied to certifying results. GOP strategists say the shift could help candidates appeal to more potential voters, but some warn it could obscure their unfounded positions.

Two years after Russian invasion, landmines plague one-third of Ukraine

ukraine russian war conflict landmine land mins detection (Jusan Barreto / AFP via Getty Images file)
ukraine russian war conflict landmine land mins detection (Jusan Barreto / AFP via Getty Images file)

Ukraine has become one of the most mine-littered nations on earth since Russia’s invasion. Eleven of Ukraine’s 27 regions are strewn with mines, according to Human Rights Watch. All told, about 30% of Ukraine’s territory is infested with land mines, an area roughly equivalent to the state of Florida. Almost 1,000 civilians in Ukraine have been killed by mines since the war began, according to aid groups. Most of those civilian casualties were caused by anti-vehicle mines planted in areas where Ukrainians were trying to revive their farms.

“It is a huge issue for farmers,” Anatasia Radina, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, said in an interview with NBC News. She added, “and it’s also impacting civilians, literally kids going to the park or to the forest, they can actually encounter landmines in many territories of Ukraine.”

The $95 billion U.S. aid package to Ukraine under consideration by Congress includes a provision that would fund land mine clearance in the country. Ukraine’s military has had to mount elaborate and time-consuming efforts to clear mines and carve out assault lanes for its armored units.

Read more:

  • A holdup of U.S. aid and a shortage of ammunition have contributed to the loss of the eastern city of Avdiivka and eroded morale among units in Ukraine that find themselves outmanned and outgunned.

Suspect who fatally shot 2 officers, 1 first responder was not permitted to own firearm 

Side by side of Matthew Ruge,  Adam Finseth and Paul Elmstrand. (City of Burnsville via AP)
Side by side of Matthew Ruge, Adam Finseth and Paul Elmstrand. (City of Burnsville via AP)

A man who killed two Minnesota police officers and a first responder was prohibited from owning a firearm and made an unsuccessful bid to overturn his lifelong gun ban four years ago, court records show. He had several guns and large amounts of ammunition when he opened fire on law enforcement officers while barricaded inside a home with seven children in Burnsville, Minnesota. The children are between the ages of 2 and 15. Officers were attempting to negotiate with the suspect when he began shooting.

The suspect, Shannon Gooden, was prohibited by state law from possessing firearms after he was convicted of second-degree assault in 2007. In 2020, his attorney at the time attempted to reverse what he called a “harsh” ban, arguing that there was “good cause to do so” because Gooden was not a dangerous criminal or a potential risk to the community.

Ruby Franke to be sentenced in child abuse case

Former family vlogger Ruby Franke, a Utah mother of six, and her business partner, Jodi Hildebrandt, are expected to be sentenced today in a child abuse case. The two pleaded guilty to four counts of second-degree aggravated child abuse in December, several months after being charged with six counts of felony child abuse.

Franke and Hildebrandt were arrested in August 2023 after police found one of Franke’s sons emaciated with open wounds and bound with duct tape. He had escaped Hildebrandt’s home to a neighbor’s house. One of Franke’s daughters was found in a similar malnourished condition in Hildebrandt’s home. Franke, her husband, Kevin, and their six children rose to prominence on YouTube, where they had amassed 2.3 million subscribers to their now-defunct channel called "8 Passengers." Franke also collaborated on controversial parenting and relationship advice videos with Hildebrandt.

Investigators are looking at the gearbox in deadly U.S. Air Force Osprey crash

The investigation into the deadly crash of a U.S. military Osprey aircraft in November is looking at a possible mishap involving the aircraft’s propeller rotor gearbox, U.S. officials familiar with the preliminary findings say.

The accident, in which a U.S. Air Force V-22 Osprey crashed into the ocean off Japan, killing eight airmen, was the fourth fatal crash of the Osprey aircraft in less than two years. As many as 20 U.S. service members have died in the incidents, leading to a rare grounding in December of all Osprey aircraft by all branches of the U.S. military. The cause of the crash off Japan has not yet been established.

Astronomers find what may be the universe’s brightest object with a black hole devouring a sun a day

This illustration provided by the European Southern Observatory in February 2024, depicts the record-breaking quasar J059-4351, the bright core of a distant galaxy that is powered by a supermassive black hole. The supermassive black hole, seen here pulling in surrounding matter, has a mass 17 billion times that of the Sun and is growing in mass by the equivalent of another Sun per day, making it the fastest-growing black hole ever known.  (M. Kornmesser / AP)

Astronomers have discovered what may be the brightest object in the universe, a quasar with a black hole at its heart growing so fast that it swallows the equivalent of a sun a day. The record-breaking quasar shines 500 trillion times brighter than our sun.

While the quasar resembles a mere dot in images, scientists envision a ferocious place. The rotating disk around the quasar’s black hole — the luminous swirling gas and other matter from gobbled-up stars — is like a cosmic hurricane. “This quasar is the most violent place that we know in the universe,” the lead author of the report said.

Politics in Brief

Democratic fundraising: Biden and Democratic groups raised $42 million in January as they prepare for a likely rematch with Trump in the 2024 election.

Wisconsin politics: Wisconsin Democratic Gov. Tony Evers signed into law new maps that will shift the balance of power in the Republican-dominated state Legislature.

Donald Trump: The former president compared the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in a prison colony to the legal peril he faces in the United States. 

Staff Pick: Black families are securing deeds to keep their land and create real wealth

Paper collage illustration of Black hands passing a suburban home on grass to another pair of Black hands; the hands have maps of places like Montgomery, Ala. (Trevor Davis for NBC News)
Paper collage illustration of Black hands passing a suburban home on grass to another pair of Black hands; the hands have maps of places like Montgomery, Ala. (Trevor Davis for NBC News)

We’ve heard and reported previously about the plight of Black land ownership, and the ways so many families have lost the land that their ancestors acquired as a means to create generational wealth. When contributor Patrice Gaines reached out, interested in figuring out exactly why this was happening, it felt like a perfect opportunity to talk to those who were taking the right steps to actually realize their ancestors’ dreams — and hard work. The process is no quick fix, but as these families have shared with us, it is possible.

— Michelle Garcia, NBC BLK editorial director

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