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Witnesses appear before a House hearing on the OPM breach. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

In a reply to Senator Mark Warner's (D-VA) email attempting to cut through confusion, the Department of Justice said its June 18 press release, implying a Maryland woman somehow accessed data from the 2015 Office of Personnel Management breach, was a "regrettabl[e] ... premature conclusion."

Why it matters: The U.S. publicly accused Chinese spies of the massive breach in 2015, and arrested a Chinese national for his involvement. But a badly worded June 18 press release made it sound like 39-year-old Maryland resident Karvia Cross somehow had access to that data when she fraudulently applied for loans in the names of several OPM victims. The two stories seem incompatible — Chinese espionage wouldn't normally result in an American committing fraud.

"Because the victims in this case had other things in common in terms of employment and location, it is possible that their data came from another common source."
— The DOJ to Sen. Warner

What the letter says: "A number of the victims of this scheme identified themselves to the Department of Justice as victims of the OPM data breach. However, at present, the investigation has not determined precisely how their identity information used in this case was obtained and whether it can, in fact, be sourced directly to the OPM data breach."

What's new here: The DOJ already tried to clean up the press release debacle by removing all reference to OPM from an updated press release, but had not suggested that Cross used alternate methods to access the same information, including alternate lists of employer or residential data from different, but overlapping, lists.

Axios's Codebook newsletter mentioned this was a possibility last week.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to fix an inadvertent transcription error that led us to omit the word "not" from the Department of Justice quotation.

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.