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Tech.Co / Flickr CC

A lobbyist for Palantir — the famously secretive data firm co-founded by Peter Thiel — has been hired by the Defense Department, a spokesman for the Pentagon confirms. Justin Mikolay's new job as a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary of Defense was first reported by ProPublica.

The details: BuzzFeed News reported that Mikolay, who has been listed as a lobbyist for Palantir on some of the company's official disclosures, will be a close adviser to new Defense Secretary James Mattis. It's not his first time working at the Pentagon.

Why it matters: Government business is key for Palantir, including from the military. BuzzFeed reported that Mikolay worked on a key contract while at Palantir. It also raises questions for people watching to see what kind of links Thiel, a Trump backer, has to the administration.

Update: Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said in a statement that when Mikolay joined the Pentagon he "took action to ensure he would not participate in any matters that would have a direct and predictable effect on Palantir, consistent with conflict of interest statutes and government ethics regulations." Davis added that Mikolay had adopted "a screening arrangement to ensure all particular matters involving Palantir are forwarded to another senior defense official for appropriate disposition" and noted that similar moves "are not uncommon for civilian appointees who have worked previously in the private sector."

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U.S. releases report finding Saudi prince approved Khashoggi operation

Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Kingdom Council / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) has released an unclassified report assessing that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) approved the operation to "capture or kill" Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

Driving the news: The White House also announced sanctions on entities implicated in the murder, though not on MBS directly. Officials also announced a new "Khashoggi ban" under which individuals accused of harassing journalists or dissidents outside their borders can be barred from entering the U.S.

About 20% of U.S. adults have received first vaccine dose, White House says

Joe Biden speaks during an event commemorating the 50 million COVID-19 vaccine shots. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Nearly 1 in 5 adults and nearly half of Americans 65 and older have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, White House senior adviser Andy Slavitt said on Friday.

The big picture: The Biden administration has previously said it has secured enough doses to vaccinate most of the American population by the end of July.

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