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July 15, 2014

In true 21st-century comedian style, Brooks Wheelan announced his departure from Saturday Night Live on Monday night with a Twitter joke that's turning heads:

The shakeup isn't exactly surprising given the recent turnover in the SNL cast. In the last two seasons, SNL has lost the likes of Kristin Wiig, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Andy Samberg, and Seth Meyers, and executive producer Lorne Michaels admitted the series would be entering a "rebuilding" period.

Wheelan's firing is the first casting change to be announced since the end of SNL's 39th season back in May — but considering Michaels' comments, it seems likely that it won't be the last. SNL added eight new cast members before last season, each of whom enjoyed varying degrees of prominence and success on the show. To figure out who else might be on the chopping block, Vulture analyzed the impact of each of the eight newbies, taking into account number of sketch appearances and how integral the cast member was in those appearances.

As you can see, Kyle Mooney and Beck Bennett are the clear winners, and Vulture foresaw Wheelan's demise even back in May. According to their research, John Milhiser seems to be next in line for a trip to the boss' office — but we'll just have to wait and see what other news comes out in the coming months. To make your own guesses in the meantime, read the rest of Vulture's analysis here. Kimberly Alters

1:52 p.m. ET

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has a famous sense of humor, one that, in a previous life, served him as a Saturday Night Live comedian. Now Franken has become one of the most merciless Democrats in the Senate, holding President Trump and his appointees accountable — even when they're friends.

As Franken writes in his new book, jokingly titled Al Franken: Giant of the Senate, he has made an effort to extend a hand across the aisle. "Behind the scenes, he tried to cultivate friendships, including with conservative Republican senators who wouldn't be among his natural allies," USA Today writes.

That includes former Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and former Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). It does not, however, include Sen. Ted Cuz (R-Texas):

While the book provides a glimpse at some surprising friendships among senators across ideological lines, there are no kind words in it for Ted Cruz. The Texas senator gets an entire chapter of his own, titled "Sophistry," that describes him as "singularly dishonest" and "exceptionally smarmy." (Cruz's office didn't respond to a request for comment.)

"You have to understand that I like Ted Cruz probably more than my colleagues like Ted Cruz," Franken said in the interview, "and I hate Ted Cruz." [USA Today]

Read more about Franken and his new book at USA Today. Jeva Lange

12:51 p.m. ET

When asked to explain why the American people should care that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, former CIA Director John Brennan was not shy. "Our ability to choose our elected leaders as we see fit is an inalienable right we must protect with all of our resources and all of our authority and power," he told the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday.

"For the last 241 years, this nation and its citizens have cherished the freedom and liberty that this country was founded upon," Brennan said. "Many, many brave Americans over the years have lost their lives to be able to protect that freedom and liberty."

Brennan added: "The fact that the Russians tried to influence that election so that the will of the American people was not going to be realized … I find outrageous and something that we need to, with every last ounce of devotion to this country, resist." Watch Brennan's stirring speech below and read more about his testimony here at The Week. Jeva Lange

12:13 p.m. ET

In a press briefing Tuesday unveiling President Trump's full budget, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney defended the plan's steep cuts. The $4.1 trillion plan proposes slashing funding for Medicaid, social services for the low-income and disabled, and the Children's Health Insurance Program, while increasing spending on defense, the Veterans Affairs Department, and a new plan for parental leave.

"We're no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs, but by the number of people we help get off of those programs," Mulvaney said Tuesday. "We're not going to measure compassion by the amount of money that we spend, but by the number of people that we help."

Mulvaney said that this approach would enable the Trump administration to achieve a balanced budget and economic growth. "That is how you can help people take charge of their own lives again," Mulvaney said.

Watch a snippet of Mulvaney's remarks below. Becca Stanek

11:24 a.m. ET

While testifying Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee, former CIA Director John Brennan revealed that FBI intelligence uncovered "contacts and interactions" between Russian officials and individuals involved with the Trump campaign. Brennan said he had grown "concerned" that those individuals may have been influenced to act on behalf of the Russian government.

Those worries persisted when he stepped down as CIA director on Jan. 20, Brennan testified. "I had unresolved questions in my mind, as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons involved in the campaign or not to work on their behalf again, either in a witting or unwitting fashion," Brennan said, calling the FBI investigation into Trump associates and Russians "well-founded."

Though he's certain that "Russia brazenly interfered in the 2016 election process," Brennan noted he does not "know whether such collusion [with Trump associates] existed."

Brennan said he explicitly warned Russia against meddling in the U.S. presidential election in a phone call on Aug. 4 to the head of the Russian intelligence service. Brennan testified that he'd threatened such interference would "destroy any near-term prospect of improvement" in U.S.-Russia relations. "I believe I was the first U.S. official to brace Russia on this matter," Brennan said. Becca Stanek

10:54 a.m. ET

The health news website Stat asked psychologists, psychiatrists, and experts in neurolinguistics to compare President Trump's way of speaking in 2017 to interviews he gave decades ago. "They all agreed there had been a deterioration," Stat reports, "and some said it could reflect changes in the health of Trump's brain."

Some of the experts noted that linguistic decline can result not just from neurodegenerative disease but also "stress, frustration, anger, or just plain fatigue." "In fairness to Trump, he's 70, so some decline in his cognitive functioning over time would be expected," pointed out New York City psychologist Ben Michaelis.

But others found the stark differences in Trump's way of speaking to be concerning:

In interviews Trump gave in the 1980s and 1990s (with Tom Brokaw, David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Rose, and others), he spoke articulately, used sophisticated vocabulary, inserted dependent clauses into his sentences without losing his train of thought, and strung together sentences into a polished paragraph, which — and this is no mean feat — would have scanned just fine in print […] Now, Trump's vocabulary is simpler. He repeats himself over and over, and lurches from one subject to an unrelated one … [Stat]

"It's hard to say definitively without rigorous testing," said another New York City psychologist, John Montgomery, "but I think it's pretty safe to say that Trump has had significant cognitive decline over the years."

Dr. Robert Pyles of suburban Boston, who supports President Trump, said: "I can see what people are responding to" when they suggest there has been a decline. He added: "[Trump's] language difficulties could be due to the immense pressure he's under, or to annoyance that things aren't going right and that there are all these scandals. It could also be due to a neurodegenerative disease or the normal cognitive decline that comes with aging."

Read the full report at Stat, and read Ryan Cooper on why it's time to start talking about President Trump's mental health here at The Week. Jeva Lange

10:23 a.m. ET

President Trump paid a visit Tuesday to Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial. While he was there, he left a brief message in the guestbook, in which he managed to incorporate the words "great" and "so amazing":

For comparison's sake, here's the message former President Barack Obama left in 2008, when he visited as a U.S. senator. It did not evoke comparisons to yearbook signings:

The chairman of Yad Vashem, Avner Shalev, told ABC News that he did not think the message Trump left in the guestbook, after his "very meaningful remarks," was "insensitive." "He touched all the essential elements that should be touched," Shalev said.

Trump stayed at the memorial for about half an hour before heading to the Israel Museum to deliver a speech. Becca Stanek

9:44 a.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump is considering setting up a "crisis management operation" as the scandals continue to mount, Politico reported Monday evening. Trump is apparently eyeing Corey Lewandowski, his first campaign manager whom he fired, and David Bossie, his deputy campaign manager, to head it up.

The possibility remains unconfirmed and no formal announcement is expected until Trump returns from his trip abroad, but Politico noted Trump wouldn't be the first president to set up a crisis unit in the face of an independent investigation. Former President Bill Clinton, for instance, tapped "masters of disaster" Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane to deal with questions about the Whitewater scandal.

Last week, the Justice Department announced it had appointed a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into Trump's potential ties to Russia's election meddling. The announcement came on the heels of Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, a decision the White House flailed to explain.

Fabiani told Politico that setting up a crisis management operation would be "exactly the right thing to do" in this situation, as it "allows you to the greatest extent possible to contain the investigation, to keep the investigation away from White House business, and to keep it out of the daily press briefings."

The question, Fabiani said, is whether Trump is looking at the right people to do it. Trump fired Lewandowski just before the Republican National Convention, after Lewandowski made headlines for yanking a reporter aside as she tried to ask Trump a question.

As for Bossie, Fabiani noted that he was known for "working to stoke the many scandals that swirled around the Clinton administration" as an Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigator in the 1990s. "He certainly knows how to set fires; whether he's good at putting them out or not, I have no idea," Fabiani said.

Read more at Politico. Becca Stanek

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