September 18, 2017

On Monday, Hurricane Maria strengthened into a Category 3 storm, packing maximum sustained winds of up to 120 mph. The storm is expected to cross over the Leeward Islands, the eastern Caribbean islands recently ravaged by Hurricane Irma, before moving over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday.

Hurricane warnings are now posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, as well as the islands of Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St. Lucia, and Martinique, many of which were hit by Irma. The National Hurricane Center says "additional rapid strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," with winds potentially reaching 140 mph.

Puerto Rico is already bracing itself for another potentially devastating storm. "We have an extremely weak infrastructure that has already been hit by one storm," Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Monday. "This is going to be a catastrophic event."

It's not yet clear whether Maria poses a threat to Florida, though it remains a possibility. Becca Stanek

3:11 p.m. ET
Noam Galai/Getty Images for CATS

No one knows why Cats was able to rise from nightmare fodder to Broadway legend. Nevertheless, nearly four decades after it should've died, the disturbing production is hitting the big screen.

A movie adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber's implausible hit is set to start filming in Britain this November, Variety reports. And it's not some low-budget, straight-to-Netflix production. Talented famous people Jennifer Hudson, Ian McKellan, James Corden, and Taylor Swift have all been cast as cats.

Hudson is the only cast member whose fursona has been confirmed, per Variety. She'll play Grizabella, a cat who's been exiled by the Jellicle Cat clan, just as we all wish to be. McKellan will likely play the wizened Old Deuteronomy, sources tell The Hollywood Reporter. And cat lady turned actual cat Swift will probably be the flirtatious Bombalurina, which isn't a surprise the more you think about it. James Corden hasn't been connected with an oddly named cat yet, but he uncomfortably channeled one of Webber's feline roles on his Late Late Show last month and can leave it at that.

The King's Speech director Tom Hooper will direct, and Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall has already adapted the show for the big screen, shrinking chances of preventing its existence even further.

The only upside to this adaptation seems to be the promise of Hudson belting the show's noteworthy track "Memory." Listen to it on a video-less cast recording and let the rest of this show fade like the moonlight. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11 p.m. ET

The FBI reportedly has a tape, secretly recorded by Michael Cohen, of President Trump talking about hush money payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Michael Avenatti says it's not the only one.

The lawyer for Stormy Daniels, a porn star who's also gotten hush money payments via Trump's ex-lawyer Cohen, has repeatedly said there are multiple "Trump tapes" out there. And after The New York Times reported one's existence on Friday, Avenatti immediately demanded its release.

"I know for a fact this is not the only tape," Avenatti told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "And I think that any and all tapes Michael Cohen has in his possession relating to this president should be released immediately for the benefit of the American public and they can decide what happens next."

Avenatti claimed Cohen is "one of the world's great hoarders of evidence" in a June MSNBC appearance, and predicted secret recordings had already been seized during an FBI raid of Cohen's office in April. He was at least partly right, as the Times revealed Cohen taped a discussion with Trump about a payment to McDougal, who alleged she had an affair with Trump in 2006.

Times reporter Maggie Haberman tweeted that this appears to be the only tape. Avenatti, for his part, wouldn't say how he apparently knows there are more recordings out there — just that he knows. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:06 p.m. ET
Mary Ann Chastain/Getty Images for NASCAR

The Republican National Committee has selected Charlotte, North Carolina, as the host city for its 2020 convention, The Associated Press reported Friday.

Charlotte previously hosted the Democratic convention in 2012. North Carolina, a critical swing state that narrowly voted for President Trump in 2016, will inevitably see thousands of activists and members of the media, and some Charlotte leaders said they also expect demonstrators to turn out to protest Trump. "We recognize and are prepared for the tremendous responsibility of welcoming 35,000 visitors to our community," said Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority CEO Tom Murray.

Charlotte City Council members were reportedly torn on whether to approve the convention, with some worrying that welcoming the GOP would represent an endorsement of the Trump administration. The RNC ultimately preferred Charlotte over Las Vegas, another finalist, because leaders thought Sin City's reputation and proximity to casino owners who donate to the party would distract from the convention. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza

1:21 p.m. ET
Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump's White House is not known for particularly high morale, but this week has brought things to new lows.

Staffers are reportedly looking toward the exits now that Trump's joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin has created such a sharp political backlash, Politico reported Thursday.

"People are just depressed," a Republican close to the White House said. "Nobody wants to take on the public heat of resigning right now, but there are a bunch of people who were thinking maybe they'd leave after the midterms who are very seriously starting to consider accelerating their timetable."

Trump has drawn criticism over his flip-flopping views on whether Russia is responsible for interference in the 2016 election. Democrats and Republicans alike condemned his failure to side with the U.S. intelligence community, and ridiculed his explanation that he had simply slipped up while using a double negative. While high-level officials are reportedly unlikely to resign, aides and holdover staffers may be looking to put in their two-weeks notice. Read more at Politico. Summer Meza

1:07 p.m. ET
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In this corner of the Republican primary for Kansas' fourth congressional district, we have Ron Estes. And in the other corner, we ... also have Ron Estes.

Estes and Estes are in fact two separate people, and both are facing off for the same House seat. Incumbent Rep. Ron G. Estes (R) has held it for the past two years, and Ron M. Estes claims he's done a bad job. Their shared names having absolutely nothing to do with his candidacy, Ron M. tells The Wichita Eagle.

But Ron M. isn't making a very good case for this so-called coincidence. He's spent $2,000 on the race, mostly just to file his candidacy and build a website, per the Eagle. Oh, and that website boldly deems Ron M. "The Real Ron Estes." Fake Ron is busy representing "The Swamp" in Washington, D.C., the website's single press release claims.

Ron M. has made three unannounced public appearances around Kansas, mostly just introducing himself to people hanging around. There have been no Ron v. Ron debates and no "Real Ron" yard signs. Ron M. may have a 40-year career at Boeing, but The Eagle describes him as "the most reluctant, reserved candidate for Congress you can imagine."

"We've been a grass-roots campaign over social media," Ron M. claims. He's amassed 122 Twitter followers so far, and a Facebook page is nowhere to be found.

Ron G. will appear as Rep. Ron Estes on the Aug. 7 primary ballot, and Ron M. Estes will appear on the other side, definitely clearing up any confusion. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:07 p.m. ET
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Lordy, there are tapes.

Michael Cohen, President Trump's former longtime attorney, reportedly made recordings of Trump discussing payments to former Playboy model Karen McDougal two months before the 2016 election, The New York Times reported Friday.

Lawyers familiar with the case say that the FBI seized the recordings when agents raided Cohen's office earlier this year. McDougal says she had an affair with Trump in 2006, which Trump denies, and Cohen is being investigated for potential campaign finance violations over allegedly paying hush money to prevent the affair allegations from going public ahead of the election.

Trump's new lawyer Rudy Giuliani said that the payment was ultimately never made, and that the recordings prove Trump did nothing wrong. "Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," said Giuliani, calling it "powerful exculpatory evidence." Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

10:46 a.m. ET
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for The Hollywood Reporter

Former Fox News executive Bill Shine was questioned by federal prosecutors in a sexual harassment case. He still got a top White House job.

Before becoming President Trump's fourth communications director, Shine was subpoenaed by a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation into sexual harassment at Fox News, documents obtained by The New York Times reveal.

The subpoena related to former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, who left the company after a flood of sexual harassment allegations. Shine eventually stepped down as co-president in the wake of the scandal as well. (Shine was never accused of harassment himself, but of covering up the bad behavior of others.) He was called in to testify about how Fox News handled those allegations, but opted for a closed-door interview with a U.S. district attorney's office, a source tells the Times.

It's not known what Shine revealed in the interview, and he was never charged in relation to the Fox News scandal. But it raises the question of what other documents may still be unsealed, and why the White House would hire someone still embroiled in so much controversy — even if Trump does love a good Fox News connection. Kathryn Krawczyk

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