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January 11, 2018
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In late December, the Health and Human Services Department canceled the contract of the organization that oversees the National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices, a federal database of vetted and approved interventions to treat drug addiction and mental illness, The Washington Post reports. HHS officials froze the website in September, meaning no new treatments have been added in the past 90 days, and mental health and substance abuse specialists are both concerned about the database's future and confused as to why the Trump administration is changing the registry after 20 years.

Instead of an outside contractor, Development Services Group Inc., choosing which treatments are scientifically sound, the HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and specifically its new National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, or Policy Lab, will run the registry. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said he was "concerned" by the change "and looking into it," and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said she was "shocked to learn that the NREPP contract has been terminated as an opioid epidemic continues to shake our nation" and is "determined to find out why SAMHSA has made such a mind-boggling decision."

Mental health professionals tell the Post they view the database as neutral, nonpartisan, and a crucial tool for choosing treatments, and they're worried moving it inside SAMHSA could politicize the treatment selection process. Agency spokesman Christopher Garrett said Wednesday that it's SAMHSA's job to "lead the efforts to rapidly institute evidence-based practices in all behavioral health treatment programs," and "the federal government should not be in the business of having a single contractor determine winners and losers in behavioral health care." In its email informing program participants its contract was canceled, Development Services Group said SAMHSA explained the decision as "for the convenience of the government." You can read more about the registry at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

5:21 p.m. ET

The Kremlin began working behind the scenes to disrupt the 2016 election more than two years in advance. But even when Russian interference became obvious, U.S. officials spent weeks watching the infiltration occur before they could fight it off.

The Democratic National Committee's cybersecurity contractor, CrowdStrike, announced in June 2016 that Russian hackers had compromised the organization's network. The New York Times reported Thursday that CrowdStrike had actually been battling with hackers for weeks. Robert Johnston, a lead investigator for the company, said the hackers "were like a thunderstorm moving through the system — very, very noisy."

Despite the noise, CrowdStrike and the DNC didn't make any noise of their own about the hacking, choosing instead to quietly work to discern how Russians had broken in and figure out how to block them. Russia managed to obtain thousands of documents from the DNC's network, and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication.

"We knew it was the Russians, and they knew we knew," Johnston told the Times of the cyberwarfare. "I would say it was the cyber equivalent of hand-to-hand combat." Russian hackers may have intercepted communications about the DNC's efforts to fend off their attacks, helping them to dodge attempts to shut down their malware. Twelve Russian intelligence officers were indicted in July 2018 for the break-in. Read more at The New York Times. Summer Meza

4:34 p.m. ET
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Michael Cohen is ready to talk.

A week after it was reported that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort would be cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Muller's Russia investigation, ABC News reports that Cohen is already far ahead of him.

Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, has already spent hours talking with Special Counsel Mueller's team, sitting for multiple interviews over the past month, ABC News reports. Cohen has evidently discussed "all aspects of Trump's dealings with Russia," and he has been asked about whether the president has offered to pardon him.

Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in August, striking a plea deal with prosecutors that cut down his jail time but did not compel cooperation with federal investigators. But in addition to the Russia probe, ABC News reports that Cohen is speaking with authorities in New York about the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization, where Cohen used to work as vice president.

Cohen had been Trump's personal lawyer and sometimes-fixer since 2006. In his August plea, he said that during the 2016 campaign, he had arranged payments to women who alleged they had affairs with Trump, specifying that he'd violated these campaign finance laws at Trump's behest. Cohen had previously released a secret tape of himself discussing this payment with Trump. The president responded on Twitter, saying that he would "strongly suggest" anyone looking for a good lawyer not hire Cohen. Brendan Morrow

3:41 p.m. ET
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Christine Blasey Ford's lawyer said on Thursday that it "is not possible" for Ford to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, reports CNN.

Ford is open to providing testimony regarding her allegation that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were teenagers, but said Monday is too soon. In an email to lawmakers, obtained by The New York Times, Ford's attorneys said she "would be prepared to testify next week" if senators agreed to "terms that are fair," despite her previous request to delay testimony until after an FBI investigation into the matter.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has scheduled a hearing Monday, reports The Washington Post, and gave Ford until Friday morning to decide whether she'll testify. Ford's lawyers called the deadline and the push to schedule a hearing for Monday "arbitrary in any event," arguing that there's no reason lawmakers shouldn't take time to "ensure her safety" and thoroughly review the allegations. Kavanaugh, who has denied the accusation, has said he is willing to testify to refute Ford's claim. Summer Meza

2:55 p.m. ET
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After presumably running through a list of every item in existence that could conceivably be operated by Alexa, Amazon has come for the microwave.

The company on Thursday unveiled a whole slate of new Alexa-powered devices including its WiFi-connected, voice-activated microwave. Though the Amazon Basics Microwave, which will cost $60, does not have Alexa built into it, it uses Alexa by connecting to a nearby Echo device, per CNET.

Users will be able to tell their microwave, through Alexa, how long to cook their food for and which setting to use. For certain foods, simply telling Alexa what is being cooked will enable the microwave to punch in the right cook-time, as Amazon's David Limp helpfully demonstrated on stage by telling his machine to heat up a potato. The microwave comes with "dozens of quick-cook voice presents," Engadget reports, and it even comes equipped with a special Dash button that you can use to order popcorn.

You do need to press an Alexa button before issuing any commands, though, so the idyllic dream of a totally button-free microwave experience — alas — remains out of reach for now. Read more about Amazon's microwaves, as well as the larger slate of products the company unveiled Thursday, at CNET. Brendan Morrow

2:52 p.m. ET
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Paulette Jordan, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Idaho who is vying to become the nation's first Native American state leader, has been in coordination with a political action committee in ways that may violate campaign finance rules, the Idaho Statesman reported Thursday. Jordan's team has reportedly been advising and fundraising for the super PAC, and even secured a major donation for it this month.

The Strength and Progress federal super PAC, created in July "to accept donations from the Coeur d'Alene Tribe ... for spending on Federal First Nations' issues," is allowed to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money but is not supposed to partner with any specific campaign. Jordan, formerly a representative in the Idaho state legislature, is a member of the Tribe. Her campaign was reportedly involved in creating the PAC, which could be a problem if expenditures show that the group contributed to her candidacy.

Jordan's campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, resigned last week, saying he would rather "have no part or complacency with this PAC," the Statesman reported based on internal emails. Rosenow, along with the campaign's communications director and event scheduler, resigned suddenly after just two months, raising eyebrows about whether the departures were really a simple "leadership transition," as Jordan's campaign said. Now, emails show that Rosenow resigned over a "lack of accountability in spending and acquiring campaign resources." He felt the team was "growing a PAC" instead of funding the campaign, calling it "detestable, loathsome, if not repulsive."

Strength and Progress, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, and Jordan's campaign all say that there has been no improper coordination and that the groups are all operating independently. The Idaho Democratic Party says it is taking the potential violations "very seriously." Read more at the Idaho Statesman. Summer Meza

12:21 p.m. ET

That's the signpost up ahead. Jordan Peele's next stop: hosting The Twilight Zone.

CBS has announced that in addition to producing the forthcoming Twilight Zone revival, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jordan Peele will also serve as its host, Variety reports. He has big shoes to fill, with Rod Serling having famously narrated the classic original series while also serving as its creator and writing most of the show's episodes. In a video posted to Twitter on Thursday, Peele showed off his take on the iconic opening title sequence.

Peele was announced as producer of the Twilight Zone reboot last year, but it was unclear at the time whether he would host as well. While speaking to Variety last month, Peele said he had "resisted" the idea because he was worried audiences wouldn't be able to take him seriously on screen after he spent five seasons on the Comedy Central sketch series Key & Peele. But perhaps he now feels that after writing and directing Get Out, which won him an Oscar for best original screenplay earlier this year, he has proved his horror chops to audiences.

The new Twilight Zone will premiere sometime in 2019 exclusively on CBS All Access, the network's streaming service. Watch a teaser for the series below. Brendan Morrow

12:02 p.m. ET
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Yale Law School professor Amy Chua told law students that it was "not an accident" that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's female law clerks all "looked like models," The Guardian reported Thursday.

Chua, who has hailed Kavanaugh as a "mentor to women," played a key role in selecting and vetting clerks for the judge. She reportedly told female students that she could advise them on their physical appearance and how they dressed, in order to help give them a "model-like" look that she said would help boost their odds of working for Kavanaugh.

Another Yale professor, Jed Rubenfeld, who is Chua's husband, reportedly told a prospective clerk that she "should know that Judge Kavanaugh hires women with a certain look." Chua, who wrote the controversial 2011 book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, told the same student that she should dress in an "outgoing" way for an interview with Kavanaugh. Rubenfeld and Chua were not known to give similar advice to students seeking jobs with other judges, The Guardian reports.

"I have no reason to believe he was saying, 'Send me the pretty ones,'" said one student, "but rather that he was reporting back and saying, 'I really like so and so,' and the way he described them led [Chua and Rubenfeld] to form certain conclusions." When Chua said that Kavanaugh's clerks "looked like models," students noted that Chua's daughter was poised to work for Kavanaugh. Chua reportedly said that her daughter would not tolerate any inappropriate behavior.

Rubenfeld said in a statement that he has "reason to suspect" he is facing "false allegations," and Chua said that Kavanaugh "only hires those who are extraordinarily qualified." Yale said it would "look into these claims promptly." Read more at The Guardian. Summer Meza

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