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December 7, 2017

On Wednesday, the Veterans Affairs Department released an annual survey showing that the number of homeless veterans rose 1.5 percent in 2017 versus 2016, the first increase since 2010. Also on Wednesday, Politico reported that VA Secretary David Shulkin has decided to end a $460 million program to provide housing for homeless vets.

The VA had quietly announced the decision to end the program, administered with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in September, but faced blowback when officials brought up the decision in a Dec. 1 phone call arranged by Shulkin's Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans. Veterans' advocates, state agencies, and even HUD officials attacked the decision, five people on the call tell Politico. VA officials briefed congressional staffers on Tuesday, and all 14 members of the Senate appropriations VA subcommittee asked Shulkin to reconsider the decision. One of the senators, Patty Murray (D-Wash.), called the move "a new low" for the Trump administration and "especially callous and perplexing" given the rising number of homeless vets.

In a statement Wednesday evening, Shulkin said "there will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs," and he "will solicit input from our local VA leaders and external stakeholders on how best to target our funding to the geographical areas that need it most." The VA decided to shift the funds from the program — in which HUD gives housing vouchers to veterans and VA connects vets with apartments and manages their cases — to local VA hospitals, who can use the money as they see fit, as long as they deal with homelessness.

The defunded program has served 138,000 vets since 2010 and roughly halved the number without housing, Politico says, citing HUD data. "The people in this program are the most vulnerable individuals," says Matt Leslie at Virginia's Department of Veterans Services. "If someone's going to die on the streets, they are the ones." Peter Weber

7:53 a.m.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, Sanders said in a statement Friday.

"The president urged me, like he has everyone in the administration, to fully cooperate with the special counsel," Sanders said. "I was happy to voluntarily sit down with them." Sanders did not comment on the content of the conversation, and CNN reports, citing unnamed sources, the White House did not immediately accede to Mueller's request for the interview.

Sanders' interview took place in the fall of 2018, around the time Mueller's investigators spoke with other current and former senior administration figures, including then-Chief of Staff John Kelly, former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Mueller is investigating alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian meddling with the 2016 election. Read The Week's Ryan Cooper on the probe's recent progress here. Bonnie Kristian

February 15, 2019

Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Oscar Isaac may have just taken their last steps in a larger world.

Director J.J. Abrams on Friday announced that Star Wars: Episode IX, which is being billed as the conclusion of the franchise's Skywalker saga, has officially wrapped production. "There is no adequate way to thank this truly magical crew and cast," Abrams wrote, posting a photo of the film's main three stars hugging on set. "I'm forever indebted to you all."

Boyega wrote that this is "the end to a chapter of my life that I couldn't be more thankful for," also thanking Abrams for "making my dreams come true."

The photo is only the second glimpse of Episode IX, following a picture taken in the Millennium Falcon that Abrams tweeted when production began in August. The photo posted Friday reveals that Episode IX will feature scenes on a desert planet, perhaps Luke Skywalker's home, Tatooine, or Rey's home, Jakku. The photo also shows Rey and Finn sporting new hairdos, while Poe seems to be rocking some suspenders.

With 10 months to go until Episode IX is released, Lucasfilm still hasn't yet revealed the film's official title, but that announcement could be imminent. The title of The Force Awakens, after all, was announced shortly after production wrapped in 2014. Then again, the title of The Last Jedi wasn't announced until four months after production wrapped.

In addition to the returning cast, Episode IX will feature Billy Dee Williams reprising his role of Lando Calrissian, as well as a posthumous appearance by Carrie Fisher as Leia Organa using footage shot for The Force Awakens. The film hits theaters on Dec. 20. Brendan Morrow

February 15, 2019

Roger Stone may need to cut down on his Infowars appearances.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Friday issued a gag order in the trial of the former adviser to President Trump, saying Stone must "refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case," Politico reports.

Stone was arrested last month as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and he pleaded not guilty to charges of witness tampering, lying to Congress, and obstruction, The New York Times reports.

But that hadn't slowed down Stone's media appearances, and he jumped on Alex Jones' InfoWars two times within a week after his arrest. This prompted Jackson to warn him earlier this month that he must stop acting like he's on "a book tour."

Axios reports that the gag order prevents Stone from making any comments "within the vicinity of the courthouse." But Politico notes that the gag order only prevents him from talking about his case, and Jackson says he can continue talking about "foreign relations, immigration or Tom Brady" to his heart's desire. Brendan Morrow

February 15, 2019

Police have arrested two potential suspects in connection with the alleged assault of Empire star Jussie Smollett, ABC News reported on Friday.

Chicago police told ABC that two men were arrested on Wednesday at the airport, with detectives having "probable cause that they may have been involved" in the alleged assault. The suspects have not yet been charged with a crime, however.

Authorities also told ABC that the suspects "have a relationship with" Smollett but did not offer specifics. According to CNN, they are two Nigerian brothers, and CBS 2 Chicago reports they have worked as extras on Empire.

This development comes after two local news stations reported Thursday that investigators now believe the attack on Smollett was staged, per Variety. But chief police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said that there is "no evidence to say that this is a hoax" at this time, USA Today reports. One of the Thursday reports had also said investigators believe Smollett staged the attack because he was being written off Empire, something 20th Century Fox denied in a statement, calling the notion "patently ridiculous." Brendan Morrow

February 15, 2019

The NFL and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick announced Friday that they have reached a settlement over Kaepernick's collusion lawsuit, The Washington Post reports. Kaepernick had sued the league after he was apparently blacklisted from playing football due to his protests during the national anthem; he has been out of the sport for the past two seasons.

While the terms of the settlement were not revealed, and the resolution is subject to a confidentiality agreement, NFL columnist Mike Freeman reported that "team officials are speculating to me [that] the NFL paid Kaepernick in the $60 million to $80 million range."

Separately, a similar lawsuit against the NFL by Carolina Panthers safety Eric Reid also reached a settlement. In a joint statement, the NFL and lawyers for Reid and Kaepernick said: "For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL ... The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party."

The NFL Players Association also released a statement: "We are not privy to the details of the settlement, but support the decision by the players and their counsel," it read. "We continuously supported Colin and Eric from the start of their protests, participated with their lawyers throughout their legal proceedings, and were prepared to participate in the upcoming trial in pursuit of both truth and justice for what we believe the NFL and its clubs did to them. We are glad that Eric has earned a job and a new contract, and we continue to hope that Colin gets his opportunity as well." Jeva Lange

February 15, 2019

In the wake of President Trump's national emergency declaration, some congressional Republicans are already fearing the precedent he has set.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) outlined these concerns in a statement Friday, criticizing Trump's "executive overreach" and saying that this will "create a new precedent that a left-wing president would undoubtedly utilize to implement their radical policy agenda."

In fact, Tillis took Republicans through a few specific hypothetical scenarios, imagining that President Bernie Sanders would declare a national emergency to "implement a radical Green New Deal," President Elizabeth Warren would do so to "shut down the banks," and President Cory Booker would "effectively end Second Amendment rights." The senator says it's "clear what kind of rabbit hole our country can go down" if national emergencies become the norm.

Tillis' argument has been a common one in Republican circles over the past few weeks, with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warning members of his party last month that if the national emergency is the border today, "tomorrow, the national security emergency might be climate change," per Vox.

But Trump's decision is hardly earning universal condemnation from Republicans, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) saying that he stands "firmly behind" Trump's decision and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying Trump's actions were simply "the predictable and understandable consequence of Democrats' decision to put partisan obstruction ahead of the national interest."

February 15, 2019

It is a remarkable thing that President Trump's tweets can still be utterly mind-boggling, but, well, here we are. On Friday, the leader of the free world tweeted out this video with no comment (trust me, you'll want to turn the sound on):

To the tune of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts," the montage features Democrats (and GOP Sen. Mitt Romney) reacting to Trump's State of the Union address, ranging from bored expressions to suppressed laughter and eye rolls. While it's obviously intended to be braggadocious, it is still a bit funny for Trump to have shared a video of a bunch of politicians failing to take him seriously.

One thing is for sure — R.E.M. is not going to be too happy. Trump has previously used the band's hit "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" at his rallies, prompting R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills to quote lead singer Michael Stipe as saying "Go f--k yourself ... you sad, attention-grabbing, power-hungry little man. Do not use our music or my voice for your moronic charade of a campaign." Jeva Lange

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