February 14, 2018

The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the scandal involving former White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) confirmed Wednesday. Porter resigned last week after his ex-wives went public with claims of physical and verbal abuse, although it was reportedly widely known in the West Wing last fall that Porter's lack of security clearance was due in part to the charges.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the committee's ranking member, called for a review of the security clearance process in a letter to Gowdy the day after allegations about Porter came out, Newsweek reports. Speaking on CNN, Gowdy said: "I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer. And if they don't answer them, then they're going to need to give me a really good reason." Watch below. Jeva Lange

5:01 p.m.

Getting merchandise in time for Christmas, Baby Yoda is.

Merchandise of everyone's favorite little green friend from The Mandalorian, the new Disney+ Star Wars series, will be going on sale for this holiday season, CNBC reported Thursday.

That might have seemed like a sure bet from the very first appearance of the adorable creature, who isn't actually Yoda as a baby but has been given that moniker since no official name for the character or the character's species has been revealed. But reports subsequently emerged suggesting any Baby Yoda merchandise might not go on sale until after the holiday season, as Disney had apparently held back in an attempt to prevent leaks of the surprise character. CNN just this morning observed that Disney "appears to have missed a big opportunity to sell a bunch of 'Baby Yoda' Star Wars toys to boost its holiday toy sale numbers."

But CNBC reports that "apparel and accessories featuring the yet unnamed creature will soon be available through Amazon, Zazzle, Target, Kohl's, Macy's, Hot Topic and Box Lunch," and these products "could arrive as early as Friday." Baby Yoda products are also headed to the Disney Store, ShopDisney, and to Disney Parks before the holidays as well, and "presales for toys and plush will be available in the coming weeks," the report says, though it's "uncertain when that merchandise will be shipped."

Disney will be striking while the iron is hot, then, presumably covering all its bases with everything from Baby Yoda dolls to Baby Yoda mugs to Baby Yoda, well, fill in the blank. And for those who don't believe what a phenomenon Baby Yoda has become in just over a week, that is why you fail. Brendan Morrow

4:57 p.m.

Here's news that might ruffle some feathers: Mark Ruffalo — who has appeared as Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk, in seven different Marvel movies — may have worn his last pair of shockingly stretchy pants.

In a recent interview with Collider, Ruffalo said he asked Hollywood executives if there would be room for the Hulk in the Marvel movies after Avengers: Endgame, and was given an extremely noncommittal answer about seeing where things landed in the future. "I just took that as a really nice way of saying 'probably not,'" Ruffalo says — which was a wise approach, because you wouldn't like him when he's angry.

Read more at Collider. Scott Meslow

4:56 p.m.

Apple's hopes of entering the film battleground to fight in the great streaming wars are on pause for now. The tech company pulled the release of its first original movie, The Banker, late Wednesday night, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Apple did not state any specific reasoning behind the decision to yank the movie, merely stating there were "concerns" surrounding the film. The Banker has recently garnered controversy over sexual abuse allegations against Bernard Garrett Jr, the real-life character's son. The claims were made by Garrett Jr.'s half-sisters, Cynthia and Sheila Garrett, Deadline reports. As of now, the accusations are undisclosed, but according to the Reporter, Cynthia Garrett recently brought the claims to Apple's attention. They allege the misconduct took place while Garrett Jr. was staying at their family home. Garrett Jr. co-produced The Banker, notes the Reporter, but he is no longer credited, according to the film's IMDb page.

The movie is based on a true story about the first African-American bankers in the United States who used a white man (played by Nicholas Hoult) as the face of their business. It stars Marvel co-stars Samuel L. Jackson and Anthony Mackie. Jackson is playing Joe Morris and Mackie is playing Garrett Jr.'s father, Bernard Garrett.

The Banker was set to have its world premiere Thursday night in Hollywood at the American Film Institute Fest, and was even gathering Oscars buzz ahead of its sudden cancellation. The slot has now been filled with Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, per Deadline. Brielle Diskin

4:20 p.m.

If something seems too good to be true, it's probably because it is.

President Trump congratulated his eldest child last week for hitting the top of The New York Times' bestseller list with his book Triggered. But as was pointed out at the time, Donald Trump Jr.'s rise to the top of the list was in part due to an unknown number of bulk sale purchases — leading some people to believe he bought his way into the ranks.

As Times reporter Nick Confessore noted Thursday, Trump Jr.'s book did in fact get a pretty hefty sales boost — from the Republican National Committee. A Federal Election Commission disclosure reportedly shows the RNC made an expenditure to Books-a-Million totaling $94,800 one week before Triggered was released. The disbursement, which was identified as being for "donor mementos," was reportedly connected to the promotion of Trump Jr.'s book.

Books-a-Million, which held a fundraiser at the beginning of the month for Triggered, is listing copies of the book for $23.09 online, which comes out to a little over 4,000 copies given the RNC's payment.

An RNC spokesperson previously told Confessore the committee had "not made a large bulk purchase" but was ordering copies of Triggered in order to "keep up with demand."

As Confessore points out, the situation is a sweet deal for both the RNC and Trump Jr. One makes $500,000 off of promotional deals with donors, and the other becomes a New York Times best-selling author. Marianne Dodson

3:54 p.m.

Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) just publicly rebuked President Trump amid the Ukraine scandal, but that's not to say he's boarding the impeachment train.

Hurd, a moderate Republican who isn't running for re-election in 2020, during the latest impeachment hearing Thursday slammed Trump for his July phone call in which he pushed for Ukraine's president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, with the Texas Republican saying asking Ukraine for a "favor" and mentioning Biden was "inappropriate, misguided foreign policy" and "certainly not how the executive, current or in the future, should handle such a call."

Hurd went on to say the events that have been outlined during the impeachment hearings "have undermined our national security," adding that he disagrees with Trump's "bungling foreign policy" on Ukraine.

But if Democrats thought all this was leading up to Hurd dramatically announcing his support for impeachment, they were about to be disappointed, as he then turned around to note he's yet to be persuaded.

"An impeachable offense should be compelling, overwhelmingly clear, and unambiguous, and it's not something to be rushed or taken lightly," Hurd said. "I've not heard evidence proving the president committed bribery or extortion."

CNN's Jim Acosta noted this was a "key moment" in the hearing, as Hurd was a Republican that Democrats "had hoped to sway" in favor of impeaching Trump. As of Thursday, it appears it didn't work. Brendan Morrow

3:47 p.m.

Fiona Hill has been in tougher spots than this.

While a panel of congressmembers staring down at you in an impeachment hearing seems undeniably intimidating, Hill, a former National Security expert on Russia, seemed unmoved throughout her testimony Thursday. But her unflappable attitude didn't come out of nowhere. As The New York Times reports and Hill confirmed Thursday, she's been issuing nonchalant responses to risky situations since her grade school days.

Hill often tells the story of a time when she was 11 years old and taking a test in her classroom. While she worked, a boy in her class set one of her pigtails on fire. But Hill didn't overreact; instead, she used her hand to put out the flames and turned back to her work.

After the story started circulating Thursday, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) brought it up to Hill during her testimony. Hill confirmed it was true, and without a hint of a smile, said it was a story she "often tell[s] because it had some very unfortunate consequences." "Afterwards, my mother gave me a bowl haircut," Speier continued. "So for the school photograph later in that week, I looked like Richard the Third, or as if I'm going to be a permanent play." Kathryn Krawczyk

2:11 p.m.

Former Russia adviser Fiona Hill told Congress Thursday about her frustrations with U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, who got "involved in a domestic political errand."

Hill testified in the inquiry into President Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to conduct investigations that might benefit him politically. In her testimony, she described being angry that Sondland, who Trump put in charge of Ukraine relations, "wasn't coordinating" with other officials, noting that there's a "robust interagency process that deals with Ukraine."

She explained she was "upset with him that he wasn't fully telling us about all of the meetings that he was having," which she chalked up to the fact that "we weren't doing the same thing that he was doing."

Trump throughout the inquiry has defended his interest in investigations involving former Vice President Joe Biden and the 2016 election as coming from a desire to see Ukraine crack down on corruption. But Hill told Congress that what Sondland got involved in was "a domestic political errand," whereas other officials were "involved in national security foreign policy."

Hill also revealed that at the time, she warned Sondland, "I think this is all going to blow up." She added, "And here we are." Brendan Morrow

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