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February 22, 2018

NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch represented her organization at the CNN town hall in Florida Wednesday night, and she wasn't terribly popular with Parkland survivors in the audience. Student Emma Gonzalez asked Loesch if she believed "it should be harder to obtain the semiautomatic weapons and modifications to make them fully automatic," and Loesch talked mental health.

"I don't believe that this insane monster should have ever been able to obtain a firearm, ever," she said. "This individual is nuts," and no NRA member supports allowing "people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others getting their hands on a firearm." (She may want to check with her boss, Chris Cox, or mental health experts.) Eventually, Gonzalez had to interrupt Loesch and repeat her question. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel jumped in, too. "You just told this group of people that you're standing up for them," he said. "You are not standing up for them until you say, 'I want less weapons.'"

Scott also argued that "we do need to have some gun control reform — 18-year-olds should never have a rifle," earning pushback from Loesch. "If you're old enough to vote, you're old enough to drive a car, old enough to serve your country, I think that you are old enough — if," she said, "if you are not a danger to yourself or others." She did not explain who would determine mental fitness or what threats merit losing gun privileges. "You're absolutely not the litmus test for how law enforcement should follow up," Scott said.

Loesch also sparred with slain teacher Scott Beigel's mother and an AP history teacher. Peter Weber

12:28 p.m.

Jussie Smollett has just spoken publicly for the first time after having all of the criminal charges against him dropped.

Smollett, the Empire actor who police said staged a fake hate crime against himself, on Tuesday said that he has been "truthful and consistent on every single level since day one" and that he would "not be my mother's son if I was capable of even one drop of what I was accused of."

The actor also said he would "not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this." Now that the charges against him have been dropped, Smollett said he would like to "get back to work" and "move on with my life," closing by saying he will "continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

Smollett had said in January that he was the victim of a hate crime, saying he was attacked by two men in Chicago who put a noose around his neck and screamed, "This is MAGA country!" Although police said they originally treated this as a hate crime, they later said that Smollett actually staged it himself, accusing him of paying two men to attack him. Police blasted Smollett in a press conference, with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson saying what he did was "shameful." Smollett later pleaded not guilty to 16 felony charges.

But in a stunning turn of events, prosecutors on Tuesday unexpectedly dropped all of the charges against him, clearing his record and sealing the case. Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the police should not "try their cases in the press" and use the media to "convict people before they are tried in a court of law." Chicago police have yet to comment on Tuesday's events. Brendan Morrow

12:24 p.m.

The public still won't hear details regarding Purdue Pharma's push to market the painkiller OxyContin. Testimony from members the company's founding family, the Sacklers, won't happen either.

The pharmaceutical giant reached a $270 million dollar settlement on Tuesday with the state of Oklahoma, and legal experts argue that the settlement could help set a floor amount for other lawsuits filed against Purdue and the Sacklers, The Wall Street Journal reports. Oklahoma's attorney general claimed that Purdue's aggressive marketing tactics for OxyContin and other prescription painkillers helped fuel America's opioid crisis; the two sides reached the agreement just two months before the scheduled trial.

The New York Times reports that $100 million from the settlement will fund an addiction treatment and research center at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, $70 million will pay Oklahoma cities, counties, and Native American tribes and to reimburse the state for its litigation costs. The Sacklers, who were reportedly not named in the lawsuit, will contribute an additional $75 million over five years.

Other companies involved in the lawsuit, such as Johnson and Johnson, have not settled, however. The trial, therefore, is still scheduled for May 28.

Purdue and the Sacklers, meanwhile, still face more than 1,600 opioid lawsuits from 37 states, and numerous cities, counties, and tribes across the United States. For the time being, though, the public won't hear "full recounting of Purdue's actions in promoting OxyContin to doctors and underplaying its addictive properties," writes the Times. Tim O'Donnell

11:30 a.m.

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has just had all of the charges against him dropped.

Smollett, who was hit with 16 felony counts after police said he staged a fake hate crime against himself, was called in for an emergency court appearance on Tuesday, and his lawyers subsequently confirmed that all of the criminal charges against him have been dropped, per BuzzFeed News. They also said that "his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him."

Police said last month that Smollett staged an attack against himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Empire. He allegedly wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers in exchange for them helping him carry out the supposed hate crime.

Smollett continued to maintain his innocence, though, and his lawyers said in a statement on Tuesday that he "was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement." They also maintained that Smollett was "attacked by two people he was unable to identify on Jan. 29."

The details of what resulted in these charges being dropped have not yet been revealed, but the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a statement per The Hollywood Reporter that "after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case." Smollett's family said in a statement per BuzzFeed that "we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light." Brendan Morrow

This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

11:16 a.m.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has a new beard and a new mission.

On Tuesday, the former California governor took to Washington, D.C. as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a case regarding how two states drew their congressional districts. Schwarzenegger is very firmly in the anti-gerrymander camp, and, ignoring the possibility of a copyright violation, repeatedly declared Tuesday that we should "terminate gerrymandering."

The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about congressional maps in North Carolina and Maryland, which plaintiffs argue were drawn to benefit the state legislatures' ruling parties. Gerrymandering has been a hallmark issue of Schwarzenegger's post-governator life, an absurdity that he acknowledged while speaking in front of the Supreme Court. When Schwarzenegger "came to this great country ... 50 years ago," he said he never imagined he'd be "standing in front of the Supreme Court" to "fight gerrymandering." And yet here he is, making a groan-worthy joke that somehow only got cheers.

Schwarzenegger dashed off before he could reference another action classic. But don't worry, he'll be back later on Tuesday, appearing at the National Press Club to talk more about redistricting. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:06 a.m.

President Trump's good week just keeps getting better.

Late Monday, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he'd let the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers use up to $1 billion of the military's budget to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. The approval came in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, which specified that the money would go toward fencing, road improvements, and lighting near the border, CNN details.

In his letter, Shanahan specified that the $1 billion will fund 57 miles of "18-foot-high pedestrian fencing," per Bloomberg. It'll specifically be used "within the Yuma and El Paso Sectors of the border," and will also go toward "constructing and improving roads and installing lighting" in the area, Shanahan wrote. A league of Democratic senators quickly teamed up to write a response to Shanahan, saying he didn't ask congressional defense committees for approval before okaying the fund transfer.

Trump has long discussed using military money to build his border wall after Congress continually rejected his pleas for wall funding. Congress did give him $1.3 billion in the most recent budget, but Trump still declared a national emergency in an attempt to secure a few more billion dollars.

The Trump victory comes after Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not draw a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, and after Attorney General William Barr decided not to charge the president on that crime. Kathryn Krawczyk

10:00 a.m.

Fox News' biggest stars are going on the offensive.

Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson took to the airwaves on Monday evening, just a day after Attorney General William Barr briefed Congress on the principal conclusions drawn from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's conduct surrounding Russian election interference in 2016. But they were not in a celebratory mood, despite the fact that they both said Barr's summary vindicates Trump — and them.

Instead, both hosts used the opportunity to lay into other networks, particularly CNN and MSNBC for peddling what they believe were lies — told deliberately to mislead audiences about the Mueller investigation, all in the name of conspiracy to increase viewership and profit. Hannity singled out a few publications like The Atlantic and The Huffington Post for writing headlines like "The Collusion with Russia Is in Plain Sight" and "Manafort indictment reveals Trump Russia Collusion," respectively. He expressed particular dismay that The New York Times and The Washington Post won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting on the investigation.

"I am pissed off and so should the rest of the country be over what has happened," Hannity said. "We were lied to over and over again." Hannity, who has been an ardent Trump supporter throughout the process, also said that he is going to "hold every liar, every propagandist, every conspiracy theorist accountable."

Carlson expressed similar sentiments of anger toward the media. But he had a secret weapon — a leftist. The Intercept's Glenn Greenwald appeared as a guest on Carlson's show. Greenwald is, to put it gently, not of the same political persuasion as Carlson. But he is also known for being at odds with Democrats and a large swath of the media and over its coverage of the Mueller investigation, and he had some choice words for MSNBC and Rachel Maddow in particular. Tim O'Donnell

9:49 a.m.

The first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station was planned for March 29 with astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch, but it's now off because NASA doesn't have the proper spacesuit size available for McClain.

As NASA explains, McClain "learned during her first spacewalk that a medium-size hard upper torso — essentially the shirt of the spacesuit — fits her best." Since Koch also wears a medium, and only one suit in that size will be ready by Friday, the mission will now consist of Koch and a male astronaut, Nick Hague. NASA says that McClain is "tentatively scheduled" for a spacewalk on April 8 with a male astronaut, David Saint-Jacques.

While it might sound odd that McClain would just now be finding out what the right size for her is, Engadget points out that "there is no way to simulate the extended effects of zero gravity" on the body beforehand, also observing that McClain said in early March she had grown by two inches since she launched. And there actually are two medium sizes on the station; it's just that only one is configured for a spacewalk, and the other won't be ready in time for Friday, The New York Times reports.

NASA spokesperson Stephanie Schierholz told The Washington Post that despite this setback, the first all-female spacewalk is "inevitable." Brendan Morrow

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