January 30, 2019

The producer who last week released a stunning statement calling the sexual abuse allegations against director Bryan Singer "fake news" says he didn't write it nor did he read it — but he's not backing away from what was said, either.

After The Atlantic last week published an exposé about Singer that included interviews with men who said he sexually abused them when they were underage, allegations Singer denies, Millennium Films CEO Avi Lerner said in a statement that Singer would keep his job on his upcoming movie Red Sonja because "I know the difference between agenda driven fake news and reality."

Lerner told The Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday that he just signed off on this statement when a publicist put it in front of him without looking at it. But while Lerner conceded the statement "came out the wrong way," he also made clear that "I don't want to apologize" and said that Singer should be "judged by the court" and not by Twitter. While he said the allegations should "be taken very, very seriously," he also said he has "reason why I doubt that he has done it" but wouldn't explain what that means.

Lerner, who in the past settled a lawsuit from a female employee alleging harassment, isn't backing down from keeping Singer on the movie, telling the Reporter that he hasn't received any pushback in Hollywood and claiming that, in fact, one studio head called him to say, "Well done." Reporter Tatiana Siegel reached out to a variety of Hollywood sources and writes that while some agents expressed wariness of having one of their clients appear in Red Sonja, "no one wanted to be quoted" and "no one said he or she would stop working with Lerner." Brendan Morrow

2:11 a.m.

Tropical Storm Beta made landfall late Monday night, roughly five miles north of Port O'Connor, Texas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The storm hit with maximum winds of 45 mph, and forecasters expect coastal counties will see four to six inches of rain. Over the next few days, Beta will likely move northeast along the Texas coast before weakening into a depression as it arrives in the Houston-Galveston area. Beta is then expected to head into Louisiana.

Beta is the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental United States this year, tying a record set in 1916, The Associated Press reports. It has been such a busy Atlantic hurricane season that forecasters ran out of traditional storm names last week and had to start using the Greek alphabet, making Beta the first storm named after a Greek letter to ever make landfall in the continental U.S. Catherine Garcia

1:41 a.m.

Several fathers in the Gaithersburg, Maryland, area are spending their weekends putting their carpentry skills to the test as they build desks for local students.

Al and Jessica Berrellez founded Desks by Dads earlier in the summer, after Jessica learned that several of the kids at her daughters' schools did not have desks at home, and would have to share the dining room table with their siblings or work from their beds during virtual learning. Wanting to ensure educational equity for all students, Jessica asked Al to come up with a prototype for a desk that was inexpensive and easy to make.

After some research, Al made a blueprint for a desk that could be built in one hour at a cost of about $40. Al and Jessica started sharing the plans with others, and soon, Desks by Dads was launched, with several local parents volunteering to spend part of their weekends working on desks. Al told Good Morning America each desk has its own personality, and "every time someone drops off a donated desk to our house, we get to share ideas and build connections. It's also an opportunity to highlight the strengths of Black and brown dads, and show what we can contribute."

So far, more than two dozen desks have been delivered to students, free of charge. Jessica said she hopes this inspires others to help students who may need some extra help amid the pandemic. "I think that's how change happens," she told GMA. "It requires everyday people doing small things and having that grow into something bigger." Catherine Garcia

1:01 a.m.

The U.S. passed yet another "grim milestone" in its COVID-19 pandemic Monday night, Reuters notes, with at least 200,000 Americans dead from the new coronavirus and an average of nearly 1,000 more dying each day. As "the country blew past estimate after estimate" of COVID-19 deaths, Politico's pandemic newsletter said Monday night, "the term 'grim milestone' in headlines became so routine that we banned it."

COVID-19 deaths are rising again in the U.S. after a four-week decline, with Texas and Florida leading the news fatalities, Reuters reports, and the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now predicts 300,000 deaths by Dec. 9 and 378,000 by the end of 2020 if current trends continue. The IHME's first projection of U.S. coronavirus deaths, issued March 16, topped out at 162,000. The U.S., with about 4 percent of the world's population, has 20 percent of its recorded COVID-19 deaths.

At a rally in Dayton, Ohio, on Monday night, President Trump assured his admirers the virus isn't really that bad, noting that it mostly kills "elderly people" and people with "other problems," adding, "It affects virtually nobody."

According to CDC data, more than 70 percent of U.S. COVID-19 deaths are among people older than 65, which means about 60,000 of the dead were 65 and younger. And a lot of the estimated millions of U.S. "long-haulers" who did not die from COVID-19 are still grappling with a wide array of health problems, some of the potentially serious. Peter Weber

12:27 a.m.

In his forthcoming book, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation, Andrew Weissmann describes what it was like serving as a prosecutor on former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, going into detail about his frustrations and fears.

In the book, Weissmann — who now teaches at New York University School of Law and serves as an MSNBC legal analyst — writes that the special counsel's efforts were stymied by the constant threat of Trump's wrath, The Washington Post reports. They were reluctant to get too aggressive, he said, due to "the president's power to fire us and pardon wrongdoers who might otherwise cooperate."

Weissmann writes that this is why Mueller's top deputy, Aaron Zebley, stopped investigators from taking a broader look at Trump's finances, the Post reports. The pressure, he said, "affected our investigative decisions, leading us at certain times to act less forcefully and more defensively than we might have. It led us to delay or ultimately forgo entire lines of inquiry, particularly regarding the president's financial ties to Russia." 


With Trump, Russia's main intelligence agency has "gotten what it had worked so hard for — a servile, but popular, American leader," Weissmann writes. "There is no other way to put it. Our country is now faced with the problem of a lawless White House, which addresses itself to every new dilemma or check on its power with a belief that following the rules is optional and that breaking them comes at minimal, if not zero, cost."

Weissmann told the Post he decided to write Where Law Ends after Attorney General William Barr released his own four-page summary of Mueller's report, which downplayed the findings; Mueller would later pen a letter saying Barr "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of his work.

"I wrote it very much so there would be a public record from somebody, at least one viewpoint, from the inside as opposed to the story being told in maybe a less accurate way by people from the outside," Weissmann said. In the book, he accuses Barr of enabling a "lawless" president, and says the attorney general "had betrayed both friend and country." Read more about Weissmann's book, including why he thinks there was enough evidence showing Trump obstructed justice and how special counsel rules should be changed, at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

A lot of Republicans agreed on a somewhat arbitrary rule in 2016 that the Senate should not confirm a Supreme Court nominee during an election year. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the current Judiciary Committee chairman, was so convinced by the righteousness of his argument that he said he would hold off on considering a nominee put forward by President Trump if it occurred during an election year — and he urged people to keep the tape and use his words against him if he changed his mind. Well, now he's changed his mind, and The Lincoln Project rolled the tape.

The Late Show used an earlier iteration of Graham's "use my words against me" offer and took him up on it Monday night. And Stephen Colbert's writers used a liberal interpretation of his pledge. Watch below. Peter Weber

September 21, 2020

The Bobcat fire in Los Angeles County is continuing to threaten the historic Mount Wilson Observatory, as well as communications towers used by local television and radio stations and law enforcement.

Last week, flames were within 500 feet of the 116-year-old observatory, but firefighters were able to keep them at bay. Since the weekend, fire crews have been battling flareups at the top of the mountain, caused by winds out of the east. "Just when I thought the danger was over, it wasn't," Thomas Meneghi, the observatory's executive director, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. Meneghi also said there is a 530,000-gallon water tank on the observatory grounds, and over the last several days, firefighters have used half of it to battle the blaze.

Since Sept. 6, the Bobcat fire has scorched more than 105,000 acres, making it one of the largest fires in L.A. County history. It is only 15 percent contained, and crews are having a hard time getting a handle on it due to the rocky terrain in the Angeles National Forest. The Bobcat fire has moved down into the Antelope Valley, where it has destroyed several homes and buildings and is quickly burning through low-lying desert shrubbery. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2020

Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted (R) was heckled on Monday by supporters of President Trump, who objected to Husted mentioning wearing masks.

Husted spoke at a Trump rally outside of Dayton, and came onstage sporting a red mask with "Trump 2020" printed on the front. "I'm trying to make masks in America great again," he said to jeers. Husted pulled out another mask that said "MAGA," which did nothing to get the crowd on his side — instead, the boos continued and one person shouted at him, "Get off the stage!"

"Hang on, I get it," Husted responded. "You don't like it. But when you go in a grocery store where you have to wear one ... just listen up! All right, I get it. But if somebody tells you to take it off, you can at least say you're trying to save the country by wearing one of President Donald Trump's masks."

It wasn't just the idea of wearing masks to protect others that got the crowd riled up — when Husted mentioned Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who made masks mandatory in most indoor areas, that opened him up to another round of boos. DeWine and Husted are co-chairs of Trump's campaign in Ohio, and when Trump later mentioned the governor during his speech, some jeering could be heard. Trump called DeWine "a real good friend of mine," and promised the audience, "He's opening up." Catherine Garcia

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