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September 14, 2014

The White House is vehemently pushing back against a report that it threatened to prosecute the families of two slain American journalists if they ponied up ransom money to ISIS.

"We didn't threaten anybody, but we made clear what the law is," White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said on Fox News Sunday. "That's our responsibility, to make sure we explain the law and uphold the law."

The White House "took every effort" to rescue both men, McDonough added.

The families of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, the two journalists beheaded by ISIS, claim the Obama administration threatened to prosecute them if they tried to free the men on their own. ISIS had demanded ransom money in exchange for their kidnapped victims, though such payments are illegal as they are considered to be material support for terrorism. Jon Terbush

5:10 p.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report is done.

Mueller finished his investigation into potential ties between President Trump's campaign and Russian election interference, the Justice Department said on Friday. The confidential report was delivered to Attorney General William Barr, who has said he will provide a condensed version of the report to Congress. He has not committed to releasing the full report to Congress or the public.

The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima first reported that the House Judiciary Committee was told to expect notification by 5 p.m. Friday that Mueller had finished the report. Reports had surged in the last few weeks that Mueller was wrapping up his report, and reporters staking out his office chalked up several reasons to predict it would wrap Friday. Kathryn Krawczyk

5:06 p.m.

The mayor of San Juan who outspokenly criticized the Trump administration's response to a hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico announced she will run for governor in 2020.

Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz announced her bid on Friday, telling an audience in Puerto Rico it is time to "break away from the chains that tie us down in order to have a promising future and break our cycle of poverty," reports NBC News.

Cruz rose to national prominence after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017. When President Trump called the response to the hurricane "incredible," Cruz responded by saying "Where have you been?" and lambasting the Trump administration's slow response to supplying emergency aid. Trump has criticized Cruz for being "nasty" and reflecting "poor" leadership.

She hasn't only criticized Trump, though — in her announcement, she also criticized current Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who she said "was unable to count deaths after Hurricane Maria" and "stood by Trump when he threw paper towels at people."

Cruz is running as a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which opposes statehood for Puerto Rico, per NBC News. Marianne Dodson

5:04 p.m.

Jordan Peele's Us is about to tear up the box office — and accomplish a feat that has become depressingly rare.

The latest film from the director of Get Out is set to be one of the few movies not based on anything to top the box office since 2017, observes IndieWire's David Ehrlich. As he points out, the only films in the past two years that were original stories and beat the competition were Get Out, Dunkirk, Coco, The Hitman's Bodyguard, Happy Death Day, and Night School.

In that time, just about everything else has been a sequel, a reboot, or a film set in a cinematic universe, plus movies based on real people (although technically, Dunkirk is also based on a real event, so Us would be seventh if this were included). Thus far in 2019, the films that have debuted at number one include three films based on a comic book or manga, three sequels, and one remake.

At the moment, Us is projected to make about $64 million over the weekend, per The Hollywood Reporter, which would make it the biggest opening ever for an original R-rated horror film. Clearly, the horror genre has played a major role in keeping audacious, original movies alive at the box office, making up half of Ehrlich's list — with two being helmed by Peele himself. Screenwriter C. Robert Cargill observed on Friday that horror is "the last genre you can make $100 million in while discussing smartly the problems that plague both the individual and our society." After the success of Us, expect Peele to show back up on the list many more times in the years to come. Brendan Morrow

4:41 p.m.

Floodwaters in Mozambique are now visible from outer space in what has the potential to become one of the region's deadliest weather disasters.

Extreme flooding has formed an inland ocean in central Mozambique, reports CNN, and entire villages and towns have been overwhelmed by the rising waters.

As many as 400 bodies line the banks of the coastal city of Beira, per CNN, where nearby villages were completely submerged by the flooding.

There have been at least 200 confirmed deaths in Mozambique since Cyclone Idai tore through the country last weekend. Actual death counts are estimated to top 1,000, with more than 400,000 people having lost their homes.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the humanitarian needs in the region will "only deepen" in the future, reports CNN. Marianne Dodson

3:54 p.m.

NASA's astronauts are doing a bit of spring cleaning and upgrading.

Two astronauts, Anne McClain and Nick Hague spent their Friday swapping out dead batteries on the International Space Station in the first of two scheduled spacewalks this month, NASA announced. The battery-wielding duo upgraded three of six nickel-hydrogen batteries that had lost their juice after a long run in space, according to NASA.

"Just like your rechargeable batteries at home, eventually over time, they're not going to recharge as well," Kenny Todd, the missions operations manager for the ISS, said during a press conference, per The Verge. "They're not going to hold as much charge when it comes to putting loads on them." The batteries were replaced with newer, more powerful lithium-ion versions during the 6-hour-long spacewalk.

There will be a second round of battery replacements next week during NASA's first-ever all-female spacewalk with Christina Koch and McClain.

The expedition was the first spacewalk for McClain and Hague, but the 214th overall, says NASA. Watch footage of the swap below, via USA Today. Tatyana Bellamy-Walker

3:47 p.m.

GoFundMe is taking a stand against anti-vaxxers by removing any campaigns that promote misinformation about vaccines, reports The Daily Beast.

The decision comes amid heightened concern over parents who choose not to vaccinate their children, as well as an increase in measles outbreaks across the U.S.

The Daily Beast found that anti-vaxxers have been able to bring in over $170,000 over the past four years through GoFundMe. Spokesman for the company Bobby Whithorne told The Daily Beast the promotion of vaccine misinformation would "violate GoFundMe's terms of service" and therefore will be removed.

Melissa Sullivan, the executive vice president for Health Choice Connecticut which advocates for families making their own health decisions, told The Daily Beast that the decision was a "violation of the First Amendment."

GoFundMe's decision follows in the footsteps of Facebook and YouTube, both of which have recently announced plans to reduce anti-vaccine-related content on their sites. Marianne Dodson

3:40 p.m.

President Trump says he will nominate Stephen Moore to serve on the Federal Reserve Board — and it may be because of a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Moore, a former member of the The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, on March 13 co-authored a column titled "The Fed is a Threat to Growth." In it, he and Louis Woodhill criticize the Federal Reserve, asking "what problem were they trying to solve" with its "inexplicable" rate hikes. The column also argues that subsequent "market turbulence ... was all the Fed's doing."

Trump has voiced similar complaints about the Federal Reserve, and the op-ed backs him up by saying that "when President Trump fumed that the Fed's rate increases were smothering his growth policies, he wasn't entirely wrong."

Last week, Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow showed Trump this op-ed, reports Bloomberg, and Trump commented that Moore should have been appointed chairman of the Federal Reserve. He reportedly then told Kudlow to get in touch with Moore about putting him on the board, with Trump then calling Moore himself earlier this week.

Moore, who also served as an economic adviser during Trump's campaign, has long been critical of Fed Chair Jerome Powell, writing last year that he should resign and "admit that his policies have had disastrous economic and financial consequences." Trump made Moore's nomination official on Friday, tweeting, "I have known Steve for a long time — and have no doubt he will be an outstanding choice!" Brendan Morrow

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