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January 28, 2019

On Sunday, the Treasury Department lifted sanctions on three companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, including the world's No. 2 aluminum company, Rusal. Deripaska is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a former associated of Paul Manafort, President Trump's jailed former campaign chairman. Deripaska himself will remain under sanctions, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control said, and his companies have "agreed to unprecedented transparency for Treasury into their operations." Along with Rusal, the sanctions were lifted on En+ Group and EuroSibEnergo.

The House voted overwhelmingly to block the Treasury from lifting the sanctions on Deripaska's companies, with 136 Republicans joining the Democrats, but the bill failed to get 60 votes in the Senate, even though 11 Republicans voted in favor. "This represents just one more step in undermining the sanctions law, which President Trump has obstructed at every opportunity, while Russian aggression remains unabated," said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). Last week, The New York Times reported that the Treasury agreement actually helps Deripaska financially.

As part of the negotiated settlement, Deripaska agreed to cede control of all the companies, and on Sunday, En+ — the parent company of Rusal and EuroSibEnergo — announced seven new independent board directors, including Christopher Burnham, chairman of Cambridge Global Capital LLC and a member of Trump’s presidential transition team at the State Department. Rusal also said its chairman, Jean-Pierre Thomas, has resigned. Peter Weber

5:40 p.m.

Nothing can adequately prepare you for your first glimpse at the Cats movie.

Universal Pictures on Thursday debuted the highly-anticipated first footage from its upcoming musical adaptation after months of teases about Taylor Swift's attending of "cat school" and the film's supposedly revolutionary use of, as the filmmakers describe it, "digital fur technology." And, well, here it is.

From start to finish, the trailer is a wild ride that doesn't even attempt to ease viewers into how surreal literally every character in the film looks. That online reaction to the initially funky-looking CGI Genie in Aladdin and the extremely distressing new Sonic the Hedgehog don't even hold a candle.

Cats' cast includes, believe it or not, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Ian McKellen, and Judie Dench, who discussed their experience making the film in a recent behind-the-scenes reel featuring such quotes as "they're people but they're cats ... there is nothing else like it." Indeed, there isn't. Take a deep breath and watch the trailer below. Brendan Morrow

4:42 p.m.

Tom Cruise still has that need for speed, even three decades later.

At San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday, Cruise made an unannounced appearance following a Terminator: Dark Fate panel to reveal the first trailer for the long-awaited Top: Gun Maverick, a follow-up to the 1986 original that's set for release next year. The footage, which dropped online shortly after its Comic-Con debut, shows off Cruise's return as Maverick and some seriously impressive-looking flying sequences.

Cruise, who in recent years has infamously done his own, increasingly insane stunts for the Mission: Impossible franchise, promised the Comic-Con audience similar authenticity in Maverick, saying, "Everything you see in this film, obviously, it's for real," Variety reports. "We're working with the Navy. All of the flying that you see in this picture, everything is real." He also described the movie as a "love letter to aviation."

Top Gun: Maverick will hit theaters on June 26, 2020, and Cruise said Thursday that after a 34 year wait, "I felt it was my responsibility for me to deliver for you." Watch the trailer below. Brendan Morrow

4:35 p.m.

The U.S. Navy has "destroyed" an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz, President Trump announced Thursday afternoon.

The U.S.S. Boxer was sailing in the strategic strait when the drone came within 1,000 yards of it and ignored "multiple calls to stand down," Trump told reporters. It then took "defensive action" and used electronic jamming to down the drone, Trump continued.

The attack comes after Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Thursday claimed responsibility for seizing a foreign tanker that went missing this past weekend in the Strait of Hormuz, The Washington Post notes. It's the latest international incident in the waterway that connects the Persian Gulf with the rest of the world, and also comes amid rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran. Iran shot a U.S. drone in that area last month, but while America says it was in international airspace, Iran claimed it was flying in Iranian territory. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:55 p.m.

Toys 'R' Us is getting a reboot.

The retailer, which closed all its locations in the U.S. in 2018 after the company filed for bankruptcy, is being relaunched by Tru Kids Brands with the opening of two new stores this year, CNN reports. One of the new locations will be in Houston, Texas, while the other will be in Paramus, New Jersey, and the company's aim is to open 10 new stores by the end of 2020, The Washington Post reports.

But Toys 'R' Us won't be coming back without some major changes, as Tru Kids Brands has reworked the stores' design so they're more "fun and interactive" as to "better fit within today's retail environment," CEO Richard Barry told the Post. The two new locations will be smaller — 6,500-square feet compared to about 40,000 square feet before — and they'll emphasize open areas for children to play in, the Post notes. The stores will also sell fewer toys than before, CNN reports. Previously, lenders had teased a "new and re-imagined" Toys 'R Us on the horizon.

Ahead of this relaunch, though, The Associated Press notes that it's unclear "how much support the new model will get from suppliers, who were burned by Toys 'R' Us' quick demise." The company in 2018 announced it would close all of its stores in the United States six months after filing for bankruptcy, resulting in the loss of more than 30,000 jobs, per The Washington Post.

For Toys 'R' Us kids in Texas and New Jersey, the new locations will open this fall. Brendan Morrow

3:46 p.m.

National Hockey League Hall of Famer and former Hartford Whaler Ron Francis was named the first general manager of Seattle's forthcoming expansion team on Thursday, The Seattle Times reports.

The team was approved by the NHL's Board of Governors in December, and will begin playing in the 2021-2022 season. Francis received a multi-year contract with Seattle, according to ESPN.

Francis played 23 seasons in the NHL, and is second only to Wayne Gretzky in all-time career assists. Following his retirement in 2004, Francis was hired to direct operations for the Carolina Hurricanes and was later named general manager. He was then president of hockey operations until 2018.

The new Seattle team is still unnamed, but Oak View Group, the new team's ownership group, registered 13 possible trademarks last year, including the Seattle Kraken, the Seattle Sockeyes, and the Seattle Evergreens. The name choice, which Francis will be able to give input on, is expected to be announced by the end of the year. To the dismay of few, the Whalers is not being considered.

The Seattle team, when it officially launches, will become the league's 32nd team, following the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, who reached the Stanley Cup finals in their first season. Their entrance will cause a realignment of the league's divisions, with Seattle taking the Arizona Coyotes' place in the Pacific Division, and moving the Coyotes, who play in suburban Phoenix, to the Central Division. Together, the Central and Pacific Divisions make up the Western Conference, and the Atlantic and Metropolitan Divisions make up the Eastern Conference.

Francis tweeted that he was looking forward to "build[ing] an excellent franchise that will bring back the Stanley Cup!" Steven Orlofsky

3:30 p.m.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has provided the most confusing explanation yet for President Trump's racist tweets.

Trump on Sunday sent tweets telling four Democratic congresswomen to "go back" to the countries they came from, inspiring his backers at a Wednesday rally to chant "send her back" after Trump attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). This sparked dozens of allegations that Trump is racist, which, as Graham oddly claimed in a Thursday tweet, apparently happens to every Republican president.

Graham's statement not only doesn't defend past GOP nominees and presidents against labels of racism; it's downright coated in irony. As Omar quickly reminded the senator, he was the one calling Trump a "bigot" just a few years ago. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:28 p.m.

New court documents unsealed on Thursday detail President Donald Trump's 2016 team's conversations as Michael Cohen was arranging hush money payments to silence women alleging they had affairs with Trump.

In the documents, an FBI agent says that Trump's former attorney in the days after the Access Hollywood tape was released "exchanged a series of calls, text messages, and emails" with Stormy Daniels' attorney Keith Davidson, the National Enquirer's David Pecker and David Howard, Trump, and then-campaign secretary Hope Hicks, per BuzzFeed News' Zoe Tillman.

"Based on the timing of these calls, and the content of the text messages and emails, I believe that at least some of these communications concerned the need to prevent [Stephanie] Clifford from going public, particularly in the wake of the Access Hollywood story," the FBI agent says.

One portion of the document also describes a conversation on Nov. 5, in which Cohen texted Hicks noticing that a Wall Street Journal article about the National Enquirer paying to silence Karen McDougal, who also claimed she had an affair with Trump, was "getting little to no traction," per CBS News' Steven Portnoy. Hicks responded, "Same. Keep praying!! It's working!" Hicks claimed in a comment for that story, "We have no knowledge of any of this." The documents also show that Cohen texted Howard that "he's pissed," per HuffPost, seemingly referring to Trump.

Hicks has denied knowing about Daniels' allegations until November 2016, a claim she made during congressional testimony, ABC News reports.

Cohen is currently serving a three-year sentence after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations as prosecutors say he made the hush money payments at the direction of Trump, and the documents show Trump and Cohen communicating numerous times as Cohen was arranging the payments, CNN reports. Trump has denied knowing anything about the payments. Brendan Morrow

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