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Less than a week after former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn entered a plea deal admitting that he lied to FBI agents, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) indicated he was opening a probe into the “reported bias” of an agent said to be involved in Flynn’s questioning, as well as in the FBI’s Clinton email investigation.

Grassley sent a letter dated Tuesday t0 FBI Director Chris Wray seeking communications and records related to the agent, Peter Strzok. His request comes as a handful of Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, where Wray is scheduled to testify Thursday, amped up their own calls for an investigation into the “unprecedented bias” against President Trump at the FBI.

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After numerous Democratic senators, most of whom are women, called on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign over sexual misconduct allegations on Wednesday, his office said that the senator would make an announcement on Thursday.

Franken’s office did not specify the topic the senator will discuss and did not offer a specific time for the announcement.

A wave of Democratic female senators on Wednesday called on Franken to step aside, and a handful of male Democratic senators quickly joined the call. Within an hour of the first push from a senator for Franken to step down, more than 10 Democratic senators joined the chorus.

A new accuser stepped forward on Wednesday morning, telling Politico that Franken tried to forcibly kiss her in 2006 after a taping of his radio show. The former Democratic congressional aide joined several other women who have accused Franken of groping or forcibly kissing them.

Despite the numerous sexual misconduct allegations, Franken faced little public pressure in the Senate to resign until Wednesday. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has not weighed in on Franken since he called for an ethics committee investigation after the first accuser came forward more than two weeks ago.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The nation’s homeless population increased this year for the first time since 2010, driven by a surge in the number of people living on the streets in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development released its annual Point in Time count Wednesday, a report that showed nearly 554,000 homeless people across the country during local tallies conducted in January. That figure is up nearly 1 percent from 2016.

Of that total, 193,000 people had no access to nightly shelter and instead were staying in vehicles, tents, the streets and other places considered uninhabitable. The unsheltered figure is up by more than 9 percent compared to two years ago.

Increases are higher in several West Coast cities, where the explosion in homelessness has prompted at least 10 city and county governments to declare states of emergency since 2015.

City officials, homeless advocates and those living on the streets point to a main culprit: the region’s booming economy .

Rents have soared beyond affordability for many lower-wage workers who until just a just few years ago could typically find a place to stay. Now, even a temporary setback can be enough to leave them out on the streets.

“A lot of people in America don’t realize they might be two checks, three checks, four checks away from being homeless,” said Thomas Butler Jr., who stays in a carefully organized tent near a freeway ramp in downtown Los Angeles.

Butler said he was in transitional housing — a type of program that prepares people for permanent homes — for a while but mostly has lived on the streets for the past couple of years.

The numbers in the report back up what many people in California, Oregon and Washington have been experiencing in their communities: encampments sprouting along freeways and rivers; local governments struggling to come up with money for long-term solutions; conflicts over whether to crack down on street camping and even feeding the homeless.

The most alarming consequence of the West Coast homeless explosion is a deadly hepatitis A outbreak that has affected Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and San Diego, the popular tourist destination in a county where more than 5,600 people now live on the streets or in their cars. The disease is spread through a liver-damaging virus that lives in feces.

The outbreak prompted California officials to declare a state of emergency in October.

The HUD report underscores the severity of the problem along the West Coast.

While the overall homeless population in California, Oregon and Washington grew by 14 percent over the past two years, the part of that population considered unsheltered climbed 23 percent to 108,000. That is in part due a shortage of affordable housing.

In booming Seattle, for example, the HUD report shows the unsheltered population grew by 44 percent over two years to nearly 5,500.

The homeless service area that includes most of Los Angeles County, the epicenter of the crisis, saw its total homeless count top 55,000 people, up by more than 13,000 from 2016. Four out of every five homeless individuals there are considered unsheltered, leaving tens of thousands of people with no place to sleep other than the streets or parks.

By comparison, while New York City’s homeless population grew to more than 76,000, only about 5 percent are considered unsheltered thanks to a system that can get people a cot under a roof immediately.

In the West Coast states, the surge in homelessness has become part of the fabric of daily life.

The Monty, a bar in the Westlake neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles, usually doesn’t open until 8 p.m. Partner and general manager Corey Allen said that’s because a nearby shelter requires people staying there to be in the building by 7. Waiting until after that to open means the streets outside are calmer.

Allen said the homeless have come into his bar to bathe in the restroom wash basins, and employees have developed a strategy for stopping people from coming in to panhandle among customers.

Seventy-eight-year-old Theodore Neubauer sees the other side of it. Neubauer says he served in Vietnam but now lives in a tent in downtown Los Angeles. He is surrounded by thriving business and entertainment districts, and new apartments that are attracting scores of young people to the heart of the nation’s second most populous city.

“Well, there’s a million-dollar view,” he said.

Helping those like Neubauer is a top policy priority and political issue in Los Angeles.

Since last year, voters in the city and Los Angeles County have passed a pair of tax-boosting ballot initiatives to raise an expected $4.7 billion over the next decade for affordable housing and services for the homeless. HUD Secretary Ben Carson praised the region for dealing with the issue and not relying solely on the federal government.

“We need to move a little bit away from the concept that only the government can solve the problem,” he said.

But Mayor Eric Garcetti said that insufficient federal funding for affordable housing and anti-homelessness programs are part of the reason for the city’s current crisis.

“Los Angeles’ homelessness crisis was not created in a vacuum, and it cannot be solved by L.A. alone,” Garcetti said in a statement.

Excluding the Los Angeles region, total homelessness nationwide would have been down by about 1.5 percent compared with 2016.

The California counties of Sacramento, which includes the state capital, and Alameda, which is home to Oakland, also had one-year increases of more than 1,000 homeless people.

In contrast, the HUD report showed a long-running decline in homelessness continuing in most other regions. Nationally, the overall homeless number was down by 13 percent since 2010 and the unsheltered number has dropped by 17 percent over that seven-year span, although some changes in methodology and definitions over the years can affect comparisons.

Places where the numbers went down included Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, the Denver area and Hawaii, which declared a statewide homelessness emergency in 2015.

The homeless point-in-time survey is based on counts at shelters and on the streets. While imperfect, it attempts to represent how many people are homeless at a given time. Those who work regularly with the homeless say it is certainly an undercount, although many advocates and officials believe it correctly identifies trend lines.

The report is submitted to Congress and used by government agencies as a factor in distributing money for programs designed to help the homeless.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday said the federal government “could” shut down at midnight on Friday if Democrats and Republicans do not reach a deal to continue funding it.

“It could happen,” Trump told reporters during a cabinet meeting at the White House.

Trump said that Democrats “are looking at shutting down” the government over their policy demands, though Republicans control the House, the Senate and the White House.

“The Democrats are really looking at something that is very dangerous to our country,” he said. “They want to have illegal immigrants, in many case, people that we don’t want in our country. They want to have illegal immigrants pouring into our country, bringing with them crime, tremendous amounts of crime. We don’t want to have that.”

Trump in September suggested he would work with Democrats to restore legal protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, which he ended by winding down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The Washington Post reported last week, however, that Trump has told advisers he wants to cater to his far-right base and maintain a hardline position on immigration as the Friday deadline to fund the government fast approaches.

According to the report, Trump told confidants that if the government shuts down, he will simply blame Democrats, though his party controls all three branches of the government.

White House Legislative Affairs Director Marc Short denied those accounts, and claimed Trump is “not advocating for a shutdown in any way.”

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Three Utah Republican lawmakers jumped to Mitt Romney’s defense on Wednesday after Steve Bannon accused Romney of hiding behind his religion to avoid in the Vietnam War.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) blasted Bannon for attacking Romney’s religion and missionary work and offered to discuss the LDS Church with the former White House advisor.

“Steve Bannon’s attacks on Governor Romney and his service are disappointing and unjustified. Mitt is a close personal friend, an honest leader, a great American, and someone who has sought every opportunity possible to serve our country,” Hatch said in a statement. “I also resent anyone attacking any persons religious views, but particularly our own Christian LDS faith and the selfless service of missionary work. I’d be more than happy to sit down with Mr. Bannon and help him understand more about the LDS Church at his convenience. I’ve got a copy of the Book of Mormon with his name on it.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) also knocked Bannon for questioning Romney’s character, particularly on the basis of his religion.

Republican Utah Gov. Gary Herbert also chimed in, defending Romney and telling Bannon to stay out of Utah politics.

During a rally for GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore Tuesday night, Bannon attacked Romney for not serving in the Vietnam War.

“You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity,” Bannon said.

He made the comment in response to a Monday tweet from Romney, who suggested the Republican Party is losing its “honor” and “integrity” by backing Moore, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women.

Bannon reportedly wants to keep Romney, who may run for Senate in Utah if Hatch retires, out of Congress. He has reportedly considered endorsing Hatch as part of a plan to fend off Romney, who is a vocal Trump critic.

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Cameron Joseph contributed reporting

A group of female Democratic senators on Wednesday called on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign from Congress, following weeks of mounting sexual misconduct allegations against the embattled lawmaker.

In a wave of statements and Twitter posts, at least 10 of Franken’s female colleagues called him out on Wednesday just after 11:30 a.m. EST: Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Patty Murray (D-WA) Kamala Harris (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL). Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) was the first male senator to call for his resignation.

Democratic aides familiar with the female senators’ discussions told TPM that they had been in ongoing talks about Franken’s future, and that Wednesday’s push “was a result of mounting frustrations over the increasing number of accusations.” But not all female Democratic senators were looped in.

Fellow Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) spoke with Franken personally on Wednesday and said the congressman’s office plans to release a statement on Thursday. She said she’s “confident he will make the right decision.”

Gillibrand was the first senator to speak up, posting on Facebook that she was “shocked and disappointed to learn over the last few weeks that a colleague I am fond of personally has engaged in behavior towards women that is unacceptable” and said it was a “moment of reckoning” for those who have been accused of sexual harassment and assault.

“While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve,” she wrote. “In the wake of the election of President Trump, in just the last few months, our society is changing, and I encourage women and men to keep speaking up to continue this progress. At this moment, we need to speak hard truths or lose our chance to make lasting change.”

The others followed suit.

At least six women have gone public in recent weeks alleging Franken forcibly kissed them or groped them in the past. LA radio host Leeann Tweeden was the first to come forward, alleging the congressman aggressively kissed her when the two were rehearsing for a skit while on a USO tour in 2006 and groping her while she was sleeping. She released a photo with her statement, that appears to show Franken grabbing toward her chest while she slept.

Several others have spoken up since, saying Franken groped their butts during photo opportunities over the years. The most recent woman, a former Democratic congressional aide, came forward Wednesday alleging the senator forcibly kissed her in 2006 after the taping of his radio show.

When Tweeden went public, Franken apologized for the photo and said he remembered the rehearsal differently. He asked for the Senate Ethics Committee to launch a full investigation into the allegations against him. He has since apologized to the other women for making them feel disrespected, but has combatted many of their claims. On Wednesday, he told Politico that the actions alleged by the anonymous former congressional were “categorically not true.”

The allegations have been particularly jarring for Democrats who know Franken as a champion for legislation that supports survivors of sexual and domestic violence and workplace harassment. But many of his female and male colleagues said Wednesday that they think the mounting accusations are a sign of a problematic pattern of behavior by the congressman.

Hirono said in a statement that she “struggled with this decision” because she considers Franken a “friend,” but said she couldn’t excuse his behavior. She said TIME magazine’s decision to name “The Silence Breakers” their “Person of the Year” has brought to light something that “women have always known.”

“There are men among us who use their positions of power and influence to manipulate, harass, and assault women. What is new here is the women,” she said. “We are, all of us, speaking out, naming names and demanding that the harassers take responsibility for their behavior.”

Hassan also released a statement, saying it was “clear” Franken had engaged in a “pattern of egregious and unacceptable behavior.”

“We are experiencing a sea change in our culture that is long overdue, and we must continue working to empower all women and do everything we can to prevent sexual harassment, misconduct, and assault,” she said.

Harris, Baldwin, Stabenow and McCaskill joined the chorus by posting on Twitter, with Harris saying it would be the “best thing” for Franken to step down.

Murray also said she thought there was enough evidence to show that Franken has a “deeply harmful, persistent problem” of sexual misconduct against women and said Congress could not “pick and choose based on political party or friendship who we call out.”

In a statement also shared on Twitter, Heitkamp said she was disappointed in Franken and said Congress “must commit to zero tolerance.”

Duckworth joined the ensemble a few hours later, releasing a similar statement of disappointment in her colleague’s behavior. She also thanked the accusers for raising their voices.

“Your courage and strength in driving this long-overdue national conversation is awe-inspiring,” she said. “As national leaders, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard—and we must lead by example to ensure every person is treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans, it’s about our society. It’s about who we are as a people and the kind of country we want our daughters—and our sons—to grow up in.”

An aide to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) told The Boston Globe that Warren called Franken privately on Wednesday to tell him he should resign. She has not yet confirmed that publicly.

Casey posted on Twitter and said he agreed with his female colleagues and that “we can’t just believe women when it’s convenient.” Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) also released statements on Twitter shortly after, asking Franken to step aside.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said later Wednesday afternoon that he had “just learned of the latest, disturbing allegation” against Franken and said he “has to step aside.”

“While the facts from case to case can differ, and while there are sound reasons for weighing evidence in such cases in a deliberate and carefully considered process, Senator Franken’s situation has become untenable,” he said in a statement. “I am concerned that even a prompt Ethics Committee investigation and recommendations will not come soon enough. He has to step aside. I hope as a nation that we are beginning to come to terms with the systemic problem of sexual harassment and assault, but we still have a long way to go.”

Former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) spoke out later Wednesday afternoon, echoing the other senators’ comments in a string of tweets.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) office did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment. 

At least four House Democrats have also asked for his resignation, but Wednesday’s wave of calls was the first substantial move by Democratic members of the Senate to question their colleague’s future in Congress.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Six women filed a lawsuit against Harvey Weinstein on Wednesday, seeking to represent a class of “dozens, if not hundreds” of women who say they were assaulted by the movie mogul.

The lawsuit was filed at a federal court in New York claims that his actions to cover up the assaults amounted to civil racketeering.

It claims that Weinstein and the companies he worked with colluded to conceal Weinstein’s widespread sexual harassment and assaults.

A lawyer for Weinstein declined comment.

According to the lawsuit, actresses and other women in the film industry were lured to industry events, hotel rooms, Weinstein’s home, office meetings or auditions under the pretense that they were to discuss a project.

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VENTURA, Calif. (AP) — A dramatic new wildfire erupted in Los Angeles early Wednesday as firefighters battled three other destructive blazes across Southern California.

Flames exploded before dawn on the steep slopes of Sepulveda Pass, which carries heavily traveled Interstate 405 through the Santa Monica Mountains where ridge tops are covered with expensive homes.

Firefighters were providing structure protection as helicopters flying in darkness made water drops on the flames on the east side of the pass. Northbound traffic was halted, but southbound lanes remained open.

Hundreds of homes burned in the area during the famous Bel Air Fire of 1961. The Getty Center art complex, on the west side of the pass, employs extensive fire protection methods.

Elsewhere, use of firefighting aircraft has been constrained by the same winds that have spread the fires.

The water-dropping planes and helicopters essential to taming and containing wildfires have been mostly grounded because it’s too dangerous to fly them in the strong wind. Tuesday saw gusts of over 50 mph (80 kph).

Commanders hoped to have them back in the air on Wednesday morning, but all indications were that the winds will be whipping then too, fanning the flames that spurred evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people, destroyed nearly 200 homes and remained mostly out control.

“The prospects for containment are not good,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said at a news conference Tuesday. “Really, Mother Nature’s going to decide when we have the ability to put it out.”

Southern California’s Santa Ana winds have long contributed to some of the region’s most disastrous wildfires. They blow from the inland toward the Pacific Ocean, speeding up as they squeeze through mountain passes and canyons.

The largest and most destructive of the fires, an 85-square-mile (220-sq. kilometer) wildfire in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, had nearly reached the Pacific on Tuesday night after starting 30 miles (48 kilometers) inland a day earlier.

The wildfire jumped the major artery U.S. Highway 101 to a rocky beach northwest of Ventura, bringing new evacuations, though officials said the sparse population and lack of vegetation in the area meant it was not overly dangerous, and the highway was not closed.

The fire had destroyed at least 150 structures, but incident commander Todd Derum said he suspects hundreds more homes have already been lost, though firefighters have been unable to assess them.

Lisa Kermode and her children returned to their home Tuesday after evacuating Monday to find their home and world in ashes, including a Christmas tree and the presents they had just bought.

“We got knots in our stomach coming back up here,” Kermode said. “We lost everything, everything, all our clothes, anything that was important to us. All our family heirlooms — it’s not sort of gone, it’s completely gone.”

Mansions and modest homes alike were in flames in the city. Dozens of houses in one neighborhood burned to the ground.

John Keasler, 65, and his wife Linda raced out of their apartment building as the flames approached, then stood and watched the fire burn it to the ground.

“It is sad,” Keasler said. “We loved this place. We lost everything.”

Linda Keasler said they were just glad to be alive despite losing so much.

“Those things we can always get back,” she said. “The truth is it is just things and thank god no one died.”

Some 12,000 structures were under threat.

A spokesman for the American Red Cross says they expect a shelter in Ventura County to be at capacity Tuesday night.

Fred Mariscal says Red Cross officials expect about 400 people at the shelter Tuesday night.

He says the shelter is serving meals, providing a mobile shower truck and has doctors and nurses on hand to provide medication for residents who were displaced by the wildfire.

While the blazes brought echoes of the firestorm in Northern California that killed 44 people two months ago, no deaths and only a handful of injuries had been reported.

In the foothills of northern Los Angeles, 30 structures burned. Mayor Eric Garcetti said the gusty winds expected to last most of the week had created a dangerous situation and he urged 150,000 people under mandatory evacuation orders to leave their homes before it’s too late.

“We have lost structures, we have not lost lives,” he said. “Do not wait. Leave your homes.”

Fires are not typical in Southern California this time of year but can break out when dry vegetation and too little rain combine with the Santa Ana winds. Hardly any measurable rain has fallen in the region over the past six months.

Fires in suburban settings like these are likely to become more frequent as climate change makes fire season a year-round threat and will put greater pressure on local budgets, said Char Miller, a professor of environmental analysis at Pomona College who has written extensively about wildfires.

“There are going to be far greater numbers that are going to be evacuated, as we’re seeing now,” Miller said. “These fires are not just fast and furious, but they’re really expensive to fight.”

In LA County, television shows with large outdoor sets including HBO’s “Westworld” and CBS’s “S.W.A.T.” halted production of because of worries about the safety of cast and crew.

And the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL, which hold workouts near the Ventura County fire, canceled practice Wednesday.

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An attorney representing Rick Gates suggested Monday that he had been informed by prosecutors that they may bring more charges against Gates, who faces federal charges on 12 counts of money laundering, tax evasion and failure to disclose foreign lobbying in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

The comment, by New York-based lawyer Walter Mack, came in another case Mack is working on. Mueller’s team has raised the potential of a conflict of interest with Mack working on the two cases.

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Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) on Wednesday said the Republican National Committee’s decision to restore funding for Alabama Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore after cutting ties with him last month amid sexual misconduct allegations was “very bad.”

“This is a very bad decision and very sad day,” Sasse tweeted. “I believe the women— and the RNC previously did too. What’s changed? Or is the party just indifferent?”

He said the decision sends a “terrible message” to survivors of sexual harassment and assault.

Sasse also said he would stop donating to, and fundraising for, the National Republican Senatorial Committee if it decides to contribute to Moore’s campaign.

RNC members told TPM’s Cameron Joseph on Tuesday that the committee agreed to give $50,000 to the Alabama Republican Party to bolster Moore’s campaign. Reuters reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed RNC official, that the committee transferred another $120,000 to the state party.

As of Wednesday morning, campaign and committee contribution filings on the Federal Election Commission’s site did not reflect either of those reported transfers. The RNC last transferred $6,575 to the Alabama committee on Nov. 7.

A week later, amid mounting allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore and elected Republicans’ calls for him to step down from the race, the committee announced it was cutting ties with Moore.

In the past month, multiple women have alleged that Moore pursued relationships or made unwanted sexual contact with them years ago when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Moore has denied all the allegations and has claimed they are political attacks on his campaign from the media, Democrats and the Republican establishment.

While the White House initially backed away from endorsing Moore amid the allegations, President Donald Trump on Monday morning fully embraced the former judge and announced on Twitter that Moore would support his agenda. In a phone call the same day, he offered his “full support.”

Trump is scheduled to host a rally for his own re-election campaign just across the Alabama state border in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, just four days before the Dec. 12 Senate special election.

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