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May 22, 2019

The juicy Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker details you're looking for have arrived.

Vanity Fair is out with a new cover story for the film, which not only includes stunning photos from Annie Leibovitz (one of which shows a lightsaber battle possibly set on the Death Star) but also reveals tons of new information. Here are the most important details:

1. Names galore - Keri Russell is set to play a "masked scoundrel" whose name has been revealed as Zorri Bliss, while Richard E. Grant plays the First Order's Allegiant General Pryde. The film also features a desert planet called Pasaana, home to the Aki-Aki alien race, and a "snow-dusted" planet called Kijimi. Additionally, horse-like creatures called orbaks will be introduced.

2. Knights - The mysterious Knights of Ren from The Force Awakens are indeed back, and Vanity Fair describes them as the "elite fearsome enforcers of Kylo Ren's dark will."

3. As the Force wills it - The Force-connection between Kylo and Rey will "run even deeper than we thought," Vanity Fair reports.

4. War! - The film will "bring to a climax the millennia-long conflict between the Jedi Order and its dark shadow, the Sith," per Vanity Fair's sources.

5. Strong with this one - By the time the movie begins — about a year after The Last Jedi — Rey's training is "almost complete."

6. The chances of... - According to Anthony Daniels, C-3PO will do something in The Rise of Skywalker that "surprises everybody."

7. Royalty - Carrie Fisher's posthumous role will include scenes with her real-life daughter, Billie Lourd.

8. Sinister - More about the origins of the First Order will reportedly be revealed. Could their backstory be tied up with Emperor Palpatine's return?

9. Let the past die - After facing criticism for the overly-familiar nature of The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams says that for The Rise of Skywalker, he "felt slightly more renegade" and willing to make decisions "not because it adheres to something" but because it "feels right." Brendan Morrow

4:06 p.m.

North America's bird population is in a swan dive.

The number of birds across the continent has fallen by about 2.9 billion since 1970, experts estimate in a report published Thursday in Science. That's about a 30 percent reduction in their populations, marking what National Audubon Society President David Yarnold is calling a "a full-blown crisis."

Ornithologists' first reliable estimates of bird populations begin in 1970, and stem from volunteer surveys of amateur birdwatchers, The New York Times writes. Researchers used that data to estimate 529 bird species populations between 2006 and 2015, finding a remarkable decline largely among the most common species of birds across North America. In fact, 90 percent of the loss seems to come from dramatic reductions in finches, sparrows, warblers, and other everyday species.

A bit of ornithological good news did come out of the survey: Waterfowl and other wetland birds saw big population growth since the '70s. That's because "recreational waterfowl hunters ... saw to it that conservation programs and policies were put in place," the study's lead author Ken Rosenburg tells Scientific American. Other birds weren't so lucky, and saw their numbers drop due to habitat loss, insect-killing pesticides, and other climate change-related causes. And due to their irreplaceable positions in every type of biome, this population drop all essentially guarantees "other parts of the ecosystem are also in decline and degradation," Rosenburg continued.

Let's see if President Trump stays worried about bird deaths now that they have nothing to do with green energy. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:47 p.m.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to say Thursday he didn't wear blackface or brownface on more occasions after photos and videos of three instances surfaced.

Trudeau spoke after a video from the 1990s emerged Thursday morning showing Trudeau wearing blackface, with this coming after Time published a photo of Trudeau wearing brownface at a party in 2001. When that photo came out, Trudeau admitted to having worn blackface in high school as well, and that photo soon emerged.

On Thursday, Trudeau said "this is something that I deeply, deeply regret" and that "darkening your face, regardless of the context or the circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface." This is something Trudeau said he "should have understood" at the time.

Trudeau while speaking to reporters was questioned several times about whether he wore blackface or brownface in more instances than the three that have come to light, and he declined to rule out the possibility that there could be more photos.

"I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I had not remembered," Trudeau said, adding that because he comes "from a place of privilege," he has had a "massive blindspot." These revelations come a week after Trudeau launched his re-election campaign. Brendan Morrow

2:33 p.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) still doesn't know the contents of the whistleblower complaint reportedly about President Trump's communications with a foreign leader, and he's now slamming the decision to withhold it from Congress.

Schiff and other members of the House Intelligence Committee met Thursday with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson Thursday after reports that an intelligence community whistleblower filed a complaint in August about Trump making a troubling "promise" to a foreign leader, with Atkinson marking this complaint of "urgent concern" before submitting it to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire didn't send the complaint to Congress after consulting with Department of Justice officials, though; the House and Senate intelligence committees only learned of the complaint after Atkinson notified them.

But Schiff explained Thursday that they still don't actually know what's in the complaint or whether these recent reports about it are accurate, with Atkinson not providing that information to Congress.

The director of national intelligence, Schiff said Thursday, "has made the unprecedented decision not to share the complaint with Congress," going on to say the Department of Justice has been involved in the decision to withhold the information. Schiff, who said "there is no privilege to be corrupt," told reporters he doesn't know if the White House is also involved, although CNN reports it is.

"We can't get an answer because the Department of Justice, and the director of national intelligence, will not authorize the [inspector general] to tell us," Schiff said. "...Someone is trying to manipulate the system to keep information about an urgent matter from the Congress." Brendan Morrow

1:32 p.m.

Trump officials aren't necessarily fed up with House Democrats' impeachment delay. They just don't care.

It's been years since Rep. Al Green (D-La.) first called for impeaching President Trump, and months since the Mueller report supposedly solidified that push. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) still hasn't softened on the subject, and it has the whole Trump administration thinking it can just ignore Democrats' impeach proceedings altogether, two White House officials tell The Washington Post.

Even though a majority of Democrats in the House back impeachment, House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) says he's waiting for the public to back it the idea before proceeding. To help that happen, he's holding a series of impeachment hearings — the first of which, with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, left Trump "laughing and joking" that "Democrats have no idea what they're doing," one person who spoke with him tells the Post.

Trump's officials are apparently just as unbothered. Pelosi shows no movement toward impeachment, and "looking at the legislative calendar," Democrats don't seem to have much time before the year is up and they're back home "trying to run for their seats," one official tells the Post. Together, those facts have led White House officials to decide "there won't be a public price to pay for stonewalling Congress," the Post writes. Read more at The Washington Post. Kathryn Krawczyk

1:23 p.m.

Former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything Thursday and likely began regretting that decision almost immediately.

When the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate took to Reddit to answer users' questions, things spiraled out of control right away, with his very first answer getting absolutely pummeled with downvotes and currently sitting at negative 2,700 points. On Reddit, users can either upvote a comment to give it positive karma or downvote a comment to give it negative karma. This first response was to a question about how O'Rourke intends to "confiscate the millions of AR-15s;" O'Rourke wrote that "Americans will comply with the law."

The reception on Reddit wasn't much friendlier from there, with the second highest-voted question in the entire thread being, "Why aren't you running for Senate?" O'Rourke's reply, in which he says he's running to be "the leader that we need and are missing right now," currently has negative 1,200 points, and that score just keeps dropping.

Another one of the top questions was, "Do you still drink alcohol following your drunk driving incident?" O'Rourke, who was arrested for drunk driving in 1998 when he was 26, said "I don't drive if I've had a drink."

O'Rourke was also massively downvoted after deleting and re-posting an answer about ex-convicts to remove a reference to restoring voting rights. He later edited his new comment to say he "made a mistake" and "didn't realize you could edit." O'Rourke chose not to reply to numerous brutal questions that received hundreds of upvotes, including one asking why his "policies changed dramatically" since his "failed Senate run." Some of his replies were received more positively, but four currently have scores with negative karma.

Eventually, O'Rourke just went off to go take questions on the Beto2020 subreddit while thanking users who participated in the main thread for "engaging with me." Boy, did they ever. Brendan Morrow

12:23 p.m.

At least 30 people are dead and 40 are injured in Afghanistan's Nangarhar province after a U.S. drone strike mistook them for an ISIS target, Reuters reports.

U.S. forces "conducted a precision strike" on a group of ISIS militants on Thursday morning, and had heard "reports" of civilian casualties, a U.S. military spokesman tells CBS News reports. Afghan officials and tribal leaders meanwhile say the strike "accidentally" targeted a group of about 200 farmers who had pitched tents after a day of gathering pine nuts, per Reuters.

About 150 farmers and laborers had just finished working when the attack happened, Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, told Reuters. "The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them," tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul similarly said. But a Nangarhar province spokesperson said only nine bodies had been recovered so far, and U.S. officials are countering the reported deaths altogether.

ISIS combatants often "intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of non-combatant casualties as propaganda weapons," U.S. spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett told CBS News. The alleged casualties, Leggett said, may be a "ploy" to distract from a Taliban suicide attack on a hospital in southern Afghanistan that happened around the same time. The car bomb attack killed at least 20 people and injured 95 others, Afghan officials say. Kathryn Krawczyk

11:53 a.m.

President Trump denied a report Thursday that he made a troubling "promise" to a foreign leader that left a whistleblower alarmed, insisting he would never say anything "inappropriate" on such a call.

Trump responded Thursday to a report from The Washington Post that an official in the U.S. intelligence community filed a complaint in August about the president's communications with a foreign leader. Trump reportedly made a "promise" on a phone call that the whistleblower found so troubling they filed a complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who marked it of "urgent concern."

The president denied this report by asking if anyone is "dumb enough" to believe he would "say something inappropriate" to a foreign leader on a phone call since "there may be many people listening" to it. That seemed to be suggesting that he only wouldn't say anything inappropriate because people are listening in, although he then added that he would "only do what is right anyway."

It wasn't hard for reporters to fact-check Trump's assertion that the idea of him saying something inappropriate to a foreign leader is so unbelievable, with The Washington Post's Josh Dawsey recalling the president telling Russian officials in the Oval Office that he fired FBI Director James Comey, a "real nut job," and that this has now taken "pressure" off himself. Trump also reportedly revealed highly classified information in a 2017 Oval Office meeting with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador.

It's unclear which foreign leader Trump's reportedly troubling conversation might have been with, and on Thursday, The New York Times reports Atkinson wouldn't provide lawmakers with any information about the complaint and would not even confirm whether it involves Trump at all. Brendan Morrow

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