Jan. 2023 News

 

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and alternative news and views in January 2023.

 Note: Excerpts are from the authors' words except for subheads and occasional "Editor's notes" such as this.

 

Jan. 31

Top Headlines

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Trump Probes Proceed

 

U.S. Justice Failures, Scandals

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More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

 

 Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

 

More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

Ukraine War

 

More On U.S. Debts, Economy, Inflation, Jobs

 

Energy, Climate, Environment, Disasters

 

More On Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

 

U.S. Media, Religion, Education

 

Top Stories

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ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties, Steve Eder, Jan. 31, 2023. Chief Justice John Roberts’s wife recruits lawyers to top firms, some with business before the court. But her ties have raised ethics questions.

After Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the Supreme Court, his wife, Jane Sullivan Roberts, gave up her career as a law firm partner to become a high-end legal recruiter in an effort to alleviate potential conflicts of interest. Mrs. Roberts later recalled in an interview that her husband’s job made it “awkward to be practicing law in the firm.”

Now, a former colleague of Mrs. Roberts has raised concerns that her recruiting work poses potential ethics issues for the chief justice. Seeking an inquiry, the ex-colleague has provided records to the Justice Department and Congress indicating Mrs. Roberts has been paid millions of dollars in commissions for placing lawyers at firms — some of which have business before the Supreme Court, according to a letter obtained by The New York Times.

In his letter last month, Kendal Price, a 66-year-old Boston lawyer, argued that the justices should be required to disclose more information about their spouses’ work. He did not cite specific Supreme Court decisions, but said he was worried that a financial relationship with law firms arguing before the court could affect justices’ impartiality or at least give the appearance of doing so.

“I do believe that litigants in U.S. courts, and especially the Supreme Court, deserve to know if their judges’ households are receiving six-figure payments from the law firms,” Mr. Price wrote.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court, Patricia McCabe, said that all the justices were “attentive to ethical constraints” and complied with financial disclosure laws. The chief justice and his wife had also consulted the code of conduct for federal judges, Ms. McCabe said, including a 2009 advisory opinion that a judge “need not recuse merely because” his or her spouse had worked as a recruiter for a law firm with issues before the court.

Mrs. Roberts previously said that she handled conflicts on a case-by-case basis, avoiding matters with any connection to her husband’s job and refraining from working with lawyers who had active Supreme Court cases.

Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, did not address how the committee would respond to Mr. Price, but said in a statement that his letter raised “troubling issues that once again demonstrate the need” for ethics reforms to “begin the process of restoring faith in the Supreme Court.”

Public confidence in the court recently fell to a historic low, polls showed, and Democrats in Congress have called for greater transparency, including stronger disclosure and recusal standards. The Justice Department declined to comment.

Mr. Price and Mrs. Roberts both had worked as legal recruiters for Major, Lindsey & Africa, a global firm based in Maryland. According to the letter, Mr. Price was fired in 2013 and sued the firm, as well as Mrs. Roberts and another executive, over his dismissal.

He lost the case, but the litigation produced documents that he sent to Congress and the Justice Department, including spreadsheets showing commissions attributed to Mrs. Roberts early in her headhunting career, from 2007 to 2014. Mrs. Roberts, according to a 2015 deposition in the case, said that a significant portion of her practice was devoted to helping senior government lawyers land jobs at law firms and that the candidates’ names were almost never disclosed.

“I keep my placements confidential,” she said in the deposition.

Mrs. Roberts, now the managing partner of the Washington office of Macrae Inc., had spent two decades at the law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, where she became a partner in the global technology group and also focused on talent development. In 2007, she changed careers and soon ascended the ranks of her new industry. Partners at leading law firms in Washington on average make well over $1 million a year, and at the high end, they can be paid over $7 million. Recruiting firms take a large cut from those placements, often equivalent to a quarter of the new hires’ first-year salaries.

The spreadsheets list six-figure fees credited to Mrs. Roberts for placing partners at law firms — including $690,000 in 2012 for one such match. The documents do not name clients, but Mr. Price recalled her recruitment of one prominent candidate, Ken Salazar, then interior secretary under President Barack Obama, to WilmerHale, a global firm that boasts of arguing more than 125 times before the Supreme Court.

 

Disgraced Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is shown displaying the Disgraced Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is shown displaying the "White Power" sign with his left hand while voting early in January House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). (Photo by Getty Images Chief News Photographer Win McNamee, winner of a 2022 Pulitizer Prize.)

washington post logoWashington Post, Rep. George Santos says he’s stepping down from committees amid fabrications about his biography, Meryl Kornfield and John Wagner, Jan. 31, 2023. Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told House Republicans on Tuesday that he will step down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.

Santos, who has admitted to fabricating details about his education, work, religion and heritage since his election in November, said in a closed-door meeting of House Republicans that he would remove himself from his assignments on the House Small Business Committee and the Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Santos [shown displaying the "White Power" sign with his left hand while voting early in January for told the meeting he will step down because kevin mccarthy“he’s a distraction,” according to a Republican lawmaker who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting. The conversation comes one day after Santos met with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), right.

House Small Business Committee Chairman Roger Williams (R-Tex.) said he understood that the withdrawal is temporary until Santos is cleared of ongoing investigations. The 34-year-old freshman Republican has faced increased scrutiny, including a federal probe into his campaign finances and local investigation into his resume fabrications, since the revelation of his misrepresentations of his experience, personal life and education.

“It took me by surprise but it was probably the right decision,” Williams said.

“Without the ethics investigation being complete, I think it’s the right decision,” said Rep. Michael Lawler (R-N.Y.), who had also called on Santos to resign.

washington post logoWashington Post, Six Colorado River states agreed on water cuts. California did not, Joshua Partlow, Jan. 31, 2023. California did not sign on to a joint proposal for cuts — an impasse that suggests the wrangling over how to conserve the dwindling water supply that serves 40 million people will continue in coming months.

For the second time in six months, states that depend on the Colorado River to sustain their farms and cities appear to have failed to reach an agreement on restricting water usage, setting up the prospect that the federal government will make unilateral cuts later this year.
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Six of the seven Colorado River basin states sketched out a joint proposal for how they could meet the federal government’s demand to make unprecedented cuts to water usage as more than two decades of drought in the West have pushed crucial reservoirs to dangerously low levels.

But the largest water user, California, did not join them — an impasse that suggests the wrangling over how to conserve the dwindling water supply that serves 40 million people will continue in coming months. The Interior Department had asked states to contribute by Tuesday plans for how to voluntarily reduce water usage by 2 to 4 million acre feet — or up to one-third of the river’s annual average flow.

“Obviously, it’s not going swimmingly,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, the former general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a water provider that is a major player in the talks. “It’s pretty tough right now.”
A worker drives a tractor in a dusty California field. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

The proposal by the six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming — seeks to protect the major reservoirs in Lake Powell and Lake Mead from falling below critical levels, such as when the dams would no longer be able to generate electricity or at “dead pool,” when water would effectively be blocked from flowing out of these lakes. Before above-average snows in recent weeks, the Bureau of Reclamation was projecting that Lake Powell could start to reach such thresholds by this summer.

Officials fear ‘complete doomsday scenario’ for drought-stricken Colorado River

During the past two decades of drought, and particularly in recent years, the river’s flow has declined but states continue to consume more than the river provides, based on a framework established a century ago.

ny times logoNew York Times, If Debt Limit Is Breached, Wall St. Wants Priority. Yellen Is Balking, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley and Joe Rennison, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Wall Street is betting that the U.S. will employ a fallback option to ensure it can make good on bond payments even if Congress doesn’t raise the nation’s borrowing limit; The Biden administration has reportedly not prepared for such a scenario, and Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has cast doubt on the approach.

Washington’s debt limit drama has Wall Street betting that the United States will employ a fallback option to ensure it can make good on payments to its lenders even if Congress doesn’t raise the nation’s borrowing limit before America runs out of cash.

treasury logoBut that untested idea has significant flaws and has been ruled out by the Biden administration, which could make it less of a bulwark against disaster than many investors and politicians are counting on.

Many on Wall Street believe that the Treasury Department, in order to avoid defaulting on U.S. debt, would “prioritize” payments on its bonds if it could no longer borrow funds to cover all its expenses. They expect that America’s lenders — the bondholders who own U.S. Treasury debt — would be first in line to receive interest and other payments, even if it meant delaying other obligations like government salaries or retirement benefits.

Those assumptions are rooted in history. Records from 2011 and 2013 — the last time the U.S. tipped dangerously close to a debt limit crisis — suggested that officials at the Treasury had laid at least some groundwork to pay investors first, and that policymakers at the Federal Reserve assumed that such an approach was likely. Some Republicans in the House and Senate have painted prioritization as a fallback option that could make failure to raise the borrowing cap less of a disaster, arguing that as long as bondholders get paid, the U.S. will not experience a true default.

But the Biden administration is not doing prioritization planning this time around because officials don’t think it would prevent an economic crisis and are unsure whether such a plan is even feasible. The White House has not asked Treasury to prepare for a scenario in which it pays back investors first, according to multiple officials. Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has said such an approach would not avoid a debt “default” in the eyes of markets.

“Treasury systems have all been built to pay all of our bills when they’re due and on time, and not to prioritize one form of spending over another,” Ms. Yellen told reporters earlier this month.

Perhaps more worrisome is that, even if the White House ultimately succumbed to pressure to prioritize payments, experts from both political parties who have studied the temporary fix say it might not be enough to avert a financial catastrophe.

“Prioritization is really default by another name,” said Brian Riedl, formerly chief economist to former Republican Senator Rob Portman and now an economist at the Manhattan Institute. “It’s not defaulting on the government’s debt, but it’s defaulting on its obligations.”

ny times logoNew York Times, I.M.F. Upgrades Global Outlook as Inflation Eases, Alan Rappeport, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The International Monetary Fund suggested that growth would be more resilient than anticipated and that a global recession would probably be avoided.

imf logoThe International Monetary Fund said on Monday that it expected the global economy to slow this year as central banks continued to raise interest rates to tame inflation, but it also suggested that output would be more resilient than previously anticipated and that a global recession would probably be avoided.

The I.M.F. upgraded its economic growth projections for 2023 and 2024 in its closely watched World Economic Outlook report, pointing to resilient consumers and the reopening of China’s economy as among the reasons for a more optimistic outlook.

The fund warned, however, that the fight against inflation was not over and urged central banks to avoid the temptation to change course.

“The fight against inflation is starting to pay off, but central banks must continue their efforts,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, said in an essay that accompanied the report.

washington post logoWashington Post, Pakistan reels after bombing death toll passes 100, fears more terrorism to come, Haq Nawaz Khan and Pamela Constable, Jan. 31, 2023. The attack on the reportedly high-security police mosque in Peshawar raises questions about Pakistan's ability to confront its militant threat, as the country is mired in challenges, including an economic crisis and a political standoff.

pakistan flagAfter frantically combing through the debris of the devastated mosque throughout the night and Tuesday morning, police called off the search for survivors of a terrorist suicide bombing in the highly guarded site where several hundred police and army men had gathered for afternoon prayers.

The acting chief minister of this northwestern province, Muhammad Azam Khan, announced that more than 100 people were killed and more than 200 injured, making it one of the deadliest attacks ever carried out against Pakistan’s security forces. The blast Monday signaled the brazen revival of violent tactics by the extremist Pakistani Taliban group, which had once been quelled by a military crackdown and until recently was in peace talks with the government.

The shockingly successful attack on what should have been one of the more secure parts of Peshawar has raised serious questions about Pakistan’s ability to confront its long-standing militant threat as it remains mired in an economic crisis and a political standoff.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine intel chief predicted Russia’s war. He says Crimea will be retaken, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Jan. 31, 2023. Kyrylo Budanov’s words carry serious weight with President Volodymyr Zelensky and others in Kyiv.

Hours before all of his warnings about a Russian invasion were proved spot-on, Maj. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence boss, moved his wife into his office, fearing that the worst would not indeed happen.

It was Feb. 23 — the night before Russia launched its war on Ukraine — and Budanov had staked his career on being the rare Ukrainian official who was convinced that Russia was about to attack and attempt to capture Kyiv, the capital.

He and his wife stared at the clock that night, anxious that Budanov could soon be out of work if all did not go as he had loudly predicted to Ukraine’s skeptical political leadership.

“We’d had this conversation that if this attack doesn’t happen, we’re not going to look very good,” he said in a recent interview. “We had specifically said that at 4 a.m. it would start. It sounds really weird, but I was scared it wouldn’t go as it should.”

Eleven months later, the 37-year-old Budanov’s words carry serious weight with President Volodymyr Zelensky and others in Kyiv. In Ukrainian political circles, he is respected as the one person — along with U.S. and British intelligence — who correctly warned months in advance what Russia was planning.

At the time, he was largely brushed off. Most other Ukrainian government and military officials expected Russia’s invasion to be limited to the eastern part of the country rather than a full scale, three-pronged attack.

Budanov’s forecast for this year is that Russia will focus on occupying more territory in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions. A renewed offensive from its forces stationed north of Ukraine, in Belarus, is unlikely, he said, and just an attempt to distract and divide Kyiv’s troops. He also said that “we must do everything to ensure that Crimea returns home by summer.”

 

Trump Probes Proceed

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ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Well-Worn Legal Playbook Starts to Look Frayed, Maggie Haberman, Jan. 31, 2023. Former President Trump’s familiar tactics of defiance and delays appear less successful than ever amid a swirl of investigations and court proceedings.

The expanding legal threats facing former President Donald J. Trump are testing as never before his decades-old playbook for fending off prosecutors, regulators and other accusers and foes, with his trademark mix of defiance, counterattacks, bluffs and delays encountering a series of setbacks.

In other legal maneuvering and in seeking to shape public opinion about cases involving him, Mr. Trump has experienced regular reversals in court in recent months even as he begins his campaign for another term in the White House.

“Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries,” Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida wrote this month in fining the former president and one of his lawyers nearly $1 million for filing a frivolous civil suit against Hillary Clinton and F.B.I. officials. “He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer.”

That fine appeared to lead Mr. Trump to quickly drop a similar suit he had filed against Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, who is pressing ahead with a $250 million suit claiming widespread financial fraud by the former president, his oldest children and his company.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office began presenting evidence on Monday to a grand jury about his role in paying hush money to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign — the latest in a series of investigations and legal proceedings that are grinding on despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to block or undercut them.

The Justice Department is investigating his handling of classified documents and his role in the efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 election, and he is facing a potential indictment from the prosecutor in Fulton County, Ga., in connection with his efforts to remain in power after his election loss.

Two suits against Mr. Trump brought by E. Jean Carroll, a New York-based writer who has accused him of raping her in the 1990s in a department store dressing room, are moving ahead despite his threats to sue her.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday will begin presenting evidence to a grand jury about Donald J. Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The grand jury was recently impaneled, and witness testimony will soon begin, a clear signal that the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is nearing a decision about whether to charge Mr. Trump.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.Y. attorney general seeks sanctions against Trump and his legal team, Shayna Jacobs, Jan. 31, 2023. Attorneys working under New York Attorney General Letitia James on Tuesday asked a judge overseeing the office’s $250 million fraud lawsuit to place sanctions on Trump parties and their attorneys for “falsely” denying facts in recent court filings and rehashing “frivolous” arguments.

James’s team filed a major civil enforcement action against former president Donald Trump, three of his adult children, the family business and other executives there in September, alleging a deliberate fraud aimed at deceiving lenders and insurance brokers, giving the impression that Trump’s wealth was worth more than it really was. The Trump parties also allegedly undervalued his assets to reduce tax liabilities.

arthur engoran judgeIn a letter to New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, right, on Tuesday, Kevin Wallace, senior enforcement counsel at the attorney general’s office, said the Trump parties repeatedly denied reality in their set of official court filings last week and did not learn from past admonishments made by Engoron over the repeated use of “frivolous” arguments.

“A cursory review of the [filings] reveals that a number of the denials are demonstrably false and actually contradict sworn statements by the Defendants in other proceedings,” Wallace wrote.

Lawyers for the attorney general’s office pointed to sworn testimony in other recent proceedings, including a deposition in another lawsuit from Trump himself, that contradicts some of what the Trump attorneys claimed in their written formal responses to the lawsuit. Trump lawyers, according to the letter, quibbled over the attorney general’s references to the “structure of the Trump Organization,” which is an improper argument, the office said.

Trump attorneys also rejected that he was president of the company during a stretch of time that included his U.S. presidency, which Trump’s own testimony in an unrelated civil case contradicted, the letter said. The attorney general’s request also noted that Eric Trump, who along with his siblings Donald Jr. and Ivanka served as an executive at the company, denied through the filing that Seven Springs, a Westchester, N.Y., family property, was purchased in 1995 for $7.5 million even though he acknowledged it previously.

Engoron scheduled a hearing Wednesday morning to address the attorney general’s requests. The judge recently admonished the Trump side for other uses of meritless arguments and considered sanctions but did not impose any. “It does not appear that this point was taken, alina habbahowever, and [the attorney general’s office] would ask the Court to renew the issue,” Wallace’s letter said.

Alina Habba, left, one of Trump’s attorneys, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Attorneys for Trump were hit with sanctions recently in another matter. A federal judge in Florida imposed sanctions on Trump’s legal representatives, hitting them with a $1 million fine for a presentation of frivolous and baseless claims in a lawsuit against Hillary Clinton.

After the sanctions, Trump lawyers withdrew lawsuits against James in Florida and New York.

ny times logoNew York Times, Manhattan Prosecutors Will Begin Presenting Trump Case to Grand Jury, William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The decision potentially sets the case, tied to Donald Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star in 2016, on a path toward criminal charges.

david pecker croppedOn Monday, one of the witnesses was seen with his lawyer entering the building in Lower Manhattan where the grand jury is sitting. The witness, David Pecker, left, is the former publisher of The National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the deal with the porn star, Stormy Daniels, right.

stormy daniels djt insight 1 19 2018 CustomAs prosecutors prepare to reconstruct the events surrounding the payment for grand jurors, they have sought to interview several witnesses, including the tabloid’s former editor, Dylan Howard, and two employees at Mr. Trump’s company, the people said. Mr. Howard and the Trump Organization employees, Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff, have not yet testified before the grand jury.

The prosecutors have also begun contacting officials from Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, one of the people said. And in a sign that they want to corroborate these witness accounts, the prosecutors recently subpoenaed phone records and other documents that might shed light on the episode.

djt michael cohen disloyalA conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, left, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.

Still, the developments compound Mr. Trump’s mounting legal woes as he faces an array of law enforcement investigations: A district attorney in Georgia could seek to indict him for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, and he faces a special counsel investigation into his removal of sensitive documents from the White House.

Mr. Bragg’s decision to impanel a grand jury focused on the hush money — supercharging the longest-running criminal investigation into Mr. Trump — represents a dramatic escalation in an inquiry that once appeared to have reached a dead end.

Under Mr. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney’s office had begun presenting evidence to an earlier grand jury about a case focused not just on the hush money but on Mr. Trump’s broader business practices, including whether he fraudulently inflated the alvin bragg twittervalue of his real estate to secure favorable loans and other financial benefits. Yet in the early weeks of his tenure last year, Mr. Bragg, right, developed concerns about the strength of that case and decided to abandon the grand jury presentation, prompting the resignations of the two senior prosecutors leading the investigation.

One of them, Mark F. Pomerantz, was highly critical of Mr. Bragg’s decision and has written a book that is scheduled to be published next week, “People vs. Donald Trump,” detailing his account of the inquiry. Mr. Bragg’s office recently wrote to Mr. Pomerantz’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, expressing concern that the book might disclose grand jury information or interfere with the investigation.

For his part, Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and chalked up the scrutiny — as he has many times before — to a partisan witch hunt against him. If he were ultimately convicted, Mr. Trump would face a maximum sentence of four years, though prison time would not be mandatory.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg’s office declined to comment. Mr. Pecker’s lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Ronald P. Fischetti, declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. McConney and Ms. Tarasoff.

The panel hearing evidence about the hush money is likely what’s known as a special grand jury. Like regular grand juries, it is made up of 23 Manhattan residents chosen at random. But its members are sworn in to serve for six months to hear complex cases, rather than the routine 30-day panels that review evidence and vote on whether to bring charges in cases of burglary, assault, robbery, murder and other crimes.

 

Judge Luttig: No Historical Precedent to Support VP Pence Counting Alternative Slates of Electors: Former Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig tells the January 6 Committee that John Eastman's memo arguing that Vice President Pence had the authority to count alternative slates of electors from seven states was incorrect.

Judge Luttig: No Historical Precedent to Support VP Pence Counting Alternative Slates of Electors: Former Appeals Court Judge J. Michael Luttig tells the January 6 Committee that John Eastman's memo arguing that Vice President Pence had the authority to count alternative slates of electors from seven states was incorrect. "There was no historical precedent, from the beginning of the founding...that would support the possibility," the judge says on June 16, 2022, with C-SPAN video here.

washington post logoWashington Post, He never ascended to the Supreme Court, but some think he has played a far more consequential role, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Jan. 31, 2023. Michael Luttig, the retired judge who advised Mike Pence on Jan. 4, 2021, and testified before the Jan. 6 committee, envisions "the beginning of the end of Donald Trump."

Late one night in the spring of 1994, a 40-year-old federal judge, shown at right in a 2005 photo, was startled awake by loud pounding at the front door of his home in michael luttig 2005Vienna, Va.

The sound was so jarring, so insistent, so out of character for his quiet Washington suburb that it unnerved J. Michael Luttig, a product of Northeast Texas who had put down deep roots in Beltway power circles.

Luttig told his wife, Elizabeth, to call the police. “Keep the line open,” he added.

Baffled, anxious, annoyed, Luttig opened the door just a crack. There stood a stocky man with thick black eyebrows.

Antonin Scalia. Associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Antonin Scalia HR 1300Scalia, left, had driven through the night at the request of Luttig’s mother, who wanted him to be the one to break the news: Luttig’s 63-year-old father, John, had been killed in a carjacking outside his Tyler, Tex., home barely an hour earlier. And so the judicial legend showed up to sit with his former clerk as he placed one grim phone call after another, Luttig recalled in a recent interview, sharing the story publicly for the first time.

It had to be Scalia on this most awful night of their lives. Bobbie Luttig, who was seriously injured in the attack, knew how her son looked up to him. For a generation of conservative law students, Scalia was a paragon of a judicial philosophy centered on reverence for the original text of the Constitution. Luttig had clerked for him at the federal district court in Washington and later held one of the posts Scalia had occupied on his own path to the bench, in the Office of Legal Counsel, an obscure but influential cadre of brainy attorneys who provide legal guidance to the president.

Theirs had evolved into something more than a mentor-mentee relationship, more than a friendship. They were integral parts of a movement, the keepers of the conservative banner in Washington’s clubby legal circles, where bright, young aspirants could be tapped by their elders and set on a path toward the most important legal jobs in the nation. Reared in the Ford and Reagan administrations, ascendant in George H.W. Bush’s, Luttig became the protege and eulogist of one chief justice, Warren Burger; a groomsman for another, John Roberts. (In a recent interview, Luttig repeatedly turned to phrases like “one of my best friends in life” to describe some of the most prominent judges, lawyers, business leaders and journalists in America.)

By the time Scalia stood in his doorway, the young law students were looking up to Luttig, too. His obsessively precise written opinions for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond had marked Luttig as one of the leading conservative intellectuals in the legal system — the most conservative judge on the most conservative court in America.

More than a quarter-century later, it was Luttig (pronounced LEW-tig) who would get a late-night call to come the aid of his tribe: Mike Pence, in his final days as vice president, would seek out Luttig’s legal advice on the night of Jan. 4, 2021, as Donald Trump pressured him to help overturn the results of the 2020 election. But Pence and his allies would need more from Luttig than his private counsel.

They needed his imprimatur.

What began as a late-night phone call has turned into the quest of a lifetime for Luttig, the pinnacle of a long and storied career, highlighted last summer by his stirring appearance before the congressional panel investigating the Jan. 6 uprising at the U.S. Capitol and by the committee’s final report released in late December, which mentions his name more than 25 times.

Retired conservative Judge J. Michael Luttig testified on June 16 that President Trump and his allies pose a “clear and present danger” to American democracy.

But Luttig wasn’t just condemning Trump and Trumpism. He was trying to bring a nation to its senses.

“We Americans no longer agree on what is right or wrong, what is to be valued and what is not, what is acceptable behavior and not, and what is and is not tolerable discourse in civilized society,” he said. “America is adrift.”

Months removed from that star turn, Luttig’s worries have begun to ebb ever so slightly. He now envisions a nation one day disentangled from Trump’s influence, even as the former president launches a new campaign. It’s a future Luttig is trying to shape in court cases, in legislative chambers where he’s helped craft election law changes and in professorial public appearances where he explains in painstaking detail how American democracy, though imperiled, can still be preserved.

Luttig can think of only one reason he would have been wrested out of quiet semiretirement for this mission. It was, he’s concluded, nothing less than “divine intervention.”

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U.S. Justice Failures, Scandals

william barr hearing new

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Bill Barr’s Image Rehab Is Kaput, David Firestone, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Mr. Firestone is a member of the editorial board. Former Attorney General William Barr has spent the last year in a desperate salvage operation for what’s left of his legal and ethical reputation.

During his 22 months in office, he allowed his Justice Department to become a personal protection racket for his boss, Donald Justice Department log circularTrump, and left prosecutors, the F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials subject to the worst impulses of the president. But then, in his 2022 memoir, Mr. Barr did an about-face, bashing Mr. Trump for lacking a presidential temperament and singling out his “self-indulgence and lack of self-control.”

In the book, he urged Republicans not to renominate Mr. Trump in 2024, accusing the former president of going “off the rails” with his stolen-election claims by preferring the counsel of “sycophants” and “whack jobs” to that of his real advisers. Clearly concerned that history was paying attention, he was even stronger in his videotaped testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, loosing a variety of barnyard epithets and bitter insults to describe Mr. Trump’s legal strategy. He said the president had become “detached from reality” and was doing a disservice to the nation.

The hollow and self-serving nature of this turnabout was always apparent. Mr. Barr never made these concerns public at a time when his dissent would have made a difference. Instead, he left office in 2020 showering compliments on his boss, praising Mr. Trump’s “unprecedented achievements” and promising that Justice would continue to pursue claims of voter fraud that he must have known were baseless.

But if Mr. Barr harbored any fantasy that he might yet be credited with a wisp of personal integrity for standing up for democracy, that hope was thoroughly demolished on Thursday when The Times published the details of what really happened when Mr. Barr launched a counter-investigation into the origins of Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The reporting demonstrated a staggering abuse of the special counsel system and the attorney general’s office, all in a failed attempt by Mr. Barr to rewrite the sour truths of Mr. Trump’s history.

It was bad enough when, in March 2019, Mr. Barr tried to mislead the public into thinking the forthcoming Mueller report exonerated Mr. Trump, when in fact the report later showed just how strong the links were between the campaign and the Russian government, john durham Customwhich worked to help defeat Hillary Clinton. A few months later Mr. Barr assigned John Durham, right, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, as a special counsel to investigate Mr. Mueller’s investigation, hoping to prove Mr. Trump’s wild public allegations that the federal intelligence officials had helped instigate the claims of Russian interference to damage him.

Attorneys general are not supposed to interfere in a special counsel’s investigation. The whole point of the system is to isolate the prosecution of sensitive cases from the appearance of political meddling. But the new Times reporting shows that Mr. Barr did the opposite, regularly meeting with Mr. Durham to discuss his progress and advocating on his behalf with intelligence officials when they were unable to come up with the nonexistent proof Mr. Barr wanted to see. (Aides told Times reporters that Mr. Barr was certain from the beginning that U.S. spy agencies were behind the allegations of collusion.)

When the Justice Department’s own inspector general prepared to issue a report saying that, while the F.B.I. made some ethical mistakes, the investigation was legitimate and not politically motivated, Mr. Durham lobbied him to drop the finding. When that effort was unsuccessful, Mr. Barr reverted to his usual pattern of trying to spin the report before it was issued, disagreeing with its finding before it was even out. Mr. Durham then followed up with a similar statement, shattering the clear department principle of staying silent about a current investigation.

The two men even traveled to Britain and Italy together, pressuring government agencies there to disclose what they told U.S. spy agencies about the Trump-Russia connections. That infuriated officials of those governments, who said they had done nothing of the kind, and no evidence was ever found that they had. But on one of those trips, The Times reported, Italian officials gave the men a tip which, people familiar with the matter said, linked Mr. Trump to possible serious financial crimes. (It is not clear what those crimes were, and more reporting will be necessary to reveal the details.) Did Mr. Barr follow protocol and turn the tip over to regular prosecutors in his department for investigation? No. Instead, he gave it to his traveling companion, Mr. Durham, who opened a criminal investigation but never made it public and never filed charges, and when word began to trickle out that a suspected crime had been discovered, he falsely let the world think it had something to do with his original goal.

The Durham investigation, of course, has never presented any evidence that the F.B.I. or intelligence agencies committed any misconduct in the course of the Russia investigation, bitterly disappointing Mr. Barr and especially his patron, Mr. Trump, who had assured his supporters for months that it would produce something big. Desperate for some kind of success, Mr. Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who had worked for Democrats in their dealings with the F.B.I., over the objections of two prosecutors on the special counsel team who said the case was far too thin and who later left the staff.

Mr. Sussmann was acquitted last May of lying to the bureau, and the jury forewoman told reporters that bringing the case had been unwise. Mr. Barr later tried to justify the trial by saying it served another purpose in exposing the Clinton campaign’s starting the Russia narrative as a “dirty trick.” The trial did nothing of the kind, but it did expose Mr. Barr’s willingness to abuse the gratuitous prosecution of an individual to score political points against one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent enemies.

One of the other casualties of this deceitful crusade was the deliberate damage it did to the reputations of the F.B.I., the intelligence agencies and officials in Mr. Barr’s own department. All of these agencies have had many problematic episodes in their pasts, but there is no evidence in this case that they willfully tried to smear Mr. Trump and his campaign with false allegations of collusion. They were trying to do their jobs, on which the nation’s security depends, but because they got in Mr. Trump’s way, Mr. Barr aided in degrading their image through a deep-state conspiracy theory before an entire generation of Trump supporters. Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt for proof that these same government offices were “weaponized” against conservatives, an expedition that is likely to be no more effective than Mr. Durham’s and Mr. Barr’s.

But weakening the country’s institutions and safeguards for political benefit is how Mr. Barr did business in the nearly two years he served as the nation’s top law enforcement official under Mr. Trump. He has a long history of making the Justice Department an instrument of his ideology and politics; when he was attorney general in 1992 during the Bush administration, the Times columnist William Safire accused him of leading a “Criminal Cover-up Division” in refusing to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether the Bush administration had knowingly provided aid to Saddam Hussein that was used to finance the military before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Under Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr did the opposite, demanding that an unnecessary special counsel do the bidding of the White House and trying to steer the investigation to Mr. Trump’s advantage. His efforts came to naught, and so will his campaign to be remembered as a defender of the Constitution.

David Firestone is a member of the editorial board. Mr. Firestone was a reporter and editor at The Times from 1993 to 2014, including serving as a congressional correspondent and New York City Hall bureau chief, and was executive editor for digital at NBC News until 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Durham Fiasco Is a Warning of What’s to Come, Michelle Goldberg,right, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Thank goodness michelle goldberg thumbSpeaker Kevin McCarthy has created a House subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government!

Last week, The New York Times reported on an outrageous example of such weaponization, the flagrant use of federal law enforcement powers to target an administration’s political enemies. I’m talking, of course, about the John Durham special counsel investigation, which was meant to root out the ostensibly corrupt origins of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and quickly came to embody the sins that Donald Trump and his allies projected onto the F.B.I.

Trump’s circle insisted, falsely, that the Mueller inquiry was a hit job that employed Russian disinformation — via the Steele dossier — to frame Trump, all part of a plot cooked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Durham seems to have bought into this Trumpist conspiracy theory, and to help prove it, he tried to employ what appears to be Russian disinformation to go after the Clinton camp. More specifically, he used dubious Russian intelligence memos, which analysts believed were seeded with falsehoods, to try to convince a court to give him access to the emails of a former aide to George Soros, which he believed would show Clinton-related wrongdoing.

john durham CustomAstonishingly, The Times found that while Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr and Durham, right, were in Europe looking for evidence to discredit the Russia investigation, Italian officials gave them a “potentially explosive tip” linking Trump to “certain suspected financial crimes.” Rather than assign a new prosecutor to look into those suspected crimes, Barr folded the matter into Durham’s inquiry, giving Durham criminal prosecution powers for the first time.

Then the attorney general sat back while the media inferred that the criminal investigation must mean Durham had found evidence of malfeasance connected to Russiagate. Barr, usually shameless in his public spinning of the news, quietly let an investigation into Trump be used to cast aspersions on Trump’s perceived enemies. (The fate of that inquiry remains a mystery.)

This squalid episode is a note-perfect example of how Republican scandal-mongering operates. The right ascribes to its adversaries, whether in the Democratic Party or the putative deep state, monstrous corruption and elaborate conspiracies. Then, in the name of fighting back, it mimics the tactics it has accused its foes of using.

Look, for example, at the behavior that gave rise to Trump’s first impeachment. Trump falsely claimed that Joe Biden, as vice president, used the threat of withholding American loan guarantees to blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. Hoping to get Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to substantiate his lies, Trump tried to use the threat of withholding American aid to … blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. The symmetry between accusations and counter-accusations, in turn, fosters a widespread cynicism about ever finding the truth.

It’s important to keep this in mind because we’re about to see a lot more of it. Now that they control the House, Republicans have prioritized investigating their political opponents. McCarthy has stacked the Oversight Committee, central to the House’s investigative apparatus, with flame-throwing fantasists, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert. Further, as Politico reported in a “field guide” to the coming Republican inquiries, McCarthy has urged Republicans to treat every committee like the Oversight Committee, meaning all investigations, all the time.

There are going to be investigations into Hunter Biden, and investigations into the origins of the pandemic. There will likely be scrutiny of the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago and Biden’s handling of classified documents. And, as my colleague David Firestone on the editorial board put it over the weekend, “Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt” for proof that the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies were “weaponized” against conservatives.

These all promise to be congressional equivalents of the Durham inquiry. Certainly, most if not all congressional investigations are politically motivated, but there is nevertheless a difference between inquiries predicated on something real, and those, like the many investigations in the Benghazi attack, meant to troll for dirt and reify Fox News phantasms. House Democrats examined Trump’s interference with the C.D.C. during the acute stage of the pandemic. House Republicans plan to look into what the Republican congressman Jim Banks termed the military’s “dangerous” Covid vaccine mandates. There might be an equivalence in the form of these two undertakings, but not in their empirical basis.

It remains to be seen whether our political media is up for the task of making these distinctions. The coverage of Trump and Biden’s respective retention of classified documents offers little cause for optimism. Again and again, journalists and pundits have noted that, while the two cases are very different, there are seeming similarities, and those similarities are good for Trump. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since by speculating about political narratives, you help create them.

“John Durham has already won,” said the headline of a Politico article from last year, noting his success in perpetuating the right’s fevered counter-history of Russiagate. Of course he didn’t win; he would go on to lose both cases arising from his investigation as well as the honorable reputation he had before he started it. What he did manage to do, however, was spread a lot of confusion and waste a lot of time. Now the Republican House picks up where he left off.

vicky ward investigates

Vicky Ward Investigates, Inside An FBI Sting on Russian Oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Vicky Ward, Jan 31, 2023. Yesterday, I reminded you that, yes, I once danced with the sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has found himself, once more, in the headlines because a retired FBI agent, Charles McConigal, has been charged with taking money from him. A spokesperson for Deripaska told the New York Times that Deripaska did not hire McConigal for any purpose.

Over the weekend I phoned around to try to find out a little more about Deripaska’s VERY complicated see-saw relationship with law enforcement in the US.

Briefly, it’s emerged the FBI tried to hire him as informant in 2014-2016. They wanted inside information on Russian organized crime and Russia’s involvement with the Trump campaign (he said there was none).

And, before all this, back in 2009, the FBI had a working relationship with him–of sorts. He spent $25 million in helping the FBI try to find an American spy who was kidnapped by the Iranians, and has not been seen in years.

So when I started hitting the phones on this, I knew I’d find something because I know people who know Deripaska. But I didn’t think I knew someone who wore a wire for the FBI in a sting operation of which Deripaska was the target. But, that’s why you should always cast a wide net when phoning sources…

So…...

 

william barr at doj

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The real ‘weaponization’ of the Justice Department: Barr and Durham, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 30, 2023. jennifer rubin new headshotHouse Republicans are right that politicization of the Justice Department has been a jaw-dropping abuse of power. They’ve got the wrong culprit, however.

As a blockbuster New York Times article made clear, then-Attorney General William P. Barr, above, and special counsel John H. Durham engaged in unethical, abusive manipulation of the Justice Department in pursing the baseless conspiracy theory that the intelligence community had conducted a witch hunt of then-President Donald Trump in connection with Russian manipulation of the 2016 election.

The Times reported that “the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim Justice Department log circularcharacterized the Russia investigation.” Durham brought two baseless cases, both resulting in acquittal. When Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s thorough investigation debunked their entire theory, Barr tried to pressure him to keep it under wraps. Then, as he did with the Robert S. Mueller III report, Barr publicly mischaracterized and trashed the report.

Durham also used a grand jury to pry into the record of major Democratic donor George Soros. Moreover, while supposedly operating independently, he met frequently with his pal Barr, in violation of the basic precept that a special counsel must operate with a high degree of independence. (From the Times article: “Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together.”)

Worst of all:

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

Their conduct was so egregious that several career prosecutors quit rather than participate in (to borrow a phrase) the witch hunt. In the end, Barr conceded there was no there there — but only after the 2020 election.

Former prosecutors reacting to the Times report were outraged. Andrew Weissmann tweeted, “This is all about the Trump weaponization of the DOJ — but we know that the House Rs won’t give a damn about it.” Joyce White Vance concurred:

Three responses are warranted, although sadly none is likely to hold Barr accountable.

  • First and foremost, Attorney General Merrick Garland should have the spine to remove Durham for gross misconduct. Moreover, any report issued should remove the names of those exonerated in court or who were never charged. They are victims of a political smear, which Garland should not enable by allowing baseless allegations to circulate publicly. Don’t hold your breath, however. Garland has shown little willingness to revisit the department’s conduct in the prior administration. (As an alternative, the inspector general could investigate Barr and Durham.)
  • Frankly, Garland erred in never conducting a top-to-bottom review of politicization during the Trump era (including Barr’s politicization of sentencing recommendations and the department’s misrepresentations in the U.S. Census case). Instead of prioritizing the department’s outside reputation over the need to remove the stench of corruption, Garland should have gotten to the bottom of the Barr/Durham debacle long ago. (At the very least, it would have preempted the false MAGA narrative that Democrats have been the ones engaged in misconduct).
  • Second, Barr and Durham, right, should face disciplinary action just as coup architect John Eastman (coincidentally on Thursday) john durham Customwas charged with 11 counts by the California state bar for “violating a variety of attorney ethics rules in multiple episodes, court cases and other conduct,” as CNN put it. Unless and until attorneys such as Barr and Durham face accountability, the threat of professional disgrace and the loss of their law license, other lawyers will be tempted to engage in such shenanigans.
  • However, Eastman, Jeffrey Clark (facing bar proceedings) and Rudy Giuliani (suspended from practice in New York) have sadly been the exception to the rule of sloth and passivity from state bars. Scores of attorneys who signed onto frivolous lawsuits after the 2020 and 2022 elections (including challenging Kari Lake’s defeat in Arizona) have yet to face any penalty.
  • The list of attorneys who participated in the effort to overturn the 2020 election but as yet have faced no consequences (Kenneth Chesebro, Cleta Mitchell) is far too long. (And none of the members of Congress who signed onto the utterly baseless Supreme Court brief seeking to disenfranchise millions of Americans has been taken to task.) State bars need to do their job to restore integrity to the legal profession.
  • Finally, Congress should be investigating Barr and Durham’s gross misconduct. You can be sure, however, that MAGA Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and the “weaponization of government” select subcommittee won’t be interested

In sum, just as Garland seeks to hold accountable political leaders who threatened our democracy, he must hold his own department lawyers’ responsible for misconduct. If not, an inspector general, state bars and congressional Democrats should do the job.

  • CNN, Book reveals why Trump wasn't charged for Stormy Daniels hush money payments, Jim Acosta

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Senators prepare for a showdown over judges and ‘blue slips,’ Theodoric Meyer and Leigh Ann Caldwell, with research by Tobi Raji, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is urging Republicans to cooperate with moving judges through the committee.

With Republicans in control of the House, Senate Democrats will spend much of the next two years working to confirm as many judges as possible — and they’re facing pressure to change Senate rules to prevent Republicans from holding up President Biden’s nominees.

Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator who now leads the American Constitution Society, and other progressive judicial advocates are pressing Democrats to eliminate “blue slips” — a tradition that allows senators to block judicial nominees from their home states.

Refusing to return a nominee’s blue slip is one of the only ways for the minority party to derail a president’s judicial picks after Democrats unilaterally scrapped the filibuster for most judicial nominees a decade ago.

Republicans haven’t used blue slips to block many Biden judicial picks yet — but at least one Democratic senator on the Judiciary Committee is ready to scrap blue slips in the coming weeks if they do.

“I have no love or allegiance to blue slips,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “I think they are an artifact of Senate tradition which should go if they’re used as an obstacle to block qualified nominees.”

How much Republican obstruction would Blumenthal need to see to back eliminating blue slips?

“As Justice Stewart once said about obscenity, I don’t know that I can define it, but I’ll know it when I see it — and I think we will see it, unfortunately,” he said.

Several other Democrats on the committee have taken a more cautious line.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told The Early that he thought blue slips were “a good thing” because they prevented then-President Donald Trump from nominating judges in his state without consulting him. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said they have hope Republicans won’t abuse blue slips. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he would defer to the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and that he’d back getting rid of blue slips only as a last resort.

“We would have to have tried and tried and failed to make any progress,” Coons said.

Durbin has been pressing Republicans not to abuse blue slips in an indication of tensions around the issue.

Democratic senators returned 130 blue slips for district court judges during the Trump administration, Durbin pointed out in a letter to senators on Jan. 3 and again on Thursday during a committee meeting. Republican senators have returned only 12 since Biden took office.

“As we look ahead, it is imperative that all Senators take this cue and move swiftly, working in good faith to identify and advance highly qualified nominees for the bench,” Durbin wrote in the letter, which hasn’t been previously reported — a polite but firm warning that he might be forced to change his support for blue slips if Republicans obstruct Biden’s nominees en masse.

Durbin has an ally of sorts in Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the committee, who implored Republicans during the committee meeting on Thursday to “allow nominations to go forward in a reasonable fashion.”

“I’m not asking anybody to capitulate,” Graham said. “I am asking people to cooperate.”

Durham-Barr-Russia Scandal At Justice Dept.

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

ny times logoNew York Times, How an Oligarch May Have Recruited the F.B.I. Agent Who Investigated Him, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The F.B.I. tried to court Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate, as an informant. Instead, one of its own top agents may have ended up working for him.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to recruit Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, as an informant around 2014, hoping he might shed light on organized crime and, later, possible interference in the presidential election.

A decade later, Mr. Deripaska may have turned the tables on the F.B.I.: Prosecutors say the oligarch recruited one of the bureau’s top spy catchers, just as he entered retirement, to carry out work that they say violated U.S. sanctions.

The charges unsealed this week against Charles McGonigal — who ran the counterintelligence unit at the bureau’s New York field office and investigated Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, according to the indictment — showed the extent of the oligarch’s reach into the highest levels of U.S. power.

 

timothy snyder

Timothy Snyder via Substack, Commentary on The Specter of 2016: McGonigal, Trump, and the Truth about America, Timothy Snyder (best-selling author of "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and professor at Yale University), Jan. 26, 2023.  We are on the edge of a spy scandal with major implications for how we understand the Trump administration, our national security, and ourselves.

On 23 January, we learned that a former FBI special agent, Charles McGonigal, was arrested on charges involving taking money to serve foreign interests. One accusation is that in 2017 he took $225,000 from a foreign actor while in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI's New York office. Another charge is that McGonigal took money from Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch, after McGonigal’s 2018 retirement from the FBI. Deripaska, a hugely wealthy metals tycoon close to the Kremlin, "Putin's favorite industrialist," was a figure in a Russian influence operation that McGonigal had investigated in 2016. Deripaska has been under American sanctions since 2018. Deripaska is also the former employer, and the creditor, of Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The reporting on this so far seems to miss the larger implications. One of them is that Trump’s historical position looks far cloudier. In 2016, Trump's campaign manager (Manafort) was a former employee of a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), and owed money to that same Russian oligarch. And the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was charged with investigating the Trump campaign's Russian connections then went to work (according to the indictment) for that very same Russian oligarch (Deripaska). This is obviously very bad for Trump personally. But it is also very bad for FBI New York, for the FBI generally, and for the United States of America.

Another is that we must revisit the Russian influence operation on Trump’s behalf in 2016, and the strangely weak American response. Moscow’s goal was to move minds and institutions such that Hillary Clinton would lose and Donald Trump would win. We might like to think that any FBI special agent would resist, oppose, or at least be immune to such an operation. Now we are reliably informed that a trusted FBI actor, one who was responsible for dealing with just this sort of operation, was corrupt. And again, the issue is not just the particular person. If someone as important as McGonigal could take money from foreigners while on the job at FBI New York, and then go to work for a sanctioned Russian oligarch he was once investigating, what is at stake, at a bare minimum, is the culture of the FBI's New York office. The larger issue is the health of our national discussions of politics and the integrity of our election process.

Recent Relevant Headlines

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

 

More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

ny times logoNew York Times, Visual Investigation: 71 Commands in 13 Minutes: Officers Gave Tyre Nichols Impossible Orders, Robin Stein, Alexander Cardia and Natalie Reneau, Jan. 29, 2023. A Times analysis found that officers gave dozens of contradictory and unachievable orders to Mr. Nichols. The punishment was severe — and eventually fatal.

memphis police logoPolice officers unleashed a barrage of commands that were confusing, conflicting and sometimes even impossible to obey, a Times analysis of footage from Tyre Nichols’s fatal traffic stop found. When Mr. Nichols could not comply — and even when he managed to — the officers responded with escalating force.

The review of the available footage found that officers shouted at least 71 commands during the approximately 13-minute period before they reported over the radio that Mr. Nichols was officially in custody. The orders were issued at two locations, one near Mr. Nichols’s vehicle and the other in the area he had fled to and where he would be severely beaten. The orders were often simultaneous and contradictory. Officers commanded Mr. Nichols to show his hands even as they were holding his hands. They told him to get on the ground even when he was on the ground. And they ordered him to reposition himself even when they had control of his body.

Experts say the actions of the Memphis police officers were an egregious example of a longstanding problem in policing in which officers physically punish civilians for perceived disrespect or disobedience — sometimes called “contempt of cop.” The practice was notoriously prevalent decades ago.

“It was far more rampant in the ’80s, when I started doing police work, than it was in the ’90s or 2000s,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. “Even before body cams, cops were getting more professional and wouldn’t make it personal, like it seemed to be in this case. This is just — it’s so far out of the norm.”

To mitigate the potential for escalation and confusion during police encounters, today’s police training typically calls for a single officer at the scene to issue clear and specific commands. It also requires police officers to respond professionally and proportionately to any perceived act of defiance.

But The Times’s review shows that the officers did the exact opposite, over and over.

The available footage does not show any sign that the officers present intervened to stop the aggressive use of force. If anything, it shows the contrary.

At one point, footage captured an officer saying “I hope they stomp his ass” after Mr. Nichols’s attempt to flee the scene.

ny times logoNew York Times, 6th Memphis Police Officer Suspended in Tyre Nichols Death Investigation, Jessica Jaglois, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). It was not immediately clear what role he had played in the incident that led to murder charges against five fellow officers who were fired by the department.

The Memphis Police Department confirmed on Monday that a sixth officer had been taken off duty in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols.

Five officers were fired by the department earlier this month, soon after being placed on leave, and charged last week with second-degree murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’s death. The sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, has been placed on administrative leave; it is not clear exactly what role he played in the encounter.

A spokesman for the department confirmed on Monday that Mr. Hemphill was placed on leave on the same day that the other officers were suspended.

Police officers kicked Mr. Nichols in the head, pepper-sprayed him and hit him repeatedly with a baton after pulling him over, purportedly for reckless driving, on the night of Jan. 7, even as he showed no signs of fighting back on the videos of the incident released on Friday. Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died in a hospital three days after the encounter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tyre Nichols Beating Opens a Complex Conversation on Race and Policing, Clyde McGrady, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The officers charged in the young Black man’s murder are also Black, complicating the anguish and efforts at police reform.

The killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man in Memphis, at the hands of police has prompted outrage and condemnation from racial justice activists, police reform advocates and law enforcement officials, including the chief of the Memphis Police Department, a Black woman who lobbied for policing changes in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The fact that the five officers charged with Mr. Nichols’s murder are Black complicates the anguish. It has also brought into focus what many Black people have said is frequently lost in police brutality cases involving white officers and Black victims: that problems of race and policing are a function of an entrenched police culture of aggression and dehumanization of Black people more than of interpersonal racism. It is the system and the tactics that foster racism and violence, they say, rather than the specific racial identities of officers.

“It’s not racism driving this, it’s culturism,” Robert M. Sausedo, the head of a Los Angeles nonprofit formed after the Rodney King beating in 1991, said after watching the video of Mr. Nichols’s beating Friday night.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: On violent policing, we say ‘never again’ but we get ‘once again,’ Editorial Board, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). No decent citizen could fail to be appalled by the video, released Friday, showing Memphis police officers beating a 29-year-old Black man, Tyre Nichols, so badly on Jan. 7 that he died three days later.

No feeling citizen could fail to be moved by the anguish of his mother, RowVaughn Wells, as she eloquently described her grief at losing a young man, himself the father of a 4-year-old, who cried out for “mom” as he absorbed the assault. And no concerned citizen can fail to be impressed by, and appreciative of, the way in which those who justifiably protested Mr. Nichols’s death heeded — with sporadic exceptions — Ms. Wells’s call for nonviolence.

Yet no thinking citizen can fail to be frustrated that something like this could have happened less than three years after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, triggering a national movement for police reform and social justice — or, for that matter, nearly 32 years after Los Angeles police officers delivered an eerily similar, though nonfatal, beating to Rodney King. How many more times will Americans, and their leaders in government and law enforcement, vow “never again” about such an incident, only to find ourselves ruefully saying, “Once again.”

 

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit...Memphis Police Department

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III (Photos from the Memphis Police Department via New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Memphis Police Disband Unit Whose Officers Were Charged in Nichols’s Death, Rick Rojas, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Memphis Police Department said on Saturday that it had disbanded a specialized group known as the Scorpion unit after five of its officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was shown on video being kicked, struck and pepper-sprayed by those officers.

Mr. Nichols’s family and activists in the city had demanded that the Police Department dismantle the unit, which deployed officers to patrol higher-crime areas of the city and had drawn scorn in the communities it served even before Mr. Nichols’s death this month.

“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” the Police Department said in a statement on Saturday

Police officials said the decision had been reached after “listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments.” Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, met with other members of the unit on Saturday.

Tyre Nichols’s family and activists had demanded the scuttling of the group, the Scorpion unit, which patrolled high-crime areas of the city.

 washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Shortness of breath’: How police first described what happened to Tyre Nichols, Justine McDaniel and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The brutal footage released Friday echoed the disparity between what police often initially report and what actually happens.

The first time Memphis police described what happened between their officers and Tyre Nichols — the 29-year-old who died of his injuries after being beaten by police — they wrote that “a confrontation occurred” following a traffic stop. Nichols fled on foot, and then “another confrontation occurred.”

“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath,” reads the statement posted on the Memphis Police Department’s Twitter account the morning after Nichols was beaten on Jan. 7. “The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

Brutal video footage released Friday, an hour’s worth of clips from body-worn and mounted cameras showing police pepper-spraying, punching and kicking Nichols, underscores the disparity between what police first reported and what actually happened.

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Memphis Officers Charged With Murder in Killing of a Black Man, Rick Rojas, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The officers, who are all also Black, face second-degree murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials are bracing for the release of video from the stop, which the Memphis police chief called “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

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Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

Politico, Secret hold restricts DOJ's bid to access phone of Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The decision by a panel of federal appellate judges temporarily blocks a lower-court ruling, escalating the battle over communications related to DOJ's probe of 2020 election challenges.

scott perryA federal appeals court panel has put a secret hold on the Justice Department’s effort to access the phone of Rep. Scott Perry, right, as part of a broader probe of efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election.

In a sealed order issued earlier this month, the three-judge panel temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that granted prosecutors access to Perry’s communications. The Dec. 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell was the product of a secret, monthslong legal battle by prosecutors who have been fighting the Pennsylvania Republican’s attorneys on the matter since August.

The existence of the legal fight — a setback for DOJ reported here for the first time — is itself intended to be shielded from public scrutiny, part of the strict secrecy that governs ongoing grand jury matters. The long-running clash was described to POLITICO by two people familiar with the proceedings, who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity.

The fight has intensified in recent weeks and drawn the House, newly led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, into the fray. On Friday, the chamber moved to intervene in the back-and-forth over letting DOJ access the phone of Perry, the House Freedom Caucus chair, reflecting the case’s potential to result in precedent-setting rulings about the extent to which lawmakers can be shielded from scrutiny in criminal investigations.

The House’s decision to intervene in legal cases is governed by the “Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group,” a five-member panel that includes McCarthy, his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries, and other members of House leadership. The panel voted unanimously to support the House’s intervention in the matter, seeking to protect the chamber’s prerogatives, according to one of the two people familiar with the proceedings.

After this story was first published Monday, McCarthy spokesperson Mark Bednar acknowledged the House has stepped into the legal fight about Perry’s communications. “The Speaker has long said that the House should protect the prerogatives of Article I. This action indicates new leadership is making it a priority to protect House equities,” Bednar said.

FBI agents seized Perry’s phone with a court-approved warrant in August but still lack a necessary second level of judicial permission to begin combing through the records. Perry has claimed his communications are barred from outside review because of constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress that were designed to let lawmakers better fulfill their official responsibilities.

Perry first challenged DOJ’s authority to access his communications in a public lawsuit in August, filed shortly after his phone was seized. He maintained that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause prohibited the government from accessing messages he might have sent in connection with his work as a member of Congress. Perry would soon drop the lawsuit, and the status of prosecutors’ efforts to access his records remained unclear.

 

paul pelosi david depape

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

washington post logoWashington Post, Footage of Paul Pelosi attack shows moment House speaker’s husband assaulted, Danielle Paquette, Justine McDaniel and Reis Thebault, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A judge agreed to release body camera footage shown in court of the October assault on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband.

Police body-camera video showing the October attack on the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, were made public Friday, revealing footage of the moment he was bludgeoned by a hammer-wielding intruder looking for his wife.

djt maga hatJudge Stephen M. Murphy of San Francisco Superior Court ordered the release of the evidence, including portions of a police interview with the suspect, David DePape, after The Washington Post and other news organizations pressed for copies.

The tapes illuminate a harrowing sequence: Pelosi alerting a 911 dispatcher of an armed man who was feet away, listening to the call and interjecting comments; DePape beating Pelosi in plain view of the officers; and DePape, after his arrest, describing his plans to kidnap and snap the bones of the then-House Speaker.

A clip of the assault at the Pelosi home in San Francisco before dawn on Oct. 28 was shown in court last month but, until now, had been otherwise shielded from view.

Wild rumors, amplified by conservative activists and bloggers, had surged after the 2 a.m. attack 11 days before the 2022 midterm elections, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued that unsealing video and audio could fuel more misinformation while risking DePape’s right to a fair trial. Someone, for instance, could edit the clips to manipulate audiences on social media.

But Judge Murphy ruled that footage playing in a public courtroom should be handed to the media.

“These are open facts. They are known facts,” said Thomas Burke, a lawyer representing the coalition of news organizations that pushed for access to the evidence, including The Post. “The public’s right of access should not be dependent on conspiracy theories.”

The internet gossip had spread rapidly to Capitol Hill, where Republican officials groundlessly cast doubt on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi’s account of the violence and referenced baseless homophobic conspiracy theories.

Prosecutors, however, have said that what happened was clear — and that DePape himself outlines his actions in tapes like those just publicly released.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said at the December hearing.

In the now-public interview with police, DePape told an investigator: “I’m not trying to get away with this. I know exactly what I did.”

Nancy Pelosi declined to comment on the evidence’s release on Friday, and one day earlier she told reporters on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know whether she will watch the video.

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Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

Politico, Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, Alex Isenstadt, Jan. 31, 2023. The super PAC backing Trump, MAGA Inc., is getting material ready for an ad offensive against other Republican 2024 hopefuls.

The operatives running former President Donald Trump’s cash-flush super PAC met quietly in December to sketch out their lines of attack against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other potential GOP rivals — the latest indication that the slow-burning 2024 primary is beginning to intensify.

During the meeting, which was held in an Alexandria, Va. office and led by Trump lieutenants Taylor Budowich and Tony Fabrizio, the group pored over confidential polling, went over legal and communications strategies and laid out a six-month plan for the race. That plan included an opposition research initiative targeting DeSantis and other possible candidates.

The early planning foreshadows a coming battle between Trump and his would-be rivals. Trump, who bent the party to his will as president, is intensely focused on batting down anyone who challenge him. That’s especially true of DeSantis, whom the former president, over the weekend, derided as “disloyal,” while also attacking his early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump also appeared to tweak Nikki Haley, who is exploring a run after having served as his U.N. ambassador, by noting that she had previously said she wouldn’t run against him.

 

truth social logo

ny times logoNew York Times, On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise, Stuart A. Thompson (Stuart Thompson used a program to collect and analyze hundreds of ads that ran on Truth Social over the past several months), Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Truth Social, the social network started by former President Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.

djt new hampshire 2023Between posts about conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances was an unusual advertisement: a photo of former President Donald J. Trump holding a $1,000 bill made of gold, which he was apparently offering free to supporters.

But there were a few catches: The bill was not free, it was not made of gold, and it was not offered by Mr. Trump.

The ad appeared on Truth Social, the right-wing social network started by Mr. Trump in late 2021, one of many pitches from hucksters and fringe marketers dominating the ads on the site.

Ads from major brands are nonexistent on the site. Instead, the ads on Truth Social are for alternative medicine, diet pills, gun accessories and Trump-themed trinkets, according to an analysis of hundreds of ads on the social network by The New York Times.

The ads reflect the difficulty that several far-right platforms, including Rumble and Gab, have faced in courting large brands, preventing the sites from tapping into some of the world’s largest ad budgets. It could be particularly problematic for Truth Social. Although the site has gained influence among the far right, becoming a vibrant ecosystem brimming with activity, its business is in need of cash.

Truth Social raised about $37 million, mainly from Republican political donors, but it is burning through about $1.7 million each month, according to William Wilkinson, a former executive at Trump Media & Technology Group, the social network’s parent company. And two federal investigations have put about $1.3 billion of much-needed funding in jeopardy.

Devin Nunes, the chief executive of Trump Media, said in an announcement last year that the company’s ad strategy would help it “displace the Big Tech platforms” as a major way to reach Americans.

But ad experts say the wariness from prominent brands on far-right social networks, which have positioned themselves as free-speech alternatives to Silicon Valley giants like Meta and Google, is driven by the kinds of conspiracy theories and hyperpartisan politics often found on the sites.

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More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s lasting legacy on the judiciary is not just at the Supreme Court, Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the federal appeals court based in this Southern city cleared the way to ban most abortions in Texas. The same court appeared to jump the line to block the White House’s signature coronavirus vaccination mandate and split from other courts to back restrictions on social media companies and constrain President Biden’s immigration powers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans has long leaned conservative. But the arrival of a half-dozen judges picked by President Donald Trump — many of them young, ambitious and outspoken — has put the court at the forefront of resistance to the Biden administration’s assertions of legal authority and to the regulatory power of federal agencies. Their rulings have at times broken with precedent and exposed rifts among the judges, illustrating Trump’s lasting legacy on the powerful set of federal courts that operate one step below the Supreme Court. Even some veteran conservatives on the court have criticized the newcomers for going too far.

Four of the six new judges have worked for Republican politicians in Texas, and some are seen as possible contenders for a future opening on the Supreme Court if a Republican is elected president. With their provocative, colloquial writing styles, the judges are elevating their profiles in far-reaching opinions and public appearances, calling out “cancel culture,” wokeness and sometimes even one another.

The 5th Circuit reviews appeals from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, working from a converted, historic post office building in downtown New Orleans. Besides the expansive geographic area the court covers, it has outsize influence in part because its judges preside over a steady flow of politically potent challenges to the Democratic president filed by aggressive, conservative state attorneys general.

Liberal organizations often challenged Trump’s policies in Northern California courts, where most judges were picked by Democrats. But conservatives who strategically file lawsuits against the Biden administration in Texas have an even clearer advantage: They can almost guarantee initial review by a conservative judge and then appellate review by the 5th Circuit, where the Trump picks are routinely the dominant voice.

Alexa Gervasi, a former 5th Circuit law clerk who directs the Georgetown Center for the Constitution at Georgetown Law, said it is no surprise that the court is issuing noteworthy rulings in so many significant cases. “The reason it seems like there’s so much fire coming from the 5th Circuit is that they are getting really divisive cases,” said Gervasi, who also has practiced before the court. “If you send controversial cases to the 5th Circuit, you’re going to get controversial opinions.” 

ny times logoNew York Times, For Giffords, Progress on Gun Safety Is Like Her Recovery: ‘Inch by Inch,’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A 2011 mass shooting left Gabrielle Giffords, then a congresswoman, partly paralyzed and unable to speak fluently. She has since built a powerful advocacy group.

gabrielle giffords oTwelve years after a bullet ripped through the left side of her brain, Gabrielle Giffords, right, speaks mainly in stock phrases and short bursts, conveying meaning with her eyes or a boxer’s swing of her left arm, the one that is still fully mobile. “Enough is enough!” she might say. Or: “Be passionate! Be courageous!”

But in an interview at the headquarters of the gun safety group that bears her name, amid a string of mass shootings in California, there was something more that Ms. Giffords wanted to say. Asked what Americans should know about her, she closed her eyes and rocked slowly back and forth, as if to summon words from deep within. She shushed a colleague who tried to speak for her. And then she delivered a speech unlike any she had given as a congresswoman from Arizona, before the 2011 mass shooting that nearly killed her.

“I’m getting better,” she said haltingly, laboring over each word. “Slowly, I’m getting better. Long, hard haul, but I’m getting better. Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot. I’ve never given up hope. I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back. I’m relearning so many things — how to walk, how to talk — and I’m fighting to make the country safer. It can be so difficult. Losses hurt; setbacks are hard. But I tell myself: Move ahead.”

Ms. Giffords, 52, who goes by Gabby, is arguably America’s most famous gun violence survivor. She had come to the group’s headquarters in Washington for an update and a strategy session. The timing of her visit underscored two competing truths: The gun safety movement she helps lead is stronger than ever. But the nation’s gun violence epidemic is worsening.

ny times logoNew York Times, Burn Bags and Tracking Numbers: How the White House Handles Documents, Michael D. Shear,Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Current and former officials describe an elaborate system for classified documents but a more casual one for everyday records.

Just hours after the F.B.I. revealed last summer why it raided the Florida home of former President Donald J. Trump, looking for classified documents, a reporter asked President Biden whether it was ever appropriate to take home top secret material.

Nearly drowned out by the roar of Marine One behind him, Mr. Biden made his own admission of sorts.

“I’m taking home with me today, today’s P.D.B.,” he said, referring to the highly classified President’s Daily Brief, the intelligence summary prepared each morning for the occupant of the Oval Office by the nation’s top spies and analysts.

Before stepping onto the helicopter, Mr. Biden explained that his home in Delaware had “a cabined-off space that is completely secure.” And he noted that the P.D.B. was “locked. I have a person with me — military with me. I read it, I lock it back up, and give it to the military.”

The president’s answer — that taking documents home could be fine, “depending on the circumstance” — was an indication of how often Mr. Biden handles classified material and sensitive documents at his Delaware home, in part because he spends nearly every weekend there.

But it also hinted at the little-known process by which such documents are supposed to be created, distributed, secured and ultimately accounted for inside the White House, where almost everyone has some kind of national security clearance.

Current and former officials who have been part of that process, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, described an elaborate National Security Council tracking system for highly sensitive documents like the P.D.B. but a more casual dissemination of the churn of classified documents that are used every day by officials from the president to junior national security aides.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prosecutors in Chicago Will Drop Abuse Charges Against R. Kelly, Julia Jacobs, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The musician is already facing decades in prison after being convicted of federal charges, prompting the Cook County state’s attorney to halt her case.

Noting that the R&B singer R. Kelly is facing decades in prison after two federal convictions, the top prosecutor in Chicago said on Monday that her office planned to drop its sexual abuse charges against him.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office had been waiting for its turn to bring Mr. Kelly, 56, to trial, which it could not do before the federal court cases in New York and Chicago were brought to a jury.

In 2021, Mr. Kelly was convicted on racketeering and sex trafficking charges, for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Last year, he was convicted on sex crimes charges, including coercing minors into sexual activity and producing sex tapes involving a minor. He is scheduled to be sentenced for that conviction next month, which could add decades to the total.

“Mr. Kelly is potentially looking at never walking out of prison again for the crimes he’s committed,” Kim Foxx, the Cook County state’s attorney, said at a news conference in which she announced plans to drop the charges. “We believe that justice has been served.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Dept. Drops Investigation of Retired U.S. General, Adam Entous and Mark Mazzetti, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). John R. Allen, a retired four-star Marine general who was the president of the Brookings Institution, had been accused of secretly lobbying for the government of Qatar.

john allen cnasThe Justice Department has informed John R. Allen, right, a retired four-star Marine general, that federal prosecutors have closed an investigation into whether he secretly lobbied for the government of Qatar and that no criminal charges will be brought against him in the case, according to a statement by General Allen’s lawyer.

The investigation of General Allen became public in June, when an F.B.I. agent’s application to search his electronic communications was unsealed, possibly by accident. Days after the revelations, General Allen resigned as president of the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

The F.B.I. agent’s application provided a detailed account of a period in June 2017, when General Allen met frequently with Richard G. Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and Imaad Zuberi, a businessman with ties in the Middle East. General Allen traveled to Doha, Qatar, during that period.

Federal prosecutors have signaled a particular interest in potential violations involving Persian Gulf nations, which have developed close ties to business and political figures in the United States.

We have been informed by the Department of Justice National Security Division and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California that the investigation of General John R. Allen (Ret.) has been closed and that no criminal charges will be brought against General Allen under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or any other law, based on, or as a result of, General Allen’s trip to Qatar in June 2017 or the government’s investigation of those events,” said David Schertler, General Allen’s lawyer.

A law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the decision, which has not been previously reported. The Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California declined to comment.

According to the F.B.I. agent’s application, General Allen was recruited by Mr. Olson and Mr. Zuberi to help defuse a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors — and the former general saw the moneymaking potential for his involvement.

Beau Phillips, a spokesman for General Allen, said General Allen asked senior officials in President Donald J. Trump’s National Security Council if the U.S. government wanted him to meet with the Qataris. Mr. Phillips said Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, approved General Allen’s trip and offered the assistance of his staff in preparation. General McMaster confirmed that he had approved General Allen’s trip.

Mr. Phillips said General Allen then traveled to Qatar in June 2017 to meet with Qatari officials, including the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, to discuss resolving the diplomatic crisis. After General Allen returned to Washington, he briefed National Security Council officials on his trip.

ny times logoNew York Times, Migrants Protest Move From Midtown Hotel to Barracks-Style Shelter, Karen Zraick, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Adams administration started moving single men into a cruise terminal in Brooklyn as New York City struggled to cope with the influx of newcomers.

New York City began moving single migrant men out of a Midtown hotel and into a new barracks-style shelter in Brooklyn over the weekend. But some refused to go — the latest flash point as the city struggles to accommodate tens of thousands of homeless newcomers.

Men who were being moved to the Cruise Terminal in Red Hook crowded the entrance to the Watson Hotel on West 57th Street on Sunday night, demanding to be let back in, and some slept on the sidewalk outside, aided by supporters who brought them pizza and blankets. Tents and luggage crowded the sidewalk. Some continued to protest there on Monday as the move-outs continued.

City Hall said that all the single adults would be transferred out of the 600-room Watson in the coming days to make room for migrant families who continue to arrive on buses from the southern border. More than 43,200 migrants have come through the city’s intake system since last year, including more than 1,600 in the last week. About two-thirds of them remain in the city’s care.

Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly warned that the city is “at its breaking point” as it struggles to provide for the newcomers, many of whom lack connections here. The costs are expected to reach over $1 billion this year and could increase as more people arrive, city officials have said.

On Sunday, the city’s main homeless shelter population surpassed 70,000 — a figure that does not include thousands of the migrants who are in emergency shelters. The main shelter population has increased by 40 percent since August.

“There’s a crisis right now, and that crisis should be coordinated by the national government,” Mr. Adams said on CNN on Monday morning, reiterating his calls for federal officials to take the burden off cities where migrants are arriving.

Some of the men who were protesting the move to the cruise terminal said they had heard from people who went to the Red Hook facility that it was cold and lacked privacy or a safe place to store belongings. A spokesman for City Hall said that the facility was temperature-controlled and included assigned storage spaces, and suggested that the disruption at the Watson was incited by activists.

New York City has always welcomed and depended on immigrants. But a new wave of people crossing the U.S. border is testing the city’s reputation as a world sanctuary.

  • Homelessness on the Rise: The arrival of new migrants, mostly from Latin America, has pushed the population of the city’s homeless shelter system to record levels.

Emmanuel Abreu, 29, of Venezuela, had first been housed in tents the city set up on Randalls Island in the fall, which operated for only a few weeks as a large-scale shelter for men before being shut down. He was told he had to leave the Watson on Tuesday.

“The place where they are taking us is nowhere for someone to live,” he said. “How can you rest with someone next to you, someone you don’t know. The beds are like army beds, so imagine getting home from work to sleep there.”

He said he would be boarding a flight to Canada on Monday night rather than moving to Brooklyn.

In a letter to President Biden last week, officials including the New York City comptroller, Brad Lander; the public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams; three borough presidents and more than two dozen members of the City Council said the city urgently needs more federal support for its efforts.

The letter said that the average cost of sheltering a single homeless person is about $200 a day, but opening emergency shelters was far more expensive and was costing the city “well over $300 a day” for each migrant.

The city is housing migrants in more than 70 hotels. Five of the city shelters are “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers,” including the Watson and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Those sites were intended as temporary landing places for new arrivals and are run by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and public hospital system, rather than the Department of Homeless Services, in partnership with other agencies and providers.

washington post logoWashington Post, $100 repair bill put Half Moon Bay gunman over the edge, prosecutor says, Lisa Bonos and Joyce Lau, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). More details have emerged about the workplace dispute that led Zhao Chunli, 66, to allegedly kill seven people and attempt to kill another at two mushroom farms in Northern California a week ago.

Zhao told investigators that his Half Moon Bay shooting was sparked after his boss asked him to pay a $100 repair bill for damage that had been done to heavy construction equipment, according to local news reports confirmed by San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

After confronting his supervisor and a co-worker, whom Zhao thought were responsible for the collision between his forklift and a bulldozer, he allegedly shot them, according to reports confirmed by Wagstaffe.

Zhao admitted in a local media interview that he had committed the attacks and regretted them. He used a legally purchased Ruger semiautomatic handgun during the shootings, according to authorities.

The Half Moon Bay shooting has brought attention to the poor working conditions of farmworkers in the area.

The Post reported that workers were living in trailers or converted shipping containers, with a lack of access to indoor kitchens or toilets. Over the past two years, there had been a series of problems, including a prior shooting, a fire and a coronavirus outbreak.

Half Moon Bay shooting unmasks poor living conditions for farmworkers

Zhao had felt bullied for years at the California Terra Garden farm, he said in Mandarin in a jailhouse interview last week with reporter Janelle Wang of KNTV. He worked long hours, Wang said, and when he voiced complaints to his supervisor, he often felt ignored. Prosecutors said Zhao had previously worked at Concord Farms, the second location he targeted.

Wang said that Zhao believes he suffers from mental illness and needs to see a doctor.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jury Awards $1 Million to Woman Who Was Told, ‘I Don’t Serve Black People,’ McKenna Oxenden, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Rose Wakefield was ignored by an attendant at a gas station in Beaverton, Ore., near Portland, as white customers who pulled in after her were served first, according to the lawsuit.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man accused of torturing woman is still on dating apps, police say, Meryl Kornfield, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A man accused of kidnapping and torturing a woman for days before fleeing into a forested area of southwest Oregon has been active on dating apps to avoid capture by police or potentially find more victims, authorities warn.

benjamin foster las vegasBenjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, may have changed his appearance by shaving and dyeing his hair and has taken to apps where he can lure women into helping him escape or becoming his next victim, the Grants Pass Police Department said this weekend as authorities looked for the man.

The search for Foster began Tuesday after police discovered a woman, who was not named, bound and severely beaten in her home in what the police chief described as “an evil act.” The woman is hospitalized in critical condition, police said Sunday.

About two years ago, Foster was released from prison in Nevada where he had been charged with holding another woman captive for weeks and convicted on lesser charges, the Associated Press reported. Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman told the AP that it was “extremely troubling” Foster wasn’t behind bars.

washington post logoWashington Post, Officers brought homeless man to remote spot and beat him, prosecutors say, María Luisa Paúl, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). When Jose Ortega Gutierrez woke up bloodied and bruised on Dec. 17, he didn’t know where he was, he later told investigators. The handcuffs that had been secured around his wrists hours before were gone — and so were the two officers who allegedly drove the 50-year-old homeless man to a remote location in Florida and knocked him out of consciousness, prosecutors said.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that two former Hialeah Police Department officers, 27-year-old Rafael Otano and Lorenzo Orfila, 22, had been charged with armed kidnapping and battery. Orfila, who was also charged with official misconduct, and Otano were relieved of duty on Thursday and booked into a Miami-Dade County jail. A third person, Ali Amin Saleh, 45, was charged with witness tampering and accused of attempting to cover up the officers’ actions, Fernandez Rundle said.

The case — which comes amid a wave of police scrutiny sparked by the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis after officers beat him — was an example of “abuse of power and excessive force,” Fernandez Rundle said.

Otano’s lawyer, Michael Pizzi, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But he told WPLG that he believed Otano “will be exonerated,” calling the case “a horrible miscarriage of justice.”Orfila’s attorney, Robert I. Barrar, also said he expected his client would be exonerated.

“When you look at the entire case and the credibility of the alleged victim, you’ll see that he’s not credible,” Barrar told The Washington Post.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. military poised to secure new access to key Philippine bases, Ellen Nakashima and Rebecca Tan, Jan. 31, 2023. The expansion is part of a broader push in the Indo-Pacific to buttress U.S. force posture, reinforce alliances and deter China.

The U.S. military is poised to secure expanded access to key bases in the Philippines on the heels of a significant revamp of U.S. force posture in Japan — developments that reflect the allies’ concern with an increasingly fraught security environment in the region and a desire to deepen alliances with the United States, according to U.S. and Philippine officials.
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While negotiations are still ongoing, an announcement is expected as soon as this week when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin meets in Manila with his counterpart and then with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

U.S., Japan set to announce shake-up of Marine Corps units to deter China

The expansion involves access to Philippine military bases, likely including two on the northern island of Luzon — which, analysts said, could give U.S. forces a strategic position from which to mount operations in the event of a conflict in Taiwan or the South China Sea. They will also facilitate cooperation on a range of security concerns, including more rapid responses to natural disasters and climate-related events.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israelis, Palestinians see U.S. gesture as feeble, even farcical, amid rise in violence, William Booth and Shira Rubin, Jan. 31, 2023. On one topic, Israelis and Palestinians appear to agree: Both are deeply skeptical, even scornful, of renewed calls made by the Biden administration this week for a two-state solution here. Many called the gesture — at this moment of violence and radicalism — feeble, even farcical.

On his first trip to the region after the return of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken promoted the long-held dream of two states side by side — one Israeli, one Palestinian — as the best guarantor of peace.

In a joint news conference with Netanyahu on Monday, after days of escalating bloodshed, Blinken said that maintaining the “vision” of a two-state solution was “the only way forward.”

Israeli settlers attack Palestinians across West Bank as escalation looms

Netanyahu was polite but didn’t engage on the concept of “two states,” alluding only briefly to finding “a workable solution with our Palestinian neighbors,” before he pivoted to Iran.

Politico, Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, Alex Isenstadt, Jan. 31, 2023. The super PAC backing Trump, MAGA Inc., is getting material ready for an ad offensive against other Republican 2024 hopefuls.

politico CustomThe operatives running former President Donald Trump’s cash-flush super PAC met quietly in December to sketch out their lines of attack against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other potential GOP rivals — the latest indication that the slow-burning 2024 primary is beginning to intensify.

During the meeting, which was held in an Alexandria, Va. office and led by Trump lieutenants Taylor Budowich and Tony Fabrizio, the group pored over confidential polling, went over legal and communications strategies and laid out a six-month plan for the race. That plan included an opposition research initiative targeting DeSantis and other possible candidates.

The early planning foreshadows a coming battle between Trump and his would-be rivals. Trump, who bent the party to his will as president, is intensely focused on batting down anyone who challenge him. That’s especially true of DeSantis, whom the former president, over the weekend, derided as “disloyal,” while also attacking his early handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump also appeared to tweak Nikki Haley, who is exploring a run after having served as his U.N. ambassador, by noting that she had previously said she wouldn’t run against him.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The House GOP’s sham hearings are fizzling before they even begin, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 31, 2023. The GOP’s jennifer rubin new headshotconspiracy theories and unhinged accusations work best when Republicans are in the minority, when they can throw out half-baked accusations and make leaps of logic with little consequence.

When they are in the majority, however, they must show their cards about supposed Democratic scandals. And that is already proving to be a problem for right-wing performance politicians for four reasons.

First, most voters don’t want lawmakers to spend time spinning scandals. A recent CNN poll found that 67 percent of voters (including 74 percent of independents) don’t like the way Republicans are handling their job. Seventy-three percent (including 48 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of independents) say Republicans aren’t paying enough attention to the country’s real issues. Likewise, a CBS poll earlier this month found that less than one-third of Americans want Republicans to spend time investigating President Biden. Every hearing that Republicans devote to distractions highlights their failure to tackle real issues.

Second, it is hard for Republicans to explain to an audience not already seeped in right-wing conspiracy theories what they heck they are talking about.

In an actual hearing, unlike an interview with a captive right-wing media host, one has to explain the alleged scandal in a way that is comprehensible to those who haven’t spent hours soaking up bogus talking points. Democratic committee members will be able to channel what average voters are thinking: “What in the world are you talking about?”

Third, Republicans have a problem with evidence — or the lack thereof. The administration has already told Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the Oversight Committee, that it would not provide documents from the ongoing investigation of classified materials found at Biden’s home and office. Likewise, the Justice Department told Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who is leading the House Judiciary Committee, that it would follow long-standing practice and not turn over information about ongoing criminal probes. So what now?

Republicans can grouse all they like and even send subpoenas, but they will have difficulty getting their slim House majority to find any Biden official in contempt of Congress. Beyond holding a hearing complaining about not being allowed to muck around in pending criminal cases, there is not much Republicans can do.

Fourth, there are rakes aplenty for Republicans to step on. Each time a Republican screams that the government has been “weaponized,” Democrats should be prepared to go through the litany of real GOP abuses and outrages while in power.

washington post logoWashington Post, 150-year-old Baltimore tunnel will get $4 billion federal boost, Luz Lazo, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). President Biden’s visit to Baltimore came as the administration is beginning to distribute billions of federal dollars to upgrade aging infrastructure.

President Biden on Monday announced that more than $4 billion in federal infrastructure money will help to replace the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel, a crucial piece of the Northeast rail network that is a source of delays 150 years after it was built.

The Reconstruction-era tunnel — the oldest in the Northeast — is Amtrak’s biggest chokepoint between Washington and New Jersey. Trains crawl at 30 mph through its curves under West Baltimore, creating delays up and down the busy Northeast Corridor. When a new tunnel is complete, trains will reach speeds of 100 mph.

Biden visited to the decrepit structure Monday in the first of three stops this week to highlight projects that will benefit from the $1 trillion infrastructure law he signed in 2021. He pledged that the new federal aid will help to launch tunnel construction as early as this year.

“The structure is deteriorating. The roof is leaking. The floor is sinking. This is the United States of America, for God’s sake,” said Biden, recalling delays he encountered at the tunnel during decades of commutes between Delaware and the Capitol.

Biden’s visit marks a milestone in getting the project to construction and comes as the administration is beginning to distribute billions of federal dollars to upgrade aging infrastructure. Biden, who rode Amtrak for more than three decades while in Congress, has been a longtime supporter of investment in passenger rail while advocating for modernizing the Northeast Corridor.

washington post logoWashington Post, $5.4 billion in covid aid may have gone to firms using suspect Social Security numbers, report says, Tony Romm, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The findings from the nation’s top pandemic watchdog come as House Republicans plan to hold their first hearing this week on coronavirus-related fraud.

The U.S. government may have awarded roughly $5.4 billion in coronavirus aid to small businesses with potentially ineligible Social Security numbers, offering the latest indication that Washington’s haste earlier in the pandemic opened the door for widespread waste, fraud and abuse.

The top watchdog overseeing stimulus spending — called the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, or PRAC — offered the estimate in an alert issued Monday and shared early with The Washington Post. It came as House Republicans prepared to hold their first hearing this week to study the roughly $5 trillion in federal stimulus aid approved since spring 2020.

The suspected wave of grift targeted two of the government’s most generous emergency initiatives: the Paycheck Protection Program, known as PPP, and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan, dubbed EIDL. Started under President Donald Trump — and managed by the beleaguered Small Business Administration — the roughly $1 trillion in loans and grants aimed to help cash-strapped companies stay afloat financially during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

But the money also served as a wellspring for criminal activity, as malicious actors took advantage of SBA and its poor oversight to bilk Washington out of seemingly massive sums. In the latest example, the PRAC found that the SBA failed to prevent a wave of applications from collecting federal money using suspect Social Security numbers.

Studying more than 33 million applicants, the PRAC uncovered more than 221,000 ineligible Social Security numbers on requests for small-business aid. That included thousands of cases where the number was “not issued” by the government, for example, or it did not match the correct name and birth information.

More than a quarter of those applications, using nearly 70,000 suspect Social Security numbers, were still approved between April 2020 and October 2022 despite the questionable data — and the government loaned those applicants about $5.4 billion, the watchdog found.

Christina Carr, a spokeswoman for the SBA, said in a statement late Monday that the report is a “prime example of why it was a mistake not to implement additional anti-fraud measures during the Trump administration.” Gene Sperling, a top White House official tapped to oversee federal pandemic spending, said in a separate statement that President Biden and his aides have worked to “reinstate strong anti-abuse measures in these emergency small business programs.”

The revelations affirmed the immense task the government faces to keep watch over its more than $5 trillion in emergency pandemic programs. The vast array of aid provided checks to unemployed Americans, grants to schools, hospitals and other critical facilities, and financial assistance to cities and states struggling to cover their own pandemic needs.

But the speed at which Washington doled out the money — and the long-known funding gaps in government oversight — also created the conditions ripe for theft and misuse, The Post found in its year-long investigation, the covid Money Trail. The full extent of taxpayers’ losses remains unknown, even to Washington, as the time-consuming, expensive work continues to find and prosecute pandemic-related crimes.

On Monday, the arrival of another covid fraud report galvanized GOP critics, some of whom initially helped approve PPP, EIDL and other key pandemic programs. The House Oversight Committee — now run by Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) — is slated to hold a hearing on coronavirus fraud Wednesday featuring testimony from Michael Horowitz, the chair of PRAC.

“I don’t think history will be kind to the PPP loan program,” Comer said at an event hosted by the National Press Club.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: This governor is best positioned to fill the NeverTrump lane, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 31, 2023. Let’s face it: The jennifer rubin new headshotchances of a NeverTrump Republican winning the GOP 2024 nomination are slim to none. The party remains in the grip of MAGA conspiracies, election denial, fake culture wars and performance politics, leaving the most likely alternative to defeated former president Donald Trump to one of his mini-me imitators. However, there is a narrow opening for someone who rejects all that — and one candidate who might meet the bill is New Hampshire’s GOP governor, Chris Sununu.

Neither Liz Cheney nor Adam Kinzinger — both former members of the Jan. 6 committee — is likely to be the solution to what ails the GOP. Such brave and principled figures, who distinguished themselves by standing up to a “clear and present danger” to democracy, are in all likelihood a bridge too far for primary voters, many of whom are still seething with resentment over the two lawmakers who most vividly exposed the cowardice of their fellow Republicans.

The best opportunity, then, for someone who rejects MAGA politics would come from a less controversial figure with a solid record, preferably from an early primary state where he could take the wind out of Trump’s and other MAGA candidates’ sails. In other words, someone such as Sununu, an actual fiscal conservative with a tax-cutting record that pleases his constituency.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Trump hits the trail in two states, some vulnerabilities come into focus, Hannah Knowles and Camila DeChalus, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Trump campaigned in New Hampshire and then headed to South Carolina on Saturday, amid growing Republican interest in elevating other standard-bearers.

Minutes into a campaign speech here Saturday, Donald Trump raised his false claims the 2020 election was stolen from him — returning to an issue that many Republicans worry has cost their party crucial support.

Hours earlier in New Hampshire, Trump delivered meandering remarks at a meeting of the state GOP, where some party delegates said that although they liked how he governed, they would prefer a new face in 2024. Outside the high school auditorium, a booth promoted a rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with “draft DeSantis 2024″ fliers and T-shirts.

“It’s time for a younger person or someone new to have their time,” said Karen Umberger, one of the delegates, in an interview.

As he hit the trail for the first time since launching a third bid for the White House in November, signs of Trump’s newfound vulnerabilities came into focus. The trip effectively ushered in the start of the 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign season, with Trump fighting to keep his place at the top of a potentially crowded field.

Politico, Trump hits DeSantis: He's a Covid skeptic phony, Meridith McGraw, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The former president slams the Florida governor — and potential 2024 rival — as he hits the campaign trail in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

politico CustomSince announcing in November, Donald Trump had an unconventional start to his third presidential campaign: He did not campaign at all.

That’s now changing, and part of the reason the former president is holding his first formal campaign events of 2024 in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend is that others may be forcing his hand.

In recent days, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Trump and suggested she would be announcing her decision to enter the presidential race soon, a conversation that a person familiar with it described as cordial.

“She called me and said she’d like to consider it. And I said you should do it,” Trump told reporters, noting that Haley once said she would not get in the race if Trump runs again.

But Haley may be only a modest challenge for Trump going forward. He also is on a collision course with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to jump into the race.

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of “trying to rewrite history” over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, “promoted the vaccine as much as anyone.” He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

“When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal,” Trump said.

As for the polls showing DeSantis beating him in key nominating states, Trump was dismissive.

“He won’t be leading, I got him elected,” he said. “I’m the one that chose him.”

For months Trump has been tucked away at his resort in Palm Beach, where he has hosted parties, sent out missives on his social media site Truth Social, played golf, and plotted out his next steps.

When he re-emerged on Saturday, flying to New Hampshire on his rehabbed Trump-branded 757 plane, he was determined to showcase himself as a candidate who still has the star power that catapulted him to the White House in 2016, and could once again elbow out a full field of Republican challengers.

“They said ‘he’s not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he’s lost his step,’” Trump said at a meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”

Unlike 2020, when he ran unopposed as president, Trump is expected to have a field of Republican challengers to deal with this time around, beyond Haley. In anticipation of a crowded field, Trump’s campaign has compiled research on different potential candidates, according to an adviser. But Trump himself brushed off concerns that he is in danger of not securing the nomination. “I don’t think we have competition this time either, to be honest,” he said.

At the New Hampshire GOP meeting, Trump announced outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek would help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

And later in the day, at an appearance at the South Carolina statehouse, Trump announced endorsements from close ally and occasional golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — a notable display of political muscle in Haley’s home state.

“The good news for the Republican Party is there are many, many talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump,” Graham said. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new. There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

But Republican activists in New Hampshire are plainly divided. As Stepanek rejoins the Trump campaign, outgoing Vice Chair Pamela Tucker was recruiting volunteers for Ron to the Rescue, a super PAC formed after the midterms to boost DeSantis if he runs for president.

“We’re not never-Trumpers. We’re people who supported Trump. We love Trump. But we also know, more importantly, that we need to win. And Ron DeSantis has proven it time and time again now he can win elections,” Tucker said in an interview.

Matt Mayberry, a former congressional candidate and past New Hampshire GOP vice chair who supported Trump and has appeared at rallies with him in the state, said he isn’t taking sides yet in the still-forming primary.

  • Politico, Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.).

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Courses Will Host Three Tournaments for Saudi-Backed LIV Golf, Alan Blinder, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). As the league announced more details of a 14-stop second season, former President Donald J. Trump’s courses remained central to the schedule, deepening his ties to Riyadh.

steve bannon sofa shotFormer President Donald J. Trump’s golf courses will host three tournaments this year for the breakaway league that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is underwriting, deepening the financial ties between a candidate for the White House and top officials in Riyadh.

LIV Golf, which in the past year has cast men’s professional golf into turmoil as it lured players away from the PGA Tour, said on Monday that it would travel to Trump courses in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia during this year’s 14-stop season. Neither the league nor the Trump Organization announced the terms of their arrangement, but the schedule shows the Saudi-backed start-up will remain allied with, and beneficial to, one of its foremost defenders and political patrons as he seeks a return to power.

Part of LIV’s scheduling approach, executives say, hinges on the relative scarcity of elite courses that can challenge players such as Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith — and the abundance of them in a Trump portfolio that is more accessible than many others to the new circuit. In a court filing last week, LIV Golf complained anew that the PGA Tour had warned “golfers, other tours, vendors, broadcasters, sponsors and virtually any other third parties” against doing business with the rebel league.

But Trump, whose courses hosted two LIV Golf events in 2022, has expressed no public misgivings about his company’s ties to the league, which has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and prompted accusations that the country was turning to sports to repair its reputation. A confidential McKinsey & Company analysis presented to Saudi officials in 2021 suggested there were significant obstacles to success and underscored the limited financial potential for one of the world’s largest wealth funds.

washington post logoWashington Post, Non-White groups have struggled with census. Biden’s plan could help, Silvia Foster-Frau, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Biden proposal would give Latinos and people of Middle Eastern and North African descendent more options for identifying themselves, potentially lowering the White population count.

On every census survey — or medical form or job application — Tala Faraj says she has no choice but to identify as something she’s not: White.

Faraj, 23, is Iraqi American, but Middle Eastern is usually not an option when she’s asked for her race and ethnicity.

“It is this feeling like I don’t really belong. Like there’s no space for me here and I just have to conform to whatever this country is telling me that I am,” said Faraj, who lives in Chicago. “It makes me feel sad.”

For years, the Census Bureau has counted people of Middle Eastern and North African descent (also known as MENA) as White, obscuring their numbers and rendering them largely invisible, advocates say.

Last week, the Biden administration submitted a preliminary proposal to better account for the country’s MENA and Latino populations in the census. The Middle Eastern and North African population would be recognized as a distinct ethnic identity for the first time. And Latinos would be able to identify as such without having to also identify as a separate race, such as Black or White.

The proposal could change how race and ethnicity are measured across the country, from statewide and local records on police violence to health disparity data. This type of demographic data also informs decisions on redistricting and the distribution of government assistance.

washington post logoWashington Post, House panel zeroes in on Chinese-owned app TikTok over security fear, David J. Lynch, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). House Republicans and Democrats plan much more scrutiny of the U.S.'s economic entanglement with China, and fears over TikTok are growing.

The new House select committee charged with alerting Americans to the perils of a rising China is zeroing in on TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media application that has built a massive American following despite suspicions that it could be used as a tool of foreign espionage or influence.

China FlagThe implications of this new scrutiny — part of a broadening congressional review of U.S. engagement with China — are unclear. Washington remains torn over whether it should ban the wildly popular app, order it sold or allow TikTok to keep scrolling across 100 million American smartphones. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who launched the committee as one of his first moves — this week named its 13 Republican members. Democrats have yet to tap theirs.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the panel’s chairman, wants to ban the app or force its sale to an American buyer, citing data security issues and TikTok’s potential use by Beijing as a weapon of propaganda. In an interview, he said the overlapping technology, privacy and foreign policy questions raised by the app’s meteoric U.S. growth illustrate why the wide-ranging committee is needed. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has agreed to make his first appearance on Capitol Hill in a March hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

How TikTok ate the internet

Gallagher’s objections to TikTok, which features user-created short videos, are shared by prominent Democrats. The Biden administration for months has been reviewing a TikTok proposal to restructure its operations to eliminate the risk of Chinese government control or influence. Some analysts believe that congressional action — or the approach of the 2024 election — could force the administration’s hand.

ny times logoNew York Times, Congressman Sends Inert Grenades to Colleagues at House Offices, Emily Schmall, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A new Republican congressman from Florida handed out an unusual welcome gift to colleagues in the House of Representatives: inert grenades with a letter inviting them to “come together.”

The congressman, Cory Mills, 42, who is a U.S. Army veteran, said in the letter that the inert items, stamped with a Republican elephant, were 40-millimeter grenades manufactured in Florida and developed during the Vietnam War. The smooth cylindrical gray and yellow shells are made for a Mk 19 grenade launcher.

“Let’s come together and get to work on behalf of our constituents,” he said.

A reporter for The Daily Mail posted a picture of a grenade and Mr. Mills’s letter on Twitter, where the gift drew mixed reviews from fellow House freshmen. Representative Mike Collins, a Republican from Georgia, said that he “loved” his and just needed a launcher, while Representative Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut who did not receive one, made a comparison to Representative George Santos, the Republican congressman from New York whose lies about his biography are under scrutiny.

“Not even George Santos could make this stuff up,” Mr. Himes said.

A spokesman for Mr. Mills said it was customary for new Republican members of the House to bring gifts from their home states and that Mr. Mills had paid for the inert grenades personally.

All security measures were followed in delivering the grenades to the offices of Mr. Mills’s House colleagues on Capitol Hill, the spokesman added.

Politico, Meadows ally faces charge, possible plea over illegal campaign finance contribution, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). A family friend of Mark Meadows has been charged with accepting an illegal campaign contribution during an ill-fated 2020 run to succeed the former Trump White House chief of staff in Congress, according to newly-released court papers.

politico CustomLynda Bennett, who lost in a 2020 Republican primary campaign to Madison Cawthorn, accepted a contribution from a family member totaling at least $25,000, according to charging paperwork filed by prosecutors. That contribution was given “in the name of another person,” according to the papers, signed by U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves and Corey Amundson, chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.

It’s unclear if Bennett has agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge, but the form of the charge against her typically precedes a guilty plea. Details about the allegation were sparse.

Bennett did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. An attorney for Mark Meadows also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bennett’s campaign finance records don’t immediately make clear which contributions prosecutors believe to have been unlawful. Bennett’s reports indicate she loaned herself $80,000 at the end of 2019 and paid a portion of it back. Her report terminating her political committee did not list any outstanding balance.

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

washington post logoWashington Post, High-level visit highlights U.S. balancing act on Israel, Palestinians, Missy Ryan, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). When Secretary of State Antony Blinken lands in Israel this week, he will step into a hotbed of violence and political strife, signs of the chronic challenges that have kept the Middle East among America’s most urgent global concerns despite the Biden administration’s attempt to re-engineer its foreign policy.

The diplomat’s visit to Israel and the West Bank will mark the highest-profile U.S. engagement to date with the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition, critics say, has taken steps to weaken Israel’s democratic system and further inflame the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generating global condemnation.

Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said the Biden administration initially sought to avoid deep involvement with a part of the world that dominated U.S. foreign policy for the two decades following the 9/11 attacks at great financial and human cost to Americans.

“But if you don’t do the region, it does you,” Katulis said. “So they’re now trying to find a pathway to keep it on the rails while remaining hesitant to invest relative to challenges like Russia and China.”

Blinken’s two-day stay coincides with a major flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence, following an Israeli raid that killed 10 people in the West Bank and a shooting in which seven people were killed by a Palestinian in an East Jerusalem synagogue, setting off a cascade of bloodshed.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why is a U.S. general predicting war with China by 2025? Christian Shepherd and Pei-Lin Wu, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Open conflict between China and the United States could be just two years away, according to an unusually blunt memo by a top U.S. general that is just the latest in a number of alarming predictions that the world’s two leading military powers are at risk of direct collision, most likely over the fate of Taiwan.

michael minihanThe warning came from a top Air Force commander, Gen. Michael A. Minihan, right, who cited Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s securing of a third term and the January 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan, the self-governing democracy of 23 million that Beijing claims as its territory, as reasons to accelerate troop preparation.

Readying for a war is a general’s job — and Minihan’s view is not that of the government, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue — but his gut-feeling assessment is a stark reminder of the stakes involved in attempts to prevent bilateral relations slipping from frosty hostilities to a hot conflict.

U.S. general warns troops that war with China is possible in two years

Why is the U.S. military so worried about China?

For some in the United States, urgency in countering China’s military threat is often tied to the ambition of Xi. After doing away with an earlier dictum that China should “bide its time and hide its strength,” he has stoked nationalism and adopted an assertive diplomatic stance.

Regarding Taiwan, the most sensitive issue in the bilateral relationship, Xi has said that the problem cannot be passed down from generation to generation, leading some analysts to argue that he considers unification his task to complete.

While “peaceful reunification” remains the Communist Party’s preferred solution to disagreements with Taipei, it will never abandon the right to use of force if necessary, Xi said at a recent meeting of top party officials. By keeping that option open, he added, China wants to deter “Taiwan independence forces” and “foreign interference” — meaning the United States.

Beijing’s view is that the United States is entirely to blame for diplomatic and military tensions. An official white paper about China’s Taiwan strategy, released after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit the island democracy since 1997, accused Washington of “using Taiwan to contain China.”

Under Xi’s urging, China’s military has made rapid headway toward its goal of becoming a world-class fighting force on par with United States by 2050. Its troops have no real combat experience — the last war China fought was a brief but bloody conflict with Vietnam in 1979 — but the official defense budget has grown from $114.3 billion in 2014 to $230 billion in 2022. The real figure is probably higher.

Even so, it remains a fraction of American spending, which was set at $816.7 billion for fiscal 2023.

Being able to take Taiwan by force is the primary objective of Chinese military modernization, and the People’s Liberation Army has ramped up shows of force in recent months. In response to the Pelosi visit in August, China rehearsed a blockade of Taiwan by firing missiles and sending battleships and warplanes into strategically important locations on all sides of the main island.

Chinese fighter jets regularly venture close to Taiwanese airspace. Flight paths that cross an unofficial boundary running down the middle of the Taiwan Strait, unheard of before 2021, had become routine by the end of 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iran says drone strike targeted military complex amid ongoing shadow war, Miriam Berger and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Iran said a drone strike lightly damaged a defense ministry complex in the central city of Isfahan on Saturday, an attack that reverberated across capitals as tensions with the West and Israel mount over Tehran’s advancing nuclear program, arms supply for Russia’s war in Ukraine and lethal crackdown on months-long anti-government protests.

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: Biden says no to F-16 jets for Kyiv; Russia likely eyeing Donetsk advance, U.K. says, Erin Cunningham, Bryan Pietsch and Leo Sands, Jan. 31, 2023.  President Biden said the United States will not send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, rejecting renewed calls by Kyiv officials for these advanced weapons to turn the tide of the conflict and boost Ukraine’s command of its own airspace. Buoyed by long-sought commitments last week from the United States and Germany to send tanks, a Ukrainian official described fighter jets as Kyiv’s “next big hurdle.”

British intelligence officials warned that Moscow is probably preparing to open up a fresh offensive front in Ukraine’s east, with small-scale gains a realistic possibility. “Russian commanders are likely aiming to develop a new axis of advance into Ukrainian-held Donetsk Oblask,” British officials said in an update. The escalation would also serve to divert Ukrainian forces from defending the heavily contested Bakhmut sector, the Defense Ministry update added.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • President Biden simply responded “no” when he was asked by a reporter if the United States would send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. Speaking on CNN afterward, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby pointed to last week’s commitment to send tanks and said “there is a lot of capability that is being sent and will be sent.” Yuriy Sak, an adviser to Ukraine’s defense minister, told Reuters last week that fighter jets are “the next big hurdle” on Kyiv’s list of desired weapons.
  • France has not ruled out sending fighter jets to Ukraine but would do so only under certain criteria, President Emmanuel Macron said Monday, including a condition that would bar Kyiv from using the aircraft to attack Russian territory. He made the remarks at a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. “There are no taboos” in discussing fighter jet deliveries to Ukraine, Rutte said, “but it would be a very big next step,” the Associated Press reported. Ukraine has not yet formally requested the aircraft.
  • The Pentagon announced Monday the first shipment of Bradley Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine. More than 60 Bradleys departed from North Charleston, S.C., last week, the U.S. Transportation Command said in a statement. The M2 Bradley is an American-made infantry fighting vehicle — meaning it is intended to move and support foot soldiers. The first version was introduced to the U.S. Army in the 1980s.
  • France and Australia will jointly supply Ukraine with thousands of 155-millimeter artillery shells, the two nations’ defense ministers said Monday, calling the ammunition an “urgent need” as Ukrainian forces battle Russian troops in the east. The first shells, produced by a French manufacturer in cooperation with Australian companies, will be sent in the coming weeks.
  • Ukrainian forces may have fired banned antipersonnel mines into Russian-controlled territory, according to a report Tuesday by Human Rights Watch. Its authors urged the Ukrainian government — which is a signatory to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty prohibiting the weapon — to investigate. Russian forces were previously accused of using seven types of antipersonnel mines in the invasion last year.

2. Battleground updates

  • Russian strikes hit the cities of Kherson and Ochakiv in southern Ukraine, the Ukrainian military said in an update early Tuesday local time. Civilians were among the victims, the General Staff of the Ukrainian armed forces said, warning that “the threat of … missile strikes throughout Ukraine remains high.”
  • Other Russian strikes on settlements near the Russian border in the Kharkiv region have killed civilians and destroyed buildings, the Ukrainian military said. Oleh Synyehubov, the regional governor, said Monday on Telegram that a Russian missile strike badly damaged a residential building in Kharkiv, adding that at least one person died and three others were injured in the attack. He later said that a 62-year-old man was killed in another shelling attack in the city’s Chuhuiv district.

3. Global impact

  • The war in Ukraine could “accelerate” the global energy transition as countries turn to domestically produced sources, including renewables, the oil and gas giant BP said in its 2023 Energy Outlook on Monday. The shortages caused by the war underscored three elements associated with the energy transition: secure, affordable and lower carbon, BP said.
  • Poland plans to increase its defense spending to 4 percent of its GDP, a boost that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called “unprecedented” on Monday in remarks to reporters, Deutsche Welle reported. The nation currently spends about 2.2 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, according to the International Trade Administration.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin invited his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to visit Moscow in the spring, Tass news agency reported. It is not clear whether Xi has accepted the invitation, which was extended as Russian diplomats increase their efforts to strengthen ties with Beijing. The Kremlin reportedly praised China for “playing an increasingly important role as a friendly nation in the current circumstances” and pointed to the two nations’ shared interest in challenging U.S. global influence.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Freed Prisoners to Fight Its War. Here’s How Some Fared, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Alina Lobzina and Ekaterina Bodyagina, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Tens of thousands of inmates have joined a mercenary group fighting in Ukraine. Some are returning home, trained and often traumatized.

He was released from a Russian prison and thrown into battle in Ukraine with a promise of freedom, redemption and money. Now, Andrei Yastrebov, who was among tens of thousands of convict soldiers, is part of a return from the battlefield with potentially serious implications for Russian society.

Mr. Yastrebov, 22, who had been serving time for theft, returned home a changed man. “We all feel like he is in some sort of hypnosis, like he is a different person,” said a relative of his, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “He is without any emotions.”

Thousands of convicts have been killed, many within days or even hours of arriving at the front, Russian rights advocates and Ukrainian officials say. Those who live and return home largely remain silent, wary of retribution if they speak out.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to allow a mercenary group to recruit Russian convicts in support of his flagging war effort marks a watershed in his 23-year rule, say human rights activists and legal experts. The policy circumvents Russian legal precedent and, by returning some brutalized criminals to their homes with pardons, risks triggering greater violence throughout society, underlining the cost Mr. Putin is prepared to pay to avoid defeat.

washington post logoWashington Post, War in Ukraine: Along front-line river, this deadly road shows toll of Russia’s war, Siobhán O'Grady and Anastacia Galouchka, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). After a Russian retreat, the Dnieper River is the new front line, and destroyed towns on a road running along the water through three Ukrainian regions are still under fire.

Only the water keeps them apart.

Russian soldiers — pushed into retreat by a counteroffensive late last year — control the east bank of the mighty Dnieper River. Ukrainians control the west.

As Ukraine awaits new tanks from the United States and Europe, and fighting rages over strategic towns in the east, a war of attrition is underway in this southern battleground. The river limits territorial advances, permitting — for now at least — only destruction from a distance.

On the route traveling east and north from villages on the Gulf of the Dnieper to the battered but never-occupied city of Nikopol, the width of the river ranges from several miles to fewer than 1,000 feet, putting the Russians close enough to strike with mortars and shells or sniper fire. They hit some villages dozens of times a day. Ukrainian forces are firing back.

washington post logoWashington Post, Zelensky calls for faster weapon deliveries; Kremlin slams Johnson’s claim of Putin threat, Rachel Pannett and Jennifer Hassan, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on allies to speed up deliveries of weapons to Ukraine amid Russian strikes after the United States and Germany announced they would send battle tanks.

“Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. “We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine.”

The Kremlin denounced as false a claim by former British prime minister Boris Johnson that Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Britain with a missile strike in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

washington post logoWashington Post, Boris Johnson says Putin threatened to kill him, Karla Adam, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Former British prime minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin personally threatened him with a missile attack in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

United Kingdom flagThe accusation came in excerpts of a BBC documentary on Putin and the West set to air later Monday, and Johnson conceded that the Russian leader might have been joking.

boris johnson tieJohnson said Putin made the remarks during a “very long” and “extraordinary” call in early February last year, as Russian troops were massing along the Ukraine border. Johnson, right, who was prime minister at the time, had recently visited Kyiv to show Western support for Ukraine.

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

“He sort of threatened me at one point and said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute,’ or something like that. You know … jolly,” Johnson said.

Russia has one of the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, including longer-range missiles, but Johnson suggested that he didn’t regard Putin’s comments as a serious threat.

“From the relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate,” Johnson said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin threatened Johnson with a missile attack and said that the former prime minister was either deliberately not telling the truth or had misunderstood the Russian president.

“It’s a lie, there were no threats of missiles,” he told reporters during a press briefing. “Speaking about challenges to the security of the Russian Federation, President Putin noted that if Ukraine joined NATO the potential deployment of NATO or American missiles near our borders would mean that any missile would reach Moscow in minutes. If this passage was perceived in this way, it is very embarrassing,” he said.

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Presidential Document Probes

 

merrick garland john laucsch al drago bloomberg

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Garland’s special counsels: The mistake keeps getting worse, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 26, 2023. Attorney General jennifer rubin new headshotMerrick Garland, above, came into the job determined, above all else, to restore the integrity of the Justice Department. In trying to convince everyone that the department is above reproach, however, he has made a series of unwise, showy moves that leave it looking more, not less, political.

The problem began with Garland’s decision to follow his predecessor’s position that former president Donald Trump was acting in the scope of his presidential duties when he allegedly slandered E. Jean Carroll. Garland compounded the error by appointing a special counsel to investigate President Biden’s possession of classified documents from his years as vice president and U.S. senator.

Garland evidently felt that fairness demanded he treat the Biden case as he treated the investigation of classified documents held by Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The department’s credibility would have been better served if Garland had made tough distinctions between two very different cases.

The special counsel statute lays out three criteria for an appointment. First, the attorney general must determine that “a criminal investigation” is warranted. Second, that the investigation or resulting prosecution present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department, “or other extraordinary circumstances.” And third, that “under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

Not on the list: “I want to avoid looking political.” If every sniff of wrongdoing by a high-ranking official or presidential candidate triggers a special counsel, the result will be precisely the chaos that now appears before us.

Garland’s failure to make a clear, obvious distinction between Trump’s apparent obstruction and Biden’s mere sloppiness has created a slippery slope. Will former president Jimmy Carter’s sloppiness merit a special counsel? What about former vice president — and likely presidential candidate— Mike Pence?

One wonders whether Garland and his aides did any significant research to determine how widespread the problem of retained-and-voluntarily-returned documents actually is.

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More On U.S. Debts, Economy, Inflation, Jobs

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will Americans Even Notice an Improving Economy? Paul Krugman, right, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Imagine that your paul krugmanpicture of the U.S. economy came entirely from headlines and cable news chyrons. Would you know that real gross domestic product has risen 6.7 percent under President Biden, that America gained 4.5 million jobs in 2022 and that inflation over the past six months, which was indeed very high last winter, was less than 2 percent at an annual rate?

This isn’t a hypothetical question. Most people don’t read long-form, data-driven essays on the economic outlook. Their sense of the economy is more likely to be shaped by snippets they read or hear.

And there is a yawning gulf between public perceptions and economic reality. Recent economic data has been positive all around. Yet a plurality of adults believes that we’re in a recession. In an AP-NORC survey, three-quarters of Americans described the economy as “poor,” with only 25 percent saying it was “good.”

You might be tempted to say, never mind the data, people know what’s happening to the economy from personal experience. But there’s a big disconnect on that front, too.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: To understand why Republicans are divided on the debt ceiling, consider Dr. Seuss, Nate Cohn, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The Tea Party is over. Cultural issues seem to animate G.O.P. voters.

One of my favorite polling nuggets from the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency wasn’t about Afghanistan or inflation or classified documents.

It was about Dr. Seuss.

In early March 2021, a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that more Republicans said they had heard “a lot” about the news that the Seuss estate had decided to stop selling six books it deemed had offensive imagery than about the $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package enacted into the law that very week.

The result was a vivid marker of how much the Republican Party had changed over the Trump era. Just a dozen years earlier, a much smaller stimulus package sparked the Tea Party movement that helped propel Republicans to a landslide victory in the 2010 midterm election. But in 2021 the right was so consumed by the purported cancellation of Dr. Seuss that it could barely muster any outrage about big government spending.

Whether issues like “On Beyond Zebra!” still arouse Republicans more than the national debt takes on renewed importance this year, as Washington seems to be hurtling toward another debt ceiling crisis. The answer will shape whether Republicans can unify around a debt ceiling fight, as they did a decade ago, or whether a fractious party will struggle to play a convincing game of chicken — with uncertain consequences.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Pandemic Used-Car Boom Is Coming to an Abrupt End, Neal E. Boudette, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). Dealerships are seeing sales and prices drop as consumers tighten their belts, putting pressure on companies like Carvana that grew fast in recent years.

About a year ago, the used-car business was a rollicking party. The coronavirus pandemic and a global semiconductor shortage forced automakers to stop or slow production of new cars and trucks, pushing consumers to used-car lots. Prices for pre-owned vehicles surged.

Now, the used-car business is suffering a brutal hangover. Americans, especially people on tight budgets, are buying fewer cars as interest rates rise and fears of a recession grow. And improved auto production has eased the shortage of new vehicles.

As a result, sales and prices of used cars are falling and the auto dealers that specialize in them are hurting.

“After a huge run up in 2021, last year was a reality check,” Chris Frey, senior manager of economic and industry insights at Cox Automotive, a market research firm. “The used market now faces a challenging year as demand weakens.”

Palmer Report, Opinion and Advocacy: Looks like House Republicans are already preparing to cave on the debt ceiling, James Sullivan, Jan. 29, 2023. While the media is largely moving on from the non-existent classified documents scandal the GOP has been fomenting, bill palmer report logo headerthey’re going to their other favorite subject – that the Republicans are going to do a whole bunch of evil things and the Democrats will either a) let them do it or b) be powerless to stop it.

republican elephant logoWhile the GOP is planning to do a whole bunch of evil things, and the Democrats will inevitably face a lot of heat depending on how much they’re able to do about it, what we need to do is stop getting sucked into this narrative that the GOP will just get away with it all – since that does nothing more than help the GOP by giving them leverage they don’t have.

The debt ceiling – which won’t become an issue until June, if at all, is one of these concerns, as the GOP has threatened to use it as an excuse to implement ridiculous tax cuts for their donors in exchange for cutting social security. The problem for Republicans is that it’s rapidly becoming unpopular and their House leadership is eyeing an extension on the debt limit through Sept 30 to avoid the risk of a default.

It’s clear that even with a majority the GOP can’t make good on their threats if the pushback is significant- and this agreement should be all the incentive we need to keep standing up to their incompetence and corruption.

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U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, GW students add ‘morning-after’ pill vending machine to campus, Susan Svrluga, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). George Washington University students made easy access to emergency contraceptives a priority.

Many college health centers make emergency contraception pills available to students. But even when that’s the case, they may be too expensive for students or unavailable when they really need them — often at night or over the weekend.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Volatile Tool Emerges in the Abortion Battle: State Constitutions, Kate Zernike, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Many of the legal arguments seeking to overturn abortion bans rely on rights provided by the states, and how they are interpreted by state supreme courts. As abortion rights groups are trying to identify protections in state constitutions, anti-abortion groups are trying to amend those same documents.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion in June, it declared that it was sending the issue back to the “people and their elected representatives.” But the fight has largely moved to a different set of supreme courts and constitutions: those in the states.

On a single day this month, South Carolina’s highest court handed down its ruling that the right to privacy in the State Constitution includes a right to abortion, a decision that overturned the state’s six-week abortion ban. Within hours, Idaho’s highest court ruled in the opposite direction, saying that state’s Constitution did not protect abortion rights; the ban there would stand.

Those divergent decisions displayed how volatile and patchwork the fight over abortion rights will be over the next months, as abortion rights advocates and opponents push and pull over state constitutions.

For abortion rights groups, state constitutions are a critical part of a strategy to overturn bans that have cut off access to abortion in a wide swath of the country. Those documents provide much longer and more generous enumerations of rights than the United States Constitution, and history is full of examples of state courts using them to lead the way to establish broad rights — as well as to strike down restrictions on abortion. They offer a way around gerrymandered state legislatures that are pushing stricter laws.

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More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill (Photo by Francis Chung via Politico and Associated Press).

washington post logoWashington Post, Who would work for Rep. Santos? Capitol Hill is watching closely, Joe Heim and Meagan Flynn, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). No staff hirings on Capitol Hill are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been buried in controversy since his election.

Hiring season is winding down on Capitol Hill. The flurry of forwarded résumés is fading, staff positions in House and Senate offices are nearly filled, and the mostly serious business of governing is taking hold.
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The biennial job carousel, a parlor game that plays out in the Capitol’s bustling hallways, hyperdrive text chains and chatty cafeteria lines, is always a closely watched exercise by staffers. Who’s up, who’s down? Who’s in, who’s out?

But perhaps no staff hirings this year are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who since his election in November has been buried in an avalanche of revelations that point to him not being the person he once claimed to be. He did not, for instance, graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for its team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine.

There are also questions about where his money came from, how he funded his campaign, and his work for a Florida company that the SEC is suing and has alleged is a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

Even as he has had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos has been assembling a staff for his Washington and district offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing job candidates, vetting résumés, running background checks and finding people willing to work for a member who appears allergic to truth-telling.

Taking a job for Santos could prove dicey for staffers. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic lawmakers and staff members, many wondered if those who go to work for Santos, particularly higher-level staffers, would ever be able to find another congressional office that would hire them.

See the evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography

So far, there is public information available for just five positions that Santos has filled, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and posts congressional hiring. The initial makeup of Santos’s staff seems to lack the deep Capitol Hill experience that new members typically seek to help them get off to an effective start and quickly adjust to the rhythms and demands of Congress.

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Energy, Climate, Environment, Weather, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Extreme cold could wreck cities, Bonnie Berkowitz, Artur Galocha and Júlia Ledur, Jan. 25, 2023. We built a fake metropolis to show how. See how frigid temperatures and heavy snow can wreak havoc on everything from a city's hospitals and power grid to its rail and air transportation.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Plans to End Public Health Emergency for Covid in May, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). The move is a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less dire phase. It will bring about a host of policy changes.

The Biden administration plans to let the coronavirus public health emergency expire in May, the White House said on Monday, a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less dire phase.

The move carries both symbolic weight and real-world consequences. Millions of Americans have received free Covid tests and treatments during the pandemic, and not all of that will continue to be free once the emergency is over. The White House wants to keep the emergency in place for several more months so hospitals, health care providers and health officials can prepare for a host of changes when it ends, officials said.

An average of more than 500 people in the United States are still dying from Covid-19 each day, about twice the number of deaths per day during a bad flu season. But at the three-year mark, the coronavirus is no longer upending everyday life to the extent it once did, partly because much of the population has at least some protection against the virus from vaccinations and prior infections.

Still, the White House said on Monday that the nation needed an orderly transition out of the public health emergency. The administration said it also intended to allow a separate declaration of a national emergency to expire on the same day, May 11.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

ny times logoNew York Times, China’s Covid Tsunami Recedes, Bringing Relief, Grief and Anxiety, Chris Buckley and Amy Chang Chien, Jan. 31, 2023. Officials say an onslaught of infections has slowed, and many people seem eager to move on. But fresh flare-ups could bring more illness and deaths.

When China abruptly abandoned “zero Covid,” accelerating an onslaught of infections and deaths, many feared a prolonged tide rippling from cities into villages. Now, two months later, the worst seems to have passed, and the government is eager to shift attention to economic recovery.

Doctors who were mobilized across China to treat a rush of Covid patients say in phone interviews that the number of patients they are now seeing has fallen. Towns and villages that had hunkered down under the surge of infections and funerals are stirring to life. Health officials have declared that Covid cases “already peaked in late December 2022.”

“Now the pandemic is already being forgotten from people’s minds,” Gao Xiaobin, a doctor on the outskirts of a small city in Anhui Province in eastern China, said by telephone. “Nobody is wearing masks anywhere. That’s all gone.”

The true toll of the outbreak is hard to delineate, with infections and deaths shrouded by censorship and poor data collection. Officially, China has reported nearly 79,000 confirmed Covid-related deaths that occurred in hospitals since Dec. 8. But researchers say that is a drastic undercount because it excludes deaths outside hospitals.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Even a health reporter couldn’t avoid the hair-raising battle to get a high-priced drug for her son, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Jan. 31, 2023 (print ed.). As a health and science reporter, I’ve studied the maze of U.S. health care. But when my son got sick, I still got lost.

When a salmon-colored rash flared on my 3-year-old son’s tummy one afternoon in August, I shrugged it off. The next time I asked Evan to lift up his shirt to take a photo, it was gone. When he stopped sleeping through the night, I thought it was a dreadful new developmental phase. But then on a Saturday, he stopped walking and spiked a 104-degree fever. A nurse gave me clear directions: “Get in your car, and start driving to the ER.”

After days in the hospital, the doctors had ruled out a long list of infections, as well as scary conditions like leukemia. That left them circling around a rare type of childhood arthritis called systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or sJIA, in which the innate immune system, the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, goes haywire. Young children are tormented by daily spiking fevers, a fleeting rash and arthritis. Some develop a life-threatening immune activation syndrome. Untreated, destructive joint damage can occur. We were in shock.

But the doctors mentioned a drug that they’d probably want to try — anakinra, a biologic drug that blocks a key prong of the immune system and quells inflammation. Like most rare disease drugs, anakinra (also known by the trade name Kineret) was obscure, but I’m a health and science reporter and I’d heard of it. In 2020, I interviewed a pediatric rheumatologist, Randy Cron at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who wanted to test whether anakinra could help people with severe covid-19.

Now, he told me that anakinra and similar biologics had transformed treatment for kids with sJIA. “Remarkably effective and safe,” he’d replied after I emailed him about our situation. “There may be a window of opportunity early during treatment to get the best long-term benefit.”

Anakinra was clearly the favored route back to health for Evan. We were determined to take advantage of any early “window of opportunity.” Unfortunately for us, our insurance company, Aetna, disagreed. We began a health journey that many people encounter when dealing with rare diseases, health insurance and pricey drugs.

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U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

 

Ralph Nader stands in front of a Chevrolet Corvair in The American Museum of Tort Law, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Winsted, Conn. (AP Photo by Jessica Hill.)

Ralph Nader stands in front of a Chevrolet Corvair in The American Museum of Tort Law, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Winsted, Conn. (AP Photo by Jessica Hill.)

Poynter Institute, Why Ralph Nader is launching a print newspaper, Greg Burns, Jan. 31, 2023. Beginning with his hometown in northwest Connecticut, the 88-year-old consumer advocate is determined to do something about the news desert crisis. This article was originally published on Northwestern University’s Medill Local News Initiative website and is republished here with permission. Note to Readers: Justice Integrity Project Editor Andrew Kreig, a former reporter for the Hartford Courant from 1970 to 1984, has joined the editorial advisory board of the new Winsted-based newspaper.

Ralph Nader is starting a newspaper. Yes, that Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate, former presidential candidate and scourge of corporate interests.

At age 88, Nader is still going strong and, beginning with his hometown in northwest Connecticut, he’s determined to do something about the “news desert” crisis in local journalism.

The Winsted Citizen is launching its inaugural edition this week, and, in some ways, it is following a familiar playbook. It is forming a 501(c)3 nonprofit, enabling it to collect tax-deductible donations in addition to subscription and advertising revenue. Nader expects each pillar of the business model to contribute about one-third of revenues once the paper gets going — a business plan not out of the ordinary among startup local news publications.

Also, like other media entrepreneurs, Nader is drawing on the pool of journalists who left traditional news outlets as job prospects fizzled. His well-connected editor and publisher, Andy Thibault, who served for decades as an editor at local publications in Connecticut, has lined up a roster of eager contributors for the Nader-backed venture. Together, Thibault and his colleagues have rallied support and laid plans for ambitious local stories befitting a highly experienced newsroom.

That’s about where the conventional part of The Winsted Citizen game plan comes to an end. No surprise to anyone familiar with Nader’s storied past, a Nader newspaper is going to do things differently, and with plenty of attitude.

For starters, the new paper will be a “paper” paper, printed and delivered by mail and carrier to subscribers, and available for single-copy sales at local advertisers. If Nader has his way, the website will be a sideshow to the printed main event, as he believes digital publications fail to engage readers because they’re too cluttered and abbreviated. Plus, he said, the “real decisionmakers” get their news in print.

After initially announcing that The Winsted Citizen would begin with a single, inaugural edition and then continue as a weekly publication only if local support materialized, a Plan B has emerged. The Citizen will publish at least 11 editions over the course of 2023, on an approximately monthly basis, which represents a compromise. This way, it won’t be one-and-done — a worst-case scenario from Thibault’s point of view — while at the same time it will be keeping expectations realistic for staffers who already know they won’t get rich from the project even if it succeeds.

Nader puts up $15K for the first edition

Billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong have written huge checks to fund their newspaper holdings. Stewart Bainum Jr., a hotel magnate and civic leader, has pledged to raise or contribute $50 million over four years to fund the Baltimore Banner, an online local news startup in Maryland. Nader, meantime, said he has chipped in $15,000 to get the first issue of The Winsted Citizen out the door.

Once he’s launched it, Nader said, the community will come through. He’s counting on it, and he’s dismissive of those who claim a newly minted print newspaper in a small, economically challenged town can’t possibly succeed without a Daddy Warbucks donor.

“Anyone who says a community anywhere in the U.S. cannot support a newspaper is unimaginative,” Nader said in an interview. “Let’s face it, most weeklies are dull and routine. They do very little investigation. There is a total lack of imagination.”

Without a content-rich local newspaper, Nader said, communities decline. “There is less voter turnout, less people turning out for town meetings. If you don’t have a newspaper, you don’t have the community connections that are almost too numerous to mention coming out of every edition. A few websites or blogs don’t cut it.”

Nader grew up in a Winsted served by a six-days-a-week paper packed with foreign, national and local news, he said. The local evening newspaper that Nader delivered as a young paperboy shut down years ago, and other Winsted-based community-news outlets also folded over the years. As of now, Nader states unequivocally, the town of 7,100 is a news desert where citizens are deprived of access to local coverage.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “Definitely.”

That assertion has drawn objections from other local publications in Connecticut, which generally welcome Nader’s effort to expand news coverage while contesting the idea that local journalists have ignored his hometown.

On a recent visit to Winsted, the local Stop & Shop supermarket was stocked with seven print newspapers. That included current print editions of the Waterbury, Connecticut-based Republican-American and the Lakeville Journal of nearby Lakeville, Connecticut, as well as The Hartford Courant, USA Today and the robust daily newspapers of New York City, which is about a two-hour drive away. The Torrington Register-Citizen regularly covers Winsted as well.

In an early interview about launching The Citizen, Nader asserted that Winsted residents had no way to track the town budget without personally attending public meetings, because there was nowhere to read about it. In fact, the Republican-American reporter covering Winsted and surrounding towns wrote a string of budget-related stories, and the Torrington paper also kept tabs on Winsted’s local government.

Winsted is a pretty good news town. Over the past decade, its finance director was convicted of embezzling public funds, the state took over its chronically underfunded school system and a lack of maintenance led to dangerous problems with aging infrastructure, including a well-traveled bridge. None of those stories went unreported.

As in other traditional New England mill towns, the economic base has eroded but civic pride and personality endure.

Winsted is home to the American Mural Project, an arts organization that houses what it describes as the world’s largest indoor collaborative artwork. It’s also the site of the Nader-backed American Museum of Tort Law, which celebrates the transformative power of lawsuits and displays a vintage Chevrolet Corvair, a car Nader famously pronounced “unsafe at any speed” in the 1960s.

Reuniting a community

Jennifer Almquist, a contributor to The Winsted Citizen and resident of a nearby town, said the newspaper’s launch has helped to rally a community still beaten down by the pandemic.

“To try and re-establish the community after three years of COVID is on everyone’s mind,” said Almquist, a photographer and former art gallery owner. “We lost our community, in my view.”

 Greg Burns served as Editorial Board member, columnist and business editor at the Chicago Tribune and as a reporter for BusinessWeek magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times.

National Press Club Press Release, Club Urges India’s Government to Rescind Ban on BBC Documentary, Bill McCarren (Club Executive Director), Jan. 31, 2023. (JIP Editor Andrew Kreig serves on the Press Club's Press Freedom Committee.)

The Following is a statement from Eileen O'Reilly, president of the National Press Club, and Gil Klein, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, on the decision by the government of India to censor the airing of a BBC news documentary probing the role national  press club logoPrime Minister Narendra Modi may have played in the 2002 Gujarat riots:

“India should be proud that it is the largest democracy in the world, but it cannot hold on to that identity if it continues to erode press freedom, persecute journalists, and suppress news that holds a mirror up to its shortcomings. Since Modi came to power, we have watched with frustration and disappointment as his government — time and time again — has suppressed the right of its citizens to a free and independent news media.”

bbc news logo2“We strongly urge the government of India to rescind its ban on the BBC documentary and to allow the citizens of India to decide for themselves whether they agree or disagree with its findings. The BBC is one of the most respected news sources in the world and is known for its high editorial standards. We also demand in the strongest terms the government stop its persecution of journalists and suppression of press freedom in India.”

india flag mapAfter the BBC aired a two-part documentary entitled "India: The Modi Question" on Jan. 17, the Indian government used its emergency powers to ban it from being aired in the country. Modi’s government also forced Twitter and YouTube to block the documentary in India under an unjust 2021 information technology law, which the National Press Club has previously criticized.

The BBC documentary examines Modi’s role in the 2002 Gujarat riots when he was chief minister of the western Indian state. During the riots, thousands of predominantly Muslim Indians were killed, many were raped, and Muslim establishments were set on fire. The Indian Supreme Court exonerated Modi in 2012 of wrongdoing, but the documentary notes the British Foreign Office produced an unpublished report claiming Modi was “directly responsible” for enabling the impunity of violence that led to the killings.

Founded in 1908, the National Press Club is the world’s leading professional organization for journalists. The Club has 3,000 members representing nearly every major news organization and is a leading voice for press freedom in the U.S. and worldwide.

The National Press Club Journalism Institute promotes an engaged, global citizenry through an independent and free press and equips journalists with the skills and standards to inform the public in ways that inspire a more representative democracy. The NPCJI is the nonprofit affiliate of the National Press Club.

Bloomberg News, Trump Sues Journalist Bob Woodward for Releasing Interview Recordings, Mario Parker and Zoe Tillman, Jan. 30, 2023. Suit seeks $49 million in damages, alleges copyright violation. Trump has a track record of suing reporters and news outlets.

Former President Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward for releasing recordings of interviews that he gave to the journalist in 2019 and 2020, claiming he never agreed to those tapes being shared with the public.

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Jan. 30

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Trump Probes Proceed

 

U.S. Justice Failures, Scandals

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ny times logoNew York Times, If Debt Limit Is Breached, Wall St. Wants Priority. Yellen Is Balking, Jeanna Smialek, Jim Tankersley and Joe Rennison Jan. 30, 2023. Wall Street is betting that the U.S. will employ a fallback option to ensure it can make good on bond payments even if Congress doesn’t raise the nation’s borrowing limit; The Biden administration has reportedly not prepared for such a scenario, and Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has cast doubt on the approach.

Washington’s debt limit drama has Wall Street betting that the United States will employ a fallback option to ensure it can make good on payments to its lenders even if Congress doesn’t raise the nation’s borrowing limit before America runs out of cash.

treasury logoBut that untested idea has significant flaws and has been ruled out by the Biden administration, which could make it less of a bulwark against disaster than many investors and politicians are counting on.

Many on Wall Street believe that the Treasury Department, in order to avoid defaulting on U.S. debt, would “prioritize” payments on its bonds if it could no longer borrow funds to cover all its expenses. They expect that America’s lenders — the bondholders who own U.S. Treasury debt — would be first in line to receive interest and other payments, even if it meant delaying other obligations like government salaries or retirement benefits.

Those assumptions are rooted in history. Records from 2011 and 2013 — the last time the U.S. tipped dangerously close to a debt limit crisis — suggested that officials at the Treasury had laid at least some groundwork to pay investors first, and that policymakers at the Federal Reserve assumed that such an approach was likely. Some Republicans in the House and Senate have painted prioritization as a fallback option that could make failure to raise the borrowing cap less of a disaster, arguing that as long as bondholders get paid, the U.S. will not experience a true default.

But the Biden administration is not doing prioritization planning this time around because officials don’t think it would prevent an economic crisis and are unsure whether such a plan is even feasible. The White House has not asked Treasury to prepare for a scenario in which it pays back investors first, according to multiple officials. Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, has said such an approach would not avoid a debt “default” in the eyes of markets.

“Treasury systems have all been built to pay all of our bills when they’re due and on time, and not to prioritize one form of spending over another,” Ms. Yellen told reporters earlier this month.

Perhaps more worrisome is that, even if the White House ultimately succumbed to pressure to prioritize payments, experts from both political parties who have studied the temporary fix say it might not be enough to avert a financial catastrophe.

“Prioritization is really default by another name,” said Brian Riedl, formerly chief economist to former Republican Senator Rob Portman and now an economist at the Manhattan Institute. “It’s not defaulting on the government’s debt, but it’s defaulting on its obligations.”

ny times logoNew York Times, I.M.F. Upgrades Global Outlook as Inflation Eases, Alan Rappeport, Jan. 30, 2023. The International Monetary Fund suggested that growth would be more resilient than anticipated and that a global recession would probably be avoided.

The International Monetary Fund said on Monday that it expected the global economy to slow this year as central banks continued to raise interest rates to tame inflation, but it also suggested that output would be more resilient than previously anticipated and that a global recession would probably be avoided.

The I.M.F. upgraded its economic growth projections for 2023 and 2024 in its closely watched World Economic Outlook report, pointing to resilient consumers and the reopening of China’s economy as among the reasons for a more optimistic outlook.

The fund warned, however, that the fight against inflation was not over and urged central banks to avoid the temptation to change course.

“The fight against inflation is starting to pay off, but central banks must continue their efforts,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, said in an essay that accompanied the report.

bob woodward headshotBloomberg News, Trump Sues Journalist Bob Woodward for Releasing Interview Recordings, Mario Parker and Zoe Tillman, Jan. 30, 2023. Suit seeks $49 million in damages, alleges copyright violation. Trump has a track record of suing reporters and news outlets.

Former President Donald Trump is suing journalist Bob Woodward for releasing recordings of interviews that he gave to the journalist in 2019 and 2020, claiming he never agreed to those tapes being shared with the public.

 

Trump Probes Proceed

  djt march 2020 Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Manhattan Prosecutors Will Begin Presenting Trump Case to Grand Jury, William K. Rashbaum, Ben Protess and Jonah E. Bromwich, Jan. 30, 2023. The decision potentially sets the case, tied to Donald Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star in 2016, on a path toward criminal charges.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday will begin presenting evidence to a grand jury about Donald J. Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The grand jury was recently impaneled, and witness testimony will soon begin, a clear signal that the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is nearing a decision about whether to charge Mr. Trump.

david pecker croppedOn Monday, one of the witnesses was seen with his lawyer entering the building in Lower Manhattan where the grand jury is sitting. The witness, David Pecker, left, is the former publisher of The National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the deal with the porn star, Stormy Daniels, right.

stormy daniels djt insight 1 19 2018 CustomAs prosecutors prepare to reconstruct the events surrounding the payment for grand jurors, they have sought to interview several witnesses, including the tabloid’s former editor, Dylan Howard, and two employees at Mr. Trump’s company, the people said. Mr. Howard and the Trump Organization employees, Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff, have not yet testified before the grand jury.

The prosecutors have also begun contacting officials from Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, one of the people said. And in a sign that they want to corroborate these witness accounts, the prosecutors recently subpoenaed phone records and other documents that might shed light on the episode.

djt michael cohen disloyalA conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, left, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.

Still, the developments compound Mr. Trump’s mounting legal woes as he faces an array of law enforcement investigations: A district attorney in Georgia could seek to indict him for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, and he faces a special counsel investigation into his removal of sensitive documents from the White House.

Mr. Bragg’s decision to impanel a grand jury focused on the hush money — supercharging the longest-running criminal investigation into Mr. Trump — represents a dramatic escalation in an inquiry that once appeared to have reached a dead end.

Under Mr. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney’s office had begun presenting evidence to an earlier grand jury about a case focused not just on the hush money but on Mr. Trump’s broader business practices, including whether he fraudulently inflated the value of his real estate to secure favorable loans and other financial benefits. Yet in the early weeks of his tenure last year, Mr. Bragg developed concerns about the strength of that case and decided to abandon the grand jury presentation, prompting the resignations of the two senior prosecutors leading the investigation.

One of them, Mark F. Pomerantz, was highly critical of Mr. Bragg’s decision and has written a book that is scheduled to be published next week, “People vs. Donald Trump,” detailing his account of the inquiry. Mr. Bragg’s office recently wrote to Mr. Pomerantz’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, expressing concern that the book might disclose grand jury information or interfere with the investigation.

For his part, Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and chalked up the scrutiny — as he has many times before — to a partisan witch hunt against him. If he were ultimately convicted, Mr. Trump would face a maximum sentence of four years, though prison time would not be mandatory.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg’s office declined to comment. Mr. Pecker’s lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Mr. Trump, Ronald P. Fischetti, declined to comment, as did a lawyer for Mr. McConney and Ms. Tarasoff.

The panel hearing evidence about the hush money is likely what’s known as a special grand jury. Like regular grand juries, it is made up of 23 Manhattan residents chosen at random. But its members are sworn in to serve for six months to hear complex cases, rather than the routine 30-day panels that review evidence and vote on whether to bring charges in cases of burglary, assault, robbery, murder and other crimes.

 

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Justice Department Special Prosecutor Jack Smith, left, and former President Donald Trump, shown in a collage via CNN.

Palmer Report, Analysis: Donald Trump is now in the process of being criminally indicted by grand juries in three different jurisdictions, Bill Palmer, bill palmerright, Jan. 30, 2023.  When Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg decided last year not to criminally indict Donald Trump for his Trump Organization financial fraud, it seemed obvious that Bragg was simply trying to avoid being the first to indict Trump, and that he’d eventually indict him on something. After all, Bragg would have zero chance of reelection in Manhattan if he doesn’t end up indicting Trump.

bill palmer report logo headerLast week Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis told the court that indictment decisions in her criminal probe against Donald Trump were “imminent.” Now that Willis is seemingly just days away from indicting Trump, it’s perhaps not a surprise that Alvin Bragg is now also in the process of indicting Trump.

alvin bragg twitterBragg, right, is presenting evidence of Donald Trump’s campaign finance fraud to a grand jury, per the New York Times. Specifically, Trump is being criminally targeted for illegally using campaign money as part of his payoff scheme to keep Stormy Daniels quiet. This is the same Trump criminal plot which previously sent Michael Cohen to prison. So all that Bragg really has to do is show that Cohen was acting upon Trump’s instruction.

Michael Cohen responded to today’s news by retweeting a reminder that he met with the Manhattan DA’s office just two weeks ago. Cohen also retweeted a reporter who stated that campaign finance charges could be the “most dangerous criminal case” against Trump, in terms of landing a conviction.

The public will understandably be wary of Alvin Bragg until he actually indicts Trump, given how badly Bragg has dragged his feet up to this georgia mappoint. But there would be no reason for Bragg to go to the effort of presenting a criminal case against Trump to a grand jury, and leaking to the media that he’s doing so, unless he’s already decided to go through with indicting Trump. Bragg was seemingly just waiting until word came down that the Fulton County DA is now just days away from indicting Trump, meaning Bragg will get to indict Trump second (or third) instead of first.

This all comes after Bloomberg reported roughly two weeks ago that DOJ Special Counsel Jack Smith was just weeks away from critical indictment decisions in his own criminal case against Donald Trump. This means Trump is now on track to be indicted by three different sets of prosecutors, each of which will put him on criminal trial. It’s been tricky to predict the timing, but this was always coming. And now we’re here.

 

U.S. Justice Failures, Scandals

william barr hearing new

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Bill Barr’s Image Rehab Is Kaput, David Firestone, Jan. 30, 2023. Mr. Firestone is a member of the editorial board.

Former Attorney General William Barr has spent the last year in a desperate salvage operation for what’s left of his legal and ethical reputation.

During his 22 months in office, he allowed his Justice Department to become a personal protection racket for his boss, Donald Justice Department log circularTrump, and left prosecutors, the F.B.I. and other law enforcement officials subject to the worst impulses of the president. But then, in his 2022 memoir, Mr. Barr did an about-face, bashing Mr. Trump for lacking a presidential temperament and singling out his “self-indulgence and lack of self-control.”

In the book, he urged Republicans not to renominate Mr. Trump in 2024, accusing the former president of going “off the rails” with his stolen-election claims by preferring the counsel of “sycophants” and “whack jobs” to that of his real advisers. Clearly concerned that history was paying attention, he was even stronger in his videotaped testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, loosing a variety of barnyard epithets and bitter insults to describe Mr. Trump’s legal strategy. He said the president had become “detached from reality” and was doing a disservice to the nation.

The hollow and self-serving nature of this turnabout was always apparent. Mr. Barr never made these concerns public at a time when his dissent would have made a difference. Instead, he left office in 2020 showering compliments on his boss, praising Mr. Trump’s “unprecedented achievements” and promising that Justice would continue to pursue claims of voter fraud that he must have known were baseless.

But if Mr. Barr harbored any fantasy that he might yet be credited with a wisp of personal integrity for standing up for democracy, that hope was thoroughly demolished on Thursday when The Times published the details of what really happened when Mr. Barr launched a counter-investigation into the origins of Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The reporting demonstrated a staggering abuse of the special counsel system and the attorney general’s office, all in a failed attempt by Mr. Barr to rewrite the sour truths of Mr. Trump’s history.

It was bad enough when, in March 2019, Mr. Barr tried to mislead the public into thinking the forthcoming Mueller report exonerated Mr. Trump, when in fact the report later showed just how strong the links were between the campaign and the Russian government, john durham Customwhich worked to help defeat Hillary Clinton. A few months later Mr. Barr assigned John Durham, right, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut, as a special counsel to investigate Mr. Mueller’s investigation, hoping to prove Mr. Trump’s wild public allegations that the federal intelligence officials had helped instigate the claims of Russian interference to damage him.

Attorneys general are not supposed to interfere in a special counsel’s investigation. The whole point of the system is to isolate the prosecution of sensitive cases from the appearance of political meddling. But the new Times reporting shows that Mr. Barr did the opposite, regularly meeting with Mr. Durham to discuss his progress and advocating on his behalf with intelligence officials when they were unable to come up with the nonexistent proof Mr. Barr wanted to see. (Aides told Times reporters that Mr. Barr was certain from the beginning that U.S. spy agencies were behind the allegations of collusion.)

When the Justice Department’s own inspector general prepared to issue a report saying that, while the F.B.I. made some ethical mistakes, the investigation was legitimate and not politically motivated, Mr. Durham lobbied him to drop the finding. When that effort was unsuccessful, Mr. Barr reverted to his usual pattern of trying to spin the report before it was issued, disagreeing with its finding before it was even out. Mr. Durham then followed up with a similar statement, shattering the clear department principle of staying silent about a current investigation.

The two men even traveled to Britain and Italy together, pressuring government agencies there to disclose what they told U.S. spy agencies about the Trump-Russia connections. That infuriated officials of those governments, who said they had done nothing of the kind, and no evidence was ever found that they had. But on one of those trips, The Times reported, Italian officials gave the men a tip which, people familiar with the matter said, linked Mr. Trump to possible serious financial crimes. (It is not clear what those crimes were, and more reporting will be necessary to reveal the details.) Did Mr. Barr follow protocol and turn the tip over to regular prosecutors in his department for investigation? No. Instead, he gave it to his traveling companion, Mr. Durham, who opened a criminal investigation but never made it public and never filed charges, and when word began to trickle out that a suspected crime had been discovered, he falsely let the world think it had something to do with his original goal.

The Durham investigation, of course, has never presented any evidence that the F.B.I. or intelligence agencies committed any misconduct in the course of the Russia investigation, bitterly disappointing Mr. Barr and especially his patron, Mr. Trump, who had assured his supporters for months that it would produce something big. Desperate for some kind of success, Mr. Durham indicted Michael Sussmann, a lawyer who had worked for Democrats in their dealings with the F.B.I., over the objections of two prosecutors on the special counsel team who said the case was far too thin and who later left the staff.

Mr. Sussmann was acquitted last May of lying to the bureau, and the jury forewoman told reporters that bringing the case had been unwise. Mr. Barr later tried to justify the trial by saying it served another purpose in exposing the Clinton campaign’s starting the Russia narrative as a “dirty trick.” The trial did nothing of the kind, but it did expose Mr. Barr’s willingness to abuse the gratuitous prosecution of an individual to score political points against one of Mr. Trump’s most prominent enemies.

One of the other casualties of this deceitful crusade was the deliberate damage it did to the reputations of the F.B.I., the intelligence agencies and officials in Mr. Barr’s own department. All of these agencies have had many problematic episodes in their pasts, but there is no evidence in this case that they willfully tried to smear Mr. Trump and his campaign with false allegations of collusion. They were trying to do their jobs, on which the nation’s security depends, but because they got in Mr. Trump’s way, Mr. Barr aided in degrading their image through a deep-state conspiracy theory before an entire generation of Trump supporters. Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt for proof that these same government offices were “weaponized” against conservatives, an expedition that is likely to be no more effective than Mr. Durham’s and Mr. Barr’s.

But weakening the country’s institutions and safeguards for political benefit is how Mr. Barr did business in the nearly two years he served as the nation’s top law enforcement official under Mr. Trump. He has a long history of making the Justice Department an instrument of his ideology and politics; when he was attorney general in 1992 during the Bush administration, the Times columnist William Safire accused him of leading a “Criminal Cover-up Division” in refusing to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether the Bush administration had knowingly provided aid to Saddam Hussein that was used to finance the military before Iraq invaded Kuwait. Under Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr did the opposite, demanding that an unnecessary special counsel do the bidding of the White House and trying to steer the investigation to Mr. Trump’s advantage. His efforts came to naught, and so will his campaign to be remembered as a defender of the Constitution.

David Firestone is a member of the editorial board. Mr. Firestone was a reporter and editor at The Times from 1993 to 2014, including serving as a congressional correspondent and New York City Hall bureau chief, and was executive editor for digital at NBC News until 2022.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: The Durham Fiasco Is a Warning of What’s to Come, Michelle Goldberg,right,  Jan. 30, 2023. Thank goodness michelle goldberg thumbSpeaker Kevin McCarthy has created a House subcommittee on the weaponization of the federal government!

Last week, The New York Times reported on an outrageous example of such weaponization, the flagrant use of federal law enforcement powers to target an administration’s political enemies. I’m talking, of course, about the John Durham special counsel investigation, which was meant to root out the ostensibly corrupt origins of Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and quickly came to embody the sins that Donald Trump and his allies projected onto the F.B.I.

Trump’s circle insisted, falsely, that the Mueller inquiry was a hit job that employed Russian disinformation — via the Steele dossier — to frame Trump, all part of a plot cooked up by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Durham seems to have bought into this Trumpist conspiracy theory, and to help prove it, he tried to employ what appears to be Russian disinformation to go after the Clinton camp. More specifically, he used dubious Russian intelligence memos, which analysts believed were seeded with falsehoods, to try to convince a court to give him access to the emails of a former aide to George Soros, which he believed would show Clinton-related wrongdoing.

john durham CustomAstonishingly, The Times found that while Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr and Durham, right, were in Europe looking for evidence to discredit the Russia investigation, Italian officials gave them a “potentially explosive tip” linking Trump to “certain suspected financial crimes.” Rather than assign a new prosecutor to look into those suspected crimes, Barr folded the matter into Durham’s inquiry, giving Durham criminal prosecution powers for the first time.

Then the attorney general sat back while the media inferred that the criminal investigation must mean Durham had found evidence of malfeasance connected to Russiagate. Barr, usually shameless in his public spinning of the news, quietly let an investigation into Trump be used to cast aspersions on Trump’s perceived enemies. (The fate of that inquiry remains a mystery.)

This squalid episode is a note-perfect example of how Republican scandal-mongering operates. The right ascribes to its adversaries, whether in the Democratic Party or the putative deep state, monstrous corruption and elaborate conspiracies. Then, in the name of fighting back, it mimics the tactics it has accused its foes of using.

Look, for example, at the behavior that gave rise to Trump’s first impeachment. Trump falsely claimed that Joe Biden, as vice president, used the threat of withholding American loan guarantees to blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. Hoping to get Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to substantiate his lies, Trump tried to use the threat of withholding American aid to … blackmail the Ukrainian government into doing his personal bidding. The symmetry between accusations and counter-accusations, in turn, fosters a widespread cynicism about ever finding the truth.

It’s important to keep this in mind because we’re about to see a lot more of it. Now that they control the House, Republicans have prioritized investigating their political opponents. McCarthy has stacked the Oversight Committee, central to the House’s investigative apparatus, with flame-throwing fantasists, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert. Further, as Politico reported in a “field guide” to the coming Republican inquiries, McCarthy has urged Republicans to treat every committee like the Oversight Committee, meaning all investigations, all the time.

There are going to be investigations into Hunter Biden, and investigations into the origins of the pandemic. There will likely be scrutiny of the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago and Biden’s handling of classified documents. And, as my colleague David Firestone on the editorial board put it over the weekend, “Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt” for proof that the F.B.I. and other intelligence agencies were “weaponized” against conservatives.

These all promise to be congressional equivalents of the Durham inquiry. Certainly, most if not all congressional investigations are politically motivated, but there is nevertheless a difference between inquiries predicated on something real, and those, like the many investigations in the Benghazi attack, meant to troll for dirt and reify Fox News phantasms. House Democrats examined Trump’s interference with the C.D.C. during the acute stage of the pandemic. House Republicans plan to look into what the Republican congressman Jim Banks termed the military’s “dangerous” Covid vaccine mandates. There might be an equivalence in the form of these two undertakings, but not in their empirical basis.

It remains to be seen whether our political media is up for the task of making these distinctions. The coverage of Trump and Biden’s respective retention of classified documents offers little cause for optimism. Again and again, journalists and pundits have noted that, while the two cases are very different, there are seeming similarities, and those similarities are good for Trump. This is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since by speculating about political narratives, you help create them.

“John Durham has already won,” said the headline of a Politico article from last year, noting his success in perpetuating the right’s fevered counter-history of Russiagate. Of course he didn’t win; he would go on to lose both cases arising from his investigation as well as the honorable reputation he had before he started it. What he did manage to do, however, was spread a lot of confusion and waste a lot of time. Now the Republican House picks up where he left off.

 

william barr at doj

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The real ‘weaponization’ of the Justice Department: Barr and Durham, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 30, 2023. jennifer rubin new headshotHouse Republicans are right that politicization of the Justice Department has been a jaw-dropping abuse of power. They’ve got the wrong culprit, however.

As a blockbuster New York Times article made clear, then-Attorney General William P. Barr, above, and special counsel John H. Durham engaged in unethical, abusive manipulation of the Justice Department in pursing the baseless conspiracy theory that the intelligence community had conducted a witch hunt of then-President Donald Trump in connection with Russian manipulation of the 2016 election.

The Times reported that “the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim Justice Department log circularcharacterized the Russia investigation.” Durham brought two baseless cases, both resulting in acquittal. When Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s thorough investigation debunked their entire theory, Barr tried to pressure him to keep it under wraps. Then, as he did with the Robert S. Mueller III report, Barr publicly mischaracterized and trashed the report.

Durham also used a grand jury to pry into the record of major Democratic donor George Soros. Moreover, while supposedly operating independently, he met frequently with his pal Barr, in violation of the basic precept that a special counsel must operate with a high degree of independence. (From the Times article: “Mr. Durham visited Mr. Barr in his office for at times weekly updates and consultations about his day-to-day work. They also sometimes dined and sipped Scotch together.”)

Worst of all:

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

Their conduct was so egregious that several career prosecutors quit rather than participate in (to borrow a phrase) the witch hunt. In the end, Barr conceded there was no there there — but only after the 2020 election.

Former prosecutors reacting to the Times report were outraged. Andrew Weissmann tweeted, “This is all about the Trump weaponization of the DOJ — but we know that the House Rs won’t give a damn about it.” Joyce White Vance concurred:

Three responses are warranted, although sadly none is likely to hold Barr accountable.

  • First and foremost, Attorney General Merrick Garland should have the spine to remove Durham for gross misconduct. Moreover, any report issued should remove the names of those exonerated in court or who were never charged. They are victims of a political smear, which Garland should not enable by allowing baseless allegations to circulate publicly. Don’t hold your breath, however. Garland has shown little willingness to revisit the department’s conduct in the prior administration. (As an alternative, the inspector general could investigate Barr and Durham.)
  • Frankly, Garland erred in never conducting a top-to-bottom review of politicization during the Trump era (including Barr’s politicization of sentencing recommendations and the department’s misrepresentations in the U.S. Census case). Instead of prioritizing the department’s outside reputation over the need to remove the stench of corruption, Garland should have gotten to the bottom of the Barr/Durham debacle long ago. (At the very least, it would have preempted the false MAGA narrative that Democrats have been the ones engaged in misconduct).
  • Second, Barr and Durham, right, should face disciplinary action just as coup architect John Eastman (coincidentally on Thursday) john durham Customwas charged with 11 counts by the California state bar for “violating a variety of attorney ethics rules in multiple episodes, court cases and other conduct,” as CNN put it. Unless and until attorneys such as Barr and Durham face accountability, the threat of professional disgrace and the loss of their law license, other lawyers will be tempted to engage in such shenanigans.
  • However, Eastman, Jeffrey Clark (facing bar proceedings) and Rudy Giuliani (suspended from practice in New York) have sadly been the exception to the rule of sloth and passivity from state bars. Scores of attorneys who signed onto frivolous lawsuits after the 2020 and 2022 elections (including challenging Kari Lake’s defeat in Arizona) have yet to face any penalty.
  • The list of attorneys who participated in the effort to overturn the 2020 election but as yet have faced no consequences (Kenneth Chesebro, Cleta Mitchell) is far too long. (And none of the members of Congress who signed onto the utterly baseless Supreme Court brief seeking to disenfranchise millions of Americans has been taken to task.) State bars need to do their job to restore integrity to the legal profession.
  • Finally, Congress should be investigating Barr and Durham’s gross misconduct. You can be sure, however, that MAGA Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee and the “weaponization of government” select subcommittee won’t be interested

In sum, just as Garland seeks to hold accountable political leaders who threatened our democracy, he must hold his own department lawyers’ responsible for misconduct. If not, an inspector general, state bars and congressional Democrats should do the job.

CNN, Book reveals why Trump wasn't charged for Stormy Daniels hush money payments, Jim Acosta, Jan. 30, 2023. In a new book, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig reveals why federal prosecutors in New York didn't charge Trump for hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Senators prepare for a showdown over judges and ‘blue slips,’ Theodoric Meyer and Leigh Ann Caldwell, with research by Tobi Raji, Jan. 30, 2023. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) is urging Republicans to cooperate with moving judges through the committee.

With Republicans in control of the House, Senate Democrats will spend much of the next two years working to confirm as many judges as possible — and they’re facing pressure to change Senate rules to prevent Republicans from holding up President Biden’s nominees.

Russ Feingold, the former Democratic senator who now leads the American Constitution Society, and other progressive judicial advocates are pressing Democrats to eliminate “blue slips” — a tradition that allows senators to block judicial nominees from their home states.

Refusing to return a nominee’s blue slip is one of the only ways for the minority party to derail a president’s judicial picks after Democrats unilaterally scrapped the filibuster for most judicial nominees a decade ago.

Republicans haven’t used blue slips to block many Biden judicial picks yet — but at least one Democratic senator on the Judiciary Committee is ready to scrap blue slips in the coming weeks if they do.

“I have no love or allegiance to blue slips,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said. “I think they are an artifact of Senate tradition which should go if they’re used as an obstacle to block qualified nominees.”

How much Republican obstruction would Blumenthal need to see to back eliminating blue slips?

“As Justice Stewart once said about obscenity, I don’t know that I can define it, but I’ll know it when I see it — and I think we will see it, unfortunately,” he said.

Several other Democrats on the committee have taken a more cautious line.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) told The Early that he thought blue slips were “a good thing” because they prevented then-President Donald Trump from nominating judges in his state without consulting him. Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said they have hope Republicans won’t abuse blue slips. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said he would defer to the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and that he’d back getting rid of blue slips only as a last resort.

“We would have to have tried and tried and failed to make any progress,” Coons said.

Durbin has been pressing Republicans not to abuse blue slips in an indication of tensions around the issue.

Democratic senators returned 130 blue slips for district court judges during the Trump administration, Durbin pointed out in a letter to senators on Jan. 3 and again on Thursday during a committee meeting. Republican senators have returned only 12 since Biden took office.

“As we look ahead, it is imperative that all Senators take this cue and move swiftly, working in good faith to identify and advance highly qualified nominees for the bench,” Durbin wrote in the letter, which hasn’t been previously reported — a polite but firm warning that he might be forced to change his support for blue slips if Republicans obstruct Biden’s nominees en masse.

Durbin has an ally of sorts in Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the committee, who implored Republicans during the committee meeting on Thursday to “allow nominations to go forward in a reasonable fashion.”

“I’m not asking anybody to capitulate,” Graham said. “I am asking people to cooperate.”

Durham-Barr-Russia Scandal At Justice Dept.

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

ny times logoNew York Times, How an Oligarch May Have Recruited the F.B.I. Agent Who Investigated Him, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The F.B.I. tried to court Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate, as an informant. Instead, one of its own top agents may have ended up working for him.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to recruit Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, as an informant around 2014, hoping he might shed light on organized crime and, later, possible interference in the presidential election.

A decade later, Mr. Deripaska may have turned the tables on the F.B.I.: Prosecutors say the oligarch recruited one of the bureau’s top spy catchers, just as he entered retirement, to carry out work that they say violated U.S. sanctions.

The charges unsealed this week against Charles McGonigal — who ran the counterintelligence unit at the bureau’s New York field office and investigated Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, according to the indictment — showed the extent of the oligarch’s reach into the highest levels of U.S. power.

 

timothy snyder

Timothy Snyder via Substack, Commentary on The Specter of 2016: McGonigal, Trump, and the Truth about America, Timothy Snyder (best-selling author of "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and professor at Yale University), Jan. 26, 2023.  We are on the edge of a spy scandal with major implications for how we understand the Trump administration, our national security, and ourselves.

On 23 January, we learned that a former FBI special agent, Charles McGonigal, was arrested on charges involving taking money to serve foreign interests. One accusation is that in 2017 he took $225,000 from a foreign actor while in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI's New York office. Another charge is that McGonigal took money from Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch, after McGonigal’s 2018 retirement from the FBI. Deripaska, a hugely wealthy metals tycoon close to the Kremlin, "Putin's favorite industrialist," was a figure in a Russian influence operation that McGonigal had investigated in 2016. Deripaska has been under American sanctions since 2018. Deripaska is also the former employer, and the creditor, of Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The reporting on this so far seems to miss the larger implications. One of them is that Trump’s historical position looks far cloudier. In 2016, Trump's campaign manager (Manafort) was a former employee of a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), and owed money to that same Russian oligarch. And the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was charged with investigating the Trump campaign's Russian connections then went to work (according to the indictment) for that very same Russian oligarch (Deripaska). This is obviously very bad for Trump personally. But it is also very bad for FBI New York, for the FBI generally, and for the United States of America.

Another is that we must revisit the Russian influence operation on Trump’s behalf in 2016, and the strangely weak American response. Moscow’s goal was to move minds and institutions such that Hillary Clinton would lose and Donald Trump would win. We might like to think that any FBI special agent would resist, oppose, or at least be immune to such an operation. Now we are reliably informed that a trusted FBI actor, one who was responsible for dealing with just this sort of operation, was corrupt. And again, the issue is not just the particular person. If someone as important as McGonigal could take money from foreigners while on the job at FBI New York, and then go to work for a sanctioned Russian oligarch he was once investigating, what is at stake, at a bare minimum, is the culture of the FBI's New York office. The larger issue is the health of our national discussions of politics and the integrity of our election process.

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Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

 

More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

ny times logoNew York Times, Visual Investigation: 71 Commands in 13 Minutes: Officers Gave Tyre Nichols Impossible Orders, Robin Stein, Alexander Cardia and Natalie Reneau, Jan. 29, 2023. A Times analysis found that officers gave dozens of contradictory and unachievable orders to Mr. Nichols. The punishment was severe — and eventually fatal.

memphis police logoPolice officers unleashed a barrage of commands that were confusing, conflicting and sometimes even impossible to obey, a Times analysis of footage from Tyre Nichols’s fatal traffic stop found. When Mr. Nichols could not comply — and even when he managed to — the officers responded with escalating force.

The review of the available footage found that officers shouted at least 71 commands during the approximately 13-minute period before they reported over the radio that Mr. Nichols was officially in custody. The orders were issued at two locations, one near Mr. Nichols’s vehicle and the other in the area he had fled to and where he would be severely beaten. The orders were often simultaneous and contradictory. Officers commanded Mr. Nichols to show his hands even as they were holding his hands. They told him to get on the ground even when he was on the ground. And they ordered him to reposition himself even when they had control of his body.

Experts say the actions of the Memphis police officers were an egregious example of a longstanding problem in policing in which officers physically punish civilians for perceived disrespect or disobedience — sometimes called “contempt of cop.” The practice was notoriously prevalent decades ago.

“It was far more rampant in the ’80s, when I started doing police work, than it was in the ’90s or 2000s,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of South Carolina. “Even before body cams, cops were getting more professional and wouldn’t make it personal, like it seemed to be in this case. This is just — it’s so far out of the norm.”

To mitigate the potential for escalation and confusion during police encounters, today’s police training typically calls for a single officer at the scene to issue clear and specific commands. It also requires police officers to respond professionally and proportionately to any perceived act of defiance.

But The Times’s review shows that the officers did the exact opposite, over and over.

The available footage does not show any sign that the officers present intervened to stop the aggressive use of force. If anything, it shows the contrary.

At one point, footage captured an officer saying “I hope they stomp his ass” after Mr. Nichols’s attempt to flee the scene.

ny times logoNew York Times, 6th Memphis Police Officer Suspended in Tyre Nichols Death Investigation, Jessica Jaglois, Jan. 30, 2023. It was not immediately clear what role he had played in the incident that led to murder charges against five fellow officers who were fired by the department.

The Memphis Police Department confirmed on Monday that a sixth officer had been taken off duty in connection with the death of Tyre Nichols.

Five officers were fired by the department earlier this month, soon after being placed on leave, and charged last week with second-degree murder in connection with Mr. Nichols’s death. The sixth officer, Preston Hemphill, has been placed on administrative leave; it is not clear exactly what role he played in the encounter.

A spokesman for the department confirmed on Monday that Mr. Hemphill was placed on leave on the same day that the other officers were suspended.

Police officers kicked Mr. Nichols in the head, pepper-sprayed him and hit him repeatedly with a baton after pulling him over, purportedly for reckless driving, on the night of Jan. 7, even as he showed no signs of fighting back on the videos of the incident released on Friday. Mr. Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, died in a hospital three days after the encounter.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tyre Nichols Beating Opens a Complex Conversation on Race and Policing, Clyde McGrady, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The officers charged in the young Black man’s murder are also Black, complicating the anguish and efforts at police reform.

The killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man in Memphis, at the hands of police has prompted outrage and condemnation from racial justice activists, police reform advocates and law enforcement officials, including the chief of the Memphis Police Department, a Black woman who lobbied for policing changes in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The fact that the five officers charged with Mr. Nichols’s murder are Black complicates the anguish. It has also brought into focus what many Black people have said is frequently lost in police brutality cases involving white officers and Black victims: that problems of race and policing are a function of an entrenched police culture of aggression and dehumanization of Black people more than of interpersonal racism. It is the system and the tactics that foster racism and violence, they say, rather than the specific racial identities of officers.

“It’s not racism driving this, it’s culturism,” Robert M. Sausedo, the head of a Los Angeles nonprofit formed after the Rodney King beating in 1991, said after watching the video of Mr. Nichols’s beating Friday night.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: On violent policing, we say ‘never again’ but we get ‘once again,’ Editorial Board, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). No decent citizen could fail to be appalled by the video, released Friday, showing Memphis police officers beating a 29-year-old Black man, Tyre Nichols, so badly on Jan. 7 that he died three days later.

No feeling citizen could fail to be moved by the anguish of his mother, RowVaughn Wells, as she eloquently described her grief at losing a young man, himself the father of a 4-year-old, who cried out for “mom” as he absorbed the assault. And no concerned citizen can fail to be impressed by, and appreciative of, the way in which those who justifiably protested Mr. Nichols’s death heeded — with sporadic exceptions — Ms. Wells’s call for nonviolence.

Yet no thinking citizen can fail to be frustrated that something like this could have happened less than three years after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, triggering a national movement for police reform and social justice — or, for that matter, nearly 32 years after Los Angeles police officers delivered an eerily similar, though nonfatal, beating to Rodney King. How many more times will Americans, and their leaders in government and law enforcement, vow “never again” about such an incident, only to find ourselves ruefully saying, “Once again.”

 

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit...Memphis Police Department

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III (Photos from the Memphis Police Department via New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Memphis Police Disband Unit Whose Officers Were Charged in Nichols’s Death, Rick Rojas, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Memphis Police Department said on Saturday that it had disbanded a specialized group known as the Scorpion unit after five of its officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was shown on video being kicked, struck and pepper-sprayed by those officers.

Mr. Nichols’s family and activists in the city had demanded that the Police Department dismantle the unit, which deployed officers to patrol higher-crime areas of the city and had drawn scorn in the communities it served even before Mr. Nichols’s death this month.

“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” the Police Department said in a statement on Saturday

Police officials said the decision had been reached after “listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments.” Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, met with other members of the unit on Saturday.

Tyre Nichols’s family and activists had demanded the scuttling of the group, the Scorpion unit, which patrolled high-crime areas of the city.

 washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Shortness of breath’: How police first described what happened to Tyre Nichols, Justine McDaniel and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The brutal footage released Friday echoed the disparity between what police often initially report and what actually happens.

The first time Memphis police described what happened between their officers and Tyre Nichols — the 29-year-old who died of his injuries after being beaten by police — they wrote that “a confrontation occurred” following a traffic stop. Nichols fled on foot, and then “another confrontation occurred.”

“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath,” reads the statement posted on the Memphis Police Department’s Twitter account the morning after Nichols was beaten on Jan. 7. “The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

Brutal video footage released Friday, an hour’s worth of clips from body-worn and mounted cameras showing police pepper-spraying, punching and kicking Nichols, underscores the disparity between what police first reported and what actually happened.

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Memphis Officers Charged With Murder in Killing of a Black Man, Rick Rojas, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The officers, who are all also Black, face second-degree murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials are bracing for the release of video from the stop, which the Memphis police chief called “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

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tyre nichols collage

 

Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

Politico, Secret hold restricts DOJ's bid to access phone of Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, Jan. 30, 2023. 
The decision by a panel of federal appellate judges temporarily blocks a lower-court ruling, escalating the battle over communications related to DOJ's probe of 2020 election challenges.

A federal appeals court panel has put a secret hold on the Justice Department’s effort to access the phone of Rep. Scott Perry as part of a broader probe of efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to subvert the 2020 election.

In a sealed order issued earlier this month, the three-judge panel temporarily blocked a lower-court ruling that granted prosecutors access to Perry’s communications. The Dec. 28 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell was the product of a secret, monthslong legal battle by prosecutors who have been fighting the Pennsylvania Republican’s attorneys on the matter since August.

The existence of the legal fight — a setback for DOJ reported here for the first time — is itself intended to be shielded from public scrutiny, part of the strict secrecy that governs ongoing grand jury matters. The long-running clash was described to POLITICO by two people familiar with the proceedings, who spoke candidly on the condition of anonymity.

The fight has intensified in recent weeks and drawn the House, newly led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy, into the fray. On Friday, the chamber moved to intervene in the back-and-forth over letting DOJ access the phone of Perry, the House Freedom Caucus chair, reflecting the case’s potential to result in precedent-setting rulings about the extent to which lawmakers can be shielded from scrutiny in criminal investigations.

The House’s decision to intervene in legal cases is governed by the “Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group,” a five-member panel that includes McCarthy, his Democratic counterpart Hakeem Jeffries, and other members of House leadership. The panel voted unanimously to support the House’s intervention in the matter, seeking to protect the chamber’s prerogatives, according to one of the two people familiar with the proceedings.

After this story was first published Monday, McCarthy spokesperson Mark Bednar acknowledged the House has stepped into the legal fight about Perry’s communications. “The Speaker has long said that the House should protect the prerogatives of Article I. This action indicates new leadership is making it a priority to protect House equities,” Bednar said.

FBI agents seized Perry’s phone with a court-approved warrant in August but still lack a necessary second level of judicial permission to begin combing through the records. Perry has claimed his communications are barred from outside review because of constitutional protections afforded to members of Congress that were designed to let lawmakers better fulfill their official responsibilities.

Perry first challenged DOJ’s authority to access his communications in a public lawsuit in August, filed shortly after his phone was seized. He maintained that the Constitution’s Speech or Debate clause prohibited the government from accessing messages he might have sent in connection with his work as a member of Congress. Perry would soon drop the lawsuit, and the status of prosecutors’ efforts to access his records remained unclear.

 

paul pelosi david depape

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

washington post logoWashington Post, Footage of Paul Pelosi attack shows moment House speaker’s husband assaulted, Danielle Paquette, Justine McDaniel and Reis Thebault, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A judge agreed to release body camera footage shown in court of the October assault on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband.

Police body-camera video showing the October attack on the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, were made public Friday, revealing footage of the moment he was bludgeoned by a hammer-wielding intruder looking for his wife.

djt maga hatJudge Stephen M. Murphy of San Francisco Superior Court ordered the release of the evidence, including portions of a police interview with the suspect, David DePape, after The Washington Post and other news organizations pressed for copies.

The tapes illuminate a harrowing sequence: Pelosi alerting a 911 dispatcher of an armed man who was feet away, listening to the call and interjecting comments; DePape beating Pelosi in plain view of the officers; and DePape, after his arrest, describing his plans to kidnap and snap the bones of the then-House Speaker.

A clip of the assault at the Pelosi home in San Francisco before dawn on Oct. 28 was shown in court last month but, until now, had been otherwise shielded from view.

Wild rumors, amplified by conservative activists and bloggers, had surged after the 2 a.m. attack 11 days before the 2022 midterm elections, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued that unsealing video and audio could fuel more misinformation while risking DePape’s right to a fair trial. Someone, for instance, could edit the clips to manipulate audiences on social media.

But Judge Murphy ruled that footage playing in a public courtroom should be handed to the media.

“These are open facts. They are known facts,” said Thomas Burke, a lawyer representing the coalition of news organizations that pushed for access to the evidence, including The Post. “The public’s right of access should not be dependent on conspiracy theories.”

The internet gossip had spread rapidly to Capitol Hill, where Republican officials groundlessly cast doubt on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi’s account of the violence and referenced baseless homophobic conspiracy theories.

Prosecutors, however, have said that what happened was clear — and that DePape himself outlines his actions in tapes like those just publicly released.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said at the December hearing.

In the now-public interview with police, DePape told an investigator: “I’m not trying to get away with this. I know exactly what I did.”

Nancy Pelosi declined to comment on the evidence’s release on Friday, and one day earlier she told reporters on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know whether she will watch the video.

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caroline edwards abc news screenshot getty images

 

Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

 

truth social logo

ny times logoNew York Times, On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise, Stuart A. Thompson (Stuart Thompson used a program to collect and analyze hundreds of ads that ran on Truth Social over the past several months), Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Truth Social, the social network started by former President Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.

djt new hampshire 2023Between posts about conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances was an unusual advertisement: a photo of former President Donald J. Trump holding a $1,000 bill made of gold, which he was apparently offering free to supporters.

But there were a few catches: The bill was not free, it was not made of gold, and it was not offered by Mr. Trump.

The ad appeared on Truth Social, the right-wing social network started by Mr. Trump in late 2021, one of many pitches from hucksters and fringe marketers dominating the ads on the site.

Ads from major brands are nonexistent on the site. Instead, the ads on Truth Social are for alternative medicine, diet pills, gun accessories and Trump-themed trinkets, according to an analysis of hundreds of ads on the social network by The New York Times.

The ads reflect the difficulty that several far-right platforms, including Rumble and Gab, have faced in courting large brands, preventing the sites from tapping into some of the world’s largest ad budgets. It could be particularly problematic for Truth Social. Although the site has gained influence among the far right, becoming a vibrant ecosystem brimming with activity, its business is in need of cash.

Truth Social raised about $37 million, mainly from Republican political donors, but it is burning through about $1.7 million each month, according to William Wilkinson, a former executive at Trump Media & Technology Group, the social network’s parent company. And two federal investigations have put about $1.3 billion of much-needed funding in jeopardy.

Devin Nunes, the chief executive of Trump Media, said in an announcement last year that the company’s ad strategy would help it “displace the Big Tech platforms” as a major way to reach Americans.

But ad experts say the wariness from prominent brands on far-right social networks, which have positioned themselves as free-speech alternatives to Silicon Valley giants like Meta and Google, is driven by the kinds of conspiracy theories and hyperpartisan politics often found on the sites.

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More On U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Trump’s lasting legacy on the judiciary is not just at the Supreme Court, Ann E. Marimow, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Months before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the federal appeals court based in this Southern city cleared the way to ban most abortions in Texas. The same court appeared to jump the line to block the White House’s signature coronavirus vaccination mandate and split from other courts to back restrictions on social media companies and constrain President Biden’s immigration powers.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans has long leaned conservative. But the arrival of a half-dozen judges picked by President Donald Trump — many of them young, ambitious and outspoken — has put the court at the forefront of resistance to the Biden administration’s assertions of legal authority and to the regulatory power of federal agencies. Their rulings have at times broken with precedent and exposed rifts among the judges, illustrating Trump’s lasting legacy on the powerful set of federal courts that operate one step below the Supreme Court. Even some veteran conservatives on the court have criticized the newcomers for going too far.

Four of the six new judges have worked for Republican politicians in Texas, and some are seen as possible contenders for a future opening on the Supreme Court if a Republican is elected president. With their provocative, colloquial writing styles, the judges are elevating their profiles in far-reaching opinions and public appearances, calling out “cancel culture,” wokeness and sometimes even one another.

The 5th Circuit reviews appeals from Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, working from a converted, historic post office building in downtown New Orleans. Besides the expansive geographic area the court covers, it has outsize influence in part because its judges preside over a steady flow of politically potent challenges to the Democratic president filed by aggressive, conservative state attorneys general.

Liberal organizations often challenged Trump’s policies in Northern California courts, where most judges were picked by Democrats. But conservatives who strategically file lawsuits against the Biden administration in Texas have an even clearer advantage: They can almost guarantee initial review by a conservative judge and then appellate review by the 5th Circuit, where the Trump picks are routinely the dominant voice.

Alexa Gervasi, a former 5th Circuit law clerk who directs the Georgetown Center for the Constitution at Georgetown Law, said it is no surprise that the court is issuing noteworthy rulings in so many significant cases. “The reason it seems like there’s so much fire coming from the 5th Circuit is that they are getting really divisive cases,” said Gervasi, who also has practiced before the court. “If you send controversial cases to the 5th Circuit, you’re going to get controversial opinions.”

ny times logoNew York Times, For Giffords, Progress on Gun Safety Is Like Her Recovery: ‘Inch by Inch,’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg Jan. 30, 2023. A 2011 mass shooting left Gabrielle Giffords, then a congresswoman, partly paralyzed and unable to speak fluently. She has since built a powerful advocacy group.

gabrielle giffords oTwelve years after a bullet ripped through the left side of her brain, Gabrielle Giffords, right, speaks mainly in stock phrases and short bursts, conveying meaning with her eyes or a boxer’s swing of her left arm, the one that is still fully mobile. “Enough is enough!” she might say. Or: “Be passionate! Be courageous!”

But in an interview at the headquarters of the gun safety group that bears her name, amid a string of mass shootings in California, there was something more that Ms. Giffords wanted to say. Asked what Americans should know about her, she closed her eyes and rocked slowly back and forth, as if to summon words from deep within. She shushed a colleague who tried to speak for her. And then she delivered a speech unlike any she had given as a congresswoman from Arizona, before the 2011 mass shooting that nearly killed her.

“I’m getting better,” she said haltingly, laboring over each word. “Slowly, I’m getting better. Long, hard haul, but I’m getting better. Our lives can change so quickly. Mine did when I was shot. I’ve never given up hope. I chose to make a new start, to move ahead, to not look back. I’m relearning so many things — how to walk, how to talk — and I’m fighting to make the country safer. It can be so difficult. Losses hurt; setbacks are hard. But I tell myself: Move ahead.”

Ms. Giffords, 52, who goes by Gabby, is arguably America’s most famous gun violence survivor. She had come to the group’s headquarters in Washington for an update and a strategy session. The timing of her visit underscored two competing truths: The gun safety movement she helps lead is stronger than ever. But the nation’s gun violence epidemic is worsening.

ny times logoNew York Times, Burn Bags and Tracking Numbers: How the White House Handles Documents, Michael D. Shear, Jan. 30, 2023. Current and former officials describe an elaborate system for classified documents but a more casual one for everyday records.

Just hours after the F.B.I. revealed last summer why it raided the Florida home of former President Donald J. Trump, looking for classified documents, a reporter asked President Biden whether it was ever appropriate to take home top secret material.

Nearly drowned out by the roar of Marine One behind him, Mr. Biden made his own admission of sorts.

“I’m taking home with me today, today’s P.D.B.,” he said, referring to the highly classified President’s Daily Brief, the intelligence summary prepared each morning for the occupant of the Oval Office by the nation’s top spies and analysts.

Before stepping onto the helicopter, Mr. Biden explained that his home in Delaware had “a cabined-off space that is completely secure.” And he noted that the P.D.B. was “locked. I have a person with me — military with me. I read it, I lock it back up, and give it to the military.”

The president’s answer — that taking documents home could be fine, “depending on the circumstance” — was an indication of how often Mr. Biden handles classified material and sensitive documents at his Delaware home, in part because he spends nearly every weekend there.

But it also hinted at the little-known process by which such documents are supposed to be created, distributed, secured and ultimately accounted for inside the White House, where almost everyone has some kind of national security clearance.

Current and former officials who have been part of that process, under Democratic and Republican presidents alike, described an elaborate National Security Council tracking system for highly sensitive documents like the P.D.B. but a more casual dissemination of the churn of classified documents that are used every day by officials from the president to junior national security aides.

ny times logoNew York Times, Prosecutors in Chicago Will Drop Abuse Charges Against R. Kelly, Julia Jacobs Jan. 30, 2023. The musician is already facing decades in prison after being convicted of federal charges, prompting the Cook County state’s attorney to halt her case.

Noting that the R&B singer R. Kelly is facing decades in prison after two federal convictions, the top prosecutor in Chicago said on Monday that her office planned to drop its sexual abuse charges against him.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office had been waiting for its turn to bring Mr. Kelly, 56, to trial, which it could not do before the federal court cases in New York and Chicago were brought to a jury.

In 2021, Mr. Kelly was convicted on racketeering and sex trafficking charges, for which he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Last year, he was convicted on sex crimes charges, including coercing minors into sexual activity and producing sex tapes involving a minor. He is scheduled to be sentenced for that conviction next month, which could add decades to the total.

“Mr. Kelly is potentially looking at never walking out of prison again for the crimes he’s committed,” Kim Foxx, the Cook County state’s attorney, said at a news conference in which she announced plans to drop the charges. “We believe that justice has been served.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Justice Dept. Drops Investigation of Retired U.S. General, Adam Entous and Mark Mazzetti, Jan. 30, 2023. John R. Allen, a retired four-star Marine general who was the president of the Brookings Institution, had been accused of secretly lobbying for the government of Qatar.

john allen cnasThe Justice Department has informed John R. Allen, right, a retired four-star Marine general, that federal prosecutors have closed an investigation into whether he secretly lobbied for the government of Qatar and that no criminal charges will be brought against him in the case, according to a statement by General Allen’s lawyer.

The investigation of General Allen became public in June, when an F.B.I. agent’s application to search his electronic communications was unsealed, possibly by accident. Days after the revelations, General Allen resigned as president of the Brookings Institution, a left-leaning think tank in Washington.

The F.B.I. agent’s application provided a detailed account of a period in June 2017, when General Allen met frequently with Richard G. Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and Imaad Zuberi, a businessman with ties in the Middle East. General Allen traveled to Doha, Qatar, during that period.

Federal prosecutors have signaled a particular interest in potential violations involving Persian Gulf nations, which have developed close ties to business and political figures in the United States.

We have been informed by the Department of Justice National Security Division and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California that the investigation of General John R. Allen (Ret.) has been closed and that no criminal charges will be brought against General Allen under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or any other law, based on, or as a result of, General Allen’s trip to Qatar in June 2017 or the government’s investigation of those events,” said David Schertler, General Allen’s lawyer.

A law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed the decision, which has not been previously reported. The Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Central District of California declined to comment.

According to the F.B.I. agent’s application, General Allen was recruited by Mr. Olson and Mr. Zuberi to help defuse a diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its Persian Gulf neighbors — and the former general saw the moneymaking potential for his involvement.

Beau Phillips, a spokesman for General Allen, said General Allen asked senior officials in President Donald J. Trump’s National Security Council if the U.S. government wanted him to meet with the Qataris. Mr. Phillips said Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who was Mr. Trump’s national security adviser at the time, approved General Allen’s trip and offered the assistance of his staff in preparation. General McMaster confirmed that he had approved General Allen’s trip.

Mr. Phillips said General Allen then traveled to Qatar in June 2017 to meet with Qatari officials, including the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, to discuss resolving the diplomatic crisis. After General Allen returned to Washington, he briefed National Security Council officials on his trip.

ny times logoNew York Times, Migrants Protest Move From Midtown Hotel to Barracks-Style Shelter, Karen Zraick, Jan. 30, 2023. The Adams administration started moving single men into a cruise terminal in Brooklyn as New York City struggled to cope with the influx of newcomers.

New York City began moving single migrant men out of a Midtown hotel and into a new barracks-style shelter in Brooklyn over the weekend. But some refused to go — the latest flash point as the city struggles to accommodate tens of thousands of homeless newcomers.

Men who were being moved to the Cruise Terminal in Red Hook crowded the entrance to the Watson Hotel on West 57th Street on Sunday night, demanding to be let back in, and some slept on the sidewalk outside, aided by supporters who brought them pizza and blankets. Tents and luggage crowded the sidewalk. Some continued to protest there on Monday as the move-outs continued.

City Hall said that all the single adults would be transferred out of the 600-room Watson in the coming days to make room for migrant families who continue to arrive on buses from the southern border. More than 43,200 migrants have come through the city’s intake system since last year, including more than 1,600 in the last week. About two-thirds of them remain in the city’s care.

Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly warned that the city is “at its breaking point” as it struggles to provide for the newcomers, many of whom lack connections here. The costs are expected to reach over $1 billion this year and could increase as more people arrive, city officials have said.

On Sunday, the city’s main homeless shelter population surpassed 70,000 — a figure that does not include thousands of the migrants who are in emergency shelters. The main shelter population has increased by 40 percent since August.

“There’s a crisis right now, and that crisis should be coordinated by the national government,” Mr. Adams said on CNN on Monday morning, reiterating his calls for federal officials to take the burden off cities where migrants are arriving.

Some of the men who were protesting the move to the cruise terminal said they had heard from people who went to the Red Hook facility that it was cold and lacked privacy or a safe place to store belongings. A spokesman for City Hall said that the facility was temperature-controlled and included assigned storage spaces, and suggested that the disruption at the Watson was incited by activists.

New York City has always welcomed and depended on immigrants. But a new wave of people crossing the U.S. border is testing the city’s reputation as a world sanctuary.

Homelessness on the Rise: The arrival of new migrants, mostly from Latin America, has pushed the population of the city’s homeless shelter system to record levels.

Emmanuel Abreu, 29, of Venezuela, had first been housed in tents the city set up on Randalls Island in the fall, which operated for only a few weeks as a large-scale shelter for men before being shut down. He was told he had to leave the Watson on Tuesday.

“The place where they are taking us is nowhere for someone to live,” he said. “How can you rest with someone next to you, someone you don’t know. The beds are like army beds, so imagine getting home from work to sleep there.”

He said he would be boarding a flight to Canada on Monday night rather than moving to Brooklyn.

Some men refused to leave the hotel area or came back after they visited the new shelter in Red Hook. Some set up tents and slept on the sidewalk instead.Credit...Jeenah Moon for The New York Times
Men huddle under tents set up on a sidewalk with their suitcases.

In a letter to President Biden last week, officials including the New York City comptroller, Brad Lander; the public advocate, Jumaane D. Williams; three borough presidents and more than two dozen members of the City Council said the city urgently needs more federal support for its efforts.

The letter said that the average cost of sheltering a single homeless person is about $200 a day, but opening emergency shelters was far more expensive and was costing the city “well over $300 a day” for each migrant.

The city is housing migrants in more than 70 hotels. Five of the city shelters are “humanitarian emergency response and relief centers,” including the Watson and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. Those sites were intended as temporary landing places for new arrivals and are run by the city’s Office of Emergency Management and public hospital system, rather than the Department of Homeless Services, in partnership with other agencies and providers.

washington post logoWashington Post, $100 repair bill put Half Moon Bay gunman over the edge, prosecutor says, Lisa Bonos and Joyce Lau, Jan. 30, 2023.  More details have emerged about the workplace dispute that led Zhao Chunli, 66, to allegedly kill seven people and attempt to kill another at two mushroom farms in Northern California a week ago.

Zhao told investigators that his Half Moon Bay shooting was sparked after his boss asked him to pay a $100 repair bill for damage that had been done to heavy construction equipment, according to local news reports confirmed by San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

After confronting his supervisor and a co-worker, whom Zhao thought were responsible for the collision between his forklift and a bulldozer, he allegedly shot them, according to reports confirmed by Wagstaffe.

Zhao admitted in a local media interview that he had committed the attacks and regretted them. He used a legally purchased Ruger semiautomatic handgun during the shootings, according to authorities.

The Half Moon Bay shooting has brought attention to the poor working conditions of farmworkers in the area.

The Post reported that workers were living in trailers or converted shipping containers, with a lack of access to indoor kitchens or toilets. Over the past two years, there had been a series of problems, including a prior shooting, a fire and a coronavirus outbreak.

Half Moon Bay shooting unmasks poor living conditions for farmworkers

Zhao had felt bullied for years at the California Terra Garden farm, he said in Mandarin in a jailhouse interview last week with reporter Janelle Wang of KNTV. He worked long hours, Wang said, and when he voiced complaints to his supervisor, he often felt ignored. Prosecutors said Zhao had previously worked at Concord Farms, the second location he targeted.

Wang said that Zhao believes he suffers from mental illness and needs to see a doctor.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jury Awards $1 Million to Woman Who Was Told, ‘I Don’t Serve Black People,’ McKenna Oxenden, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Rose Wakefield was ignored by an attendant at a gas station in Beaverton, Ore., near Portland, as white customers who pulled in after her were served first, according to the lawsuit.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Why Biden is visiting a 150-year-old tunnel Monday in Baltimore, Luz Lazo, Jan. 30, 2023. The Baltimore & Potomac Tunnel is turning 150 this year and is still serving passengers. Trains crawl at 30 mph through its curves under West Baltimore, creating delays up and down the busy Washington-to-New York route.

President Biden is set to visit the decrepit structure Monday to announce how the $1 trillion infrastructure law will help to replace the Reconstruction-era tunnel — the oldest in the Northeast — and eliminate the railroad’s biggest chokepoint between Washington and New Jersey.

The tunnel is a major bottleneck for Amtrak, Maryland commuter trains and freight rail traffic that moves between Baltimore’s Penn Station and points south. A plan to replace it has been delayed for years, without viable funding.

Biden’s visit marks an important milestone for getting the project to construction and comes as the administration begins to distribute billions of federal dollars to upgrade aging infrastructure. The White House said funding from the infrastructure law could contribute up to $4.7 billion of the project’s total cost, estimated at $6 billion.

washington post logoWashington Post, As Trump hits the trail in two states, some vulnerabilities come into focus, Hannah Knowles and Camila DeChalus, Jan. 30, 2023. Trump campaigned in New Hampshire and then headed to South Carolina on Saturday, amid growing Republican interest in elevating other standard-bearers.

Minutes into a campaign speech here Saturday, Donald Trump raised his false claims the 2020 election was stolen from him — returning to an issue that many Republicans worry has cost their party crucial support.

Hours earlier in New Hampshire, Trump delivered meandering remarks at a meeting of the state GOP, where some party delegates said that although they liked how he governed, they would prefer a new face in 2024. Outside the high school auditorium, a booth promoted a rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with “draft DeSantis 2024″ fliers and T-shirts.

“It’s time for a younger person or someone new to have their time,” said Karen Umberger, one of the delegates, in an interview.

As he hit the trail for the first time since launching a third bid for the White House in November, signs of Trump’s newfound vulnerabilities came into focus. The trip effectively ushered in the start of the 2024 Republican presidential primary campaign season, with Trump fighting to keep his place at the top of a potentially crowded field.

Politico, Trump hits DeSantis: He's a Covid skeptic phony, Meridith McGraw, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The former president slams the Florida governor — and potential 2024 rival — as he hits the campaign trail in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

politico CustomSince announcing in November, Donald Trump had an unconventional start to his third presidential campaign: He did not campaign at all.

That’s now changing, and part of the reason the former president is holding his first formal campaign events of 2024 in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend is that others may be forcing his hand.

In recent days, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Trump and suggested she would be announcing her decision to enter the presidential race soon, a conversation that a person familiar with it described as cordial.

“She called me and said she’d like to consider it. And I said you should do it,” Trump told reporters, noting that Haley once said she would not get in the race if Trump runs again.

But Haley may be only a modest challenge for Trump going forward. He also is on a collision course with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to jump into the race.

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of “trying to rewrite history” over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, “promoted the vaccine as much as anyone.” He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

“When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal,” Trump said.

As for the polls showing DeSantis beating him in key nominating states, Trump was dismissive.

“He won’t be leading, I got him elected,” he said. “I’m the one that chose him.”

For months Trump has been tucked away at his resort in Palm Beach, where he has hosted parties, sent out missives on his social media site Truth Social, played golf, and plotted out his next steps.

When he re-emerged on Saturday, flying to New Hampshire on his rehabbed Trump-branded 757 plane, he was determined to showcase himself as a candidate who still has the star power that catapulted him to the White House in 2016, and could once again elbow out a full field of Republican challengers.

“They said ‘he’s not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he’s lost his step,’” Trump said at a meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”

Unlike 2020, when he ran unopposed as president, Trump is expected to have a field of Republican challengers to deal with this time around, beyond Haley. In anticipation of a crowded field, Trump’s campaign has compiled research on different potential candidates, according to an adviser. But Trump himself brushed off concerns that he is in danger of not securing the nomination. “I don’t think we have competition this time either, to be honest,” he said.

At the New Hampshire GOP meeting, Trump announced outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek would help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

And later in the day, at an appearance at the South Carolina statehouse, Trump announced endorsements from close ally and occasional golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — a notable display of political muscle in Haley’s home state.

“The good news for the Republican Party is there are many, many talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump,” Graham said. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new. There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

But Republican activists in New Hampshire are plainly divided. As Stepanek rejoins the Trump campaign, outgoing Vice Chair Pamela Tucker was recruiting volunteers for Ron to the Rescue, a super PAC formed after the midterms to boost DeSantis if he runs for president.

“We’re not never-Trumpers. We’re people who supported Trump. We love Trump. But we also know, more importantly, that we need to win. And Ron DeSantis has proven it time and time again now he can win elections,” Tucker said in an interview.

Matt Mayberry, a former congressional candidate and past New Hampshire GOP vice chair who supported Trump and has appeared at rallies with him in the state, said he isn’t taking sides yet in the still-forming primary.

  • Politico, Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.).

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump Courses Will Host Three Tournaments for Saudi-Backed LIV Golf, Alan Blinder, Jan. 30, 2023. As the league announced more details of a 14-stop second season, former President Donald J. Trump’s courses remained central to the schedule, deepening his ties to Riyadh.

Former President Donald J. Trump’s golf courses will host three tournaments this year for the breakaway league that Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is underwriting, deepening the financial ties between a candidate for the White House and top officials in Riyadh.

LIV Golf, which in the past year has cast men’s professional golf into turmoil as it lured players away from the PGA Tour, said on Monday that it would travel to Trump courses in Florida, New Jersey and Virginia during this year’s 14-stop season. Neither the league nor the Trump Organization announced the terms of their arrangement, but the schedule shows the Saudi-backed start-up will remain allied with, and beneficial to, one of its foremost defenders and political patrons as he seeks a return to power.

Part of LIV’s scheduling approach, executives say, hinges on the relative scarcity of elite courses that can challenge players such as Phil Mickelson and Cameron Smith — and the abundance of them in a Trump portfolio that is more accessible than many others to the new circuit. In a court filing last week, LIV Golf complained anew that the PGA Tour had warned “golfers, other tours, vendors, broadcasters, sponsors and virtually any other third parties” against doing business with the rebel league.

But Trump, whose courses hosted two LIV Golf events in 2022, has expressed no public misgivings about his company’s ties to the league, which has drawn attention to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and prompted accusations that the country was turning to sports to repair its reputation. A confidential McKinsey & Company analysis presented to Saudi officials in 2021 suggested there were significant obstacles to success and underscored the limited financial potential for one of the world’s largest wealth funds.

washington post logoWashington Post, Non-White groups have struggled with census. Biden’s plan could help, Silvia Foster-Frau, Jan. 30, 2023. The Biden proposal would give Latinos and people of Middle Eastern and North African descendent more options for identifying themselves, potentially lowering the White population count.

On every census survey — or medical form or job application — Tala Faraj says she has no choice but to identify as something she’s not: White.

Faraj, 23, is Iraqi American, but Middle Eastern is usually not an option when she’s asked for her race and ethnicity.

“It is this feeling like I don’t really belong. Like there’s no space for me here and I just have to conform to whatever this country is telling me that I am,” said Faraj, who lives in Chicago. “It makes me feel sad.”

For years, the Census Bureau has counted people of Middle Eastern and North African descent (also known as MENA) as White, obscuring their numbers and rendering them largely invisible, advocates say.

Last week, the Biden administration submitted a preliminary proposal to better account for the country’s MENA and Latino populations in the census. The Middle Eastern and North African population would be recognized as a distinct ethnic identity for the first time. And Latinos would be able to identify as such without having to also identify as a separate race, such as Black or White.

The proposal could change how race and ethnicity are measured across the country, from statewide and local records on police violence to health disparity data. This type of demographic data also informs decisions on redistricting and the distribution of government assistance.

washington post logoWashington Post, House panel zeroes in on Chinese-owned app TikTok over security fear, David J. Lynch, Jan. 30, 2023. House Republicans and Democrats plan much more scrutiny of the U.S.'s economic entanglement with China, and fears over TikTok are growing.

The new House select committee charged with alerting Americans to the perils of a rising China is zeroing in on TikTok, the Chinese-owned social media application that has built a massive American following despite suspicions that it could be used as a tool of foreign espionage or influence.

China FlagThe implications of this new scrutiny — part of a broadening congressional review of U.S. engagement with China — are unclear. Washington remains torn over whether it should ban the wildly popular app, order it sold or allow TikTok to keep scrolling across 100 million American smartphones. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — who launched the committee as one of his first moves — this week named its 13 Republican members. Democrats have yet to tap theirs.

Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), the panel’s chairman, wants to ban the app or force its sale to an American buyer, citing data security issues and TikTok’s potential use by Beijing as a weapon of propaganda. In an interview, he said the overlapping technology, privacy and foreign policy questions raised by the app’s meteoric U.S. growth illustrate why the wide-ranging committee is needed. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has agreed to make his first appearance on Capitol Hill in a March hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

How TikTok ate the internet

Gallagher’s objections to TikTok, which features user-created short videos, are shared by prominent Democrats. The Biden administration for months has been reviewing a TikTok proposal to restructure its operations to eliminate the risk of Chinese government control or influence. Some analysts believe that congressional action — or the approach of the 2024 election — could force the administration’s hand.

Politico, Meadows ally faces charge, possible plea over illegal campaign finance contribution, Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein, Jan. 30, 2023. A family friend of Mark Meadows has been charged with accepting an illegal campaign contribution during an ill-fated 2020 run to succeed the former Trump White House chief of staff in Congress, according to newly-released court papers.

politico CustomLynda Bennett, who lost in a 2020 Republican primary campaign to Madison Cawthorn, accepted a contribution from a family member totaling at least $25,000, according to charging paperwork filed by prosecutors. That contribution was given “in the name of another person,” according to the papers, signed by U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves and Corey Amundson, chief of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section.

It’s unclear if Bennett has agreed to plead guilty to the felony charge, but the form of the charge against her typically precedes a guilty plea. Details about the allegation were sparse.

Bennett did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. An attorney for Mark Meadows also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bennett’s campaign finance records don’t immediately make clear which contributions prosecutors believe to have been unlawful. Bennett’s reports indicate she loaned herself $80,000 at the end of 2019 and paid a portion of it back. Her report terminating her political committee did not list any outstanding balance.

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Israel’s Far-Right Government Raises Risk of Escalation, Patrick Kingsley, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.) Israel and the West Bank were gripped by violence this week. The new far-right government’s ministers and goals are fueling tensions.

israel flagThe new far-right government in Israel has been in power for only a month, but on its watch, Israelis and Palestinians have already experienced one of their region’s most violent phases, outside a full-scale war, in years.

Nine Palestinians were shot dead on Thursday morning, in the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank for at least a half-decade. Then, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people on Friday night outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, the deadliest attack on civilians in the city since 2008. And on Saturday, an attacker who the police said was 13 years old shot and injured two Israelis near a settlement in East Jerusalem.

These events were not unique to this government’s tenure. But analysts fear that the policies and leaders of the new Israeli administration — the most right-wing in Israeli history — are likely to further inflame the situation.

The new government is an alliance of settler activists, hard-line nationalists and ultraconservatives helmed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and its leaders variously seek to annex the West Bank, further ease the Israeli Army’s rules of engagement and entrench Israeli control over a sacred site in Jerusalem. All of that has already provoked a surge in Palestinian anger and made it harder for the remaining moderate forces in the Israeli government to defuse tensions.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli settlers attack Palestinians across West Bank as escalation looms, Shira Rubin and William Booth, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). A Palestinian man was killed near a settlement in the West Bank overnight Saturday, and Israeli settlers carried out dozens of attacks targeting Palestinians across the occupied territory, according to Palestinian media and officials, as violence showed no sign of abating on the eve of a trip to the region by America’s top diplomat.

The Israeli army said that the Palestinian man killed late Saturday was seen outside Kdumim, a settlement in the northern West Bank, “armed with a handgun … and was neutralized by the community’s civilian security team.” Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, identified the man as Karam Ali Salman, 18, a resident of Qusin village, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The report said he was fatally shot by an armed Israeli settler in circumstances that remained “unclear.”

Wafa said at least 144 Israeli settler attacks — some minor rock-throwing incidents, others much more violent — were reported on Saturday across the West Bank, the occupied territory that Palestinians envision as part of their future state. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities on Sunday began demolishing Palestinian homes in retaliation for Friday’s synagogue shooting and pledged an expansion of West Bank settlements, which could further inflame an already volatile situation.

In Masafer Yatta, in the south, settlers assaulted a Palestinian man; in two villages near Ramallah, masked attackers torched a house and a car and threw stones; in Nablus, settlers uprooted nearly 200 trees.

Outside the northern village of Akraba, dozens of settlers established a new, unauthorized outpost. They attacked the Palestinian landowners who arrived at the scene, then injured a medic who came to assist, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. The Israeli military did not intervene, the report added.

There has been an “unprecedented increase in the frequency of terror attacks against Palestinian citizens and their property,” said Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why Pope Francis stood up for LGBTQ lives, E.J. Dionne Jr., right, Jan. 30, 2023.  Pope Francis is full of ej dionne w open necksurprises. He stays away from formal changes in Catholic Church doctrine but is not shy about altering the Church’s priorities. He regularly moves the conversation from judgment to mercy, and from condemnation to encounter.

That’s what he was up to last week when he became the first pope in history to call for the repeal of all laws, everywhere, against homosexuality. “Being homosexual is not a crime,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

He specifically called on Catholic bishops who support statutes that punish or discriminate against the LGBTQ community to change their ways. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”

The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit writer who has championed a shift in the Church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, called the pope’s statement “a huge step forward” on “what is essentially a life-and-death issue,” since homosexuality is a capital offense in some nations.

The pope was widely cited as describing homosexual acts as sinful, in keeping with Church teaching, but Martin said that the Spanish transcript of his remarks suggested he was ascribing this view to others by way of responding to their arguments. “Yes, but it’s a sin,” the pope said, mimicking what those opposed to his view might assert. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” Francis added: “It is also a sin to lack charity with one another.”

Francis knows about the lack of charity. A great many conservative bishops, especially in the United States, have been highly critical of his pontificate and his insistence that addressing poverty, social justice and global inequalities should take priority over abortion and issues related to sexuality. Close students of the hierarchy see at least a third of American bishops as hostile to Francis’s anti-culture-war approach and a majority as being, well, less than enthusiastic.

But the pope’s latest salvo is likely to be popular in the pews. Despite the views of conservatives in the hierarchy, U.S. Catholics are somewhat more supportive of LGBTQ rights than Americans overall. A Gallup study of polls taken from 2016 to 2020, for example, found that on average 69 percent of Catholics, including 56 percent of weekly church attendees, favored legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

washington post logoWashington Post, Blast rips through police mosque in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 32, Haq Nawaz Khan, Jan. 30, 2023. An explosion ripped through a mosque in a police compound in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, bringing down the roof and killing at least 32 people, according to a hospital.

Muhammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, said there were at least 32 dead and 147 wounded, mostly policemen, and the toll is expected to rise as rescuers work through the mosque debris.

Police officials have not yet determined whether it was a suicide attack or the explosives were planted. “The rescue teams are busy in removing the debris. Once the debris is removed, then we would be in a position to say whether it was a suicide or not,” said Alam Khan, a spokesman for the Peshawar police.

Pakistan faces dilemma as Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan inspires religious militants

The explosion went off during afternoon prayers in the mosque while at least 150 people were inside.

“We were lined up for the afternoon prayer and as the prayer leader said ‘Allahu Akbar’ a huge blast took place. Nothing was clear and visible as part of the roof of the mosque collapsed,” police inspector Mushtaq Khan said by telephone from the hospital.

Security officials inspect the site of a mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on Monday. (Maaz Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

The attackers behind the incident “have nothing to do with Islam,” said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement strongly condemning the blast. “Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan.”

washington post logoWashington Post, High-level visit highlights U.S. balancing act on Israel, Palestinians, Missy Ryan, Jan. 30, 2023. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken lands in Israel this week, he will step into a hotbed of violence and political strife, signs of the chronic challenges that have kept the Middle East among America’s most urgent global concerns despite the Biden administration’s attempt to re-engineer its foreign policy.

The diplomat’s visit to Israel and the West Bank will mark the highest-profile U.S. engagement to date with the new government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose far-right coalition, critics say, has taken steps to weaken Israel’s democratic system and further inflame the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generating global condemnation.

Brian Katulis, vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute, a Washington think tank, said the Biden administration initially sought to avoid deep involvement with a part of the world that dominated U.S. foreign policy for the two decades following the 9/11 attacks at great financial and human cost to Americans.

“But if you don’t do the region, it does you,” Katulis said. “So they’re now trying to find a pathway to keep it on the rails while remaining hesitant to invest relative to challenges like Russia and China.”

Blinken’s two-day stay coincides with a major flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence, following an Israeli raid that killed 10 people in the West Bank and a shooting in which seven people were killed by a Palestinian in an East Jerusalem synagogue, setting off a cascade of bloodshed.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Why is a U.S. general predicting war with China by 2025? Christian Shepherd and Pei-Lin Wu, Jan. 30, 2023. Open conflict between China and the United States could be just two years away, according to an unusually blunt memo by a top U.S. general that is just the latest in a number of alarming predictions that the world’s two leading military powers are at risk of direct collision, most likely over the fate of Taiwan.

The warning came from a top Air Force commander, Gen. Michael A. Minihan, who cited Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s securing of a third term and the January 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan, the self-governing democracy of 23 million that Beijing claims as its territory, as reasons to accelerate troop preparation.

Readying for a war is a general’s job — and Minihan’s view is not that of the government, a U.S. defense official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue — but his gut-feeling assessment is a stark reminder of the stakes involved in attempts to prevent bilateral relations slipping from frosty hostilities to a hot conflict.

U.S. general warns troops that war with China is possible in two years

Why is the U.S. military so worried about China?

For some in the United States, urgency in countering China’s military threat is often tied to the ambition of Xi. After doing away with an earlier dictum that China should “bide its time and hide its strength,” he has stoked nationalism and adopted an assertive diplomatic stance.

Regarding Taiwan, the most sensitive issue in the bilateral relationship, Xi has said that the problem cannot be passed down from generation to generation, leading some analysts to argue that he considers unification his task to complete.

While “peaceful reunification” remains the Communist Party’s preferred solution to disagreements with Taipei, it will never abandon the right to use of force if necessary, Xi said at a recent meeting of top party officials. By keeping that option open, he added, China wants to deter “Taiwan independence forces” and “foreign interference” — meaning the United States.

Beijing’s view is that the United States is entirely to blame for diplomatic and military tensions. An official white paper about China’s Taiwan strategy, released after then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking U.S. politician to visit the island democracy since 1997, accused Washington of “using Taiwan to contain China.”

Under Xi’s urging, China’s military has made rapid headway toward its goal of becoming a world-class fighting force on par with United States by 2050. Its troops have no real combat experience — the last war China fought was a brief but bloody conflict with Vietnam in 1979 — but the official defense budget has grown from $114.3 billion in 2014 to $230 billion in 2022. The real figure is probably higher.

Even so, it remains a fraction of American spending, which was set at $816.7 billion for fiscal 2023.

Being able to take Taiwan by force is the primary objective of Chinese military modernization, and the People’s Liberation Army has ramped up shows of force in recent months. In response to the Pelosi visit in August, China rehearsed a blockade of Taiwan by firing missiles and sending battleships and warplanes into strategically important locations on all sides of the main island.

Chinese fighter jets regularly venture close to Taiwanese airspace. Flight paths that cross an unofficial boundary running down the middle of the Taiwan Strait, unheard of before 2021, had become routine by the end of 2022.

washington post logoWashington Post, Man accused of torturing woman is still on dating apps, police say, Meryl Kornfield, Jan. 30, 2023. A man accused of kidnapping and torturing a woman for days before fleeing into a forested area of southwest Oregon has been active on dating apps to avoid capture by police or potentially find more victims, authorities warn.

Benjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, may have changed his appearance by shaving and dyeing his hair and has taken to apps where he can lure women into helping him escape or becoming his next victim, the Grants Pass Police Department said this weekend as authorities looked for the man.

The search for Foster began Tuesday after police discovered a woman, who was not named, bound and severely beaten in her home in what the police chief described as “an evil act.” The woman is hospitalized in critical condition, police said Sunday.

About two years ago, Foster was released from prison in Nevada where he had been charged with holding another woman captive for weeks and convicted on lesser charges, the Associated Press reported. Grants Pass Police Chief Warren Hensman told the AP that it was “extremely troubling” Foster wasn’t behind bars.

washington post logoWashington Post, Officers brought homeless man to remote spot and beat him, prosecutors say, María Luisa Paúl, Jan. 30, 2023. When Jose Ortega Gutierrez woke up bloodied and bruised on Dec. 17, he didn’t know where he was, he later told investigators. The handcuffs that had been secured around his wrists hours before were gone — and so were the two officers who allegedly drove the 50-year-old homeless man to a remote location in Florida and knocked him out of consciousness, prosecutors said.

On Thursday, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle announced that two former Hialeah Police Department officers, 27-year-old Rafael Otano and Lorenzo Orfila, 22, had been charged with armed kidnapping and battery. Orfila, who was also charged with official misconduct, and Otano were relieved of duty on Thursday and booked into a Miami-Dade County jail. A third person, Ali Amin Saleh, 45, was charged with witness tampering and accused of attempting to cover up the officers’ actions, Fernandez Rundle said.

The case — which comes amid a wave of police scrutiny sparked by the death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis after officers beat him — was an example of “abuse of power and excessive force,” Fernandez Rundle said.

Otano’s lawyer, Michael Pizzi, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But he told WPLG that he believed Otano “will be exonerated,” calling the case “a horrible miscarriage of justice.”Orfila’s attorney, Robert I. Barrar, also said he expected his client would be exonerated.

“When you look at the entire case and the credibility of the alleged victim, you’ll see that he’s not credible,” Barrar told The Washington Post.

washington post logoWashington Post, Iran says drone strike targeted military complex amid ongoing shadow war, Miriam Berger and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Iran said a drone strike lightly damaged a defense ministry complex in the central city of Isfahan on Saturday, an attack that reverberated across capitals as tensions with the West and Israel mount over Tehran’s advancing nuclear program, arms supply for Russia’s war in Ukraine and lethal crackdown on months-long anti-government protests.

 

africa nation map

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Africa is less democratic and safe than a decade ago, study says, Ishaan Tharoor, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A new study of Africa’s 54 countries provides grim reading. It found that much of the continent is less safe and less democratic than it was a decade ago, a marker of worrying political trends that accelerated over the course of the pandemic. A surge in military coups and the spread of armed conflicts now threaten to stall, and even reverse, years of political progress across the region.

The index, which is put out every two years by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, compiles a ranking of quality of overall governance across Africa based on scores allocated to a range of criteria, including development, economic opportunity and political inclusion. According to the analysis, its subcategories measuring democratic participation and “security and rule of law” both deteriorated, with the “pace of decline accelerating since 2017.” An estimated 70 percent of the continent’s population lives in countries that the index classifies as less safe now than in 2012.

The report pointed to 23 successful or attempted coups since 2012, and eight takeovers by juntas since 2019. Mali and Burkina Faso, two West African neighbors once known for their relative political stability, have recently experienced two coups each. “This phenomenon of coup d’etats that was common in the ’80s seems to have become fashionable again in certain parts of Africa,” Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British billionaire who has used his wealth to promote democracy and good governance in Africa, told reporters this week.

washington post logoWashington Post, Former general Pavel favored to beat billionaire Babis in Czech election, Ladka Bauerova and Emily Rauhala, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A former general is expected to prevail over a billionaire former prime minister on Saturday in the Czech Republic’s presidential election — seen by some as a contest between constitutional democracy and populism, with Russia’s war in Ukraine looming in the background.

Czechs are choosing between Petr Pavel, who held a senior position at NATO, and Andrej Babis, who has loomed large in the country’s business and political landscape for the past decade.

Opinion polls showed a significant lead for Pavel ahead of the runoff vote that opened Friday and will close Saturday.

Although the position of president is largely ceremonial, the role is symbolically important. A win for Pavel would cement a shift away from populist politics — at least for now. The race was also being watched as something of a bellwether, as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes electoral politics across Europe.

Pavel could show the continent “that populists can be beaten,” said Jiri Priban, a professor of law and philosophy at Cardiff University in Wales. “It is a very strong message for transatlantic relations and also for constitutional democracy — a system which is under strain.”

The candidates are vying to replace President Milos Zeman, who has sought to stretch the power of the presidency since he was elected a decade ago. He appointed an unelected caretaker government (though it failed to win parliamentary approval), refused to nominate judges and professors who displeased him and blocked political appointments, all while cozying up to China and Russia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Brasilia’s Polícia Militar initially did little to stop Capitol attack, Meg Kelly and Imogen Piper, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.) (video forensics). A few officers of the Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal (PMDF) stand casually behind a metal barricade overlooking Brazil’s National Congress building, video posted to social media at 4:09 p.m. local time on Jan. 8 showed. One films the area. Another checks his phone. A third chats with a group of men, two of whom wear the Brazilian flag draped over their shoulders.

Captured on video, the scene appears quiet, boring even, until the end, when the perspective pans to reveal the plaza awash in a sea of green- and yellow-clad rioters.

Just 600 feet away, as the video of the police standing idle posts to social media, officers from the Polícia Legislativa battles the destructive mob that has taken control of congress, social media posts and CCTV footage of the insurrection in Brasília obtained by The Washington Post shows.

A Post examination of more than 150 videos and images from Jan. 8 — including CCTV and body-camera footage — reveals that rank-and-file members of PMDF, tasked with securing the streets surrounding government buildings, did little to stop the initial assault. The visuals, chronologically synchronized by The Post, while not comprehensive, show few, if any, rank-and-file members supported other security forces in the first hours of their efforts to re-secure the government complex.

Brazil’s military blocked arrests of Bolsonaro rioters, officials say

Government officials were aware of the planned protest, which was widely promoted across far-right social media channels supporting former president Jair Bolsonaro at least five days earlier. “Patriots from all over Brazil,” the messages said, should come and “bring Brasília to a halt.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Facing hardest election yet, Turkey’s Erdogan woos voters with public spending, Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Facing a difficult election in just a few months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unleashed a wave of public spending — to help the millions in his country reeling from economic hardship, and to ensure their votes go his way.

Flag of TurkeyThe enticements — aimed at students, working people and business owners, commuters and others — have included tax relief, cheap loans, energy subsidies and even pledges not to raise road and bridge tolls. Their rapid rollout has highlighted the electoral stakes for Erdogan, a popular leader who has dominated Turkey’s politics for two decades and assumed a pivotal mediating role during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite his stature, at home and abroad, he finds himself more vulnerable to opposition challenge than ever before, as a public battered by historically high inflation is, in many quarters, clamoring for change.

“The economy is eating into his base,” said Berk Esen, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

washington post logoWashington Post, Second Jerusalem shooting of Israelis puts region on high alert, Shira Rubin and Kelsey Ables, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Two Israelis were injured in a shooting in East Jerusalem, a day after a lethal shooting rampage at a Jerusalem synagogue, the latest in an israel flagescalating string of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new round of bloodshed.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency services, said that they received a report of the shooting in Ma’alot Ir David, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, at around 10:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. The shooter, a 13-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was palestinian flagapprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to the Israeli police. Earlier reports mistakenly said that the shooter was killed on site.

Saturday’s shooting came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people — including children — during Friday night prayer services at a synagogue in East Jerusalem. As Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank took to the streets to celebrate the attack, Israeli leaders prepared to meet and finalize a response.

Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israeli worshipers in years, and put the region on the brink of a major escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians at a refugee camp in Jenin, the deadliest single operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. Early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which retaliated with air strikes on the territory.

The clashes are an early test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which came into power late last month planning to restrict minority rights, tighten the occupation of the West Bank and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians. Netanyahu said Friday that his security cabinet will meet on Saturday evening, and his government had already decided what action it would take.

Funerals for Friday’s shooting victims are slated to take place on Saturday evening after the end of Shabbat. Israeli military and police have been put on the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects that could be a bomb, and boosting forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of further violence. Israeli police said on Saturday that they had arrested 42 people in connection with Friday’s shooting.

The weekend shootings took place in East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city which Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. A previous Netanyahu government sought to evict a group of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in favor of Jewish settlers, leading to a bloody 11-day confrontation in 2021 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

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Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia Freed Prisoners to Fight Its War. Here’s How Some Fared, Anatoly Kurmanaev, Alina Lobzina and Ekaterina Bodyagina, Jan. 30, 2023. Tens of thousands of inmates have joined a mercenary group fighting in Ukraine. Some are returning home, trained and often traumatized.

He was released from a Russian prison and thrown into battle in Ukraine with a promise of freedom, redemption and money. Now, Andrei Yastrebov, who was among tens of thousands of convict soldiers, is part of a return from the battlefield with potentially serious implications for Russian society.

Mr. Yastrebov, 22, who had been serving time for theft, returned home a changed man. “We all feel like he is in some sort of hypnosis, like he is a different person,” said a relative of his, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. “He is without any emotions.”

Thousands of convicts have been killed, many within days or even hours of arriving at the front, Russian rights advocates and Ukrainian officials say. Those who live and return home largely remain silent, wary of retribution if they speak out.

President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to allow a mercenary group to recruit Russian convicts in support of his flagging war effort marks a watershed in his 23-year rule, say human rights activists and legal experts. The policy circumvents Russian legal precedent and, by returning some brutalized criminals to their homes with pardons, risks triggering greater violence throughout society, underlining the cost Mr. Putin is prepared to pay to avoid defeat.

washington post logoWashington Post, War in Ukraine: Along front-line river, this deadly road shows toll of Russia’s war, Siobhán O'Grady and Anastacia Galouchka, Jan. 30, 2023. After a Russian retreat, the Dnieper River is the new front line, and destroyed towns on a road running along the water through three Ukrainian regions are still under fire.

Only the water keeps them apart.

Russian soldiers — pushed into retreat by a counteroffensive late last year — control the east bank of the mighty Dnieper River. Ukrainians control the west.

As Ukraine awaits new tanks from the United States and Europe, and fighting rages over strategic towns in the east, a war of attrition is underway in this southern battleground. The river limits territorial advances, permitting — for now at least — only destruction from a distance.

On the route traveling east and north from villages on the Gulf of the Dnieper to the battered but never-occupied city of Nikopol, the width of the river ranges from several miles to fewer than 1,000 feet, putting the Russians close enough to strike with mortars and shells or sniper fire. They hit some villages dozens of times a day. Ukrainian forces are firing back.

washington post logoWashington Post, Ukraine Live Updates: Zelensky calls for faster weapon deliveries; Kremlin slams Johnson’s claim of Putin threat, Rachel Pannett and Jennifer Hassan, Jan. 30, 2023. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on allies to speed up deliveries of weapons to Ukraine amid Russian strikes after the United States and Germany announced they would send battle tanks.

“Russia hopes to drag out the war, to exhaust our forces. So we have to make time our weapon,” Zelensky said in his nightly address. “We must speed up the events, speed up the supply and opening of new necessary weaponry options for Ukraine.”

The Kremlin denounced as false a claim by former British prime minister Boris Johnson that Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Britain with a missile strike in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • “What Boris Johnson said is not true. More precisely, it is a lie,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Monday after Johnson discussed Putin’s alleged threat in a BBC documentary — though he conceded that Putin might have been joking.
  • An overnight Russian missile strike badly damaged a residential building in Kharkiv, governor Oleh Synyehubov said Monday on Telegram, adding that at least one person died and three others were injured in the attack.
  • NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged South Korea to increase military support to Ukraine during a visit to Seoul on Monday. In a speech, he noted that other countries have changed their stance on not providing weapons to countries in conflict since Russia’s invasion, and he said there is an “urgent need” for ammunition, Reuters reported.

2. Battleground updates

  • Zelensky described the situation on the front lines in the eastern Donetsk region as “very tough.” Bakhmut, Vuhledar and other areas in the region are under “constant Russian attacks,” he said in his nightly address, as Russian forces attempt to break through Ukraine’s defenses.
  • Training with German-made Leopard 2 tanks is set to begin within days as Germany and Poland rush deliveries for spring. Separately, Ukrainian tank operators have also arrived in the United Kingdom to receive training on how to use Challenger 2 tanks that London pledged to Kyiv. Britain’s Defense Ministry on Sunday posted photos of more than a dozen individuals, with their faces blurred, disembarking from a Royal Air Force plane.
  • Russian artillery struck a hospital, a school, residential buildings and municipal facilities in Kherson on Sunday, Zelensky said in his nightly address. Three people were killed and six injured, he said, adding that the regional authority need blood donations to treat the wounded. Two of the wounded were nurses, he added.
    Ukraine’s military said that Russian forces shelled Bakhmut, the center of some of the fiercest fighting in recent months. Ukraine is grappling with a thorny decision on how many more forces and how much more weaponry to expend defending the city, which has symbolic significance for both sides, although many military analysts say it has relatively little strategic significance.

3. Global impact

  • Zelensky called for Russian athletes to be barred from competing in next year’s Olympics while his country remains under attack. “As we prepare for the Paris Olympics, we must be sure that Russia will not be able to use it or any other international sporting event to promote aggression or its state chauvinism,” Zelensky said.
  • Turkey’s president indicated that his country could approve Finland’s application for NATO membership ahead of Sweden’s, although the two applied jointly. Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that recent protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and another by pro-Kurdish groups could jeopardize Sweden’s bid. Finland and Sweden asked to join the military alliance after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Their membership would double NATO’s land border with Russia and reshape European security.
  • Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, also criticized the IOC for allowing Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in events in the lead-up to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. She described the IOC decision as “politically and morally wrong,” writing on Twitter that sports are “a tool in Russia’s propaganda machine” and that “ignoring that means siding with aggression.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Boris Johnson says Putin threatened to kill him, Karla Adam, Jan. 30, 2023. Former British prime minister Boris Johnson says Russian President Vladimir Putin personally threatened him with a missile attack in the run-up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

United Kingdom flagThe accusation came in excerpts of a BBC documentary on Putin and the West set to air later Monday, and Johnson conceded that the Russian leader might have been joking.

boris johnson tieJohnson said Putin made the remarks during a “very long” and “extraordinary” call in early February last year, as Russian troops were massing along the Ukraine border. Johnson, right, who was prime minister at the time, had recently visited Kyiv to show Western support for Ukraine.

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

“He sort of threatened me at one point and said, ‘Boris, I don’t want to hurt you, but with a missile, it would only take a minute,’ or something like that. You know … jolly,” Johnson said.

Russia has one of the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, including longer-range missiles, but Johnson suggested that he didn’t regard Putin’s comments as a serious threat.

“From the relaxed tone that he was taking, the sort of air of detachment that he seemed to have, he was just playing along with my attempts to get him to negotiate,” Johnson said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that Putin threatened Johnson with a missile attack and said that the former prime minister was either deliberately not telling the truth or had misunderstood the Russian president.

“It’s a lie, there were no threats of missiles,” he told reporters during a press briefing. “Speaking about challenges to the security of the Russian Federation, President Putin noted that if Ukraine joined NATO the potential deployment of NATO or American missiles near our borders would mean that any missile would reach Moscow in minutes. If this passage was perceived in this way, it is very embarrassing,” he said.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia and Ukraine Battle for Control of Villages Near Key City of Bakhmut, Matthew Mpoke Bigg, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). The area is a flash point in an offensive that Moscow views as crucial for its goal of seizing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces were wrestling for control of villages in eastern Ukraine near the beleaguered city of Bakhmut over the weekend, the latest flash point in a battle that Moscow views as crucial for its push to seize the whole of the eastern region of Donbas.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Sunday that its soldiers had repelled attacks on the small village of Blahodatne and several other settlements in the area. The statement came a day after Russia’s Wagner group, a private military company that has conducted much of the fighting around Bakhmut on Moscow’s behalf, claimed that its forces had captured Blahodatne.

“Blahodatne is under our control,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and the head of the Wagner group, said on Saturday in a statement posted on a website for one of his companies. Russia’s defense ministry has not confirmed the report and the claim could not be independently verified. Mr. Prigozhin has sought to cast his mercenaries as the most effective fighting force in the area and previously has claimed credit for battlefield advances ahead of Kremlin confirmation.

Blahodatne lies between Soledar, a salt-mining town that Russian forces recently captured after weeks of intense fighting, and a road that runs north from the city of Bakhmut. The road serves as a crucial supply line for Ukrainian forces defending the city.

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Presidential Document Probes

 

merrick garland john laucsch al drago bloomberg

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Garland’s special counsels: The mistake keeps getting worse, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 26, 2023. Attorney General jennifer rubin new headshotMerrick Garland, above, came into the job determined, above all else, to restore the integrity of the Justice Department. In trying to convince everyone that the department is above reproach, however, he has made a series of unwise, showy moves that leave it looking more, not less, political.

The problem began with Garland’s decision to follow his predecessor’s position that former president Donald Trump was acting in the scope of his presidential duties when he allegedly slandered E. Jean Carroll. Garland compounded the error by appointing a special counsel to investigate President Biden’s possession of classified documents from his years as vice president and U.S. senator.

Garland evidently felt that fairness demanded he treat the Biden case as he treated the investigation of classified documents held by Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The department’s credibility would have been better served if Garland had made tough distinctions between two very different cases.

The special counsel statute lays out three criteria for an appointment. First, the attorney general must determine that “a criminal investigation” is warranted. Second, that the investigation or resulting prosecution present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department, “or other extraordinary circumstances.” And third, that “under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

Not on the list: “I want to avoid looking political.” If every sniff of wrongdoing by a high-ranking official or presidential candidate triggers a special counsel, the result will be precisely the chaos that now appears before us.

Garland’s failure to make a clear, obvious distinction between Trump’s apparent obstruction and Biden’s mere sloppiness has created a slippery slope. Will former president Jimmy Carter’s sloppiness merit a special counsel? What about former vice president — and likely presidential candidate— Mike Pence?

One wonders whether Garland and his aides did any significant research to determine how widespread the problem of retained-and-voluntarily-returned documents actually is.

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mike pence bites lip Custom

 

More On U.S. Debts, Economy, Inflation, Jobs

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Will Americans Even Notice an Improving Economy? Paul Krugman, right, Jan. 30, 2023. Imagine that your paul krugmanpicture of the U.S. economy came entirely from headlines and cable news chyrons. Would you know that real gross domestic product has risen 6.7 percent under President Biden, that America gained 4.5 million jobs in 2022 and that inflation over the past six months, which was indeed very high last winter, was less than 2 percent at an annual rate?

steve bannon sofa shotThis isn’t a hypothetical question. Most people don’t read long-form, data-driven essays on the economic outlook. Their sense of the economy is more likely to be shaped by snippets they read or hear.

 

 

 

rishi sunak

 

And there is a yawning gulf between public perceptions and economic reality. Recent economic data has been positive all around. Yet a plurality of adults believes that we’re in a recession. In an AP-NORC survey, three-quarters of Americans described the economy as “poor,” with only 25 percent saying it was “good.”

You might be tempted to say, never mind the data, people know what’s happening to the economy from personal experience. But there’s a big disconnect on that front, too.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: To understand why Republicans are divided on the debt ceiling, consider Dr. Seuss, Nate Cohn, Jan. 30, 2023. The Tea Party is over. Cultural issues seem to animate G.O.P. voters.

One of my favorite polling nuggets from the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency wasn’t about Afghanistan or inflation or classified documents.

It was about Dr. Seuss.

In early March 2021, a Morning Consult/Politico poll found that more Republicans said they had heard “a lot” about the news that the Seuss estate had decided to stop selling six books it deemed had offensive imagery than about the $1.9 trillion dollar stimulus package enacted into the law that very week.

The result was a vivid marker of how much the Republican Party had changed over the Trump era. Just a dozen years earlier, a much smaller stimulus package sparked the Tea Party movement that helped propel Republicans to a landslide victory in the 2010 midterm election. But in 2021 the right was so consumed by the purported cancellation of Dr. Seuss that it could barely muster any outrage about big government spending.

Whether issues like “On Beyond Zebra!” still arouse Republicans more than the national debt takes on renewed importance this year, as Washington seems to be hurtling toward another debt ceiling crisis. The answer will shape whether Republicans can unify around a debt ceiling fight, as they did a decade ago, or whether a fractious party will struggle to play a convincing game of chicken — with uncertain consequences.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Pandemic Used-Car Boom Is Coming to an Abrupt End, Neal E. Boudette, Jan. 30, 2023. Dealerships are seeing sales and prices drop as consumers tighten their belts, putting pressure on companies like Carvana that grew fast in recent years.

About a year ago, the used-car business was a rollicking party. The coronavirus pandemic and a global semiconductor shortage forced automakers to stop or slow production of new cars and trucks, pushing consumers to used-car lots. Prices for pre-owned vehicles surged.

Now, the used-car business is suffering a brutal hangover. Americans, especially people on tight budgets, are buying fewer cars as interest rates rise and fears of a recession grow. And improved auto production has eased the shortage of new vehicles.

As a result, sales and prices of used cars are falling and the auto dealers that specialize in them are hurting.

“After a huge run up in 2021, last year was a reality check,” Chris Frey, senior manager of economic and industry insights at Cox Automotive, a market research firm. “The used market now faces a challenging year as demand weakens.”

Palmer Report, Opinion and Advocacy: Looks like House Republicans are already preparing to cave on the debt ceiling, James Sullivan, Jan. 29, 2023. While the media is largely moving on from the non-existent classified documents scandal the GOP has been fomenting, bill palmer report logo headerthey’re going to their other favorite subject – that the Republicans are going to do a whole bunch of evil things and the Democrats will either a) let them do it or b) be powerless to stop it.

republican elephant logoWhile the GOP is planning to do a whole bunch of evil things, and the Democrats will inevitably face a lot of heat depending on how much they’re able to do about it, what we need to do is stop getting sucked into this narrative that the GOP will just get away with it all – since that does nothing more than help the GOP by giving them leverage they don’t have.

The debt ceiling – which won’t become an issue until June, if at all, is one of these concerns, as the GOP has threatened to use it as an excuse to implement ridiculous tax cuts for their donors in exchange for cutting social security. The problem for Republicans is that it’s rapidly becoming unpopular and their House leadership is eyeing an extension on the debt limit through Sept 30 to avoid the risk of a default.

It’s clear that even with a majority the GOP can’t make good on their threats if the pushback is significant- and this agreement should be all the incentive we need to keep standing up to their incompetence and corruption.

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U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, GW students add ‘morning-after’ pill vending machine to campus, Susan Svrluga, Jan. 30, 2023. George Washington University students made easy access to emergency contraceptives a priority.

Many college health centers make emergency contraception pills available to students. But even when that’s the case, they may be too expensive for students or unavailable when they really need them — often at night or over the weekend.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Volatile Tool Emerges in the Abortion Battle: State Constitutions, Kate Zernike, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). Many of the legal arguments seeking to overturn abortion bans rely on rights provided by the states, and how they are interpreted by state supreme courts. As abortion rights groups are trying to identify protections in state constitutions, anti-abortion groups are trying to amend those same documents.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion in June, it declared that it was sending the issue back to the “people and their elected representatives.” But the fight has largely moved to a different set of supreme courts and constitutions: those in the states.

On a single day this month, South Carolina’s highest court handed down its ruling that the right to privacy in the State Constitution includes a right to abortion, a decision that overturned the state’s six-week abortion ban. Within hours, Idaho’s highest court ruled in the opposite direction, saying that state’s Constitution did not protect abortion rights; the ban there would stand.

Those divergent decisions displayed how volatile and patchwork the fight over abortion rights will be over the next months, as abortion rights advocates and opponents push and pull over state constitutions.

For abortion rights groups, state constitutions are a critical part of a strategy to overturn bans that have cut off access to abortion in a wide swath of the country. Those documents provide much longer and more generous enumerations of rights than the United States Constitution, and history is full of examples of state courts using them to lead the way to establish broad rights — as well as to strike down restrictions on abortion. They offer a way around gerrymandered state legislatures that are pushing stricter laws.

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More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill (Photo by Francis Chung via Politico and Associated Press).

washington post logoWashington Post, Who would work for Rep. Santos? Capitol Hill is watching closely, Joe Heim and Meagan Flynn, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). No staff hirings on Capitol Hill are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been buried in controversy since his election.

Hiring season is winding down on Capitol Hill. The flurry of forwarded résumés is fading, staff positions in House and Senate offices are nearly filled, and the mostly serious business of governing is taking hold.
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The biennial job carousel, a parlor game that plays out in the Capitol’s bustling hallways, hyperdrive text chains and chatty cafeteria lines, is always a closely watched exercise by staffers. Who’s up, who’s down? Who’s in, who’s out?

But perhaps no staff hirings this year are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who since his election in November has been buried in an avalanche of revelations that point to him not being the person he once claimed to be. He did not, for instance, graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for its team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine.

There are also questions about where his money came from, how he funded his campaign, and his work for a Florida company that the SEC is suing and has alleged is a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

Even as he has had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos has been assembling a staff for his Washington and district offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing job candidates, vetting résumés, running background checks and finding people willing to work for a member who appears allergic to truth-telling.

Taking a job for Santos could prove dicey for staffers. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic lawmakers and staff members, many wondered if those who go to work for Santos, particularly higher-level staffers, would ever be able to find another congressional office that would hire them.

See the evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography

So far, there is public information available for just five positions that Santos has filled, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and posts congressional hiring. The initial makeup of Santos’s staff seems to lack the deep Capitol Hill experience that new members typically seek to help them get off to an effective start and quickly adjust to the rhythms and demands of Congress.

ny times logoNew York Times, George Santos Says He Has a New Treasurer. The Treasurer Does Not Agree, Michael Gold, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Like much of Representative George Santos’s financial background, the move to replace his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, was shrouded in confusion.

Representative George Santos’s campaign and six affiliated political committees filed statements on Wednesday indicating they were removing his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, who has been connected to nearly every Santos-related fund and one of Mr. Santos’s private business ventures.

But the move — as with so many things regarding Mr. Santos, who has admitted to falsehoods on the campaign trail and misleading statements about his background — was clouded by mystery and immediately provoked questions.

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Energy, Climate, Environment, Weather, Disasters

 

colorado river w

ny times logoNew York Times, As the Colorado River Shrinks, States Squabble Over Drops of Water, Christopher Flavelle, Graphics by Mira Rojanasakul, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the water supply for 40 million Americans.

The Interior Department had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado. The demand for those cuts, on a scale without parallel in American history, was prompted by precipitous declines in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which provide water and electricity for Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Drought, climate change and population growth have caused water levels in the lakes to plummet.

“Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.”

Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, U.S. Plans to End Public Health Emergency for Covid in May, Sharon LaFraniere and Noah Weiland, Jan. 30, 2023. The move is a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less dire phase. It will bring about a host of policy changes.

The Biden administration plans to let the coronavirus public health emergency expire in May, the White House said on Monday, a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less dire phase.

The move carries both symbolic weight and real-world consequences. Millions of Americans have received free Covid tests and treatments during the pandemic, and not all of that will continue to be free once the emergency is over. The White House wants to keep the emergency in place for several more months so hospitals, health care providers and health officials can prepare for a host of changes when it ends, officials said.

An average of more than 500 people in the United States are still dying from Covid-19 each day, about twice the number of deaths per day during a bad flu season. But at the three-year mark, the coronavirus is no longer upending everyday life to the extent it once did, partly because much of the population has at least some protection against the virus from vaccinations and prior infections.

Still, the White House said on Monday that the nation needed an orderly transition out of the public health emergency. The administration said it also intended to allow a separate declaration of a national emergency to expire on the same day, May 11.

“An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the White House said in a statement.

washington post logoWashington Post, Perspective: Even a health reporter couldn’t avoid the hair-raising battle to get a high-priced drug for her son, Carolyn Y. Johnson, Jan. 30, 2023. As a health and science reporter, I’ve studied the maze of U.S. health care. But when my son got sick, I still got lost.

When a salmon-colored rash flared on my 3-year-old son’s tummy one afternoon in August, I shrugged it off. The next time I asked Evan to lift up his shirt to take a photo, it was gone. When he stopped sleeping through the night, I thought it was a dreadful new developmental phase. But then on a Saturday, he stopped walking and spiked a 104-degree fever. A nurse gave me clear directions: “Get in your car, and start driving to the ER.”

After days in the hospital, the doctors had ruled out a long list of infections, as well as scary conditions like leukemia. That left them circling around a rare type of childhood arthritis called systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or sJIA, in which the innate immune system, the body’s first line of defense against pathogens, goes haywire. Young children are tormented by daily spiking fevers, a fleeting rash and arthritis. Some develop a life-threatening immune activation syndrome. Untreated, destructive joint damage can occur. We were in shock.

But the doctors mentioned a drug that they’d probably want to try — anakinra, a biologic drug that blocks a key prong of the immune system and quells inflammation. Like most rare disease drugs, anakinra (also known by the trade name Kineret) was obscure, but I’m a health and science reporter and I’d heard of it. In 2020, I interviewed a pediatric rheumatologist, Randy Cron at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, who wanted to test whether anakinra could help people with severe covid-19.

Now, he told me that anakinra and similar biologics had transformed treatment for kids with sJIA. “Remarkably effective and safe,” he’d replied after I emailed him about our situation. “There may be a window of opportunity early during treatment to get the best long-term benefit.”

Anakinra was clearly the favored route back to health for Evan. We were determined to take advantage of any early “window of opportunity.” Unfortunately for us, our insurance company, Aetna, disagreed. We began a health journey that many people encounter when dealing with rare diseases, health insurance and pricey drugs.

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U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

ny times logoNew York Times, Novak Djokovic Captures His 10th Australian Open Men’s Singles Title, Matthew Futterman, Jan. 30, 2023 (print ed.). After missing last year’s tournament because he was unvaccinated, the Serbian star beat Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in straight sets.

novak djokovicNovak Djokovic, shown in a file photo, came to Australia with a mission, or, really, a series of them.

To win the championship he had won nine times once more. To win a 22nd Grand Slam men’s singles title and draw even with his rival Rafael Nadal at the top of that list. To remove any doubt anyone might have about whether he remains the world’s dominant player, the most commanding player of the last decade and now this one, too. To show the world that the only way to keep him from winning nearly any tennis tournament is to not let him play.

Check. Check. Check. And check.

A year after Australia deported him over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Novak Djokovic reclaimed the Grand Slam title he has won more than any other, capturing a record 10th championship at the Australian Open by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) on Sunday.

After one last forehand off Tsitsipas’s racket floated long to end a match that felt lopsided despite the two tiebreakers, Djokovic turned and stared at his family and coaches sitting in his box. He pointed to his head, his heart and then just below his waistband, letting the world in on his team’s code language and telling it that winning on Sunday took everything he had.

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Jan. 29

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paul pelosi david depape


Durham-Barr Scandal At Justice Dept.?

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

 

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Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

 

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Former ABC-TV co-hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes (Reuters file photo by David Dee Delgado).

 

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paul pelosi david depapeDavid DePape, left, who is charged in an attack on Paul Pelosi, right, made a meandering, chilling call to a reporter from his jail cell on Friday and said that he was only “sorry I didn’t get more of them” (Photo from San Francisco Police Department).

ny times logoNew York Times, Paul Pelosi Attack Suspect Tells TV Station He Has No Remorse, Eduardo Medina, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The man accused of assaulting the husband of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a disturbing surprise phone call to the station on Friday, the same day footage of the attack was made public.

The man accused in the attack of Paul Pelosi, the husband of the former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, made a disturbing surprise phone call to a California television station on Friday and said that he had no remorse about his actions last October. He suggested that he regretted not causing more harm.

The man, David DePape, who has been charged in the attack against Mr. Pelosi, called a reporter for KTVU from his San Francisco County fox news logo SmallJail cell on Friday and said that he was only “sorry I didn’t get more of them.” The station is a Fox affiliate in the Bay Area.

His remarks to the reporter, Amber Lee, who said on-air that the statements sounded scripted, came on the same day that a San Francisco court released police body camera footage showing the frenzied moment of the attack. The call to Ms. Lee was unexpected, the station reported, but Ms. Lee had previously reached out to him following his arrest last year.

The body camera footage shows that when officers approached the couple’s San Francisco home in the early hours of Oct. 28, they found the assailant and Mr. Pelosi standing calmly, each with a hand on a large hammer.

After officers demanded that the hammer be dropped, Mr. DePape wrested control of it, raised it above his head and slammed it into Mr. Pelosi’s skull.

It was an extraordinary depiction of a brutal act of political violence, which stemmed from an attempt to abduct Ms. Pelosi, shown at left during an interview last year, who at the time was nancy pelosi anderson cooper 11 7 2022second in line to the presidency. Mr. Pelosi spent six days in a San Francisco hospital and underwent surgery for a skull fracture.

Mr. DePape’s meandering remarks to KTVU further reveal how he was influenced to carry out the attack by right-wing conspiracy theories, such as lies about the 2020 election being stolen. At the time of the attack, he had been estranged from family, and he was previously homeless for a period of time.

At the start of the call, which lasted about five minutes, Mr. DePape told Ms. Lee he wanted to make a statement, the station reported.

“Our reporter was not allowed to challenge his statements or to ask follow-up questions,” KTVU reported. “DePape said he didn’t want to jeopardize his case.”

It was not immediately clear whether the bar against follow-up questions was a precondition of hearing from him. Ms. Lee and a representative for the station could not immediately be reached on Saturday. A public defender representing Mr. DePape could not immediately be reached on Saturday.

Mr. DePape told the station that he “should have come better prepared” on the day of the attack. He added that the people “killing” freedom “have names and addresses,” and he sought to “have a heart-to-heart chat about their bad behavior.”

In an interview with the police immediately after the attack, Mr. DePape said he had been looking for Ms. Pelosi, a political figure who for decades has been demonized and dehumanized by Republicans, and that he planned to kidnap her, break her kneecaps and see her “wheeled into Congress.”

Ms. Pelosi was not home the night of the attack.

Mr. DePape told the police: “I’m not trying to, like, get away with it. I know exactly what I did.”

He faces numerous felony charges in state court, including attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon. He also faces federal charges of attempted kidnapping of a federal officer and assault on a family member of a federal official. If convicted, he faces the possibility of life in prison.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. general warns troops that war with China is possible in two years, Dan Lamothe, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Gen. Michael A. Minihan, who oversees the Air Force’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, cited the 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan and the United States as part of his rationale.

China could be at war with the United States two years from now, a top Air Force general predicted in a bombastic and unusual memo to troops under his command, asserting a shorter timeline before potential conflict than other senior U.S. defense officials.

michael minihanGen. Michael A. Minihan, right, who as head of Air Mobility Command oversees the service’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, warned personnel to speed their preparations for a potential conflict, citing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aspirations and the possibility that Americans will not be paying attention until it is too late.

“I hope I am wrong,” Minihan wrote. “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”

Minihan then directs airmen who are qualified to use a weapon to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most” sometime in February.

“Aim for the head,” he said.

Minihan’s memo encourages the thousands of troops under his command to prepare for war in several other regards. All personnel reporting to him should “consider their personal affairs” and be more aggressive about training, he instructs.

“Run deliberately, not recklessly,” he writes. “If you are comfortable in your approach to training, then you are not taking enough risk.”

The memo, first reported Friday by NBC News, is dated Feb. 1 — which is still days away — and was distributed to Minihan’s subordinate commanders. An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Hope Cronin, verified its authenticity, writing in a statement shared with media after the memo began circulating on social media that Minihan’s order “builds on last year’s foundational efforts by Air Mobility Command to ready the Air Mobility Forces for future conflict, should deterrence fail.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, said Friday that the U.S. national defense strategy makes clear “that China is the pacing challenge of the Department of Defense” and that U.S. officials are working with allies and partners to “preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Minihan’s comments “are not representative of the department’s view on China.”

Before taking over at Air Mobility Command in 2021, Minihan served in a variety of influential roles in the Pacific beginning in 2013. They include a stint as the deputy commander of Indo-Pacific Command, with purview of China and Taiwan, from September 2019 to August 2021.

 

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit...Memphis Police Department

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III (Photos from the Memphis Police Department via New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Memphis Police Disband Unit Whose Officers Were Charged in Nichols’s Death, Rick Rojas, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The Memphis Police Department said on Saturday that it had disbanded a specialized group known as the Scorpion unit after five of its officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was shown on video being kicked, struck and pepper-sprayed by those officers.

Mr. Nichols’s family and activists in the city had demanded that the Police Department dismantle the unit, which deployed officers to patrol higher-crime areas of the city and had drawn scorn in the communities it served even before Mr. Nichols’s death this month.

“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” the Police Department said in a statement on Saturday

Police officials said the decision had been reached after “listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments.” Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, met with other members of the unit on Saturday.

Tyre Nichols’s family and activists had demanded the scuttling of the group, the Scorpion unit, which patrolled high-crime areas of the city.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Israel’s Far-Right Government Raises Risk of Escalation, Patrick Kingsley, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.) Israel and the West Bank were gripped by violence this week. The new far-right government’s ministers and goals are fueling tensions.

israel flagThe new far-right government in Israel has been in power for only a month, but on its watch, Israelis and Palestinians have already experienced one of their region’s most violent phases, outside a full-scale war, in years.

Nine Palestinians were shot dead on Thursday morning, in the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank for at least a half-decade. Then, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people on Friday night outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, the deadliest attack on civilians in the city since 2008. And on Saturday, an attacker who the police said was 13 years old shot and injured two Israelis near a settlement in East Jerusalem.

These events were not unique to this government’s tenure. But analysts fear that the policies and leaders of the new Israeli administration — the most right-wing in Israeli history — are likely to further inflame the situation.

The new government is an alliance of settler activists, hard-line nationalists and ultraconservatives helmed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and its leaders variously seek to annex the West Bank, further ease the Israeli Army’s rules of engagement and entrench Israeli control over a sacred site in Jerusalem. All of that has already provoked a surge in Palestinian anger and made it harder for the remaining moderate forces in the Israeli government to defuse tensions.

ny times logoNew York Times, A Volatile Tool Emerges in the Abortion Battle: State Constitutions, Kate Zernike, Jan. 29, 2023. Many of the legal arguments seeking to overturn abortion bans rely on rights provided by the states, and how they are interpreted by state supreme courts. As abortion rights groups are trying to identify protections in state constitutions, anti-abortion groups are trying to amend those same documents.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion in June, it declared that it was sending the issue back to the “people and their elected representatives.” But the fight has largely moved to a different set of supreme courts and constitutions: those in the states.

On a single day this month, South Carolina’s highest court handed down its ruling that the right to privacy in the State Constitution includes a right to abortion, a decision that overturned the state’s six-week abortion ban. Within hours, Idaho’s highest court ruled in the opposite direction, saying that state’s Constitution did not protect abortion rights; the ban there would stand.

Those divergent decisions displayed how volatile and patchwork the fight over abortion rights will be over the next months, as abortion rights advocates and opponents push and pull over state constitutions.

For abortion rights groups, state constitutions are a critical part of a strategy to overturn bans that have cut off access to abortion in a wide swath of the country. Those documents provide much longer and more generous enumerations of rights than the United States Constitution, and history is full of examples of state courts using them to lead the way to establish broad rights — as well as to strike down restrictions on abortion. They offer a way around gerrymandered state legislatures that are pushing stricter laws.

 

Durham-Barr-Russia Scandal At Justice Dept.

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

ny times logoNew York Times, How an Oligarch May Have Recruited the F.B.I. Agent Who Investigated Him, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The F.B.I. tried to court Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate, as an informant. Instead, one of its own top agents may have ended up working for him.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to recruit Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, as an informant around 2014, hoping he might shed light on organized crime and, later, possible interference in the presidential election.

A decade later, Mr. Deripaska may have turned the tables on the F.B.I.: Prosecutors say the oligarch recruited one of the bureau’s top spy catchers, just as he entered retirement, to carry out work that they say violated U.S. sanctions.

The charges unsealed this week against Charles McGonigal — who ran the counterintelligence unit at the bureau’s New York field office and investigated Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, according to the indictment — showed the extent of the oligarch’s reach into the highest levels of U.S. power.

There is no indication in the Manhattan indictment that Mr. McGonigal was working for Mr. Deripaska while still employed by the F.B.I. Still, the case — and a parallel indictment in Washington that charged Mr. McGonigal with receiving at least $225,000 in secret payments from a former employee of an Albanian intelligence service while still at the agency — has raised questions about how compromised he may have been.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, had been on the radar of U.S. authorities for years and remains under sanctions. He was known to be an ally of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. The Treasury Department had reported that he had ties to organized crime.

“Deripaska is a well-known man to anybody who follows Russia,” said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and a former State Department official who helped craft sanctions against Russia. “I wouldn’t have accepted a luncheon invitation from the guy,” he added.

The implications of the allegations against Mr. McGonigal are alarming, Mr. Fried said. “In a broader sense, it does seem to suggest that the corrupting influence of the Russian oligarchs, the money, is real.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Deripaska, Larisa Belyaeva, said that he did not hire Mr. McGonigal for any purpose and that he had never been close to Mr. Putin. A lawyer for Mr. McGonigal declined to comment.

For years, Mr. Deripaska, 55, has employed a small army of lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and fixers to protect his business and personal interests and smooth his access to Western countries.

 

timothy snyder

Timothy Snyder via Substack, Commentary on The Specter of 2016: McGonigal, Trump, and the Truth about America, Timothy Snyder (best-selling author of "On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century" and professor at Yale University), Jan. 26, 2023.  We are on the edge of a spy scandal with major implications for how we understand the Trump administration, our national security, and ourselves.

On 23 January, we learned that a former FBI special agent, Charles McGonigal, was arrested on charges involving taking money to serve foreign interests. One accusation is that in 2017 he took $225,000 from a foreign actor while in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI's New York office. Another charge is that McGonigal took money from Oleg Deripaska, a sanctioned Russian oligarch, after McGonigal’s 2018 retirement from the FBI. Deripaska, a hugely wealthy metals tycoon close to the Kremlin, "Putin's favorite industrialist," was a figure in a Russian influence operation that McGonigal had investigated in 2016. Deripaska has been under American sanctions since 2018. Deripaska is also the former employer, and the creditor, of Trump's 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

The reporting on this so far seems to miss the larger implications. One of them is that Trump’s historical position looks far cloudier. In 2016, Trump's campaign manager (Manafort) was a former employee of a Russian oligarch (Deripaska), and owed money to that same Russian oligarch. And the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was charged with investigating the Trump campaign's Russian connections then went to work (according to the indictment) for that very same Russian oligarch (Deripaska). This is obviously very bad for Trump personally. But it is also very bad for FBI New York, for the FBI generally, and for the United States of America.

Another is that we must revisit the Russian influence operation on Trump’s behalf in 2016, and the strangely weak American response. Moscow’s goal was to move minds and institutions such that Hillary Clinton would lose and Donald Trump would win. We might like to think that any FBI special agent would resist, oppose, or at least be immune to such an operation. Now we are reliably informed that a trusted FBI actor, one who was responsible for dealing with just this sort of operation, was corrupt. And again, the issue is not just the particular person. If someone as important as McGonigal could take money from foreigners while on the job at FBI New York, and then go to work for a sanctioned Russian oligarch he was once investigating, what is at stake, at a bare minimum, is the culture of the FBI's New York office. The larger issue is the health of our national discussions of politics and the integrity of our election process.

For me personally, McGonigal's arrest brought back an unsettling memory. In 2016, McGonigal was in charge of cyber counter-intelligence for the FBI, and was put in charge of counterintelligence at the FBI's New York office. That April, I broke the story of the connection between Trump's campaign and Putin's regime, on the basis of Russian open sources. At the time, almost no one wanted to take this connection seriously. American journalists wanted an American source, but the people who had experienced similar Russian operations were in Russia, Ukraine, or Estonia. Too few people took Trump seriously; too few people took Russia seriously; too few people took cyber seriously; the Venn diagram overlap of people who took all three seriously felt very small. Yet there was also specific, nagging worry that my own country was not only unprepared, but something worse. After I wrote that piece and another, I heard intimations that something was odd about the FBI office in New York. This was no secret at the time. One did not need to be close to such matters to get that drift. And given that FBI New York was the office dealing with cyber counterintelligence, this was worrying

The reason I was thinking about Trump and Putin back in 2016 was a pattern that I had noticed in eastern Europe, which is my area of expertise. Between 2010 and 2013, Russia sought to control Ukraine using the same methods which were on display in 2016 in its influence operation in the United States: social media, money, and a pliable candidate for head of state. When that failed, Russia had invaded Ukraine, under the cover of some very successful influence operations. (If you find that you do not remember the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014, it is very possibly because you were caught in the froth of Russian propaganda, spread through the internet, targeted to vulnerabilities.) The success of that propaganda encouraged Russia to intervene in the United States, using the same methods and institutions. This is what I was working on in 2016, when a similar operation was clearly underway in the United States.

To this observer of Ukraine, it was apparent that Russia was backing Trump in much the way that it had once backed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, in the hopes of soft control. Trump and Yanukovych were similar figures: nihilistic, venal, seeking power to make or shield money. This made them vulnerably eager partners for Putin. And they had the same chief advisor: the American political consultant Paul Manafort. Russian soft control of Trump did not require endless personal meetings between the two principals. It just required mutual understanding, which was abundantly on display during the Trump presidency: think of the meeting between Putin and Trump in Helsinki in 2018, when the American president said that he trusted the Russian one and the Russian president said that he had supported the American one as a candidate. The acknowledgement of mutual debts was obvious already in 2016: Russian media talked up Trump, and Trump talked up Putin.

During Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, the rapprochement between Trump and Putin could be effected through intermediaries. An obvious intermediary was Paul Manafort: first he worked for the Russian oligarch Deripaska as a consultant to teach the Kremlin how to influence Americans. Then he worked for Russia's man in Ukraine Yanukovych, helping to get him elected. Finally Manafort worked for Trump, in the same capacity. You might remember Manafort's ties to Russia as revealed by the press in 2016. He (and Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump, Jr.) met with Russians in June 2016 in Trump Tower. Manafort had to resign as Trump's campaign manager that August after it become public he had received $12.7 million in cash while he was working Yanukovych and had not reported it.

By 2016, when he was Trump's campaign manager, Manafort, right,paul manafort face nation owed Deripaska millions of dollars. At the end of their political collaboration, they had entered into a murky investment, at the end of which Deripaska was pursuing Manafort in court. Manafort acknowledged the debt to Deripaska, in the sense that he treated his work for Trump as a way to pay it off. As Trump's campaign manager, and as Deripaska's debtor, Manafort wrote to offer Deripaska "private briefings" on Trump's campaign. Through an intermediary, Manafort sent the Russians data from the Trump campaign, including campaign polling data about Americans that would be useful for influence operations. Manafort was asked to communicate a Russian plan for the partition of Ukraine to Trump. Manafort was hoping to pay Deripaska back in a currency other than money -- in Manafort's own words, "to get whole." (These and other details are in Road to Unfreedom.)

Thinking our way back to 2016, keeping in mind Russia's pattern of seeking soft control, recalling what we know now, let's now reconsider how the FBI treated the Trump-Putin connection that year. After Trump became president, he and some other Republicans claimed that the FBI had overreached by carrying out any sort of investigation at all. Now that McGonigal has been arrested, Trump has claimed that this somehow helps his case. Common sense suggests the opposite. The man who was supposed to investigate Russian support of Trump then took money from a Russian oligarch close to Putin, who was at one remove from the Trump campaign at the time? That is not at all a constellation that supports Trump's version of events. If the FBI special agent (McGonigal) who was investigating Trump's connection to Russia was on the payroll of the Russian oligarch (Deripaska) to whom Trump's campaign manager (Manafort) owed millions of dollars and provided information, that does not look good for Trump. It looks hideous —but not just for Trump.

Anne Applebaum once put the question the right way: why didn't the FBI investigate Trump’s connections to Putin much earlier? In retrospect, it seems as though the FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign and its Russian connections in 2016 was not only late, but weirdly understated. Known as "Cross-Fire Hurricane," it defined the issue of Russian influence narrowly, as a matter of personal contact between Trump campaign officials and Russians. Meanwhile, as that investigation was going on, Russia was in the middle of a major social media campaign which, according to the leading scholar of presidential communications, made it possible for Trump to be elected. And that larger influence campaign was not investigated by the FBI, let alone countered.

If anything, it looks as though the New York office of the FBI, wittingly or unwittingly, rather pushed in the same direction than resisted Russia’s pro-Trump influence operation. As no doubt everyone remembers, Russia was able to phish for emails from institutions and people around Clinton, and used some of them, out of context, to create harmful fictional narratives about her. Simultaneously, there was a concern about Clinton's use of a private email server. In the popular mind, these two issues blurred together, with Trump's help. Trump asked the Russians to break into Clinton's email account, which they immediately tried to do. Nothing about Clinton's emails proved to be of interest. The FBI closed an investigation in July 2016, saying that there was no basis for criminal charges against Clinton.

Then, weirdly, FBI director James Comey announced on 28 October 2016, just ten days before the election, that the investigation into Clinton's emails had been reopened. This created a huge brouhaha that (as polls showed) harmed Clinton and helped Trump. The investigation was closed again after only eight days, on 6 November, with no charges against Clinton. But that was just two days before the election, and the damage was done. As I recall it, in the fury of those last forty-eight hours, no one noticed Comey's second announcement, closing the investigation and clearing Clinton. I was canvassing at the time, and the people I spoke to were still quite excited about the emails. Why would the FBI publicly reveal an investigation on a hot issue involving a presidential candidate right before an election? It now appears that Comey made the public announcement because of an illicit kind of pressure from special agents in the FBI New York office. Comey believed that they would leak the investigation if he did not announce it.

In office, Trump knew that Russia had worked to get him elected, but the standard of guilt was placed so high that he could defend himself by saying that he personally had not colluded. The Mueller Report, which I still don't believe many people have actually read, demonstrated that there was a multidimensional Russian influence campaign on behalf of Trump. The Trump administration countered by claiming that there was no evidence that Trump personally had been in contact with Putin personally. That defense was certainly misleading; but it was available in part because of the narrow scope of FBI investigations in 2016.

To be fair, FBI, along with Homeland Security, did investigate cyber. But this was after the election when it could make no difference; and in the report, cyber was defined narrowly, limited to phishing and the breach of systems. These are important issues, but they were not the main issue. What the phishing and breach of systems enabled was the main issue: a social media campaign that exploited emotions, including misogyny, to mobilize and demobilize voters.

Russia used the raw email in specific operations on Trump's behalf, for example by rescuing him from the Access Hollywood tapes scandal. Right after it emerged that Trump advocated sexual assault, Russia released a fictional scandal connecting Clinton to the abuse of children. That allowed Trump's followers to believe that whatever he did, she was worse; and the scandal was blunted. It verges on inconceivable that McGonigal was unaware of Russia's 2016 influence campaign on behalf of Trump. He knew the players; he is now alleged to have been employed by one of them. Even I was aware of the Russia's 2016 influence campaign. It became one of the subjects of my book Road to Unfreedom, which I finished the following year.

The Russian influence campaign was an issue for American counterintelligence. It is worth pausing to understand why, since it helps us to see the centrality of McGonigal and the meaning of this scandal. Intelligence is about trying to understand. Counterintelligence is about making that hard for others. Branching out from counterintelligence are the more exotic operations designed to make an enemy not only misunderstand the situation, but also act on the basis of misunderstandings, against the enemy's own interests. Such operations, which have been a Russian (or Soviet) specialty for more than a century, go under the name of "provocation," or "active measures," or "maskirovka." It is the task of counterintelligence to understand active measures, and prevent them from working. The Russian influence operation on behalf of Trump was an active measure that the United States failed to halt. The cyber element, the use of social media, is what McGonigal personally, with his background and in his position, should have been making everyone aware of. In 2016, McGonigal was section chief of the FBI's Cyber-Counterintelligence Coordination Section. That October, he was put in charge of the Counterintelligence Division of the FBI's New York office.

And it was just then, in October 2016, that matters began to spin out of control. There were two moments, late in the presidential campaign, that decided the matter for Donald Trump. The first was when Russian rescued him from the Access Hollywood scandal (7 October). The second was FBI director James Comey's public announcement that he was reopening the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails (28 October). The reason Comey made that public announcement at that highly sensitive time, ten days before the election, was not that he believed the public needed to know, nor that the matter was likely of great consequence. On his account, it was that he believed that FBI New York office was going to leak it anyway. Rudolph Giuliani had apparently already been the beneficiary of leaks; claimed to know in advance of what he called a "surprise" that would help Donald Trump, namely Comey's public announcement of the email investigation.

It looked at the time like Comey had been played by people in FBI New York who wanted Trump to win. Comey has now confirmed this, although his word choice might be different. And I did wonder, back then, if those special agents in New York, in turn, were being played. It was no secret at the time that FBI special agents in New York did not like Hillary Clinton. Making emotional commitments public is asking to be exploited. For people working in counterintelligence, this is a particularly unwise thing to do. The nature of working in counterintelligence is that, if you are not very good, you will find yourself in the vortex of someone else's active measure. Someone else will take advantage of your known vulnerabilities - your misogyny, perhaps, or your hatred of a specific female politician, or your entirely unjustified belief that a male politician is a patriotic messiah -- and get you to do something that feels like your own decision.

Now that we are informed that a central figure in the New York FBI office was willing to take money from foreign actors while on the job, this line of analysis bears some reconsideration. Objectively, FBI New York was acting in concert with Russia, ignoring or defining narrowly Russia's actions, and helping deliver the one-two punch to Clinton in October that very likely saved Trump. When people act in the interest of a foreign power, it is sometimes for money, it is sometimes because the foreign power knows something about them, it is sometimes for ideals, and it is sometimes for no conscious motive at all -- what one thinks of as one's own motives have been curated, manipulated, and directed. It seems quite possible -- I raise it as a hypothesis that reasonable people would consider -- that some mixture of these factors was at work at FBI New York in 2016.

All of these pieces of recent history must hang together in one way or another, and the fresh and shocking revelation of McGonigal's arrest is a chance for us to try to see how. Again, if these allegations are true, they will soon be surrounded by other heretofore unknown facts, which should lead us to consider the problem of election integrity in a general way. As of right now, the circumstantial evidence suggests that we consider the possibility that the FBI's reporting work in 2016, which resulted in a framing of the issue which was convenient for Trump and Russia, might have had something to do with the fact (per the indictments) that one of its lead agents was willing to take money from foreign actors while on the job. In connection with the leaks from FBI New York late in the 2016 campaign, which had the obvious effect of harming Clinton and helping Trump, McGonigal's arrest also demands a broader rethink of the scale of the 2016 disaster. How much was FBI New York, wittingly and unwittingly, caught up in a Russian active measure?

The charges have not been proven. If they are, it would be a bit surprising if the two offenses with which McGonigal is now charged were isolated events. There is a certain danger, apparently, in seeing them this way, and letting bygones be bygones. A U.S. attorney presenting the case said that McGonigal "should have known better"; that is the kind of thing one says when a child gets a bellyache after eating too much cotton candy at the county fair; it hardly seems to correspond to the gravity of the situation.

Failing to understand the Russian threat in the 2010s was a prelude to failing to understand the Russian threat in 2020s. And today Americans who support Russia in its war of atrocity tend to be members of the Trump family or people closely aligned with Trump, such as Giuliani. The people who helped Trump then take part in the war on Ukraine now. Consider one of the main architects of Russia's 2016 campaign to support Trump, Yevgeny Prigozhin. In 2016, his relevant position was as the head of the Internet Research Agency; they were the very people who (for example) helped spread the story about Clinton that rescued Trump from the Access Hollywood scandal. Without the Internet Research Agency covering his back, Trump would have had a much harder time in the 2016 election. Today, during the war in Ukraine, Prigozhin is now better known as the owner of Wagner, sending tens of thousands of Russian prisoners to kill and die.

The implications of the arrest go further. McGonigal had authority in sensitive investigations where the specific concern was that there was an American giving away other Americans to foreign governments. Untangling what that means will require a concern for the United States that goes beyond party loyalty. Unfortunately, some key political figures seem to be reacting to the news in the opposite spirit: suppressing the past, thereby destabilizing the future. Immediately after the McGonigal story broke, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy ejected Adam Schiff from the House intelligence committee, in a grand exhibition of indifference to national security. A veteran of that committee, Schiff has has taken the time to learn about Russia. It is grotesque to exclude him at this particular moment, in the middle of a war, and at the beginning of a spy scandal

McCarthy's recent move against Schiff also recalls 2016, sadly. Much as I did, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had an inkling, back then, that something was wrong with Trump and Russia. He expressed his view that June that Donald Trump was the Republican most likely to be taking money from Vladimir Putin. This showed a fine political instinct, sadly unmatched by any ethical follow-through. McCarthy did not share his suspicion with his constituents, nor do anything to follow through. He made the remark it in a conversation with other Republican House members, who did not disagree with him, and who apparently came to the conclusion the the risk of an embarrassment to their party was more important than American national security. Republicans in the Senate, sadly, took a similar view. They deliberately marginalized a CIA investigation that did address the Russian influence campaign for Trump. In September 2016, Mitch McConnell made it clear to the Obama administration that the CIA's findings would be treated as political if they were discussed in public. The Obama administration bowed to this pressure.

The Russian operation to get Trump elected in 2016 was real. We are still living under the specter of 2016, and we are closer to the beginning of the process or learning about it than we are to the end. Denying that it happened, or acting as though it did not happen, makes the United States vulnerable to Russian influence operations that are still ongoing, sometimes organized by the same people. It is easy to forget about 2016, and human to want to do so. But democracy is about learning from mistakes, and this arrest makes it very clear that we still have much to learn.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The review by John Durham, right, at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it john durham Customfailed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.

It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

donald trump for president button nice smileEgged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

 

william barr hearing new

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: What did the Italians tell Barr and Durham about Donald Trump's criminal activity? Wayne wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallMadsen, left, author of 22 books and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, Jan. 27-29, 2023.

In the fall of 2019, Attorney General William Barr (shown above) and John Durham, the Special Counsel assigned by Barr to investigate the FBI for wrongly investigating Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign for ties to Russia, flew to Italy to pressure law enforcement there to fess up that they were involved with the FBI in what was falsely called by Trump the "Russia hoax."

wayne madesen report logoInstead of getting the goods on the FBI -- whose top counterintelligence agent in New York at the time was in bed with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska --Italian law enforcement provided Barr and Durham with information that Trump was involved in a major criminal matter, including suspicious financial dealings. Barr assigned Durham, a pro-Trump shill, to investigate the matter, granting him, for the first time, criminal prosecution authority. Not only did Durham not find any evidence of a "Russia hoax" involving the FBI logoDemocratic Party, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or George Soros -- all of whom Durham had under investigation -- but the criminal matter conveyed by the Italians was never acted upon.

WMR had reported on a serious criminal matter involving the car bombing assassination of Maltese journalist  Daphne Caruana Galizia, right, on October 16, 2017 and its possible ties to Trump. Italian intelligence and law enforcement have kept a close eye on Malta daphne caruana galizia croppedever since the 1970s, when the island country developed close ties with the Soviet Union and Libya. Although Malta is now a member of the European Union, the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard), as well as the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE) foreign intelligence service maintain a close eye on Malta, which has become a haven for offshore banking, corporate brass plates, and Russian and other foreign residents who have purchased Maltese passports and established residency in the twin island nation.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated after she had implicated Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife, and top aides in a scandal partly exposed by the release of the Panama Papers. The scandal led directly from Malta to Azerbaijan and, ultimately, to the Trump Organization in New York.

Caruana Galizia was well-aware of Trump's connections to international wealth and political and financial power brokers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she wrote on her website, "You can't get more establishment than billionaire Donald Trump, scion of an extremely wealthy WASP family. So the real problem is stupidity and malice. But then it always was."

And, as she found out a year later, you can't get more corrupt and murderous than Donald Trump. Whatever the Italians passed on to Barr and Durham about Trump, America's "Mr. Magoo" Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has a duty and an obligation to the American people to make that information public without delay.

World Crisis Radio, Historical Commentary: McGonigal arrest focuses attention on nest of pro-Russian, pro-Giuliani Trump supporters in New York City FBI field office, aka “Trumpland,” Webster G. Tarpley, right,webster tarpley 2007 Jan. 28, 2023 (105:52 mins.). NYC field office holds key to sabotage of initial Trump-Russia inquiry of 2016, the failure of which helped Don prevail in presidential contest;

Scrutiny of Special Counsel John Durham reveals a blatantly political operative with no principles, eager to please Trump FBI logoand Barr; Durham’s grotesque contortions to procure a conviction to feed the reactionary noise machine at Fox News; Two humiliating innocent verdicts brought back in mere hours; Four years of blind alleys; The Barr-Durham junket to Rome in summer 2019 that yielded no exoneration of Trump, but rather a possible finance scandal against the hotelier!

UK, France, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Estonia and Poland had reported suspicious contacts of Trump campaign with Russia in 2015-2016; British GCHQ chief personally warned US;

With 15 NATO countries sending almost 100 modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, Biden’s alliance diplomacy continues to pay off!

Insider, Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money, Mattathias Schwartz, Jan. 27, 2023. One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend's Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn't seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.

FBI logo"Where the fuck is this from?" she asked.

"Oh, you remember that baseball game?" McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero's recollection. "I made a bet and won."

McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or "ex-wife" as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn't question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.

A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal's Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero's cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal's retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania's intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.

One of McGonigal's attorneys, Seth DuCharme, declined to comment.

Guerriero was 44 when they met, a former substitute kindergarten teacher who volunteered for law-enforcement causes and was working as a contractor for a security company while living at home with her father. McGonigal, then 49 years old, had just started his new job at the FBI's New York office.

Guerriero says their affair lasted for a little more than a year. McGonigal's Brooklyn sublet may have been modest, but he lived large. He courted Guerriero at high-end restaurants. He would give her gifts of cash — $500 or $1,000 — for her birthday and for Christmas. He once joked about framing his divorce papers for her, as a Christmas gift, but those papers never materialized. He took her to watch New Jersey Devils hockey games in a private box. She recalls that McGonigal once gave a hundred-dollar bill to a panhandler on the street. "I'm a little better off than him. I can spare a hundred dollars," Guerriero remembers McGonigal saying, after she expressed astonishment.

That day in October wasn't the only time that Guerriero remembers McGonigal carrying large amounts of cash. After he brushed her curiosity aside, she tempered her suspicions. She told herself it was probably "buy money" for a sting operation, or a payoff for one of McGonigal's informants. She had dated federal law-enforcement officials before. She knew not to ask too many questions about work.

"Charlie McGonigal knew everybody in the national security and law-enforcement world," Guerriero said, in an interview with Insider. "He fooled them all. So why should I feel bad that he was able to deceive me?"

Recent Relevant Headlines

 

More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

ny times logoNew York Times, Tyre Nichols Beating Opens a Complex Conversation on Race and Policing, Clyde McGrady, Jan. 29, 2023. The officers charged in the young Black man’s murder are also Black, complicating the anguish and efforts at police reform.

The killing of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man in Memphis, at the hands of police has prompted outrage and condemnation from racial justice activists, police reform advocates and law enforcement officials, including the chief of the Memphis Police Department, a Black woman who lobbied for policing changes in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

The fact that the five officers charged with Mr. Nichols’s murder are Black complicates the anguish. It has also brought into focus what many Black people have said is frequently lost in police brutality cases involving white officers and Black victims: that problems of race and policing are a function of an entrenched police culture of aggression and dehumanization of Black people more than of interpersonal racism. It is the system and the tactics that foster racism and violence, they say, rather than the specific racial identities of officers.

“It’s not racism driving this, it’s culturism,” Robert M. Sausedo, the head of a Los Angeles nonprofit formed after the Rodney King beating in 1991, said after watching the video of Mr. Nichols’s beating Friday night.

 washington post logoWashington Post, ‘Shortness of breath’: How police first described what happened to Tyre Nichols, Justine McDaniel and Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff, Jan. 29, 2023. The brutal footage released Friday echoed the disparity between what police often initially report and what actually happens.

The first time Memphis police described what happened between their officers and Tyre Nichols — the 29-year-old who died of his injuries after being beaten by police — they wrote that “a confrontation occurred” following a traffic stop. Nichols fled on foot, and then “another confrontation occurred.”

“Afterward, the suspect complained of having a shortness of breath,” reads the statement posted on the Memphis Police Department’s Twitter account the morning after Nichols was beaten on Jan. 7. “The suspect was transported to St. Francis Hospital in critical condition.”

Brutal video footage released Friday, an hour’s worth of clips from body-worn and mounted cameras showing police pepper-spraying, punching and kicking Nichols, underscores the disparity between what police first reported and what actually happened.

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Memphis Officers Charged With Murder in Killing of a Black Man, Rick Rojas, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The officers, who are all also Black, face second-degree murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials are bracing for the release of video from the stop, which the Memphis police chief called “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

Tyre Nichols memorial background whiteFive fired Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols (shown above in a photo from his memorial service), a 29-year-old Black man hospitalized after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop this month. The officers were fired last week and accused of using excessive force in an encounter that was captured on video, including police body cameras. The city’s police chief, Cerelyn Davis, described their actions as “a failing of basic humanity.”

Here are the details:

  • The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were arrested on charges including second-degree murder. “The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible,” the Shelby County district attorney, Steven J. Mulroy, said. All five officers, who are Black, were fired last week. Here is an explanation of the charges.
  • Lawyers for two of the officers said they had not yet seen the video evidence but urged the public to reserve judgment. “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” said William Massey, who is representing Mr. Martin, at a news conference. Read more about their response.
  • A lawyer for Mr. Nichols’s family said the family was encouraged by the charges. “That these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the lawyer, Ben Crump, said in a statement. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.

washington post logoWashington Post, Video shows brutal police beating, Emily Davies, Robert Klemko and Joyce Sohyun Lee, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). It took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Tyre Nichols, 29, right, died three days later.

tyre nichols smileMemphis police officers shocked, pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and swung a baton at Nichols as he screamed repeatedly for his mother, the footage showed.

In a beating caught on police surveillance and body cameras, Memphis police officers shocked, pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and swung a baton at an unarmed, 29-year-old Black man as he screamed repeatedly for his mother, who sat unaware in her home less than 100 yards away.

  • Washington Post, For Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis, case is a ‘defining moment,’ Mark Berman, Jan. 28, 2023.

ny times logoNew York Times, Updates: Memphis Video Captures Officers’ Brutal Beating of Tyre Nichols, Rick Rojas and Jessica Jaglois, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). An hour of video footage shows a fatal beating by the police. Here’s the latest.

The city of Memphis released four videos late Friday that show police officers kicking and punching Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who later died, and beating him with a baton while he shows no signs of fighting back. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home,” and at one point he repeatedly screams, “Mom, Mom, Mom.” Lawyers have said that his mother’s home was about 100 yards away from where he was beaten.

 

tyre nichols collage

new york post logoNew York Post, Who was Tyre Nichols? What we know about his death, arrest by Memphis police, Kate Sheehy, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The “heinous,” and “appalling,” death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has caused shockwaves across the nation and sparked calls for widespread protests against police brutality.

 

Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, pictured in 1949, called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” He also saw it as a failure.

Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, pictured in 1949, called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” He also saw it as a failure. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: During Reconstruction, a brutal ‘war on freedom,’ Review by Stephanie McCurry, Jan. 29, 202 (print ed.). In ‘I Saw Death Coming,’ Kidada E. Williams presents first-person accounts of those scarred in many ways by the era’s violence.

Even at the distance of the 21st century, the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction remain a national pivot point, a moment at which a new future emerged into view. W.E.B. Du Bois called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” It was indeed an epic event like the Reformation and the French Revolution. But notwithstanding its ambition — or perhaps because of it — the era has been universally judged a “failure” by Du Bois and generations of historians from the early 20th century to the present. But that appraisal amounts to a mystifying generalization for a political project so radical, it was virtually utopian in scale.

In I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction, Kidada E. Williams takes aim at “the ‘failure’ narrative of Reconstruction.” What she offers instead is an account of the era as a merciless “war on freedom,” waged on newly freed Black people by White people intent on denying their aspirations to personal security and meaningful equality. Reconstruction did not fail, she insists; it was overthrown by violence.

Williams offers a horrifyingly detailed picture of the ways Black people were attacked, often in their own homes, in acts of depraved violence, by people they knew, in a campaign of terror that started under slavery and acquired a new aspect with emancipation. The brutality took on an organized paramilitary form in the attacks by the Ku Klux Klan after 1867, when Black men earned the right to vote and hold office. It’s impossible to reliably calculate the number of people murdered — the Black politician Robert Smalls put the figure at 53,000 African Americans. To date the U.S. government has offered no estimate. What is clear, Williams insists, is that there were too many to count and that “the successive violence [white southerners] used, rejecting newly freed peoples’ rights to any rights, was genocidal-like in nature.” She concludes: “Black Reconstruction didn’t ‘fail,’ as so many are taught. White southerners overthrew it, and the rest of the nation let them.”

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

More On Trump, Jan. 6 Insurrectionists

djt new hampshire 2023Politico, Trump hits DeSantis: He's a Covid skeptic phony, Meridith McGraw, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 29, 2023. The former president slams the Florida governor — and potential 2024 rival — as he hits the campaign trail in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

politico CustomSince announcing in November, Donald Trump had an unconventional start to his third presidential campaign: He did not campaign at all.

That’s now changing, and part of the reason the former president is holding his first formal campaign events of 2024 in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend is that others may be forcing his hand.

In recent days, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Trump and suggested she would be announcing her decision to enter the presidential race soon, a conversation that a person familiar with it described as cordial.

“She called me and said she’d like to consider it. And I said you should do it,” Trump told reporters, noting that Haley once said she would not get in the race if Trump runs again.

But Haley may be only a modest challenge for Trump going forward. He also is on a collision course with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to jump into the race.

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of “trying to rewrite history” over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, “promoted the vaccine as much as anyone.” He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

“When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal,” Trump said.

As for the polls showing DeSantis beating him in key nominating states, Trump was dismissive.

“He won’t be leading, I got him elected,” he said. “I’m the one that chose him.”

For months Trump has been tucked away at his resort in Palm Beach, where he has hosted parties, sent out missives on his social media site Truth Social, played golf, and plotted out his next steps.

When he re-emerged on Saturday, flying to New Hampshire on his rehabbed Trump-branded 757 plane, he was determined to showcase himself as a candidate who still has the star power that catapulted him to the White House in 2016, and could once again elbow out a full field of Republican challengers.

“They said ‘he’s not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he’s lost his step,’” Trump said at a meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”

Unlike 2020, when he ran unopposed as president, Trump is expected to have a field of Republican challengers to deal with this time around, beyond Haley. In anticipation of a crowded field, Trump’s campaign has compiled research on different potential candidates, according to an adviser. But Trump himself brushed off concerns that he is in danger of not securing the nomination. “I don’t think we have competition this time either, to be honest,” he said.

At the New Hampshire GOP meeting, Trump announced outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek would help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

And later in the day, at an appearance at the South Carolina statehouse, Trump announced endorsements from close ally and occasional golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — a notable display of political muscle in Haley’s home state.

“The good news for the Republican Party is there are many, many talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump,” Graham said. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new. There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

But Republican activists in New Hampshire are plainly divided. As Stepanek rejoins the Trump campaign, outgoing Vice Chair Pamela Tucker was recruiting volunteers for Ron to the Rescue, a super PAC formed after the midterms to boost DeSantis if he runs for president.

“We’re not never-Trumpers. We’re people who supported Trump. We love Trump. But we also know, more importantly, that we need to win. And Ron DeSantis has proven it time and time again now he can win elections,” Tucker said in an interview.

Matt Mayberry, a former congressional candidate and past New Hampshire GOP vice chair who supported Trump and has appeared at rallies with him in the state, said he isn’t taking sides yet in the still-forming primary.

Politico, Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire, Jan. 29, 2023.

Axios Sneak Peek,1 big thing: Trump's sleepy start to 2024, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 29, 2023. Former President Trump's first campaign swing of the 2024 campaign generated little of the excitement that has long defined his glitzy political rallies.

axios logoWhy it matters: From party officials to state legislators, there wasn't a visible show of support for Trump's 2024 bid among rank-and-file New Hampshire Republicans in attendance.

In contrast to the large rallies that propelled him in 2016 and 2020, the New Hampshire event — timed to the state party annual meeting — was held in a compact high school auditorium, with about 400 people in attendance.
The most organized show of Trump support was about a dozen fans standing outside the parking lot, who weren't credentialed for the event.

Driving the news: In a long-winded, hourlong address, Trump recalled what he says are his greatest successes as president — from cracking down on illegal immigration to stunting the spread of ISIS and launching the Space Force.

About one-third of the crowd loudly applauded as outgoing state party chairman Stephen Stepanek introduced Trump by endorsing his campaign. (He will be serving as Trump's top New Hampshire adviser.) But the speech overall drew a lukewarm reaction from the attendees.

Trump's biggest applause came 45 minutes into his speech, when he introduced a new proposal to crack down on critical race theory in public school classrooms. He also drew an enthusiastic response when he proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits.

Noting that pundits have panned the former president's low-key schedule since announcing his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump responded: "I have two years. I’m more angry now and I’m more committed than ever.”

What they're saying: "Trump has not been mortally wounded but was damaged by the results in the midterm election," said former Republican state party chairman Wayne MacDonald, a state lawmaker. "Trump lost the 2020 election, and the number of people who still hold onto the belief that he didn't are a dwindling minority."

Between the lines: Signs of enthusiasm for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were notable throughout the event. The pro-DeSantis efforts were led by the super PAC Ron To the Rescue, which set up shop inside the GOP meeting. A second DeSantis supporter was selling T-shirts at a stand.

A life-sized cutout of DeSantis stood just outside the auditorium. Only a smattering of visible signs of Trump enthusiasm — red MAGA hats from his most devoted supporters — were present in the high school's hallways.

Reality check: Trump's base of support has always been with ordinary Republican voters who don't participate in grassroots political events. Last year, Republican primary voters rejected candidates backed by popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu in favor of MAGA-oriented candidates.

The bottom line: Polls indicate Trump's support is soft in New Hampshire. The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he's unelectable in 2024.

  • 2. California's battle lines, Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) prospects in the hotly contested California Senate race are directly related to how relevant Trump remains in 2024, a California-based Democratic strategist tells Axios.

3. Poll of the week: Cracks in the Granite (state), New Hampshire Democratic voters overwhelmingly don't want President Biden to run for re-election and would seriously consider voting for an alternative, according to a University of New Hampshire poll.

 

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

washington post logoWashington Post, Footage of Paul Pelosi attack shows moment House speaker’s husband assaulted, Danielle Paquette, Justine McDaniel and Reis Thebault, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A judge agreed to release body camera footage shown in court of the October assault on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband.

Police body-camera video showing the October attack on the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, were made public Friday, revealing footage of the moment he was bludgeoned by a hammer-wielding intruder looking for his wife.

djt maga hatJudge Stephen M. Murphy of San Francisco Superior Court ordered the release of the evidence, including portions of a police interview with the suspect, David DePape, after The Washington Post and other news organizations pressed for copies.

The tapes illuminate a harrowing sequence: Pelosi alerting a 911 dispatcher of an armed man who was feet away, listening to the call and interjecting comments; DePape beating Pelosi in plain view of the officers; and DePape, after his arrest, describing his plans to kidnap and snap the bones of the then-House Speaker.

A clip of the assault at the Pelosi home in San Francisco before dawn on Oct. 28 was shown in court last month but, until now, had been otherwise shielded from view.

Wild rumors, amplified by conservative activists and bloggers, had surged after the 2 a.m. attack 11 days before the 2022 midterm elections, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued that unsealing video and audio could fuel more misinformation while risking DePape’s right to a fair trial. Someone, for instance, could edit the clips to manipulate audiences on social media.

But Judge Murphy ruled that footage playing in a public courtroom should be handed to the media.

“These are open facts. They are known facts,” said Thomas Burke, a lawyer representing the coalition of news organizations that pushed for access to the evidence, including The Post. “The public’s right of access should not be dependent on conspiracy theories.”

The internet gossip had spread rapidly to Capitol Hill, where Republican officials groundlessly cast doubt on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi’s account of the violence and referenced baseless homophobic conspiracy theories.

Prosecutors, however, have said that what happened was clear — and that DePape himself outlines his actions in tapes like those just publicly released.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said at the December hearing.

In the now-public interview with police, DePape told an investigator: “I’m not trying to get away with this. I know exactly what I did.”

Nancy Pelosi declined to comment on the evidence’s release on Friday, and one day earlier she told reporters on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know whether she will watch the video.

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caroline edwards abc news screenshot getty images

 

Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

Politico, Trump hits DeSantis: He's a Covid skeptic phony, Meridith McGraw, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 29, 2023. The former president slams the Florida governor — and potential 2024 rival — as he hits the campaign trail in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

politico CustomSince announcing in November, Donald Trump had an unconventional start to his third presidential campaign: He did not campaign at all.

That’s now changing, and part of the reason the former president is holding his first formal campaign events of 2024 in New Hampshire and South Carolina this weekend is that others may be forcing his hand.

djt new hampshire 2023In recent days, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called Trump, right, and suggested she would be announcing her decision to enter the presidential race soon, a conversation that a person familiar with it described as cordial.

“She called me and said she’d like to consider it. And I said you should do it,” Trump told reporters, noting that Haley once said she would not get in the race if Trump runs again.

But Haley may be only a modest challenge for Trump going forward. He also is on a collision course with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely expected to jump into the race.

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of “trying to rewrite history” over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, “promoted the vaccine as much as anyone.” He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

“When I hear that he might [run] I think it’s very disloyal,” Trump said.

As for the polls showing DeSantis beating him in key nominating states, Trump was dismissive.

“He won’t be leading, I got him elected,” he said. “I’m the one that chose him.”

For months Trump has been tucked away at his resort in Palm Beach, where he has hosted parties, sent out missives on his social media site Truth Social, played golf, and plotted out his next steps.

When he re-emerged on Saturday, flying to New Hampshire on his rehabbed Trump-branded 757 plane, he was determined to showcase himself as a candidate who still has the star power that catapulted him to the White House in 2016, and could once again elbow out a full field of Republican challengers.

“They said ‘he’s not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he’s lost his step,’” Trump said at a meeting of the New Hampshire Republican Party. “I’m more angry now, and I’m more committed now than I ever was.”

Unlike 2020, when he ran unopposed as president, Trump is expected to have a field of Republican challengers to deal with this time around, beyond Haley. In anticipation of a crowded field, Trump’s campaign has compiled research on different potential candidates, according to an adviser. But Trump himself brushed off concerns that he is in danger of not securing the nomination. “I don’t think we have competition this time either, to be honest,” he said.

At the New Hampshire GOP meeting, Trump announced outgoing New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek would help oversee his campaign in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

And later in the day, at an appearance at the South Carolina statehouse, Trump announced endorsements from close ally and occasional golf buddy Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Republican Gov. Henry McMaster — a notable display of political muscle in Haley’s home state.

“The good news for the Republican Party is there are many, many talented people for years to come, but there is only one Donald Trump,” Graham said. “How many times have you heard we like Trump’s policies but we want somebody new. There are no Trump policies without Donald Trump.”

But Republican activists in New Hampshire are plainly divided. As Stepanek rejoins the Trump campaign, outgoing Vice Chair Pamela Tucker was recruiting volunteers for Ron to the Rescue, a super PAC formed after the midterms to boost DeSantis if he runs for president.

“We’re not never-Trumpers. We’re people who supported Trump. We love Trump. But we also know, more importantly, that we need to win. And Ron DeSantis has proven it time and time again now he can win elections,” Tucker said in an interview.

Matt Mayberry, a former congressional candidate and past New Hampshire GOP vice chair who supported Trump and has appeared at rallies with him in the state, said he isn’t taking sides yet in the still-forming primary.

Politico, Trump makes his first big move in New Hampshire, Jan. 29, 2023.

 

truth social logo

ny times logoNew York Times, On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise, Stuart A. Thompson (Stuart Thompson used a program to collect and analyze hundreds of ads that ran on Truth Social over the past several months), Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Truth Social, the social network started by former President Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.

Between posts about conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances was an unusual advertisement: a photo of former President Donald J. Trump holding a $1,000 bill made of gold, which he was apparently offering free to supporters.

But there were a few catches: The bill was not free, it was not made of gold, and it was not offered by Mr. Trump.

The ad appeared on Truth Social, the right-wing social network started by Mr. Trump in late 2021, one of many pitches from hucksters and fringe marketers dominating the ads on the site.

Ads from major brands are nonexistent on the site. Instead, the ads on Truth Social are for alternative medicine, diet pills, gun accessories and Trump-themed trinkets, according to an analysis of hundreds of ads on the social network by The New York Times.

The ads reflect the difficulty that several far-right platforms, including Rumble and Gab, have faced in courting large brands, preventing the sites from tapping into some of the world’s largest ad budgets. It could be particularly problematic for Truth Social. Although the site has gained influence among the far right, becoming a vibrant ecosystem brimming with activity, its business is in need of cash.

Truth Social raised about $37 million, mainly from Republican political donors, but it is burning through about $1.7 million each month, according to William Wilkinson, a former executive at Trump Media & Technology Group, the social network’s parent company. And two federal investigations have put about $1.3 billion of much-needed funding in jeopardy.

Devin Nunes, the chief executive of Trump Media, said in an announcement last year that the company’s ad strategy would help it “displace the Big Tech platforms” as a major way to reach Americans.

But ad experts say the wariness from prominent brands on far-right social networks, which have positioned themselves as free-speech alternatives to Silicon Valley giants like Meta and Google, is driven by the kinds of conspiracy theories and hyperpartisan politics often found on the sites.

In addition, they say, Truth Social has a relatively small user base and many older users, who are less desirable for the brands. Marketers have complained that Truth Social’s ad-serving technology, run by Rumble, a right-wing video streaming website, offers limited tools for tracking an ad’s performance or for showing ads to users based on their demographic profiles. Those tools, now standard among larger ad networks operated by Google and Meta, are vital for determining an ad’s success.

Politico, Facebook was a cash cow for Trump. It could end up being a ‘bronze goose,’ Zach Montellaro, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The platform has changed. And operatives in both parties aren’t convinced that Trump can dominate there again.

politico CustomFacebook was the financial engine of Donald Trump’s previous two runs for president. But for his third campaign for the White House, it might not be such a powerhouse.

Advertising on the social media giant has changed significantly since Trump was last on the platform. Republicans say investments in Facebook no longer translate to small-dollar donors as they once did. Campaigns are spending far less on advertising there. And while the facebook logoformer president has always been a unique draw for conservatives on Facebook, there are significant questions as to whether an out-of-office Trump still has the same pull that a President Trump did.

“We saw in the midterms how a lot of campaigns were shifting their money to streaming, because Facebook just was not giving them the return on value that they had seen in the past,” said Katie Harbath, a one-time senior Republican digital staffer who then spent a decade at Facebook, before leaving in early 2021.

Trump was suspended from Facebook for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot in early 2021. But the suspension wasn’t permanent and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said earlier this week that it would be lifted soon.

“President Trump should have never been banned, so getting back on this platform allows the campaign access to that universe once again,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement. “We are getting closer to the full spectrum of building out the operation and dominating at every level, which we have already been doing based on poll numbers.”

The platform Trump is rejoining, however, is different from the one from which he was exiled. And how his team manages those changes could go a long way in determining the success of his efforts for a second term as president.

For starters, Facebook placed notable restrictions on ad targeting for political clients at the beginning of last year. And in 2021, Apple turned off ad tracking on their phones for users by default.

Those alterations represented a seismic shift for the advertising world. It also had profound impacts on political campaigns. Digital operatives from both parties say the changes have made it less valuable for campaigns to advertise on the social media behemoth.

One Republican who worked on statewide campaigns in recent cycles, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal fundraising metrics, said there was a notable dip in campaigns’ return on investment. “In 2020, [return on investment] on a really good day would be 200 percent. The minimum was 150 percent in 2020,” the operative said. “In 2022, it would be 90 percent or 80 percent. We would celebrate it when 110 [percent] came in.”

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U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 ny times logoNew York Times, When Private Equity Came for the Toddler Gyms, Lydia DePillis and Michael Corkery, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The same playbook that has notched high returns acquiring foreclosed homes and highway rest stops is being tested by a family-oriented franchise.

Tiffany Cianci spends most of her days in socks, padding around the fitness studio she operates in Frederick, Md., about an hour outside Washington. Her clients are young: kids ranging from 4 months to 12 years old. They come to learn somersaults, try the monkey bars, sing some songs. (“Little Red Caboose,” complete with a train whistle accompaniment, is one of her favorites.)

Ms. Cianci, 41, spent the first part of her career as a sommelier, specializing in sake. In 2017, wanting to leave the hospitality industry for something that allowed her to spend more time at home, she and her husband bought their facility as part of a franchise chain called The Little Gym. Its slogan: “Serious fun.”

They got what generations of franchise owners have gotten out of similar deals, with brands like McDonald’s or Jiffy Lube: a known brand name and detailed business plans in exchange for an initial fee and a cut of the revenue. For Ms. Cianci, it was more than just a business.

“I love it. I really love it,” said Ms. Cianci, a mother of three who studied dance. “I love my students, and I love that it lets me make a difference.”

In the last year and a half, since The Little Gym was acquired by a private equity-backed firm called Unleashed Brands, her work has felt far less idyllic.

According to legal filings, internal documents, and interviews with more than half a dozen other franchisees — most of whom requested anonymity so as to avoid retaliation — Unleashed began to demand higher fees and institute more stringent requirements, which the independent owners thought would threaten their profits. The day after Ms. Cianci organized her fellow franchise owners into an association to push back against the changes, the corporate office told her it was terminating her license on the grounds that she was chronically late in paying her fees. Given the timing, Ms. Cianci maintains in the legal filings that it constituted retaliation.

Along the way, Unleashed Brands surveilled Ms. Cianci’s business with undercover shoppers, met with her landlord and disparaged her to fellow franchisees. When she tried to salvage her business under a new name — it’s now called Teeter Tots Music n Motion — the company sued, accusing her of violating its trademarks and a noncompete clause in her franchise agreement.

The episode has plunged Ms. Cianci about $300,000 into debt and enmeshed Unleashed in a nasty court battle not long after it acquired multiple new brands. The outcome will be a test of just how much a franchisor can unilaterally change the rules of a business relationship that has served as an on-ramp to entrepreneurship for hundreds of thousands of people.

ny times logoNew York Times, Jury Awards $1 Million to Woman Who Was Told, ‘I Don’t Serve Black People,’ McKenna Oxenden, Updated Jan. 29, 2023. Rose Wakefield was ignored by an attendant at a gas station in Beaverton, Ore., near Portland, as white customers who pulled in after her were served first, according to the lawsuit.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How a Drug Company Made $114 Billion by Gaming the U.S. Patent System, Rebecca Robbins, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). AbbVie for years delayed competition for its blockbuster drug Humira, at the expense of patients and taxpayers. The monopoly is about to end.

humira logoIn 2016, a blockbuster drug called Humira was poised to become a lot less valuable.

The key patent on the best-selling anti-inflammatory medication, used to treat conditions like arthritis, was expiring at the end of the year. Regulators had blessed a rival version of the drug, and more copycats were close behind. The onset of competition seemed likely to push down the medication’s $50,000-a-year list price.

Instead, the opposite happened.

abbvie logoThrough its savvy but legal exploitation of the U.S. patent system, Humira’s manufacturer, AbbVie, blocked competitors from entering the market. For the next six years, the drug’s price kept rising. Today, Humira is the most lucrative franchise in pharmaceutical history.

Next week, the curtain is expected to come down on a monopoly that has generated $114 billion in revenue for AbbVie just since the end of 2016. The knockoff drug that regulators authorized more than six years ago, Amgen’s Amjevita, will come to market in the United States, and as many as nine more Humira competitors will follow this year from pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer. Prices are likely to tumble.

The reason that it has taken so long to get to this point is a case study in how drug companies artificially prop up prices on their best-selling drugs.

AbbVie orchestrated the delay by building a formidable wall of intellectual property protection and suing would-be competitors before settling with them to delay their product launches until this year.

The strategy has been a gold mine for AbbVie, at the expense of patients and taxpayers.

 

masih alinejadMasih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, publicizes the Iranian government's human rights abuses. | Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications.

Politico, Three men indicted in plot to kill Iranian-American journalist on U.S. soil, Kelly Garrity, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). “The conduct charged in today's case shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said. Journalist and Author Masih Alinejad speaks onstage with a flower in her hair.

politico Custom

Three members of an Eastern European criminal group with ties to Iran have been indicted for plotting to murder a U.S. journalist and human rights activist who was critical of the Iranian regime, the Justice Department announced Friday.

“The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference Friday. “The victim publicized the Iranian government’s human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression, and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution.”

“The conduct charged in today’s case shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

The men — Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev — were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in a Tehran-backed plot to kill Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, on U.S. soil. One of the defendants has been detained since his arrest last July, another is in custody of foreign partners pending extradition, and the third is in U.S. custody and will be presented today in court, Garland said.

Alinejad responded to the news in a video posted on Twitter shortly after the press conference, expressing gratitude for the law enforcement teams who thwarted the plot to kill her, and calling on the U.S. government to respond to the regime’s violent crackdowns on protesters.

“Let me make it clear: I am not scared for my life. Because I knew that killing, assassinating hanging, torturing, raping, is in the DNA of the Isalmic Republic,” Alinejad said. “And that’s why I came to the United States of America. To practice my right, my freedom of expression, to give voice to brave people of Iran who say no to [the] Islamic Republic.”

Alinejad added she is “thankful” for the work of the FBI and U.S. law enforcement, but called on the U.S. government to continue to take “strong action” against Iran. “This is the time that we have to pay attention to innocent people in Iran who don’t have any protection,” she said.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

Axios Sneak Peek, 1 big thing: Trump's sleepy start to 2024, Josh Kraushaar, Jan. 29, 2023. Former President Trump's first campaign swing of the 2024 campaign generated little of the excitement that has long defined his glitzy political rallies.

axios logoWhy it matters: From party officials to state legislators, there wasn't a visible show of support for Trump's 2024 bid among rank-and-file New Hampshire Republicans in attendance.

In contrast to the large rallies that propelled him in 2016 and 2020, the New Hampshire event — timed to the state party annual meeting — was held in a compact high school auditorium, with about 400 people in attendance.
The most organized show of Trump support was about a dozen fans standing outside the parking lot, who weren't credentialed for the event.

Driving the news: In a long-winded, hourlong address, Trump recalled what he says are his greatest successes as president — from cracking down on illegal immigration to stunting the spread of ISIS and launching the Space Force.

About one-third of the crowd loudly applauded as outgoing state party chairman Stephen Stepanek introduced Trump by endorsing his campaign. (He will be serving as Trump's top New Hampshire adviser.) But the speech overall drew a lukewarm reaction from the attendees.

Trump's biggest applause came 45 minutes into his speech, when he introduced a new proposal to crack down on critical race theory in public school classrooms. He also drew an enthusiastic response when he proposed a constitutional amendment for congressional term limits.

Noting that pundits have panned the former president's low-key schedule since announcing his 2024 presidential campaign, Trump responded: "I have two years. I’m more angry now and I’m more committed than ever.”

What they're saying: "Trump has not been mortally wounded but was damaged by the results in the midterm election," said former Republican state party chairman Wayne MacDonald, a state lawmaker. "Trump lost the 2020 election, and the number of people who still hold onto the belief that he didn't are a dwindling minority."

Between the lines: Signs of enthusiasm for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were notable throughout the event. The pro-DeSantis efforts were led by the super PAC Ron To the Rescue, which set up shop inside the GOP meeting. A second DeSantis supporter was selling T-shirts at a stand.

A life-sized cutout of DeSantis stood just outside the auditorium. Only a smattering of visible signs of Trump enthusiasm — red MAGA hats from his most devoted supporters — were present in the high school's hallways.

Reality check: Trump's base of support has always been with ordinary Republican voters who don't participate in grassroots political events. Last year, Republican primary voters rejected candidates backed by popular GOP Gov. Chris Sununu in favor of MAGA-oriented candidates.

The bottom line: Polls indicate Trump's support is soft in New Hampshire. The widespread sentiment among Republicans there is that Trump served the country well, but he's unelectable in 2024.

  • 2. California's battle lines, Rep. Adam Schiff's (D-Calif.) prospects in the hotly contested California Senate race are directly related to how relevant Trump remains in 2024, a California-based Democratic strategist tells Axios.

3. Poll of the week: Cracks in the Granite (state), New Hampshire Democratic voters overwhelmingly don't want President Biden to run for re-election and would seriously consider voting for an alternative, according to a University of New Hampshire poll.

 

ronna mcdaniel djt

washington post logoWashington Post, Ronna McDaniel quells revolt to win reelection as chair of fractured RNC, Isaac Arnsdorf, Dylan Wells and Josh Dawsey, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.) The RNC voted to stick with McDaniel amid demands for accountability for the party’s string of electoral failures.

rnc logoThe Republican National Committee on Friday voted to reelect Ronna McDaniel to a fourth two-year term as its chair, opting not to punish her for the GOP’s recent string of electoral defeats, in a contested race that exposed fissures in the party.

McDaniel fended off a challenge from Harmeet Dhillon, a California lawyer who has represented former president Donald Trump and the unsuccessful Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake, seizing on grass-roots furor demanding new leadership. McDaniel positioned herself as a steady hand and honest broker who can hold together the party’s factions and continue building out the RNC’s financial and field resources. She prevailed on the first ballot, 111-51. After her win, McDaniel told Fox News this will be her final term. “It’s done,” she said.

McDaniel argued that the RNC did its job in the midterms by providing the infrastructure for turning out voters. She acknowledged that the party struggled with its nominees — a problem that many Republicans have attributed to Trump’s influence. But McDaniel didn’t address the former president — who first elevated her to the job after he was elected president — in her remarks on Friday morning.

“The RNC, we don’t get to pick the candidates, the voters do,” McDaniel said. “We don’t get to call the plays, we don’t get to say what the campaigns run on. But we do provide resources and we build a critical infrastructure to help candidates win.” She added that Republicans won the popular vote by 4 million, equivalent to 297 electoral college votes, and made inroads with minority voters.

McDaniel’s victory offered few immediate answers to the questions dogging the Republican Party as it grapples with Trump’s third White House run, a disappointing midterm election and a potentially unwieldy presidential primary field. In some ways, the race reaffirmed the party’s complicated relationship with the former president, with both leading candidates having clear ties to him, but also at times seeking some distance.

Yet it was clear that party insiders signaled they were not in the mood to tackle those challenges by blowing things up and starting over.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: House Republicans bring the bread and circuses, Dana Milbank, right, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Rep. Victoria dana milbank CustomSpartz was hopping mad.

“We cannot have these kangaroo courts — it’s unacceptable,” the Indiana Republican declared this week. Her criticism was all the more biting because she directed it at the Chief Marsupial of this particular tribunal, Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

victoria spartz oWhy such indignation aimed at her fellow Republican? It turns out Spartz, left, possesses that rarest of attributes among her colleagues: intellectual consistency.

Two years ago, when the Democratic House ousted two Republicans from committees for glorifying violence against their colleagues, McCarthy (Calif.) railed against the removals as evidence of a “broken Congress.” Now, voters have given McCarthy the majority — and he is doing exactly that which he decried: He has already removed two Democrats from committees without due process, and he plans to evict a third.

“Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change,” Spartz said in a statement objecting to the “charade” of kicking members off their committees.

It was an apt invocation of the Roman writer Juvenal’s lament 2,000 years ago that the people had abdicated their duties as citizens of the Republic in favor of “bread and circuses” provided by their imperial rulers.

Emperor McCarthy grinned when Spartz’s words were read to him this week. Asked how he would respond, he replied, “Not at all.”

In truth, the new majority doesn’t have much bread to dole out (aside from the free doughnuts and Chick-fil-A that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) offered reporters this week in lieu of answers about his fabricated life story). But it has more clown acts than could fill the Circus Maximus.

ron klain white house

washington post logoWashington Post, Exiting White House, Klain says work for Biden defined his life, John Wagner, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). In his official resignation letter, outgoing White House chief of staff Ron Klain, shown above, recounted what President Biden has accomplished so far during his tenure, as is typical of such documents.

But Klain also offered a rare glimpse into how his many years of service alongside Biden, in multiple capacities, has affected him personally and been “woven into the tapestry of the Klain family.”

Klain, 61, became the White House chief of staff in January 2021 after serving in the same role for Biden at the start of his vice presidency.

In his letter, Klain noted that he first became a Biden staffer 36 years ago, when Biden was a senator representing Delaware. Klain recounted that his first day on the job was the day after his honeymoon.

“Leaving and returning to your staff several times since, my work for you has defined my life, both personally and professionally,” Klain wrote.

“In good times, you were the first to call when each of my children was born — and decades later, the first to congratulate me when they got engaged,” Klain said. “In bad times, you were the first to console me when my father passed away years ago, and over the past two months, you have supported me in spending time away from the White House with my ailing mother.”

Klain closed his letter by noting that Biden would have his unflagging support going forward.

“If you choose to run in 2024, I look forward to doing whatever I can to help your campaign, as I did for you in 1988, 2008 and 2020 campaigns,” Klain said. “I will always be a Biden supporter and advocate in whatever I do next.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Investigation: As fentanyl boomed, DEA removed Mexico director amid misconduct probe, Mary Beth Sheridan, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Turmoil in one of the agency's most important offices was an embarrassing distraction as agents tried to work with Mexican counterparts to deter drug trafficking.

washington post logoWashington Post, DeSantis advisers prepare for potential presidential run, explore staff options, Hannah Knowles, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). The private activity is the latest indication the second-term Republican governor is laying a foundation for a potential White House bid.

Advisers to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis are actively preparing for a possible presidential run, according to two Republicans with knowledge of the conversations who described meetings and preliminary staffing moves — the latest indication that DeSantis is laying a foundation for a national campaign.

DeSantis’s political team has already identified multiple potential hires in early primary states such as New Hampshire and Iowa, according to one of the Republicans, who said experienced operatives have expressed interest. This Republican also said that Phil Cox and Generra Peck — two key members of DeSantis’s 2022 reelection team — are involved in ongoing talks about 2024.

Another Republican with knowledge of the conversations said DeSantis advisers met recently to discuss the 2024 election. The Republicans spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues 

washington post logoWashington Post, Israeli settlers attack Palestinians across West Bank as escalation looms, Shira Rubin and William Booth, Jan. 29, 2023. A Palestinian man was killed near a settlement in the West Bank overnight Saturday, and Israeli settlers carried out dozens of attacks targeting Palestinians across the occupied territory, according to Palestinian media and officials, as violence showed no sign of abating on the eve of a trip to the region by America’s top diplomat.

The Israeli army said that the Palestinian man killed late Saturday was seen outside Kdumim, a settlement in the northern West Bank, “armed with a handgun … and was neutralized by the community’s civilian security team.” Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, identified the man as Karam Ali Salman, 18, a resident of Qusin village, near the northern West Bank city of Nablus. The report said he was fatally shot by an armed Israeli settler in circumstances that remained “unclear.”

Wafa said at least 144 Israeli settler attacks — some minor rock-throwing incidents, others much more violent — were reported on Saturday across the West Bank, the occupied territory that Palestinians envision as part of their future state. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities on Sunday began demolishing Palestinian homes in retaliation for Friday’s synagogue shooting and pledged an expansion of West Bank settlements, which could further inflame an already volatile situation.

In Masafer Yatta, in the south, settlers assaulted a Palestinian man; in two villages near Ramallah, masked attackers torched a house and a car and threw stones; in Nablus, settlers uprooted nearly 200 trees.

Outside the northern village of Akraba, dozens of settlers established a new, unauthorized outpost. They attacked the Palestinian landowners who arrived at the scene, then injured a medic who came to assist, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli human rights group. The Israeli military did not intervene, the report added.

There has been an “unprecedented increase in the frequency of terror attacks against Palestinian citizens and their property,” said Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official.

ny times logoNew York Times, Palestinian Man Fatally Shot as Violence Continues With Israeli Forces, Raja Abdulrahim, Jan. 29, 2023. An Israeli military raid last week, followed by a Palestinian gunman’s attack outside a synagogue, have fueled a wave of conflict and tension.

A Palestinian man was fatally shot outside an Israeli settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israeli settlers carried out nearly 150 attacks on Palestinians and their properties across the region, according to reports on Sunday by Palestinian state media and the Israeli Army.

The Israeli military said the man who was shot, Karam Salman, 18, was armed with a handgun and fired on by a settlement security team in Kedumim. The Palestinian official news agency, Wafa, reported that the circumstances of Mr. Salman’s killing were unclear.

Tensions and violence have gripped the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Jerusalem for days after an Israeli military raid on Thursday killed ten people. A 24-year-old man who was wounded in the raid died of his injuries on Sunday. Thursday’s incursion, the military said, was aimed at apprehending members of the Islamic Jihad group who were involved in planning and executing multiple attacks on Israel. It was the deadliest military operation in the occupied West Bank in at least a half-decade.

On Friday night, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue in a Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, the deadliest attack on civilians in the city since 2008. And on Saturday, an attacker who the police said was 13 years old shot and injured two Israelis near another Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem.

 

africa nation map

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Africa is less democratic and safe than a decade ago, study says, Ishaan Tharoor, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A new study of Africa’s 54 countries provides grim reading. It found that much of the continent is less safe and less democratic than it was a decade ago, a marker of worrying political trends that accelerated over the course of the pandemic. A surge in military coups and the spread of armed conflicts now threaten to stall, and even reverse, years of political progress across the region.

The index, which is put out every two years by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, compiles a ranking of quality of overall governance across Africa based on scores allocated to a range of criteria, including development, economic opportunity and political inclusion. According to the analysis, its subcategories measuring democratic participation and “security and rule of law” both deteriorated, with the “pace of decline accelerating since 2017.” An estimated 70 percent of the continent’s population lives in countries that the index classifies as less safe now than in 2012.

The report pointed to 23 successful or attempted coups since 2012, and eight takeovers by juntas since 2019. Mali and Burkina Faso, two West African neighbors once known for their relative political stability, have recently experienced two coups each. “This phenomenon of coup d’etats that was common in the ’80s seems to have become fashionable again in certain parts of Africa,” Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British billionaire who has used his wealth to promote democracy and good governance in Africa, told reporters this week.

washington post logoWashington Post, Former general Pavel favored to beat billionaire Babis in Czech election, Ladka Bauerova and Emily Rauhala, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). A former general is expected to prevail over a billionaire former prime minister on Saturday in the Czech Republic’s presidential election — seen by some as a contest between constitutional democracy and populism, with Russia’s war in Ukraine looming in the background.

Czechs are choosing between Petr Pavel, who held a senior position at NATO, and Andrej Babis, who has loomed large in the country’s business and political landscape for the past decade.

Opinion polls showed a significant lead for Pavel ahead of the runoff vote that opened Friday and will close Saturday.

Although the position of president is largely ceremonial, the role is symbolically important. A win for Pavel would cement a shift away from populist politics — at least for now. The race was also being watched as something of a bellwether, as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes electoral politics across Europe.

Pavel could show the continent “that populists can be beaten,” said Jiri Priban, a professor of law and philosophy at Cardiff University in Wales. “It is a very strong message for transatlantic relations and also for constitutional democracy — a system which is under strain.”

The candidates are vying to replace President Milos Zeman, who has sought to stretch the power of the presidency since he was elected a decade ago. He appointed an unelected caretaker government (though it failed to win parliamentary approval), refused to nominate judges and professors who displeased him and blocked political appointments, all while cozying up to China and Russia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Brasilia’s Polícia Militar initially did little to stop Capitol attack, Meg Kelly and Imogen Piper, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.) (video forensics). A few officers of the Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal (PMDF) stand casually behind a metal barricade overlooking Brazil’s National Congress building, video posted to social media at 4:09 p.m. local time on Jan. 8 showed. One films the area. Another checks his phone. A third chats with a group of men, two of whom wear the Brazilian flag draped over their shoulders.

Captured on video, the scene appears quiet, boring even, until the end, when the perspective pans to reveal the plaza awash in a sea of green- and yellow-clad rioters.

Just 600 feet away, as the video of the police standing idle posts to social media, officers from the Polícia Legislativa battles the destructive mob that has taken control of congress, social media posts and CCTV footage of the insurrection in Brasília obtained by The Washington Post shows.

A Post examination of more than 150 videos and images from Jan. 8 — including CCTV and body-camera footage — reveals that rank-and-file members of PMDF, tasked with securing the streets surrounding government buildings, did little to stop the initial assault. The visuals, chronologically synchronized by The Post, while not comprehensive, show few, if any, rank-and-file members supported other security forces in the first hours of their efforts to re-secure the government complex.

Brazil’s military blocked arrests of Bolsonaro rioters, officials say

Government officials were aware of the planned protest, which was widely promoted across far-right social media channels supporting former president Jair Bolsonaro at least five days earlier. “Patriots from all over Brazil,” the messages said, should come and “bring Brasília to a halt.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Facing hardest election yet, Turkey’s Erdogan woos voters with public spending, Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Facing a difficult election in just a few months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unleashed a wave of public spending — to help the millions in his country reeling from economic hardship, and to ensure their votes go his way.

Flag of TurkeyThe enticements — aimed at students, working people and business owners, commuters and others — have included tax relief, cheap loans, energy subsidies and even pledges not to raise road and bridge tolls. Their rapid rollout has highlighted the electoral stakes for Erdogan, a popular leader who has dominated Turkey’s politics for two decades and assumed a pivotal mediating role during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite his stature, at home and abroad, he finds himself more vulnerable to opposition challenge than ever before, as a public battered by historically high inflation is, in many quarters, clamoring for change.

“The economy is eating into his base,” said Berk Esen, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

washington post logoWashington Post, Second Jerusalem shooting of Israelis puts region on high alert, Shira Rubin and Kelsey Ables, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Two Israelis were injured in a shooting in East Jerusalem, a day after a lethal shooting rampage at a Jerusalem synagogue, the latest in an israel flagescalating string of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new round of bloodshed.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency services, said that they received a report of the shooting in Ma’alot Ir David, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, at around 10:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. The shooter, a 13-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was palestinian flagapprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to the Israeli police. Earlier reports mistakenly said that the shooter was killed on site.

Saturday’s shooting came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people — including children — during Friday night prayer services at a synagogue in East Jerusalem. As Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank took to the streets to celebrate the attack, Israeli leaders prepared to meet and finalize a response.

Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israeli worshipers in years, and put the region on the brink of a major escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians at a refugee camp in Jenin, the deadliest single operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. Early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which retaliated with air strikes on the territory.

The clashes are an early test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which came into power late last month planning to restrict minority rights, tighten the occupation of the West Bank and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians. Netanyahu said Friday that his security cabinet will meet on Saturday evening, and his government had already decided what action it would take.

Funerals for Friday’s shooting victims are slated to take place on Saturday evening after the end of Shabbat. Israeli military and police have been put on the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects that could be a bomb, and boosting forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of further violence. Israeli police said on Saturday that they had arrested 42 people in connection with Friday’s shooting.

The weekend shootings took place in East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city which Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. A previous Netanyahu government sought to evict a group of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in favor of Jewish settlers, leading to a bloody 11-day confrontation in 2021 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

OpEdNews, Commentary and Advocacy: Consolidate, Strengthen the International Effort to Stop the Use of Rape as a Weapon of War, Robert robert weiner columnistWeiner, right, and Sophia Hosford, Jan. 29, 2023. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse have long been used as means of control, humiliation and dominance in wartime situations. These vicious acts have been perpetuated by systems that call for world peace over all else.

Most recently, members of the Russian military in Ukraine have used rape and sexual abuse as "weapons of war." An October press release from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reported an "array" of war crimes and violations of human rights committed by Russian personnel in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin and the Russian military leadership have used rape as a tool to force subservience. The UNCHR recommended enhancing the coordination of international and national efforts to protect victims. This ambiguous recommendation holds no water to the Russian government -- apparently it fits in with catastrophic and harmful weapons of war.

The rape and abuse of a nation is dehumanizing and instills an unshakable fear and shame. Rape as a wartime tactic is inhumane.

The U.S. is not immune to this military tactic. Prisoner sex abuse was rampant with 400 alleged cases carried out at Abu Ghraib, a prison complex in Iraq, and six other prisons between 2001 and 2005 according to a 2009 report from Reuters. The photographs obtained from Abu Ghraib show "torture, abuse, rape, and every indecency" as U.S. Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who wrote the report on Abu Ghraib, told the Daily Telegraph May 30, 2009.

Today, the U.S. military is struggling to deal with an increase in rapes and sexual assaults with nearly 1 in 4 women reporting being sexually assaulted while serving, according to The New York Times.

On May 3, 2021, a former cadet at West Point was denied the opportunity to present a lawsuit to the Supreme Court. The cadet alleged rape on campus, pointing to the U.S. Military Academy's "pervasive and well-known culture of sexual violence." In fiscal year 2021 the Department of Defense received 161 reports of sexual assault that involved cadets/midshipmen/prep school students as victims and/or alleged perpetrators, an increase of 32 reports from the previous year. Rape in the military is not just an issue in combat; it starts in the academies.

In 2013, then-Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., proposed the Vanessa Guille'n Military Justice Improvement and Increasing Prevention Act. The legislation aimed to standardize how the military prosecutes sexual assault and to remove the fear survivors have of reporting the crimes against them. In 2021, a related bill was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to include an independent prosecutor in cases of rape and murder and received backing from Democratic leaders such as then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York.

Former United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women Dubravka Šimonovi presented the Model Rape Law, an addendum to her report on rape as a human rights violation, to harmonize both national and international standards on rape and sexual violence. Rape can constitute a war crime, a crime against humanity, or a constitutive act with respect to genocide when the other elements of the crimes are present.

The Model Rape Law could aid in implementing international standards on rape, thus presenting a stronger stance against rape and sexual abuse in the United States and abroad. One of the objectives of the legislation is to prevent and combat rape as a common and widespread violation of human rights. But this can't be the only action taken by the UNCHR to protect victims of rape and prosecute those responsible.

Sexual abuse is a direct violation of the Geneva Conventions, a set of protocols that dictate humanitarian treatment during wartime and prohibit torture, outrages upon personal dignity, and humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees, among other rules of conduct.

Thirty countries including the United States have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia, resulting in economic disruption -- but that hasn't stopped its government from ordering these attacks and from its soldiers from blindly carrying them out. While the U.N. is the overarching entity that regulates international standards and needs to be enacting laws that do so, Putin must independently be embarrassed by the atrocities he is encouraging and causing. More publicity of these rapes and abuses could help do that. The issue is widespread and international: On Jan. 17, CNN reported that a former London police officer, David Carrick, was dismissed following his admission to 24 counts of rape.

The U.N. and United States need to look internally and enact legislation that presents an explicit stance against rape, an offense considered to be a crime against humanity, but that isn't treated as such.

The U.S. has a duty to protect service members who are victimized and reprimand and discharge those who acted as aggressors. The U.S. and the U.N. must pass the aforementioned legislation and work with other governments to standardize responses to rape and sexual abuse in wartime on the global stage.

Robert Weiner is a former spokesman for the House Government Operations Committee, the Clinton and George W. Bush White Houses, Four-Star Gen. Barry McCaffrey, and senior aide to Cong. Ed Koch, Claude Pepper, John Conyers, Charles Rangel, and Sen. Ted Kennedy. Sophia Hosford is policy analyst at Robert Weiner Associates and Solutions for Change.

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Ukraine War

ny times logoNew York Times, Russia and Ukraine Battle for Control of Villages Near Key City of Bakhmut, Matthew Mpoke Bigg Jan. 29, 2023. The area is a flash point in an offensive that Moscow views as crucial for its goal of seizing the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine.

Russian forces were wrestling for control of villages in eastern Ukraine near the beleaguered city of Bakhmut over the weekend, the latest flash point in a battle that Moscow views as crucial for its push to seize the whole of the eastern region of Donbas.

Ukraine’s general staff said on Sunday that its soldiers had repelled attacks on the small village of Blahodatne and several other settlements in the area. The statement came a day after Russia’s Wagner group, a private military company that has conducted much of the fighting around Bakhmut on Moscow’s behalf, claimed that its forces had captured Blahodatne.

“Blahodatne is under our control,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman and the head of the Wagner group, said on Saturday in a statement posted on a website for one of his companies. Russia’s defense ministry has not confirmed the report and the claim could not be independently verified. Mr. Prigozhin has sought to cast his mercenaries as the most effective fighting force in the area and previously has claimed credit for battlefield advances ahead of Kremlin confirmation.

Blahodatne lies between Soledar, a salt-mining town that Russian forces recently captured after weeks of intense fighting, and a road that runs north from the city of Bakhmut. The road serves as a crucial supply line for Ukrainian forces defending the city.

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Presidential Document Probes

 

merrick garland john laucsch al drago bloomberg

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Garland’s special counsels: The mistake keeps getting worse, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 26, 2023. Attorney General jennifer rubin new headshotMerrick Garland, above, came into the job determined, above all else, to restore the integrity of the Justice Department. In trying to convince everyone that the department is above reproach, however, he has made a series of unwise, showy moves that leave it looking more, not less, political.

The problem began with Garland’s decision to follow his predecessor’s position that former president Donald Trump was acting in the scope of his presidential duties when he allegedly slandered E. Jean Carroll. Garland compounded the error by appointing a special counsel to investigate President Biden’s possession of classified documents from his years as vice president and U.S. senator.

Garland evidently felt that fairness demanded he treat the Biden case as he treated the investigation of classified documents held by Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The department’s credibility would have been better served if Garland had made tough distinctions between two very different cases.

The special counsel statute lays out three criteria for an appointment. First, the attorney general must determine that “a criminal investigation” is warranted. Second, that the investigation or resulting prosecution present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department, “or other extraordinary circumstances.” And third, that “under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

Not on the list: “I want to avoid looking political.” If every sniff of wrongdoing by a high-ranking official or presidential candidate triggers a special counsel, the result will be precisely the chaos that now appears before us.

Garland’s failure to make a clear, obvious distinction between Trump’s apparent obstruction and Biden’s mere sloppiness has created a slippery slope. Will former president Jimmy Carter’s sloppiness merit a special counsel? What about former vice president — and likely presidential candidate— Mike Pence?

One wonders whether Garland and his aides did any significant research to determine how widespread the problem of retained-and-voluntarily-returned documents actually is.

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mike pence bites lip Custom

 

Borrowing Limit Tactics: 'Economic Terrorism'

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: It’s time to cancel Congress’s debt ceiling theatrics, Colbert I. King, right, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). This “Perils colbert king newestof Pauline” debt ceiling cliffhanger is a cheap political show that Congress should just grow up and stop staging. It’s tiresome, and it wastes time and energy best spent on things that matter, such as serious, substantive fiscal reforms and addressing the root causes of the rising national debt.

Increasing the statutory debt limit is a must. It should not be held hostage by sensation-seeking Republican foghorns who can’t tell the debt ceiling from ceiling tile.

After all, raising the debt ceiling is essentially a ministerial legislative act. I learned that, and more, when I became a Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs in my early days with President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

How many ways are there to explain this situation? Increasing the debt limit allows the country — the United States of America — to meet obligations already authorized by Congress. Obligations, to explain further, to holders of U.S. debt, including our largest foreign debt holders, Japan followed by China, as well as the Social Security Trust Fund and other institutions and individual investors.

We, the people, are legally obligated to those creditors. The full faith and credit of the United States is on the line. A U.S. debt default would be cataclysmic both at home and abroad.

The thought of Congress standing by while the United States and world economy go down the tubes is unthinkable — until you hear the kind of nonsense coming out of the mouths of House Republicans such as Rep. Bob Good (Va.), who climbed atop a chair at a town hall in rural Louisa County and told his constituents that under no circumstances would he vote to increase the debt ceiling without “commensurate cuts in spending.” Good knows full well — or at least he should know full well — that imposing immediate cuts of that magnitude would trigger financial chaos and business failures throughout the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats have a two-part plan to use the debt ceiling against Republicans, Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 25, 2023. Sensing Republicans are on the verge of a blunder in their schemes to use the debt ceiling to hold the economy hostage and try to extract draconian spending cuts, the White House has developed a two-part response strategy. So far, it is paying off.

Part 1: Lay out the simple argument that Republicans are recklessly inviting an economic meltdown even by talking about a possible default. Part 2: Force House Republicans to put forward a plan on the table and watch as they struggle with the fallout.

The administration has already delivered on the first step. Appearing on MSNBC this month, Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, warned, “Unless the debt ceiling is unconditionally increased … not only will you be in default, but the result will be, as you’ve mentioned, the loss of millions of jobs, but also a spiking in interest rates.” He added that breaching full faith and credit of the U.S. dollar would undermine one of the "most pristine currencies in the world.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The scariest part of the debt ceiling impasse: Washington isn’t scared, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). In the past week, I have been told by a prominent economist, the CEO of a major bank and two Democratic members of Congress not to worry about breaching the debt limit. Congress always ends up raising the debt limit, they said when I asked each of them about it during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — even if it takes a bumpy road to get there.

So why am I not reassured?

Partly it’s because I remember hearing people say that housing prices only ever go up or that Donald Trump would never be president. But it’s also because the case for complacency underestimates the distance between the parties.

Republicans in Washington think Democrats will keep saying that they will never negotiate over a debt ceiling bill right up until the end, when they will make a deal — just as President Barack Obama agreed to spending cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling in 2011, the last time the parties had this kind of a knockdown over the issue.

Democrats think Obama set a dangerous precedent and want to set a new one: You don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.

In their view, Congress has a responsibility to pass a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling with no spending cuts attached. Besides, they see no point in negotiating with this particular crew of hostage-takers, who are unlikely to reach agreement among themselves about what they want. Some Republicans want major changes to the programs for senior citizens that are driving the increasing federal debt, while others would be willing to settle for a commission that looked into budget reforms. Whether a House with a tiny majority can stick together behind any plan is questionable.

Even the left-most Republicans in the House consider the demand that they vote for a stand-alone increase in the debt ceiling absurd. Some Democrats, too, say there should be negotiations. Debt-limit increases have often been tied to other policies, and each of the past two Democratic presidents voted against increases when they were in the Senate.

While Republicans think they can use debt limit legislation to get policy concessions from Democrats, the Democrats think they can use it to make political gains. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain reportedly told a top congressional Democrat that the fight could result in what The Post described as “substantial political benefits” for his party.

The Democratic strategy requires that Republicans get nothing, not even something face-saving, in return for raising the debt ceiling, and assumes that voters will blame Republicans for any suffering that the hostage economy endures.

The Republican strategy assumes to the contrary that Democrats, as the party in power and the party more supportive of government spending, have a stronger political incentive to get the ceiling raised.

Both sides can’t be right. They’re going to be slow to learn who’s wrong. Each side will discount any strong rhetoric from the other as a bluff. It will see any sign of a pending default, and any sign that default will lead to an economic catastrophe, as evidence that its strategy is on the verge of working.

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U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, A Planned Parenthood was firebombed, and the alleged motive isn’t what I expected, Monica Hesse, right, Jan. 28, 2023 monica hesse(print ed.). Investigators say a man they’ve charged was upset about a girlfriend’s abortion three years earlier.

A couple weeks ago, police officers in Peoria, Ill., responded to a call about the local Planned Parenthood, where an unidentified person had been spotted pulling up to the clinic in a pickup, smashing a flaming laundry detergent bottle into the building’s front window, and then peeling away. Nobody was harmed — this all happened late on a Sunday night — but the fire caused extensive damage and the clinic is closed indefinitely..

I followed the news coverage with personal and professional interest. A few days before the firebombing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed a law protecting Illinois abortion-care providers. The National Abortion Federation has reported that invasions and assaults on abortion clinics increased by about 130 percent in 2021, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer forced many clinics to close and blasted negative attention onto the ones that remained open.

In short, I was pretty sure I could guess what kind of perp we were looking for, and I fully expected to see the Peoria firebombing case culminate with the arrest of someone wearing an “Abortion is the American Holocaust” crew-neck and earnestly explaining how they did it to save the babies.

But also, I’m from there. Peoria is 40 minutes away from my hometown, a straight shot west on Interstate 74. This particular Planned Parenthood is where high school girls in my town would go if they needed birth control and didn’t want any busybodies ratting them out if they were spotted at the local clinic. The area is a mixed bag of insurance wonks (State Farm), gearheads (Rivian) academics (go Redbirds!) and farmers (go corn!), which is to say, we’re just about as likely as anyplace else to produce a crusader who believes he’s saving lives by throwing molotov cocktails.

But I digress.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that an arrest had been made. Tyler W. Massengill, 32, has been charged with “maliciously damaging and destroying, and attempting to damage and destroy, by means of fire and an explosive, a building used in interstate commerce,” according to a DOJ criminal complaint. The accompanying news release stressed that criminal complaints are accusations, not convictions — we’re still in the “allegedly” territory here — but it also said the alleged perpetrator confessed to the crime.

ny times logoNew York Times, A company that makes abortion pills is challenging state bans on the medication in a lawsuit, Pam Belluck, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). The case, brought by GenBioPro, a company that makes one of two abortion drugs, argues that it is unconstitutional for a state to bar access to a medication approved by the federal government.

A company that makes an abortion pill filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning challenging the constitutionality of a state ban on the medication, one in what is expected to be a wave of cases arguing that the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the pill takes precedence over such restrictive state laws.

The case was filed in federal court in West Virginia by GenBioPro, one of two American manufacturers of mifepristone, the first pill used in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. A ruling in favor of the company could compel other states that have banned abortion to allow the pills to be prescribed, dispensed and sold, according to legal experts. If the courts reject the company’s arguments, some legal scholars say the decision could open the door for states to ban or restrict other approved drugs, such as Covid vaccines or morning-after pills.

The case is one of a number of lawsuits testing legal arguments in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling last June overturning the federal right to abortion. Also on Wednesday, an obstetrician-gynecologist sued officials in North Carolina, which still allows abortion, challenging the state’s requirements for using mifepristone because they go beyond F.D.A. regulations on the drug. In November, abortion opponents filed a lawsuit challenging the F.D.A.’s approval of mifepristone nearly 23 years ago and asked that the courts order the agency to stop allowing the use of the drug and the second drug, misoprostol, for abortion.

Taken together, the cases underscore how pivotal medication abortion has become in legal and political battles. With pills now being used in more than half of abortions in America, and with recent F.D.A. decisions allowing patients to have pills prescribed by telemedicine and obtained by mail or from retail pharmacies, states that ban or restrict abortion are increasingly targeting the medication method.

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More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill (Photo by Francis Chung via Politico and Associated Press).

washington post logoWashington Post, Who would work for Rep. Santos? Capitol Hill is watching closely, Joe Heim and Meagan Flynn, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). No staff hirings on Capitol Hill are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been buried in controversy since his election.

Hiring season is winding down on Capitol Hill. The flurry of forwarded résumés is fading, staff positions in House and Senate offices are nearly filled, and the mostly serious business of governing is taking hold.
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The biennial job carousel, a parlor game that plays out in the Capitol’s bustling hallways, hyperdrive text chains and chatty cafeteria lines, is always a closely watched exercise by staffers. Who’s up, who’s down? Who’s in, who’s out?

But perhaps no staff hirings this year are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who since his election in November has been buried in an avalanche of revelations that point to him not being the person he once claimed to be. He did not, for instance, graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for its team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine.

There are also questions about where his money came from, how he funded his campaign, and his work for a Florida company that the SEC is suing and has alleged is a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

Even as he has had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos has been assembling a staff for his Washington and district offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing job candidates, vetting résumés, running background checks and finding people willing to work for a member who appears allergic to truth-telling.

Taking a job for Santos could prove dicey for staffers. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic lawmakers and staff members, many wondered if those who go to work for Santos, particularly higher-level staffers, would ever be able to find another congressional office that would hire them.

See the evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography

So far, there is public information available for just five positions that Santos has filled, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and posts congressional hiring. The initial makeup of Santos’s staff seems to lack the deep Capitol Hill experience that new members typically seek to help them get off to an effective start and quickly adjust to the rhythms and demands of Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, Santos campaign briefly reported $254,000 in payments to ‘anonymous,’ Emma Brown and Isaac Stanley-Becker, Jan. 27, 2023. The payments, though later removed in revised filings, raise new questions for the embattled GOP congressman from New York.

george santos headshotIn the spring of 2022, George Santos’s congressional campaign submitted a handful of filings to the Federal Election Commission that did something unheard of in campaign finance: The campaign reported spending a total of $254,000 — in more than 1,200 small payments — to recipients identified only as “anonymous.”

A month later, in amended reports, those listed expenditures were gone. Campaigns generally are not required to itemize payments under $200, so the removal of the “anonymous” payments reverted, in a way, to customary practice.

But their brief inclusion stunned experts, several of whom told The Washington Post that they had not seen filings for expenditures to recipients listed as “anonymous.” A review of other federal candidates’ 2022 filings by The Post found only a dozen such instances, most of which appeared to involve money returned to donors who had attempted to give anonymously. (Federal rules require campaigns to disclose the identities of their donors.)

“The entire purpose of the reporting requirements is to provide voters and the public with information about how campaigns are spending their money,” said Erin Chlopak, senior director for campaign finance at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. “By definition, reporting ‘anonymous’ defeats the entire purpose.”

ny times logoNew York Times, George Santos Says He Has a New Treasurer. The Treasurer Does Not Agree, Michael Gold, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Like much of Representative George Santos’s financial background, the move to replace his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, was shrouded in confusion.

Representative George Santos’s campaign and six affiliated political committees filed statements on Wednesday indicating they were removing his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, who has been connected to nearly every Santos-related fund and one of Mr. Santos’s private business ventures.

But the move — as with so many things regarding Mr. Santos, who has admitted to falsehoods on the campaign trail and misleading statements about his background — was clouded by mystery and immediately provoked questions.

Shortly after the first new filings surfaced, Ms. Marks’s apparent replacement as treasurer, Thomas Datwyler, said through a representative that he had not agreed to the swap and suggested that the changes were made without his consent.

“On Monday, we informed the Santos campaign that Mr. Datwyler would not be taking over as treasurer,” Mr. Datwyler’s lawyer, Derek Ross, said. “And there appears to be some disconnect between that conversation and this filing.”

Mr. Santos, a Republican from New York, and his team provided no explanation. His lawyer, Joe Murray, said, “I have no response to any of that.” Ms. Marks did not immediately respond to an email or phone calls seeking comment.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

Energy, Climate, Environment, Weather, Disasters

 

 

colorado river w

ny times logoNew York Times, As the Colorado River Shrinks, States Squabble Over Drops of Water, Christopher Flavelle, Graphics by Mira Rojanasakul, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the water supply for 40 million Americans.

The Interior Department had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado. The demand for those cuts, on a scale without parallel in American history, was prompted by precipitous declines in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which provide water and electricity for Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Drought, climate change and population growth have caused water levels in the lakes to plummet.

“Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.”

Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system.

 Relevant Recent Headlines 


Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

Politico, New booster works against dominant Covid strain, Krista Mahr, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Only 15.3 percent of eligible Americans — or about 50 million people — have received the bivalent vaccine.

politico CustomA new CDC study has found that the Covid-19 bivalent booster reduces the risk of symptomatic infection from the most common subvariant circulating in the U.S. right now by about half.

Additional new data, set to be published on the CDC website on Wednesday, also shows that individuals who received an updated vaccine reduced their risk of death by nearly 13 fold, when compared to the unvaccinated, and by two fold when compared to those with at least one monovalent vaccine but no updated booster.

CDC officials said during a briefing on Wednesday that the new findings were “reassuring.” But only 15.3 percent of eligible Americans — or about 50 million people — have received the new shot, which was rolled out in September.

Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 — nicknamed “the Kraken” by some — is now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain in the U.S., projected by the CDC to make up just over 49 percent of cases in the country as of last week.

Earlier this month, the WHO said XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible variant to date, and is circulating in dozens of countries. Though a catastrophic wave has not emerged in the U.S. yet, there has nevertheless been a spike in deaths this month, with an average of 564 people dying of Covid-19 each day as of Jan. 18, compared with an average of 384 around the same time in December.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

ny times logoNew York Times, Novak Djokovic Captures His 10th Australian Open Men’s Singles Title, Matthew Futterman, Jan. 29, 2023. After missing last year’s tournament because he was unvaccinated, the Serbian star beat Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in straight sets.

novak djokovicNovak Djokovic, shown in a file photo, came to Australia with a mission, or, really, a series of them.

To win the championship he had won nine times once more. To win a 22nd Grand Slam men’s singles title and draw even with his rival Rafael Nadal at the top of that list. To remove any doubt anyone might have about whether he remains the world’s dominant player, the most commanding player of the last decade and now this one, too. To show the world that the only way to keep him from winning nearly any tennis tournament is to not let him play.

Check. Check. Check. And check.

A year after Australia deported him over his refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19, Novak Djokovic reclaimed the Grand Slam title he has won more than any other, capturing a record 10th championship at the Australian Open by beating Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5) on Sunday.

After one last forehand off Tsitsipas’s racket floated long to end a match that felt lopsided despite the two tiebreakers, Djokovic turned and stared at his family and coaches sitting in his box. He pointed to his head, his heart and then just below his waistband, letting the world in on his team’s code language and telling it that winning on Sunday took everything he had.

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Jan. 28

Top Headlines


Durham-Barr Scandal At Justice Dept.?

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

 

More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

tyre nichols collage

 

 

Jan. 6 Pro-Trump Insurrectionists

brian sicknick

 


Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

ronna mcdaniel djt

 

Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

africa nation map

 

Ukraine War

 

Energy, Climate, Environment, Disasters

 

Presidential Document Probes

 

merrick garland john laucsch al drago bloomberg

 

More On Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

 

Borrowing Limit Tactics: 'Economic Terrorism'

 

U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

 

U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

Former ABC-TV co-hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes (Reuters file photo by David Dee Delgado).

 

Top Stories

washington post logoWashington Post, Video shows brutal police beating, Emily Davies, Robert Klemko and Joyce Sohyun Lee, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). It took 22 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. Tyre Nichols, 29, right, died three days later.

tyre nichols smileMemphis police officers shocked, pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and swung a baton at Nichols as he screamed repeatedly for his mother, the footage showed.

In a beating caught on police surveillance and body cameras, Memphis police officers shocked, pepper-sprayed, kicked, punched and swung a baton at an unarmed, 29-year-old Black man as he screamed repeatedly for his mother, who sat unaware in her home less than 100 yards away.

Tyre Nichols died three days later, on Jan. 10. On Friday evening, police released that footage to the public, days after showing it to Nichols’s family. Five now-fired officers, all of whom are Black, are facing charges including second-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated assault stemming from the incident which began as a traffic stop for what police said was reckless driving.

“To find out that my son was calling my name, and I was only feet away, and didn’t even hear him — you have no clue how I feel right now,” Nichols’s mother, RowVaughn Wells, said Friday. “My son loved me to death, and I loved him to death.”

Scattered protests across the country were largely peaceful after Nichols’s family, as well as law enforcement officers, urged nonviolence.

One of the videos released Friday is a 30-minute clip taken from a security camera on a pole. It captures, in eerie silence, Memphis police delivering at least two kicks, two baton strikes and five punches to Nichols’s face.

Two officers are seen struggling with Nichols, who is lying on the pavement, as they appear to be trying to handcuff him. A third officer aims a kick at Nichols’s head.

Officers can be heard yelling, “Give us your hands!” Moments later, a fourth officer arrives and strikes Nichols in the back with a police baton. The officer strikes him a second time, then the same officer who earlier kicked him circles around and punches him in the face. That officer then punches him four more times, as the first two officers restrain Nichols’s arms. Nichols then falls back to the pavement, where officers handcuff him.

  • Washington Post, For Memphis police chief Cerelyn Davis, case is a ‘defining moment,’ Mark Berman, Jan. 28, 2023.

 

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit...Memphis Police Department

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III (Photos from the Memphis Police Department via New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, Memphis Police Disband Unit Whose Officers Were Charged in Nichols’s Death, Rick Rojas, Jan. 28, 2023. The Memphis Police Department said on Saturday that it had disbanded a specialized group known as the Scorpion unit after five of its officers were charged with second-degree murder in the death of Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who was shown on video being kicked, struck and pepper-sprayed by those officers.

Mr. Nichols’s family and activists in the city had demanded that the Police Department dismantle the unit, which deployed officers to patrol higher-crime areas of the city and had drawn scorn in the communities it served even before Mr. Nichols’s death this month.

“It is in the best interest of all to permanently deactivate the Scorpion unit,” the Police Department said in a statement on Saturday

Police officials said the decision had been reached after “listening intently to the family of Tyre Nichols, community leaders and the uninvolved officers who have done quality work in their assignments.” Cerelyn Davis, the Memphis police chief, met with other members of the unit on Saturday.

Tyre Nichols’s family and activists had demanded the scuttling of the group, the Scorpion unit, which patrolled high-crime areas of the city.

ny times logoNew York Times, Updates: Memphis Video Captures Officers’ Brutal Beating of Tyre Nichols, Rick Rojas and Jessica Jaglois, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). An hour of video footage shows a fatal beating by the police. Here’s the latest.

The city of Memphis released four videos late Friday that show police officers kicking and punching Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who later died, and beating him with a baton while he shows no signs of fighting back. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home,” and at one point he repeatedly screams, “Mom, Mom, Mom.” Lawyers have said that his mother’s home was about 100 yards away from where he was beaten.

Here are other details:

  • Five Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired last week and charged on Thursday with murder. The officers, who are all Black, posted bail on Friday and had been released from jail. Here is a full list and explanation of the charges.
  • Tony Romanucci, a lawyer for the Nichols family, said they want the Memphis Police Department to disband the specialized street crimes unit that the officers were a part of, which was formed to help halt a surge of violence in the city. “The intent of the SCORPION unit has now been corrupted,” he said. Read more about the special unit.
  • Cities across the country were on alert for protests turning violent, as officials and the Nichols family pleaded with the public not to let outrage over what they see on the video spill into unrest. Calling for “justice” for her son, RowVaughn Wells, Mr. Nichols’s mother, said Friday that the five officers had “disgraced” their families, but that she would also pray for them. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.
  • As they conferred at the scene after the beating of Tyre Nichols, two Memphis police officers claimed that he had grabbed for their weapons, with one saying he “had his hand on my gun.” That was not visible on any of the four videos released by the city on Friday night.

The sheriff of Shelby County, Tenn., which includes Memphis, said that two of his deputies who were on the scene after the beating of Tyre Nichols had been “relieved of duty,” pending an investigation. The sheriff, Floyd Bonner Jr., said that he had watched the video of the arrest for the first time Friday night after it was released by Memphis officials, and he had “concerns” about the deputies, but did not describe their actions.

Police in New York arrested at least one person after protesters smashed the window of a police vehicle in Times Square. About 200 protestors are now gathered in the middle of 46th Street, blocking traffic. Dozens of officers are standing nearby.

The footage shows the police kicking, punching and using a baton on the 29-year-old Black man, who died days later. Five officers were fired and charged with murder. Officials and the Nichols family have called for any protests to be peaceful.

One of those two officers also describes the encounter by saying the police took Nichols out of his car and asked him, “Hey bruh, you good?” The officer followed by saying that Nichols “almost hit me.” In fact, a video shows the officers approaching the car with their guns raised, yelling and threatening Nichols.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. general warns troops that war with China is possible in two years, Dan Lamothe, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Gen. Michael A. Minihan, who oversees the Air Force’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, cited the 2024 presidential elections in Taiwan and the United States as part of his rationale.

China could be at war with the United States two years from now, a top Air Force general predicted in a bombastic and unusual memo to troops under his command, asserting a shorter timeline before potential conflict than other senior U.S. defense officials.

michael minihanGen. Michael A. Minihan, right, who as head of Air Mobility Command oversees the service’s fleet of transport and refueling aircraft, warned personnel to speed their preparations for a potential conflict, citing Chinese President Xi Jinping’s aspirations and the possibility that Americans will not be paying attention until it is too late.

“I hope I am wrong,” Minihan wrote. “My gut tells me we will fight in 2025. Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022. Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.”

Minihan then directs airmen who are qualified to use a weapon to “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most” sometime in February.

“Aim for the head,” he said.

Minihan’s memo encourages the thousands of troops under his command to prepare for war in several other regards. All personnel reporting to him should “consider their personal affairs” and be more aggressive about training, he instructs.

“Run deliberately, not recklessly,” he writes. “If you are comfortable in your approach to training, then you are not taking enough risk.”

The memo, first reported Friday by NBC News, is dated Feb. 1 — which is still days away — and was distributed to Minihan’s subordinate commanders. An Air Force spokeswoman, Maj. Hope Cronin, verified its authenticity, writing in a statement shared with media after the memo began circulating on social media that Minihan’s order “builds on last year’s foundational efforts by Air Mobility Command to ready the Air Mobility Forces for future conflict, should deterrence fail.”

A Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, said Friday that the U.S. national defense strategy makes clear “that China is the pacing challenge of the Department of Defense” and that U.S. officials are working with allies and partners to “preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that Minihan’s comments “are not representative of the department’s view on China.”

Before taking over at Air Mobility Command in 2021, Minihan served in a variety of influential roles in the Pacific beginning in 2013. They include a stint as the deputy commander of Indo-Pacific Command, with purview of China and Taiwan, from September 2019 to August 2021.

colorado river w

ny times logoNew York Times, As the Colorado River Shrinks, States Squabble Over Drops of Water, Christopher Flavelle, Graphics by Mira Rojanasakul, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the water supply for 40 million Americans.

The Interior Department had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado. The demand for those cuts, on a scale without parallel in American history, was prompted by precipitous declines in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which provide water and electricity for Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Drought, climate change and population growth have caused water levels in the lakes to plummet.

“Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.”

Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system.

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Memphis Officers Charged With Murder in Killing of a Black Man, Rick Rojas, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The officers, who are all also Black, face second-degree murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials are bracing for the release of video from the stop, which the Memphis police chief called “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

Tyre Nichols memorial background whiteFive fired Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols (shown above in a photo from his memorial service), a 29-year-old Black man hospitalized after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop this month. The officers were fired last week and accused of using excessive force in an encounter that was captured on video, including police body cameras. The city’s police chief, Cerelyn Davis, described their actions as “a failing of basic humanity.”

Here are the details:

  • The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were arrested on charges including second-degree murder. “The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible,” the Shelby County district attorney, Steven J. Mulroy, said. All five officers, who are Black, were fired last week. Here is an explanation of the charges.
  • Lawyers for two of the officers said they had not yet seen the video evidence but urged the public to reserve judgment. “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” said William Massey, who is representing Mr. Martin, at a news conference. Read more about their response.
  • A lawyer for Mr. Nichols’s family said the family was encouraged by the charges. “That these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the lawyer, Ben Crump, said in a statement. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.

 

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

washington post logoWashington Post, Footage of Paul Pelosi attack shows moment House speaker’s husband assaulted, Danielle Paquette, Justine McDaniel and Reis Thebault, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A judge agreed to release body camera footage shown in court of the October assault on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband.

Police body-camera video showing the October attack on the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, were made public Friday, revealing footage of the moment he was bludgeoned by a hammer-wielding intruder looking for his wife.

djt maga hatJudge Stephen M. Murphy of San Francisco Superior Court ordered the release of the evidence, including portions of a police interview with the suspect, David DePape, after The Washington Post and other news organizations pressed for copies.

The tapes illuminate a harrowing sequence: Pelosi alerting a 911 dispatcher of an armed man who was feet away, listening to the call and interjecting comments; DePape beating Pelosi in plain view of the officers; and DePape, after his arrest, describing his plans to kidnap and snap the bones of the then-House Speaker.

A clip of the assault at the Pelosi home in San Francisco before dawn on Oct. 28 was shown in court last month but, until now, had been otherwise shielded from view.

Wild rumors, amplified by conservative activists and bloggers, had surged after the 2 a.m. attack 11 days before the 2022 midterm elections, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued that unsealing video and audio could fuel more misinformation while risking DePape’s right to a fair trial. Someone, for instance, could edit the clips to manipulate audiences on social media.

But Judge Murphy ruled that footage playing in a public courtroom should be handed to the media.

“These are open facts. They are known facts,” said Thomas Burke, a lawyer representing the coalition of news organizations that pushed for access to the evidence, including The Post. “The public’s right of access should not be dependent on conspiracy theories.”

The internet gossip had spread rapidly to Capitol Hill, where Republican officials groundlessly cast doubt on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi’s account of the violence and referenced baseless homophobic conspiracy theories.

Prosecutors, however, have said that what happened was clear — and that DePape himself outlines his actions in tapes like those just publicly released.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said at the December hearing.

In the now-public interview with police, DePape told an investigator: “I’m not trying to get away with this. I know exactly what I did.”

Nancy Pelosi declined to comment on the evidence’s release on Friday, and one day earlier she told reporters on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know whether she will watch the video.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How a Drug Company Made $114 Billion by Gaming the U.S. Patent System, Rebecca Robbins, Jan. 28, 2023. AbbVie for years delayed competition for its blockbuster drug Humira, at the expense of patients and taxpayers. The monopoly is about to end.

humira logoIn 2016, a blockbuster drug called Humira was poised to become a lot less valuable.

The key patent on the best-selling anti-inflammatory medication, used to treat conditions like arthritis, was expiring at the end of the year. Regulators had blessed a rival version of the drug, and more copycats were close behind. The onset of competition seemed likely to push down the medication’s $50,000-a-year list price.

Instead, the opposite happened.

abbvie logoThrough its savvy but legal exploitation of the U.S. patent system, Humira’s manufacturer, AbbVie, blocked competitors from entering the market. For the next six years, the drug’s price kept rising. Today, Humira is the most lucrative franchise in pharmaceutical history.

Next week, the curtain is expected to come down on a monopoly that has generated $114 billion in revenue for AbbVie just since the end of 2016. The knockoff drug that regulators authorized more than six years ago, Amgen’s Amjevita, will come to market in the United States, and as many as nine more Humira competitors will follow this year from pharmaceutical giants including Pfizer. Prices are likely to tumble.

The reason that it has taken so long to get to this point is a case study in how drug companies artificially prop up prices on their best-selling drugs.

AbbVie orchestrated the delay by building a formidable wall of intellectual property protection and suing would-be competitors before settling with them to delay their product launches until this year.

The strategy has been a gold mine for AbbVie, at the expense of patients and taxpayers.

ny times logoNew York Times, Analysis: Israel’s Far-Right Government Raises Risk of Escalation, Patrick Kingsley, Jan. 28, 2023. Israel and the West Bank were gripped by violence this week. The new far-right government’s ministers and goals are fueling tensions.

israel flagThe new far-right government in Israel has been in power for only a month, but on its watch, Israelis and Palestinians have already experienced one of their region’s most violent phases, outside a full-scale war, in years.

Nine Palestinians were shot dead on Thursday morning, in the deadliest Israeli raid in the West Bank for at least a half-decade. Then, a Palestinian gunman killed seven people on Friday night outside a synagogue in Jerusalem, the deadliest attack on civilians in the city since 2008. And on Saturday, an attacker who the police said was 13 years old shot and injured two Israelis near a settlement in East Jerusalem.

These events were not unique to this government’s tenure. But analysts fear that the policies and leaders of the new Israeli administration — the most right-wing in Israeli history — are likely to further inflame the situation.

The new government is an alliance of settler activists, hard-line nationalists and ultraconservatives helmed by Benjamin Netanyahu, and its leaders variously seek to annex the West Bank, further ease the Israeli Army’s rules of engagement and entrench Israeli control over a sacred site in Jerusalem. All of that has already provoked a surge in Palestinian anger and made it harder for the remaining moderate forces in the Israeli government to defuse tensions.

 

Durham-Barr Scandal At Justice Dept.?

 

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

Charles McGonigal, left, former FBI counterintelligence chief in New York, and his alleged ally, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, are shown in a collage.

ny times logoNew York Times, How an Oligarch May Have Recruited the F.B.I. Agent Who Investigated Him, Rebecca Davis O’Brien, Jan. 28, 2023. The F.B.I. tried to court Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate, as an informant. Instead, one of its own top agents may have ended up working for him.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation tried to recruit Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire, as an informant around 2014, hoping he might shed light on organized crime and, later, possible interference in the presidential election.

A decade later, Mr. Deripaska may have turned the tables on the F.B.I.: Prosecutors say the oligarch recruited one of the bureau’s top spy catchers, just as he entered retirement, to carry out work that they say violated U.S. sanctions.

The charges unsealed this week against Charles McGonigal — who ran the counterintelligence unit at the bureau’s New York field office and investigated Russian oligarchs, including Mr. Deripaska, according to the indictment — showed the extent of the oligarch’s reach into the highest levels of U.S. power.

There is no indication in the Manhattan indictment that Mr. McGonigal was working for Mr. Deripaska while still employed by the F.B.I. Still, the case — and a parallel indictment in Washington that charged Mr. McGonigal with receiving at least $225,000 in secret payments from a former employee of an Albanian intelligence service while still at the agency — has raised questions about how compromised he may have been.

Mr. Deripaska, an aluminum magnate, had been on the radar of U.S. authorities for years and remains under sanctions. He was known to be an ally of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. The Treasury Department had reported that he had ties to organized crime.

“Deripaska is a well-known man to anybody who follows Russia,” said Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland and a former State Department official who helped craft sanctions against Russia. “I wouldn’t have accepted a luncheon invitation from the guy,” he added.

The implications of the allegations against Mr. McGonigal are alarming, Mr. Fried said. “In a broader sense, it does seem to suggest that the corrupting influence of the Russian oligarchs, the money, is real.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for Mr. Deripaska, Larisa Belyaeva, said that he did not hire Mr. McGonigal for any purpose and that he had never been close to Mr. Putin. A lawyer for Mr. McGonigal declined to comment.

For years, Mr. Deripaska, 55, has employed a small army of lobbyists, lawyers, consultants and fixers to protect his business and personal interests and smooth his access to Western countries.

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The review by John Durham, right, at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it john durham Customfailed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.

It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

donald trump for president button nice smileEgged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

 

william barr hearing new

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: What did the Italians tell Barr and Durham about Donald Trump's criminal activity? Wayne wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallMadsen, left, author of 22 books and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, Jan. 27-28, 2023.

In the fall of 2019, Attorney General William Barr (shown above) and John Durham, the Special Counsel assigned by Barr to investigate the FBI for wrongly investigating Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign for ties to Russia, flew to Italy to pressure law enforcement there to fess up that they were involved with the FBI in what was falsely called by Trump the "Russia hoax."

wayne madesen report logoInstead of getting the goods on the FBI -- whose top counterintelligence agent in New York at the time was in bed with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska --Italian law enforcement provided Barr and Durham with information that Trump was involved in a major criminal matter, including suspicious financial dealings. Barr assigned Durham, a pro-Trump shill, to investigate the matter, granting him, for the first time, criminal prosecution authority. Not only did Durham not find any evidence of a "Russia hoax" involving the FBI logoDemocratic Party, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or George Soros -- all of whom Durham had under investigation -- but the criminal matter conveyed by the Italians was never acted upon.

WMR had reported on a serious criminal matter involving the car bombing assassination of Maltese journalist  Daphne Caruana Galizia, right, on October 16, 2017 and its possible ties to Trump. Italian intelligence and law enforcement have kept a close eye on Malta daphne caruana galizia croppedever since the 1970s, when the island country developed close ties with the Soviet Union and Libya. Although Malta is now a member of the European Union, the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard), as well as the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE) foreign intelligence service maintain a close eye on Malta, which has become a haven for offshore banking, corporate brass plates, and Russian and other foreign residents who have purchased Maltese passports and established residency in the twin island nation.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated after she had implicated Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife, and top aides in a scandal partly exposed by the release of the Panama Papers. The scandal led directly from Malta to Azerbaijan and, ultimately, to the Trump Organization in New York.

Caruana Galizia was well-aware of Trump's connections to international wealth and political and financial power brokers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she wrote on her website, "You can't get more establishment than billionaire Donald Trump, scion of an extremely wealthy WASP family. So the real problem is stupidity and malice. But then it always was."

And, as she found out a year later, you can't get more corrupt and murderous than Donald Trump. Whatever the Italians passed on to Barr and Durham about Trump, America's "Mr. Magoo" Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has a duty and an obligation to the American people to make that information public without delay.

World Crisis Radio, Historical Commentary: McGonigal arrest focuses attention on nest of pro-Russian, pro-Giuliani Trump supporters in New York City FBI field office, aka “Trumpland,” Webster G. Tarpley, right,webster tarpley 2007 Jan. 28, 2023 (105:52 mins.). NYC field office holds key to sabotage of initial Trump-Russia inquiry of 2016, the failure of which helped Don prevail in presidential contest;

Scrutiny of Special Counsel John Durham reveals a blatantly political operative with no principles, eager to please Trump FBI logoand Barr; Durham’s grotesque contortions to procure a conviction to feed the reactionary noise machine at Fox News; Two humiliating innocent verdicts brought back in mere hours; Four years of blind alleys; The Barr-Durham junket to Rome in summer 2019 that yielded no exoneration of Trump, but rather a possible finance scandal against the hotelier!

UK, France, Australia, Netherlands, Germany, Estonia and Poland had reported suspicious contacts of Trump campaign with Russia in 2015-2016; British GCHQ chief personally warned US;

With 15 NATO countries sending almost 100 modern main battle tanks to Ukraine, Biden’s alliance diplomacy continues to pay off!

Insider, Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money, Mattathias Schwartz, Jan. 27, 2023. One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend's Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn't seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.

FBI logo"Where the fuck is this from?" she asked.

"Oh, you remember that baseball game?" McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero's recollection. "I made a bet and won."

McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or "ex-wife" as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn't question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.

A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal's Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero's cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal's retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania's intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.

One of McGonigal's attorneys, Seth DuCharme, declined to comment.

Guerriero was 44 when they met, a former substitute kindergarten teacher who volunteered for law-enforcement causes and was working as a contractor for a security company while living at home with her father. McGonigal, then 49 years old, had just started his new job at the FBI's New York office.

Guerriero says their affair lasted for a little more than a year. McGonigal's Brooklyn sublet may have been modest, but he lived large. He courted Guerriero at high-end restaurants. He would give her gifts of cash — $500 or $1,000 — for her birthday and for Christmas. He once joked about framing his divorce papers for her, as a Christmas gift, but those papers never materialized. He took her to watch New Jersey Devils hockey games in a private box. She recalls that McGonigal once gave a hundred-dollar bill to a panhandler on the street. "I'm a little better off than him. I can spare a hundred dollars," Guerriero remembers McGonigal saying, after she expressed astonishment.

That day in October wasn't the only time that Guerriero remembers McGonigal carrying large amounts of cash. After he brushed her curiosity aside, she tempered her suspicions. She told herself it was probably "buy money" for a sting operation, or a payoff for one of McGonigal's informants. She had dated federal law-enforcement officials before. She knew not to ask too many questions about work.

"Charlie McGonigal knew everybody in the national security and law-enforcement world," Guerriero said, in an interview with Insider. "He fooled them all. So why should I feel bad that he was able to deceive me?"

 

 

More On Memphis Beating, U.S. History

 

tyre nichols collage

new york post logoNew York Post, Who was Tyre Nichols? What we know about his death, arrest by Memphis police, Kate Sheehy, Jan. 28, 2023. The “heinous,” and “appalling,” death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis has caused shockwaves across the nation and sparked calls for widespread protests against police brutality.

Five officers have been charged with murdering the 29-year-old by allegedly beating him during a traffic stop earlier this month — a shocking crime that the city’s horrified top cop described Friday as involving “acts that defy humanity.’’

Nichols’ family pleaded for peaceful protests ahead of the release of bodycam video of the incident Friday evening, as protesters in New York, Memphis, Los Angeles and many other locations across the country prepared to take to the streets.

Nichols’ mother also broke down as she said at a press conference, “He always said he was gonna be famous one day — I didn’t know this was what he meant.’’

Here is what we know so far about the victim:

“A mamma’s boy’’

Tyre Nichols was the youngest of four children — and so devoted to his mother that he had a tattoo with her name on his arm.

“That made me proud. Most kids don’t put their mom’s name,’’ his mother, RowVaughn Wells, told CNN.

She recalled how her beloved boy — who left behind a 4-year-old son — would loudly announce his presence when he walked through the door of the home where he lived with her and her husband, Nichols’ stepfather, who he considered his dad.

Family of Tyre Nichols

“Hello, parents!” Nichols would say. “And I’ll never hear that again,” the shattered mom said.

She lovingly called her son “a mamma’s boy,’’ indicating it was no surprise that in his darkest hour — as the life was being beaten out of him — he cried out for her.

“He was trying to get home to safety,’’ Wells said. “He was a good boy,’’ she said. “No one’s perfect, but he was damn near.’’

Struggles with health

Nichols was tall — around 6’3” — but thin because of a battle with Crohn’s disease, his family said. He weighed about 150 pounds at the time of his death, his mother said Friday — as she noted the size of the officers accused of killing him.

“Those men, if you combine their weight, it was over a thousand pounds, beating and beating a 150-pound person to death. Because that’s what they did, beat my son to death,’’ Wells said.

Love of the outdoors

Nichols reveled in spending time taking photos of nature.

“My name is Tyre D. Nichols. I am an aspiring photographer. Well I most do this stuff for fun but i enjoy it very much,’’ he wrote in an online posting.

“It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people,’’ Nichols said.

“My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what i am seeing. … I hope to one day let people see what i see and to hopefully admire my work based on the quality and ideals of my work,” he added, signing off with “Your friend.’’

His grieving mother said, “My son every night wanted to go and look at the sunset, that was his passion.”

‘Free spirit’

Nichols broke the mold in many ways, family and friends said.

He lived in Sacramento, Calif., before moving to Memphis, and The Golden State influenced his love of skateboarding. He favored the local Shelby Park Farms.

“He was his own person and didn’t care if he didn’t fit into what a traditional black man was supposed to be in California — he had such a free spirit, and skating gave him his wings,” a longtime friend, Angelina Paxton, told the Commercial Appeal.

His mom said Friday there was no use arguing with her son to try perhaps more conventional hobbies.

“I tried to buy him a pair of Air Jordans [basketball sneakers] one time, and he said, ‘Oh, Mama, I don’t want those,’ ” Wells recalled.

washington post logoWashington Post, What is the Scorpion unit? Critics call for the group’s abolition, Dan Rosenzweig-Ziff and Robert Klemko, Jan. 28, 2023. The five Memphis police officers facing second-degree murder and other charges in the brutal beating death of Tyre Nichols were part of a specialized law enforcement unit named Scorpion, created in late 2021 with the goal of saturating high-crime neighborhoods with police presence. Even as that program faces renewed scrutiny from Nichols’s family attorneys, Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn Davis said she believed it had done more good than harm in its 14 months of existence.

“These teams have worked really hard, and they’re under a cloud now,” Davis told The Washington Post. “People want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

 

Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, pictured in 1949, called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” He also saw it as a failure.

Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, pictured in 1949, called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” He also saw it as a failure. 

washington post logoWashington Post, Book Review: During Reconstruction, a brutal ‘war on freedom,’ Review by Stephanie McCurry, Jan. 29, 202 (print ed.). In ‘I Saw Death Coming,’ Kidada E. Williams presents first-person accounts of those scarred in many ways by the era’s violence.

Even at the distance of the 21st century, the events of the Civil War and Reconstruction remain a national pivot point, a moment at which a new future emerged into view. W.E.B. Du Bois called Reconstruction “the finest effort to achieve democracy for the working millions which this world had ever seen.” It was indeed an epic event like the Reformation and the French Revolution. But notwithstanding its ambition — or perhaps because of it — the era has been universally judged a “failure” by Du Bois and generations of historians from the early 20th century to the present. But that appraisal amounts to a mystifying generalization for a political project so radical, it was virtually utopian in scale.

In I Saw Death Coming: A History of Terror and Survival in the War Against Reconstruction, Kidada E. Williams takes aim at “the ‘failure’ narrative of Reconstruction.” What she offers instead is an account of the era as a merciless “war on freedom,” waged on newly freed Black people by White people intent on denying their aspirations to personal security and meaningful equality. Reconstruction did not fail, she insists; it was overthrown by violence.

Williams offers a horrifyingly detailed picture of the ways Black people were attacked, often in their own homes, in acts of depraved violence, by people they knew, in a campaign of terror that started under slavery and acquired a new aspect with emancipation. The brutality took on an organized paramilitary form in the attacks by the Ku Klux Klan after 1867, when Black men earned the right to vote and hold office. It’s impossible to reliably calculate the number of people murdered — the Black politician Robert Smalls put the figure at 53,000 African Americans. To date the U.S. government has offered no estimate. What is clear, Williams insists, is that there were too many to count and that “the successive violence [white southerners] used, rejecting newly freed peoples’ rights to any rights, was genocidal-like in nature.” She concludes: “Black Reconstruction didn’t ‘fail,’ as so many are taught. White southerners overthrew it, and the rest of the nation let them.”

 

Jan. 6 Insurrectionists

 

brian sicknickLaw & Crime, Man Who Assaulted Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick on Jan. 6 Sentenced to More Than Six Years in Prison, Adam Klasfeld, Jan. 27, 2023. The Jan. 6 rioter who unloaded a can of pepper spray on U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, above, who died the next day, julian khater george tanioshas been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, multiple news outlets reported. Julian Elie Khater (shown bearded at right with co-defendant George Tanios) also sprayed Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and a third officer identified in court papers only by the initials “B.C.”

lawcrime logoThe 33-year-old pleaded guilty last September to two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon, entering into a plea deal that estimated his sentencing guidelines to roughly six-and-a-half and eight years. His co-defendant, George Tanios, also went armed with pepper spray to Washington, D.C., but Tanios was not accused of having used it. Prosecutors initially accused Tanios of assisting in the assault on Sicknick before allowing Tanios to plead down to a pair of misdemeanors.

The Justice Department recently asked the judge to issue a sentence of time served to Tanios, arguing that it would promote “respect” for the law.

After communicating with Khater, Tanios purchased two canisters of bear spray and two canisters of pepper spray ahead of time, according to court papers. The pair joined the mob of Donald Trump supporters heading toward the Capitol, and prosecutors have said that open-source video captured Khater and Tanios talking about spraying police with chemicals.

“Give me that bear s—,” Khater was quoted telling Tanios.

“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet… it’s still early,” Tanios reportedly replied.

Prosecutors accused neither Khater nor Tanios of causing Sicknick’s death, but six of Sicknick’s family members and loved ones planned to address the court on Friday: Gladys Sicknick, Ken Sicknick, Craig Sicknick, Nichole Sicknick, Charles Sicknick, and his partner, Sandra Garza.

“You, among all the other crazies — you are the reason Brian is dead,” mother Gladys Sicknick said.

Khater’s defense team did not say a word about Sicknick in their sentencing memo, and the defendant did not mention him either during his remarks to the court, CBS reported.

“I didn’t hear any expressions of sorrow,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan reportedly noted, adding that Khater never said the name “Sicknick.”

Khater interjected that he wanted to — but was discouraged from doing so because of a pending lawsuit by Sicknick’s estate, according to the network.

Though his report found Sicknick died of “natural causes,” the D.C. Medical Examiner told reporters that engaging with the Capitol rioters “played a role in his condition.” Sicknick’s family has been steadfast in asserting that Tanios and Khater’s actions led to the officer’s death. His estate accuses Tanios, Khater, and Trump of wrongful death.

Despite dropping felony charges against Tanios, prosecutors wrote in his sentencing memo that the 41-year-old “substantially contributed to the assault on the three officers.”

“Although Tanios, unlike Khater, did not personally assault the police officers on January 6, Tanios purchased and supplied Khater with the pepper spray he used for those assaults,” that memo states. “Tanios did so after learning from a knowledgeable clerk in a sportsmen store in West Virginia that he could not bring a firearm or a weapon that fired projectile pepper balls into the District of Columbia, but could bring different dangerous weapons, bear spray and pepper spray, instead. His decision to purchase such weaponry underscores the dangers associated with bringing weapons to a rally or a riot – it undoubtedly brings harm to others.”

caroline edwards abc news screenshot getty imagesOfficer Edwards (shown above with a collage of rioters), another of Khater’s victims, described “hours and hours of hand-to-hand combat” in her testimony before the Jan. 6th Committee.

“It was carnage,” she said, recounting scenes of slipping in blood. “It was chaos.”

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Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

 

truth social logo

ny times logoNew York Times, On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise, Stuart A. Thompson (Stuart Thompson used a program to collect and analyze hundreds of ads that ran on Truth Social over the past several months), Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Truth Social, the social network started by former President Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.

Between posts about conspiracy theories and right-wing grievances was an unusual advertisement: a photo of former President Donald J. Trump holding a $1,000 bill made of gold, which he was apparently offering free to supporters.

But there were a few catches: The bill was not free, it was not made of gold, and it was not offered by Mr. Trump.

The ad appeared on Truth Social, the right-wing social network started by Mr. Trump in late 2021, one of many pitches from hucksters and fringe marketers dominating the ads on the site.

Ads from major brands are nonexistent on the site. Instead, the ads on Truth Social are for alternative medicine, diet pills, gun accessories and Trump-themed trinkets, according to an analysis of hundreds of ads on the social network by The New York Times.

The ads reflect the difficulty that several far-right platforms, including Rumble and Gab, have faced in courting large brands, preventing the sites from tapping into some of the world’s largest ad budgets. It could be particularly problematic for Truth Social. Although the site has gained influence among the far right, becoming a vibrant ecosystem brimming with activity, its business is in need of cash.

Truth Social raised about $37 million, mainly from Republican political donors, but it is burning through about $1.7 million each month, according to William Wilkinson, a former executive at Trump Media & Technology Group, the social network’s parent company. And two federal investigations have put about $1.3 billion of much-needed funding in jeopardy.

Devin Nunes, the chief executive of Trump Media, said in an announcement last year that the company’s ad strategy would help it “displace the Big Tech platforms” as a major way to reach Americans.

But ad experts say the wariness from prominent brands on far-right social networks, which have positioned themselves as free-speech alternatives to Silicon Valley giants like Meta and Google, is driven by the kinds of conspiracy theories and hyperpartisan politics often found on the sites.

In addition, they say, Truth Social has a relatively small user base and many older users, who are less desirable for the brands. Marketers have complained that Truth Social’s ad-serving technology, run by Rumble, a right-wing video streaming website, offers limited tools for tracking an ad’s performance or for showing ads to users based on their demographic profiles. Those tools, now standard among larger ad networks operated by Google and Meta, are vital for determining an ad’s success.

Politico, Facebook was a cash cow for Trump. It could end up being a ‘bronze goose,’ Zach Montellaro, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The platform has changed. And operatives in both parties aren’t convinced that Trump can dominate there again.

politico CustomFacebook was the financial engine of Donald Trump’s previous two runs for president. But for his third campaign for the White House, it might not be such a powerhouse.

Advertising on the social media giant has changed significantly since Trump was last on the platform. Republicans say investments in Facebook no longer translate to small-dollar donors as they once did. Campaigns are spending far less on advertising there. And while the facebook logoformer president has always been a unique draw for conservatives on Facebook, there are significant questions as to whether an out-of-office Trump still has the same pull that a President Trump did.

“We saw in the midterms how a lot of campaigns were shifting their money to streaming, because Facebook just was not giving them the return on value that they had seen in the past,” said Katie Harbath, a one-time senior Republican digital staffer who then spent a decade at Facebook, before leaving in early 2021.

Trump was suspended from Facebook for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 riot in early 2021. But the suspension wasn’t permanent and Meta, Facebook’s parent company, said earlier this week that it would be lifted soon.

“President Trump should have never been banned, so getting back on this platform allows the campaign access to that universe once again,” Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement. “We are getting closer to the full spectrum of building out the operation and dominating at every level, which we have already been doing based on poll numbers.”

The platform Trump is rejoining, however, is different from the one from which he was exiled. And how his team manages those changes could go a long way in determining the success of his efforts for a second term as president.

For starters, Facebook placed notable restrictions on ad targeting for political clients at the beginning of last year. And in 2021, Apple turned off ad tracking on their phones for users by default.

Those alterations represented a seismic shift for the advertising world. It also had profound impacts on political campaigns. Digital operatives from both parties say the changes have made it less valuable for campaigns to advertise on the social media behemoth.

One Republican who worked on statewide campaigns in recent cycles, who was granted anonymity to discuss internal fundraising metrics, said there was a notable dip in campaigns’ return on investment. “In 2020, [return on investment] on a really good day would be 200 percent. The minimum was 150 percent in 2020,” the operative said. “In 2022, it would be 90 percent or 80 percent. We would celebrate it when 110 [percent] came in.”

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U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

masih alinejadMasih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, publicizes the Iranian government's human rights abuses. | Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications.

Politico, Three men indicted in plot to kill Iranian-American journalist on U.S. soil, Kelly Garrity, Jan. 27, 2023. “The conduct charged in today's case shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
Journalist and Author Masih Alinejad speaks onstage with a flower in her hair.

politico Custom

Three members of an Eastern European criminal group with ties to Iran have been indicted for plotting to murder a U.S. journalist and human rights activist who was critical of the Iranian regime, the Justice Department announced Friday.

“The victim in this case was targeted for exercising the rights to which every American citizen is entitled,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a press conference Friday. “The victim publicized the Iranian government’s human rights abuses, discriminatory treatment of women, suppression of democratic participation and expression, and use of arbitrary imprisonment, torture and execution.”

“The conduct charged in today’s case shows just how far Iranian actors are willing to go to silence critics of the Iranian regime,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

The men — Rafat Amirov, Polad Omarov and Khalid Mehdiyev — were charged with murder-for-hire and money laundering for their role in a Tehran-backed plot to kill Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist, on U.S. soil. One of the defendants has been detained since his arrest last July, another is in custody of foreign partners pending extradition, and the third is in U.S. custody and will be presented today in court, Garland said.

Alinejad responded to the news in a video posted on Twitter shortly after the press conference, expressing gratitude for the law enforcement teams who thwarted the plot to kill her, and calling on the U.S. government to respond to the regime’s violent crackdowns on protesters.

“Let me make it clear: I am not scared for my life. Because I knew that killing, assassinating hanging, torturing, raping, is in the DNA of the Isalmic Republic,” Alinejad said. “And that’s why I came to the United States of America. To practice my right, my freedom of expression, to give voice to brave people of Iran who say no to [the] Islamic Republic.”

Alinejad added she is “thankful” for the work of the FBI and U.S. law enforcement, but called on the U.S. government to continue to take “strong action” against Iran. “This is the time that we have to pay attention to innocent people in Iran who don’t have any protection,” she said.

Relevant Recent Headlines

 

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: House Republicans bring the bread and circuses, Dana Milbank, right, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). Rep. Victoria dana milbank CustomSpartz was hopping mad.

“We cannot have these kangaroo courts — it’s unacceptable,” the Indiana Republican declared this week. Her criticism was all the more biting because she directed it at the Chief Marsupial of this particular tribunal, Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

victoria spartz oWhy such indignation aimed at her fellow Republican? It turns out Spartz, left, possesses that rarest of attributes among her colleagues: intellectual consistency.

Two years ago, when the Democratic House ousted two Republicans from committees for glorifying violence against their colleagues, McCarthy (Calif.) railed against the removals as evidence of a “broken Congress.” Now, voters have given McCarthy the majority — and he is doing exactly that which he decried: He has already removed two Democrats from committees without due process, and he plans to evict a third.

“Speaker McCarthy needs to stop ‘bread and circuses’ in Congress and start governing for a change,” Spartz said in a statement objecting to the “charade” of kicking members off their committees.

It was an apt invocation of the Roman writer Juvenal’s lament 2,000 years ago that the people had abdicated their duties as citizens of the Republic in favor of “bread and circuses” provided by their imperial rulers.

Emperor McCarthy grinned when Spartz’s words were read to him this week. Asked how he would respond, he replied, “Not at all.”

In truth, the new majority doesn’t have much bread to dole out (aside from the free doughnuts and Chick-fil-A that Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) offered reporters this week in lieu of answers about his fabricated life story). But it has more clown acts than could fill the Circus Maximus.

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ronna mcdaniel djt

 

Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

 

africa nation map

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Africa is less democratic and safe than a decade ago, study says, Ishaan Tharoor, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A new study of Africa’s 54 countries provides grim reading. It found that much of the continent is less safe and less democratic than it was a decade ago, a marker of worrying political trends that accelerated over the course of the pandemic. A surge in military coups and the spread of armed conflicts now threaten to stall, and even reverse, years of political progress across the region.

The index, which is put out every two years by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, compiles a ranking of quality of overall governance across Africa based on scores allocated to a range of criteria, including development, economic opportunity and political inclusion. According to the analysis, its subcategories measuring democratic participation and “security and rule of law” both deteriorated, with the “pace of decline accelerating since 2017.” An estimated 70 percent of the continent’s population lives in countries that the index classifies as less safe now than in 2012.

The report pointed to 23 successful or attempted coups since 2012, and eight takeovers by juntas since 2019. Mali and Burkina Faso, two West African neighbors once known for their relative political stability, have recently experienced two coups each. “This phenomenon of coup d’etats that was common in the ’80s seems to have become fashionable again in certain parts of Africa,” Mo Ibrahim, a Sudanese-born British billionaire who has used his wealth to promote democracy and good governance in Africa, told reporters this week.

washington post logoWashington Post, Former general Pavel favored to beat billionaire Babis in Czech election, Ladka Bauerova and Emily Rauhala, Jan 28, 2023. A former general is expected to prevail over a billionaire former prime minister on Saturday in the Czech Republic’s presidential election — seen by some as a contest between constitutional democracy and populism, with Russia’s war in Ukraine looming in the background.

Czechs are choosing between Petr Pavel, who held a senior position at NATO, and Andrej Babis, who has loomed large in the country’s business and political landscape for the past decade.

Opinion polls showed a significant lead for Pavel ahead of the runoff vote that opened Friday and will close Saturday.

Although the position of president is largely ceremonial, the role is symbolically important. A win for Pavel would cement a shift away from populist politics — at least for now. The race was also being watched as something of a bellwether, as Russia’s war in Ukraine reshapes electoral politics across Europe.

Pavel could show the continent “that populists can be beaten,” said Jiri Priban, a professor of law and philosophy at Cardiff University in Wales. “It is a very strong message for transatlantic relations and also for constitutional democracy — a system which is under strain.”

The candidates are vying to replace President Milos Zeman, who has sought to stretch the power of the presidency since he was elected a decade ago. He appointed an unelected caretaker government (though it failed to win parliamentary approval), refused to nominate judges and professors who displeased him and blocked political appointments, all while cozying up to China and Russia.

washington post logoWashington Post, Brasilia’s Polícia Militar initially did little to stop Capitol attack, Meg Kelly and Imogen Piper, Jan. 28, 2023 (video forensics). A few officers of the Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal (PMDF) stand casually behind a metal barricade overlooking Brazil’s National Congress building, video posted to social media at 4:09 p.m. local time on Jan. 8 showed. One films the area. Another checks his phone. A third chats with a group of men, two of whom wear the Brazilian flag draped over their shoulders.

Captured on video, the scene appears quiet, boring even, until the end, when the perspective pans to reveal the plaza awash in a sea of green- and yellow-clad rioters.

Just 600 feet away, as the video of the police standing idle posts to social media, officers from the Polícia Legislativa battles the destructive mob that has taken control of congress, social media posts and CCTV footage of the insurrection in Brasília obtained by The Washington Post shows.

A Post examination of more than 150 videos and images from Jan. 8 — including CCTV and body-camera footage — reveals that rank-and-file members of PMDF, tasked with securing the streets surrounding government buildings, did little to stop the initial assault. The visuals, chronologically synchronized by The Post, while not comprehensive, show few, if any, rank-and-file members supported other security forces in the first hours of their efforts to re-secure the government complex.

Brazil’s military blocked arrests of Bolsonaro rioters, officials say

Government officials were aware of the planned protest, which was widely promoted across far-right social media channels supporting former president Jair Bolsonaro at least five days earlier. “Patriots from all over Brazil,” the messages said, should come and “bring Brasília to a halt.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Facing hardest election yet, Turkey’s Erdogan woos voters with public spending, Kareem Fahim and Zeynep Karatas, Jan. 28, 2023. Facing a difficult election in just a few months, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has unleashed a wave of public spending — to help the millions in his country reeling from economic hardship, and to ensure their votes go his way.

Flag of TurkeyThe enticements — aimed at students, working people and business owners, commuters and others — have included tax relief, cheap loans, energy subsidies and even pledges not to raise road and bridge tolls. Their rapid rollout has highlighted the electoral stakes for Erdogan, a popular leader who has dominated Turkey’s politics for two decades and assumed a pivotal mediating role during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite his stature, at home and abroad, he finds himself more vulnerable to opposition challenge than ever before, as a public battered by historically high inflation is, in many quarters, clamoring for change.

“The economy is eating into his base,” said Berk Esen, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

washington post logoWashington Post, Second Jerusalem shooting of Israelis puts region on high alert, Shira Rubin and Kelsey Ables, Jan. 28, 2023. Two Israelis were injured in a shooting in East Jerusalem, a day after a lethal shooting rampage at a Jerusalem synagogue, the latest in an israel flagescalating string of violence that threatens to plunge the region into a new round of bloodshed.

Magen David Adom, Israel’s emergency services, said that they received a report of the shooting in Ma’alot Ir David, an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, at around 10:40 a.m. on Saturday morning. The shooter, a 13-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem, was palestinian flagapprehended by an armed civilian at the scene, according to the Israeli police. Earlier reports mistakenly said that the shooter was killed on site.

Saturday’s shooting came a day after a Palestinian gunman killed seven people — including children — during Friday night prayer services at a synagogue in East Jerusalem. As Palestinians in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank took to the streets to celebrate the attack, Israeli leaders prepared to meet and finalize a response.

Friday’s attack was the deadliest on Israeli worshipers in years, and put the region on the brink of a major escalation. On Thursday, an Israeli military raid killed nine Palestinians at a refugee camp in Jenin, the deadliest single operation in the West Bank in nearly two decades, Palestinian officials said. Early Friday, militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel, which retaliated with air strikes on the territory.

The clashes are an early test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new far-right government, which came into power late last month planning to restrict minority rights, tighten the occupation of the West Bank and allow harsher treatment of Palestinians. Netanyahu said Friday that his security cabinet will meet on Saturday evening, and his government had already decided what action it would take.

Funerals for Friday’s shooting victims are slated to take place on Saturday evening after the end of Shabbat. Israeli military and police have been put on the highest possible alert level, requesting the public to report suspicious objects that could be a bomb, and boosting forces throughout East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel in anticipation of further violence. Israeli police said on Saturday that they had arrested 42 people in connection with Friday’s shooting.

The weekend shootings took place in East Jerusalem, a contested part of the city which Israel has controlled since its annexation in 1967 and which is claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians as their capital. A previous Netanyahu government sought to evict a group of Palestinians from their East Jerusalem homes in favor of Jewish settlers, leading to a bloody 11-day confrontation in 2021 between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules the Gaza Strip.

washington post logoWashington Post, Major Israeli raid on Palestinian city kills nine amid growing violence, Sufian Taha and Victoria Bisset, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). Israeli forces conducted a massive raid on the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, killing at least nine people in a lengthy shootout that left extensive destruction.

israel flagThe Israel Defense Forces described it as a “counterterrorism operation” against Islamic Jihad militants involved in attacks on Israelis.

Twenty other people have been injured, four others seriously, in the violence at the Jenin refugee camp, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry update posted on Facebook.

2022 was deadliest year for West Bank Palestinians in nearly two decades

washington post logoWashington Post, Marshall Islands, feeling neglected by the U.S., enjoys new leverage, Pete McKenzie, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The leaders of the Marshall Islands, a collection of 29 coral atolls lying halfway between Hawaii and Australia, know exactly why the United States just agreed to a deal promising $700 million in new support over four years.

“It’s because of China. We’re not naive,” Marshallese Foreign Minister Kitlang Kabua said in an interview at a restaurant close to the country’s parliament in the capital of Majuro. It offered a view of a vast lagoon speckled with rusted fishing ships that bring in tuna, and the coconut palms that fringe the thin circle of land that makes up the Marshalls’ main atoll.

Fishing and harvesting are not, however, sufficient to support the country’s population of about 80,000.

For the past 40 years, the Marshall Islands has relied on financial assistance from its former colonizer, the United States, which carried out 67 nuclear tests on two Marshallese atolls in the 12 years after World War II.

washington post logoWashington Post, They depend on Machu Picchu to survive. They shut it down anyway, Samantha Schmidt, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). The town of about 7,000 people, often marketed as Aguas Calientes, agreed to declare a “total strike,” shutting down all businesses in solidarity with the nationwide demonstrations in Peru.

ny times logoNew York Times, Hundreds of Children Seeking Asylum in U.K. Are Missing, Megan Specia, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The unaccompanied minors are mostly Albanian teenagers who had been living in hotels. Rights advocates and some lawmakers believe that they have been abducted by criminal gangs.

Around 200 unaccompanied minors — mostly Albanian teenagers — are missing from hotels they were housed in as they awaited decisions on asylum claims, leading to outrage among rights advocates calling for better protections and to demands from lawmakers to fix the issue.

The missing children are among the tens of thousands of people who have arrived in Britain on small boats after crossing the English Channel in recent years. Most of the young asylum seekers are housed in hotels as they await their fate by the Home Office, which says they are free to come and go as they please despite their ages.

Some officials, citing conversations with the local authorities, say they believe that many of the missing have been picked up by criminal gangs and exploited, raising major questions about government failures. The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment but has confirmed that at least 200 children seeking asylum have gone missing from hotels. Opposition lawmakers have called the entire program for housing minors into question.

An investigation published this week by The Observer newspaper about one hotel in the Sussex area of southern England revealed that of the approximately 600 unaccompanied children under the age of 18 who have passed through its doors in the past 18 months, 136 had been reported missing, and 79 remain unaccounted for. Last year, data revealed by the government showed that more than 222 unaccompanied children seeking asylum were missing from hotels across Britain run by the Home Office

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Kyiv defiant after missile strikes; U.S. to send newer Abrams tanks, Andrew Jeong, Ellen Francis, Natalia Abbakumova and Claire Healy, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). Ten regions of Ukraine are facing emergency power outages Friday, a day after a Russian barrage, the state power grid operator said. Ukrenergo said the latest of the missile and drone attacks that have battered energy facilities around the country for months knocked out electricity around the capital, the city of Kharkiv in the northeast and the western city of Lviv near the Polish border.

As Western countries pledged to ship battle tanks to Kyiv, Japan expanded its ban on exports to Russia, while the Kremlin maintained that it was “increasingly adapting to life under sanctions.” Here’s the latest on the war and its ripple effects across the globe.

1. Key developments

  • Russian FlagRussia’s Ministry of Defense said its forces hit Ukraine’s energy system on Thursday with drones and a “massive missile strike” from the air and the sea. The attacks disrupted the “transportation of weapons and ammunition,” the ministry said Friday. A Ukrainian official said at least 11 people were killed and 11 others injured in the strikes.
  • The type of American tank going to Ukraine will be the M1A2 Abrams, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh. The M1A2 Department of Defense Sealhas more advanced electronics and targeting ability than the M1A1 Abrams, according to U.S. military specifications. The Biden administration announced this week that it will send 31 of the U.S. main battle tanks, which are not expected to arrive in Ukraine for many months.
    “These decisions do not bring anything terrible for us,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday after Japan announced new sanctions. He also accused President Biden of blocking an end to the war instead of pressuring Kyiv to stop fighting. “We now see that the current White House leader does not want to use this key. On the contrary, he chooses to continue pumping Ukraine with weapons,” Peskov said.
  • The U.N. refugee agency said Moscow is giving Ukrainian children Russian passports and putting them up for adoption. In a Reuters interview during his visit to Kyiv, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi accused Russia on Friday of violating the “fundamental principles of child protection in situations of war.”
  • U.S. government auditors are in Kyiv this week as part of steps to ensure that “no aid or weapons” are diverted, Victoria Nuland, undersecretary for political affairs at the State Department, told lawmakers Thursday. Several senior Ukrainian officials resigned or faced dismissal this week due to corruption allegations.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Corruption Scandal Stokes Longstanding Aid Concerns in U.S., Michael Crowley and Edward Wong, Jan. 28, 2023 (print ed.). A top State Department official said the ouster of several Ukrainian officials this week after corruption charges “sends a very strong signal.”

ukraine flagSince the start of the war in Ukraine, U.S. officials have watched with some anxiety as billions of American dollars flowed into the country, well aware of Kyiv’s history of political corruption and fearing that aid might be siphoned off for personal gain.

The ouster of several top officials from Ukraine’s government on Tuesday following accusations of government corruption has lent those concerns a fresh urgency. Although U.S. and European officials say there is no evidence that aid to Ukraine was stolen, even the perception of fraud would threaten political support for continued wartime assistance and for the postwar reconstruction effort that Western officials envision.

The allegations included reports that Ukraine’s military had agreed to pay inflated prices for food meant for its troops. A deputy prosecutor general was fired for reportedly borrowing an oligarch’s Mercedes to drive to Spain for a vacation, and a presidential aide accused of commandeering a Chevrolet Tahoe donated to help with evacuations was forced out.

Rather than betray alarm, however, U.S. officials insist the drama shows that President Volodymyr Zelensky is committed to fighting corruption.

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Presidential Document Probes

 

merrick garland john laucsch al drago bloomberg

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Garland’s special counsels: The mistake keeps getting worse, Jennifer Rubin, right, Jan. 26, 2023. Attorney General jennifer rubin new headshotMerrick Garland, above, came into the job determined, above all else, to restore the integrity of the Justice Department. In trying to convince everyone that the department is above reproach, however, he has made a series of unwise, showy moves that leave it looking more, not less, political.

The problem began with Garland’s decision to follow his predecessor’s position that former president Donald Trump was acting in the scope of his presidential duties when he allegedly slandered E. Jean Carroll. Garland compounded the error by appointing a special counsel to investigate President Biden’s possession of classified documents from his years as vice president and U.S. senator.

Garland evidently felt that fairness demanded he treat the Biden case as he treated the investigation of classified documents held by Trump at Mar-a-Lago. The department’s credibility would have been better served if Garland had made tough distinctions between two very different cases.

The special counsel statute lays out three criteria for an appointment. First, the attorney general must determine that “a criminal investigation” is warranted. Second, that the investigation or resulting prosecution present a conflict of interest for the Justice Department, “or other extraordinary circumstances.” And third, that “under the circumstances, it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel to assume responsibility for the matter.”

Not on the list: “I want to avoid looking political.” If every sniff of wrongdoing by a high-ranking official or presidential candidate triggers a special counsel, the result will be precisely the chaos that now appears before us.

Garland’s failure to make a clear, obvious distinction between Trump’s apparent obstruction and Biden’s mere sloppiness has created a slippery slope. Will former president Jimmy Carter’s sloppiness merit a special counsel? What about former vice president — and likely presidential candidate— Mike Pence?

One wonders whether Garland and his aides did any significant research to determine how widespread the problem of retained-and-voluntarily-returned documents actually is.

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mike pence bites lip Custom

 

Borrowing Limit Tactics: 'Economic Terrorism'

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: It’s time to cancel Congress’s debt ceiling theatrics, Colbert I. King, right, Jan. 29, 2023 (print ed.). This “Perils colbert king newestof Pauline” debt ceiling cliffhanger is a cheap political show that Congress should just grow up and stop staging. It’s tiresome, and it wastes time and energy best spent on things that matter, such as serious, substantive fiscal reforms and addressing the root causes of the rising national debt.

Increasing the statutory debt limit is a must. It should not be held hostage by sensation-seeking Republican foghorns who can’t tell the debt ceiling from ceiling tile.

After all, raising the debt ceiling is essentially a ministerial legislative act. I learned that, and more, when I became a Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary for legislative affairs in my early days with President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

How many ways are there to explain this situation? Increasing the debt limit allows the country — the United States of America — to meet obligations already authorized by Congress. Obligations, to explain further, to holders of U.S. debt, including our largest foreign debt holders, Japan followed by China, as well as the Social Security Trust Fund and other institutions and individual investors.

We, the people, are legally obligated to those creditors. The full faith and credit of the United States is on the line. A U.S. debt default would be cataclysmic both at home and abroad.

The thought of Congress standing by while the United States and world economy go down the tubes is unthinkable — until you hear the kind of nonsense coming out of the mouths of House Republicans such as Rep. Bob Good (Va.), who climbed atop a chair at a town hall in rural Louisa County and told his constituents that under no circumstances would he vote to increase the debt ceiling without “commensurate cuts in spending.” Good knows full well — or at least he should know full well — that imposing immediate cuts of that magnitude would trigger financial chaos and business failures throughout the country.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Democrats have a two-part plan to use the debt ceiling against Republicans, Jennifer Rubin, Jan. 25, 2023.
Sensing Republicans are on the verge of a blunder in their schemes to use the debt ceiling to hold the economy hostage and try to extract draconian spending cuts, the White House has developed a two-part response strategy. So far, it is paying off.

Part 1: Lay out the simple argument that Republicans are recklessly inviting an economic meltdown even by talking about a possible default. Part 2: Force House Republicans to put forward a plan on the table and watch as they struggle with the fallout.

The administration has already delivered on the first step. Appearing on MSNBC this month, Jared Bernstein, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers, warned, “Unless the debt ceiling is unconditionally increased … not only will you be in default, but the result will be, as you’ve mentioned, the loss of millions of jobs, but also a spiking in interest rates.” He added that breaching full faith and credit of the U.S. dollar would undermine one of the "most pristine currencies in the world.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: The scariest part of the debt ceiling impasse: Washington isn’t scared, Ramesh Ponnuru, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). In the past week, I have been told by a prominent economist, the CEO of a major bank and two Democratic members of Congress not to worry about breaching the debt limit. Congress always ends up raising the debt limit, they said when I asked each of them about it during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland — even if it takes a bumpy road to get there.

So why am I not reassured?

Partly it’s because I remember hearing people say that housing prices only ever go up or that Donald Trump would never be president. But it’s also because the case for complacency underestimates the distance between the parties.

Republicans in Washington think Democrats will keep saying that they will never negotiate over a debt ceiling bill right up until the end, when they will make a deal — just as President Barack Obama agreed to spending cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling in 2011, the last time the parties had this kind of a knockdown over the issue.

Democrats think Obama set a dangerous precedent and want to set a new one: You don’t negotiate with hostage-takers.

In their view, Congress has a responsibility to pass a “clean” increase in the debt ceiling with no spending cuts attached. Besides, they see no point in negotiating with this particular crew of hostage-takers, who are unlikely to reach agreement among themselves about what they want. Some Republicans want major changes to the programs for senior citizens that are driving the increasing federal debt, while others would be willing to settle for a commission that looked into budget reforms. Whether a House with a tiny majority can stick together behind any plan is questionable.

Even the left-most Republicans in the House consider the demand that they vote for a stand-alone increase in the debt ceiling absurd. Some Democrats, too, say there should be negotiations. Debt-limit increases have often been tied to other policies, and each of the past two Democratic presidents voted against increases when they were in the Senate.

While Republicans think they can use debt limit legislation to get policy concessions from Democrats, the Democrats think they can use it to make political gains. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain reportedly told a top congressional Democrat that the fight could result in what The Post described as “substantial political benefits” for his party.

The Democratic strategy requires that Republicans get nothing, not even something face-saving, in return for raising the debt ceiling, and assumes that voters will blame Republicans for any suffering that the hostage economy endures.

The Republican strategy assumes to the contrary that Democrats, as the party in power and the party more supportive of government spending, have a stronger political incentive to get the ceiling raised.

Both sides can’t be right. They’re going to be slow to learn who’s wrong. Each side will discount any strong rhetoric from the other as a bluff. It will see any sign of a pending default, and any sign that default will lead to an economic catastrophe, as evidence that its strategy is on the verge of working.

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U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

washington post logoWashington Post, A Planned Parenthood was firebombed, and the alleged motive isn’t what I expected, Monica Hesse, right, Jan. 28, 2023 monica hesse(print ed.). Investigators say a man they’ve charged was upset about a girlfriend’s abortion three years earlier.

A couple weeks ago, police officers in Peoria, Ill., responded to a call about the local Planned Parenthood, where an unidentified person had been spotted pulling up to the clinic in a pickup, smashing a flaming laundry detergent bottle into the building’s front window, and then peeling away. Nobody was harmed — this all happened late on a Sunday night — but the fire caused extensive damage and the clinic is closed indefinitely..

I followed the news coverage with personal and professional interest. A few days before the firebombing, Gov. J.B. Pritzker had signed a law protecting Illinois abortion-care providers. The National Abortion Federation has reported that invasions and assaults on abortion clinics increased by about 130 percent in 2021, and the overturning of Roe v. Wade last summer forced many clinics to close and blasted negative attention onto the ones that remained open.

In short, I was pretty sure I could guess what kind of perp we were looking for, and I fully expected to see the Peoria firebombing case culminate with the arrest of someone wearing an “Abortion is the American Holocaust” crew-neck and earnestly explaining how they did it to save the babies.

But also, I’m from there. Peoria is 40 minutes away from my hometown, a straight shot west on Interstate 74. This particular Planned Parenthood is where high school girls in my town would go if they needed birth control and didn’t want any busybodies ratting them out if they were spotted at the local clinic. The area is a mixed bag of insurance wonks (State Farm), gearheads (Rivian) academics (go Redbirds!) and farmers (go corn!), which is to say, we’re just about as likely as anyplace else to produce a crusader who believes he’s saving lives by throwing molotov cocktails.

But I digress.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that an arrest had been made. Tyler W. Massengill, 32, has been charged with “maliciously damaging and destroying, and attempting to damage and destroy, by means of fire and an explosive, a building used in interstate commerce,” according to a DOJ criminal complaint. The accompanying news release stressed that criminal complaints are accusations, not convictions — we’re still in the “allegedly” territory here — but it also said the alleged perpetrator confessed to the crime.

ny times logoNew York Times, A company that makes abortion pills is challenging state bans on the medication in a lawsuit, Pam Belluck, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). The case, brought by GenBioPro, a company that makes one of two abortion drugs, argues that it is unconstitutional for a state to bar access to a medication approved by the federal government.

A company that makes an abortion pill filed a lawsuit Wednesday morning challenging the constitutionality of a state ban on the medication, one in what is expected to be a wave of cases arguing that the federal Food and Drug Administration’s approval of the pill takes precedence over such restrictive state laws.

The case was filed in federal court in West Virginia by GenBioPro, one of two American manufacturers of mifepristone, the first pill used in the two-drug medication abortion regimen. A ruling in favor of the company could compel other states that have banned abortion to allow the pills to be prescribed, dispensed and sold, according to legal experts. If the courts reject the company’s arguments, some legal scholars say the decision could open the door for states to ban or restrict other approved drugs, such as Covid vaccines or morning-after pills.

The case is one of a number of lawsuits testing legal arguments in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling last June overturning the federal right to abortion. Also on Wednesday, an obstetrician-gynecologist sued officials in North Carolina, which still allows abortion, challenging the state’s requirements for using mifepristone because they go beyond F.D.A. regulations on the drug. In November, abortion opponents filed a lawsuit challenging the F.D.A.’s approval of mifepristone nearly 23 years ago and asked that the courts order the agency to stop allowing the use of the drug and the second drug, misoprostol, for abortion.

Taken together, the cases underscore how pivotal medication abortion has become in legal and political battles. With pills now being used in more than half of abortions in America, and with recent F.D.A. decisions allowing patients to have pills prescribed by telemedicine and obtained by mail or from retail pharmacies, states that ban or restrict abortion are increasingly targeting the medication method.

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More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill (Photo by Francis Chung via Politico and Associated Press).

washington post logoWashington Post, Who would work for Rep. Santos? Capitol Hill is watching closely, Joe Heim and Meagan Flynn, Jan. 28, 2023. No staff hirings on Capitol Hill are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), who has been buried in controversy since his election.

Hiring season is winding down on Capitol Hill. The flurry of forwarded résumés is fading, staff positions in House and Senate offices are nearly filled, and the mostly serious business of governing is taking hold.
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The biennial job carousel, a parlor game that plays out in the Capitol’s bustling hallways, hyperdrive text chains and chatty cafeteria lines, is always a closely watched exercise by staffers. Who’s up, who’s down? Who’s in, who’s out?

But perhaps no staff hirings this year are being more closely watched than those of Rep. George Santos, the New York Republican who since his election in November has been buried in an avalanche of revelations that point to him not being the person he once claimed to be. He did not, for instance, graduate from Baruch College (or play volleyball for its team). Nor did he work for Goldman Sachs or Citigroup. And his grandparents did not flee Jewish persecution in Ukraine.

There are also questions about where his money came from, how he funded his campaign, and his work for a Florida company that the SEC is suing and has alleged is a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

Even as he has had to answer — or not answer — those myriad questions, Santos has been assembling a staff for his Washington and district offices, the No. 1 priority for first-term representatives. That means interviewing job candidates, vetting résumés, running background checks and finding people willing to work for a member who appears allergic to truth-telling.

Taking a job for Santos could prove dicey for staffers. In conversations with more than a dozen former and current Republican and Democratic lawmakers and staff members, many wondered if those who go to work for Santos, particularly higher-level staffers, would ever be able to find another congressional office that would hire them.

See the evolution of lies in George Santos’s campaign biography

So far, there is public information available for just five positions that Santos has filled, including chief of staff and communications director, according to LegiStorm, which tracks and posts congressional hiring. The initial makeup of Santos’s staff seems to lack the deep Capitol Hill experience that new members typically seek to help them get off to an effective start and quickly adjust to the rhythms and demands of Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, ‘I felt like we were in “Goodfellas’’’: How George Santos wooed investors for alleged Ponzi scheme, Jonathan O'Connell, Isaac Stanley-Becker, Emma Brown and Samuel Oakford, Jan. 25, 2023. Accounts gathered by The Post detail how Santos used lavish dinner, inflated credentials to pitch Harbor City securities.

George Santos graciously welcomed his three guests to Il Bacco Ristorante in Queens. Restaurant staff took their coats at the door and escorted them to a private dining room upstairs. Santos had with him business cards from Harbor City Capital, the Florida-based investment firm where he worked.

He was ready to make his pitch.

With him that night in November 2020 was Christian Lopez, who two years prior was badly injured when a drunk driver smashed into his parked car near where he lived in Queens. His injuries required four surgeries. Lopez had been awarded $2 million in insurance money two months earlier — a fact that Lopez’s attorney said she had shared with Santos, a longtime acquaintance.

“I felt like we were in ‘Goodfellas,’ like we were in a mafia movie,” Lopez, 35, told The Washington Post. “They were like, ‘Hello, I see you are here with George, right this way.’ Bringing us to this fancy restaurant and doing all this, I felt like he was doing it to capture us.”

Over wine and caprese salad, Santos laid out a can’t-miss investment opportunity for Lopez to invest in bonds financing digital advertising. “He was saying if you give me $300,000, I am going to make you money. I’m going to make you $3 million,” said Lopez.

Lopez was among several people who in recent days described to The Post how Santos attempted to persuade them to invest with Harbor City. Santos worked as the company’s New York regional director for more than a year before the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit in April 2021, alleging that the firm defrauded investors of millions of dollars in a “classic Ponzi scheme.”

Santos, the 34-year-old freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied brazenly about key aspects of his biography, has said he was unaware of any fraud by Harbor City.

Collectively, the accounts gathered by The Post offer a detailed picture of Santos’s efforts to recruit investors for Harbor City. In two instances, he inflated his own academic or professional credentials, The Post found. In addition, Zoom recordings of workplace meetings show Santos offering anecdotes about his purported interactions with wealthy people — stories disputed by those involved — for potential inclusion in marketing materials or to impress prospective clients.

ny times logoNew York Times, George Santos Says He Has a New Treasurer. The Treasurer Does Not Agree, Michael Gold, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Like much of Representative George Santos’s financial background, the move to replace his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, was shrouded in confusion.

Representative George Santos’s campaign and six affiliated political committees filed statements on Wednesday indicating they were removing his longtime treasurer, Nancy Marks, who has been connected to nearly every Santos-related fund and one of Mr. Santos’s private business ventures.

But the move — as with so many things regarding Mr. Santos, who has admitted to falsehoods on the campaign trail and misleading statements about his background — was clouded by mystery and immediately provoked questions.

Shortly after the first new filings surfaced, Ms. Marks’s apparent replacement as treasurer, Thomas Datwyler, said through a representative that he had not agreed to the swap and suggested that the changes were made without his consent.

“On Monday, we informed the Santos campaign that Mr. Datwyler would not be taking over as treasurer,” Mr. Datwyler’s lawyer, Derek Ross, said. “And there appears to be some disconnect between that conversation and this filing.”

Mr. Santos, a Republican from New York, and his team provided no explanation. His lawyer, Joe Murray, said, “I have no response to any of that.” Ms. Marks did not immediately respond to an email or phone calls seeking comment.

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Energy, Climate, Environment, Weather, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Dead whales and tough economics bedevil Biden’s massive wind energy push, Evan Halper, Timothy Puko and Dino Grandoni, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Strandings in the Atlantic, supply chain woes and fossil fuel allies create tough head winds in the race to install thousands of enormous off-shore wind turbines

The school-bus-size humpback whale that washed ashore on a narrow beach in Brigantine, N.J., this month weighed in at 12 tons and took a heavy emotional toll on coastal towns helplessly witnessing a spate of such deaths.

The humpback was one of nine large whales to get stranded over six weeks on or near beaches in the Northeast, not far from where developers of hundreds of offshore wind turbines are engaged in a flurry of preconstruction activity. The deaths have prompted pushback against the projects even though government scientists say they are unrelated.

It’s the latest in a string of threats to a fledgling offshore wind industry that climate advocates say is central to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Surging costs from inflation and labor shortages have developers saying their projects may not be profitable. A raft of lawsuits and pending federal restrictions to protect sensitive wildlife could further add to costs. The uncertainty has clouded bright expectations for massive growth in U.S. offshore wind, which the Biden administration and several state governments have bet big on in their climate plans.

A necropsy of the humpback that washed ashore in Brigantine this month revealed bruising from a blunt-force trauma consistent with a strike from a boat, said Sheila Dean, director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, a New Jersey nonprofit that led the response to the stranding. But she cautioned it may take a while to study samples from the stranded whales and determine the cause of death.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

Politico, New booster works against dominant Covid strain, Krista Mahr, Jan. 26, 2023 (print ed.). Only 15.3 percent of eligible Americans — or about 50 million people — have received the bivalent vaccine.

politico CustomA new CDC study has found that the Covid-19 bivalent booster reduces the risk of symptomatic infection from the most common subvariant circulating in the U.S. right now by about half.

Additional new data, set to be published on the CDC website on Wednesday, also shows that individuals who received an updated vaccine reduced their risk of death by nearly 13 fold, when compared to the unvaccinated, and by two fold when compared to those with at least one monovalent vaccine but no updated booster.

CDC officials said during a briefing on Wednesday that the new findings were “reassuring.” But only 15.3 percent of eligible Americans — or about 50 million people — have received the new shot, which was rolled out in September.

Meanwhile, the highly transmissible Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 — nicknamed “the Kraken” by some — is now the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain in the U.S., projected by the CDC to make up just over 49 percent of cases in the country as of last week.

Earlier this month, the WHO said XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible variant to date, and is circulating in dozens of countries. Though a catastrophic wave has not emerged in the U.S. yet, there has nevertheless been a spike in deaths this month, with an average of 564 people dying of Covid-19 each day as of Jan. 18, compared with an average of 384 around the same time in December.

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U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

 

Former ABC-TV co-hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes (Reuters file photo by David Dee Delgado).

Former ABC-TV co-hosts Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes (Reuters file photo by David Dee Delgado). 

washington post logoWashington Post, Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes to leave ABC after relationship revealed, Jeremy Barr, Jan. 28, 2023. The co-hosts have been off the air since early December, after they were revealed to be dating.

T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach, who have been on leave from their roles as co-hosts of ABC’s afternoon show “GMA3,” will not return to the network after the completion of an internal review into their relationship, which burst out into the open in late November.

“After several productive conversations with Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes about different options, we all agreed it’s best for everyone that they move on from ABC News,” a network spokesperson said in a statement on Friday night. “We recognize their talent and commitment over the years and are thankful for their contributions.”

The television drama began on Nov. 30, when the Daily Mail published a photo-heavy article detailing the relationship between the two hosts, who were married to other people at the time.

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Jan. 27

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Durham-Barr Scandal At Justice Dept.?

 

Jan. 6 Pro-Trump Insurrectionists

djt john eastman white house

 

Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

U.S. Mass Shootings

 

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

Ukraine War

 

Energy, Climate, Environment, Disasters

 

Presidential Document Probes

 

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More On Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

Rep. George Santos speaks with reporters as he departs Capitol Hill.Francis Chung/Politico/AP 

 

Borrowing Limit Tactics: 'Economic Terrorism'

 

U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

 

U.S. Media, Sports, Religion, High Tech, Education

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, As the Colorado River Shrinks, States Squabble Over Drops of Water, Christopher Flavelle, Graphics by Mira Rojanasakul, Jan. 27, 2023. The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the water supply for 40 million Americans.

The Interior Department had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the Colorado. The demand for those cuts, on a scale without parallel in American history, was prompted by precipitous declines in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which provide water and electricity for Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. Drought, climate change and population growth have caused water levels in the lakes to plummet.

“Think of the Colorado River Basin as a slow-motion disaster,” said Kevin Moran, who directs state and federal water policy advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund. “We’re really at a moment of reckoning.”

Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic failure of the river system.

ny times logoNew York Times, Biden Hammers Republicans on the Economy, With Eye on 2024, Jim Tankersley, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). President Biden has found a welcome foil in a new conservative House majority and its tax and spending plans, sharpening a potential re-election message. The president has found a welcome foil in a new conservative House majority and its tax and spending plans, sharpening a potential re-election message.

President Biden on Thursday assailed House Republicans over their tax and spending plans, including potential changes to popular retirement programs, ahead of what is likely to be a run for re-election.

In a speech in Springfield, Va., Mr. Biden sought to reframe the economic narrative away from the rapid price increases that have dogged much of his first two years in office and toward his stewardship of an economy that has churned out steady growth and strong job gains.

Mr. Biden, speaking to members of a steamfitters union, sought to take credit for the strength of the labor market, moderating inflation and news from the Commerce Department on Thursday morning that the economy had grown at an annualized pace of 2.9 percent at the end of last year. In contrast, he cast House Republicans and their economic policy proposals as roadblocks to continued improvement.

“At the time I was sworn in, the pandemic was raging and the economy was reeling,” Mr. Biden said before ticking through the actions he had taken to aid the recovery. Those included $1.9 trillion in pandemic and economic aid; a bipartisan bill to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, water pipes and other infrastructure; and a sweeping industrial policy bill to spur domestic investment in advanced manufacturing sectors like semiconductors and speed research and development to seed new industries.

 

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III.Credit...Memphis Police Department

Portraits of five police officers in uniform, with each officer shown with an American flag. Clockwise from top left: Officers Tadarrius Bean, Justin Smith, Demetrius Haley, Desmond Mills Jr. and Emmitt Martin III (Photos from the Memphis Police Department via New York Times).

ny times logoNew York Times, 5 Memphis Officers Charged With Murder in Killing of a Black Man, Rick Rojas, Jan. 26, 2023. The officers, who are all also Black, face second-degree murder charges in the death of Tyre Nichols after a traffic stop earlier this month. Officials are bracing for the release of video from the stop, which the Memphis police chief called “heinous, reckless and inhumane.”

Tyre Nichols memorial background whiteFive fired Memphis police officers have been charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols (shown above in a photo from his memorial service), a 29-year-old Black man hospitalized after a confrontation with police during a traffic stop this month. The officers were fired last week and accused of using excessive force in an encounter that was captured on video, including police body cameras. The city’s police chief, Cerelyn Davis, described their actions as “a failing of basic humanity.”

Here are the details:

  • The officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were arrested on charges including second-degree murder. “The actions of all of them resulted in the death of Tyre Nichols, and they are all responsible,” the Shelby County district attorney, Steven J. Mulroy, said. All five officers, who are Black, were fired last week. Here is an explanation of the charges.
  • Lawyers for two of the officers said they had not yet seen the video evidence but urged the public to reserve judgment. “No one out there that night intended for Tyre Nichols to die,” said William Massey, who is representing Mr. Martin, at a news conference. Read more about their response.
  • A lawyer for Mr. Nichols’s family said the family was encouraged by the charges. “That these five officers are being held criminally accountable for their deadly and brutal actions gives us hope as we continue to push for justice for Tyre,” the lawyer, Ben Crump, said in a statement. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.

ny times logoNew York Times, Live Updates: Memphis Video Captures Officers’ Brutal Beating of Tyre Nichols, Rick Rojas and Jessica Jaglois, Jan. 27, 2023.  An hour of video footage shows a fatal beating by the police. Here’s the latest.

The city of Memphis released four videos late Friday that show police officers kicking and punching Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man who later died, and beating him with a baton while he shows no signs of fighting back. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home,” and at one point he repeatedly screams, “Mom, Mom, Mom.” Lawyers have said that his mother’s home was about 100 yards away from where he was beaten.

Here are other details:

  • Five Memphis police officers — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired last week and charged on Thursday with murder. The officers, who are all Black, posted bail on Friday and had been released from jail. Here is a full list and explanation of the charges.
  • Tony Romanucci, a lawyer for the Nichols family, said they want the Memphis Police Department to disband the specialized street crimes unit that the officers were a part of, which was formed to help halt a surge of violence in the city. “The intent of the SCORPION unit has now been corrupted,” he said. Read more about the special unit.
  • Cities across the country were on alert for protests turning violent, as officials and the Nichols family pleaded with the public not to let outrage over what they see on the video spill into unrest. Calling for “justice” for her son, RowVaughn Wells, Mr. Nichols’s mother, said Friday that the five officers had “disgraced” their families, but that she would also pray for them. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.
  • As they conferred at the scene after the beating of Tyre Nichols, two Memphis police officers claimed that he had grabbed for their weapons, with one saying he “had his hand on my gun.” That was not visible on any of the four videos released by the city on Friday night.

The sheriff of Shelby County, Tenn., which includes Memphis, said that two of his deputies who were on the scene after the beating of Tyre Nichols had been “relieved of duty,” pending an investigation. The sheriff, Floyd Bonner Jr., said that he had watched the video of the arrest for the first time Friday night after it was released by Memphis officials, and he had “concerns” about the deputies, but did not describe their actions.

Police in New York arrested at least one person after protesters smashed the window of a police vehicle in Times Square. About 200 protestors are now gathered in the middle of 46th Street, blocking traffic. Dozens of officers are standing nearby.

The footage shows the police kicking, punching and using a baton on the 29-year-old Black man, who died days later. Five officers were fired and charged with murder. Officials and the Nichols family have called for any protests to be peaceful.

One of those two officers also describes the encounter by saying the police took Nichols out of his car and asked him, “Hey bruh, you good?” The officer followed by saying that Nichols “almost hit me.” In fact, a video shows the officers approaching the car with their guns raised, yelling and threatening Nichols.

 

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who remains a member of Congress, and her husband, Paul Pelosi (New York Times file photo from 2019 by Doug Mills).

washington post logoWashington Post, Footage of Paul Pelosi attack shows moment House speaker’s husband assaulted, Danielle Paquette, Justine McDaniel and Reis Thebault, Jan. 27, 2023. A judge agreed to release body camera footage shown in court of the October assault on Rep. Nancy Pelosi's husband.

Police body-camera video showing the October attack on the husband of Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), along with audio of Paul Pelosi’s 911 call, were made public Friday, revealing footage of the moment he was bludgeoned by a hammer-wielding intruder looking for his wife.

djt maga hatJudge Stephen M. Murphy of San Francisco Superior Court ordered the release of the evidence, including portions of a police interview with the suspect, David DePape, after The Washington Post and other news organizations pressed for copies.

The tapes illuminate a harrowing sequence: Pelosi alerting a 911 dispatcher of an armed man who was feet away, listening to the call and interjecting comments; DePape beating Pelosi in plain view of the officers; and DePape, after his arrest, describing his plans to kidnap and snap the bones of the then-House Speaker.

A clip of the assault at the Pelosi home in San Francisco before dawn on Oct. 28 was shown in court last month but, until now, had been otherwise shielded from view.

Wild rumors, amplified by conservative activists and bloggers, had surged after the 2 a.m. attack 11 days before the 2022 midterm elections, and the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office argued that unsealing video and audio could fuel more misinformation while risking DePape’s right to a fair trial. Someone, for instance, could edit the clips to manipulate audiences on social media.

But Judge Murphy ruled that footage playing in a public courtroom should be handed to the media.

“These are open facts. They are known facts,” said Thomas Burke, a lawyer representing the coalition of news organizations that pushed for access to the evidence, including The Post. “The public’s right of access should not be dependent on conspiracy theories.”

The internet gossip had spread rapidly to Capitol Hill, where Republican officials groundlessly cast doubt on 82-year-old Paul Pelosi’s account of the violence and referenced baseless homophobic conspiracy theories.

Prosecutors, however, have said that what happened was clear — and that DePape himself outlines his actions in tapes like those just publicly released.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said at the December hearing.

In the now-public interview with police, DePape told an investigator: “I’m not trying to get away with this. I know exactly what I did.”

Nancy Pelosi declined to comment on the evidence’s release on Friday, and one day earlier she told reporters on Capitol Hill that she doesn’t know whether she will watch the video.

 

Durham-Barr Scandal At Justice Dept.?

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: How Barr’s Quest to Find Flaws in the Russia Inquiry Unraveled, Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, Jan. 26, 2023. The review by John Durham, right, at one point veered into a criminal investigation related to Donald Trump himself, even as it john durham Customfailed to find wrongdoing in the origins of the Russia inquiry.

It became a regular litany of grievances from President Donald J. Trump and his supporters: The investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia was a witch hunt, they maintained, that had been opened without any solid basis, went on too long and found no proof of collusion.

donald trump for president button nice smileEgged on by Mr. Trump, Attorney General William P. Barr set out in 2019 to dig into their shared theory that the Russia investigation likely stemmed from a conspiracy by intelligence or law enforcement agencies. To lead the inquiry, Mr. Barr turned to a hard-nosed prosecutor named John H. Durham, and later granted him special counsel status to carry on after Mr. Trump left office.

But after almost four years — far longer than the Russia investigation itself — Mr. Durham’s work is coming to an end without uncovering anything like the deep state plot alleged by Mr. Trump and suspected by Mr. Barr.

Moreover, a monthslong review by The New York Times found that the main thrust of the Durham inquiry was marked by some of the very same flaws — including a strained justification for opening it and its role in fueling partisan conspiracy theories that would never be charged in court — that Trump allies claim characterized the Russia investigation.

Interviews by The Times with more than a dozen current and former officials have revealed an array of previously unreported episodes that show how the Durham inquiry became roiled by internal dissent and ethical disputes as it went unsuccessfully down one path after another even as Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr promoted a misleading narrative of its progress.

Mr. Barr and Mr. Durham never disclosed that their inquiry expanded in the fall of 2019, based on a tip from Italian officials, to include a criminal investigation into suspicious financial dealings related to Mr. Trump. The specifics of the tip and how they handled the investigation remain unclear, but Mr. Durham brought no charges over it.

Mr. Durham used Russian intelligence memos — suspected by other U.S. officials of containing disinformation — to gain access to emails of an aide to George Soros, the financier and philanthropist who is a favorite target of the American right and Russian state media. Mr. Durham used grand jury powers to keep pursuing the emails even after a judge twice rejected his request for access to them. The emails yielded no evidence that Mr. Durham has cited in any case he pursued.

There were deeper internal fractures on the Durham team than previously known. The publicly unexplained resignation in 2020 of his No. 2 and longtime aide, Nora R. Dannehy, was the culmination of a series of disputes between them over prosecutorial ethics. A year later, two more prosecutors strongly objected to plans to indict a lawyer with ties to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign based on evidence they warned was too flimsy, and one left the team in protest of Mr. Durham’s decision to proceed anyway. (A jury swiftly acquitted the lawyer.)

Now, as Mr. Durham works on a final report, the interviews by The Times provide new details of how he and Mr. Barr sought to recast the scrutiny of the 2016 Trump campaign’s myriad if murky links to Russia as unjustified and itself a crime.

 

william barr hearing new

Wayne Madsen Report, Investigative Commentary: What did the Italians tell Barr and Durham about Donald Trump's criminal activity? Wayne wayne madsen may 29 2015 cropped SmallMadsen, left, author of 22 books and former Navy intelligence officer and NSA analyst, Jan. 27, 2023.

In the fall of 2019, Attorney General William Barr (shown above) and John Durham, the Special Counsel assigned by Barr to investigate the FBI for wrongly investigating Donald Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign for ties to Russia, flew to Italy to pressure law enforcement there to fess up that they were involved with the FBI in what was falsely called by Trump the "Russia hoax."

wayne madesen report logoInstead of getting the goods on the FBI -- whose top counterintelligence agent in New York at the time was in bed with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska --Italian law enforcement provided Barr and Durham with information that Trump was involved in a major criminal matter, including suspicious financial dealings. Barr assigned Durham, a pro-Trump shill, to investigate the matter, granting him, for the first time, criminal prosecution authority. Not only did Durham not find any evidence of a "Russia hoax" involving the FBI logoDemocratic Party, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, or George Soros -- all of whom Durham had under investigation -- but the criminal matter conveyed by the Italians was never acted upon.

WMR had reported on a serious criminal matter involving the car bombing assassination of Maltese journalist  Daphne Caruana Galizia, right, on October 16, 2017 and its possible ties to Trump. Italian intelligence and law enforcement have kept a close eye on Malta daphne caruana galizia croppedever since the 1970s, when the island country developed close ties with the Soviet Union and Libya. Although Malta is now a member of the European Union, the Carabinieri and Guardia di Finanza (Financial Guard), as well as the Agenzia Informazioni e Sicurezza Esterna (AISE) foreign intelligence service maintain a close eye on Malta, which has become a haven for offshore banking, corporate brass plates, and Russian and other foreign residents who have purchased Maltese passports and established residency in the twin island nation.

Caruana Galizia was assassinated after she had implicated Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife, and top aides in a scandal partly exposed by the release of the Panama Papers. The scandal led directly from Malta to Azerbaijan and, ultimately, to the Trump Organization in New York.

Caruana Galizia was well-aware of Trump's connections to international wealth and political and financial power brokers. During the 2016 presidential campaign, she wrote on her website, "You can't get more establishment than billionaire Donald Trump, scion of an extremely wealthy WASP family. So the real problem is stupidity and malice. But then it always was."

And, as she found out a year later, you can't get more corrupt and murderous than Donald Trump. Whatever the Italians passed on to Barr and Durham about Trump, America's "Mr. Magoo" Attorney General, Merrick Garland, has a duty and an obligation to the American people to make that information public without delay.

Insider, Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money, Mattathias Schwartz, Jan. 27, 2023. One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend's Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn't seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.

FBI logo"Where the fuck is this from?" she asked.

"Oh, you remember that baseball game?" McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero's recollection. "I made a bet and won."

McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or "ex-wife" as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn't question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.

A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal's Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero's cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal's retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania's intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.

One of McGonigal's attorneys, Seth DuCharme, declined to comment.

Guerriero was 44 when they met, a former substitute kindergarten teacher who volunteered for law-enforcement causes and was working as a contractor for a security company while living at home with her father. McGonigal, then 49 years old, had just started his new job at the FBI's New York office.

Guerriero says their affair lasted for a little more than a year. McGonigal's Brooklyn sublet may have been modest, but he lived large. He courted Guerriero at high-end restaurants. He would give her gifts of cash — $500 or $1,000 — for her birthday and for Christmas. He once joked about framing his divorce papers for her, as a Christmas gift, but those papers never materialized. He took her to watch New Jersey Devils hockey games in a private box. She recalls that McGonigal once gave a hundred-dollar bill to a panhandler on the street. "I'm a little better off than him. I can spare a hundred dollars," Guerriero remembers McGonigal saying, after she expressed astonishment.

That day in October wasn't the only time that Guerriero remembers McGonigal carrying large amounts of cash. After he brushed her curiosity aside, she tempered her suspicions. She told herself it was probably "buy money" for a sting operation, or a payoff for one of McGonigal's informants. She had dated federal law-enforcement officials before. She knew not to ask too many questions about work.

"Charlie McGonigal knew everybody in the national security and law-enforcement world," Guerriero said, in an interview with Insider. "He fooled them all. So why should I feel bad that he was able to deceive me?"

 

Jan. 6 Insurrectionists

 

djt john eastman white house

washington post logoWashington Post, Calif. seeks to disbar Trump adviser Eastman for role in subverting 2020 election, Mariana Alfaro, Jan. 27, 2023 (print ed.). The State Bar of California intends to seek the disbarment of former president Donald Trump’s election attorney John Eastman, above right, for his role in trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

In a statement, the office of California bar Chief Trial Counsel George Cardona said Eastman faces 11 disciplinary charges, all arising from allegations that he was behind Trump’s plan to obstruct the count of electoral votes.

Per the statement, Eastman is accused of making false and misleading statements regarding alleged election fraud — including claims he made at a rally at the Ellipse outside the White House that preceded the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. In the explanation of the charges, the California bar directly connects Eastman’s speech to the insurrection, saying he “contributed to provoking a crowd to assault and breach the Capitol to intimidate then-Vice President [Mike] Pence and prevent the electoral count from proceeding.”

Stephen Gillers, a professor at the New York University School of Law who specializes in legal ethics, called the set of accusations levied at Eastman “scathing.”

“[It] charges Eastman with knowingly or through gross negligence failing to support the U.S. and California constitutions, which he took an oath to do,” Gillers said. “The allegation that Eastman is guilty of ‘moral turpitude’ is an attack on his very character, in other words that he is a bad man, not merely a bad lawyer.”

The state bar’s announcement came after an investigation that lasted nearly a year. Cardona’s office concluded that Eastman violated Section 6106 of the Business and Professions Code “by making false and misleading statements that constitute acts of ‘moral turpitude, dishonesty, and corruption.’”

“There is nothing more sacrosanct to our American democracy than free and fair elections and the peaceful transfer of power,” Cardona said in a statement. “For California attorneys, adherence to the U.S. and California Constitutions is their highest legal duty.”

brian sicknickLaw & Crime, Man Who Assaulted Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick on Jan. 6 Sentenced to More Than Six Years in Prison, Adam Klasfeld, Jan. 27, 2023. The Jan. 6 rioter who unloaded a can of pepper spray on U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, above, who died the next day, has been sentenced to six years and eight months in prison, multiple news outlets reported. Julian Elie Khater also sprayed Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards and a third officer identified in court papers only by the initials “B.C.”

lawcrime logoThe 33-year-old pleaded guilty last September to two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon, entering into a plea deal that estimated his sentencing guidelines to roughly six-and-a-half and eight years. His co-defendant, George Tanios, also went armed with pepper spray to Washington, D.C., but Tanios was not accused of having used it. Prosecutors initially accused Tanios of assisting in the assault on Sicknick before allowing Tanios to plead down to a pair of misdemeanors.

The Justice Department recently asked the judge to issue a sentence of time served to Tanios, arguing that it would promote “respect” for the law.

After communicating with Khater, Tanios purchased two canisters of bear spray and two canisters of pepper spray ahead of time, according to court papers. The pair joined the mob of Donald Trump supporters heading toward the Capitol, and prosecutors have said that open-source video captured Khater and Tanios talking about spraying police with chemicals.

“Give me that bear s—,” Khater was quoted telling Tanios.

“Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet… it’s still early,” Tanios reportedly replied.

Prosecutors accused neither Khater nor Tanios of causing Sicknick’s death, but six of Sicknick’s family members and loved ones planned to address the court on Friday: Gladys Sicknick, Ken Sicknick, Craig Sicknick, Nichole Sicknick, Charles Sicknick, and his partner, Sandra Garza.

“You, among all the other crazies — you are the reason Brian is dead,” mother Gladys Sicknick said.

Khater’s defense team did not say a word about Sicknick in their sentencing memo, and the defendant did not mention him either during his remarks to the court, CBS reported.

“I didn’t hear any expressions of sorrow,” U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan reportedly noted, adding that Khater never said the name “Sicknick.”

Khater interjected that he wanted to — but was discouraged from doing so because of a pending lawsuit by Sicknick’s estate, according to the network.

Though his report found Sicknick died of “natural causes,” the D.C. Medical Examiner told reporters that engaging with the Capitol rioters “played a role in his condition.” Sicknick’s family has been steadfast in asserting that Tanios and Khater’s actions led to the officer’s death. His estate accuses Tanios, Khater, and Trump of wrongful death.

Despite dropping felony charges against Tanios, prosecutors wrote in his sentencing memo that the 41-year-old “substantially contributed to the assault on the three officers.”

“Although Tanios, unlike Khater, did not personally assault the police officers on January 6, Tanios purchased and supplied Khater with the pepper spray he used for those assaults,” that memo states. “Tanios did so after learning from a knowledgeable clerk in a sportsmen store in West Virginia that he could not bring a firearm or a weapon that fired projectile pepper balls into the District of Columbia, but could bring different dangerous weapons, bear spray and pepper spray, instead. His decision to purchase such weaponry underscores the dangers associated with bringing weapons to a rally or a riot – it undoubtedly brings harm to others.”

Officer Edwards, another of Khater’s victims, described “hours and hours of hand-to-hand combat” in her testimony before the Jan. 6th Committee.

“It was carnage,” she said, recounting scenes of slipping in blood. “It was chaos.”

Politico, Capitol Police officers to attend sentencing of man who maced Sicknick on Jan. 6, Kyle Cheney, Jan. 26, 2023. Prosecutors have asked the judge to impose a 90-month sentence on Julian Khater.

A large contingent of Capitol Police officers is preparing to descend on the federal courthouse in Washington on Friday to attend the sentencing of a Jan. 6 rioter who sprayed their colleague Brian Sicknick, shown above, in the face with a chemical age