Feb. 2023 News

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Editor's Choice: Scroll below for our monthly blend of mainstream and February 2023 news and views

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

 

 

Feb. 2

Top Headlines

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, spoke on Feb. 1 at the memorial service in Memphis for Tyre Nichols, top left, who was killed by Memphis police during an allegedly routine traffic stop last month. Protesters are shown below left.

 

Trump Probes

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governancehunter biden nbc beard

 

More On U.S. Economy, Inflation, Jobs

 

Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

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.

 

Biden Document Probe

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

 

 Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

Ukraine War

 

Energy, Climate, Environment, Disasters

 

More On Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

 

U.S. House GOP Probes, Election Deniers, Scandals

 

U.S. Abortion, Rape Laws, Politics

 

U.S. Media, Religion, Education

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Top Stories

 

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, spoke on Feb. 1 at the memorial service in Memphis for Tyre Nichols, top left, who was killed by Memphis police during an allegedly routine traffic stop last month. Protesters are shown below left.

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, spoke on Feb. 1 at the memorial service in Memphis for Tyre Nichols, top left, who was killed by Memphis police during an allegedly routine traffic stop last month. Peaceful protesters are shown below left in the collage.

ny times logoNew York Times, The Death of Tyre Nichols: ‘We Mourn With You,’ Kamala Harris Says as Tyre Nichols Is Laid to Rest, Rick Rojas, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The vice president called on Congress to act after Mr. Nichols’s death. The Rev. Al Sharpton (shown with Harris below) invoked Dr. Martin Luther King in his eulogy.

His siblings remembered his passion for skateboarding and his love of photography. They said he had a sense of independence, a comfort and confidence in being himself, that had taken holdat an early age. At 29, Tyre Nichols was finding his way.

kamala harris al sharpton 2 1 2023 memphisBut as his family gathered with hundreds of mourners for his funeral on Wednesday, relatives said they were searching for meaning in the killing of Mr. Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers, who pulled him from his car and severely beat him.

His mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she was sustained by the idea that her son had been part of a divine mission — “sent here on assignment from God” to change how the police operated in Memphis and around the country.

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, With a million people, an ecstatic Kinshasa hears Pope Francis’s Mass, Chico Harlan, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Francis’s morning Mass, his first public event in a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, was a glimpse into the extraordinary hustle that is necessary in one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most mismanaged cities.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The schools were closed, and most work was called off, meaning all the chaotic roads in this megacity led only to one place on Wednesday: a domestic airport, with a temporary stage and then a vast field, where hundreds of thousands were arriving, some before sunrise.

“I’m here just to catch a glimpse of him,” said Erick Kwele, 53, a civil servant, though from where he stood in the field, Pope Francis (shown above in a file photo) would be no larger than a fingernail.

Francis’s morning Mass, his first public event in a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then South Sudan, was a glimpse into the extraordinary hustle that is necessary — even on days of celebration — in one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most mismanaged cities.

That hustle, which Kinshasans see as a kind of civic spirit, is required for daily survival. But it was also part of the show Wednesday. Authorities put the crowd at more than 1 million.

The people of eastern Congo long for the pope’s message of peace

Even before Francis arrived, the field was a spectacle of enormity and energy: so many young people, so much bass-heavy music, dancing children and roaring choirs. Some said they’d set their alarms for 3 or 4 a.m. just to negotiate traffic and secure a spot for the 9:30 ceremony. Still others said they’d come from the city’s sprawling outskirts, using the omnipresent yellow vans — inevitably dented and overloaded, sagging with weight, people hanging off the sides. Kwele said that in his neighborhood, some of the poorest people had traveled to the Mass for miles on foot.

“People will do anything they can to get beyond their difficulties,” he said.

ap logoAssociated Press, Investigation: Psychedelic churches in US pushing boundaries of religion, Michael Casey, Feb. 2, 2023. The tea tasted bitter and earthy, but Lorenzo Gonzales drank it anyway. On that frigid night in remote Utah, he was hoping for a life-changing experience, which is how he found himself inside a tent with two dozen others waiting for the psychedelic brew known as ayahuasca to kick in.

Soon, the gentle sounds of a guitar were drowned out by people vomiting — a common downside of the drug. Some gagged; several threw up in buckets next to them.

Gonzales started howling, sobbing, laughing and repeatedly babbling “wah, wah” like a child. Facilitators from Hummingbird Church placed him face down on the grass, calming him momentarily before he started laughing and crawling on all fours.

The Hummingbird Church hosts a weekend long ayahuasca retreat in the small town of Hildale, Utah. The town was previously known as the stronghold for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a polygamist offshoot of the Mormon church.

His journey to this small town along the Arizona-Utah border is part of a growing global trend of people turning to ayahuasca in search of spiritual enlightenment and an experience they say brings them closer to God than traditional religious services. Many hope the psychedelic tea will heal physical and mental afflictions after conventional medications and therapy failed. Their problems include eating disorders, depression, substance use disorders and PTSD.

The rising demand for ayahuasca has led to hundreds of churches like this one, which advocates say are protected from prosecution by a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. In that case, a New Mexico branch of a Brazilian-based ayahuasca church won the right to use the drug as a sacrament — even though its active ingredient remains illegal under U.S. federal law. A subsequent lower court decision ruled Oregon branches of a different ayahuasca church could use it.

“In every major city in the United States, every weekend, there’s multiple ayahuasca ceremonies. It’s not just a twice-a-year thing,” said Sean McAllister, who represents an Arizona church in a lawsuit against the federal government after its ayahuasca from Peru was seized at the port of Los Angeles.

But with the growth of pro-psychedelics movements has come increased scrutiny. In addition to ayahuasca shipments from South America being seized, some churches stopped operating over fears of prosecution. There are also concerns these unregulated ceremonies might pose a danger for some participants and that the benefits of ayahuasca haven’t been well studied.

 

Murdered reporter Jeff German (Las Vegas Journal-Review Photo by Harrison Keely via Getty Images).

Murdered reporter Jeff German (Las Vegas Journal-Review Photo by Harrison Keely via Getty Images). 

washington post logoWashington Post- Las Vegas Review-Journal, Investigative Report: Alleged $500 million Ponzi scheme preyed on Mormons. It ended with FBI gunfire, Lizzie Johnson, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The Post teamed up with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to continue the work of slain investigative reporter Jeff German.

FBI logoThe FBI arrived at the only house on this stretch of Ruffian Road at 1:25 p.m., parking out front of the $1.6 million property, hedged by empty lots of scrub and dust.

The three agents approached the camera-equipped doorbell at the home’s perimeter, pressing it once. Then they pushed past an unlocked gate, cut through the courtyard and rapped against the glass French doors of Matthew Beasley’s home.

Las Vegas investigative reporter Jeff German was slain outside his home on Sept. 2; a Clark County official he had investigated is charged in his death. To continue German’s work, The Washington Post teamed up with his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to complete one of the stories he’d planned to pursue before his killing.

A folder on German’s desk contained court documents he’d started to gather about an alleged Ponzi scheme that left hundreds of victims – many of them Mormon – in its wake. Post reporter Lizzie Johnson began investigating, working with Review-Journal photographer Rachel Aston.

The Las Vegas attorney, then 49, had been anticipating this visit for months, he would tell an FBI hostage negotiator. He’d already drafted letters to his wife and four children, explaining what he could and describing how much he loved them.

On this Thursday in March, Beasley knew his time was up. He placed the letters — along with a note addressed to the FBI and a zip drive of computer files — upstairs on the desk in his office. Then, alone in the house, he went to the front door. He paused, the left side of his body obscured by the door frame.

One of the agents — identified only as “J.M.” in a detailed criminal complaint filed March 4 in the U.S. District Court of Nevada — opened his suit jacket and flashed his badge.

Beasley stepped fully into the doorway. He held a loaded pistol against his head.

“Easy, easy,” yelled J.M.

“Drop the gun,” shouted a second agent.

Authorities had long suspected Beasley of running a massive Ponzi scheme with his business partner, Jeffrey Judd, that mainly targeted Mormons, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often called. The investment was pitched as a nearly risk-free opportunity to earn annual returns of 50 percent by lending money to slip-and-fall victims awaiting checks after the settlement of their lawsuits.

ny times logoNew York Times, Russian Troop Buildup May Signal New Assault, Ukraine Says, Marc Santora and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Russia is massing hundreds of thousands of troops and stepping up its bombardment, perhaps signaling the biggest assault since the start of the war.

Moscow has massed hundreds of thousands of troops in Ukraine and is targeting dozens of places a day in a markedly stepped-up barrage of artillery attacks. Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold their ground on a 140-mile stretch in the east, awaiting tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons systems from the West.

Ukrainian officials have been bracing for weeks for a new Russian offensive that could rival the opening of the war. Now, they are warning that the campaign is underway, with the Kremlin seeking to reshape the battlefield and seize the momentum.

“I think it has started,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said this week.

Along the undulating front line in eastern Ukraine, artillery never goes silent for long. The roads in Ukrainian-held areas are largely empty, except for tanks and armored personnel carriers and huge trucks filled with boxes of ammunition. The few gas stations still operating are crowded with soldiers savoring hot coffee before returning to the fight.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Live Updates: As Russia Struggles in Ukraine, Putin Tries to Cast Fight in Historic Terms, Anton Troianovski, Feb. 2, 2023. On the 80th anniversary of a Soviet triumph over the Nazis, Vladimir Putin slammed Western aggression, while vowing that Russia would win the war in Ukraine. But Moscow has faced military setbacks in recent months. Earlier in the day, its missiles slammed into Kramatorsk, a key base of Ukrainian military operations.

Casting his war in Ukraine as a virtuous fight despite mounting deaths and his forces’ plodding progress, President Vladimir V. Putin vowed on Thursday that Russia would prevail, using a speech in the city formerly known as Stalingrad to compare his invasion with the Soviets’ defeat of the Nazis in a decisive World War II battle.

“The legacy of generations, values and traditions — this is all what makes Russia different, what makes us strong and confident in ourselves, in our righteousness and in our victory,” Mr. Putin said.

The Russian leader’s defiant remarks came as Ukrainian officials warned that Moscow was opening a new offensive aimed at capturing more of eastern Ukraine and giving Mr. Putin his first significant battlefield success in months. Hours before he spoke, Russian missiles struck the eastern Ukrainian city of Kramatorsk, a key military hub for Kyiv’s forces.

Russia’s slow gains in the east and its attempts to capture the nearby city of Bakhmut have come at a huge cost in lives, Ukraine says, as the Kremlin throws thousands of often inexperienced fighters into brutal ground combat against dug-in Ukrainian forces. But there was no mention in Mr. Putin’s speech of Russia’s mounting losses.

 

 

Trump Probes Proceed

ny times logoNew York Times, Former Trump Executive, Already Jailed, Could Face More Fraud Charges, Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Jonah E. Bromwich, Feb. 2, 2023. Manhattan prosecutors warned that they might charge Allen Weisselberg with insurance fraud to pressure him to cooperate in an investigation of Donald Trump.

Manhattan prosecutors this week warned that they might file new fraud charges against Allen H. Weisselberg, a longtime top executive at Donald J. Trump’s real estate business — increasing pressure on Mr. Weisselberg to cooperate in a broader investigation into the former president, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Mr. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, is already serving a five-month sentence in the Rikers Island jail complex after pleading guilty to unrelated tax fraud charges. While he testified against the company at its trial on the same charges last year, he has for years refused to turn on Mr. Trump directly.

But as the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, jump-starts his office’s effort to indict Mr. Trump, his prosecutors are using the prospect of additional charges to exert leverage over Mr. Weisselberg, the people with knowledge of the matter said. The potential charges, which prosecutors conveyed to the former executive’s legal team this week, center on insurance fraud and could lead to a significant prison sentence for Mr. Weisselberg, who is 75.

He is facing the new round of pressure as the prosecutors begin to present evidence to a grand jury about Mr. Trump’s involvement in paying hush money to a porn star during the 2016 presidential campaign. On Monday, the prosecutors began questioning witnesses in the grand jury about the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who said she had an affair with Mr. Trump.

The potential new charges against Mr. Weisselberg are unrelated to the hush money, but he has long been the missing piece in any criminal case against the former president. In August, when he pleaded guilty in the tax case, Mr. Weisselberg accepted that he would serve time on Rikers Island and said he had no incriminating evidence to offer about Mr. Trump. And before that, Mr. Weisselberg was charged in the tax case only after resisting a pressure campaign from prosecutors seeking his testimony against Mr. Trump.

But the threat of prison time could change the equation for Mr. Weisselberg, who would face a stark choice: serving significant time behind bars late in life or turning on the former president, whose finances he handled for decades. If he cooperated now, after stymieing the investigation into Mr. Trump time after time, Mr. Weisselberg would be likely to avoid prison altogether.

Prosecutors have already secured the cooperation of Michael D. Cohen, the longtime fixer for Mr. Trump who turned on him after pleading guilty to federal charges involving the hush money. Last month, the district attorney’s office interviewed Mr. Cohen, who paid $130,000 to Ms. Daniels, and was later reimbursed by Mr. Trump.

The acceleration of the long-running investigation in Manhattan comes as Mr. Trump is facing intense legal pressure from several other corners. Federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., are scrutinizing his removal of sensitive documents from the White House and his conduct during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and a district attorney in Georgia may seek to indict the former president for his attempts to reverse his 2020 election loss in the state.

Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and accused investigators of carrying out a politically motivated witch hunt against him. And when The New York Times reported this week that Mr. Bragg, a Democrat, had impaneled the grand jury, Mr. Trump’s company issued a statement arguing that reviving the hush-money inquiry under what it called a “dubious legal theory” was “simply reprehensible and vindictive.”

 djt march 2020 Custom

ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Well-Worn Legal Playbook Starts to Look Frayed, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump has yet another legal threat to worry about, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 1, 2023. Former president Donald Trump jennifer rubin new headshotmight have thought he dodged a bullet in New York City. Last February, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg seemed to decide not to move forward with a case against Trump for allegedly fraudulent practices at his business (to the dismay of two career prosecutors leading the investigation, who quit).

But Trump’s legal problems in the city are far from over, as he learned on Monday. Bragg’s probe remains a serious threat to him, with potentially far-reaching implications.

The New York Times reports that Bragg’s office “began 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.” There is no indication as to whether Bragg decided to pick up on the much larger set of inquiries his predecessor launched into allegations that Trump inflated the value of assets to secure favorable loans and other benefits.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.Y. attorney general seeks sanctions against Trump and his legal team, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

Related Recent Headlines

 

U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

hunter biden nbc beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s lawyers, in newly aggressive strategy, target his critics, Matt Viser, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Hunter Biden’s lawyers, in a newly aggressive strategy, sent a series of blistering letters Wednesday to state and federal prosecutors urging criminal investigations into those who accessed and disseminated his personal data — and sent a separate letter threatening Fox News host Tucker Carlson with a defamation lawsuit.

The string of letters, which included criminal referrals and cease-and-desist missives aimed at critics and detractors, marked the start of a new and far more hard-hitting phase for the president’s son just as House Republicans prepare their own investigations into him.

Abbe Lowell, a recently hired lawyer whom Biden enlisted about a month ago, sent lengthy letters to the Justice Department and Delaware’s attorney general requesting investigations into several key players who were involved in disseminating data from a laptop that Biden is said to have dropped off at a repair shop in Wilmington, Del.

Bryan M. Sullivan, another lawyer now representing Biden, sent a separate communication to Carlson and Fox News demanding that they correct falsehoods from his recent show or risk a possible defamation lawsuit.

And in another letter, Lowell wrote to the Internal Revenue Service challenging the nonprofit status of Marco Polo, a group that is run by conservative activist Garrett M. Ziegler. Lowell provided 36 pages as evidence that the group is engaging in political activity in violation of its nonprofit status.

Some in Hunter Biden's circle want to go after accusers

Taken together, the actions represent the boldest and most aggressive moves to date from Biden, who has often heeded the advice of those who urged him not to make public waves. Those close to President Biden and the White House have preferred a more conservative approach, but some individuals around Hunter Biden have wanted to be more assertive in telling his side of the story and going more directly after his opponents.

“This marks a new approach by Hunter Biden and his team,” said one person familiar with his strategy, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private plans. “He is not going to sit quietly by as questionable characters continue to violate his rights and media organizations peddling in lies try to defame him.”

The new strategy marks a calculated risk that it is better to forge a combative path and take on Biden’s longtime critics, even if it means inviting more news coverage of a dark chapter in his life and draws additional attention to the trove of personal and embarrassing material included on a laptop that has been disseminated by his detractors.

In the letters related to his personal data, Biden’s lawyers are asking state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate individuals who came into possession of the data, some of which could have come from a laptop he purportedly dropped off in Delaware in April 2019. They claim that about a half-dozen people have violated various statutes, including by making public restricted private information; accessing and disseminating stolen property; and making false statements to Congress.

washington post logoWashington Post, Fact Checker Analysis: Laptop email suggests Hunter Biden read newspapers, not classified documents, Glenn Kessler, Feb. 2, 2023. Shortly after Attorney General Merrick Garland named a special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified documents at President Biden’s residence and former office, a New York Post columnist flagged an email, allegedly written by Biden’s son Hunter and discovered on his abandoned laptop, as potentially containing classified information. Fox News and then politicians such as Johnson and Cruz picked up on the claim.

hunter bidenThe email is dated April 13, 2014, a month before Hunter Biden (shown in a file photo from that period) was named to the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma. Johnson and Cruz, while not flatly saying Hunter Biden had access to classified information, walk up to the line and suggest that Hunter was given special access to information to ensure he burisma logowould be valuable to Burisma. The implication is that this is new evidence that President Biden is cavalier about handling classified information.

Any offspring of a prominent politician needs to be wary of even the appearance of a conflict of interest between his business interests and his parent’s political position. Hunter Biden, however, took on the Burisma job at the same time his father, then vice president, was tasked as the top U.S. policymaker on Ukraine — an arrangement that troubled State Department officials as a potential conflict of interest that undermined the administration’s efforts to stem corruption in the country. As a board member, he earned what he described in his memoir as a “substantial monthly fee.”

The then-vice president was scheduled to depart on a trip to Ukraine later that April — a fact Hunter notes in the email, which was addressed to his business partner and fellow Burisma board member Devon Archer.

“The announcement of my guys upcoming travels should be characterized as part of our advice and thinking — but what he will say and do is out of our hands,” Hunter Biden wrote. “In other words it could be a really good thing or it could end up creating too great an expectation. We need to temper expectations regarding that visit.”

The timing of the vice president’s trip has given rise to speculation that his son had access to his father’s pre-trip briefings.

Hunter Biden has had a checkered life, marked by substance-abuse problems. But he is also a graduate of Georgetown University and Yale Law School. One can presume he acquired some research skills at those institutions. He was also well-connected, with contacts he could draw on for information. In the email he refers to possibly hiring a firm to provide information “that’s not available through a Google search and some phone calls” — suggesting that that is what he relied on for writing the email.

For nine years, The Fact Checker was diplomatic correspondent for The Washington Post. I’ve seen my share of backgrounders, State Department cables and even the odd classified document. Far from being especially sophisticated, Hunter Biden’s email appears to be largely the product of diligent reading of recent newspaper and magazine articles.

For instance, in one interview, Johnson said a reference in the email to potential new U.S. sanctions on Russia “certainly might have been” classified information. But five days before the email was sent, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.S. could impose new economic sanctions on Russia because of its actions in Ukraine.

Let’s take a tour through the first 11 of 22 enumerated points in the email and see if the main facts in them could be found in news reports of the time. (The last 11 points are opinion, musings on business strategy and the like, so we won’t examine those.)

The Pinocchio Test

This is a good example of how innuendo and suspicion can cause people to leap to conclusions without checking facts. Hunter Biden’s email has been described, but it has not been examined.

We’re fairly confident that Hunter Biden assembled this material by reading news reports and checking with contacts like Kaufman, rather than getting a special briefing from the State Department or others in the administration. Obviously, if information emerges that changes our understanding of how this email was crafted, we will update this fact check. But for now, Cruz and Johnson earn Three Pinocchios. They have not presented evidence to dispute our conclusions.

ny times logoNew York Times, President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy met to discuss the debt limit, but didn’t appear to reach a breakthrough, Jim Tankersley, Catie Edmondson and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). President Biden told Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday that there was room for discussion about addressing America’s deficit, even as he insisted that Congress would have to pass a debt-limit increase with no strings attached to avoid a financial cataclysm.

Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy met at the White House for more than an hour in a discussion that carried high stakes, with the federal government set to exhaust its ability to pay its bills on time as early as June.

U.S. House logoRepublicans have refused to raise the statutory debt limit unless Mr. Biden accepts deep cuts in federal spending. The president has said repeatedly that he expects Congress to raise the borrowing cap with no conditions — and that he will not negotiate conditions for an increase.

After the meeting, the White House said Mr. Biden repeated to Mr. McCarthy that he would not negotiate on the limit. But the president did say he welcomes a “separate discussion with congressional leaders about how to reduce the deficit and control the national debt while continuing to grow the economy,” according to a White House summary of the meeting.

ny times logoNew York Times, Opinion: Republicans and Debt: Blackmailers Without a Cause, Paul Krugman, right, Feb. 2, 2023. Stop me if you’ve heard this paul krugmanbefore: Two years after a Democratic president took office and pushed ambitious policies through Congress, Republicans have regained control of the House.

They don’t have the votes required to repeal the president’s achievements, but a quirk of U.S. law — which requires that Congress vote a second time to authorize the borrowing that results from already enacted spending and tax legislation — seems to give them an opportunity to engage in blackmail, threatening to create a financial crisis unless their demands are met.

Actually, however, you haven’t heard this before. True, there are some parallels with the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. But there are also huge differences. Elite opinion has changed — the debt obsession that gripped Very Serious People in the media and beyond a dozen years ago has vanished. Democrats also seem made of sterner stuff, much more determined to resist extortion.

But the most important difference is that this time Republicans aren’t making coherent demands. It’s completely unclear what, if anything, they want in exchange for not blowing up the economy. At this point they’re blackmailers without a cause.

Some of the reporting I’ve seen on the debt standoff describes Republicans as unable to agree on which spending should be cut. This might give the impression that there are factions within the G.O.P. that have different priorities. But as far as I can tell, no influential players within the party are advocating anything that might make a significant dent in the budget deficit, let alone achieve the balanced budget Kevin McCarthy promised as part of the deal that made him speaker.

As always, the fundamental fact about the budget is that the federal government is basically an insurance company with an army. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the military dominate spending, and it’s impossible to do much about deficits unless you either raise taxes — which is obviously not part of the G.O.P. playbook — or make major cuts to these programs.

Politico, Sam Bankman Fried’s co-founder gave GOP govs group $500,000 right before bankruptcy, Hailey Fuchs, Feb. 2, 2023. The donation was part of a $28.6 million haul for the group. It was still outpaced by its Democratic equivalent.

politico CustomJust days before the cryptocurrency exchange FTX filed for bankruptcy, the company’s co-CEO Ryan Salame wrote a $500,000 check to the Republican Governors Association, the main campaign arm tasked with electing GOP executives across the country.

The donation was not a radical move on Salame’s part. He was, at the time, an emerging prolific GOP donor who gave more than $23 million to federal candidates and PACs in 2021 and 2022, according to FEC records. But with the fall of FTX and the arrest of Salame’s co-founder Sam Bankman-Fried, a new layer of scrutiny has been placed upon the campaign contributions that emanated from the leaders of the failed crypto empire.

Politico, The Cold Calculus Behind the Shrinking GOP Presidential Field, Jonathan Martin, Feb. 2, 2023. There’s Trump, DeSantis and a few other would-be hopefuls in case they falter. But an entire generation of Republican stars seem determined to sit this one out.

For all the preemptive Republican panic about a 2016 replay, and Trump claiming the nomination again thanks to a fractured opposition, the 2024 GOP field is shaping up to be smaller than expected.

This is partly because of what those RNC members found in California last week.

politico CustomTrump has already declared for a third consecutive run and his imprint was all over the meeting and remains all over the party. Until he declared his candidacy, the RNC was still covering some of his legal bills. And the race for party chair was mostly notable for the fact that neither major candidate was willing to acknowledge the culprit for a disappointing midterm, largely because the committee members would rather focus on nefarious claims about Democratic ballot harvesting than the role of Trump, the man Democrats have organized, mobilized and fundraised off of for six consecutive elections.

So, yes, a number of would-be Republican candidates this time see the party still in the former president’s grip, cast an eye at his preemptive attacks on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and say: who needs it, I’ll check back in 2028 when, one way or another, Trump is out of the picture.

However, it’s not only Trump who’s causing the Great Deep Freeze of 2023.

“They don’t have a Trump problem, they have a DeSantis problem,” explains Scott Jennings, a GOP strategist, of the potential field. “It’s going to be hard fighting for the other 60 to 70 percent of the vote [not going to Trump] when another guy could get 90 percent of it.”

DeSantis has, thanks to Covid and his ubiquity on right-wing media, become a “national conservative celebrity,” said Jennings, and the other would-be contenders are not likely to claim that status “by giving a bunch of speeches.”

Republican officeholders and their advisers see the polling, public and private, demonstrating just how formidable DeSantis already is with Republican primary voters, who typically wouldn’t even know the name of another state’s governor this early in a race.

However, the history most on the minds of the Republicans considering the race, who are not named Trump or DeSantis, is what happens when there’s a bloody battle between top contenders. Spoiler: It augurs well for a third candidate.

This is what’s giving hope to the other Republicans most likely to run. 

adam schiff official

washington post logoWashington Post, Pelosi to back Schiff for California Senate seat if Feinstein doesn’t run, John Wagner, Feb. 2, 2023. Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday threw her support behind Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), right, in what is shaping up as a competitive 2024 Senate race in California if Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) chooses not to run.

“If Senator Feinstein decides to seek reelection, she has my whole-hearted support,” Pelosi said in a statement. “If she decides not to run, I will be supporting House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, who knows well the nexus between a strong Democracy and a strong economy.”

Schiff, who served as chairman of the Intelligence panel when the House was under Democratic control, announced his Senate bid last week.

Feinstein, 89, has not yet announced whether she plans to seek a sixth full term next year.

That has not stopped others from angling for her seat. Besides Schiff, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) has already announced a bid and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) is among others who could announce soon.

In her statement, Pelosi praised Feinstein at great length, saying she’s long been “a champion for Democracy and working families.”

Feinstein, the former mayor of San Francisco, has been a trailblazer, elected to the Senate in 1992 amid the outrage among women over the Senate’s treatment of Anita Hill, who accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment when he was a nominee for Supreme Court justice. Thomas denied the charges.

As the oldest sitting senator, Feinstein has for years waved off questions about her age and ability to serve but has also relinquished a number of key roles in recent years. She stepped down as the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee before the 117th Congress. Last year, Feinstein declined consideration to become president pro tempore of the Senate, a position that traditionally goes to the most senior senator of the party in power and is third in line to the presidency. The role instead went to Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

Pelosi noted that she first supported Schiff in his first race for Congress in 2000.

“I have known his commitment to putting the American Dream in place for everyone,” Pelosi said. “Adam has dedicated his life to public service. Every time I have asked Adam to take on the tough fight against extremist forces, he has responded with integrity, strength and success.”

Schiff, 62, served as Trump impeachment manager in 2020 and was a member of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Schiff represents a large swath of the greater Los Angeles area, including the San Gabriel Valley. Previously, he served as a California state senator and an assistant U.S. attorney, where he prosecuted FBI agent Richard Miller for espionage.

Schiff gained national attention for his emotional closing statement at Trump’s first impeachment trial, in which he urged members of Congress to remove Trump from office because he could still do “a lot of damage” in the months running up to the election.

washington post logoWashington Post, House GOP moves to oust Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee, Marianna Sotomayor, Feb. 1, 2023. House ilhan omar oRepublicans are readying to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as early as Thursday, fulfilling a pledge years in the making.

republican elephant logoAfter GOP leaders were able to secure enough support for the resolution that also condemns Omar, right, for past antisemitic remarks late Tuesday, the House Rules Committee quickly approved a rule that sets the parameters for debate on the House floor ahead of a final vote. The rule will be voted on Wednesday, teeing up final approval for Thursday since it is now expected Democratic leaders will formally establish which lawmakers will make up the Foreign Affairs Committee this term in the next 24 hours."

Republican leaders have worked for weeks to ensure that there were enough votes to pass a resolution removing Omar from the committee through their razor-thin majority margin, which stands at three as Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) remains away from Washington recuperating from a traumatic fall. Opposition to the effort emerged last month as four lawmakers signaled that they wouldn’t support the measure, citing concerns that it would continue a precedent set by former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

 

 

ny times logoNew York Times, Pentagon Says a Chinese Spy Balloon Is Floating Over Montana, Helene Cooper, Feb. 2, 2023. The revelation comes days before Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Beijing, where he is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping.

The United States has detected what it says is a Chinese surveillance balloon that has been hovering over the northwestern United States, the Pentagon said on Thursday, a discovery that comes days before Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken’s visit to Beijing.

The Pentagon has chosen, for now, not to shoot down the balloon after a recommendation from senior defense officials that doing so would risk debris hitting people on the ground, according to a senior defense official who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The decision to publicize the discovery appears to put China on notice ahead of Mr. Blinken’s Beijing visit — the first by an American secretary of state in six years — during which he is expected to meet with President Xi Jinping. The sudden appearance of the balloon is bound to raise tensions between the two powers.

The official said that while this is not the first time China has sent spy balloons to the United States, it has appeared to remain over the country for longer. Still, a senior administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the balloon did not pose a military or physical threat and added that it had limited value in collecting intelligence. Another defense official said the Pentagon does not think the balloon adds much value compared with what China can glean through satellite imagery.

Pentagon officials said the balloon traveled from China to the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, and through northwest Canada over the past few days before arriving somewhere over Montana, where it was hovering on Wednesday.

It was unclear what China was looking for in Montana, but the state is home to the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom Air Force Base, one of three American Air Force bases that operate and maintain intercontinental ballistic missiles.

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Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

 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, Michael Luttig: He never ascended to the Supreme Court, but some think he has played a far more consequential role, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Republican Party brings election fraud allegations back into the fold, Philip Bump, right, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Donald Trump philip bumpwasn’t the first Republican to suggest that American elections were riddled with fraud. Part of the reason his gambit was so successful, in fact, was that Republican voters had long viewed unfavorable election results with suspicion. In 2007, for example, President George W. Bush’s Justice Department announced that a five-year investigation had turned up no evidence of systematic voter fraud in American elections, a probe meant to respond to the hum of allegations from Bush’s base.

republican elephant logoThere are a lot of reasons these rumors burbled. One, it’s safe to assume, was that Americans were increasingly living in partisan isolation — they didn’t know anyone who supposedly voted for the opposition. This overlaps with the urban/rural political divide, given how often the rumors of fraud centered on supposed Democratic nefariousness in cities.

But the rumors were also intentionally fostered by Republican actors because they were useful. Get people to think that fraud is rampant, and they’ll support legislative responses to fraud. And those legislative responses almost necessarily involved making it more cumbersome for Democrats to vote. This is not a difficult chain of logic to follow.

rnc logoSo, despite the obvious damage caused by Trump’s escalated claims about voter fraud — literal damage to the Capitol, political damage to Republican candidates linked to him — the Republican Party stands ready to try to repurpose that energy to its benefit. The Washington Post obtained a report prepared by the Republican National Committee that recommends not that the party uproot false and baseless claims of fraud but, instead, that it use them to win elections.

Politico, Jan. 6 defendant who sprayed line of police sentenced after tearful apology, Kyle Cheney, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). “You’re entitled to your political views but not to an insurrection," the judge said before delivering 68-month jail term.

politico CustomA Jan. 6 defendant who sprayed a chemical irritant at about 15 police officers — and later bragged about it in a video interview — was sentenced Wednesday to 68 months in prison. This is one of the stiffest Jan. 6 sentences handed down to date.

Daniel Caldwell, a 51-year-old Marine Corps veteran, delivered a tearful apology in court to the officers he sprayed, expressing remorse for colleen kollar kotellyhis actions that day and pleading with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for mercy.

But Kollar-Kotelly, right, repeatedly described Caldwell as an “insurrectionist” and noted that his deployment of chemical spray at officers created such an intense cloud that it nearly broke the depleted police line by itself. Though no officers directly attributed their injuries that day to Caldwell’s actions, Kollar-Kotelly said his actions undoubtedly contributed to their physical and psychological trauma.

“You’re entitled to your political views but not to an insurrection,” the judge said. “You were an insurrectionist.”

Caldwell has remained in pretrial custody since Feb. 10, 2021 — 721 days, he noted — and was one of the earliest charged with a direct assault on police that day.

But Caldwell’s hearing was most notable for the extensive expression of remorse, delivered almost entirely through tears, to a nearly empty courtroom.

“I must face my actions head on,” he said, before delivering a voluminous apology to the officers he attacked. “I hope that you and our country never have to face another day like January 6th.”

Caldwell said he spent the days immediately after the attack rationalizing what he did and looking for validation from family, friends and his attorney. He said he now looks back at his actions and “it literally floors me.”

He described himself as “ashamed” and “embarrassed” about his conduct and described efforts to better himself while in custody, reading self-help books and reflecting on how he became a catalyst of violence that day.

“I clearly let my emotions take control,” he said. “Being a Marine, I should have known better. … I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.”

Kollar-Kotelly said she appreciated his statement of apology to the officers, but as a Marine, he should have directed his apology to the whole country.

She described in detail his attack on officers, noting that one officer who he sprayed began to “vomit uncontrollably.” The air was so thick with chemicals that it wasn’t clear whether the officers he hit were injured by him directly or by a combination of factors. No victims delivered statements to the court ahead of sentencing.

Kollar-Kotelly also put his involvement in the broader Jan. 6 attack in the context of previous challenges to the United States government. She said it was crucial for her sentence to “fortify against the revolutionary fervor that you and others felt on Jan. 6 and may still feel today.”

“Insurrection is not,” she said, “and cannot ever be warranted.”

Rolling Stone, FBI Probes Allegations George Santos Took $3,000 From Dying Dog’s GoFundMe, Tomás Mier, Nikki McCann Ramirez, Feb. 1, 2023. Disabled rolling stone logoveteran Richard Osthoff said two FBI agents contacted him over his allegations that the N.Y. congressman stole funds for his service dog's medical treatment.

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caroline edwards abc news screenshot getty images

 

Biden Document Probe

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. searches Biden’s Rehoboth, Del., home as part of classified documents probe, John Wagner, Tyler Pager, Matt Viser and Perry Stein, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, said the search was ‘planned’ and is being conducted with the president’s ‘full support and cooperation.’

Justice Department log circularThe Justice Department was conducting a search Wednesday of President Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., as part of its ongoing investigation of his retention of classified documents, said Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer.

In a statement, Bauer said the search was “planned” and is being conducted with Biden’s “full support and cooperation.”

“Under [the Justice Department’s] standard procedures, in the interests of operational security and integrity, it sought to do this work without advance public notice, and we agreed to cooperate,” Bauer said. “The search today is a further step in a thorough and timely DOJ process we will continue to fully support and facilitate. We will have further information at the conclusion of today’s search.”

Biden’s lawyers said last month that they had discovered no classified documents at Biden’s Rehoboth Beach home after conducting a search.

Wednesday’s search is part of a fast-moving investigation that the Justice Department launched in November after Biden’s personal attorneys found documents with classified markings in a Washington think tank office that he used after serving as vice president. More classified material was found in subsequent searches of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., home.

robert hurAfter a recommendation from John R. Lausch, a U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump administration holdover, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Robert Hur, right, as a special counsel to oversee the investigation.

The Justice Department confirmed that Wednesday was Hur’s first day as special counsel. The department updated its website Wednesday morning to note that Hur is the special counsel leading the day-to-day operations of the Biden investigation.

Palmer Report, Analysis and Advocacy: President Joe Biden scored a huge victory today while most of you were busy complaining about Donald Trump, Bill bill palmerPalmer, right, Feb 1, 2023. The FBI searched another Biden-related property on Wednesday, but found no classified documents of any kind. This is no surprise. According to multiple major news outlets, President Joe Biden wanted the search to happen, and helped facilitate it.

Now Biden is getting headlines about how no classified documents were found there, which exonerates him in the court of public opinion. Which of course is the entire point. There’s no scandal here. There’s not even a story here. And Biden is taking steps to help put the whole thing quickly to bed.

bill palmer report logo headerYet even as this major victory for Biden played out on Wednesday, far too many folks on our side missed the point entirely. Instead of helping spread and amplify the powerful messaging that Biden is in the process of being fully exonerated, a lot of folks spent the day complaining about how “unfair” it is that the Feds are searching more Biden properties than Trump properties. That narrative surely allowed these folks to feel righteous outrage. But it did nothing at all in terms of helping Biden.

Again, the story when it comes to Biden is that he wants his properties quickly searched, because he’s done nothing wrong, and he wants the Feds to announce that conclusion as quickly and neatly as possible. This has no correlation whatsoever to a completely different kind of storyline playing out with Donald Trump.

If Trump could get himself off the hook simply by asking the Feds to search his other properties, he’d have done it a long time ago. But he can’t himself off the hook by cooperating, because he’s already been caught stashing things like classified nuclear state secrets at Mar-a-Lago. He also told the Feds he had no remaining documents at Mar-a-Lago, only to then be caught rifling through those documents. Trump is already nailed on multiple charges, and at this point there’s nothing he can do to undo that. So of course he’s refusing to cooperate with the Feds. This is how these kinds of things always work.

Let’s be real here. The DOJ had no problem sending the FBI with a search warrant into Trump’s primary residence. So the notion that the DOJ is somehow pulling its punches when it comes to Trump’s other properties is laughable. The reality is that if the Feds had reason to believe there were classified documents at Trump’s other properties, they’d have expanded the warrant and gone in a long time ago. So this likely means the Feds have already concluded that there are not additional documents at Trump’s other properties, and therefore they don’t see any point in forcibly searching those properties, which would merely hand Trump a friendly news cycle about nothing being found there.

Keep in mind that according to multiple major news outlets and court-released documents, the DOJ cultivated sources inside Mar-a-Lago in order to help determine if there were classified documents inside and where specifically they were stashed. So it’s nearly a given that the DOJ also cultivated sources inside Trump’s other properties for the same reason. And the DOJ’s decision not to forcibly search those properties is a pretty good indicator that there aren’t documents there. And why would there be? Since leaving office, Trump has used Mar-a-Lago as his base of operations. Any classified documents he stole were surely routed and stashed there.

The part everyone seems to be missing is that if Trump stole these classified nuclear secrets and such for the purpose of selling them for cash or giving them to his longtime foreign benefactors, then the documents that weren’t recovered at Mar-a-Lago are instead in the hands of these bad actors. In the time since the Feds searched Mar-a-Lago, their criminal probe has almost certainly shifted focus toward tracking down any folks who received documents from Trump. And obviously, out of necessity, the DOJ isn’t going to let any such efforts make the news headlines while they’re still ongoing.

This is part of the problem that we find ourselves in. The federal government has likely spent the past few months carrying out covert and complicated international efforts to track down the classified documents that Trump managed to sell or give away before anyone knew that he’d stolen them – and even as this complex effort plays out behind the scenes, know-nothing know-it-all conspiracy theorists on Twitter are going viral by insisting the entire case could be cracked if the DOJ would simply dig up Ivana’s casket at Bedminster.

This all serves to underscore that two distinct worlds exist when it comes to these kinds of complex criminal probes. There’s what’s actually going on, in the real world, in accordance with how things actually work, most of which is complicated and nuanced and plays out behind the scenes. Then there’s the completely imaginary world where clowns on the internet compete with each other to see who can get the most retweets by floating the dumbest and most simplistic “clever” idea for how the case could be magically cracked. These two worlds, the real one and the imaginary one, tend to have zero overlap.

So it’s not surprising that so many folks on our side, who have long ago been sucked into the imaginary MSNBC-and-Twitter version of the DOJ’s Trump probe, are so far removed from how anything works that they can’t even wrap their heads around why President Biden scored a huge victory today by inviting the Feds in to search one of his properties. Nor can they seem to grasp why there’s simply no correlation between Biden inviting the Feds in to search his property so he can be quickly cleared, and the Feds having to take a much different approach to the criminal case that’s going to end up putting Trump on trial and in prison for the rest of his life.

Whining about unfairness is never, ever, ever, ever, ever a winning strategy in politics. Ever. It just paints your own side as a bunch of inept losers who don’t know how to win, which turns off persuadable voters in the middle. Nor is there any reason to ever try to draw any correlation between the legal process of being innocent and helping to get yourself quickly cleared, and the completely opposite legal process of being guilty and trying to avoid making it easier for the Feds to put you away.

Those on our side who are whining about the “unfairness” of the Feds searching more Biden properties than Trump properties are missing the mark in so many ways, it’s difficult to even count them all. It comes off as nothing more than yet another arbitrary excuse to declare defeat and whine about it, in order to feel as much outrage as possible. The trouble with outrage addicts is that, whether they consciously realize it or not, they want to lose so they can feel even more outrage – and that desire to lose governs every move they make and every word they speak.

 

U.S. Debts, Economy, Inflation, Jobs

ny times logoNew York Times, The Fed Raises Rates a Quarter Point and Signals More Ahead, Jeanna Smialek and Isabella Simonetti,Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). America’s central bank has shifted into a new phase, raising rates more slowly as inflation shows signs of moderating.

federal reserve system CustomFederal Reserve officials, including Chairman Jerome Powell, right, on Wednesday made their eighth interest rate increase in a year and signaled at least two more to come as they continue their fight against rapid price gains. But they approved a smaller increase than in the past and jerome powellacknowledged that inflation had finally started to meaningfully ease.

The central bank concluded its first meeting of 2023 by announcing a quarter-point rate increase, the smallest adjustment since March. The Fed’s policy rate is now set to a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent, up from near zero a year ago.

Wednesday’s move marked a major slowdown from last year, when the Fed lifted borrowing costs at the fastest pace since the 1980s in a bid to tamp down soaring inflation. Price gains have now moderated, with the Fed’s preferred inflation index at 5 percent in December, down from a peak of nearly 7 percent in June.

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Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

Politico, Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, Alex Isenstadt, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

The Intercept, Memphis Police Chief Trained With Israel Security Forces, Alice Speri, Feb. 2, 2023. Chief Cerelyn Davis also led the first police department in the U.S. that swore off the exchanges.

The death of 29-year-old Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers last month once again ignited outrage over the violent, militarized nature of U.S. law enforcement and placed scrutiny on police departments’ bloated budgets.

memphis police logoAmong the objections to policing that are being revived are criticisms of a controversial series of trainings and exchange programs for U.S. police in Israel. Scores of American law enforcement leaders have attended the programs, where they learned from Israeli police and security forces known for systemically abusing the human rights of Palestinians.

cerelyn cj davisSome of the Memphis Police Department’s top brass, including current Chief Cerelyn Davis, right, participated in the programs. Davis, who previously helmed the police department in Durham, North Carolina, completed a leadership training with the Israel National Police in 2013. While an officer with the Atlanta Police Department, Davis also established an international exchange program with Israeli police and coordinated department leaders delegations to Israel, according to an old résumé.

“We know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what takes place during US-Israel police exchanges does nothing to keep our communities safe,” Eran Efrati, director of campaigns and partnerships for the progressive group Jewish Voice for Peace. “But the exchanges refine and enhance the militarization rooted in American policing with Israeli tactics and technology of occupation and apartheid that are being tested on Palestinians on a daily basis.”

By the time she became chief in Durham, Davis seems to have changed her tune on such programs. The apparent coolness on the police-Israeli relationships came following pressure from local activists and a national campaign to end U.S.-Israel police exchanges.

In 2018, Durham became the first city in the U.S. to ban police trainings and exchanges involving Israel’s military. At the time, Davis wrote in a memo that she had “no intention to participate or initiate an exchange with Israel,” which prompted two Israeli volunteer police officers to sue her and the Durham police department for discrimination.

A spokesperson for the Memphis police department did not immediately respond to a request to explain the chief’s changed position on the exchanges with Israel.

Davis wasn’t the only top cop in Memphis to have participated in the exchanges with Israel. One of her predecessors, Larry Godwin, also trained there as part of a Homeland Security International Conference.

Godwin, who is known for having introduced the Blue CRUSH predictive policing technology to the city, spoke about wanting to adopt some of the techniques he learned about in Israel in Memphis. As The Intercept previously reported, the Memphis Police Department has a long history of surveillance, particularly of Black activists.

“We’re going to try to incorporate some things here,” Godwin told reporters at the time. “We’re doing a lot of it, but there’s still some other things we can do, technology-wise. I picked up some very good information.”

“The kinds of training police are given in Israel is actually part of the problem because it encourages a warrior mindset in police.”

Critics of the exchanges with Israeli security forces point out that the partnerships allow for a swap of “worst practices.”

“During these trainings in Israel, U.S. and Israeli officials visit checkpoints, prisons, airports — sites of well-documented human rights abuses against Palestinians,” said Efrati, of Jewish Voice for Peace. “Participants witness real-life examples of repressive violence, watching the Israeli military repress protests in the occupied West Bank, and joining Israeli police patrols in East Jerusalem and along the militarized fence blockading Gaza.”

Training — whether in Israel or at home — has done little to address the underlying problems of U.S. policing, or to prevent violent police killings like that of Nichols.

“Most people who call for more training as a response to abusive policing have little idea what that really involves,” Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and author of “The End of Policing,” told The Intercept. “The kinds of training police are given in Israel is actually part of the problem because it encourages a warrior mindset in police and exposes them to practices that would be unconstitutional in the U.S.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Man accused of kidnapping, torturing woman dies after standoff, official says, Meryl Kornfield and Timothy Bella, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). An Oregon man accused of violently kidnapping a woman and torturing her for days before fleeing into a forested area of the state died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after an hours-long standoff with police on Tuesday, according to a police spokesman.

benjamin foster las vegasBenjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, right, died at a hospital shortly after he was taken into custody at a property where he was staying in Grants Pass, Ore., Lt. Jeff Hattersley of the Grants Pass Police Department told KTVL in Medford, Ore. Police said in a news release earlier Tuesday that Foster was “in custody.”

Authorities surrounded a home in Grants Pass where they believed Foster was staying after he was spotted walking a dog on Tuesday morning, police wrote on Facebook. Officers of four law enforcement agencies were in the area, and a SWAT team was set up as part of an effort to get Foster to surrender, Hattersley told KTVL. The police spokesman told local media on Tuesday evening that the situation had been “resolved” but did not immediately say that Foster was in custody.

The standoff concluded a week-long search that began after police discovered a woman, whose name was not released, bound and severely beaten in her home on Jan. 24 in what the police chief described as “an evil act.” Police said they received “credible information” linking Foster to the attack, the Daily Courier reported. The woman remains hospitalized in critical condition, according to police

 

john roberts o

ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties, Steve Eder, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Editorial: Congress can honor Tyre Nichols with bipartisan police reform, Editorial Board, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed the House in 2021 but stalled in the Senate, would not have prevented the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols, who is being laid to rest Wednesday in Memphis. House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) cites this as a rationale for inaction. “I don’t know that there’s any law that can stop that evil that we saw,” he said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” This is the same excuse the country has heard to justify blocking sensible gun restrictions after countless mass shootings, and it’s just as lame.

While there’s no perfect solution to stop police brutality, the federal government could take several steps to deter misconduct and hold officers accountable without undercutting the ability of law enforcement to get bad guys off the streets. The officers charged with killing Mr. Nichols did not put him in a chokehold, but the move is still unnecessary and should be banned as a tool for subduing suspects. Limiting no-knock warrants wouldn’t have mattered in the Memphis case, but it could save others from the fate of Breonna Taylor, who was born the same day as Mr. Nichols: June 5, 1993. A national registry of sustained disciplinary actions against officers would make it harder for tainted officers to keep moving between departments. Federal law-enforcement grants that go to local governments should be conditioned on departments fully and reliably reporting their crime and use-of-force statistics to the FBI.

The Memphis Police Department already has a policy on the books requiring officers to “take reasonable action to intervene” if they observe a colleague “engaged in dangerous or criminal conduct or abuse of a subject.” It’s clear from watching the videos released on Friday, in which so many people wearing badges did nothing to save Mr. Nichols, that the force has cultural problems. Mandating better training so officers know what’s required of them won’t transform the culture alone, but it cannot hurt. Similarly, blaming systemic failures alone unfairly lets individuals off the hook, but that doesn’t mean the deeper issues should be off limits.

washington post logoWashington Post, A gunman started shooting at D.C. commuters. A Metro mechanic was killed as he tried to intervene, Katie Mettler and Justin George, Feb. 2, 2023. A witness said the gunman muttered, ‘I’m the killmonger’ before entering the station and firing several shots.

A Metro employee who tried to stop a gunman targeting commuters Wednesday was fatally shot on a D.C. train station platform in a shooting rampage that injured three others, halted rail service for hours and again left residents unsettled as the city continues to confront gun violence.

Police said the gunman appeared to select his victims randomly near the end of the morning rush hour. The attack started on a Metrobus traveling from Maryland and ended underground on the platform of the Potomac Avenue Metro station in Southeast Washington.

Police announced the arrest Wednesday night of Isaiah Trotman, 31, of Southeast Washington. He was charged with first-degree murder while armed, kidnapping while armed and assault with a dangerous weapon. Investigators are working to identify a motive.

Speaking at the scene shortly after the shooting, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said much was unknown about the circumstances of the shooting, other than “we had a person with a gun who’s created yet another tragedy in our city.”

The shooting is the latest eruption of violence to rattle passengers on the nation’s public transit systems, a spate of incidents that in the Washington region led Metro to boost patrols systemwide. The morning attack followed other shootings in the Southeast neighborhood, increasing calls among some neighbors for a larger police presence near the Metro station.

washington post logoWashington Post, Family pleads for answers after Calif. police fatally shoot double amputee, Daniel Wu, Feb. 2, 2023. Anthony Lowe’s family questioned why police used lethal force against a man whose lower legs were amputated.

Anthony Lowe, a double amputee who used a wheelchair, was approached by two police officers on a sidewalk in Huntington Park, Calif., on Jan. 26 as a suspect in a reported stabbing.

Phone video posted on social media shows Lowe, whose lower legs had been amputated, get out of a wheelchair and scramble away from the two armed officers. The officers walk after Lowe, who appears to be armed with a long knife.

The two officers then draw their guns, video shows. Lowe is obscured in the video when the police fire in his direction, but several gunshots can be heard. Lowe, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene, the Huntington Park Police Department said in a statement Monday.

The Huntington Park police statement said Lowe “threatened to advance or throw the knife at the officers.” Lowe’s family and local activists, who are calling for the prosecution of the officers who shot Lowe, cannot understand how a disabled suspect posed enough of a threat to warrant lethal force.

Bystander video appears to show one officer discard a weapon they were holding and draw another from their holster, aiming at Lowe. A third officer is then seen driving up to the scene, getting out of a police car and drawing a weapon. Several gunshots are then heard in quick succession.

The officers appear to be standing several feet from Lowe when they open fire. The videos do not capture any dialogue between Lowe and the officers.

washington post logoWashington Post, Veterans sue Biden Justice Dept. over pistol brace restrictions, Perry Stein, Feb. 2, 2023. Attorneys with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit this week saying the measure violates the Second Amendment.

A Wisconsin law firm is challenging a Biden administration rule requiring gunowners to register pistols affixed with a stabilizing brace — an accessory, federal officials contend, that allows people to make handguns more lethal.

Attorneys with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed a lawsuit this week claiming the Justice Department’s interpretation of the rule violates the Second Amendment and that a change in regulation requiring gunowners to register a pistol with the federal government would need to come from Congress. Gunowners do not need to register unenhanced pistols this way.

The administration says it has not changed the law but rather provided a clear interpretation to existing regulations.

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 logoeunice dwumfourNew York Times, New Jersey Councilwoman Is Fatally Shot, Officials Say, Daniel Victor and Tracey Tully, Feb. 2, 2023. Eunice Dwumfour, 30, right, was found dead in her car with multiple gunshot wounds on Wednesday. She was serving her first term on the Sayreville Borough Council.

ny times logoNew York Times, Nebraskans Are Sitting on Strategic Metals. Is Mining a Patriotic Duty? Dionne Searcey, Photographs by Arin Yoon, Feb. 2, 2023. One county has minerals essential to defense and the green economy. Mining would transform the community, yet many say they feel a patriotic obligation to dig.

In this rural part of Nebraska, county-board agendas include moratoriums on solar farms and some residents scowl when they pass the handful of wind farms that have sprouted. But the idea of a new mine that could help power the transition to renewable energy has received broad support.

The tenor of these quiet flatlands, where deer bounce across gravel roads and neon sunsets scream across the long horizon, would change dramatically if mining for metals like niobium, scandium, titanium and rare earths begins.

But many people here think Southeast Nebraska, dotted with dying downtowns and aging residents, could play a small part in helping to solve a full-blown geopolitical crisis that Doc Evans, a Johnson County commissioner, summed up like this: “The trouble with China.”

Mr. Evans and numerous others welcome the digging that a company called NioCorp wants to begin because they feel it’s their patriotic duty. For too long, they said, the United States has depended on other countries for metals and minerals the nation could find at home, if only someone were willing to spend the money and effort to retrieve them.

ny times logoNew York Times, More Semiautomatic Pistols Are Being Used in Gun Crimes, Report Says, Glenn Thrush, Feb. 2, 2023. About two million guns linked to crimes were recovered by law enforcement officials around the country from 2017 to 2021 — many of them semiautomatic pistols modeled on Glock 9-millimeter handguns, according to the most comprehensive national accounting of crime guns in decades.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed data in a federal gun tracing system to create a statistical portrait that law enforcement agencies can use to address new threats, such as the increased use of untraceable homemade firearms known as “ghost guns.”

The report, the second volume of a three-part study, largely reinforced well-known patterns, including the importance of quickly investigating weapons thefts or illegal purchases to keep them from being used in crimes and the fact that the people most likely to use guns in crimes are men under the age of 40.

The number of requests entered into an A.T.F. tracing system, which uses serial numbers to match recovered guns with the purchase records of licensed dealers, has increased in line with an overall rise in crime over the past few years — from about 338,000 such requests in 2017 to 460,000 in 2021.

New York Times, Bias and Human Error Played Parts in F.B.I.’s Jan. 6 Failure, Documents Suggest, Feb. 2, 2023.

washington post logoWashington Post, Expedited clearing of McPherson Square leaves D.C., homeless scrambling, Marissa J. Lang and Kyle Swenson, Feb. 2, 2023. Few residents of the downtown park have been approved for city housing assistance ahead of a new Feb. 15 deadline.

The day after residents of the District’s largest homeless encampment learned they would be cleared out of McPherson Square two months sooner than expected, D.C. outreach workers and officials Wednesday were hustling to avoid leaving dozens of unhoused residents out in the cold with nowhere to go.
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Of the estimated 70 people packed into the park, just 15 had been approved to receive housing assistance from the District as of Wednesday morning, according to Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Wayne Turnage. Ten more were awaiting approval, Turnage said, while the rest had “simply refused to engage with our team.”

But residents of the McPherson park, located at the core of the District’s downtown government and financial sector, said the city’s efforts over the winter months had come at a trickle — until now.

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Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

 

Accused American DJ murderer John Nelson Poulos is transferred to the headquarters of the Colombian attorney general (Colombian attorney general's office).

Accused American DJ murderer John Nelson Poulos is transferred to the headquarters of the Colombian attorney general (Colombian attorney general's office).

washington post logoWashington Post, American man charged in killing of DJ girlfriend in Colombia, Diana Durán, Feb. 2, 2023. Valentina Trespalacios’s legs had been carefully folded so her body could fit inside a blue rolling suitcase. The luggage was wrapped in black tape. Her head protruded from an opening.

The disappearance, death and discovery of the 21-year-old, a DJ here [in Columbia], has riveted even this nation, where the killing of women colombia flag namehas become wearyingly familiar. That might be at least in part due to the identity of the man accused in her death: her American boyfriend.

Colombia authorities have charged John Nelson Poulos, 35, with femicide and concealing evidence. He has pleaded not guilty. If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to 40 years in prison.

The case has dominated national newspapers, broadcasts and social media for more than a week. Femicide, the killing of a woman or girl for her gender, has been a crime in Colombia since the passage of the Rosa Elvira Cely law in 2015. Cely, 35, a single mother who was raped and killed by an acquaintance in a Bogotá park in 2012, has become a national symbol of gender-based violence.

The independent Colombian Femicide Observatory recorded nearly 600 deaths in 2022, or 1.6 per day. Advocates for women here say authorities have responded inadequately to the problem generally, and to the Trespalacios case specifically.

Trespalacios’s friends and family reported her disappearance on social media on the morning of Jan. 22. Within 12 hours, her body had been found and her family notified.

Investigators say surveillance footage taken at the building where Trespalacios and Poulos were staying that day shows Poulos leaving with a suitcase in a shopping cart covered in what appears to be a blanket. The Wisconsin native appears to struggle with the weight of the luggage as he stows it in the trunk of a rented vehicle. Records show he then caught a flight to Panama.

On Jan. 24, two days after Trespalacios’s body was found, an Interpol alert enabled authorities in Panama City to arrest Poulos before he boarded a flight to Istanbul. Colombian officials traveled to Panama to bring him back on a twin-engine police aircraft.

Trespalacios’s friends and family have told investigators that the couple had a year-long long-distance relationship, police records show. They met around four times in Mexico and Colombia before moving in together Jan. 20.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Iran’s legal proceedings against protesters are worse than show trials, Jason Rezaian, right, Feb. 2, 2023. In Iran, the jason rezaianIslamic Republic has a long and well-documented policy of using violence as a tool of political repression.

Nationwide protests against the regime, triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish woman being held in police custody, was met with severe crackdowns and widespread arrests, followed by what would charitably be called show trials. Indeed, even to call them that is to grant them a veneer of legitimacy that they do not deserve.

iran flag mapThese macabre rituals, culminating in inevitable yet arbitrary executions, are the product of a state killing apparatus charged with keeping the regime in place. Law — even the regime’s twisted Islamic version of it — has nothing to do with it.

Earlier this month, two Iranian men were hanged for allegedly “waging war against God” — the current Iranian state’s euphemism for practicing dissent. Neither man was offered a legitimate trial or allowed proper legal representation. In all likelihood, they were held in solitary confinement and beaten into confessing to acts they didn’t commit. They were then hastily executed as a deterrent to other would-be protesters.

Several other people still sit on death row for participating in the protests, their fate contingent on the whims of Iran’s capricious and criminal leaders, their lives to be terminated when it is most politically useful to the regime. On Friday, Amnesty International issued a statement calling for three of the accused to have their death sentences quashed, saying it understood that they had been tortured while in custody. A fourth detainee, 21-year-old Armita Abbasi, who was arrested last year after making social media posts critical of the regime and reportedly has since been raped multiple times in prison, stood trial this weekend, and may get the death sentence as well.

As The Post reported last week, protesters are not tried in an ordinary criminal court, but rather the Revolutionary Court. The decisions of this political tribunal are preordained. As a survivor of the Iranian “justice” system, I can say one thing with certainty: If you ever find yourself on trial in a court with “revolutionary” in its name, don’t expect to win.

Political prisoners in Iran are conditioned from the earliest moments of their detention to expect they will be killed by the state, because they know they very well could be.

 

Majid Shoukat Khan, seen in this 2022 image provided by his lawyers, was held in a secret C.I.A. prison before being taken to Guantánamo Bay.

Majid Shoukat Khan, seen in this 2022 image provided by his lawyers, was held in a secret C.I.A. prison before being taken to Guantánamo Bay.

ny times logoNew York Times, Tortured Guantánamo Detainee Is Freed in Belize, Carol Rosenberg, Feb. 2, 2023. Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen who attended high school in Maryland, finished his sentence last year.

A small Central American nation, known for its barrier reef and ecotourism, has taken in a former terrorist turned U.S. government informant whose tale of torture by the C.I.A. moved a military jury at Guantánamo Bay to urge the Pentagon to grant him leniency.

U.S. forces released Majid Shoukat Khan, 42, to the custody of the authorities in Belize after a two-hour flight from the U.S. Navy base in Cuba.

It was the first resettlement of a detainee since President Barack Obama’s administration and culminated months of secret diplomacy. All other prisoners released in the intervening years were repatriated. But Mr. Khan, who completed his prison sentence nearly a year ago, had nowhere to go.

“I have been given a second chance in life, and I intend to make the most of it,” Mr. Khan said in a statement in which he pledged to become “a productive, law-abiding member of society.”

“I continue to ask for forgiveness from God and those I have hurt,” he said.

The circumstances of his resettlement were not immediately known. But he was expected to be joined by his wife and teenage daughter, who was born after his capture in Pakistan in 2003.

Mr. Khan was among the better-known prisoners of Guantánamo Bay, in part because he went to high school in Maryland, then left his immigrant family for his native Pakistan to join Al Qaeda after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

From 2003 to 2006, he was held incommunicado in secret C.I.A. prisons overseas and kept in dungeonlike conditions that included beatings, nudity, brutal forced feedings, waterboarding and other physical and sexual abuse.

ny times logoNew York Times, Shell reported profits of $42 billion for 2022, more than double its 2021 total, Stanley Reed, Feb. 2, 2023. The record haul, pushed by high energy prices and a hunger for liquefied natural gas, came as a new chief signaled a more “balanced approach” to renewable energy.

Shell, Europe’s largest energy company, reported a bumper annual profit for 2022 on Thursday: $42.3 billion, more than double its 2021 total and probably a record for any Britain-based company.

The company, like other global energy giants, has been raking in cash because of high oil and natural gas prices, caused in part by the war in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Exxon Mobil reported $56 billion in annual profit, a record for the company.

The numbers, which beat expectations, showed that Shell is cashing in on its world-leading position in liquefied natural gas. Russia’s decision to cut off natural gas supplies to pipelines in Europe has triggered a boom in L.N.G., which is transported on ships from producers like the United States, Qatar and Australia. Most of Shell’s fourth-quarter profit came from the business unit that includes L.N.G.

ny times logoNew York Times, China and the U.S. Are Wooing Indonesia, and Beijing Has the Edge, Jane Perlez, Eric Schmitt and Sui-Lee Wee, Feb. 2, 2023.  The resource-rich nation of nearly 300 million people is a big prize in the strategic battle between the U.S. and China for influence in Asia.

Located across the southern edge of the South China Sea, Indonesia, the resource-laden nation with a fast-growing trillion-dollar economy and a large population, is a big prize in the geopolitical battle between Washington and Beijing for influence in Asia. And its strategic location, with about 17,000 islands straddling thousands of miles of vital sea lane, is a defensive necessity as both sides gear up for a possible conflict over Taiwan, the island democracy that China claims it possesses.

ny times logoNew York Times, European Central Bank Raises Rates Again as Eurozone Inflation Persists, Eshe Nelson and Melissa Eddy, Feb. 2, 2023. The European Central Bank raised interest rates on Thursday to the highest levels since 2008, maintaining an aggressive policy even as the eurozone’s overall inflation rate appears to have peaked.

In a well-telegraphed move, the central bank raised its three interest rates by half a percentage point, lifting the benchmark deposit rate to 2.5 percent.

The E.C.B. said in a statement that it would “stay the course in raising interest rates significantly at a steady pace,” and indicated that further increases could be expected, including by another half a point in March.

“Keeping interest rates at restrictive levels will over time reduce inflation by dampening demand and will also guard against the risk of a persistent upward shift in inflation expectations,” the bank said in a statement.

While Europeans face tight financial conditions, the region has been surprisingly resilient to recent economic turmoil even as the war in Ukraine continues into a second year. Data published on Tuesday showed that the countries that use the euro had forestalled a recession late last year, and other economic indicators suggest the outlook is brighter than expected just a few months ago, in large part because natural gas prices have come down from their peak in August.

washington post logoWashington Post, Israelid, Palestinians see U.S. gesture as feeble, even farcical, amid rise in violence, William Booth and Shira Rubin, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

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.

Department of Defense SealWhile “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.

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, In unusual wartime summit, E.U. and Ukraine prepare path forward, Emily Rauhala, Feb. 2, 2023. Though the 27-member bloc is broadly supportive of Ukraine, it remains split on the idea of fast-track E.U. membership.

Ukrainian officials have a long list of requests for their European allies this week: fighter jets and other heavy weaponry to fend off a looming ukraine flagRussian offensive, European Union membership within a few years, legal mechanisms to hold Russians to account, and a plan to use seized Russian assets for reconstruction.

european union logo rectangleBut a delegation of senior E.U. officials that arrived Thursday in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, is unlikely to offer concrete promises on any of these. Instead, an unusual wartime summit in Kyiv is expected to yield just a statement lauding Ukraine’s efforts and urging the country to continue reforms, as well progress on issues such as roaming-free mobile access. That, and photo ops.

E.U. officials cast the meeting on Friday itself as an act of solidarity that signals European commitment and sends a message to Moscow. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said showing up in wartime Kyiv shows that the E.U. understands “the price Ukraine pays.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Soaring Death Toll Gives Grim Insight Into Russian Tactics, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Feb. 2, 2023. Nearly 200,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, a stark symbol of how badly Vladimir Putin’s invasion has gone, according to Western officials. Moscow is sending poorly trained recruits, including convicts, to the front lines in eastern Ukraine to pave the way for more seasoned fighters, U.S. and allied officials say.

The number of Russian troops killed and wounded in Ukraine is approaching 200,000, a stark symbol of just how badly President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion has gone, according to American and other Western officials.

While the officials caution that casualties are notoriously difficult to estimate, particularly because Moscow is believed to routinely undercount its war dead and injured, they say the slaughter from fighting in and around the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut and the town of Soledar has ballooned what was already a heavy toll.

With Moscow desperate for a major battlefield victory and viewing Bakhmut as the key to seizing the entire eastern Donbas area, the Russian military has sent poorly trained recruits and former convicts to the front lines, straight into the path of Ukrainian shelling and machine guns. The result, American officials say, has been hundreds of troops killed or injured a day.

Russia analysts say that the loss of life is unlikely to be a deterrent to Mr. Putin’s war aims. He has no political opposition at home and has framed the war as the kind of struggle the country faced in World War II, when more than 8 million Soviet troops died. U.S. officials have said that they believe that Mr. Putin can sustain hundreds of thousands of casualties in Ukraine, although higher numbers could cut into his political support.

Ukraine’s casualty figures are also difficult to ascertain, given Kyiv’s reluctance to disclose its own wartime losses. But in Bakhmut, hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been wounded and killed daily at times as well, officials said. Better trained infantry formations are kept in reserve to safeguard them, while lesser prepared troops, such as those in the territorial defense units, are kept on the front line and bear the brunt of shelling.

The last public Biden administration estimate of casualties came last November, when Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that more than 100,000 troops on each side had been killed and wounded since the war began. At the time, officials said privately that the numbers were closer to 120,000.

ny times logoNew York Times, President Volodymyr Zelensky highlighted his crackdown on corruption with high-profile raids ahead of E.U. accession talks, Andrew E. Kramer, Feb. 2, 2023. A leaked police video showing bundles of cash found in an official’s sofa. A tax inspector accused of fraud in issuing refunds.

The dismissal of the chief of the customs service and his top deputy, as well as senior officials from a consumer protection agency and the forestry agency. And a search warrant served on a business tycoon once seen as all but untouchable for his close ties to government.

These new details emerged Thursday from an expanding investigation into corruption in domestic military procurement in Ukraine, following a dozen searches of homes and offices on Wednesday, and from corruption cases that had lingered in the Ukrainian courts for months.

Corruption, and Ukraine’s long struggle against it, had mostly dropped off the agenda after the Russian invasion last February, as Ukrainians rallied around the army and government at a time of national peril.

But rather than playing down what many former Ukrainian officials and analysts say are all but unavoidable instances of wartime profiteering, President Volodymyr Zelensky pivoted earlier this year to a policy of high-profile enforcement.

washington post logoWashington Post,  Ukraine live briefing: Ukraine widens corruption crackdown; France to give Kyiv air defense radar, Kelsey Ables, Victoria Bisset, Robyn Dixon, Dan Lamothe and Claire Parker, Feb. 1, 2023. Ukrainian authorities widened an anti-corruption drive Wednesday, raiding and searching multiple locations, including construction companies in Kyiv and the home of oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky.

Local media, including Ukrainska Pravda, reported that the raid against Kolomoisky — who made his fortune through energy companies, banking, airlines and media — was related to an investigation into embezzlement. The construction companies are also accused by Ukraine’s security service of laundering money to benefit former lawmakers allied with Russia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed the searches in a nightly address and said the head of Ukraine’s customs service was also dismissed. “We will not allow anyone to weaken our state,” he said. “Change as much as necessary to ensure that people do not abuse power.” The moves come as Ukraine prepares to host a summit with the European Union in Kyiv.

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

1. Key developments

  • The former head of procurement at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry was charged with embezzlement for allegedly buying nearly 3,000 bulletproof vests of inadequate quality for more than $2.7 million, Ukraine’s Security Service said in a statement. “The purity of processes within the Ministry of Defense, and the defense forces in general, is especially important,” Zelensky said. Any internal supply, any procurement — everything must be absolutely as clean and honest as the external supply for our defense."
  • The fresh investigations came ahead of the E.U. summit on Friday, a meeting Kyiv hopes will help its bid to become a full member of the bloc. An E.U. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to brief the press on Wednesday, called the earlier dismissals “a signal of their determination and of the functioning of what they have now put in place.”
  • Russian FlagRussia is preparing to hold elections on Sept. 10 in the Ukrainian territories it occupies, Russian Federation Council Chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko told reporters Wednesday. Residents of those regions — Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson — are “full-fledged citizens of Russia, and we can’t deprive them of the right to elect and the right to be elected,” Matviyenko said.

2. Battleground updates

  • At least two people were killed Wednesday night in Kramatorsk in a missile strike on a residential building, the governor of the Donetsk region said on Facebook. The building was “completely destroyed” by a Russian missile, the governor, Pavlo Kyrilenko, said, adding that rescue workers were searching for survivors in the rubble.
  • France is supplying Ukraine with air defense radar systems to track incoming missiles and drones in the area around Kyiv. “This radar will be the cherry on the cake,” the Associated Press quoted Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov as saying at the handover ceremony in northern France, where the equipment is produced. He described the Ground Master 200 system as “very effective,” saying it would mean “Ukrainian lives are saved."
  • U.S. drone maker offers Ukraine two aircraft for $1. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, the maker of armed drones, said it offered two of its training aircraft for sale for the symbolic price of $1. The sale would need approval from the Biden administration. The Wall Street Journal reported it would cost Ukraine $10 to ship it and $8 million a year to sustain it. The U.S. has provided small drones, but the kind offered are larger and can be armed with missiles.
  • Ukraine’s Defense Ministry responded to a report accusing it of firing rockets carrying banned antipersonnel mines into Russian-controlled territory. In a statement on Telegram, the ministry said Ukraine is exercising its right to self-defense, according to Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. It also urged Human Rights Watch, which released the report, to pressure Russia to end its “criminal war.”

3. Global impact

  • Ukraine “really” deserves to join NATO, Czech President-elect Petr Pavel said. Speaking to the BBC, the retired general said Ukraine nato logo flags namewould be “morally and practically ready” to join once the war with Russia ends. “If we leave Ukraine without assistance, they would most probably lose this war," he said. “And if they lose — we all lose.”
  • South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup did not rule out sending weapons to Ukraine when asked about it at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Lee said that he was aware of the “need for the international effort” and that the South Korean government is paying “close attention.” Such an act would require changes to Seoul’s policy that says defense goods can be exported only “for peaceful purposes.”
  • The International Olympic Committee said sanctions against Russian and Belarusian athletes are “not negotiable.” The sanctions prohibit international sporting events in either country, as well as the display of their flags. Zelensky has called on the IOC to ban Russian and Belarusian athletes from competing, but international sporting officials say that would constitute discrimination. The IOC has yet to make an official decision, Nenad Lalovic, a member of the executive board and president of the Serbian Wrestling Federation, said in an interview.

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: U.S. cautions Ukraine on aid as public support slips, Olivier Knox with research by Caroline Anders, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Top officials from the Departments of Defense and State as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development just wrapped up a visit to Ukraine, delivering a warning of sorts about American aid at a time when Republicans are driving a drop in public support for Kyiv.

During their trip last week, leaders from the offices of inspector general from all three entities delivered a message that might be translated as: Be prepared to account for everything we give you. And keep fighting corruption.

Tracking American military and economic assistance and helping Ukraine expunge rot from its government aren’t new initiatives. Both have gone on for at least a decade. But let’s just say the Republican takeover of the House hasn’t exactly diminished the urgency of knowing what went where.

ny times logoNew York Times, How Shells Are Forged for Ukraine’s Artillery, John Ismay, Natalie Keyssar, Lyndon French, Marisa Schwartz Taylor and Rebecca Lieberman, Feb. 2, 2023. At factories in Pennsylvania and Iowa, steel shells are formed in 2,000-degree furnaces and filled with explosives, offering Kyiv a lifeline of ammunition.

Every day for months, Ukrainian soldiers have fired thousands of American-made artillery shells at Russian troops, and all of that ammunition begins its journey to the battlefield at factories in northeastern Pennsylvania. The oldest of those plants, in Scranton, first began making steel shells in the early 1950s for the Korean War.

The empty shells are sent to rural Iowa, where they are filled with molten explosives and packaged for delivery.

ny times logoNew York Times, Alcohol and Bad Finances: How a U.S. Veterans Group Imploded in Ukraine, Jeffrey Gettleman, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The Mozart Group trained Ukrainian soldiers and evacuated residents until money ran out. Its collapse sheds light on the stresses faced by such groups.

Andrew Milburn, a former American Marine colonel and leader of the Mozart Group, stood in a chilly meeting room on the second floor of an apartment building in Kyiv about to deliver some bad news. In front of him sat half a dozen men who had traveled to Ukraine on their own dime to work for him.

“Guys, I’m gutted,” he said. “The Mozart Group is dead.”

The men stared back at him with blank faces.

One asked as he walked toward the door, “What should I do with my helmet?”

The Mozart Group, one of the most prominent, private American military organizations in Ukraine, has collapsed under a cloud of accusations ranging from financial improprieties to alcohol-addled misjudgments. Its struggles provide a revealing window into the world of foreign volunteer groups that have flocked to Ukraine with noble intentions only to be tripped up by the stresses of managing a complicated enterprise in a war zone.

“I’ve seen this happen many times,” said one of Mozart’s veteran trainers, who, like many others, spoke only anonymously out of concerns that the Russians might target him. “You got to run these groups like a business. We didn’t do that.”
Hundreds if not thousands of foreign veterans and volunteers have passed through Ukraine. Many of them, like Mr. Milburn and his group, are hard-living men who have spent their adult lives steeped in violence, solo fliers trying to work together in a very dangerous environment without a lot of structure or rules.

The Mozart Group thrived at first, training Ukrainian troops, rescuing civilians from the front lines and raising more than a million dollars in donations to finance it all. But then the money began to run out.

After months struggling to hold itself together, Mozart was plagued by defections, infighting, a break-in at its office headquarters and a lawsuit filed by the company’s chief financial officer, Andrew Bain, seeking the ouster of Mr. Milburn.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden says no to F-16 jets for Kyiv; Russia likely eyeing Donetsk advance, U.K. says, Erin Cunningham, Bryan Pietsch and Leo Sands, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.”

Department of Defense SealBritish 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.

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, Feb. 1, 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.

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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.

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More On U.S. House GOP Radicals, Scandals

 

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, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

 

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, House Ousts Ilhan Omar From Foreign Affairs Panel as G.O.P. Exacts Revenge, Karoun Demirjian Feb. 2, 2023. In a highly politicized vote, the Republican-led chamber sought retribution for the removal of G.O.P. members when Democrats held the majority.

A bitterly divided House on Thursday ousted Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from the Foreign Affairs Committee over past comments about Israel that were widely condemned as antisemitic, as Republicans moved to cater to the demands of right-wing members and mete out punishment to a Democrat their party has demonized for years.

The 218-to-211 party-line vote, with one member voting “present,” settled a partisan score that has been festering since 2021, when the House, then controlled by Democrats, stripped Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona of their committee assignments for social media posts in which they endorsed violence against Democrats.

The removal of Ms. Omar delivered on a threat that Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California made at the time to retaliate if his party took the House majority by removing Democrats whom Republicans regarded as unfit to serve on committees. Last week, he unilaterally removed Representatives Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California, from the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where membership is appointed and thus not subject to a vote.

Mr. McCarthy’s decision to force the removal of Ms. Omar, a step that some of his rank-and-file members resisted, in the earliest days of his new majority demonstrated his determination to ingratiate himself with the hard-right Republican base, which has made the Somali-born Ms. Omar a target for some of its most vicious attacks. Former President Donald J. Trump famously said in 2019 that Ms. Omar and three other progressive women of color should “go back” to their countries, though she was the only one not born in the United States.

The vote on Thursday was also a bid by Mr. McCarthy to curry favor with pro-Israel groups and evangelical voters and to drive a wedge among Democrats, many of whom had condemned Ms. Omar’s statements about Israel.

In 2019, Ms. Omar drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for tweeting that certain pro-Israel groups were “all about the Benjamins, baby,” appearing to refer to hundred-dollar bills in what was seen as invoking an antisemitic trope about Jews and money. She later apologized for the comment. Two years later, Ms. Omar seemingly equated “atrocities” carried out by the U.S. military to those committed by terrorist groups like the Taliban and Hamas; she later said she had not meant to compare them.

Yet during an unusually raw debate on the House floor on Thursday, prominent Democrats, including many Jewish members, stood alongside Ms. Omar’s closest friends in Congress to defend her in passionate and at times emotional speeches. They accused Republicans of hypocrisy, xenophobia and racism for targeting her while saying nothing about antisemitic remarks by members of their own party, some of whom have associated with Holocaust deniers.

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Energy, Climate, Environment, Weather, Disasters

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden administration set to endorse major Alaskan oil drilling project, Timothy Puko, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Environmental assessment to say ConocoPhillips’s Willow well site can go forward, but could shrink in size.

Biden administration officials are preparing a key environmental assessment to say the Interior Department can grant partial approval to a major oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, known as Willow, setting the stage for one of the administration’s most consequential climate decisions.
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The release of that report, due this week, will trigger a final decision from the Interior Department in a years-long showdown between the federal government and ConocoPhillips about its legal right to drill one of the largest oil and gas developments on federal territory. The company controls oil leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the report’s findings may force the Biden administration to approve the project next month over intense pressure from climate activists, who say it flies in the face of the president’s pledges to reduce the country’s contribution to global warming.

The report — a legally required part of the permit process — is being drafted to lay out a preferred alternative that allows three well pads, down from the originally requested five, according to two people briefed on the process. That would match a preliminary proposal the agency put out this summer, and is in line with what company officials have publicly said they need to make the project worth the company’s investment.

washington post logoWashington Post, Six Colorado River states agreed on water cuts. California did not, Joshua Partlow, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.”

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.

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, The Northeast Braces for the Worst Wind Chill in Decades, Judson Jones and Jenna Russell, Feb. 2, 2023. Forecasters say “a once-in-a-generation cold” could grip parts of the region on Friday and into Saturday, with wind chills in New York City expected to dip below zero.

washington post logoWashington Post, The environmental cost of beef vs. chicken? Tuna vs. salmon? Compare dozens of foods here, Niko Kommenda, Naema Ahmed, Scott Dance and Simon Ducroquet, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). See which food is better for the planet, based on multiple metrics.

Knowing what to eat to minimize impact on the planet can feel like an impossible task: Eat locally? Skip meat? Opt for organic, free range, humanely raised?

But each of those choices, however Earth-friendly they may sound, come with environmental impact. And they can reverberate in unexpected ways, according to a recent study, affecting not just the climate but water and wildlife habitats around the globe.

Consider the environmental footprints of some common dietary staples, including meat, fish, dairy and eggs and crops.

washington post logoWashington Post, These everyday items endanger the environment. Here’s how to handle them, Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Hazardous products often lurk in basements and clutter up cabinets, often because people simply don’t know how to get rid of them.

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Pandemics, Public Health, Privacy

ny times logoNew York Times, Vaccine Makers Kept $1.4 Billion in Prepayments for Canceled Covid Shots for the World’s Poor, Stephanie Nolen and Rebecca Robbins, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Separately, Johnson & Johnson is demanding additional payment for unwanted shots, confidential documents show.

As global demand for Covid-19 vaccines dries up, the program responsible for vaccinating the world’s poor has been urgently negotiating to try to get out of its deals with pharmaceutical companies for shots it no longer needs.

Drug companies have so far declined to refund $1.4 billion in advance payments for now-canceled doses, according to confidential documents obtained by The New York Times.

Gavi, the international immunization organization that bought the shots on behalf of the global Covid vaccination program, Covax, has said little publicly about the costs of canceling the orders. But Gavi financial documents show the organization has been trying to stanch the financial damage. If it cannot strike a more favorable agreement with another company, Johnson & Johnson, it could have to pay still more.

Gavi is a Geneva-based nongovernmental organization that uses funds from donors including the U.S. government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide childhood immunizations to lower-income nations. Early in the pandemic, it was charged with buying Covid vaccinations for the developing world — armed with one of the largest-ever mobilizations of humanitarian funding — and began negotiations with the vaccine makers.

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

ny times logoNew York Times, Big Tech Discovers Austerity, to the Relief of Investors, Tripp Mickle, Karen Weise and Nico Grant, Feb. 2, 2023. After years of expansion and billions in profits, major tech companies are pulling back from their famously lavish spending as a long boom finally ends.

For much of last year, tech companies stumbled. Digital ad sales plunged. E-commerce sputtered. IPhone production stalled. And investors microsoft logo Customlost faith.

apple logo rainbowIt was the worst year that the tech industry had experienced on Wall Street since the financial crisis of 2008. Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Meta lost a combined $3.9 trillion in market value.

ny times logoNew York Times, Meta recorded its biggest daily market gain in nearly a decade, adding nearly $100 billion in value, Isabella Simonetti and Mike Isaac, Feb. 2, 2023. Mark Zuckerberg’s company recorded its biggest daily market gain in nearly a decade, as the mood brightens among tech investors.

meta logoMeta’s stock surged on Thursday after the company reported better-than-expected earnings, said it would buy back billions of dollars in its stock, and overcame a court challenge to its ambitions in the so-called metaverse.

Shares of the tech giant, the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, climbed more than 23 percent, its biggest daily gain in nearly 10 years. And it was a huge move for a company its size, adding nearly $100 billion in market value in a single day, or about as much as Citigroup’s entire market capitalization.

facebook logoAfter ending last year with a loss of more than 60 percent, Meta’s stock is up more than 50 percent this year, as the mood among tech investors has brightened. The Nasdaq Composite, an index that includes many tech companies, including Meta, has risen nearly 20 percent this year.

 

tom brady twitter

washington post logoWashington Post, Tom Brady says he is retiring from the NFL ‘for good,’ Mark Maske, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback who established himself over more than two decades as the NFL’s most prolific winner and arguably its greatest player, announced Wednesday that he is retiring.

This time, he said, he will not change his mind.

“I’ll get to the point right away: I’m retiring, for good,” Brady said in a 53-second video posted to social media. “I know the process was a pretty big deal last time. So when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first. So I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super-emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year.”

 

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washington post logoWashington Post, Former ABC News journalist charged in child porn case, Salvador Rizzo, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Federal prosecutors in Virginia have charged a former national security journalist for ABC News with a child pornography offense.

James Gordon Meek, shown above and below right in a related story, a producer who covered terrorism and major crimes for the network, was charged with one count of transporting child pornography. The FBI said in a court filing unsealed Tuesday that agents searched Meek’s apartment in Arlington last year and found explicit images and videos of minors on his electronic devices.

Meek’s last report for ABC News was published April 2022, days before the FBI searched his apartment. He resigned the same month, according to the network.

A forensic review of an iPhone found in Meek’s apartment showed that the phone’s user and another person on the messaging application Kik exchanged videos of minors being sexually abused, the FBI said in the filing. An external hard drive found in Meek’s kitchen also contained images of minors being sexually abused, the FBI said.

Rolling Stone, Feds Charge Former ABC News Producer With Transportation of Child Pornography, Adam Ramsley, Feb. 1, 2023. Federal prosecutors have charged former ABC News producer James Gordon Meek, right, with transportation of child pornography, according to a criminal james gordon meekcomplaint filed in Eastern Virginia on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors say their investigation into Meek first began after the cloud storage company Dropbox tipped off the National Center for rolling stone logoMissing and Exploited Children about the presence of five suspected videos of child sexual exploitation material in a Dropbox account, according to the complaint. A subsequent investigation of the tip allegedly confirmed the videos depicted child pornography and were linked to Meek’s account. That triggered an investigation which allegedly found Meek posing as a minor to solicit pornographic images of children.

After federal agents raided Meek’s home, prosecutors say they found a trove of pornographic images on the producer’s iPhone 8, iPhone 6, an external hard drive, and laptop depicting the abuse of children as young as a toddler.

When FBI agents examined Meek’s iPhone 8, they allegedly found messages he exchanged with another alleged pedophile with whom Meek traded child pornography. In the messages, Meek appeared to confess to having previously abused children. “Have you ever raped a toddler girl? It’s amazing,” he allegedly wrote in one exchange.

Meek was a well-known figure in national security circles, both as an Emmy-winning journalist and a former counterterrorism adviser and investigator for the House Homeland Security Committee. He was coming off of a well-received documentary about special forces skirmish in Niger, and finishing up a book with a former Green Beret on the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then he abruptly resigned from ABC News on April 27, the same day as the raid. And his name suddenly disappeared from the promotional materials for the book.

In addition to trading child sexual abuse material with other enthusiasts, Meek allegedly approached children on Snapchat using the handle “hoolijax” in order to solicit pornographic material.

ny times logoNew York Times, Inside the College Board’s Revised African American Studies Curriculum, Dana Goldstein, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). Here’s a guide to some changes in the curriculum, and how the new course differs from standard treatments of Black history in American high schools.

Reparations. Black Lives Matter. Queer studies.

These are just a few of the concepts the College Board included in a pilot of its Advanced Placement African American Studies course, but which do not appear in the final course materials, released on Wednesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, a Republican with presidential ambitions, previously announced that he would ban the curriculum, based on a draft.

The course covers a dizzying array of topics, from early West African empires to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the Great Migration and Afrofuturism. But a comparison between a February 2022 draft of the framework and the final version shows that many of the revisions concern the final and most contemporary of the course’s four units, titled “Movements and Debates.”

Trevor Packer, who leads the Advanced Placement program for the College Board, said the revisions were made not because of political pressure, but after receiving feedback from teachers and college professors. They were concerned that the pilot course was weighted too heavily toward contemporary theorists, he said, and not focused enough on foundational history, such as the ancient Nubian civilization.

Here are some of the changes, as well as a review of how the new course differs from standard treatments of Black history in American high schools.

ny times logoNew York Times, Education Firms That Serve Hasidic Schools Are Barred Amid Fraud Inquiry, Brian M. Rosenthal and Eliza Shapiro, Feb. 2, 2023. New York City education officials have stopped doing business with 20 companies that provide education services in private schools amid concerns about fraud in the industry.

In emails sent over the past few weeks, the city education department instructed employees to block the hiring of the companies to provide special education or child care services.

The move marks a sharp change in the city’s approach to education contracting, particularly in cases of parents of private school students with disabilities seeking city-funded services. While parents must go through a legal process and ask a hearing officer to order the funding, the city has for years had a policy of fast-tracking approvals of most such requests. Now, the city will fight requests for it to pay a significant number of companies.

Together, the companies received $60 million to provide special education alone last year. All of them primarily serve students in private Jewish schools, known as yeshivas, especially in the fervently religious Hasidic community.

New York City education officials will block payments for some companies that have billed the government to provide special education, primarily for students in yeshivas.

washington post logoWashington Post, Amid attacks from DeSantis, AP African American studies course is updated, Nick Anderson and Lori Rozsa, Feb. 2, 2023 (print ed.). The College Board denies that it watered down the course after criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

After long debate on how to construct a class focused on the Black experience, the College Board on Wednesday finalized a plan for its new Advanced Placement course in African American studies that seeks to immerse students in Black history and culture — without shying from fraught topics of race and racism — in a way that until now has mostly been available only on college campuses.

The College Board denied any suggestion that it watered down the course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) attacked an earlier draft as progressive “indoctrination.” But the 234-page document now omits mention of certain left-leaning figures who appeared in a previous version. Gone, for instance, are Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a scholar and writer on civil rights and critical race theory, and Angela Davis, a political activist and academic known for her membership in the Communist and Black Panther parties.

The document also listed some potentially controversial topics that students might explore through independent projects. Examples include affirmative action, reparations, Black Lives Matter, and queer life and expression in Black communities.

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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.)

 

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Murdered reporter Jeff German (Las Vegas Journal-Review Photo by Harrison Keely via Getty Images).

 

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Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

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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.)

 

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Murdered reporter Jeff German (Las Vegas Journal-Review Photo by Harrison Keely via Getty Images).

Murdered reporter Jeff German (Las Vegas Journal-Review Photo by Harrison Keely via Getty Images). 

washington post logoWashington Post- Las Vegas Review-Journal, Investigative Report: Alleged $500 million Ponzi scheme preyed on Mormons. It ended with FBI gunfire, Lizzie Johnson, Feb. 1, 2023. The Post teamed up with the Las Vegas Review-Journal to continue the work of slain investigative reporter Jeff German.

FBI logoThe FBI arrived at the only house on this stretch of Ruffian Road at 1:25 p.m., parking out front of the $1.6 million property, hedged by empty lots of scrub and dust.

The three agents approached the camera-equipped doorbell at the home’s perimeter, pressing it once. Then they pushed past an unlocked gate, cut through the courtyard and rapped against the glass French doors of Matthew Beasley’s home.

Las Vegas investigative reporter Jeff German was slain outside his home on Sept. 2; a Clark County official he had investigated is charged in his death. To continue German’s work, The Washington Post teamed up with his newspaper, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to complete one of the stories he’d planned to pursue before his killing.

A folder on German’s desk contained court documents he’d started to gather about an alleged Ponzi scheme that left hundreds of victims – many of them Mormon – in its wake. Post reporter Lizzie Johnson began investigating, working with Review-Journal photographer Rachel Aston.

The Las Vegas attorney, then 49, had been anticipating this visit for months, he would tell an FBI hostage negotiator. He’d already drafted letters to his wife and four children, explaining what he could and describing how much he loved them.

On this Thursday in March, Beasley knew his time was up. He placed the letters — along with a note addressed to the FBI and a zip drive of computer files — upstairs on the desk in his office. Then, alone in the house, he went to the front door. He paused, the left side of his body obscured by the door frame.

One of the agents — identified only as “J.M.” in a detailed criminal complaint filed March 4 in the U.S. District Court of Nevada — opened his suit jacket and flashed his badge.

Beasley stepped fully into the doorway. He held a loaded pistol against his head.

“Easy, easy,” yelled J.M.

“Drop the gun,” shouted a second agent.

Authorities had long suspected Beasley of running a massive Ponzi scheme with his business partner, Jeffrey Judd, that mainly targeted Mormons, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often called. The investment was pitched as a nearly risk-free opportunity to earn annual returns of 50 percent by lending money to slip-and-fall victims awaiting checks after the settlement of their lawsuits.

 

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ny times logoNew York Times, Investigation: At the Supreme Court, Ethics Questions Over a Spouse’s Business Ties, Steve Eder, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.”

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.

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.

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washington post logoWashington Post, With a million people, an ecstatic Kinshasa hears Pope Francis’s Mass, Chico Harlan, Feb. 1, 2023. Francis’s morning Mass, his first public event in a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, was a glimpse into the extraordinary hustle that is necessary in one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most mismanaged cities.

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo — The schools were closed, and most work was called off, meaning all the chaotic roads in this megacity led only to one place on Wednesday: a domestic airport, with a temporary stage and then a vast field, where hundreds of thousands were arriving, some before sunrise.

“I’m here just to catch a glimpse of him,” said Erick Kwele, 53, a civil servant, though from where he stood in the field, Pope Francis (shown above in a file photo) would be no larger than a fingernail.

Francis’s morning Mass, his first public event in a six-day trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and then South Sudan, was a glimpse into the extraordinary hustle that is necessary — even on days of celebration — in one of Africa’s fastest-growing and most mismanaged cities.

That hustle, which Kinshasans see as a kind of civic spirit, is required for daily survival. But it was also part of the show Wednesday. Authorities put the crowd at more than 1 million.

The people of eastern Congo long for the pope’s message of peace

Even before Francis arrived, the field was a spectacle of enormity and energy: so many young people, so much bass-heavy music, dancing children and roaring choirs. Some said they’d set their alarms for 3 or 4 a.m. just to negotiate traffic and secure a spot for the 9:30 ceremony. Still others said they’d come from the city’s sprawling outskirts, using the omnipresent yellow vans — inevitably dented and overloaded, sagging with weight, people hanging off the sides. Kwele said that in his neighborhood, some of the poorest people had traveled to the Mass for miles on foot.

“People will do anything they can to get beyond their difficulties,” he said.\

ny times logoNew York Times, The Death of Tyre Nichols: ‘We Mourn With You,’ Kamala Harris Says as Tyre Nichols Is Laid to Rest, Rick Rojas, Feb. 1, 2023. The vice president called on Congress to act after Mr. Nichols’s death. The Rev. Al Sharpton invoked Dr. Martin Luther King in his eulogy.

His siblings remembered his passion for skateboarding and his love of photography. They said he had a sense of independence, a comfort and confidence in being himself, that had taken holdat an early age. At 29, Tyre Nichols was finding his way.

But as his family gathered with hundreds of mourners for his funeral on Wednesday, relatives said they were searching for meaning in the killing of Mr. Nichols at the hands of Memphis police officers, who pulled him from his car and severely beat him. His mother, RowVaughn Wells, said she was sustained by the idea that her son had been part of a divine mission — “sent here on assignment from God” to change how the police operated in Memphis and around the country.

ny times logoNew York Times, Ukraine Live Updates: Russian Troop Buildup May Signal New Assault, Ukraine Says, Marc Santora and Michael Schwirtz, Feb. 1, 2023. Russia is massing hundreds of thousands of troops and stepping up its bombardment, perhaps signaling the biggest assault since the start of the war.

Moscow has massed hundreds of thousands of troops in Ukraine and is targeting dozens of places a day in a markedly stepped-up barrage of artillery attacks. Ukrainian forces are struggling to hold their ground on a 140-mile stretch in the east, awaiting tanks, armored vehicles and other weapons systems from the West.

Ukrainian officials have been bracing for weeks for a new Russian offensive that could rival the opening of the war. Now, they are warning that the campaign is underway, with the Kremlin seeking to reshape the battlefield and seize the momentum.

“I think it has started,” President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine said this week.

Along the undulating front line in eastern Ukraine, artillery never goes silent for long. The roads in Ukrainian-held areas are largely empty, except for tanks and armored personnel carriers and huge trucks filled with boxes of ammunition. The few gas stations still operating are crowded with soldiers savoring hot coffee before returning to the fight.

 

Biden Document Probe

washington post logoWashington Post, Justice Dept. searches Biden’s Rehoboth, Del., home as part of classified documents probe, John Wagner, Tyler Pager, Matt Viser and Perry Stein, Feb. 1, 2023. Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, said the search was ‘planned’ and is being conducted with the president’s ‘full support and cooperation.’

Justice Department log circularThe Justice Department was conducting a search Wednesday of President Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., as part of its ongoing investigation of his retention of classified documents, said Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer.

In a statement, Bauer said the search was “planned” and is being conducted with Biden’s “full support and cooperation.”

“Under [the Justice Department’s] standard procedures, in the interests of operational security and integrity, it sought to do this work without advance public notice, and we agreed to cooperate,” Bauer said. “The search today is a further step in a thorough and timely DOJ process we will continue to fully support and facilitate. We will have further information at the conclusion of today’s search.”

Biden’s lawyers said last month that they had discovered no classified documents at Biden’s Rehoboth Beach home after conducting a search.

Wednesday’s search is part of a fast-moving investigation that the Justice Department launched in November after Biden’s personal attorneys found documents with classified markings in a Washington think tank office that he used after serving as vice president. More classified material was found in subsequent searches of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., home.

robert hurAfter a recommendation from John R. Lausch, a U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump administration holdover, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Robert Hur, right, as a special counsel to oversee the investigation.

The Justice Department confirmed that Wednesday was Hur’s first day as special counsel. The department updated its website Wednesday morning to note that Hur is the special counsel leading the day-to-day operations of the Biden investigation.

Palmer Report, Analysis and Advocacy: President Joe Biden scored a huge victory today while most of you were busy complaining about Donald Trump, Bill bill palmerPalmer, right, Feb 1, 2023. The FBI searched another Biden-related property on Wednesday, but found no classified documents of any kind. This is no surprise. According to multiple major news outlets, President Joe Biden wanted the search to happen, and helped facilitate it.

Now Biden is getting headlines about how no classified documents were found there, which exonerates him in the court of public opinion. Which of course is the entire point. There’s no scandal here. There’s not even a story here. And Biden is taking steps to help put the whole thing quickly to bed.

bill palmer report logo headerYet even as this major victory for Biden played out on Wednesday, far too many folks on our side missed the point entirely. Instead of helping spread and amplify the powerful messaging that Biden is in the process of being fully exonerated, a lot of folks spent the day complaining about how “unfair” it is that the Feds are searching more Biden properties than Trump properties. That narrative surely allowed these folks to feel righteous outrage. But it did nothing at all in terms of helping Biden.

Again, the story when it comes to Biden is that he wants his properties quickly searched, because he’s done nothing wrong, and he wants the Feds to announce that conclusion as quickly and neatly as possible. This has no correlation whatsoever to a completely different kind of storyline playing out with Donald Trump.

If Trump could get himself off the hook simply by asking the Feds to search his other properties, he’d have done it a long time ago. But he can’t himself off the hook by cooperating, because he’s already been caught stashing things like classified nuclear state secrets at Mar-a-Lago. He also told the Feds he had no remaining documents at Mar-a-Lago, only to then be caught rifling through those documents. Trump is already nailed on multiple charges, and at this point there’s nothing he can do to undo that. So of course he’s refusing to cooperate with the Feds. This is how these kinds of things always work.

Let’s be real here. The DOJ had no problem sending the FBI with a search warrant into Trump’s primary residence. So the notion that the DOJ is somehow pulling its punches when it comes to Trump’s other properties is laughable. The reality is that if the Feds had reason to believe there were classified documents at Trump’s other properties, they’d have expanded the warrant and gone in a long time ago. So this likely means the Feds have already concluded that there are not additional documents at Trump’s other properties, and therefore they don’t see any point in forcibly searching those properties, which would merely hand Trump a friendly news cycle about nothing being found there.

Keep in mind that according to multiple major news outlets and court-released documents, the DOJ cultivated sources inside Mar-a-Lago in order to help determine if there were classified documents inside and where specifically they were stashed. So it’s nearly a given that the DOJ also cultivated sources inside Trump’s other properties for the same reason. And the DOJ’s decision not to forcibly search those properties is a pretty good indicator that there aren’t documents there. And why would there be? Since leaving office, Trump has used Mar-a-Lago as his base of operations. Any classified documents he stole were surely routed and stashed there.

The part everyone seems to be missing is that if Trump stole these classified nuclear secrets and such for the purpose of selling them for cash or giving them to his longtime foreign benefactors, then the documents that weren’t recovered at Mar-a-Lago are instead in the hands of these bad actors. In the time since the Feds searched Mar-a-Lago, their criminal probe has almost certainly shifted focus toward tracking down any folks who received documents from Trump. And obviously, out of necessity, the DOJ isn’t going to let any such efforts make the news headlines while they’re still ongoing.

This is part of the problem that we find ourselves in. The federal government has likely spent the past few months carrying out covert and complicated international efforts to track down the classified documents that Trump managed to sell or give away before anyone knew that he’d stolen them – and even as this complex effort plays out behind the scenes, know-nothing know-it-all conspiracy theorists on Twitter are going viral by insisting the entire case could be cracked if the DOJ would simply dig up Ivana’s casket at Bedminster.

This all serves to underscore that two distinct worlds exist when it comes to these kinds of complex criminal probes. There’s what’s actually going on, in the real world, in accordance with how things actually work, most of which is complicated and nuanced and plays out behind the scenes. Then there’s the completely imaginary world where clowns on the internet compete with each other to see who can get the most retweets by floating the dumbest and most simplistic “clever” idea for how the case could be magically cracked. These two worlds, the real one and the imaginary one, tend to have zero overlap.

So it’s not surprising that so many folks on our side, who have long ago been sucked into the imaginary MSNBC-and-Twitter version of the DOJ’s Trump probe, are so far removed from how anything works that they can’t even wrap their heads around why President Biden scored a huge victory today by inviting the Feds in to search one of his properties. Nor can they seem to grasp why there’s simply no correlation between Biden inviting the Feds in to search his property so he can be quickly cleared, and the Feds having to take a much different approach to the criminal case that’s going to end up putting Trump on trial and in prison for the rest of his life.

Whining about unfairness is never, ever, ever, ever, ever a winning strategy in politics. Ever. It just paints your own side as a bunch of inept losers who don’t know how to win, which turns off persuadable voters in the middle. Nor is there any reason to ever try to draw any correlation between the legal process of being innocent and helping to get yourself quickly cleared, and the completely opposite legal process of being guilty and trying to avoid making it easier for the Feds to put you away.

Those on our side who are whining about the “unfairness” of the Feds searching more Biden properties than Trump properties are missing the mark in so many ways, it’s difficult to even count them all. It comes off as nothing more than yet another arbitrary excuse to declare defeat and whine about it, in order to feel as much outrage as possible. The trouble with outrage addicts is that, whether they consciously realize it or not, they want to lose so they can feel even more outrage – and that desire to lose governs every move they make and every word they speak.

 

Trump Probes Proceed

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ny times logoNew York Times, Trump’s Well-Worn Legal Playbook Starts to Look Frayed, Maggie Haberman, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

washington post logoWashington Post, Opinion: Trump has yet another legal threat to worry about, Jennifer Rubin, right, Feb. 1, 2023. Former president Donald Trump jennifer rubin new headshotmight have thought he dodged a bullet in New York City. Last February, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg seemed to decide not to move forward with a case against Trump for allegedly fraudulent practices at his business (to the dismay of two career prosecutors leading the investigation, who quit).

But Trump’s legal problems in the city are far from over, as he learned on Monday. Bragg’s probe remains a serious threat to him, with potentially far-reaching implications.

The New York Times reports that Bragg’s office “began 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.” There is no indication as to whether Bragg decided to pick up on the much larger set of inquiries his predecessor launched into allegations that Trump inflated the value of assets to secure favorable loans and other benefits.

ny times logoNew York Times, N.Y. attorney general seeks sanctions against Trump and his legal team, Shayna Jacobs, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

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U.S. Politics, Elections, Economy, Governance

 

hunter biden nbc beard

washington post logoWashington Post, Hunter Biden’s lawyers, in newly aggressive strategy, target his critics, Matt Viser, Feb. 1, 2023. Hunter Biden’s lawyers, in a newly aggressive strategy, sent a series of blistering letters Wednesday to state and federal prosecutors urging criminal investigations into those who accessed and disseminated his personal data — and sent a separate letter threatening Fox News host Tucker Carlson with a defamation lawsuit.

The string of letters, which included criminal referrals and cease-and-desist missives aimed at critics and detractors, marked the start of a new and far more hard-hitting phase for the president’s son just as House Republicans prepare their own investigations into him.

Abbe Lowell, a recently hired lawyer whom Biden enlisted about a month ago, sent lengthy letters to the Justice Department and Delaware’s attorney general requesting investigations into several key players who were involved in disseminating data from a laptop that Biden is said to have dropped off at a repair shop in Wilmington, Del.

Bryan M. Sullivan, another lawyer now representing Biden, sent a separate communication to Carlson and Fox News demanding that they correct falsehoods from his recent show or risk a possible defamation lawsuit.

And in another letter, Lowell wrote to the Internal Revenue Service challenging the nonprofit status of Marco Polo, a group that is run by conservative activist Garrett M. Ziegler. Lowell provided 36 pages as evidence that the group is engaging in political activity in violation of its nonprofit status.

Some in Hunter Biden's circle want to go after accusers

Taken together, the actions represent the boldest and most aggressive moves to date from Biden, who has often heeded the advice of those who urged him not to make public waves. Those close to President Biden and the White House have preferred a more conservative approach, but some individuals around Hunter Biden have wanted to be more assertive in telling his side of the story and going more directly after his opponents.

“This marks a new approach by Hunter Biden and his team,” said one person familiar with his strategy, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private plans. “He is not going to sit quietly by as questionable characters continue to violate his rights and media organizations peddling in lies try to defame him.”

The new strategy marks a calculated risk that it is better to forge a combative path and take on Biden’s longtime critics, even if it means inviting more news coverage of a dark chapter in his life and draws additional attention to the trove of personal and embarrassing material included on a laptop that has been disseminated by his detractors.

In the letters related to his personal data, Biden’s lawyers are asking state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate individuals who came into possession of the data, some of which could have come from a laptop he purportedly dropped off in Delaware in April 2019. They claim that about a half-dozen people have violated various statutes, including by making public restricted private information; accessing and disseminating stolen property; and making false statements to Congress.

ny times logoNew York Times, President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy met to discuss the debt limit, but didn’t appear to reach a breakthrough, Jim Tankersley, Catie Edmondson and Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Feb. 1, 2023. President Biden told Speaker Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday that there was room for discussion about addressing America’s deficit, even as he insisted that Congress would have to pass a debt-limit increase with no strings attached to avoid a financial cataclysm.

Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy met at the White House for more than an hour in a discussion that carried high stakes, with the federal government set to exhaust its ability to pay its bills on time as early as June.

Republicans have refused to raise the statutory debt limit unless Mr. Biden accepts deep cuts in federal spending. The president has said repeatedly that he expects Congress to raise the borrowing cap with no conditions — and that he will not negotiate conditions for an increase.

After the meeting, the White House said Mr. Biden repeated to Mr. McCarthy that he would not negotiate on the limit. But the president did say he welcomes a “separate discussion with congressional leaders about how to reduce the deficit and control the national debt while continuing to grow the economy,” according to a White House summary of the meeting.

washington post logoWashington Post, U.S. military poised to secure new access to key Philippine bases, Ellen Nakashima and Rebecca Tan, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

Politico, Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, Alex Isenstadt, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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, House GOP moves to oust Ilhan Omar from Foreign Affairs Committee, Marianna Sotomayor, Feb. 1, 2023. House ilhan omar oRepublicans are readying to oust Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee as early as Thursday, fulfilling a pledge years in the making.

republican elephant logoAfter GOP leaders were able to secure enough support for the resolution that also condemns Omar, right, for past antisemitic remarks late Tuesday, the House Rules Committee quickly approved a rule that sets the parameters for debate on the House floor ahead of a final vote. The rule will be voted on Wednesday, teeing up final approval for Thursday since it is now expected Democratic leaders will formally establish which lawmakers will make up the Foreign Affairs Committee this term in the next 24 hours."

Republican leaders have worked for weeks to ensure that there were enough votes to pass a resolution removing Omar from the committee through their razor-thin majority margin, which stands at three as Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) remains U.S. House logoaway from Washington recuperating from a traumatic fall. Opposition to the effort emerged last month as four lawmakers signaled that they wouldn’t support the measure, citing concerns that it would continue a precedent set by former speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

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Pro-Trump Election Deniers, Domestic Terrorists

 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, Michael Luttig: He never ascended to the Supreme Court, but some think he has played a far more consequential role, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: Republican Party brings election fraud allegations back into the fold, Philip Bump, right, Feb. 1, 2023. Donald Trump philip bumpwasn’t the first Republican to suggest that American elections were riddled with fraud. Part of the reason his gambit was so successful, in fact, was that Republican voters had long viewed unfavorable election results with suspicion. In 2007, for example, President George W. Bush’s Justice Department announced that a five-year investigation had turned up no evidence of systematic voter fraud in American elections, a probe meant to respond to the hum of allegations from Bush’s base.

republican elephant logoThere are a lot of reasons these rumors burbled. One, it’s safe to assume, was that Americans were increasingly living in partisan isolation — they didn’t know anyone who supposedly voted for the opposition. This overlaps with the urban/rural political divide, given how often the rumors of fraud centered on supposed Democratic nefariousness in cities.

But the rumors were also intentionally fostered by Republican actors because they were useful. Get people to think that fraud is rampant, and they’ll support legislative responses to fraud. And those legislative responses almost necessarily involved making it more cumbersome for Democrats to vote. This is not a difficult chain of logic to follow.

rnc logoSo, despite the obvious damage caused by Trump’s escalated claims about voter fraud — literal damage to the Capitol, political damage to Republican candidates linked to him — the Republican Party stands ready to try to repurpose that energy to its benefit. The Washington Post obtained a report prepared by the Republican National Committee that recommends not that the party uproot false and baseless claims of fraud but, instead, that it use them to win elections.

Politico, Jan. 6 defendant who sprayed line of police sentenced after tearful apology, Kyle Cheney Feb. 1, 2023. “You’re entitled to your political views but not to an insurrection," the judge said before delivering 68-month jail term.

A Jan. 6 defendant who sprayed a chemical irritant at about 15 police officers — and later bragged about it in a video interview — was sentenced Wednesday to 68 months in prison. This is one of the stiffest Jan. 6 sentences handed down to date.

Daniel Caldwell, a 51-year-old Marine Corps veteran, delivered a tearful apology in court to the officers he sprayed, expressing remorse for colleen kollar kotellyhis actions that day and pleading with U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly for mercy.

But Kollar-Kotelly, right, repeatedly described Caldwell as an “insurrectionist” and noted that his deployment of chemical spray at officers created such an intense cloud that it nearly broke the depleted police line by itself. Though no officers directly attributed their injuries that day to Caldwell’s actions, Kollar-Kotelly said his actions undoubtedly contributed to their physical and psychological trauma.

“You’re entitled to your political views but not to an insurrection,” the judge said. “You were an insurrectionist.”

Caldwell has remained in pretrial custody since Feb. 10, 2021 — 721 days, he noted — and was one of the earliest charged with a direct assault on police that day.

But Caldwell’s hearing was most notable for the extensive expression of remorse, delivered almost entirely through tears, to a nearly empty courtroom.

“I must face my actions head on,” he said, before delivering a voluminous apology to the officers he attacked. “I hope that you and our country never have to face another day like January 6th.”

Caldwell said he spent the days immediately after the attack rationalizing what he did and looking for validation from family, friends and his attorney. He said he now looks back at his actions and “it literally floors me.”

He described himself as “ashamed” and “embarrassed” about his conduct and described efforts to better himself while in custody, reading self-help books and reflecting on how he became a catalyst of violence that day.

“I clearly let my emotions take control,” he said. “Being a Marine, I should have known better. … I wish I could take it back, but I can’t.”

Kollar-Kotelly said she appreciated his statement of apology to the officers, but as a Marine, he should have directed his apology to the whole country.

She described in detail his attack on officers, noting that one officer who he sprayed began to “vomit uncontrollably.” The air was so thick with chemicals that it wasn’t clear whether the officers he hit were injured by him directly or by a combination of factors. No victims delivered statements to the court ahead of sentencing.

Kollar-Kotelly also put his involvement in the broader Jan. 6 attack in the context of previous challenges to the United States government. She said it was crucial for her sentence to “fortify against the revolutionary fervor that you and others felt on Jan. 6 and may still feel today.”

“Insurrection is not,” she said, “and cannot ever be warranted.”

Rolling Stone, FBI Probes Allegations George Santos Took $3,000 From Dying Dog’s GoFundMe, Tomás Mier, Nikki McCann Ramirez, Feb. 1, 2023. Disabled rolling stone logoveteran Richard Osthoff said two FBI agents contacted him over his allegations that the N.Y. congressman stole funds for his service dog's medical treatment.

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.

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Trump Watch: Claims By, Against, Allies

Politico, Trump big money machine prepares for battle with DeSantis, other rivals, Alex Isenstadt, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.).  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.

 

U.S. Courts, Crime, Regulation

washington post logoWashington Post, Man accused of kidnapping, torturing woman dies after standoff, official says, Meryl Kornfield and Timothy Bella, Feb. 1, 2023. An Oregon man accused of violently kidnapping a woman and torturing her for days before fleeing into a forested area of the state died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after an hours-long standoff with police on Tuesday, according to a police spokesman.

benjamin foster las vegasBenjamin Obadiah Foster, 36, right, died at a hospital shortly after he was taken into custody at a property where he was staying in Grants Pass, Ore., Lt. Jeff Hattersley of the Grants Pass Police Department told KTVL in Medford, Ore. Police said in a news release earlier Tuesday that Foster was “in custody.”

Authorities surrounded a home in Grants Pass where they believed Foster was staying after he was spotted walking a dog on Tuesday morning, police wrote on Facebook. Officers of four law enforcement agencies were in the area, and a SWAT team was set up as part of an effort to get Foster to surrender, Hattersley told KTVL. The police spokesman told local media on Tuesday evening that the situation had been “resolved” but did not immediately say that Foster was in custody.

The standoff concluded a week-long search that began after police discovered a woman, whose name was not released, bound and severely beaten in her home on Jan. 24 in what the police chief described as “an evil act.” Police said they received “credible information” linking Foster to the attack, the Daily Courier reported. The woman remains hospitalized in critical condition, according to police

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, 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.

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tyre nichols collage

 

Global News, Migration, Human Rights Issues

washington post logoWashington Post, Israelis, Palestinians see U.S. gesture as feeble, even farcical, amid rise in violence, William Booth and Shira Rubin, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

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.

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Ukraine War

washington post logoWashington Post, Analysis: U.S. cautions Ukraine on aid as public support slips, Olivier Knox with research by Caroline Anders, Feb. 1, 2023. Top officials from the Departments of Defense and State as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development just wrapped up a visit to Ukraine, delivering a warning of sorts about American aid at a time when Republicans are driving a drop in public support for Kyiv.

During their trip last week, leaders from the offices of inspector general from all three entities delivered a message that might be translated as: Be prepared to account for everything we give you. And keep fighting corruption.

Tracking American military and economic assistance and helping Ukraine expunge rot from its government aren’t new initiatives. Both have gone on for at least a decade. But let’s just say the Republican takeover of the House hasn’t exactly diminished the urgency of knowing what went where.

ny times logoNew York Times, Alcohol and Bad Finances: How a U.S. Veterans Group Imploded in Ukraine, Jeffrey Gettleman, Feb. 1, 2023. The Mozart Group trained Ukrainian soldiers and evacuated residents until money ran out. Its collapse sheds light on the stresses faced by such groups.

Andrew Milburn, a former American Marine colonel and leader of the Mozart Group, stood in a chilly meeting room on the second floor of an apartment building in Kyiv about to deliver some bad news. In front of him sat half a dozen men who had traveled to Ukraine on their own dime to work for him.

“Guys, I’m gutted,” he said. “The Mozart Group is dead.”

The men stared back at him with blank faces.

One asked as he walked toward the door, “What should I do with my helmet?”

The Mozart Group, one of the most prominent, private American military organizations in Ukraine, has collapsed under a cloud of accusations ranging from financial improprieties to alcohol-addled misjudgments. Its struggles provide a revealing window into the world of foreign volunteer groups that have flocked to Ukraine with noble intentions only to be tripped up by the stresses of managing a complicated enterprise in a war zone.

“I’ve seen this happen many times,” said one of Mozart’s veteran trainers, who, like many others, spoke only anonymously out of concerns that the Russians might target him. “You got to run these groups like a business. We didn’t do that.”
Hundreds if not thousands of foreign veterans and volunteers have passed through Ukraine. Many of them, like Mr. Milburn and his group, are hard-living men who have spent their adult lives steeped in violence, solo fliers trying to work together in a very dangerous environment without a lot of structure or rules.

The Mozart Group thrived at first, training Ukrainian troops, rescuing civilians from the front lines and raising more than a million dollars in donations to finance it all. But then the money began to run out.

After months struggling to hold itself together, Mozart was plagued by defections, infighting, a break-in at its office headquarters and a lawsuit filed by the company’s chief financial officer, Andrew Bain, seeking the ouster of Mr. Milburn.

washington post logoWashington Post, Biden says no to F-16 jets for Kyiv; Russia likely eyeing Donetsk advance, U.K. says, Erin Cunningham, Bryan Pietsch and Leo Sands, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

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, Feb. 1, 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.

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

ny times logoNew York Times, The Fed Raises Rates a Quarter Point and Signals More Ahead, Jeanna Smialek and Isabella Simonetti, Feb. 1, 2023.  America’s central bank has shifted into a new phase, raising rates more slowly as inflation shows signs of moderating.

Federal Reserve officials on Wednesday made their eighth interest rate increase in a year and signaled at least two more to come as they continue their fight against rapid price gains. But they approved a smaller increase than in the past and acknowledged that inflation had finally started to meaningfully ease.

The central bank concluded its first meeting of 2023 by announcing a quarter-point rate increase, the smallest adjustment since March. The Fed’s policy rate is now set to a range of 4.5 to 4.75 percent, up from near zero a year ago.

Wednesday’s move marked a major slowdown from last year, when the Fed lifted borrowing costs at the fastest pace since the 1980s in a bid to tamp down soaring inflation. Price gains have now moderated, with the Fed’s preferred inflation index at 5 percent in December, down from a peak of nearly 7 percent in June.

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.

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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, Biden administration set to endorse major Alaskan oil drilling project, Timothy Puko, Feb. 1, 2023. Environmental assessment to say ConocoPhillips’s Willow well site can go forward, but could shrink in size.

Biden administration officials are preparing a key environmental assessment to say the Interior Department can grant partial approval to a major oil drilling project on Alaska’s North Slope, known as Willow, setting the stage for one of the administration’s most consequential climate decisions.
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The release of that report, due this week, will trigger a final decision from the Interior Department in a years-long showdown between the federal government and ConocoPhillips about its legal right to drill one of the largest oil and gas developments on federal territory. The company controls oil leases in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the report’s findings may force the Biden administration to approve the project next month over intense pressure from climate activists, who say it flies in the face of the president’s pledges to reduce the country’s contribution to global warming.

The report — a legally required part of the permit process — is being drafted to lay out a preferred alternative that allows three well pads, down from the originally requested five, according to two people briefed on the process. That would match a preliminary proposal the agency put out this summer, and is in line with what company officials have publicly said they need to make the project worth the company’s investment.

washington post logoWashington Post, The environmental cost of beef vs. chicken? Tuna vs. salmon? Compare dozens of foods here, Niko Kommenda, Naema Ahmed, Scott Dance and Simon Ducroquet, Feb. 1, 2023. See which food is better for the planet, based on multiple metrics.

Knowing what to eat to minimize impact on the planet can feel like an impossible task: Eat locally? Skip meat? Opt for organic, free range, humanely raised?

But each of those choices, however Earth-friendly they may sound, come with environmental impact. And they can reverberate in unexpected ways, according to a recent study, affecting not just the climate but water and wildlife habitats around the globe.

Consider the environmental footprints of some common dietary staples, including meat, fish, dairy and eggs and crops.

washington post logoWashington Post, These everyday items endanger the environment. Here’s how to handle them, Melanie D.G. Kaplan, Feb. 1, 2023. Hazardous products often lurk in basements and clutter up cabinets, often because people simply don’t know how to get rid of them.

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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, Feb. 1, 2023 (print ed.). 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.

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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.

james gordon meek abc logo

washington post logoWashington Post, Former ABC News journalist charged in child porn case, Salvador Rizzo, Feb. 1, 2023. Federal prosecutors in Virginia have charged a former national security journalist for ABC News with a child pornography offense.

James Gordon Meek, shown above and below right in a related story, a producer who covered terrorism and major crimes for the network, was charged with one count of transporting child pornography. The FBI said in a court filing unsealed Tuesday that agents searched Meek’s apartment in Arlington last year and found explicit images and videos of minors on his electronic devices.

Meek’s last report for ABC News was published April 2022, days before the FBI searched his apartment. He resigned the same month, according to the network.

A forensic review of an iPhone found in Meek’s apartment showed that the phone’s user and another person on the messaging application Kik exchanged videos of minors being sexually abused, the FBI said in the filing. An external hard drive found in Meek’s kitchen also contained images of minors being sexually abused, the FBI said.

Rolling Stone, Feds Charge Former ABC News Producer With Transportation of Child Pornography, Adam Ramsley, Feb. 1, 2023. Federal prosecutors have charged former ABC News producer James Gordon Meek, right, with transportation of child pornography, according to a criminal james gordon meekcomplaint filed in Eastern Virginia on Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors say their investigation into Meek first began after the cloud storage company Dropbox tipped off the National Center for rolling stone logoMissing and Exploited Children about the presence of five suspected videos of child sexual exploitation material in a Dropbox account, according to the complaint. A subsequent investigation of the tip allegedly confirmed the videos depicted child pornography and were linked to Meek’s account. That triggered an investigation which allegedly found Meek posing as a minor to solicit pornographic images of children.

After federal agents raided Meek’s home, prosecutors say they found a trove of pornographic images on the producer’s iPhone 8, iPhone 6, an external hard drive, and laptop depicting the abuse of children as young as a toddler.

When FBI agents examined Meek’s iPhone 8, they allegedly found messages he exchanged with another alleged pedophile with whom Meek traded child pornography. In the messages, Meek appeared to confess to having previously abused children. “Have you ever raped a toddler girl? It’s amazing,” he allegedly wrote in one exchange.

Meek was a well-known figure in national security circles, both as an Emmy-winning journalist and a former counterterrorism adviser and investigator for the House Homeland Security Committee. He was coming off of a well-received documentary about special forces skirmish in Niger, and finishing up a book with a former Green Beret on the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Then he abruptly resigned from ABC News on April 27, the same day as the raid. And his name suddenly disappeared from the promotional materials for the book.

In addition to trading child sexual abuse material with other enthusiasts, Meek allegedly approached children on Snapchat using the handle “hoolijax” in order to solicit pornographic material.

washington post logoWashington Post, Amid attacks from DeSantis, AP African American studies course is updated, Nick Anderson and Lori Rozsa, Feb. 1, 2023. The College Board denies that it watered down the course after criticism from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

After long debate on how to construct a class focused on the Black experience, the College Board on Wednesday finalized a plan for its new Advanced Placement course in African American studies that seeks to immerse students in Black history and culture — without shying from fraught topics of race and racism — in a way that until now has mostly been available only on college campuses.

The College Board denied any suggestion that it watered down the course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) attacked an earlier draft as progressive “indoctrination.” But the 234-page document now omits mention of certain left-leaning figures who appeared in a previous version. Gone, for instance, are Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a scholar and writer on civil rights and critical race theory, and Angela Davis, a political activist and academic known for her membership in the Communist and Black Panther parties.

The document also listed some potentially controversial topics that students might explore through independent projects. Examples include affirmative action, reparations, Black Lives Matter, and queer life and expression in Black communities.

 

tom brady twitter

washington post logoWashington Post, Tom Brady says he is retiring from the NFL ‘for good,’ Mark Maske, Feb. 1, 2023. Tom Brady, the legendary quarterback who established himself over more than two decades as the NFL’s most prolific winner and arguably its greatest player, announced Wednesday that he is retiring.

This time, he said, he will not change his mind.

“I’ll get to the point right away: I’m retiring, for good,” Brady said in a 53-second video posted to social media. “I know the process was a pretty big deal last time. So when I woke up this morning, I figured I’d just press record and let you guys know first. So I won’t be long-winded. You only get one super-emotional retirement essay, and I used mine up last year.”

ny times logoNew York Times, Gawker, the Irreverent Gossip Site, Will Be Shuttered Again, Katie Robertson, Feb. 1, 2023. Bustle Digital Group, which publishes Gawker, said it would shut down the recently revived site after “a surprisingly difficult” start to the year.

Gawker is dead. Again.

Bustle Digital Group, which publishes Gawker, said on Wednesday that it would shutter the recently revived website and cut about 8 percent of the company’s total staff.

In an email to staff, Bryan Goldberg, the chief executive of BDG, said that despite a financially strong 2022, “we have found ourselves facing a surprisingly difficult” start to the year.

Mr. Goldberg bought the Gawker name for $1.35 million in 2018 at a bankruptcy auction. The irreverent gossip site helped define digital media in the 2000s. It was shut down in 2016 after its parent company at the time, Gawker Media, filed for bankruptcy after an invasion-of-privacy lawsuit by the former professional wrestler Hulk Hogan.

BDG is the latest in a wave of media and tech companies to announce layoffs, as the advertising market slows and economic forecasts look uncertain. Dotdash Meredith, Vox Media and The Washington Post all announced layoffs last month.

In September, BDG, which publishes a variety of lifestyle brands like Bustle and Nylon, shut down the tech website Input and laid off most of the staff at the culture site Mic.

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