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Rand Paul Warns Republicans of Electoral Consequences if They Back Dem Witnesses But Refuse to Call Hunter Biden

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:27

Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) warned fellow caucus members that voting against subpoenaing President Trump’s preferred witnesses in the Senate impeachment trial would be tantamount t0 “voting to lose your election.”“If you don’t want to vote and you think you’re going to have to vote against Hunter Biden, you should just vote against witnesses, period,” Paul said, adding that his “first preference” would be a trial with no witnesses.“. . . If they insist on having people like Bolton coming forward, my insistence will be not just one witness. But that the president should be able to call any witnesses that he deems necessary to his defense,” Paul stated.> My colleagues can’t have it both ways. Calling for some, while blocking others. If we are going to give a platform to witnesses the Dems demand, I look forward to forcing votes to call Hunter Biden and many more! https://t.co/hrOzVyiG9x> > -- Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) January 14, 2020Last week, McConnell signaled that Republicans, who hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, had secured the minimum 51 votes required to move forward with a trial mirroring that of former president Bill Clinton, in which a vote to call witnesses took place after opening arguments. But a vote to allow witnesses to be called seems likely, after GOP leadership suggested Republicans “generally are not interested in the motion to dismiss.”Paul said he believed an immediate dismissal was destined to fail, saying “there might be 10” Republicans who want to call witnesses.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democrats have been clamoring to allow witnesses like John Bolton to testify. They've also argued that newly released documents should be admitted to illuminate Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas's attempts to oust former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.


Biden Says He Would Consider Beto O’Rourke, Julian Castro as Potential Running Mates

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 16:17

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would consider former 2020 contenders Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro as running mates or members of his Cabinet should he get the party's nomination.“I would consider either or both of them. I’ve spoken to each of them,” Biden told the Dallas Morning News. “My plea to both of them is that they stay engaged. They are talented, talented people.”O'Rourke made headlines during the 2018 congressional elections when the former Texas congressman nearly ousted conservative Senator Ted Cruz in the deep-red state. He garnered early attention after launching his presidential bid but suspended his campaign in November after being outshone by Biden and other candidates.Castro served with Biden in the Obama administration as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He dropped his 2020 bid earlier this month after a year of campaigning and endorsed Senator Elizabeth Warren.Biden said in August that he would prefer to choose a woman or a person of color as his running mate. He also remarked on Tuesday that he would consider Senator Kamala Harris, who dropped out of the presidential race early last month, for "anything that she would be interested in," including as his running mate.“Whomever I pick, preferably it will be someone who was of color and/or a different gender, but I’m not making that commitment until I know that the person I’m dealing with I can completely and thoroughly trust as authentic and on the same page,” the former vice president said.As a former presidential running mate himself to President Barack Obama, Biden said the main quality he would prioritize in a potential vice president is being “simpatico” with his values.Obama “knew that he and I had the same value set and the same political disposition as what we should do, and he knew if I ever had any doubt, I would come back to him,” Biden said last year.Biden currently leads in polling among Democratic 2020 candidates at 27 percent, with Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren behind him, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls.


Life in a Troubled Mississippi Prison, Captured on Smuggled Phones

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 15:28

ATLANTA -- The cellphone rang once before someone picked up. On the other end was an inmate inside Unit 29 of the Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. "Hello," he said.Then, in a steady voice that competed against a cacophony of rowdy conversations and a fuzzy signal, he urgently described to a complete stranger the turmoil he said existed on the inside. Some inmates needed medical attention, he said. All of them could use a hot shower."Mold everywhere, rats everywhere," said the inmate, who was serving time for armed robbery, aggravated assault and other charges.Then the line suddenly fell silent. When the inmate returned a moment later, he explained that an officer had walked past and that he had needed to quickly stash his phone. He had paid $600 for the smartphone -- contraband in prisons nationwide. If caught with it, years could be tacked onto his already lengthy sentence.He then handed the phone to another inmate. "They're treating us like animals," that inmate said, before passing the phone on yet again.And so it went, from one prisoner to the next, in a phone call with a reporter that stretched on for roughly an hour. The inmates complained about unreliable electricity and water, injuries that had not healed, and the vermin that forced them to hang leftover food from the ceiling. One inmate mentioned his girlfriend; another, the countdown to his release, now almost a month away.The meandering conversation was punctuated by lulls, as the phone was hidden or passed around, capturing the ambient noise of life inside the maximum-security prison.Parchman, the oldest prison in Mississippi, with a notorious reputation for harsh conditions, has descended into dilapidation and chaos, including a recent burst of violence that left several inmates dead.Inmates have used illegal cellphones to capture and transmit images -- inmates fighting, broken toilets, holes in prison walls, dangling wires and dead rodents caught in sticky traps -- that have come to define the crisis in Mississippi. Many photos were texted to The New York Times.Across the country, prisons are rife with smuggled cellphones, allowing inmates access to the internet, social media and their old lives outside the prison walls. But state officials said the phones have been used by inmates to propel unrest, and by gangs to orchestrate attacks on rivals, inside and outside of prison.Officials said the pervasiveness of cellphones -- nearly 12,000 were seized in Mississippi in 2018 -- has threatened prison security. And, by providing an uncontrolled link to the outside world, they also have undermined the very notion of incarceration."There is a lot of misinformation fanning the flames of fear in the community at large, especially on social media," Pelicia E. Hall, the state corrections commissioner, said in a recent statement. "Cellphones are contraband and have been instrumental in escalating the violence."Gang warfare, decrepit accommodations and a severe shortage of corrections officers has attracted widespread attention and come to dominate the state's political agenda. Activists and others say the problems are long-standing, but they credit the images with igniting a surge of outrage."The story never really would have broke" without cellphones, said Honey D. Ates, whose son is serving a 15-year sentence at the state prison in Wilkinson County."We can hear all about it," she said, "but actually seeing it, it's times a hundred."It has been nearly impossible for corrections officials to curb the use of cellphones, as they have been difficult to ferret out. "As fast as you take them out, they're back in," said Martin F. Horn, a former top corrections official in New York City and Pennsylvania, who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice."It sort of defeats the purpose of a prison wall, if you will," Horn said.In recent years, an inmate on death row in Texas used a smuggled phone to make threatening phone calls to a state senator. After an hourslong riot killed seven prisoners at a state prison in South Carolina, officials there blamed phones as a reason for the violence. Even Charles Manson, the closely guarded notorious mass killer who died in 2017, was repeatedly caught with phones.In Mississippi, inmates, their relatives and activists said that phones are often brought in by corrections officers and case managers, and the devices, usually pay-as-you-go burner phones, can cost upward of $300 inside. Elsewhere, visitors have sneaked them in, and there have been documented cases of phones being shot over prison fences with potato guns and deposited by drones.State officials in Mississippi have resorted to a range of measures, including seeking court orders to get service providers to shut down specific devices. In a statement, the Mississippi Department of Corrections said that it also used technology to interrupt cellular signals, regularly conducted shakedowns and used dogs to sniff out the devices.Mississippi's prisons have been rocked by an outbreak of violence and disorder in recent weeks. Five inmates have been killed, including three at Parchman, and many others have been injured. In the chaos, two inmates escaped but were later caught. For several days, all of the prisons were locked down.Critics said the unrest reflected a pattern of problems in state prisons, which are stretched thin under the weight of an inmate population still swollen from the tough-on-crime measures of the 1980s and 1990s. Some elected officials and civil rights groups, in a complaint calling for a federal investigation, described "extreme" staff vacancies despite having the third-highest incarceration rate in the country.State leaders have acknowledged the severity of the concerns, and corrections officials have warned of a brewing crisis as they press lawmakers for more funding. On Monday, Hall, the corrections commissioner, issued a statement reiterating concerns over Unit 29 at Parchman, quoting a letter she had sent in August describing a facility that was "unsafe for staff and inmates due to age and general deterioration."As the violence flared, inmates broadcast live on Facebook as fires raged inside one prison. They posted images of faucets spewing discolored water, and walls splotched with mold.Those images catapulted the crisis into public, coming at a pivotal moment as a new legislative session begins and Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, was sworn in on Tuesday.Officials and others have said that much of the unrest has quieted. The state Department of Corrections has lifted lockdowns at all of its facilities except for Parchman. But the recent turmoil has brought new scrutiny, including from the rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti, who filed a lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of prisoners, assailing what they described as an "utter disregard" for inmates and their rights.State officials have countered that the depictions shared on social media only added to the discord. The outgoing governor, Phil Bryant, told reporters recently that the inmates craved limelight. "You're making them stars," he said, "and they're convicts."Albert Sykes, an activist on criminal justice issues, said many inmates feared repercussions over cellphones, a lifeline for staying in touch with families, especially as rolling lockdowns caused by staffing shortages have curtailed visitation.The inmates' fears have been fueled by the case of Willie Nash, who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for having a cellphone in a county jail. He was being held on a misdemeanor count when he asked a jailer if he could charge his phone's battery, an inquiry that led to the new charge. The sentence was upheld last week by the Mississippi Supreme Court, even as justices noted that it was "obviously harsh" and "seems to demonstrate a failure of our criminal justice system."Ates said that her son had expressed his own fear, but that she had encouraged him to be defiant. "You can't shut all of us up," she said, "and you can't take all the cellphones." In recent weeks, she has become something of a switchboard operator, receiving messages on Facebook from inmates across the state.One video that has been widely shared showed an inmate at Parchman, who spoke on the phone briefly the other day, with an open wound that he said he had received after being struck by what he thought was a rubber bullet. His back was covered in blood and he walked over to a sink, where he turned the knobs but no water came out."Please try to help us," said the inmate, who was convicted on aggravated assault and gun possession charges. "Let the world know."He then passed the phone back to its owner. Its battery was draining, and the electricity had flickered out again. The inmate apologized for cutting the conversation short, but said he needed to go.This article originally appeared in The New York Times.(C) 2020 The New York Times Company


Pelosi angers GOP by using 30 different personalized pens to sign Trump's 'sham' impeachment articles

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 15:22

Nancy Pelosi used dozens of customized, signed pens to sign different parts of her signature on Trump's impeachment articles before handing them out as collectibles at the signing ceremony on Wednesday — a move that angered many Republicans.


Jordan, Meadows Send Letter to FISA Court Questioning Kris Appointment

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 15:10

House Oversight Committee Republicans Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows issued nine demands to FISA Court presiding judge James Boasberg in a Thursday letter in response to the appointment of Obama Department of Justice lawyer David Kris to help oversee the FBI’s reform of FISA applications.The letter, obtained by National Review, asked Boasberg to identify who else besides Kris was considered, whether Kris’s past defense of the FISA application to surveil Trump-campaign adviser Carter Page was taken into account, and whether “the FISC bears any responsibility for the illegal surveillance of Carter Page,” among other concerns.“If the FISC’s goal is to hold the FBI accountable for its serious misconduct, Mr. Kris does not appear to be an objective — or likely effective — amicus curiae for several reasons,” the letter states. “At minimum, the selection of Mr. Kris creates a perception that he is too personally invested on the side of the FBI to ensure it effectuates meaningful reform.”A Republican official with knowledge of the letter told National Review that the letter signaled a concerted Congressional effort to reform FISA.“For too long, the FBI has remained largely un-checked when it comes to the FISA process. Congress must ensure that FISC stands ready to protect civil liberties without even the slightest indicia of political bias,” he said.The letter appears to be a follow-up to Monday comments from Meadows, who said in an interview that Republicans were “appealing this to the Judge” regarding Kris's appointment. The North Carolina Congressman also slammed the move to appoint Kris, saying that “there’s no way” Kris is the right man to address abuses “if he doesn’t even acknowledge that there is a problem.”Kris, a former assistant attorney general in the Obama DOJ’s national security division, has extensive experience with the FISA Court, serving as an amicus curiae, or special adviser, since March 2016.A frequent contributor to Lawfare blog, Kris was an outspoken defender of the FBI’s authority in surveilling Page, who was accused of being a Russian agent.Following the release of heavily-redacted FISA applications used to surveil Page in July 2018, Kris doubled down. “It seems to me very likely that if we get below the tip of the iceberg into the submerged parts and more is revealed, it will get worse, not better,” for Page, he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow at the time. The letter references Kris's comment to Maddow as evidence that he is biased in favor of the bureau and against Page.DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed in December that the FBI knowingly withheld information that Page was a CIA informant in order to obtain a FISA warrant against him, and even doctored an email to keep the information from the court. The report also revealed that the bureau did not inform the FISC of the partisan origins of the uncorroborated Steele dossier despite its playing a "central and essential" role in their application to surveil Page.In their letter, Jordan and Meadows also request that Boasberg give greater insight into the details surrounding the court’s assessment of the Page applications, including when it “first received any indication that information contained in the FBI’s surveillance applications for Carter Page was misleading or false.”


Bloomberg Visits Capitol Hill to Woo Democratic Lawmakers

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 15:01

(Bloomberg) -- Michael Bloomberg is meeting with groups of Democrats in Congress on Capitol Hill on Thursday seeking support for his fledgling 2020 presidential campaign.The former New York mayor plans to meet separately with BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; ASPIRE PAC, the political arm of Asian American and Pacific Islander members of Congress; the New Democrat Coalition of centrist Democrats and the co-chairs of the Blue Dog Coalition of “fiscally responsible” Democrats.The New Democrat group sent a letter to every Democratic presidential candidate to meet with them.BOLD PAC said in a statement that the meeting focused on issues facing Latinos such as comprehensive immigration reform, as well as “increasing access to affordable health care, tackling the issue of gun violence and creating an inclusive economy.”Bloomberg is self-funding his campaign, so the purpose of the meetings is relationship building and to get to know individual members, according to a person familiar with one of the groups.Bloomberg is also expected to attend a private reception in San Francisco on Thursday evening that will include Silicon Valley technology billionaires, Recode reported and the campaign confirmed.Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.(Adds BOLD PAC statement in fourth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Billy House and Erik Wasson.To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Niquette in Columbus at mniquette@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Craig GordonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Countries demand Iran compensate relatives of plane-crash victims

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 14:50

Five countries whose citizens died when Iran shot down an airliner last week said on Thursday that Tehran should pay compensation to families of the victims, and warned that the world is watching for its response. Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain said Iran should hold a "thorough, independent and transparent international investigation open to grieving nations," in a statement issued after a meeting of officials in London. Iran admitted on Saturday it had shot down the Ukraine International Airlines plane in error, after initially denying it had a role in the incident.


FBI agents visited the home of the Robert Hyde, the Giuliani associate who said he surveilled former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 14:30

Hyde claimed to have been surveilling former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, according to a trove of messages turned over to Congress.


Bureaucracy to brutality: New evidence reveals IS hierarchy

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 14:13

Documents compiled by a U.S.-based Syrian rights group reveal how Islamic State militants used one of their most powerful bureaucratic bodies to regulate daily life and impose and execute penalties. The Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center said Thursday that the evidence — documents produced by IS itself — could help identify individuals responsible for atrocities during the militants' four-year reign of terror and lead to criminal prosecutions. The 24-page report, called “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” is based on dozens of documents obtained by SJAC from inside Syria and collected by a local activist from abandoned IS offices in Raqqa province, where the militants also had their self-declared capital in a city that carries the same name.


Many ‘No’ Votes on Trump’s Trade Deal Came From Presidential Hopefuls

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 14:04

(Bloomberg) -- Nearly half of the Senate Democrats who voted against the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement share one thing in common: They ran, or are still running, for the 2020 presidential nomination, leaving every vote subject to extra scrutiny for national political implications.Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders were among the nine Democrats who on Thursday voted against the trade deal. Sanders, who is still in the presidential race, is near the top of many primary polls. The other three have dropped out but may still harbor hopes of a spot on the 2020 ticket as the vice presidential pick or even ambitions for another presidential bid in 2024 or 2028.While the final version of the agreement included additional measures to protect U.S. labor that were negotiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and endorsed by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, critics argue those protections are insufficient for American workers. Environmental groups, meanwhile, have universally panned the deal.“We can do much better than a Trump-led trade deal,” Sanders said during Tuesday’s presidential primary debate in Iowa. Another Democrat still in the race, Elizabeth Warren voted for the deal, arguing that it will “give some relief” to workers and is better than no action at all. Amy Klobuchar also backed it.The three senators who’ve dropped out of the race are all in their 50s and could have more chances at the White House, and a vote for a trade agreement could backfire if it leads to job losses or, in the case of the new deal, new environmental problems. Joe Biden, a former longtime Delaware senator, has faced criticism from opponents – especially Sanders – for his support of trade agreements, including the USMCA predecessor Nafta.Harris said she was opposing the deal because of its lack of environmental protections. Gillibrand said she was voting against it because she didn’t think it did enough for the environment, drug prices or New York state’s farmers and producers. Booker has not yet explained his vote.To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Epstein in Washington at jepstein32@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Wendy Benjaminson at wbenjaminson@bloomberg.net, Magan CraneFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.


Therapist charged with killing family faced fraud probe

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 13:28

A physical therapist charged with killing his wife, three children and dog in a home near Walt Disney World and leaving their bodies there for days was being investigated in Connecticut for health care fraud motivated by his need to pay off personal loans, according to court documents unsealed this week. Anthony Todt was being investigated for submitting fraudulent claims for physical therapy by the FBI and agents with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to an affidavit and criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Connecticut. According to agents, the allegations involved Todt and his Colchester, Connecticut-base clinics submitting claims to Medicaid and private insurers for physical therapy services that weren't given to patients.


France to deploy Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to support Middle East operations

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 13:17

France will deploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier and its battle group from January to April to support French military operations in Middle East, Emmanuel Macron said on Thursday. "The aircraft carrier will support Chammal operations (in the Middle East) from January to April 2020 before deploying to the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea", Macron said at a New Year speech to the French military.


Marine Corps could use the Navy's new Naval Strike Missile for use as a shore battery

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 13:14

The Marine Corps could soon get the Navy’s new Naval Strike Missile for use as a shore battery, according to the Navy’s acquisitions chief. “Just yesterday [Jan. 14] we had the team in that has the Naval Strike Missile on LCS [littoral combat ships] working hand-in-hand with the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps does ground launchers, we do command and control," Assistant Navy Secretary James “Hondo” Geurts told reporters after his Jan. 15 speech at the annual Surface Navy symposium. “We’ll make that immediately available to the Marine Corps.”


Egypt and Ethiopia reach deal on Nile 'mega dam' that brought threats of war

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:35

Egypt and Ethiopia have struck a preliminary deal to end a row over the construction of a giant dam on the Nile, potentially averting a war between two of Africa’s biggest military powers.  Following talks in Washington brokered by the US government, Egypt agreed in principle to drop its opposition to the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam after receiving assurances that its water supply would not be threatened.  The breakthrough follows years of recrimination, with both countries periodically resorting to threats of war ever since Ethiopia announced plans to build the dam in 2011.  With 95 percent of its population living in the Nile Valley, Egypt has always been acutely sensitive about the flow of a river on which it has depended for its very existence since the dawn of civilisation 5,000 years ago. The world’s longest river is the source of nine-tenths of Egypt’s fresh water.  Arguing that it was granted ultimate control of the Nile under safeguards implemented by Britain in 1929, Egypt says the Renaissance Dam — which will be the world seventh largest on completion — could cause vital downstream reservoirs to dry up.  Ethiopia, in whose highlands the Blue Nile rises before meeting the White Nile in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, argues that the dam will transform the lives of its 110m people, providing many of them with electricity for the first time and allowing the country to industrialise.  Hopes for a resolution to the crisis were raised last year after Ethiopia, which had previously resisted international mediation, agreed to US involvement after Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, made a personal appeal to Donald Trump, his US counterpart.  Mr Trump instructed the US treasury department to work with the World Bank to find a solution.  Following talks in Washington, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan agreed to allow the dam, which has largely been completed, to be filled in stages every July and August, the Ethiopian rainy season, so long as the impact on downstream reservoirs is monitored.  “The subsequent stages of filling will be done according to a mechanism to be agreed,” the US treasury department said in a statement.  A final deal could be signed at the end of the month, although analysts warn that differences between Egypt and Ethiopia remain, particularly over how long it should take to fill the dam’s reservoir, which will be the size of Buckinghamshire.  Sudan has sided with Ethiopia in the row, believing the dam will help regulate the flow of the Blue Nile and reduce downstream flooding.


'Hazardous' travel ahead: Weekend winter storm to wallop Midwest and Northeast with snow and ice

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:35

A winter storm will dump snow and ice across a wide swath of the northern USA on Friday and into the weekend.


US military training for Saudi students could resume soon

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:30

U.S. training for more than 800 Saudi Arabian military students could be restarted "in the coming days," the Pentagon said Thursday, nearly six weeks after a shooting by one Saudi trainee killed three sailors at a Florida base. The Pentagon had stopped all flight and field training for the approximately 850 Saudi students amid fears that others may have known about or been involved in the shooting at the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Jonathan Hoffman, chief spokesman for the Defense Department, said officials probably will have an announcement soon about the training resumption.


Impeachment and a path to redemption for Trump

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:23

President Trump’s most effective path forward, not only to prevail in the impeachment proceedings but to end this ordeal and create a strong position from which to govern, is to follow the Clinton model rather than the Nixon path. 


Wealthy CEOs complain about feeling 'unsafe' because of homeless people in San Francisco

Top Stories - Thu, 01/16/2020 - 12:01

A major healthcare conference in San Francisco this week has sparked a debate about the California city’s homeless crisis as wealthy executives and investors complain of feeling 'unsafe'.The city rakes in $51m (£39m) each year from the annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference despite growing concerns about the city’s homeless population among attendees of the healthcare industry’s leading conference, according to Bloomberg News.


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