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Sept. 25 2017 12:20 PM

Anthony Weiner Sentenced to 21 Months for Sexting 15-Year-Old

Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman and husband of former top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, was sentenced on Monday to 21 months in prison for the sexting case that reopened a damaging investigation into Clinton’s email use.

Weiner pleaded guilty in May to the charges of transferring obscene material to a minor after sexting with a 15-year-old girl.

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Weiner’s attorney had asked for probation, claiming Weiner had a “sickness” and that the teenager, who documented her communication with Weiner and sold her story to the British tabloid the Daily Mail in September 2016, was using the interaction for personal gain. Prosecutors, who sought 21 to 27 months in prison, said the victim’s motives did not matter. According to USA Today, the prosecutors wrote that:

He initially denied his conduct, he suffered personal and professional consequences, he publicly apologized and claimed reform … Yet he continued to engage in the very conduct he swore off, progressing ... to that which is also destructive to a teenage girl.

According to reporting from the Manhattan federal court, Weiner read a statement saying he had “hit rock bottom” and was a “very sick man” in asking to be spared a prison sentence. When the judge announced his sentence, he held his head in his hands and cried.

The sexting scandal led the FBI to seize Weiner’s laptop, where it then found emails belonging to Abedin. In late October, then–FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau would review the emails to see if they contained classified information, saying that the messages appeared “to be pertinent” to the previously closed investigation into Clinton’s email server. That review ended two days before the election, and Clinton has blamed Comey’s action in part for her loss.

Abedin filed for divorce after Weiner, who was first elected to Congress in 1999, pleaded guilty in May. The scandal was Weiner’s third major sexting scandal, the first of which cost him his congressional seat in 2011 and the second of which derailed his 2013 New York mayoral campaign (when it emerged he was using the pseudonym “Carlos Danger”). During the most recent sexting scandal, a photo circulated showing Weiner’s crotch as he lay next to his 4-year-old son.

When he pleaded guilty, Weiner told the court he had been in “intensive treatment” in which he “began a program of recovery and mental health treatment that I continue to follow every day.” He also apologized to the teenage girl, whom he said he “mistreated.”

The 52-year-old will also now have to register as a sex offender. He must report to prison by Nov. 6.

Sept. 25 2017 9:46 AM

A Gunman Opened Fire and Killed One at a Tennessee Church Sunday

A masked gunman who opened fire at a Tennessee church on Sunday, killing one person and injuring seven others, has been arrested and charged with murder, police said.

The shooter, identified by police as 25-year-old Emanuel Kidega Samson, had entered Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee, with two guns after fatally shooting a woman, identified as 39-year-old Melanie Smith, in the parking lot outside.

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A 22-year-old church usher named Robert Engle tackled Samson. The shooter then pistol whipped Engle but, during the struggle, shot himself in the side of his chest. While waiting for police to arrive, Engle held Samson at gunpoint with his own gun.

Samson was taken to the hospital before being released into police custody. None of the other injuries were life-threatening, according to the police.

The FBI has also said that it has opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting. “The Memphis FBI Field Office's Nashville Resident Agency, the Civil Rights Division, and the US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Tennessee have opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting,” according to the spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Nashville. The FBI spokesman did not answer any other questions. The shooter’s motive has not yet been determined.

On Samson's Facebook page, his political views are listed as “none” with the added description of “your votes mean nothing,” and his interests included the Bible, Jesus, and the film The Passion of the Christ. On his timeline, he posted pictures of himself working out and shared news about recent hurricanes. His posts from Sunday morning were cryptic.

“You are more than what they told us,” the first says. “Become the creator instead of what's created,” the second says. “Whatever you say, goes.”

The final reads: “Everything you've ever doubted or made to be believe as false, is real. & vice versa, B.”

According to the Washington Post, several parishioners said they remembered Samson as having attended the church several times a year or two ago.

Sept. 24 2017 11:58 PM

Trump Unveils a New Travel Ban That Includes North Korea, Venezuela, and Chad. Why Chad?

The Trump administration unveiled a new travel ban on Sunday, just as the previous one was set to expire. There are several changes in this version.  The old ban demanded a 90-day suspension, but the new restrictions are indefinite.. And while the old ban included Sudan, a country that has been removed in this version, the new ban adds North Korea, Venezuela, and Chad.

So why the change in countries? The travel ban Trump announced shortly after taking office included seven countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. At the urging of members of Trump’s national security team, Iraq—a key ally in the fight against ISIS—was later removed under a deal that made it easier for the U.S. to deport Iraqi refugees living in the United States. (Iraqis are still subject to heightened scrutiny under the new order.) The original list was based on the existing State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, as well as countries already subjected to visa restrictions by the Obama administration. But the case that citizens of these countries posed a particular threat has always been dubious, and it was hard to avoid the conclusion that Trump simply reached for the nearest available list of problematic Muslim places when it turned out the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” he had promised during his campaign was unworkable.

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The new order is supposedly “much more targeted,” and based on a review of how well governments cooperate with U.S. vetting and counterterrorism efforts. But there’s still reason to be skeptical.

The New York Times suggests that the addition of non-Muslim majority countries Venezuela and North Korea could be intended to “address the legal attacks on earlier travel restrictions as discrimination based on religion.” If so, it’s not a very effective counterargument. While North Korea was listed as a State Sponsor of terrorism until 2008, the text of the order does not suggest that citizens of either country pose a terror risk, just that their governments do not cooperate with the United States on various security initiatives. The Venezuela ban only applies to certain government officials, not ordinary citizens; it should probably be viewed as an extension of the sanctions applied to Venezuelan political figures after the controversial election of a new constitutional assembly last month. The U.S. has also, obviously, been ratcheting up pressure on North Korea, though given that the U.S. doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and that few North Koreans (other than diplomats who are exempted under the new order) are permitted to travel outside the country, the ban is unlikely to apply to very many people. Only 14 North Koreans have obtained legal resident status in the U.S. this fiscal year.

Still, those two countries at least have governments that have been publicly at odds with the U.S. in recent days. The indefinite ban on citizens of Chad (which is roughly 52 percent Muslim) is a more of a headscratcher. Yes, jihadi groups including Boko Haram, and affiliates of ISIS and al-Qaida operate in the central African country, but groups like these also control territory in countries such as Nigeria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and a number of other countries not on the list. In fact, the most recent State Department Country Reports on Terrorism was mostly positive about Chad’s counterterrorism efforts. The country has hosted U.S.-organized military exercises and has received significant U.S. military aid. Even Trump’s order describes Chad as an “important and valuable counterterrorism partner,” though it notes that it “does not adequately share public-safety and terrorism-related information and fails to satisfy at least one key risk criterion.” It’s hard to imagine that it’s the only country that could be described that way.

We may get some more clarity on the real reason for Chad’s inclusion in the coming days. Given the haphazard reasoning and double standards employed in this process so far, there’s little reason to give the administration the benefit of the doubt.

Sept. 24 2017 9:07 PM

Trump Expands Travel Ban to Include Restrictions on Venezuelans, North Koreans

The Trump administration unveiled the next step of its travel ban on Sunday, when the existing ban on visitors from six Muslim-majority countries was set to expire. A new proclamation issued by President Donald Trump expands the list of affected countries to eight: Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, Chad, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Somalia. The list includes three additions—Venezuela, North Korea, and Chad—and one subtraction—Sudan. Although Iraq isn’t officially part of the list, the presidential proclamation does state that citizens from that country will be subject to additional scrutiny.

Not all the countries will face an outright ban. While pretty much all travel to the United States from seven countries will be blocked, the restrictions will depend on their level of cooperation with U.S. security standards as well as the threat that the administration believes each country presents. The restrictions on Venezuelans, for example, largely affect government officials and their relatives.

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The inclusion of North Korea and Venezuela on the list means the restrictions have been expanded beyond Muslim-majority countries. But the ACLU isn't buying it. One of the strongest opponents to the travel ban from the beginning said shortly after the presidential proclamation was released that the fundamentals of the initial Muslim ban have not changed.

“Six of President Trump’s targeted countries are Muslim. The fact that Trump has added North Korea — with few visitors to the U.S. — and a few government officials from Venezuela doesn’t obfuscate the real fact that the administration’s order is still a Muslim ban,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “President Trump’s original sin of targeting Muslims cannot be cured by throwing other countries onto his enemies list.”

The White House seems to have at least somewhat learned from its earlier chaotic implementation of the ban and said it would phase in the new restrictions that will take effect on Oct. 18. The restrictions also won’t affect anyone who already holds a U.S. visa.

For the past three months, the administration has used an executive order to ban pretty much all travelers from six Muslim-majority countries unless they had a “bona fide” relationship with a person or institution in the United States. Unlike the earlier ban, the new restrictions that are part of the proclamation have no time limit. “These restrictions are necessary and conditions-based, not time-based,” a senior administration official said. The United States will consider lifting restrictions if the affected countries implement tighter security and screening standards.

This marks the third version of a travel ban that the Trump administration has instituted since January. The first order was a blanket ban on citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries as well as refugees. After the courts got involved, Trump removed Iraq from the list, and the ban was limited to issuing new visas as well as refugees. The ban on refugees is set to expire on Oct. 24, and it still isn’t clear whether that will continue.

The Supreme Court, which allowed the ban to be implemented with some restrictions after it was blocked by lower courts, is scheduled to hear oral arguments about whether the original Muslim ban is constitutional on Oct. 10.

“Making America Safe is my number one priority. We will not admit those into our country we cannot safely vet,” Trump said in a tweet shortly after the proclamation was released.

*This post has been updated with new information since it was first published.

Sept. 24 2017 7:40 PM

Devastation From Hurricane Maria Set Puerto Rico Back “Nearly 20 to 30 Years”

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 Hurricane early Wednesday morning but the destruction it caused was so great that the full extent of the damage is only starting to come into focus. To say things are bad would be a gross understatement as some are warning of an imminent humanitarian crisis due to a lack of basic services in certain parts of the island.

So far, the death toll from the strongest storm to hit the U.S. territory in almost 90 years stands at 10 although it seems certain to rise over the coming days. Some Puerto Ricans are describing the conditions in their communities as “apocalyptic,” according to CNN. Maria killed at least 31 lives across the Caribbean.

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Authorities are now working to figure out the full extent of the damage, but they’re warning it could take a long while for the island to recover. “The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

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A woman tries to make a cellphone call on a highway near Dorado, 40 kilometers north of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Saturday.

Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Residents struggled to pick themselves up as most of the island was without cellphone service or electricity. People with relatives in the United States struggled to get a bit of cellphone service to tell their families they were doing OK. The damage to the island’s shaky power grid is so extensive that officials didn’t even dare predict when power would return, and some residents are getting mentally prepared to spend up to a year without electricity. Engineers are also inspecting and warning about the possible destruction of a 90-year-old dam in northwest Puerto Rico with the government warning that it could “collapse any minute.”

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Overflow from the damaged Guajataka River Dam is seen in San Sebastian, in the west of Puerto Rico, on Saturday.

Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

A group of mayors traveled to San Juan and warned that things could get worse if immediate needs are not met. “Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It’s at capacity,” the mayor of the north coastal town of Manati said. “We need someone to help us immediately.” Around 15,000 people were thought to be in shelters across Puerto Rico.

“This is, without a doubt, the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico in terms of the damage to infrastructure and in terms of damage to the island as a whole,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said. “Our consideration is not a fiscal consideration. It’s restoring people’s security and restoring normalcy.”

Even if Rosselló says he’s not thinking about fiscal issues right now, there is lots of concern about how the island’s economy, which was already in a precarious state before the hurricane, will handle the billions in damages. Some have estimated Maria’s economic damage could be as much as $30 billion. “Puerto Rico is in a precarious state,” said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research.

Hillary Clinton took to Twitter on Sunday to criticize the Trump administration’s response to the devastation in Puerto Rico. “President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens,” Clinton wrote. Trump had said earlier in the week that Puerto Rico was “absolutely obliterated” by Hurricane Maria.

Sept. 24 2017 6:18 PM

Merkel Wins in Germany but Anti-Immigrant Far-Right Makes Big Gains

As was widely expected, Angela Merkel was re-elected to a fourth term as German chancellor on Sunday but the country’s election also saw the far-right nationalists make historic gains that likely cost her conservative coalition lots of votes. In what Der Spiegel describes as a “significant shift” for German politics, the anti-immigration, nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) surprised political analysts by winning 13.1 percent of the votes, according to the projected results. That means that a far-right party will get into Germany’s parliament for the first time in more than half a century.

If the results pan out they would represent a huge gain for AfD, which was recently polling at a paltry seven percent. Now the xenophobic party could send close to 90 lawmakers to the Bundestag.

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Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party bloc was the clear winner with 33.2 percent, almost 10 points less than five years ago and its worst result since 1949. Merkel recognized that the victory was not quite cause for celebration. “Of course, we would have preferred a better result, that is completely clear,” she said. “But we mustn’t forget that we have had an extremely challenging parliamentary term behind us.”  

Merkel’s party was not the only one that suffered. The Social Democrats (SPD) also received its worst result since the 1940s with only 20.8 percent support in what seemed to be a clear repudiation by voters of the two parties that have dominated German politics since World War II. SPD leader Martin Schulz said the results meant the end of the “grand coalition” with Merkel, calling Sunday a “bitter day” for Social Democrats.

Merkel is now likely to try to cobble together a tenuous coalition with the Greens and the pro-business liberal Free Democrats, which also surprised by receiving 10.5 percent of the vote. That party had already been part of Merkel’s coalition until 2013, when it lost all its seats in the last election. That possible three-way alliance has been widely referred to as the “Jamaica” coalition because the colors of the three parties—black, yellow, and green—match the Jamaican flag.

Alexander Gauland, one of the leaders of the AfD, vowed that “we will take our country back” and that the party “will change this country.” Beatrix van Storch, one of the party’s leaders confirmed the AfD planned to hit the ground running to change the conversation. “We'll start debates on migration, we'll start debates on Islam, we'll start debates on ever closer union,” she said.

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Opponents of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) protest on September 24, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

As supporters of the far-righ party celebrated in their headquarters, protesters gathered outside to express their rejection of the AfD and its ideals. “All Berlin hates the AfD,” yelled the protesters.  

Final results are expected early Monday morning.

Sept. 24 2017 5:16 PM

Kushner Reportedly Used a Private Email Account to Discuss Government Issues

Throughout the presidential campaign few things got Donald Trump and his supporters more riled up than aggressively attacking Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state ("lock her up," they liked to chant). Now it turns out that Jared Kushner has been using a private email address to conduct government business ever since his father-in-law moved in to the White House, according to Politico. And this wasn’t just an old address that maybe some people mistakenly used to reach one of the president’s most senior advisers, it was a private email account that Kushner set up during the transition in December.

Politico says it has “seen and verified” around two dozen emails that Kushner traded with “senior White House officials, outside advisers and others about media coverage, event planning and other subjects.”

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Kushner has used the private account to trade emails with, among others, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, National Economic Council director Gary Cohn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and spokesman Josh Raffel.

Kushner is not denying that he uses a private email account sometimes but his lawyer blamed it on other people. “Mr. Kushner uses his White House email address to conduct White House business,” Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner, said in a statement. “Fewer than 100 emails from January through August were either sent to or returned by Mr. Kushner to colleagues in the White House from his personal email account. These usually forwarded news articles or political commentary and most often occurred when someone initiated the exchange by sending an email to his personal rather than his White House address.”

There is no indication that Kushner has discussed any classified material through the private email address or that he uses it more than his official White House account. Although Ivanka Trump also has an email account on the same domain as her husband, so far there is no evidence that she has used it to discuss official business.  

Sept. 24 2017 4:29 PM

Ted Cruz Is Latest GOP Senator to Come Out Against Obamacare Repeal Legislation

The Republicans are running out of time.  After seven years of promising to repeal Obamacare, it seems the GOP is headed toward failure yet again this week, unless the party leaders can somehow reverse what appears to be a growing opposition to the effort. Sen. Ted Cruz was the latest to signal his opposition to the Graham-Cassidy bill, noting it didn’t do enough to bring down the cost of health care.

“Right now, they don’t have my vote,” Cruz said during a panel discussion in Austin. “And I don’t think they have Mike Lee’s vote, either.” Cruz said that he and fellow senator Lee offered amendments to Graham-Cassidy that would decrease premiums but they weren’t included in the latest draft of the bill. But Cruz wasn’t all negative, saying the measure also has some “very good elements.”

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Cruz is hardly alone. Earlier on Sunday, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine made it clear she’s unlikely to support the bill either. She had previously said she was “leaning agains” the legislation but sounded more sure of her decision on Sunday, when she told CNN it was “very difficult for me to envision a scenario where I would end up voting for this bill.” Collins said she wants to see the analysis from the Congressional Budget Office before making a final decision.

With Cruz and Collins that means there are at least five Republicans in the 52-member caucus that said they wouldn’t support the bill or were at least leaning against it. Sen. Lisa Mukowski has yet to give her full support to the bill and Sens. John McCain and Rand Paul have both said they would not back the measure. With the two “no” votes from McCain and Paul, a third would doom the bill since no Democrats are expected to support the measure.

Time is running out for Republicans to get support for the bill as lawmakers only have until Saturday to pass it with a simple majority rather than the usual 60 votes.

Sens. Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy both appeared on ABC’s This Week Sunday to defend their legislation and express optimism that the bill will ultimately be approved. “We're moving forward and we'll see what happens next week. I'm very excited about it. We finally found an alternative to Obamacare that makes sense,” Graham said. “I think we're going to get the votes next week.”

Sept. 24 2017 2:57 PM

How NFL Players Protested Trump Throughout Sunday

Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests were never explicitly about Donald Trump, but, thanks to the president’s comments at an Alabama rally on Friday night (as well as an ensuing series of tweets), Trump has made sure that he will be the focus of any and all protests this NFL Sunday. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!’” Trump said on Friday.

At the early game played in London between the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars, dozens of players took a knee and many others linked arms in solidarity. Jacksonville won 44-7, and no one was fired. We spent Sunday updating this live blog with other news of protests around the league as the games unfolded. It was a pretty unique day in the league’s history. To catch up on all that happened, scroll below.

Sept. 24 2017 2:41 PM

James’ “U Bum” Tweet Is Way More Popular Than Any of the President’s Messages

President Trump likes to talk about how popular he is and how much he is liked (plus, did you know he won an election?). So surely the president is none too happy today to realize that LeBron James’ tweet insulting him is way more popular than anything he has ever written. Turns out, the basketball superstar is better at uniting Americans than the commander in chief.

It all started when Trump took to Twitter on Saturday morning to uninvite (although they weren’t actually every formally invited) the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House to commemorate the championship. Trump specifically mentioned Stephen Curry’s public reluctance to go to the White House: “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team.Stephen Curry is hesitating,therefore invitation is withdrawn!”

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Less than three hours later, LeBron James took to Twitter and hit back, calling Trump “u bum” and adding that “going to White House was a great honor until you showed up!”

As of Sunday afternoon, James’ message had been retweeted more than 620,000 times. That is way more than the basketball star's previously most popular post that got a paltry 111,820 retweets (“I’m not MJ, I’m LJ”).

James didn’t just beat his own record though. His “u bum” tweet is also way more popular than anything Trump has ever written in his favorite social media platform. Trump’s most popular post on Twitter was his all-caps celebration of his election victory: “TODAY WE MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” That Nov. 8, 2017 message got retweeted 335,657 times.

A few hours after his tweet, James, who was a supporter of Hillary Clinton, released a video explaining his position. "I think it's basically at a point where I'm a little frustrated, man, because this guy that we've put in charge has tried to divide us once again" James said via his digital company platform Uninterrupted. "Obviously we all know what happened with Charlottesville and the divide that caused. Now it's hit home more for me because he's now using sports as the platform to try and divide us."

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