It is part of a pattern that underscores how difficult it is to curb the epidemic of gun violence, even when there is political will. Despite the laws that are already on the books, criminals find ways to acquire weapons without background checks — whether at lax stores, through the gun show loophole, via the Internet or on the black market. This is possible, in part, because it’s breathtakingly easy for most Americans to legally acquire guns. Nevertheless, it’s a challenge that policymakers must grapple with as they debate new forms of gun control.
A California highway patrolman was killed by a felon on Monday night, and two of his colleagues were badly wounded, during a gun battle after a traffic stop on the freeway in Riverside. The shooter used an AR-15 assault-style rifle without a serial number, which makes it untraceable, according to the Los Angeles Times. These “ghost guns” are assembled from parts that can be ordered by mail or obtained underground, and ATF reports that about a third of all firearms seized in Southern California now are un-serialized. Agents expect this number to grow.
A sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot last month in Arkansas when he responded to a domestic violence call. That same deputy had reportedly arrested the man who would kill him for hitting someone else with a metal pipe in April 2018. The perpetrator had been charged with making terroristic threats, aggravated assault and second-degree battery. On July 18, Sgt. Mike Stephen was talking with a woman who had called 911 for help in the front yard of her home in Leslie, Ark., when Samuel Fullerton, 39, walked outside and opened fire, wounding both of them, according to KATV, the Little Rock ABC affiliate. Fullerton was dead when additional officers arrived.
Something similar happened in June in Sacramento, Calif., where local police were helping a woman collect her belongings from a home as part of a domestic violence call when Adel Sambrano Ramos allegedly opened fire on them and mortally wounded Officer Tara O’Sullivan, 26. Court records show that Ramos, who is facing murder charges, has a history of domestic violence restraining orders. At the time of the shooting, he was wanted on a bench warrant that had been issued nine days earlier for failing to appear on a charge that he battered a young woman last year, per the Associated Press. In addition to murder, the 45-year-old Ramos is also charged with felony possession of an AR-15 with a non-fixed magazine and a pistol grip, as well as felony possession of another assault-style rifle with a telescoping stock, the Sacramento Fox affiliate reports.
There are several other examples this year of officers being shot by people who were not legally allowed to possess guns.
-- The suspect in last night’s firefight in Philly, 36-year-old Maurice Hill, has a remarkable history of firearm-specific convictions. “Hill’s history in the adult criminal justice system began in 2001 when he was 18 and was arrested with a gun that had an altered serial number,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Public records show that he has been arrested about a dozen times since turning 18 and convicted six times on charges that involved illegal possession of guns, drug dealing, and aggravated assault. Along the way, he beat criminal charges on everything from kidnapping to attempted murder. He has been in and out of prison; the longest sentence handed to him came in 2010, when a federal judge gave him a 55-month term. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to federal firearms violations after he was caught with a Smith & Wesson .357 and later a Taurus PT .45 semiautomatic. His prior felony convictions should have barred him from owning those weapons.”
-- The Riverside cop killer, Aaron Luther, previously pleaded guilty to attempted murder and two counts of burglary. He had also been convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm, as well as assault with a deadly weapon, spousal abuse, disturbing the peace, vandalism, battery and stalking. Luther was killed by police during an extended firefight on the 215 Freeway. Before he died, CHP Officer Andre Moye was able to return fire and radio for help.
Luther’s father told KTLA that his son was a “desperate man.” His wife told the Riverside Press-Enterprise that he called her after he was pulled over and sounded panicked about going back to prison. Other family members said he had been battling depression.
-- Ghost guns like the one that Luther used can be legal for those who are allowed to own firearms, but Luther’s prior convictions barred him from owning weapons. “But California requires that anyone building a weapon apply for a unique serial number with the state’s Department of Justice and that number be put on the firearm,” today’s L.A. Times notes:
“The weapon must comply with California’s laws governing firearms. Police gun experts say that those forbidden from purchasing a gun can still buy the partial lower receiver, known as an ‘80% lower,’ and then buy the other parts of the weapons. In 2013, John Zawahri killed five people in the Santa Monica area using an AR-15-style rifle, which he built from a partially manufactured lower receiver that did not have a serial number and therefore did not have to be registered. … A serial number is issued only to the lower receiver of a weapon. Some lawmakers in California are seeking to require a background check for all gun parts to stifle the trade-in ghost guns.”
-- President Trump, who signed a major sentencing overhaul into law in December, tweeted this morning that the Philadelphia suspect “should never have been allowed to be on the streets” and said that he should get a long sentence:
-- In the City of Brotherly Love, it’s a miracle that no one died. Gunfire first broke out around 4:30 p.m. when officers attempted to serve a drug warrant. Once they got inside, a barrage of bullets forced officers to return fire and retreat through windows and doors. Two officers were stuck in the house for a few hours until they could be rescued by a SWAT team. But the suspect remained barricaded inside. Hill’s longtime lawyer was allowed inside to talk with him. The attorney, Shaka Johnson, told reporters on the scene that he urged his client to surrender.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said at a news conference early this morning that all six officers who were wounded have been released from the hospital. He said a bullet grazed one officer’s head, and the others were shot in the arm or other peripheral places on the body. “It’s nothing short of a miracle that we don’t have multiple officers killed,” Ross said.
-- The latest on the federal fight over gun control: Trump is weighing action, but the discussion remains theoretical. The New York Times reports: “He has called Senator Christopher S. Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, where 26 people were gunned down at an elementary school. He has reached out to Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, who sponsored a bill extending background checks that the Senate defeated in 2014. What President Trump has not done yet is the kind of arm-twisting of Republican senators wary of gun control legislation that will be necessary to force a bill through Congress, according to interviews with White House officials and congressional aides. He has shown no interest so far in a major address to ensure that public opinion is behind such a move. And he and his aides have yet to settle on what he will actually propose.”
-- “Trump’s public push for gun-control measures is causing consternation among conservatives and some of his advisers, who have privately raised concerns about the political and policy fallout of the approach,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
-- Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) says this time will be different and predicts that Congress will finally do something, even if modest, after the recent string of mass shootings. Politico reports that the vulnerable incumbent has assumed a central role in the burgeoning effort to find a consensus among Republicans: “She’s spoken to Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and White House legislative director Eric Ueland about potential gun safety reforms and plans to talk to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week. … Collins proposed to Ueland a three-part package: Tweaking the background checks bill sponsored by Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to gain GOP support, passing a ‘red flag’ law that allows temporary removal of guns from people deemed imminent threats, and cracking down on straw gun purchases.”
-- The new frontier in the fight over gun control is between states and local governments. The city council in Missoula, Mont., passed a law requiring stricter background checks in 2016. But the state’s conservative attorney general declared that measure unlawful. In response, the city sued — and won. Then Republican state legislators drafted a bill to nullify the ordinance and make it illegal for local governments to tighten gun laws. That passed the legislature but was vetoed in May by Gov. Steve Bullock (D), who is running for president. Gun rights groups have successfully mobilized to put a referendum on the November 2020 ballot that would enact the law Bullock vetoed. Voters will get to decide.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
-- An autopsy found that Jeffrey Epstein sustained multiple breaks in his neck bones, deepening the mystery about the circumstances around his death. Carol Leonnig and Aaron Davis scoop: “Among the bones broken in Epstein’s neck was the hyoid bone, which in men is near the Adam’s apple. Such breaks can occur in those who hang themselves, particularly if they are older, according to forensics experts and studies on the subject. But they are more common in victims of homicide by strangulation, the experts said. Attorney General William P. Barr, whose department oversees the Bureau of Prisons facility where Epstein died, has described his death as an ‘apparent suicide.’
“The office of New York City’s chief medical examiner, Barbara Sampson, completed an autopsy of Epstein’s body Sunday. But Sampson listed the cause of his death as pending. Asked about the neck injuries, Sampson said in a statement that no single factor in an autopsy can alone provide a conclusive answer about what happened. People familiar with the autopsy, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitive stage of the investigation, said Sampson’s office is seeking additional information on Epstein’s condition in the hours before his death. That could include video evidence of the jail hallways, which may establish whether anyone entered Epstein’s cell during the night he died; results of a toxicology screening to determine if there was any unusual substance in his body; and interviews with guards and inmates who were near his cell.
“Jonathan L. Arden, president of the National Association of Medical Examiners, said a hyoid can be broken in many circumstances but is more commonly associated with homicidal strangulation than suicidal hanging. Arden, who was not involved in the Epstein autopsy, said that in general, a finding of a broken hyoid requires pathologists to conduct more extensive investigation. That investigation can include analysis of the location of the noose, how narrow the noose is, and if the body experienced any substantial drop in the course of the hanging. The age of the deceased is also important, Arden said. The hyoid starts out as three small bones with joint-like connections but hardens during middle age into a U-shape that can break more easily. ‘If, hypothetically, the hyoid bone is broken, that would generally raise questions about strangulation, but it is not definitive and does not exclude suicidal hanging,’ he said.”
-- As the plot thickens, many around the globe are trying to lay claim to some piece of Epstein’s fortune. Marc Fisher reports: “They are elderly retirees trying to recoup losses they incurred when they invested their life savings in bonds and notes Epstein allegedly sold as part of a $470 million scam a quarter century ago. They are women, mostly now in their 30s, who say that as teenagers they were recruited and paid to give massages to Epstein — encounters they say quickly turned into sexual abuse. They are all likely to have to wait in a very long and winding queue. Some of those women now see Epstein’s estate as the path toward closure — one alleged victim, Jennifer Araoz, on Wednesday called her quest for Epstein’s money ‘my first step toward reclaiming my power.’ But the many competing claims will quickly crash into the messy and protracted reality of a contested probate and a federal investigation.”
-- Former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper is preparing to withdraw from the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination and could announce a decision as early as Thursday. Dan Balz reports: “Hickenlooper has been under pressure from national and state Democrats to abandon his presidential ambitions and to instead challenge Sen. Cory Gardner (R), who is regarded as one of the most vulnerable Senate Republicans in the country in 2020. Hickenlooper reportedly has not made a final decision about the Senate, according to two knowledgeable people. A third Democrat following the movements in Colorado said he believed that Hickenlooper will join the Senate race soon ... The former two-term governor began to inform people in Colorado on Wednesday of his likely decision to quit the presidential race.”
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
-- “Trump’s largely hands-off response to the violent clashes between pro-democracy protesters and authorities in Hong Kong fits a pattern: The president as bystander in chief, an onlooker to world events that previous leaders would almost certainly have decried as assaults on democracy or human rights,” Anne Gearan writes: “Trump often deflects or plays down U.S. interest in events whose connection to the United States may not seem immediate, as he did this week with Hong Kong. … Trump appealed for calm but did not publicly warn China of consequences if it acts against demonstrators, even as other political figures and the State Department did so. He gave only implicit and offhand endorsement to the protesters’ calls for liberty in the face of widening Chinese government control over the banking and commercial hub. ...
“Asked Wednesday about criticism that Trump is pulling back from the traditional American role as a global defender of freedom, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross called the Hong Kong standoff ‘an internal matter.’ CNBC host Joe Kernen pressed Ross about whether deadlocked trade negotiations are ‘making it harder for us to do, to lead, in a way that we would have in the past.’ ‘I don’t know that we would have done anything different in the past,’ Ross replied. ‘What would we do, invade Hong Kong?’”
- Politico: “Trump resists aides’ pressure to back Hong Kong protesters. The president is singularly focused on cutting a trade deal with Xi Jinping, officials say.”
- New York Times: “Waning of American Power? Trump Struggles With an Asia in Crisis. The Trump administration has taken a hands-off approach to conflicts — from Kashmir to Hong Kong to the rivalry between Japan and South Korea — as Asian officials escalate the battles.”
- Time magazine: “How a Series of Protests Escalated Into an All-Out Battle for the Soul of Hong Kong.”
- Bloomberg Businessweek: “Protesting Like It’s 2047. Hong Kong’s demonstrators have one big issue: Their city’s fate when China fully takes over in 28 years.”
- Korea Herald: “Chinese-speaking K-pop stars side with mainland China against protesters.”
- CNN: “Mob violence tests the limits of Hong Kong's leaderless protest movement.”
-- “With the mainland’s economic rise, Hong Kong is no longer the undisputed center of business and finance in the region. But it still plays an indispensable role that Beijing will be loath to undermine, according to bankers, economists and business leaders,” Jeanne Whalen reports: “Hong Kong is still an essential bridge between China and the wider world, providing a place where Chinese companies can easily raise money from global investors, and where thousands of foreign companies feel secure basing their operations. … Weeks of instability have shaken that foundation. Hong Kong retail sales fell 6.7 percent in June from a year earlier, hurt by store closures and weakening consumer sentiment amid the protests, according to a retail association. The Hang Seng Index, representing stocks traded in Hong Kong, is down 16 percent from its high point in April.”
-- Hong Kong citizens trying to cross the border into mainland China are being asked to unlock their mobile phones by immigration officers for the inspection of photos and videos related to the protests. The South China Morning Post reports: “Of 10 travelers who shared their experiences with the Post, five said mainland authorities had also inspected their private messages at land control points between Hong Kong and the neighboring city of Shenzhen. All of them — most of whom declined to be named as they cross the border regularly and feared repercussions if they were named — said this was the first time they had the contents of their phone examined.
“Ben Crox, a 38-year-old technology and public relations consultant, said his phone was inspected on July 24 at the mainland port area inside the city’s high-speed rail terminal in West Kowloon. The consultant refused initially, and asked for a lawyer, but was told he could only contact someone on the mainland. His request to exit the mainland port area and return to Hong Kong soil was denied. After he acceded to the phone check, Crox said, mainland officers went through photos and videos from June and July this year.”
-- Huawei technicians helped governments in Africa spy on their political opponents. From the Wall Street Journal: “Technicians from the Chinese powerhouse have, in at least two cases, personally helped African governments spy on their political opponents, including intercepting their encrypted communications and social media, and using cell data to track their whereabouts, according to senior security officials working directly with the Huawei employees in these countries. … [An] incident in Uganda and another in Zambia, as detailed in a Journal investigation, show how Huawei employees have used the company’s technology and other companies’ products to support the domestic spying of those governments. … The Journal investigation didn’t turn up evidence of spying by or on behalf of Beijing in Africa. Nor did it find that Huawei executives in China knew of, directed or approved the activities described. It also didn’t find that there was something particular about the technology in Huawei’s network that made such activities possible. Details of the operations, however, offer evidence that Huawei employees played a direct role in government efforts to intercept the private communications of opponents.”
-- Democrats in Congress are quietly bracing for a fight with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after his government told congressional leaders it would formally announce that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) would be denied entry into Israel because of their support of a boycott movement against the country. John Hudson and Ruth Eglash report: “[Democrats] have privately said such moves are not emblematic of a country that prides itself as a democracy tolerant of political expression. … With three weeks to go before a repeat election on Sept. 17, the long-serving leader is fighting a bitter battle to stay in office and needs to appear strong to his fractured right-wing support base.” Axios reported over the weekend that Trump was disappointed and complained to aides about Israel’s announcement that it would permit Tlaib and Omar to visit.
-- Evidence of a looming recession prompted the worst day of the year for the stock market. Damian Paletta, Thomas Heath and Taylor Telford report: “The Dow Jones industrial average fell 800 points, or about 3 percent, and has lost close to 7 percent over the past three weeks. Two of the world’s largest economies, Germany and the United Kingdom, appear to be contracting even as the latter forges ahead with plans to leave the European Union. Growth also has slowed in China, which is in a bitter trade feud with the United States. Meanwhile, Argentina’s stock market fell nearly 50 percent earlier this week after its incumbent president was defeated by a left-wing opponent. Whether the events presage an economic calamity or just an alarming spasm are unclear. But unlike during the Great Recession, global leaders are not working in unison to confront mounting problems and arrest the slowdown. Instead, they are increasingly at one another’s throats. … Complicating matters, a number of investors and foreign leaders have blamed Trump’s trade war for causing the contraction in business investment and forcing companies to pull back, an accusation that has caught White House advisers off guard.”
-- As the Trump administration seeks to cut billions in foreign aid, signature projects backed by Ivanka Trump and Vice President Pence are being exempted. Hudson reports: “The Office of Management and Budget is reviewing a vast array of programs but has already ruled out canceling funds for global health programs amid an outbreak of Ebola in Congo, Ivanka Trump’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, and Pence’s programs for Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Aid advocates criticized the move for attempting to protect the pet projects of the president’s inner circle.”
-- Kashmir’s streets look as if the city has been emptied of its citizens. But residents, locked insider their homes with no access to the outside world, are seething with resentment. Niha Masih reports: “No one has seen or heard from local political leaders, hundreds of whom are in detention. Of the more than 200 newspapers in the region, only five are publishing physical copies. Their websites are stuck at Aug. 5. … I spent four days in Kashmir in the aftermath of India’s dramatic move to strip the region of its partial autonomy and statehood. ... Abdur Rehman, 78, a resident of the downtown area who has seen Kashmir through its best and worst times, likened the latest episode to the British colonization of the country. ‘India is behaving with Kashmir the way Brits behaved with them,’ he said.”
-- The alleged gunman who opened fire in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, managed to post a letter he wrote in prison on the online messaging board 4chan. Siobhán O’Grady reports: “An apparent lapse in correction facility protocol allowed the suspect, Brenton Tarrant, 28, to send a six-page handwritten letter from prison that has appeared on the online messaging board 4chan. It was addressed to a person he refers to as ‘Alan.’ The recipient of the letter appears to be based in Russia, the Associated Press reported. The letter describes a trip that Tarrant said he took to Russia a few years ago and warns of a ‘great conflict’ in the future. He wrote in the letter that he ‘cannot go into any great detail about regrets or feeling as the guards will confiscate my letter’ and could use it as evidence against him. ‘But I can tell you I have no concern about myself and I only worry for Europe’s future,’ he said.”
-- Far-right offenses in Germany are on the rise this year. From DW.com: “Compared to the first half of 2018, an increase of 900 far-right crimes was recorded during the same period this year, the ministry said in response to a parliamentary inquiry. The number of violent crimes, however, remained almost the same. By the end of June, neo-Nazis and other far-right groups had committed 8,605 crimes nationwide, including 363 violent crimes, the ministry told Petra Pau, the vice president of the German parliament.”
-- Loujain al-Hathloul, a jailed Saudi activist, was offered freedom if she denied being tortured by the regime. She turned down the offer. Claire Parker reports: “Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent advocates for women’s rights, has been jailed for more than a year on charges that human rights groups have deemed baseless. She and other imprisoned activists have said they were tortured by Saudi authorities while in custody. Saudi Arabia has denied abusing detainees. Hathloul’s brother, Walid al-Hathloul, said Saudi officials recently visited her in prison. They ‘asked her to sign on a document where she will appear on video to deny the torture and harassment. That was part of a deal to release her,’ he wrote on Twitter. ‘She immediately ripped the document,’ he added.”
-- Captured Islamic State fighters are getting short sentences and art therapy in Syrian prisons. Liz Sly reports: “At a closely guarded prison in this northeastern Syrian town, former Islamic State fighters make papier-mâché models of birds, flowers and trees while serving sentences that typically run two or three years. Across the border in Iraq, Islamic State detainees are being held in degrading conditions, subjected to torture and often, when brought to trial, given long sentences or the death penalty, according to human rights groups. The Syrian Kurdish allies of the United States are attempting a different approach. Their goal, Kurdish officials say, is to rehabilitate and reintegrate many of the Islamic State fighters in their custody, in hopes of deterring a revival of the militant movement.”
-- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in trouble again after an ethics watchdog ruled that he violated conflict-of-interest and ethics laws. Amanda Coletta reports: “In a 63-page report, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion detailed a series of ‘troubling’ interventions by Trudeau and members of his office that he said contravened laws prohibiting public officeholders from using their positions to seek to influence the decision of another person to ‘improperly’ further the interests of a third party. Though the ruling carries no direct penalty for Trudeau, such as a fine, it comes about two months before a federal election in October in which opinion polls show Trudeau’s Liberals and the opposition Conservatives in a dead heat.”
-- North Korea’s missile tests are cranking up the threat level. From Simon Denyer: “The launches have included at least two new types of short-range ballistic missiles and a mobile multiple-rocket launcher. Pyongyang has also seen fit to show off a submarine that may be intended to carry nuclear warheads. Trump says he’s been told that Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, ‘only smiles when he sees me.’ But photos released by North Korean state media show the dictator beaming from cheek to cheek at the successful tests. … The weapons that North Korea has showcased, including a road-mobile short-range ballistic missile known as the KN-23, with a range of at least 280 miles, appear specifically designed to confound South Korea’s missile-defense system.”
-- Justifying his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape and incest, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said that humanity might not exist if it were not for rape and incest. Felicia Sonmez reports: “In a discussion at the Westside Conservative Club in Urbandale, Iowa, King was defending his position against laws allowing abortion exceptions in cases of rape and incest. ‘What if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled out anyone who was a product of rape or incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?’ King said, according to the Des Moines Register. ‘Considering all the wars and all the rapes and pillages that happened throughout all these different nations, I know that I can’t say that I was not a part of a product of that.’ ... Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), the third-ranking Republican in the House, responded to King’s comment by declaring, ‘It’s time for him to go.’
“King kicked off his bid for a 10th term in Congress in February by declining to apologize for repeatedly making offensive remarks. The previous month, House Republican leaders stripped King of his committee assignments after his comments to the New York Times. After the censure, King compared himself to Jesus. Over the years, King has claimed that ‘our civilization’ can’t be restored with ‘somebody else’s babies,’ supported a Toronto mayoral candidate considered to be a white nationalist and met with a far-right Austrian group with historical Nazi ties. He has made a variety of remarks widely viewed as racist, anti-Semitic or insulting to minorities.”
-- Planned Parenthood plans to pull out of a federal family planning program on Aug. 19 over the abortion “gag rule” unless the 9th Circuit rules against the Trump administration before then. Ariana Eunjung Cha reports: “Planned Parenthood attorneys said its affiliates had planned to refuse federal funds — but not drop out of the program — while its challenge of new Trump administration prohibitions on abortion referrals or ‘directed counseling’ made its way through the courts. Planned Parenthood leaders have said it is morally and medically wrong to not be able to offer their clients complete medical information. But Health and Human Services officials recently required all participants in the program, known as Title X, to sign a pledge by Aug. 19, saying they would make a ‘good faith’ effort to comply with the rule.”
-- A new Trump proposal would allow businesses with federal contracts to cite religious objections as a valid reason to discriminate against workers on the basis of their sexuality, race and religion. From BuzzFeed News: “The 46-page draft rule from the Labor Department would apply to a range of so-called religious organizations — including corporations, schools, and societies — provided that they claim a ‘religious purpose.’ … The Trump administration makes clear that a corporation needn’t focus entirely on religion to qualify, saying, ‘The contractor must be organized for a religious purpose, meaning that it was conceived with a self-identified religious purpose. This need not be the contractor’s only purpose.’”
-- Top Republicans in the swing state of New Hampshire are aggressively trying to dissuade Trump from endorsing his 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski’s probable Senate bid during a rally tonight in Manchester, N.H. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has relayed concerns about Trump's controversial former campaign manager to party leadership. Tom Rath, a former New Hampshire attorney general and a prominent Republican in the state, says he’s ‘not a Corey fan.’ Former GOP Sen. Judd Gregg took to the pages of New Hampshire’s biggest newspaper to deride Lewandowski as a ‘thug.’ And Dave Carney, a longtime New Hampshire-based strategist who’s worked on an array of statewide Republican campaigns, called the idea of a Lewandowski candidacy a ‘joke.’ … And with the party waging an already uphill effort to unseat two-term Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Carney and others in the swing state worry that he would do little to help the party expand its base…
“A Lewandowski bid could complicate the party’s prospects up and down the ballot — including for Sununu, who faces a potentially competitive 2020 reelection bid. As a Republican governor in a swing state, he has been forced to walk a delicate line between appealing to the president’s supporters while also demonstrating his independence. … Trump aides concede they don’t know what the famously unpredictable president will say about the Senate contest on Thursday evening.”
-- It started as a joke, but 135,000 people have now signed a petition asking the New York City Council to rename the street in front of Trump Tower after Barack Obama. The stretch of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th streets would be called “President Barack H. Obama Avenue.” That would make Trump’s home address 725 President Barack H. Obama Ave. (Katie Mettler)
-- Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, says “Trump needs a primary challenge.” From an op-ed in today's Times: “I entered Congress in 2011 as an insurgent Tea Party Republican. My goals were conservative and clear: restrain executive power and reduce the debt. Barack Obama was president then, and it was easy for us to rail against runaway spending and executive overreach. Eight years later, Mr. Trump has increased the deficit more than $100 billion year over year — it’s now nearing $1 trillion — and we hear not a word of protest from my former Republican colleagues. He abuses the Constitution for his narcissistic trade war. ... Mr. Trump is a racial arsonist who encourages bigotry and xenophobia to rouse his base and advance his electoral prospects. In this, he inspires imitators. Republicans should view Mr. Trump as the liability that he is: No matter his flag-hugging, or his military parades, he’s no patriot.”
-- Former Republican senator Jeff Flake said he’d like to vote “for a responsible Democrat” in 2020. “What I would like is for the Republican Party to nominate someone else. That doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen,” he told the Deseret News. “And you can always vote for a third-party candidate, which I did last time, and I’m not ruling that out. I don’t think we’re there yet, when independents will win nationwide.”
-- “A truck drove into ICE protesters outside a private prison. They say a guard was at the wheel,” by Tim Elfrink: “The protesters were sitting on the pavement to block staff from parking at a Rhode Island prison that works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement when a black pickup truck swerved toward them. The protesters shouted as the driver laid on the horn, and the truck briefly stopped. And then, the driver hit the gas. In a viral video captured by bystanders, the protesters screamed and jumped out of the way. Several were struck, according to organizers of the Wednesday night demonstration at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I. Some were treated at a hospital, though none were severely injured. … The driver, protesters say, was a correctional officer employed by the privately run facility who was wearing a badge and a uniform — an assertion backed up by video of the incident. Local police officers working at the protest did not intervene, [organizers] said, and the driver eventually walked into the prison after other guards pepper-sprayed the protesters.”
-- Police in San Antonio arrested a man in connection with gunshots fired through the windows of an ICE office in the city, per the Washington Examiner: “Local law enforcement responded around 3 a.m. CT Tuesday to shots fired at the ICE field office. Christopher Combs, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Antonio operations, called the shootings ‘cowardly, brazen, violent acts.’ … Police told News 4 the man is believed to have fired the shots from across the highway into the windows of the building. The building does not have bulletproof windows, and at least one shot penetrated a window.”
-- Days after ICE detained more than 600 workers in Morton, Miss., an additional 100 undocumented employees were fired. From Slate: “Poultry workers arriving for the afternoon shift at PH Food were met by a supervisor with a list of names of those who would be allowed to return to work. A few dozen, at most. Everyone else was fired on the spot. … Tuesday brings the total number of jobs lost in Morton to over 450, meaning that more than 10 percent of the population of this tiny Mississippi city has been either fired or imprisoned in the past seven days. …
“Mario Salazar, an immigrant from Chiapas, Mexico, had been arrested by ICE last Wednesday after 15 years spent in the United States. … Salazar was released early Thursday morning with a grillete — the ankle bracelet that makes future employment in the United States all but impossible. Then, on Tuesday, Salazar’s wife — who worked the afternoon shift at PH Food — lost her job in the mass firing. 'It’s something that we never expected, for all of us to be out of work,’ Salazar said. ‘All of a sudden for them to tell us there is no work. The thing is, we have family, we have kids, we had a future we built here, and we don’t know what will happen to the life we built for our kids. We don’t know. And that is the whole family’s fear right now.’”
-- Trump’s newest policy on immigrants will disadvantage poor people from Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia, altering the complexion of the American immigrant. From the Times: “Immigrants from Europe and Canada are least likely to face problems under the new regulations, according to one study, which found that, by contrast, nearly three-quarters of recent arrivals from Mexico and the Caribbean have relatively modest incomes that would jeopardize their chances at a green card. … Dario Aguirre, an immigration lawyer in Denver, said a 72-year-old grandmother with arthritic knees could be found a public charge because she cannot work and faces potentially expensive medical care. A construction worker making $30 an hour with three children and a stay-at-home spouse, he said, is likely to face more scrutiny than before about his ability to provide for his family without help from the government.”
-- Follow the money: “Why an Heiress Spent Her Fortune Trying to Keep Immigrants Out,” from The Times: “Cordelia Scaife May eventually found her life’s purpose: curbing what she perceived as the lethal threat of overpopulation by trying to shut America’s doors to immigrants. She believed that the United States was ‘being invaded on all fronts’ by foreigners, who ‘breed like hamsters’ and exhaust natural resources… An heiress to the Mellon banking and industrial fortune with a half-billion dollars at her disposal, Mrs. May helped create what would become the modern anti-immigration movement. She bankrolled the founding and operation of the nation’s three largest restrictionist groups — the Federation for American Immigration Reform, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies — as well as dozens of smaller ones, including some that have promulgated white nationalist views.”
THERE’S STILL A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
-- If you read just one story today, make it Josh Gerstein’s delicious yarn in Politico on jury selection in the trial of former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig. He captures the degree to which Washington feels like a small town for those of us who live here: “No one was formally picked for the 12-person jury that will consider Craig’s guilt or innocence on a false-statement charge stemming from Mueller’s investigation, but the process for weeding out those who couldn’t or shouldn’t sit in judgment of the veteran Democratic lawyer turned up a variety of political allegiances, personal connections and employment that could be problematic. Some of those ties got potential jurors kicked out of the pool for the case, but U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman retained about two-thirds of the roughly 50 potential jurors questioned in court on Wednesday. …
“At least two former White House officials were in the jury pool called to hear the charges against Craig, who also served as a White House lawyer during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. Bruce Reed, the domestic policy guru and a veteran of the Obama and Clinton White Houses, was among a set of jurors called in Monday and excused by the judge. Yet another Clinton White House official emerged in Wednesday’s batch: John Gibson, a former speechwriter for the National Security Council. Gibson, who now works for Fannie Mae, told the court he ‘admired’ Craig but didn’t really know him. Gibson said he went to law school with a potential character witness for Craig, Cheryl Mills, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, and holds her in very high esteem. [He was struck.]
“A Republican political consultant who’s married to a senior Trump appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services was questioned late in the day. The potential juror said he works on digital outreach for House and Senate candidates, as well as on presidential campaigns. ‘Some might find it a conflict of interest,’ the man said of his GOP ties, although he insisted he could be fair. No objection was raised by either side, so he remained in the pool. …
“With active members of both political parties in the jury pool, it seemed fitting that another major D.C. constituency also be represented: the Fourth Estate. Vox reporter Andrew Prokop, who has written repeatedly on the Mueller investigation and its offshoots, was among those summoned Wednesday. He expressed disappointment that the judge never made it to him in the screening process. ...
“Another potential juror … was quick to disclose to the judge a high-level media connection that might be an issue. ‘My boyfriend is a reporter for The New York Times,’ she declared. … The woman remained in the pool after neither side objected, to the apparent surprise of the judge. …
“Few potential jurors seemed to know much about Ukraine or the political rivalry that led to Craig’s 2012 report, but one was concerned she might know too much: a CIA analyst who covers the former Soviet republic. ‘I know large amounts of classified information about Ukraine,’ she said. … To the judge’s apparent surprise, neither side objected, so the CIA analyst remained in the pool.”
-- Talk about a jury of one’s peers! There’s something a little inspiring about voir dire playing out this way. This is how the justice system is supposed to work. Seriously, this is what the founders intended when they wrote the Sixth Amendment.
-- Another federal judge in the same courthouse rejected the House Judiciary Committee’s bid to link two lawsuits it contends will speed up its decision to recommend impeachment articles against Trump. From Politico: “The two lawsuits — one seeking access to [Mueller’s] grand jury evidence and another seeking to compel testimony from Mueller’s top witness, former White House counsel Don McGahn — should be considered together, the committee argued, because both arose from Mueller’s probe and are central to the House impeachment deliberations. But in an 11-page ruling, D.C. federal District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell ruled that connections between the two suits are ‘too superficial.’”
-- Later in the afternoon, the McGahn case was randomly assigned to Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. She was appointed to the bench in 2013 by Obama. Drawing her in the McGahn case seems like it's probably a lucky break for House Democrats.
-- An Internal Revenue Service analyst pleaded guilty to illegally leaking financial records belonging to Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Devlin Barrett reports: “John Fry, who had worked as an investigative analyst with the IRS in San Francisco, entered his plea in federal court there. Fry was charged in February with the unauthorized disclosure of suspicious activity reports, or SARs. Such reports are meant to flag potentially unlawful financial conduct to government investigators but do not necessarily indicate wrongdoing. … Prosecutors say Fry shared the reports about Cohen with Michael Avenatti … Officials say Avenatti took Fry’s information and made it public by posting it on social media.”
-- Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) won’t face discipline from the Florida Bar for posting menacing messages on social media aimed at former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen on the eve of his congressional testimony. The Tampa Bay Times reports: “Gaetz announced Wednesday on Twitter the results of a months-long investigation into his actions. Florida Bar spokeswoman Francine Walker confirmed that the organization found ‘no probable cause’ that the Panhandle Republican violated its rules for lawyers. The House ethics committee is also reviewing the … tweet he sent on Feb. 27. Gaetz, one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress, wrote: ‘Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…’”
-- In an article for Wired, American political consultant Sam Patten explains how he ended up ensnared in the Russia investigation because of his relationship with Ukrainian political operative Konstantin Kilimnik — or, as he calls him, “Kostya”: “My crime was my failure to register as a foreign agent. When the judge accepted my plea, I became the ninth American in postwar history to be convicted under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. In addition, I took responsibility (though was not charged) for prohibited conduct including purchasing $50,000 worth of tickets to the 2017 Presidential Inauguration on behalf of my Ukrainian client and not submitting to the Senate Intelligence Committee emails detailing how I’d purchased those tickets. One of the tickets was for Kostya and another was for Serhiy Lyovochkin, a Ukrainian oligarch and opposition leader. My unregistered activity consisted of drafting op-eds and communications to US government officials for Lyovochkin. The crime of omission was not registering, while the crime of commission was writing. Lyovochkin was the thread that connected me, [Paul] Manafort, and his deputy Kostya. After nearly two decades of advising foreign politicians on how to wage electoral campaigns in their own countries, the chickens had—for me—come home to roost.”
-- Chilling: Vladimir Putin's Russia is moving to reimpose Soviet-era restrictions on its scientists, forcing them to seek permission for meetings and submitting reports every time they encounter a foreign peer. From the Times: “The ministry instructed Russian scientists to ask permission to meet colleagues from abroad at least five days in advance, and to provide copies of the foreigners’ passports. It said that no Russian scientist should attend such a meeting alone — another Russian scientist should be present — and afterward the head of the Russian scientist’s institute should send a sealed report to the ministry with an ‘exhaustive account of the topics discussed.’ The guidelines also specified that Russian scientists would need their supervisors’ approval to meet foreign colleagues outside work.”
-- Some suspect Russia might have had a hand in Bulgaria’s largest hacking case. From the Times: “The hack was made public — with the data leaked to news media organizations from an email bearing a Russian address — just as Bulgaria was finalizing its purchase of eight new F-16s as part of an American-backed plan to replace the country’s aging Soviet-era jets and bring its air force in line with NATO standards. The deal, worth $1.25 billion — the largest military procurement by post-Communist Bulgaria — includes the jets, ammunition, equipment and pilot training. Six single-seat and two two-seat F-16s would be delivered by 2023. In the immediate aftermath of the breach, Bulgaria’s interior minister, Mladen Marinov, raised the prospect that Russia might have had a hand in the attack, given the timing. ‘Organized criminal groups involved in cyberattacks usually seek financial profits, but political motives are possible,’ he told reporters. ‘One can make a guess here.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:
Novelist Stephen King issued a clarification after Rep. Steve King's comments about rape and incest:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) emphasized the antiabortion nature of King's statements:
Former NFL player Colin Kaepernick marked the third anniversary of the first time he took a knee in protest:
Former president Bill Clinton expressed his support for demonstrators in Hong Kong:
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) criticized South Carolina Republicans for attempting to fast-track an abortion ban bill:
A former economic adviser had strong words for Trump:
The head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reacted like this to a reporter's thread of the multiple actions taken by his agency that have drawn criticism:
A New Yorker cartoon mocked Cuccinelli's recent comments about the Statue of Liberty:
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
“We sent our legislation to the Senate. ... 'Moscow Mitch' says that he is the ‘grim reaper.’ Imagine describing yourself as the ‘grim reaper,' that he’s going to bury all this legislation,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi, attacking her Senate counterpart with the nickname that he hates. (John Wagner)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
Samantha Bee tried to get to the bottom of whether evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. was secretly involved with his pool boy:
Stephen Colbert checked in on Pete Buttigieg's Iowa performance:
In an interview with CNN, Colbert said he thinks Trump is a “heretic to reality”:
Trevor Noah is worried about the first lady's immigration status:
And a former refugee shared the story of how she found the man whose act of kindness changed her life: