Bloomberg Once Blamed End of ‘Redlining’ for 2008 Collapse

WASHINGTON — At the height of the 2008 economic collapse, then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the elimination of a discriminatory housing practice known as “redlining” was responsible for instigating the meltdown.

“It all started back when there was a lot of pressure on banks to make loans to everyone,” Bloomberg, now a Democratic presidential candidate, said at a forum that was hosted by Georgetown University in September 2008. “Redlining, if you remember, was the term where banks took whole neighborhoods and said, ‘People in these neighborhoods are poor, they’re not going to be able to pay off their mortgages, tell your salesmen don’t go into those areas.’”

He continued: “And then Congress got involved — local elected officials, as well — and said, ‘Oh that’s not fair, these people should be able to get credit.’ And once you started pushing in that direction, banks started making more and more loans where the credit of the person buying the house wasn’t as good as you would like.”

Bloomberg, a billionaire who built a media and financial services empire before turning to electoral politics, was correct that the financial crisis was triggered in part by banks extending loans to borrowers who were ill-suited to repay them. But by attributing the meltdown to the elimination of redlining, a practice used by banks to discriminate against minority borrowers, Bloomberg appears to be blaming policies intended to bring equality to the housing market.

The term redlining comes from the “red lines” those in the financial industry would draw on a map to denote areas deemed ineligible for credit, frequently based on race.

“It’s been well documented that the 2008 crash was caused by unethical, predatory lending that deliberately targeted communities of color,” said Debra Gore-Mann, president and CEO of the Greenlining Institute, a nonprofit that works for racial and economic justice. “People of color were sold trick loans with exploding interest rates designed to push them into foreclosure. Our communities of color and low income communities were the victims of the crash, not the cause.”

Campaign spokesman Stu Loeser said that Bloomberg “attacked predatory lending” as mayor and, if elected president, has a plan to “help a million more Black families buy a house, and counteract the effects of redlining and the subprime mortgage crisis.”

The campaign also pointed to efforts by Bloomberg’s private philanthropy to help other cities craft policies that will help reduce evictions. He promised in a January speech to do a version of the very thing he criticized in 2008: Ask lenders to update their credit-scoring models, “because millions of black households don’t have a credit score which is needed to get a mortgage.”

After this story was published, Loeser added: “He’s saying that something bad – the financial crisis – followed something good, which is the fight against redlining that he was part of as Mayor.”

Bloomberg’s 2008 remarks stand in contrast with the decades-long positions some of his rivals have held.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s work as a professor and attorney has been devoted to the study of bankruptcy and the disastrous impact it has on the financial well-being of families. As a young Delaware senator, Joe Biden held hearings on unfair lending practices and sponsored legislation to ban discrimination in lending and crack down on industry figures who did.

On Thursday, Warren criticized Bloomberg for suggesting the end of redlining caused the crash.

“Out-of-control greed by Wall Street and big banks, and the corruption that lets them control our government, caused the crash,” she tweeted.

“I’m surprised that someone running for the Democratic nomination thinks the economy would be better off if we just let banks be more overtly racist,” she said. “We need to confront the shameful legacy of discrimination, not lie about it like Mike Bloomberg.”

Bloomberg’s redlining remarks are the latest instance of his past comments by him that have resurfaced in recent days that make him appear racially insensitive.

On Tuesday, an audio recording ricocheted around social media of Bloomberg defending the police department’s use of the controversial “stop-and-frisk” tactic during a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute.

Under the program, New York City police officers made it a routine practice to stop and search multitudes of mostly black and Hispanic men to see if they were carrying weapons.

Although he has since apologized for his support for the policy, in the recording Bloomberg said that “95%” of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops.” To combat crime, he said, “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

Bloomberg’s resurfaced comments about redlining come as he’s in the midst of a two-day tour of the South that in part is focused on building relationships with black voters who are the backbone of the Democratic Party. On Thursday, he plans to launch “Mike for Black America”

Speaking to reporters in Tennessee on Wednesday, he refused to directly apologize for the 2015 comments. In response to repeated questions, he said, “I don’t think those words reflect how I led the most diverse city in the nation.”

“I apologized for the practice and the pain that it caused,” he said Wednesday. “It was five years ago. And, you know, it’s just not the way that I think, and it doesn’t reflect what I do every day.”

Introducing Bloomberg at an event in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Dr. Elenora Woods, president of the city’s NAACP chapter, said he would be a tireless fighter for economic justice for black Americans.

“Look, I know what racism looks like. I know what it looks like, and that’s not Mike Bloomberg,” she said.


Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe in Washington and Kathleen Ronayne in Chattanooga, Tennessee, contributed to this report.

The post Bloomberg Once Blamed End of ‘Redlining’ for 2008 Collapse appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Resigns After Caucus Chaos

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party announced his resignation Wednesday after a disastrous caucus process beset by technical glitches led to a dayslong delay in reporting the results, inconsistencies in the numbers and no clear winner.

The embarrassing episode also threatened Iowa’s cherished status as the first voting contest of the presidential primary season and led both front-runners to request a partial recanvass of the results.

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“The fact is that Democrats deserved better than what happened on caucus night. As chair of this party, I am deeply sorry for what happened and bear the responsibility for any failures on behalf of the Iowa Democratic Party,” Chairman Troy Price wrote in a resignation letter a week and a half after Iowa’s caucuses.

“While it is my desire to stay in this role and see this process through to completion, I do believe it is time for the Iowa Democratic Party to begin looking forward, and my presence in my current role makes that more difficult.”

Price said his departure would occur as soon as the state party elects a replacement, and he called an emergency Saturday meeting to do so.

After a breakdown in tallying the results on Feb. 3, it took until Feb. 6 for the state party, which operates the series of roughly 1,700 local meetings statewide, to issue what it said are complete results.

In those figures, released by the party, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by two state delegate equivalents out of 2,152 counted. That is a margin of 0.09 percentage points.

The Associated Press said it was unable to declare a winner, based on the available information. The results as reported by the Iowa Democratic Party, the AP believes, may not be fully accurate.

Price had called the delays in reporting results “unacceptable.” He said the party would conduct a “thorough, transparent and independent examination” of what caused the delays. He apologized for the breakdown in the process.

Both Buttigieg’s and Sanders’ campaigns requested a partial recanvass of the Iowa results, which the Iowa Democratic Party approved. The party says it expects the recanvass of more than 80 precincts to begin on Sunday and last two days. A recanvass is not a recount, but a check of the vote count against paper records created by caucus leaders to ensure the counts were reported accurately.

The party has said it will not change mistakes in the math and the only opportunity to correct it would be a recount, which would be the candidates’ next option after the recanvass is completed.

Price was elected to his second term as chairman of the state party in December 2018. In a statement released after his reelection, he noted that he was “incredibly proud” of the success that Iowa Democrats had in the 2018 midterms and looked forward to building on it.

“I cannot wait to work with them again on what could very well be one of the most consequential Iowa Caucuses of our time,” he said.

Price previously was part of several Democratic campaigns in Iowa, including those of former President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Price also had served as the party’s executive director and led One Iowa, an LGBT advocacy group.

The Iowa Democratic Party instituted new rules for the 2020 contest that were meant to enhance transparency in the process.

In previous years, the Iowa Democratic Party reported just one number: the number of state delegates won by each candidate. For the first time, the party this year reported two other numbers — who had the most votes at the beginning and at the end of the night.

The additional data is a nod to Sanders and his supporters, who argued that the previous rules essentially robbed him of victory in his 2016 race against Clinton. That contest ended in a narrow delegate victory for Clinton in Iowa.

The post Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Resigns After Caucus Chaos appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Newspaper Publisher McClatchy Files for Bankruptcy Protection

The publisher of the Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and dozens of other newspapers across the country has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The newspaper industry has been devastated by changing technology that has sent the vast majority of people online in search of news. While McClatchy and others have pushed digital operations aggressively, advertising dollars have continued to flow toward internet giants like Facebook and Google.

McClatchy Co.’s 30 newsrooms, including The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer in Raleigh, and The Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, will continue to operate as usual as the publisher reorganizes under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The publisher’s origins date to 1857 when it first began publishing a four-page paper in Sacramento, California, following the California Gold Rush. That paper became The Sacramento Bee.

McClatchy has received $50 million in financing from Encina Business Credit that will enable it to maintain current operations for the company, which is still based in Sacramento.

“When local media suffers in the face of industry challenges, communities suffer: polarization grows, civic connections fray and borrowing costs rise for local governments,” said CEO Craig Forman. “We are moving with speed and focus to benefit all our stakeholders and our communities.”

McClatchy expects fourth-quarter revenues of $183.9 million, down 14% from a year earlier. Its 2019 revenue is anticipated to be down 12.1% from the previous year. That would mean that the publisher’s revenue will have slid for six consecutive years.

The company expects to pull its listing from the New York Stock Exchange as a publicly traded company, and go private.

McClatchy filed for bankruptcy protection in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York. Its restructuring plan needs approval from its secured lenders, bondholders and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

McClatchy has suffered as readers give up traditional subscriptions and get news online and like other publishers, it’s tried to follow them there.

Digital-only subscriptions have increased by almost 50% year over year, McClatchy said. The company has more than 200,000 digital-only subscribers and over 500,000 paid digital customer relationships.

Yet the migration to digital publications has not offset the loss of advertisers that once relied on newspapers.

The estimated total U.S. daily newspaper circulation including both print and digital in 2018 fell 8% from the prior year to 28.6 million for weekday. Sunday circulation fell 9% to 30.8 million, according to the Pew Research Center for Journalism and Media.

Last year, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet bleakly predicted the demise of “most local newspapers in America” within five years, except for ones bought by billionaires. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, both national publications, are thriving after being bought by billionaires. The Boston Globe, Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Las Vegas Review-Journal are among other major American newspapers that appear to have steadied themselves after being sold to local wealthy individuals.

Even the arrival of moneyed interests can prove fleeting.

Two weeks ago, billionaire Warren Buffett said he was selling all of Berkshire Hathaway’s publications; 31 daily newspapers in 10 states as well as 49 paid weekly publications with digital sites. Buffett is a lifelong booster of newspapers but he has said for several years that he expects most of them to continue on their declining trajectory, save for a handful of national papers such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

“McClatchy remains a strong operating company with an enduring commitment to independent journalism that spans five generations of my family,” said Chairman Kevin McClatchy, the great-great grandson of the company founder, James McClatchy.

The company has also worked on its financials, trimming operating expenses by $186.9 million for the three-year period ended in December. It’s also paid off about $153.5 million in debt in the same period.

Forman said McClatchy doesn’t anticipate any adverse impact on qualified pension benefits for substantially all of the plan’s participants and beneficiaries.


Josh Funk contributed to this report from Omaha, Nebraska.

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Louisiana Pioneers New Ways to Suppress Environmental Activism

As the Bayou Bridge Pipeline was under construction in 2018, Anne White Hat ventured deep into the Atchafalaya Swamp in St. Martin Parish to protest it.

St. Martin is one of 11 parishes crossed by the pipeline, which brings crude oil from Texas to refineries in Louisiana. Though White Hat had permission to be there from some of the more than 100 people who jointly own the tract where she held her protest, she didn’t have permission from all. She was arrested on two felony counts related to trespassing. She posted a $21,000 bond and was released.

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Two years later, the district attorney still hasn’t decided whether to proceed with the charges: two counts of unauthorized entry of a critical infrastructure. The maximum penalty is five years in prison, with the possibility of hard labor and a fine of up to $1,000.

“It is intimidating when you’re looking at facing prison in South Louisiana,” she said.

Ironically, a court later found that the pipeline company itself had been trespassing at the time of White Hat’s arrest. The main owner, Energy Transfer Partners, had not obtained easement agreements with all landowners to begin construction, nor had it been granted permission to do so through eminent domain. Its penalty: a $450 fine paid to the landowners.

The judge who set White Hat’s bond at $21,000 was the same judge who imposed Energy Transfer Partners’ fine.“This is yet one more in a long line of examples of how Louisiana laws are first made by oil and gas corporations and then are ignored by the same corporations if they feel like it,” said Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University who is representing White Hat pro bono.

Energy Transfer Partners did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

Louisiana has blazed a trail for other states in discouraging environmental protests by raising the legal stakes for those who trespass on or near “critical” oil and gas infrastructure — which includes refineries, chemical plants and ports. In 2004, it was the first state to make that crime a felony.

Louisiana’s pioneering law can be traced to corporate lobbyists. BP and DuPont were among the energy and chemical companies that produced a 2003 guide disseminated to state officials, arguing that enhanced penalties would discourage attacks by terrorists that could cause economic disruptions.

Two years ago, legislators added oil and gas pipelines to the list of infrastructure deemed critical. In White Hat’s view, the entire suite of laws is anti-democratic. “They’re using the state to protect their corporate interests,” she said.

Residents have repeatedly pushed back against pipelines, proposed plants and existing industry in their backyards. While such opposition is almost never monolithic, it is often overwhelming at the local level. But the state’s elected leaders have historically sided with industry, in some cases passing new laws aimed at quelling opposition.

Legislators are trying to reduce local officials’ power to decide whether to exempt industry from local taxes. Years ago, when a local board made up of experts filed an ambitious lawsuit that aimed to hold oil and gas companies accountable for damaging coastal wetlands, state officials undermined it. In another episode, they passed a law that barred communities from using incorporation to collect property taxes from chemical plants. And more than once they have sought to punish student law clinics that represent communities fighting industry.

This year’s legislative session, which begins in March, will again include bills to restrict local input into industrial tax exemptions.

Some of these efforts are part of a larger, coordinated strategy. The three Louisiana lawmakers who sponsored the trespassing bill were members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a controversial organization that brings lawmakers and corporate lobbyists together to draft “model legislation” that they then shop to other states.

Louisiana’s 2004 trespassing law became just such a template. Fifteen years later, 10 states have similar laws. “Louisiana was a particularly important state,” said Connor Gibson, an investigator with Greenpeace.

The addition of pipelines to the law two years ago came in response to protests that garnered national attention, notably those at Standing Rock in North Dakota, which became the focal point of indigenous protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline. “This just protects against those who want to inhibit commerce,” bill sponsor Rep. Major Thibaut said as he introduced the bill in 2018.

Thibaut, now president of Pointe Coupee Parish, said the law protects workers and would-be protesters from safety concerns on work sites with heavy equipment. When asked whether protesters should be arrested if they don’t interfere with workers, he said, “That’s up to the courts to determine.”

In a prepared statement, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association President Tyler Gray said the law “does not infringe on an individual’s constitutional rights.”

So far, 15 people have been arrested for violating Louisiana’s new law: 14 protesters and a journalist covering them. Some of them filed a suit in May, claiming the law chills free speech and is thus unconstitutional. The suit is pending.

Mounting Political Pressure

For decades, an obscure Louisiana board doled out 10-year property tax exemptions to nearly every major manufacturer that was building or expanding a plant in the state.

It was the definition of a rubber stamp. Between 1997 and 2016, the board rejected just eight of the 16,931 applications for relief through the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, for an approval rate of 99.95%, according to an analysis by Together Louisiana, a grassroots organization that has pushed to rein in the program.

That changed when Gov. John Bel Edwards signed an executive order in 2016 that gave local governing bodies affected by the exemptions a say over them for the first time. The breaks can have a big effect on local government’s bottom line.

Since the 2016 executive order, the local agencies that would forgo money on industrial tax exemptions have gotten to vote on them. The East Baton Rouge Parish School Board last year rejected a tax break for an expansion Exxon Mobil had completed two years earlier. That prompted heavy pushback from industry.

Unsuccessful legislation last year would have required parishes to create a single board that votes up or down on the tax breaks, rather than letting the sheriff, the school board and the parish government approve or deny them piecemeal. Explaining his bill, Sen. Bodi White, R-Baton Rouge, said, “I didn’t elect my school board for economic development to bring companies to this state.”

A broad swath of local officials fought to kill White’s bill, including associations of sheriffs, school boards and parish governments. “A parish governing authority should be able to decide whether they can afford to give an exemption and make sure the company getting the exemption is holding up their end of the deal,” said Guy Cormier, executive director of the lobby for parish governments.

A failed bill filed by Rep. Barry Ivey, R-Central, would have gone even further, putting the exemption back in the state’s hands. Ivey, who said manufacturers need more certainty, is already working on a similar bill this year. “I intend to start off where I left off at the end of the 2019 session,” he said.

Despite a recent boom in industrial plants moving to Louisiana, Edwards’ modest reforms were used by his Republican challengers in last year’s gubernatorial race as evidence of the Democrat’s hostility toward industry. Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone — who garnered 49% of the vote in November — made undoing Edwards’ tweaks a major part of his platform.

Edwards, now in his second term, appears to have heard the complaints. He is trying to get local governments, including those in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, to dump new rules that bar exemptions for projects, like Exxon’s, that were completed by the time the break was requested.

Louisiana’s Love Affair With Industry

As Louisiana’s wetlands vanish, coastal communities have become ever more susceptible to storm surges and sea level rise. And while there are disagreements over how to apportion blame for the erosion, it’s undisputed that oil and gas exploration has played a key role — in part, by dredging 10,000
miles of canals.

And so, in 2013, the board that oversees flood protection in most of metropolitan New Orleans filed an audacious lawsuit that sought to hold 97 oil and gas companies accountable for damaging the region’s natural flood defenses. It set off an immediate firestorm.

The board’s lawsuit quickly earned it rogue status — even though, after the levee failures of Hurricane Katrina, levee board members for the first time were required to have specific qualifications. As a result of those changes, the board that filed the suit was made up of members nominated by professional groups, appointed by Gov. Kathleen Blanco and confirmed by the Senate.

Historian and author John Barry, who was vice president of the board, estimated the Legislature filed 20 separate bills in 2014 to gut the lawsuit. “The Legislature made a very sincere effort to kill the lawsuit after it had already been filed,” he said. “In the end, we defeated all but one piece of legislation.”

The surviving bill, authored by former state Sens. Robert Adley and Bret Allain, retroactively voided the suit. Adley said his beef was that the board didn’t give the proper authorities a heads-up before filing suit. A state judge later found the new law to be unconstitutional, in three different ways.

That wasn’t the end of the assault. Then-Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican who opposed the suit, tried to swap out the authority’s board. He replaced four of the nine board members, dumping coastal experts in favor of political appointees. Even then, a narrow majority of the board backed the suit.

Ultimately, the lawsuit was thrown out by U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown, who said oil and gas companies had no legal obligation to pay the levee authority for wetland damage, a view upheld by an appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Since then, seven coastal parishes, including New Orleans, have filed similar lawsuits against oil and gas companies over land loss in their communities, and Edwards has urged other coastal parishes to follow suit. None of the cases have been decided.

The Chilling Effect

Those who push back against industry in Louisiana often find themselves outmaneuvered.

In 1994, residents of Geismar, in Ascension Parish, were hoping to follow in the footsteps of their upriver neighbors in St. Gabriel by incorporating into a town. The move would give residents more political clout — including the ability to say no to new plants — and bring in tax dollars from nearby industrial facilities.

The late Amos Favorite Sr., who was 71 at the time, was a leading advocate.

“These plants pay a lot of money to Ascension Parish. We (in Geismar) don’t see anything but pollution,” Favorite said in 1994.

But the following year, 11 chemical plants in Ascension Parish filed a lawsuit to quash the incorporation. With that case pending, state Rep. Jerry Luke LeBlanc, a Democrat, sponsored a bill to ban new municipalities from including industrial areas into their boundaries. Then-Gov. Edwin Edwards signed it into law in 1995.

Citing the new law, the court sided with the plants.

The new law meant the planned city would have a much smaller tax base and much less say over the polluters in its midst. Geismar’s drive for incorporation lost steam.

Favorite’s daughter, Malaika Favorite, an artist who still lives in Geismar, said the episode took an emotional toll on her father. “It was really disappointing to him,” she said. “The plants have so much power.”

Restricting Representation

New laws are hardly the only method Louisiana elected officials have used to stifle residents’ opposition to industry.

In 1997, former Gov. Mike Foster pressured the Louisiana Supreme Court to trim the sails of student law clinics after the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic helped St. James Parish residents fight a polyvinyl chloride plant the chemical giant Shintech wanted to build in Convent.

Foster badly wanted to see the Shintech plant built. He mocked the plant’s two most vocal opponents, Emelda West and Pat Melancon of Convent, as “a bunch of housewives.”

Calls to Shintech seeking comment were not returned.

In addition to challenging Shintech’s air and water permits, Convent residents — with the help of Tulane — filed a complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency claiming the state violated the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act when it approved the project.

The complaint became the first key test of an executive order signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1994 that aimed to address the fact that communities of color bore a disproportionate burden of pollution.

Foster was apoplectic. He encouraged Tulane alumni and business leaders to reconsider their financial support for the university.

Several industry lobbying groups, meanwhile, urged the Louisiana Supreme Court, which oversees student law practice in the state, to investigate the law clinic.

Student law practice allows legal novices to gain hands-on experience, while providing legal assistance to those who would not otherwise have access.

The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the state’s most powerful business lobby, had recently helped three pro-business justices win seats on the Supreme Court. The chief justice, Pascal Calogero, was up for election the following year.

At LABI’s urging, the court began investigating the Tulane clinic in 1997. As the election heated up, Calogero — and all but one justice — voted to restrict student law assistance. The new rules banned the representation of any community organization affiliated with a national organization — like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club or the NAACP and prohibited students and supervising lawyers from initiating contact with potential clients.

The new rules also placed limits on how much residents could earn and still receive student representation. A family of three, for example, could not get assistance if they made more than $13,650 annually.

The head of the Association of American Law Schools called the new requirements “the most restrictive student practice rule in the nation.”

Ironically, the new rules — which have since been relaxed some — came too late to save Shintech’s plant. The company announced in 1998 it had scratched its plan, opting instead for a much smaller facility in Iberville Parish.

The Tulane clinic has continued to garner the ire of industry over the last two decades. In 2010, Adley introduced another bill aimed at stopping the clinic from going after chemical plants. It would have yanked state funding from Tulane if its law clinic sued a government agency. As the bill was introduced, Dan Borné, then head of Louisiana Chemical Association, said: “My board acted on taking an aggressive approach toward the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic. This is part of that approach.”

But Adley’s bill to defund Tulane was ill-timed. One month earlier, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. Lawmakers were concerned that if the bill passed, residents affected by the spill wouldn’t be able to get legal assistance from Tulane. The bill failed.

Lisa Jordan, director of the clinic, co-wrote the civil rights petition to the EPA on behalf of Convent residents two decades ago. Even though the case put a crimp on the clinic, she’s proud of taking on the fight. “It was hard, and it had a really good result for the clients,” she said. “And because it told me this is such important work, even when you don’t necessarily succeed … to give people a legal voice that they otherwise couldn’t have had.”

Monique Harden, of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice who co-wrote the civil rights petition, said the repeated assaults on the clinic exemplify how Louisiana officials tend to react to environmental uprisings.

“There is this systemwide hostility to people fighting back,” Harden said. “They want to cut support. But not just cut support, cut your remedy.”

Share Your Story

Do you live in one of these affected parishes? Share your story with us. ProPublica and The Times-Picayune and The Advocate are investigating the massive chemical plants in the industrial stretch between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and hearing from you will help us tell more stories.

Talk to us if:

  • You work or have worked in an industrial facility in Louisiana, and you can tell us what your experience has been like.
  • There’s a new plant in your neighborhood, and you can tell us how your community has been responding to it.
  • You’ve been in contact with the DEQ and/or your parish government about a plant and can share with us what the responses from those entities has been.
  • You can talk to us about the impact of these plants in your community, including sharing evidence like signage, emails, residue or other anecdotes with us.

Here’s how to talk to us:

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Trump Quietly Slashes Pay Raise for Federal Workers

In a move that drew outrage from labor unions and progressives, President Donald Trump this week quietly took steps to slash a scheduled pay raise for millions of federal workers from 2.5% to 1% due to supposed concerns about “keeping the nation on a fiscally sustainable course.”

“I have determined that for 2021 the across-the-board base pay increase will be limited to 1.0%,” Trump said in a message to Congress on Monday. “This alternative pay plan decision will not materially affect our ability to attract and retain a well‑qualified federal workforce.”

The president’s proposed “adjustment” to the scheduled pay raise will take effect in January 2021 unless Congress passes legislation to override the change.

Just a day after his message to Congress, Trump tweeted, “BEST USA ECONOMY IN HISTORY!”

Critics highlighted the disconnect between the president’s justification for cutting the planned raise for federal workers and his boasts about the state of the U.S. economy.

“Trump claimed we had the ‘BEST USA ECONOMY IN HISTORY’ and cited ‘serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare’ to justify limiting pay increases for federal workers,” tweeted Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). “These are contradicting claims. They can’t both be true.”

This is just the latest action in @realDonaldTrump’s war on civil servants. He held their pay hostage during the failed #TrumpShutdown, worked to undermine their collective bargaining rights and proposed cuts to their retirement benefits. #TrumpBudget.

— Steve Cohen (@RepCohen) February 12, 2020

Slate‘s Elliot Hannon wrote Wednesday that “cutting the 2.5% raise set for 2021 to 1% for millions of federal workers seems a bit austere in the face of such self-proclaimed boom times.”

“Even more absurdly, Trump is justifying ordering the cut on the grounds that the country is in the midst of a ‘national emergency or serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare,’ which the White House says authorizes the president to ‘implement alternative plans for pay adjustments,'” Hannon added. “So which is it? The best economy in the history of economies or a national economic emergency? Either way, somebody’s lying.”

Pat Garofalo, managing editor at Talk Povertytweeted that warnings about fiscal sustainability are not credible coming from the president who signed into law $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich in 2017.

The administration approved trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, but sure, shortchanging federal employees is what will set the nation on a “fiscally sustainable course”

— Pat Garofalo (@Pat_Garofalo) February 12, 2020

Trump’s move came on the same day he proposed his budget for fiscal year 2021, which proposes cutting federal workers’ retirement benefits as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Tony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), the largest independent union of federal workers in the U.S., said a 1% pay raise would “do nothing to close the gap between federal employee salaries and their higher-paid private sector counterparts, it won’t keep up with inflation, it won’t keep up with private sector wage increases.”

“For an administration that has added $3 trillion to the federal debt, gouging federal employee pay and benefits in the name of deficit reduction is ridiculous,” Reardon said in a statement. “NTEU will fight these regressive proposals on retirement while supporting existing legislation calling for a 3.5% pay increase in 2021.”

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Girls Sue to Block Participation of Transgender Athletes

HARTFORD, Conn. — The families of three female high school runners filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block transgender athletes in Connecticut from participating in girls sports.

Selina Soule, a senior at Glastonbury High School, Chelsea Mitchell, a senior at Canton High School and Alanna Smith, a sophomore at Danbury High School are represented by the conservative nonprofit organization Alliance Defending Freedom. They argue that allowing athletes with male anatomy to compete has deprived them of track titles and scholarship opportunities.

“Mentally and physically, we know the outcome before the race even starts,” said Smith, who is the daughter of former Major League pitcher Lee Smith. “That biological unfairness doesn’t go away because of what someone believes about gender identity. All girls deserve the chance to compete on a level playing field.”

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The lawsuit was filed against the Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the boards of education in Bloomfield, Cromwell, Glastonbury, Canton and Danbury.

“Forcing girls to be spectators in their own sports is completely at odds with Title IX, a federal law designed to create equal opportunities for women in education and athletics,” attorney Christiana Holcomb said. “Connecticut’s policy violates that law and reverses nearly 50 years of advances for women.”

The Connecticut Association of Schools-Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference says its policy follows a state anti-discrimination law that says students must be treated in school by the gender with which they identify and the group believes the policy is “appropriate under both state and federal law.”

The lawsuit follows a Title IX complaint filed last June by the girls’ families and the Alliance Defending Freedom with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which is investigating the policy.

The lawsuit centers on two transgender sprinters, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, who have frequently outperformed their cisgender competitors.

The two seniors have combined to win 15 girls state indoor or outdoor championship races since 2017, according to the lawsuit.

The three plaintiffs have competed directly against them, almost always losing to Miller and usually behind Yearwood. Mitchell finished third in the 2019 state championship in the girls 55-meter indoor track competition behind Miller and Yearwood.

“Our dream is not to come in second or third place, but to win fair and square,” Mitchell said. “All we’re asking for is a fair chance.”

Yearwood, a senior at Cromwell High School, and Miller, a senior at Bloomfield High School, issued statements vehemently defending their right to run in girls events.

“I have faced discrimination in every aspect of my life and I no longer want to remain silent,” Miller said. “I am a girl and I am a runner. I participate in athletics just like my peers to excel, find community, and meaning in my life. It is both unfair and painful that my victories have to be attacked and my hard work ignored.”

Yearwood said she also is a girl and has been hurt by the efforts to “tear down my successes.”

“I will never stop being me!” she said in her statement. “I will never stop running! I hope that the next generation of trans youth doesn’t have to fight the fights that I have. I hope they can be celebrated when they succeed not demonized. For the next generation, I run for you!”

The American Civil Liberties Union said it will represent the transgender teens and defend the Connecticut policy in court. Attorney Chase Strangio, deputy director for Trans Justice with the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project, said transgender girls also are protected by Title IX.

“The idea that the law only protects the individuals with XX chromosomes as compared to individuals with XY chromosomes is found nowhere in the legislative history of Title IX, in any implementing regulation or in any other aspect of the interpretation of Title IX over the last 50 years by the courts,” he said.

The attorneys Alliance Defending Freedom is asking the court to prevent the transgender girls from competing while the lawsuit moves forward. No hearing date on that request had been scheduled Wednesday, the day before the state’s indoor track championships begin.

Connecticut is one of 17 states that allowed transgender high school athletes to compete without restrictions in 2019, according to, which tracks state policies in high school sports across the country. Eight states had restrictions that make it difficult for transgender athletes to compete while in school, such requiring athletes to compete under the gender on their birth certificate, or allowing them to participate only after going through sex reassignment procedures or hormone therapies, according to Transathlete.

Yearwood and Miller have said they are still in the process of transitioning but have declined to provide details.

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Barr Agrees to Testify as Democrats Question his Leadership

WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee next month, appearing for the first time before the panel as questions swirl about whether he intervened in the case of a longtime ally of President Donald Trump.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., released a letter Wednesday to Barr “to confirm your agreement to testify” on March 31. In the letter, Nadler and committee Democrats write that they have concerns that Barr has misused the criminal justice system for political purposes.

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“In your tenure as attorney general, you have engaged in a pattern of conduct in legal matters relating to the president that raises significant concerns for this committee,” Nadler and the Democrats wrote.

The Justice Department confirmed Barr would testify. His appearance will be the first before the House Judiciary panel since he became attorney general a year ago, and since he declined an invitation to testify about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report after it was released.

The Democrats said they plan to ask Barr about the department’s decision this week to overrule four federal prosecutors and lower the amount of prison time it would seek for Trump’s confidant Roger Stone. The four prosecutors immediately quit the case, in which Stone was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.

They said they will also ask Barr about his department’s announcement that it is taking information that Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is gathering in Ukraine about the president’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and his son. The House voted in December to impeach Trump because of his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democrats; the GOP-led Senate acquitted him this month.

“In the past week alone, you have taken steps that raise grave questions about your leadership,” the Democrats wrote.

After the department indicated it would overrule the prosecutors, Trump tweeted congratulations to Barr “for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have been brought,” suggesting the prosecutors had gone rogue.

The department insisted the decision to undo the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night, before Trump began tweeting about it, and that prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

The Senate has shown less interest in grilling Barr on the Stone episode, defending the department’s decision to reduce the sentence and saying they didn’t expect to call him specifically to discuss it.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Wednesday that he had spoken to the Justice Department and was told that their sentencing guidelines call for three and a half or four and a half years, instead of the seven to nine years the prosecutors had recommended.

“I don’t think any of us should tweet about an ongoing case, but having said that, I appreciate the Department of Justice making sure that their recommendations to the court are to seek justice for the law as it’s written,” Graham said.


Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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U.N. List Targets Firms Linked to Israeli Settlements

JERUSALEM — The U.N. human rights office on Wednesday released a list of more than 100 companies it said are complicit in violating Palestinian human rights by operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank — a first-ever international attempt to name and shame businesses that has drawn fierce Israeli condemnation.

The list’s publication after repeated delays escalated a looming showdown between Israel and the international community over its more than half-century policy of building settlements in the West Bank. Emboldened by a new U.S. Mideast initiative, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to annex Israel’s more than 100 settlements, while the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague has indicated she will soon launch a war-crimes investigation into settlement policies.

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The list included well known global companies, among them Airbnb, Motorola and General Mills. Although the vast majority of the world considers settlements illegal, Wednesday’s report did not accuse the companies of violating international law. Instead, it appeared to be aimed at pressuring them by drawing negative attention to their ties to a much-maligned Israeli policy.

“I am conscious this issue has been, and will continue to be, highly contentious,” said Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. “However, after an extensive and meticulous review process, we are satisfied this fact-based report reflects the serious consideration that has been given to this unprecedented and highly complex mandate.”

The Human Rights Council in 2016 instructed the U.N.’s human rights office to create a “database” of companies deemed to be linked to or supportive of the settlements. Beginning with a potential list of over 300 companies, it narrowed it down to 112 firms involved in practices that raised human rights concerns, such as settlement construction, security services, banking and equipment that was used to demolish Palestinian property.

The report does not call for sanctions or have any concrete impact on the companies. But Israeli officials accused the report of caving in to pressure from the grassroots Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel and raised concerns the list could be used as the basis for boycotts and other economic pressure against the companies.

In a statement, Netanyahu called the rights council “unimportant.”

“Instead of the organization dealing with human rights, it only tries to disparage Israel. We strongly reject this contemptible effort,” he said.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki hailed the list as a “victory for international law and for the diplomatic effort to dry up the sources of the colonial system represented by illegal settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

With broad international backing, the Palestinians claim the West Bank and east Jerusalem as parts of a future independent state. Israel, which captured both areas in the 1967 Mideast war, has annexed east Jerusalem — a step that is not internationally recognized — and said it has no intention of dismantling any of its West Bank settlements. Nearly 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank, in addition to more than 200,000 in east Jerusalem.

In a reflection of how entrenched the settlements have become, the list is dominated by Israeli companies, including leading banks, construction companies, supermarkets and mobile phone operators.

But there also were international companies, including travel firms like Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, and Opodo. Many offer vacation rentals in the settlements.

Other names include consumer food maker General Mills, tech and communications giants Motorola Solutions and Altice Europe, and infrastructure companies like France’s Egis and Alstom, and British company JC Bamford Excavators.

In a statement to The Associated Press, JC Bamford said it is “not involved in the activities referred to in this report” and should not have been included. The company’s products are offered through a local dealer, Comasco, that also appeared on the list.

Airbnb declined comment. The San Francisco company said in November 2018 that it was removing its listings in West Bank settlements. After some Israeli-American homeowners sued, the company reversed course and said it would donate all profits from the listings to humanitarian aid organizations.

Israel and the U.S. regularly accuse the Human Rights Council of anti-Israel bias, and the Trump administration withdrew the United States in 2018 — faulting the U.N. for accepting autocratic governments that the administration said have repeatedly violated human rights.

The rights council is made up of 47 governments, with countries like Libya, Venezuela and Somalia among its members. The overwhelming majority of resolutions passed by the council has focused on Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, and Israel is the only country in the world whose policies automatically face scrutiny at every council session.

For decades, the U.S. joined the rest of the international community in criticizing settlement construction. That began to change after President Donald Trump took office in 2017. Surrounded by advisers with close ties to the settlement movement, Trump took a more sympathetic line toward Israel and halted the automatic criticism of settlements of his predecessors.

In November, the U.S. said it did not consider settlements illegal. And last month, Trump unveiled a Mideast plan that would allow Israel to retain permanent control over large parts of the territory, including all of its settlements.

This warm U.S. embrace could cause trouble for Israel. Emboldened by the Trump plan, Netanyahu has vowed to soon annex the settlements — a step that International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has warned against as she prepares her decision on whether to open a war crimes inquiry. Under U.S. pressure, Netanyahu has put off his annexation plans until after March 2 Israeli elections.

The Palestinians have rejected Trump’s plan, and other countries have expressed little support for it while remaining opposed to the settlements.

The rights council had never before requested such a list scrutinizing corporate activities. The report said its authors had communicated directly with the companies to allow them to defend themselves or say whether they had changed their practices. The report’s authors called on the council to set up “a group of independent experts” to update the database each year.

Human Rights Watch, a vocal critic of the settlements, applauded the report.

“The long-awaited release of the U.N. settlement business database should put all companies on notice: To do business with illegal settlements is to aid in the commission of war crimes,” said Bruno Stagno, HRW’s deputy executive director for advocacy.

But Israel’s allies accused the council of collaborating with the BDS movement — a grassroots Palestinian-led coalition that advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The movement says it advocates nonviolent tactics to protest Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Israel and its allies say BDS has a deeper agenda of destroying the country and accuse it of anti-Semitism — a charge the movement strongly denies.

“The U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights has officially decided to endorse anti-Semitic BDS by issuing a defamatory list of companies it claims are supposedly involved in ‘settlement activity,’” said Anne Herzberg, legal adviser for NGO Monitor, an Israeli advocacy group that is highly critical of the U.N.

But in a statement, the BDS movement called for action against the companies. “These companies must be held to account, including through strategic boycotts and divestment campaigns,” it said.


Keaten reported from Geneva. Associated Press writer Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit contributed.

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Fall in New Cases Raises Hope in Virus Outbreak in China

BEIJING — The number of new cases of the coronavirus in China dropped for a second straight day, health officials said Wednesday in a possible glimmer of hope amid the outbreak that has infected over 45,000 people worldwide and killed more than 1,100.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, meanwhile, promised tax cuts and other aid to industry as the ruling Communist Party tries to limit the mounting damage to the economy. And in Japan, 39 new cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined at Yokohama, bringing the total to 174 on the Diamond Princess.

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A look at the latest developments in the crisis, which started in December in the city of Wuhan:


The number of new cases has trended down in the past week, raising hopes that the epidemic may be plateauing.

China’s National Health Commission said 2,015 new cases had been tallied on Tuesday, the second straight daily decline and down from nearly 3,900 a week ago. Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the situation is still grim but “we have seen some positive changes.”

“I’m going to be optimistic that is a sign that their aggressive actions have been effective, but I really do think it’s too soon to say that for sure, not having hands on the data ourselves,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

She said she is hopeful an advance team now in China from the World Health Organization will be able to examine the findings: “It would certainly be reassuring if we were now seeing at least a slowdown of this outbreak in China.”

All but one of the deaths recorded so far have been in China, as have more than 99% of all reported infections in the world. The country has put an unprecedented 60 million people in a near quarantine.


China is struggling to restart its economy after the annual Lunar New Year holiday was extended to try to curb the spread of the virus. Traffic remained light in Beijing, and many people were still working at home.

Xi’s announcement of tax cuts came as companies face increasing losses because of the closing of factories, offices, shops and other businesses in the most sweeping anti-disease measures ever imposed.

A large cluster of cases in Tianjin, a port city southeast of Beijing, has been traced to a department store, Chinese state media said. One-third of Tianjin’s 104 confirmed cases are in Baodi district, where the store is situated, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

A salesperson in the store’s home appliance section was the first diagnosed on Jan. 31, Xinhua said, and a series of cases followed. None of those infected had visited Wuhan recently, and with the exception of one married couple, they worked in different sections of the store and did not know one another.

Elsewhere around the world, DBS bank in Singapore cleared its office, telling 300 employees to work from home after it learned that an employee had been infected. The city-state has 50 confirmed cases.

A Formula One race in Shanghai in April became the latest event canceled because of the virus. Nokia, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom became the latest companies to pull out of a major wireless trade fair this month in Spain that usually draws 5,000 to 6,000 Chinese visitors.


A citizen journalist reporting on the epidemic in Wuhan has disappeared, activists said, becoming the second to vanish in recent days amid tightening controls on information in China.

Fang Bin, a seller of traditional Chinese clothing, stopped posting videos or responding to calls and messages on Sunday, activists Gao Fei and Hua Yong said, citing Fang’s friends. His phone was turned off Wednesday.

Fang had posted videos of Wuhan’s overcrowded hospitals, including bodies in a van waiting to be taken to a crematorium. The last video he posted was of a piece of paper reading, “All citizens resist, hand power back to the people.”

Another citizen journalist, Chen Qiushi, vanished on Friday. Non-sanctioned reporting on the outbreak by actitivists is challenging the Communist Party’s tightly policed monopoly on information on an unprecedented scale.


Passengers aboard a cruise ship that has been barred from docking by four governments may finally set foot on land again.

Holland America Line said the MS Westerdam will arrive Thursday morning in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The ship has been turned away by the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan and Thailand, though its operator said no cases of the disease have been confirmed among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew.


Two Russian women who were kept in isolation for possible inflection by the virus say they escaped from Russian hospitals because of uncooperative doctors, poor conditions and fear they would become infected.

Both women said their hospital ordeals began after returning from Hainan, a tropical island in southern China popular with Russian tourists. One said she jumped out of a hospital window to escape her quarantine, while the other broke out by disabling an electronic lock.

Many of those quarantined in Russian hospitals have complained about conditions in the isolation rooms and lack of cooperation from doctors who are uncertain about quarantine protocols.

Two cases of the virus have been reported in Russia.


In a study published Wednesday in the journal Lancet, Chinese scientists reported there is no evidence so far to suggest the virus can be passed from mother to baby.

The study looked at nine pregnant women who all had the COVID-19 virus and delivered via cesarean section in a hospital in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. After the babies were born, scientists tested samples from the newborns, including the amniotic fluid, cord blood and throat swabs. All tested negative for the virus.

But the scientists acknowledged the study was small.

To date, two cases of the virus have been confirmed in babies, including a newborn diagnosed just 36 hours after birth. It is unknown how the child was infected.


Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Elaine Kurtenbach in Singapore, James Heintz in Moscow, Grant Peck in Bangkok, Kelvin Chan and Maria Cheng in London and Joe McDonald, Dake Kang, Yanan Wang and researcher Yu Bing in Beijing contributed to this report.

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Klobuchar Surged in New Hampshire. Can She Make It Count?

CONCORD, N.H. — It took a year of campaigning, countless stump speeches and an especially strong night on the debate stage for little-known Democratic presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar to break into the top tier of the 2020 campaign in New Hampshire.

Now she has less than two weeks to make it count.

The Minnesota senator on Tuesday immediately worked to turn her better-than-expected night into enough momentum to be competitive in next-up Nevada and beyond. For Klobuchar, that means consolidating establishment and moderate voters, picking up traction with black and Latino Democrats and introducing herself to most everyone else.

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“Hello, America!” she yelled over a cheering crowd at a campaign party in Concord as she was on track to finish in third place. “I’m Amy Klobuchar, and I will beat Donald Trump.”

third-place finish in New Hampshire counted as a victory for a candidate who spent much of the campaign boasting about being in the “top five” of the crowded field. Klobuchar used the moment to put her no-nonsense appeal in the spotlight. She spoke of growing up the granddaughter of an iron ore miner, becoming the first female senator from Minnesota and defying expectations in the 2020 race. She pledged to take her green campaign bus to Nevada and around the country and to win the nomination.

The senator appeared to benefit Tuesday from former Vice President Joe Biden’s sliding support, picking up moderate and conservative voters looking for an alternative to liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders, the New Hampshire winner, and rejecting political newcomer and second-place finisher Pete Buttigieg.

But Klobuchar’s quest is still an uphill climb. The senator has focused almost all her time and campaign resources in Iowa and New Hampshire, building only spare operations in the states that follow on the primary calendar. She has polled poorly among minority voters, a big obstacle in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina. Although she will likely see a bump in support, a surge of donations and new media attention, Klobuchar’s challenge is to set up the infrastructure to capitalize on her moment.

She’s starting from behind. Klobuchar’s Nevada team wasn’t hired until last fall and numbered fewer than a dozen until the campaign redeployed staff from Iowa last week, giving her about 30 people on the ground. Sanders, who essentially tied Buttigieg in Iowa, has been organizing in Nevada since April 2019 and has more than 250 staffers in the state. Biden has more than 80, Buttigieg has about 100 and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has more than 50.

Klobuchar is now hoping the appeal that worked for her in New Hampshire will have a similar impact in Nevada on Feb. 22. The three-term senator campaigned as someone who has won even in conservative areas and who could draw support from Democrats, independents and disaffected Republicans to beat Trump. She also points to her record of getting things done in Washington and argues that proposals like “Medicare for All,” backed by Sanders and Warren, are nonstarters in the Senate.

But it was Klobuchar’s debate performance that appeared to have the biggest impact on her showing Tuesday. More than half of Klobuchar’s supporters made up their minds in the last few days, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,000 Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Klobuchar went on the attack against Buttigieg and delivered a passionate closing promise to fight for the voters who don’t feel seen or heard by politicians in Washington.

Those selling points helped convince voters like Linda Muchemore, a retiree from Greenland, New Hampshire, who settled on Klobuchar last week after leaning toward Warren.

Klobuchar’s record in the Senate “spoke to me of somebody who could maybe heal the animosity we have,” Muchemore said. ”I found out that I’m not as liberal as I thought I was. Those moderate plans that Amy has speak more to me than Elizabeth’s more radical, Bernie plans.”

Klobuchar’s late surge over Warren was a surprise twist in the race. Warren, from neighboring Massachusetts, has been leading in the polling, but both women have struggled to convince voters that a woman can win. On Tuesday night, Warren congratulated Klobuchar — “my friend and colleague” — and noted how wrong pundits are “when they count us out.”

Klobuchar responded to “my friend Elizabeth” soon after.

“People told me just like they told her that they didn’t think a woman could be elected,” she said. “In my case it was elected to the U.S. Senate. No woman had ever done it before. But I came back, I defied expectations, and I won.”

For much of the race, Klobuchar has lagged toward the back of the pack in fundraising and had just under $5 million in reserve at the end of 2019 — far less than all other leading contenders. Her goal coming out of Friday’s debate was to raise $1 million, a lifeline that would allow her to forge on in contests ahead. She quickly reached that amount and, to her own surprise, she doubled it within 24 hours. By Tuesday, her campaign said that sum had climbed to $4 million — and was still going up.

That post-debate haul is in line with the $4 million Buttigieg raised in the days after landing at the top, along with Sanders, in the Iowa caucuses last week. The money will help pay for ads in Nevada and South Carolina, which holds its primary the week after Nevada, and to beef up the campaign in the March 3 “Super Tuesday” contests, when the largest number of delegates are up for grabs of any date on Democrats’ calendar.

Unlike the other leading contenders in the race, Klobuchar is the only candidate who is not getting extra help from a super PAC or outside group, which can raise and spend unlimited sums so long as they do not coordinate advertising spending decisions with the candidate they support.

In contrast, a super PAC called Unite the County has spent over $6 million on advertising amplifying Biden’s message. The group VoteVets has spent a minimum of $1.6 million on ads backing Buttigieg, according to the Federal Election Commission. Sanders, too, has drawn support from a network of “dark money” nonprofit groups, which don’t have to reveal their donors and won’t have to disclose full spending figures until after the election. And Warren is backed by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which is not operating a super PAC to support her but serves as a surrogate voice and routinely attacks Buttigieg and Biden.

Much of Klobuchar’s support, meanwhile, comes from donors in her home state of Minnesota, who account for the lion’s share of her presidential fundraising, according to campaign finance disclosures, which only provide information about donors who give over $200. She also supplemented her presidential run with a $3.5 million transfer from her Senate campaign account, records show.

Klobuchar is scheduled to be in Nevada starting Thursday, when she will participate in a town hall sponsored by the League of United Latin American Citizens.


Burnett reported from Chicago. Associated Press reporters Brian Slodysko and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington and Michelle Price in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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Pope Avoids Question of Married Priests in the Amazon

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis refused Wednesday to approve the ordination of married men to address a shortage of priests in the Amazon, sidestepping a fraught issue that has dominated debate in the Catholic Church and even involved retired Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis, in an eagerly awaited document, did not refer to the recommendations by Amazonian bishops to consider the ordination of married men as priests or women as deacons. Rather, the pope urged bishops to pray for more priestly vocations and to send missionaries to a region where faithful Catholics in remote areas can go months or even years without Mass.

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The papal dodge disappointed progressives, who had hoped he would at the very least put both questions to further study. It outraged liberal Catholic women’s groups. And it relieved conservatives who used the debate over priestly celibacy to heighten opposition to the pope, and saw his ducking of the issue as a victory.

Francis’ document, “Beloved Amazon,” is instead a love letter to the Amazonian rain forest and its indigenous peoples, penned by history’s first Latin American pope. Francis has long been concerned about the violent exploitation of the Amazon’s land, its crucial importance to the global ecosystem and the injustices committed against its peoples.

Quoting poetry as frequently as past papal teachings, Francis addressed the document to all peoples of the world “to help awaken their affection and concern for that land which is also ours and to invite them to value it and acknowledge it as a sacred mystery.”

Francis said he has four dreams for the Amazon: that the rights of the poor are respected, that their cultural riches are celebrated, that the Amazon’s natural beauty and life are preserved, and that its Christian communities show Amazonian features.

Francis had convened bishops from the Amazon’s nine countries for a three-week meeting in October to debate the ways the church can help preserve the delicate ecosystem from global warming and better minister to the region’s people, many of whom live in isolated communities or in poverty in cities.

The Argentine Jesuit has long been sensitive to the plight of the Amazon, where Protestant and Pentecostal churches are wooing away Catholic souls in the absence of vibrant Catholic communities where Mass can be regularly celebrated.

According to Catholic doctrine, only a priest can consecrate the Eucharistic hosts distributed at Mass, which the faithful believe are the body of Christ. Given the priest shortage, some remote communities in the Amazon only see a priest and attend a Mass once every few months or years. For Catholic communities in the Amazon, some of which date from the time of the Spanish colonization of the Americas, the continued priest shortage coupled with the spread of evangelical churches risks the very Catholic nature of the communities themselves.

In their final document at the end of the October synod, the majority of bishops called for the establishment of criteria so that “respected” married men in their communities who have already served as permanent deacons be ordained as priests.

In addition, the bishops called for the Vatican to reopen a study commission on ordaining women as deacons, a type of ministry in the church that allows for preaching, celebrating weddings and baptisms, but not consecrating the Eucharist. Francis had created such a commission in 2016 at the insistence of religious sisters who want more say and roles in church governance and ministry, but the group ended its work without reaching consensus.

Francis didn’t mention either proposal in “Beloved Amazon” and didn’t cite the synod’s final document in his text or in a single footnote. But he did say in his introduction that he wanted to “officially present” the synod’s work and urged the faithful to read the final document in full, suggesting that he valued the input.

Cardinal Michael Czerny, one of the synod organizers, said its proposals “remain on the table” and have their own “certain moral authority.” But the fact that the pope didn’t expressly approve the final document, and only presented it, means that the proposals do not form part of his official teaching, said Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, another conference organizer.

Francis did echo some of the synod’s recommendations, calling for greater lay participation in the life of the church and saying the training of priests in the Amazon must be overhauled so they are more able to minister to indigenous peoples. He said “every effort should be made” to give the faithful access to the Eucharist.

“This urgent need leads me to urge all bishops, especially those in Latin America, not only to promote prayer for priestly vocations, but also to be more generous in encouraging those who display a missionary vocation to opt for the Amazon region,” he wrote.

Francis dismissed suggestions that ordaining women to any ministry would serve them or the church. While agreeing that women should have greater decision-making and governance roles, Francis argued that they must find “other forms of service and charisms that are proper to women.”

Groups that advocate for women’s ordination and giving women greater roles in the church blasted the document. Francis justified his refusal to consider ordained ministry for women as sparing them the risk of being “clericalized,” or placed on a pedestal.

“This is a dereliction of his duty as a leader with the power to make positive change and challenge discrimination,” said Miriam Duignan of the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, a British-based progressive Catholic think tank.

Kate McElwee, executive director of Women’s Ordination Conference, said the document betrayed women in the Amazon and elsewhere who perform the lion’s share of the church’s work, pass the faith from generation to generation, and yet enjoy no official recognition or authority.

“Recognizing women’s work with diaconal ordination would be the first, most basic step towards righting the wrong of institutional sexism that hobbles our church as it attempts to respond to the moral crises of our time,” McElwee said in a statement.

The Catholic Church retains the priesthood for men, arguing that Christ and his apostles were male. While Eastern rite branches have married priests, and Anglican and Protestant priest converts can be married, the Roman rite church has had a tradition of priestly celibacy since the 11th century, imposed in part for financial reasons to ensure that priests’ assets pass to the church, not to heirs.

In the weeks leading up to the document’s release, the question of a celibate priesthood made headlines after the publication of a book penned by the retired pope, Benedict, and a conservative Vatican official, Cardinal Robert Sarah, reaffirmed the “necessity” of a celibate priesthood.

Benedict’s participation in the book sparked controversy, since it appeared the retired pope was trying to influence the thinking of the current one, despite his promises to remain “hidden from the world” when he resigned seven years ago.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni noted that Francis finished the document in December, before the book came out, making clear the pope wasn’t swayed by Benedict’s intervention.

Francis avoided the issue altogether, dedicating instead the entire first half of the document to the “injustice and crime” committed against the Amazonian peoples and their environment by local governments, foreign corporate interests, and illegal mining and extraction industries.

“We cannot allow globalization to become a new version of colonialism,” he wrote.

He said the church in the Amazon must have social justice at the forefront of its spirituality, saying ministry that focuses excessively on discipline and rules will turn people away when in fact they need “understanding, comfort and acceptance.”

The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli, which has been highly critical of Francis, said that by closing the door to a married priesthood and female deacons, the document was “the best possible document we could have hoped for in the current pontificate and in the current age.”

Clare Dixon, Latin America chief for the British Catholic aid agency CAFOD, focused on the environmental good it might do in the global debate about how to fight climate change.

“But Francis is also imploring us to listen to the wisdom of the people of the Amazon, insisting that we learn from the way they live with the environment rather than in competition with it,” she said.

Francis called for the church to incorporate indigenous traditions and cultures into its ministry, including song and dance, myth and festivals, and urged patience when confronted with apparently pagan practices and symbols.

It was a reference to the controversy that punctuated the synod over the appearance in the Vatican of wooden statues of a pregnant woman that critics said were pagan idols. At one point, a conservative activist stole the statues from a Vatican-area church and threw them in the Tiber River in a videotaped stunt that galvanized traditionalist opposition to Francis and the synod itself.

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Sanders Nabs New Hampshire In Major Boost to Campaign

Sen. Bernie Sanders was declared the winner of the presidential Democratic primary in New Hampshire on Tuesday night less than three hours after polls closed in the Granite State—a victory seen as a massive boost for the campaign of the U.S. senator from Vermont and one which comes on the heels of winning the popular vote in the Iowa caucus last week.

Major news outlets—including the Associated Press, CNN, and NBC News—called the race for Sanders just before 11:00pm ET.

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At his victory rally in Manchester, Sanders said, “Our victory tonight is the beginning of the end for Donald Trump.” He added that his campaign is “not just about defeating Trump, but transforming this country” by building a mass, multi-racial and multi-generational working class movement to overthrow the status quo.

“Tonight New Hampshire sent a message that working people are ready for a political revolution in this country. This is what it will take to defeat Donald Trump,” Sanders declared. “This victory isn’t about me; it’s about us. Tonight is about what our supporters, volunteers and grassroots donors built in New Hampshire.”

Watch Sanders’ victory speech:

As of this writing, with 85% of precincts reporting, Sanders was declared the winner with approximately 25.8% of the vote.

We just won the New Hampshire primary. What we have done together here is nothing short of the beginning of a political revolution. Join us live at our primary night rally in Manchester!

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 12, 2020

Sanders had polled well going into the state’s primary, a contest he also won in 2016. But after the fiasco in Iowa last week—when inconsistencies and errors in reporting denied Sanders the ability to claim victory on the night of the election—there was pressure on the senator to perform well in New Hampshire.

Update: we won an incredible against-the-odds victory, despite all the elites trying to stop us, despite all the corporate power trying to destroy us, and despite all the naysayers on this website trying as hard as they can to demoralize us. Onward.

— David Sirota (@davidsirota) February 12, 2020

James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a prominent Sanders supporter, expressed elation. “I can feel the momentum heading West to Nevada, South to South Carolina, and then on to Super Tuesday,” Zogby tweeted. “We’re going to win this thing!”

Hey everyone, Bernie is 2-0


— Carl Beijer (@CarlBeijer) February 12, 2020

“I can feel the momentum heading West to Nevada, South to South Carolina, and then on to Super Tuesday. We’re going to win this thing!”
—James Zogby, Sanders supporterBehind Sanders—though results were being tallied and subject to shift as precincts continued to report—was former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in second place (24.4%), Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota in third (19.8%), Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in fourth (9.3%), and former Vice President Joe Biden (8.4%)—who has so far in the race been considered the party frontrunner—coming in fifth.

Shortly before the contest was called, NBC News reported that neither Biden nor Warren would meet the necessary threshold to win any pledged delegates for the Democratic National Convention later this year.

new NBC projection: Warren & Biden will be under 15% statewide AND in both congressional districts.

that would mean 0 national pledged delegates for them; Sanders, Buttigieg, Klobuchar would split the 24 available delegates.

— Taniel (@Taniel) February 12, 2020

Meanwhile, as the results came, two candidates—both Sen. Michael Bennet and Andrew Yang—announced they were suspending their campaigns.

Thank you @AndrewYang for running an issue-focused campaign and working to bring new voters into the political process. I look forward to working together to defeat the corruption and bigotry of Donald Trump.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 12, 2020

According to early metrics and exit poll reporting, it appears Sanders was propelled to victory with the help of first-time and younger voters, which make up a large part of his energetic base, but also had strong results across demographics and in precincts located in various parts of the state.

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Sanders Seeks N.H. Win as Democrats Cull Presidential Field

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Polls closed across New Hampshire Tuesday night as fiery progressive Bernie Sanders fought for Democratic front-runner status in the first-in-the-nation primary. The party hoped for results that would bring some clarity to a presidential nomination fight that has so far been marred by dysfunction and doubt.

As Sanders predicted victory, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg hoped to seize the backing of his party’s establishment with a strong finish. Joe Biden wanted to avert political disaster after leaving the state hours before the final polls closed at 8 p.m.

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New Hampshire began culling the Democrats’ unwieldy 2020 class even before the final results were known. Political newcomer Andrew Yang, having attracted a small but loyal following over the last year, was suspending his campaign. So was Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, who ran as a just-the-facts moderate in a race in which liberal candidates grabbed the headlines.

“Tonight is not the outcome we fought so hard to achieve. It is bitterly disappointing for many of us, but it shouldn’t be,” Yang told supporters in New Hampshire, noting that he outlasted several senators, governors and congressmen.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, among the front-runners for months, was doing poorly in early results but told cheering supporters, “Our campaign is built for the long haul, and we are just getting started.”

She said Sanders and Buttigieg are “both great candidates,” and congratulated “my friend and colleague” Amy Klobuchar who was having her strongest night so far.

Still, nine candidates remained in the competition for the chance to take on President Donald Trump this fall. Tuesday’s contest comes just eight days after Iowa caucuses injected chaos into the race and failed to report a clear winner.

While the action was on the Democratic side, Trump easily won New Hampshire’s Republican primary. He was facing token opposition from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld.

New Hampshire Democrats headed into Tuesday’s primary with a focus on matters of fairness.

Just over 1 in 10 said they were “very confident” that their party’s process for choosing a presidential nominee was fair, according to a wide-ranging AP VoteCast survey. At the same time, nearly 8 in 10 also viewed the economy as unfair, although there was little consensus on which candidate would do the best job of stewarding the world’s largest economy.

For Sanders, the New Hampshire primary was an opportunity to build on his dominance of the party’s left flank. A repeat of his strong showing in Iowa could severely damage progressive rival Warren, who faced the prospect of an embarrassing defeat in a state that borders her home of Massachusetts.

While Sanders marches forward, moderates are struggling to unite behind a candidate. After essentially tying with Sanders for first place in Iowa, Buttigieg, the 38-year-old former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, began his day as the centrist front-runner. But Klobuchar was mounting a spirited bid for the same voters.

Having already predicted he would “take a hit” in New Hampshire after a distant fourth-place finish in Iowa, Biden was essentially ceding the state. He was traveling to South Carolina Tuesday as he bet his candidacy on a strong showing there later this month boosted by support from black voters.

More than a year after Democrats began announcing their presidential candidacies, the party is struggling to coalesce behind a message or a messenger in its desperate quest to defeat Trump. That raised the stakes of the New Hampshire primary as voters weighed whether candidates were too liberal, too moderate or too inexperienced — vulnerabilities that could play to Trump’s advantage in the fall.

Some candidates sought to undercut the importance of the New Hampshire election, but history suggested otherwise. No Democrat has ever become the party’s presidential nominee without finishing first or second in New Hampshire.

Democrats were closely monitoring how many people showed up for Tuesday’s contest. New Hampshire’s secretary of state predicated record-high turnout, but if that failed to materialize, Democrats would confront the prospect of waning enthusiasm following a relatively weak showing in Iowa last week and Trump’s rising poll numbers.

Trump, campaigning in New Hampshire Monday night, sought to inject chaos in the process. The Republican president suggested that conservative-leaning voters could affect the state’s Democratic primary results, though only registered Democrats and voters not registered with either party can participate in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary.

“I hear a lot of Republicans tomorrow will vote for the weakest candidate possible of the Democrats,” Trump said Monday. “My only problem is I’m trying to figure out who is their weakest candidate. I think they’re all weak.”

Trump also attacked Michael Bloomberg, who was showing signs of strength in polling around the country but wasn’t on the New Hampshire ballot. The president highlighted Bloomberg’s comments during a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute in which he said the way to bring down murder rates was to “put a lot of cops” in minority neighborhoods because that’s where “all the crime is.”

Biden — and the Democratic Party’s establishment wing — may have the most to lose in New Hampshire should the former two-term vice president underperform in a second consecutive primary election. Biden has earned the overwhelming share of endorsements from elected officials across the nation as party leaders seek a relatively “safe” nominee to run against Trump.

Biden’s campaign sought to cast New Hampshire as one small step in the path to the presidential nomination, with contests coming up in more diverse states that award more delegates including Nevada and South Carolina, where Biden hopes to retain his advantage among minority voters.

“Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, we plan to move forward,” Biden senior adviser Symone Sanders said.

The stakes were dire for Warren as well in a contest set just next door to her Massachusetts home. She has positioned herself as a mainstream alternative to Bernie Sanders but is suddenly looking up at him and Buttigieg as Klobuchar fights to peel away female support.

Warren released an afternoon memo seeking to downplay New Hampshire’s results. Campaign manager Roger Lau outlined a “path to victory” through 30-plus states where the campaign has paid staff on the ground as he highlighted alleged weaknesses in Warren’s Democratic rivals.

Buttigieg, young and with no governing experience beyond the mayor’s office, is trying to emerge as the leading Biden alternative for his party’s moderate wing. He has aggressively courted moderate Democrats, independents and what he calls “future former Republicans” as he tries to cobble together a winning coalition, just as he did in Iowa, where he finished in a near tie with Sanders for the lead.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s primary, Buttigieg has come under increasing attack from Biden and Klobuchar, who seized on his lack of experience. And from the left, Sanders attacked Buttigieg’s reliance on big-dollar donors, which sparked jeers of “Wall Street Pete” from Sanders’ supporters.

After New Hampshire, the political spotlight shifts to Nevada, where Democrats will hold caucuses on Feb. 22. But several candidates, including Warren and Sanders, plan to visit states in the coming days that vote on Super Tuesday, signaling they are in the race for the long haul.


Steve Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Will Weissert, Holly Ramer and Thomas Beaumont contributed from New Hampshire.

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Actor Jussie Smollett Faces 6 New Charges in Chicago

CHICAGO — Actor Jussie Smollett was indicted Tuesday for a second time on charges of lying to police about a racist and anti-gay attack he allegedly staged on himself last year in downtown Chicago.

The indictment came from a special prosecutor who was appointed after Cook County prosecutors dropped the same charges last March.

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Special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement that Smollett faces six counts of disorderly conduct, charges that stem from four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he contended he was a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”

Smollett, who is black and gay, was originally charged with disorderly conduct last February for allegedly staging the attack and lying about it to investigators. The allegations were dropped the following month with little explanation, angering police officials and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Tina Glandian, Smollett’s attorney, did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday.

Smollett told police he was walking home early on Jan. 29, 2019, when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he described as white, told him he was in “MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Several weeks later, authorities alleged that Smollett had paid two black friends $3,500 to help him stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on “Empire” and wanted to drum up publicity for his career.

A judge in August appointed Webb, a former U.S. attorney, as a special prosecutor to look into why the original charges were dropped. Webb also was looking into whether calls that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had with a Smollett relative and a former aide of former first lady Michelle Obama unduly influenced the decision to drop charges. Foxx recused herself from the case but continued to weigh in.

At the time, Judge Michael Toomin, who assigned the case to Webb, raised the possibility that Smollett could be charged again.

In his news release, Webb said he concluded that prosecuting Smollett was “in the interest of justice” for a number of reasons, including the extensive details of Smollett’s false account as well as the resources that the police department threw at the investigation.

Attorneys and the judge noted that in Smollett’s case, double jeopardy does not apply because he was never prosecuted.

The city has sued Smollett, seeking reimbursement of more than $130,000 for overtime paid to officers who were involved in investigating Smollett’s report. Smollett’s attorneys have said the city should not be allowed to recover costs from Smollett because it accepted $10,000 from the actor “as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him.”

Smollett’s case has become an issue in Foxx’s bid for a second term. Those looking to unseat the first black woman to hold the county’s highest law enforcement position, have blasted her handling of the matter as haphazard and indecisive. They say it indicates she has bad judgment and favors the rich and powerful in deciding who will be prosecuted.

Foxx’s campaign committee issued a biting statement Tuesday referring to former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to briefly reopen an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s email shortly before the presidential election in 2016 that Donald Trump would win.

“What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision” … which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the statement from Friends for Foxx said.

Smollett has not had any notable film or television roles announced since his departure from the Fox series was announced in April 2019. Producers have the option to bring him back during the sixth and final season but have said they have no plans to do so.

“Empire” has 10 episodes left. It is scheduled to return on March 3.

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4 Lawyers Quit Case After DOJ Decision on Stone Prison Time

WASHINGTON — Four lawyers who prosecuted Roger Stone quit the case Tuesday after the Justice Department said it would take the extraordinary step of lowering the amount of prison time it would seek for President Donald Trump’s longtime ally and confidant.

The decision by the Justice Department came just hours after Trump complained that the recommended sentence for Stone was “very horrible and unfair.” The Justice Department said the sentencing recommendation was made Monday night — before Trump’s tweet — and prosecutors had not spoken to the White House about it.

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The four attorneys, including two who were early members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia team, had made up the Justice Department’s trial team and had signed onto a Monday court filing that recommended up to nine years in prison for Stone.

The department’s decision to back off the sentencing recommendation raised questions about political interference and whether Trump’s views hold unusual sway over the Justice Department, which is meant to operate independently of the White House in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Attorney General William Barr has been a steady ally of Trump’s, clearing the president of obstruction of justice even when special counsel Robert Mueller had pointedly declined to do so and declaring that the FBI’s Russia investigation — which resulted in charges against Stone — had been based on a “bogus narrative.”

On Monday night, prosecutors had recommended Stone serve seven to nine years behind bars after being convicted of charges including lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. The recommendation raised the prospect that Stone could receive the harshest sentence of any of the half-dozen Trump aides charged in Mueller’s probe.

In a tweet early Tuesday, Trump said the case against Stone was a “miscarriage of justice.” A Justice Department official said authorities decided to step in and seek a shorter sentence because they had been taken by surprise by the initial recommendation. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said prosecutors had told the department to expect a shorter recommendation.

It is extremely rare for Justice Department leaders to reverse the decision of its own prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation, particularly after that recommendation has been submitted to the court. Normally, United States attorneys have wide latitude to recommend sentences on cases that they prosecuted.

The departures came abruptly after the decision by Justice. Jonathan Kravis resigned his position as an assistant U.S. attorney. He had been a veteran prosecutor in Washington, and though not part of Robert Mueller’s original team, was nonetheless involved in multiple cases brought by the special counsel’s office. Besides the Stone prosecution, Kravis had also signed onto the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, which resolved with a guilty plea, and against a Russian troll farm accused of sponsoring a cover social media campaign aimed at dividing public opinion during the 2016 presidential election.

Aaron Zelinsky quit the case and his job in Washington, and would go back to his job as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore. He was working there when he was selected in 2017 for the Mueller team.

He was involved in cases aimed at determining what knowledge the Trump campaign had about Democratic emails that were hacked by Russia and what efforts Trump aides made to get information about them. He was also involved in the prosecution of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign aide who played a critical role in the FBI launching its investigation in the summer of 2016.

A third prosecutor, Adam Jed, who was an early member of Mueller’s team, also withdrew from the case. His status at the Justice Department was not clear. Before joining Mueller’s team, he worked on civil cases there.

By Tuesday evening, a fourth prosecutor, Michael Marando, had left the case.

After the attorneys quit the case, Justice Department officials filed a revised sentencing memorandum with the judge, arguing its initial recommendation could be “considered excessive and unwarranted under the circumstances,” but that it would defer to the court. None of the original prosecutors in Stone’s case signed onto the revised memo.

Sentencing decisions are ultimately up to the judge, who in this case may side with the original recommendation. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson has repeatedly scolded Stone for his out-of-court behavior, which included a social media post he made of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.

The judge barred Stone from social media last July after concluding that she repeatedly flouted his gag order.

Meanwhile, Democrats decried the decision, with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer calling for an investigation by the DOJ’s Inspector General.

“The rule of law and this grand, grand tradition of this wonderful Justice Department is being totally perverted to Donald Trumps’ own personal desires and needs,” the New York Democrat said. “And it’s a disgrace.’’

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said it would be a blatant abuse of power if the Justice Department intervened on behalf of Trump.

“Doing so would send an unmistakable message that President Trump will protect those who lie to Congress to cover up his own misconduct, and that the Attorney General will join him in that effort,” the California Democrat said.

Trump later told reporters that he didn’t speak to Justice officials. “I would be able to do it if I wanted,” he said. “I have the absolute right to do it. I stay out of things to a degree that people wouldn’t believe, but I didn’t speak to them.”

Federal prosecutors also recently softened their sentencing position on former national security adviser Michael Flynn, saying that they would not oppose a probation of punishment after initially saying that he deserved up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI. The Flynn prosecution is also being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.

In the the initial memorandum Monday evening, prosecutors asked for Stone to serve between 87 and 108 months in federal prison — the sentence they said was in line with federal guidelines. Such a sentence would send a message to deter others who might consider lying or obstructing a congressional probe or tampering with witnesses, they said.

The prosecutors wrote in the court papers that “Stone’s actions were not a one-off mistake in judgement” and that he “decided to double – and triple – down on his criminal conduct by tampering with a witness for months in order to make sure his obstruction would be successful.”

Stone has denied wrongdoing and consistently criticized the case against him as politically motivated. He did not take the stand during his trial and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his defense.

Witnesses in the case testified that Trump’s campaign viewed Stone as an “access point” to the anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks, which was in possession of more than 19,000 emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee and tried to use him to get advance word about hacked emails damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Prosecutors charged that Stone lied to Congress about his conversations about WikiLeaks with New York radio host Randy Credico — who had scored an interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 — and conservative writer and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.


AP writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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In 2015 Audio, Bloomberg Advocates Targeting Minorities

WASHINGTON — Mike Bloomberg is under fire for resurfaced comments in which he says the way to bring down murder rates is to “put a lot of cops” in minority neighborhoods because that’s where “all the crime is.”

The billionaire and former New York mayor made the comments at a 2015 appearance at the Aspen Institute, as part of an overall defense of his support for the controversial “stop and frisk” policing tactic that has been found to disproportionately affect minorities.

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Bloomberg launched his Democratic presidential bid late last year with an apology for his support for the policy. On Tuesday, after the comments resurfaced, he reiterated his apology and said his 2015 remarks “do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.”

But the audio of his Aspen speech highlights his embrace of the policy just a few years ago, and suggests he was aware of the disproportionate impact of stop-and-frisk on minorities. Bloomberg says that “95 percent” of murders and murder victims are young male minorities and that “you can just take the description, Xerox it and pass it out to all the cops.” To combat crime, he says, “put a lot of cops where the crime is, which means in minority neighborhoods.”

In the audio, he acknowledges focusing police forces in minority neighborhoods means minorities are disproportionately arrested for marijuana possession, but dismisses that as a necessary consequence of the crime in those neighborhoods. And to “get the guns out of the kids hands,” Bloomberg says, police must “throw ‘em against the wall and frisk ’em.”

“And they say, ‘oh, I don’t want that, I don’t wanna get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun,” he says.

According to a report in the Aspen Times that year, Bloomberg blocked the release of video of the Aspen Institute appearance, but the Aspen Times reporter uploaded what appears to be the full audio online, and it drew renewed attention Monday after podcaster Benjamin Dixon circulated it on twitter.

In his Tuesday statement, Bloomberg notes that he “inherited the practice of stop and frisk” from the previous administration, and noted that by the time he left office he significantly reduced its use. He said, “I should have done it faster and sooner.”

But stop and frisk expanded dramatically on Bloomberg’s watch, reaching a peak in 2011 when over 685,000 people were stopped, according to ACLU data. While its use declined significantly after that, Bloomberg stood by the program even in the face of widespread criticism and legal challenges.

The former New York mayor has distanced himself from the policy since launching his presidential campaign as part of a broader strategy aimed at appealing to minority voters, which are a key voting bloc for Democrats. He’s also acknowledged his own white privilege and released policies focused on issues central to some African American communities, like black homeownership and maternal mortality rates.

Joe Biden has long held an overwhelming advantage with African Americans, pointing to their support as his firewall that would provide him with a much-needed primary win in South Carolina at the end of the month. But Biden lost in Iowa and trails in New Hampshire and as his candidacy has become imperiled, recent polling suggests he has lost some African American support.

None of his Democratic rivals has yet to truly capitalize, though both Bloomberg and Bernie Sanders have made some inroads. Both have received a number of prominent African American endorsements and have been holding campaign events specifically aimed at the black community.

On Tuesday Bloomberg faced sharp criticism from opponents. Businessman Tom Steyer called the comments “extremely disturbing” and said that Bloomberg needs to provide an explanation to those who were affected by stop and frisk.

“Mike Bloomberg’s remarks in the video are extremely disturbing. The racist stereotypes he uses have no place today, and anyone running for the presidential nomination should disavow them,” Steyer added.

Symone Sanders, a top adviser to Biden’s campaign, called the comments “sad and despicable,” and said he “will have to answer for these comments.” President Donald Trump, who himself has supported stop-and-frisk policies, sent out a tweet with a clip of the audio declaring “Bloomberg’s a racist.”

Trump later deleted the tweet but his campaign seized upon its argument.

“These are clearly racist comments and are unacceptable. It also shows that his apology for ‘stop and frisk’ was fake and was only designed to win him votes,” said Trump campaign communications director, Tim Murtagh. “In a Democrat primary, this kind of talk is poison. Now everyone can see what a fraud Mike Bloomberg is.”

But Trump himself has long defended the tactic.

In an October 2018 speech to the International Association of Police Chiefs, Trump touted its use in New York under former mayor Rudy Giuliani, now his personal attorney, and urged Chicago to adopt it.

And in 2013, he defended both the tactic and Bloomberg’s police commissioner, tweeting “Stop and frisk works. Instead of criticizing @NY_POLICE Chief Ray Kelly, New Yorkers should be thanking him for keeping NY safe.”

Bloomberg focused the bulk of his statement about the audio on Trump, arguing the president’s attack “reflects his fear over the growing strength of my campaign.”

“Make no mistake Mr. President: I am not afraid of you and I will not let you bully me or anyone else in America,” Bloomberg said.

And indeed, the attacks on Bloomberg follow two tracks for the Trump campaign: they reveal a growing concern about the billionaire’s candidacy and an unlikely push to attract black voters.

The president and his campaign team have been warily watching Bloomberg’s spending spree since the former mayor’s late entry into the presidential race.

Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, had previously told staffers he would not worry about Bloomberg until he cracked double digits, which the former mayor has now exceeded in some recent national polls. Parscale told aides recently that the campaign would soon be doing more Bloomberg-centric polling, according to a campaign aide not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

But Trump himself has been fixated on the Democratic race even amid his impeachment trial.

Ignoring counsel from some aides, including senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, to ignore Bloomberg and thus avoid elevating him in a Democratic field that remains unsettled, Trump has delivered frequent broadsides against the far-richer billionaire.

Annoyed by Bloomberg’s wealth, favorable press and easy entree into the upper realm of New York’s elite that long ago rejected him, Trump has repeatedly attacked the former mayor, including recent digs about his height and golf game.

The Trump campaign also believes that uncertainty in the Democratic field could lead to a chance to chip away at the other party’s advantage with black voters.

The campaign has made its own pitch, touting economic growth for minorities since 2016 and highlighting the president’s advocacy for criminal justice reform, including in a highly watched Super Bowl ad. Though Trump polls unfavorably with African Americans, the push has two goals: to win over more black voters and to discourage African Americans from turning out for Democrats on Election Day by convincing them there is little difference between the two parties’ agendas.

Black voters turned out overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 but at a lesser rate than for Barack Obama, contributing to Trump’s slim margin of victory in several battleground states.


Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed reporting from Manchester, N.H.

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Official: Sudan to Hand Over Omar al-Bashir for Genocide Trial

CAIRO — Sudan’s transitional authorities have agreed to hand over ousted autocrat Omar al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to face trial on charges of war crimes and genocide, a top Sudanese official said Tuesday, in a deal with rebels to surrender all those wanted in connection with the Darfur conflict.

For a decade after his indictment, al-Bashir confounded the court based in The Hague, Netherlands. He not only was out of reach during his 30 years in power in Khartoum, but he also traveled abroad frequently to visit friendly leaders without fear of arrest. He even attended the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where he kicked a soccer ball playfully during an airport welcome ceremony and watched matches from luxury seating.

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The military overthrew al-Bashir in April 2019 amid massive public protests of his rule, and he has been jailed in Khartoum since then. Military leaders initially ruled out surrendering him to The Hague, saying he would be tried at home.

But the joint military-civilian Sovereign Council that has ruled Sudan since last summer has agreed with rebel groups in Darfur to hand over those wanted by the ICC to face justice in The Hague, according to Mohammed Hassan al-Taishi, a member of the council and a government negotiator.

He didn’t mention al-Bashir by name, but said, “We agreed that everyone who had arrest warrants issued against them will appear before the ICC. I’m saying it very clearly.”

He did not say when they would be handed over.

“We can only achieve justice if we heal the wounds with justice itself,” he said. “We cannot escape from confronting that.”

He spoke at a news conference in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, where the government and multiple rebel groups are holding talks to end the country’s various civil wars, including Darfur.

In the Darfur conflict, rebels from the territory’s ethnic central and sub-Saharan African community launched an insurgency in 2003, complaining of oppression by the Arab-dominated government in Khartoum.

The government responded with a scorched-earth assault of aerial bombings and unleashed militias known as the Janjaweed, who are accused of mass killings and rapes. Up to 300,000 people were killed and 2.7 million were driven from their homes.

Al-Bashir, 76, faces three counts of genocide, five counts of crimes against humanity and two counts of war crimes for his alleged role in leading the deadly crackdown. The indictments were issued in 2009 and 2010, marking the first time the global court had charged a suspect with genocide.

The ICC has indicted two other senior figures in his regime: Abdel-Rahim Muhammad Hussein, interior and defense minister during much of the conflict, and Ahmed Haroun, a senior security chief at the time and later the leader of al-Bashir’s ruling party. Both have been under arrest in Khartoum since al-Bashir’s fall. Also indicted were Janjaweed leader Ali Kushayb and a senior Darfur rebel leader, Abdullah Banda, whose whereabouts are not known.

Al-Taishi also said that the transitional authorities and the rebels agreed on establishing a special court for Darfur crimes that would include crimes investigated by the ICC.

ICC spokesman Fadi Al Abdallah said the court had no comment until it received confirmation from Sudanese authorities. However, he said the country would not have to ratify the court’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, before sending al-Bashir to The Hague.

“There is an obligation for Sudan to cooperate” with the court’s arrest warrants, he said. “The ratification of the Rome Statute itself is not a requirement for the surrender of suspects.”

Another member of the Sovereign Council said the government delegation to the Juba talks has a “green light” from military leaders in the council, including its head, Gen. Abdel Fattah Burhan, to announce that Sudan will hand over al-Bashir.

“We want to reassure the armed groups that we are serious and want to achieve peace as soon as possible,” he said.

The Sovereign Council member also said any extradition “might take months,” because he is wanted for other crimes in Sudan related to the “revolution” and the Islamist-backed military coup in 1989. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The decision could face a backlash from within Sudan’s military, from which al-Bashir emerged, and also from Islamists in the country.

Al-Bashir’s lawyer, Mohammed al-Hassan, warned that handing him over would have “dire political and security repercussions” for Sudan. He said he hoped Burhan “keeps his obligation that al-Bashir or any Sudanese won’t be handed over to the International Criminal Court.”

“This matter will not happen easily,” he told the AP by phone.

Handing over al-Bashir is a sensitive issue in Sudan as the country tries to steer toward democratic and economic reforms. The deputy head of the Sovereign Council, Gen. Mohammed Hamadan Dagalo, commands a paramilitary unit that was involved in crushing the Darfur insurgency. The transitional government is under pressure to end its wars with rebel groups as it seeks to rehabilitate the battered economy, attract much-needed foreign aid and deliver the democracy it promises.

“The fledgling post-Bashir Sudan government is demonstrating a serious commitment to human rights principles in its first months in office.” said John Prendergast, expert and co-founder of the Sentry watchdog group. “Finally seeing a small measure of justice done for the mass atrocity crimes in Darfur will hopefully breathe new life into global efforts in support of human rights and genocide prevention.”

If al-Bashir is handed over, it would be only the second time a country has surrendered a foreign leader to the ICC. Ivory Coast transferred former President Laurent Gbagbo in 2011 to The Hague, where he was acquitted last year of crimes against humanity charges linked to alleged involvement in post-election violence.

Al-Bashir would be the highest profile figure yet to appear before the ICC, which was founded in 2002 but has been unable to gain acceptance among major powers, including the United States, Russia and China.

“Although the ICC has generated important legal precedents, it has had few important cases brought to verdict,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School. “Al-Bashir is the ICC’s ‘white whale.'”

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted that handing al-Bashir over to the ICC is “potentially a huge and long-awaited step for justice for the people of Darfur.”


Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.

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Judge Clears a Path to T-Mobile’s $26.5B Sprint Bid

NEW YORK — A federal judge has cleared a major path to T-Mobile’s $26.5 billion takeover of Sprint, as he rejected claims by more than a dozen states that the deal would mean less competition and higher phone bills.

Though the deal still needs a few more approvals, T-Mobile expects to close it as early as April 1.

Once that happens, the number of major U.S. wireless companies would shrink from four to three. T-Mobile says the deal would benefit consumers as it becomes a fiercer competitor to the larger Verizon and AT&T. The deal would also create a new, but smaller competitor as satellite TV company Dish pledges to build a next-generation, 5G cellular network.

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A group of state attorneys general tried to block the deal, arguing that having one fewer phone company would cost Americans billions of dollars in higher bills. Consumer Reports said the three remaining companies would have fewer incentives to compete on prices and quality.

Judge Victor Marrero in New York said Tuesday that the companies’ insistence that the deal would cut prices and the states’ insistence that the deal would raise prices “essentially cancel each other out.” Instead, he chose to rely on what wireless executives have done in the past and what they commit to doing in the future in an industry that is changing rapidly.

T-Mobile has pushed in recent years such consumer-friendly changes as restoring unlimited data plans. Marrero said he found that T-Mobile executives were credible at trial in promising to continue competing aggressively with AT&T and Verizon.

The judge also agreed with the companies that Sprint was “at best struggling to even tread water” and would not last as a national wireless competitor. He also said that he is persuaded that the U.S. Justice Department’s side deal with Dish, which sets up the satellite TV provider as a new wireless company, would reduce the threat to competition.

Marrero’s decision comes after the Justice Department already approved the deal. Another judge still needs to approve the Dish settlement, a process that is usually straightforward but has taken longer than expected. A utility board in California also has to approve the deal.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, one of the leading attorneys general in the case, said her office was considering an appeal. She said Tuesday’s ruling “marks a loss for every American who relies on their cell phone for work, to care for a family member, and to communicate with friends.”

Gigi Sohn, a fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, said that while consumers are often promised benefits from mergers, “what they are left with each time are corporate behemoths” that can raise prices and destroy competition.

Sprint shares jumped $3.42, or 71%, to $8.22 in midday trading after the ruling came out. T-Mobile shares rose $8.64, or 10%, to $93.17. Verizon shares fell nearly 3% and AT&T nearly 1%.

T-Mobile launched its bid for Sprint in 2018, after having been rebuffed by Obama-era regulators. T-Mobile CEO John Legere had seen President Donald Trump’s election and his appointed regulators as a good opportunity to try again to combine, according to evidence during the trial.

T-Mobile, which promised not to raise prices for three years, repeated previous arguments that the combined T-Mobile and Sprint will be able to build a better 5G network — a priority for the Trump administration — than either company could alone.

In his ruling, Marrero said that while both Sprint and T-Mobile will provide 5G service without the combination, their standalone networks would be more limited in scope and take longer to build.

The deal got the nod from both the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission, thanks to an unusual commitment to create a new wireless player in Dish. T-Mobile agreed to sell millions of Sprint’s prepaid customers to Dish. T-Mobile also has to rent its network to Dish while the fledgling rival built its own. Dish is also required to build a 5G network over the next several years.

Dish co-founder Charlie Ergen said in a statement that the ruling will accelerate its ability to deploy 5G and that its growth as a new competitor will bring “lower prices, greater choice and more innovation to consumers.”

The states had said that Dish wasn’t certain to succeed as a wireless company and was far smaller than Sprint, and the resulting wireless market would still be worse for consumers.

Dish has spent about $21 billion over a decade buying wireless spectrum, the airwaves for transmitting data and calls, although Dish hasn’t done much with it. Analysts have long been skeptical of whether Dish intends to build its own network or sell the spectrum to others. Now Dish faces up to $2.2 billion in fines if it fails to create a 5G network that serves 70% of the country by 2023.

Some analysts have said that Dish has potential as a viable competitor, but a big question is when. Even if it meets the 2023 government-imposed deadline, it still won’t reach as many potential customers as Sprint’s current-generation 4G network does today.

George Slover, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports, said Sprint was an established carrier with a track record of spurring competition, while Dish is an unproven newcomer that will have to build its mobile phone network and services from scratch.

The coalition of state attorneys general that brought the case were led by New York and California and were joined by Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.

T-Mobile, based in Bellevue, Washington, is owned by the German telecommunications company Deutsche Telekom. Sprint is based in Overland Park, Kansas, and is owned by Japan’s SoftBank.


AP Technology Writers Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, and Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this story.

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Chuck Todd Under Fire for Comparing Sanders Supporters to Nazis

MSNBC anchor Chuck Todd faced swift backlash Monday for approvingly quoting a right-wing columnist who described online supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is vying to become the first Jewish president in U.S. history, as a “digital brownshirt brigade.”

“Hey I want to bring up something that Jonathan Last put in The Bulwark today,” said Todd. “It was about how—and Ruth, we’ve all been on the receiving end of the Bernie online brigade—here’s what he says: He says ‘no other candidate has anything like this sort of digital brownshirt brigade. I mean, except for Donald Trump.'”

“I know everybody’s freaking out about his, but you saw the MAGA rally that’s prepared around here,” Todd continued. “There are people coming from three or four states on that, that’s real… This is like Bernie.”

Among the first to respond to Todd’s attack on Sanders supporters was Briahna Joy Gray, national press secretary for the Vermont senator’s 2020 presidential campaign.

“‘Digital brownshirt brigade.’ That’s how our Jewish candidate’s supporters are being described on the [mainstream media],” Gray tweeted. “The contempt shown for ordinary people is really something.”


Here is a higher quality and more complete video of @chucktodd comparing supporters of the Jewish frontrunner to

— 29 U.S.C. § 157 (@OrganizingPower) February 10, 2020

Condemnation of Todd’s comments continued into Monday evening, with Sanders supporters voicing outrage that a corporate media pundit with such a massive platform would so casually liken supporters of the Vermont senator to Nazis.

“When Chuck Todd attacked us, including Jews like me with family erased by the Holocaust and pogroms, for being ‘brownshirts,’ it’s bad enough,” tweeted Rafael Shimunov, co-founder of advocacy group The Jewish Vote. “But the implication also is that Bernie Sanders, whose family was executed by Nazis, is Hitler.”

Shimunov demanded that Todd “apologize and resign for comparing the first major Jewish candidate for president, whose family was executed by Nazis, [to] Hitler.”

There’s always a tweet. @chucktodd apologize and resign for comparing the first major Jewish candidate for President, whose family was executed by Nazis, Hitler. And Jews like me supporting him, brown shirts. #ChuckToddResign

— rafael (@rafaelshimunov) February 11, 2020

Florida Democratic congressional candidate Jen Perelman called Todd’s remarks “indefensible.”

“As a fellow Jew who’s aware half of Bernie’s family was murdered in the Holocuast, he knows better,” Perelman wrote on Twitter. “We’re not Nazis. God, the MSM makes me sick and we’re just getting started.”

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