Aretha Franklins handwritten wills raise tangled legal questions

48 0 23 May 2019

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May 23, 2019, 7:55 AM UTC

By Daniel Arkin

The three wills found hidden in Aretha Franklin’s suburban Detroit home this month may not be easy to decipher. The combined 16 pages are handwritten, filled with scratched-out phrases, notes in the margins and occasional digressions.

In some states, the documents might not even qualify as wills because they evidently were not notarized or were signed without witnesses present, according to legal experts. But the Queen of Soul died in Michigan, and experts said courts there are far more likely to take the documents seriously.

That’s because Michigan — like roughly half the states — allows for a “holographic” or handwritten will if it is dated and signed and as long as its “material portions are in the testator’s handwriting,” per the text of the statute.

The wills are, in fact, dated — one from March 2014, two from 2010 — and each page appears to be signed, according to Leigh-Alexandra Basha, an estate and tax planning lawyer at the firm McDermott Will & Emery in Washington, who reviewed the scanned copies posted online.

It’s less clear whether the pages are in Franklin’s handwriting, legal experts said. The probate court or Franklin’s family could seek out a handwriting expert or a forensic document examiner to study the penmanship, much of which is scrawled, Basha said.

Jeffrey H. Luber, a veteran forensic document examiner in the New York area, said the examiner would likely need a contemporaneous writing sample to see whether certain characteristics — the height of letters, the style of the pen strokes — are a match.

But that analysis could be challenging if there’s reason to believe Franklin’s penmanship was affected by illness or some other debilitation at the time, Luber said.

And forensic handwriting analysis, for what it’s worth, has its skeptics and doubters. “It’s an attempt to be scientific, but it’s not an exact science,” said William D. Zabel, a New York lawyer who specializes in estate planning, wills and trusts.

James R. Hines Jr., a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, said verifying the pages might become more complex if the probate court has any reason to believe they were not intended as a will in the first place.

“The court will have to decide if the testator wanted this to be their last will and testament and not another kind of document,” Hines said. “Let’s take the 2014 document, for example. Did she intend that to be her will, or was it notes for a future will or a diary entry to keep her ideas in order?”

Hines said any probate court would study the content of the documents and consider the circumstances in which they were written.

And while courts tend to give more deference to documents that were drafted and stored in a more formal manner, “the fact that one of these documents was under a sofa cushion doesn’t disqualify it,” Hines said.

“It’s also perfectly OK to have a will that uses poor grammar or contains cross-outs,” Hines added.

Franklin was 76 when she died in August of pancreatic cancer. At the time, lawyers and family members said she had no will.

David Bennett, who was Franklin’s attorney for more than 40 years, filed the wills found this month in probate court in Oakland County, Michigan, on Monday. He told a judge that he was not certain whether they were legal under state law.

Bennett said that the wills had been shared with Franklin’s four sons or their attorneys but that a deal had not been reached on whether any should be considered valid. In a statement, the estate said two sons objected to the wills.

A hearing is scheduled for June 12.

Franklin is not the first entertainment industry luminary whose will was the subject of unresolved questions. James Brown’s estate, for example, has been mired in probate, family and copyright issues since his death in 2006.

And several music legends died without wills, including Prince, Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, according to a list compiled by USA Today.

In letter, American Taliban John Walker Lindh said ISIS doing a spectacular job

44 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 10:20 PM UTC

By Ken Dilanian

John Walker Lindh, the American captured fighting with the Afghan Taliban two months after the 9/11 attacks, is set to be released from prison Thursday amid concerns among U.S. authorities that he remains a potentially violent Islamic extremist, current and former officials told NBC News.

Underscoring those worries is Lindh’s 2015 handwritten letter from prison to NBC’s Los Angeles station KNBC —revealed for the first time Wednesday — in which he expressed support for ISIS, saying the terror group that beheaded Americans was “doing a spectacular job.”

“The Islamic State is clearly very sincere and serious about fulfilling the long-neglected religious obligation of establish a caliphate through armed struggle, which is the only correct method,” Lindh wrote.

Lindh expressed that sentiment—in response to a question from the station about whether ISIS represents Islam—after ISIS had beheaded Americans in well-publicized videos, including journalist James Foley in August 2014. It was his third of four letters in a series of correspondence with KNBC.

He did not respond to a follow-up question asking him about ISIS violence, saying in his final letter that he would no longer respond to the reporter’s inquiries.

Lindh’s correspondence with journalists and other comments he made in prison formed part of the basis of a 2016 U.S. intelligence document, produced by the National Counter Terrorism Center, saying that he “continued to advocate for global jihad and to write and translate violent extremist texts.”

John Walker Lindh, obtained Jan. 22, 2002 from a record of religious schools where he studied for five months in Bannu, Pakistan.via AP file

A memo making a similar point was circulating among authorities last week, according to a U.S. official who read it.

After serving 17 years of a 20-year sentence, Lindh will be released for good behavior, as is standard in the federal system. Judge T.S. Ellis imposed unusually restrictive conditions on him, including mandatory monitoring of his internet usage, banning him from foreign travel and requiring mental health counseling. A U.S. official told NBC News he would live in Northern Virginia, something his lawyer affirmed to KNTV, the NBC station in the Bay Area.

“It is one of the most restrictive sets of conditions I’ve seen in a terrorism case, and it probably speaks to their concerns about him,” said Seamus Hughes, a former U.S. intelligence official who studies extremism at George Washington University.

Lindh’s lawyer and a representative of his family declined to comment to NBC News.

The conditions of his supervised release last three years, after which Lindh will be clear of formal supervision. U.S. officials told NBC News the FBI is likely to keep a close eye on him. It’s unclear whether authorities would have a legal predicate to obtain a national security warrant to intercept his communications.

Lindh expressed remorse during his 2002 sentencing hearing before Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Va., saying he did not support terrorism and he made a “mistake by joining the Taliban.”

In his letters to NBC 4 Los Angeles, he expressed markedly different sentiments, saying he was proud “to take part in the Afghan jihad.” In the letters, he signed his name as Yahya.

Concerns about Lindh’s extremist views were the subject of a 2017 article in Foreign Policy magazine, but they have not been widely publicized. Many people, including prominent figures, had urged that his sentence be commuted, portraying him as a misguided young man who was caught up in the heightened tensions of the post 9/11 period.

One expert said Lindh would be wise to clarify his views about ISIS.

“John Walker Lindh served his time. Given the support for ISIS expressed in this letter from four years ago, it would be important for Lindh to go on record declaring his intentions to live a peaceful and constructive life and to renounce terrorism and violence,” said Karen Greenberg, director of Fordham University’s Center on National Security. “Without that, allegations, confusion and anger will likely continue to surround him.”

The conditions of his supervised release don’t satisfy some who are watching the case. Two U.S. senators, Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., wrote a letter to the bureau of prisons questioning why Lindh was being released early, and pointing to a lack of government effort to deal with the many convicted terrorists who will be following Lindh to freedom.

“As many as 108 other federal terrorist offenders are scheduled to complete their sentences and be released from U.S. federal prisons over the next few years,” they wrote. “Little information has been made available to the public about who, when and where these offenders will be released, whether they pose an ongoing threat, and what federal agencies are doing to mitigate this threat while the offenders are in federal custody.”

Also disturbed by the release is Johnny Spann, whose son, CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann, was killed during a prison riot in an Afghan holding facility where Lindh was detained. Judge Ellis said there was no evidence linking Lindh directly to the death.

Span sent a letter to Ellis asking for an investigation into the intelligence reports about Lindh’s extremism. Spann could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

He told the New York Times: “We’ve got a traitor that was given 20 years and I can’t do anything about it. He was given a 20-year sentence when it should’ve been life in prison.”

Nick Rasmussen, the former director of the National Counter Terrorism Center and an NBC News contributor, said he could not discuss the intelligence about Lindh.

But, he said, “the looming release of John Walker Lindh highlights in the starkest possible way challenges that lie ahead of us in managing the reintegration into society of extremists who finish their prison sentences.”

The criminal justice system is well equipped to prosecute and convict terrorists, he said, “but we are much less well postured to carry out successful rehabilitation and de-radicalization programs. That means that convicted terrorism subjects who finish their sentences like John Walker Lindh could very well pose a security problem once they leave prison.”

Lindh converted from Catholicism to Islam as a teenager, leaving his home in California to study Arabic in Yemen. more than three years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He traveled Pakistan and later Afghanistan, where he spent time at a Qaeda training camp and briefly met Osama bin Laden, according to court testimony.

He was captured fighting with the Taliban even as the fires were still burning under the wreckage of what once was the World Trade Center. His situation provoked outrage in some quarters and sympathy in others.

His father, Frank Lindh, in 2006 called him “a decent and honorable young man embarked on a spiritual quest who became the focus of the grief and anger of an entire nation over an event in which he had no part.”

But U.S. officials say that in an era when ISIS is encouraging Americans to attack at home by driving trucks into crowds, his comments and writings in prison make him someone they continue to worry about.

Judge rules Deutsche Bank can hand over Trump financial records to Congress

61 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 8:18 PM UTC / Updated May 22, 2019, 8:23 PM UTC

By Tom Winter

A federal judge dealt a blow to President Donald Trump on Wednesday, ruling that two banks can hand over his financial documents in response to congressional subpoenas.

The Trump family and company sued Deutsche Bank and Capital One last month in an effort to block them from turning over financial documents sought by Congress. The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees had issued subpoenas to several banks as part of their investigations of alleged foreign influence on U.S. elections.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos said he disagrees with the arguments from the Trump family attorneys that the subpoenas don’t have a legitimate legislative purpose.

Ramos described the subpoenas as “undeniably broad” but “clearly pertinent.”

Deutsche Bank has lent Trump’s real estate company millions of dollars over the years. Capitol One is among the banks that houses Trump’s personal accounts.

Representatives from the two banks did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump wrote a $35,000 check to his former personal attorney Michael Cohen from his Capital One checking account. The money was tied to the effort to pay off two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump before he took office.

Rich Schapiro contributed.

Michael Avenatti charged with stealing nearly $300K from Stormy Daniels

63 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 6:59 PM UTC / Updated May 22, 2019, 7:27 PM UTC

By Tom Winter and David K. Li

Federal prosecutors filed additional charges against high-profile attorney Michael Avenatti on Wednesday, claiming the frequent White House critic pocketed nearly $300,000 from former client Stormy Daniels.

He was indicted on fraud and aggravated identity theft charges for allegedly using a “fraudulent document purporting to bear his client’s name and signature to convince his client’s literary agent to divert money owed to Avenatti’s client to an account controlled by Avenatti,” according to a statement by federal prosecutors.

A senior federal law enforcement official told NBC News that “Victim-1” who was allegedly bilked by Avenatti is Stephanie Clifford, otherwise known by her stage name, Stormy Daniels.

The publisher gave two payments of over $148,000, intended for Daniels, to Avenatti and she’s so far only received half of that, according to the indictment.

Prosecutors accused Avenatti of spending the money lavishly, including monthly payments on a Ferrari.

“Michael Avenatti abused and violated the core duty of an attorney — the duty to his client,” according to a statement by U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman.

“As alleged, he used his position of trust to steal an advance on the client’s book deal. As alleged, he blatantly lied to and stole from his client to maintain his extravagant lifestyle, including to pay for, among other things, a monthly car payment on a Ferrari,” Berman said. “Far from zealously representing his client, Avenatti, as alleged, instead engaged in outright deception and theft, victimizing rather than advocating for his client.”

The lawyer quickly responded, saying on Twitter: “No monies relating to Ms. Daniels were ever misappropriated or mishandled. She received millions of dollars worth of legal services and we spent huge sums in expenses. She directly paid only $100.00 for all that she received. I look forward to a jury hearing the evidence.”

Avenatti had predicted on Tuesday night that Berman’s office would indict him “in the next 48 hrs charging me in connection with my arrest in March.”

“I intend on fighting these bogus/legally baseless allegations, and will plead not guilty to ALL CHARGES. I look forward to the trial where I can begin to clear my name,” he tweeted.

Avenatti is known for representing adult film actress Daniels, who claims she had an affair with President Donald Trump in 2006, long before the real estate executive and reality show host ran for office.

Without mentioning Trump’s name, Avenatti took another shot at the commander-in-chief even as he prepared to answer more criminal charges.

“While the power of the fed government is brought to bear, with all of its force and might, against me, the biggest criminal in the U.S. and the largest threat to American democracy in 200 years, together with his family, walks. And we call this ‘justice.’ This is not our America,” Avenatti wrote on Tuesday night.

Avenatti was charged in March — and formally indicted on Wednesday — for allegedly trying to extort $20 million from Nike and embezzling a client’s settlement money to pay expenses for his faltering coffee business.

He cannot travel anywhere else in the country without approval and may not transfer $5,000 or more from any account he controls without pretrial services.

Avenatti allegedly met with Nike reps weeks earlier, representing a youth basketball coach who had damaging information that Nike employees made illegal payments to the families of elite high school athletes.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, posted this week, Avenatti seemed to acknowledge — via Greek mythology — that his ego might have gotten too big.

“Some would argue at this point that I flew too close to the sun,” he said. “As I sit here today, yes, absolutely, I know I did. No question. Icarus.”

Latino commission warns about accuracy in 2020 census, slams administration

41 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 3:01 PM UTC

By Suzanne Gamboa

Americans for the first time will be able to respond to the census online next year, but there is skepticism that the change will lead to a more accurate count, particularly for Latinos.

The shift to digital, along with a potential question about U.S. citizenship, language barriers, underfunding and other issues, are combining to potentially make the 2020 census inaccurate and incomplete, according to the National Latino Commission on Census 2020.

“The census is at the greatest risk than it has ever been in our lifetime,” Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund, which formed the commission, told NBC News.

The commission held hearings in Los Angeles, New York, San Antonio, Orlando, Florida, and Columbus, Ohio, on the impact of Trump administration’s policies on the census. Dozens of public officials, community organizers and others — many familiar with hard-to-count communities in their geographic area — provided input.

The commission’s report was released Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington.

“We have the Census Bureau continually telling us everything is on track,” Vargas said. “This is a wake-up call. No. Everything is not fine. The Census Bureau needs to be proceeding, understanding the real problems it is facing and can’t be sugarcoating what is happening throughout the country.”

The Census Bureau declined NBC’s interview request. In response to questions sent by email, as required by the bureau, Michael Cook, a bureau spokesman, responded: “The goal of the 2020 census is a complete and accurate count. We are conducting significant outreach to hard-to-count communities, and it will be easier to respond to the census than ever before.”

The addition of a citizenship question is the largest concern, the commission found. The Supreme Court could deliver a ruling next month on the Trump administration’s plan to ask census takers if they are U.S. citizens, although the timing is not certain.

Grand Central Terminal in New York. Urban areas have higher rates of internet use than rural parts of the U.S., which could affect overall response rates for the digital form of the 2020 census, experts warn.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

In an April hearing, the court appeared willing to allow the question, even though there was agreement between the government and challengers that its inclusion would reduce response rates. In a New York trial challenging the question, a statistics expert from Duke University testified that the Census Bureau’s own research showed that asking citizenship would discourage responses from Latinos and noncitizens.

Members of the National Latino Commission on Census 2020, and witnesses who served on panels at hearings, roundly criticized the inclusion of the citizenship question. The bureau has not tested what effect the question would have on response rates, but is now planning to do so in July.

“Here in Los Angeles, the result of this would be disastrous,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told the commission at a hearing, according to the report.

“The Latino community is concerned about the current political climate. The fear is real,” James Diossa, mayor of Central Falls, Rhode Island, which has a 70 percent Latino community, said Wednesday.

Census data is used to decide how many U.S. House representatives each state gets, to divvy up funding for education, transportation, health and other programs among states and communities and by states to draw political election districts, as well as for voting rights enforcement.

The only Census test was in Providence, Rhode Island. Carlos Eduardo Tobon, a Rhode Island state representative said at the Press Club news conference that if the test is a glimpse of what is to come “we are in big, big trouble. The tactics to turn off and alienate people worked.”

Questions about online access

Another major concern is the Census Bureau’s plan to push for Americans to respond to the census online, the commission’s report said.

A primarily digital questionnaire raises many red flags, the commission said. Yanidsi Velez-Bonet, a deputy director in Florida with the Hispanic Federation, told the commission that with the lack of access to the internet among many Hispanics, along with language barriers, “we are basically setting ourselves up not to have a fair and accurate census.”

Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state and a commission co-chair, said during one of the hearings that prioritizing digital responses “was driven as a cost saver, not as a result of new and proven methodologies that are more effective.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of white adults in the U.S. used broadband at home in 2018, compared with 57 percent of black Americans and 47 percent of Hispanics.

In its most recent report on access to broadband, the Federal Communications Commission said that at the end of 2016, more than 24 million Americans lacked fixed broadband at speeds of 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 megabits per second (Mbps) for uploads. Rural and tribal communities lagged further behind, the FCC found.

According to a Census slide presentation at a May 2 public meeting of the bureau’s National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Communities, 60 percent of 571,000 households in a test run in Providence, Rhode Island, responded online, while 7 percent responded by phone and 31 percent by mail.

The slide presentation stated that 52.3 percent of people responded to the census on their own and that the results “reinforced beliefs that certain demographics are less prone (to) respond via the internet.”

But in hearings for the Latino Commission, several participants said that low-income residents in their communities don’t have internet access. Texas state Rep. Cesar Blanco, an El Paso Democrat, said about 30 percent of rural and border households don’t have access, including many who can’t afford it.

Maria de la Luz Garcia, director of the Census 2020 Initiative in Los Angeles, cited a University of Southern California study that found 47 percent of households in southern Los Angeles have an internet connection.

It also remains unclear whether the questionnaire will function on smartphones, which many people use rather than a laptop and are often the only computer in Latino households.

Kevin Cosney, organizing coordinator for the African American Civic Engagement Project at California Calls Education Fund in Los Angeles, testified that 30 percent of African Americans only use internet on their phones.

Another participant, Ditas Katague, director of California Complete Count in San Francisco, said even if a mobile phone response form is created, some families will be reluctant to use their cellphone minutes to fill out the form.

Assistant Field Director James Christy said at the news conference that Census is planning to spend $500 million and will have a staff of 1500, double that for the previous census, for outreach.

“I’m here to say the Census is ready to go. We are on track. We are on schedule and we are on budget,” Christy said.

Vargas said the census has been underfunded the past five years and is being forced to carry out a census it hadn’t intended. He called on Congress to spend $8.5 billion for the census and said much of that money needs to be made available now.

The commission’s research found many Hispanics prefer to fill out a paper version of the form and worried about whether the bureau is doing the needed outreach to inform Latinos of other options. There’s also a concern about having enough paper forms to distribute and process.

NALEO’s analysis of the Providence test found that 40 percent of Latinos filled out the questionnaire on paper and sent it in by mail, 35 percent did it in person with an enumerator, 20 percent did it online and 3 percent filled it out on the phone.

“Census will especially undercount Latinos if it relies too heavily on promoting online format, or if there is widespread belief that people must complete the form online,” the commission’s report states.


Serial swindler arrested after stealing $80,000 from woman he just met, police say

55 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 10:15 AM UTC / Updated May 22, 2019, 3:06 PM UTC

By Caroline Radnofsky and Elisha Fieldstadt

An alleged serial swindler is accused of conning a Georgia woman out of more than $80,000 after meeting her on a dating site and becoming engaged in a week, police said.

John Martin Hill, 35, was arrested Tuesday night on an outstanding warrant for theft by deception, a felony, in Franklin, Tennessee, according to Gwinnett County Police.

Police said Hill and the victim from Alpharetta, Georgia, began talking on on March 27, met in person later that day, and were quickly engaged.

Hill told the woman that he was a millionaire. “During their short romance, he convinced her that they were in love and wanted to buy a house together,” police said in a statement.

The victim gave Hill more than $80,000 to put toward the cost of the home, but he cut all contact with her after receiving the money, police said.

John Martin HillGwinnett County Police

Hill lived in Duluth, Georgia, with another woman and a child, and had recently bought a 2014 BMW that he painted black, according to a subsequent investigation by Gwinnett County’s Electronic and Financial Crimes Unit.

Police said Wednesday that after releasing information about the victim from Georgia, several women had reported to them that they were in a relationship with Hill, or knew women who were.

Hill has changed his name more than five times in two and a half years, and is also wanted in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey for similar schemes, authorities said.

“By sharing this story, it is our hope that he is not able to victimize any other women using this scam,” Gwinnett County Police said in a statement. “These types of con men are very good at manipulating their victims. They tend to say everything that a woman wants to hear.”

Suzanne Ciechalski contributed.

Trump denounces Democratic investigations and Mueller probe in the Rose Garden

56 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 3:54 PM UTC

By Dartunorro Clark and Alex Moe

President Donald Trump delivered an extensive denunciation of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation during a highly unusual appearance in the White House Rose Garden Wednesday, announcing that he would not work with congressional Democrats as long as they persist in investigating him.

“This whole thing was a take-down attempt of the president of the United States,” Trump said, slamming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comment earlier that he was “engaged in a cover-up.”

“I don’t do cover-ups,” the president said.

Trump spoke at a lectern with a sign in front of it that read “no collusion,” “no obstruction” and cited a $35 million cost of Mueller’s probe into Russian election interference and Trump. The probe cost roughly $25 million, according to the Department of Justice.

Just before he appeared in the Rose Garden, the president had stormed out of an infrastructure meeting with Democratic leaders, including Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic sources with knowledge of the meeting said.

“I knew the president was not serious about infrastructure and would find a way out,” Pelosi quipped as the president stormed out, according to a Democratic aide.

Two Democratic sources with knowledge of the meeting told NBC News that Trump arrived late and expressed dismay at Pelosi’s “cover-up” comments, calling the remarks inconsiderate. Trump then said, according to the sources, Democrats would need to complete their various investigations before a deal on infrastructure or any other topic would be considered.

Trump said he had intended to sit down with Democratic leaders to discuss the $2 trillion infrastructure plan they had agreed to pursue last month, but that he cut the meeting short.

“I walked into the room and I told Senator Schumer and House Speaker Pelosi, ‘I want to do infrastructure, I want to do more than you want to do it,'” Trump said. “‘But, you know what? You can’t do it under these conditions.'”

Back on Capitol Hill, Pelosi, flanked by Schumer and other top Democrats in Congress, said Democrats had gone to the White House in the “spirit of bipartisanship to find common ground with the president,” but that his behavior was not “really respectful.”

“For some reason, maybe it was lack of confidence on his part, he couldn’t match the greatness of the challenge,” she said during an impromptu news conference.

“I pray for the president of the United States and I pray for the United States of America,” she added.

“To watch what happened at the White House would make your jaw drop,” Schumer told reporters.

“It’s clear this was not a spontaneous move on the president’s part,” he said, pointing out that immediately after Trump left the meeting with Democrats, he went out to the Rose Garden that had signs prepared.

During his news conference, Trump said that he respects Congress, but that Democrats are abusing its oversight power.

“I respect the courts, I respect Congress, but what they’ve done is abuse,” Trump said.

This is a developing story, check back for updates.

Unclear if Virginia Gov. Northam posed in racist yearbook picture, investigation finds

49 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 2:30 PM UTC / Updated May 22, 2019, 2:59 PM UTC

By Erik Ortiz

An independent investigation into a racist photo on Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s 1984 medical school yearbook page “could not conclusively determine” whether he appeared in the picture, according to the findings released Wednesday.

While investigators noted that Northam has made “inconsistent public statements” about his participation in the photo, which features a person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe, they were unable to find anyone who could shed light on the image on the governor’s personal page in his Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook.

“No individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in the photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the governor is in the photograph,” investigators said in a 36-page report.

A photo on Ralph Northam’s page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook appears to show a man in blackface and a man in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.Eastern Virginia Medical School

In addition, investigators said, they found no information that the racist image was placed on Northam’s personal page in error or for another reason not at his direction. They could also not determine the origin of the photo.

Eastern Virginia Medical School launched the investigation by enlisting former Virginia Attorney General Richard Cullen of the McGuireWoods law firm, whose mandate was to examine the past culture of the school and its yearbook production processes.

Cullen said at a news conference Wednesday that Northam participated in the investigation and was asked about how the various pictures got on his page.

“He remembers that the car, the cowboy hat and the other one, but he does not remember the KKK and the blackface picture,” Cullen said.

When asked about the veracity of statements from classmates who were interviewed in the investigation, Cullen said investigators were “trained to be skeptical” and “it’s fair to say we took their statements at fair value and had no reason not to.”

The probe’s findings come more than three months after the scandal broke in February when the page surfaced online on a conservative news site — leading to calls for Northam’s resignation and embroiling Virginia’s other top Democrats in separate scandals.

Northam, a pediatric neurologist who took office in January 2018, initially said he was in the photo and apologized at a news conference. But days later, in an interview with CBS News, Northam denied he was in the picture after he “had a chance to step back, take a deep breath” and study it.

Northam, however, has admitted to darkening his face with shoe polish to impersonate Michael Jackson for a dance competition in 1984.

Investigators on Wednesday said they had reviewed the contents of Eastern Virginia Medical School’s 1984 yearbook and others in detail, and discovered they “repeatedly contained other content that could be offensive to women, minorities, certain ethnic groups, and others.” Such imagery became less frequent in later years.

From 1976 to 2013, the school’s yearbooks were almost entirely student-run, with little to no oversight from the administration, investigators found.

“While there was an administration liaison in certain years, we have identified no information that indicates that any faculty or administrators edited or censored student photographs or the general contents of the yearbooks,” according to the report.

After refusing to leave office in the face of the brewing scandal, Northam said he would use the remainder of his term advancing issues of race and equality.

His office did not immediately comment on the results of the investigation.

Virginia’s two other top Democrats have weathered their own political controversies: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax has been accused of sexual assault by two women, which he denies and said he would not resign over. Meanwhile, Attorney General Mark Herring has admitted to wearing blackface when he was 19.

Trump goes off on impeachment in early morning tweetstorm

52 0 22 May 2019

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May 22, 2019, 11:18 AM UTC

By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump went off on Twitter Wednesday morning about the chorus of Democratic calls to bring forth impeachment proceedings against him, claiming that Democrats want a “DO OVER” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“Everything the Democrats are asking me for is based on an illegally started investigation that failed for them, especially when the Mueller Report came back with a NO COLLUSION finding,” Trump tweeted. “Now they say Impeach President Trump, even though he did nothin wrong, while they ‘fish!'”

“After two years of an expensive and comprehensive Witch Hunt, the Democrats don’t like the result and they want a DO OVER,” he added in another tweet. “In other words, the Witch Hunt continues!”

Congressional Democrats have ramped up calls for impeachment proceedings in light of the Trump administration defying a series of subpoenas for documents and testimony or insisting they will do so. The latest such incident involved former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who the White House instructed not to show up to a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is not yet in favor of bringing forth such proceedings. Several Democrats pressed her Monday evening during a leadership meeting on Capitol Hill to move forth with an impeachment inquiry against Trump if McGahn did not show up.

“There’s a growing understanding that the impeachment process is inevitable — when, not if,” House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., told reporters.

Trump’s tweets also come after a federal judge ruled in favor of the House Oversight Committee’s bid to obtain his financial records from his accounting firm, and after Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., became the first Republican to say Mueller’s report showed Trump engaged in “impeachable” conduct.

Trump has at times claimed that the Mueller report exonerates him while at other times lamenting it as biased. In his 400-plus page report, Mueller wrote he was unable to establish a Trump-Russia conspiracy although his investigation “established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government.”

On obstruction, Mueller wrote that if his team “had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” he wrote, later saying that Trump’s “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Trump added another claim on Twitter Wednesday morning, saying: “Without the ILLEGAL Witch Hunt, my poll numbers, especially because of our historically ‘great’ economy, would be at 65%. Too bad!”

Oreo? Housing Secretary Ben Carson confuses real estate term for a cookie

54 0 22 May 2019

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May 21, 2019, 8:40 PM UTC / Updated May 21, 2019, 8:46 PM UTC

By Dartunorro Clark

An REO is not “milk’s favorite cookie.”

But Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson thought the foreclosure-related real estate acronym, which means “real estate owned,” was the cream-filled chocolate cookie when grilled by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., on Tuesday during a House Financial Services Committee hearing.

REO is property that’s been turned over to a lender — whether that’s the bank or a government agency — after a foreclosure process is complete.

Porter wanted to know about the high rate of foreclosures on homes insured by the Federal Housing Authority (FHA), which Carson’s agency oversees.

“Do you know what an REO is?” Porter asked.

“Oreo?” a perplexed Carson answered.

“REO,” Porter repeated. “No, not an Oreo. An R-E-O.”

“Real estate?” Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, guessed. Then Porter to asked him what the “O” meant.

“The organization,” he replied.

Porter, who previously worked as a mortgage-settlement official in California, then explained the term to him.

“That’s what happens when a property goes to foreclosure,” she said. “We call it an REO. And FHA loans have much higher REOs — that means they go to foreclosure rather than loss-mitigation or to non-foreclosure alternatives such as short sales — than comparable loans at the GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises).”

Porter then needled Carson in a tweet after the hearing.

“I asked @SecretaryCarson about REOs — a basic term related to foreclosure — at a hearing today. He thought I was referring to a chocolate sandwich cookie. No, really,” she wrote.

Carson took the flub in jest and tweeted a picture of a pack of Oreos and a note to send to Porter.

“OH, REO! Thanks, @RepKatiePorter. Enjoying a few post-hearing snacks. Sending some your way!” he tweeted.

The official Oreo Twitter account jokingly responded to the moment with its own acronym for REO, which drew swift blowback from other users who called it insensitive.

Carson also had a moment of confusion during the hearing when Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Ohio, asked him if he was familiar with OMWI, the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion.

Carson asked, “With who?”

“OMWI,” Beatty repeated.

“Amway?” Carson asked.

However, Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., later interjected at the hearing and noted that OMWI is not part of HUD — it’s part of the Treasury Department.

“I just want to point out the reason why you wouldn’t recognize the term OMWI in HUD is that HUD doesn’t have OMWI,” Zeldin said to Carson.