Democrats appeal for GOP help
WASHINGTON — House Democrats opened marathon arguments in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial Wednesday, appealing to skeptical Republican senators to join them in voting to remove Trump from office to “protect our democracy.” Trump’s lawyers sat by, waiting their turn, as t he president blasted the proceedings from afar, threatening jokingly to face off with the Democrats by coming to “sit right in the front row and stare at their corrupt faces.” The challenge before the House managers is clear. Democrats have 24 hours over three days to prosecute the charges against Trump, trying to win over not just fidgety senators sitting silently in the chamber but an American public, deeply divided over the president and his impeachment in an election year. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, outlined what the Democrats contend was the president’s “corrupt scheme” to abuse his presidential power and then obstruct Congress’ investigation. He then called on senators not to be “cynical” about politics, but to draw on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers who provided the remedy of impeachment. “Over the coming days, we will present to you–and to the American people–the extensive evidence collected during the House’s impeachment inquiry into the president’s abuse of power,” said Schiff standing before the Senate. “You will hear their testimony at the same time as the American people. That is, if you will allow it.” Most senators sat at their desks throughout, as the rules stipulate, though some stretched their legs, standing behind the desks or against the back wall of the chamber. The proceedings are unfolding at the start of an election year, and there are few signs that Republicans are interested in calling more witnesses or going beyond a fast-track assessment that is likely to bring a quick vote on charges related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Saudi linked to Bezos phone hack
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The cellphone of Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked in what appeared to be an attempt by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince to “influence, if not silence” the newspaper’s reporting on the kingdom, two U.N. human rights experts said Wednesday. The U.N. experts called for an “immediate investigation” by the United States into a report commissioned by Bezos that showed the billionaire technology mogul’s phone was likely hacked after he received an MP4 video file sent from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s WhatsApp account after the two men exchanged phone numbers during a dinner in Los Angeles in 2018. The video file was sent to Bezos’ phone five months before Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi government agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October. At the time, the crown prince was being widely hailed for ushering in major social reforms to the kingdom, but Khashoggi was writing columns in the Post that highlighted the darker side of Prince Mohammed’s simultaneous clampdown on dissent. The Post was harshly critical of the Saudi government after Khashoggi’s killing and demanded accountability in a highly public campaign that ran in the paper for weeks after his death. “The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the independent U.N. experts said.
Weinstein rape trial opens
NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein went on trial Wednesday in a landmark moment for the # MeToo movement, with prosecutors painting him as a sexual predator who used his Hollywood clout to abuse women for decades, while his lawyers sought to portray his accusers as willing participants. Prosecutor Meghan Hast told the jury of seven men and five women that the former studio boss was “not just a titan in Hollywood — he was a rapist” who screamed at one victim that she “owed” him sex, used injections to induce an erection before an assault and pushed his way into the apartment of another woman and attacked her. “It is for his complete lack of empathy that he must be held accountable,” Hast said. Weinstein lawyer Damon Cheronis countered by laying out plans to use friendly-sounding emails, calendar entries and other evidence to call into question the accusers’ accounts of being attacked. The opening of the rape trial more than two years after a barrage of allegations against Weinstein gave rise to the #MeToo movement was seen by activists as a milestone in the global reckoning over sexual misconduct by powerful men.
City stops flights and trains
BEIJING — A Chinese city of more than 11 million people planned to shut down outbound flights and trains Thursday as the world’s most populous country battled the spread of a new virus that has sickened hundreds of people and killed 17, state media reported. Everyone in the city of Wuhan was to be restricted to some degree. The state-owned People’s Daily newspaper said no one would be allowed to leave. The official Xinhua News Agency said no one would be permitted to leave without a specific reason. Train stations and the airport were to shut down at 10 a.m. Buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses would also be temporarily closed. Most of the cases are in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province, but dozens of infections have popped up this week around the country as millions travel for the Lunar New Year, one of the world’s largest annual migrations of people. A handful of infected people who came from Wuhan have also been found overseas.
Hallmark media CEO leaves
NEW YORK — The head of Hallmark’s media business is leaving the company after 11 years, just a month after its flagship Hallmark Channel faced an outcry over a decision to pull an ad with a lesbian couple kissing. No reason was given for Bill Abbott’s departure, and no replacement was immediately named. In a statement, Mike Perry, president and CEO of Hallmark Cards Inc., said that with immense competition from TV networks and streaming services, it is important for the company to find “relevant new ways to grow our business.” Abbott was CEO of Crown Media Family Networks, a company controlled by Hallmark Cards. Crown Media’s flagship cable channel is The Hallmark Channel, known for family-friendly programming, particularly made-for-TV Christmas-themed movies. In December, the Hallmark Channel’s decision to pull an ad featuring the same-sex couple led to an outcry online. The company later reversed the decision.
Celebrities back plastics ban
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A push to pass first-in-the-nation California proposals to limit single-use plastic containers and other items drew support from actor Jeff Goldblum on Wednesday. Environmental groups hail the proposal as a landmark attempt to cut down on 75% of waste from plastic items like takeout boxes, food containers and utensils. The bills aim to achieve the target within a decade. “I feel like we’re on the brink of accomplishing something,” Goldblum said, likening the proposal to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 moon shot speech. The two bills, one in the Assembly and another in the Senate, would require companies to reduce single-use packaging as much as possible by 2024 and ensure products made or imported into California after 2030 are recyclable or can be composted. Both stalled last year amid heavy opposition from business, agriculture and packaging industry groups. They argued the restrictions on single-use plastics are vague and would burden manufacturers. They also say it gives the state recycling department, CalRecycle, overly broad authority to establish new requirements for businesses. Goldblum and advocates met with representatives from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and lawmakers at the Capitol. They delivered signed letters in support from January Jones, Ted Danson and other actors and activists.
Inmate opts for the electric chair
Nashville, Tenn. — A Tennessee inmate has chosen the electric chair for his scheduled execution next month, opting like four other inmates in little more than a year for electrocution over the state’s preferred execution method of lethal injection. Nicholas Sutton, 58, is scheduled to be put to death Feb. 20 for the stabbing death of a fellow inmate decades ago while serving a life sentence for his grandmother’s slaying. Tennessee is one of six states where condemned inmates can choose the chair, but it’s the only state where they’re actually doing so. They have argued unsuccessfully in court that the way Tennessee carries out lethal injection results in a prolonged and agonizing death. Sutton was sentenced to death in 1985 for stabbing fellow inmate Carl Estep after a confrontation over a drug deal. Sutton was 23 at the time and imprisoned for killing his grandmother when he was 18. He had also been convicted of murdering two men in North Carolina when he was 18. In a clemency petition sent last week to Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, Sutton’s attorneys argue Sutton transformed himself in prison from a killer to someone who saved the lives of prison employees and fellow inmates. Lee has not said how he will respond to the petition.
US to impose visas restrictions
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is coming out Thursday with new visa restrictions aimed at restricting “birth tourism,” in which women travel to the U.S. to give birth so their children can have a coveted U.S. passport. Visa applicants deemed by consular officers to be coming to the U.S. primarily to give birth will now be treated like other foreigners coming to the U.S. for medical treatment, according to State Department guidance sent Wednesday and viewed by The Associated Press. The applicants will have to prove they are coming for medical treatment and they have the money to pay for it. The State Department planned to publicize the rules Thursday, according to two officials with knowledge of the plans. The rules will take effect Friday. The practice of coming to the U.S. to give birth is fundamentally legal, although there are scattered cases of authorities arresting operators of birth tourism agencies for visa fraud or tax evasion. And women are often honest about their intentions when applying for visas and even show signed contracts with doctors and hospitals. The Trump administration has been restricting all forms of immigration, but the president has been particularly plagued by the issue of birthright citizenship — anyone born in the U.S. is considered a citizen, under the Constitution. He has railed against the practice and threatened to end it, but scholars and members of his administration have said it’s not so easy to do.
Tesla value passes $100 billion
DETROIT — The meteoric rise of Tesla shares that pushed the company’s value over $100 billion could turn into a supercharged payday for CEO Elon Musk. Stock in Tesla Inc. rose another 6.3% Wednesday, pushing the market value of the electric vehicle and solar panel maker past a critical milestone in Musk’s pay package. He could get stock options that are worth stock option package that’s worth close to $400 million. Tesla shares were trading at $581.40 during the afternoon, giving it a market capitalization of close to $105 billion. Shares have tripled in value since May, meaning Tesla’s market capitalization now exceeds the value of Ford and General Motors, combined. For Musk, hitting $100 billion in market value triggers an option to buy 1.69 million shares of Tesla stock for $350.02 per share. If he sells the shares, he would make more than $391 million.
Severance pay for mass layoffs
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey has become the first state to guarantee severance pay for mass layoffs, according to the bill’s sponsors and the governor’s office. Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, signed legislation Tuesday that requires companies with 100 or more full-time employees to pay them a week’s pay for each year of service during a mass layoff, plant closing or transfer resulting in 50 or more workers losing their jobs. The law also increases the minimum number of days notice from 60 to 90 for such events. The legislation was motivated by last year’s closing of Toys R Us, which cost 2,000 employees their jobs in New Jersey. Two of the private equity firms that owned the retail giant eventually established a severance fund.
Teen charged in family shooting
GRANTSVILLE, Utah — A teenage boy shot his mother and sister after she picked up the girl from school, then killed two more siblings as they returned home on a weekday evening. Collin J. Haynie, 16, was charged with 10 felonies, including aggravated murder and discharge of a firearm. The quadruple slaying happened Friday night in the small town of Grantsville west of Salt Lake City. “He has not talked to the police or anyone in authority, so we don’t really know what he was thinking, what his thoughts were, what his motivations were,” Broadhead said. Prosecutors would not be allowed to seek the death penalty because the boy is a minor. The possible prison sentence for an aggravated murder conviction is 25 years to life. The funeral for Consuelo Alejandra Haynie, 52, her 15- and 12-year-old daughters and her 14-year-old son will be held Friday. The injured husband and father, 50-year-old Colin Haynie, has been released from the hospital. The family moved to Grantsville in 2010 and they have two other children.
Probation for stealing dog tags
GREENBELT, Md. — A Virginia National Guard sergeant was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months of supervised probation for stealing World War II-era dog tags from the National Archives and Records Administration in Maryland. U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas DiGirolamo also ordered Robert Rumsby, 30, of Fredericksburg, Virginia, to pay a $5,000 fine. Rumsby had faced a maximum sentence of 1 year of incarceration after pleading guilty in November to one misdemeanor count of theft. Rumsby told investigators he took dog tags that belonged to four U.S. airmen killed in plane crashes in 1944, according to a criminal complaint. Rumsby’s wife is the great niece of one of the deceased airmen. Rumsby said he gave that airman’s dog tags to his wife’s grandmother as a Christmas gift and gave another airman’s dog tags to a relative of that serviceman, the complaint says. The magistrate said Rumsby’s sentence is designed to promote respect for the law and serve as a deterrent to protect “national treasures” stored at the National Archives. “They are there for everyone’s benefit,” DiGirolamo said. Rumsby, who cradled his infant daughter in his arms during the hearing, said in a letter submitted to the court that he had asked National Archives officials in 2011 if dog tags and other personal items could be released to soldiers’ relatives. He said he didn’t get a response to his written request. “I have not stood my tallest with the actions that have landed me here today, but in my honest and humble opinion, (neither) has NARA,” he wrote.
Keystone pipeline due approval
BILLINGS, Mont. — The Trump administration on Wednesday approved a right-of-way allowing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline to be built across U.S. land, federal officials said, pushing the controversial $8 billion project closer to construction though court challenges still loom. The approval covers about 45 miles of the line’s route across land in Montana controlled by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Casey Hammond, assistant secretary of the Interior Department. The 1,200-mile pipeline would transport up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude oil daily from western Canada to terminals on the Gulf Coast. Project sponsor TC Energy has said it wants to begin construction of the long-delayed line this year, but that’s sure to face more legal challenges. The 46-mile stretch includes all federal land crossed by the line, Hammond said. Much of the rest of the route is across private land for which TC Energy has been assembling permission to build on.
Rift could define closing days
MASON CITY, Iowa — The rivalry between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders is deepening as the Democratic presidential candidates are increasingly at loggerheads over their support of Social Security, signaling a battle ahead that could last well beyond the Iowa caucuses. Biden’s campaign released a video late Tuesday accusing Sanders of “dishonest” attacks, while Sanders’ official Twitter account countered: “Let’s be honest, Joe. One of us fought for decades to cut Social Security, and one of us didn’t.” Sanders, a Vermont senator, has accused Biden of advocating for budget deals as a senator from Delaware that would have curtailed entitlement spending over time. During his decades on Capitol Hill, Biden supported a balanced budget constitutional amendment, but he says he would not have “cut” Social Security benefits as part of the deals. In his current campaign, Biden proposes expanding Social Security benefits and raising more revenue by lifting the cap on the income that is subject to Social Security payroll taxes. Biden tacitly acknowledged on Wednesday that he’s moved to the left over the years on Social Security. But he compared that with Sanders’ legislative history on gun control, an issue that — like Social Security — is a core concern to many Democratic voters. Sanders “voted to protect gun manufacturers,” Biden said in an MSNBC interview, referring to Sanders’ vote to give weapons makers immunity from civil liability. Hillary Clinton skewered Sanders over that position during their 2016 primary battle.