Fearing Trump’s next move, liberals urge Supreme Court conservative Kennedy to stay

Fearing Trump’s next move, liberals urge Supreme Court conservative Kennedy to stay

June 1, 2017

By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Liberal activists are urging U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative with whom they often disagree, to put off any thought of retirement, fearing President Donald Trump would replace him with a jurist further to the right.

The liberal Democrats’ keep-Kennedy campaign, being pursued publicly and privately, reflects how powerless they have become against the Republican president when it comes to high court vacancies since the Senate in April reduced the vote tally needed to confirm a Supreme Court nomination to 51 from 60.

It also shows how big the stakes are for both sides in any decision that Kennedy, who turns 81 in July, makes about his future on the court. If he were to retire, Trump would have a historic opportunity to recast the court in a more conservative posture, possibly for decades to come.

Some former Kennedy clerks have said he is thinking about retirement. He has declined to comment on his plans, despite requests from many media outlets including Reuters.

Right now, Kennedy “is the most important man in America. He is the vote that swings the court on the most important cases that reach it,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a left-leaning think tank.

Nominated by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to a lifetime court seat, Kennedy has been a crucial swing vote on the nine-member court for more than a decade.

On most issues, such as campaign finance and religious rights, he has voted with fellow conservatives. He also voted with the minority to strike down the 2010 Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. But on gay rights and abortion, he has sided with the court’s four liberals.

If he stays in his post, the court’s long-standing ideological balance will be preserved. If he quits, Trump could replace him with someone who tilts further right, giving conservatives a solid five-vote majority.

Wydra and other liberals are lionizing Kennedy and his legacy in the media. Some are reaching out to former Kennedy clerks and others who know him, asking them to urge him not to retire, said Michele Jawando, a legal advocate at the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington.

One former Kennedy clerk confirmed being asked to urge him to stay on and said other clerks had asked him to do so. Other clerks said they had not been approached by liberal activists.

SOLE TRIUMPH

Since he took office in January, Trump’s only significant domestic policy achievement has been winning Senate confirmation of his nominee to the high court, Neil Gorsuch, a former Kennedy clerk.

Gorsuch replaced a fellow conservative, Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. The Gorsuch confirmation did not shift the court’s ideological balance, but it did trigger a change in the Senate rules for considering Supreme Court nominees.

To get Gorsuch confirmed, Republicans exercised the “nuclear option,” ending Democrats’ ability to use a procedural maneuver called a filibuster to block a final vote on a Supreme Court nominee. As a result, Republicans, with a 52-48 Senate majority, can now confirm any future nominee without Democratic support.

In another handicap, liberal groups said they lacked the money to sway public opinion via TV and online ads, unlike conservative groups that had $10 million to back Gorsuch.

In view of those disadvantages, People for the American Way, another liberal group, issued a report earlier this month outlining the impact of a Kennedy retirement, describing it as a “disaster for the rights of all Americans.”

Liberals want in part to protect the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion. As a candidate, Trump said he would appoint court justices who would vote to overturn the decision.

Perhaps seeking to reassure Kennedy that his legacy is in safe hands, Trump has consistently praised the justice. At Gorsuch’s swearing-in in April, Trump called Kennedy a “great man of outstanding accomplishment.”

Trump and other Republicans have said they have heard rumors that Kennedy might retire, but have not publicly urged him to.

The president has vowed to pick his next nominee the same way he chose Gorsuch, from a list of contenders he made public before the election.

Among contenders viewed as possible Kennedy replacements are federal appeals court judges Raymond Kethledge and Thomas Hardiman, conservative lawyer and former Solicitor General Paul Clement and Brett Kavanaugh, a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, according to a person with knowledge of the nomination process.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley in Washington and Andrew Chung in New York; Additional reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley in Washington; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Peter Cooney)

White House unveils list of ex-lobbyists granted ethics waivers

White House unveils list of ex-lobbyists granted ethics waivers

June 1, 2017

The White House on Wednesday disclosed a group of former lobbyists working in President Donald Trump’s administration who have been issued ethics waivers, following a request from the U.S. government’s ethics agency.

The list of at least 11 waivers include White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and Trump’s Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, according to a chart issued on the White House website. (http://bit.ly/1LPKWx8)

Conway is permitted to “participate in communications and meetings involving former clients which are political, advocacy, trade or non-profit organizations,” while Priebus, a former Republican National Committee chairman, is allowed to have communications and meetings with the RNC, the document says.

Shortly after taking office in January, Trump signed an executive order barring lobbyists who joined the administration from working on issues related to their prior work. But the administration has the power to grant waivers to particular hires, exempting them from that restriction.

Also on the list is Michael Catanzaro, a special assistant to the president and a former oil and gas lobbyist, who is cleared to weigh in on energy policy.

Daniel Epstein, associate counsel to the president, “may provide legal advice to the White House Office or any agency of the executive branch and to take positions adverse to Cause of Action Institute.”

Shahira Knight, a special assistant to the president who formerly worked for Fidelity, a financial services company, “may participate in broad policy matters and particular matters of general applicability relating to tax, retirement and financial services issues.”

Andrew Olmem, a special assistant to Trump who worked as an attorney to the Senate Banking Committee during the financial crisis, is cleared to join meetings with former clients involving Puerto Rico’s fiscal issues, along with a wide range of activities involving financial regulation.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), had promised in a letter on Friday that the White House would comply with a request from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) to provide information on which former lobbyists are working in the administration.

Mulvaney said in the letter that the administration was not seeking to impede efforts by OGE to obtain that information, despite earlier protests from Walter Shaub, the agency’s director.

Shaub, an appointee under President Barack Obama in the final year of a five-year term, had requested in April copies of waivers the Trump administration granted to former lobbyists now appointed to positions in the government. Those requests were sent to agencies across the administration, seeking waivers that would allow former lobbyists to work on issues they had been involved with as paid advocates.

But OMB requested a stay of that request, prompting a fierce response from Shaub. He called the request “highly unusual” and said his agency has the authority to take “corrective action proceedings” against agencies that refuse its requests.

In his Friday response, Mulvaney said the requested stay was not an attempt to stifle OGE efforts but rather to provide more time to “ensure sufficient consideration was given to legal questions.”

“OMB has never sought to impede OGE,” he wrote.

Mulvaney closed the letter by saying the OMB did not grant any lobbyist waivers itself.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh and Pete Schroeder; Editing by Michael Perry)

Police videos show chaotic scenes of Florida nightclub massacre

Police videos show chaotic scenes of Florida nightclub massacre

June 1, 2017

(Reuters) – Police body camera videos of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history were released by a Florida newspaper on Wednesday, showing harrowing scenes of officers rushing into the Orlando nightclub where 49 people were killed in June 2016.

Among the 15 hours of videos obtained through a public records request by the Orlando Sentinel is a scene of officers firing toward gunman Omar Mateen and one officer yelling: “Come out with your hands up or you will die.”

Portions of the videos were posted on the newspaper’s website. Footage of those who died was not shown.

As police neared the cornered gunman, one officer said a prayer to himself: “Lord Jesus, watch over me,” the paper reported.

Mateen, a 29-year-old who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State militant group, opened fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub, on June 12, 2016, before he was killed by police after a three-hour standoff. In addition to those killed, at least 58 people were injured.

The videos released to the newspaper show officers arriving on the scene, taking weapons out of their vehicles and entering the club through a shattered window.

People in the club can be seen fleeing, with officers telling them to keep their hands up and directing them to safety.

A body camera on Orlando policeman Graham Cage shows an officer leading a victim out of a club bathroom and down a hallway, the paper said.

“Hands up, both hands, put your hands up,” the officer says off-camera. “Follow the sound of my voice. Come this way.”

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Man arrested at Trump’s Washington hotel after guns found in car

Man arrested at Trump’s Washington hotel after guns found in car

June 1, 2017

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Pennsylvania man was arrested at President Donald Trump’s Washington hotel early on Wednesday after police acting on a tip found a rifle, pistol and ammunition in his car, a discovery they said “averted a potential disaster” in the U.S. capital.

Bryan Moles, 43, from the western Pennsylvania college town of Edinboro, was taken into custody shortly after checking into the Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House, Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham told a news conference.

A tipster had told the Pennsylvania State Police that Moles was traveling to Washington with weapons, and the information was passed on to the Secret Service and Washington police, Newsham said.

Moles was arrested without incident, after an assault-style rifle, a .40-caliber pistol and 90 rounds of ammunition for the two guns were found in his vehicle, the chief said.

“I believe that the officers and our federal partners, and in particular the tipster coming forward, averted a potential disaster here in our nation’s capital,” Newsham said.

Asked about reports that Moles had made threatening remarks and was a U.S. military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Newsham said the suspect’s motives were under investigation and there was not enough information to charge Moles with making threats. He also declined to “read anything into” the fact that Moles had checked into the Trump hotel.

The chief said Moles was being held on charges of carrying a handgun without a license, possession of unregistered ammunition and carrying a dangerous weapon – the latter charge stemming from the rifle found in his vehicle.

The Secret Service said in a statement it also was investigating the incident but said that no one under its protection was ever at risk.

Police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal had no information about an attorney for Moles.

Trump’s hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, housed in a landmark former U.S. Post Office pavilion, has become a focal point for protests against the Republican president since he took office in January.

Edinboro Police Chief Jeff Craft said by telephone that Moles had no criminal record in his hometown, a suburb of Erie, Pennsylvania in the northwestern corner of the state, and was not known to police.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

NBA star LeBron James’ L.A. home vandalized with racial slur

NBA star LeBron James’ L.A. home vandalized with racial slur

June 1, 2017

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Basketball superstar LeBron James’ Los Angeles home was vandalized with a racial slur, police said on Wednesday, a day before the Cleveland Cavaliers player was set to take the court in the first game of the NBA finals.

The graffiti was spray-painted on the front gate of James’ house. Investigators are looking for any possible suspect involved, Los Angeles police spokeswoman Norma Eisenman said.

Eisenman declined to specify the racial slur used. It was reported to police shortly after dawn on Wednesday and has since been painted over, she said.

“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough,” James, a three-time NBA champion, told reporters when asked about the incident at a news conference in Oakland, California, where he is preparing for the NBA Finals.

“And we’ve got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African-Americans until we feel equal in America,” he added.

James was not at his west Los Angeles residence at the time of the vandalism, Eisenman said by phone.

James, 32, is the National Basketball Association’s most prolific playoff scorer and has been named the league’s Most Valuable Player four times. The Cavaliers are scheduled to face off on Thursday against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.

Mary Kay Wulf, who lives a couple houses away from James, told a group of reporters that she was appalled by the vandalism.

“I hope that they find the people who have done it and they label it for what it was – a hate crime – and punish them,” Wulf said.

Police are investigating the graffiti as an act of vandalism and have not determined whether to treat it as a hate crime, another Los Angeles police spokeswoman, Irma Mota, said by phone.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Alan Devall in Los Angeles; Editing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler)

Noose found at African American history museum in D.C.

Noose found at African American history museum in D.C.

June 1, 2017

(Reuters) – A noose, a symbol of racial lynching, was found on Wednesday on the floor of an exhibit about segregation at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution officials said.

A gallery at the museum on the National Mall was partially closed for about three hours, and U.S. Park Police were called in to investigate what was described by the museum’s director as a “horrible act.”

“The noose has long represented a deplorable act of cowardice and depravity — a symbol of extreme violence for African Americans,” Director Lonnie Bunch said in an email to museum staff sent to Reuters by a museum spokeswoman.

Bunch said museum officials do not know who was responsible and told staff the incident “is a stark reminder why the work you do is so important.”

A U.S. Park Police spokeswoman confirmed the agency was investigating but declined to provide any further details.

The incident comes less than a week after a noose was found hanging from a tree outside the nearby Hirshhorn Museum, Smithsonian.com, an affiliated news organization, said.

Speaking at a dedication ceremony in September 2016 for the $540 million African American museum, then-President Barack Obama said the facility tells the story of black America, and “helps to tell a richer and fuller story of who we are.”

The museum contains about 36,000 items that trace the journey of African Americans from slavery in the 1800s to the fight for civil rights in the 20th century and beyond.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture is part of the Smithsonian, which includes 19 museums, including the Hirshhorn and galleries and the National Zoological Park.

It had 30.2 million visits last year, according to its website.

“The Smithsonian family stands together in condemning this act of hatred and intolerance, especially repugnant in a museum that affirms and celebrates the American values of inclusion and diversity,” the institution’s secretary, David Skorton, told the staff in an internal email. “We will not be intimidated.”

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

New York City police officer charged with murder in woman’s shooting

New York City police officer charged with murder in woman’s shooting

May 31, 2017

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York City police sergeant was charged on Wednesday with murdering an emotionally disturbed black woman whom he shot inside her apartment last year, police and prosecutors said.

Sergeant Hugh Barry, 31, was arrested on charges of murder in the first degree, manslaughter in the first and second degrees and criminally negligent homicide in the death of Deborah Danner, the Bronx district attorney’s office said.

Barry pleaded not guilty to the charges in the Bronx Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon, according to his union-appointed lawyer, Andrew Quinn, the general counsel of the New York City Sergeants Benevolent Association. Quinn declined further comment.

Ahmed Nasser, a police department spokesman, declined to comment on the arrest beyond confirming details of the charges.

Danner’s shooting drew criticism from Mayor Bill de Blasio at the time and was seen as one of a string of episodes across the United States where police have been criticized as using excessive force against black people and the mentally ill.

Barry, who is white, entered Danner’s apartment in the Bronx on October 18, 2016. He arrived after other police officers and paramedics had already arrived on the scene, responding to a neighbor who had called the police to say Danner was acting irrationally and screaming in the hallway, according to the district attorney.

At one point, Danner, 66, picked up a pair of scissors as she resisted Barry’s efforts to take her to hospital. She then held a wooden bat towards him before Barry shot her twice in the torso with his service revolver.

De Blasio told reporters last year that Danner was mentally ill, according to her sister, and that the police had previously been called to her apartment several times and taken her to the hospital without harm. “It should have never had happened,” he said of the shooting.

After entering his plea, Barry was released on bail, which Judge Robert Neary set at $100,000, the district attorney’s office said.

If convicted of murder, he could be sentenced to up to life in prison.

Barry has been suspended without pay, according to Martin Brown, a police department spokesman.

James O’Neill, the city’s police commissioner, said at the time that Barry, who had been with the department for eight years, had not followed the department’s procedures for dealing with emotionally disturbed people.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Diane Craft and Alistair Bell)

Canada urged to scrap U.S. pact after woman dies trying to cross border

Canada urged to scrap U.S. pact after woman dies trying to cross border

May 31, 2017

By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Canadian politicians and refugee advocates urged the government on Wednesday to scrap a U.S. pact that has spurred asylum seekers to cross the border illegally after a woman trying to walk into Canada was found dead of possible hypothermia.

U.S. police said they discovered the woman’s body on Friday near Noyes, Minnesota, which is directly across from the Canadian border town of Emerson where asylum seekers have been crossing in recent months.

“This is exactly what we have feared,” said New Democrat parliamentarian Jenny Kwan. “We’re forcing people to risk life and limb.”

More than 2,000 asylum seekers have walked into Canada through fields or across ditches since January because if they present themselves at formal border crossings they will be turned back under the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement.

The agreement requires refugees to claim asylum in whichever country they arrive in first, meaning they cannot land in the United States and then try to claim asylum in Canada or vice versa. However, anyone who manages to get in the country is allowed to file an asylum claim.

Most of those border crossers say they left the United States because they fear President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown.

Opposition critics pressed the government in Parliament on Wednesday about when it would suspend the 2004 agreement, which Canada has said it will not withdraw from.

“We understand deeply the extent to which people will go to to seek protection for them and their families,” Canadian Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen told the House of Commons. “But we discourage strongly people crossing our borders irregularly.”

A final autopsy result on the woman, identified as Ghanaian Mavis Otuteye, 57, is pending. Police said she was last seen on May 22 and her body was discovered on May 26 after she was reported missing a day earlier.

Greg Janzen, elected leader of a Manitoba border municipality that has seen many crossers, said his community has responded to three medical calls from asylum seekers in the past two weeks.

    “One person has lost her life. How many more have to lose their lives? Now it’s more desperate than ever that something has to get changed.”

(Writing and additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Sandra Maler)

CBS anchor Pelley exiting the evening news broadcast

CBS anchor Pelley exiting the evening news broadcast

May 31, 2017

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – CBS journalist Scott Pelley will leave the evening news anchor chair and work full-time on news magazine “60 Minutes,” the network said in a statement on Wednesday.

Anthony Mason will serve as interim anchor of “CBS Evening News” beginning in the coming weeks, the statement said.

Pelley has anchored the evening news broadcast for six years while also working as a correspondent for “60 Minutes,” which he joined in 2004. Both programs are broadcast on the CBS network, a unit of CBS Corp.

“CBS has been great to me for nearly 30 years,” Pelley said in a statement. “I’m glad to accept this assignment with continuing gratitude.”

“60 Minutes,” the highest-rated television news magazine, will start its 50th season this fall. The milestone season for the program “requires Scott’s full contribution,” CBS President David Rhodes said.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

Trump’s ‘covfefe’ tweet leaves Internet guessing

Trump’s ‘covfefe’ tweet leaves Internet guessing

May 31, 2017

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A midnight tweet by Donald Trump unleashed a wave of sometimes mocking speculation by Internet users wondering what the U.S. president meant by writing “covfefe” in an apparently unfinished Twitter post that lingered online for hours.

At 12:06 a.m. ET, Trump wrote: “Despite the constant negative press covfefe.”

The post, since deleted, was followed by a Trump message at 6:09 a.m. ET that sought to put a playful tone on the misfire, saying, “Who can figure out the true meaning of “covfefe” ??? Enjoy!”

The original message, which seemed to have been the start of a Trump complaint about media coverage, soon became a top trend on Twitter.

Some users sought clarification from dictionary company Merriam-Webster. They did not get a definition but did draw a response.

“Wakes up. Checks Twitter… Uh…. Lookups fo(r)… Regrets checking Twitter. Goes back to bed,” @MerriamWebster wrote after Trump’s first tweet ignited a slew of possible definitions and jokes, as well as defenses of the president.

“Covfefe” also made its way into the Urban Dictionary, a website that collates online word submissions.

Asked at a briefing whether people should be concerned that the president sent out an incoherent Tweet and left it up for hours, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: “No.”

“I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer added when asked why the Tweet remained uncorrected for so long on Trump’s personal @realDonaldTrump account.

Democratic U.S. Senator Al Franken, in a CNN interview on Wednesday morning, joked: “A covfefe is a Yiddish term for ‘I got to go to bed now,’” dismissing the tweet as a late-night error.

Conservative commentator and radio show host Laura Ingraham tweeted in response to Trump’s guess-the-meaning post that, “It’s so bad–the collusion b/t (between) the Dems & the press, the establ(ishment) vs the ppl(people), that we needed a new word to describe it all. #Covfefe!”

Trump’s “covfefe” message drew renewed attention to his prolific Twitter habit.

The Republican president has said using Twitter helps him speak directly to Americans and bypass the media, which he has long criticized. When asked in the past about other Trump tweets, White House spokesman Sean Spicer has said the posts speak for themselves.

Trump was relatively quiet on Twitter during a nine-day trip to Middle East and Europe but resumed tweet storms after returning home on Saturday. Moments after tweeting about the “meaning of covfefe” on Wednesday, he turned to Twitter again to blast the Russia probes and address a series of other issues.

(Writing by Susan Heavey, David Alexander; Editing by Frances Kerry and Cynthia Osterman)