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Gritty-inspired protesters just chased a right-wing rally out of Philly

November 17, 2018 - 6:51pm

PHILADELPHIA — The spirit of Gritty — the wild-eyed orange hockey mascot that’s been appropriated by antifascists — was alive and well in Philadelphia’s historic district on Saturday, as hundreds of people gathered in response to a planned far-right rally.

Protesters vastly outnumbered the poorly-attended rally, organized by a coalition of fascists, far-right agitators, and MAGA faithful under the banner “We the People.” Zachary Rehl, a key member of the Proud Boys – a fascist street-gang linked to recent violence in New York City – was one of the lead organizers of the event, and yet they comprised just a handful of roughly 40 attendees.

Event organizers positioned the rally as a promotion of mainstream conservative values, while protesters — some with Gritty emblazoned on posters or hats — chanted “go home, assholes.”

“This event is for all Patriots, Militia, 3 percent, Constitution-loving Americans,” the Facebook page for the event stated. “Pro good cop, pro ICE, pro law and order, pro life, pro American value, pro gun and anti illegal immigration.”

The two sides were kept separate by metal barricades and rows of police. The Independence Visitor Center, an educational center at the site where the Declaration of Independence was signed, functioned as a conduit between the two groups.

Alan Swinney, a Proud Boy, who traveled from Texas to attend. (Photo: Tess Owen/VICE News)

Police were trying to organize for the three attendees to leave via Ubers. From there, a comical sequence of events ensued. An Uber would pull up, protesters would swarm and say that they were about to pick up fascists, and the Uber would speed off.

Three unsuccessful Uber attempts and one unsuccessful metered cab attempt later, and law enforcement switched plans, bringing the remaining three further into the old precinct headquarters, signalling to everyone that the show was over.

Cover: A group of far-right protesters, Trump supporters, and Proud Boys were separated from antifa by police. (Photo: Tess Owen/VICE News)

Disclosure: Gavin McInnes was a co-founder of Vice Media. He left the company in 2008 and has had no involvement since then. He founded the Proud Boys organization in 2016.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is open to supporting Pelosi: “There’s an opening, for sure”

November 16, 2018 - 3:13pm

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shook up the Capitol this week by cheering on a group of climate activists protesting inside the office of Rep. Nancy Pelosi. But that doesn’t mean the 29-year-old is anti-Pelosi.

The Democrat insurgent from the Bronx wants to use her newfound national prominence to force climate change onto the top of her party’s agenda, and if Pelosi agrees, she’s open to supporting her bid to be re-elected Speaker of the House.

“I think there’s an opening, for sure,” Ocasio-Cortez told VICE News while she was rushing to an event for freshman lawmakers in the sprawling Capitol complex. “This is not about supporting or not supporting an individual. It’s about making sure that we can get as progressive and aggressive of legislation as a party on climate change as quickly as possible.”

If Pelosi wants the gavel for the second time in her decades-long career, she’s going to need the support of Ocasio-Cortez and many more of the 50 freshman Democrats elected to Congress in the midterms earlier this month. Close to 60 Democratic challengers and incumbents alike publicly vowed to never support Pelosi during the heat of their campaigns. The former speaker can still overcome that opposition to win the majority of votes within the Democratic caucus when they vote as a party later this month.

But the big test comes in January when she’ll need the support of at least 218 members of the House, meaning merely 16 Democrats can derail Pelosi. That makes the freshman Democrats a powerful block, and they seem to know it.

Deciding on Pelosi

“I want appropriations,” said Rashida Tlaib, who's soon to be sworn in to represent part of Detroit in the third-poorest congressional district in the nation. As one of the nation’s first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, she’s brimming with pride over the diversity of her freshman classmates.

Read: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: There's room for Democratic socialists in the Democratic Party

But she argues their rainbow of backgrounds and identities is diminished if the old Democratic guard relegates them to a category of second-class legislators from Day One. What Tlaib wants from Pelosi in exchange for her vote is a seat on the all-powerful Appropriations Committee, which she says will give her the perch needed to help her neighbors back in Michigan.

“Real leadership sometimes means allowing a lot of us to be able to be at the table where decisions can be made,” she said.

A lot of the Democratic freshmen are looking at the first bill Pelosi plans to bring up for a vote, which focuses on increasing voting access, enhancing ethics laws and curtailing Big Money’s influence in elections.

That’s not good enough for Ayanna Pressley. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she also ousted a longtime Democratic incumbent in her Boston district. She’s also open to supporting Pelosi, but for now she’s hesitant because Pelosi's first bill doesn’t address the gun violence plaguing every corner of the nation.

“This is not the time to be timid. This is the time to really be bold, and that is the mandate the electorate has given us,” Pressley said on a bench in the basement of the Capitol as she changed from unforgiving heels to more-comfortable gym shoes. “All of us ran on bold policy ideas, and I want us to send that signal early on that that’s the work we’ll be doing.”

Suburban Democrats

The bulk of Democrat’s gains this cycle came in suburban areas where the party previously felt gerrymandered out of contention. In many of those red-tinged or purple districts incoming lawmakers have already vowed to oppose Pelosi, and it will be difficult to change tack.

Read: 21 historic firsts from the 2018 midterms

“I’ve been talking for over a year and a half about how critical new leadership is, how gridlocked Washington is, and how important it is that we move forward on these key issues,” incoming New Jersey Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill said outside of an orientation meeting. “I think the best way to do that is with new leaders.”

As Pelosi and her confidants are twisting arms and doling out favors to win more support, many of those "Never Pelosi" Democrats are wavering on their pledge to voters to oppose her, which has some Democrats warning the entire party’s credibility is at stake if she’s named speaker.

“When you say something and you tell people something, you should keep your word,” incoming Democratic Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who still steadfastly vows to never support Pelosi, told reporters at the Capitol. “When you don’t keep your word, that just diminishes, I believe, what the public believes about elected officials.”

The danger for Sherrill, Drew and any other freshman who opposes Pelosi is they imperil their own fundraising ability if she is re-elected. Indeed, part of the reason Democrats were able to flip 33 Republican seats (so far) this year was due to Pelosi’s fundraising prowess. The bulk of that cash was sent to the very freshman lawmakers who are now imperiling her leadership aspirations. While Pelosi’s detractors are the most vocal, the bulk of House Democrats are firmly behind her (at least publicly), and that includes the majority of the party’s freshmen class.

“Nancy Pelosi has proven herself as a first-class legislator,” soon-to-be Florida Congresswoman Donna Shalala, who was secretary of Health and Human Services during the Clinton administration, told a flock of reporters huddled in the cold outside of the hotel reserved for freshmen lawmakers. “We would not have Obamacare without her.”

Lobbying the freshmen

Pelosi and her allies inside and outside of Congress continue to lobby the freshman class to get behind her bid, but for more than a few freshmen, all this talk of the party leader is premature.

Besides trying to figure out how to navigate the sprawling Capitol complex, many also want to get to know Pelosi’s top generals and lieutenants before casting their lot with her. Ilhan Omar, who will become the first Somali-American member of Congress when she takes office in January, served as assistant minority leader in Minnesota’s legislature, has not yet decided on Pelosi.

But she knows from firsthand experience that the figurehead at the top of the party can’t accomplish anything on their own.

“Nobody does anything by themselves,” she said. “Someone’s weakness is someone else’s strength, and someone else’s strength is someone else’s weakness.”

Cover: Members-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, and Deb Haaland, D-N.M., are seen after the freshman class photo on the East Front of the Capitol on November 14, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Congress has two ways it might try to save Mueller. Both have huge downsides.

November 16, 2018 - 3:05pm

A number of Senate Republicans have long argued that there’s no need for any fancy new legislation to protect special counsel Bob Mueller’s Russia investigation, because President Trump was never really going to fire him.

Then Trump swapped his old attorney general, Jeff Sessions, last week for Sessions’ deputy, Matthew Whitaker, who’s been openly hostile to the probe. That was enough to prompt some influential lawmakers to say the time has finally come to try to force Congress to act. But not all of them.

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a bill designed to protect Mueller from being fired, saying he still doesn’t see any real need for it. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who unsuccessfully tried to bring the bill to the floor, also made a threat to hold up judicial nominations until Mueller is protected.

“I have committed not to advance any more nominees to the Judiciary Committee,” Flake said on Thursday. “They will not receive my vote. And with the margins we have in the Judiciary Committee, it means they will not move forward. Also I will not vote for any who come to the floor.”

Flake can do that because he’s a key vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee. If he decides to vote against moving a nomination forward, and all the Democrats on the committee join along with him, he can effectively shut down the pipeline of nominees.

Flake’s power move strikes at the heart of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s goals in this congressional term: getting as many conservative-leaning judicial nominees on the bench as possible.

The issue here is that there are limits to Flake’s power. For one, while this would be unprecedented, judicial nominations can be moved to the floor without receiving a majority of support from the committee. Flake said such a move was rare and unlikely.

“I don’t think that’s ever been done with circuit or district court nominees because that sets a precedent that you are just going to set aside the committee’s business,” Flake said. “And I can tell you no chairmen in the Senate are going to be comfortable with that precedent.”

Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, also noted that a move like that would be unlikely and pointed out that there are a lot of nominees that have already been moved out of committee and are awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.

Though Flake has also threatened to withhold his vote from any judicial nominees on the floor, without a Republican friend in the Senate willing to do the same, it is likely nominations will still move through.

And either way, his threat is short-lived: Flake’s time in the Senate ends on January 3.

On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have options to protect Mueller with the power of the purse. A chunk of government funding runs out in December, which provides another leverage opportunity — if Democrats are willing to use it.

On CNN earlier this week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that if acting Attorney General Whitaker didn’t recuse himself, Democrats would “attempt to add to must-pass legislation, in this case the spending bill, legislation that would prevent Mr. Whitaker from interfering with the Mueller investigation.” People on both sides of the aisle seemed somewhat open to this idea.

“I support legislation that protects Mueller whether it makes it into the appropriations bill which is being discussed or some other way,” said Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee.

But playing with the appropriations process has often been politically dicey for the party that tries it. If Democrats are serious about trying to protect Mueller through a government spending bill, that could lead to a partial government shutdown, and no party wants to be blamed for that.

“The party associated with shutting down the government usually pays the political price,” said William Moschella, the former head of Justice Department legislative affairs office during the George W. Bush administration.

Republicans, for example, largely took the blame for shutdowns in 1995 and 1996 under former President Bill Clinton in conflicts over federal spending — while Clinton’s approval ratings rose.

“Holding judges hostage, or appropriations bills hostage, is rarely effective,” Moschella said. “And even if those moves do get Congress to act, whether the president would sign any such legislation would also be pretty doubtful.”

Cover image: FBI Director Robert Mueller listens as he testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 13, 2013, as the House Judiciary Committee held an oversight hearing on the FBI. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Trump administration plans to grant more rights to college students accused of sexual assault

November 16, 2018 - 11:57am

If Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has any say, college campuses and K-12 facilities will soon ramp down sexual harassment investigations and offer more rights to the students accused of misconduct, according to proposed regulations released Friday.

Under the proposed Title IX enforcement regulations, schools would only have to launch investigations into properly reported incidents — for example, those reported to a campus Title IX administrator — that were part of campus programs and activities. Required investigations could include incidents that take place in off-campus buildings owned by the school, or incidents that take place during school-sponsored events, but the level of proof needed to substantiate those assault allegations would raise from a “preponderance of evidence” to “clear and convincing evidence.”

The proposal also narrows the definition of sexual harassment to “unwelcome conduct on the basis of sex that is so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it denies a person access to the school’s education program or activity.” Under the Obama administration’s guidelines, harassment was defined simply as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”

“We expect that the proposed regulations will be a dramatic improvement," Samantha Harris, director of policy research at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told NPR.
She said the Trump administration is "recognizing that schools must provide meaningful procedural protections to accused students when adjudicating such serious offenses."

Meanwhile, students accused of sexual harassment would be entitled to lawyers and cross-examination, “reducing the risk of improperly punishing students” while offering more due process measures, according to an Education Department summary on the proposal. Schools are still encouraged to offer things like schedule changes, a no-contact order and new housing to accusers, even if they do not file a formal complaint, but under the proposed rules a school would be able to offer these services in place of an investigation.

“Today’s announcement of Title IX rollbacks is the latest in a troubling pattern of Secretary DeVos’ efforts to dismantle the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights and turn the federal government’s back on students who are suffering, vulnerable or disenfranchised,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a statement.

Under Barack Obama’s administration, the Department of Education issued guidelines that broadened a school’s obligations for handling sexual assault allegations. Detractors, colleges and men’s rights groups decried these rules as overly harsh and vague, and an assault on due process rights.

DeVos’ plans could become law after a public comment period — the start date for that is unclear, although it will likely last 60 days — and if they do, schools would no longer be responsible for investigating certain kinds of reported incidents, such as an assault that took place between two students off-campus in a private residence during a weekend party. Under the new rules, the Education Department will only punish schools for mishandling assault allegations if their response is “clearly unreasonable in light of the known circumstances.”

“The lack of clear regulatory standards has contributed to processes that have not been fair to all parties involved, that have lacked appropriate procedural protections, and that have undermined confidence in the reliability of the outcomes of investigations of sexual harassment allegations,” the Department of Education said in the proposal.

Cover image: Betsy DeVos, U.S. secretary of education, speaks during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018. Trump prodded China to offer more at the bargaining table as the two countries prepared for their first major negotiation in more than two months in an effort to head off an all-out trade war. Photographer: Oliver Contreras/Pool via Bloomberg

The U.S. joined with Russia, China and North Korea in rejecting cybersecurity pact. Nobody will say why.

November 16, 2018 - 11:13am

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday announced a grand accord signed by more than 50 nations and 250 organizations aimed at making the internet a safer place by putting limits on cyberwarfare.

But one key ally was missing from Macron’s new “arms control” for the internet age: The United States of America. Indeed, the U.S. joined a list of renegade countries with which it's typically at odds: Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran, all of whom have active cyberwarfare campaigns in operation.

The White House has been largely mum on its decision to keep America’s name off the accord, but former government officials and cyber experts say a lack of leadership, an "America First" foreign policy that shies away from multilateral agreements, and a fear of limiting its own offensive cyber capabilities are likely drivers behind the move.

Either way, the decision doesn't look so great at first blush.

“A good rule of thumb on any issue is that it is a bad look when Russia, North Korea, and Iran are with you, but most of the rest of the world is not,” Peter Singer, an expert in 21st century warfare, told VICE News.

“Bad company”

The Paris Call for Security and Trust in Cyberspace is just the latest in a string of efforts to create a multilateral, comprehensive set of regulations for how countries conduct operations in cyberspace.

The document sets out nine goals ranging from thwarting foreign actors from interfering with elections to preventing attacks on critical infrastructure and working to stop private companies from “hacking back.”

It also calls on signatories to stop “malicious cyber activities in peacetime, notably the ones threatening or resulting in significant, indiscriminate or systemic harm to individuals” — which Iran, Russia and China have all been accused of.

But Macron’s Paris Call, for now anyway, is only aspirational rather than a binding set of regulations forcing countries to limit their operations in cyberspace, which makes the U.S.’s lack of support all the more baffling, said experts.

“Purely as a diplomatic move, it puts us in very bad company,” Michael Carpenter, who previously served on the National Security Council as director for Russia under the Obama administration, added.


So why didn’t the U.S. sign on? Well, no one's really sure.

The State Department told VICE News that the U.S. is “not in a position to endorse” the paper, but when asked why that was the case, it failed to give an answer.

“We continue to support many of the overarching policies put forth in the Paris Call. We certainly welcome like-minded momentum on these issues. We understand several governments and stakeholders have endorsed the document and some may continue to do so,” a spokesperson said.

The decision not to sign the document this week may not be down to major differences of opinion, but because the White House simply didn’t get around to addressing it.

“It's not clear that they won't eventually sign,” Paul Triolo, who spent 25 years working in the U.S. government dealing with cybersecurity issues, told VICE News. “There is a lot of turmoil in the U.S. cyber–policymaking community. It could just be a bureaucratic churn issue.”

“There is a lot of turmoil in the U.S. cyber–policymaking community. It could just be a bureaucratic churn issue.”

With the departure of Rob Joyce as White House cybersecurity coordinator in May, the administration has been accused of being rudderless when it comes to cybersecurity policy, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raising concerns that lack of leadership has left the U.S. vulnerable to attack.

Despite the apparent lack of leadership, Trump’s administration has pushed ahead with a bold, new cyber strategy. The policy rolls back Obama-era limitations and hands intelligence agencies greater freedom to conduct offensive cyberattacks against adversaries.

A report by the Daily Beast earlier this month claims the Pentagon had prepared an offensive cyberattack against Russia if they interfered with the midterm elections.

Short-term view

Some experts chalked up the rejection of Macron's deal to Trump and National Security Adviser John Bolton’s America First approach to all foreign policy initiatives.

“This is yet another damaging consequence from the Bolton-Trump philosophy of foreign policy,” Nate Jones, a former official at the National Security Council, told VICE News. “They are highly skeptical of multilateral efforts to solve problems, particularly where those efforts could potentially constrain our freedom of action in the future.”

Singer agreed, and warned that it puts the U.S. on the outside looking in when it comes to deciding how a global cybersecurity policy is shaped and trying to limit the influence of Russia, China, and Iran.

“The problem is that so many threats to US security simply can't be solved in that way,” Singer said. “Whether it is cybersecurity or environmental or nuclear nonproliferation issues, they are multilateral and multilayered.”

“This is yet another damaging consequence from the Bolton-Trump philosophy of foreign policy.”

In the end, whether or not the U.S. signs the Paris Call is not really going to have any major impact on how nation-state cyberoperations are conducted, because, while its goals are admirable, signing up does not limit any country’s offensive cyber capabilities.

“The language in the document is so vague that it's meaningless,” Jake Williams, a former member of the NSA's hacking unit, told VICE News.

Triolo agreed: “There is nothing binding here. There are no teeth to this.”

But security expert Mikko Hypponen pointed out that while there may be nothing binding here, these negotiations have to start somewhere. “Points to France for trying. We’re not going to get to anywhere if we don’t even try. We will be needing rules and laws for this new domain. And that’s what cyberspace is: a new domain for conflict and war. Just like land, sea, air and space. Now cyberspace.”

Cover image: U.S President Donald Trump, second left, watches French President Emmanuel Macron putting his hand on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's knee during ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 in Paris. (AP)

Vape influencers think the FDA's crackdown on Juul won't matter

November 16, 2018 - 10:55am

PIQUA, Ohio — The Food and Drug Administration announced its long-awaited e-cigarette regulations with new rules, subject to approval, that will require more stringent age verification for people buying flavored nicotine — sending vape companies and their teenage fans scrambling.

In a statement announcing the rules, FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb acknowledged that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, but said he was shocked at how widespread teen e-cigarette usage has become — a trend he believes makes kids more likely to try smoking.

On Tuesday, the vaping giant Juul preemptively announced it will temporarily stop selling flavored nicotine vapor pods to retail stores until they impose strict age verification mechanisms, like ID scanners. And on Juul’s website, users will have to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number to buy flavored pods.

But all of the new rules from the FDA probably won’t stop the army of kids on sites like YouTube and Instagram, who have essentially become evangelists for the coolness of vaping. Juul doesn’t sponsor any of these influencers, who get their money from companies that make third-party Juul pods, other vape juices, or bigger vape rigs. But their enthusiasm about the industry helped drive the FDA crackdown.

In just a few years, Juul has transformed the e-cigarette landscape. The company is now worth about $15 billion, and currently controls about 70 percent of the market. In other words, it has a lot to lose.

Juuls are also incredibly easy to purchase — and incredibly easy to hide. And that’s made them a hit among high schoolers, where kids can hit the Juul in class or the bathroom without teachers noticing, prompting school administrators to beg for solutions.

So ahead of the FDA’s ruling, Juul moved to appease regulators, not just with the pause on flavors, but also by deleting its Facebook and Instagram accounts, so that it wouldn’t be seen as marketing to kids. But their social reach isn't loosening its grip anytime soon: posters like Dash Drips and Donny Smokes say they have no plans to stop posting.

This segment originally aired November 15, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

White man who allegedly said "whites don't kill whites" during Kroger shooting is charged with a hate crime

November 16, 2018 - 10:14am

The white man accused of stating that "whites don't kill whites" after allegedly murdering a black man and a black woman at a Kroger supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, last month is now facing federal hate crime charges.

On Thursday, a grand jury returned a six-count indictment against the alleged gunman, 51-year-old Gregory Bush, charging him with three federal hate crimes, and three federal firearms offenses. Federal prosecutors have not ruled out the possibility of seeking the death penalty against Bush if he is convicted on those charges.

According to the indictment, on October 24 around 3 p.m., Bush entered the Kroger supermarket, armed with a .40 caliber pistol, and began indiscriminately shooting inside the store and outside with the specific goal of killing people of color. Prosecutors say he killed Maurice Stallard, 69, inside the store, and Vickie Jones, 69, just by the entrance.

“The crimes alleged in this indictment are horrific," Acting Attorney General Whitaker said in a statement. "We cannot and will not tolerate violence motivated by racism. We will bring the full force of the law against these and any other alleged hate crimes against fellow Americans of any race.”

The Kroger supermarket shooting, which happened on a Wednesday, came during a particularly violent and hate-filled week in America. News of the shooting was overshadowed by a days-long serial bombing campaign allegedly perpetrated by a hardcore Trump fanatic who targeted more than a dozen of the president’s biggest critics. And the following Saturday, a man who regularly expressed violently anti-semitic views online opened fire on a synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 people.

Still, the shooting received national attention in the aftermath of the tense week — and after law enforcement said that Bush, before opening fire in the supermarket, had unsuccessfully tried to enter the First Baptist Church, a black congregation, during its midweek service. Police said that they saw him on surveillance video trying to enter the church for ten minutes, before giving up and driving to Kroger.

The day after the shooting, Bush was arraigned on two counts of murder and ten counts of wanton endangerment. Details of his criminal history trickled out in the days following, including information that he’d been previously convicted of domestic assault, and was known to make racist comments, including to his black ex-wife.

Cover image: The Kroger Marketplace in Louisville, Ky., where Maurice Stallard, 69, and Vickie Lee Jones, 67, were shot and killed in an possible hate crime. (Photo by William DeShazer for The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Betsy DeVos' squad of 24/7 armed guards could cost taxpayers almost $20 million, report says

November 16, 2018 - 10:06am

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. education secretary who has sometimes had to deal with teacher-led protests, could cost taxpayers nearly $20 million if she maintains her armed security detail, NBC News reports.

DeVos was granted 24/7 security detail by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions days after she was confirmed to President Donald Trump’s cabinet in February 2017, according to NBC News. No other cabinet secretary has a similar armed, Marshal detail on hand, according to the Washington Post.

In total, DeVos’ security efforts could cost taxpayers $19.8 million through September of 2019. The security detail cost $5.3 million in fiscal year 2017 and $6.8 million for fiscal year 2018, which was considered a “high water mark” the administration didn’t plan to exceed, according to Politico. The estimated cost for her security detail in fiscal year 2019 is $7.74 million, according to NBC.

For comparison, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt — now notorious for his own spending scandals — spent $3.5 million on security before he resigned in July. According to NBC, DeVos’ two immediate predecessors under the Obama administration — Arne Duncan and John King Jr. — received security agents that escorted them door-to-door.

The Department of Education did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment.

It’s still unclear who requested the security protocol, and Education Department spokeswoman Liz Hill told NBC that DeVos didn’t personally request the protection. Without disclosing the nature of the threats against DeVos, Hill said “it should be obvious that they are significant. Otherwise, the trained professionals who made the call to escalate her detail wouldn’t have done so.”

The call for help from the U.S. Marshals Service came a few days after teachers and parents protesting DeVos’ support of charter schools and voucher programs met her at a Washington, D.C., middle school. The protest, which was at a public school, was over DeVos’ support for school voucher programs and charter schools. But DeVos hasn’t been visiting public schools much since she got the detail, according to NBC News and the group American Oversight.

Separately, DeVos’ agency released a list of rules Friday which allows those accused sexual assault on college campuses more rights while limiting the kind of assaults that universities must investigate, according to the Washington Post.

Cover image: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos visits a classroom at the Edward Hynes Charter School in New Orleans, Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A judge just ordered Trump to reinstate CNN's Jim Acosta's White House press pass

November 16, 2018 - 9:46am

A federal judge ordered the White House to reinstate CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s credentials Friday after President Donald Trump banned him earlier this week.

U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly said that the Trump administration likely violated CNN and Acosta’s Fifth Amendment rights and also likely caused “irreparable harm” in its conduct. The judge also said that Acosta’s First Amendment rights outweighed the Trump administration’s right to orderly press conferences.

The judge did not rule on the underlying case but granted CNN an injunction to restore Acosta's press pass until the full case is heard in court.

“I want to thank all of my colleagues in the press who supported us,” Acosta said, speaking outside the courthouse. “Let’s get back to work.”

CNN and Acosta released a joint statement that applauded the ruling.

It’s a huge victory for CNN, which had the backing of numerous other top news outlets in its legal battle with the Trump administration. Even Fox News, the president’s favorite news source, issued a statement to show support for CNN.

Read: Even Fox News thinks Trump went too far with CNN's Jim Acosta

The day after the midterms, Trump and Acosta got into a confrontation after Acosta asked the president why he characterized a group of migrants traveling to the U.S. border from Central America as an “invasion.” He also asked the president a question about the Russia investigation.

“CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them,” Trump also told Acosta. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN.”

Read: The White House is circulating a doctored Infowars video

Sarah Huckabee Sanders later tweeted a doctored video that was sped up to create the illusion that Acosta was using force against a female press room aide. On the question of assault, Judge Kelly said the allegation is "likely untrue."

While the ruling restores Acosta's access to the White House, Judge Kelly made it clear it is not a ruling on the facts of the case, which have yet to be heard. “I want to emphasize the very limited nature of this ruling,” Judge Kelly said. “I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated here.”

Cover: U.S. President Donald Trump gets into an exchange with CNN reporter Jim Acosta during a news conference a day after the midterm elections on November 7, 2018 in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Al Drago - Pool/Getty Images)

Theresa May’s own party members are plotting to bring her down

November 16, 2018 - 7:07am

Theresa May is likely to face a vote of no-confidence in her leadership, a move that could see the British prime minister ousted by her own party over Brexit, according to reports Friday.

Conservative MP and hardline Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg publicly called for the vote Thursday, which would need the backing of 48 Conservatives to proceed.

Unconfirmed reports emerged Friday morning that the required 48 letters had been received. The editor of the BrexitCentral news site, citing an anonymous source, claimed that the threshold been reached, while Sky News reported that government whips had been ordered to return to London as a no confidence vote was likely.

When asked Friday morning if the threshold had been reached, Rees-Mogg said: “We’ll see.”

How would it work?

At least 20 Conservative MPs have publicly called for a no-confidence vote, but MPs can also submit letters privately.

Should the vote take place, May will be ousted if a simple majority of her 315 MPs vote for her removal. A leadership contest will then be held to find a replacement. If May survives a vote, her leadership cannot be challenged for at least 12 months.

READ MORE: Theresa May’s Brexit deal is falling apart after one day

The ballot will be conducted in secret, with the decision resting with each individual MP on whether to make their vote public or not.

Why do some Tories want her out?

May’s leadership has often looked precarious since she took over from David Cameron in the wake of the EU referendum in June 2016 — particularly after she called a disastrous snap election a year later which slashed her party’s seats in Parliament and left it a minority government.

But this crisis is trumping even that. Her latest troubles began when four ministers resigned Thursday over her draft Brexit agreement with the European Union — including her Brexit Secretary overseeing negotiations.

Will May quit?

Despite the rebellion, May has vowed not to stand down and called for MPs to rally behind her Brexit plan. A key Conservative, Michael Gove, was reported Friday to have decided not to resign, amid widespread speculation he would step aside in what would be another hugely damaging blow to May. Gove had turned down the vacant Brexit Secretary role offered to him Thursday night.

May is pushing to have the draft deal, as agreed with the EU this week, ratified by Parliament before Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019. But the negative reaction to the agreement from across the political spectrum makes it increasingly unlikely May will get the 320 votes needed for the deal to pass, raising the likelihood of a “no-deal Brexit” which many predict will be economically disastrous.

Hardline Brexiters have taken issue, in particular, with a so-called “backstop” approach intended to solve issues on the Irish border. May's plan is for the UK to observe EU customs rules, at least temporarily, until a permanent solution is reached — a situation the Brexiters say is untenable.

Can the Europeans help her out?

Critics say the backlash to May’s draft Brexit agreement has left the deal dead in the water. But while the hardliners are pushing for the government to negotiate a better deal, the Europeans have said there is nothing else on offer.

“We have a document on the table that Britain and the EU 27 have agreed to, so for me there is no question at the moment whether we negotiate further,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday night, warning that a “no deal Brexit” come March 29 would be “the worst case, and most disorderly.”

Cover image: Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May holds a news conference at Downing Street in London, Britain November 15, 2018. (Matt Dunham/Pool via Reuters)

North Korea just tested a new “ultramodern” weapon

November 16, 2018 - 7:00am

Kim Jong Un oversaw the testing of a “newly developed ultramodern” tactical weapon, state media reported Friday, days after Donald Trump claimed he was keeping the North Korean despot in line.

The trial was held at the testing ground of the Academy of Defence Science in Pyongyang, according to the Korean Central News Agency, which called it a “decisive turn in bolstering the fighting capacity" of the regime’s military.

The report describes Kim as “excited” after witnessing the successful test, without revealing what type of weapon was demonstrated.

A South Korean official said the weapon is thought to be a new type of long-range artillery, news agency Yonhap reported, though nuclear expert Jeffrey Lewis warned that Seoul had previously misidentified similar weapons.

Kim is quoted as saying the test “serves as another striking demonstration of the validity of the Party policy of prioritizing defense science and technology and the rapidly developing defense capability of the country and as a decisive turn in bolstering the fighting capacity of the Korean People's Army.”

Friday’s revelation marks the first time Kim has attended a military event since his high-profile meeting with Trump in Singapore in June. At that meeting, Kim promised to halt all missile tests, a promise he has so far kept.

The tactical weapons test may not be viewed as an act of provocation by Seoul or Washington, but tensions continue to rise in Pyongyang over the White House’s insistence that sanctions remain in place until full denuclearization has been achieved.

READ: North Korea is operating at least 13 secret missile bases, report reveals

A North Korean government spokesperson said on Nov. 5 that if the U.S. doesn't start removing sanctions on Pyongyang, Kim could restart “building up nuclear forces.”

“I think [the test] is a warning of what might be to come if Trump doesn't lift sanctions,” Lewis told VICE News.

Asked last week about the lack of movement on North Korea denuclearization, Trump told reporters: “We are in no rush. The sanctions are on. The missiles have stopped. The rockets have stopped. The hostages are home.”

Vice President Mike Pence revealed Thursday that the U.S. would drop its demand that a full list of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile sites be presented before a second Trump-Kim summit.

“I think it will be absolutely imperative in this next summit that we come away with a plan for identifying all of the weapons in question, identifying all the development sites, allowing for inspections of the sites and the plan for dismantling nuclear weapons,” Pence told NBC.

A report published this week outlined more than a dozen secret missile bases that have been developed by North Korea since the Singapore Summit.

Cover image: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects Samjiyon County, in this undated photo released on October 30, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. (KCNA/via REUTERS)

A court filing error reveals Julian Assange has been secretly charged by the Justice Department

November 16, 2018 - 6:45am

A “copy and paste error” inadvertently revealed Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal by the Justice Department with unspecified offenses.

A court filing on an unrelated case, submitted by assistant U.S. attorney Kellen Dwyer in the Eastern District of Virginia — where many national security matters are dealt with — said that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.”

The filing went on to say: “The complaint, supporting affidavit and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and can therefore no longer evade or avoid arrest and extradition in this matter.”

The prosecutor’s office admitted the mistake. “The court filing was made in error. That was not the intended name for this filing,” Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the office said.

The Washington Post confirmed that Assange had indeed been charged.

Wikileaks said Friday it has not been contacted by Dwyer’s office, and the “apparent cut-and-paste error in an unrelated case also at the Eastern District of Virginia” revealed the “existence of sealed charges (or a draft for them) against WikiLeaks' publisher Julian Assange.”

What the filing did not reveal is what charges Assange now faces. Sources speaking to the Wall Street Journal said prosecutors could use the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the disclosure of national defense-related information.

Speaking to Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik, Assange’s Ecuadorean lawyer Carlos Poveda claims the U.S., U.K., and Ecuador had reached an agreement over his client.

Poveda said Washington was planning to impose “grave” charges against Assange. “It will not be a death penalty but he may get a life sentence,” he said.

The Justice Department has long been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks over its 2010 publication of thousands of classified cables related to the Afghanistan war. Investigations into the activist gained new impetus after the publication of thousands of leaked Democratic emails in the run-up to the 2016 election.

A recent indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller portrayed WikiLeaks as a tool of the Kremlin, publishing Democratic emails U.S. intelligence agencies believe were hacked by Russia operatives.

Mueller has also probed communications between Assange and associates of President Donald Trump, including political operative Roger Stone and commentator and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi.

“The news that criminal charges have apparently been filed against Mr. Assange is even more troubling than the haphazard manner in which that information has been revealed,” Barry Pollack, one of Assange’s lawyers, told the Guardian.

Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since September 2012 but his relationship with his hosts has deteriorated significantly in the recent months. The country’s new president Lenin Moreno recently describing Assange as a “stone in our shoe.”

Assange sued Ecuador last month over the conditions of his confinement — he recently had his internet access disconnected — but an Ecuadorian judge rejected the claims. At the hearing, Assange said he expected to be forced out of the embassy soon.

The U.S. has been investigating Assange and WikiLeaks since 2010 when Chelsea Manning leaked classified cables related to the Afghanistan War. While Manning was imprisoned — and subsequently pardoned — for her part in the leak, no charges have ever been brought against Assange.

READ: Ecuador tells Assange that cleaning the cat box is not “violating his fundamental rights”

Assange and WikiLeaks have consistently said that they deserve protection under the First Amendment. During the Obama administration, then-Attorney General Eric Holder argued that WikiLeaks did not deserve the same protections as news organizations, but charges were never brought.

But not everyone agrees with this assessment.

“[It is] deeply troubling if the Trump administration, which has shown little regard for media freedom, would charge Assange for receiving from a government official and publishing classified information — exactly what journalists do all the time,” Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch, said Friday morning.

Any prosecution of Assange for publishing would be "unprecedented and unconstitutional" according to Ben Wizner, from the American Civil Liberties' Union (ACLU), adding that it could open the door to charges being filed against other media organizations.

"Prosecuting a foreign publisher for violating U.S. secrecy laws would set an especially dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public's interest," Wizner told VICE News in an emailed statement.

Cover image: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017. (REUTERS/Peter Nicholls)

Explosive testimony at El Chapo’s trial tells new history of the Sinaloa cartel

November 15, 2018 - 5:41pm

It’s only day three of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s trial, but witness testimony has already turned much of the drug kingpin's myth on its head.

Earlier in the week, government witness Jesus “El Rey” Zambada provided explosive allegations about corruption in Mexico and an inside look at how the Sinaloa cartel operate. Today, he offered fresh revelations about El Chapo’s first escape from prison, the assassination of a top Catholic Church official, and the murder of a rival cartel leader.

El Rey, the younger brother of El Chapo’s longtime partner in the Sinaloa cartel, returned to the witness stand on Thursday to be questioned by federal prosecutors. In more than four hours of testimony, he described how his brother, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada banded together with El Chapo and others to form the Sinaloa cartel, wage war with rival groups, and smuggle tons of cocaine, heroin, meth, and marijuana to the U.S.

El Rey rocked back and forth in a chair and stroked his chin as he casually recounted his brother’s relationship and business dealings with El Chapo, who was staring him down from across the courtroom, dressed in a blue suit, crisp white shirt, and navy blue tie. The testimony was often riveting, and it essentially rewrote key parts of the El Chapo legend and the history of the Sinaloa cartel.

El Chapo’s early years in the drug trade and the loose partnership between traffickers that formed the basis of the Sinaloa cartel was the subject of the latest episode of our VICE News podcast “Chapo: Kingpin on Trial.”

Here's what we learned today in court and how it relates to our reporting.

The War

El Rey’s most dramatic testimony covered the war that broke out between El Chapo and the leaders of the Tijuana cartel in the late 1980s and extended all the way through the early 2000s. El Rey said the Tijuana cartel, led by brothers Benjamin and Ramon Arellano-Felix, started the conflict by refusing to share their territory.

“The Arellano-Felix’s thought they were the kings, the rulers of Tijuana,” he said. “They didn’t want anyone crossing drugs without their authorization.”

The dispute led to El Mayo splitting with the Tijuana cartel and joining forces with El Chapo and other leaders. After that, hitmen working for the Arellano-Felix brothers came looking for El Rey, trying to kill him at his house in Mexico City.

“One day when I was buying something at the store, some sicarios intercepted me and they shot at me from a distance,” he said. “They grazed my head. I fell to the floor and fortunately I wasn’t left unconscious. I jumped back up and with my pistol I started firing at them. They were surprised because they thought I was dead.”

He described a head wound that left a divot in his skull and caused heavy bleeding. One of the assassins was wounded in the exchange of gunfire. The hired killers eventually fled the scene without accomplishing their mission, but another brother of El Rey and El Mayo, Vicente Zambada Garcia, was later killed by the Tijuana cartel.

Read: The brother of El Chapo’s partner just spilled the Sinaloa cartel’s secrets

This was just one of many violent confrontations between the warring cartels that El Rey described from the stand today. The most notorious incident was a shootout at a nightclub called Christine’s in the resort city of Puerto Vallarta in 1992. El Rey said his brother told him that El Chapo planned to send gunmen to the club to take out Ramon Arellano-Felix, the Tijuana cartel’s chief enforcer.

Ramon Arellano-Felix narrowly escaped during the shootout at Christine’s, but several of his gunmen and some innocent bystanders were killed. El Rey said this left his brother disappointed. “[El Mayo] was bemoaning the fact that Ramon hadn’t been killed because he was a very dangerous enemy,” he testified.

Chapo got his revenge in early 2002, when Ramon Arellano-Felix was killed in the Sinaloan beach town of Mazatlan. El Rey said that when El Chapo had corrupt police officials pull over the Tijuana cartel leader in front of a hotel, a shootout ensued, leaving Ramon dead.

He testified that a few years later El Chapo confessed to him “that if anything had really given him pleasure, it was to have killed Ramon Arellano.”

The CardinalIn this Feb. 22, 2014, file photo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in handcuffs, is escorted to a helicopter by Mexican navy marines in Mexico City, Mexico. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, file)

A pivotal moment in El Chapo’s story is the 1993 killing of Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo at the airport in Guadalajara, Mexico. El Rey testified that his understanding was that gunmen from the Tijuana cartel, sent by Ramon Arellano-Felix, were staking out the airport, where the planned to kill El Chapo.

But El Chapo arrived early and slipped past the gunmen, El Rey said. The cardinal came after, driving a car that was similar to the one used by El Chapo, and was mistaken for the druglord. El Rey said he was told by El Mayo that the Tijuana cartel gunmen mistakenly shot shot the cardinal, which echoes the conventional narrative about the high-profile killing.

Yet this narrative isn’t agreed upon by all law enforcement officials. For the podcast on El Chapo, VICE News spoke with a former DEA agent who worked undercover in Mexico during the early ‘90s. The ex-DEA believes the cardinal was intentionally targeted, perhaps because he was planning to share information with the Vatican about corruption at the highest levels of the Mexican government.

That theory was also voiced Tuesday by El Chapo’s lawyer Jeffrey Lichtman. In his opening statement to the jury, Lichtman claimed El Chapo was framed for the killing “very possibly by the Mexican government.”

The Federation

El Rey spent much of his testimony detailing how El Chapo and El Mayo forged a partnership with other top traffickers to create what is now known as the Sinaloa cartel. They pooled resources such as gunmen and transportation for drug smuggling, and also provided protection for each other by bribing Mexican officials.

El Rey said he personally handed over $300,000 per month in bribes while he was based in Mexico City, corrupting nearly every level of law enforcement in the Mexican capital. El Mayo and El Chapo were responsible for corrupting higher-level officials, including members of the Mexican Attorney General’s office, generals in the Mexican military, and officials from the international police agency Interpol with bribes of up to $500,000.

He said that in the early ‘90s, El Chapo and El Mayo teamed up with a who’s who of prominent Mexican traffickers, including Amado Carrillo Fuentes aka “The Lord of the Skies,” Juan José Esparragoza Moreno aka “El Azul,” the Beltran-Leyva brothers, and Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel. Law enforcement dubbed this group “The Federation.”

The Escape

After the killing of the cardinal in 1993, El Chapo was captured and incarcerated until 2001, when he escaped prison for the first time. El Rey testified that the escape was planned by El Mayo, the Beltran-Leyva brothers, and El Chapo’s brother Arturo Guzman.

El Rey said he heard from El Mayo that El Chapo escaped from a maximum-security prison by hiding in a laundry cart, which was wheeled out the front gate by a guard. That’s the standard version of the story, and it contradicts reporting from journalist Anabel Hernandez, who claims to have evidence that El Chapo actually disguised himself as a police officer.

After the escape, El Rey testified that he and his brother arranged to have a helicopter sent to rescue El Chapo as special forces from the Mexican military were closing in to recapture him. He said the helicopter picked up El Chapo and delivered him to a secluded landing spot near the city of Queretaro, about a three-hour drive outside of Mexico City.

“We’re going to start again. Let’s do this.”

After hiding out for a couple days in Mexico City, El Chapo went to live on a ranch just outside of town that belonged to one of his gunmen, a legendary cartel figure nicknamed Barbarino. There, he held business meetings with El Mayo and Colombian traffickers, and attended the baptism of Barbarino’s son. El Rey recalled with a smile how the priest who was summoned to perform the ceremony “looked a little bit nervous.”

El Rey said that shortly after the escape, El Chao was ready to get back into business. He described how El Mayo hatched a plan for them to start smuggling large shipments of cocaine. El Chapo seemed enthusiastic, El Rey recalled, and planned to relocate to his “native land” of Sinaloa, where he would remain in hiding for the next 13 years.

El Rey recalled El Chapo saying, “We’re going to start again. Let’s do this.”

Cover image: In this Jan. 8, 2016, file image released by Mexico's federal government, Mexico's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, stands for his prison mug shot with the inmate number 3870 at the Altiplano maximum security federal prison in Almoloya, Mexico. (Mexico's federal government via AP)

Ohio Republicans just passed a "heartbeat" abortion bill even though the governor already vetoed it

November 15, 2018 - 4:48pm

Ohio’s Republican-controlled House passed one of the strictest abortion bills in the country Thursday, two years after Republican Gov. John Kasich — who has a track record of opposing abortion rights — vetoed the same bill.

The legislation, known as a “heartbeat bill,” prohibits abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable or as soon as six weeks, which is often before someone knows they’re pregnant. The language also makes no exceptions for rape and incest. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate and then likely, to Kasich’s desk, although it’s unclear if he’d veto again. The bill passed passed 58-35, just two votes short of having the option to override the governor’s veto.

Kasich has signed 18 abortion restrictions into law during his time as governor, according to the Dayton Daily News, but he wouldn’t put his stamp of approval on the heartbeat bill the state legislature passed in 2016. Kasich did sign a separate measure, however, that outlawed abortion after 20 weeks unless the mother’s life is in danger. If Kasich does veto this version, Republicans could also try again under incoming Republican governor Mike DeWine, who said outright that he would sign the bill.

Ohio’s statehouse legislators have a penchant for theatrics, and Thursday’s hours-long vote was no exception.

“We all have a beating heart,” said state Rep. Christina Hagan, co-sponsor, while holding her twin infants on the House floor, according to the Daily News.

Democrats strongly oppose the bill and reproductive health groups, across the board, have denounced it. Even Ohio Right to Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, has expressed neutrality on the issue over concerns it’s so extreme that it could trigger a Supreme Court fight with an outcome that’s even stricter than Roe v. Wade.

Cover image: In this Sept. 16, 2016, file photo, Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Trump pretty much just admitted that he picked Whitaker to kill Mueller's probe

November 15, 2018 - 4:32pm

Matt Whitaker’s unprecedented appointment to acting Attorney General has been slammed by legal experts on both sides of the aisle as unconstitutional and solely aimed at quashing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

On Wednesday, President Trump appeared to confirm at least part of his critics’ fears, in a revealing, off-the-cuff interview with the conservative website Daily Caller.

Asked for his thoughts about the new AG, Trump veered directly into an assault on Mueller.

Trump said: “I knew him [Whitaker] only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had. It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.”

Trump’s latest comments could add further evidence to a potential accusation that he obstructed justice — a question Mueller has also been tasked with investigating — according to three legal experts who spoke with VICE News.

“As usual, Trump’s candor is not his best friend, in terms of his legal liability,” said Jens David Ohlin, vice deal of Cornell Law School. “Trump is just flat-out admitting here that he views the investigation as illegal. It’s pretty disturbing for him to be so open about it.”

The comments appear highly revealing, former prosecutors told VICE News.

“As usual, Trump’s candor is not his best friend, in terms of his legal liability.”

“This interview is another indication of his state of mind, showing clearly that he disfavors the Mueller investigation, and that he has taken steps to install people who could impede the probe,” said Seth Waxman, a former federal prosecutor from Washington DC. “This is definitely another potential key piece of evidence that could be used by Mueller to show the intent, pattern and practice of attempting to obstruct.”

Read: Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker to acting attorney general is raising all sorts of legal red flags

Taken all together, Trump’s actions and statements with regard to the Russia investigation appear “obstructive,” said Mimi Rocah, a former prosecutor with the Southern District of New York.

“Is it evidence of the crime of obstruction? It could be, if you put it together with the whole pattern of things that he does,” Rocah said.

Trump has denied knowing Whitaker, despite the pair’s numerous interactions before the announcement, but the new acting AG's sudden ascension to the nation’s top cop paints a picture of a powerful defender of the president, who's broadsides against the probe quickly caught the president's attention.

Before joining the Department of Justice in late 2017 as Sessions’ chief of staff, Whitaker made a series of public comments that were openly hostile to the Russia investigation that he now oversees.

Read: Acting AG Matt Whitaker worked for a company that hawked “time travel” technology and other insane products

In one CNN appearance, he pointed out that Trump could quash Mueller, without going through the drama of firing him, by replacing Sessions with a new appointment who might simply reduce Mueller’s budget to a bare minimum.

“Any prosecutor who takes that position on meeting with foreign agents or officials to gather dirt on a political opponent is an idiot.”

Whitaker has also expressed approval of a decision by top brass at the Trump campaign to take a meeting with a Russian lawyer billed as bringing dirt on Clinton.

“I’m appalled,” said Gene Rossi, a former prosecutor from the Eastern District of Virginia. “Any prosecutor who takes that position on meeting with foreign agents or officials to gather dirt on a political opponent is an idiot.”


THE DAILY CALLER: Sure. Could you tell us where your thinking is currently on the attorney general position? I know you’re happy with Matthew Whitaker, do you have any names? Chris Christie —

TRUMP: Matthew Whitaker is a very respected man. He’s — and he’s, very importantly, he’s respected within DOJ. I heard he got a very good decision, I haven’t seen it. Kellyanne, did I hear that?


TRUMP: A 20-page?

THE DAILY CALLER: It just came out right before this, sir.

TRUMP: Well, I heard it was a very strong opinion. Uh, which is good. But [Whitaker] is just somebody that’s very respected.

I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions. And, you know, look, as far as I’m concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought. It should have never been had. It’s something that should have never been brought. It’s an illegal investigation. And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.


TRUMP: He’s heading this whole big thing, he’s not Senate confirmed. So anyway, I have a lot of respect for Matt Whitaker, based primarily on reputation. And I think he’s really — I think a lot of people are starting to come out very much in favor of him during this period of time.

THE DAILY CALLER: What about who will eventually replace him, sir?

TRUMP: Well, I’m looking at a lot of people. I have been called by so many people wanting that job. We have some great people. In the meantime, I think Matt’s going to do a fantastic job.

Cover image: Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker attends the Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Summit, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

What it's like to flip the House as a female candidate in 2018

November 15, 2018 - 3:31pm

STEVENSON RANCH, Calif. — It's been a week since voters propelled Democrat Katie Hill to victory over Rep. Steve Knight for Los Angeles County’s final Republican House seat. But though the election might be over, things are just starting to ramp up for Hill.

Congresswoman-elect Hill is in DC for new member orientation this week, where her phone has been ringing off the hook. As expected, dozens of media requests have rolled in, as well as invitations to speak at local meetings and events around the district.

"One thing that I think has been funny already is the members who have been helpful to me, like either through, mainly through contributing to the campaign and showing up in something or whatever," Hill told VICE News. "Like already, within hours of me not even, like, officially winning. They're saying, like, 'Whoa I can count on your support for X,' and it's like, whoa.”

Unexpectedly, Katie and the team found their plans to celebrate their victory with a night of line dancing at a local bar colliding with both local tragedy and national news. Their planned night out at Borderline Bar and Grill never ended up happening, because just the night before the team was set to meet, a gunman walked in and killed 12 people.

And the Woolsey fire in Southern California kept Hill from making it to a community vigil for the Borderline shooting Thursday. The fire is still not contained and has burned close to 100,000 acres — some of that within Hill’s district.

Hill says she might get some time off around Thanksgiving, but before then she’ll need to find time to sift through the hundreds of applications to fill staff positions in DC and at home, in her district office. Her current staff members are about to start their unpaid vacation and are waiting to see what offers come their way.

VICE News was there throughout the campaign to see what it was like behind the scenes running for office. The result, the last in a series of four episodes, shows the mad dash to the election night finish line — and what happened as Hill and her team waited for the votes to be counted.

This segment originally aired November 8, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

New York is kicking a bunch of public school employees out of their offices to make room for Amazon

November 15, 2018 - 12:38pm

New York’s “progressive” leaders are moving public school employees out of their offices to make room for Jeff Bezos.

More than 1,000 New York City public school employees will lose their offices to accommodate Amazon’s new secondary headquarters in Queens, a school official confirmed to VICE News.

The city’s Office of Pupil Transportation, Division of School Facilities, and Office of Food & Nutrition Services will be evicted from their current building in Long Island City, which will be taken over by Amazon as part of its HQ2 plan involving additional co-headquarters in Queens and Crystal City, Virginia. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, both Democrats, jointly announced their controversial plan to welcome Amazon to the city while offering the world’s most valuable company huge tax breaks.

“We will be identifying new space for staff currently in this building as soon as possible,” New York City schools spokesman Will Mantell said in a statement. “We’ve notified staff and will work closely with staff throughout the transition process.”

Amazon’s plans to come to New York have been met with backlash and protests. Residents fear that Amazon will exacerbate New York City’s rapid gentrification and overcrowded transportation problems.

Both Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who represents the Bronx and Queens in the House, have harshly criticized the deal. Andrew Cuomo’s defeated gubernatorial opponent, who ran a progressive campaign to the left of Cuomo, also denounced the HQ2 deal, saying it would worsen New York City’s homelessness crisis.

A man yelled “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!” in Baltimore during classic play about a Jewish family

November 15, 2018 - 11:48am

A man shouted “Heil Hitler! Heil Trump!” and gave a Nazi salute during a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Baltimore Wednesday night, according to audience members.

Police were called and the man was escorted from the theater. He was not arrested, and a police spokesman later told VICE News that the man's outburst was "considered protected free speech because nobody was directly threatened.”

But the incident frightened some audience members, with one telling the Baltimore Sun that theatergoers thought it might have been the start of a shooting.

“People started running,” said Rich Scherr, who’s also a sports writer for the Sun. “I’ll be honest: I was waiting to hear a gunshot. I thought, ‘Here we go.’”

Scherr posted a brief video showing the aftermath of the incident on his Facebook.

“Fiddler on the Roof” is a classic that tells the story of a Jewish family forced to leave Russia after persecution from the state.

A recent mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue reflects a rise in hate crimes against Jews and other groups, including blacks, in the past few years.

President Donald Trump enjoys popularity among many far-right extremists. He failed to denounce white nationalists who marched in August 2017 on Charlottesville, Virginia, after one of them killed Heather Heyer, a leftist counterprotester. Additionally, the president said that he would not tone down his rhetoric after he a man cited him as the inspiration behind sending letter bombs to prominent Democrats, including Barack Obama, George Soros, and Hillary Clinton.

Cover: Russia's Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar at the Fiddler on the Roof award ceremony by the Federation of Russian Jewish Communities, Moscow. (Eugene Odinokov/Sputnik via AP)

Here’s what’s in the prison reform bill Trump just backed

November 15, 2018 - 11:24am

Now that former attorney general Jeff Sessions is out of the picture, President Trump seems to be warming up to the idea of sentencing and prison reform, which could set up a bipartisan win for his administration if it can make it through Congress in the last few weeks of the year

On Wednesday, Trump backed a working Senate package on the First Step Act that would roll back some of the existing harsh penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, such as mandatory minimum sentences. The proposal would begin the slow process of reversing the effects of tough-on-crime policies passed during the ‘80s and ‘90s, which have adversely impacted African Americans and Latinos, and have been responsible, in part, for the U.S. imprisoning 2.3 million people, more per capita, than any other nation.

The bill already passed the House in May with bipartisan support and has now moved onto the Senate, with some major changes. Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley has long called for sentencing reform and found an unlikely ally in Trump’s own son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner. Grassley is co-sponsor on the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and the New York Times reported Grassley played a major part in crafting the recent Senate compromise.

As a hard liner on criminal justice policies, Sessions said he worried the bill would risk “putting the very worst criminals back into our communities” and did his part to keep the reform efforts under wraps. Trump, however, had previously said he’d “overrule” Sessions and gave his full support to the Senate bill on Wednesday.

“We’re treating people differently for different crimes,” Trump said during a press conference Wednesday. “Some people got caught up in situations that were very bad.”

What’s in the bill?

Apart from allowing more leeway in mandatory minimum sentences, the draft bill could:

  • Extend an Obama-era law that got rid of the sentencing differences between people carrying powder cocaine and crack-cocaine, since crack users often saw harsher sentences. The new bill could apply that law retroactively, which would affect thousands of crack-cocaine users already in prison serving lengthy sentences.
  • Lower sentencing under the federal “three strikes” laws, which 28 states have implemented from a life sentence to a maximum of 25 years in prison in some cases. The “three strikes” penalty punishes repeat offenders who commit two violent felonies and have one other felony conviction, regardless of its severity, from a federal or state court.
  • Better prepare people for life after prison by assessing their risks and needs, while also creating incentives to participate in job-training programs that could allow for earlier prison release and a chance at a job after they get out.
  • Outright ban the shackling of pregnant women behind bars, according to the New York Times, and work to ensure prisoners are placed in facilities closer to their families so they can have proper visitations.
Will the bill pass?

Right now, passing sentencing reforms looks politically safer than ever, but that doesn’t mean the bill will breeze through before the end of the year.

Trump made a remarkable about-face after meeting with Kim Kardashian West in May when he granted clemency to a Alice Marie Johnson, a 63-year-old grandmother serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense. The president, however, had previously adopted a “lock ‘em up” attitude and even suggested that drug dealers face the death penalty. He also emphasized in his prepared remarks supporting the new reform bill that he wants to stay tough on some offenders.

“In many respects, we’re getting very much tougher on the truly bad criminals — of which, unfortunately, there are many,” Trump said during prepared remarks Wednesday.

Although no Democrats were present at the event, many support the version of bill that easily passed the House in May. Grassley released a joint statement with Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois in support of Trump’s position on Wednesday. And other Republicans Rep. Paul Ryan to the Koch brothers have also widely called for criminal justice reform.

Several groups representing police officers and law enforcement — including the Fraternal Order of Police — have also backed the bill. “Hundreds of conservative organizations and leaders support this legislation,” according to a White House fact sheet.

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, noted that Congress has limited time to pass the bill. And some Republicans, like Sen. Tom Cotton, remain starkly against the reforms.

“We need to take a whip count and see where we stand. And then weigh it against the other things that absolutely have to be accomplished,” McConnell told reporters, according to Politico. “We don’t have a whole lot of time left.”

Cover image: President Donald Trump smiles as he speaks about H. R. 5682, the "First Step Act" in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, which would reform America's prison system. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A California power company is being sued for its role in the state's deadliest wildfire

November 15, 2018 - 10:10am

The deadly Camp Fire moved at a top rate of 80 football fields per minute through Paradise, California, a quiet retirement community of about 26,000 people. Dozens of residents burned alive in their cars as they waited in traffic lines to evacuate the city.

"I called my son and said, ‘I love you. I’m not going to make it out of this,'" 81-year-old resident Bobbie Covington, who lost her home to the flames, told VICE News. “It was just like in the movies.”

As of Wednesday evening, the death toll had reached 56, making the Camp Fire California’s deadliest ever. The blaze, now in its eighth day, has also destroyed 8,817 structures. But PG&E, a major gas and power company in California, might have been able to prevent, or at least mitigate, some of that damage. PG&E had originally alerted about 70,000 residents that it planned to turn off power to prevent downed lines from sparking — but it never did.

On Tuesday, a coalition of lawyers filed a lawsuit accusing PG&E of negligence when the fire conditions worsened. Under California law, even if a utility does everything possible to prevent a fire, if its equipment caused the blaze, the company can be held accountable.

PG&E, which said it’s fully cooperating with all ongoing state investigations into the Camp Fire, is already expecting losses of about $2.5 billion for its role in 14 wildfires last year.

“We know, as a matter of fire science, that high winds and dry weather are some of the most dangerous conditions,” said John Fiske, a lawyer representing residents, cities, and counties against PG&E in the Butte fire, NorCal fires, and now the Camp Fire. “Those energized lines with thousands of volts of electricity are running into dry brush, dry trees, dry vegetation, and that’s what causes these wildfires.”

Terry was one of just a handful of Paradise residents who decided not to evacuate the area; he didn’t want to leave his special needs son. After the mandatory evacuation order was in place, Terry came home to a flyer from PG&E on his door that read “Important notice: Electricity may be shut off for safety.”

“They should have shut off their power,” Terry told VICE News. “Why didn’t they?”

This segment originally aired November 14, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.