The more drugmakers wowed doctors with gifts and lunches, the more people died of drug overdoses, study shows
All pharmaceutical marketers had to do was show up at a doctor’s office and promise a meal or cash for a speaking engagement. The more they did that, the more opioid painkillers the doctors prescribed — and the more people died of drug overdoses, according to a new study.
By cross referencing a cache of county-level, publicly available interactions between drug marketers and physicians with mortality and prescription data, researchers at Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction discovered that more marketing visits were associated with an increase in overdose mortality one year later. The researchers examined 434,754 payments from Aug. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2015.
“Our findings suggest that direct-to-physician opioid marketing may counter current national efforts to reduce the number of opioids prescribed and that policymakers might consider limits on these activities as part of a robust, evidence-based response to the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States,” researchers wrote in the first-of-its-kind analysis, published in the journal JAMA Network Open Friday.
Researchers in the study cautioned that drugmakers may have marketed more in areas with already-high opioid prescription rates, which could, at least, partially explain the increased mortality rates in those areas. Still, it’s “potentially concerning that physicians in such counties would receive further marketing for opioids,” according to the researchers.
The drug reps didn’t lambast these physicians with high-level marketing or glossy advertisements either. Often referred to as “direct-to-physician” marketing, the doctors referenced in the study instead experienced sales representatives showing up at their local practice with free samples, lunch for the office, or pledges to pay speaker fees and cover travel costs to an event.
Drugmakers spent $39.7 million marketing drugs to nearly 68,000 physicians across the U.S. between August 2013 and December 2015, according to the study. But the amount they spent on marketing didn’t necessarily make a difference on prescription rates; that drug reps continued to show up and multiple interactions with doctors mattered more.
“In the midst of the opioid epidemic, it is critical to address what may be contributing to people misusing and overdosing on prescription opioids, and our study indicates that, across the country, marketing to doctors may strongly influence these outcomes,” Scott Hadland, a physician and lead author of the study, said in a news release.
In another study published in May 2018, researchers at Boston Medical Center found that in 2014, the doctors who received some level of opioid drug marketing, like meals or consulting fees, increased their opioid prescriptions by 9 percent the next year, compared to doctors who didn’t receive the same marketing. In that study, the drugmakers that doled out the most cash to physicians were INSYS Therapeutics, the maker of a fentanyl painkiller called Subsys; Teva Pharmaceuticals; and Janssen Pharmaceuticals. In August, INSYS reached a $150 million settlement deal with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve an investigation into allegations that its marketers paid doctors kickbacks to prescribe Subsys.
Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have steadily declined in tandem with a growing awareness of their impact on a nationwide epidemic of drug overdose deaths. Even so, drug overdose deaths remain at a record high as former prescription drug users move on to more potent — and illegal — opioids, like heroin and fentanyl. For that reason, opioid makers and distributors are tied up in a bevy of civil lawsuits across the country that blame them for a crisis that killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017.
Cover image: A woman holds a handful of her medication bottles. (AP Photo/Chris Post)
SARASOTA, Florida — More than 1.4 million convicted felons in Florida regained the right to vote after the state's voters passed an amendment to its constitution through a ballot initiative in last fall's election. But some advocates worry that Republican leaders may try to obstruct passage of the legislation.
Ion Sancho, who served as the Leon County Supervisor of Elections for nearly three decades, told VICE News that Florida has been the “genesis of the modern era of voter-suppression tactics” — and that talk from GOP state lawmakers about clarifying the amendment could be yet another example.
“I am anticipating that they're going to try to slow-walk it,” he said of Republicans in the state legislature. “They're going to try to put any kind of impediment they can."
The amendment would restore voting rights to the roughly 10 percent of Florida's adult population that have a past felony conviction, excluding convictions for murder or sexual offenses.
So far, there are no specific proposals on the table concerning the amendment from the state's legislators. But state Sen. Dennis Baxley, an Ocala Republican, says he and other skeptics of the amendment are simply considering options to make it easier for both ex-felons and state officials to verify who’s eligible.
“Whatever we're doing is going to be about compliance,” he said. “Anything we would do would be how do we validate that…so that there is not a mishap or an opening for mischief.”
Baxley pointed to the lack of a centralized database in Florida where ex-felons can confirm that they’ve finished all the terms of their sentence, a requirement to be able to register under the new amendment. Supervisors of Elections also can’t independently confirm eligibility, and were given no guidance from the Secretary of State on how to implement the amendment.
Still, advocates of the change say they’re ready for any attempts to slow-walk the law, and willing to fight such efforts in court. In the meantime, says Demetrius Jifunza, an ex-felon who fought for the amendment and registered the first day he was eligible, advocates for the amendment are going to focus their efforts on getting people registered and involved in politics, so they can combat any attempts to take their rights away again.
“So, you know, it's politics and it's Florida. I mean you could snowball things, put language into something to hold things up,” he acknowledged.
But Jifunza added: "The only way to combat that is if we stay on top of things.”
This segment originally aired January 17, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
Democrats are furious over allegations Trump told Cohen to lie to Congress — and talking impeachment
Three words rang out, over and over again, from Democrats' Twitter accounts on Thursday night: Obstruction of justice.
To Democrats in Congress, the report that President Donald Trump directed his personal attorney to lie to Congress looks like a textbook case of obstruction of justice. Many Democrats are now calling for additional investigations into the allegations — and impeachment, should they turn out to be true.
The revelation came to light on Thursday night in a BuzzFeed News report citing two unnamed federal law enforcement officials that claims Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress about the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In addition, Trump instructed Cohen to put together a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. “Make it happen,” he said.
Even as Trump told the public that he had no business dealings in Moscow, he and his children, Donald Trump, Jr. and Ivanka Trump, were receiving regular updates from Cohen about the evolving deal.
The Democrats want answers.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted that his committee would be looking into the allegations.
“If this is true, this is plain, slam-dunk, criminal obstruction of justice,” tweeted Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat from Rhode Island.
There’s hard evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie, according to BuzzFeed News’ sources, including a cache of emails and text messages in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office that provide evidence that the president told Cohen to lie to Congress.
Some are now saying that Congress can’t wait for Mueller to release his findings to act.
“Listen, if Mueller does have multiple sources confirming Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress, then we need to know this ASAP,” tweeted Rep. Chris Murphy, the Democrat from Connecticut tweeted on Thursday. “Mueller shouldn’t end his inquiry, but it’s about time for him to show Congress his cards before it’s too late for us to act.”
The new revelations take the Mueller investigation in a new direction. If the allegations are true, any collusion between Trump and Russia may have had more to do with Trump Tower Moscow than with influencing an election, and raises new questions about the president’s susceptibility to influence through the Trump Organization.
It also establishes a significant potential motive: The Trump Organization stood to make $300 million in profit from a tower in Moscow, the Buzzfeed report said. Cozying up to Russia, for Trump, might have been more about securing a lucrative real estate deal than tipping the scales on an election that Trump didn’t think he would win.
“There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?” Trump told reporters last November.
Democrat after Democrat took to social media on Thursday night, citing the seriousness of these allegations, demanding answers from the Special Counsel’s office, and threatening impeachment.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks during the Missile Defense Review announcement at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on January 17, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Trump pushes rumor of prayer rugs at the border by citing an anonymous rancher who provided no evidence
President Donald Trump took an unnamed border rancher at her word that she’s found prayer rugs, used by some Muslims during worship, along the southern border.
The claim comes from a report in the Washington Examiner, a conservative news outlet, which offered no other evidence of the rancher’s observation and cites no other sources. The author of the article is Anna Giaritelli. According to the Daily Beast, she’s the former press secretary for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies as a hate group. Giaritelli did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
“Border rancher: ‘We’ve found prayer rugs out here. It’s unreal.’ Washington Examiner People coming across the Southern Border from many countries, some of which would be a big surprise,” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
Rumors about prayer rugs at the border have circulated for more than a decade: In 2014, for example, Breitbart published a story that also cited a single anonymous source, without evidence, that they had also seen prayer rugs at the border. Fact-checkers have also debunked several politicians’ claims about border rugs at the southern border.
Trump frequently tries to link terrorism to border security, even though a good amount of research conducted since 9/11 indicates that the principal terror threat to the U.S. is homegrown. Trump also often associates terrorism to Muslims. “Islam hates us,” Trump said in March 2016. Last year, Trump — without evidence, once again — pointed to group of migrants and asylum seekers traveling toward the U.S. border as a possible terrorists.
“I think there’s a very good chance you have people in there,” the president said in reference to terrorists, although he conceded there was “no proof of anything.”
The Trump administration has drastically inflated statistics on attempted border crossings made by known or suspected terrorists. Customs and Border Protection said in January that six people in terrorism databases were stopped at the southern border in the first half of fiscal year 2018. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, however, claimed that number was 4,000 in that entire fiscal year. Conversely, Customs and Border Protection said its agents stopped 91 people in the database on the U.S.’s northern border, 41 of whom were not American residents.
In 2017, the State Department also said that terrorist groups were more likely to access the U.S. through other means than through the southern border.
Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks about American missile defense doctrine, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, at the Pentagon. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Listen to "Chapo: Kingpin on Trial" for free, exclusively on Spotify.
It was around 4 in the morning on February 17, 2014, when Lucero Sanchez was jolted awake by shouting and a loud thumping noise. She had been sleeping next to her lover, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. A team of DEA agents and Mexican marines was hammering on the front door of their safe house with a battering ram.
Moments later, Sanchez heard Chapo’s personal secretary, a man she knew only by the name Condor, yell outside their bedroom: “ Tío, tío — open up! They’re on us!”
The next few minutes were frantic. Chapo was completely naked, but he didn’t have time to bother with clothes. As the marines struggled to break down the reinforced steel door, he and Condor ducked into the bathroom. “Love, love — come in here,” Chapo beckoned.
When she entered the bathroom, Sanchez could hardly believe her eyes. Hydraulic pistons had lifted up the bathtub, revealing the entrance to a hidden tunnel. The men hurried down a wooden ladder, and Chapo called for her to follow. She was terrified but did as he ordered.
“I heard him say to Condor, ‘Close up the tub,’ and he closed it and we were in complete darkness,” Sanchez recalled. “For me, it was horrible. I’d never been in a place like that. It was very humid and filled with mud.”
The bathtub tunnel connected to the sewer system in the city of Culiacán, Chapo’s stronghold in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. For the next hour, Chapo — still naked — led Sanchez, Condor, and a maid who was with them at the house on a mad dash through the filthy subterranean passageways. They emerged shaken but unscathed at a drainage canal, where one of Chapo’s men came to get them. They had escaped, at least for the time being.
Sanchez recounted her remarkable tale on Thursday, when she was called to testify against Chapo during his trial at the U.S. District Court in Brooklyn. Not only did her stunning testimony reveal new details about Chapo’s infamous escape through the bathtub tunnel, it likely shattered any remaining hope he had of winning an acquittal.A DEA agent with bags of meth. Photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Cover: A DEA agent in one of Chapo's escape tunnels.
IBM is going to start predicting the weather — with your cellphone.
The new forecasting system, announced last week by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty, uses a novel but potentially invasive method: crowdsourced location data from millions of cellphones around the world. Even before this program was introduced, Los Angeles had already decided to sue the company for deceptive data gathering.
Most smartphones have had a barometric sensor inside them since 2014, but until now, meteorologists and data scientists haven't been able to capture the data at scale and use it for weather prediction. Rometty said the system, called the Global High-Resolution Atmospheric Forecasting System, will put forecast accuracy in the developing world on par with systems that exist in North America, Western Europe, and Japan.
"This is the first model that's of any significance that's being introduced with crowdsourced data. Most people don't even know their smartphone has a barometer in it," said Mary Glackin, vice president of IBM-owned The Weather Company, which runs The Weather Channel.
The data is gathered via millions of users on The Weather Channel app. When a user downloads the app, they can opt-in to location sharing and providing "personalized weather data, alerts, and forecasts." But the sharing goes further than that. The user agreement, several pages deeper in the app, clarifies that the location data may also be used for "business operations, advertising, or promotions."
Los Angeles' lawsuit, however, argues that The Weather Company "deceptively used its Weather Channel app to amass its users private, personal geolocation data."
“The Weather Company has always been transparent with use of location data; the disclosures are fully appropriate, and we will defend them vigorously," an IBM spokesperson said.
This segment originally aired January 8, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky — The American opioid epidemic has shown no signs of abating, with death rates skyrocketing in what medical officials call one of the worst public health crises of our time. But along with the tragic loss of life, the epidemic has another consequence: a record-high uptick in organs available for donation.
While scores of young and otherwise healthy people continue to die, they are in turn saving the lives of people on waiting lists who are often confined to dialysis machines and hospitals rooms.
"I didn't know she wanted to be a donor. I'm so glad, I'm so proud of her," Jane Tyler said of her daughter Kristen, who was 38 when she died of an overdose in Louisville. "Kristin loved making people happy. She loved making people laugh. She loved to party, she had rowdy friends, and she was a rowdy girl. But I loved her so much. I could put up with the rowdiness right now."
When an overdose victim has elected to be an organ donor, medical personnel work quickly to assess and preserve the health of the organs. If suitable, the local organ procurement organization (OPO) will step in and call transplant centers in the region to try to find recipients. In some cases, organs may have been compromised but are still viable.
"Sometimes I can't find a recipient, and it's awful to have to know for that family, they're not going to get the 'silver lining,' if you will... the only happy thing that can come out of a loved one overdosing," said Ashley Rakityan, a clinical coordinator with Kentucky Organ Donor Affiliates.
VICE News captures how one woman's overdose illuminates a trend in organ donation. In never-before-seen coverage, we follow Kristen Tyler's departing gift, to a woman in need, and we explore with that recipient and her doctor, the efficacy of accepting it.
This segment originally aired January 15, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.
The House Intelligence Committee will investigate a bombshell report published Thursday that claims Donald Trump instructed his lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to Congress the deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Citing law enforcement officials, the report is the strongest indication yet that Trump criminally obstructed the investigation into his ties to Russia.
According to BuzzFeed, special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is aware that Trump instructed Cohen to lie and has evidence beyond Cohen’s testimony, including “interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.”
The report also claims that Trump agreed to Cohen’s plan to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016 to kickstart the tower project. “Make it happen,” Trump reportedly told his lawyer.
Trump has yet to respond to the allegation, but his current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, told the Washington Post: “If you believe Cohen, I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Democrats, however, pounced on the revelations.
“The allegation that the President of the United States may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date,” committee chairman Adam Schiff said in a statement. “We will do what’s necessary to find out if it’s true.”
Cohen, who declined to comment on the story “out of respect for Mr. Mueller’s and the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation,” is scheduled to testify before the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7.What is Trump accused of?
Sources told BuzzFeed that Cohen admitted to Mueller that Trump “directed” and “personally instructed” him to lie to Congress about the work he was doing on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Details are scant, but the sources said the aim was “to obscure Trump’s involvement” in the deal.
The report also says that Trump, together with his children Don. Jr. and Ivanka, received detailed updates on the Moscow project throughout 2016. It also claims that Trump and Cohen had at least 10 face-to-face meetings specifically about the proposed building.What was the Trump Tower Moscow deal?
Cohen was in charge of a secret project to build a 100-story tower in Moscow throughout 2015 and 2016 — the time Trump was on the campaign trail denying he had any business dealings in Russia.
The deal, which would have required authorization from the Kremlin, could have made the Trump Organization as much as $300 million.
The public only became aware of the project in August 2017, after it was made public that the Trump Organization had signed a letter of intent to build the Moscow tower in late 2015.
When called to appear before Congress, Cohen told lawmakers Trump knew little about the project and that he had only spoken to the president about it infrequently.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress in November, saying the project continued for months longer than he initially told Congress and that Trump and his family had been kept up to date with detailed progress reports.What’s the fallout?
If the allegation is true, there is a very strong case that Trump obstructed justice by suborning Cohen to mislead Congress and the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
At his confirmation hearing last week, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, William Barr, was asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) whether it could be obstruction of justice if “the president tried to coach somebody” to “testify falsely.” Barr told the lawmakers that it could.What’s the reaction been?
While the White House and Republicans have remained mostly silent, Democrats have called for further investigations.
House Intelligence Committee member Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) even called on the president to “resign or be impeached.”
Castro told BuzzFeed that if the claims are true, “such an instruction would amount to obstruction of justice.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told MSNBC that he views Trump’s actions “as powerful evidence of collusion.”
“I say that because it is a consciousness of guilt. He is asking Michael Cohen to lie because the truth would expose what was going on with the Russians early on in the candidacy,” Swalwell added.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) called on Mueller to work with lawmakers to allow them to properly investigate the president “before it’s too late.”
Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former personal attorney and fixer, arrives at federal court for his sentencing hearing, December 12, 2018, in New York City. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)
Brexit architect Nigel Farage said Friday that Britain’s exit from the European Union will likely be delayed — and a second, do-over referendum is now a distinct possibility.
The former UKIP leader told Sky News that the current parliamentary deadlock over a withdrawal deal meant that Brexit would not take place on the scheduled date of March 29.
“I fear that the House of Commons is going to effectively overturn that Brexit. To me, the most likely outcome of all of this is an extension of Article 50,” he said, referring to the two-year window in which the terms of the divorce were to be settled.
“There could be another referendum,” he added. Calls have been growing for a so-called “people’s vote” to revisit the decision to leave, as the withdrawal date draws nearer with no deal with the EU in place.
Britain has been at a Brexit impasse since Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed deal with the EU suffered a crushing defeat in Parliament Tuesday. She then narrowly survived a no-confidence vote, lessening the prospects for a general election.
With the deadline to pull together a viable Brexit plan rapidly approaching, the government and opposition have failed to agree even to cross-party talks on finding a solution — with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn insisting May must rule out the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit before he’ll talk. May has called that “an impossible condition.”
If no solution is reached, Britain will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal — an economically disastrous outcome for the country — or will be forced to delay Brexit, potentially calling a national election or a second referendum.
Despite the growing call from sections of his party to push for a second referendum, Corbyn has only said he may consider it, although he would prefer a general election.
May has said a second referendum would harm the public’s faith in democracy. If a second referendum were to be held, it would take a year to organize, according to government guidance shown to MPs Wednesday.
Amid the Brexit chaos, a group of high-profile Germans — including German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s likely successor — signed an open letter published in The Times newspaper Friday urging Britain to rethink its decision to leave.
The letter, signed by a group of of prominent Germans from politics, business and the arts, praised Britain’s embrace of Germany after World War II, and cited Germans’ affection for British pubs, Christmas pantomimes and humor.
The top signature was that of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Merkel’s successor as head of the Christian Democratic Union, and the favorite to fill her shoes as chancellor once she stands down.
“Britons should know: from the bottom of our hearts, we want them to stay,” read the letter.
According to a poll released Thursday, a majority of Britons share that sentiment. The YouGov survey of 1070 respondents found 56 percent would vote to remain if a second referendum were held, while 44 percent would vote leave, once those who were undecided or wouldn’t vote were excluded.
The results indicated the highest level of support for remaining in the EU since the 2016 referendum was held. Unsurprisingly, it also found a high level of support for holding a second referendum — with 47 percent in favor of a do-over vote, 36 percent against, and 16 percent undecided.
Cover image: Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage speaks during the Brexit: Let's go WTO rally by the Leave Means Leave Brexit Campaign in Central Hall on January 17, 2019 in London, England. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Russia was likely behind an attempted hack of the Democratic National Committee during last year’s midterm elections, according to a court filing published Thursday.
The revelation came as part of the DNC’s ongoing lawsuit against the Trump campaign and the Russian government, ABC first reported.
"On November 14, 2018, dozens of DNC email addresses were targeted in a spear-phishing campaign, although there is no evidence that the attack was successful," the DNC wrote in the amended filing.
The Kremlin has consistently denied all hacking accusations made against it.
While the court filing does not directly point the finger at Moscow, it does strongly suggest Russia’s involvement.
The filing says the spear-phishing attack targeting its members was similar to a wider attack reported last November that was attributed to a Russian hacking group with links to the Kremlin
In November, FireEye reported that Russian hackers linked to a group known as Cozy Bear (also known as APT 28 or The Dukes) had impersonated State Department officials in an attack that targeted more than 20 of the FireEye’s clients.
Cozy Bear, along with another Russian hacking group called Fancy Bear, was implicated in the 2016 DNC hack that led to the publication of embarrassing Hillary Clinton campaign emails.
"Therefore, it is probable that Russian intelligence again attempted to unlawfully infiltrate DNC computers in November 2018," the DNC’s filing says.
The document claims that Russia is still trying to disrupt U.S. democracy by conducting cyberattacks to undermine its elections despite multiple investigations and revelations about the Kremlin’s efforts to the 2016 election.
The Justice Department last year indicted Russian national Elena Khusyaynova for using various platforms to create thousands of fake social media and email accounts to “amplify divisive social media and political content.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis subsequently said in December that Putin “tried again to muck around in our elections” — marking the first time the administration accused the Russian president of meddling in the midterms.
Cover image: A participant uses a laptop computer as he takes part in the Seccon 2016 final competition on January 28, 2017 in Tokyo, Japan. (Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images)
Three Chicago police officers were found not guilty on all charges linked to an alleged conspiracy to cover up the 2014 fatal shooting of a black teenager.
Former Chicago police detective David March, former officer Joseph Walsh, and suspended officer Thomas Gaffney were all accused of falsifying police reports after their colleague, Jason Van Dyke, fired 16 shots at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, which killed him. In her ruling on Thursday, however, Cook County Judge Domenica Stephenson said that prosecutors failed to prove the officers intentionally gave false statements.
Police reform advocates had watched the case closely and viewed it as a test of the “code of silence” culture in police departments, in which officers decline to report one another’s misconduct or crimes.
Prosecutors said the police reports filed by the officers exaggerated the threat posed by McDonald, including that he attacked them with a knife, in an apparent attempt to justify Van Dyke’s decision to use deadly force. But dashcam video — whose release one year after the shooting sparked citywide protests — contradicted McDonald's aggression.
Police encountered McDonald on a Chicago street on the night of Oct. 20, 2014. Dashcam video showed Van Dyke, a 14-year veteran of the force, opening fire on the teen as he walked away holding a small knife. Van Dyke continued shooting McDonald even as he lay on the ground.
The video and alleged cover-up inflamed police-community tensions and gave rise to the chant and hashtag “16 shots and a cover-up.”
Defense attorneys for the officers pointed to the fact that the dashcam video was filmed from a different viewpoint than where Van Dyke and Walsh were standing. Defense lawyers for Van Dyke also tried to make this argument, but the jury didn’t buy it, according to Chicago Sun-Times reporter Andy Grimm.
As evidence of conspiracy, prosecutors also pointed to the fact that the officers failed to interview Jose Torres, a civilian witness, at the scene of the shooting. In her ruling, however, Stephenson said that Torres never presented himself as a possible witness at the time.
While the officers accused of conspiracy opted for a bench trial, Van Dyke was tried and convicted by a jury last November on second-degree murder charges, plus 16 counts of aggravated battery — each one representing a bullet that he fired at McDonald. Van Dyke will be sentenced Friday and faces anywhere from probation to 96 years in prison.
Cover image: This combination of Nov. 28, 2018 file photos shows former Chicago Police officer Joseph Walsh, left, former detective David March and former officer Thomas Gaffney during a bench trial before Judge Domenica A. Stephenson at Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago.(Zbigniew Bzdak/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool, File)
President Donald Trump is going tit-for-tat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in their public fight about the partial government shutdown: She suggested that the president postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens — so he canceled her travel plans.
Pelosi said Trump hasn’t directly responded to her request yet, but Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted a pretty clear answer on Thursday: a letter signed by the president to Pelosi which said he'd be postponing her upcoming trips to Egypt, Belgium, and Afghanistan. Major political leaders are usually allowed to use military transport for travel, but Trump noted that buying a commercial flight would “certainly be [Pelosi’s] prerogative.”
“In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate,” Trump wrote.
Even if Pelosi wanted to take the trip on her own dime, Trump may have blown up her spot. Trips taken by Congress — including their locations — are usually kept secret for security purposes, reporters have noted.
In a series of tweets, Pelosi's chief of staff responded to the letter. "The President traveled to Iraq during the Trump Shutdown as did a Republican CODEL led by Rep. Zeldin," he wrote.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also called Trump’s move “unworthy of the president of the United States.”
Trump has repeatedly tried to blame Democrats for the shutdown — now in its 27th day — even though the Democrat-controlled House has already voted for packages to reopen the government six times and put nearly 800,000 federal workers back on the payroll. But the Senate won’t take up those bills because Republicans known Trump won’t budge on his demand for a $5.6 billion border wall.
Trump’s already-minimal popularity, even with his core voting base, is taking a hit because of the shutdown, according to a new NPR poll. White evangelical support for Trump, one of his strongest support groups, slipped 13 points, according to the poll.
Cover image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with furloughed federal workers at an event to discuss the impact on families from the partial government shutdown and President Donald Trump's demands for funding a U.S.-Mexico border wall, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The self-styled “sex huntress” who claimed to have secret audio tapes about Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election was arrested in Moscow by Russian authorities following her release from a Thai prison hours earlier, one of her associates told VICE News on Thursday.
Anastasia Vashukevich, who goes by the name “Nastya Rybka,” was detained in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport along with her mentor in seduction, Alex Kirillov, and two other people on suspicion of involvement in prostitution, according to Gregory Kogan, a friend and associate of both Vashukevich and Kirillov.
Vashukevich had spent almost a year in Thai prison, where she was fighting charges related to her role running a class on sexual seduction in the Southeast Asian country. Vashukevich’s friends and supporters have said the case was designed to silence her, after she sparked an international controversy by flaunting her alleged relationship to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and her supposed knowledge of high-level conversations related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.
Kirillov himself repeated that view when he, Vashukevich and six others who’d been detained in Thailand appeared in court on Tuesday, prior to their release.
“I think somebody ordered (our arrest)... for money,” Kirillov said, according to Agence France-Presse.
The group was released Tuesday by a Thai judge after pleading guilty to three charges, including solicitation and membership in a “secret society,” according to reporters who were present at the hearing.
On Thursday, Kogan said that Vashukevich, Kirillov and two more members of the group who’d returned to Moscow were detained shortly after disembarking from the plane, and that their whereabouts are now unknown. Russian-language media outlets including The Bell and Interfax reported Vashukevich's arrest in Moscow Thursday.UNCERTAIN FATE
Vashukevich has worried openly that she could be harmed if she were sent back to Russia, and, in the past, has appealed to U.S. authorities for help.
“This is very serious,” she wrote last February on her Instagram account shortly after she was first arrested in Thailand. “Please USA, help us not to die from Russians!”
FBI investigators had tried to speak with Vashukevich during the first half of 2018, only to be rebuffed by Thai authorities, a person familiar with the failed outreach told VICE News last year.
Vashukevich has claimed to have been the “mistress” of powerful Russian oligarch and Kremlin ally Deripaska, and to have used her access to make audio recordings that shed light on Russia’s influence on the 2016 presidential race. The details of those recordings, however, have remained obscure.
Her friends and associates have told VICE News that she began taping the billionaire’s conversations as an exercise aimed at enhancing her seductive powers, in an attempt to learn what he said about her to other people when she was out of the room.
Deripaska has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the “false allegations” are “the result of a planned campaign aimed to damage my reputation.” And he’s dismissed Vashukevich’s claims about their relationship: “There have been endless fictitious stories told by her,” a representative for Deripaska told CNN last year.
After her arrest in Thailand, Vashukevich at first appeared to be reaching out to U.S. authorities for help — but in July, she told VICE News that she would only give the tapes to Deripaska.
“I will give the tapes only to Oleg Deripaska,” she told VICE News in comments relayed by an intermediary out of Thai prison. “I’m not going to blackmail anyone, and I wasn’t planning to.”
Cover: Model Anastasia Vashukevich (known as Nastya Rybka), of Belarus, waits for her departure to Moscow at the Suwarnabhumi Airport, in Bangkok, Thailand. (Evgeniy Belenkiy / Sputnik via AP)
Cardi B posted a video to Instagram on Wednesday evening in which she condemned Donald Trump’s use of a government shutdown as leverage to build a $5.6 billion border wall. The video immediately went viral, with many progressives — and some long-time congressional Democrats — celebrating its message in support of workers.
“This shit is serious, bro. This shit is crazy. Our country is in a hellhole right now, all for a fucking wall. … I feel like we need to take some action. I don't know what type of action because this is not what I do. But I'm scared,” the rapper said.
Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and even Minority Leader Chuck Schumer started publicly discussing the video on a thread, pondering whether to retweet Cardi B.
“(Trying to decide whether or not to retweet the Cardi B video),” Schatz tweeted.
“Omg, I had the same argument with myself 30 minutes ago!” Murphy responded.
“Ok you do it,” Schatz said. “And say retweets are not endorsements, especially the language, and I will retweet.”
“DHYB,” Murphy then responded.
Eventually, Schumer weighed in.
Such displays by Washington politicians are becoming increasingly common since Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who, like Cardi B, is a millennial woman of color from the Bronx — captured the national spotlight when she became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress in November. The 29-year-old congresswoman draws an immense amount of attention on social media, boasting more reach than most major news organizations and the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates combined.
Ocasio-Cortez is known to host informal Q&A sessions on her Instagram while she prepares meals. Her videos are so popular that far more experienced Democrats have attempted to use her methods to become more relatable to the electorate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate, posted a live video of herself drinking a beer. Beto O’Rourke, also widely expected to run in 2020, has posted live videos of himself getting a dental cleaning.
The reception to such efforts, however, has been mixed at best. In a bid to improve their use of social media, Democrats tapped Ocasio-Cortez to host a social media seminar Thursday morning to teach lawmakers how to better use their platforms to be more authentic.
Unlike Schumer, we won’t be holding our breath.
Cover: Photo apparently taken by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, posted on Rep. Ted Lieu's Twitter feed Thursday.
Brazil’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro, fulfilled a campaign promise to tackle the country’s epidemic of violence — by signing a temporary decree Tuesday that makes it easier for Brazilians to buy guns.
“I signed this decree, created by many upstanding people, so that at this first moment, upstanding citizens can have peace inside their homes,” Bolsonaro said at the signing ceremony in the country’s capital, Brasília.
Bolsonaro, a former Army captain, was sworn in as president on Jan. 1, after rising in popularity last year on a fiercely nationalist, hardline law-and-order platform to reduce the country's murder rate — which ranks the highest in the world — and the booming illegal drug trade that fuels it.
But his plan to give "guns to good people," is likely to backfire. Gang members responsible for some of the worst violence in Brazil’s major cities told VICE News that the president's new policy of fighting crime by putting more guns on the streets will only lead to more bloodshed. So too will his plans to ramp up the military’s role in the drug war by giving security forces more power to shoot and kill armed criminals.
The Trump administration separated thousands of migrant children from their parents and then lost track of them after they were released from custody — long before the practice of family separation became formalized under the administration's “zero tolerance” policy last year.
That’s according to a new report by the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services released Thursday, which shed light on the utter chaos in the implementation of the immigration policy.
The report identified a spike in family separations beginning in the summer of 2017, and found that HHS officials failed to make records of what happened to children after they were released from Office of Refugee Resettlement custody, including whether they were reunified with parents or non-relative sponsors.
In June, the administration announced its “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which included separating migrant children from their parents if they were brought into the U.S. illegally. But the report shows the Trump administration had been separating children for at least a year prior, in order to prosecute the parents.
A class action filed in June 2018 challenging the administration’s policy on behalf of parents led to a federal court order requiring the government to end its family separation practice and reunify the 2,737 children in its care with their parents.
But because of poor record-keeping, the Trump administration was unable to do so for thousands of children.
“We don’t have any information on those children who were released prior to the court order," said Ann Maxwell, assistant Inspector General for HHS, on a press call Thursday.
Before the court order, HHS says they were not legally required to identify or track children who had been separated from their parents. Officials told the Inspector General that they estimate “thousands” of children were taken into custody before the court order, not marked as separated from their parents, and then released.
Even reunifying families covered by the court order has been chaotic, the Inspector General found.
“Due to the lack of an existing, integrated data system to track separated families across HHS and DHS and the complexity of determining which children should be considered separated meant that the list of families entitled to reunification was still being revised as late as December 2018, more than 5 months after the order’s effective date,” the report states.
Cover: A child peeks through the border fence during the "Interfaith Service for Justice and Mercy at the Border" to demand the U.S. government ends the separation of immigrant children from their parents at the border, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, September 7, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez
In his confirmation hearings this week, President Trump's nominee for attorney general, William Barr, did his best to reassure wary Democrats and portray himself as a guardian of the Constitution. Instead, what Democrats heard is his expansive view of the power of the presidency, which left them fearing what the future attorney general will do to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“My big concern all along is Mueller,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein to a small group of reporters huddled in the basement of the Capitol during a break in the hearings.
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee and the first woman to hold that powerful role, went out of her way to call Barr “a man of integrity” and “a man of courage.” But nothing she heard diminished her concern about the now infamous 19-page, single-spaced memo Barr sent to the White House last summer laying out his vision of what Trump – or any president — can “lawfully” do.
“He’s made as strong a case for the unitary executive as I’ve ever seen. And that’s the all-powerful president – able to do anything,” Feinstein said. “Our system of checks and balances – our Constitution – really is the tempering influence of that.”
Even with those concerns, Feinstein’s still undecided on how to vote on Barr. She says she’s wrestling with the juxtaposition between Barr’s impassioned writings about the innate power of the president and his attempts to make that view of executive power palatable to the legislative branch.
“He’s made as strong a case for the unitary executive as I’ve ever seen.”
While Feinstein is torn, most other Democrats aren’t."I believe it's disqualifying”
“I believe it’s disqualifying,” Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who is respected on both sides of the aisle, told VICE News. “The fact that he sent these unsolicited memos that are a bit unseemly as a job application, basically pointing out his willingness, I think, to undermine Mueller or have this very expansive view of the president’s executive power, I believe it’s disqualifying.”
Republicans beg to differ, including newly-minted Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham (R- S.C.) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), the main GOP sponsors of legislation that would protect Mueller from Barr or interference from the president.
“I don’t know how more explicit Mr. Barr could have been, and, you know, I’m somebody who has an opinion about the Mueller investigation and seeing it completed,” Tillis told VICE News while riding in an elevator in the Capitol.
Tillis contends his bill isn’t even about Mueller, and he has full faith in Trump to allow this special counsel to wrap up his investigation. “It’s a special counsel bill. It’s irrelevant to this, but it could be relevant to future ones,” he said.
This week Barr testified that his family and Mueller’s are personal friends. That and other polished verbal assurances had other Republicans who sat through the hearings crying foul on Democrats any time they were pressed.
“I get the partisan politics,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) responded to a question from VICE News in the Capitol on Wednesday about Mueller’s independence. “I stayed there the entire time yesterday, listened to every word of testimony. Give every member of the Judiciary Committee truth serum – Democrats and Republicans – and every one of them will tell you that Barr did a great job.”Urging Mueller to speed it up
While Democrats now control the House, the party remains mostly powerless in the Senate, at least when it comes to nominees like Barr who need Senate confirmation who need Senate confirmation. That’s because the Senate has basically become the Wild West for presidential appointees of all stripes ever since former-Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively killed the filibuster while Barack Obama was president.
“If Donald Trump is a Russian agent, and Mueller has evidence of that, it doesn’t do much good for him to show us his cards in November.”
That move to do away with a 60-vote threshold for most nominees is now haunting the whole Democratic Party, as Republicans no longer have to fight for 60 supporters; they can just slide nominees through with a mere 50 GOP votes and a simple “Aye” from Vice President Mike Pence.
With no need for a single Democratic vote for nominees, the minority party in the Senate has been left scrambling to find a way to dislodge Barr. But it’s hard to find a bulwark to protect Mueller when your own party killed the one tool to protect minority rights in the Senate, i.e.,, the filibuster. It’s gone, so now Trump is mostly unimpeded in what seems, at least to Democrats, like his blatant attempt to do away with the special counsel.
That fear is why some Democrats are now echoing calls from their GOP counterparts for Mueller to release his findings ASAP. While Republicans have said that for months, some for more than a year, to force him to lay out his cards, now some Democrats are aligned with them. But for the opposite reasons.
Democrats now want Mueller to drop a partial report before Barr is seated and can legally bury whatever salacious, or even boring, findings come from the special counsel, which was only heightened by The New York Times report last week that the FBI opened an investigation into Trump for potentially being a foreign agent.
“If Donald Trump is a Russian agent and Mueller has evidence of that, it doesn’t do much good for him to show us his cards in November of this year. Right? Like, he’s got to tell us something pretty soon,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told VICE News in the Capitol. “It’s serious allegations, and you can’t bring impeachment allegations with only a few months left in a president’s term.”
Cover: Attorney general nominee William P. Barr speaks during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, DC on January 15, 2018. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A senior Housing and Urban Development (HUD) official is reportedly so mad at the Trump administration’s treatment of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, she’s quitting.
Pam Patenaude, deputy secretary to HUD-leader Ben Carson, submitted her resignation on Dec. 17 and cited personal reasons for her departure. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said she was not “mad at the administration” and denied that there was any internal conflict causing her to leave.
Several unnamed sources, however, told the Post that Patenaude disagreed with various decisions made by Carson and the White House, including the Trump administration’s attitude toward Puerto Rico, where nearly 3,000 people were killed in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. The Trump administration previously threatened to withhold recovery funds.
A HUD spokesperson, who's on furlough status because of the partial government shutdown, did not immediately respond for comment.
Patenaude is now at least the third senior official to leave the agency in recent weeks, according to the Post, and her departure leaves HUD with fewer experienced political appointees. Neal Rackleff, the assistant secretary of community planning and development, and Michael Bright, executive vice president and chief operations officer at the mortgage agency within HUD known as Ginnie Mae, have also departed.
Patenaude handled the effort to distribute post-disaster recovery funds for Puerto Rico and reportedly began to worry the island wouldn’t receive money appropriated by Congress after Trump started slamming its recovery process, according to the Post. Advocates were concerned about her departure because she had visited the island multiple times and seemed integral to its recovery efforts, according to NBC News.
Patenaude denied she was frustrated by the Trump administration’s handling of Puerto Rico.
“I didn’t push back,” Patenaude told the Post. “I advocated for Puerto Rico and assured the White House that Puerto Rico had sufficient financial controls in place and had put together a thoughtful housing and economic development recovery plan.”
The partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week, has crippled the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as it has many other agencies. Puerto Rico’s ability to access some of HUD’s disaster-relief funding has even been affected, according to the Post.
Cover image: In this Oct. 3, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump tosses paper towels into a crowd at Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the region. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
How did an American citizen, born in Michigan, and decorated veteran who served in Afghanistan, end up in an ICE detention center, flagged for deportation?
That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union and immigration rights groups want to know.
Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, 27, served in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2014, serving as a lance corporal and a tank crewman in the U.S. Marines. According to the ACLU, he received numerous awards, including the national defense service medal, a global war on terrorism service medal, an Afghanistan campaign medal and a combat action ribbon.
When he returned to his hometown in Michigan, the ACLU says, he was a “shell of his former self,” suffering from severe PTSD, and having some episodes where “he disappears, and when he is found again, he often has no recollection of where he has been.”
Ramos-Gomez was jailed in Kent County, Michigan, last November, after he allegedly broke into the heliport area of a hospital, set a fire, and pulled a fire alarm. According to police reports reviewed by the ACLU, Ramos-Gomez had his U.S. passport on his person at the time of his arrest.
He pleaded guilty to trespassing, and a judge ordered his release on a personal recognizance bond three weeks later, meaning he committed to staying out of trouble while his case was pending. But rather than releasing him, Kent County deputies held him until ICE agents could pick him up. The deputies reportedly believed was in the country illegally, but it's not clear yet why, and that's a key question in the case.
Kent County Undersheriff Chuck DeWitt told the Associated Press that they were holding Ramos-Gomez at ICE's request. "Once he was released from our custody, he was under the domain of ICE," DeWitt told AP. "Where they take him is their process."
When Gomez-Ramos' mother, Maria Gomez, an immigrant from Guatemala, came to collect him from jail, she was told he’d been transferred to an immigration detention center in Calhoun County, nearly 100 miles away.
"I almost had a heart attack when I heard that my son was in immigration's hands," Gomez told a local NBC affiliate Wednesday. "They don't care what he did for his country. That makes me mad."
At the time, Gomez was working with an immigration lawyer to secure temporary residency for herself under allowances afforded to parents of servicemembers, which meant her lawyer had all of Ramos-Gomez’s residency documents available. “I immediately called ICE and shouted at them,” lawyer Richard Kessler told the Washington Post. “And they called me back and said, kind of, ‘Oops, yeah, come and get him.’ They didn’t say, ‘Our bad,’ but kind of implied that.”
It took three days for them to secure his release from ICE custody.
“The sheriff’s department worked with ICE agents to enable his transfer to an immigration detention center in Calhoun County to start the deportation process,” ACLU said in a statement. “It is unclear how that was possible or why the jail believed it should hand Mr. Ramos-Gomez over to ICE rather than release him as required by the court order.”
An ICE official, Vincent Picard, told the local NBC outlet that Ramos-Gomez repeatedly insisted he was in the country illegally. “Officers acted in good faith with the information they had available at the time,” Picard said.
Rather than respond to VICE News’ request for comment, ICE forwarded a series of automatic responses saying they are prohibited by law from responding to media queries due to the ongoing federal government shutdown.
What happened to Ramos-Gomez wasn’t the first time that an American citizen has been flagged for deportation under the Trump administration. Last April, a Philly native found himself ensnared by ICE after he tested positive for marijuana in violation of his probation agreement. During routine booking into Monroe County Jail, Florida, his identity was mistakenly matched in a centralized database shared with ICE with that of an undocumented immigrant from Jamaica.
Cover: Maria Gomez speaks to the media at the office of attorney Richard Kessler in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. Gomez's son, Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a U.S.-born Marine veteran was held for three days for possible deportation after pleading guilty to a disturbance at a western Michigan hospital. (Neil Blake/The Grand Rapids Press via AP)
All those women on Twitter constantly lusting after “sexy” “real man” Michael Cohen, as it turns out, do not exist.
President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney used his boss’s money to pay someone to run an account called “Women for Cohen” that fawned over the lawyer’s looks and abilities as a litigator. The account frequently used hashtags like #sexy, #handsome, and #pitbull to create the illusion that Cohen had a large female fanbase.
One tweet, for example, quoted Cohen when he compared his looks to a young Andy Garcia and said that Cohen was “even more sexy.”
Here are some other examples:
Cohen paid $25,000 and gave a boxing glove to a man named John Gauger to “rig” polls in Trump’s favor, which led to the creation of the Women for Cohen account at Cohen’s request, according to a new report from the Wall Street Journal. Gauger runs a small IT company called RedFinch and was supposed to get $50,000, though he said he never did. Cohen, however, got a full $50,000 reimbursement from Trump, according to the Journal.
After the Journal published its story, Cohen tweeted that everything he did was out of “blind loyalty” to Trump, who directed him to hire the company.
Rudy Giuliani, who’s now Trump’s personal lawyer, called Cohen “untrustworthy” and denied his assertion that Trump asked him to hire RedFinch.
Last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress, tax evasion, and more charges, which landed him three years in prison, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Specifically, Cohen paid $130,000 to the porn actress Stormy Daniels in an attempt to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump, an expense he later asked the president to reimburse. Trump acknowledged in a financial disclosure form that he completed the reimbursement.
He’s expected to testify before Congress in February.
Cover image: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, leaves federal court after his sentencing in New York, Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)