Do Trump tweets cross legal line for obstruction of justice?
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s tweet on Wednesday calling for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the Russia investigation raises difficult questions about whether Trump’s frequent use of Twitter might be used to build a case of obstruction of justice against him.
The latest round of presidential tweets bashing special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation fueled criticism that Trump is illegally interfering with the investigation. Just as quickly, the White House defended the tweets as expressing Trump’s opinion.
Amid a series of morning tweets, Trump wrote , “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
Mueller already is interested in some of Trump’s tweets to the extent they raise obstruction of justice concerns.
In obstruction cases, prosecutors have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a particular act got in the way of an investigation and that the person who did it intended to obstruct.
Mexico plane hit sudden, violent storm before crash
DURANGO, Mexico — It began with a strong burst of wind and pounding hail that pummeled the Aeromexico jetliner minutes after takeoff in northern Mexico then sent it smashing belly-down onto a field near the runway.
Frightened passengers scrambled to flee as flames and blinding black smoke erupted around them. Miraculously, all 103 on board survived the crash Tuesday.
On Wednesday, passengers described the terrifying sequence of events.
“It’s not every day you kind of fall from the sky and live to tell about it,” said Alberto Herrera, a 35-year-old webpage engineer from Chicago.
Jose Luis Corral, a 52-year-old business owner from Portland, Oregon, agreed.
US court declares Trump’s ‘sanctuary cities’ order illegal
SAN FRANCISCO — President Donald Trump’s executive order threatening to withhold funding from “sanctuary cities” that limit cooperation with immigration authorities is unconstitutional, but a judge went too far when he blocked its enforcement nationwide, a U.S. appeals court ruled Wednesday.
In a 2-1 decision, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the order exceeded the president’s authority. Congress alone controls spending under the U.S. Constitution, and presidents do not have the power to cut off funding it approves to pursue their policy goals, the court majority said.
“By its plain terms, the executive order directs the agencies of the executive branch to withhold funds appropriated by Congress in order to further the administration’s policy objective of punishing cities and counties that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary’ policies,” wrote Chief Judge Sidney Thomas, joined by Judge Ronald Gould.
The ruling came in a lawsuit from two California counties — San Francisco and Santa Clara.
Devin O’Malley, a spokesman for the U.S. Justice Department, said the president’s order was legal. He called the court’s ruling a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”
Judge raps prosecutors over testimony on Manafort’s luxuries
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The judge in Paul Manafort’s financial fraud trial warned prosecutors Wednesday against using the word “oligarchs” to describe wealthy Ukrainians, and admonished them for spending so much time documenting the former Trump campaign chairman’s extravagant lifestyle.
It’s not a crime to be wealthy, said U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III. And the pejorative term “oligarchs” and evidence of home renovations aren’t necessarily relevant to the charges in question, he added. At one point, Ellis even called out lawyers from both sides for rolling their eyes.
“Let’s move it along,” Ellis said repeatedly.
On the second day of the trial, jurors heard details of Manafort’s acquisition of more than $1 million in clothing, expensive cars and more than $3 million in home improvement work — nearly all paid for either in cash or by offshore wire transfers.
The defense has argued that the illegal conduct alleged by the government was carried out by Manafort’s business associate Rick Gates, who has pleaded guilty and is now the government’s star witness. Gates also worked on the Trump campaign.
California governor pledges any resources needed for fires
UPPER LAKE, Calif. — A massive wildfire in Northern California has torched more than 1,000 homes in and around the city of Redding, authorities said Wednesday as some evacuees were allowed to return home and new blazes exploded in what has become an endless summer of flame in the Golden State.
“Whatever resources are needed, we’re putting them there,” Gov. Jerry Brown said at a news conference. “We’re being surprised. Every year is teaching the fire authorities new lessons. We’re in uncharted territory.”
Just a month into the budget year, the state has already spent one quarter of its annual fire budget, at least $130 million.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said another 440 buildings, including barns and warehouses, have also been destroyed by the fire, which is now the sixth most destructive in California history.
The huge Redding-area blaze, which started July 23, forced 38,000 people from their homes and killed six. It has scorched 180 square miles (470 square kilometers) and is 35 percent contained.
Police: Bush’s doctor’s killing may have been act of revenge
HOUSTON — A man suspected of killing one of former President George H.W. Bush’s doctors may have been seeking revenge for his mother, who died on the doctor’s operating table more than 20 years ago, authorities said Wednesday.
Joseph James Pappas, 62, should be considered armed, dangerous and possibly suicidal, Houston police Chief Art Acevedo said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“There was a lot of planning that went into this. There was a lot of planning and, sadly, some skill,” Acevedo said of the July 20 attack on Dr. Mark Hausknecht. Hausknecht was gunned down while riding his bike to work at Houston Methodist Hospital, which is part of the busy Texas Medical Center. Authorities say the shooter rode past Hausknecht before turning around and firing.
A tip on Tuesday led police to suspect Pappas, the chief said, though he didn’t elaborate as to the nature of the tip.
Acevedo said Pappas hadn’t been seen in 36 to 48 hours. He said the last anyone had heard from Pappas was in a Tuesday morning text message in which Pappas wrote that he was going to kill himself.
Trump’s short-term health plans are cheaper but cover less
WASHINGTON — Consumers will have more options to buy cheaper, short-term health insurance under a new Trump administration rule, but there’s no guarantee the plans will cover pre-existing conditions or provide benefits like coverage of prescription drugs.
Administration officials said Wednesday the short-term plans will last up to 12 months and can be renewed for up to 36 months. With premiums about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage, the option is geared to people who want an individual health insurance policy but make too much money to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.
“We see that it’s just unaffordable for so many people who are not getting subsidies and we’re trying to make additional options available,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. “These may be a good choice for individuals, but they may also not be the right choice for everybody.”
Buyers take note: Plans will carry a disclaimer that they don’t meet the ACA’s requirements and safeguards. And there’s no federal guarantee short-term coverage can be renewed.
Democrats immediately branded Trump’s approach as “junk insurance,” and a major insurer group warned that consumers could potentially be harmed. Other insurers were more neutral, and companies marketing the plans hailed the development.
Student charged in elaborate digital money theft scheme
LOS ANGELES — A Massachusetts college student who was named his high school’s valedictorian for his savvy tech skills hacked into unsuspecting investors’ personal cellphones, email and social media accounts to steal at least $2 million in digital currency like Bitcoin, according to documents provided by California prosecutors Wednesday.
Joel Ortiz was taken into custody July 12 at Los Angeles International Airport ahead of a flight to Boston, according to prosecutors. The 20-year-old faces more than two dozen charges including grand theft, identity theft and computer hacking, court documents show. He’s held on $1 million bail.
The Santa Clara County, California, public defender’s office, which is representing Ortiz, declined comment. A number listed for his home in Boston was disconnected.
The elaborate scheme involved taking over victims’ phones, allowing him to reset passwords and access online accounts containing electronic assets in the form of Bitcoin, Coinbase, Bittrex and Binance, the criminal complaint said.
In one case Ortiz allegedly walked into an AT&T store and impersonated a victim in order to get a new SIM card, which gave him control of the victim’s phone. He obtained access to the victim’s “financial and personal identifying information, tax returns, private passwords” and siphoned $10,000 from a cryptocurrency account, according to police report.
Thieves steal Swedish royal jewels, escape by speedboat
COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Thieves carrying out a daring daytime robbery smashed a security case at a cathedral in Sweden and stole gold and jewel-encrusted crowns from the early 1600s before hopping on bicycles and escaping via a nearby lake, police said.
The two men pulled off the heist at Strangnas Cathedral at noon Tuesday and vanished aboard a speedboat or jet skis into the vast patchwork of lakes around the city, located 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of the Swedish capital of Stockholm, police said.
The stolen artifacts included a gold crown and an orb dating to 1611 that were made for King Karl IX’s funeral, as well as a jewel-encrusted crown dating to 1625 that was used in Queen Kristina’s funeral. The items were on display at an exhibition, and visitors were inside the cathedral when they were taken.
“The alarm went off when the burglars smashed the security glass and stole the artifacts,” Catharina Frojd, a spokeswoman for the 14th century cathedral, told The Associated Press.
Strangnas Cathedral said on its website that the stolen pieces were kept “in accordance with the prevailing safety regulations in locked and alarmed displays.” It gave no further details.
Diocese names 71 accused of child sex abuse, blames bishops
HARRISBURG, Pa. — A Roman Catholic diocese on Wednesday identified 71 priests and other members of the church who had been accused of child sex abuse and said it was holding accountable the bishops who led the church for the past 70 years, announcing their names will be stripped from all church properties.
At a news conference to detail the church’s actions, Harrisburg Bishop Ronald Gainer apologized to those who were abused, the Catholic faithful and the community and expressed his “profound sorrow.”
“Many of those victimized as children continue to suffer as survivors from the harm they experienced,” said the bishop, who was appointed in 2014.
With its announcement, the Harrisburg Diocese became the second of six dioceses under investigation by the state to get out in front of a pending grand jury report on clergy sex abuse. The Erie Diocese released its own findings on clergy abuse in April.
The release of the nearly 900-page state grand jury report has been held up by challenges by some priests and former priests. The state Supreme Court ruled last week a version with some names blacked out can be made public as early as next week. The court said it identified more than 300 “predator priests” in the six dioceses.
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