Prosecutors dismiss charges against Smollett, draw backlash
CHICAGO (AP) — Infuriating Chicago’s mayor and police chief, prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett on Tuesday after the “Empire” actor accused of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself agreed to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail. But he maintained his innocence and insisted he was attacked.
Prosecutors said they still believe Smollett concocted the assault. They gave no detailed explanation for why they abandoned the case only five weeks after filing the charges and threatening to pursue Smollett for the cost of a monthlong investigation.
The dismissal drew an immediate backlash. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett for dragging the city’s reputation “through the mud” in a quest to advance his career. At one point he asked, “Is there no decency in this man?”
Smollett’s attorneys said his record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was assaulted by two men. The actor, who also agreed to do community service, insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”
Trump takes victory lap; parties start to pivot past Russia
WASHINGTON (AP) — An exuberant President Donald Trump took a victory lap on Capitol Hill Tuesday, emboldened by the end of the special counsel’s Russia probe, even as Democrats pressed insistently for Robert Mueller’s full report and Justice Department officials said more information could be released in “weeks, not months.”
Trump strode into a high-spirited gathering of Senate Republicans, flanked by party leaders, saying the attorney general’s weekend summary of Mueller’s report “could not have been better.” GOP senators applauded his arrival, and he celebrated what he called his “clean bill of health.”
But challenges are ahead for both the Republicans and the Democrats who hope to deny Trump re-election next year. Both parties are readjusting their aims and strategies in the post-probe landscape, pivoting to health care and other issues that are more important for many voters, even with Mueller’s full findings still unknown.
At House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s own closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday, she urged rank-and-file Democrats to “be calm” and focus on the policy promises of health care, jobs and oversight of the administration that helped propel them to the House majority last fall.
“Let’s just get the goods,” Pelosi said.
Israel bombs targets in Gaza as rocket fire resumes
JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli army on Tuesday bombed several targets in the Gaza Strip and bolstered its forces along the volatile frontier as a truce with the territory’s Hamas rulers showed signs of unraveling.
Palestinian militants responded with a new barrage of late-night rocket fire, setting the stage for a fresh round of fighting less than two weeks before Israel holds national elections. The violence is likely to become a major theme in the final stretch of a tight re-election campaign for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu cut short a visit to the U.S. and rushed back to Israel on Tuesday to deal with the crisis. After meeting with Netanyahu, Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, ordered an additional troop buildup along the border.
Netanyahu had been scheduled to give a speech in Washington to the AIPAC pro-Israel lobbying group. Instead, he addressed the group by satellite, telling them that over the past 24 hours Israel had pounded militant sites in Gaza on a scale not seen since a 2014 war with Hamas.
“I can tell you, we are prepared to do a lot more,” he said. “We will do what is necessary to defend our people and to defend our state.”
Democrats see opening in Trump’s push to quash ‘Obamacare’
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is calling on Republicans to revive the effort to quash the Affordable Care Act, handing Democrats an opportunity to unite in defense of the law as they try to move past the Russia investigation and win the White House in 2020.
Trump’s administration is asking a federal appeals court to strike down the entire health care law. The president vowed on Tuesday to make the GOP the “party of health care” and told Senate Republicans to lean into their own agenda on the issue as they head into next year’s election.
The moves could help Trump rally his conservative base as he celebrates Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that said there was no evidence that the president or his associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 campaign. But the push also poured political kerosene on an issue that many Democrats credit with powering their midterm election victories in November.
Top Democrats, including presidential candidates, said health care is an issue that resonates with voters more than the Mueller investigation.
“This is something that Americans care deeply about,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a White House hopeful. “I may not have been asked about the Mueller report at town hall meetings, but I was sure asked about health care.”
Southwest 737 Max makes emergency landing in Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max made a safe emergency landing Tuesday in Orlando, Florida, after experiencing an engine problem, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
The crew declared an emergency after taking off from Orlando International Airport around 2:50 p.m., and returned to the airport safely. No passengers were on board, and the aircraft was being ferried to Victorville, California, where Southwest is storing the airplanes.
The 737 Max was grounded in the U.S. March 13 after a deadly crash involving a Max in Ethiopia on March 10. It was the second fatal crash involving the airplane. U.S. airlines are allowed to shuttle the planes but cannot carry passengers.
The FAA says it’s investigating but the emergency was not related to anti-stall software that is suspected as a cause of the two fatal crashes including one last year involving a plane from Indonesia.
Airport spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell says one of the airport’s three runways was shut down for cleaning after the landing. She says its standard procedure to check a runway for debris after an emergency landing. It wasn’t clear if any parts actually fell off the plane.
Trump border emergency survives as House veto override fails
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-led House failed Tuesday to override President Donald Trump’s first veto, salvaging his effort to steer billions of extra dollars to erecting border barriers and delivering a victory to the White House in a constitutional and political clash that’s raged for months.
Lawmakers voted 248-181 to overturn Trump’s veto, but that fell 38 votes shy of the required two-thirds margin. Just days after Attorney General William Barr announced that special counsel Robert Mueller had found Trump didn’t scheme with Russia to help his 2016 election, Tuesday’s vote bolstered Trump’s drive to build a wall along the boundary with Mexico, a hallmark of his 2016 presidential campaign and a priority of his presidency.
“Thank you to the House Republicans for sticking together and the BIG WIN today on the Border,” Trump tweeted. “Today’s vote simply reaffirms Congressional Democrats are the party of Open Borders, Drugs and Crime!”
While clearly a defeat for Democrats, the vote afforded them a chance to reemphasize policy differences with Trump and change the subject from collusion allegations that have lost political clout. Underscoring that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi placed her name atop a House Democratic fundraising email referencing the failed veto override, writing, “I know grassroots Democrats won’t let Trump’s enablers get away with this.”
Just 14 Republicans joined all voting Democrats in Tuesday’s futile effort to void Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the Southwest border.
Save The Children: 7 killed in airstrike on Yemen hospital
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — A hospital in a rural area of northwest Yemen was hit by an airstrike Tuesday killing seven people and wounding eight others, Save the Children said.
The international aid organization, which supports the hospital, said in a statement sent to the Associated Press that four of those killed were children and two adults are unaccounted for.
Save The Children said a missile struck a petrol station near the entrance to Kitaf rural hospital, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the city of Saada at 9:30 a.m. local time on Tuesday.
“The missile was said to have landed within 50 meters of the facility’s main building,” it said.
The organization said the hospital had been open for half an hour and many patients and staff were arriving on a busy morning.
Biden rips ‘white man’s culture,’ regrets Anita Hill hearing
NEW YORK (AP) — Former Vice President Joe Biden condemned “a white man’s culture” Tuesday night as he lashed out at violence against women and, more specifically, lamented his role in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings that undermined Anita Hill’s credibility nearly three decades ago.
Biden, a Democratic presidential prospect who often highlights his white working-class roots, said Hill, who is African-American, should not have been forced to face a panel of “a bunch of white guys” about her sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas.
“To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said, echoing comments he delivered last fall as the nation debated sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh amid his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “I wish I could have done something.”
Biden’s role in the 1991 Thomas confirmation hearings is among his many political challenges as he considers making a 2020 bid for the presidency. Should he run, he would be among a handful of white men in a Democratic presidential field that features several women and minorities.
His comments about Hill drew swift condemnation on social media, with many noting he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of the hearing.
Maker of OxyContin agrees to $270M settlement in Oklahoma
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The maker of OxyContin and the company’s controlling family agreed Tuesday to pay a groundbreaking $270 million to Oklahoma to settle allegations they helped create the nation’s deadly opioid crisis with their aggressive marketing of the powerful painkiller.
It is the first settlement to come out of the recent coast-to-coast wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma that threaten to push the company into bankruptcy and have stained the name of the Sackler family, whose members rank among the world’s foremost philanthropists.
“The addiction crisis facing our state and nation is a clear and present danger, but we’re doing something about it today,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said.
Nearly $200 million will go toward establishing a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, while local governments will get $12.5 million. The Sacklers are responsible for $75 million of the settlement.
In settling, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company denied any wrongdoing in connection with what Hunter called “this nightmarish epidemic” and “the worst public health crisis in our state and nation we’ve ever seen.”
True to form, Avenatti attacks Nike a day after arrest
NEW YORK (AP) — Attorney Michael Avenatti came out swinging Tuesday against Nike, accusing the shoemaker — without evidence — of “rampant” corruption mere hours after he was released from U.S. custody on charges he tried to extort up to $25 million from the company.
In a string of posts on Twitter — a medium he has often used to accuse others of wrongdoing — Avenatti claimed Nike has funneled “large sums” of money to elite student-athletes bound for top colleges.
Prosecutors haven’t commented on whether Avenatti’s information about Nike was accurate but said he crossed a line by trying to enrich himself with threats.
A Nike spokesman declined to answer questions about Avenatti’s tweets. The company released a statement Monday saying it will “not be extorted or hide information that is relevant to a government investigation.” It also said it has been cooperating with a federal investigation into NCAA basketball for a year.
Avenatti, best known for representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in legal battles against President Donald Trump, didn’t produce evidence or detail exactly what he believed the company had done wrong. But he said that corruption “reaches the highest levels of Nike” and cryptically referred to receipts that are “clear as day.”
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