The U.S. at a glance ...
Ethics controversy: Republican lawmakers in South Dakota this week moved to use emergency rules to overturn an independent ethics commission put in place by voters in November. The commission was created as part of a campaign finance reform law known as IM-22, which passed with 52 percent of the vote. Along with establishing the ethics commission, the law imposes tougher limits on gifts that lobbyists may give to lawmakers. Republicans, who hold 80 percent majorities in both state chambers, said the ethics law would create “de facto criminals out of every elected office holder.” An emergency bill to repeal the measure has already passed the state House of Representatives, and Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he would sign the repeal bill if it landed on his desk. Lawmakers have also debated a bill that would double the number of signatures required to get an initiative on the ballot in South Dakota.
Voter ID battle: Voting rights advocates secured a temporary victory this week when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Texas officials hoping to restore one of the nation’s strictest voter ID laws. The 2011 legislation requires Texas voters to verify their identity at polling stations with photo ID, such as a driver’s license, a military ID, or a passport. Opponents claimed the law could have denied 600,000 voters—many of them minorities—the right to cast their ballots simply because they didn’t have the proper ID. In July, a federal appeals court struck the law down as discriminatory and sent the case back to a district court, which would supervise changes. But Texas officials nevertheless appealed the case to the Supreme Court. The justices gave no explanation for rejecting the appeal, but said they could review the case once the lower courts complete their work.
New York City
Trump sued: An ethics watchdog group filed a lawsuit against President Trump this week, arguing that he is violating the U.S. Constitution for refusing to divest from businesses that accept payments from foreign governments. The suit, filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, alleges that Trump is in breach of the previously obscure Emoluments Clause, which prohibits U.S. officials from accepting “any present” from any “foreign state.” The group has pointed to New York City’s Trump Tower—the tenants of which include a Chinese government–owned bank—as well as the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., which accepts business from foreign governments. Trump said the suit is “without merit.” Legal experts said the lawsuit was unlikely to proceed because the ethics group may lack “standing,” in that it has no proof of a concrete injury that justifies its decision to sue.
Russia probe: The FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies are reportedly investigating several members of President Trump’s inner circle, focusing on the aides’ possible ties to Russian officials. Intelligence officials have concluded that the Kremlin was behind the hacking of Democratic Party email accounts to try to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. They have reportedly looked into links between Russia and Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, as well as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page. The FBI eavesdropped on a December call between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. as part of routine monitoring of the Russian envoy, NBC News reported, but agents found nothing improper. FBI Director James Comey has been asked by Trump to stay in his post, sources said, despite coming under fire for his handling of the probe into Clinton’s email server.
New York City
El Chapo in America: Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpin, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, was extradited to the U.S. last week and charged in federal court in Brooklyn with drug trafficking, money laundering, and involvement in 12 murder conspiracies. Guzmán allegedly made billions of dollars as head of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which provides much of America’s cocaine and marijuana. He was captured by Mexican authorities in 2014, but fled the maximum-security Altiplano prison a year later in a daring escape. He was recaptured in Los Mochis in early 2016 after one of Mexico’s largest-ever manhunts. Guzmán is being held in Manhattan’s Metropolitan Correctional Center, a jail known for stringent security measures, like its use of solitary confinement. “If you wanted to intentionally design a place to drive people mad, you’d be hard-pressed to do better,” said David Patton, one of Guzmán’s lawyers.
Deadly tornadoes: At least 20 people were killed as violent storms swept through the Southeast this week, unleashing a string of devastating tornadoes that flattened buildings and demolished a mobile-home park in Georgia. At least seven residents of the Sunshine Acres park in Adel died when a winter twister tore through the area—shattering windows and ripping homes from their foundations. One resident crawled to the bathroom for cover after hearing a deafening roar. “When it let up, I went outside and it was complete chaos,” Alan Miley, 26, said. “People were screaming and crying for help.” In Mississippi, tornadoes cut a swath through a 15-mile area, killing four and destroying about 1,000 homes. Desperate local officials said they have since pleaded for federal assistance. “I’m asking President Trump to...get people on the damned ground here,” said Dougherty County Commission Chairman Chris Cohilas.