After being dismissed last week from the warehouse where he worked for 15 years, Gary Montez Martin shot and killed five co-workers, ultimately dying in a shoot-out that injured five police officers. Montez Martin, 45, used a Smith & Wesson handgun despite a felony conviction that should have prevented him from purchasing the weapon. He pleaded guilty in 1995 to aggravated battery after repeatedly assaulting a former girlfriend in Mississippi, at one point hitting her with a baseball bat and stabbing her with a knife. He served three years in prison and disregarded a 2014 order to relinquish his Illinois firearms license. Among the dead is Trevor Wehner, an intern on his first day of work at the Henry Pratt manufacturing plant. There were four other mass shootings in the U.S. last weekend; in Clinton, Miss., four hostages were killed after a 12-hour standoff following a domestic dispute.
Tar Heel tangle
State investigators disclosed evidence this week of a scheme to tamper with absentee ballots on behalf of Republican House candidate Mark Harris. Harris, whose 905-vote victory last November remains uncertified, allegedly ordered the hiring of political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless despite being warned of the convicted felon’s history of shady tactics. State officials say Dowless told campaign workers to forge voters’ signatures and fill out blank or incomplete ballots in two counties in the state’s 9th Congressional District. Dowless and his staff sought to conceal that ballots were being filled out at his office, varying the pens used and mailing small batches of ballots near voters’ homes. Harris maintains that he was unaware of the scheme, which affected more than 1,000 ballots. The bipartisan election board could order a redo election if Dowless’ efforts are found to have swayed the outcome of the race.
White House pressure
President Trump sought to put an ally in charge of a probe into whether Trump ordered illegal hush payments before the 2016 election, The New York Times reported this week. As federal prosecutors in New York closed in on Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, Trump asked then–Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, could oversee the investigation. Berman, a Trump appointee, had already recused himself over a conflict of interest at the outset of the case. Ultimately, Berman did not take over the investigation, which led to Cohen’s conviction on charges related to payments made to Trump’s mistresses. The House Judiciary Committee is now questioning whether Whitaker lied to Congress when he said that Trump had not interfered in the SDNY investigation.
AG No. 3
The Senate voted largely along party lines last week to confirm William Barr as attorney general, over Democrats’ protests that he would not pledge to make special counsel Robert Mueller’s report public. Barr and Mueller are friends and former colleagues at the Justice Department, where Barr was attorney general from 1991 to 1993 under George H.W. Bush. However, Barr has endorsed an expansive view of executive power, suggesting President Trump can’t be prosecuted for obstructing investigations. Barr, 68, is seen as a stabilizing presence at the department, which has been shaken by Trump’s attacks on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who is expected to depart soon. CNN reported that Barr could announce the completion of Mueller’s Russia investigation as soon as next week, though even if the investigation is complete it is unclear when the conclusions will be given to Congress.
Sen. Bernie Sanders made his long-awaited entry into the Democratic presidential primary this week, raising a staggering $5.9 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. The independent senator from Vermont inspired a grassroots movement in 2015 around his populist brand of democratic socialism, leading to a surprise runner-up finish to Hillary Clinton. Day One of his follow-up campaign drew more than 225,000 individual donations; for comparison, California Sen. Kamala Harris trumpeted her presidential campaign’s first-day haul of $1.5 million from 38,000 supporters. Sanders, 77, calls for “Medicare for all,” tuition-free public college, and a $15 federal minimum wage—a heavily left-leaning platform that many of his dozen-plus primary rivals have adopted. “We were told that our ideas were ‘radical’ and ‘extreme,’” Sanders said in an email to supporters. “All of these policies and more are now supported by a majority of Americans.”
Taking a knee
New York City
Still not on a team
Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick reached a settlement with the league last week after accusing the 32 team owners of colluding to keep him unsigned because of his political activism. After reaching the Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick became the first player in 2016 to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against police brutality. He was soon joined by teammate Eric Reid, who also settled with the NFL after remaining unsigned for much of last season. Kaepernick and Reid filed grievances under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The league had fought high-profile claims “tooth and nail in the past.” Kaepernick stood to gain as much as three times his lost salary—potentially $90 million—with a victory in arbitration. Kaepernick, 31, continues to train and remains interested in returning to the NFL.