Saudi Arabian officials seeking to retaliate against Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos hacked his phone “and gained private information,” Bezos’ security adviser Gavin De Becker asserted last week. The Saudis have allegedly sought to harm Bezos since last October, when The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, began aggressively investigating the role of Saudi leaders in the murder of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. De Becker recently finished an investigation into how the National Enquirer obtained intimate text messages between Bezos and his girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez. He said it was “very unusual” that the tabloid seemed eager to reveal its source, Sanchez’s brother. Michael Sanchez says the Enquirer had already seen text exchanges between his sister and Bezos when he was contacted last July, although De Becker could not confirm whether the Enquirer knew the Saudis had hacked Bezos.
Right-wing broadcaster Alex Jones said he repeatedly called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a “giant hoax” because he suffered from “a form of psychosis” that made him think “everything was staged.” That defense was offered during a deposition released last week in response to one of several lawsuits brought by parents of the first-graders killed in the shooting. Jones has said the 20 children and six educators murdered in Newtown, Conn., were so-called crisis actors working on behalf of Second Amendment opponents. He blamed his psychotic condition on “the trauma of the media and the corporations lying so much.” Plaintiffs say Jones maliciously spread the conspiracy theory on his Infowars platform and syndicated radio show. One couple suing say they were forced to move after Jones suggested they were paid to fake grief about their 6-year-old son’s death.
Lori Lightfoot won a runoff election in a landslide this week, becoming the first black woman and openly gay person elected mayor of Chicago. Lightfoot, 56, a former federal prosecutor who’s never held elective office, won nearly three-quarters of the vote and all 50 of Chicago’s wards in the race against Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. With the two Democrats largely aligned on policy proposals—advocating for more-affordable housing, police reform, and additional city resources for poor neighborhoods—the race came down to change versus experience. In her victory speech, Lightfoot vowed to oppose “the interests of a powerful few.” Chicago will become the largest U.S. city ever to have an openly gay mayor when Lightfoot takes office May 20, replacing Rahm Emanuel, who decided not to seek a third term.
Palm Beach, Fla.
A Chinese national carrying four cellphones, an external hard drive, a laptop, and a thumb drive infected with malicious software was arrested last week at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump’s private club. Yujing Zhang, 32, was charged with lying to Secret Service in order to gain entry to the club, initially saying she’d come for a swim. Zhang allegedly then told a Mar-a-Lago employee that she was there to attend a nonexistent United Nations Chinese American Association event. When federal agents tried to interview Zhang, she allegedly became “verbally aggressive,” claiming she was told by a friend to travel from Shanghai to Mar-a-Lago to speak with a member of President Trump’s family about U.S.-China economic relations. Federal authorities had reportedly been probing whether Chinese intelligence has targeted Mar-a-Lago, and are now examining whether Zhang is part of such an effort.
President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was among the 25 White House officials granted security clearances after their applications were initially denied, the House Oversight Committee said this week. That’s based on testimony from Tricia Newbold, an 18-year White House security specialist who said she approached Congress because “this is my last hope to really bring the integrity back into our office.” Newbold said she and colleagues had denied dozens of clearance applications since 2018 based on concerns about foreign influence, conflicts of interest, criminal conduct, financial problems, and drug use. The Oversight Committee voted this week to subpoena Newbold’s onetime boss, Carl Kline, in one of the committee’s first compulsory order aimed at the White House. Newbold, who has a rare form of dwarfism, said Kline retaliated for her pushback with bullying tactics such as moving office files to a shelf out of her reach.
Disaster bill stalls
The Senate failed to pass a $13.5 billion emergency aid bill for victims of natural disasters this week, after Democrats insisted the package include more money to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. The legislation, stalled in Congress since last year, would address floods in the Midwest, tornadoes in the South, volcanic eruptions in Hawaii, and wildfires in California. Democrats say the allocation for Puerto Rico—$600 million for a food-stamp program—is inadequate. President Trump has reportedly said he doesn’t want “another single dollar” going toward Maria relief, and he lashed out at Puerto Rico’s leaders, calling them “corrupt” and San Juan’s mayor “crazed and incompetent.” Trump claimed that taxpayers have spent $91 billion on relief for Puerto Rico, which he called “disgraceful’’; that figure reflects estimated damages caused by Maria, while the amount of federal aid that’s been received on the island is $11 billion. ■