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March 26, 2019

Jussie Smollett has just spoken publicly for the first time after having all of the criminal charges against him dropped.

Smollett, the Empire actor who police said staged a fake hate crime against himself, on Tuesday said that he has been "truthful and consistent on every single level since day one" and that he would "not be my mother's son if I was capable of even one drop of what I was accused of."

The actor also said he would "not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this." Now that the charges against him have been dropped, Smollett said he would like to "get back to work" and "move on with my life," closing by saying he will "continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

Smollett had said in January that he was the victim of a hate crime, saying he was attacked by two men in Chicago who put a noose around his neck and screamed, "This is MAGA country!" Although police said they originally treated this as a hate crime, they later said that Smollett actually staged it himself, accusing him of paying two men to attack him. Police blasted Smollett in a press conference, with Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson saying what he did was "shameful." Smollett later pleaded not guilty to 16 felony charges.

But in a stunning turn of events, prosecutors on Tuesday unexpectedly dropped all of the charges against him, clearing his record and sealing the case. Smollett's lawyer, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the police should not "try their cases in the press" and use the media to "convict people before they are tried in a court of law." Chicago police have yet to comment on Tuesday's events. Brendan Morrow

4:32 a.m.

On Monday, President Trump finalized his new "hard-hitting" sanctions on Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, by saying they will target "the assets of Ayatollah Khomeini," Khamenei's predecessor, who died in 1989.

But that's not why Iran responded to Trump's newest sanctions with mockery and derision. For starters, barring Khamenei from the U.S. and its banks "will have almost no impact on the ayatollah, The New York Times notes. Khamenei "never travels outside Iran and the conglomerate he controls, Setad, has little reliance on international banking."

"The sanctions mean Iran's supreme leader can't visit Disney World or get dollars with his ATM card," tweeted New York Times editor Rick Gladstone. "They are a joke in Tehran." Plus, the announced sanctions on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, a moderate, are seen as counterproductive to the negotiations Trump says he wants.

"Trump appears to be gambling that the pressure campaign will compel Iran's leadership to agree to a new nuclear agreement and not prompt it to lash out militarily for what it views as an illegal effort to strangle Iran's economy," The Washington Post reports. But the sanctions Trump has put on Iran since withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal have already slammed most Iranians and crippled Iran's oil exports, and analysts see diminishing returns each new round.

"Are there really any sanctions that the U.S. hasn't imposed against our country and people in the past 40 years?" asked Abbas Mousavi, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman. The semiofficial Fars News Agency called the sanctions "ridiculous," and a widely shared tweet from an Iranian calling himself K. Jafari read: "The only people left to sanction are me, my dad and our neighbor's kid. The foreign ministry should share Trump's phone number so we can call him and give him our names." Peter Weber

3:05 a.m.

The U.S. military calls America's post–World War II treaty with Japan "the cornerstone of peace and security in the Pacific." President Trump has recently mused to confidants about withdrawing from the treaty, calling it too one-sided, Bloomberg reports, citing three people familiar with the matter. Specifically, Trump thinks it unfair the U.S. has to come to Japan's defense but Japan need not come to America's, and he has complained about Japan's efforts to move a large U.S. military base in Okinawa, telling confidants that "the land underneath the base is valuable for development" and "the real estate could be worth about $10 billion," Bloomberg reports.

Administration officials say it is unlikely Trump will actually pull the U.S. out of the treaty which forms the basis for the U.S.-Japan relationship, and it's unclear he has the authority to. "It's unsettled in American law whether the president can withdraw from a ratified treaty without congressional approval," Bloomberg says. "President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002 without lawmakers' consent." Trump has already withdrawn the U.S. from a number of international agreements, mostly those negotiated under his predecessor, President Barack Obama.

Trump is heading to Japan on Wednesday for a G-20 summit in Osaka, and while he will meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, any disagreements they have would likely center around trade and tariffs, not treaties. Abe, who is hawkish and trying to build up the military Japan agreed to largely dismantle under the 1951 treaty, has a better relationship with Trump than most world leaders. Peter Weber

2:14 a.m.

Gen. Manuel Ricardo Cristopher Figuera, once Hugo Chávez's head of security and later Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's spy chief, is telling all about what he says he witnessed while serving as one of the government's top officials.

Figuera was named the head of SEBIN, Venezuela's intelligence police, last October, which landed him on a U.S. sanctions list in February. A month later, Figuera was approached by the opposition and joined the plot to push out Maduro, he told The Washington Post in an interview conducted last week and released Monday. He said that working as head of SEBIN made him realize "Maduro is the head of a criminal enterprise, with his own family involved," and he was ready to defect.

Figuera told the Post he learned that an assistant to Maduro's son ran a company that had a monopoly on gold, buying it from miners for a steal and selling it for much more to Venezuela's central bank, among other high-level corruption. The government also looked the other way as groups like Hezbollah and the Colombian guerrilla organization ELN operated inside the country, he said. "I found that the cases of narco-trafficking and guerrillas were not to be touched."

The uprising against Maduro was launched April 30, but it ultimately failed. Figuera told the Post he's not the only top official who joined the effort; he named the chief justice of Venezuela's supreme court, who has publicly denied being part of the plot. Maduro was nervous during the uprising, Figuera said, and once Maduro summoned him to the country's most infamous prison, he knew he had to flee. He went to Colombia, and on Monday, arrived in the United States. "I'm proud of what I did," Figuera told the Post. "For now, the regime has gotten ahead of us. But that can quickly change." Read more on the plot to oust Maduro and Figuera's story at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

2:02 a.m.

In Stephen Colbert's interview of NBC host Chuck Todd's interview of President Trump on Monday's Late Show, Trump decided not to strike Iran last week because of the counsel he received from a Magic 8 Ball.

On Thursday night, "we were poised to start a war with Iran, but Donald Trump did the right th— sorry, I'm just not used to saying that sort of thing," Colbert said. "Trump made the correct moral— The point is, this is the first thing that Trump has ever ordered that he did not finish." He deconstructed Trump's explanation, from his belated question about Iranian casualties to his hilarious "cocked & loaded" malapropism. Trump reportedly "likes the decisiveness of calling off the terrible command Donald Trump just gave," he said, but Trump also postponed his planned mass deportation of immigrant families this weekend, though even this "shred of human decency has an expiration date."

"Sweet lord, America was 10 minutes away from bombing Iran — and who stopped it? Donald Trump," Trevor Noah applauded at The Daily Show. "Who ordered the strike? Also Donald Trump. The point is, we're at peace, thanks to and in spite of President Trump." It's getting worrisomely common that "Trump takes us all to the brink of a crisis, and then he's the one that pulls us back at the last second," he added. "Sometimes it feels like there are two different Trumps making these decisions."

Trump's clearly getting conflicting advice, Noah said, and "I don't know what the doves told President Trump, but it looks like for now, it's worked," because "in 48 hours, Trump went from threatening Iran to pitching a MAGA franchise in Tehran."

Yes, "our split-personality president" has "spent the last week creating crises and then pretending he's solved those crises," Seth Meyers said at Late Night. "It's almost like he saw the polls, and instead of running against the Democrats in 2020, decided to run against himself: 'Vote for me — I'm the only one who can stop Donald Trump.'" He posed some good questions about Trump's endgame, or worrisome lack thereof. Watch below. Peter Weber

12:40 a.m.

Explorers searched for the "Lost City of the Monkey God" for decades, and once a team of conservationists had the opportunity to traverse the elusive area, they were thrilled with what they discovered.

Deep inside Honduras' Mosquitia rainforest, the team found 246 species of butterflies and moths, 30 species of bats, and 57 species of amphibians and reptiles. They discovered 22 species never before recorded in Honduras — including a fish that has likely never been found anywhere else — and species thought to be extinct, including the tiger beetle. The ancient settlement is "one of the few areas remaining in Central America where ecological and evolutionary processes remain intact," Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International's Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), told The Independent.

The conservationists were dropped off in the area by helicopter, and spent three weeks exploring. The pristine setting is vulnerable to illegal deforestation, and RAP's John Polisar said he is hopeful Honduras' government will make sure it is safeguarded. "Because of its presently intact forests and fauna, the area is of exceptionally high conservation value," he told The Independent. "It merits energetic and vigilant protection so its beauty and wildlife persist into the future." Catherine Garcia

12:18 a.m.

President Trump's latest denial that he raped writer E. Jean Carroll in the dressing room of Bergdorf Goodman in the 1990s goes as follows, in an interview Monday with The Hill: "I'll say it with great respect: Number one, she's not my type. Number two, it never happened. It never happened, okay?" Trump has used similar language in denying some of the other dozen-plus public allegations of sexual assault against him, and also about one woman, Stormy Daniels, whom he paid $130,000 to stay quiet about their purported extramarital tryst.

Trump went on to tell The Hill that Carroll is "totally lying," that he knows "nothing about this woman," and that it's "just a terrible thing that people can make statements like that." On CNN Monday night, Carroll deadpanned to Anderson Cooper, "I love that I'm not his type." But she retold her story, which two friends say she shared with them at the time of the alleged rape, 23 years ago, and there is some similarity between her tale of shopping with Trump and Trump's recorded boast about grabbing women by the genitals that surfaced in the 2016 campaign.

Carroll described Trump's response to the myriad sexual assault allegations against him as: "He denies, he turns it around, he threatens, and he attacks." And that's true in this case, whether you believe Carroll or Trump. Peter Weber

June 24, 2019

Several Democrats in the House are struggling with the idea of backing a $4.5 billion emergency aid package, as they want to help detained migrants but worry that the money will somehow be used to carry out President Trump's promised deportation raids.

The House is planning a vote on Tuesday, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) spent Monday evening meeting with Democrats who have issues with the bill, The New York Times reports. Pelosi has said the measure "does not fund the administration's failed mass detention policy" and does not change asylum laws. Several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Progressive Caucus want to make it clear the money will go to improving facilities where migrant children are being held, especially in the wake of shocking reports of filthy conditions and neglect at a Border Patrol station in Texas.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Monday night said she "will not fund another dime to allow ICE to continue its manipulative tactics," while Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she doesn't trust Trump to follow restrictions in the bill, adding, "He's creating these crises and then trying to point the finger at Democrats to give him more money, which he then uses for his own purposes." Trump enacts "cruel immigration policies," Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said, but "Democrats cannot allow our anger at this president to blind us to the horrific conditions at facilities along the border as the agencies run out of money."

Republicans are opposing the package for different reasons, specifically that the money won't be used to enforce immigration law, the Times reports. The White House said in a statement Monday night that Trump would likely veto the House legislation because it "does not provide adequate funding to meet the current crisis" and "contains partisan provisions designed to hamstring the administration's border enforcement efforts." Catherine Garcia

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