May 23, 2019

The Espionage Act just became relevant again.

For the first time in the law's 100-year history, the Department of Justice has accused a journalist of violating it, charging Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with 16 counts of receiving or publishing classified information. Thursday's indictment also charges Assange with one count of conspiracy to receive the leaked documents from Chelsea Manning, and reinstates Assange's April charge of conspiring to violate computer hacking laws, The Daily Beast reports.

Assange's charges stem back to 2010, when then-Army intelligence analyst Manning allegedly leaked classified Department of Defense information to Assange for publication. Assange was charged in April with conspiring to help Manning hack those computers after London's Ecuadorian embassy revoked his asylum claim.

Thursday's charges immediately rang alarm bells for journalists, with The Daily Beast writing that it is a "stunning escalation of the Trump administration's war on the press." "Legal scholars believe that prosecuting reporters over their work would violate the First Amendment," The New York Times continues, which is partly why former President Barack Obama's administration never charged Assange under the Espionage Act. The DOJ's National Security Division head John Demers countered those concerns by saying "the department takes seriously the role of journalists in our democracy ... But Julian Assange is no journalist."

Assange was also sentenced to 50 weeks in prison for skipping bail in the U.K., and Sweden has reopened a 2010 rape investigation into him. Sweden and the U.S. have both moved to extradite Assange after his prison stay. Kathryn Krawczyk

7:10 p.m.

Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) sensible fashion non-statement raised $1.8 million for charitable organizations in Vermont.

For President Biden's inauguration last Wednesday, Sanders wore a simple Burton Snowboards jacket and mittens made from recycled wool. Agence France-Presse photographer Brendan Smialowski snapped a photo of a cozy Sanders sitting in a folding chair, legs and arms crossed, that resonated with the internet — soon, images began appearing showing Sanders sitting on the moon, riding the New York subway, and hanging out with the Golden Girls.

His campaign put the image on sweatshirts, T-shirts, and stickers last Thursday, and the items immediately sold out; more products were released over the weekend, and those were snapped up by Monday morning. Sanders announced on Wednesday that in just five days, $1.8 million was raised for a variety of charitable organizations in Vermont, including Meals on Wheels and senior centers. He was "amazed by all the creativity shown by so many people over the last week," Sanders said, and happy to use his "internet fame to help Vermonters in need."

Fundraising is not enough, Sanders added, as "even this amount of money is no substitute for action by Congress, and I will be doing everything I can in Washington to make sure working people in Vermont and across the country get the relief they need in the middle of the worst crisis we've faced since the Great Depression."

The mittens Sanders wore were crafted by Vermont elementary school teacher Jen Ellis, who has made additional pairs for Passion 4 Paws Vermont and Outright Vermont to auction off. Burton Snowboards also donated 50 jackets to the Burlington Department for Children and Families in Sanders' name. Catherine Garcia

6:01 p.m.

Cloris Leachman, the award-winning actress known for such roles as Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, has died at 94.

Leachman died from natural causes at her home in California on Tuesday, Variety reported.

The beloved actress rose to fame while portraying landlady Phyllis on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, one of the most iconic sitcoms of all time, in the 1970s. She won two of her eight Primetime Emmy Awards for the role, which she reprised in the spinoff, Phyllis, and she's tied with Julia Louis-Dreyfus for most acting honors at the Emmys, NBC News reports.

Leachman also won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1972 for her performance in The Last Picture Show, and the long list of her other memorable work includes Young Frankenstein and Malcolm in the Middle, with the latter winning her two additional Emmys in the 2000s. In 2011, she was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame — and Variety notes that at age 82, she became Dancing With the Stars' oldest contestant in 2008.

"Cloris Leachman was a comedy legend," the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences tweeted Wednesday. "From a groundbreaking role on The Mary Tyler Moore Show to the films of Mel Brooks and her Oscar-winning turn in Peter Bogdanovich's The Last Picture Show, she never lost her ability to shock, delight and surprise us. She will be missed." Brendan Morrow

5:43 p.m.

Frank Biden, President Biden's brother, was featured in a newspaper ad for the Florida-based law firm where he works that ran on Inauguration Day in the Florida-based Daily Business Review, CNBC reports. In the ad, which promotes an environmental lawsuit against a group of Florida sugarcane companies, a picture of Frank Biden, a non-attorney senior adviser for the firm, is accompanied by quotes touting his relationship with his brother.

"My brother is a model for how to go about doing this work," one quote reads, while another states "the two Biden brothers have long held a commitment to pushing environmental issues to the forefront; the president-elect has vowed to rejoin the Paris Agreement and wants to set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets, for example."

Richard Painter, who served as former President George W. Bush's chief White House ethics lawyer, said Frank Biden had a right to run the ad, but suggested it wasn't a good look for him or the new administration, which he said should encourage Frank Biden not to promote the family name and make it clear senior White House officials shouldn't engage with him. "The Biden White House has to have a very strict protocol on the using of the Biden name," Painter told CNBC. "Brothers, law firm associates, and anyone else who is using the Biden name should not be contacting the president or anyone else working with the president."

Frank Biden told CNBC in an email he has never "used my brother to obtain clients for my firm." Read more at CNBC. Tim O'Donnell

4:50 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is continuing to look back — and get brutally honest — about his experience working under former President Donald Trump.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, opened up about the Trump administration in a new interview with The Atlantic, recalling how the White House "became a different place" where officials broke from previous administrations' "deep respect for science," making for a "surrealistic experience."

For instance, Fauci recalled his frustration over Trump hearing things about the COVID-19 pandemic from random people like "a buddy he knew from somewhere" and taking it as seriously as what the experts were saying, as well as surrounding himself with "strange people" promoting "garbage" science. He also said Trump showed an apparent lack of interest in the pandemic.

"It's really tough to get into his head, but I think what was going on with him is he was not interested in the outbreak," Fauci said. "The outbreak to him was an inconvenient truth that he didn't accept as a truth."

Fauci remembers making administration officials "furious" by contradicting Trump's "nonsense," and at one point, the White House even sent out a list of things he allegedly got wrong about the pandemic that "was complete crap." In the end, Fauci said he tried not to let things like this bother him.

"People's lives are at stake," Fauci said. "I'm a physician. I'm a scientist. I'm a public-health expert. I know what I need to do. All that other stuff is just a distraction. Quite frankly, it's bulls--t."

At the same time, Fauci said he and Trump actually "really liked each other," and the president was "charismatic and likable on a personal basis," if "not on a policy basis." But with President Biden in office, Fauci said, it's as if "we went from an alternative world into a real world." Read the full interview at The Atlantic. Brendan Morrow

4:35 p.m.

"We've never seen the groundswell of public support" for Washington, D.C., statehood "that we're seeing now," historian Chris Myers Asch, the co-author of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation's Capital, told The Washington Post. That momentum is mainly a product of grassroots activists who are focused on getting the city's federal taxpaying residents representation in Congress, as detailed in a lengthy feature published by the Post on Wednesday. But the future of the movement rests in the Senate chamber, and Democratic lawmakers, often wary of addressing the issue in the past, seem to be warming to the idea for the sake of their party.

"Democrats are shifting toward uniform support for statehood because they realize it's one of the only ways they can gain power that's equivalent to their numbers in the greater population," historian George Derek Musgrove, Asch's co-author, told the Post. "I don't think there's any question that people within the Democratic leadership understand the stakes, and the benefits that statehood would bring to the party."

The last time the discussion about D.C. statehood was really amplified was in the early 1990s, and Democrats had held the Senate for more than 30 of the last 40 years, so they weren't too concerned about power dynamics. But while they have a slim majority in both Congressional chambers now, their grip is very loose, leaving them to face a new reality. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

2:45 p.m.

The Department of Homeland Security has issued a bulletin warning that extremists could "continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence" around the United States.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security David Pekoske issued a National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin on Wednesday, citing a "heightened threat environment across the United States" that "DHS believes will persist in the weeks following the successful presidential inauguration." The bulletin comes three weeks after supporters of former President Donald Trump, who falsely claimed he won the 2020 presidential election, stormed the Capitol building in a violet riot to disrupt Congress' certification of the election results.

"Information suggests that some ideologically-motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence," DHS said.

The DHS also said it's concerned that extremists "may be emboldened" by the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, though it added that domestic extremists have been "motivated by a range of issues, including anger over COVID-19 restrictions, the 2020 election results, and police use of force."

The last such advisory issued by DHS using this alert system was related to a potential threat from Iran following a U.S. strike that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020, ABC News reports. The White House last week announced that Biden has ordered a threat assessment focused on domestic extremism to be conducted in coordination with DHS in the wake of the Capitol riot.

"The January 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known: the rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. Brendan Morrow

2:33 p.m.

President Biden on Wednesday turned his attention to climate issues, signing executive orders that seek to halt new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters, conserve 30 percent of federal lands and waters by 2030, and find ways to double wind production by the same year.

John Kerry, the first-ever United States Climate Envoy, championed the actions, reiterating his belief that the climate crisis is "existential" and "failure, literally, is not an option." While briefing reporters, Kerry was asked about potential job losses in the fossil fuel industry, and whether he had a message for workers who believe they are witnessing the end of their livelihoods.

Kerry explained that those workers "have been fed a false narrative" by the Trump administration about the shift to clean energy, which he said will not come "at their expense." He added that, before the COVID-19 pandemic, the solar and wind energy industries were growing swiftly, while coal plants have been closing over the last few decades. "The same people can do those jobs. But the choice of doing the solar power one now is a better choice," he said, also pointing out the health risks associated with coal mining.

Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) weren't buying the reassurance, suggesting that Kerry's statement lacked empathy, although he didn't explicitly refute the notion that an industry transition may be feasible for fossil fuel workers. Tim O'Donnell

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