September 14, 2019

The New York attorney general's office in a court filing Friday said it uncovered about $1 billion in wire transfers by the Sackler family, the owners of pharmaceutical giant Purdue Pharma.

The discovery comes after thousands of municipal governments and 23 states tentatively reached a settlement with the Sacklers and Purdue, which manufactures OxyContin, over the company's alleged role in the opioid crisis plaguing the United States. The transfers have raised speculation that the Sacklers could have been trying to hide assets while facing litigation.

The attorney general's office only presented initial findings, and its major discovery was from 2009, long before the lawsuits began. But the filing said they identified "previously unknown shell companies" that Mortimer Sackler used to move Purdue money through international accounts before concealing it in real estate investments. A spokesman for Mortimer Sackler said there was nothing "newsworthy" about the "decade-old" transfers.

While it would reportedly be difficult to unveil the family's true international wealth, some legal experts do think the findings could spell bad news for the Sacklers. "The bigger question is how this is going to affect what many cities have already agreed to," Adam Zimmerman, an expert in complex litigation at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, said, referring to the tentative settlement. "We might see, with these allegations, more state [attorneys general] saying they are opposed to it, and maybe even some cities."

Elizabeth Burch, a professor at the University of Georgia Law School, told The New York Times the findings should give those states objecting to the settlement "more wiggle room" to argue for more disclosure, which "could lead to criminal exposure for the Sacklers." Read more at The New York Times and NBC News. Tim O'Donnell

6:47 a.m.

British and European Union negotiators reached a preliminary agreement Thursday on Britain's withdrawal from the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: "We have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the U.K." British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a "great new deal" and urged Parliament to ratify it in a special session on Saturday. The other 27 EU nations, whose leaders are meeting for a summit later Thursday, also have to approve the new Brexit deal.

Juncker said he will recommend the other EU nations back the agreement, but Johnson already saw his narrow passageway to Parliament's approval shrink further when his Conservative Party's Northern Ireland partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, said they "could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues" for the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. The DUP affirmed their opposition after the deal was announced.

Johnson's deal replaces the "backstop" agreement for the Irish border that was negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, but officials from Northern Ireland don't like that the new plan treats Northern Ireland differently than the other parts of the U.K. Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said Thursday that the new deal won't result in a hard border, adding: "We are fully committed to protect peace, to protect stability on the island of Ireland."

Britain's main opposition parties, Labour and Liberal Democrats, both quickly rejected the deal. Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson called Johnson's deal "bad for our economy, bad for our public services and bad for our environment." Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson's Brexit deal is "even worse" than May's, adding "This sell-out deal won't bring the country together and should be rejected." Without the DUP and its 10 votes, "Boris Johnson will not get the numbers to get a deal," said BBC deputy political editor Norman Smith. "That is just an arithmetical fact." Peter Weber

5:48 a.m.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, died Thursday due to "complications concerning longstanding health challenges," his office said in a statement. He was 68. He gained prominence as chair of one of three House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry of President Trump, though the two had clashed over the summer when Trump insulted Cummings' home city of Baltimore and said four congresswomen of color should "go back" to other countries.

Cummings' office did not disclose the nature of his health problems, but the congressman had been in Johns Hopkins Hospital when he died, and he had faced health challenges since at least 2017, when he underwent a minimally invasive heart procedure that led to an infection, The Baltimore Sun reports. He used a wheelchair to get around and a walker when he stood, but said over the summer that his health was fine.

Cummings was first elected to the House in 1995. Before that, he had served in the Maryland state Assembly since 1982, becoming the first African American speaker pro tem. Born in 1951, Cummings was one of seven children. His parents, Robert Cummings Sr. and Ruth Elma Cummings, were sharecroppers until the late 1940s, when they moved to Baltimore, where Cummings was raised and continued to live until his death. Cummings struggled in elementary school but went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Howard University and a law degree from the University of Maryland School of Law. His wife, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, was elected chairwoman of the Maryland Democratic Party last year. Peter Weber

5:21 a.m.

"President Trump had a very difficult day today," Jimmy Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live. "He had a meeting with Democrats at the White House, he lashed out at Nancy Pelosi" and had what the House speaker described as "a meltdown — which, is it even really a meltdown anymore? Trump didn't have a meltdown, he had a Wednesday. There's nothing left to melt." Nevertheless, he added, "the president doesn't this idea the people know he had a meltdown, so he tweeted a photo from the meeting," Kimmel said. That didn't go well, either.

The meeting was supposed to be about Syria, Kimmel said, and "Trump now is stuck," facing strong bipartisan blowback because "he basically gave the president of Turkey a green light to kill these people we promised to protect," the Kurds, but he won't admit he's wrong. "So today he tried to do damage control," he said. "The White House released a letter — this is a letter written by Trump to his strongman buddy President Erdogan — and I'm not sure what this was supposed to prove, other than he's crazy, but this is a real letter from the president of the United States, we did not alter this in any way."

Kimmel read through the letter, adding some commentary, then noted that Trump sent it on Oct. 9, and "Erdogan immediately sent his tanks across the border, so it was insane and ineffective, which is the art of the deal." He imagined JFK writing a similar letter to the Soviet premier during the Cuban missile crisis. Watch below. Peter Weber

4:43 a.m.

Few Americans had ever heard of Gordon Sondland, a wealthy Oregon hotelier who donated $1 million to President Trump's inauguration and was then appointed U.S. ambassador to the European Union, before he became a central figure in Trump's Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry. Sondland, 62, is scheduled to be deposed by House impeachment investigators on Thursday.

A former Trump adviser has already testified that she viewed Sondland's inexperience and missteps as a national security risk, but according to friends and former White House officials, Sondland had been extremely eager to leverage his political donations into an ambassadorship. And once he arrived in Brussels in June 2018, "he got addicted," one former official told The Washington Post. "The way you're treated as a senior U.S. official, there's nothing like it in terms of adrenaline and ego boost."

Sondland was not, however, satisfied with the U.S. ambassador's residence. After unsuccessfully pushing for a new residence, the Post reports, he began proposing upgrades to the existing manor, and now he's "overseeing a nearly $1 million renovation of his government-provided residence, paid for with taxpayer money" and apparently "driven by Sondland's lavish tastes rather than practical needs."

The renovation includes $209,000 to upgrade the "professional kitchen," $223,000 to build an additional "family kitchen," nearly $30,000 for a new sound system, and $95,000 for an outdoor "living pod" featuring a pergola and electric heating, the Post reports, citing procurement records. The State Department also allocated more than $100,000 to house Sondland in an "alternate" residence in September and October.

The State Department defended the remodel, calling it part of a "regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences," and a person who has spoken with Sondland told the Post that the residence was "deteriorated and nearly unusable for representational purposes." One person with extensive knowledge of the residence before Sondland's arrival called that assessment "bulls--t," adding, "The house was in excellent condition."

The U.S. ambassador to the EU does host some events and working meetings, but most U.S. diplomatic events in Brussels are held at Whitlock Hall, the residence of the U.S. ambassador to Belgium. Peter Weber

2:29 a.m.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters Wednesday afternoon that President Trump had a "meltdown" during a White House meeting. "Historians will record that within the White House it took several hours for a damage control plan to mature," Lupe "Southpaw" Luppen tweeted: "The president would say exactly what the speaker had said about him, but about her." To wit:

But Trump's I'm-rubber-and-you're-glue pushback peaked with a photo he posted of Pelosi literally standing up to him at the meeting, captioned: "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown!" Not many other people saw it that way.

"Looks more like the second most powerful person in the country owning the room," said historian Joshua Zeitz. "She seems calmer than him, [to be honest]," tweeted the Houston Chronicle's Erica Grieder. "Nobody does projection better — or more predictably," tweeted conservative pundit Matt Lewis. Fellow conservative David Frum noted: "The people on the president's side of the table seem profoundly fascinated by their thumbs." Civil liberties journalist Marcy Wheeler observed: "I see Trump's meltdown came because a woman (one of maybe 3 in the room) scolded him in front of a bunch of men who've never had the courage to do so."

Former President Barack Obama's White House photographer Pete Souza simply thanked the White House for posting such an "awesome photo of Speaker Pelosi." Pelosi seemed to agree. She made the photo her Twitter banner. Peter Weber

1:37 a.m.

Congressional leaders met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the mess in Syria on Wednesday, and it didn't go well. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Trump had a "meltdown" and she was praying for his health. Using his patented I'm-rubber-you're-glue strategy, Trump responded that Pelosi had an "unhinged meltdown" — posting a photo that didn't appear to have the intended effect — and tweeted "Pray for her."

The 20-minute meeting started with Trump saying he didn't want to be there, The New York Times reports, citing several Democratic officials and noting that "the White House did not dispute their accounts." Trump brought up a bizarre letter he sent to Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claiming his "nasty" missive shows he didn't green-light Turkey's invasion of Syria. Pelosi noted that the House had just overwhelmingly condemned Trump's decision to withdraw the handful of U.S. troops that had been keeping Turkey at bay.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) started to read Trump a quote from his former defense secretary, James Mattis, at which point Trump called Mattis "the world's most overrated general" because "he wasn't tough enough" and "I captured ISIS" faster than he'd said was possible. Pelosi said Russia has long sought a "foothold in the Middle East" and he had just given Russian President Vladimir Putin such an opening, adding: "All roads with you lead to Putin." That's when the already-tense meeting "reached a fever pitch," the Times reports.

The Associated Press recounts the next few exchanges:

Trump: "I hate ISIS more than you do."

Pelosi: "You don't know that."

Schumer: "Is your plan to rely on the Syrians and the Turks?"

Trump: "Our plan is to keep the American people safe."

Pelosi: "That's not a plan. That's a goal."

After Trump called Pelosi either a "third-rate" or "third-grade" politician, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said "this is not useful," and the Democrats walked out. Trump said: "Goodbye, we'll see you at the polls." White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said of the meeting: "The president was measured, factual, and decisive, while Speaker Pelosi's decision to walk out was baffling, but not surprising." Peter Weber

1:32 a.m.

In the early 20th century, hunting almost entirely wiped out the southwest Atlantic humpback whale, but scientists say it appears that the population has almost fully recovered.

There are seven different humpback populations in the southern hemisphere, and it's believed that before they were almost hunted to extinction, there were 27,000 southwest Atlantic humpback whales in the ocean, BBC News reports. The southwest Atlantic humpback whales spend their winters off the coast of Brazil and travel to sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters during the summer to feed off krill.

Humpback whales became protected in the 1960s, and Dr. Alex Zerbini of the National Marine Fisheries Service told BBC News the populations weren't measured until the 1980s. Scientists have since been documenting the southwest Atlantic humpback whales, surveying them by ship and plane, and at the start of the 2000s, "we realized just how well they were recovering," Zerbini said. It's estimated there are now nearly 25,000 of these whales in the world, which is a "positive story," Zerbini said. Catherine Garcia

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