September 24, 2019

Ahead of the release of Joker, some family members of Aurora, Colorado shooting victims are concerned.

In a letter to Warner Bros., five family members of victims of the 2012 shooting, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises, say that "when we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause," Variety and The Hollywood Reporter report.

Among those who signed the letter are Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter was killed in the shooting. In an interview with the Reporter, Sandy Phillips called Joker a "slap in the face," fearing that someone who is "on the edge, who is wanting to be a mass shooter, may be encouraged by this movie. And that terrifies me."

Though Joker has received positive reviews and picked up Oscar buzz, some critics have expressed similar fears over the film, which depicts its lead as an isolated, troubled individual who perpetrates violence. Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson wrote in his review that Joker "may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes," while Slashfilm's Peter Sciretta tweeted it "could potentially be dangerous for the wrong person to watch."

The letter to Warner Bros. doesn't call for the film to be pulled but instead urges the studio to "use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns," including by lobbying for gun reform in Congress. "We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe," it reads. Read the full letter at Variety.

Brendan Morrow

7:44 a.m.

The House Democratic impeachment prosecutors have one more day to convince the Republican-controlled Senate that President Trump should be removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — or at least that four Republicans should join the 47 Democrats to subpoena evidence and witnesses Trump blocked from House investigators. The three most plausible GOP defectors are Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), but both parties are closely watching Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Politico reports.

Trump, who opposes witnesses, has both carrots and sticks to offer wavering Republicans. One Trump confidante told CBS News that GOP senators have been warned: "Vote against the president, and your head will be on a pike."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been warning his colleagues that subpoenaing former National Security Adviser John Bolton and other witnesses "could indefinitely delay the Senate trial" with "a protracted and complex legal fight over presidential privilege," an argument amplified Wednesday in a Senate GOP briefing by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey. That legal quagmire rationalization appears to resonate with Murkowski and other Republicans — though it's unlikely a subpoena signed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court after being approved by a majority of the Senate could be contested in court.

Trump has also been "rewarding senators who have his back on impeachment" by helping them raise campaign cash, "and sending a message to those who don't to get on board," Politico reported in October. And Trump, U.S. Chamber of Commerce strategist Scott Reed noted, "has the ability to turn on the money spigot like no one else."

Impeachment isn't like any other trial — which is good for Trump. Because in a normal trial, appearing to bribe or threaten jurors is frowned upon. Peter Weber

5:55 a.m.

Willie Nelson notwithstanding, it is still illegal to use or possess marijuana in Texas. But Texas legalized hemp last year, and the inability of police to differentiate between legal hemp and illegal weed has thrown marijuana prosecution into chaos statewide. So on Thursday night, Austin effectively decriminalized small amounts of pot for personal use in a unanimous 9-0 city council vote. The only objection to the resolution during the preceding 90-minute debate came from the head of the Austin Police Association, Ken Casaday.

Austin's resolution does not change state law, but it brings the city "as close as possible to eliminating enforcement action for low-level cannabis possession," The Texas Tribune reports. The city council prohibited the Austin Police Department from spending city funds on testing to determine if cannabis has a prohibited amount of THC, something that currently requires sending samples to private labs. Police can test the cannabis in felony cases but not misdemeanors, or if there is a safety concern.

Prosecutors in Austin's Travis County and elsewhere in Texas are refusing to litigate misdemeanor marijuana cases without a lab report proving the confiscated cannabis is marijuana, not hemp, but Austin Police were still arresting or citing people for suspected marijuana possession. Peter Weber

5:05 a.m.

"Today was the third day of testimony in the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump," Stephen Colbert said on Thursday's Late Show. And while the Democratic House prosecutors have laid out "a detailed description of perhaps the greatest abuse of power ever by a U.S. president," they're also "trying to keep it simple." For example, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) "tried to explain why crime is bad" using "the A-B-C's of high crimes and misdemeanors," he said, inspired: "Let me try a simple one! The impeachment 1-2-3s: Trump never 1 the popular vote, he's 2 corrupt to have the job, and 3 years is really enough."

House prosecutors "went through a mountain of evidence today — very compelling, very damning evidence," Jimmy Kimmel recapped at Kimmel Live. "It's nuts, they have everything, this is open-and-shut — which is a problem for Fox News," which "instead of even trying" to defend Trump is just "going with the old 'it's boring' defense." He countered that it would be very exciting to see what it takes to drag Trump from the Oval Office: "I mean, don't you want to remove him just to see that?"

The Late Show had a theory about why some senator-jurors are so restless.

Sitting quietly "for one lousy day" is "not hard — it's irritating, but it's not hard," Late Night's Seth Meyers chided senators. Meanwhile, Trump keeps "providing more evidence that he's a criminal who's unfit for office," bragging during a press conference "that his side was winning the trial because he was hiding all of the evidence from House prosecutors."

Trump also said "he wishes he could be at that impeachment trial to look his accusers in the face," The Daily Show's Trevor Noah laughed, agreeing with the idea, "because if he's locked up in a room for 12 hours at a time, he wouldn't have time to be doing things like" gutting protections for clean water. "Huh, that's a weird coincidence: A new rollback on water protections will benefit real estate developers," he deadpanned. "And it was passed by a real estate developer who hasn't drank water since the '70s — what are the odds? Why do I feel like all of Trump's policies really just him trying to help himself? Like I wouldn't be shocked if we find out the real reason Trump killed Soleimani was because he gave Trump's hotel one star on Yelp." Watch below. Peter Weber

2:12 a.m.

The House impeachment prosecutors spent their second of three days of arguments at President Trump's Senate trial making their case that Trump abused his power and the Constitution and must be removed from office for those abuses. To help make their case, the Democratic managers used video clips to make virtual witnesses of Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of Trump's legal team, and the president's hand-picked FBI director, attorney general, former top Russia advisers, and former homeland security adviser.

It was, in other words, "Trolling Day at the Trump trial," writes Susan Glasser at The New Yorker. But in prebutting the Trump legal team's telegraphed defense that Trump did nothing wrong, much less impeachable, the Democrats' "best witnesses ... were all the president's men," not "#NeverTrump Republicans or Democrats. They were senior officials in the Trump Administration. It was devastating."

But after two days of sitting down and listening for hours at a time, the senator-jurors were getting increasingly restless, flouting rules against leaving the chamber, talking to colleagues, and using electronic devices during the House impeachment managers' presentations. So the managers threw in some jokes. "Well, you've got to give Donald Trump credit for this: He has made a religious man out of Vladimir Putin," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said at a one point. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also got a laugh after suggesting the Senate might at least subpoena the Baseball Hall of Fame to figure out which one person voted against Derek Jeter.

You can watch highlights of the eight-plus hours of arguments, collected by PBS NewsHour.

The Democratic impeachment managers have eight hours left to present their case on Friday, then Trump's team starts its rebuttal on Saturday morning. Peter Weber

1:59 a.m.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is seriously contemplating endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden, several Democratic officials with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times.

Harris dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential race in December, and although she sparred with Biden during debates last summer — most famously when she criticized him for once opposing school busing — they are back on good terms and talk often, the officials said.

She likely won't announce an endorsement until after President Trump's Senate impeachment trial is over, the Times reports, and she understands the importance of her decision, especially since two of her fellow female senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — are also still in the presidential race.

Biden has said he "of course" would consider asking Harris to join his ticket if he is the Democratic nominee. By giving him an endorsement, it could secure her spot as his running mate — or, if he chooses someone else to be vice president, his administration's attorney general. Catherine Garcia

12:42 a.m.

Donald Trump has been a public figure for 40 years, and House impeachment lead prosecutor Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) drew on America's familiarity with the president's personal brand in Thursday's nights closing arguments in Trump's impeachment trial. Schiff and his fellow House managers spent the day making their case that Trump is guilty of abuse of power, and Schiff addressed the elephant in the room: "Okay, he's guilty. Does he really need to be removed?"

Yes, he said, and senators already know why.

"No one is really making the argument 'Donald Trump would never do such a thing!'" Schiff said. "Because of course we know that he would, and of course we know that he did," even if "we can't say it publicly." He continued:

And this is why he needs to be removed: Donald Trump chose Rudy Giuliani over his own intelligence agencies. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own FBI director. He chose Rudy Giuliani over his own national security advisers. When all of them were telling him this Ukraine 2016 stuff is kooky, crazy Russian propaganda, he chose not to believe them, he chose to believe Rudy Giuliani. That makes him dangerous to us, to our country. ...

Why would anyone in their right mind believe Rudy Giuliani over Christopher Wray? Because he wanted to, and because what Rudy was offering him was something that would help him personally, and what Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the truth. What Christopher Wray was offering him was merely the information he needed to protect his country and its elections. [Rep. Adam Schiff]

Schiff gave some hypothetical examples. If Russia "starts blatantly interfering in our election again to help Donald Trump, can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will stand up to them and protect our national interest over his own personal interest?" he asked. "You know you can't! Which makes him dangerous to this country." And if China helps Trump, Schiff said, "you think he's gonna call them out on it? Or you think he's gonna give them a better trade deal?" The "sad truth," he told the senators, is "you know you can't count on him" to put his country before himself.

The praise for Schiff's oratory was effusive, but not universal. "I think people on our side were absolutely offended by what he had to say," Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters afterward. Peter Weber

12:21 a.m.

Don't call into question the patriotism of a Purple Heart recipient and expect to walk away unscathed.

On Thursday, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) tweeted several inflammatory things about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director of European Affairs for the White House National Security Council. Vindman was on President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and while testifying before House impeachment investigators, Vindman said he was troubled by Trump's request that Ukraine open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, and knew he had to inform superiors.

During the afternoon's impeachment proceedings, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called Vindman an "American patriot," which led to Blackburn tweeting, "How patriotic is it to badmouth and ridicule our great nation in front of Russia, America's greatest enemy?"

Vindman's lawyer David Pressman reacted swiftly, saying in a statement, "This difficult moment in our country calls for seriousness and seriousness of purpose. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has sacrificed enormously for our country. He believes in our country. And he believes in our country's great institutions, including the United States Senate." Vindman served in the Iraq War, and received a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in an IED attack.

"That a member of the Senate — at a moment when the Senate is undertaking its most solemn responsibility — would choose to take to Twitter to spread slander about a member of the military is testament to cowardice," Pressman continued. "While Sen. Blackburn fires off defamatory tweets, Lt. Col. Vindman will continue to do what he has always done: serve our country dutifully and with honor." Catherine Garcia

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