November 15, 2019

The House Ethics Committee disclosed Thursday that two Florida congressmen, Rep. Alcee Hastings (D) and Rep. Ross Spano (R), are under investigation. Hastings, who has been in the House for 26 years, is being investigated by the Ethics Committee for his long-term relationship with a member of his staff, Patricia Williams. Former Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) resigned last month after denying she had an intimate relationship with a member of her staff while admitting she had such a relationship with a campaign staffer.

Williams has been on Hastings' staff since 2000, and they bought a house together in 2017, the Palm Beach Post reports. He downplayed any impropriety this fall, telling the Post, "However it looks, it's been looking like that for 25 years."

With Spano, the House Ethics Committee announced it is deferring its investigation at the request of the Justice Department, which, the committee revealed, has opened a criminal investigation into possible campaign finance violations. Spano claimed last year that he loaned his campaign $175,000 from personal funds when in fact he had received $180,000 in loans from personal friends, Politico reports. Spano's lawyer informed the Federal Election Commission of the erroneous campaign finance report soon after Spano won the race.

"Today, the House Committee on Ethics deferred their review of my self-reported filings with the FEC," Spano said in a statement. "We plan to cooperate fully with the Justice Department on this matter." Peter Weber

6:51 p.m.

Authorities estimate 22,000 gun-rights advocates attended a rally in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday, to protest proposed gun control legislation.

Ahead of the event, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency and temporarily banned people from carrying weapons at the state capitol, citing "credible intelligence" from law enforcement that white supremacists groups would attend the rally and incite violence. Some extremist groups did attend, but the rally was mostly peaceful and there were no reports of violence.

Democrats now control the Statehouse, and have pushing for new gun regulations, including universal background checks and a ban on military-style rifles. Protesters chanted "We will not comply" and "USA!" and several spoke to reporters about why they feel so strongly about the matter. "So many people are misinformed and think you are safer because you take my guns away," participant Jay Lowe told NBC News. "My guns have never killed anybody. And I carry a lot." Catherine Garcia

12:16 p.m.

President Trump's lawyers filed a brief on Monday urging the Senate to dismiss the impeachment charges against him and calling the House's impeachment process a "perversion" of the Constitution, The Associated Press reports.

The 110-page brief calls the House's impeachment case "flimsy," insists Trump did "absolutely nothing wrong," and says he has "been the victim of an illegitimate partisan effort to take him down," The New York Times reports. The House filed two impeachment articles against Trump — abuse of power for withholding aid to Ukraine in order to pressure that country to investigate his political rivals, and obstruction of Congress for blocking the House's impeachment inquiry.

The brief "does not deny that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine to open investigations into Democrats," the Times writes. Instead it argues that this was within Trump's rights as president. As to the obstruction of Congress article, the lawyers say the president has a right to confidential deliberations.

The Senate trial on Trump's impeachment begins Tuesday. He is just the third sitting president to face such a trial. The Republican-controlled chamber is unlikely to convict him. Jessica Hullinger

10:21 a.m.

Australia just can't catch a break. As wildfires continued to devastate parts of the country, a miles-long dust storm rolled across New South Wales Sunday, blotting out the sun. As CNN reports, the area has been experiencing drought since 2017, so dirt is loose and easily kicked up by high winds.

In other parts of the southeast, thunderstorms over the past two days brought hail stones the size of baseballs, bringing down trees, battering cars and buildings, and leaving thousands of people without electricity, according to The New York Times. There's also been flash flooding. And the Bureau of Meteorology says the storms could continue for another few days. Jessica Hullinger

8:29 a.m.

The number of reported cases of a pneumonia virus spreading through China jumped over the weekend, CNN reports, bringing the total to 201. On Friday, there were 62 reported cases of the illness in China. By Monday, another 139 cases had been reported, and three people had died. The virus, which originated in a wildlife market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has also spread to other countries, including South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, CNN reports.

Health authorities say the pathogen is a new strain of coronavirus, which CNN explains is "in the same family of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)." Its symptoms include fever and shortness of breath, QZ reports.

The outbreak comes as China prepares to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Last year, CNN estimates 7 million people traveled outside the country for the occasion. South Korea has been screening travelers arriving from Wuhan for fever at Seoul's Incheon International Airport. Some airports in the U.S. are doing the same. However, CNN points out that "a new study by Imperial College London suggests the number of infections in Wuhan is likely to have been grossly underestimated."

"The detection of three cases outside China is worrying," Neil Ferguson, a disease outbreak scientist at Imperial College London, said. "We calculate, based on flight and population data, that there is only a 1 in 574 chance that a person infected in Wuhan would travel overseas before they sought medical care. This implies there might have been over 1,700 cases in Wuhan so far." Jessica Hullinger

7:44 a.m.

Virginia officials braced for possible violence as buses packed with gun-rights advocates began arriving in the capital city of Richmond for a large Monday rally where authorities fear an outburst of violence by white supremacists, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) last week declared a state of emergency in Richmond, and temporarily barred people from carrying firearms on the grounds of the state capitol. Gun-rights advocates, who are planning a peaceful rally, challenged the ban in court, but lost. "Virginians have the right to assemble. And I believe in the right to bear arms. But what we have seen and heard in recent weeks has the potential to go far beyond these constitutionally protected rights," Northam said last week. "We are seeing threats of violence." Organizers said Monday's protests against possible new gun-control legislation could draw 50,000 people, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports. Harold Maass

7:38 a.m.

The Kansas City Chiefs beat the Tennessee Titans 35-24 to win the AFC Championship game on Sunday, earning the team its first spot in the Super Bowl in half a century, NPR noted. The Chiefs will play the San Francisco 49ers, who defeated the Green Bay Packers 37-20 in the NFC Championship game. The Chiefs came back from a 17-7 deficit in the first half. Kansas City was led by star quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He threw for three touchdowns and a total of 294 yards, including a 60-yard completion to wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the fourth quarter that helped seal the victory. "We're not done yet," Mahomes said. The 49ers earned their trip to professional football's Feb. 2 championship game with help from running back Raheem Mostert, who scored three touchdowns in the first half. Harold Maass

7:29 a.m.

President Trump has a noon deadline on Monday to submit his written defense against impeachment charges before his Senate trial gets fully underway on Tuesday, Reuters reports. Trump, only the third U.S. president to face such a trial, refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-controlled House, so the document will amount to his first comprehensive defense against the charges that he abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democrats, and tried to obstruct the House investigation.

On Saturday, Trump's defense team called the impeachment process "a brazen and unlawful attempt to overturn the results of the 2016 election and interfere with the 2020 election." House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) called the Trump legal team's response "errant nonsense," CBS News reports. Harold Maass

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