March 7, 2020

British and American spies were recruited by Erik Prince, a security contractor with close ties to the Trump administration, to infiltrate numerous organizations considered hostile to the White House for Project Veritas, The New York Times reports.

The Times latest report specifically deals with an ex-MI6 officer named Richard Seddon, who was recruited by Prince. He reportedly helped run an operation in which an undercover operative named Marisa Jorge would secretly tape conversations in a Michigan office of the American Federation of Teachers, one of the largest teachers' unions in the United States. Jorge was reportedly tasked with recording conversations between the union's leaders for Project Veritas, which uses selectively edited secret video to target media organizations and liberal groups, to find potentially damaging information that could be leaked to the public.

In one instance, Jorge wrote to Seddon that she had recorded a local union leader talking about Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It's unclear if Seddon was involved in other operations related to Project Veritas, and it's also unknown, per the Times, whether any Trump administration officials or advisers were involved with or even aware that the plan was being carried out.

AFT sued Project Veritas for trespassing, eavesdropping, and other offenses. Project Veritas has always maintained its methods are protected by the First Amendment, but many question whether it's a legitimate journalistic enterprise. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

1:53 a.m.

Fifteen years ago, as Victoria Johnson read a used book she had just purchased, a photograph that had been tucked inside fell out. This was the beginning of a mystery that she finally was able to solve last month, thanks to internet sleuths.

The picture was of a Black family, and Johnson, a professor in New York City, estimated by their clothes that the shot was taken in the 1960s. She would look at the photo often, wondering who they were and if they were still living. In February, Johnson asked for help on Twitter, and the picture was retweeted thousands of times.

The great-niece of the man in the photo messaged Johnson, to let her know it was a photo of Sheldon and Margaret Sudduth and their daughters, Valerie and Sharon. The picture was taken in 1964 at their home in Topeka, and mailed to relatives in New York City. While Sheldon and Margaret have died, Valerie and Sharon are both alive and reside in Texas.

During a phone call, Valerie Sudduth told Johnson that her mother, a nurse, was a widow, and met Sheldon at church. Sudduth explained to Johnson that in the picture, she "looks so happy because she was thrilled about her new dad. Sheldon was kind, funny, and gentle. He made her feel she could handle anything she set her mind to." The photo is now on its way to Sudduth. Catherine Garcia

1:01 a.m.

An abandoned lot in southeast Atlanta is now a vibrant free food forest, where neighborhood residents can learn about healthy eating while enjoying fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts.

The food forest spans 7.1 acres, with 2,500 edible and medicinal plants. The land was originally used by pecan farmers, and then rezoned for townhouses. When the property entered foreclosure, the Conservation Fund bought it, and with grant money and help from other organizations, it was transformed into the Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill, the nation's largest free food forest.

The forest has nut trees, fruit trees, berry bushes, vegetables, and herbs, grown in a way that mimics nature, certified arborist Michael McCord said. McCord helps manage the forest, and told CNN everything in the space is "a teachable moment, whether it be trees, trails, bees or vegetables. That's what's most important to me — that we're raising awareness about sustainability and agriculture."

The city-owned and managed forest is in the Browns Mill neighborhood, a food desert where the closest grocery store is 30 minutes away by bus and 1 in 3 residents lives below the poverty line. More than 1,000 volunteers help keep the forest up and running by planting, watering, and harvesting crops. People are asked to only take as much food as needed, to ensure no one goes without. "It's really a park for everyone," Atlanta councilwoman Carla Smith told CNN. "Every time I go, there's a community there who respects and appreciates the fresh healthy foods." Watch the video below to get a look at the forest, pre-pandemic. Catherine Garcia

March 3, 2021

With a vote of 220-210, the House on Wednesday night passed House Resolution 1, a sweeping election reform bill that would eliminate partisan gerrymandering, expand early and mail-in voting, make voter registration automatic, and weaken voter ID laws.

Studies show that taking these steps would get more voters, especially those of color, to the polls. At Republican-controlled statehouses across the country, lawmakers are attempting to roll back voting access, citing former President Donald Trump's false claims that there was widespread election fraud in November. Trump lost Georgia, a state that saw record turnout, and on Monday the state House approved a bill that limits weekend early voting days, requires a photo ID for absentee voting, and restricts ballot drop box locations.

"You can win on the basis of your ideas and the programs you put forward, which is what we choose to do," Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), an author of H.R. 1, said. "Or you can try to win by suppressing the vote, drawing unfair districts across the country, and using big money to spread disinformation."

The bill needs 60 votes in the Senate, where it faces Republican opposition, and some believe this might be the measure that ends the filibuster. "Voting rights is preservation of all other rights, and we have to do everything we can to preserve the voices of the people in our democracy," Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) said. "I think the issues are urgent enough to leave all options on the table." Catherine Garcia

March 3, 2021

In a vote mostly along party lines, the House on Wednesday night passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds and certain no-knock warrants, create a national database to track police misconduct cases, make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct in civil and criminal court, and end racial and religious profiling.

Last May, Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man, died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for more than nine minutes, and his death sparked worldwide protests against police brutality.

Two Democrats, Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Ron Kind of Wisconsin, voted against the bill, while Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Texas) said he accidentally voted for it, and will submit a correction. The measure passed in the House last summer, and was reintroduced in February by Democrats eager to see it made into law, now that the White House and Senate are also controlled by Democrats.

During the House floor debate, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) said a "profession where you have the power to kill should be a profession that requires highly-trained officers who are accountable to the public." House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) pushed back at Republicans who argue that this measure takes money away from police departments and puts officers in danger, saying, "It would be an irresponsible policy to defund the police, and we are not for that. You can say it, over and over and over again. It will be a lie, no matter how well it serves your political purposes." Catherine Garcia

March 3, 2021

The Department of Transportation's inspector general found that former Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao used her office to benefit her family, primarily her father and sister, and in December referred the case to the Justice Department.

Chao, the wife of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), served in the Trump administration, and resigned on Jan. 7, following the Capitol riot. The report was sent to lawmakers on Tuesday, and includes more than a dozen instances of the office promoting the interests of Chao's father, who founded a shipping company in the 1960s, and her sister, who now runs the company.

The report states that in 2017, Chao had her staff plan an official trip to China. Her father, sister, and brother-in-law were set to join Chao, and she wanted the itinerary to include stops at locations that were only important to her family, such as two universities that receive funding from their charitable foundation. The trip was canceled after it raised ethics concerns among other government officials, The New York Times reports.

Investigators also learned that Chao asked staffers to help promote a book written by her father, edit his Wikipedia page, and check on the status of a work permit application for a foreign student who won a scholarship from Chao's family foundation. The report states that none of the Transportation Department employees who spoke with investigators said they ever felt "coerced" into performing "personal or inappropriate tasks for the secretary."

In December, the findings were referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation, but the DOJ decided not to take up the case. The inspector general ended the investigation due to a lack of "prosecutorial interest," but did refer the matter to the Transportation Department's general counsel "for any action it deems appropriate." Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

March 3, 2021

Disney will shutter at least 20 percent of its Disney Stores in the United States and Canada by the end of 2021, as the company focuses more on its online shopping business.

At least 60 stores will close, Disney said. There are about 300 Disney Stores worldwide, and the company is also considering making changes to operations in Europe. Disney did not say how many employees will lose their jobs, or which locations are slated to close. Disney Parks stores, Disney Stores inside Target, and outlets will not be affected, CNBC reports.

Disney said it will make improvements to the ShopDisney website; while the brick-and-mortar stores tend to cater to children, the e-commerce business will soon have more adult clothing options, home goods, and collectibles. Catherine Garcia

March 3, 2021

President Biden thinks it's "a mistake" that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) are lifting mask mandates and allowing businesses in their states to operate at full capacity, and chalked their decision up to "Neanderthal thinking."

"Look, I hope everybody's realized by now, these masks make a difference," Biden said Wednesday. "We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we're able to get vaccines in people's arms." The last thing the country needs, Biden added, is "Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything's fine, take off your mask, forget it. It still matters."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health experts have stressed that it is too soon to end mask mandates and fully open businesses, and this could lead to a surge in new cases, especially as variants that are more contagious are spreading. It is "critical" for people to "follow the science," Biden said, and wash their hands, wear a mask, and stay socially distanced.

In a statement to CNN, Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said the governor was "clear in telling Texans that COVID hasn't ended, and that all Texans should follow medical advice and safe practices to continuing containing COVID. It is clear from the recoveries, the vaccinations, the reduced hospitalizations, and the safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed."

As of Wednesday, only 6.8 percent of Texas' population has been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest numbers in the country. The state's COVID-19 data is also not totally accurate, KHOU reports, as the winter storm that slammed Texas last month shut down testing centers, meaning a drop in the number of confirmed cases could be misleading. More than 2.3 million Texans have tested positive for the coronavirus, with more than 43,000 dying. Catherine Garcia

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