September 30, 2019

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) resigned, effective Tuesday, ahead of a scheduled hearing to change his plea to guilty in an insider trading case.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) received Collins' resignation letter Monday, The Buffalo News confirmed via a spokesperson for Pelosi's office. It came more than a year after Collins was arrested on insider trading charges, but just a day before his plea change hearing was scheduled in New York.

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Vernon Broderick scheduled a change of plea hearing for Collins later in the day. Broderick set up similar hearings for Collins' son Cameron Collins and Cameron Collins' soon-to-be father-in-law Stephen Zarsky for Thursday. Collins was on the board of an Australian biotech firm and was accused of telling his son and Zarsky to make "timely trades" on their investments that spared them massive losses. Collins himself lost millions when the firm's drug failed clinical trials.

Collins originally pleaded not guilty to the charges of securities fraud and lying to the FBI last fall. A trial was scheduled for early 2020, but in the meantime, Collins was narrowly re-elected to represent his heavily Republican district, albeit stripped of his congressional committee seats. Collins was the first congressmember to endorse President Trump's campaign and remained a strong supporter ever since.

Collins' 2018 Democratic challenger had already pledged to challenge him again next year, while several local Republicans had also announced they'd compete for Collins' seat. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will likely call a special election to fill the seat sooner than next year. Kathryn Krawczyk

June 28, 2019

Former President Jimmy Carter just suggested that President Trump's entire administration is illegitimate and that he actually lost the 2016 election.

Carter at an event on Friday said that there is "no doubt" that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election. But he went further by saying he believes this interference actually changed the outcome of the race and brought Trump to victory.

"I think the interference, although not yet quantified, if fully investigated would show that Trump didn't actually win the election in 2016," Carter said. "He lost the election. And he was put into office because the Russians interfered on his behalf."

Carter was asked in a follow-up question if this means he believes Trump to be an illegitimate president, the clear implication of his statement. After hearing that out loud, Carter seemed to immediately regret what came out of his mouth.

"Based on what I just said, which I can't retract," Carter responded. Brendan Morrow

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

March 26, 2019

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has just had all of the charges against him dropped.

Smollett, who was hit with 16 felony counts after police said he staged a fake hate crime against himself, was called in for an emergency court appearance on Tuesday, and his lawyers subsequently confirmed that all of the criminal charges against him have been dropped, per BuzzFeed News. They also said that "his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him."

Police said last month that Smollett staged an attack against himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary on Empire. He allegedly wrote a $3,500 check to two brothers in exchange for them helping him carry out the supposed hate crime.

Smollett continued to maintain his innocence, though, and his lawyers said in a statement on Tuesday that he "was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement." They also maintained that Smollett was "attacked by two people he was unable to identify on Jan. 29."

The details of what resulted in these charges being dropped have not yet been revealed, but the Cook County State's Attorney's Office said in a statement per The Hollywood Reporter that "after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett's volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case." Smollett's family said in a statement per BuzzFeed that "we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light." Brendan Morrow

This is a breaking news story and has been updated throughout.

March 15, 2019

President Trump and a New Zealand shooter have picked some eerily similar words.

On Friday morning in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks by at least one shooter at two mosques left 49 people dead. The alleged gunman, who has been arrested, was found to have a manifesto where he declared "we are experiencing an invasion on a level never seen before in history," per The Kansas City Star. The purported shooter specifically decried the "millions of people pouring across our borders."

Hours later, a shockingly similar phrase came from the president. Trump, after vetoing a bill that would've blocked his national emergency declaration to access border wall funding, briefly condemned the shooting before pivoting back to border talk. There are "crimes of all kinds coming through our southern border," Trump said, adding that "people hate the word 'invasion,' but that's what it is."

Also on Friday, Trump was asked if he saw "white nationalism as a rising threat around the world." "I don't really," Trump responded, saying "it's a small group of people" committing these crimes. Advocacy groups have said hate group activity has been rising in the U.S. for the past few years, and investigative reports have backed that up.

Trump first started using the term "invasion" when a migrant caravan started moving toward the U.S.-Mexico border from more than a thousand miles away. Those asylum seekers are being forced to wait in Mexico for months or even years as their claims are processed. Kathryn Krawczyk

February 21, 2019

The federal prosecutors who signed a plea agreement with Florida millionaire Jeffrey Epstein broke the law, a judge said Thursday, reports The Miami Herald.

U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra ruled that the prosecutors involved in the sex-trafficking case, including then-Florida prosecutor and current Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, violated the Crime Victims' Rights Act by not keeping Epstein's victims informed about the agreement, per Politico. After the deal, which resolved a case in which Epstein was accused of building a "cult-like network" of girls coerced into sexual acts, Epstein ultimately served 13 months in prison. The deal, which Acosta agreed to seal, was kept secret from dozens of women who alleged abuse.

“Particularly problematic was the government's decision to conceal the existence of the [agreement] and mislead the victims to believe that federal prosecution was still a possibility," the judge said. "When the government gives information to victims, it cannot be misleading. While the government spent untold hours negotiating the terms and implications of the [agreement] with Epstein's attorneys, scant information was shared with victims."

Marra also said he has reviewed evidence that Epstein violated sex trafficking laws and abused at least 30 girls between 1997 and 2007, per NBC News. "Epstein worked in concert with others to obtain minors not only for his own sexual gratification, but also for the sexual gratification of others," Marra said. The Labor Department did not comment on the ruling. Brendan Morrow

January 31, 2019

America's immigration court system is facing a backlog of cases that will take years to sort through. Some migrants have been sent to Mexico to await asylum hearings, while others are being detained in the U.S. as their status is processed.

But while embarking on a hunger strike to protest conditions in immigration facilities, some detainees in El Paso, Texas have been force fed by immigration officials, The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Nearly 30 detainees, largely from India and Cuba, have been refusing food and drink for upwards of 30 days, a relative and attorney tells AP. They are protesting "rampant verbal abuse and threats of deportation from guards," as well as "lengthy lock ups while awaiting legal proceedings," AP writes. The recent government shutdown only exacerbated those long waits, pushing asylum hearings scheduled during the shutdown to the end of a very long line.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has "a more narrow definition of hunger strike," AP says. But a spokeswoman confirmed Thursday that 11 detainees at the El Paso Processing Center are refusing food and four more are doing so across Miami, Phoenix, San Diego, and San Francisco. In a Wednesday statement to the El Paso Times, ICE said six strikers are "currently being hydrated and fed non-consensually under court orders" using nasal tubes.

ICE also said it is monitoring the striking detainees' food and water intake "to protect their health and safety," AP writes. But one relative countered that, saying his two nephews have had nosebleeds and been "hospitalized, back and forth." A self-described dissident in detention and an attorney both said hunger strikers are being put in solitary confinement "as punishment." Read more at The Associated Press. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 4, 2018

One miniscule microchip, found on Chinese-built motherboards, may have infiltrated the world's biggest companies and the depths of the U.S. government. But the extent of its devastation — and its future potential — is still unknown, a massive investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek reveals.

Back when it was still developing Prime Video, Amazon aimed to and later did acquire Elemental Technologies, a startup whose video-streaming software had already landed it a CIA contract. Elemental's video-compressing servers were assembled by Californian company Supermicro, which in turn built its motherboards in China. And during the pre-acquisition process, those motherboards — essentially the brains of servers — were reportedly revealed to contain a rice-grain-sized chip that wasn't part of their original blueprint, "sending a shudder through the intelligence community," Businessweek says.

Elemental's servers were in U.S. Navy ships and Defense Department data centers, Businessweek interviews with U.S. officials reveal. Supermicro also reportedly had hundreds of customers beyond Elemental, including Apple, a top bank, and government contractors. And since this was a physical infestation, the consequences could be far more severe than a wireless hacking. The 2015 incident reportedly sparked an ongoing, top-secret federal investigation, which so far has revealed "the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines," Businessweek reports. The probe also concluded that Chinese subcontractors implanted the chips, officials tell Businessweek.

Apple, Amazon, and Supermicro denied knowing about an investigation into the malicious chips, with Amazon also saying "it's untrue that [Amazon Web Services] knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental." The Chinese government claimed to be "a resolute defender of cybersecurity" in statements to Bloomberg. Yet former and current national security officials say the companies knew they were victims of a hack and that Amazon cooperated with the government's probe.

Read the whole report at Bloomberg Businessweek. Kathryn Krawczyk

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