Biden, Trump cases pull Justice Dept. toward politics
WASHINGTON (AP) — In naming a special counsel to investigate the presence of classified documents at President Joe Biden's Delaware home and former Washington office, Attorney General Merrick Garland described the appointment as underscoring the Justice Department's commitment to independence and accountability in particularly sensitive investigations.
If those words sounded familiar, they should.
Garland used identical phrasing in November in appointing a different special counsel for a different politically explosive investigation into classified documents for a different political figure — the retention of top secret records at former President Donald Trump's Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago.
The Justice Department has investigated White House matters in the past. But it's now confronting a unique phenomenon: simultaneous special counsel probes — albeit with dramatically distinct fact sets — involving two presidents and jostling for time, attention and perhaps funding as well. Still another special counsel appointed during the Trump administration to investigate the origins of the FBI's Trump-Russia probe also remains at work.
The special counsel confluence underscores how a Justice Department that for nearly two centuries has had a mandate of prosecuting without fear or favor has found itself entangled in presidential politics. Even as Garland made a point Thursday of saying the department's own “normal processes” can handle all investigations with integrity, the appointment seemed to nod to a reality that probes that involve a president — in this case, Garland's boss — are different.
Top Brazil court greenlights probe of Bolsonaro for riot
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — A Brazilian Supreme Court justice on Friday authorized an investigation of whether former president Jair Bolsonaro incited the Jan. 8 riot in the nation’s capital, as part of a broader crackdown to hold responsible parties to account.
According to the text of his ruling, Justice Alexandre de Moraes granted the request from the prosecutor-general's office, which cited a video Bolsonaro posted on Facebook two days after the riot. The video claimed Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva wasn't voted into office, but rather was chosen by the Supreme Court and Brazil's electoral authority.
Prosecutors in the recently formed group to combat anti-democratic acts argued earlier Friday that, although Bolsonaro posted the video after the riot, its content was sufficient to justify investigating his conduct beforehand. Bolsonaro deleted it the morning after he first posted it.
Otherwise, Bolsonaro has refrained from commenting on the election since his Oct. 30 defeat. He repeatedly stoked doubt about the reliability of the electronic voting system in the run-up to the vote, filed a request afterward to annul millions of ballots cast using the machines and never conceded.
He has taken up residence in an Orlando suburb since leaving Brazil in late December and skipping the Jan. 1 swearing-in of his leftist successor, and some Democratic lawmakers have urged President Joe Biden to cancel his visa.
Survivors emerge from wreckage after US storms kill 9 people
SELMA, Ala. (AP) — Stunned residents tried to salvage belongings, and rescue crews pulled survivors from beneath collapsed houses Friday in the aftermath of a tornado-spawning storm system that killed at least nine people as it barreled across parts of Georgia and Alabama.
The widespread destruction came into view a day after violent storms flipped mobile homes into the air, sent uprooted trees crashing through buildings, snapped trees and utility poles and derailed a freight train.
Those who emerged with their lives gave thanks as they searched the wreckage to find anything worth saving.
“God was sure with us,” Tracey Wilhelm said as she looked over the shattered remnants of her mobile home in Alabama's Autauga County.
She was at work Thursday when a tornado lifted her mobile home off its foundation and dumped it several feet away in a heap of rubble. Her husband and their five dogs scrambled into a shed that stayed intact, she said. Rescue workers later found them inside unharmed.
Lisa Marie Presley will be buried at Graceland next to son
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Lisa Marie Presley will be buried at Graceland, the famed home of Elvis Presley that on Friday became a gathering place for fans distraught over her death a day earlier.
The singer-songwriter's final resting place will be next to her son, Benjamin Keough, who died in 2020, said a representative of her daughter and actor Riley Keough. Elvis and other members of the Presley family are also buried at Graceland.
Fans paid their respects at Graceland's gates on Friday, writing messages on the stone wall, leaving flowers and sharing memories of Elvis Presley's only child, who was one of the last remaining touchstones to the icon whose influence and significance still resonates more than 45 years after his own sudden death.
Lisa Marie Presley, 54, died Thursday, hours after being hospitalized for a medical emergency.
A singer-songwriter herself, Lisa Marie did not live in Memphis, where she was born. But she made trips to the city for celebrations of her father's birth anniversary and commemorations of his death, which stunned the world when he was found dead in his Graceland home at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977. She was in Memphis just this past Sunday, on what would have been her father's 88th birthday.
School searched 1st-grader's backpack before teacher shot
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Administrators at the Virginia school where a first-grader shot his teacher last week learned the child may have had a weapon in his possession before the shooting but did not find the 9mm handgun he brought to school despite searching his bag, the school system's superintendent said.
Police said Friday they were not told about the tip before the shooting occurred. Kelly King, a spokesperson for the Newport News Police Department, told The Associated Press that some time after the shooting, police learned through their investigation that a school employee was notified of a possible gun at Richneck Elementary School before the Jan. 6 shooting.
“The Newport News Police Department was not notified of this information prior to the incident,” King wrote in an email.
The student’s backpack was searched after school officials received the tip, but the gun wasn’t found before the shooting, said Michelle Price, a spokesperson for the Newport News school district.
She declined to comment on the police statement. She said that typically, when school officials receive a tip about a potential weapon or other contraband in the schools, if the tip includes specific information about a particular student or a particular classroom, “that's where the search starts.”
Rifts in Russian military command seen amid Ukraine fighting
As Russian troops wage a ferocious house-to-house fight for control of strongholds in eastern Ukraine, a parallel battle is unfolding in the top echelons of military power in Moscow, with President Vladimir Putin reshuffling his top generals while rival camps try to win his favor.
The fighting for the salt mining town of Soledar and the nearby city of Bakhmut has highlighted a bitter rift between the Russian Defense Ministry leadership and Yevgeny Prigozhin, a rogue millionaire whose private military force known as the Wagner Group has played an increasingly visible role in Ukraine.
Putin's shakeup of the military brass this week was seen as a bid to show that the Defense Ministry still has his support and is in charge as the troubled conflict nears the 11-month mark.
Prigozhin declared Wednesday that his mercenary force had captured Soledar, arguing the prize was won exclusively by Wagner. The Defense Ministry waited until Friday to announce its capture, saying that it became possible thanks to air and artillery strikes and airborne forces' maneuvers. A Ukrainian army spokesman denied that, saying Kyiv's troops were still in Soledar.
The Defense Ministry initially didn't mention the private contractor, but after Prigozhin accused the military of "constantly trying to steal Wagner's victory," it acknowledged his group's “courageous and selfless action” to storm the city.
FEMA fires group for nonsensical Alaska Native translations
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — After tidal surges and high winds from the remnants of a rare typhoon caused extensive damage to homes along Alaska’s western coast in September, the U.S. government stepped in to help residents — largely Alaska Natives — repair property damage.
Residents who opened Federal Emergency Management Agency paperwork expecting to find instructions on how to file for aid in Alaska Native languages like Yup’ik or Inupiaq instead were reading bizarre phrases.
“Tomorrow he will go hunting very early, and will (bring) nothing,” read one passage. The translator randomly added the word “Alaska” in the middle of the sentence.
“Your husband is a polar bear, skinny,” another said.
Yet another was written entirely in Inuktitut, an Indigenous language spoken in northern Canada, far from Alaska.
Robbie Knievel, daredevil son of Evel Knievel, dies at 60
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Robbie Knievel, an American stunt performer who set records with daredevil motorcycle jumps following the tire tracks of his thrill-seeking father — including at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in 1989 and a Grand Canyon chasm a decade later — has died in Nevada, his brother said. He was 60.
Robbie Knievel died early Friday at a hospice in Reno after battling pancreatic cancer, Kelly Knievel said.
“Daredevils don’t live easy lives,” Kelly Knievel told The Associated Press. “He was a great daredevil. People don’t really understand how scary it is what my brother did.”
As a boy, Robbie Knievel began on his bicycle to emulate his famous father, Evel Knievel, who died in 2007 in Clearwater, Florida.
But where Evel Knievel famously almost died from injuries when he crashed his Harley-Davidson during a jump over the Caesars Palace fountains in Las Vegas in 1967, Robbie completed the jump in 1989 using a specially designed Honda.
Yellen tells Congress US expected to hit debt limit Thursday
WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen notified Congress on Friday that the U.S. is projected to reach its debt limit on Thursday and will then resort to “extraordinary measures” to avoid default.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Yellen said her actions will buy time until Congress can pass legislation that will either raise the nation's $31.4 trillion borrowing authority or suspend it again for a period of time. But she said it's “critical that Congress act in a timely manner."
“Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability,” she said.
“In the past, even threats that the U.S. government might fail to meet its obligations have caused real harms, including the only credit rating downgrade in the history of our nation in 2011,” she said. Yellen was referring to the debt ceiling impasse during Barack Obama's presidency, when Republicans had also just won a House majority.
In this new Congress, the debt ceiling debate will almost certainly trigger a political showdown between newly empowered GOP lawmakers who now control the House and want to cut spending and President Joe Biden and Democratic lawmakers, who had enjoyed one-party control of Washington for the past two years.
Review: Spellbinding ‘Saint Omer’ straddles truth, fiction
First, the real-life facts of the case, more shocking than you’ll find in most fiction: In November 2013, a mother took a train from Paris to the northern French coast, along with her 15-month old daughter. She checked into a hotel, walked down to the water at night, fed the hungry child, and left her to drown at high tide.
That mother, Fabienne Kabou, went on trial in 2016, where she acknowledged the killing and spoke of sorcery and witchcraft, but added: “Nothing makes sense in this story.”
Sitting in that courtroom was French documentary filmmaker Alice Diop. Like Kabou a woman of Senegalese descent, Diop had been fascinated by the case since she’d seen a grainy surveillance photo in a newspaper and felt that “I know her so well, I recognize myself.” She spent days sitting in the courtroom, staring at the woman in front of her, seeking to understand the impossible.
What emerged from that experience is the spellbinding “Saint Omer,” Diop’s debut feature, but really a film that exists somewhere in the space between documentary and scripted narrative, between truth and fiction. Most crucially, it's a film so original in approach that one feels only Diop could have made or even conceived of it.
Whether it answers the question that an empathetic defense lawyer asks the jury to consider — not whether, but WHY — is less clear. But the film, which Diop co-wrote with Amrita David and Marie NDiaye, peels back so many layers by merely asking it — layers of race, gender, motherhood, and the lasting effects of French colonialism, for starters — that in the end, you’ll likely feel an answer isn't really the point.
The Associated Press