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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    A three-judge panel has ruled that Republicans gerrymandered congressional districts to weaken minorities’ electoral power. Photo by Blend Images – Hill Street Studios and Getty Images

    AUSTIN, Texas — Federal judges found more problems in Texas’ voting rights laws, ruling that Republicans racially gerrymandered some congressional districts to weaken the growing electoral power of minorities, who former President Barack Obama set out to protect at the ballot box before leaving office.

    The ruling late Friday by a three-judge panel in San Antonio gave Democrats hope of new, more favorably drawn maps that could turn over more seats in Congress in 2018. But the judges in their 2-1 decision didn’t propose an immediate fix, and Texas could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    Republicans hold two of three congressional districts ruled newly invalid and were found to have been partly drawn with discriminatory intent. The GOP-controlled Texas Legislature approved the maps in 2011, the same year then-Gov. Rick Perry signed a voter ID law that ranks among the toughest in the U.S. Courts have since weakened that law, too.

    Judges noted the “strong racial tension and heated debate about Latinos, Spanish-speaking people, undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities” that served as the backdrop in the Legislature to Texas adopting the maps and the voter ID law. Those tensions are flaring again over President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration, and Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is also demanding tough crackdowns on so-called sanctuary cities.

    “The record indicates not just a hostility toward Democrat districts, but a hostility to minority districts, and a willingness to use race for partisan advantage,” U.S. District Judges Xavier Rodriguez and Orlando Garcia wrote in their opinion.

    READ NEXT: White House won’t challenge Texas voter ID law

    Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton did not immediately remark on the ruling.

    Hispanics were found to have fueled Texas’ dramatic growth in the 2010 census, the year before the maps were drawn, accounting for two out of every three new residents in the state. The findings of racially motivated mapmaking satisfied Democrats and minority rights groups, who are now pushing a separate federal court in Texas to determine that the voter ID law was also crafted with discriminatory intent.

    Texas was forced ahead of the November election to weaken its voter ID law, which allows concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs, after a federal appeals court found that the requirements particularly hampered minorities and the poor.

    The Obama administration had brought the muscle of the U.S. Justice Department into Texas to help challenge both the maps and voter ID law. But barely a month after Trump took office, the federal government reversed course and announced it would no longer argue that Texas purposefully discriminated against minorities with its voter ID law.

    It was not yet clear whether the Trump administration will also drop opposition to Texas’ maps. But U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, in a blistering dissent, had strong words for Obama administration attorneys after they joined the case.

    “It was obvious, from the start, that the DoJ attorneys viewed state officials and the legislative majority and their staffs as a bunch of backwoods hayseed bigots who bemoan the abolition of the poll tax and pine for the days of literacy tests and lynchings,” Smith wrote. “And the DoJ lawyers saw themselves as an expeditionary landing party arriving here, just in time, to rescue the state from oppression, obviously presuming that plaintiffs’ counsel were not up to the task.”

    The stakes in finding discriminatory intent are higher because it provides a window for opponents to argue that Texas should be forced to resume having changes to voting laws “pre-cleared” by the Justice Department or a federal court. A 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling did away with preclearance by striking down a key provision in the federal Voting Rights Act.

    The congressional districts voided by the panel belong to Democrat Lloyd Doggett and Republicans Will Hurd and Blake Farenthold. Hurd’s district, which runs from San Antonio to El Paso, has been a rare competitive swing district in Texas in recent years.

    The post Federal judges find Texas gerrymandered maps on racial lines appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: Americans since 9/11 have really grappled with this question: “Why do they hate us?” From your discussions with ISIS supporters around the world, was it A, that they don’t like our liberal social mores relative to theirs? Or B, they don’t like our foreign policy, our military deployments in some Muslim-dominated countries? Or would you say it was something else?

    GRAEME WOOD:
    I think when we look at the reasons that Osama Bin Laden gave for fighting against the United States, they were very clear. They were often very political. So Israel would be mentioned. Autocracies in the Middle East. When I spoke to people who were associated with ISIS, it was a very different type of hatred. They would emphasize this concept of loyalty and disavowal. Loyalty to all Muslims, disavowal and hatred of non-Muslims. So for them, it was an inherent obligation of their religion to hate me. And they would even say after the most friendly interactions, “Oh, by the way, we still hate you.”

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: In your view, is one of the key factors that separates ISIS from Al Qaeda, the fact that the group declared a caliphate, territory?

    GRAEME WOOD: One is that they had territory. They had a state that they called people to come to join by migration to the state. Whereas Al Qaeda was sending people out to attack from their bases. I see ISIS as, in a way, being two separate entities. One is the territorial entity in Iraq and Syria that’s subject to the local dynamics of Syrian and Iraqi politics. And the other is this kind of global caliphate idea that’s energizing people in many different countries, and that will probably survive the extinction of the territory of that first caliphate.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: As you interviewed some of these ISIS supporters and followers, influencers, did you feel they were trying to convince you of their righteousness, their rightness, or even to recruit you?

    GRAEME WOOD: Yes. In many cases, they were speaking to me because I think they thought that I might join their movement. And they would explicitly phrase it like this. They’d say, “We’re giving you an invitation. We like you,” they would say. “We don’t want you to burn forever. We want you to be on our side and share in your part of paradise.” I was able to have interactions with them that were, enjoyable, that were social. That were things like playing soccer, like hanging out in cafes, like having long discussions about what matters to us in life. I really actually treasured those discussions, and look back at them fondly, even though the content of them was, in many cases, genocidal.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: So your book title, The Way of the Strangers, seems to refer to another thing that a lot of the ISIS supporters you met have in common. That they don’t really feel at home, even in their home countries. Can you explain that?

    GRAEME WOOD: They would often quote a saying of the Prophet that Islam began as a strange thing, and it will return to being a strange thing as it was in the beginning. So, “blessed be the strangers.” And they would often associate themselves with that. They really felt that their views were strange even to them. They were coming from places like the United States, like the U.K., like Australia. And to them, too, it was strange that they felt drawn to a caliphate in the Middle East, a country, in countries where that they had in many cases, never been to at all, had no association with. They felt like they were not any longer at home in their own country. They were also strangers in the sense that they were intending to immigrate.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN:
    The focus of Wood’s book excerpt in the Atlantic magazine this month is an ISIS member known as “Yahya the American.” His real name is John Georgelas, the son of career a military officer who for a time lived in the Dallas suburb where Wood grew up. Brought up in the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition, Georgelas was a loner, drug user, and junior college dropout who drifted to a new faith.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: He decides to convert to Islam two months after 9/11. How did that come about as far as you know?

    GRAEME WOOD: In a moment of having left his home, first year of college kind of rebellion, he stepped into a mosque on the first day of Ramadan, first Ramadan after September 11th, and he converted. And from there, the path was greased toward jihad. I think he was really trying to rebel, and to do that in the most pronounced way possible. And that, for him, meant converting, moving to Damascus, and memorizing this textbook, dictionary of Arabic, and learning the language to such a degree that when I show his writings now in Arabic to native speakers of the language, they can’t tell that this was done by a community college dropout from Texas. And so for him to master the language is really the first step in his becoming a cleric, as he eventually has become within the Islamic State.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: How were his writings disseminated? Was it over social media? How did he build an audience?

    GRAEME WOOD: By going online, discovering that there were people out there who were curious about this And he did have a website that consisted of writings in Arabic and English. Later on, once he had formally joined the Islamic State, once he actually got there, he was disseminating his writings in the principle magazines and channels of the Islamic State, and namely the magazine Dabiq.

    GRAEME WOOD: Dabiq is a reference to a location that’s really the place where the sort of the coin toss that begins the end of the world will happen. And from there, armies will collide, cities will fall, empires will collapse. And eventually when things get really interesting, the Antichrist will appear and Jesus, from Christianity, will come back as a Muslim and fight on the side of the Islamic State.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: They believe this?

    GRAEME WOOD: They certainly do. This is something that has been, from the very start, a centerpiece of their propaganda.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: Wood reports, In 2013, Georgelas became one of at least 65 Americans known to have joined ISIS overseas. He moved to the group’s de facto capital Raqqa, Syria, bringing his pregnant wife and their three young children, but his wife didn’t stay for long.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: She comes back to America, comes back to Texas, moves in with his parents for a time, and then she decides to divorce her husband. Where do things stand now?

    GRAEME WOOD: Yahya’s family took in the grandkids, and I think they really thought of their son as lost. He had joined ISIS at this point. There was a very low chance that he was ever coming back. And so they decided to trade him for a bunch of nice grandkids, who they can raise to not follow the path that their son had actually taken. That’s where it stands right now, as far as I know, is that the kids are being raised in a Christian household, in Texas, and are doing fine, and certainly better than they would be doing if they were in Raqqa. I think no parent really wants to face up to the fact that their son has gone down the path that John Georgelas has. And especially knowing that it’s not even something that could really have been prevented. They’re not bad parents. They haven’t done anything to push him down that path. But he’s brought embarrassment to the family.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: Wood reports that Georgelas, or Yahya the American, is close to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and that before al-Baghdadi proclaimed the ISIS caliphate in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014, Georgelas had advocated that very move.

    GRAEME WOOD:
    If you look at John Georgelas’ writings before the declaration of the caliphate, they were constantly saying that one of the requirements of the religion is the appointment of a single person, an imam, a caliph, to lead the Muslims. So in the months before Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi actually did that in Mosul, John Georgelas went to different emirs of ISIS and said, look, you’re in sin if you don’t do this.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: For the Americans who get caught up in jihadist ideology, why do you think the draw for them still is to go to Syria or to go to Iraq, even if that means fighting against American soldiers?

    GRAEME WOOD: First, it must be said that the flow has pretty much stopped. The number of people who are traveling is somewhere between zero and one on average per month, which is down from 10 to 12 a year ago. That’s a big change. But for these people that they are told from the start, as soon as they are interested in ISIS propaganda, that they have an obligation to live in Muslim lands, that as a Muslim, they can never fully realize their religion as long as they are being ruled in a secular Christian society. So that’s a very strong impulse. If they’re being made to feel unwelcome at home through other political developments, especially, then that’s gonna be a push for them to go find a home elsewhere.

    PHIL HIRSCHKORN: What would you say is the biggest misconception about ISIS, based on your travels?

    GRAEME WOOD: I think there is a kind of folk misconception, a folk belief about what brings people to ISIS that involves their having no opportunities at home, that involves their not having a job. In fact, many people I spoke to who are sympathetic to ISIS are certainly smart enough to hold down a job, they have opportunities at home. People are going to ISIS, not because they have a nihilistic desire to just kill, kill, kill, but because they have an idealistic view of what they have waiting for them. They have an opportunity to be part of something big, and they see it in that positive way.

    The post Author delves into what motivates ISIS supporters appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Protesters hold candles as they celebrate the impeachment of South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye at a rally in Seoul, South Korea, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

    SEOUL, South Korea — A day after a court removed her from power over a corruption scandal, ousted South Korean President Park Geun-hye maintained her silence on Saturday as her opponents and supporters divided the capital’s streets with massive rallies that showed a nation deeply split over its future.

    Park has been unseen and unheard from since the Constitutional Court’s ruling on Friday, which ended a power struggle that had consumed the nation for months. Park, whose fate was left in the court’s hands after her parliamentary impeachment in December, has yet to vacate the presidential Blue House, with her aides saying they need more time to prepare for her return to her private home in Seoul.

    Carrying flags and candles and cheering jubilantly, tens of thousands of people occupied a boulevard in downtown Seoul to celebrate Park’s ouster. Meanwhile, in a nearby grass square, a large crowd of Park’s supporters glumly waved national flags near a stage where organizers, wearing red caps and military uniforms, vowed to resist what they called a “political assassination.”

    READ NEXT: Court removes South Korean president from office over corruption scandal

    Police had braced for violence between the two crowds after three people died and dozens were injured in clashes between police and Park’s supporters after the ruling on Friday. Nearly 20,000 police officers were deployed on Saturday to monitor the protesters, who were also separated by tight perimeters created by hundreds of police buses.

    The anti-Park protesters shouted “The candles have won!” and “Arrest Park Geun-hye!” as they began marching toward the Blue House. The protesters, who held candles during their massive evening demonstrations in recent months, loosely call themselves the Candle Force.

    The court’s decision capped a stunning fall for the country’s first female leader. Park rode a wave of lingering conservative nostalgia for her late dictator father to victory in 2012, only to see her presidency crumble as millions of furious protesters filled the nation’s streets.

    Protesters light fireworks as they celebrate the impeachment of South Korea’s ousted leader Park Geun-hye at a rally in Seoul, South Korea, March 11, 2017. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

    While the ruling might have irrevocably derailed Park’s political career, analysts saw defiance in her silence, saying that Park was perhaps hoping to use the growing anger of her followers to rebuild support.

    “By being quiet, she’s making it loud and clear that she won’t accept the court’s ruling,” said Yul Shin, a professor at Seoul’s Myongji University. “Nobody knows when she will leave the Blue House, but maybe she wanted to see how large the crowd was tonight at the pro-Park rally.”

    The ruling allows possible criminal proceedings against the 65-year-old Park — prosecutors have already named her a criminal suspect — and makes her South Korea’s first democratically elected leader to be removed from office since democracy replaced dictatorship in the late 1980s.

    It also deepens South Korea’s political and security uncertainty as it faces existential threats from North Korea, reported economic retaliation from a China furious about Seoul’s cooperation with the U.S. on an anti-missile system, and questions in Seoul about the Trump administration’s commitment to the U.S.-South Korea security alliance.

    South Korea must hold an election within two months to choose Park’s successor. Liberal Moon Jae-in, who lost to Park in the 2012 election, currently enjoys a comfortable lead in opinion polls.

    Kim Yong-deok, the chief of the National Election Commission, said Saturday that the election would be managed “accurately and perfectly” and urged the public to participate in a vote that would “determine the fate of the Republic of Korea,” referring to South Korea’s formal name.

    The Constitutional Court accused Park of colluding with longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil to extort tens of millions of dollars from businesses and letting Choi, a private citizen, meddle in state affairs and receive and look at documents with state secrets. Those allegations were previously made by prosecutors, but Park has refused to undergo any questioning, citing a law that gives a sitting leader immunity from prosecution.

    It is not clear when prosecutors will try to interview her.

    Prosecutors have arrested and indicted a slew of high-profile figures over the scandal, including Choi and Samsung’s de facto chief, Lee Jae-yong.

    Park’s lawyer, Seo Seok-gu, who had previously compared her impeachment to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, called the verdict a “tragic decision” made under popular pressure and questioned the fairness of what he called a “kangaroo court.”

    Some of Park’s supporters reacted with anger after the ruling, shouting and hitting police officers and reporters with plastic flag poles and steel ladders and climbing on police buses. Police and hospital officials said three people died while protesting Park’s removal, including a man in his 70s who died early Saturday after collapsing near the court.

    Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Foster Klug contributed to this report.

    The post South Koreans celebrate Park’s removal, but ousted leader silent appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    Political advisor Roger Stone during an interview in New York City, U.S., February 28, 2017. Photo By Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — A political consultant and former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump says he communicated last year with an individual involved in hacking Democratic National Committee emails.

    But Roger Stone says the conversations were “completely innocuous.” Stone told The Washington Times in an interview that his private Twitter exchange with “Guccifer 2.0” was “so perfunctory, brief and banal” that he had forgotten about it.

    Last summer, emails stolen from Democrats were posted by an online persona known as Guccifer 2.0. U.S. officials believe that individual is linked to Russia. Emails stolen from the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign were later released by the anti-secrecy website Wikileaks.

    The U.S. government later concluded that the Russian government directed the DNC hack in an attempt to influence the outcome of the presidential election.

    Stone’s acknowledgement of contact with Guccifer, however brief, could pose fresh problems for Trump, whose administration has been unable to surmount suspicion over campaign-season contacts with Russia. The FBI is investigating, as are the House and Senate intelligence committees.

    Trump has denied knowing that any staff had communicated with Russia during the campaign. Trump recently fired Michael Flynn from his job as national security adviser after it came to light that Flynn hadn’t been direct about his own contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

    In an email Thursday to The Washington Times, Stone denied having any contacts with the Russian state, Russian intelligence officials or “anyone fronting for them or acting as intermediaries for them.”

    The post Ex-Trump adviser swaps messages with DNC hacking suspect appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: The new administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, raised eyebrows this week when he said in an interview that carbon dioxide is not the primary cause of global warming and climate change, opinions at odds with scientific consensus and decades of data.

    Pruitt, the former Oklahoma attorney general, has reportedly started to stack the EPA staff with like-minded skeptics.

    Joining me now from Washington to discuss what this means for environmental policy is “Washington Post” reporter Brady Dennis.

    Brady, this isn’t necessarily new on how Scott Pruitt thinks about the environment.

    BRADY DENNIS, “WASHINGTON POST” REPORTER: No. I mean, he’s said before, and most recently, I think, in his confirmation hearings in the Senate, that this idea of uncertainty — we don’t really know how much of the warming of the planet is driven by human activity, I think what he said the other day was a step further than that by saying, “I don’t — I don’t believe that humans are the primary cause of global warming.” And so, it is a degree further, and I think that’s why you saw a lot of the backlash that Mr. Pruitt is getting.

    SREENIVASAN: And what was that backlash like? What did environmental groups and lobbies say?

    DENNIS: I mean, it was swift, you know? I mean, they pointed out, correctly so, that decades of research point to human activity as being the primary driver, and this is true through researchers at places like the EPA, where Mr. Pruitt, you know, is now the administrator. Also, NASA and NOAA and international groups of scientists have found this as well for many decades now.

    The interesting thing is that it didn’t just put him at odds with scientists or with environmental groups. You know, even large — some of the nation’s largest businesses now agree that the climate is warming in this way and that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with, companies like Shell and ConocoPhillips, and others, Exxon, have supported the Paris Climate Agreement which aims to tackle this problem.

    SREENIVASAN: So, what are the some of the policy implications if the head of the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t believe that climate change is cause by humans or carbon dioxide?

    DENNIS: Well, it raises a lot of policy questions and all you have to do is look back to the last administration. The Obama administration made this a priority and probably the signature effort was a regulation known as the “Clean Power Plan”, which sought to limit carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.

    Scott Pruitt, as Oklahoma attorney general, sued over that, as did many other folks, and that’s currently tied up in court. He’s currently, you know, said he plans to unwind that, as does Donald Trump. We’re expecting an executive order to that — to that effect soon.

    And so, there are a range of regulations that the Obama administration tried to put in place to limit the nation’s carbon dioxide, CO2, emissions and I think we could very well see, and most people expect to see a lot of that rolled back.

    SREENIVASAN: So, if the carbon emissions, or at least the rules governing carbon emissions are rolled back, if our clean air plan or our– perhaps our adherence to the Paris climate accords changes, what happens?

    DENNIS: That’s a really good question. And in part, it’s a good question because there’s a lot of moving parts. As I mentioned, the clean power plant is tied up in the federal courts right now, and yet, carbon emissions have fallen, and a lot of states are on pace to meet the targets that that sets. So, in some ways, the market is dictating some of this — wind energy, solar energy — are all gaining steam, gaining ground.

    And so, to some extent, it’s out of the government’s hands. That said, I think it would send a big signal domestically and internationally if the Trump administration were to unwind all these regulations that say that it’s a priority for the United States to tackle this problem.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Brady Dennis of the “Washington Post” joining us from D.C. today — thanks so much.

    DENNIS: Thank you.

    The post Pruitt dismisses climate science, environmental policy in flux appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara speaks during a Reuters Newsmaker event in New York City, U.S., July 13, 2016. Photo By Brendan McDermid/Reuters

    NEW YORK — A defiant Manhattan federal prosecutor, in announcing his firing after he refused to resign, says “absolute independence” was his touchstone for over seven years as he battled public corruption.

    Preet Bharara, 48, revealed his firing Saturday on his personal Twitter account. Several hours later, it was learned President Donald Trump had reached out through a secretary on his staff to Bharara on Thursday but the two men never spoke.

    The attempted contact — described by a person told about the conversations who requested anonymity — continued the unusual dynamic between Trump and the high profile prosecutor that stretched to Nov. 30, when Bharara emerged from a Trump Tower meeting with Trump to say the then-president-elect had asked him to stay on the job.

    The person who requested anonymity because of the talks’ private nature said the secretary late Thursday left a voicemail asking Bharara to call back. Bharara reported the call to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff, Joseph “Jody” Hunt, who agreed it was best that Bharara not speak directly with Trump, the person said. Bharara then called the White House, telling the secretary he had spoken to the Justice Department and it was agreed he and Trump should not speak.

    Bharara was informed he was fired by Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, shortly after it became widely known Saturday that he did not intend to step down in response to Sessions’ request that leftover appointees of former President Barack Obama quit.

    “I did not resign. Moments ago I was fired,” Bharara said in a tweet.

    In a statement later, he said: “Serving my country as U.S. Attorney here for the past seven years will forever be the greatest honor of my professional life, no matter what else I do or how long I live. One hallmark of justice is absolute independence, and that was my touchstone every day that I served.”

    He said current Deputy U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim will serve as acting U.S. attorney.

    The Justice Department late Saturday confirmed Bharara was no longer U.S. attorney but declined to expound.

    Meanwhile, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the House Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, requested Saturday that the committee receive a summary of probes linked to Trump, whether they touch on his administration, transition, campaign and organization, “so that we can understand the full implications of this weekend’s firings.”

    He said he suspected Bharara “could be reviewing a range of potential improper activity emanating from Trump Tower and the Trump campaign, as well as entities with financial ties to the president or the Trump organization.”

    Bharara was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2009. In frequent public appearances, Bharara has decried public corruption after successfully prosecuting over a dozen state lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike.

    Sessions’ decision to include Bharara’s name on the list of 46 resignations of holdovers from the Obama administration surprised Manhattan prosecutors.

    While it is customary for a new president to replace virtually all of the 93 U.S. attorneys, it often occurs at a slower pace. Sessions lost his position as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in a similar sweep by then-Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.

    Robert Morgenthau, a Democratic U.S. attorney in Manhattan, famously held out for nearly a year after Republican President Richard Nixon’s 1969 inauguration, saying he needed to see some important cases through. He ultimately left in January 1970, after the White House declared he was being replaced and announced a nominee.

    New York Sen. Charles Schumer, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that he was “troubled to learn” of the resignation demands, particularly of Bharara, since Trump called him in November and assured him he wanted Bharara to remain in place.

    Bharara met Trump Nov. 30, saying afterward he’d been asked to remain in the job. Bharara, once lauded on the cover of Time magazine as the man who is “busting Wall Street” after successfully prosecuting dozens of insider traders, has in recent years gone after over a dozen state officeholders, — including New York’s two most powerful lawmakers.

    It also recently was revealed that his office is investigating the financial terms of settlements of sexual-harassment claims against Fox News by its employees.

    The request from Sessions came as Bharara’s office is prosecuting former associates of Democratic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in a bribery case. Also, prosecutors recently interviewed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio as part of a probe into his fundraising. The mayor’s press secretary has said the mayor is cooperating and that he and his staff had acted appropriately.

    The request for resignations came after Trump last weekend claimed Obama tapped his telephones during last year’s election. FBI Director James Comey privately asked the Justice Department to dispute the claim because he believed the allegations were false. Bharara worked for Comey when he was U.S. attorney in Manhattan under President George W. Bush.

    Annemarie McAvoy, a former Brooklyn federal prosecutor, said it was not surprising Trump might want Bharara gone since there’s a good chance any subpoena seeking information about Trump campaign links to Russians would go through his office. She said it was also possible Trump wanted “to take out as many people as they can in the prior administration given the leaks and problems that they’re having.”

    Associated Press writers Sadie Gurman and Julie Pace in Washington and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.

    The post Now-fired Preet Bharara proud of ‘absolute independence’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKENDANCHOR: The nation’s infrastructure received an overall grade of “D- plus” in a report card published this week by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the same grade the group issued in 2013. Among the 16 categories graded: bridges received a “C-plus”; roads, dams and airports, a “D”; while mass transit came in with a “D-minus.”

    The group’s senior managing director, Casey Dinges, joins me now from Washington to explain these very low grades.

    Mr. Dinges, these are not grades that we would want to see on any child’s report card. Yet, I guess we tolerate them at such crucial things as the roads and bridges we drive on and the water that we drink.

    CASEY DINGES, SENIOR MANAGING DIRECTOR, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: I think the way the issue may play out is that the degradation is maybe so imperceptible to the public users, the traveling public you know, the water main break, even though it happens every 2 1/2 minutes in the United States, people my say, “Well, it’s just not happening in my neighborhood, so I’m not thinking about it.” Traffic congestion is a huge issue in major metropolitan areas. Pavement issues you’ll find in regions all across the country affect people, but maybe not enough to make it a top-of-mind issue.

    So, at this point, we are somewhat encouraged to see presidential leadership being exerted on the infrastructure issue. But funding is the key thing. That would be the heavy lift for the Congress.

    SREENIVASAN: The trillion-dollar plan that President Trump has alluded to and perhaps will propose in writing is not enough to cover the kinds of upgrades that you’re saying our infrastructure needs today.

    DINGES: It’s not. You know, the gap we identify is $2 trillion over 10 years. That’s how we have the $200 billion-a-year number. But if $1 trillion were to come forth from the federal government in a number of years in orderly fashion, that’s OK.

    But you have state and local government have a huge role to play and then also the private sector. You’ve probably heard there’s a lively discussion going on about how we can use more public-private partnerships —

    SREENIVASAN: Sure.

    DINGES: — in some of these infrastructure categories.

    SREENIVASAN: How do you change the thinking about this? Because it’s not very sexy to fund a new water main or a waste water system that’s crucial. And yet, we start to think about this in very specific terms when there’s a dam that’s about to break or when there’s a bridge that just collapsed.

    DINGES: It’s easy to take for granted your water supply, your bridges, your tunnels, until they’re suddenly not there. Certainly in this region, we’ve seen a number of — I should point out transit was the lowest graded, “D-minus,” across the country, certainly here in the Washington area, the capital of the United States, just a 40-year-old system that’s showing signs of complete breakdown after decades of under-investment and ignored maintenance.

    So, it’s a wake-up call for the country. People need to realize, this issue is already costing each family $9 a day. And what our economic studies suggest is that for an investment of just $3 per day per family, you could eliminate that drag on the economy and if we don’t we’re putting at risk 2.5 million jobs by the year 2025, and nearly $4 trillion in U.S. GDP. That’s the equivalent of Germany’s GDP.

    SREENIVASAN: All right. Casey Dinges from the American Society of Civil Engineers — thanks so much.

    DINGES: Good to be with you.

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    Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster stands on the steps of Parliament Buildings after becoming Northern Ireland’s first minister, Belfast January 5, 2016. Photo by Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

    DUBLIN — The senior Protestant politician in Northern Ireland left the door open Sunday for stepping aside as part of a potential deal to revive the British territory’s unity government with Catholics.

    Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster said she asserted no personal claim to be “first minister,” the top post that she held before January’s collapse of power-sharing. Foster has been under pressure to quit since her pro-British party nearly lost its No. 1 position in politics to the Irish nationalists of Sinn Fein.

    In a Belfast interview with Sky News, Foster insisted she would not quit as party leader but could allow another leading Democratic Unionist to be nominated in her place as first minister if her colleagues want to back an alternative.

    “It is up to our party to decide who our nominee will be,” she said.

    Sinn Fein has demanded that concession for months, citing Foster’s disparaging comments on Irish nationalist issues and her past oversight of a “green energy” program that could cost taxpayers tens of millions in recklessly uncapped subsidies.

    [Watch Video]

    Sinn Fein’s surprise January withdrawal from power-sharing ended its nearly decade-old partnership with the Democratic Unionists, forced Foster out as first minister and precipitating March 2 elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    Power-sharing was the central goal of a 1998 peace accord that sought to end the decades of conflict over Northern Ireland that has claimed 3,700 lives since 1969.

    Overtly campaigning for Foster’s ouster, Sinn Fein surged to within a whisker of overtaking the Democratic Unionists — a surprise that left many Protestants calling for Foster’s removal, too. The new 90-member Assembly has 28 Democratic Unionists and 27 Sinn Fein lawmakers.

    READ NEXT: These murals lie at the center of a debate over Northern Ireland’s future

    Foster, an attorney by trade who has frequently clashed with Irish nationalists since taking the power-sharing helm in January 2016, said the election’s outcome “has caused a lot of shock, certainly, within unionism … a sense of how could this happen?”

    She said she has never considered resigning as party leader, but drew a significant distinction with her claim to the role of first minister, stressing that this issue was part of ongoing negotiations with Sinn Fein.

    “It’s never been about me. The election was about what was good for Northern Ireland,” she said. “Other parties tried to make it a referendum on me.”

    The assembly has launched an investigation into Foster’s oversight of an incentive-payments scheme for businesses to adopt wood pellet-fired heaters.

    Unlike in the rest of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland’s rollout of the program involved excessive subsidies and no claim limits for 20 years to applicants accepted from 2012 to 2015, when Foster was enterprise minister.

    Chicken farmers with close family links to Democratic Unionist officials are among claimants seeking payouts that, if not curtailed or reversed, could cost taxpayers 490 million pounds ($600 million), or about $330 per resident.

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    People protest against U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as electors gather to cast their votes for U.S. president at the Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, on Dec. 19, 2016. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Amid concerns that Russia helped sway the 2016 presidential election, several states are considering legislation that would bar companies with significant foreign ties from contributing money in state campaigns.

    A long-standing federal statute bars noncitizens and foreign companies from donating directly to candidates or political parties at the federal, state and local levels. Another law prohibits businesses from directly donating to federal-level candidates or political parties.

    But the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case cleared the way for corporations and unions to pay for political ads made independently of candidates’ campaigns. The high court ruled that corporations and unions are associations of U.S. citizens with a First Amendment right to political expression.

    Hoping to take the decision a step further, proponents of bills under consideration in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Washington state would bar political spending by businesses in which non-U.S. citizens have a significant ownership stake.

    “If a company is owned and controlled by foreign nationals, then I think we really have to take a hard look at how that is consistent with the existing law on the books that says foreign nationals aren’t allowed to spend money in our elections,” said Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, who has been testifying in support of the idea at the state level after the FEC deadlocked on a similar proposal.

    Sponsors of the legislation aren’t sure how much foreign money makes its way into state elections, because under current law it doesn’t have to be disclosed. But there are several recent examples of companies with foreign ties spending significant sums at the state level.

    The ride-hailing company Uber, along with its competitor Lyft, together spent $9 million on a 2016 ballot initiative in Austin, Texas, that would have overturned the city’s requirement that drivers for the companies undergo fingerprint-based background checks. The Chinese ride-hailing company Didi invested $100 million in Lyft, and Uber announced a few weeks after the election that Saudi Arabia had secured a 5 percent stake in the company with a $3.5 billion investment. Airbnb, the short-term rental company owned in part by Russia-based company DST Global, gave $10 million to its super PAC to run ads on New York state lawmakers’ positions on short-term rentals during the 2016 election.

    But critics say having some foreign ties — especially minimal ones — should not disqualify corporations from participating in the political process.

    “Corporations have a right to speak about politics. It’s a strange calculus that says we’re going to sacrifice the rights of the 95 percent American ownership for the 5 percent foreign ownership,” said Allen Dickerson with the Center for Competitive Politics, a First Amendment group that supports the Citizens United decision.

    How Much Is Too Much?

    The proposals vary in the percentage of foreign ownership that would bar a corporation from political participation.

    In Massachusetts, the proposed prohibition would block companies from donating to super PACs or running political ads if they have a single foreign owner who owns 5 percent or more of the company, or multiple foreign owners who combined own 20 percent or more of the company. Super PACs, or political action committees, can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, but cannot contribute directly to campaigns or political parties or coordinate their political advertising with either.

    A Connecticut bill imposes similar requirements. The Washington state measure would apply to businesses that are majority-owned by foreigners. And a Maryland bill would prevent any company whose principal place of business is outside the U.S. from spending money on state ballot initiatives.

    “Certainly a company owned by more than 50 percent foreign nationals … raises a very sharp question of who is using the leverage of corporate treasury to influence democracy,” said Ron Fein with Free Speech for People, which fights corporate spending in politics and helped draft the Massachusetts bill. “We think companies with less than 50 percent run that same danger.”

    In a hearing on the Washington bill, Republican Sen. Kirk Pearson questioned whether any “foreign country would care about my election in the 39th District.”[Watch Video]

    But while big ad buys and contributions are still rare in legislative races in most states, statewide elections and ballot initiatives are attracting more cash.

    Spending in state elections has been growing steadily since 2000, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which tracks spending in state races. Adjusting for inflation, candidates in 2000 collected nearly $1.2 billion in contributions compared with $2.3 billion in 2014, the last major election year for which there is complete data.

    U.S. businesses also are becoming more international. According to data from the Federal Reserve, foreign ownership of U.S. corporate stock has grown from about 5 percent in 1982 to 26 percent in 2015.

    Those two trends are helping fuel the debate.

    “The board of a public company generally conceives of themselves as working for the shareholders,” said John C. Coates, a professor at Harvard Law School who testified in favor of the bill in Connecticut. “That affects the policy decisions the company supports, the candidates they may support, lobbying on certain laws that may affect their business model, ideas about what countries it wants to engage in trade with — all of those are affected by having a significant foreign owner.”

    Defending Citizens United

    Jim Manley, a lawyer with the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank that has filed a lawsuit to overturn a Massachusetts law that bars corporations from giving directly to state candidates, said the bills ask businesses to give up too much.

    “The problem is what that says to corporations is if you allow foreigners to buy stock in your company, you’re giving up the corporation’s First Amendment rights,” Manley said. “If I own a company with my friend who’s a foreign national, I shouldn’t be prohibited and the corporation shouldn’t be totally banned from speech just because a foreign national has a vote on how the corporation spends its money.”

    Both Manley and Dickerson of the Center for Competitive Politics suspect the real intent of the proposals is to undermine the Citizens United decision. “How much of this is an attempt to prevent indirectly what we can’t do directly, which is prevent businesses from speaking? I understand there are people who don’t like Citizens United, but it’s the law,” Dickerson said.

    Supporters of the bills deny that charge. Weintraub opposes the Citizens United decision, but she argues that state efforts to limit foreign influence honor the logic behind it.

    “This is just trying to put meat on the bones. What does it mean to be an association of citizens and when are corporations not an association of citizens?” she said. “When is foreign ownership too much?”

    Democratic state Sen. Ted Kennedy Jr., who sponsored the bill in Connecticut, said that a disclosure requirement might be a middle ground between supporters and opponents of spending restrictions. “Citizens deserve to know who is making these contributions,” he said.

    Compliance Difficulties

    Another potential pitfall of the legislation, according to critics, is that it would be difficult for corporations to certify a level of foreign ownership. Stocks are routinely traded, they argue, and large investment houses make purchases on behalf of thousands of people.

    Dickerson said the FEC policies already in place for wholly owned subsidiaries of foreign companies target what is most important: that PAC money comes from American operations and that Americans make the decisions about how it is spent.

    “There is a tendency in the legislative and political process to underappreciate both how interconnected American businesses are with the larger global economy and the difficulty of parsing these things out at that level of detail,” Dickerson said.

    But Coates said companies already know if 5 percent or more of their stock is foreign-owned because under federal law they must report any purchase of that size, as well as the nationality of the buyer, to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Furthermore, he said, publicly traded companies already collect that kind of information on stockholders for their annual shareholder meetings.

    State Sen. Andy Billig, the Washington Democrat who is pushing legislation there, said the claim that some companies don’t know who their owners are only strengthens his case. If they can’t figure it out, he said, “then they should not be allowed to participate in campaigns.”

    This story was produced by Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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    House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) speaks to the media about President Donald Trump’s allegation that his campaign was the target of wiretaps on Capitol Hill in Washington March 7, 2017. Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The House intelligence committee is asking the Trump administration for evidence that the phones at Trump Tower were tapped during the campaign as its namesake has charged.

    President Donald Trump asserted in a tweet last week: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” He continued the allegation against former President Barack Obama in other tweets but offered no evidence.

    On Saturday a senior congressional aide said the request for evidence by Monday was made in a letter sent by the committee chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and the panel’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., according to the aide, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the request by name and requested anonymity.

    Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has said that nothing matching Trump’s claims had taken place, but that has not quelled speculation that Trump’s communications were monitored by the Obama administration. Trump has asked Congress to investigate.

    Early this past week, Schiff said the committee would answer the president’s call to investigate the claim. He also said that he would ask FBI Director James Comey directly when he appears later this month before the full committee, which is investigating Russian activities during the election.

    “We should be able to determine in fairly short order whether this allegation is true or false,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday evening at the Capitol.

    Nunes has said that so far he has not seen any evidence to back up Trump’s claim and has suggested the news media were taking the president’s weekend tweets too literally.
    [Watch Video]

    “The president is a neophyte to politics — he’s been doing this a little over a year,” Nunes told reporters earlier this week.

    Other lawmakers have asked for similar evidence.

    Declaring that Congress “must get to the bottom” of Trump’s claim, Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Comey and Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente to produce the paper trail created when the Justice Department’s criminal division secures warrants for wiretaps.

    Sen. John McCain said Trump could “clear this up in a minute” if he were to call “the director of the CIA, director of national intelligence and say, ‘OK, what happened?'”

    McCain, R-Ariz., told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday: “I do believe on issues such as this, accusing a former president of the United States of something which is not only illegal, but just unheard of, that requires corroboration. I’ll let the American people be the judge, but this is serious stuff.”

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    Demonstrators participate in a protest by the Yemeni community against U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban in the Brooklyn borough of New York City on Feb. 2, 2017. Photo by Lucas Jackson/Reuters

    The debate and pending court challenges in Hawaii, Washington and other states over the Trump administration’s revised executive order temporarily banning immigration by citizens of six predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa — and suspending admittance of all refugees to the U.S. — revives the question: Is nationality a good predictor of terrorist intent on the homeland?

    The January 27 and March 6 executive orders both seem to be predicated on the answer “yes.” President Donald Trump stated in a February 28 speech to Congress, “According to data provided by the Department of Justice, the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside of our country.”

    But that statement proves to be misleading and inaccurate, according to government data and researchers who have studied these cases over the past 15 years. On March 2, PolitiFact rated the Trump statement “Mostly False.” “If you are looking to create a fact-based policy for making the country secure against terrorism, focusing on immigrants will not provide the answer.” — Karen Greenberg, Center on National Security executive director

    When it comes to the hundreds of convictions related to Islamic extremism achieved in U.S. federal courts since 9/11, the opposite is true. The vast majority of individuals convicted have been U.S. citizens, while some immigrants and refugees from the countries in Trump’s executive order have also been found guilty of terrorism and terrorism-related crimes.

    T​he White House has indicated the Feb. 28 Trump statement was based on a list of 580 international terrorism-related investigations through December, 31 2014, ​distributed last year by then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and Sen. Ted Cruz in their capacity as members of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, which Sessions chaired.

    The list of 580 cases also formed the basis of a different list compiled by the Center on Immigration Studies, an organization that advocates for restricting immigration, which named 72 individuals from the seven countries blacklisted in the original Trump immigration ban as “terrorists.” But “about a dozen” of those defendants were convicted of non-terrorism crimes, according to the center’s Director of Policy Studies, Jessica Vaughan.

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said on the PBS NewsHour last Monday, “Since 9/11, we have had 53 terrorists from those six countries either arrested or convicted of terrorism-related crimes.” His office said he was referring to that Center on Immigration Studies list, not including the 19 Iraqis who appeared on it.

    [Watch Video]

    But there are shortcomings in relying on the Department of Justice’s 2014 list of 580 names to assert “a majority” of convicted terrorists in the U.S. are immigrants.

    First, the Department of Justice National Security Division does not compile lists of convicted terrorism or terrorism-related perpetrators by country of origin, citizenship, or immigration status, as it explained in the introduction to its January 2016 report to Senators Sessions and Cruz. The Department of Homeland Security maintains such immigration data, but has not released or completed any summary of the individuals listed by DOJ, Department of Homeland Security spokesman David Lapan told the PBS NewsHour Weekend.

    An analysis of the 580 defendants by Senate subcommittee staff, which relied on public documents and media reports, found that “at least 62 were from Pakistan, 28 were from Lebanon, 22 were Palestinian, 21 were from Somalia, 20 were from Yemen, 19 were from Iraq, 16 were from Jordan, 17 were from Egypt, and 10 were from Afghanistan.” (In other words, seven of the top nine countries of origin for foreign-born, terrorism-related defendants are not subject to the revised travel ban.)

    339 of those 580 cases through 2014 resulted in a conviction for a terrorism crime, such as plotting or training for murder, bombings or other attacks on Americans or providing material support to groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), according to CATO Institute researcher Alex Nowrasteh, who last September published a comprehensive study of terrorism cases from 1975 to 2015. The other 241 convictions, or 42 percent, were for nonviolent crimes discovered in the course of terrorism investigations, such as making false statements, immigration fraud or illegal
    possession of firearms or drugs.

    In Nowrasteh’s analysis, posted March 6 to the CATO Institute blog, he found a total of 40 of the 247 immigrants on the list of 580 defendants, or 7 percent,​ were convicted of planning, attempting or carrying out a terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “At most, only 58 percent of the ‘terrorism-related’ convictions given as the likely justification for this executive order can be classified as actual terrorism. The other 42 percent were not convicted of a terrorism offense,” Nowrasteh wrote.

    The scope of the 580 cases through 2014 is also broader than the administration’s stated goal of stopping “radical Islamic terrorism” — for example, it includes 32 cases involving Colombian FARC rebels.

    READ NEXT: When it comes to defining ‘terrorism,’ there is no consensus

    On the other hand, the list of 580 excludes types of domestic extremism which have been on the rise, including white supremacist violence.

    The list of 580 is also outdated and skews toward foreign nationals. For example, it included only five ISIS-related cases when federal prosecutors have now brought 122 such cases, resulting in 64 convictions, 89 percent of them against U.S. citizens, according to the Center on ​National Security at Fordham University Law School in New York City.*

    The Justice Department now has a newer list of 627 people convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related crimes from 9/11 through December 31, 2015, which Stanford University Law School professor Shirin Sinnar recently obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

    As before, the newer DOJ list excludes domestic terrorism cases without international links and dozens of ISIS-related convictions obtained in 2016. Analyzing the list in a March 4 post to the Just Security blog, Sinnar wrote, “If you exclude all convictions for ‘domestic terrorism’ at the outset, how can you draw any overall conclusions on the citizenship status or national origin of those convicted of terrorism?”

    Sinnar pointed out the newer DOJ list of 627 cases through 2015 includes 119 immigrants swept up in the nationwide post-9/11 dragnet but whose offenses were not terrorism crimes. Sinnar wrote, “More than 100 people appear on this list regardless of whether investigators had any evidence they were connected to international terrorism.”

    Sinnar noted another 150 individuals listed among the 627 were never charged with terrorism offenses. “Law enforcement officials may never have established a credible relationship to terrorism, whatever their original suspicions,” she wrote.

    So, how else do we know the vast majority of terrorism convictions are against U.S. citizens, as opposed to immigrants? Here are five different looks at numbers that support that conclusion:

    • The Department of Homeland Security’s March 1, 2017, assessment of 204 jihadists indicted or killed in the past six years (between March 2011 and December 2016), found that 116, or 57 percent, were American-born and 88, or 43 percent were foreign-born. Half of these immigrants were under 16-years-old when they were admitted to the U.S.

      “We assess that most foreign-born, U.S.-based violent extremists likely radicalized several years after their entry to the United States, limiting the ability of screening and vetting officials to prevent their entry because of national security concerns,” the DHS assessment said.

      The top four countries of origin of the 88 jihadists, comprising a combined 40 percent of the group, were Somalia, Bosnia, Uzbekistan, and Pakistan; of those, Somalia is the only country affected by the Trump executive orders.

      A separate DHS draft report examining 82 individuals involved in recent acts inspired by foreign terrorist organizations found not only were a majority American-born, but the perpetrators were citizens of 26 different countries (led by Pakistan). The reports concluded, “citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”

    • The New America Foundation, in Washington, D.C., maintains a database currently of 401​ U.S. residents charged in jihadist ​terrorism cases since 2001, which shows 84 percent were U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents, or green card holders.​

      New America policy analyst David Sterman, who co-authored the study with Peter Bergen, told the NewsHour Weekend that 72.5 percent of those perpetrators were either American-​born or naturalized citizens, and 11.5 percent were legal residents.

      Perpetrators in the 84 percent range from Hesham Mohamed Hedayet, a legal permanent resident from Egypt who shot and killed two people at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International airport in 2002, to Nidal Malik Hasan, the American-born army major on death row for killing 13 fellow military members and wounding more than 30 others at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009, to Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born naturalized citizen who shot and killed five U.S. military personnel at two military stations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 2015.

      “Every jihadist who conducted a lethal attack inside the United States since 9/11 was a citizen or legal resident. In addition about a quarter of the extremists are converts, further confirming that the challenge cannot be reduced to one of immigration,” Bergen and Sterman wrote.​

    • The Center on National Security at Fordham has looked at a larger pool of post-9/11 defendants and perpetrators killed during attacks – a total of 497 tied to al Qaeda and the Islamic State – and found 299 of the federal prosecutions, or 60 percent, were brought against U.S. citizens. In the top threat since mid-2014 – ISIS-related cases — 79 percent of the defendants were U.S. citizens, with 60 percent American-born. Half of the ISIS-tied defendants were accused of trying to join the fight overseas, the most common offense.

      “If you are looking to create a fact-based policy for making the country secure against terrorism, focusing on immigrants will not provide the answer,” CNS executive director Karen Greenberg told the NewsHour Weekend. “There is no predictive trend for any particular foreign nationality and terrorism in the United States. But the numbers do suggest that the United States could and should do a better job helping immigrant families adjust to life in the United States.”​

    • “If you are looking to create a fact-based policy for making the country secure against terrorism, focusing on immigrants will not provide the answer,” CNS executive director Karen Greenberg
    • The Bipartisan Policy Center reported in 2013 that while the threat of homegrown extremism has grown, there’s “no single ethnic profile for homegrown jihadist extremists,” a conclusion echoed in multiple congressional hearings by both FBI directors since 9/11, Robert Mueller and James Comey.

      In testimony before the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee on June 11, 2014, Comey said self-radicalizing Muslim extremists “do not share a typical profile; their experiences and motives are often distinct. They are willing to act alone, which makes them difficult to identify and stop.”

    • The Duke University and University of North Carolina Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which issued its annual report on Muslim-American extremism in January, has looked at 36 violent attacks carried out by Muslims inside the U.S. since 9/11. It found that 32 perpetrators were either American-born, such as San Bernardino mass shooter Syed Rizan Farook, or were admitted to the U.S. as children, such as Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev. Four attackers came as adults, including thwarted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad and second San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik, both Pakistan-born.

      University of North Carolina professor and report author Charles Kurzman said that since 9/11, 21 percent of Muslim-Americans implicated in violent extremist acts had family backgrounds in the six banned countries, and among plots directed inside the U.S., six percent of the attackers had backgrounds in those countries.

    No fatalities in the U.S. have been caused by extremists with family backgrounds in the six banned countries or Iraq, according to the Triangle Center, as well as Fordham’s Center on National Security, New America Foundation’s international security program, and the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University Center For Cyber & Homeland Security.

    “The six countries targeted in this executive order have not been a major source of violent extremism in the United States,” Kurzman told the NewsHour Weekend. “Apparently the current level of vetting has been quite effective in minimizing the danger of terrorist infiltration. So the sense of urgency that seems to be driving the executive order does not match the actual level of threats we have witnessed in this country.”

    *Phil Hirschkorn is a fellow at the Center on ​National Security.

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    Damaged buses are pictured at the site of an attack by two suicide bombers in Damascus, Syria, on March 11, 2017. Photo by Omar Sanadiki/Reuters

    BEIRUT — An al-Qaida-linked group claimed responsibility Sunday for twin blasts near holy shrines frequented by Shiites in the Syrian capital Damascus that killed at least 40 people saying it was a message to Shiite powerhouse Iran — a main backer of President Bashar Assad.

    The Levant Liberation Committee said in a statement that the attack was carried out by two of its suicide attackers, claiming that they targeted pro-Iranian and pro-government militiamen. It identified the suicide attackers as Abu Omar and Abu Aisha.

    The Syrian government maintains that the attacks killed 40 people. However the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights increased its estimated death toll on Sunday to 74. Conflicting casualty estimates are common in the aftermath of violence in Syria.

    The attacks in Damascus show that Syrian militant groups can still strike deep inside the capital where security is tight, with scores of checkpoints that search cars and ask people for identity cards.

    The claim of responsibility comes at a time when al-Qaida’s branch in Syria known as Fatah al-Sham Front is trying to market itself as the only effective force against Assad and the main defender of the country’s majority Sunnis.

    [Watch Video]

    Fatah al-Sham is opposed to peace talks between the opposition and the government that have taken place recently in Geneva and the Kazakh capital of Astana. Fatah al-Sham as well as the Islamic State group have been excluded from a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey that went into effect on Dec. 30.

    Saturday’s attack also wounded over a hundred, most of them Iraqis, according to Syrian and Iraqi officials. The al-Qaida-linked group said the blasts were a message to Iran — a main backer of Assad.

    “Iran and its militias have, from the start of the revolution, supported the tyrannical and criminal regime and have been killing and displacing our people,” the statement said. “This is a message to Iran and its militias that the right will not go wasted.”

    The Levant Liberation Committee is a coalition of several militant groups dominated by Fatah al-Sham.

    The attacks came two weeks after members of the same group stormed two different security offices in the central city of Homs, killing and wounding scores of people, including a top Syrian security official.

    The post Al-Qaida-linked group claims deadly attack in Syrian capital appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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    At least 30 people died and dozens more were hurt in a giant landslide at Ethiopia’s largest rubbish dump outside Addis Ababa, a tragedy squatters living there blamed on a biogas plant being built nearby. The landslide late on March 11 saw dozens of homes of people living in the dump levelled after a part of the largest pile of rubbish at the Koshe landfill collapsed. Photo by Zacharias Abubeker/AFP/Getty Images

    Dozens of people were killed on Saturday during a landslide at a garbage dump in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa.

    An estimated 150 people were inside the Koshe Garbage Landfill when the landslide took place. At least 46 people were killed and 37 people have been rescued, but several dozen people remain missing.

    On Sunday, rescuers continued to dig through piles of refuse with excavators, searching for the dead and injured, the Associated Press reported. Most of the dead were women and children.

    Some residents of Addis Ababa forage inside the landfill for food and other items that can be sold. The landfill has been used for more than 50 years, with other, smaller landslides reported in recent years. Many people have also constructed mud and concrete homes inside the landfill.

    “My house was right inside there,” said resident Tebeju Asres, pointing toward an area where rescuers were working. “My mother and three of my sisters were there when the landslide happened. Now I don’t know the fate of all of them.”

    The mayor of Addis Ababa said the city would now work to relocate those who live in the landfill. An estimated 500 people rely on it to make a living, officials said.

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    Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

    By Christopher Booker and Connie Kargbo

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: The actions taken by the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks, were, according to author Mary Graham, a recalibration of the role of secrecy in open government. A president who championed limited government approved the secret detention of foreign terrorist suspects and the eavesdropping on phone calls of American citizens.

    MARY GRAHAM: When his detention policies and interrogation policies and surveillance policies began to be revealed, this was then a few years later, I thought there must be some ground rules. There must be a law that tells us what a president can do behind closed doors in an emergency. But it turned out there really were no laws. One thing about our system of governance that makes secrecy so interesting is that there’s really no way that to stop a president from doing something illegal, unethical, or just plain foolish behind closed doors.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: In her new book, “Presidents’ Secrets: The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power,” Graham finds modern presidential secrecy is paramount in questions of national security, from the Cold War to the War on Terror.

    The Bush administration came in with a firm commitment that they could move things quickly through government and then they have the crisis of 9/11. And this substantially changed the way that they used information and used secrecy.

    MARY GRAHAM: It’s only in the hard times when the president has to face these values — the conflict between values that we cherish, that you see a president’s true character. So I think that these are the times when we need to pay attention to what decisions the president makes about openness and secrecy.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: When President Barack Obama took over, he declassified memos used to justify harsh interrogations of post 9/11 terror suspects, and he created a national declassification center for older government documents.

    But Wikileaks and self-described whistleblower, Edward Snowden, prevented the Obama administration from concealing details about electronic surveillance, drone strikes, and offensive cyber weapons.

    What was it like coming to the finish line of your book toward the end of the Obama administration thinking that we have just now tapped into a whole new chapter of information and secrecy, particularly the ways in which the digital age are transforming the whole landscape?

    MARY GRAHAM: Secrecy doesn’t work in the digital age. One way or another, controversial secrets and big controversial secrets come out these days. And it’s much harder to keep anything hidden for very long. And what ends up happening is that the president cedes leadership to his opponents and to the media. And therefore is weakened in the process.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: A co-founder of Harvard’s Transparency Policy Project, Graham finds our democracy’s delicate balance between openness and secrecy dates back to country’s founding.

    You write, “in democracy, secrecy cannot last forever.” And yet, our government, the representative form we so often celebrate, was rather shockingly born out of unplanned secrecy.

    MARY GRAHAM: That’s so true. So the Constitutional Convention was held behind closed doors. The delegates certainly felt that it had to be held behind closed doors because they had been asked by Congress only to tweak what were then called the Articles of Confederation. And once they decided that they would consider an entirely different form of government, it really was an illicit meeting in a good cause, but still an illicit meeting.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Do you think had the discussion taken place out in the open it would have altered our national trajectory and essentially our identity?

    MARY GRAHAM: You know, the consensus of historians seems to be that it would not have resulted in an agreement on a constitution if the process had been open.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Even George Washington, a champion of government transparency, suffered his greatest political crisis as president, when he hid the terms of a treaty with Britain.

    One of the best kept presidential secrets in U.S. history occurred in 1919, when president Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke.

    MARY GRAHAM: It would never happen now, what happened with Wilson, which was he was able to keep an incapacitating stroke secret for a year-and-a-half. But during much of that time, he was still quite weak but what became the biggest problem for the country is that he became irrational.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: But Graham says, it wasn’t until the Cold War, that secrecy became institutionalized. As she tells it, Harry Truman’s creation of the Central Intelligence Agency originated simply with a quest for a convenient delivery of information.

    MARY GRAHAM: On his desk every morning, there were stacks and stacks of military cables, which was the best effort at the time to give him information about what was going on in the world. But he found them very frustrating. So what he asked an aide to do which seemed very simple at the time was just to form a small group in the White House that would digest those cables and give him a few type-written pages every morning telling him what was the important intelligence. And so he borrowed 15 employees from elsewhere in the government and he called that the Central Intelligence Group.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: Less than two years later, this group, which had evolved into what is now called the Central Intelligence agency, had been granted the right to keep its spending secret and operate with little oversight.

    MARY GRAHAM: As Harry Truman said later, it was never supposed to be a cloak and dagger operation. They were just supposed to gather intelligence. So they were gathering intelligence. But from a very early stage, they were also conducting these covert operations that involved bribing foreign officials. Later on by the ’60s, it involved assassination plots and surveillance of Americans, even though it was not, the C.I.A. was not supposed to be in that business.

    CHRISTOPHER BOOKER: With Vietnam and Watergate, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had two of the more notably secretive administrations.

    Ironically, as a senator, Johnson fought for increased presidential transparency. But in the White House, he worked to water down the bill that became the Freedom of Information Act, which gives journalists and the public greater access to government documents.

    And while Nixon’s back channel negotiations led to normalizing U.S. relations with China, the revelation of his secret tape recordings discussing the Watergate break-in forced him to resign.

    This was all before 24-7 cable news, the internet, and social media ….A constant part of a 21st century presidency.

    It seems nearly every, single day there’s a new revelation that’s come via an anonymous source or a leak.

    MARY GRAHAM: So every president gets mad about leaks. President Obama was mad about leaks. President Bush was mad about leaks. George Washington was mad about leaks. There’s one thing to remember about leaks, and that is leakers only have power if the president gives them power. The president can stop leaks in a nanosecond by simply disclosing information.

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    A copy of Obamacare repeal and replace recommendations produced by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives (left) sit next to a copy of the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare (right) as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price addresses the daily press briefing Mar. 7 at the White House in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria

    WASHINGTON — Republicans on Sunday dismissed an upcoming Congressional Budget Office analysis widely expected to conclude that more Americans will be uninsured under a proposal to dismantle Barack Obama’s health law, despite President Donald Trump’s promise of universal coverage.

    Meanwhile, GOP opponents from the right and center hardened their positions against the Trump-backed legislation. House conservatives vowed to block the bill as “Obamacare Lite” unless there are more restrictions, even as a Republican senator warned the plan would never pass as is due to opposition from moderates.

    “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. “If they vote for this bill, they’re going to put the House majority at risk next year.”

    Speaking in television interviews, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Trump administration officials vowed to move forward on their proposed “repeal and replace” plan regardless of the CBO findings, insisting they can work past GOP disagreements and casting the issue as one of “choice” in which consumers are freed of a government mandate to buy insurance.

    The CBO is scheduled to release its long-awaited cost analysis of the House GOP leadership plan early this week, including estimates on the number of people likely to be covered. It’ll likely affect Republicans’ chances of passing the proposal.

    Ryan, R-Wis., said he fully expects the CBO analysis to find that fewer people will be covered under the GOP plan because it eliminates the government requirement to be insured.

    “What we’re trying to achieve here is bringing down the cost of care, bringing down the cost of insurance not through government mandates and monopolies but by having more choice and competition,” he said. “We’re not going to make an American do what they don’t want to do.”

    The GOP legislation would eliminate the current mandate that nearly all people in the United States carry insurance or face fines. It would use tax credits to help consumers buy health coverage, expand health savings accounts, phase out an expansion of Medicaid and cap that program for the future, end some requirements for health plans under Obama’s law, and scrap a number of taxes.

    During the presidential campaign and as recently as January, Trump repeatedly stressed his support for universal health coverage, saying his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act would provide “insurance for everybody.”

    But on Sunday, his aides took pains to explain that a CBO finding of fewer people covered would not necessarily mean that fewer people will be covered.

    “If the CBO was right about Obamacare to begin with, there’d be 8 million more people on Obamacare today than there actually are,” said Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, disputing the accuracy of CBO data. “Sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the best use of their time.”

    Health Secretary Tom Price said he “firmly” believed that “nobody will be worse off financially” under the health care overhaul. He said people will have choices as they select the kind of coverage they want as opposed to what the government forces them to buy. In actuality, tax credits in Republican legislation being debated in the House may not be as generous to older people as what is in the current law.

    “I believe and the president believes firmly that if you create a system that’s accessible for everybody and you provide the financial feasibility for everybody to get coverage, that we have a great opportunity to increase coverage over where we are right now,” he said.

    Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser, described past CBO analyses as “meaningless.”

    “We are offering coverage to everyone,” he said. “If you are on Medicaid today, you’re going to stay on Medicaid. If you are covered under an employee-sponsored plan, you’re going to be continued to be covered under an employee-sponsored plan. If you fall into that middle group, we’re going to provide tax credit so you can go out and buy a plan.”

    House conservatives weren’t buying it.

    Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus, criticized the plan as an unacceptable form of “Obamacare Lite.” He reiterated that he and other caucus members will seek to block the House bill unless there are additional changes. They want a quicker phaseout of Medicaid benefits and are opposed to proposed tax credits as a new entitlement that will add to government costs.

    Members of the caucus will meet with White House officials on Tuesday. Jordan expressed hope that Trump is sincere in expressing a willingness to negotiate changes, criticizing Ryan for his “take it or leave it” stance.

    “I’m not for this plan and I think there’s lot of opposition to this plan in the House and Senate,” Jordan said. “Either work with us or you don’t end up getting the votes. That’s the real choice here.”

    But pressuring the White House on the opposite side were moderate Republican governors and senators, who said Trump needed to allow for continuing Medicaid coverage for the poor.

    “It’s not like we love Obamacare. It means don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican. “Don’t kill Medicaid expansion. And you’ve got to fix the exchange, but you have to have an ability to subsidize people at lower income levels.”

    “We need to have Democrats involved so that what we do is going to be not only significant but will last,” Kasich added.

    Ryan spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Price and Kasich appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Mulvaney spoke on ABC’s “This Week” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” Cotton was on ABC’s “This Week,” and Jordan and Cohn appeared on “Fox News Sunday.”

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    AUSTIN, TX – MARCH 19: Intocable performs at SXSW Outdoor Stage at Ladybird Lake – 2016 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival on March 19, 2016 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Brian Feinzimer/Getty Images

    AUSTIN, Texas — The trendsetting South by Southwest music festival is all about the next big thing, but the heated politics of the moment is stealing the show.

    Tensions over immigration have put a heavy air over the typically breezy weeklong music bash that begins Monday and includes headliners The Avett Brothers, Weezer and the Wu-Tang Clang dropping into Austin, along with roughly 2,000 other acts from around the world.

    It’s more than just promises of bands using SXSW as a stage for politically-charged performances in the wake of President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration: The festival has come under fire itself for warning international artists that bad behavior could result in it making a call to U.S. immigration agents.

    Unrelated, but still stoking concerns, was the Italian band Soviet Soviet posting on Facebook on Friday that it was denied entry into the U.S. Soviet Soviet claimed U.S. customs officials in Seattle said the band members needed work visas, but the band says it didn’t believe work visas were required for a promotional and unpaid tour.

    Trump’s revised travel ban blocks new visas for people from six predominantly Muslim countries including Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya and Yemen. It also temporarily shuts down the U.S. refugee program. Unlike the original order, the new one says current visa holders won’t be affected, and it removes language that would give priority to religious minorities.

    Matthew Covey, a New York-based immigration attorney who helps international performers obtain visas to enter the U.S., said the travel ban has unsettled artists who are not even from the impacted countries.

    “Everybody is worried now,” Covey said “We’re getting calls from Danish jazz musicians saying, ‘Am I going to be OK?’ Yeah, probably. You’re a Danish jazz musician. But everybody is on edge.”

    READ NEXT: SXSW’s immigration clauses are ‘not standard,’ lawyers say

    Covey is helping put on a SXSW showcase of artists exclusively from the list of banned countries in response to Trump’s order, although none of the performers currently live in those nations.

    SXSW organizers had quickly come out against Trump’s travel ban, but later found themselves on the defensive over a contract provision warning that “SXSW will notify the appropriate U.S. immigration authorities” if an performer acts in ways that “adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase.”

    The language set off a storm of criticism and at least one performer announced plans to cancel. Organizers said the clause was a safeguard in the event of an artist doing something egregious — such as flouting rules about pyrotechnics or starting a brawl — but pledged to remove it from future contracts.

    Zane Lowe, who runs Apple’s Beats 1 Radio and will be a keynote speaker at the festival, said he has taken more notice lately of music reflecting the times.

    “I don’t believe that we’re in an era of a movement,” Lowe said. “But I believe that we’re in an era where, more than it has been in recent times, what’s going on in and around the music is going to have a very direct impact on what’s made.”

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: For more on the Netherlands election, I am joined by Skype by from Amsterdam by “NewsHour” weekend special correspondent Malcolm Brabant.

    Malcolm, we don’t usually pay attention in the United States to elections in the Netherlands. Why is this one so significant?

    MALCOLM BRABANT, NEWSHOUR WEEKEND SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is first of three important European elections taking place this year. The others are taking place in France and Germany and what everybody’s waiting to see can whether or not the continuation of this antiestablishment votes, the nationalistic vote that began with Brexit in Europe last year is going to continue here because the main contender for the prime minister’s job here is Geert Wilders, and he is a very strong anti-Islamist, so much so that he’s had lots of death threats, and he really is just campaigning on that particular issue.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Even if he wins the most number of votes, there has to be a coalition government?

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Absolutely. And the current prime minister, Mark Rutte, seems to be doing a little bit better than he was. He — during the course of the past few months, he’d been losing votes to Wilders. But Wilders has been dropping votes in the past few days, according to the opinion polls, and as we’ve seen throughout all of those recent elections, the opinion pools is just something you can’t trust. And the indication is there are lots of people who support his Freedom Party as it’s called, who don’t really want to declare their intentions. And so, perhaps he might be better on the night but the anticipation is that he won’t get enough to be able to form a government.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: is what happens when Brexit takes place or this is what happens when President Donald Trump wins the White House, that these are the consequences? Are they having any kind of thoughts about that, looking at what could be an upheaval politically in the Netherlands as well?

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Well, I think the Trump effect is kind of a double edged sword. And a few months ago, Mr. Wilders was really lauding (ph) Donald Trump saying that he was going to follow in his shoes. And when I caught up — I caught up with him yesterday at a rally down in the south of the country, he is still trying to distance himself.

    Now, there are some people who believe because of the way in which Donald Trump’s presidency has vetted in as it were, has not been particularly sort of well-received are internationally. But that might harm Wilders’ efforts. But he is at pains to point out yesterday that he’s not campaigning on American issues, he’s doing specifically at Dutch issues and that’s what it’s all about.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Malcolm, what is the central issue that’s driving people to the polls?

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Wilders has really made this a one subject issue election. He’s been concentrating on Islam, immigration, nothing else. If he gets his way, there will be no more asylum seekers, no more immigrants from Islamic countries. There will be no Islamic scholars (ph) in public places. He’ll ban — he’ll close down mosques and Islamic schools, ban the Koran.

    And so, the economy really hasn’t sort of taken the front stage and that sort of suddenly upsets people in the labor unions, who have seen their taxes go up, who’ve seen their benefits slash, who’ve seen their pensions go down and they are really concerned that these sort of things aren’t being discussed.

    But they — some labor unions may possibly support Wilders as a protest vote because they’re fed up with ordinary politicians.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Malcolm Brabant joining us from a very busy thoroughfare in the Amsterdam, via Skype — thanks so much.

    MALCOLM BRABANT: Thank you.

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    HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: A panel of federal judges in Texas is ordering the state of Texas to redraw the state’s congressional district map, because it intentionally discriminated against Hispanic voters. The judges ruled Friday that in 2011, Republican state legislators engaged in racial gerrymandering by diluting Hispanic voting strength in two Republican-held districts and by packing Hispanic voters into a neighboring district. The ruling, and another pending case over Texas’s strict photo voter ID law, raise questions about how the Justice Department and Supreme Court will handle voting rights.

    Joining me now to discuss that is reporter Reid Wilson from “The Hill.”

    So, explain what happened in these two districts.

    REID WILSON, REPORTER, “THE HILL”: There’s this term called “packing and cracking”. And essentially what the court said that the Texas legislature did was they packed Hispanic voters into one district that centered around Austin and they cracked those voters apart in different communities. They divided similar communities in another district on the east coast of Texas and a third district that runs along the Texas-Mexico border.

    So, this is all part of a pattern that Democrats say Republicans engage in in states where they control state legislatures in hopes of building more safe Republican districts and in cementing their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: This also comes just a few years ago that there used to be communities the Department of Justice would monitor and say, “Hey, you’ve got a history of bad voting practices. We want to get in there.” That was kind of lifted by the Supreme Court.

    So, what happens in this case now?

    REID WILSON: So, what we’re seeing voting rights advocates doing now is challenging these gerrymanders or challenging voter ID laws which as you said is also an issue in Texas, under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That requires them to prove that the — whoever is making these laws that are involving election procedures, are doing so with a racially discriminatory intent. And the court said that’s what the Texas legislature did in this case.

    Now, redistricting cases are special in that any time they are appealed, a decision at a district court level is appealed they will go directly to the Supreme Court. So if the state of Texas decides to appeal and they most certainly will, we’re going to get an issue like this in front of the Supreme Court in the next couple of years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: Right. In this case, the Department of Justice, now headed by Jeff Sessions, where do they weigh in on this?

    REID WILSON: The Sessions Justice Department has shown early hints that they are going to be much less likely to weigh in on this state election law cases and that has a lot of civil rights groups really unhappy that essentially that they’re not going to have the weight of the Obama Justice Department behind them in the Trump administration.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: So, are there repercussions for other gerrymandered districts around the country?

    REID WILSON: Well, we’ve already seen the courts rule in a few cases — most notably in Virginia, where Democrats picked up a House seat after the Supreme Court said that those districts were improperly drawn. There are several other cases both involving redistricting in states like North Carolina and involving voter ID issues and other sort of election procedure changes in states like Arizona and Texas, as we have been talking about and Florida and some other states too.

    So, this is very much an active legal battlefield and it’s one that is going to evolve over the next couple of years.

    HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Reid Wilson from “The Hill” — thanks so much.

    REID WILSON: You got it.

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    Candles are lit during a protest to demand justice for the victims of a fire at the Virgen de Asuncion children’s shelter, in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City, Guatemala, March 11, 2017. Photo By Saul Martinez/Reuters

    GUATEMALA CITY — The death toll in a fire at a Guatemalan children’s shelter rose to 40 on Sunday with the announcement that another girl has died of burns.

    The death was announced by the Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala’s capital. Nineteen of the adolescents perished at the scene of Wednesday’s inferno and another 21 have died in local hospitals.

    The fire began when mattresses were set ablaze during a protest by residents at the overcrowded youth shelter.

    Authorities are still searching for answers in the disaster that has put a spotlight on failings in Guatemala’s child protective services. Prosecutors’ spokeswoman Julia Barrera says the head of the country’s protective services agency has been ordered not to leave Guatemala while investigations continue.

    Four of the burn victims were taken by airplane Saturday to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas.

    The office of President Jimmy Morales said the Shriners Hospitals had arranged for their transfer.

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    Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, attends a May 2016 news conference in New York City. Photo by REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File photo.

    WASHINGTON — Two days before Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered dozens of the country’s top federal prosecutors to clean out their desks, he gave those political appointees a pep talk during a conference call.

    The seemingly abrupt about-face Friday left the affected U.S. attorneys scrambling to brief the people left behind and say goodbye to colleagues. It also could have an impact on morale for the career prosecutors who now must pick up the slack, according to some close to the process. The quick exits aren’t expected to have a major impact on ongoing prosecutions, but they gave U.S. attorneys little time to prepare deputies who will take over until successors are named.

    “It’s very, very gut-level reaction,” said Steven Schleicher, a former prosecutor who left Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger’s office in January and was still in contact with people there.

    The request for resignations from the 46 prosecutors who were holdovers from the Obama administration wasn’t shocking. It’s fairly customary for the 93 U.S. attorneys to leave their posts once a new president is in office, and many had already left or were making plans for their departures. Sessions himself was asked to resign as a U.S. attorney in a similar purge by Attorney General Janet Reno in 1993.

    READ MORE: Now-fired Preet Bharara proud of ‘absolute independence’

    But the abrupt nature of the dismissals — done with little explanation and not always with a customary thanks for years of service — stunned and angered some of those left behind in offices around the country.

    Former prosecutors, friends and colleagues immediately started reaching out to each other on a growing email chain to express condolences and support, commiserating about how unfair they felt the situation was. One U.S. attorney was out of state on Friday and was forced to say goodbye to his office by a blast email, said Tim Purdon, a former U.S. attorney from North Dakota who was included on the email chain.

    Some of those ousted were longtime prosecutors who had spent their careers coming up through the ranks of the Justice Department. John W. Vaudreuil, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin, became an assistant U.S. attorney in that office in 1980. Another, Richard S. Hartunian of the Northern District of New York, joined the Justice Department in the 1990s.

    “All of these U.S. attorneys know they serve at the pleasure of the president. No one complains about that,” said John Walsh, an Obama-era appointee as U.S. attorney in Colorado who resigned in July. “But it was handled in a way that was disrespectful to the U.S. attorneys because they were almost treated as though they had done something wrong, when in fact they had not.”

    Peter Neronha, who had served since 2009 as U.S. attorney for Rhode Island, said even before Friday he had been preparing for his eventual departure and had written a resignation statement to be released upon his exit. He said he knew his time was limited but had been eager to stay on to see through a major public corruption prosecution and to speak with students about the perils of opioid addiction.

    READ MORE: Jeff Sessions seeks resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys

    “When that was done, I was going to go anyway — whether I got 24 hours’ notice, or two weeks’ notice, or two months’ notice. It doesn’t really matter,” Neronha said.

    Whenever there’s a change in presidential administration, he said, “I think it would be unwise not to be ready.”

    It’s not clear why the Justice Department asked the prosecutors to exit so quickly. Sessions gave no warning during the Wednesday conference call in which he articulated his agenda for fighting violent crime.

    “The attorney general did not mention on that call, ‘Stay tuned for changes,'” Neronha said.

    Much of the public attention since Friday has focused on Preet Bharara, the high-profile Manhattan federal prosecutor who said he was fired despite meeting with then-President-elect Donald Trump and saying he was asked to remain.

    Trump himself did apparently make an attempt to speak with Bharara in advance of the Friday demand for resignations. The president reached out through a secretary on his staff to Bharara a day earlier but the two men never spoke, according to a person told about the conversation but who requested anonymity. The White House on Sunday said the president reached out to thank Bharara for his service and to wish him good luck.

    The Justice Department on Friday did say it would not accept the resignations of Dana Boente, now the acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the Maryland prosecutor who’s been nominated for the deputy role.

    On Sunday, some Democrats condemned the demand for resignations in highly partisan comments. Maryland Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, suggested Trump might have fired Bharara to thwart a potential corruption investigation, and believed the move added to a lack of trust of the administration.

    Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Julie Pace in Washington, Amy Forliti in Minneapolis and Larry Neumeister in New York contributed to this report.

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