Friday Roundup

Politics

MATT GAETZ HIRES TRUMP ORG DEFENSE ATTORNEY AMID DOJ PROBE

Reportedly the subject of a federal sex trafficking investigation, Rep. Matt Gaetz is retaining two New York defense attorneys to represent him, one of whom currently represents the Trump Organization in an ongoing criminal probe into possible bank and tax fraud.

Investigators are reportedly investigating whether Gaetz, 38, had an illicit sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and whether the congressman paid women to travel to the Bahamas for sex.

The Daily Beast on Thursday uncovered a series of Venmo transactions, which purportedly show payments by Gaetz to his friend Joel Greenberg in the amount of $900, which Greenberg then dispersed to three young women. One of the women, who had turned 18 a few months prior and now works in the porn industry, was referenced by nickname in the memo field of Gaetz’s initial payment.

Sources say that Greenberg plans to plead guilty to sex trafficking of an underage girl, wire fraud, stalking, and trying to bribe a federal official, igniting speculation that he may be cooperating with authorities.

Gaetz, for his part, has denied allegations of wrongdoing, saying, “The last time I had a sexual relationship with a seventeen year old, I was seventeen.” 

Meanwhile, in Trump Organization news, investigators from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office seized financial records from Jennifer Weisselberg, the former daughter-in-law of the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg.

Jennifer Weisselberg has said that she is cooperating with the probe.

BIDEN UNVEILS BUDGET REQUESTS

President Joe Biden unveiled his discretionary request for fiscal year 2022 on Friday.

The $1.5 trillion ask represents a 16 percent domestic spending boost, with $769 billion earmarked for non-defense programs and $753 billion for national defense.

The budget calls for $8.8 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which would mark the largest budget increase for the agency in two decades, and $6.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health to launch a research program focused on cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. The request also seeks $2.1 billion for the Justice Department to tackle gun violence, $30 billion in housing voucher extensions with a focus on the homeless and those fleeing domestic violence, a $20 billion increase for the Title I program for low-income schools, and $14 billion toward climate change investments, to include $1.7 billion in improvements to the energy efficiency of homes, schools, and federal buildings.

While the release was met with praise by most Democrats, Biden’s 1.7 percent increase in military spending drew criticism from both sides.

Said Sen. Bernie Sanders, the chair of the Senate Budget Committee who had hoped to see a 10 percent decrease in funding, “At a time when the U.S. already spends more on the military than the next 12 nations combined, it is time for us to take a serious look at the massive cost over-runs, the waste, and fraud that currently exists at the Pentagon.”

Rep. Mark Pocan expressed similar concerns, labeling the increase “far too much, given its already rapid growth at a time of relative peace.“

“We cannot best build back better if the Pentagon’s budget is larger than it was under Donald Trump,” Pocan said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lie the defense hawks who view the 1.7 percent increase as insufficient.

Sen. Richard Shelby said that the modest increase “signals weakness to China and Russia, who are aggressively investing in their militaries.“

“The proposal also takes a meat ax to border security funding,” Shelby said. “That signals to illegal immigrants that the flood gates will remain open on the Southern border, despite the growing crisis we already face.“

Under Biden’s proposal, the Department of Homeland Security’s budget would rise by less than 1 percent to $52 billion, to include $1.2 billion in funding for border security but no additional funding for the border wall.

Biden’s request may be read in full below:

FACT-CHECKING BIDEN’S SPEECH ON GUN CONTROL

President Biden delivered a speech in the Rose Garden Thursday, announcing a series of new actions and regulations intended to curb gun violence.

Here, we fact-check a few of his claims.

CLAIM: “The only industry in America — a billion-dollar industry — that can’t be sued, is exempt from being sued, are gun manufacturers.”

FACTS: Gun manufacturers are not entirely exempt from being sued — they can be held liable for negligence, breach of contract or warranty, or certain damages from defects in the design of a gun — and other entities, such as vaccine manufacturers and technology companies, are also afforded liability protections.

CLAIM: “If you walk into a store and you buy a gun, you have a background check. But you go to a gun show, you can buy whatever you want and no background check.” 

FACTS: While, in most states, purchases through private sellers do not require a background check, purchases made through a federally licensed dealer — who constitute half to three-quarters of sellers at gun shows — must go through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), whether the sale occurs at a gun show or not. Additionally, 16 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring universal background checks, wherever they may happen.

CLAIM: States with red flag laws have “seen a reduction in the number of suicides in their states.”

FACTS: While studies on the subject are limited, as we noted in our discussion of red flag laws yesterday, the research thus far is mixed. While Indiana experienced an overall reduction in suicides upon the implementation of its red flag law, Connecticut saw a similar number of suicides, with its reduction in firearm deaths offset by increases in non-firearm deaths.

FORMER TRUMP OFFICIAL BARRED FROM FEDERAL EMPLOYMENT FOR HATCH ACT VIOLATION

Lynne Patton, a regional administrator at the Department of Housing and Urban Development under the Trump administration, agreed in a settlement to pay a $1,000 fine and abstain from serving in the federal government for at least four years, after it was discovered that she had committed a Hatch Act violation.

The Hatch Act of 1939, An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities, is a federal law that prohibits civil service employees in the executive branch from engaging in forms of political activity.

Patton had recruited and interviewed four public housing tenants in New York City for a pro-Trump re-election video. Following the video’s release at the Republican National Convention, three of the four said that they were tricked into appearing, that they did not support Trump, and that Patton had misled them about the production’s intentions.

Said Patton, who claims that the White House signed off on her involvement in the project, “Unfortunately, after consulting multiple Hatch Act lawyers post-employment, receiving incorrect and/or incomplete legal advice, even in good faith, from your own agency does not an affirmative defense make.”

ARKANSAS GOVERNOR VETOES ANTI-TRANS BILL; GENERAL ASSEMBLY OVERRIDES

Arkansas’ Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, vetoed an anti-transgender health care bill Monday aimed at prohibiting physicians from providing gender-affirming care to trans youth under the age of 18.

The bill, he said, “would be and is a vast government overreach” that stood to impose “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people.” And although Gov. Hutchinson claimed that the bill was “well-intended,” he also called it “a product of the cultural war in America.”

“I am hopeful, though, that my action will cause conservative Republican legislators to think through the issue again and hopefully come up with a more restrained approach that allows a thoughtful study of the science and ethics surrounding the issue before acting.”

His plea fell on deaf ears.

Just one day later, the General Assembly voted to override the governor’s veto, making Arkansas the first state in the country to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth.

North Carolina, however, could soon follow, having introduced similar legislation that would apply to trans individuals up to the age of 21.

Read Arkansas’ bill here:

And North Carolina’s here:

MAJOR BIDEN UNDER ATTACK

Following a second biting incident, Major Biden is facing renewed scrutiny.

We at The Middle, however, have journalistic standards that preclude us from participating in the slander of a Good Boy.

Thus, we refrain from further comment.

Coronavirus

U.K. VARIANT NOW THE DOMINANT STRAIN IN THE U.S.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, announced in a news briefing Wednesday that the U.K. variant of the coronavirus is now the dominant strain in the United States.

“Based on our most recent estimates from CDC surveillance, the B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common lineage circulating in the United States,” Walensky said.

The U.K. variant is said to be more contagious, which likely accounts for recent increases in cases and hospitalizations.

The most recent seven-day average for hospitalizations, sitting at around 5,000 per day, has increased 2.7 percent over the previous week. And cases are increasing at a similar clip, with the most recent seven-day average registering more than 63,000 new infections daily, an increase of 2.3 percent over the prior week.

Deaths, per contra, are down nearly 20 percent, thanks to the large-scale vaccination of elders.

National News

SUPREME COURT DECLINES TO TAKE UP ALEX JONES’ APPEAL IN SANDY HOOK DEFAMATION CASE

The U.S. Supreme Court declined this week to hear an appeal by Infowars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

Jones, who is being sued by families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting over his claims that the massacre was a hoax, was appealing a sanction imposed by the court during the course of the proceedings.

Judge Barbara Bellis sanctioned Jones in 2019 over threats that were made on his web show against an attorney for the relatives and for violating numerous orders to turn over documents.

In 2019, Jones had accused an attorney for the families of planting the child pornography that was discovered in the email metadata that Jones turned over to lawyers.

“You’re trying to set me up with child porn,” Jones said on his show. “One million dollars, you little gang members. One million dollars to put your head on a pike.”

Showing a picture of the attorney, Jones continued, “I’m done. Total war. You want it? You got it. … One million dollars when they are convicted. The bounty is out, (expletive). … They’re going to get your (expletive), you little dirt bag. One million, (expletive). It’s out on your (expletive).”

Jones argued that the comments were protected free speech, but the Connecticut Supreme Court upheld the ruling, calling Jones’ comments an “imminent and likely threat to the administration of justice.”

Wrote Chief Justice Richard Robinson, “language evoking threats of physical harm is not tolerable.”

TIGER WOODS CRASH CAUSED BY EXCESSIVE SPEED

A 22-page collision report on the February crash involving golf legend Tiger Woods revealed several previously undisclosed details this week.

Among them:

Woods mistakenly believed that he was in the state of Florida when he was interviewed by a sheriff’s deputy following the crash.

Woods’ blood pressure was “too low to administer any type of pain medication.”

An empty pharmaceutical bottle was found in a backpack at the scene with no label or indication of what was inside.

Data from the vehicle’s black-box recorder shows that Woods drove in a straight line with no steering input until some slight steering movement registered late in the crash.

Woods had been traveling 82 mph in a 45-mph zone, and in addition to failing to steer, he also failed to brake, instead applying pressure to the gas pedal at 99% in the final seconds before hitting the median.

Read the report, “Had (Woods) applied his brakes to reduce his speed or steered to correct the direction of travel, he would not have collided with the center median and the collision would not have occurred.”

Said former police detective Jonathan Cherney, “This is not consistent with somebody who’s awake behind the wheel.”

According to the sheriff, Woods will not be issued a citation because there were no independent witnesses.

The golf pro’s blood was not tested following the crash.

FORMER NFL PLAYER KILLS FIVE THEN HIMSELF

Former NFL player Phillip Adams fatally shot five people Thursday before turning the gun on himself.

Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, and his wife, Barbara, 69, were pronounced dead in their home, along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5.

James Lewis, 38, who had been performing work at the home, was found shot to death outside, and his co-worker, Robert Shook, 38, was flown to a hospital, where he was in critical condition.

York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said that, after evidence at the scene caused authorities to suspect Adams, they drove to Adams’ parents’ home, evacuated them, and tried to talk Adams out of the house, eventually finding him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Authorities have yet to identify a link between Adams and the victims or determine a motive.

Said Adams’ father, “I can say he’s a good kid — he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up.”

His sister, Lauren, said that Adams’ behavior shifted abruptly a couple of years ago, and his “mental health degraded fast and terribly bad.”

NAVY MEDIC KILLED AFTER SHOOTING AND INJURING TWO

Fantahun Girma Woldesenbet was fatally shot by military personnel at the U.S. Army base Fort Detrick on Tuesday after he opened fire at Riverside Tech Park and critically injured two sailors.

The victims were air-lifted to a nearby hospital for treatment, and while one has since been released, the other remains in critical condition.

There is no known motive at this time.

World News

NAVALNY’S HEALTH DETERIORATES IN PRISON

After launching a hunger strike last week to demand proper treatment for acute back and leg pain, the health of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is deteriorating due to continued neglect.

According to his attorney, Navalny, who was diagnosed with two spinal hernias, has now lost sensation in his legs, palms, and wrists.

And while Russia’s prison service claims that he has been afforded “all the necessary medical assistance in accordance with his medical indications,” Navalny’s lawyers say that there are no doctors on site and that the medical unit is run by a single paramedic.

Protests in response to the situation are ongoing.

Pop Culture

PRINCE PHILIP DIES AT 99

Buckingham Palace announced on Friday the death of Prince Philip — Duke of Edinburgh and husband to Queen Elizabeth II.

The 99 year old passed away peacefully at Windsor Castle, mere weeks after a month-long hospitalization stay and a successful heart procedure.

President Biden released the following statement:

“On behalf of all the people of the United States, we send our deepest condolences to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the entire Royal Family, and all the people of the United Kingdom on the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

“Over the course of his 99-year life, he saw our world change dramatically and repeatedly. From his service during World War II, to his 73 years alongside the Queen, and his entire life in the public eye — Prince Philip gladly dedicated himself to the people of the UK, the Commonwealth, and to his family. 

“The impact of his decades of devoted public service is evident in the worthy causes he lifted up as patron, in the environmental efforts he championed, in the members of the Armed Forces that he supported, in the young people he inspired, and so much more. His legacy will live on not only through his family, but in all the charitable endeavors he shaped.”

DMX DIES AT 50

Earl Simmons, otherwise known as DMX, died on Friday, one week after the Grammy-nominated rapper suffered a “catastrophic” cardiac arrest.

He had spent the ensuing days in a coma and on life support.

Wrote the family in a statement, “We are deeply saddened to announce today that our loved one, DMX, birth name of Earl Simmons, passed away at 50 years old at White Plains Hospital with his family by his side after being placed on life support for the past few days. Earl was a warrior who fought till the very end. He loved his family with all of his heart and we cherish the times we spent with him. Earl’s music inspired countless fans across the world and his iconic legacy will live on forever. We appreciate all of the love and support during this incredibly difficult time. Please respect our privacy as we grieve the loss of our brother, father, uncle and the man the world knew as DMX. We will share information about his memorial service once details are finalized.” 

DMX is survived by his 15 children.

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