William Barr Won’t Say If Trump Asked Him To Investigate His Political Opponents

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Attorney General William Barr if President Donald Trump or anyone in the White House has ever suggested that he open an investigation into anyone. After fumbling over his words, Barr claimed that he wasn’t sure.

The answer to this question matters because Trump has already abused his power by pressuring his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to open investigations into Hillary Clinton on imaginary charges. Trump has also made repeated public requests for the Department of Justice to open investigations into his political opponents for imaginary crimes, including for treason.

After a bit of hemming, hawing and silence, Barr chose to rest his dodge on the definition of the word “suggest.” He then claimed not to know if the president sought retaliatory investigations into his political opponents.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Attorney General William Barr if President Donald Trump suggested he investigate the pres

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Attorney General William Barr if President Donald Trump suggested he investigate the president’s political opponents.

“Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?” Harris asked.

“Um … uh … I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t … uh … ” Barr sputtered.

“Yes or no?” Harris requested.

Barr asked Harris to repeat the question, which she did.

“The president or anybody else … ” Barr trailed off.

“Seems you’d remember something like that and be able to tell us,” Harris said.

“Yeah, but I’m trying to grapple with the word suggest,” Barr replied. “There have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation―”

“Perhaps they’ve suggested?” Harris tried to help Barr.

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggest ―”

“Hinted?” Harris asked.

“I don’t know,” Barr stammered.

“Inferred?” Harris tried another word.

“You don’t know,” Harris finally said.

There are few bigger abuses of power than the president of the United States using the power of the state to punish his political opponents with criminal investigations and prosecutions. This is not a criminal act under the law, but is rather one that has precedent as an impeachable offense.

One of the three articles of impeachment drafted for President Richard Nixon targeted him for ordering the IRS to launch tax audits and investigations into his political opponents and the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies to spy on his opponents.

Harris also asked if Barr or anyone in his office reviewed the actual evidence compiled by special counsel Robert Mueller before coming to his own legal determination that Trump did not obstruct justice.

Interior Dept. Official Who Oversees Agency’s Embattled Ethics Office Up For Promotion

Daniel Jorjani, a political appointee at the Interior Department who once told colleagues that “our job is to protect the Secretary” from ethics probes and bad press, will appear before a Senate committee Thursday to make his case for a promotion to be the agency’s top lawyer.

Jorjani is a former adviser for fossil fuel moguls Charles and David Koch and has served as Interior’s principal deputy solicitor since May 2017. The job includes managing the agency’s ethics office and, more recently, overseeing all public information requests sent to the agency. President Donald Trump officially tapped Jorjani for the solicitor post last month, which has been vacant since the Trump administration took office.  

The nominee’s appearance before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee comes shortly after Interior’s internal watchdog announced a pair of ethics investigations into multiple high-ranking agency officials. One of those probes targets newly confirmed secretary David Bernhardt, while the other is looking into allegations against six officials who maintained close ties to their former employers.

Jorjani will appear Thursday alongside Mark Lee Greenblatt, Trump’s nominee to serve as Interior Inspector General. Mary Kendall, the deputy inspector general who oversaw investigations into former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s conduct, is set to retire this month. If confirmed, Greenblatt, now the assistant inspector general for investigations at the Department of Commerce, would take over several ongoing probes.

The new Inspector General investigations will likely serve as new fodder for committee Democrats who have voiced concerns about ethical lapses by agency officials and voted against Bernhardt’s nomination last month, citing his long list of potential conflicts of interests stemming from his years as an oil and gas lobbyist. Thursday’s hearing will give lawmakers a rare opportunity to question the person who has overseen the agency’s ethics office since early in Zinke’s tenure, and would continue to do so if confirmed as solicitor. Zinke resigned in January under a cloud of ethics scandals.

As principal deputy solicitor, Jorjani proved himself a loyal gatekeeper of the former secretary. As HuffPost reported last May, he took six months to respond to investigators probing Zinke’s apparent effort to bully Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) into supporting Obamacare repeal last year, only to dodge their questions entirely. And in a March 2017 email to colleagues, Jorjani boasted that he had “successfully protected” Interior presidential appointments facing investigations and that their primary responsibility was to do the same for Zinke.

“At the end of the day our job is to protect the Secretary,” he wrote.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Jorjani held several positions at Interior under President George W. Bush. And prior to his current stint at the agency, Jorjani held senior positions at the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute and worked as general counsel at the Koch-supported Freedom Partners.

Jorjani also has been given broad power over public records requests. In December, Zinke signed a controversial order that put Jorjani in charge of the agency’s Freedom of Information Act program, stripping transparency authority from the agency’s chief information officer. Zinke pegged the change to “exponential increases in requests and litigation” and noted that records requests to the agency increased 30 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2018. Less than a month later, Jorjani signed an order that appears aimed at making it harder for news organizations and the public to obtain government documents.

It is through such requests that reporters often obtain information about agency decisions and shine light on questionable activities by government officials. A bipartisan group of senators blasted the proposed rule change in a March letter to Bernhardt, writing that it “appears to restrict public access to DOI’s records and delay the processing of FOIA requests in violation of the letter and spirit of FOIA.”

As a top legal operative at the federal agency, Jorjani has also met extensively with industry lobbyists, trade groups and corporate executives, as Pacific Standard reported, and played a key role in rolling back several Obama-era regulations. In December, he authored an interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that protects energy companies and other parties from being prosecuted for unintentionally killing birds. That same month he renewed controversial leases for the Twin Metals copper and nickel mine in Minnesota following a lobbying blitz by the leaseholder, Chilean company Antofagasta, Plc.

Bernhardt applauded Trump for tapping Jorjani for the solicitor role, citing his corporate and legal experience.  

“Throughout his extensive tenure at the Department of the Interior, Dan has distinguished himself with his integrity, an incredible work ethic, humility, and dedication to Interior’s mission,” Bernhard said in a statement.

Trump Could Be Impeached, But Experts Argue Congress Shouldn’t Rush It

President Donald Trump probably committed impeachable acts by obstructing ― or attempting to obstruct ― the investigation into his 2016 campaign, according to impeachment experts. Congressional Democrats have been debating what to do about it ever since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

One bloc of Democrats thinks Congress can’t ignore the president’s actions and must impeach him now. Party leadership initially said that impeachment is off the table, but is now advocating a more cautious approach of working the facts out in open hearings ― and certainly not calling them impeachment hearings.

Impeachment experts believe that this latter course of action is the best way forward to make the case to the American people and enable multifaceted investigations across relevant committees.

The Mueller report revealed 10 separate episodes that it categorized as possible obstruction of justice. Mueller said that there was no evidence of obstruction for a few of these episodes, but, for those where clear evidence existed, declined to pass judgment on whether the president’s actions actually amounted to criminal obstruction of justice. Attorney General William Barr preempted the report’s release by giving Trump a clean bill of health with his own interpretation of obstruction of justice ― a decision that Mueller objected to directly in a letter disclosed on Tuesday. Instead, he kicked the issue to Congress ― the only body that can punish a sitting president.

Special counsel Robert Mueller declined to make a determination that President Donald Trump obstructed justice, instead defer

Special counsel Robert Mueller declined to make a determination that President Donald Trump obstructed justice, instead deferring to Congress.

The House Judiciary Committee has called Mueller and Barr to testify, as well as key figures in the report like former White House counsel Don McGahn. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairman, has also subpoenaed the full unredacted version of Mueller’s report and the underlying grand jury evidence. The Department of Justice is reportedly refusing to allow Mueller to testify and Trump has promised to fight “all the subpoenas.”

“The best next step is a series of investigations by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has a pretty good bipartisan atmosphere, by [the Oversight Committee] in the House, Intelligence in the House, the Judiciary Committee in the House ― and we just ventilate and bring more transparency to the things that Mueller uncovered,” said Philip Bobbitt, former counsel to the Senate Iran-Contra Committee and the co-author to the latest edition of Charlie Black’s classic legal text “Impeachment: A Handbook.”

But Bobbitt cautioned against moving directly to impeachment hearings because “the Judiciary committee then becomes sort of the only voice” and “that shuts down the other committees.”

Former Democratic New York congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, the recent author of a book on impeachment, agrees that it is past time for Congress to bring the president’s aides, lawyers and associates before congressional committees and let the American people see them answer questions about the president’s actions. Holtzman has experience here. She served on the House Judiciary Committee as the committee investigated, debated and drafted the articles of impeachment for President Richard Nixon.

“They ought to be able to see the witnesses firsthand and make their own judgment,” Holtzman said. “That’s what happened in Watergate. It needs to happen now. It should have happened starting January 3rd.”

Polls conducted after the Mueller report’s release show only 37 percent of the public supports beginning impeachment hearings. That’s one of a number of reasons why public investigation into the president’s potentially impeachable acts need not be labeled as impeachment hearings, the experts say.

The key of these hearings would be to provide a public showcase for the people who were directed by the president to commit impeachable offenses or who know of the president’s thought process as he committed impeachable offenses. It could also help explain why the president’s acts are impeachable acts.

Not every offense or crime committed by a president rises to the level of impeachment, according to Bobbitt. The president can be removed through impeachment for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” the constitution states. There has been a lot of debate over the vague definition of “other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,” but Bobbitt argues that the construction of the clause indicates that these “other Crimes and Misdemeanors” ought to be comparable in degree to “Treason” and “Bribery.”

“You have to find that [the president] has done something that has a deep relationship to treason and bribery,” Bobbitt said. “Something that is an act against the state as opposed to a common crime ― shoplifting ― against a person.”

An act comparable in kind to treason or bribery was defined by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers as “the abuse or violation of some public trust” that “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to society itself.”

Hearings into the president’s acts as described in the Mueller report could provide a forum to examine which ones most likely rise to this level. Bobbitt cautioned that if impeachment came first, Congress might end up overplaying its hand. “Unless you actually slay the king you’ll do a great deal more damage to yourself.”

The Judiciary Committee has already called McGahn to testify about the president’s demand, which he refused to carry out, to fire special counsel Mueller. The committee could also call Trump’s lawyers, who do not have attorney-client privilege before Congress, to testify about his thinking behind dangling pardons for his former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Former attorney general Jeff Sessions could be asked about the president’s requests to open partisan investigations into his political opponents. All of these acts have precedent in Nixon’s articles of impeachment.

“There may be more [instances] where you have a precedent of the Nixon impeachment, but there may be different things and that we will uncover in this case if Congress does its job,” Holtzman said.

Nightmare Scenario: GOP May Pick Marylands Next Democratic House Speaker

Maryland is one of the most strongly Democratic states in the country. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans more than 2-to-1 in the state, and while GOP Gov. Larry Hogan has sky-high popularity, the state’s legislature only got more Democratic in the 2018 elections. The party picked up eight seats in the House of Delegates, giving Democrats a massive 99-to-42 supermajority.

But progressives and unions in the state are now warning that Republicans may end up deciding who the next House speaker is, the result of an intra-Democratic clash pitting certain progressive ideological goals against a desire for more African American leadership in a state where over 30 percent of the population is black.

The speakership opened up because Speaker Michael Busch died in early April after helming the legislative chamber for 16 years.

Del. Dereck Davis, center, needs Republican support to be elected speaker of Maryland's House of Delegates. Many state Democr

Del. Dereck Davis, center, needs Republican support to be elected speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates. Many state Democrats and allied interest groups are crying foul.

The battle to succeed Busch pits Del. Maggie McIntosh, an openly gay white liberal from Baltimore and a former public school teacher, against Del. Dereck Davis, a more moderate black member from populous Prince George’s County in the Washington, D.C. suburbs. Both are powerful members and committee chairs in the state legislature. McIntosh is widely expected to win a vote Wednesday in the Democratic caucus, but if Davis brings the vote to the state House floor, he could claim the speakership with the support of Republicans.

Davis’ opponents argue that Republican support would make him beholden to the GOP to maintain power in the future.

“If that Republican bloc is a majority of that person’s votes, what is that bloc going to be owed in the future?” asked Sean Johnson, the legislative and political director for the Maryland State Education Association. “That’s the nightmare scenario for moving a progressive agenda in the years to come.”

Dereck not only gets results, but he does it in a collaborative and inclusive way.
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.)

Some of the progressive bills that Democrats hope to advance include passing paid family leave benefits for all workers in the state and funding an ambitious school investment plan recommended by a state education commission.

Johnson warned that Republicans could make demands in the future to decrease Democratic political power. “You might have to promise them things in January 2021, ahead of redistricting, or in January 2022, ahead of the next governor’s race.”

Johnson’s union, along with a coalition of other progressive and labor groups, including the state chapters of NARAL and Our Revolution, plus a number of local Service Employees International Union chapters, signed a letter asking delegates to support whichever candidate wins the vote in the Democratic caucus. The letter doesn’t officially oppose or support either candidate, but Democrats in the state expect McIntosh to win a solid majority.

“Efforts to splinter the caucus will put the priorities of working families and our shared Maryland values at risk, which is why we believe it is so important that the Democratic Caucus speak with a unified voice,” the groups wrote.

The letter’s signatories note they will be watching the vote closely, implying the threat of possible primary challenges for members who vote against the caucus’ choice.

Given the historic nature of either McIntosh or a Davis’ speakership, the fight has at times taken on the charged tone of national debates about whether representation or ideology is most important. Davis would be the state’s first black House leader and just the third black statewide elected official.

Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), Maryland’s first black lieutenant governor, threw his support behind Davis on Tuesday.

“I’ve seen his leadership in action. Dereck not only gets results, but he does it in a collaborative and inclusive way,” Brown said in a statement.

Another African American contender for speaker, Del. Adrienne Jones, dropped her bid on Friday and endorsed Davis. But leaders of the Maryland House’s 45-person legislative black caucus have encouraged their members to rally behind Davis with only partial success; upwards of 15 black caucus members are backing McIntosh.

That is the danger of this: They now have undue influence on good Democratic policies going forward.
McIntosh ally

In at least one case, advocacy for Davis within the black caucus has allegedly veered into anti-gay bias. Del. Regina Boyce alleged on Monday that earlier this month, Chairman Darryl Barnes had warned the caucus that backing McIntosh would mean “We are going to let a white lesbian be the speaker of the House.”

Barnes denies the claim, but Dels. Robbyn Lewis and Joseline Peña Melnyk, black caucus members who were present, both corroborated Boyce’s account.

Judged on policy grounds, McIntosh has a more progressive record. She spearheaded efforts to pass legislation prohibiting a question about criminal histories on college applications, as well as a bill beefing up funding for alternatives to cash bail.

“She’s very supportive of issues that are important to my constituents, including constituents of color,” said a black lawmaker supporting McIntosh who asked for anonymity to speak freely.

Del. Maggie McIntosh would be both the first woman and first openly gay House speaker of Maryland.

Del. Maggie McIntosh would be both the first woman and first openly gay House speaker of Maryland.

However, Del. Jay Walker disputed the notion that Davis is a moderate, noting that he presided over the economic affairs committee that sent the $15 per hour minimum wage bill to the House floor and raised the age for tobacco use to 21.

“That’s a tough committee to chair. That’s a battleground committee,” Walker said. “He’s been fair.”

Del. C.T. Wilson, another Davis backer, sees moderation as one of Davis’ assets.

“He’s somebody who is a bridge-builder,” Wilson said.

McIntosh and her allies have relied mostly on process arguments, making the case for a speaker who reflects the consensus of the Democratic caucus. She has likened a GOP-fueled Davis win to situations in New York and Washington state, where blocs of renegade Democrats aligned with Republicans in the state Senates to deprive their party of the majority.

That’s not exactly an apt comparison. In Maryland, Davis would remain speaker of a Democrat-controlled House.

But by winning the speakership thanks to Republican support, Davis would effectively be welcoming the GOP as a silent coalition partner.

“That is the danger of this: They now have undue influence on good Democratic policies going forward,” said a Democratic delegate backing McIntosh.

Wilson does not have a problem with giving state Republicans a greater voice in the process.

Referring to Republicans’ minority status in Maryland politics, Wilson said, “We can’t minimize the minority ― African Americans, women, Hispanics and Republicans.”

For now, McIntosh is confident that enough delegates who back Davis in the caucus vote will rally behind her for the sake of unity in a vote on the floor.

On a press call on Tuesday, a reporter asked McIntosh whether she was really certain of victory.

“I feel like it’s mine,” she replied.

This story has been updated to explain the circumstances of the speakership opening up.

Your Crypto Winter = Criminals Summer: Q1 2019 Thefts, Fraud Hit $1.2 Billion

By CCN.com: Even as the bearish conditions in the crypto markets persisted in this year’s first quarter, bad actors in the sector continued to thrive.

According to cybersecurity firm CipherTrace, during the first quarter of the year, the amount that bad actors generated from stealing from bitcoin exchanges and operating cryptocurrrency scams reached $1.2 billion in this year’s first quarter, as initially reported by Reuters.

Misappropriation of funds or fraud took the crown as losses from this category reached $851 million. Losses from scams and thefts from crypto exchanges, on the other hand, amounted to $356 million.

is this going to be a record year for crypto losses?

With the entire 2018 having registered losses of $1.7 billion from cryptocurrency thefts and scams, this year is set for a record if the current pace continues.

Per the CEO of CipherTrace, Dave Jevans, the weak enforcement of regulations has contributed to this state of affairs. Jevans also blamed moral and ethical failings as well as mismanagement for some of the losses:

I would also add that insider issues such as fraud or theft have grown mostly due to operations outside of the U.S. where regulations are poor, or simply due to greed and mismanagement by young management teams at these cryptocurrency companies that are managing hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

This year one of the most publicized losses from a cryptocurrency exchange was that of Canada’s QuadrigaCX. About $134 million of user funds cannot be accessed as they are locked in a cold wallet set up by the firm’s deceased CEO. While it is not the usual hacking of an exchange, it doesn’t matter for the users as they still can’t access their crypto assets.

different year, same script

Despite the strangeness of the whole saga, the QuadrigaCX incident still pales in comparison to the first quarter of 2018. Then more than half a billion worth of cryptocurrencies had been stolen by the close of Q1. This was largely stemming from the hacking of one exchange – Japan-based Coincheck.

On January 26, 2018, the exchange was attacked and 560 million NEM tokens estimated to worth approximately $530 million were stolen. This made the Coincheck theft the biggest heist in the cryptocurrency industry.


Biggest crypto exchange heists | Source: Statista

Despite the calls and efforts for exchanges to improve their security, there hasn’t been a lot of progress. Since 2016 these crimes have been growing year over year. In 2016, $152 million was stolen from exchanges and in 2017 this figure rose to $266 million. The following year it ballooned to nearly $1 billion, according to Statista.

Ilhan Omar Slams Critics: If I Survived Militia I Certainly Can Survive These People

Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) lambasted critics who have attacked her over comments she made about the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, labeling the rhetoric shared by President Donald Trump and his allies as “vile” and “demented.”

“We are collectively saying your vile attacks, your demented views are not welcome here,” Omar said at a rally on Tuesday. “The thing that upsets the occupant in the White House, his goons in the Republican Party, many of our colleagues in our Democratic party is that, is that they can’t stand, they cannot stand that a refugee, a black woman, an immigrant, a Muslim shows up in Congress thinking she’s equal to them.”

Omar is the first Somali-American, the first naturalized citizen from Africa, the first non-white woman from Minnesota and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.

In recent weeks, far-right conservatives have accused her of having a callous view of 9/11. While speaking at a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in March, Omar discussed how terrorism had led to a rise in Islamophobia. She talked about how whenever an act of violence was committed by Muslims, the entire community suffered the consequences.

“Here’s the truth. For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar said. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

CAIR was actually founded in 1994, not in 2001. Omar’s spokesman Jeremy Slevin said she misspoke and meant to refer to the fact that the organization had doubled in size after the attacks.

Yet in response, Fox News and other right-wing media outlets slammed her, claiming she was trying to minimize the attacks. Trump even posted a video on his personal Twitter account that featured imagery from 9/11 and used a portion of Omar’s remarks to make her look bad.

The remarks were taken out of context, and Omar’s office said the inaccurate clip led to an increase in death threats “directly referencing or replying to the President’s video.”

“Obviously the first hijab-wearing, American Muslim woman [in Congress] is going to be the first target,” Hassan Shibly, head of CAIR’s Florida chapter, told NPR. “People’s deep-seated hatred for the Muslim community is now being projected onto her.”

At an event outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar vowed to continue fighting xenophobia and Islamaphobia. “

At an event outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar vowed to continue fighting xenophobia and Islamaphobia. “If I survived militia I certainly can survive these people.”

The event on Tuesday featured several notable allies of the congresswoman, including civil rights icon Angela Davis and activist Barbara Ransby. Omar said it wasn’t meant to be a “pity party” for herself, but that the organizers wanted a show of strength.

“This is for us to say that if you come after one of us, you come after all of us,” Omar said. “If I survived militia, I certainly can survive these people.”

Omar also said that she would fight against xenophobia and Islamaphobia despite the attacks:

“This is not going to be the country of the xenophobics. This is not going to be the country of White people. This is not going to be the country of the few, this is the country of the many.”

Alabama House Passes Bill To Outlaw Almost All Abortions

The Alabama House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.

The legislation, called the Human Life Protection Act, would make it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion. The act would be punishable by at least 10 years in prison. The bill does not include exceptions for rape or incest; abortions would be permitted only if the pregnant woman’s life were in danger.

The bill passed 74 to 3. It now goes to the state Senate. 

If enacted, it would be among the most extreme abortion restrictions in the country.

A protester stands near the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2016. 

A protester stands near the West Alabama Women’s Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2016. 

The sponsor, Republican state Rep. Terri Collins, said the goal of the bill is to trigger a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court opinion that legalized abortion. The legislation also includes incendiary language comparing abortion to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide.

Some Alabama Democrats walked out ahead of the vote in protest after trying to add an amendment that would have provided exceptions for rape and incest. The Republican majority voted to table the amendment. 

“We expected this vote to happen, and we are ready for a fight in the Senate,” Staci Fox, president of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates, said in a statement. “Today’s floor debate made it crystal clear what Alabama lawmakers think about women. It also revealed just how callous and flagrant they can be.”

Randall Marshall, the executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, said it was highly unlikely Collins’ bill would make it to the Supreme Court, as other cases pending review present the same question. If the Alabama bill becomes law, it will be challenged in federal court and struck down, he said.

“Essentially this is a meaningless act,” Marshall said. “It will not go into effect and ultimately, it is likely to cost Alabama taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not over a million dollars, in legal fees.”

The bill, which is an outright ban on abortion, signals a change in strategy for Alabama anti-choice politicians, he said. For years, they have been trying to chip away at abortion access by passing regulatory bills that add additional hurdles for patients and providers.

“Every time these same sponsors come up with a new restriction, they’ve been saying it is all about women’s health ― they are just trying to protect women’s health!” he said. “This move lays bare that their motive all along was trying to prevent any access to abortion. Now, they’re coming out in the open and saying it.”

Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel for state policy at the Guttmacher Institute, called the bill blatantly unconstitutional.  

“If enacted, it would harm women, children and families in the state,” she said.

Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said he was happy with the vote. He said legislators are representing the will of the people, pointing to a 2018 state ballot measure that amended Alabama’s constitution to include that state policy was to protect “the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children, including the right to life.”

Johnston said exceptions for rape and incest are inconsistent with the thesis of the bill, which is that unborn children are people.

“That unborn child has individual rights or liberties that are not dependent on anyone else,” he said. “So whether he is conceived by an unlawful act or by a consensual act, it doesn’t matter. He is still a person.”

Johnston said he expected the state Senate to pass the bill and the governor to sign it.

Reproductive rights groups say it is already difficult to get an abortion in Alabama, which has only three abortion clinics. Women must receive counseling and then wait 48 hours before having the procedure. They are also required to undergo an ultrasound and must be given the option to view it.

More than 250 bills restricting abortion have been filed in 2019 so far, according to a report released last month by the Guttmacher Institute and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

This article has been updated with a comment from the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition.

Youth Suicide Attempts Have Dramatically Increased, New Data Shows

A new study released Wednesday offers yet more evidence that suicide attempts among children in America have risen dramatically, suggesting the country is in the throes of a disturbing trend of increased youth distress.

Using data from the National Poison Data System, researchers found more than 1.6 million cases of 10- to 24-year-olds attempting to kill themselves by poisoning from 2000 to 2018. More than 70% of the suicide attempts by poisoning were in young women.

And there was a significant spike in the number and rate of suicide attempts among 10- to 15-year-olds over the past decade.

“From 2000 to 2011, it was relatively steady, but then after 2010 or ’11, there was a dramatic change,” study author Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center, told HuffPost.

“Depending on the age group, it goes up 200 to 300 percent,” he continued. “Something is happening in adolescents that hasn’t happened before — and that isn’t what was occurring in the 1990s or 2000s.”

Although the study, published in The Journal of Pediatrics, does not establish causation, Spiller and his co-researchers believe that the dramatic increase likely has much to do with the rise of smartphones and social media, and the profound shifts in how teenagers spend their time and connect with others day-to-day.

“These are greater than a million children we’re looking at, so we want to make sure parents understand that, yes, we know it was tough when you were 14, but this is a little different. For pediatricians who trained in the 1990s and 2000s, they didn’t see this either,” Spiller said.

The new findings join a spate of alarming research documenting rising rates of suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death among Americans ages 10 to 24.

Earlier this month, a national study that relied on emergency room records found that suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts nearly doubled from 2005 to 2017. Though death by suicide is often thought of as a concern for teens, more than 40% of the hospital visits were for children ages 5 to 12.

Research also suggests that many parents are in the dark. A study published earlier this year found that up to half of parents whose children have considered suicide have no idea.

“We definitely need to have upstream approaches to help kids manage their emotional pain before they get to the point where they’re looking at medications or substances to deal with that,” John Ackerman, suicide prevention coordinator for the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, told HuffPost. Ackerman is an author of the new study.

While addressing the youth suicide crisis and better supporting mental health requires a multi-pronged approach, Ackerman said, he thinks it is important for parents to be aware of the recent increase — but without spreading alarm. That is because there are practical steps caregivers can take to try to mitigate their own children’s risk, like limiting access to medications in the home by storing them safely and monitoring them constantly.

It is also important to learn the warning signs and recognize that even young children can have thoughts of suicide, Ackerman emphasized.

“Parents need to have really direct, emotional conversations with their kids,” he said. “We know it is a myth that if you ask kids about suicide that you will put that idea into their minds.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

On The Brazil Border, Venezuelas Political Crisis Has Become A Humanitarian Nightmare

PACARAIMA, Brazil — Venezuelans awoke Tuesday morning to a call by self-declared interim president Juan Guaidó to bring down Nicolás Maduro’s regime.

Venezuela is mired in a deep political, economic and humanitarian crisis that has led more than 3 million people to leave the country, according to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR.

“I never thought I’d have to leave my country because I was starving,” chef Alberto Alvarez told HuffPost Brazil. Food for him was always more than a means of survival — it was his main work tool.

The 60-year-old native of Puerto Rico, who chose Venezuela as his new home years ago, now wanders the streets of Boa Vista, a city 150 miles from the Venezuelan border in the northwestern Brazilian state of Roraima, looking for jobs and food to feed his family.

Alvarez went to culinary school in Montreal and Lyon, France. Before fleeing Venezuela, he worked at a top-end restaurant in Caracas, where he lived with his wife and his two children, ages 6 and 8.

“I had to find a solution. We decided to come to Brazil and start over,” he said. “When there is no food, there’s no use in knowing how to prepare it, being able to speak English or French or having good memories from days past.”

Alvarez and his family are living with friends. Some days he can find the odd job, such as painting houses. But most of the time, he relies on the generosity of others, especially tourists, to buy meals that cost a little over a dollar.

Mayerlin González and her husband traveled for more than 30 hours with 10-month-old baby Ronner before finally ar

Mayerlin González and her husband traveled for more than 30 hours with 10-month-old baby Ronner before finally arriving in Brazil.

The Alvarezes are among the 30,700 people who have migrated from Venezuela to Brazil since last August, according to the Brazilian government. In the same time period, Colombia’s migration office estimates that 870,000 Venezuelans entered the country.

They are fleeing violent unrest and food and medicine shortages. In the last year alone, Venezuelans lost an average of 24 pounds due to hunger. According to Human Rights Watch, the country’s infant mortality rates are back to 1990 levels, and illnesses previously under control, such as measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria and malaria, are once again epidemic.

It is easier for Venezuelan families to come to Brazil: Unlike in Colombia and Peru, there’s no need to present a passport, which is hard to obtain since the Venezuelan government essentially stopped issuing them. Brazilians, however, speak Portuguese, which can be a challenge for the Spanish-speaking Venezuelans.

Even though the border crossing has been officially closed on the Venezuelan side since Feb. 22, asylum requests from people who manage to reach Brazil are overwhelming the camps the Brazilian Army and UNCHR have set up in Paracaima near the Venezuelan border. Around 350 people arrive on slow days, but more than 1,000 can show up on a single busy day.

Mayerlin González, 23, made the trip with her husband, Ronni Villalba, 25, and their 10-month-old son, Ronner. They traveled for more than 30 hours. First, they took a bus. Then, they walked through “las trochas,” illegal routes controlled by armed groups and used by Venezuelans fleeing the country.

González’s husband had tried first. He came to Boa Vista, stayed for about a month living on the streets, and found a job. Then he went back to Maturín, a Venezuelan town 500 miles from Paracaima, to bring back his family.

González said she doesn’t even think about going back to Venezuela. She wants to go further south into Brazil. “Paraná, Santa Catarina, someplace far away [from Venezuela],” she said. Venezuelans see southern Brazil as more prosperous because of the hardship they’ve endured in northern Brazilian cities like Boa Vista or Manaus.

Ricardo José, an Uber driver whose mother is Brazilian, is among those who have moved to southeastern Brazil. Two years ago, José, 31, left his country to move to São Paulo. His parents and his uncles decided to stay; leaving meant selling all their possessions for “next to nothing,” he said.

“Before moving here, my family was kidnapped more than once. We left as soon as possible. We didn’t want for thing to get to a breaking point. You can’t trust anyone in my country,” he said.

The protests in Caracas, on the eve of demonstrations expected on May 1, are the “beginning of the final phase” of Maduro’s regime, Guaidó said on Tuesday. Guaidó currently has the support of Brazil and the United States, among other countries, but Maduro says he still has the support of Venezuela’s military.

Venezuelan families wait for food and drink inside a refugee reception center in Pacaraima, Brazil, in early April.

Venezuelan families wait for food and drink inside a refugee reception center in Pacaraima, Brazil, in early April.

José has hopes in Guaidó’s movement. “He was elected president by the representatives because he was the leader of Congress. He is the president. Representatives are entitled to pick the president. He is our hope of bringing down Maduro’s government.”

“The only hope is that the military joins the opposition and more people take to the streets to pressure the government,” he added. “The support of the military is crucial to force Maduro’s hand. He knew a confrontation was imminent and, while it didn’t happen, he armed civilian groups to stand with his government.”

The Military ‘Toll’ For Crossing The Border

For those still living in Venezuela, Brazil is a source of everyday necessities like food and personal hygiene products.

Every week, Pemon Zoraide, who declined to use her real name for safety reasons, leaves the Venezuelan village of Kumarakapay, 50 miles from the border with Brazil, to buy food on the other side in Paracaima.

“We buy all kinds of things. There’s nothing [in Venezuela]. It’s very bad,” she told HuffPost Brasil. Although her 9-year-old son has witnessed the Venezuelan Army fatally shooting someone, she still hasn’t left the country. Her child has measles. “He needs to get better first,” she said.

Earlier this month, HuffPost Brasil took the same “underground” route that Venezuelans use to reach Brazil. 

Venezuelans use “taxis” — in reality, old cars in a bad state of repair — for their trips from Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela, to Paracaima across the border. Each leg of the trip costs $12.50. On the way back, if people are carrying a lot of supplies, which is not uncommon, it can cost almost $40.

Cars lined up at "las trochas," an unofficial route to Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela.

Cars lined up at “las trochas,” an unofficial route to Santa Elena de Uairén, Venezuela.

But some go on foot, using trails alongside dirt roads or through the forest. The Brazilian Army has set up stations at the end of these routes to provide water, food and medical treatment.

HuffPost Brazil made the trip from Paracaima to Santa Elena de Uairén by car with a Venezuelan couple who brought back bags and boxes filled with staples, from butter to toilet paper.

Under normal conditions, the trip between the two cities usually takes no more than 30 minutes. Through “las trochas,” the main unofficial route into Brazil, it took almost an hour.

The taxis cross the border a mile from the official border crossing. At a makeshift crossing point, the Brazilian military doesn’t ask for papers from the vehicle’s occupants, since only the Venezuelan side of the border is officially closed.

A little further, we reach a dirt road in the Comunidad Indígena San Antonio Del Morichal, an Indian reservation belonging to the Pemon-Taurepang. There, the indigenous people, their faces covered, have their own checkpoint.

The car comes to a stop, the driver shakes hand with a member of the indigenous community, and we are on our way. A little later, another checkpoint and another handshake.

A few kilometers into Venezuelan territory, we reach an Army checkpoint. This time, instead of shaking hands, the driver hands the officer his driver’s license and 50 reais ($12.50 in U.S. dollars). The military also mans the fourth and final checkpoint. Another 50 reais note, and we are waved through.

We return to Brazil in the same car, this time occupied by two women and two children, plus the driver. We stop for fuel at a house along the road. The gas comes from big jugs and is poured into the tank with the help of a plastic Coke bottle.

Crossing the military checkpoints on the way into Brazil is not as easy as entering Venezuela. On our second check, we are told we can’t go on, despite having paid. The driver pleads his case with three officers, and we continue the trip, unsure of what the driver promised the Venezuelan soldiers.

The border between Brazil (on the left) and Venezuela, shown near Pacaraima in northern Brazil.

The border between Brazil (on the left) and Venezuela, shown near Pacaraima in northern Brazil.

Changes On Both Sides Of The Border

The profound crisis in Venezuela is also changing things on the Brazilian side of the border.

“If we had 10,000 sacks of flour, we’d sell them all,” said Rone Neto, manager of Comercial Brasil, one of Paracaima’s main food distributors. He moved to the town four months ago to deal with the increasing business.

“We’re opening a second store. If you see one store right next to the other, it might seem weird, but there’s room for everyone here. There’s huge demand. No matter how much we have in inventory, we sell it all.”

The most in-demand item is wheat flour. “We tend to think of rice and beans,” he said, referring to Brazilians, but Venezuelans are different. “They buy a lot of flour and butter.”

Shop owners may celebrate the increase in business, but some residents have complaints.

“More people were coming after each day. The town changed completely,” said Manoel Soares, owner of a restaurant in the town bus terminal.

He said the city was “sheer tranquility” before the Venezuelans arrived. Paracaima was a hub for tourists looking for hikes, waterfalls and a gateway to the tropical rainforest.

Topographer Ruy Hagge Barbosa, 62, moved to Paracaima 12 years ago and echoed those concerns. “It changed for the worse. It’s chaos. You barely see Brazilians exchanging money in the main street, only Venezuelans. They don’t comply with our laws because they are immune from them.”

Across the border in Venezuela, Santa Elena de Uairén looks now like a ghost town.

Santa Elena de Uairén on the Venezuelan side of the boarder has become a ghost town.

Santa Elena de Uairén on the Venezuelan side of the boarder has become a ghost town.

The duty-free shopping center was one of the first to feel the consequences. With the border closure and a dearth of goods, Brazilians looking for cheaper electronics and cosmetics stopped coming. The shopping center is now closed, and the area around it is deserted.

Things are no different in the town’s two main hotels. The Anaconda, once a grand hotel, has shut down. The Garibaldi, in the city center, has iron railings on its doors and the restaurant is permanently closed. In the town’s grocery stores, the shelves are empty.

The walls of Santa Elena de Uairén’s elementary school still bear signs of Chavismo, the movement of Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chávez. One quote, by Latin American liberator Simón Bolívar, praises the value of education: “Education is the true foundation of happiness. Nations move to their greatness as they advance in their education.”

This story is based on reporting by HuffPost Brasil and translated from Portuguese.

William Barr Says He Couldnt Release Mueller Report Without Clearing Trump Of Obstruction

WASHINGTON ― Attorney General William Barr will tell members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he had to make “a prosecutorial judgment” and clear President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice before releasing a public version of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report.

Barr, in prepared remarks released Tuesday night, said that “it would not have been appropriate” to release the volume of Mueller’s report that focused on the question of obstruction “without making a prosecutorial judgment” of his own. Taking into consideration the Justice Department’s longstanding view that the president cannot be indicted while in office, Mueller’s report did not state outright that Trump committed a crime but rather laid out extensive evidence of Trump attempting to influence the Mueller investigation and criminal investigations of his associates. 

But Barr, in counsel with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, concluded that the evidence established by Mueller’s investigation was “not sufficient” to support an obstruction of justice prosecution.

Barr has come under fire for mischaracterizing the Mueller report ahead of its public release. His March 24 letter to Congress selectively quoted phrases from the Mueller report out of context, and he echoed the president’s rhetoric and sympathized with the president’s feelings during an April 18 news conference before making a redacted copy of the report public.

Protesters at the White House on Tuesday night before Attorney General William Barr's scheduled appearance before the Senate

Protesters at the White House on Tuesday night before Attorney General William Barr’s scheduled appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Barr will tell senators on Wednesday that, aside from the cases that had been referred to other offices, the Justice Department’s work on the special counsel investigation was done and that “the exercise of responding and reacting to the report is a matter for the American people and the political process.”

“As I’m sure you agree, it is vitally important for the Department of Justice to stand apart from the political process and not to become an adjunct of it,” Barr is expected to say.

Read Barr’s prepared remarks below.