Posts tagged with "The Washington Post"

Richard Branson prepares to blast off with Virgin Galactic … and beat Jeff Bezos to the edge of space

July 12, 2021

Over the years, brash British billionaire Richard Branson has embarked on all sorts of wild adventures, from the dangerously ill-conceived to the merely zany—from attempting a powerboat speed record across the English Channel in seas so choppy it “was like being strapped to the blade of a vast pneumatic drill,” as he wrote in his memoir; to crossing the Pacific Ocean in a hot-air balloon and crashing on a frozen lake in Canada, The Washington Post reports.

Now, the one-man publicity circus—still very much alive and kicking at age 70—is preparing for what would be the biggest stunt of all: A rollicking ride to the edge of space in the spaceplane developed by Virgin Galactic—the venture he founded in 2004 that he vowed would become the world’s first “commercial spaceline.”

Virgin Galactic announced this week that Stephen Colbert would host the live-stream broadcast of the event—now scheduled for Sunday, July 11, although weather and last-minute technical problems could force a delay.

And the company also intends to use Branson’s flight as a catalyst to reopen ticket sales for its space tourism business, the Post reports. It had previously cost $250,000 for the flight, which would allow passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. But when the tickets go back on sale, the price is expected to jump to about $500,000, according to analysts.

Like Branson’s previous exploits, the flight from Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico will be as much theater as adventure, designed to sell tickets as well as to celebrate the commercialization of human space exploration. But that is to be expected from the man who made his start by signing the Sex Pistols to his record label and who’s lived by the motto, “screw it, let’s do it.”

The company had planned to fly a test flight with four crew members in the cabin, and then fly Branson. But after Jeff Bezos announced he would fly on his company’s spacecraft to the edge of space on July 20, Branson jumped the line and said he would board Virgin Galactic’s next space flight and — conditions permittingbeat Bezos by nine days.

In making the announcement, Branson simultaneously reveled in the attention it generated while downplaying any competition. He told The Washington Post, which Bezos owns, “I completely understand why the press would write that.” He added that it was just “an incredible, wonderful coincidence that we’re going up in the same month.”

But when asked about a rivalry with Bezos on CNBC, he couldn’t help himself, saying, “Jeff who?”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Trump Organization attorneys have until end-of-day June 28 to persuade prosecutors not to file charges

June 29, 2021

Prosecutors in New York have given former President Donald Trump’s attorneys a deadline of Monday afternoon, June 28, to make their final arguments as to why the Trump Organization should not face criminal charges over its financial dealings, according to two people familiar with the matter, The Washington Post reports.

That deadline is a strong signal that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D)—now working together, after each has spent more than two years investigating Trump’s business—are considering criminal charges against the company as an entity.

Earlier this year, Vance convened a grand jury in Manhattan to consider indictments in the investigation. No entity or individual has been charged in the investigations thus far, and it remains possible that no charges will be filed, the Post says.

Prosecutors have shown interest in whether Trump’s company used misleading valuations of its properties to deceive lenders and taxing authorities, and in whether taxes were paid on fringe benefits for company executives, according to court documents and people familiar with the investigations.

The two people familiar with the deadline set for Trump’s attorneys spoke on the condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations. Under New York law, prosecutors may file charges against corporations in addition to individuals.

Last Thursday, lawyers working for Trump personally and for the Trump Organization met virtually with prosecutors to make the case that charges were not warranted. Meetings like these are common in financial investigations. The Post notes—allowing defense attorneys a chance to present evidence before prosecutors make a decision on whether to seek charges.

Thursday’s meeting was first reported by The New York Times. Spokespeople for Vance and James declined to comment on Sunday, as did an attorney for Trump, Ronald Fischetti, and an attorney for the Trump Organization, Alan Futerfas.

People familiar with the probe confirmed to The Washington Post that prosecutors were looking at charging the Trump Organization as an entity, as well as Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, following Weisselberg’s refusal to assist in the investigation.

Trump—who on June 26 kicked off a planned series of rallies to boost his and favored Republicans’ future election prospects—still owns his businesses through a trust managed by his adult sons and Weisselberg. He gave up day-to-day management of the company while in the White House, but it is unclear what role he plays in the company’s operations now.

Last month, Trump called the investigations a “witch hunt” run by Democrats seeking to damage his future political prospects.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Justice Department official to step down amid uproar over leaks inquiry

June 15, 2021

John Demers, the Trump-appointed head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is expected to step down at the end of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter—a departure that was arranged months ago, but that now comes amid widespread backlash over DOJ investigations into leaks of classified information that began under the administration of the former president, The New York Times reports.

Demers is the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump Administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.

John Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office—who, himself, left the agency in April—had before his own departure asked Demers to remain at the department, according to the person. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed to serve as the deputy attorney general, and the three officials had a long history of working together on sensitive national security cases.

In response, Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the Times’ source said.

But , the Times notes, Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of classified information.

The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matter.

While it is common for the Justice Department to try to find out who shared classified information with the media, it is highly unusual to secretly gather records from the press and lawmakers. The prosecutors also prevented the lawyers and executives of the Times and CNN from disclosing that records had been taken, even to their newsroom leaders, another highly aggressive step.

Such moves require signoff by the attorney general. But. Demers and his top counterintelligence deputies in the division would typically be briefed and updated on those efforts.

Much of the spotlight on national security cases during Demers’ three-year run focused instead on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller, III, who ran the Russia investigation, the Justice Department’s highest profile and politically fraught national security matter.

But Demers’s ability to skirt controversy ended in recent weeks as the revelations about reporters’ record seizures and the gag orders came to light.

Justice Department officials say that all appropriate approvals were given for those orders, meaning that the attorney general at the time, not Demers, signed off.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr approved the decision to seize records from CNN and The Washington Post in 2020, people with knowledge of the leak investigations have said. But it is unclear who approved the request for email records from Google that belonged to Times reporters. The request was filed with a court days after Barr left,although he could have signed off on it before leaving.

A Justice Department spokeperson declined last week to identify whether Barr or his successor, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, approved that move.

Leak investigators in 2018 also obtained data from Microsoft and Apple that belonged to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California. Mr. Schiff is now the panel’s chairman.

In those instances, the Justice Department also told the technology companies not to inform customers about the subpoenas until recently.

The data was collected and the gag orders were imposed on the tech companies weeks before Demers was confirmed to lead the National Security Division.

Still, some Democrats demanded answers about what he knew about the leak cases. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, called on Demers on Sunday, June 13,  to testify before Congress.

Research contact: @nytimes

After defeating voting restriction bill, Texas Dems send loud and clear message: ‘We need Congress to do their part’

June 2, 2021

Texas Democrats who defeated a Republican effort to pass a suite of new voting restrictions with a dramatic late-night walkout from the state House chamber on Sunday, May 31, have a message for President Biden and his allies in Congress: If we can protect voting rights, you can, too.

The surprise walkout by roughly 60 Democratic lawmakers headed off the expected passage of S.B. 7— a voting measure that would have been one of the most stringent in the nation—by denying Republicans a required quorum and forcing them to abruptly adjourn without taking a vote, The Washington Post reports.

The coordinated Democratic exit just after 10:30 p.m. Central time jolted the national debate on voting rights—putting the spotlight on Democratic-backed federal legislation that has been stalled in the Senate all spring, even as state Republicans move to enact new voting rules.

“We knew today, with the eyes of the nation watching action in Austin, that we needed to send a message,” state Representative Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat, said at a news conference held at a historically Black church in Austin early Monday, shortly after he and other lawmakers left the state Capitol. “And that message is very, very clear: Mr. President, we need a national response to federal voting rights.”

Republicans control every branch of Texas government and hold firm majorities in both the House and Senate, the Post notes.

Thus, while Governor Greg Abbott (R) vowed late Sunday to bring the voting measure back at a special legislative session for redistricting later this year—and threatened to defund the legislature in a tweet on Monday—the walkout represented an unmistakable and shocking defeat for Republican leaders who had assumed the bill would pass ahead of the House’s midnight deadline to finish its 2021 business.

It failed to do so because Texas Democrats resolved early in the day to use every tool at their disposal to block a bill they say would have made it harder for Texans to vote —particularly Black and Latino voters who embraced early-voting methods that would have been banned under the measure.

However, the Post said, the move came at a price—forcing Democrats to walk away from pieces of legislation addressing police force and bail reform, among others, that some had hoped to pass Sunday.

After taking their stand, the state Democrats said they want allies elsewhere in the country to seize the moment and show the same kind of resolve—particularly in Washington, where Democrats control the presidency and both chambers of Congress;  yet are struggling to pave the way for two major pieces of voting legislation: the For the People Act, a sprawling overhaul of federal elections, ethics and campaign finance law; and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would reauthorize the seminal 1965 Voting Rights Act by giving the federal government fresh power to police jurisdictions with histories of racial discrimination in voting administration.

“We did our part to stop SB 7,” tweeted state Representative Erin Zwiener (D). “Now we need Congress to do their part.”

“State lawmakers are holding the line,” tweeted state Rep. James Talarico (D). “Federal lawmakers need to get their s— together and pass the For The People Act.”

In an interview with the Post, Martinez Fischer said that national leaders need to rise to the occasion.

“Breaking quorum is about the equivalent of crawling on our knees begging the president and the United States Congress to give us the For the People Act and give us the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” he said.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Work halted again at Amazon construction site after eighth noose is found

May 28, 2021

Work was suspended for the second time in as many weeks on May 26, after another noose—the eighth in just one month—was discovered at an Amazon warehouse under construction in northern Connecticut, The Washington Post reports.

The noose was found at the Windsor work site in Hartford County, Connecticut, on Wednesday—one day after work resumed from the last stoppage. The discovery occurred after security was upgraded and a few hours before NAACP representatives arrived to interview workers about previous incidents. The noose, made of red rope, was found in some yellow electrical cables.

“This is ridiculous,” Scot X Esdaile, president of the Connecticut NAACP, told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “We told them to take this seriously, and they’re trying to water it down. This is pretty bad.”

The FBI and Connecticut State Police are assisting the Windsor Police Department with the investigation of the incidents, which are being treated as hate crimes.

Amazon is offering a $100,000 reward for information that helps identify the responsible party. The company did not immediately respond to a request from the Post for comment. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post)

Cameras had been installed during the shutdown, Windsor Police Chief Donald Melanson said at a Wednesday news conference, according to the Hartford Courant, but do not cover the entire 3.6 million-square-foot site.

Windsor police officers had been patrolling the site when the seventh noose was discovered on May 19, the department said in a news release. Employees in the area were interviewed, and the rope was taken to a state lab for analysis. The work site had no surveillance cameras at the time.

At an unrelated news conference Wednesday, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont called the nooses “racist provocation of the worst type,” according to the Hartford Courant.

Work on the Amazon facility in Windsor began late last year and is supposed to be completed by late this year. Amazon has said that the center will create 1,000 jobs in the next two years and that employees will be paid $15 per hour plus benefits.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

The heat is on: Trump-probe prosecutors in Manhattan convene special grand jury

May 27, 2021

Manhattan prosecutors have convened a special grand jury in their investigation of former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization—signaling that the office is seeking to bring charges in the case, according to people familiar with the matter, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The development signals that the office is seeking criminal indictments following a multiyear investigation into the Trump Organization and its officers, former prosecutors said. District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has said the office is investigating possible bank, tax, or insurance fraud.

Special grand juries typically sit for at least several months, compared with regular grand juries, which are impaneled for a month. They often hear multiple complex cases, such as white-collar investigations.

“Special grand juries are common when state prosecutors get to the point where they are ready to seek an indictment but the evidence is too complex or lengthy to present during the normal four-week term,” Daniel R. Alonso, a former federal prosecutor who was Vance’s chief assistant, told the Journal.

The special grand jury was earlier reported by The Washington Post.

A spokesman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization and a lawyer for Trump didn’t respond to requests for comment.

However, ,Trump said in a statement on May 25 that the investigations by Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James, both Democrats, were purely political.

“This is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history,” said Trump. “Our Country is broken.”

The New York attorney general’s office, which had said it was conducting a civil investigation into the Trump Organization, said last week that its probe had a “criminal component.”  James said during an unrelated news conference last week that two assistant attorneys general were working alongside the district attorney’s office.

Research contact: @WSJ

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to overhaul U.S. Postal Service

May 21, 2021

On May 19, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill—the Postal Service Reform Act—intended to improve management of the troubled U.S. Postal Service, The Hill reports.

The move to “stabilize” the USPS is being led by Senators Gary Peters (D-Michigan); and  Rob Portman (R-Ohio)m both of the Senate Homeland and Governmental Affairs Committee.

A total of nine Republicans signed on as co-sponsors. Adding their support, as well as Portman’s vote, to the Democrat vote of 50 members would secure passage of the legislation and head off a filibuster—making the new legislation the closest thing Congress has done to a postal overhaul in more than a decade, The Capitalist reports.

Specifically, The Washington Post has said, the bill would repeal $5 billion a year in mandatory retiree health care expenses, the Post reports, and require future retirees to enroll in Medicare. The bill would also create a public online performance dashboard that would allow customers to see the Postal Service’s on-time delivery metric by ZIP code.

The change in health care requirements would purportedly save the Postal Service $30 billion over the next ten years.

The bill will likely affect Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s proposed ten-year plan of increasing postage prices, creating longer delivery windows and reducing post office hours. The Post notes that an important part of DeJoy’s plan hinged on congressional intervention on retiree health care costs.

Some officials have argued that these costs, which must be prepaid per the 2006 Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, are the main reason why the agency cannot invest in new technology and equipment. However, the Post notes that the Postal Service has not made these payments since 2011 and they do not affect the agency’s liquidity.

Regardless of its financial situation, the agency’s problems may be beyond legislative action experts told the newspaper.”Some things are beyond the realm of legislation to be able to deal with,” Postal Policy Associates consulting firm President Kenneth John told the Post.

“Letter mail volume is going to decline to the extent that prices increase more rather than less,” John, a former senior analyst at the Government Accountability Office, added. “That decline may accelerate somewhat, but it’s fundamentally a result of changing ways of communication and payment, and these are going to continue.”

Research contact: @thehill

Many retailers still will require masks—at least for now—even with new CDC guidance

May 17, 2021

Target, Home Depot, Wegmans and a number of other U.S. retailers will continue to require customers and employees to wear masks in-store while they review the new federal guidance from the CDC—which has announced that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear face coverings in most situations, The Washington Post reports.

.However, industry groups and workers’ advocates already are pushing back–saying that they fear enforcement will become increasingly difficult and contentious. What’s more, workers unions have blasted the policy change, saying it puts store employees at increased risk of getting sick.

And in acknowledgement of such hazards, some retail chains will go with the flow—among them, Trader Joe’s, which no longer will require fully vaccinated shoppers to wear masks, although it is unclear how the retailer would determine which shoppers have been inoculated. Kenya Friend-Daniel, a spokesperson for the grocery chain, said most other COVID-related policies, including face coverings for employees, social distancing rules and frequent store cleanings, will remain in place.

“We are vigilant; reviewing federal, state, and local health advisories; meeting or exceeding government mandates; and where it makes sense, adjusting efforts,” the company said on its website.

The trade group for the industry, the Retail Industry Leaders Association, has not taken sides, saying: “We urge all retail customers and guests to follow a store’s safety protocols including wearing a mask and social distancing. Frontline workers deserve this respect. Retailers encourage customers that do not want to wear a mask to shop online or via curbside pickup offerings.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers, which represents 1.3 million food and retail workers, said the CDC’s guidance fails to consider the impact on essential workers, “who face frequent exposure to individuals who are not vaccinated and refuse to wear masks.”

More than 200 retail workers have died from the coronavirus, and thousands more have been infected, according to workers groups and media reports, although actual numbers are probably much higher.

“Vaccinations are helping us take control of this pandemic, but we must not let our guard down,” Marc Perrone, the union’s president said in a statement. “Essential workers are still forced to play mask police for shoppers who are unvaccinated and refuse to follow local COVID safety measures. Are they now supposed to become the vaccination police?”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Ocasio-Cortez on Taylor Greene: ‘These are the kinds of people that I threw out of bars all the time’

May  17, 2021

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) took a swipe at Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) on Thursday, May 13— likening her to the “kinds of people that I threw out of bars” after the GOP newcomer aggressively confronted her outside the House chamber the day before, The Hill reports.

“I used to work as a bartender. These are the kinds of people that I threw out of bars all the time,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters on Capitol Hill.

“For me, this isn’t even about how I feel. It’s that I refuse to allow young women, people of color, people who are standing up for what they believe, to see [these] kind[s] of intimidation attempts by a person who supports white supremacists in our nation’s Capitol,” she continued.

Greene is facing blowback from Democrats off the heels of a Washington Post report that she harassed Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday and shouted at her as the two left the floor.

Greene repeatedly yelled, “Hey, Alexandria,” according to two Washington Post reporters who witnessed the incident. Ocasio-Cortez reportedly did not stop to address Greene, who went on to press the young progressive on her support for Black Lives Matter, which Greene claimed to be a “terrorist” group.

“You don’t care about the American people,” Greene reportedly shouted. “Why do you support terrorists and Antifa?”

After Ocasio-Cortez’s departure, Greene also reportedly called the Democrat a “radical socialist” and a “chicken” who “doesn’t want to debate the Green New Deal.”

The report came after Greene challenged Ocasio-Cortez to a debate over her “Green New Deal” legislation. Not long after, Greene also went up to Ocasio-Cortez in the House chamber and posted a photo of the moment on social media.

Greene defended her actions Thursday and rejected the notion that her behavior was uncivil.

“So she throws out paying customers. Is that how she feels? She throws out paying customers, is what she’s saying?” Greene said in response to a reporter who relayed how Ocasio-Cortez compared her to an aggressive bar patron.

“You know, it would be nice if they would treat us civilly. But ever since January 6, they can’t even treat us with respect. And we were just as much as victims of the riot here, too. We didn’t cause it,” Greene continued. “All these lies that they say on and on and on. You know, they need to be civil. None of them [is]civil to me.

“I was telling her, you need to debate me, you need to defend your policy,” she added. “There is nothing wrong with that.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s office has expressed concerns about security for congressional members and staff after the incident, The Hill notes.

“We hope leadership and the Sergeant at Arms will take real steps to make Congress a safe, civil place for all Members and staff—especially as many offices are discussing reopening. One Member has already been forced to relocate her office due to Congresswoman Greene’s attacks,” a spokesperson for her office, Lauren Hitt, told the Post.

Earlier this year, Representative Cori Bush (D-Missourialso announced that she would be moving her office away from Greene’s after she said the Georgia lawmaker berated her.

“I’m moving my office away from hers for my team’s safety,” Bush tweeted at the time about the move.

Greene countered that Bush instigated the exchange by yelling at her to put on a mask in a House hallway and posted a video of the exchange.

“She is lying to you. She berated me. Maybe Representative Bush didn’t realize I was live on video, but I have the receipts,” Greene said at the time.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) on Thursday described Greene’s confrontation with Ocasio-Cortez as a “verbal assault,” and warned the situation could be a matter for the House Ethics Committee.

Pelosi called Greene’s behavior “so beyond the pale of anything that is in keeping with bringing honor to the House.”

Research contact: @thehill

Cheney does ‘not go quietly,’ warning that GOP ‘is abandoning rule of law and undermining democracy’

May 13, 2021

House Republicans ousted Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming from their leadership ranks in a voice vote during a closed-door meeting on Wednesday morning, May 12.

Cheney had rankled House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) and other senior Republicans by pushing back on Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 election had been stolen from him.

However, the outgoing GOP Caucus Chair said she would “not go quietly”—and she didn’t: According to a report by The New York Times, in the hours before the vote, Cheney “remained unrepentant”—framing her expulsion as a turning point for her party and declaring in an extraordinary speech that she “would not sit back and watch” as her party abandoned the rule of law.

Delivering the broadside from the House floor on Tuesday night, Cheney took a fiery last stand, warning that former President Donald J. Trump had created a threat that the nation had never seen before: a president who had “provoked a violent attack” on his own Capitol “in an effort to steal the election,” and then continued to spread his election lies.

“Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar,” Cheney said. “I will not participate in that. I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president’s crusade to undermine our democracy.”

According to the Times, her defiant exit—and unmistakable jab at the House Republican leaders working to oust her—illustrates Cheney’s determination to continue her blunt condemnation of Trump and her party’s role in spreading the false election claims that inspired the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

“On the precipice of the vote to remove her on Wednesday,” the Times noted, “she has embraced her downfall rather than fight it, offering herself as a cautionary tale in what she is portraying as a battle for the soul of the Republican Party.”

Emphasizing that framing, Ms. Cheney wore a replica pin of George Washington’s battle flag on Tuesday night as she spoke on the House floor.

“I think Liz understands it’s not worth selling your soul for No. 3 in the minority,” said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman from Virginia and a friend of Cheney’s. “She’s just not going to do that.”

Indeed, Cheney’s allies say, she views the ouster as part of an existential battle and intends to keep up her criticism even from exile in the rank and file. The short-term political consequences will almost surely work against her, both in Washington and at home.

“History is watching. Our children are watching,” Ms. Cheney wrote in a scathing Washington Post op-ed article last week. “We must be brave enough to defend the basic principles that underpin and protect our freedom and our democratic process. I am committed to doing that, no matter what the short-term political consequences might be.”

Research contact: @nytimes