US Capitol Riot Panel Hints at Criminal Referrals for Witness Tampering 

Lawmakers investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol last year are signaling they could send referrals to the Justice Department for prosecution of illegal tampering with witnesses who have testified to the panel.

Representative Liz Cheney, vice chairperson of the House of Representatives investigative panel, displayed Tuesday two messages from notes sent to hearing witnesses saying that former President Donald Trump was keeping a close eye on the hearings and was counting on continued loyalty. The senders of the notes weren’t identified.

The panel is probing how the insurrection unfolded and Trump’s role in trying to upend his 2020 reelection defeat.

Cheney’s disclosure of the notes came after two hours of explosive testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, the former top assistant to Mark Meadows, who was Trump’s last White House chief of staff.

Hutchinson described in detail how Trump became angry and volatile in the last weeks of his presidency as the reality of his loss to Democrat Joe Biden sank in and his own associates dismissed his repeated claims that he had been cheated out of reelection.

CNN quoted unidentified sources Thursday saying Hutchinson was one of the witnesses who had been contacted by someone attempting to influence her testimony.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America” show Thursday, Cheney said the attempted influencing of witnesses is “very serious. It really goes to the heart of our legal system. And it’s something the committee will certainly be reviewing.”

She added, “It gives us a real insight into how people around the former president are operating, into the extent to which they believe that they can affect the testimony of witnesses before the committee. And it’s something we take very seriously, and it’s something that people should be aware of. It’s a very serious issue, and I would imagine the Department of Justice would be very interested in, and would take that very seriously, as well.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Cheney did not say which of the committee’s witnesses had been contacted but displayed two text messages on a large television screen.

One said, “What they said to me is as long as I continue to be a team player, they know I’m on the team, I’m doing the right thing, I’m protecting who I need to protect, you know, I’ll continue to stay in good graces in Trump World.”

“And they have reminded me a couple of times that Trump does read transcripts and just to keep that in mind as I proceed through my depositions and interviews with the committee,” that witness continued.

In another example, a second witness said, “[A person] let me know you have your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, another member of the investigative panel, told CNN, “It’s a concern, and anyone who is trying to dissuade or tamper with witnesses should be on notice that that’s a crime, and we are perfectly prepared to provide any evidence we have to the proper authorities.”

A third committee member, Representative Jamie Raskin, said after the hearing, “It’s a crime to tamper with witnesses. It’s a form of obstructing justice. The committee won’t tolerate it. And we haven’t had a chance to fully investigate or fully discuss it, but it’s something we want to look into.”

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WHO: COVID-19 Cases Rising Nearly Everywhere Around World

The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47%, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32% in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14% in the Americas, WHO said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing. He said the ability to track COVID-19’s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.

He called for countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, including health workers and people older than 60, saying that hundreds of millions remain unvaccinated and at risk of severe disease and death.

Tedros said that while more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, the average immunization rate in poor countries is about 13%.

“If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as 6 months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at-risk [people],” he said.

According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, fewer than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poorer countries by the Group of Seven large economies have been delivered.

Earlier this month, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants and preschoolers, rolling out a national immunization plan targeting 18 million of the youngest children.

American regulators also recommended that some adults get updated boosters in the fall that match the latest coronavirus variants.

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US Supreme Court Limits EPA in Curbing Power Plant Emissions

In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.

The justices heard arguments in the case on the same day that a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely making the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the coming years.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.

But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.

New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.

Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.

Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also backed the administration.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.

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Native Americans Bristle at Suggestions They Offer Abortions on Tribal Land

Shortly after the leak of a draft Supreme Court opinion to end women’s constitutional right to abortion, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt appeared on Fox News suggesting Native American tribes in his state, looking to get around Oklahoma’s tough new abortion ban, might “set up abortion on demand” on any of the 39 Indian reservations in that state.

“You know, the tribes in Oklahoma are super liberal,” Stitt said, “They go to Washington, D.C. They talk to President (Joe) Biden at the White House. They kind of adopt those strategies.”

The U.S. government recognizes tribes as sovereign nations, and as such, have the right to pass their own laws regulating abortion on tribal land, subject to certain limitations.

Stitt’s comments set off wide speculation in the press and in social media about whether abortion seekers could turn to Indian tribes for abortion services in states where the procedure is or soon will be banned now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have called on the White House to open up federal land and resources to provide reproductive health services. Neither lawmaker referenced Indian reservations, nor have tribes suggested any interest in opening abortion havens.

“It’s been journalists. It’s been activists looking for some sort of a solution,” said Stacy Leeds, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and a law professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law in Arizona. “And now in the last couple of days, it has started to escalate, with politicians almost warning tribes that they better not do this.”

Tuesday, the White House ruled out the possibility of using federal lands for abortion services.

But that hasn’t stopped the conversation in social media.

 

 

It is a conversation, however, that most Native Americans find problematic, if not downright offensive.

“Any time there’s a call for tribes to do something that is not originating in their own thought processes, it very much just reeks of further colonization,” said Leeds. “You know, the outsider trying to tell a local tribal government what their law and policy ought to be.”

Native Americans find the conversation particularly upsetting given a well-documented history of sexual violence against Indigenous women that ranged from rape and trafficking to forced sterilizations in the 1970s.

“And you also have this history of the wholesale removal of Native children away from their families and communities to boarding schools or being adopted out to other communities. It’s just traumatic for a lot of people,” Leeds said.

 

In its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court decriminalized abortion, but that didn’t guarantee all women had access. The 1976 Hyde Amendment, which was amended several times in later years, prohibits federal money being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or endangerment to the woman’s life. The Indian Health Service relies on federal funds and is the only health care provider available for many Native communities.

To look to tribes for abortion services is to assume Native Americans are a left-leaning monolith, Leeds said.

“Politically, (Native) people are all over the place. You know, it’s a large leap to just automatically presume that everybody would want this,” she said. “And a lot of tribal spiritual traditions hold life as sacred from beginning to the end.”

In 2010, for example, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled on a case involving the death of an unborn fetus in a highway collision, saying, “We take judicial notice that the child, even the unborn child, occupies a space in Navajo culture that can best be described as holy or sacred, although neither of these words convey the child’s status accurately. The child is awę́ę́ t’áá’íídą́ą́’hiną́, alive at conception, and develops perfectly in the care of the mother.”

Native Americans have been given few opportunities to voice their opinions on abortion. One exception is a 2020 study by the Southwest Women’s Law Center and the nonprofit Forward Together that surveyed Native American women on and off reservations in New Mexico — a state where abortions remain legal and available, even after the recent Supreme Court ruling.

When asked whether they would support or oppose a law that would criminalize doctors performing abortions, 45% of respondents said they would oppose it; 25% said they would support it, and 27% said they did not have a strong opinion one way or the other.

“Most of the Native women who are speaking out nationally are upset about the Supreme Court’s latest decision,” Leeds said. “But I don’t see any of them advocating that their communities then become the saviors of everyone else’s communities.”

 

Tribes are sovereign nations and have the right to pass their own laws regulating abortion on tribal land territories. But criminal jurisdiction in Indian Country is complex; whether tribal governments, state governments or the federal government has jurisdiction depends on the nature of the crime, the identity of the perpetrator and victim, and where the crime takes place.

In theory, tribes could perform abortions, said Leeds, but only in tribally funded facilities on Native patients by Native practitioners. Anyone else could be subject to state or federal law.

“And that’s the galling piece of this whole conversation,” Leeds said. “You want tribes to take this risk for you that might negatively impact their whole world indefinitely? People just don’t understand what they are truly asking.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that Oklahoma will be allowed to prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on reservations when the victim is Native, a decision that cuts back on the court’s 2020 ruling that a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma — about 43% of the state — remains an Indian reservation.

 

Stitt celebrated the decision.

“Today, our efforts proved worthwhile, and the court upheld that Indian country is part of a state, not separate from it,” Stitt said.

Oklahoma in May passed the Nation’s toughest abortion ban. Wednesday’s ruling reduces the likelihood of any tribal abortion haven in that state.

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Jackson to be Sworn in as Breyer Retires From Supreme Court

Nearly three months after she won confirmation to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson is officially becoming a justice.

Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court’s 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.

The judicial pas de deux is set to take place at noon, the moment Breyer said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday that his retirement will take effect after nearly 28 years on the nation’s highest court.

The court is expected to issue its final opinions earlier Thursday in a momentous and rancorous term that included overturning Roe v. Wade’s guarantee of the right to an abortion. The remaining cases are a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate climate-warming emissions from power plants, and Biden’s bid to end the Trump-era “remain in Mexico” asylum program.

In a ceremony the court said it will stream live on its website, Jackson will recite two oaths required of Supreme Court justices, one administered by Breyer and the other by Chief Justice John Roberts.

Jackson, a federal judge since 2013, will be the first Black woman to serve as a justice. She will be joining three women, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Amy Coney Barrett — the first time four women will serve together on the nine-member court.

Biden nominated Jackson in February, a month after Breyer, 83, announced he would retire at the end of the court’s term, assuming his successor had been confirmed. Breyer’s earlier-than-usual announcement and the condition he attached was a recognition of the Democrats’ tenuous hold on the Senate in an era of hyper-partisanship, especially surrounding federal judgeships.

The Senate confirmed Jackson’s nomination in early April, by a 53-47 mostly party-line vote that included support from three Republicans.

She has been in a sort of judicial limbo ever since, remaining a judge on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., but not hearing any cases. Biden elevated her to that court from the district judgeship to which she was appointed by President Barack Obama.

Jackson will be able to begin work immediately, but the court will have just finished the bulk of its work until the fall, apart from emergency appeals that occasionally arise. That will give her time to settle in and familiarize herself with the roughly two dozen cases the court already has agreed to hear starting in October as well as hundreds of appeals that will pile up over the summer.

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Instagram Hides Some Posts That Mention Abortion

Instagram is blocking posts that mention abortion from public view, in some cases requiring its users to confirm their age before letting them view posts that offer up information about the procedure. 

Over the last day, several Instagram accounts run by abortion rights advocacy groups have found their posts or stories hidden with a warning that described the posts as “sensitive content.” Instagram said it was working to fix the problem Tuesday, describing it as a bug. 

In one example, Instagram covered a post on a page with more than 25,000 followers that shared text reading: “Abortion in America How You Can Help.” The post went on to encourage followers to donate money to abortion organizations and to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to strip constitutional protections for abortion. 

The post was covered with a warning from Instagram, reading “This photo may contain graphic or violent content.” 

Instagram’s latest snafu follows an Associated Press report that Facebook and Instagram were deleting posts that offered to mail abortion pills to women living in states that now ban abortion procedures. The tech platforms said they were deleting the posts because they violated policies against selling or gifting certain products, including pharmaceuticals, drugs and firearms. 

Yet, the AP’s review found that similar posts offering to mail a gun or marijuana were not removed by Facebook. The company did not respond to questions about the discrepancy. 

Berlin photographer Zoe Noble runs the Instagram page whose post referencing abortion was blocked for viewing. The page, which celebrates women who decide not to have children, has been live for over a year. Monday was the first time a post mentioning abortion was restricted by Instagram, although Noble has mentioned it many times before. 

“I was really confused because we’ve never had this happen before, and we’ve talked about abortion before,” Noble said. “I was really shocked that the word abortion seemed to be flagged.” 

The platform offers no way for users to dispute the restriction. 

The AP identified nearly a dozen other posts that mentioned the word “abortion” and were subsequently covered up by Instagram. All of the posts were informational in nature, and none of the posts featured photos of abortions. An Instagram post by an AP reporter that asked people if they were experiencing the problem was also covered by the company on Tuesday and required users to enter their age in order to view it. 

The AP inquired about the problem on Tuesday morning. Hours later, Instagram’s communication department acknowledged the problem on Twitter, describing it as a glitch. A spokesman for Instagram-owner Meta Platforms Inc. said in an email that the company does not place age restrictions around its abortion content. 

“We’re hearing that people around the world are seeing our ‘sensitivity screens,’ on many different types of content when they shouldn’t be. We’re looking into this bug and working on a fix now,” the company tweeted. 

Tech companies like Meta can hide details about how posts or keywords have been promoted or hidden from view, said Brooke Erin Duffy, a professor at Cornell University who studies social media. 

“This can all take place behind the scenes, and it can be attributed to a glitch,” Duffy said. “We don’t know what happened. That’s what’s chilling about this.

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