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Copenhagen’s Bishop Czesław Kozon, center, leaves from the Sant’Uffizio gate to the Vatican, Thursday, during a four-day sex abuse summit called by Pope Francis. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Trump ally Stone gets gag order after ‘crosshairs’ post
WASHINGTON — A federal judge issued a broad gag order forbidding Roger Stone to discuss his criminal case with anyone and gave him a stinging reprimand Thursday over the longtime Trump confidant’s posting of a photo of the judge with what appeared to be crosshairs of a gun.
She promised to throw him behind bars if he violates the court order in any way.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that it would be “foolhardy” for her not to take any action over the Instagram post and that Stone would “pose a danger” to others in the case if the conditions of his release weren’t modified to include a gag order.
“Roger Stone fully understands the power of words and the power of symbols and there’s nothing ambiguous about crosshairs,” the judge said. “How hard was it to come up with a photo that didn’t have a crosshairs in the corner?” she quipped at one point.
Stone has pleaded not guilty to charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. The charges stem from conversations he had during the campaign about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Claims in El Chapo case highlight perils of ‘Googling juror’
NEW YORK — Claims of jury misconduct in the trial of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman have drawn new attention to the digital-age challenge courts face in preventing jurors from scouring media accounts or conducting their own research before rendering a verdict. It’s a phenomenon that has been called the “Googling juror.”
“Everyone has the world at their fingertips,” said Guzman defense attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. “Twenty years ago, you didn’t have to worry about that.”
Lichtman told The Associated Press on Thursday that there are now serious questions surrounding Guzman’s conviction this month on drug-smuggling and conspiracy charges, and that he plans to ask U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan to bring in all 12 jurors and six alternates to question them about reports several flouted admonitions to avoid media accounts of the case.
Searing testimony heard at Vatican sex abuse summit
VATICAN CITY — The day began with an African woman telling an extraordinary gathering of Catholic leaders that her priestly rapist forced her to have three abortions over a dozen years after he started violating her at age 15. It ended with a Colombian cardinal warning them they could all face prison if they let such crimes go unpunished.
In between, Pope Francis began charting a new course for the Catholic Church to confront clergy sexual abuse and cover-up, a scandal that has consumed his papacy and threatens the credibility of the Catholic hierarchy at large.
Opening a first-ever Vatican summit on preventing abuse, Francis warned 190 bishops and religious superiors on Thursday that their flocks were demanding concrete action, not just words, to punish predator priests and keep children safe. He offered them 21 proposals to consider going forward, some of them obvious and easy to adopt, others requiring new laws.
But his main point in summoning the Catholic hierarchy to the Vatican for a four-day tutorial was to impress upon them that clergy sex abuse is not confined to the United States or Ireland, but is a global scourge that requires a concerted, global response.
“Listen to the cry of the young, who want justice,” Francis told the gathering. “The holy people of God are watching and expect not just simple and obvious condemnations, but efficient and concrete measures to be established.”
From wire sources
Venezuela’s Maduro closes Brazil border to block aid entry
CARACAS, Venezuela — As a showdown looms over humanitarian aid destined for Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro closed off his country’s border with Brazil, vowing on Thursday to block the emergency food and medicine that has rallied his opponents and which he claims is part of a U.S.-led coup plot.
Amid the mounting tensions, opposition leader Juan Guaido set off in a cross-country caravan for the border with Colombia, where much of the U.S.-supplied aid is warehoused and where he has called on thousands of ordinary Venezuelans to assemble Saturday to help bring it across.
A group of lawmakers also headed to the Colombian border were stopped a few hours outside Caracas by national guardsmen in anti-riot gear who positioned a trailer truck in front of a tunnel, blocking the highway westward. A shouting match and scuffle ensued, with the guardsmen firing tear gas before the lawmakers eventually forced their way through and resumed their journey.
Meanwhile, Hugo Chavez’s longtime spy chief became the latest and perhaps most-influential military figure to declare his loyalty to Guaido.
Maduro’s decision to close the vast, jungle border with Brazil came a day after he blocked air and sea travel between Venezuela and the nearby Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, where the first cargo of relief supplies arrived Thursday, sent by the large Venezuelan exile community in Miami.
Case against Jussie Smollett resembles detailed movie script
CHICAGO — As authorities laid out their case against “Empire” actor Jussie Smullett, the narrative that emerged Thursday sounded like that of a filmmaker who wrote, cast, directed and starred in a short movie.
Prosecutors said Smollett gave detailed instructions to the accomplices who helped him stage a racist, anti-gay attack on himself, including telling them specific slurs to yell, urging them to shout “MAGA country” and even pointing out a surveillance camera that he thought would record the beating.
“I believe Mr. Smollett wanted it on camera,” Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters. “But unfortunately that particular camera wasn’t pointed in that direction.”
Police said Smollett planned the hoax because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to promote his career. Before the attack, he also sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot, police said.
Smollett, who is black and gay, turned himself in on charges that he filed a false police report last month when he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two masked men who hurled derogatory remarks and looped a rope around his neck.
New election ordered in disputed North Carolina House race
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina’s elections board Thursday ordered a new election in the nation’s last undecided congressional race after the Republican candidate conceded his lead was tainted by evidence of ballot-tampering by political operatives working for him.
The State Board of Elections voted 5-0 in favor of a do-over in the mostly rural 9th Congressional District but did not immediately set a date.
In moving to order a new election, board chairman Bob Cordle cited “the corruption, the absolute mess with the absentee ballots.”
The board action came after GOP candidate Mark Harris, in a surprising turn, dropped his bid to be declared the winner and instead called for a new election. He reversed course on the fourth day of a board hearing at which investigators and witnesses detailed evidence of ballot fraud by operatives on his payroll.
“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th District seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”
Threat allegations keep Coast Guard officer jailed
GREENBELT, Md. — A Coast Guard officer suspected of drawing up a hit list of top Democrats and network TV journalists spent hours on his work computer researching the words and deeds of infamous bombers and mass shooters while also stockpiling weapons, federal prosecutors said Thursday.
Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, 49, was ordered held without bail on drug and gun charges while prosecutors gather evidence to support more serious charges involving what they portrayed as a domestic terror plot by a man who espoused white-supremacist views.
Hasson, a former Marine who worked at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington on a program to acquire advanced new cutters for the agency, was arrested last week. Investigators gave no immediate details on how or when he came to their attention.
Federal agents found 15 guns, including several rifles, and over 1,000 rounds of ammunition inside his basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland.
In court papers this week, federal prosecutors said he compiled what appeared to be a computer-spreadsheet hit list that included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and presidential hopefuls Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Also mentioned were such figures as MSNBC’s Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough and CNN’s Chris Cuomo and Van Jones.
IRS employee charged in leak of Trump attorney records
SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. prosecutors have charged an IRS employee with leaking banking records of President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen that flagged suspicious activity, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco said Thursday.
John C. Fry, an investigative analyst for the IRS, acknowledged releasing information to attorney Michael Avenatti, according to the affidavit by Linda Cieslak, a special agent with the U.S. Department of Treasury.
Avenatti represents adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump that he denies.
Fry was charged on Feb. 4 with unlawful disclosure of suspicious activity reports. Banks must file such reports when transactions are spotted that raise questions about possible financial misconduct.
One of the reports that Fry downloaded listed numerous suspicious payments to a bank account affiliated with Cohen, including $500,000 from a company connected to a Russian oligarch who donated money to Trump’s inauguration fund, according to the affidavit.
Monkees’ lovable bass-guitar player Peter Tork dead at 77
LOS ANGELES — Peter Tork, a talented singer-songwriter and instrumentalist whose musical skills were often overshadowed by his role as the goofy, lovable bass guitarist in the made-for-television rock band The Monkees, has died at age 77.
Tork’s son Ivan Iannoli told The Associated Press his father died Thursday at the family home in Connecticut of complications from adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands. He had battled the disease since 2009.
“Peter’s energy, intelligence, silliness, and curiosity were traits that for decades brought laughter and enjoyment to millions, including those of us closest to him,” his son said in a statement. “Those traits also equipped him well to take on cancer, a condition he met like everything else in his life, with unwavering humor and courage.”
Tork, who was often hailed as the band’s best musician, had studied music since childhood. He was accomplished on guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, banjo and other instruments, and Michael Nesmith, the Monkees’ lead guitarist, said Tork was actually the better of the two.
He had been playing in small clubs in Los Angeles when a friend and fellow musician, Stephen Stills, told him TV casting directors were looking for “four insane boys” to play members of a struggling rock band.
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