Lady Gaga wins 3 Grammys, Michelle Obama makes appearance

The Grammy Awards kicked off Sunday with a group of powerful women, including Michelle Obama and Lady Gaga, describing the role of music in their lives — a display that came a year after female voices were somewhat muted at the 2018 ceremony.

“Music has always helped me tell my story,” Obama said at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. “Whether we like country or rap or rock, music helps us share ourselves. It allows us to hear one another.”

Gaga told the crowd: “They said I was weird, that my look, that my choices, that my sound wouldn’t work. But music told me not to listen to them.”

Jada Pinkett Smith and Jennifer Lopez also spoke and stood in solidary with Obama, Gaga and Alicia Keys, who is hosting the show airing on CBS.

“Yes, ladies,” Keys said. “There’s nothing better than this.”

The opening contrasted with last year’s Grammys, where male acts dominated in nominations and the only woman competing for the top award, Lorde, didn’t get a chance to perform onstage.

But this year, Gaga, Brandi Carlile and Kacey Musgraves won multiple Grammys.

Carlile won three honors in the Americana category and will compete for the three biggest awards during the live show: album, song and record of the year.

Gaga also won three, including best pop duo/group performance, a win she shared with Bradley Cooper.

“Thank you so much. I got to thank God, thank you for looking out for me. Thank you for my family,” she said. “I wish Bradley was here with my right now.”

Gaga, now a nine-time Grammy winner, won best pop solo performance for “Joanne,” while hit “Shallow,” from “A Star is Born,” was named best song written for visual media. The song is nominated for an Oscar and also won at the Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Movie Awards and the Satellite Awards.

Women have a strong presence in the top categories. Five of the eight album-of-the-year nominees are women, including Carlile’s “By the Way, I Forgive You,” Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer,” Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy,” Musgraves’ “Golden Hour,” and H.E.R.’s self-titled album are also in contention.

Six of the best-new-artist nominees are women, including H.E.R., Chloe x Halle, Margo Price, Dua Lipa, Bebe Rexha and Jorja Smith.

When asked about the lack of women in the top categories at the 2018 Grammys, Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow said women need to “step up.” He later acknowledged that it was a “poor choice of words,” and his much-criticized remarks forced the academy to launch a new task force focused on inclusion and diversity.

Ariana Grande won her first Grammy in the same week that she publicly blasted Grammys producer Ken Ehrlich and accused him of lying about why she was no longer performing at the show.

“I know i’m not there tonight (trust, i tried and still truly wished it had worked out tbh) and i know i said i try not to put too much weight into these things …. but (expletive) ……. this is wild and beautiful. thank you so much,” she tweeted after learning about her win.

Childish Gambino, Tori Kelly and Lauren Daigle won two awards each. Beyonce, Jay-Z, Ella Mai, H.E.R., Pharrell Williams, Hugh Jackman, Stingy, Shaggy, Dave Chappelle, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the late Chris Cornell, Greta Van Fleet and even former President Jimmy Carter also picked up early awards ahead of the live show.

There was a tie for best rap performance, and Drake was surprisingly not one of the winners. Drake’s “Nice for What” lost to Anderson Paak’s “Bubblin'” and Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Future and James Blake’s “King’s Dead,” from the “Black Panther” soundtrack.

Beck was a double winner during the pre-telecast, taking home best alternative music album and best engineered album (non-classical) for “Colors.” Emily Lazar, one of the engineers who worked on the album and won alongside Beck, said onstage that she was the first female mastering engineer to win in the latter category.

Several big stars are not attending the Grammys, including Grande, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, the top nominee with eight, and Drake, nominated for seven awards.

Drama has surrounded the Grammys around its Motown Records tribute: Some people complained when a promo aired on CBS showing Jennifer Lopez as the act set to honor the legendary record label, which launched the careers of the Jackson 5, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and more.

Some complained that a black artist should be involved in the tribute, while others said stronger vocalists should perform over Lopez. A representative for the Grammys didn’t return an email seeking clarification about the tribute.

Camila Cabello kicked off the show with a performance featuring J Balvin, Ricky Martin and Young Thug.

Others set to perform Sunday included Cardi B, Dolly Parton, Lady Gaga, Travis Scott, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Diana Ross, Dan + Shay, H.E.R., Little Big Town, Post Malone and Chloe x Halle. Yolanda Adams, Fantasia and Andra Day will honor the late Aretha Franklin with a performance.

AP News in Brief at 9:04 p.m. EST

Trump’s Year 3 aims for dramatic sequels to rival originals

WASHINGTON (AP) — As President Donald Trump prepares to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for a second time, he’s out to replicate the suspenseful buildup, make-or-break stakes and far-flung rendezvous of their first encounter. The reality star American president will soon learn if the sequel, on this matter and many others, can compete with the original.

In his third year in office, Trump is starting to air some reruns.

Trump is headed into fresh negotiations with North Korea, is still pushing for his long-promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and is considering a new round of tax cuts. The focus on his greatest hits in part reflects Trump’s desire to fulfill campaign promises and energize voters for his 2020 re-election campaign. But it’s not without risks.

“The danger is the public starts recognizing this is Groundhog Day,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “You keep thinking there is a win and there is no win. It’s not clear Trump is scoring durable history points.”

With his reality TV background and instinctive sense of how to control a news cycle, Trump has long micromanaged the staging of his image, eager to project power and drama.


Pelosi shows pragmatic streak in pursuit of border deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have vilified Nancy Pelosi for years as a San Francisco liberal and now they’re trying to portray her as a captive of resurgent left-wingers in her Democratic Party.

But in her early moves so far as House speaker, Pelosi is displaying her pragmatic streak. She’s set to endorse a split-the-differences deal on government funding that appears on track to give President Donald Trump at least some barriers on the border, after she had said Trump’s border wall idea was “immoral” and promised he wouldn’t get a penny for it.

And as the Democratic Party’s progressive wing pursues dreams such as “Medicare for all” and a “Green New Deal,” Pelosi is keeping her distance.

“We are results-oriented, values-based, and for the boldest common denominator,” Pelosi said in a brief interview on Friday. “Everybody has a path to make their case, to see what the options are. I’m wedded to the Affordable Care Act because I think it’s a path to health care for all Americans.”

Pelosi presides over a 235-member Democratic caucus that surged into power in last November’s midterm election, fueled by voters’ anger against Trump. The new majority includes young, high-profile and defiantly liberal lawmakers such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who’s a darling among Democratic activists and a social media phenomenon.


Virginia lieutenant governor wants accusations investigated

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia’s embattled lieutenant governor on Saturday called for authorities, including the FBI, to investigate sexual assault allegations made against him while defying widespread calls for his resignation with a plea for “space in this moment for due process.”

Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax issued a statement repeating his strong denials that he had ever sexually assaulted anyone and made clear he does not intend to immediately resign, despite having lost almost his entire base of support.

Meanwhile, Gov. Ralph Northam pledged to work at healing the state’s racial divide and made his first official appearance a week after a racist photo on his 1984 medical school yearbook page surfaced and he acknowledged wearing blackface in the 1980s. Northam has also defied calls from practically his entire party to step down.

Saturday capped an astonishing week in Virginia politics that saw all three of the state’s top elected officials embroiled in potentially career-ending scandals, and the state Democratic Party on the verge of collapse.

Two women have accused Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault. After the second allegation was made Friday, Fairfax — the second African-American to ever win statewide office— was barraged with demands to step down from top Democrats, including a number of presidential hopefuls and most of Virginia’s congressional delegation.


Black Virginia voters feel betrayed, left in no-win scenario

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Eva Siakam’s choice to campaign for Ralph Northam in 2017 was a simple one: He was a Democrat and endorsed by Barack Obama, America’s first black president.

But sitting in a stylist’s chair at Supreme Hair Styling Boutique in Richmond on Friday, she shook her head in disgust when asked about revelations that Northam wore blackface 35 years ago.

“I really believed in him,” said Siakam, a 28-year-old student. “To find out that he dressed up in blackface is disappointing. He’s shown his disdain for black people.”

Black voters who factored prominently in the 2017 election that helped Northam become Virginia governor are feeling betrayed over the scandals that have engulfed the state over the past week, leaving them with a less-than-ideal set of choices at the top of the Democratic Party: a governor and attorney general who wore blackface and a lieutenant governor who stands accused by two women of sexual assault. The next person in line for governor is a conservative Republican.

Many are struggling to come to grips with a list of nagging questions: Do they forgive the Democrats, keep Republicans out of power and demand the governor get serious about racism? Should Northam step down and hand the office to African-American Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who faces sexual assault allegations? Or should all three of them walk away and let principle prevail, even if the other party takes charge?


Warren makes presidential bid official with call for change

LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) — Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren made her bid for the presidency official on Saturday in this working-class city, grounding her 2020 campaign in a populist call to fight economic inequality and build “an America that works for everyone.”

Warren delivered a sharp call for change at her presidential kickoff, decrying a “middle-class squeeze” that has left Americans crunched with “too little accountability for the rich, too little opportunity for everyone else.” She and her backers hope that message can distinguish her in a crowded Democratic field and help her move past the controversy surrounding her past claims to Native American heritage.

Weaving specific policy prescriptions into her remarks, from Medicare for All to the elimination of Washington “lobbying as we know it,” Warren avoided taking direct jabs at President Donald Trump. She aimed for a broader institutional shift instead, urging supporters to choose “a government that makes different choices, choices that reflect our values.”

Trump “is not the cause of what’s broken,” Warren told an elated crowd without using the president’s name. “He’s just the latest – and most extreme – symptom of what’s gone wrong in America.”

In a tweet, Trump referenced the controversy over her Native American identity, once again using the insulting nickname he’s given her.


Snowstorm buries Pacific Northwest, with more on the way

SEATTLE (AP) — Residents of the Pacific Northwest took to neighborhood hills with skis, sleds or even just laundry baskets Saturday to celebrate an unusual dump of snow in a region more accustomed to winter rain.

Some areas received more than a foot of snow, and meteorologists say more is on the way early next week. Hundreds of flights were canceled in Seattle and Portland, and heavy snow drifts closed major highways in eastern Washington. Around 50,000 people lost power.

Residents cleared out grocery store shelves and left work early Friday afternoon as the storm arrived. More than a foot of snow (30.5 cm) was recorded by Saturday morning in some areas, including on the Olympic Peninsula, in the nation’s latest bout of winter weather.

In Tacoma, hundreds of people turned out for a snowball fight in a park after someone who lives nearby suggested it on Facebook. They took cover behind picnic tables and used sleds as shields.

“This is a perfect morning to bundle up and play in the snow, but stay off the roads if possible,” Gov. Jay Inslee wrote on Twitter.


Ted Bundy’s murderous charm still polarizes, 40 years later

CINCINNATI (AP) — She kept her eyes on the dapper, wavy-haired man who smiled, winked and exuded self-confidence as the courtroom proceedings moved along.

“I don’t know what it is he has, but he’s fascinating,” the teenage spectator explained to me at the time. “He’s impressive. He just has a kind of magnetism.”

It was that beguiling magnetism that investigators said helped make the object of her interest — Ted Bundy — one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers, with at least 30 women and girls’ deaths linked to him across multiple states in the late 1970s.

I reported the teenager’s comments for The Associated Press’ coverage of Bundy’s 1979 murder trial in Miami, the first of two murder trials he would have in Florida. She was just one example of a regular courtroom backdrop of spellbound female spectators who were “attractive, young and single,” as I wrote at the time, just like the women Bundy was on trial for bludgeoning and sexually assaulting.

“I haven’t lost any sleep about the verdict,” a relaxed, self-assured Bundy told me in a jail-cell interview a few days after the jury swiftly convicted him of murdering two Florida State University sorority sisters and assaulting three other young women in Tallahassee.


Questions, criticism of Brazil soccer club where 10 killed

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Under mounting criticism Saturday, Brazilian soccer club Flamengo defended its management of the training ground where a fire killed 10 of its academy players — all between 14 and 16 years old — at a dormitory that had been registered with the city as a parking lot.

Rio de Janeiro’s city hall said in a statement that Flamengo was fined 31 times because of infractions at the Ninho do Urubu training ground, which had to be temporarily closed in October 2017. The club did not pay 21 of those fines.

City hall also said the sleeping quarters where Flamengo’s players died was irregularly licensed as a parking lot.

“The lodging area hit by the fire is not included in the last project approved by our licensing,” it said. “There are no registers of new licensing requests for that area as a sleeping quarter.”

Three teenagers injured in the fire were still in the hospital, including one in serious condition.


Gun-seizure laws grow in popularity since Parkland shooting

In the year since the deadly mass shooting at a Florida high school, more and more states have passed laws making it easier to take guns away from people who may be suicidal or bent on violence against others, and courts are issuing an unprecedented number of seizure orders across the country.

Supporters say these “red flag” laws are among the most promising tools to reduce the nearly 40,000 suicides and homicides by firearm each year in the U.S. Gun advocates, though, say such measures undermine their constitutional rights and can result in people being stripped of their weapons on false or vindictive accusations.

Nine states have passed laws over the past year allowing police or household members to seek court orders requiring people deemed threatening to temporarily surrender their guns, bringing the total to 14. Several more are likely to follow in the months ahead.

More than 1,700 orders allowing guns to be seized for weeks, months or up to a year were issued in 2018 by the courts after they determined the individuals were a threat to themselves or others, according to data from several states obtained by The Associated Press. The actual number is probably much higher since the data was incomplete and didn’t include California.

The laws gained momentum after it was learned that the young man accused in the Florida attack, Nikolas Cruz, was widely known to be mentally troubled yet had access to weapons, including the assault-style rifle used to kill 17 students and staff members last Valentine’s Day at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.


Win it for Vivi! Whiskey the whippet revs up for Westminster

NEW YORK (AP) — Sleek and aerodynamic, Whiskey the whippet is dashing through the dog show world.

He’s among the fastest breed of pooches on the planet, and his rise has been rapid: Coming off big wins televised on Thanksgiving Day and New Year’s Day, he’ll now try for dogdom’s Triple Crown starting Monday at the Westminster Kennel Club.

“He does his best at these high-profile rings,” owner-breeder-handler Justin Smithey said. “He knows how to turn it off, lay down and wait till it’s his turn. And then he just goes.”

So let’s make this fawn-and-white whippet the favorite to get picked Tuesday night and succeed Flynn the bichon frise as America’s top dog.

There are more than 2,800 entries, including popular Biggie the pug, a Lhasa apso from Hawaii who surfs with his owner and the nation’s No. 1-ranked qualifier last year, Grant the black cocker spaniel.

Check out the giant rodents overtaking the San Joaquin River Valley

Check out the giant rodents overtaking the San Joaquin River Valley


Nutria, a giant South American rodent, is an invasive species in California’s San Joaquin River Delta. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a plan to exterminate animals, but it will take more money and staff.

Political crisis engulfs Virginia’s top 3 elected officials

The political crisis in Virginia spun out of control Wednesday when the state’s attorney general confessed to putting on blackface in the 1980s and a woman went public with detailed allegations of sexual assault against the lieutenant governor.

With Gov. Ralph Northam’s career already hanging by a thread over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, the day’s developments threatened to take down all three of Virginia’s top elected officials, all of them Democrats.

The twin blows began with Attorney General Mark Herring issuing a statement acknowleding he wore brown makeup and a wig in 1980 to look like a rapper during a party when he was a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia.

Herring — who had previously called on Northam to resign and was planning to run for governor himself in 2021 — apologized for his “callous” behavior and said that the days ahead “will make it clear whether I can or should continue to serve.”

The 57-year-old Herring came clean after rumors about the existence of a blackface photo of him began circulating at the Capitol, though he made no mention of a picture Wednesday.

Then, within hours, Vanessa Tyson, the California woman whose sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax surfaced earlier this week, put out a detailed statement saying Fairfax forced her to perform oral sex on him in a hotel room in 2004 during the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

The Associated Press typically does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted, but Tyson issued the statement in her name.

Tyson, a 42-year-old political scientist who is on a fellowship at Stanford University and specializes in the political discourse of sexual assault, said, “I have no political motive. I am a proud Democrat.”

“Mr. Fairfax has tried to brand me as a liar to a national audience, in service to his political ambitions, and has threatened litigation,” she said. “Given his false assertions, I’m compelled to make clear what happened.”

Fairfax — who is in line to become governor if Northam resigns — has repeatedly denied her allegations, saying that the encounter was consensual and that he is the victim of a strategically timed political smear.

“At no time did she express to me any discomfort or concern about our interactions, neither during that encounter, nor during the months following it, when she stayed in touch with me, nor the past 15 years,” he said in a statement.

Tyson said she suffered “deep humiliation and shame” and stayed quiet about the allegations as she pursued her career, but by late 2017, as the #MeToo movement took shape and after she saw an article about Fairfax’s campaign, she took her story to The Washington Post, which decided months later not to publish a story.

The National Organization for Women immediately called on Fairfax to resign, saying, “Her story is horrifying, compelling and clear as day — and we believe her.”

The string of scandals that began when the yearbook picture came to light last Friday could have a domino effect on Virginia state government: If Northam and Fairfax fall, Herring would be next in line to become governor. After Herring comes House Speaker Kirk Cox, a conservative Republican.

At the Capitol, lawmakers were dumbstruck over the day’s fast-breaking developments, with Democratic Sen. Barbara Favola saying, “I have to take a breath and think about this. This is moving way too quickly.” GOP House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert said it would be “reckless” to comment. “There’s just too much flying around,” he said.

The chairman of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, Del. Lamont Bagby, said, “We’ve got a lot to digest.”

Democrats have expressed fear that the uproar over the governor could jeopardize their chances of taking control of the GOP-dominated Virginia legislature this year. The party made big gains in 2017, in part because of a backlash against President Donald Trump, and has moved to within striking distance of a majority in both houses.

At the same time, the Democrats nationally have taken a hard line against misconduct in their ranks because women and minorities are a vital part of their base and they want to be able to criticize Trump’s behavior without looking hypocritical.

Northam has come under pressure from nearly the entire Democratic establishment to resign after the discovery of a photo on his profile page in the Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook of someone in blackface standing next to a person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

The governor initially admitted he was in the photo without saying which costume he was wearing, then denied it a day later. But he acknowledged he once used shoe polish to blacken his face and look like Michael Jackson at a dance contest in Texas in 1984, when he was in the Army.

Herring came down hard on Northam when the yearbook photo surfaced, condemning it as “indefensible,” and “profoundly offensive.” He said it was no longer possible for Northam to lead the state.

On Wednesday, though, Herring confessed that he and two friends dressed up to look like rappers, admitting: “It sounds ridiculous even now writing it.” He said he was “deeply, deeply sorry.”

“That conduct clearly shows that, as a young man, I had a callous and inexcusable lack of awareness and insensitivity to the pain my behavior could inflict on others,” he said. But he added: “This conduct is in no way reflective of the man I have become in the nearly 40 years since.”

Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas said several people were crying, including men, as Herring met with black lawmakers Wednesday morning. It also looked like Herring cried, she said.

Lucas said the black lawmakers told Herring they needed to discuss their next steps among themselves.

Herring, who was elected to his second four-year term in 2017, made a name for himself nationally by playing a central role in bringing gay marriage to Virginia.

When he first took office, he announced he would no longer defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, saying it was time for Virginia “to be on the right side of history.”

A federal judge overturned the ban, citing Herring’s opposition, and Virginia began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2014, nearly a full year before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

Abrams blasts Trump in Democratic response to State of the Union speech

Former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams chastised President Donald Trump for a 35-day partial government shutdown, calling it a stunt that “defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our lives.”

In remarks prepared for delivery after the president’s State of the Union address, Abrams used the nationally-televised Democratic response to not only criticize Trump and his policies, but to call out Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for his recent verbal assaults on a House Democratic voting rights and election bill that he has labeled a Democratic “power grab.”

“This is the next battle for our democracy, one where all eligible citizens can have their say about the vision we want for our country,” Abrams said. “We must reject the cynicism that says allowing every eligible vote to be cast and counter is a “power grab.”

McConnell, R-Kentucky, has led the charge against the Democratic House bill that seeks to repair the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court fractured in 2013. The bill would also make Election Day a federal holiday, require presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns, and restore voting rights to certain felons who have served their time.

McConnell has lambasted the bill on the Senate floor as a partisan “power grab.”

Abrams, who unsuccessfully sought to become the nation’s first African American female governor, turned most of her attention to Trump. She took him to task for the shutdown, noting that she volunteered to distribute meals to furloughed federal workers while “they waited in line for a box of food and a sliver of hope since they hadn’t received a paycheck in weeks.

“Making their livelihoods a pawn for political games is a disgrace,” Abrams said. “The shutdown was a stunt engineered by the president of the United States, one that defied every tenet of fairness and abandoned not just our people — but our values.”

To Democrats, Abrams represents both a dream deferred and a rising star. To Republicans, she is a vanquished foe whose political moment has passed — even if she refuses to recognize it.

Abrams was aiming to take a step to further stardom Tuesday night in delivering the Democratic response. The Yale-educated lawyer and former Georgia state House Democratic leader was the first African American woman and non-sitting public official to deliver a rebuttal to a presidential address.

In the nearly three months since she lost to Republican Brian Kemp, Abrams has become a very public reminder of the battle over voting rights and voter fraud that surfaced during the bitterly-fought campaign.

Georgia became the epicenter of the skirmish with many Democrats and other Abrams supporters claiming that Kemp stole the election as he purged hundreds of thousands of mostly-minority voters from the rolls while Georgia’s secretary of state. The office oversees elections.

“Everyone knows that the race she ran was exemplary and that but for irregularities…she would be the winner,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Republicans call Democrats’ stolen election claim sour grapes and brand Abrams a sore loser for refusing to recognize Kemp’s win as legitimate.

“Despite a Republican victory last fall, Abrams continues to show up on the big screen,” said Georgia Republican Party Chair John Watson. “Three days before Election Day in November 2018, Stacey Abrams said she believed the election would be fair. Then when she lost the Georgia governor’s race to Brian Kemp she refused to concede because she did not like the outcome.”

Abrams, after a failed attempt to force a runoff against Kemp, acknowledged that he won the election, but she defiantly refused to call the end of her campaign a concession speech.

“Make no mistake, the former secretary of state was deliberate and intentional in his actions,” Abrams told supporters on November 17. “I know that eight years of systemic disenfranchisement, disinvestment and incompetence had its desired affect on the electoral process in Georgia.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee got a head start on Abrams’ speech Tuesday, unveiling a 30-second spot on YouTube and Twitter that uses video clips to jab at her not conceding the election and suggest that she supported undocumented immigrants voting.

“A failed candidate with failed ideas: Stacey Abrams perfectly represents how painfully out-of-touch House Democrats are with everyday Americans in 2019 and why their agenda is too extreme,” Christopher Martin, director of rapid response for the House Republican Conference wrote in an email Tuesday

The Republican rhetorical attacks are perhaps an early salvo in a 2020 Senate race that could pit Abrams against incumbent Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia. Abrams has vowed to run for elective office against but hasn’t said which one.

Several Democrats iniside and outside Georgia are urging Abrams to run for the Senate rahter than wait for 2022 for a rematch against Kemp.

Federal prosecutors subpoena Trump’s inaugural committee

Federal prosecutors in New York have issued a subpoena seeking documents from Donald Trump’s inaugural committee.

A spokeswoman says the committee intends to cooperate with the inquiry. She said the committee received the subpoena late Monday and was reviewing it.

It was not immediately clear which documents have been requested.

The Wall Street Journal reported last year that federal prosecutors are investigating whether inaugural committee donors made contributions in exchange for political favors. The newspaper said the inquiry also was focused on whether the inauguration misspent money it raised to stage inaugural events.

The New York Times reported recently that federal prosecutors are examining whether anyone from Qatar, Saudi Arabia or other Middle Eastern countries made illegal payments to the committee and a pro-Trump super political action committee.

Virginia governor clings to office, ignoring calls to resign

Gov. Ralph Northam clung to office Sunday amid nearly unanimous calls from his own party to resign over a racist photo in his 1984 medical school yearbook, going silent after a bizarre 24 hours in which he first admitted he was in the picture, then denied it.

The Democrat’s stunning about-face — at a weekend news conference where he also acknowledged putting on blackface for a dance contest decades ago and appeared to briefly entertain the notion of doing the Michael Jackson moonwalk for reporters — only seemed to make things worse.

The chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus declared that Northam “still does not understand the seriousness of his actions.” The photo shows someone in blackface and another person in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

“I think he’s been completely dishonest and disingenuous,” Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” ”He knew this picture was there, and he could’ve come clean and talked to African-Americans that he’s close to decades ago.”

Northam worshipped at his home church, the predominantly black First Baptist in Capeville, but otherwise kept out of sight on Sunday as calls intensified for him to step down.

Even if Northam doesn’t resign, the scandal threatens to cripple his ability to govern. He has lost the support of virtually all of the state’s Democratic establishment. Top Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly also urged Northam to step down, as did many declared and potential Democratic presidential candidates.

Virginia governors can be removed for “malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty, or other high crime or misdemeanor” under the state constitution, but top Democrats said they don’t believe it will come to that.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe predicted that Northam — who served as McAuliffe’s lieutenant governor — will eventually leave office.

“Ralph will do the right thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia,” McAuliffe said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Northam apologized on Friday for appearing in the photograph on his yearbook page. He did not say which costume he was wearing, but said he was “deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo.” On Saturday, though, the governor reversed course and said the picture “is definitely not me.”

While talking with reporters, Northam admitted he once used shoe polish to put on blackface as part of a Michael Jackson costume for a 1984 dance contest in Texas, when he was in the Army. Northam said he regrets that he didn’t understand “the harmful legacy of an action like that.”

Asked by a reporter if he could still do Jackson’s famous moonwalk, Northam looked at the floor as if thinking about demonstrating it. His wife put a stop to it, telling him, “Inappropriate circumstances.”

His shifting explanations did little or nothing to sway prominent Democrats who had swiftly disowned him.

Both of Virginia’s U.S. senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, joined the dean of Virginia’s congressional delegation, Rep. Bobby Scott, in saying they no longer believe Northam can serve effectively. James Ryan, president of the University of Virginia, said in a statement that it would be “exceedingly difficult” for Northam to continue serving.

If Northam does resign, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would become the second African-American governor in the state’s history. He stopped short of calling for Northam’s departure but said he “cannot condone actions” from Northam’s past that “suggest a comfort with Virginia’s darker history of white supremacy, racial stereotyping and intimidation.”

McAuliffe faulted Northam’s handling of the furor.

“If it wasn’t him in the photo, he should’ve said that on Friday,” McAuliffe said. “Instinctively, you know if you put black paint on your face. You know if you put a hood on. And so if it isn’t you, you come out immediately and say, ‘This is not me.'”

Ultimately, McAuliffe said, “It doesn’t matter whether he was in the photo or not in the photo at this point. We have to close that chapter. We have to move Virginia forward.”

One of the few voices backing Northam on Sunday was former Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat who served in Congress from 1991 to 2015.

Moran told ABC’s “This Week” that Northam’s record — including his support of Medicaid expansion and of public schools in minority neighborhoods — shows that the embattled governor is a friend of African-Americans and that he should ride out the storm.

“I think it is a rush to judgment before we know all of the facts and before we’ve considered all of the consequences,” said Moran, who is white. “I don’t think these public shamings really get us all that much.”

Northam, a pediatric neurologist who came to politics late in life, spent years courting the black community in the run-up to his 2017 race for governor.

He recently came under fire from Republicans who have accused him of backing infanticide after he said he supported a bill loosening restrictions on late-term abortions.

Late last month, Florida’s secretary of state resigned after photos from a 2005 Halloween party showed him in blackface while dressed as a Hurricane Katrina victim.

Winter storm will continue deluge, making Sierra travel especially difficult

A winter storm that has been moving across California since Friday is showing no signs of slowing down, especially in the mountains, despite Saturday morning’s lull in the capital region, according to the National Weather Service.

More rain and snow is expected later in the day, making driving conditions in the Sierra Nevada hazardous and prompting the National Weather Service to issue flash flood watches in several fire-affected areas.

Just before noon, Caltrans reported that traffic in both directions of Interstate 80 were being held at Nyack heading east and at the Nevada state line going west due to vehicle spinouts and collisions. The transportation agency also reported an overturned vehicle on Highway 50 by Sierra at Tahoe, though it said traffic was moving in both directions.

Heavy snowfall in the mountains will continue through Tuesday, dumping 5 to 10 feet of snow in pass areas along Interstate 80 and Highway 50, said Idamis Del Valle, NWS meteorologist. The highest peaks could hit levels of up to 13 feet.

On Monday, snow levels could drop between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in elevation, the weather service said. For now, snow levels will remain above 3,500 feet through Sunday night, she said.

NWS Reno issued a backcountry avalanche watch in the greater Lake Tahoe area, between Yuba Pass and Ebbetts Pass, through 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The NWS in Sacramento tweeted out Friday that traveling into the Sierra is highly discouraged.

Caltrans also advised against traveling into higher elevations, but said those planning a trip into the mountains should allow for extra travel time and be prepared to get out those chains.

Updated information on chain control areas can be found at

The rain that fell overnight Friday into Saturday dropped .85 inches in Sacramento in the 24 hours ending at 10 a.m., with areas north receiving twice that amount or more in the period – Redding receiving 2.33 inches, Oroville and Marysville seeing 1.18 inches and Konocti on Clear Lake seeing 2.92 inches – the weather service reported.

Showers are expected to continue in the Sacramento Valley through Saturday and has the potential for thunderstorms later in the day, Del Valle said, as another band of widespread precipitation will reach the area after 6 p.m.

“There could be some brief lulls, but overall the pattern will remain pretty active through Monday in the valley, decreasing shower activity on Tuesday,” Del Valle said.

The valley is expected to get 1 to 3 inches of rain through Tuesday, while the foothills are expecting 3 to 7½ inches of rain, Del Valle said.

A flash flood watch has also been issued through Monday for burn scar from multiple fires in Northern California.

Residents in the areas of the Camp, Mendocino Complex, Carr, Hirz and Delta fires burned should be on the look out and prepared to evacuate if necessary, according to a NWS tweet.

Flooding could increase debris flow consisting of rock, mud, vegetation and loose materials, the NWS said.

“Especially if thunderstorms move into the area,” Del Valle said.

Dems are headed to Texas to probe suspected voter suppression

Democrats trying to restore a landmark voting rights law are going on offense in Texas next week — where Republican election officials are engaged in an effort to stamp out what they call a widespread problem of voter fraud.

Ohio Democrat Marcia Fudge, who chairs a Congressional panel on elections, will host representatives from the NAACP and the Texas Civil Rights Project in Brownsville Monday to begin compiling an official record of states’ attempts to suppress voting. Rep. Marc Veasey will attend along with other Texas Democrats.

“In 2019, laws that are intended to purposely discriminate, hinder, and prohibit the right of Americans to vote are more prevalent than ever,” Veasey said. “The purpose of this event is to spark voter engagement, teach our children about our country’s history of voter suppression and about civil rights history in Brownsville that many aren’t aware of. These kinds of events will encourage the next generation to get registered so they can have a voice in the direction of this country.”

Fudge’s committee has hearings planned in North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Ohio and North Dakota aimed at gathering evidence to support repairing and reauthorizing the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court, in a June 2013 decision, struck down a provision of the act that required some or all of 15 states and jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination at the polls to get federal approval, pre-clearance, before changing their rules regarding voting.

Texas, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina and Virginia were subject to the pre-clearance provision as well as local jurisdictions in California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and South Dakota.

Restoring that provision is a top goal of House Democrats’ larger bill that would also restrict the purging of voter roles — as Texas is currently seeking to do. It would also require presidents and vice presidents to release their tax returns, and have independent redistricting commissions draw election district boundaries. It would also make Election Day a federal holiday.

Texas Republicans have made their own voter integrity efforts including high-profile arrests of people suspected of voter fraud — a top priority in recent years.

Last week Texas Secretary of State David Whitley, a Republican, announced that his office had found roughly 95,000 non-citizens who were registered to vote in Texas – sparking outrage from Republicans, including President Donald Trump, who tweeted that Texas’ findings were “just the tip of the iceberg.”

Voting rights advocates say the opposite, that voter fraud is a much smaller problem than Republicans suggest, and high-profile efforts to stop it discourage and frighten legal voters.

In response to a question from a caller on CSPAN this week, Veasey said that allegations of widespread voter fraud in his state are mostly “urban legend and myth.”

“In Tarrant County, where I’m from… the voter registrar there has already said that the names that have been submitted to him [by the secretary of state] are all U.S. citizens,” said Veasey, who cited a Star-Telegram report.

The report said 1,100 of the 5,800 names the secretary of state gave to the Tarrant County elections administrator for review had already proved they were U.S. citizens. Whitley’s office notified local election officials of those discrepancies on Tuesday.

Republicans on Capitol Hill, who control the Senate, are skeptical of House Democrats’ efforts to impose additional rules on states about how to run their elections.

“Literally hundreds of pages are dedicated to telling states how to run their elections, from when and where they must take place to procedures they have to follow, to machines they have to use,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Democrats want to import the inefficiencies.”

Texas Democratic Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson, Sheila Jackson Lee, Henry Cuellar, Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela are expected to attend Monday’s hearing in Brownsville.