Senator Al Franken under fire for sexual harassment allegations

Photo: Leeann Tweeden

Reporting by Doug McKelway

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Calls are being made for a Senate ethics investigation following the release of a photo snapped on Christmas Eve 2006 on an Air Force C17 returning home from a USO tour in Afghanistan.

The sleeping woman in the photo is former swimsuit model and now KABC radio news anchor, Leeann Tweeden. The alleged groper was then comedian—now senator—Al Franken.

“I’m asleep literally on the plane and there’s a picture of Al Franken sort of doing this, grabbing my boobs over my flak chest and sort of looking at the camera and doing a smile so that I would see when I got home,” Tweeden told reporters.

Adding to the outrage, earlier in the USO tour, Franken wrote a comedy skit for the two, with a scripted kiss. She claims Franken tried relentlessly to rehearse it. She gave in.

“It happened so fast and he just mashed his lips against my face and he stuck his tongue in my mouth so fast and all I can remember is that his lips were really wet and slimy and in my mind I called him fish lips.”

In a written statement today, Franken apologized. “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann. As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Tweeden accepted the apology and doesn’t want Franken to step down.

Numerous members of Congress are joining Franken’s voluntary call for an ethics investigation and more members may be outed as speculation fueled by stories like that of a young female staffer sent to deliver documents to a Congressman’s home circulate.

“It was a man, who then invited her in. At that point he decided to expose himself. She left and then she quit her job. She left, she found another job,” Congresswoman Barbara Comstock (R-VA) told fellow lawmakers.

Some critics maintain the inappropriate behavior will continue as long as alleged perpetrators enjoy anonymity.

 Representative Jackie Speier’s (DC-CA) #MeToo bill would end mediation that requires parties to keep findings confidential. That while Speaker Paul Ryan is also mandating sexual harassment training for all members of Congress.

Franken has been one of Congress’s most vocal critics of sexual assault in the military and just this week he criticized one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees whom he accused of being unfair to a transgendered baseball player.

 

The Democrats look to 2020

Reporting by James Rosen

Less than a week after Dona Brazile’s new book revealed the interim DNC Chair considered replacing Hillary Clinton with Vice President Joe Biden as the 2016 Democratic nominee following Clinton’s dramatic fainting spell that September, Mr. Biden has a new book of his own out, “Promise Me Dad,” about his son Beau’s death from cancer.

One of the takeaways—the former Vice President wants Americans to know that Brazile’s idea never would have worked—telling NBC news, “I was not ready, in terms of my family. So, no. I would never have done it.”

Vice President Biden, who turns 75 next week, says he hasn’t made up his mind about 2020.

“I’m in good shape. Knock on wood, as my mother would say, but I don’t know. That’s the truth.”

Biden also argued Hillary Clinton lost because she could not “get the message out about the middle class.”

If the former VP were to re-enter the fray, he would find his party frayed by Bazile’s allegation that the DNC “rigged” last year’s primary.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a potential 2020 contender herself, agrees the primary was rigged, but told reporters outside a town hall Sunday the party has “come together.”

Yet Senator Sanders, the Independent from Vermont who captured 43% of the Democratic primary votes last year, portrayed the party as doomed if it does not expand to include unaffiliated voters.

“So to say to Independents, say to young people who are overwhelmingly Independent, say to working people, “We don’t want you to come into the Democratic Party,” is totally absurd. And it’s a recipe for failure,” Sanders told CBS.

President Trump in Asia

Reporting by John Roberts

President Trump sitting down with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte was by far the most controversial of the many meetings he has had in Asia over the past 11 days.

President Duterte has presided over an aggressive drug war in the Philippines, marked by thousands of extra-judicial killings, though Duterte denies any involvement. The White House says President Trump “briefly’ brought up human rights during the bilateral meeting, but a spokesman for Duterte immediately contracted that.

“Well, there was no mention of human rights, there was no mention of extralegal killings, there was only a rather lengthy discussion about the Philippines’ war on drugs with President Duterte doing most of the explaining.”

Despite his disagreement over what was discussed, Duterte’s people say the relationship with President Trump is “warm and friendly.”

And at the ASEAN gala dinner Duterte even sang a love song with a famous Filipino pop star, saying he did it on orders from President Trump.

North Korea was high on the agenda as the president met again with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Last week, Abe pledged 100% support to President Trump. In Manila, it was Turnbull’s turn—

“We’ve got the same values and the same focus on ensuring that the North Korean regime comes to its senses and stops its reckless provocation and threats of conflict in our region.”

President Trump pledged a big announcement on North Korea when he returns to the White House on Wednesday along with his trade announcement.

“We’ve made a lot of big progress on trade. We have deficits with almost everybody. Those deficits are going to be cut very quickly and very substantially.”

The only glitch in the trip came after the APEC Summit in Vietnam. President Trump revealed that Russian President Vladimir Putin had again assured him he had nothing to do with meddling in the US election. Asked aboard Air Force One whether he believed Putin, the President said, “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

 

 

Whatever Happened To...MH Flight 370?

Reporting by Doug McKelway

Since it disappeared on March 8, 2014, MH Flight 370 has remained one of the most puzzling aviation accidents in history.

Tantalizing evidence, like the flaperon and other confirmed pieces found on Reunion Island East of Madagascar, have revealed little and only serve to remind of the Indian Ocean’s strong currents and inhospitable vastness.

Searches have cost the governments hundreds of millions of dollars and have proved fruitless.

Debora Hersman, former NTS chair, told FOX News that “going forward the question is going to be who is going to continue to fund this search. Water recoveries can be extremely expensive but I would absolutely say the private sector can bring resources and new techniques and technologies forward and I would encourage that to continue.”

Now, a private company is doing just that. Ocean Infinity, which specializes in state o the art remotely piloted vehicles, is finalizing a contract with the Malaysian government, under which it would be paid only if it finds the wreckage.

Even absent a cause, the disappearance has led to calls for new safety changes—foremost of which is sending real time data from planes in flight.

“Technology can tell us where the nearest Starbucks is. We have got to adapt some of that satellite based technology to aircraft and really advance the ability to track them regardless of where in the world we are,” said Hersman.

The impediments are huge. Flight data recorders, which once complied six data points, now compile hundreds. And while airliners can easily download satellite data for internet and TV, uploading data requires pinpoint accuracy from a fast moving plane. Multiply that across a sky full of planes and it taxes bandwidth and airline budgets.

“I think you start with the premise that you want this technology, if you want it at all, with respect to airplanes that are out of radar contact for long period of time and that’s transoceanic flights,”  said aviation attorney Mark Dombroff.

Speculation about the disappearance is still running rampant. Was it terrorism? A suicidal pilot? Mechanical failure? A fire?  On that last note the FAA is now urging the world’s airlines to ban large laptops from checked luggage because of the potential for lithium battery fires. MH 370 was carrying 487 pounds of lithium-ion batteries in its cargo hold.

Bret interviews actor Josh Brolin about his new movie "Only The Brave'

Through hope, determination, sacrifice and the drive to protect families and communities, the Granite Mountain Hotshots become one of the most elite firefighting teams in the country. While most people run from danger, they run toward it -- watching over lives, homes and everything people hold dear, forging a unique brotherhood that comes into focus with one fateful fire in Yarnell, Ariz.

Secretary Mattis shoots down report Pres Trump wanted to expand US nuclear arsenal and Tillerson called president moron

Chief of Staff Kelly takes the podium

Reporting by John Roberts

John Kelly was the latest subject of palace intrigue stories with some reports suggesting he wasn’t long for the job. Like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did a week ago, Kelly himself came out to say—you got it wrong.

It was a surprise move in the daily briefing—White House Chief of Staff John Kelly meeting the White House press corps on the record for the first time to say reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated.

“I’m not quitting today,” Kelly told the room. “I don’t believe—and I just talked to the president, I don’t think I’m being fired today. And I am not so frustrated in this job that I’m thinking of leaving.”

Kelly, long known in military circles as a no-BS, straight shooter, acknowledged that chief of staff is the hardest job he has ever had, but disputed the notion that certain aspects of the job are getting to him.

“I’m not frustrated. This is really, really hard working running the United States of America. I don’t run it, but I’m working for someone who is dedicated to serving the country in the way he’s talked about for a number of years. There are incredible challenges…I don’t mean any criticism to Mr. Trump’s predecessors, but there was an awful lot of things that were, in my view, kicked down the road that have come home to roost pretty much right now that have to be dealt with.”

Kelly did admit to being frustrated by news reports he said had little or no basis in reality, and had some advice for some members of the media.

The White House went out of its way to indicate Kelly is safe in his job. At an event to officially nominate Kelly’s Deputy Chief of Staff Kirsten Nielsen as the new DHS Secretary President Trump gave Kelly a shout out and singled him out for high praise.

“We are deeply fortunate that he [Kelly]  is now here at the White House as our chief of staff.”

Nielsen, who was also Kelly’s chief of staff at DHS, would become the 6th secretary and also the first former staffer to lead the department.

If confirmed, Nielsen would inherit the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. President Trump drew fire for a tweet about Puerto Rico Thursday when he wrote: “We cannot keep FEMA , the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

Democrats portrayed the tweet as heartless, but the chief of staff was quick to cover, saying “FEMA and the military can’t be there forever. We hope the military soon can withdraw and will show they are in the process of rebuilding.”

President Trump also drew fire Thursday for his plans to expand access to healthcare for small businesses and individuals in an executive order, directing his lieutenants at Treasury, Labor and HHS to allow small employers to band together and buy health insurance across state lines.

The plan would also give more people access to Short Term Limited Insurance (STDLI) and allow employers more flexibility with health reimbursement arrangements to pay for employees medical needs.

Democrats pointed out short term plans are exempt from Obamacare coverage protections. In a statement, Senator Chuck Schumer wrote: “This order couldn’t be further from the ‘great health care’ the president promised. It will send costs soaring for older Americans and those with preexisting conditions, and add further chaos to the markets.”

President Trump fired back at his critics saying it’s the Democrats who broke health care seven years ago and continue to block his efforts to fix it. The president also promised today more executive actions to chip away at Obamacare a piece at a time until he mounts another attempt to repeal it in the new year.

Iran Nuclear Agreement

Reporting by Jennifer Griffin

The Republican Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee says the United States should stay in the Iran Nuclear Agreement.

Chairman Ed Royce and his colleagues may soon play a larger role in this deal. The White House is expected to announce this week it will send the fate of the Iran Nuclear Agreement to Congress.

The administration is considering a plan to decertify and claim Iran is failing to comply with the major components of the nuclear deal. That starts a 60-day period where congress could restore nuclear-related sanctions against Iran.

If it does, the nuclear agreement falls apart.

On Capitol Hill today, former Obama Administration officials warned against that and so did one Democrat, Congressman Eliot Engel,  who two years ago opposed the agreement, saying “if we pullout of the deal I believe we lose whatever leverage we have to drive that agenda.”

The administration’s supporters argue the Iran Nuclear Agreement should also address Iran’s other behavior—ballistic missile development, promoting terrorism and cyber-attacks.

European allies, Russia and China, the other two countries in this agreement, warn against withdrawing from it.

Iran threatens to resume its nuclear program, with Iranian President Rouhani saying “if the US makes a mistake and backs out of the nuclear deal, I announce it openly that it will be a failure just for America, not us. We will not have any trouble and will push ahead on our path.”

Every 90 days the administration must certify whether Iran is complying with the bulk of the agreement—a requirement a Republican Congress created for the previous administration. The Trump Administration has until Sunday to certify—or not.

Las Vegas Investigation Continues

Reporting by Trace Gallagher

Other cities are responding to claims that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock may have considered targeting them as well.

Late today, Chicago police told FOX News that it believes Paddock booked two rooms at a hotel overlooking the Lollapalooza music festival this summer, also saying quote:

“We are aware of the media reports and have been in communication with our federal partners. As you saw earlier this week the city conducts extensive public safety planning and training around major events, in close coordination with our law enforcement partners, to ensure public safety.”

Last night, officials said Paddock may have also had additional Las Vegas targets. He rented a room in September near the Life is Beautiful music festival.

Investigators are acknowledging that they may never fully understand what pushed the man they’re calling “disturbed and dangerous” to carry out the worst domestic attack in U.S. history.

One thing they do believe—Paddock probably didn’t act completely on his own.

The FBI spent hours yesterday questioning Marilou Danley, Paddock’s girlfriend, after her return from the Philippines. Danley is cooperating and said she knew Paddock as a “kind, caring, quiet man.”

As hospitals continue to treat the injured, the death toll has remained at 58. All of the victims have been identified.

With so many questions still remaining, investigators are predicting a long road ahead.

Partisan divide over partisan issue: Supreme Court debates partisan gerrymandering

By Bill Mears

As expected, a familiar partisan divide at the Supreme Court developed Tuesday in a case over partisan gerrymandering-- efforts by political parties to manipulate electoral districts for maximum advantage.

In a lively hour of oral arguments, the justices appeared at odds over whether Wisconsin lawmakers created "extreme" legislative boundaries that benefited Republicans but were dramatically out of balance with the state's political makeup.

"It's okay to stack the decks so that for 10 years or an indefinite period of time one party, even though it gets a minority of votes, can get the majority of seats?" asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor rhetorically.

 "So what's this Court supposed to do, a pinch of this, a pinch of that? Or are we supposed to actually specify" a uniform standard," asked Justice Neil Gorsuch, who questioned whether such a court-mandated formula was possible or desirable.  "That doesn't seem very fair to the states to me, to know what they're supposed to do to avoid the kind of litigation we're talking about."

More importantly, the court is being asked to endorse a workable standard going forward that would apply nationwide. The stakes are huge: the balance of power in state legislatures and Congress could tip in coming years, particularly after the 2020 census, when voting boundaries will be redrawn based on population changes.

After having lost the White House and Congress in 2008, Republicans undertook a complex plan to win control of state legislatures around the country in the 2010 mid-terms, so they could shape congressional districts going forward. They were wildly successful, and Democrats now hope a high court ruling in their favor will help them chip away at GOP gains.

Lower federal courts struck down Wisconsin's 2011 voting boundaries and state officials then asked the high court for a "workable" legal standard to determine when partisan gerrymandering is impermissibly extreme.

In closely divided "purple" Wisconsin, the GOP has a 64-35 advantage in the state Assembly and a 20-13 edge in the state Senate. This despite President Trump winning the 2016 election by a single percentage point in that swing state.

The justices have traditionally been reluctant to wade too deeply into the gerrymandering issue, with several on the bench believing it is a political issue best handled outside the courts.

"The court is ultimately going to decide, number one: is this an issue we as a court can decide and resolve, or is it something best left to the political branches?" said Thomas Dupree, a former top Bush Justice Department official.  "And number two-- if it is something we can decide, what the heck  do we do?"

Justice Anthony Kennedy seems sure to be the decisive vote for any major intervention, with court watchers citing a 2004 concurrence. Kennedy said he "would not foreclose all possibility of judicial relief if some limited and precise rationale were found to correct an established violation of the Constitution in some redistricting cases."

In Tuesday's oral arguments Kennedy appeared open to the idea of this court getting involved. He repeatedly press lawyers representing Wisconsin to answer whether a constitutional violation was at issue, and what remedy was preferred.

Other members of the court were more vocally skeptical of the Wisconsin state plan.

"What's really behind all of this? The precious right to vote, if you can stack a legislature in this way, what incentive is there for a voter to exercise his vote?" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. "Whether it's a Democratic district or a Republican district, the result, using this map, is preordained in most of the districts."

The increasing use of computer technology to create these maps has created competing analytical models that rely on such wonky metrics as "sensitivity testing" and "efficiency gaps." Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Stephen Breyer both jokingly called it "gobbledygook," but the justices are being asked to embrace some kind of social science statistical model going forward.

Supporters of reform included members of both major political parties, including former GOP California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who attended the arguments. He said the current redistricting system unfairly favors incumbents.

"You know there is something wrong with the system, and they will not fix it, the politicians.," he said. "Both parties do the same thing... I say 'hasta la vista' to gerrymandering," quoting his famous movie line.

Misha Tseytlin, the state solicitor general in Wisconsin, called claims of politics gone amok to be "scare tactics not borne out by the data," and said legislators in his state acted within the law.

Justice Samuel Alito called gerrymandering "distasteful," but added, "if we're going to impose a standard on the courts it's going to have to be manageable."

Roberts worried what would happened if the high court gets involved in a every gerrymandering dispute.

"We'll have to decide in every case whether the Democrats win or the Republicans win," said Roberts. "That is going to cause very serious harm to the status and integrity of the decisions of this Court in the eyes of the country."

More than three dozen states rely on the state legislature to redraw boundaries. Other states such as California rely on an independent commission to create what supporters say would be less extreme districts. Two years ago Kennedy was the deciding vote in a ruling allowing Arizona voters to take put the process into such a commission.

Federal courts are deciding whether Maryland's Democrat-crafted maps go too far, and similar lawsuits challenge the GOP-controlled version in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The high court case is Gill v. Whitford (16-1161). A ruling is expected by next summer.

 

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