Prosecutors Will Seek the Death Penalty for Dylann Roof for Charleston Black Church Massacre
Federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty for white supremacist Dylann Roof when he goes to trial for the racially-motivated shooting of nine back members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina last summer. “Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement Tuesday. “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”
The 22-year-old Roof faces 33 federal charges for opening fire on a Bible study gathering at the church June 17, 2015. Roof reportedly sat in on the class for almost an hour before he began shooting. The nine victims ranged in age from 26 to 87 years old. Roof was charged 10 months ago, but his federal trial date has yet to be set. Roof also faces the death penalty in state court, which is scheduled to go to trial in January.
Here’s more from the Post and Courier:
The move is a relatively rare one for the federal government since it reinstated capital punishment nearly three decades ago. Of thousands of eligible cases since then, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has authorized prosecutors to seek execution in about 500. It’s especially unusual, experts said, because state prosecutors had already announced plans to seek Roof’s execution in their separate case against him… The development eliminates the possibility of a plea deal in either case, unless prosecutors later retract their intentions. If execution had not been sought, Roof would have pleaded guilty in exchange for a lifetime prison term, his attorneys in state and federal court have said.
Roof and his attorneys had previously indicated Roof wanted to plead guilty to the charges in return for life in prison.
A Lot of Voters Think Hillary Has an “Advantage” Because She’s a Woman. This Election Is Nuts.
Last month, Donald Trump stood on stage during one of his primary night victory press conferences and declared that the only thing Hillary Clinton had going for her is “the women’s card.” The now-presumptive GOP nominee continued: “If Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.” It was a remarkable statement even in the moment—one that would have been all the more gobsmacking if Trump hadn’t already dulled everyone’s senses with a year’s worth of bluster. It’s a comment worth revisiting in the wake of new polling that suggest a large swath of voters are buying what Trump is selling.
According to the latest Washington Post/ABC News survey, 32 percent of registered voters said that Clinton is getting “more of an advantage in this election” because of her gender than Trump is because of his. (Another 33 percent saw no net-advantage for either candidate). Put another way, roughly 1 in 3 voters in a nation that has never elected a woman to its highest office in its 240-year history—and which was still denying the vote to women as recently as this past century—believes that Hillary has it easier because she's a woman than Trump does because he’s a man. Um, really?!
This specific survey asked about Trump and Clinton, not generic male and female candidates. So it’s possible some Americans are simply assuming Trump’s unapologetic misogyny will come back to bite him down the road and hand the election to Clinton in the process. But the fact that nearly two-thirds of those who saw her with an advantage because of gender told pollsters it was “unjustified” suggests something else is at play here. More importantly, the perception that voters’ views on female candidates isn’t something that Clinton has needed, and will continue to need to overcome doesn’t square with reality.
For the better part of a century, Gallup has been trying to gauge Americans’ willingness to vote for a female candidate for president. When pollsters started asking the question back in the 1930s, only a third of respondents said they would be willing even “if she were qualified in every other respect.” Last year, that number was 92 percent. Progress? Sure. But the inverse of that number means that there are still 8 percent of Americans who aren’t only unwilling to vote for a female candidate no matter what, they’re willing to openly acknowledge it. It should not surprise you that Gallup doesn’t feel the need to bother itself with asking the same question about a hypothetical male candidate.
Other historical data tells a similar story. The General Social Survey has been asking Americans for the past four decades whether they agree with the claim that “most men are better suited emotionally for politics than most women.” In 1974, 44 percent of respondents agreed. In 2014, 17 percent still did.
It’s no secret that Clinton’s team has struggled with the historic nature of her campaign. She spent much of the last year talking up the fact that she’d be the first female president, but has made such pitches less explicit of late—particularly after a few of her surrogates sparked some noticeable backlash among liberal women earlier this year. And as the Associated Press reported earlier this week, EMILY's List, the pro-choice group devoted to putting more women in office, recently advised Clinton to tone things down. “They already know she’d be the first woman president, but we don’t get anything by reminding them,” the report said of highlighting gender to potential liberal donors.
The question of gender and politics in the 2016 race has a chicken-and-egg component. As the Post’s Janell Ross points out, the respondents in her paper’s survey broke down among some rather predictable lines: 46 percent of conservatives said Clinton was benefiting from a gender advantage, 41 percent of self-identified Republicans said the same, as did 38 percent of men and 34 percent of whites.* Meanwhile, 35 percent of liberals, 37 percent of self-identified Democrats, 36 percent of women, and 50 percent of blacks said Trump’s gender gave him the bigger edge. So it’s possible that some respondents are just giving their favored candidate the benefit of the doubt. It’s always easier for the competition, after all. But given what we know about gender equality in the real world—and what we’ve seen in this election already—it would be a mistake to dismiss this entirely as more partisan polarization. At the very least, it suggests Trump has found more fertile ground in his bid to rally skeptical supporters to his side in a contest against Hillary. Ultimately, it’s he who might be able to “play the gender card” to his advantage.
*Correction, May 25, 2016: This post originally misspelled Janell Ross’ first name.
Bernie Sanders Requests a Recanvass in Kentucky
Bernie Sanders will not go quietly:
According to the current state count, Hillary Clinton leads Sanders by about one-half of one percent of the total vote, or just shy of 2,000 votes out of the roughly 455,000 that were cast in the primary earlier this month. Given how tight the contest was, the Associated Press has not yet called an official winner. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes—a Clinton supporter—though, declared Hillary the “unofficial” victor on primary night, which gave the Democratic front-runner a helpful narrative counterweight to Sanders’ double-digit win in Oregon that same night.
In a specific delegate sense, the request for a recanvass—which is a step short of a full recount—doesn’t really matter, since Democrats divvy their delegates up proportionally. Based on the existing vote totals, the AP projects Kentucky will split its 55 pledged delegates nearly down the middle. (The current estimate has each candidate winning 27, with one yet to be assigned.) Even if state officials find enough votes to give Bernie the statewide win, it could net him another delegate or two, but it won’t change the fact that the nomination is out of reach and has been for some time.
Still, in a larger since it does matter. It’s a not-so-subtle rebuke of the state Democratic establishment (and a Clinton ally), and yet another unmistakable sign that Sanders is serious about staying in this race to the very end of the primary season, and possibly beyond. This man will not go quietly.
Judge Orders Bill Cosby to Face Trial; New Details of Alleged Assaults Revealed
The first pretrial hearing for Bill Cosby’s aggravated indecent assault case in Pennsylvania included a flurry of new revelations about the incident, including an account from Cosby and one from his accuser Andrea Constand that were made public for the first time on Tuesday. At the conclusion of the hearing Judge Elizabeth McHugh decided that there was enough evidence for the trial to go ahead.
The details as described by both parties in interviews with detectives more than a decade ago show that Constand visited Cosby’s home in 2004, he offered her pills and wine which she took, he fondled her, and offered her a muffin in the morning as she left. Where the two parties differ is that Cosby claims the encounter was consensual and Constand said she was unable to consent because she was drugged.
"I had no strength in my legs. They felt rubbery and like jelly," Constand told detectives in 2005 about her response to taking pills that Cosby has described as Benadryl. "I felt spacey. Everything was blurry or dizzy. I had no thought to call 911."
"I told him, 'I can't even talk, Mr. Cosby.' I started to panic," she said at the time.
Cosby’s version of events were that it was a mutual romantic encounter.
"We began to pet—touching, kissing with clothes on," he said in his own statement to investigators at the time. "I never intended to have sexual intercourse like naked bodies with Andrea. We were petting and I enjoyed it."
When he was asked whether he had ever had intercourse with Constand, Cosby told detectives: "Never asleep or awake." He also said that in a subsequent phone call with Constand's mother, he offered to pay for her grad school if she maintained a 3.0 grade point average.
The case is going forward more than a decade after the incident because the original prosecutors had decided not to try it saying they didn’t think they could prove the charges at trial, but new prosecutors have decided that additional information that has come to light in the years since made the case prosecutable.
Nearly 60 women have come forward with allegations of sexual abuse by Cosby, many of them telling similar stories of assault after druggings. Last year, the Associated Press revealed details of depositions from Constand’s civil trial against Cosby, which was ultimately settled. Many of those details coincide with what was revealed in court on Tuesday.
On Sunday, the AP published some additional details from those depositions and republished others. As previously revealed, Cosby said in his deposition that he told Constand’s mother that “digital penetration” occurred during the incident in question.
As also previously reported, Cosby admitted to using the sedative drug Quaaludes "for young women" he "wanted to have sex with." He also admitted in that deposition that he gave Constand three pills, which he again characterized as Benadryl.
Here’s more from Cosby’s deposition about the incident, which he described as occurring in “the area that is somewhere between permission and rejection”:
Q: So, you're not telling us that you verbally asked her for permission?
A: I didn't say it verbally, I said. The action is my hand on her midriff, which is skin. I'm not lifting any clothing up. This is, I don't remember fully what it is, but it's there and I can feel. I got her skin and it's just above the hand and it's just above where you can go under the pants.
The AP also revealed that he had given Quaaludes to 19-year-old Therese (Picking) Serignese in the 1970s before having sex with her and wasn’t sure whether the encounter was consensual or not:
Q: Did you give her quaaludes?
Q: What effect did the quaaludes have on her?
A: She became in those days what was called high.
Q: She said that she believes she was not in the position to consent to intercourse after you gave her the drug. Do you believe that is correct?
A: I don't know. ... How many years ago are we talking about? 197(6)? ... I meet Ms. Picking in Las Vegas. She meets me backstage. I give her quaaludes. We then have sex.
Constand's is the only accusation against Cosby that has actually resulted in criminal charges, with many of the accusations falling outside of statutes of limitations. The charges against Cosby carry the potential for five to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine if he’s convicted. He is currently out on $1 million bail.
Clinton Backs Out of Agreement to Hold One More Democratic Debate
While Hillary Clinton has effectively wrapped up the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders is still conducting a somewhat contentious campaign against her. He's asked her to participate in a final primary-season debate in California ahead of that state's June 7 election; Fox News wants to host it, and it seems that Clinton's camp agreed to a May debate a few months ago. Here's a statement attributed to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a February Politico piece:
The candidates have also agreed to participate in three newly scheduled DNC sanctioned debates to be held in addition to the February 11th PBS News Hour, and March 9th Univision debates already planned. The first of these new debates is confirmed to take place in Flint, Michigan on March 6th, with the remaining two taking place in April and May with times and locations to be determined.
There was a debate in Brooklyn in April, which according to Schultz's statement means that one more remains to be held. Clinton, however, now says she will not participate. Said a campaign spokeswoman:
We believe that Hillary Clinton's time is best spent campaigning and meeting directly with voters across California and preparing for a general election campaign that will ensure the White House remains in Democratic hands.
So, there you go: Clinton is reneging on the agreement to hold the fourth debate because ... because she wants to do other things instead. Solid reasoning, I guess! She leads Sanders by 10 points in Real Clear Politics' California polling average.
TSA Fires Its Security Chief Because Somehow He Still Had His Job (And Got Bonuses!)
Things were looking bleaker than usual for travelers stuck waiting in the ever-lengthening security lines at America’s airports. With the summer travel season fast approaching, TSA appeared outmanned and overmatched by the onslaught that is your carryon luggage. When 450 travelers got stuck overnight in Chicago’s O’Hare airport because the security lines were so maddeningly slow that the passengers missed their flights, it appeared we had, at last, reached a breaking point. Something had to be done. On Monday, something was. The head of security operations at TSA was removed from his post.
I know what you’re thinking: Great, but how about some extra bag screening machines? I wish I could say that kind of progress was possible. Perhaps someday. Until then you’re going to have to find some solace in TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger announcing Kelly Hoggan, the head of security operations at TSA, will no longer be wreaking havoc on your travel plans. But long lines weren’t the only thing plaguing Hoggan; he faced a grilling from the House Oversight Committee earlier this month for receiving dodgy bonuses over a two-year period despite TSA generally failing both from a service perspective and, even more crucially, from a security perspective.
From NBC News:
Lawmakers accused the TSA of disguising the payment to Kelly Hoggan by doling it out in nine chunks of $10,000 instead of one lump sum — a strategy known as "smurfing." He received this bonus even as the screeners he supervised failed a test to detect mock explosives and banned weapons… TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said Hoggan was awarded the bonus under his predecessor and that he's put in checks to make sure this doesn't happen again… Homeland Security Inspector John Roth, who appeared with Neffenger before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the payments to Hoggan were "clearly an attempt" to get around the $10,000 bonus limit. They were made over a 13-month period ending in November 2014.
Hoggan will be replaced by his deputy on an interim basis, but it’s hard to believe it will mean any relief for travelers in the short-term. The TSA is sorely understaffed and Congress doesn’t like spending money on the agency. Alas, TSA isn’t the glamour allocation it once was.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's Campaign Fundraising Reportedly Under FBI Investigation
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is under investigation by the FBI and Justice Department to determine whether his 2013 gubernatorial campaign broke any fundraising laws, CNN reported Monday. The main drift of the probe appears to revolve around McAuliffe’s time as a board member of the Clinton Global Initiative and the overlap of donors to the Clinton Foundation and his campaign for governor. More than 100 donors contributed to the foundation, as well as to McAuliffe’s campaign, NBC News reports.
Simple overlap would not necessarily indicate any wrongdoing on McAuliffe’s behalf; the Clinton friend and ally has been a long-time Democratic fundraiser as head of the Democratic National Committee from 2000 to 2005 and later for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. Officials tell CNN there are no allegations against the Clinton Foundation, but that there are questions about some foreign donors, particularly Chinese businessman Wang Wenliang.
Here’s more from CNN:
Among the McAuliffe donations that drew the interest of the investigators was $120,000 from a Chinese businessman, Wang Wenliang, through his U.S. businesses. Wang was previously delegate to China's National People's Congress, the country's ceremonial legislature. Wang also has been a donor to the Clinton foundation, pledging $2 million. He also has been a prolific donor to other causes, including to New York University, Harvard and environmental issues in Florida. U.S. election law prohibits foreign nationals from donating to federal, state or local elections. Penalties for violations include fines and/or imprisonment. But Wang holds U.S. permanent resident status, according to a spokeswoman, which would make him a U.S. person under election law and eligible to donate to McAuliffe's campaign.
The federal investigation dates back to last year, but was not disclosed to McAuliffe. "The Governor will certainly cooperate with the government if he is contacted about it," an attorney for the McAuliffe campaign told CNN in a statement.
The Monday Slatest Newsletter
Today's biggest stories:
- It was a bad day for racists at the Supreme Court.
- A far-right candidate just barely missed out on winning the Austrian presidency.
- President Obama says the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour has been confirmed.
- Obama is currently in Vietnam. Here's what that country is like now.
- One of the officers charged in Freddie Gray's death was acquitted on all counts.
- It appears that Lindsey Graham is full of it.
- And Mark Ruffalo is helping a phony scientist use Flint to promote his sponge business.
Have a good night out there.
Today's Trump Apocalypse Watch: Mo' Polls Mo' Problems
The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.
It feels like the election is still about 900 years away, which means I have approximately one million more of these entries to write, so I'm not going to belabor the point today since the recent status quo is still pertaining: More polls are showing Trump and Clinton in a statistical dead heat, more Republicans who said Trump was basically Reincarnated Hitler are now supporting him, and it's still pretty implausible that Trump will win in the fall given demographic trends.
But it's all still frightening. And it's still disappointing watching Republicans who'd previously seemed like they might have a conscience roll over for this dingbat. I will continue to maintain a 2.5-horseman danger level (at minimum) as long as the polls are close.
Mark Ruffalo Is Helping a Fake Scientist Use Flint to Promote His Sponge Business
Actor Mark Ruffalo's environmental activism nonprofit is backing the scientifically specious claims of a recently-bankrupt entrepreneur who says that only his sponge product can detect ongoing contamination in Flint, Michigan's water, the Huffington Post and other experts say.
Ruffalo's charity, Water Defense, identifies a man named Scott Smith as its "chief scientist" and "chief technology officer & investigator." Smith has said in a press release and YouTube videos that the tap water in Flint is still dangerous and unsafe for bathing because other testers are only looking for lead rather than contaminants known as "trihalomethanes." (It's generally believed that Flint's water has gotten much safer since high lead levels were discovered last year, though water filters and bottled water are still being made available to residents.) He says that a sponge product called the "WaterBug" does more accurate testing than other groups' methods and that a product called "Aquaflex" can turn the water potable. His claims have been covered by outlets including CNN (on which Ruffalo appeared earlier this month) and the Detroit News.
There are a lot of problems with these claims:
- Scott Smith is not a scientist in any traditionally recognized sense. The education section on his own website claims only a business degree and a bachelor's in economics.
- Smith also says on his site that he has "overseen the testing and clean up process" in a number of water-contamination cases, including Flint. This is a comically dishonest claim; by his own account, he doesn't seem to have ever been to Flint before January 2016, well after the city's water crisis had been deeply investigated by various groups and covered widely in the press.
- Smith founded both the company that makes the "WaterBug" and the company that makes "Aquaflex." According to the Huffington Post, he filed for personal bankruptcy in 2012 and no longer owns the company that makes the WaterBug—but a spokesman for that company, Opflex, told HuffPo that Smith would receive royalty payments for the sale of WaterBugs. (In 2015, a judge issued an eviction order against Opflex in New York after its landlord said it had failed to pay rent for three years.)
- Experts and authorities in Flint have been testing and tracking trihalomethanes because of their potentially adverse health effects, something I wrote about in February. Says Smith in a February 2016 video: "After reviewing testing results from private residences in Flint, Michigan today, we have learned that they're only testing for one or two chemicals—lead and maybe copper." Nope.
- More than one actual scientist—including Marc Edwards, the Virginia Tech researcher who is in part responsible for exposing the Flint crisis in the first place, and a UMass expert that HuffPo spoke to—say the levels of "contaminants" that Water Defense claims to have found in Flint are not, at the moment, actually unusually high. (Edwards and others involved in the Flint Water Study activism group have written extensively about the questionable claims made by Smith and Ruffalo's group. They believe that Water Defense may itself have helped cause a spike in gastrointestinal problems by convincing residents not to use tap water to shower or wash their hands, basic acts of hygiene that help prevent the spread of disease.)
Ruffalo's publicist told the Huffington Post that Smith does not have a financial interest in WaterBugs and has never said that contamination levels in Flint are higher than in other cities. The first statement is contradicted by Opflex's spokesman and the second statement is contradicted by ... well, by Smith's actual words. ("I have been to 62 contamination disasters ... I have never seen the levels of contamination or chloroform in water like it is here," Smith said at one point.) Ruffalo doesn't seem to have commented directly on the controversy outside of his CNN appearance; for what it's worth, he's been criticized in the past for making dubious and conspiratorial claims about the Zika virus and 9/11.
The whole thing is probably best summed up by a scene in one of Smith and Water Defense's YouTube videos, posted in February 2016, which involves Smith dramatically throwing WaterBugs into the Flint River as part of what he calls "baseline" testing. (Presumably it's a "baseline" to see what portion of the alleged contamination is because of Flint River water itself and what portion is because of damaged/old plumbing.)
Here's the problem: Since everyone has known for quite a while that the Flint River was the root cause of the city's drinking water problems, it switched back to using water from Lake Huron last October. The river that Scott Smith threw his WaterBugs into is not connected to Flint's water system, and hasn't been for months.
One tragic element of Ruffalo, Smith, and Water Defense's case for the WaterBug, as Edwards writes, is that Flint residents do have reason to be skeptical of authorities and experts; authorities and experts are responsible for having created the city's crisis in the first place. But the solution to a problem of dishonesty and neglect is honesty and transparency, not the hyperbolic and baseless conspiracy-mongering that Ruffalo and Smith's group is engaged in.