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May 25 2016 8:18 PM

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley Signs 20-Week Abortion Ban Into Law

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley signed into law Wednesday legislation banning almost all abortions after 20 weeks. The measure was passed by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature earlier this month and makes South Carolina the 17th state to pass similar abortion restrictions; 13 of those states have bans already in effect and several others are making their way through the court system.

The 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling granted women nationwide the right to obtain abortions, but allowed for state restrictions after viability, or the point during a pregnancy at which the fetus could conceivably survive outside the uterus. At the time, the court placed viability between about 24 and 28 weeks. Anti-abortion activists often cite the scientifically suspect theory that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks as the rationale for the earlier legal cutoff.

It will become illegal for women in South Carolina to get an abortion after 20 weeks starting on July 1. Doctors performing the procedure later than the new cutoff face fines and up to three years in prison for a violation.

May 25 2016 6:06 PM

The Wednesday Slatest Newsletter

Today's biggest stories:

Have a good night out there.

May 25 2016 5:44 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Why Aren’t We Talking About Trump’s (Alleged) Hairpiece?

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.

I don't understand why Gawker's investigative report about Donald Trump's hair is not the major national news story of the moment. Trump's absurd hair is the synecdoche of his entire being, easily the most memorable thing about him, his avatar; he has claimed ardently for years that it's real and not a wig. He has basically staked his entire reputation on the claim that his hair is real. Press scrutiny of his dishonest claims about other subjects, meanwhile, has been constant for months. And Gawker's Ashley Feinberg has uncovered some pretty god-dang solid evidence that Trump's "hair" consists largely of "microcylinder" extensions:

This solution that Trump, our tipster says, sought for his hair woes is a little-known, patented hair restoration treatment called a “microcylinder intervention.” It’s only performed by one clinic that we know of—Ivari International—where our source once sought treatment, and where he says he learned of Trump’s apparent patronage. What’s more, Ivari’s New York location was inside Trump Tower—on the private floor reserved for Donald Trump’s own office.

While there is no direct evidence to confirm the source's claim that Trump paid Ivari International for hair extensions, Gawker argues persuasively that the process described and pictured in Ivari's own patents and promotional materials would seem to explain the unusual characteristics of Trump's coif. But the real kicker is this: Ivari International's business was located on the same floor as Donald Trump's office.

Before this most recent message appeared, though, an archived copy of the website from April of 1997 shows that Ivari had previously listed itself as located on the 25th floor of none other than Trump Tower ... As luck would have it, Donald Trump’s office was—and as far as we can tell, still is—also located on the 25th floor.

How about that, huh?

I'm afraid that America is developing Trump Bullshit Fatigue. There's just too much of it to keep track of.


Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

May 25 2016 4:58 PM

Trump Is Going to Attack Hillary Over Whitewater. What Was Whitewater, Again?

Donald Trump, fresh off hinting Hillary and Bill Clinton may be actual, real-life murderers, plans to next grab hold of the single thread that runs through large swaths of the Clinton conspiracy canon: Whitewater. How do we know this? Because Trump’s campaign spokeswoman accidentally cc:ed a Politico reporter on an email about it. (The reporter, Marc Caputo, shares a last name with Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo. Whoops!)

So what was Whitewater? The short-version for those in need of a refresher: a real estate scandal that plagued the Clintons during the 1990s and that now serves as something of a catchall for a number for unproven accusations involving corruption, fraud, and public stonewalling that consumed Bill and Hillary’s eight years in the White House.

The most important thing to remember when Trump begins to ramble on about any number of those charges and conspiracies: No investigation into Whitewater ever found Hillary Clinton guilty of any criminal wrongdoing. ​After taking over one such probe in 1994, though,​ independent counsel Kenneth Starr expanded his investigation to include the Paula Jones lawsuit and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which ultimately led to President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury.

The Whitewater imbroglio centered on a failed real estate company, Whitewater Development, that the Clintons formed with longtime friend James McDougal in the late 1970s in order to buy and sell vacation homes in Arkansas’ Ozarks. The issue first gained national attention in 1992 when the New York Times published a report detailing the Clintons’ involvement in the development firm, their relationship with McDougal, and possible conflicts of interest. In 1989, McDougal, who also ran a savings and loan association, was indicted on fraud charges for making bad loans, around $130,000 of which was funneled through Whitewater Development. (He was acquitted on those charges the following year, though eventually convicted on related ones in 1996. He died in prison in 1998 while the Starr investigation was ongoing.*)

What followed was a mess of federal investigations and partisan probes that included a host of subpoenas, some delinquent corporate tax returns, a half dozen or so fired White House travel staffers, the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster (the death of whom Trump suggested on Tuesday that the Clintons had something to do with), and accusations that Bill Clinton used his power as Arkansas governor to secure a six-figure loan for McDougal in the 1980s. (For a much more detailed account, consult this comprehensive timeline compiled by the Washington Post.)

While it’s nearly impossible to imagine Trump will find any new dirt out of that mess, that might not matter. Simply invoking the word Whitewater and alluding to any number of its related conspiracy theories that still live on in some corners of conservative talk radio and online message boards should pair well with his attempts to brand his likely general election opponent with his chosen juvenile nickname of “Crooked Hillary.” It will also give him an excuse to rehash the more salacious details of the Lewinsky scandal, which he clearly delights in doing. Trump thrives on innuendo and outlandish claims, after all, and Whitewater is fertile ground for both. That will force Hillary and her allies to spend time and energy defending the last Clinton administration from charges that were never proven, when they’d much rather focus voters’ attention on dangers posed by a future President Trump.

*Correction, May 26, 2016: This post originally misstated that McDougal was acquitted on federal fraud charges. While it's true that he was acquitted in 1990, he was charged again with related crimes in 1995 and convicted in 1996.

May 25 2016 3:35 PM

In a Remarkable Decision, Federal Judge Lays Out All the Ways Our Justice System Hurts Ex-Cons

Chevelle Nesbeth could have been sentenced to three and a half years in prison for trying to smuggle 602 grams of cocaine into the U.S. from Jamaica. Instead, a federal judge in New York decided to show her mercy, explaining in an unusual decision handed down Wednesday that the multitude of “collateral consequences” that Nesbeth will be subjected to as a convicted felon add up to such a severe punishment that giving her jail time on top of it would be excessive.

The judge, Frederic Block, used his 42-page opinion as an opportunity to call for reform, arguing that federal and state laws that impose restrictions on where people who have been convicted of felonies can work, what kind of financial assistance they can receive from the government, and whether they can vote, drive, or travel represent an unjust imposition of “civil death.”

Quoting extensively from the influential book The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Block expresses moral indignation throughout the opinion at all the ways in which the American criminal justice system makes it harder for people with felony convictions to achieve stability in life. He writes:

Remarkably, there are nationwide nearly 50,000 federal and state statutes and regulations that impose penalties, disabilities, or disadvantages on convicted felons. ... District courts have no discretion to decide whether many of these collateral consequences should apply to particular offenders. The result is a status-based regulatory scheme; by the very fact of an individual's conviction, he or she is subject to a vast array of restrictions.

Nesbeth, Block emphasizes, has led a mostly law-abiding life, and is hoping to graduate from college next year before embarking on her chosen career as a teacher. Though “there is no question” that she “has been convicted of serious crimes,” or that “her criminal conduct is inexcusable,” Nesbeth should get a second chance, and does not deserve more than the one year of probation, six months of home confinement, and 100 hours of community service that he sentenced her to, he writes.

“[T]he collateral consequences Ms. Nesbeth will suffer, and is likely to suffer … has compelled me to conclude that she has been sufficiently punished, and that jail is not necessary to render a punishment that is sufficient but not greater than necessary to meet the ends of sentencing,” Block writes.

At the end of the opinion, which a law professor described in the New York Times as “the most careful and thorough judicial examination” of collateral consequences he had ever seen, Block argues that when prosecutors, probation officials, and defense lawyers address judges during sentencing, they should feel an obligation to give a thorough and candid accounting of all the ways in which a defendant stands to be crippled by his or her status as a felon. He also calls on Congress and state lawmakers to “determine whether the plethora of post-sentence punishments imposed upon felons is truly warranted, and to take a hard look at whether they do the country more harm than good.” 

Block, who has been a federal judge since Bill Clinton appointed him to the Eastern New York district court in 1994, did not say in his opinion whether his beliefs about collateral consequences have ever guided him in the past, or how they will inform his decisions going forward. He was careful, however, to note that each case should be “separately considered,” and that the balancing of all factors “may certainly warrant prison—and even significant prison time—for someone else under different circumstances."

In a 2012 interview about his memoir, Disrobed, Block told the New York Daily News that he was "at the DGS stage of life: Don't give a shit." In the interview, which was cited by the New York Post last year when Block controversially tossed out a gun charge against a man who had been previously convicted of attempted murder, Block added, “I don’t care what any of you say. I feel freed up to do what I really feel is the right thing.”

May 25 2016 12:26 PM

Why Trump Is Attacking a Popular, Hispanic, Female Republican Governor 

Speaking at a New Mexico rally on Tuesday night, Donald Trump took a few surprising-if-he-were-someone-else shots at the state’s Republican governor, Susana Martinez, who also just so happens to be the head of the party’s well-heeled and influential governor’s association. Via the Washington Post:

“We have got to get your governor to get going,” Trump said to a cheering audience. “She’s got to do a better job. Okay? Your governor has got to do a better job. She’s not doing the job. Hey! Maybe I’ll run for governor of New Mexico. I’ll get this place going. She’s not doing the job. We’ve got to get her moving. Come on: Let’s go, governor.”
Trump also criticized Martinez for allowing “large numbers” of Syrian refugees to resettle in the state. Although governors have limited control over these federal resettlements, Trump faulted Martinez for allowing it to happen. “If I was governor, that wouldn’t be happening,” Trump said.

Martinez is her state’s first female governor, the nation’s first Latina one, and generally thought of as a rising star within the Republican Party—aka not someone you would expect a presidential hopeful who is struggling to win over women, Latinos, and party power players alike to needlessly attack from the stump in her home state. Trump being the thin-skinned reality TV star that he is, though, this isn’t all that much of a shock.

To date, Martinez has been publicly coy about her support for Trump, dodging questions about him by telling reporters that she won’t be voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election. Privately, though, she’s been significantly more forceful with her critique of her party’s new standard-bearer, particularly when it comes to his implausible and inhumane wall-building plans for the Mexican border. Following the rally, the governor’s office responded with a statement saying she would “not be bullied into supporting a candidate.”

Trump is a bully, and his attack last night could have been an effort to force Martinez’s hand, or a warning to other party figures still on the fence. It could have been Trump trying to re-establish his anti-establishment bona fides now that the GOP is mainstreaming him, or simply him overreacting to a political slight, either because he couldn’t stop himself or because he didn’t want to. It could be all of those things, or none of them. But with Trump, the intent isn’t what matters as much as the outcome. And this latest outburst will once again make it clear that if the party is going to unite, it will have to come to him, not the other way around. A verbal assault on a popular party figure like Martinez probably makes that a more unappealing prospect for party holdouts, but it also gives them more incentive to move to Trump now, before they find themselves the subject of one of his quasi-impromptu stump speeches.

May 25 2016 12:22 PM

State Department Report Officially Confirms That Hillary’s Private Email Server Was Dumb and Bad

For a while now, it's seemed clear that Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state was an irresponsible, arrogant violation of security and public-transparency rules. The Washington Post has now gotten its hands on a copy of the State Department inspector general's report about the controversy, which makes that assessment official:

The State Department’s independent watchdog has issued a highly critical analysis of Hillary Clinton’s email practices while running the department, concluding that she failed to seek legal approval for her use of a private email server and that department staff would not have given its blessing because of the “security risks in doing so.”
The inspector general, in a long awaited review obtained Wednesday by The Washington Post in advance of its publication, found that Clinton’s use of private email for public business was “not an appropriate method” of preserving documents and that her practices failed to comply with department policies meant to ensure that federal record laws are followed.

This is obviously on some level bad for Clinton's presidential campaign, and it's obviously also bad for anyone who wants their public officials not to behave like paranoid, secretive dopes. But as the Post notes, it's also probably good for Clinton that the report—which doesn't allege any illegal activity and also criticizes the email practices of previous State Department honchos like Colin Powell—was released now rather, than, like, Nov. 1. Meanwhile there's still no indication that the FBI's parallel investigation into whether Clinton's handling of classified material constituted criminal negligence has turned up anything damaging. At this point it doesn't look like Clinton's use of the private server, however ill-advised, is going to sink her campaign. At the same time, it probably has contributed to the fact that two-thirds of registered voters find her untrustworthy. Isn't 2016 great?

May 25 2016 9:23 AM

Paul Ryan Spokesman Denies Report That Ryan Is About to Endorse Trump

Here at Slate, we believe that it is inevitable that Paul Ryan will cravenly endorse Donald Trump despite Ryan's ongoing show of principled reticence. Thus it was not surprising when Bloomberg News reported Tuesday night that Ryan regretted his standoff with the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and was possibly planning an endorsement this week:

House Speaker Paul Ryan has begun telling confidants that he wants to end his standoff with Donald Trump in part because he’s worried the split has sharpened divisions in the Republican Party, according to two people close to the lawmaker ... Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, told a small group of Republican lawmakers Thursday that he expects Ryan to endorse the party’s nominee as early as this week, according to two people in the meeting.

Trump campaign sources have apparently told ABC the same thing. Bloomberg, however, noted that "Ryan aides say nothing has been decided about a possible Trump endorsement," a position that a Ryan spokesman also reiterated forcefully this morning to ABC:

A Ryan spokesman, when asked today whether Speaker Ryan is preparing to endorse Trump, said, "There's no update and we've not told the Trump campaign to expect an endorsement."
"He's also not told anyone he regrets anything," the spokesman said of Ryan.

So there you go. Paul Ryan might endorse Donald Trump, but he might not! But he probably will.

May 24 2016 9:52 PM

Tech Billionaire Peter Thiel Reportedly Bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s Gawker Lawsuit

A day after Gawker founder Nick Denton told the New York Times he had a “personal hunch” that someone linked to Silicon Valley was funding the onslaught of lawsuits against Gawker Media—which resulted in a potentially destructive $140 million award to Hulk Hogan—Forbes is reporting that Peter Thiel, the billionaire founder of Paypal and early backer of Facebook, is the one who has been quietly bankrolling Hulk Hogan's legal crusade against Gawker. The Forbes report linking Thiel to Hogan is anonymously sourced.

Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea, won the whopping $140 million jury award in March for Gawker’s 2012 publication of a sex tape featuring Hogan and the wife of his best friend. Gawker is challenging the suit on the grounds that information was improperly withheld from the jury. Earlier this month, Hogan sued Gawker again. But why would a tech billionaire be out to get Gawker?

From Forbes:

Money may not have been the main motivation in the first place. Thiel, who is gay, has made no secret of his distaste for Gawker, which attempted to out him in late 2007 before he was open about his sexuality. In 2009, Thiel told PEHub that now-defunct Silicon Valley-focused publication Valleywag, which was owned by Gawker, had the “psychology of a terrorist.”

It’s not illegal or unheard of for someone not involved in a legal proceeding to bankroll a case. The practice of “third-party litigation funding,” however, usually is a financial agreement aimed at generating large returns from any potential award in return for cash to litigate the case. There were several moves throughout the Hogan case and in subsequent suits that indicated some level of retribution may be at play.

First, the lawyer for Hulk Hogan, Charles J. Harder, was representing the former wrestler on a contingency basis, which means that some portion of his compensation for representing Hogan would be a share of the judgment. Harder, however, turned down multiple offers to settle by Gawker, which is highly unusual for a lawyer working on a contingency agreement, and he intentionally maneuvered during the case to make it such that Gawker’s insurance coverage wouldn’t cover the site’s legal fees, which would also presumably reduce the size of a potential award, as well as Harder’s cut.

Here’s more from the New York Times on the appearance of a third party funder:

As for the lawsuits against Gawker Media, “the evidence has built up over time that there are questions that are unanswered here,” Mr. Denton said. “The data point that really got us thinking was the move that they made on insurance, which seemed designed to prevent insurance paying for our defense.” Mr. Denton is referring to a decision by Mr. Hogan’s legal team to abruptly drop one of the claims — for “negligent infliction of emotional distress” — from its case. That claim had a particularly special meaning: It was the one claim that required Gawker’s insurance company to pay for its defense as well as potential payouts in the case of a settlement. (That provision of Gawker’s insurance policy became public after the insurance company, Nautilus, sued Gawker to try to limit payment for defense.)

Harder has also filed multiple similar suits against Gawker.

May 24 2016 7:35 PM

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.