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Oct. 16 2017 10:19 PM

Investigative Journalist Reporting on Panama Papers Corruption in Malta, Killed by Car Bomb

An investigative journalist in Malta, whose stories linked the small island nation’s political elite to offshore accounts exposed in the 2016 Panama Papers, was killed by a car bomb Monday. Thirty minutes after publishing a story accusing the prime minister’s chief of staff of corruption, a bomb went off in Daphne Caruana Galizia’s car while she was driving near her home. Political leaders in the country are calling the bombing a "political murder." The 52-year-old journalist aggressively pursued instances of corruption in the Mediterranean country and was dubbed “a one-woman WikiLeaks crusading against untransparency and corruption” by Politico Europe for her influential work.

Ms. Caruana Galizia ran a blog that was so popular and influential that it helped cause a political crisis when she accused Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s wife of benefiting from a secret Panamanian shell company that was used to deposit unexplained payments from Azerbaijan’s ruling family. Mr. Muscat, who has denied wrongdoing, called a snap election in June, which his Labour Party won, giving him a second term.
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“I condemn without reservations this barbaric attack on a person and on the freedom of expression in our country,” Muscat said in a statement. “Everyone is aware that Ms. Caruana Galizia was one of my harshest critics, politically and personally, as she was for others too. However, I can never use, in any way, this fact to justify, in any possible way, this barbaric act that goes against civilization and all dignity.”

Just weeks before the bombing, Caruana Galizia filed a police report that she was receiving threats. Her investigations earned her many powerful enemies in the small European nation; she was twice sued for libel. “Opposition leader Adrian Delia sued her over a series of stories linking him to a prostitution racket in London,” according to the Toronto Star. “Economy Minister Chris Cardona claimed libel when she wrote that he visited a brothel while in Germany on government business.”

Oct. 16 2017 8:30 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Is Mike Pence Just Waiting to Be President?

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

On Monday, conservatives responded to a New Yorker article about the vice presidency and potential presidency of Mike Pence. A section of the New Yorker piece widely shared on social media described Trump poking fun at Pence’s social conservatism:

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At the Resurgent, David Thornton addressed Trump’s comments:

The president ... reportedly teased Pence about his pro-life views and his opposition to the gay rights movement. Sources say that in a meeting with a legal scholar who pointed out that states might choose to legalize abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned, Trump said, “You see? You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”
When talk at the same meeting turned to homosexuality, Trump gestured toward Pence. “Don’t ask that guy,” Trump said. “He wants to hang them all!” [...]
Although Trump’s mocking comments are what has generated the headlines, Mayer’s main message is that, if Trump is impeached or forced to resign, liberals might like Pence even less. “Democrats should hope Trump stays in office,” said Democrat strategist Harold Ickes, noting that Pence would likely be much more effective at working with Congress and implementing a conservative agenda.

At National Review, Jim Geraghty criticized liberals for speculating that Pence might be a worse president than Trump:

A lot of Trump critics, myself included, thought the Pence pick was about as solid and reassuring a selection as he could possibly make: he was more experienced, more well-versed in policy, more level-headed than Trump and exponentially more consistently conservative. But to a lot of people on the left, Pence’s qualities didn’t matter.
To the Left, despite their belief that Trump is a devilish figure and a major threat to destroy the country, Pence is no real improvement – meaning the Left’s problem with Trump is not that he’s uniquely crude, ill-informed, erratic, narcissistic, misogynist, etcetera; it’s that he’s a Republican.

RedState’s Susan Wright argued that conservatives should continue to view Pence as suspect for agreeing to serve Trump. “Whether Pence be a lackey, or a legitimate threat to Trump,” she wrote, “it’s clear that whatever principles may have helped him get this far, he’s traded them off for a seat on the Trump train and a chance to be close to power.”

In other news:

The Daily Wire’s Jeremy Frankel marked the two-week anniversary of the Las Vegas shooting with a look at the prospects of gun control proposals advanced in the wake of the attack:

[Sen. Chris] Murphy continued to call for Congress to take on the “gun industry.” Another example was from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who, even after admitting on CBS’ Face the Nation that no law would have stopped the mass shooter from obtaining his weapons or murdering those people, is still a long-time advocate for gun control and is now pushing legislation in light of the Vegas massacre — banning bump stocks.
As of Friday, there is a new bipartisan bill in Congress to ban bump stocks, which is a spring-like piece that increases the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle. The bill, drafted by Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and co-sponsored by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), states that “it shall be unlawful for any person … to manufacture, possess, or transfer any part or combination of parts that is designed to increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle.” [...]
Feinstein admits that the killer wouldn’t have been stopped by any legislation, and anyone can come to the logical conclusion that someone willing to kill will also be willing to break a gun law. But for the Left, it isn’t about stopping mass killers. It is, and always was, about confiscating guns from law-abiding Americans, and eventually gutting the Second Amendment altogether.

Breitbart’s AWR Hawkins wrote about the NRA’s efforts to have the ATF issue more bump stock regulations:

An immediate problem with looking to the ATF is that the agency approved bump stocks for sale as accessories in 2010. The ATF found that the bump stocks did not convert a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic weapon. Rather, they were an accessory that let gun owners mimic automatic fire in short bursts. If the ATF reverses this ruling and equates a stock accessory with a conversion device, then the floodgates are wide open for the ATF to re-evaluate and regulate other similar accessories.
In other words, the ATF route is a slope that is as slippery as the Democrats’ legislative push. Both avenues — legislative and regulative — mean more gun control.

Oct. 16 2017 7:32 PM

Trump Supports Obamacare Stabilization Talks Now That He Can Take Credit He Doesn’t Deserve

Senators on both sides of the aisle have been working on a narrow bill to stabilize individual insurance markets for well over a month now. One of the major stumbling blocks was President Trump, who seemed fully disinterested, if not outright hostile, to the idea. That appeared to change on Monday when Trump manufactured a storyline that would allow him to take credit for a short-term bill to clean up the mess he’s made. In Trump’s fantasy, no one was even talking about passing such a measure until his determined action last week.

“As we meet,” Trump said during a Cabinet meeting on Monday morning, “Republicans are meeting with Democrats because of what I did with the CSR [payments], because I cut off the gravy train. If I didn’t cut the CSRs, they wouldn’t be meeting. They’d be having lunch and enjoying themselves, alright?”

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Trump was referring to his decision last week to discontinue cost-sharing reduction payments to insurers, which keep deductibles in check for lower-income Obamacare enrollees. In his words, the abrupt move “has actually brought Republicans and Democrats together … saying, let’s come up with at least a short-term fix of health care in this country.” Later, during a press conference with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Trump reiterated how pleased he was to see Republicans and Democrats working together on an “intermediate plan, a short-term plan.”

This alternative history—the one that says all Trump ever wanted was for Democrats and Republicans to provide short-term relief—will come as some surprise to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate HELP Committee. Alexander and Murray have been negotiating such a “short-term fix of health care in the country” for the past month and a half—in the face of White House indifference at best, and opposition at worst.

“It’s like starting a fire and taking credit for the firefighters’ work,” a Democratic Senate aide told me.

When the Senate Republicans’ first push to repeal and replace Obamacare collapsed in late July, Alexander announced that he would hold hearings on how to stabilize individual insurance markets. After several of these hearings, he and Murray began negotiating a deal that would, broadly, appropriate the CSR payments for two or so years while offering states flexibility on some of Obamacare’s regulations. They were hoping to get something done by the end of September, the deadline for insurers to finalize 2018 rates.

When Senate Republicans chose to make a second push for repeal-and-replace—the Graham-Cassidy bill—Alexander suddenly announced that the negotiations had not “found the necessary consensus among Republicans and Democrats” to produce a viable bill. But what really happened is that Republican leaders called off the stabilization talks as a pressure tactic to get hesitant Republican senators on board with Graham-Cassidy. The White House played its part, telling Senate Republicans that they would oppose a bipartisan stabilization bill; Vice President Mike Pence said in a caucus lunch that Trump wouldn’t support anything to “prop up” Obamacare.

Graham-Cassidy failed anyway in late September. After that, the bipartisan talks that had supposedly hit a wall resumed. Still, there was no indication that the White House would support them. On Friday, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told Politico that the White House would have no interest in a “clean Murray-Alexander bill,” but suggested they might be open to it if it were linked to one of the president’s unrelated vanity projects, like The Wall.

Now, just a few days later, Trump thinks that a short-term solution would be sensational so long as he gets to take credit.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a statement after Trump’s comments welcoming the president’s apparent reversal (assuming he sticks to this new position for longer than a few hours). “If he’s now supportive of an agreement that stabilizes and improves the existing system under the Affordable Care Act,” Schumer said, “we certainly welcome that change of heart.”

You know what would have been really great, though? If Trump had supported these efforts that predated his involvement before 2018 rates were finalized. Even if a short-term bill can retrofit some way to lower costs for 2018 enrollees—though unspecific, Alexander said Monday the bill would require that the “benefits” of the CSR payments for 2018 “go to the consumers and not to the insurance companies,” some way or another—much of the damage has already been done, as Trump’s dithering on CSRs already led insurers to set higher premiums.

This all could have been worked out in a timely fashion but instead lingered until Trump tossed himself into the issue like a grenade last week. He is by default opposed to any legislative effort that he can’t pretend to have inspired, and now he’s using a needless shock to the system to concoct a history that satisfies his ego. If the short-term bill passes, he should take the credit and the blame altogether. If he gets credit for the short-term bill passing, he should also get the blame for such an emergency measure ever being necessary in the first place.

Oct. 16 2017 4:18 PM

Report: Trump’s Nominee for Drug Czar Led Pharma-Funded Law Undermining Opioid Fight

A joint investigation from the Washington Post and 60 Minutes has found that several members of Congress, in a campaign led by the country’s largest drug distributors, undermined Drug Enforcement Agency efforts to stanch the flow of opioids by effectively stripping them of their most effective tool for stopping narcotics from flooding the streets.

The report has spurred President Trump to announce he would re-evaluate his nominee for drug czar. It also led to a show of alarm from Congressional Democrats. On Monday, Sen. Claire McCaskill opened a probe into the role these drug companies might have played in stoking the opioid epidemic, which has now claimed more than 200,000 lives, and said she plans to introduce legislation that would repeal the law at the center of the investigation.

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The report detailed the ways some members of Congress—and in particular Rep. Tom Marino, who is Trump’s nominee to become the country’s next head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy—fought the DEA to push through a law friendlier to drug distributors, some of which ship to “rogue pharmacies and pain clinics.”

Sen. Joe Manchin called for Trump to withdraw Marino’s nomination, and Trump said he would be “looking into” the reporting about Marino.

Per the Washington Post:

The law was the crowning achievement of a multifaceted campaign by the drug industry to weaken aggressive DEA enforcement efforts against drug distribution companies that were supplying corrupt doctors and pharmacists who peddled narcotics to the black market. The industry worked behind the scenes with lobbyists and key members of Congress, pouring more than a million dollars into their election campaigns.

The law makes it “virtually impossible for the DEA to freeze suspicious narcotic shipments from the companies.” The bill passed through the procedure usually used for noncontroversial bills, as few besides the sponsors knew what the effect the bill would actually have, according to the Post. When President Obama signed the bill into law, officials said, his administration was also unaware of its potential impact.

As the Post explained, these companies often disregarded warnings from the DEA when the agency asked them to shut down suspicious campaigns, instead being hit with millions in fines while profiting from billions in sales. The pills sold under suspicion in the hundreds of millions.

The pharmaceutical companies defended the law as “an effort to ensure that legitimate pain patients receive their medication without disruption,” according to the Post. The laws were too vague and too harsh, they argued.

The report also found that the drug industry spent $106 million lobbying Congress between 2014 and 2016, and that $1.5 million of that amount went to the 23 lawmakers who sponsored the various versions of the bill.

Trump told reporters Monday that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency sometime next week and that he would likely also make a “major announcement” about fighting the opioid crisis next week as well.

Trump said Marino was a “great guy” and a “very early supporter” of his, but that if he found that Marino’s appointment would hurt the fight against opioid addiction, he would “make a change.”

Oct. 16 2017 4:10 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: How Trump Makes Fact Sausage Out of Confusion Meat

The Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

Donald Trump held a press conference at the White House on Monday during which he was asked why he hadn’t yet commented publicly on the deaths of four U.S. service members in Niger 10 days ago. His answer was that ... Barack Obama? Read for yourself:

I have written [the deceased service members’ families] personal letters. They were sent or are going out over the weekend. I will at some point during the period of time call the parents and the families. Because I have done that traditionally. I felt very, very badly about that. I feel badly. It’s the toughest—the toughest calls that I have to make are the calls where this happens. Soldiers are killed. It’s a very difficult thing. It gets to a point where, you know, you make four or five of them in one day, it’s a very tough day. For me, that’s by far the toughest. The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn’t make calls. Lot of them didn’t make calls. I like to call when it’s appropriate, when I think I’m able to do it. They have made the ultimate sacrifice. So generally I would say that I like to call. I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass. I’m going to be calling them. I have, since I have been president, I have. But in addition, I actually wrote letters, individually, to the soldiers we’re talking about and they will be going out either today or tomorrow.
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The clear implication here is that President Obama never called the families of U.S. service members who were killed in action, a claim which seems implausible and which more than one Obama staffer has immediately said is incorrect. Another reporter followed up on the subject later in Trump’s press conference, whereupon ... this:

QUESTION: Earlier you said President Obama never called a family of a fallen soldier?
TRUMP: No, I don’t know if he did. I was told that he didn’t often. Lot of presidents don’t. Excuse me, Peter. I do a combination of both. It’s a very difficult thing to do. But I do a combination of both. President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters and some presidents didn’t do anything, but I like the combination of—I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.

What we have here is a rare albeit chronologically backward glimpse into the way the president formulates the “facts” that he emits. In the second answer, we see what he knows about the issue: Nothing. (“I don’t know if he did ... I was told that he didn’t often ... [he] probably did sometimes.”) In the first answer, we see that lack of knowledge applied to a specific situation; Trump needs to make an excuse for something that he’s being criticized for, so “I don’t know” becomes “President Obama ... didn’t make calls.”

Fun! Also, bonus points to the Washington Post’s Philip Bump for noticing the secondary incoherence of Trump’s varying statements about his letters to the bereaved families, which he alternatingly claims “were sent,”  “are going out over the weekend,” and “will be going out either today or tomorrow.” Schrodinger’s postal service, I guess.

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Oct. 16 2017 2:13 PM

Watch This U.S. Goal From the U-17 World Cup and Feel Hope

For any fans of the U.S. men’s national team looking for signs of hope for American soccer following last week’s humiliating failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup, here’s some news.

The U.S. team currently competing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India actually looks pretty OK!

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In fact, the team might just be more than OK. On Monday, the United States advanced to the quarterfinals after a 5–0 victory over Paraguay in the round of 16.

That victory included this absolute cracker:

The scorer there was Tim Weah, who scored a hat trick in that win. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Tim Weah is the son of Liberian soccer legend and politician George Weah. The elder Weah won the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player of the Year with A.C. Milan and finished second in the voting for those prizes in 1996.

Tim was born in Brooklyn, grew up in New York and Florida, and earlier this year signed a pro contract to play for one of the wealthiest and biggest clubs in Europe, Paris Saint-Germain. Weah is not the only member of the current squad to have recently signed for a big European club: Josh Sargent, another forward who scored in the Paraguay win, signed with Werder Bremen last month. (Fun fact: Weah and Sargent were born within two days of each other.) Midfielder Andrew Carleton also scored his second goal of the tournament in the win.

So how excited should American fans get? The 5–0 scoreline is an impressive one, as is the Weah hat trick. The Americans haven’t qualified for an U-17 World Cup quarterfinal since 2005, a team that featured recent U.S. men’s national team stalwarts Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez.

Their best finish was a semifinal appearance at the 1999 U-17 World Cup with a team that included Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman, DaMarcus Beasley, and of course Landon Donovan.*

Donovan won the tournament’s best player award that year and would go on to become the U.S. men’s all-time leading scorer, a mark he now shares with Clint Dempsey.

Of course, the best the boys from 1999 were ever to able do on the main World Cup stage was reach the last 16 of that tournament.

Still, in these bleak times for U.S. men’s soccer, fans should grasp on to any green shoots there might be.

Weah and the U.S. will take on either England or Japan on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

*Correction, Oct. 16, 2017: This post originally misspelled Landon Donovan’s and Clint Dempsey’s last names.

Oct. 16 2017 1:13 PM

Close Trump Associate Invests in Weinstein Company, Will Presumably Also Pursue Cosby Partnership

Harvey Weinstein's Weinstein Company has been in big trouble since a New York Times article and multiple follow-ups in other publications documented a number of instances in which Weinstein is accused of sexually harassing, assaulting, and raping women with whom he was interacting for ostensibly professional reasons. On Monday, the Weinstein Company announced that a financier named Tom Barrack has agreed to provide it with "an immediate capital infusion" and begin negotiations regarding "a potential sale of all or a significant portion of the Company's assets." Weinstein has been fired, but as of now still retains an ownership stake in the company; it's also difficult to read the details of the allegations against Weinstein and not conclude that other executives who worked with him must have known about his behavior. In other words, it appears that Tom Barrack is bailing Harvey Weinstein and his enablers out.

What are some of the other items on Tom Barrack's professional résumé? Let's hear from CNN:

It was 1994 and the land once known as "Trump City" was an embarrassing boondoggle, crumbling at the feet of an erratic namesake who took out $400 million in loans and seemed all too willing to default on more. Chase realtors could not see a path to black for debt king Donald Trump.
Tom Barrack could.
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Barrack, the network writes, then traveled from "New York to Los Angeles, Taiwan, London and Saudi Arabia, begging billionaires to buy the loans and keep the bankers from Trump's throat." And it worked! Barrack would go on to become a major fundraiser for Trump's presidential campaign and chair Trump's inaugural committee. Trump, of course, has been accused of sexual assault by 15 women.

Tom Barrack, no joke, also helped Michael Jackson refinance debt related to Neverland Ranch in 2008, though it should be noted that a jury found Jackson not guilty when he was tried for child molestation in 2005.

Still, if Woody Allen ever needs quick cash, I know who he should call! (It's Tom Barrack.)

Oct. 16 2017 12:02 PM

Bowe Bergdahl Pleads Guilty to Desertion

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl pleaded guilty to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in his military hearing at Fort Bragg on Monday after expressing doubts he could get a fair trial.

Bergdahl, who was held prisoner by the Taliban for five years after he disappeared in Afghanistan in 2009, told a judge that he left his observation post on his own and that he understood that leaving it was against the law, according to CNN. Desertion can carry a five-year prison sentence and, according to the New York Times, the additional charge of endangering other soldiers can extend that sentence to life.

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The Obama administration negotiated the Bergdahl’s release in 2014 by trading him for five Taliban detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Obama experienced a backlash from many Republicans who considered Bergdahl a traitor.

Bergdahl had explained his desertion as an effort to draw attention to concerns he had about his commanding officers. He said he had planned to walk to another base, but a few hours after he left, he was captured and turned over to the Haqqani network in Pakistan, which tortured him in what some have called the worst prisoner abuse since the Vietnam War. His disappearance led to a large, years-long military search operation.

Whether the search can be blamed for the injuries of other soldiers has been debated. The Army prosecutors argued that two serious injuries could be and said that, regardless, the search forced the military to dramatically change its plans and operations, according to the Times. Bergdahl’s defense offered alternative explanations for those injuries.

A military doctor testified that Bergdahl exhibited symptoms of schizotypal personality disorder—a less intense variant of schizophrenia—at the time of his disappearance. The Army’s chief investigator testified that he believed Bergdahl had been delusional at the time, that he had not intended to desert, and that jailing him would be “inappropriate.”

Bergdahl and his defense team had expressed doubts he could get a fair trial, citing more than 45 comments Donald Trump made on the campaign trail calling Bergdahl a traitor. Trump also called for him to be shot.

“We may as well go back to kangaroo courts and lynch mobs that got what they wanted,” Bergdahl said in an interview with a British filmmaker. “The people who want to hang me, you’re never going to convince those people.”

Oct. 16 2017 10:40 AM

Ophelia Might Be Strongest Storm to Hit Ireland in 50 Years

The remnants of Hurricane Ophelia buffeted Ireland on Monday in what might be the strongest storm to hit the country in 50 years.

Ophelia, now a post-tropical cyclone, is being blamed for one death after a tree fell on the car of a woman driving in the southeast area of the country, where gusts reached as much as 90 miles per hour, according to the Independent.

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Ophelia was called the strongest eastern Atlantic hurricane ever known and is the first storm on record to attain Category 3 strength so far east. On Monday, Ireland saw torrential rain and hurricane-strength winds of more than 50 miles per hour. Around 120,000 homes and buildings were left without power, and the country went largely into a shutdown.

The storm is projected to weaken and push into Scotland and northern England before leaving the British Isles altogether by Tuesday morning. A jet stream carries hurricanes and tropical storms north through across the Atlantic to Ireland and the U.K. every couple years or so, the Washington Post reports.

The greater damage from Ophelia may actually be in the Iberian Peninsula, as the storm’s strong winds fanned hundreds of wildfires in Portugal and Spain that have killed at least 30 people.

Oct. 16 2017 9:13 AM

Jeff Sessions “Personally” Sent a DOJ Lawyer to Help Prosecute the Murder of a Genderfluid Teen

In a move that surprised some familiar with his record on LGBTQ rights, Jeff Sessions sent a high-profile hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to assist in the prosecution of a man charged with murdering a genderfluid teenager last year.

According to the New York Times, the move amounts to a political statement about “fighting violence against transgender people individually” because the DOJ only rarely assigns its attorneys to work local cases—and “only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant.”

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Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death in Burlington, Iowa, in March 2016. According to the Des Moines Register, Johnson was a “well-liked” high school junior who did not identify specifically as transgender but who liked to wear hair extensions and women’s clothes and who occasionally went by the name Kandicee. Johnson, who used the pronoun he, considered himself to be fluid both in terms of his gender and his sexuality, according to his friends and family.

Authorities are investigating Johnson’s killing as a hate crime. The man charged with first-degree murder, 23-year-old Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez, could face the death penalty if found guilty of a federal hate crime. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 24.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Sessions “personally initiated” the dispatch of a prominent federal attorney to Burlington. Sessions has spoken before about the need to prosecute hate crimes and has brought several cases himself.

He also, as U.S. attorney general, has supported the ban on transgender soldiers in the military, reversed the federal guidelines that encouraged schools to let students use bathrooms that fit their gender identities, and announced workplace discrimination protection no longer would be interpreted to include transgender and gay people—generally narrowing the view of sex-based civil rights protections to mean only biological sex.

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