March 17, 2019

More than a year before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved a secret — and brutal — plan to crush dissent, using surveillance, abduction, and torture, U.S. officials who read classified intelligence reports on the matter told The New York Times.

Saudi citizens were targeted around the world, with a special team — called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group by U.S. officials — involved in at least 12 operations beginning in 2017, the Times reports. This is the same team that killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After being captured and brought back to the kingdom, the Saudi citizens were housed in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman, the Times reports, with many tortured during interrogations. Loujain al-Hathloul was detained for trying to drive her car into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, and her sister, Alia, said she was locked inside a tiny room with covered windows. During interrogations, al-Hathloul and others were routinely beat, shocked, waterboarded, and told they would be raped and murdered, the intelligence reports state. Due to the psychological torture, she attempted to take her own life.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington told the Times the government "takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously." Read more about the secret campaign at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

2:01 a.m.

In a note he posted to Instagram Monday night, NBA star LeBron James shared that he kept attempting to write something about Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, but "every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi, and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had."

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others were killed on Sunday morning when their helicopter crashed in Calabasas, California. On Saturday night, the Lakers played the Philadelphia 76ers, and James passed Bryant on the NBA's all-time scoring list, becoming third with 33,655 points and moving Bryant down to fourth place, with 33,643 points. Bryant tweeted his congratulations, and later called James.

"Didn't think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we'd have," James wrote. He offered his condolences to Bryant's wife, Vanessa, and their three surviving children, and made a vow. "I promise you I'll continue your legacy man!" he wrote. "You mean so much to us all here, especially at #LakerNation, and it's my responsibility to put this s--t on my back and keep it going! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! ... There's so much more I want to say but just can't right now because I can't get through it! Until we meet again my brother!" Catherine Garcia

1:23 a.m.

Walk, ride a bike, or hop on a bus in Vienna, and you could be closer to a free concert or trip to a museum.

On Monday, the city launched a new app that tracks users' modes of transportation. It calculates the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) savings in comparison to driving a car, and once users save 40 pounds of CO2, they receive one "culture token." Tokens are then exchanged for free tickets to participating cultural institutions.

"We want to reward CO2 reduction with a cultural experience," said Peter Hanke, a member of the Vienna City Council. Right now, the app is being tested by 1,000 people, but if the trial is successful, the app will open to the broader public in the fall, AFP reports. Austria's goal is to be climate neutral by 2040. Catherine Garcia

12:55 a.m.

Celebrity defense lawyer and retired Harvard criminal law professor Alan Dershowitz closed out Day 2 of President Trump's impeachment trial defense Monday night, and unlike Trump's other defenders, he mentioned inconvenient new revelations from Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton. Dershowitz also differentiated himself by eschewing attacks on Joe and Hunter Biden or the unkindness of impeachment and instead mounted a "constitutional" defense of Trump. Republican senators appeared thrilled with the presentation.

Other legal scholars were less impressed. Dershowitz argued that the articles of impeachment approved by the House, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are not "constitutionally authorized criteria for impeachment."

He went on to acknowledge that Bolton may claim he personally witnessed Trump link $391 million in Ukraine military aid to foreign help investigating Biden and Trump's other Democratic rivals, but argued that "nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense."

Dershowitz also conceded he held different views on whether abuse of power was an impeachable offense back in 1999, during President Bill Clinton's impeachment, but said he "was not fully aware of the compelling counterarguments" then and has reached a different conclusion after conducting his own research.

One of the few constitutional scholars he cited, Harvard Law's Niko Bowie, dismantled Dershowitz's argument on Twitter and in a new New York Times op-ed. Former Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, now a senator-juror and Democratic presidential candidate, also found Derhowitz's argument "nonsensical" and abstruse.

"Alan Dershowitz, to his credit, said that his own view was very much a minority view of what the impeachment provision means," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said. "To his discredit, the reason why it's a minority view is because he's wrong." Peter Weber

12:03 a.m.

On Monday, 200 survivors of Auschwitz-Birkenau came together to mark the 75th anniversary of the Nazi death camp's liberation.

On Jan. 27, 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet army. Most of the estimated 1.1 million people who were murdered there were Jews, with Poles, Roma, and Russians among the victims. The camp is in Oswiecim, Poland, and survivors came from as far away as the United States, Australia, and Peru to attend the anniversary. "We have with us the last living survivors, the last among those who saw the Holocaust with their own eyes," Polish President Andrzej Duda said. "The magnitude of the crime perpetrated in this place is terrifying, but we must not look away from it and we must never forget it."

There has been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks around the globe, and Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said he is astounded by "the open and brazen spread of anti-Jewish hatred. Do not be silent. Do not be complacent. Do not let this ever happen again, to any people."

Survivor Marian Turski, 93, recalled the Nazis starting small by banning Jews from sitting on benches in Berlin, and those actions led to the rise of ghettos and death camps. "Auschwitz did not descend from the sky," Turski said. If people become "indifferent, you will not even notice it when upon your own heads, and upon the heads of your descendants, another Auschwitz descends from the sky." Catherine Garcia

January 27, 2020

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton writes in his forthcoming book that last year, he privately shared with Attorney General William Barr that he was worried President Trump was doing favors for autocratic leaders, The New York Times reports.

People familiar with the unpublished manuscript told the Times that Bolton also says Barr told him the Justice Department was investigating two companies in China and Turkey, and he had his own concerns that Trump hinted to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Chinese President Xi Jinping that he had influence over these inquiries.

Barr reportedly brought up a conversation Trump had with Xi about ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications firm. In 2017, the company agreed to plead guilty and pay fines for violating U.S. sanctions on doing business with Iran and North Korea. ZTE was prohibited from buying American products for seven years, which hurt the company, but in 2018, Trump ignored objections from his advisers and GOP lawmakers and lifted the ban.

On Sunday, the Times reported that Bolton writes in his book that Trump said he wanted to withhold military assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into domestic political rivals. This is central to the impeachment charges against Trump, and a claim he has denied. Catherine Garcia

January 27, 2020

The irony of Ken Starr declaring that the Senate is "being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently" was not lost on MSNBC's Ari Melber.

Starr, the former independent counsel who pushed for President Bill Clinton's impeachment, is now one of President Trump's impeachment defense lawyers. He made his debut on Monday, likening impeachment to "domestic war" and asking, "How did we get here, with presidential impeachment invoked frequently?"

When Starr was the independent counsel, he was a driving force behind Republican efforts in the House to investigate Clinton, and his Starr Report found that Clinton's conduct "may constitute grounds for impeachment." In 1998, his ethics adviser, Sam Dash, quit, writing in a letter to Starr, "You have violated your obligations under the independent counsel statute and have unlawfully intruded on the power of impeachment."

On Twitter, Melber said Starr's opening was "BEYOND RICH coming from him." Later, he told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace: "This was a disaster for Republicans. A total unmitigated legal and constitutional disaster. Ken Starr at no point in this, dramatic at times, mournful opening explained in any factual or legal way what's different." This was "Starr vs. Starr," Melber continued. "Usually you want someone else's name on the other side. He was out there shadowboxing against himself. ... Constitutionally, we watched Ken Starr punch himself in the face and then walk off the floor."


During his own show, Melber played a mashup showing just how different the Starr of today sounds compared to the Starr of yesterday. Watch the clip below. Catherine Garcia

January 27, 2020

The National Transportation Safety Board provided an update on Monday afternoon about its investigation into the helicopter crash that killed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others Sunday morning in Calabasas, California.

There was heavy fog in the area, and the pilot told air traffic controllers that he was going to try to fly higher to avoid a cloud layer, the NTSB said. When controllers asked him to share more information, he did not respond. Flight radar suggests the helicopter made it to 2,300 feet then began dropping down to the left, The New York Times reports.

Investigators are taking a "broad look at everything" around the accident, NTSB official Jennifer Homendy said. "We look at man, machine, and the environment, and weather is just a small portion of that."

Investigators are now searching a debris field of 500 to 600 feet for perishable evidence. The helicopter did not have a cockpit voice recorder. Catherine Garcia

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