North Carolina man leaps from street protests into politics

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 3:07 AM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 3:06 AM

In 2016, Braxton Winston stood shirtless with fist raised in front of riot police, defiantly protesting a black man's fatal shooting by a North Carolina officer. A photograph of that bold protest drew national attention amid a U.S. groundswell against the killings of young African-Americans by police.

Now, a little more than a year later, Winston has taken his passion into politics, winning a seat on the Charlotte City Council.

Winston, who is black, was elected Tuesday to one of four at-large council seats in North Carolina's largest city. Voters also elected the city's first African-American woman as mayor, Democrat Vi Lyles. They and others will be sworn in Dec. 4.

Suddenly Winston, instead of challenging government, is part of it.

"It became clear that this is what I have to do," Winston said, "to continue to be an advocate for all of Charlotte, but especially for the marginalized voices in the community."

Winston, 34, who had played football at Davidson College just north of Charlotte, said he had just coached a middle school team to a football victory on Sept. 20, 2016. It was that day when Keith Lamont Scott was fatally shot by a black Charlotte-Mecklenburg officer during a police search for another person at a town home complex. The shooting would spark days of civil unrest, leading to a death, dozens of arrests and millions of dollars in damage.

No charges were filed against Officer Brentley Vinson, and in August, a citizens review board voted 4-4 in announcing it wouldn't challenge the department's finding that the officer's shooting was justified. In June, the review board said it found a potential error in the police department's decision, but didn't elaborate.

Friends of Winston, a father of three known for his activism, told him about the shooting. So, instead of going to his job as a stage hand or heading home to be with his visiting mother from Brooklyn, he went straight to the shooting site as a protest unfolded.

"I was about to leave and I heard Keith Lamont Scott's daughter running through the crowd and they were taking his SUV out on a flatbed," Winston told The Associated Press in an interview. "Her voice was so shrill. It was like 'That's my daddy's car! Why did you kill my daddy?'" He resolved to stay, adding, "I felt like if there was ever a time that the people had the right to be angry and express that to their government, it was at that time."

Protesters threw rocks and bottles, drawing police tear gas. Winston decided to make his stand. A photographer from The Charlotte Observer captured the image.

"My shirt was off because I tried to make a mask from the tear gas," he recalled. "I knew that the fist was a symbol."

Winston would also join a protest outside Bank of America Stadium the following Sunday as the Carolina Panthers played a game. There he was arrested under Charlotte's extraordinary event ordinance — an ordinance since repealed — though charges were later dropped.

"I felt like I was targeted," he said.

After the protests subsided, Winston took his concerns to local community leaders and joined others who were dissatisfied and pressing for new leadership willing to effect change.

"As the months started to creep by, the voice that I wanted to (hear) and other people wanted to (hear) wasn't showing up," he said. "It became a matter of, if not me, then who, and if not now, then when?"

On Thursday, after his election, he attended a meeting at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center. He said he was pleased the community put its trust in him.

"All of a sudden, now I'm responsible for administrating these systemic inequities," he told AP, vowing office-holding won't change him.

"Really, I'm ready to get down to work."

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Instant leaks as feds deliver Comey memos to Congress

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 10:36 PM

Bowing to demands from Republicans in the House, the Justice Department on Thursday night gave lawmakers memos written by former FBI Director James Comey after meetings and phone calls with President Donald Trump, with the resulting leaks only amplifying Comey’s story that Mr. Trump had pressed him repeatedly about the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

And in classic Washington fashion – the memos were leaked almost immediately to news organizations.

You can read the set of memos from Comey – written soon after meetings directly with the President, or after phone calls with Mr. Trump.

There had been concerns that sharing the memos with Congress might cause problems for the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – but press reports on Thursday night indicated otherwise, and a reading of the materials did not reveal a new treasure trove of information.

And more than anything, they only seemed to bring the focus more on President Trump.

Here are ten things we learned from the memos written by the former FBI Director.

1. Trump praises Comey at first meeting at Trump Tower. Before the former FBI Director could get to the subject of the Steele Dossier, the two men had some chit chat one-on-one. Comey said the President-Elect complimented the FBI chief on how he had handled the difficult situation involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation. “He said I was repeatedly put in impossible positions,” Comey recounted, quoting Trump as saying, “they hated you for what you did later, but what choice did you have?” Comey said the President-Elect said ‘he hoped I planned to stay on.’

2. Comey moves into the Steele Dossier. With other top officials out of the room at Trump Tower, Comey then described briefing the President-Elect on the contents of the Steele Dossier, expressing concerns that it could soon leak in the media. “I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes of him and prostitutes,” Comey wrote, saying that Mr. Trump said, “there were no prostitutes.” Comey said he told the President-Elect that the FBI was not investigating these stories, but that “our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him.”

3. The late January “loyalty” dinner. After President Trump had been sworn into office, he invited Comey to the White House for dinner – just the two of them – telling Comey that even Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did not know of their sit down. Comey said he told Trump, “I was not on anybody’s side politically.” After a detailed discussion of the impact of the Clinton email investigation on the campaign – in which they disagreed on whether there was a case against Hillary Clinton, Comey said the President made a clear point. “He replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty.”

4. Comey relates Trump displeasure with Flynn. One interesting side story from the late January dinner was when Comey related how the President had been angry with his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for evidently not informing the President that another world leader had called after the inauguration. “In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.”” Comey then notes that he never gave Mr. Trump any indication of the FBI interest in Flynn – or the fact that agents had interviewed Flynn just a day before about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States.

5. A meeting with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. One memo from Comey detailed a meeting with the President’s Chief of Staff, who asked the FBI Director if there was an investigation going on into the President’s National Security Adviser. “Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?” Comey quoted Priebus as asking. Later, their conversation went over the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and Comey’s late announcement which roiled the campaign. “At some point I added that it also wasn’t my fault that Huma Abedin forwarded emails to Anthony Weiner.”

6. Golden showers, hookers, and Putin. After meeting with Priebus, Comey was taken by the Oval Office for a quick visit with the President. There, Mr. Trump complained about leaks of his phone calls with foreign leaders, and again vented his frustration about details from the Steele Dossier. “The President brought up the “Golden Showers thing” and said it really bothered him,” Comey recounted. “The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that Putin had told ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.'”

7. Trump presses Comey on Michael Flynn. In portions of the memos which had already been leaked, Comey describes how a broader meeting on homeland security ended, and then others left him one-on-one with Mr. Trump. “He began by saying he wanted to ‘talk about Mike Flynn,'” Comey recounts, adding later that the President said he had ‘other concerns’ about Flynn, but was aggravated about the leaks concerning his former National Security Adviser. But the President then returned to Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” was how Comey remembered what the President had said in this February 14, 2017 meeting.

8. Trump urges Comey to ‘lift the cloud.’ Again, these details had been leaked previously, as Comey recounted a phone conversation in which the President complained about the Russia investigation, saying at one point that he would have won a health care vote in the House if not for the controversy over the Trump-Russia probe about the 2016 elections. Comey noted the President again returned to an issue that clearly aggravated him – “can you imagine me, hookers?” Comey’s memo also seems to say that the President was going to file a lawsuit against former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who had assembled the dossier. No such suit was ever filed.

9. More about loyalty to the President. In an April 2017 phone call, Comey says the President pressed him to publicly confirm that he (Mr. Trump) is not under investigation related to Russian interference in the 2016 election. “He spoke for a bit about why it was so important,” Comey recounted, saying the President feared it was overshadowing the work of his new administration. “They keep bringing up the Russia thing as an excuse for losing the election,” Comey wrote. Then Comey said the President pressed him again. “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing you know,” Comey quoted Mr. Trump. In a footnote to his own memo, Comey seems perplexed as to what the President was referring to.

10. The release may on spur more questions. Republicans in the House had been pressing for the release of these memos from Comey for months, convinced that they would show wrongdoing by the former FBI Director. Instead, the full memos added more context to what was going on during the first few months of the Trump Administration with regards to the Russia investigation, and seemed to give more hints about what the FBI knew of the Steele Dossier, and how Trump officials were worried about who was being investigated.


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Local Republican congressman says Trump’s Syria strike ‘unconstitutional’

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 6:17 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 6:17 PM

Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy
Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said President Donald Trump’s decision to launch a retaliatory strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people was “unconstitutional.”

RELATED: Ohio members of Congress react to US-Syria action

“There is no authority to do that,” Davidson said during a meeting with the Dayton Development Coalition. He said while it’s appropriate for Trump to launch a pre-emptive strike if, for example, an attack on the U.S. was imminent “our founders addressed this.” He said the founders made it clear that the key difference between a king and a president was that while both command the Army, the king can make war, “but in the United States, the legislature makes war.”

“This was not a preemptive strike,” he said. “It was a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government for acting against Syrians and there is no authority for the president to do that. None.”

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Senate confirms Rep. Jim Bridenstine R-OK as NASA Administrator

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 2:45 PM

After operating for almost fourteen months with acting leadership, NASA finally has a new Administrator, as the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to confirm Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as the new head of the space agency, overcoming reluctance among some Republicans, and strong opposition from Democrats who said Bridenstine who too political for the job.

“”It is an honor to be confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as NASA Administrator,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “I am humbled by this opportunity.”

“Jim Bridenstine has been very passionate for trying to get NASA back on focus with a big vision and a big mission,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

“I’ve known Congressman Bridenstine for a long time, and I know he is just the man for this important undertaking,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

But among Republicans, there were clearly reservations, even as the vote took place.

“I was not enthused by the nomination,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on the Senate floor, as he acknowledged that continuing with temporary leadership at the space agency was not a good answer.

“There’s no way NASA can go two years and x-number of months without a permanent Administration,” Rubio added, his tone and body language sending the message that he would still have someone other than Bridenstine leading the space agency.

For Democrats, Bridenstine’s more conservative political views – especially on climate change – overrode his military experience as a pilot in the Air Force.

“Just because you know how to fly a plane does not mean you have the skills and experience to lead the federal government’s space agency,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“In short, NASA needs an Administrator who will be driven by science and not by politics,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).

But as with most issues in the Congress right now, Democrats are don’t have enough votes to derail a nominee of President Trump – unless some Republicans break ranks to join them.

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Trump lawyer drops defamation lawsuit over publication of Steele Dossier

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 12:25 PM

Embroiled in a new legal dispute after an FBI raid earlier this month, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has dropped a $100 million defamation lawsuit filed against BuzzFeed news, and the head of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which spearheaded the development of the Steele Dossier.

“Michael Cohen hereby voluntarily dismissed the above-entitled action as to all named Defendants without costs to any party as against the other,” Cohen’s lawyers stated in a one page filing with a federal court in New York.

Democrats in Congress quickly pounced.

“Bullies wilt when their bluff is called,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA). “Buzzfeed should demand legal fees for Cohen’s frivolous suit.”

Let’s review what Cohen charged, what issues he is no longer pursuing in this lawsuit, and why some of it may still be a focus of discussion in the probe of Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

1. The general questions about the Steele Dossier. The main charge made by Cohen – and many supporters of President Donald Trump – is that the dossier is filled with false stories and accusations against Mr. Trump and his associates. “This action arises from the immensely damaging and defamatory statements,” Cohen’s lawyers wrote in their original complaint against BuzzFeed news and Glenn Simpson, the head of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which assembled the dossier through the work of ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The Cohen defamation lawsuit was simple – the statements about Cohen in the dossier were false, and he wanted millions of dollars in damages. Now, that lawsuit has been dropped.

2. The very first charge – the Prague trip. In Cohen’s lawsuit, the first specific item that is challenged is the report in the Steele Dossier that Cohen went to the Czech Republic in August of 2016, possibly to meet with people linked to Russia. “I have never in my life been to Prague or anywhere in the Czech Republic,” Cohen has said. Hours after the dossier was released, Cohen tweeted a denial, with a picture of his passport. “No matter how many times or ways they write it, I have never been to Prague,” Cohen tweeted just last week. If this lawsuit had proceeded, there would have been legal discovery about Cohen’s allegations.  Now, that won’t take place in the context of this proceeding.

3. Does the Special Counsel have different evidence? A story last week from McClatchy Newspapers said exactly that – that Cohen was in Prague. But it is notable that the details of that have not been matched by any other news organizations. And as with most questions about the Trump-Russia investigation, we can only go off the verified documents in the public square – and at this point, there is nothing to contradict Cohen’s denial. But if there is more to this story, it certainly could be a central part of the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.  No one knows the answer to that right now, other than Mueller’s team.

4. Cohen’s testimony to Congress remains secret. In late October of 2017, Cohen went before the House and Senate Intelligence committees to testify about the Russia investigation, and was evidently asked about the allegation in the dossier – the basis for his lawsuit – that he met in the Czech Republic with a Russian intelligence operative. That testimony has not been released, but lawmakers sparred about it in another transcript which was made public by the House committee.  This exchange is between Rep. Peter King (R-NY), and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA).

5. Cohen’s legal focus now on FBI raid. What’s next for Cohen is waiting to see what the feds do with the materials seized in the April 9 raids executed against him under a federal magistrate’s approval. Federal Judge Kimba Wood could either allow a special FBI “taint team” to continue to go through that material to look for any attorney-client privilege items related to President Donald Trump. Or, a special master could be appointed to oversee the process. No matter the choice, Cohen faces a tangled legal situation involving what was seized by the feds.

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