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Correspondent Takeover: Let's talk about Pennsylvania

VICE News - March 18, 2018 - 10:20am

Hey VICE News fans, it’s me, Evan McMorris-Santoro,

This was a big week for politics, which is fortunate when it comes to newsletters because I cover politics a lot for VICE News Tonight (weeknights at 7:30 PM ET on HBO.)

Folks, we gotta talk about this western Pennsylvania thing.

On Tuesday, Democrat Conor Lamb eked out a victory over Republican Rick Saccone in a closely-watched special Congressional election. Why was it so closely watched? Because it was in the heart of Trump Country, the 18th Congressional District. That’s a district that the president won by double digits in 2016. So Republicans wanted to show they can hold the line in places they won last time. Democrats wanted to show they can rally behind the kinds of candidates who can win anywhere thanks to Trump’s dismal approval ratings. Lamb fit the bill, it seems (more on how Democrats actually pulled it off here.)

But here’s the weird part, as producer Mary Grace Lucas and I reported this week: the race actually didn’t matter. The district both parties were fighting so hard over doesn’t exist anymore.

Thanks to redistricting, voters in the 18th are now scattered and divided up in new ways. So if Lamb wants to stay in Congress, he now has to mount a Democratic primary campaign in a district that’s a lot more Democratic than the 18th. Saccone, the defeated Republican? He already started gathering signatures to campaign in a new district where a Republican is all but guaranteed to win. The upshot: it’s more than a little likely the candidates who fought over the 18th like it was the most important election in American history will both find themselves in Congress next year.

Some other stuff from VICE News this week that has been good and weird too

Additional interesting stuff from outside the VICEiverse

That’s it for me. I’m off to find more weird stories in what is shaping up to be one of the wildest years for our country since, well, the last one. And maybe the one before that. Say hi: @EvanMcS on Twitter and ems@vice.com on your email dial.

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How first responders are training for the next mass shooting

VICE News - March 18, 2018 - 7:03am

First responders are changing the way they respond to mass shooting events in hopes of increasing the odds of survival for victims of AR-15 or military-style assault rifles.

The new protocols are called the Hartford Consensus, which borrow from war zone training to teach first responders how to pack wounds and apply tourniquets, with a focus on stopping massive bleeding quickly. Law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, and even school nurses are taking the course.

“We’re saving lives by starting CPR earlier and getting the public involved. It’s the same thing with bleeding control,” Officer Brian Wallace, who leads the course, told VICE News. Both he and Dr. Jacobs want to see the training reach everyday civilians, and for the practices to become common life skills.

The program has its roots at Connecticut's Hartford Hospital, which was put on alert to receive casualties during the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in 2012. But no patients arrived.

As the trauma surgeon on standby, Dr. Lenworth Jacobs felt compelled to make a change.

“I sit on the board of the American College of Surgeons and we met two weeks later and said we’ll do something: establish a committee to increase survival from active shooter and intentional mass casualty events,” Dr. Jacobs told VICE News.

Three weeks after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, School Resource Officer Tina Roy attended a half-day training on tactical medicine at the Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation at Hartford Hospital. As the lone law enforcement officer at South Windsor Middle School, she says she could use the practice.

“I take it very very personal that this is a child that I'm going to protect with everything I have and I'm going to get them back to their parent,” Officer Roy told VICE News.

This segment originally aired March 7, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Turkey’s band of pro-Erdoğan hackers keep trolling Europe

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 11:27am

In September 2016, Austria started experiencing what its intelligence services have since described as the country’s first bout of cyber-terrorism. In that month, there was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack on the Vienna Airport, followed by a paralysis of the National Bank (“the biggest attack in recent years,” a spokesperson said). In November, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Defense, and the Federal Army websites were all attacked.

Austrian Intelligence eventually traced the attack back to one individual, Arslan A., alias Osman T., aka General Osman, who was living in a bungalow in Bowling Green, Kentucky. General Osman is part of a Turkish nationalist group called Aslan Neferler Tim (ANT, or Lion Soldiers Team in Turkish).

The attacks on Austria were some of the most high-profile stunts by ANT to date, but they were hardly the last. Instead, as President Recep Erdoğan’s creep toward authoritarianism pushes him further out of favor with EU leaders in Brussels, ANT’s attacks are proliferating, putting further strain on an already frayed relationship.

“I would say they are the most prominent hacker group in Turkey,” Cosimo Mortola, a threat intelligence analyst with the cybersecurity company Fireeye, told VICE News. Mortola said that given the group’s focus on targeting EU countries at odds with Turkey, they’ve also become one of the most-watched groups in Europe.

ANT, which subscribes to the strain of Turkish nationalism espoused by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), emerged as a prominent hacking group in October 2015, as Turkey suffered a string of terrorist attacks and a breakdown in the Kurdish peace process. The upheaval spurred on Erdoğan’s aggressive clamp down on media and political opposition, drawing criticism from EU countries.

A history of animosity

Turkish hackers have long attacked European countries whose politicians espouse anti-Islamic views or criticism of Turkey. In 2009, a hacker self-identified as “aLpTurkTegin” hacked the website of the radical right-wing firebrand Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose anti-Islamic, anti-EU stance led the UK to bar him from entry. During the cyberattack, Wilders’ face was replaced with a monkey.

“It’s very nasty indeed,” the politician told Reuters of the experience.

ANT has grown more aggressive in recent years, especially as Turkey’s relationship with Brussels has grown more contentious.

Turkey and EU relations have been especially strained since the failed coup against Erdoğan in July 2016. Following the coup, Erdoğan unleashed a wide-ranging purge and threw tens of thousands of soldiers, teachers, and civil servants in jail. He followed the purge with a 2016 referendum that extended his powers and raised the specter of authoritarianism in a country that has long prided itself on its secular and democratic ideals.

Turkey’s slide toward authoritarianism hasn’t gone unnoticed in Europe. In April 2017, the EU Parliament voted to effectively freeze Turkey’s membership bid, citing Erdoğan’s authoritarian crackdown.

While cyberattacks themselves can’t determine the outcome of Turkey’s EU bid, “they could aggravate an already bad situation,” Zenonas Tziarras, a researcher at the University of Cyprus said.

ANT’s made it clear they’re not pleased with Europe’s stance toward their idol. A clear pattern has emerged: a foreign country or entity will publicly discredit Turkey, then ANT quickly responds with embarrassing cyberattacks on government websites or infrastructure.

Cyber “soldiers”

Fireeye has been tracking ANT since its emergence. In the last three years, the collective has launched attacks against Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands — and that’s just on EU states. ANT has also launched attacks on Armenia, Iraq, Israel, and the United States. The group, Mortola explains, focuses on three types of attacks: DDoS, defacement, and occasional compromises of individual sites. They’ve also been involved in a handful of data leaks.

“Targeting a foreign government, especially one with which there is a background in hostilities, is common. This gives both veteran and new hackers an opportunity to get some recognition among their peers,” Turkish cybersecurity expert Alper Basaran said.

ANT’s affiliated membership (or “soldiers,” as they refer to themselves) is unknown, although Fireeye has tracked 50 names associated with the group. There is also no physical evidence that directly links the Turkish government to ANT, but analysts believe there is overlap.

“It is suspected that ANT may have some connection to the Turkish government given that they claim to be defending the Turkish nation and Islam, something that resembles very much the current government’s ideological rhetoric,” Tziarras said.

“They can influence the accession process of Turkey.”

ANT attacks do follow a specific form of Turkish nationalism. On Oct. 28, 2017, ANT launched a DDoS attack on the Belgian Ministry of Defense in reaction to a spate of riots that happened when a bus of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) supporters, escorted by local police, drove through a Turkish neighborhood in Antwerp. ANT publicly accused the Belgian government of supporting the PKK, the pro-Kurdish separatist group that Turkey and the U.S. have labeled a terrorist organization. Erdoğan has also accused Belgium of being a hub for PKK militants.

Basaran pointed out that while the attack was disruptive, “a state-sponsored attack would manifest itself in a more technically advanced format."

"At this stage it is impossible to say if either side is really engaged in APT (Advanced Persistent Threat) attacks for intelligence purposes," Basaran added. “[These] attacks seem to be planned and executed by hacker teams/groups that act alone either based on nationalist feelings or just to take advantage of the current political situation.”

Yet considering Turkey’s already tense relationship with the EU, these attacks don’t need to be advanced to cause diplomatic disorder. “Cyberattacks might not only impact the cyber domain but diffuse and escalate to other environments, in this case political,” said Pythagoras Petratos, a lecturer at the University of Oxford. “They can influence the accession process of Turkey.”

ANT has also inspired the anger of other nationalistic hacker groups. Anonymous Greece, the local chapter of the global hacking collective, has been embroiled in a self-dubbed “cyber war” with ANT for years. It most recently claimed responsibility for hacking a Turkish municipal website on Jan. 9.

Screenshot of Turkish municipal website, Kazim Karabekir, which was hacked by Anonymous Greece as part of an ongoing self-dubbed “cyber war” with Turkish hacking group Aslan Neferler Tim (ANT, or Lion Soldiers Team in Turkish).

That day, visitors to the Kazim Karabekir were greeted with a surprising image of Erdoğan. The traditionally stern-looking Turkish strongman was uncharastically glowing, his face done up in pink eyeshadow and rouge that had been carefully, if a bit heavy-handedly, applied to his lips and cheeks. A pair of dangling pearl earrings framed his face, while an LGBT flag waved behind him.

The rainbow colors matched his tie.

Cover image: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

We spoke to the Russian scientist who helped create the toxin that poisoned a spy in Britain

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 8:34am

The diplomatic row over the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy kept heating up on Friday, as Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson pointed the finger directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Johnson said that it's "overwhelmingly likely" that Putin decided "to direct the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the U.K., on the streets of Europe, for the first time since the second world war."

The British government concluded Sergei Skripal and his daughter, who are both still hospitalized, were exposed to novichok, a toxin developed by the Soviet Union. VICE News spoke to Dr. Vil Mirzayanov, a scientist who worked on developing novichok and later became a whistleblower. Mirzayanov fled to the U.S. in 1992, and he's been campaigning to get the chemical agent banned internationally ever since.

Mirzayanov said novichok is "at least ten times stronger than any known toxic substance in the world. It strikes the central nervous system and shuts off the person's breathing." Because the chemical agent was only developed in Russia, Mirzayanov said he believes the odds are high that Russia was behind the attack.

"I think it was a public display of the sort of fate that could await any potential opponent of the Kremlin," he added.

This segment originally aired March 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Oklahoma teachers haven't had a raise in a decade and they're fed up

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 7:43am

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — Teachers across the nation took notice after West Virginia’s strike prompted state legislators to increase pay for all state employees five percent. Now, Oklahoma teachers, who make less than the teachers in every other state, are gearing up for a mass walk out April 2, the day after the state legislature is mandated by law to pass an education budget.

In an attempt to avert a walkout, Republicans in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives unveiled a plan Thursday that would increase starting teachers’ pay $10,000 and 20-year veteran teachers’ pay $20,000 over six years. The program, expected to cost $700 million, does not restore other school funding or include raises for school support staff.

There’s also a catch: they’ve offered no proposed budget cuts or tax increases to pay for it, so teachers are skeptical.

“We are beyond upset that they would have the audacity to suggest such an pathetic plan to us. It’s just another example of how they do not value teachers,” said Lyndsey Stuart, a history teacher at Bartlesville High School in northeast Oklahoma. “We are not ignorant and will walk on April 2 unless they get a package together.”

Oklahoma teachers earned an average of $42,460 per year in May 2016, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Oklahoma state legislature hasn’t passed a salary increase for teachers in the past ten years. Stuart has been teaching for 10 years and said she has never had a raise.

“We are graduating students who could go to [the convenience store] QuikTrip and start making more than the teacher that taught them,” Stuart said.

Bartlesville High School teacher Lyndsey Stuart speaks with her state representative, Republican Earl Sears, at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Tuesday, March 13. (Photo: Chelsey B. Coombs/VICE News)

Oklahoma school funding per student has also plummeted by 28.2 percent since 2008, more than any other state.

“Teachers are ready to walk for lower class sizes, for materials, for their students, for pay increases for themselves and support professionals so that we have people to stay in the state and teach and work with our children,” Alicia Priest, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said.

The Oklahoma Education Association’s proposal includes a $10,000 raise for teachers spread over three years, with a $6,000 raise in 2019. And while the House Republican plan only increases teachers’ salaries, the Oklahoma Education Association’s proposal also includes a $5,000 raise for school support personnel like bus drivers and food service workers, as well as a raise totaling $213 million for all other state employees.

In addition to staff salary increases, the proposal also restores $200 million in funding for schools. There is also a proposal for a $255.9 million in health care funding for the next two years. In total, the proposals would cost the state $1.4 billion over three years.

Flat taxes

Since a ballot initiative in 1992, Oklahoma has required a 75 percent supermajority of the Legislature for any tax increase to pass. The Oklahoma Senate passed a 12.7 percent salary increase for teachers earlier in the week, but did not get the votes to raise revenue to support that increase.

Oklahoma has decreased income tax revenue dramatically since the recession in 2008, as seen in this Pew Charitable Trust graphic. Oklahoma raised 17.8 percent less tax revenue in the second quarter of 2017 than the state did at its peak in 2008.

Pew Charitable Trust

The state also decreased the gross production tax on new oil and natural gas wells from seven percent to two percent in 2015. The Oklahoma Education Association doesn’t have a specific plan in mind to pay for the proposals, but says plans like eliminating the capital gains tax exemption, increasing the cigarette tax and raising the gross production tax back to seven percent could raise the money needed to fund education in the state.

Brain drain

Many teachers have left the state to teach elsewhere or the profession altogether. The average salary for teachers in the seven-state region of Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas was $48,103 in September 2017. Oklahoma was last in the region, with an average salary of $45,245. New Mexico has the second lowest salary in the region, with teachers earning on average $47,500, while Texas’ teachers earn $52,575 on average.

Oklahoma’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Shawn Sheehan, moved to Texas the year after winning.

Because of this talent drain, there are now around 2,000 teachers in the state who are teaching without education degrees, but so-called emergency certifications.

Bartlesville has been at the forefront of the Oklahoma teachers’ movement. Because Oklahoma law prohibits employees from striking, the Bartlesville Board of Education authorized school closures beginning April 2 to allow teachers to walk out and protest for school funding and salary increases for state employees.

The board also came up with its own proposals to fund teachers and schools. Teachers in the district began a program called Teacher Tuesdays, which allows a few employees each week to take unpaid personal days to lobby the state legislature for improvements in work environments.

Bartlesville students also organized the first student walkout in the state, which lasted 22 minutes in reference to a $22 million budget cut to education the Legislature passed.

Bartlesville isn’t the only school district that has announced it will follow the Oklahoma Education Association’s lead and close schools beginning April 2. Tulsa School District’s Superintendent Deborah Gist said earlier this week that the district will be “closed indefinitely until Oklahoma state leaders create a permanent sustainable plan to pay educators the professional salaries they deserve.”

Gist said teachers in her district will also be “working the contract effort,” meaning they will work only the seven hours and 50 minutes per day required by their contracts rather than continue work after school and on the weekend.

Despite the House Republicans’ plan, the teachers are still planning to walk out of their classrooms and to the Oklahoma State Capitol.

“Teachers are against it because it only addressed teacher raises, and even then, it doesn't give us the money we are asking for,” Stuart said. “They also are not presenting a way to pay for it, so without a revenue package, it is, again, empty promises.”

Cover image: Third grade teacher Lisa Sander says the pledge of allegiance with her class at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, Okla on March 12, 2018. The teachers are now only working the hours that they are contractually obligated to work. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP)

Putin is handpicking the future leaders of Russia

VICE News - March 17, 2018 - 6:45am

Russian President Vladmir Putin has been busy tightening his already strong grip on the country, which heads to the polls to vote for its next president on Sunday.

While the outcome of the election isn't really in doubt, Putin is ensuring that his influence extends well beyond the new six-year term he'll inevitably win. He's fired a record number of elected regional governors and replaced them with younger supporters that could stay in office even after he leaves.

Putin replaced a staggering 35 percent of the country's governors between 2016 and 2017. That's a big deal for modern Russia, which is a federation of 85 states, each with its own laws and customs, overseen by the regional governor. They appoint officials, control budgets, and even have the power to pardon criminals.

READ: Russia rolls out Boat McBoatface-style online naming contest for new nuclear weapons

The empty posts are temporarily filled with young recruits, who participate in the highly competitive “Leaders of Russia” training program. They then have to stand for local elections, which are nothing more than a formality since Putin selects the candidates.

This segment originally aired March 9, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

Head of Motion Picture Academy now under investigation for sexual harassment

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 8:03pm

As the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements sear through Hollywood, the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has come under investigation for sexual harassment.

John Bailey, who has served as the president of the organization since August, is the subject of three sexual harassment complaints that were all made Wednesday, Variety reported Friday. The reports prompted the Academy to immediately open an investigation.

In a statement to Variety, the Academy said it “treats any complaints confidentiality to protect all parties.”

“The Membership Committee reviews all complaints brought against Academy members according to our Standards of Conduct process, and after completing reviews, reports to the Board of Governors,” the statement read.

The Academy added it wouldn’t comment further until a full review was completed, though a timeline was not given.

The Academy, which oversees the Oscars, has undergone significant changes in its code of conduct since the Harvey Weinstein scandal last October. The Academy’s board, which includes Bailey, voted to expel Weinstein, and had "well in excess of the two-thirds majority" to do so. Casey Affleck also withdrew himself from presenting the Best Actress Award at the Oscars after several sexual harassment allegations.

In January, the Academy adopted a new set of rules to discipline misconduct, which includes anonymously reporting claims to the Academy website or membership department.

"If any member is found by the Board of Governors to have violated these standards or to have compromised the integrity of the Academy by their actions, the Board of Governors may take any disciplinary action permitted by the Academy’s Bylaws, including suspension or expulsion,”the Academy said at the time.

Snapchat lost half a billion after Rihanna snapped back on domestic violence ad

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 4:05pm

Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, lost more than half a billion dollars by the time the market opened on Friday, a four percent drop that began after an advertisement that appeared to make light of domestic violence began circulating on the platform.

The since-deleted advertisement allowed users to play game called “Would you rather” asking them to choose whether they’d rather slap Rihanna or punch Chris Brown.

(In 2009, Brown assaulted Rihanna inside a car on the way to the Grammy awards, choking her, threatening to kill her, and leaving her bruised and bleeding.)

Snapchat deleted the ad on Monday and apologized, stating “the advert was reviewed and approved in error, as it violates our advertising guidelines.”

"[The ad] never should have appeared on our service," Snap told Bloomberg. "We are so sorry we made the terrible mistake of allowing it through our review process. We are investigating how that happened so that we can make sure it never happens again."

The apology didn’t satisfy the singer, who issued a statement on her Instagram story saying the company knew what it was doing.

"Now SNAPCHAT I know you already know you ain't my fav app out there! But I'm just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess!" Rihanna wrote. "I'd love to call it ignorance but I know you ain't that dumb. You spent money to animate something that would intentionally bring shame to DV victims and made a joke of it."

Chris Brown’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, also told US Weekly, “They should change their name from Snapchat to Tone Deaf.”

A statement issued to Slate on behalf of Snapchat defended the company’s stance on domestic violence, pointing out it supports the National Network to End Domestic Violence, whose executive vice president sits on Snap’s safety advisory board.

Cover image: A protest message is affixed to a turtle as residents demonstrate near a building converted into a Snap, Inc. vender of Spectacles sunglass cameras for Snapchat on the Venice Beach boardwalk on March 11, 2017 in the Venice area of Los Angeles, California. Protesters accuse Snap of buying up residential and small business buildings throughout Venice and adjacent Marina del Rey, then converting them into commercial offices as a kind of sprawling campus as part of the so-called Silicon Beach movement. / AFP PHOTO / DAVID MCNEW (Photo credit should read DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

ProPublica’s mistake was inevitable in age of CIA secrecy over torture

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 3:41pm
ProPublica last year published a widely cited article linking Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haskel directly to the waterboarding and torture of Abu Zubaydah when she was in charge of a CIA black site prison in Thailand in 2002. Yesterday, ProPublica was forced to retract and apologize for a significant part of the article’s content. There’s no doubt […]

Brazilians take to the streets after groundbreaking politician murdered

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 3:24pm

Thousands of Brazilians took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo on Thursday to protest the slaying of politician Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Pedro Gomes. The pair were shot dead Wednesday night, in what some authorities suspect to be a political assassination.

“We are not going to allow this to continue,” one protester in told reporters at a demonstration in Rio on Thursday.

Franco's murder has sparked outrage around the country, and comes just weeks after Brazil’s President Michel Temer agreed to give the Brazilian military authority over security operations in Rio de Janeiro State, a move seen by some as an attempt to gain popularity, rather than actually tackle crime.

“This is certainly an attack on the rule of law and an attack on democracy,” Temer said in a video statement published on social media Thursday.

Franco, a gay woman of color, defied expectations when she was elected to Rio's city council in 2016. Once in power, she quickly established herself as a voice for people in the city’s favelas, where extreme poverty, gang activity and police brutality are common.

Human rights watchdogs have called for an investigation into the killing.

BuzzFeed increases female leadership, according to latest report

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 3:01pm
BuzzFeed’s 2017 diversity numbers for its newsroom show an overall increase in women and people of color, especially in leadership and managerial roles. Its latest data also shows significantly more women and people of color on staff at all levels than many other American newsrooms, including online-only outlets. “In the past year, diversity in our […]

Black man beaten on camera by Charlottesville racists found not guilty of assaulting them

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 2:05pm

DeAndre Harris, a black man who was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery after a group of white supremacists beat him in a Charlottesville parking garage, was exonerated in court on Friday.

Charlottesville Central District Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. said it was clear that Harris didn’t intend to cause harm and was acting in defense of his friend when he swung a flashlight at Harold Crews, a North Carolina lawyer and state chairman of the League of the South, a white supremacist group.

Video of the clash between Harris and the group of white supremacists went viral and became a defining moment from the violent Unite the Right rally last August. In the video, Harris, a former special education teaching assistant, is seen lying bloodied on the floor of the parking garage while six men in khakis and white shirts beat him with sticks.

Read more: Alternative Facts: How white supremacists got the black man they brutally beat charged with felony

Harris, who was 20 at the time, suffered a concussion, a head laceration that required 10 staples, a broken wrist, a spinal injury, and a chipped tooth. The injuries continued online, as far-right trolls, angry about the viral attention that Harris received and the arrests of several of his assailants, flooded social media with “evidence” that sought to discredit Harris’ version of events and portray him as the aggressor.

The League of the South undertook a campaign for Harris' arrest, with members claiming that they had “completely reconstructed DeAndre Harris’ actions” and had “indisputable evidence against him.” They filed a report with Charlottesville Police Department, which declined the case, and took their “evidence” to the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, which also declined.

But they found a sympathetic ear in the magistrate’s office, which issued a warrant for Harris’ arrest. Harris was arraigned on felony assault charges, which were later downgraded to a misdemeanor. Had he been convicted, he faced up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

States are trying to make it easier to punish the next Larry Nassar

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 1:11pm

Rachael Denhollander couldn’t sleep. With her 25th birthday fast approaching, she had just days left before she ran out of time to file a police report against then-celebrated USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.

In other words, Denhollander had to decide whether to finally, publicly accuse of Nassar sexually abusing her when she was a 15-year-old gymnast.

“I woke up the morning I turned 25, and instead of feeling joy at a milestone, I only felt hopelessness and grief because I thought my chance to stop this man was over,” Denhollander told a Michigan courtroom, years later, after Nassar was convicted for decades of sexual misconduct against the young athletes he treated. More than 260 people have since accused Nassar of abuse. “I thought daily about all the little women and girls walking in his office and I wondered if it would ever, ever end.”

In the vast majority of the United States, including Nassar’s home state of Michigan, laws called statute of limitations set deadlines, often just a few years, by which civil or criminal charges can be filed against someone. But in the wake of Nassar’s high-profile trial and the widespread #MeToo movement, at least 17 states introduced bills to loosen those deadlines, according to a VICE News’ review of legislature dockets.

Inspired by the Nassar scandal, Michigan state Sen. Margaret O’Brien wants Michigan to become known as the “the state where we protect children from being sexually assaulted.” She recently cosponsored a package of bills, which passed the state’s Senate on Wednesday, to lengthen many of Michigan’s civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sex abuse victims.

Advocates for statutes of limitation warn that waiting to prosecute could leave people unable to fairly defend themselves, since memories fade and evidence deteriorates. But reform supporters point to the pile of sex abuse scandals, most recently with Harvey Weinstein and Nassar, as catalysts for the laws to change. With longer statutes of limitations or none at all, victims can heal in private and still see justice served.

“For a long time, the rape victims and the child victims looked so vulnerable — they had no lobbies — that it was just very easy to push them back,” said Marci Hamilton, CEO of anti-child abuse group Child USA. “The #MeToo movement does indicate that they are having increasing political power and I think that does make a difference.”

“A barrier to justice”

Forty-three states currently have some type of statute of limitations for felony sex crimes on the books, according to a database by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the leading anti-sexual assault group in the United States. The laws vary widely in the time restrictions they impose and the type of crimes they affect: Some laws limit cases to within five years after the crime, while others give a 20-year window. Many states also make exceptions for crimes where police collected DNA evidence.

"The harsh reality is that in most cases, survivors of sexual assault are too deeply traumatized to be able to speak out and pursue justice until decades later."

Advocates for statutes of limitations laws want to ensure that innocent people aren’t prosecuted for crimes they didn’t commit or “he said, she said” situations where they can’t defend themselves.

“It’s very difficult to defend against most sexual assault charges anyway,” said Mike Iacopino, a New Hampshire criminal defense attorney who also serves as the co-chair of the sex offense committee for the National Association of Criminal Law. He thinks states should keep statute of limitations for sexual assault cases. “Even though the burden of proof is not on the defendant, you’ve got to investigate and you’ve got to be able to come up with evidence to negate what is said. And that’s very difficult to do when there’s a huge length of time that’s gone by.”

The New Hampshire Legislature is currently considering both a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault and a bill to study the impact of doing so.

But others point out that sexual assault victims — especially those abused as children — often wait years before speaking out, thanks to the shame and fear that can surround sex crimes. Just 23 percent of people who were raped or sexually assaulted in 2016 reported the crime to law enforcement, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found.

Denhollander said Nassar sexually assaulted her in 2000, but she didn’t publicly name him as a pedophile until 2016. As it turns out, Michigan had already changed the law that Denhollander thought prevented her from filing charges; she just didn’t know. Her police report and interview with the Indianapolis Star made Denhollander the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual misconduct.

Now, O’Brien wants to reform Michigan’s laws even more.

"The harsh reality is that in most cases, survivors of sexual assault are too deeply traumatized to be able to speak out and pursue justice until decades later," Denhollander told the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee last month. Both Denhollander and Sterling Riethman, who also said Nassar abused her, met with O’Brien and advocated for statute of limitation reform.

Rachael Denhollander, left, hugs Sterling Riethman, after Dr. Larry Nassar appeared in court for a plea hearing in Lansing, Mich., Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“States of limitations were established at a time when we knew a lot less about victimology about the neurobiology of trauma, about why a victim might not report immediately,” explained Rebecca O’Connor, who serves as RAINN’s vice president of policy. “They’re a barrier to justice for some victims.”

For example, though more than 45 women said Bill Cosby raped or sexually assaulted them, the statutes of limitations expired in all but one case. And one man who said former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky molested him couldn’t sue because he’d missed the statute of limitations deadline by nine months.

“We’re seeing this movement throughout our country, where we’re saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’”

Right now, Michigan has no statute of limitations for the most severe types of sexual assault, like rape. If someone endures second- or third-degree sexual misconduct, however, prosecutors must bring charges within a decade of the offense or the victim’s 21st birthday, whichever is later. And if people sexually abused as children in Michigan want to bring a civil lawsuit against their abuser, they generally need to do so before their 19th birthday.

If O’Brien’s bills succeed, Michigan won’t have a statute of limitation on indictments for second-degree sexual misconduct against children, and prosecutors would have at least 30 years to bring charges for third-degree misconduct against children. People abused as minors would also have until their 48th birthday to sue.

Most of the 16 state efforts to reform statutes of limitations would give victims of childhood sex abuse more time to come forward, but a few want to completely remove the time limit on some types of sexual assault. South Dakota is also considering a bill to study the impact of weakening statutes of limitations on sex crimes, although no one has proposed a bill yet.

An uphill battle

Though Nassar’s trial and the #MeToo movement are fuelling their activism now, the calls for reform are far from new. Both RAINN and Child USA have supported statute of limitations reforms for years.

And last year, 10 states introduced bills to reform the statutes of limitation on child sex abuse — more than Child USA’s CEO Hamilton said she’d seen in 20 years of advocacy.

“The #MeToo movement has helped a lot this year, but I also think we were building up to it,” Hamilton explained. She ticked off some of the country’s largest sex scandals, like the Boston Globe’s 2002 expose on the Catholic Church’s history of sex abuse and the 2012 conviction of Sandusky for abusing 10 boys. Pennsylvania — where Sandusky was charged and where the sole prosecution against Cosby is taking place — isn’t considering changing its statutes of limitations this year.

Bill Cosby arrives for a pretrial hearing in his sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse, Tuesday, March 6, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

But the sexual assault accusations against Cosby have prompted some states to rethink their statutes of limitations, O’Connor said. Although Cosby’s lawyers have argued that the case against him is still too old to be prosecuted, the scandal spurred California to eliminate its statute of limitations on rape last year.

“I think Americans have pretty much had enough,” Hamilton said.

Still, proponents of the proposals will likely face an uphill battle. In a letter to Michigan’s legislature before the Senate vote, a group representing the state’s 15 public universities asked to delay its decision on O’Brien’s bills. The group said the package could damage schools, churches, and other institutions and opened them up to lawsuits that could spike insurance costs and weaken government credit.

The Catholic Church has also fought past efforts to loosen statutes of limitation in states like New York, Colorado, and Massachusetts, which are all considering reforming their statutes of limitations this year. The Church is particularly concerned by so-called statute of limitation “revivals,” which give victims a window of time to retroactively file civil cases against their alleged abusers even if the statute of limitations has passed. After California gave childhood sex abuse survivors a one-year window to file civil claims in 2003, over 500 people ended up participating in a $660 million settlement against the Catholic Church for abuses that stretched back 70 years. The settlement was the largest of its kind at the time.

O’Brien’s package of bills include a one-year “revival” that would allow children abused as far back as 1997 to sue. (Athletes at Michigan State University first reported Nassar’s abuse to school officials in 1997.) A spokesperson for the Michigan Catholic Conference didn’t reply to a request for comment but said last week that the bills inspired by the Nassar scandal were “of concern” to the state’s Catholic lobbying arm.

Still, O’Brien told VICE News that she hopes to pass the package by summer. The bills were referred to a House committee on Thursday.

“These are arguments that would ensure that justice is never given to the Nassar victims or to any other person,” O’Brien said. “We’re seeing this movement throughout our country, where we’re saying, ‘Enough’s enough.’”

Cover image: Larry Nassar listens during his sentencing at Eaton County Circuit Court in Charlotte, Mich., Monday, Feb. 5, 2018. (Cory Morse /The Grand Rapids Press via AP)

These students don't care that they we're punished for walking out: "Worth it"

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 1:04pm

When students across the country walked out of classes Wednesday in memory of the 17 people who died in a massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, some of them knew that they could face consequences in the form of truancy marks, detention, or even suspension from school.

But they walked out anyway.

We talked to high school students from across the country who defied teachers and school administrators to make their voices heard in the movement against gun violence — even if it meant getting into trouble for it.

“If you’re not willing to take the consequence, you don’t care enough about the issue,” said Zoë Kuhn, a high school sophomore in Goshen, Kentucky. “You don’t understand the fact that yes, you got 30 minutes of detention. That’s inconvenient to you but those kids that got killed or injured, they can never go back to school. “

Wednesday’s walkouts were just the beginning. On March 24, thousands are expected to gather in Washington, D.C., for “March for Our Lives,” organized by the student survivors of the Parkland shooting. According to the event’s website, there are 763 solidarity marches being planned for the same day across the country and around the world.

Facebook admits connecting the world isn’t always a good thing

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 12:34pm
One of the defining tenets of Facebook’s corporate philosophy is to connect people around the world, both to each other and to issues that matter to them. Co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said the social network’s mission is “to give people the power to share and to make the world more open and connected.” […]

‘It doesn’t even feel real’: NJ reporter recounts highway confrontation

Columbia Journalism Review - March 16, 2018 - 12:32pm
IN MID-DECEMBER, NJ Advance Media reporters Stephen Stirling and SP Sullivan published a groundbreaking look at the state’s dysfunctional medical examiner offices in which they described, in grisly detail, the mistreatment of New Jersey’s dead. They recently followed up on that piece with an exposé on Joseph Fantasia, a belligerent funeral director with a reputation […]

Russian exile found dead in his London home was murdered, police say

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 12:00pm

British police launched a murder investigation Friday into the death of Russian businessman Nikolai Glushkov, whose body was found in his London home earlier this week.

The police findings will significantly ratchet up pressure in the already high-stakes standoff between Russia and Britain, which has seen the British government slap sanctions on Moscow for what Prime Minister Theresa May called “an unlawful use of force by the Russian state against the United Kingdom.”

Things have escalated quickly since U.K. police determined Russia was behind a chemical attack on a former double agent and his daughter in the English town of Salisbury on March 4. Backed by the U.S., Germany and France, Britain has put the blame squarely on the Kremlin.

Read: U.K. retaliates after Russia fails to explain poisoning of ex-spy

Russia has denied any involvement, calling the international accusations against it “shocking and unforgivable,” and vowing to retaliate with sanctions of its own.

Scotland Yard announced Friday that it was investigating Glushkov’s death as a murder, after a pathologist’s report gave the 68-year-old’s cause of death as compression to the neck.

Police had said Tuesday that counterterrorism officers would lead the investigation into his death “as a precaution because of associations that the man is believed to have had.”

Glushkov had been a friend of the late Boris Berezovsky, a powerful Russian oligarch and opponent of Vladimir Putin who was found hanged in his U.K. home in 2013. It has been widely speculated in Britain that Moscow played a role in Berezovsky’s death, and the coroner returned an open verdict. Glushkov himself had told the British press that he didn’t believe his friend had killed himself.

Read: What happens when Russia ignores the U.K.'s ultimatum over nerve agent attack

Glushkov also reportedly knew Alexander Litvinenko, a former Russian FSB agent who went on to work with MI6 after fleeing to the UK, and was killed by Kremlin assassins in 2006 with a radioactive cup of tea.

Glushkov had been deputy director of the Russian national airline Aeroflot, before he was jailed for five years in 1999 for money laundering and fraud. After another fraud sentence in 2006, he fled to the U.K. where he was granted political asylum, and became an outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Guardian reported that at the time of his death, Glushkov was preparing to defend a claim against him by Aeroflot in a London court, where he stood accused of fraud by the Russian authorities.

His body was found Monday night at his address in New Malden, southwest London, where he had lived for two years.

Police said in a statement Friday that there was nothing at this stage to suggest any link to the attempted murders in Salisbury, nor any evidence that Glushkov was poisoned.

Cover image: Forensics investigators work at the home of Nikolai Glushkov in New Malden, on the outskirts of London, Britain, March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

Federal employees protecting public lands now wear oil rigs on their lapels

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 11:01am

Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management has some new branding, one that prominently features oil rigs.

The Bureau of Land Management gave out new identification cards for all its employees to wear out in the field — complete with illustrations of oil rigs and cowboys. Under the heading “our vision,” the card also outlines the agency’s current vision: “to enhance the quality of life for all citizens through the balanced stewardship of America’s public lands and resources."

The cards also highlight the agency’s “multiple-use mission” in sustaining the “productivity of the public lands” and pursuing “excellence in business practices.” The language also mentions the work the agency does for “customers” and “stakeholders” — words have become code for industry under the Trump administration.

Government watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) provided photos of the cards, shown below, to VICE News. The Washington Post and EE News independently confirmed their distribution.

“These vision cards were created and sent out several months ago by the Washington office to encourage employees to be aware of the BLM's core values. No one was ordered to wear them by anyone at headquarters,” the agency’s spokesperson Michelle Barret told VICE News in an email.

Employees, however, told PEER that they were “ordered” to wear the cards on their lapels.

Under the Obama administration, the Bureau of Land Management promoted imagery that had more to do with public access to public lands rather than the agency’s role in fostering business. The Bureau of Land Management’s current website notes how the agency’s “multiple-use approach puts America First.” Before the Trump administration, the bureau’s public-facing mission statements focused on “eco-regional assessments” and “expanding the collection of native seeds,” though the language did mention providing for energy development on public lands.

In April of last year, however, the primary image on the Department of the Interior’s website switched from a photo of a family looking wistfully over public lands to a guy standing next to his truck with an American flag pinned to its roof and looking up at a huge pile of coal.

Cover image: A side-by-side photo of the front (left) and back (right) of the Bureau of Land Management's new "vision" cards. (Provided to VICE News by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility)

Orion Danjuma on Voter Suppression Trial, Maha Hilal on CIA Choice’s Torture Record

FAIR - March 16, 2018 - 10:24am
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Kris Kobach

This week on CounterSpin: Corporate media have moved beyond rhetorically balancing right-wing claims of voter fraud with documented evidence of voter suppression, but have they taken the next step—to acknowledging the voter fraud pretense as part of the voter suppression effort? The federal trial over voter fraud mouthpiece Kris Kobach’s effort to change registration laws in Kansas is a good test case. We talk about it with Orion Danjuma, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program.

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Gina Haspel (photo: CIA via Salon)

Also on the show: “I don’t envy her trying to get through confirmation,” says a CIA lawyer quoted in the New York Times, talking about Gina Haspel, the agency’s current deputy director, now nominated by Trump for the top spot. The source, and to some extent the article, focused on the difficulties Haspel may face getting the job, as if her involvement in so-called “counterterrorism” programs that included torture were, above all, a potential career impediment. We get a different view from Maha Hilal, the Michael Ratner fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and an organizer with Witness Against Torture.

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MP3 Link

And Janine Jackson takes a quick look at Hollywood and guns.

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A running list of Trump administration firings and departures

VICE News - March 16, 2018 - 10:18am
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“Everyone wants to work at the White House,” President Trump said in March after the sudden departures of Chief Economic Advisor Steve Cohn and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks. But a VICE News review of administration turnover since he took office in January 2017 shows another Trump quote better sums up what it's like to work in his administration: “You’re fired.”

In the year and 50 or so days since Donald Trump became president of the United States, his administration has fired or lost dozens of major staffers — including four communications directors, an FBI director, a press secretary, a chief of staff, and a secretary of state. The Brookings Institution estimated in March that 42 percent of top White House positions had turned over since Trump took office, more than the first two years of the Obama or George W. Bush administrations.

Who's next? Probably National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, or even White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. Below is a running list of cabinet members, notable White House officials, and major administration figures who have been fired by the president famous for firing people, pressured to resign, or walked out the door on their own accord.

2017 Sally Yates
Department of Justice
Title: Acting Attorney General
Fired: Jan. 30
Reason: She told Justice Department attorneys that they should not defend Trump’s travel ban in court. Mike Flynn
Department:White House
Title: National Security Adviser
Resignation announced: Feb. 13
Reason: He allegedly lied to Mike Pence about conversations he’d had with the Russians. Katie Walsh
Department: White House
Title: Deputy Chief of Staff
Resignation revealed: March 30
Reason: Trump sent her to work for an outside pro-Trump lobbying group. K.T. McFarland
Department: White House
Title: Deputy National Security Adviser
Resignation revealed: Jan. 30
Reason: She was set to become ambassador to Singapore, but withdrew her nomination after her role in the Trump campaign’s Russia scandal came under scrutiny. James Comey
Department: FBI
Title: Director
Fired: May 9
Reason: Officially, Comey got the axe because of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. Trump later said on NBC that he fired Comey, in part, because of “this Russia thing.” Mike Dubke
Department: White House
Title: Communications Director
Resignation announced: May 30
Reason: "A number of reasons — for personal reasons," he said. Trump was reportedly upset by comments Dubke made about Trump’s policy. “There is no Trump doctrine,” Dubke said. Mark Corallo
Department: White House
Title: Spokesman for Trump’s legal team
Resignation revealed: July 20
Reason: Corallo was reportedly frustrated with conflict inside of the White House and worried that Trump was obstructing justice. Sean Spicer
Department: White House
Title: Press Secretary and Communications Director
Resignation announced: July 21
Reason: Spicer reportedly didn’t agree with Trump’s decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director. Michael Short
Department: White House
Title: Press Aide
Resignation announced: July 25
Reason: Anthony Scaramucci had threatened to fire Short over alleged leaks. Derek Harvey
Department: National Security Council
Title: Member
Fired: July 27
Reason: Removed by new national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Although he was supposed to be reassigned, he joined a congressional committee investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. Reince Priebus
Department: White House
Title: Chief of Staff
Fired: July 28
Reason: Trump replaced him with John Kelly after just 6 months on the job. Priebus had a longstanding feud with Anthony Scaramucci. Anthony Scaramucci
Department: White House
Title: Communications Director
Fired: July 31
Reason: He gave an extremely lewd interview to the New Yorker where he criticized other White House staffers, so Trump’s new chief of staff ousted him. Scaramucci lasted 11 days on the job. Ezra Cohen-Watnick
Department: National Security Council
Title: Senior Director
Fired: Aug. 2
Reason: H.R. McMaster was reportedly working to rid the council of Flynn appointees. Rich Higgins
Department: National Security Council
Title: Director of Strategic Planning
Firing revealed: Aug. 11
Reason: Fired for a memo alleging a "deep state" and leftist conspiracy to remove Trump from office. George Sifakis
Department: Office of Public Liaison
Title: Director
Departure revealed: Aug. 18
Reason: Alleged dysfunction at the Office of Public Liaison. Steve Bannon
Department: White House
Title: Chief Strategist
Fired: Aug. 18
Reason: The Trump administration officially said that Bannon and John Kelly mutually agreed upon Bannon’s departure, but reports from inside the White House say Bannon was fired. Carl Icahn
Department: White House
Title: Special Adviser
Resignation Announced: Aug. 18
Reason: Famed corporate raider explained: “I did not want partisan bickering about my role to in any way cloud your administration." Sebastian Gorka
Department: White House
Title: Deputy Assistant to the President
Fired: Aug. 25
Reason: Chief of staff John Kelly reportedly wasn’t pleased with Gorka’s work in the White House. Keith Schiller
Department: White House
Title: Deputy Assistant to the President
Resigned: Sep. 20
Reason: He was reportedly upset with his paycheck, which was much smaller than it was at the Trump Organization. Strangely, the RNC is still reportedly paying him $15,000 a month. Tom Price
Department: Department of Health and Human Services
Title: Secretary
Resigned: Sep. 29
Reason: Price caused controversy over his private air travel that was financed by taxpayer money, for trips that often involved personal tasks — like taking his son to lunch in Nashville. Jamie Johnson
Department: Department of Homeland Security
Title: Director of the DHS’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Resigned: Nov. 17
Reason: Audio revealed that Johnson once said that “it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity.” Dina Powell
Department: White House
Title: Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy
Resignation Announced: Dec. 8
Reason: The White House said that Powell had always planned to stay on at the White House for just a year. Omarosa Manigault Newman
Department: Office of Public Liaison
Title: Communications Director
Fired: Dec. 13
Reason: Official word is that Omarosa resigned “to pursue other opportunities” — but reports say she was escorted off the White House grounds while screaming and cursing. Rick Dearborn
Department: White House
Title: Deputy Chief of Staff
Resignation revealed: Dec. 21
Reason: He wanted to return to the private sector. Jeremy Katz
Department: White House
Title: Economic adviser
Resignation revealed: Dec. 22
Reason: He planned on a career at the White House that would last only a year. 2018 Carl Higbie
Department: Corporation for National and Community Service
Title: Chief of External Affairs
Resignation announced: Jan. 19
Reason: CNN uncovered racist, sexist, and homophobic comments he made while working as a radio host. Taylor Weyeneth
Department: Office of National Drug Control Policy
Title: Deputy Chief of Staff
Resignation announced: Jan. 24
Reason: There was controversy surrounding his hiring — he was just 24 years old and had almost no professional experience. Andrew McCabe
Department: FBI
Title: FBI Deputy Director
Resignation announced: Jan. 29
Reason: His retirement date was approaching, but McCabe was also a frequent target of President Trump’s. Trump had even threatened McCabe’s job on Twitter. Rob Porter
Department: White House
Title: Staff Secretary
Resigned: Feb. 7
Reason: Two ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. Josh Raffel
Department: White House
Title: Deputy Communications Director
Resignation Announced: Feb. 27
Reason: Although he said the reason was to return to the private sector, some have speculated that Raffel departed because of political differences: He is a Democrat who previously worked for Jared Kushner’s family. Hope Hicks
Department: White House
Title:Communications Director
Resignation Announced: Feb. 28
Reason: Hicks announced her resignation soon after her relationship with Rob Porter became public. Gary Cohn
Department: National Economic Council
Title: Director
Resignation Announced: March 6
Reason: Cohn was reportedly furious that Trump imposed steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. John McEntee
Department: White House
Title: Personal Assistant
Fired: March 13
Reason: McEntee was escorted from the White House grounds after he failed to get security clearance because of financial problems in his past. Rex Tillerson
Department: State Department
Title: Secretary of State
Fired: March 13
Reason: Trump and Tillerson’s relationship had been rocky for months due to style differences, so Trump fired him and let him know via Twitter. Steve Goldstein
Department: State Department
Title: Undersecretary of State
Fired: March 13
Reason: He contradicted the White House statement on Tillerson’s firing by saying that Tillerson found out because Trump tweeted about it.


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