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Trump's trial starting: 'Grievous crime' or just 'theater'?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate launches Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial on Tuesday, with lawyers for the former president insisting he is not guilty of inciting mob violence at the Capitol to overturn the election while prosecutors say he must be convicted of the “most grievous constitutional crime” even though he’s gone from the White House.

Trump faces a sole charge of incitement to insurrection over the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, an attack that stunned the nation and the world after he encouraged a rally crowd to “fight like hell” for his presidency. Rioters stormed the building trying to stop the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s victory.

No witnesses are expected to be called, in part because the senators sworn as jurors will be presented with graphic videos of the scenes they witnessed that day, forced to flee for safety. Under COVID-19 protocols senators will distance for the trial, some even using the visitors' galleries. Holed up at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, Trump has declined a request to testify.

The first president to face charges after leaving office and the first to be twice impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump continues to challenge the nation's civic norms and traditions even in defeat. Security remains extremely tight at the Capitol. While acquittal is likely, the trial will test the nation's attitude toward his brand of presidential power, the Democrats' resolve in pursuing him and the loyalty of Trump's Republican allies defending him.

“In trying to make sense of a second Trump trial, the public should keep in mind that Donald Trump was the first president ever to refuse to accept his defeat,” said Timothy Naftali, a clinical associate professor at New York University and an expert on Richard Nixon's impeachment saga.


Dems propose $1,400 payments as part of Biden virus relief

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Monday proposed an additional $1,400 in direct payments to individuals as Congress began piecing together a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that tracks President Joe Biden's plan for battling the pandemic and reviving a still staggering economy.

Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee would expand tax credits for families with children, for lower-earning people and those buying health insurance on marketplaces created by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The panel, which plans to approve the measure by week’s end, would also provide health care subsidies for some unemployed workers.

Less than three weeks into his presidency, Biden has declared that vanquishing the virus and resuscitating the economy are his top priorities. The coronavirus pandemic has killed over 460,000 Americans while the economy has lost 10 million jobs since the crisis began last year.

Monday's Ways and Means unveiling of its piece of the package — at over $900 billion, nearly half of Biden's entire plan — came with Congress' Democratic leaders hoping to rush the legislation to the president for his signature by mid-March, when existing emergency unemployment benefits expire. Their schedule reflects a desire by Biden and congressional Democrats to show they can respond swiftly and decisively to the crisis, even if, as seems likely, they must muscle past solid Republican opposition.

“While it is still our hope that Republicans will join us in doing right by the American people, the urgency of the moment demands that we act without further delay," said Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.


New variants raise worry about COVID-19 virus reinfections

Evidence is mounting that having COVID-19 may not protect against getting infected again with some of the new variants. People also can get second infections with earlier versions of the coronavirus if they mounted a weak defense the first time, new research suggests.

How long immunity lasts from natural infection is one of the big questions in the pandemic. Scientists still think reinfections are fairly rare and usually less serious than initial ones, but recent developments around the world have raised concerns.

In South Africa, a vaccine study found new infections with a variant in 2% of people who previously had an earlier version of the virus.

In Brazil, several similar cases were documented with a new variant there. Researchers are exploring whether reinfections help explain a recent surge in the city of Manaus, where three-fourths of residents were thought to have been previously infected.

In the United States, a study found that 10% of Marine recruits who had evidence of prior infection and repeatedly tested negative before starting basic training were later infected again. That work was done before the new variants began to spread, said one study leader, Dr. Stuart Sealfon of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.


Vaccine drive gains speed, but maskless fans fuel worries

The drive to vaccinate Americans against the coronavirus is gaining speed and newly recorded cases have fallen to their lowest level in three months, but authorities worry that raucous Super Bowl celebrations could fuel new outbreaks.

More than 4 million more vaccinations were reported over the weekend, a significantly faster clip than in previous days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly one in 10 Americans have now received at least one shot. But just 2.9% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, a long way from the 70% or more that experts say must be inoculated to conquer the outbreak.

Newly confirmed infections have declined to an average of 117,000 a day, the lowest point since early November. That is a steep drop from the peak of nearly 250,000 a day in early January.

The number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 has also fallen sharply to about 81,000, down from more than 130,000 last month.


EXPLAINER: What's ahead as Trump impeachment trial begins

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment trial begins Tuesday, forcing the Senate to decide whether to convict him of incitement of insurrection after a violent mob of his supporters laid siege to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

While Trump’s acquittal is expected, Democrats hope to gain at least some Senate Republican votes by linking Trump's actions to a vivid description of the violence, which resulted in five deaths and sent lawmakers fleeing for safety. The House impeached Trump on Jan. 13, one week later.

Trump's lawyers say the trial should not be held at all because the former president is now a private citizen. They argue that he did not incite the violence when he told his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.

A look at the basics of the upcoming impeachment trial:

HOW DOES THE TRIAL WORK?


Sources: Biden officials snub Salvadoran leader in DC trip

MIAMI (AP) — The Biden administration turned down a meeting request with El Salvador’s president on an unannounced trip to Washington last week, as criticism of the Central American leader mounts among Democrats, three people with knowledge of the decision said Monday.

The trip by Nayib Bukele, which has not been previously reported, came after a senior White House official warned in an interview with a Salvadoran news outlet highly critical of Bukele that the Biden administration expected to have “differences” with him.

Bukele was quick to embrace former President Donald Trump’s hardline immigration policies restricting asylum requests, which won him a great deal of U.S. support for his tough governing style in El Salvador, where he is popular. But like other world leaders befriended by Trump, he faces an uphill climb pivoting to the Biden administration, which is seeking to undo those policies and has signaled its relationship with El Salvador is under review.

The president’s surprise trip amid a pandemic posed a dilemma for U.S. policy makers. They were given little advance notice and are mostly avoiding in-person meetings due to the coronavirus and because many senior positions remain vacant, said the the three people, all of whom are in Washington and insisted on speaking anonymously in return for discussing internal decision-making.

In rejecting Bukele’s request, the Biden officials wanted to ensure Bukele didn’t try to tout any meeting as a show of support before legislative elections later this month where he's seeking to expand his power base, the people said. However, they did make an exception for Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno, who met in Washington with senior Biden officials 11 days before the Andean nation’s presidential election.


Georgia election officials investigate Trump call

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia's secretary of state's office on Monday opened an investigation into a phone call between Donald Trump and the state's top elections official in which the then-president said he wanted to “find” enough votes to overturn his loss in the state, an official said.

Walter Jones, a spokesman for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, confirmed the investigation.

“The Secretary of State’s office investigates complaints it receives. The investigations are fact-finding and administrative in nature. Any further legal efforts will be left to the Attorney General,” Jones wrote.

Trump had refused to accept his loss to Democrat Joe Biden and focused much of his attention on Georgia, a traditionally red state that he narrowly lost. During the Jan. 2 phone call, Trump repeatedly argued that Raffensperger could change the certified results, an assertion the secretary of state firmly rejected.

“All I want to do is this. I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump said. “Because we won the state.”


Man charged in US Capitol riot worked for FBI, lawyer says

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who authorities say is a leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group and helped to organize a ring of other extremists and led them in the attack last month at the U.S. Capitol has held a top-secret security clearance for decades and previously worked for the FBI, his attorney said Monday.

Thomas Caldwell, who authorities believe holds a leadership role in the extremist group, worked as a section chief for the FBI from 2009 to 2010 after retiring from the Navy, his lawyer, Thomas Plofchan, wrote in a motion urging the judge to release him from jail while he awaits trial.

The defense said Caldwell, who has denied being part of the Oath Keepers, has held a top-secret security clearance since 1979, which required multiple special background investigations, according to Plofchan. Caldwell also ran a consulting firm that did classified work for the U.S. government, the lawyer said.

“He has been vetted and found numerous times as a person worthy of the trust and confidence of the United States government, as indicated by granting him Top Secret clearances," Plofchan wrote.

Most section chiefs within the FBI rise through the ranks of the bureau and it is unclear whether Caldwell would’ve been directly hired for that position or whether he held any other positions with the bureau. The FBI did not immediately comment Monday evening and Caldwell's lawyer didn’t immediately answer questions about his client's work.


Sheriff: Hacker tried to taint Florida city's water with lye

OLDSMAR, Fla. (AP) — A hacker gained unauthorized entry into a remote access software system shared by workers at a Florida city’s water treatment plant in an unsuccessful attempt to fill the water supply with a potentially harmful chemical, authorities said.

An unknown suspect breached a computer system for the city of Oldsmar's water treatment plant on Friday and briefly increased the amount of sodium hydroxide from 100 parts per million to 11,100 parts per million, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a news conference Monday.

Sodium hydroxide, also called lye, is used to treat water acidity but the compound is also found in cleaning supplies such as soaps and drain cleaners. It can cause irritation, burns and other complications in larger quantities.

A supervisor saw the chemical being tampered with — as a mouse controlled by the intruder moved across the screen changing settings — and was able to intervene and reverse it, Gualtieri said. Oldsmar, a city of 15,000 residents, is about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northwest of Tampa.

“At no time was there a significant adverse effect on the water being treated,” Gualtieri said. “Importantly, the public was never in danger.”


Tokyo Olympics have yet another problem: It's President Mori

TOKYO (AP) — The postponed Tokyo Olympics have yet another problem besides the pandemic. This time it’s Yoshiro Mori, the president of the local organizing committee.

Mori made derogatory comments about women almost a week ago in a meeting of the Japanese Olympic Committee. Basically, he said they talk too much, driven by a “strong sense of rivalry.”

The 83-year-old former prime minister was forced to apologize, but this has not quelled calls for his resignation. They seem to grow daily, cutting into weakening support for the Olympics and raising questions why elderly men dominate politics and boardrooms in Japan.

In a statement on Sunday, the local organizing committee issued a vague statement saying it supports diversity. The committee is also heavily dominated by men with few women in any leadership roles.

Mori has been the continuing topic of talk and news shows, which point out that the World Economic Forum ranks Japan 121st of 153 countries in gender equality. This contrasts with Japan's image as a sophisticated, developed country and the home of some of the world's most famous and trusted brands.

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