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House January 6 committee subpoenas Rudy Giuliani and three other Trump allies

On Tuesday, the House select committee investigating the January 6 assault on U.S. Capitol issued subpoenas to former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and three others – Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell, two lawyers who worked to promote the president’s false claims about the election, as well as Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump White House aide.

The committee is demanding documents and testimony from Giuliani, Ellis, Powell, and Boris Epshteyn, who all challenged the 2020 election results. The panel’s chairman Bennie Thompson said in a statement: “the four individuals we’ve subpoenaed today advanced unsupported theories about election fraud, pushed efforts to overturn the election results, or were in direct contact with the former President about attempts to stop the counting of electoral votes.”

Giuliani, Ellis, Powell, and Boris Epshteyn participated in a November 19, 2020 press conference that featured outlandish claims the election had been stolen and that Trump had won in a “landslide.”

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Website for free at-home COVID test kits is launched one day early

One day ahead of the scheduled rollout of free COVID-19 tests distributed by the Biden administration, Americans are able to place orders for their free test kits through a form posted by the U.S. Postal Service. The White House announced last week that it would publicly launch the site covidtests.gov on Wednesday, 1/19. However, by Tuesday morning the site was up and running.  By early Tuesday afternoon, more than 500,000 users were visiting the test website. Every household is eligible to order four rapid antigen COVID-19 tests for free, to be delivered by the Postal Service, which will begin shipping tests in late January.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday: “It will officially launch tomorrow morning. It’s in the beta testing phase right now.”   A White House official said in a statement that the website is running at “limited capacity” as the government works to troubleshoot potential issues ahead of its formal launch Wednesday. An announcement was added to the webpage on Tuesday afternoon, saying that the administration has “tests for every residential address in the U.S.” and urged Americans to “check back tomorrow if you run into any unexpected issues.”

The White House also says it plans to launch a hotline that will allow Americans to order their own tests over the phone, if they have difficulty ordering on the website. Orders of the COVID-19 tests will be delivered for free via first-class mail. .

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Family of tornado victim in central Illinois sues Amazon over warehouse collapse

The family of an Amazon delivery driver, who died when the central Illinois Amazon facility where he worked collapsed due to a tornado, filed a wrongful death lawsuit Monday in Madison County. The lawsuit on behalf of 26-year-old Austin McEwen claims that Amazon failed to warn employees of dangerous weather or provide safe shelter before a tornado slammed into the Edwardsville facility on Dec. 10, killing McEwen and five others.

McEwen’s parents, Randy and Alice McEwen, allege that Amazon administrators knew severe weather was imminent but had no emergency plan nor evacuated employees from the fulfillment center.  Mrs. McEwen said at a news conference on Monday: “Sadly, it appears that Amazon placed profits first during this holiday season instead of the safety of our son and the other five.”  The lawsuit stated that Amazon “carelessly required individuals … to continue working up until the moments before the tornado struck” and “improperly directed” McEwen and colleagues to shelter in a rest room, which it says the company knew or should have known wasn’t safe.  The lawsuit seeks more than $50,000 from each of the four defendants named in the suit, which includes Amazon.com, the construction company that built the facility and the project’s developer.

Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a statement that countered that the lawsuit: “This was a new building less than four years old, built in compliance with all applicable building codes, and the local teams were following the weather conditions closely. Severe weather watches are common in this part of the country and, while precautions are taken, are not cause for most businesses to close down. We believe our team did the right thing as soon as a warning was issued.”  Nantel said the company would defend itself against the lawsuit but would continue to focus on “supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes.”

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Newly elected Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia begins term by signing executive actions including a ban on critical race theory in public schools, lifting school mask mandates

Newly-elected Governor Glenn Youngkin of Virginia began his term on Saturday with executive actions directed at education and the COVID-19 pandemic, which notably included a ban on critical race theory in public schools and a lifting of school mask requirements. Youngkin also issued executive actions terminating the Virginia Parole Board, rescinding a vaccine mandate for state employees and establishing a commission to combat anti-Semitism.

Youngkin became the first Republican to win statewide office in Virginia since 2009.  He signed nine executive orders and two executive directives following his swearing-in, saying that the executive actions are steps to help launch “the work of restoring excellence in education, making our communities safer, opening Virginia for business and reinvigorating job growth, and making government work for the people, and not the other way around.”

The first executive order from Glenn Youngkin prohibits the teaching of “inherently divisive concepts,” including critical race theory, an academic concept developed by legal scholars to examine the ongoing effects of racism in American policies and institutions. Youngkin said in his executive order: “Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms,”adding that “inherently divisive concepts, like critical race theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims.”

Youngkin also removed school mask requirements statewide. The governor’s order states that parents with children in public schools “may elect for their children not to be subject to any mask mandate in effect at the child’s school or educational program.”  The order continued:“A child whose parent has elected that he or she is not subject to a mask mandate should not be required to wear a mask under any policy implemented by a teacher, school, school district, the Department of Education, or any other state authority.”  The removal of a mask mandate in public schools prompted pushback from school districts outside of Washington, D.C.  Following the governor’s executive order, Arlington Public Schools announced Saturday there would be no change to its mask requirements, with the face coverings still required for staff and students inside school grounds and on buses. Fairfax County Public Schools – the state’s largest school system — also said the district would continue to require universal masking.  Alexandria City Public Schools also stated it will continue to require all individuals wear masks in schools, facilities and on buses.

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Dozens of homes destroyed, power outages after tornado hits Southwest Florida

Dozens of homes were destroyed Sunday morning when severe weather tore through southwest Florida. At least 28 homes in Lee County were destroyed, with an additional 62 homes damaged. More than 7,000 were without power and as many as 200 people were displaced, while at least four people were injured.

The National Weather Service estimates winds reached 118 mph. The path of the tornado was 125 yards wide and 1.8 miles in length. Also its path, the tornado damaged more than 100 mobile homes and 30 mobile homes were displaced from their foundation

The NWS also determined that at least one EF2 tornado touched down in the south Fort Myers area Sunday morning around 8 a.m. Video of the tornado showed debris whirling high in the sky.  The NWS continues to assess the situation, though videos on social media clearly showed tornados touching down in various places, most notably in Lee and Collier counties.

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Suspect holding people hostage at synagogue in Colleyville, Texas is dead; hostages are released safely

All hostages were released safely from a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas (about 30 miles northwest of Dallas) following a 10+ hour standoff. According to local and federal law enforcement officials, the man responsible is dead.

The group of four hostages, which included the rabbi of the synagogue, were taken hostage at about 10:41 a.m. Saturday at Congregation Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue. The hostages were being held by a man demanding the release of a federal prisoner being held in North Texas who was convicted in 2010 of attempted murder in a terrorism-related case, officials said. One of the hostages was released shortly after 5 p.m. and FBI crisis negotiators continued to communicate with the man in the synagogue Saturday night. The FBI’s hostage rescue team breached the synagogue and rescued the hostages around 9pm, Colleyville Police Chief Michael C. Miller said. The hostages, all of whom were adults, were not physically harmed and did not require medical attention, officials said. Police Chief Miller said the suspect, whose identity has not been released, is dead. Officials did not release details on how the man died.

Law enforcement agencies, including several North Texas police departments, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI’s Dallas field office as well as the agency’s hostage rescue team based in Quantico, Virginia, descended on Colleyville as the situation unfolded.

President Biden thanked those who worked to bring the four hostages home to their families, saying: “There is more we will learn in the days ahead about the motivations of the hostage-taker. But let me be clear to anyone who intends to spread hate — we will stand against antisemitism and against the rise of extremism in this country. That is who we are, and tonight, the men and women of law enforcement made us all proud.”

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Queen Elizabeth II officially strips Prince Andrew of military affiliations, royal patronages amid sexual assault lawsuit

Britain’s Prince Andrew has had his military affiliations and remaining royal patronages stripped away by his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.  Per BBC, Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Jan. 13:  “With the Queen’s approval and agreement, the Duke of York’s military affiliations and Royal patronages have been returned to the Queen. The Duke of York will continue not to undertake any public duties and is defending this case as a private citizen.”  A royal source added that Prince Andrew “will no longer use ‘His Royal Highness’ in any official capacity.”   Andrew is the second son of Queen Elizabeth II, making him ninth in line to the throne. He shares daughters Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie with his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson.

The announcement comes less than 24 hours after a judge denied the Duke of York’s motion to have a lawsuit brought against him by Virginia Giuffre dismissed.  In August 2021, Giuffre filed a lawsuit against the Duke of York at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accusing Prince Andrew of sexually abusing her on three separate occasions, claiming he knew that she was being trafficked by Jeffrey Epstein and his associate, Ghislaine Maxwell, while she was under the age of 18.

In December 2021, a jury found Maxwell guilty of five of six counts of federal sex trafficking charges. She faces a sentence of up to 65 years in person. Maxwell’s lawyers argued that it was “Epstein who pulled the strings” and became the focus of federal prosecutors after Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in August 2019. In the complaint Giuffre filed against Prince Andrew, it stated that the alleged sexual and physical abuse of Giuffre caused “significant emotional and psychological distress and harm.” Giuffre is seeking damages for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

In a 2019 BBC interview, Prince Andrew denied Giuffre’s sexual assault allegations, saying that he “doesn’t remember meeting” her. Following backlash over the interview, the Duke of York announced he would step back from his public royal duties.

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Supreme Court blocks nationwide vaccine and testing mandate for large businesses

The Supreme Court blocked President Joe Biden’s vaccine and testing requirement aimed at large businesses on Thursday, but it allowed a vaccine mandate for certain health care workers to go into effect nationwide.  The President has emphasized the necessity of getting vaccinated against the virus for months and decided to use the mandate on large employers in order to convince Americans to get their shots.

Biden issued a statement praising the ruling on health care workers but criticized the ruling on businesses that will have the much wider effect. “I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said.  Moving forward, Biden said “it is now up to States and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”

Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan issued a dissent: “When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible.”  The rule would impact some 80 million individuals and requires employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that their employees are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. There are exceptions for those with religious objections. During oral arguments, the Biden administration asked if the court says employers can’t require the employees to get the vaccine, it should leave in place an alternate requirement for masking and frequent testing. The majority rejected that request Thursday.

The court allowed to take effect the vaccine policy rolled out in November by the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which sought to require the Covid-19 vaccine for certain health care workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs.

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U.S. judge rejects motion to dismiss sex abuse lawsuit against Britain’s Prince Andrew

A U.S. district judge rejected a motion by Britain’s Prince Andrew on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Virginia Giuffre that alleges he sexually abused her when she was 17.  U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan said the 2009 deal “cannot be seen” to benefit Andrew, adding, “Independent of whether the release language applies to Prince Andrew, the agreement, at a minimum, is ‘reasonably susceptible to more than one interpretation’ on the equally important question of whether this defendant may invoke it.”

Prince Andrew’s lawyers argued that the suit should be thrown out because of a 2009 deal that Guiffre signed with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In 2009, Giuffre accepted $500,000 from Jeffrey Epstein to settle a lawsuit she had filed against him in Florida. Part of that agreement extends protection to “any other person or entity who could have been included as a potential defendant (‘Other Potential Defendants’) from all, and all manner of [claims] that said First Parties ever had… or may have, against Jeffrey Epstein, or Other Potential Defendants.”  Andrew’s lawyers argued that he was among the “Other Potential Defendants” protected under that 2009 deal, and that he should therefore be released from any claims Giuffre might make against him.

Giuffre’s lawyers argued that Andrew was not among the “Other Potential Defendants” that the deal referred to, and was not named in the Florida lawsuit. Giuffre did allege in that suit that she was flown around the world by Epstein to have sexual encounters with men, “including royalty, politicians, academicians, businessmen and/or professional and personal acquaintances.” Giuffre filed the civil suit against Andrew in New York in August, saying she was coerced into sexual encounters with him 2001 by Epstein.  Epstein committed suicide in a Manhattan jail in 2019; his companion Ghislaine Maxwell, was recently convicted of sex trafficking.

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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice says he is “extremely unwell” after testing positive for COVID-19

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has tested positive for COVID-19. Justice, who is vaccinated and boosted, said he sought out tests Tuesday following a “sudden onset of symptoms.”

The governor’s office described his symptoms as “moderate.” However, Justice wrote that he feels “extremely unwell.”  He said in a statement: “I feel extremely unwell at this point, and I have no choice but to postpone my State of the State address to the Legislature. I woke up this morning with congestion and a cough. A little while later, I developed a headache and fever, so I decided to get tested right away. The rapid test that I took came back negative, but by the late afternoon, my symptoms were still getting much worse. My blood pressure and heart rate were extremely elevated, and I had a high fever. Finally, my PCR test results this evening confirmed I was positive.”

Justice has long pushed for vaccines and boosters, but is against mask mandates.  As COVID-19 cases in West Virginia skyrocketed recently, Justice said, “I absolutely do not think it’s time to put in a mask mandate.”   However, Justice continued his endorsement of vaccines, telling reporters he sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention allow West Virginia to immediately start offering fourth doses to some at-risk residents.

Justice is now isolating at home and receiving a monoclonal antibody treatment per his doctors’ recommendation, his office said. Those individuals who came in close contact with the governor is being notified; West Virginia First Lady Cathy Justice tested negative for the virus.

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