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Police seize rifle from St. Louis couple who pulled guns on protesters

A husband and wife who were caught on video brandishing firearms at protesters outside their St. Louis home have turned their rifle over to police after a search warrant was executed.

Authorities went to Mark and Patricia McCloskey’s home Friday amid an ongoing investigation into the incident.

The couple went viral last month after arming themselves with a rifle and a handgun as they confronted a group protesting police brutality and recent actions by the city’s mayor.

Still images and video of the confrontation circulated throughout social media as Black Lives Matter protests took place across the country following the death of George Floyd.

In a video of the June 28 incident, Mark McCloskey is heard yelling: “Get the h— out of my neighborhood. Private property. Get out.”

The confrontation ended with no injuries or arrests.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement Saturday that detectives executed a search warrant at the home in the affluent St. Louis neighborhood of West Central End.

“Seized as evidence from the residence was a Colt, semi-automatic, .223 caliber rifle,” the statement said.

The department declined to provide further details.

Attorney Joel Schwartz, who has taken over the case for the couple from another lawyer, told NBC News in a phone interview Saturday that the McCloskey’s home was not searched by police and they voluntarily gave up the rifle.

The second weapon, believed to be a revolver, was turned over to the previous lawyer, Schwartz said.

Schwartz maintained his clients’ innocence and said they are “law-abiding citizens that were well within their rights.”

The attorney said the couple does regret their actions but said they did not break any laws. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office said the matter remains under investigation.

In a June statement, police described the McCloskey’s as “victims” of trespassing and fourth-degree assault.

“The victims stated they were on their property when they heard a loud commotion coming from the street,” police said. “When the victims went to investigate the commotion, they observed a large group of subjects forcefully break an iron gate marked with ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘Private Street’ signs.”

Police said the McCloskeys told the group that they were on private property and needed to leave.

“The group began yelling obscenities and threats of harm to both victims. When the victims observed multiple subjects who were armed, they then armed themselves and contacted police,” the statement read.

Demonstrators were in the neighborhood to protest against police brutality and Mayor Lyda Krewson, a West Central End resident who had released the names and addresses of activists who want to defund the police. Krewson has since apologized.

Daniel Shular, a freelance photojournalist who was at the protest, previously told NBC News that he did not see anyone break the gate leading to the neighborhood and recalled seeing people simply walk through an open gate.

“I kind of turned around to take some pictures of people coming through the gate, then I turned back around and by then he had his long gun in his hand,” he said. “And the woman came out with a pistol and started pointing it with her finger on the trigger at everybody.”

Shular said he saw at least one armed protester but said it’s “not super out of the ordinary for the protests here.”

Albert Watkins, the previous attorney for the McCloskeys, said last month that his clients are supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and became fearful because white protesters were acting aggressively.

It’s unclear why the McCloskeys switched attorneys.

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Fire destroys much of 249-year-old California church

SAN GABRIEL, Calif. (AP) — A fire destroyed the rooftop and most of the interior of a California church that was undergoing renovation to mark its upcoming 250th anniversary celebration.

Fire alarms at the San Gabriel Mission rang around 4 a.m. Saturday, and when firefighters responded to the historic structure they saw smoke rising from the wooden rooftop, San Gabriel Fire Capt. Paul Negrete said.

He said firefighters entered the church and tried to beat back the flames, but they had to retreat when roofing and other structural materials began to fall, Negrete said.

“We were trying to fight it from the inside, we weren’t able to because it became unsafe,” he said.

After evacuating the church, the crew was joined by up to 50 firefighters who tried to douse water on the 50-foot-high structure from ladder trucks, he said.

“The roof is completely gone,” the captain said. “The fire traversed the wood rapidly, the interior is pretty much destroyed up into the altar area.”

The cause of the fire was under investigation, Negrete said.

The interior wall was redone a week ago and crews had just finished installing the pews as part of a larger renovation of the property to mark the anniversary of the founding of the mission in 1771, said Terri Huerta, a spokeswoman for San Gabriel Mission.

She said the firefighters’ aggressive stance and “a little bit of a miracle” kept the flames from reaching the altar.

The church had been preparing to reopen next weekend following a four-month closure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The church, built of stone, brick and mortar, originally had a vaulted ceiling that was damaged by two earthquakes in the early 1800s, she said. Franciscan fathers replaced the ceiling with a wood-paneled ceiling and the roof was last repaired following some damage caused by the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Huerta said.

The church was the fourth of a string of missions established across California by the Franciscan priest, Junipero Serra. The Roman Catholic priest forced Native Americans to stay at those missions after they were converted or face brutal punishment.

Statues of him in San Francisco and Sacramento were toppled by demonstrators during the recent protests focusing on the rights and historical struggle of Black and Indigenous people.

In response to the toppling of Serra’s statues, the San Gabriel Mission said it moved a bronze statue of Serra from the church entrance to “a more appropriate location, out of public view” without specifying where.

“Whereas the California Catholic Conference of Bishops reminds us that the historical truth is that St. Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American community, we recognize and understand that for some he has become a symbol of the dehumanization of the Native American community,” said the church’s pastor, Father John Molyneux, said in a statement.

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US Army sending medical task force to Houston

The novel coronavirus pandemic has now killed more than 559,000 people worldwide.

Over 12.5 million people across the globe have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new respiratory virus, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The actual numbers are believed to be much higher due to testing shortages, many unreported cases and suspicions that some governments are hiding or downplaying the scope of their nations’ outbreaks.

The United States has become the worst-affected country, with more than 3.1 million diagnosed cases and at least 134,097 deaths.

Latest headlines:

Army heading to Houston

Here is how the news is developing today. All times Eastern.

1:19 p.m.: South Carolina sets new record of daily cases

South Carolina set a new record of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 2,239, according to the state’s Department of Health.

The state’s previous record was more than 1,800 cases.

There are now 54,538 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 940 deaths in South Carolina, according to officials.

The total number of individual test results reported to the Department of Health on Friday was 10,083, with 22.2% of those being positive. The department also confirmed the first pediatric death linked to COVID-19.

12:25 p.m.: North Carolina reports more hospitalizations, another daily increase in cases

North Carolina set two somber records over the last 24 hours, with the state recording its highest number of hospitalizations and highest daily increase in cases to date.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 1,093 hospitalizations and 2,462 new cases Saturday.

PHOTO: Medical personnel handle test samples at a community coronavirus testing site operated by Cone Health and the county Health Department in Burlington, N.C., July 9, 2020. (Gerry Broome/AP)

“Record-high numbers like today are concerning,” NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen, M.D., said in a statement. “We all have a responsibility to one another to wear a face covering, avoid crowds and wash our hands often to get our trends going back in the right direction.”

North Carolina has 83,793 confirmed cases from among more than 1.1 million tests.

11:23 a.m.: University reverses course, will be remote this fall

West Chester University, one of Pennsylvania’s largest state-owned universities, with 18,000 students, has reversed course and said it no longer plans to bring students back in the fall.

Christopher Fiorentino, the university’s president, said in a statement that learning will continue remotely through the fall semester.

“WCU cannot ignore the potential danger of bringing thousands back to campus,” Fiorentino said.

Some classes will be taught in a hybrid format, meaning both in-person and remote learning for students with clinical placements, student teachers and certain internships, according to Fiorentino.

Chester County, where WCU is located, is currently in the Green Phase of reopening, meaning that some of the university’s public buildings — a library, a recreation center, the student union — will be open but limited to 50% capacity.

“The University understands that students’ lives have been turned upside down by a relentless pandemic that continues to sweep across the globe,” Fiorentino said. “Our support for our WCU community will not waiver.”

10:19 a.m.: New York hospitalizations drop below 800 for 1st time in four months

New York recorded 799 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the last 24 hours, the lowest number since March 18, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The state also posted the lowest three-day average death toll since March 16, with six over the last 24 hours, Cuomo said in a statement.

New York was among the hardest-hit states in the early stages of the pandemic, with New York City especially devastated.

Cuomo applauded the good news, saying New Yorkers who practiced social distancing and wore masks “are central to our ability to slow the spread and save lives.”

However, Cuomo also urged people not to become complacent.

“I urge residents to stay ‘New York tough’ and not give up the ground we’ve worked so hard to gain together, particularly in the face of rising cases throughout the country and compliance issues here at home,” he said.

8:39 a.m.: Clusters of US soldiers test positive for COVID-19 in Japan

A “few dozen” U.S. Marines stationed at two different bases in Okinawa, Japan, have tested positive for COVID-19, according to The Associated Press.

After months of no confirmed coronavirus cases, the Marine Corps said it had two clusters of soldiers who tested positive for the virus this week, according to a statement from Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Air Force on Okinawa prefecture have now re-imposed strict limits on personnel movements and activities after the new coronavirus cases appeared, according to an internal FEMA memo obtained by ABC News.

Everyone who tested positive is in self-isolation and local commanders have initiated “soft shelter-in-place” orders for Camp Hansen and Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

All orders are in place until further notice.

Officials said cleaning the base and contact tracing are ongoing.

“As we navigate the current environment we will continue to assess the situation and provide updates as frequently as permissible. We ask everyone to follow the social distancing and health protection measures to help us #KillTheVirus,” Marine Corps Installations Pacific wrote on its Facebook page.

5:28 a.m.: Army medical task force heading to Houston as hospitals fill up

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday night that the United States Army is sending a medical task force to Houston to help with the city’s COVID-19 battle.

The additional resources, Abbott said, include an Urban Area Medical Task Force from the U.S. Department of Defense that will arrive on Monday and a Disaster Medical Assistance Team from U.S. Health and Human Services that has just been deployed.

“Texas is grateful to the federal government as well as the President and Vice President for working swiftly to provide additional resources to the state as we work to mitigate COVID-19 and care for our fellow Texans,” Abbott said in a statement Friday. “We will continue to work with our local and federal partners to ensure all resources and needs are met throughout the state.”

Houston has seen a significant rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, which caused many public health officials and hospitals to issue warnings that ICU bed availability is running low. Houston’s Texas Medical Center is at 105% capacity.

The city reported 670 new diagnosed COVID-19 cases Friday, bringing Houston’s total to at least 26,682. The coronavirus death toll for the city increased by nine to 259.

Numbers are just as jarring throughout the Lone Star State. Texas’ statewide COVID-19 death toll reached a single-day high of 105 Friday. The state had a 15.56% positivity test rate, according to an internal Federal Emergency Management Agency memo obtained by ABC News.

Nearly 14% of all new U.S. coronavirus cases in the past seven days have been identified in Texas, the memo said.

The rise in cases also led to Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner to cancel the in-person Republican Party convention in the city, prompting a lawsuit by the state GOP.

What to know about coronavirus:

PHOTO: A specimen is secured at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site at South Mountain Community College, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)
PHOTO: A specimen is secured at a drive-thru coronavirus testing site at South Mountain Community College, July 9, 2020, in Phoenix. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

ABC News’ Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

Coronavirus live updates: US Army sending medical task force to Houston originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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Warrant says victims of stickup by 2 NFL players took payoffs in office of lawmaker Grieco

The case against two NFL football players accused of armed robbery in Miramar took a twist after it was revealed that detectives believe four victims recanted after being paid a total of $55,000 in cash — at the office of a South Florida defense lawyer and state lawmaker.

That attorney: Michael Grieco, who represents accused Seattle Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar. Grieco, a Democrat who won election to the state legislature in 2018, is also a former Miami Beach city commissioner.

The allegation was revealed Friday night by the New York Daily News, which obtained a search warrant filed in Broward Circuit court.

Dunbar and Deandre Baker, a starting cornerback with the New York Giants, were arrested after Miramar police said they stole jewelry and money from people at a house party on May 13. Police said Dunbar was seen helping Baker, although witnesses conflicted on whether he was armed.

Michael Grieco was elected to the Florida House of Representatives this year after resigning from the Miami Beach City Commission in 2017 amid a campaign finance scandal.

The two South Florida natives were arrested on armed robbery and aggravated assault charges. Broward prosecutors are still deciding whether to pursue the case against Dunbar and Baker. The Broward State Attorney’s Office declined to comment on Saturday.

The search warrant obtained by the New York Daily News said that a Miami man named Dominic Johnson, who knew both NFL players since their youth, helped arrange the payoffs at Grieco’s office.

The warrant alleges that closed-circuit TV footage shows Johnson and another unidentified person joined the four supposed victims at the lawyer’s Miami office two days after the incident.

According to the Daily News, Johnson and the unknown person are seen in the elevator going up to Grieco’s office on the afternoon of May 15. The unknown person opens a “black bag” and “removes money,” the newspaper reported, quoting the warrant. The person also “shows the open bag to Johnson and you can see a large quantity of money. Johnson then takes the bag,” the warrant alleged, according to the Daily News.

After everyone had left the meeting, the warrant alleged, a Miramar detective said he got a call from Grieco saying the witnesses had changed their testimony. That same afternoon, the Herald and other media outlets reported Grieco’s claim.

In a statement Friday night, Grieco did not deny that a meeting had taken place in his office or that money had changed hands.

“Law enforcement, both local and federal, was advised from day 1 and beyond that the alleged ‘victims’ in this case were actively extorting both Baker and Dunbar,” said Grieco, who represents a district that covers Miami Beach, North Bay Village, Little Havana and parts of downtown Miami. “These men fabricated a robbery story after waiting an hour to call police and then immediately began contacting the players demanding money. My office obtained accurate and truthful affidavits consistent with the independent witness and my client’s account.”

He called the witnesses “seasoned career criminals” and added that Dunbar, his client, had passed a polygraph confirming that the NFL player “did not participate or witness any robbery.” Grieco also said the Daily News had not contacted him for comment before publishing its story.

Bradford Cohen, an attorney for Baker, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Neither did Johnson, the man said to have paid off the witnesses.

It is unclear if law-enforcement is investigating Grieco or Johnson’s involvement as any sort of witness tampering.

According to the search warrant, one victim later told police he got $30,000 in Grieco’s office, while a second admitted he received $20,000 there. A third said he received $5,000 and gave half to the fourth victim, the newspaper reported.

One of the victims told police “there is no way he [Grieco] could not have seen this transaction,” the Daily News reported. The detectives, in the warrant, also wrote that the witnesses “have been threatened and have expressed extreme concern to me regarding their safety.”

Grieco has courted controversy throughout his career, from his stint in the mid-2000s as an assistant state attorney — which ended after he was caught using his prosecution of now-deceased NFL player Sean Taylor to advertise his side-gig moonlighting as “DJ Esquire” at South Beach nightclubs — to the criminal charge he faced over a campaign-finance scandal that forced him to resign as a Miami Beach commissioner three years ago.

Even before his latest brush with notoriety, Grieco was battling a formal complaint from the Florida Bar and charges of “lying to the public” from the Miami-Dade ethics commission over the fundraising fiasco.

Despite overwhelming evidence that Grieco was secretly raising funds for a political action committee — including donors who said he asked them for money and state paperwork he filled out in his own hand — he denied his involvement to Miami Herald reporters who broke the story.

“It is absolutely untrue,” Grieco said at the time. “You can look right into my soul.”

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Experts fear for elderly amid virus surge in state with most nursing homes

The senior citizens who populate Texas nursing homes were not jammed into bars or packed onto beaches on Memorial Day, but officials there now fear that coronavirus that began spreading among younger people over the past month is imperiling the lives of the state’s most vulnerable.

It was a grim but predictable development for a state with more nursing homes – 1,218 – than any state in the nation, experts told ABC News. Some said they already suspect a link between the recent spread of the virus and a rise in deaths in the state’s nursing homes over the past weeks, and said they fear the worst could be yet to come.

Back in mid-May, nursing homes in the state had reported 561 deaths from COVID-19, according to an ABC News review of state data. By last week, that number had nearly doubled at 1,035 deaths.

“As [the infections] continue to grow in numbers in the community, we would expect it to continue to grow in numbers in nursing facilities,” said Amanda Fredriksen, the Associate State Director for Advocacy for AARP Texas.

MORE: Families of those who died from COVID-19 at nursing facility still looking for answers

PHOTO: People gather on the beach for the Memorial Day weekend in Port Aransas, Texas, May 23, 2020. (Eric Gay/AP Photo)

While nursing homes nationwide are continuing to experience casualties from the virus, some states that have seen decreases in their case rates are also seeing fewer nursing home deaths. Connecticut, for example, was reporting over 80 probable deaths in congregate care facilities daily in April, when the state was at its peak number of coronavirus cases. Now, Connecticut is reporting fewer than five deaths in these facilities daily as case counts decline.

Derrick L. Neal is the executive director of Williamson County and Cities Health District in Texas, near Austin. That district is home to Trinity Care Center, the facility in Texas that has reported one the highest number of fatalities to the federal government. In mid-June the facility had reported 138 resident deaths.

The region has also seen a rise in cases in the wider community, which he attributes to the state’s late-April opening and Memorial day festivities. Now, Neal said, he’s fearful that what he described as a continued failure by residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines could have a devastating impact on those living in congregate care facilities.

“The overarching concern is really a community, not everyone, but a large segment of society refusing to care for their neighbor by masking up and social distancing,” Neal said. “The same things that kept me up in March keeps me up in July.”

MORE: Nursing homes got masks that ‘probably should have never gone out’: Official

PHOTO: A healthcare worker in a protective suits helps an elderly person to get off an ambulance on April 4, 2020. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)
PHOTO: A healthcare worker in a protective suits helps an elderly person to get off an ambulance on April 4, 2020. (Go Nakamura/Reuters)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, nursing homes have been at the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis. Nationwide, those who’ve died in nursing homes account for nearly a third of all COVID-19 deaths, according to a recent survey of state-by-state data by ABC News – a figure that advocates believe may actually be undercounted.

In part, that is because national statistics have not fully accounted for some of the fatalities during the early days of the pandemic. Local news outlets in Texas also report that nursing homes in Texas have been among the worst in reporting conditions to federal officials tracking the outbreak.

The official count of the federal agency responsible for regulating nursing homes and tracking coronavirus cases in nursing homes says that 35,517 nursing home residents have died nationwide.

That number has continued to grow despite an evolving toolkit of preventative measures that began in March with the federal guidance to nursing homes to restrict visitors, isolate the sick, and require staff wear protective equipment.

In June, Texas followed the lead of Maryland and other states in forming “strike teams,” which could mount a rapid response when a nursing care facility showed the early signs of an outbreak.

Representatives for the Texas Department of State Health Services did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment for this report. The Texas governor has previously stated that protecting seniors in nursing facilities is a priority and earlier this month encouraged nursing homes to apply to receive parts of over $9 million in federal funding being allocated to Texas nursing homes.

“We know that older Texans are more susceptible to COVID-19, and Texas is committed to ensuring that nursing facilities have the tools they need to keep their residents and staff safe,” Abbott said in a press release. “We must continue to protect our most vulnerable populations, mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Texas, and protect public health.”

But last month, when the state started seeing a rise in infection among young people, advocates for the elderly began to worry that their defenses would not be strong enough to prevent the virus’ spread into nursing homes. That, said Patty Ducayet, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman for the Texas Health and Human Services Department, appears to be happening now.

“We are still seeing new cases identified in both our nursing facilities and assisted living facilities,” Ducayet said.

Neal said he’s also concerned that staff, many of whom are low paid and lack the luxury of social distancing in their own living situations, are proving to be a vulnerability in the chain of transmission.

“It’s really extremely difficult to stabilize a group of patients when you have a lower pay individual going in there to support them,” Neal said.

Organizations that advocate on behalf of nursing homes are urging that the rise in cases be met with a surge in testing and personal protective equipment for nursing homes. According to a survey by the Association for Health Care Associations, nursing homes report that they are still struggling to get tests processed in a timely fashion, and many report they do not have adequate access to protective equipment.

Testing is once again becoming a challenge nationwide as some facilities report being overwhelmed by the recent surge in cases. Jo Lynn Garing, a spokesperson for a leading high-volume test manufacturing company Roche Diagnostics, said the company is focusing on vulnerable states like Texas.

Garing said the company not only has been expanding its production capacity but also continues to be “very intentional” on its allocation and distribution of supplies, “prioritizing labs with the broadest geographic reach and highest patient impact.” Garing said the current priority areas are the same areas seeing surges, including Florida, Arizona, Texas and California.

On Friday, Governor Abbott announced a new partnership with Omnicare, a CVS health company, to provide COVID-19 point-of-care testing for assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the state. A release states that this partnership will help the state meet its goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month it is operational.

“Our collaboration with public and private entities is crucial to ramping up testing in Texas and mitigating the spread of this virus—especially among our most vulnerable populations,” Gov. Abbott said in a statement provided to ABC news after an inquiry for this report.

Aggressive use of preventive measures now could help, advocates say. But while community spread continues, nursing homes remain vulnerable.

“As long as those cases keep rising and as long as they’re active in the community where these facilities are, it’s going to be a concern for all of these nursing home residents,” Fredriksen said.

What to know about coronavirus:

Experts fear for elderly amid virus surge in state with most nursing homes originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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White House announces that Trump has commuted the ‘unjust’ prison sentence of former Republican strategist Roger Stone

Roger Stone

Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

  • President Donald Trump has commuted the sentence of the former Republican strategist Roger Stone, the White House announced Friday.

  • In a statement, the White House said Stone was “a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.”

  • The president’s move came after he and his allies complained for months that Stone and others were mistreated by prosecutors as part of the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

  • A jury convicted Stone of seven felony counts last year: five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice.

  • Earlier this year, a federal judge sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for his crimes, as well as a $20,000 fine, four years of probation after his prison term, and 250 hours of community service.

  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed an “Executive Grant of Clemency” commuting the “unjust” sentence of the former Republican strategist Roger Stone, the White House said.

“Roger Stone is a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency,” the statement said. “There was never any collusion between the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration, with Russia.”

A jury convicted Stone of seven felony counts in November, none of which included collusion or conspiracy. The former strategist was convicted of five counts of making false statements to the FBI and congressional investigators, one count of witness tampering, and one count of obstruction of justice.

Earlier this year, a federal judge sentenced Stone to 40 months in prison for his crimes, as well as a $20,000 fine, four years of probation after his prison term, and 250 hours of community service.

The White House’s statement announcing the commutation of Stone’s sentence went on to say that allegations of “collusion” were “never anything other than a fantasy of partisans unable to accept the result of the 2016 election. The collusion delusion spawned endless and farcical investigations, conducted at great taxpayer expense, looking for evidence that did not exist.”

“As it became clear that these witch hunts would never bear fruit, the Special Counsel’s Office resorted to process-based charges leveled at high-profile people in an attempt to manufacture the false impression of criminality lurking below the surface,” the statement continued. “These charges were the product of recklessness borne of frustration and malice.”

(Fact check: the FBI’s Russia investigation began in July 2016, before Trump won the presidential election. It resulted in indictments against 34 individuals and three Russian entities on charges including but not limited to conspiracy, lying to the FBI, computer hacking, tax fraud, bank fraud, and illegal foreign lobbying. Some of those indicted or who pleaded guilty included Trump’s former national security adviser, campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, and foreign policy aides.)

Saturday morning, Trump reiterated the White House statement, tweeting, “Roger Stone was targeted by an illegal Witch Hunt that never should have taken place.”

Trump, prior to granting Stone clemency Friday, repeatedly implied that he would show leniency to Stone before ultimately deciding to commute his sentence. And Friday’s statement emphasized Stone’s “outspoken” support of the president.

“Roger Stone is well known for his nearly 50 years of work as a consultant for high-profile Republican politicians, including President Ronald Reagan, Senator Bob Dole, and many others,” the statement said. “He is also well known for his outspoken support for President Donald J. Trump and opposition to Hillary Clinton.”

In an interview with the talk radio host Howie Carr earlier this week, Trump complained about Stone’s alleged mistreatment by prosecutors, saying he was “framed” and “treated horrible.” He also praised Stone’s character, saying the former strategist and self-described dirty trickster was a “good person.”

“He was treated so badly,” the president added. When Carr told Trump that Stone was “praying” for a pardon before having to report to prison on July 14, Trump answered, “If you say he’s praying, his prayer may be answered. Let’s see what happens.”

It wasn’t the first time the president hinted that he would grant Stone leniency. After US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson first announced Stone’s sentence, Trump said he was “following this very closely” and that “Roger has a very good chance of exoneration, in my opinion.”

The charges against Stone were linked to his contacts with the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks and subsequent efforts to suppress witness testimony.

Stone’s indictment from the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s office contained a slew of details about his false statements to Congress about interactions involving WikiLeaks; his extensive communications with the far-right commentator Jerome Corsi and the radio host Randy Credico about WikiLeaks’ document dumps in summer 2016; and his prolonged efforts to prevent Credico from testifying to Congress or turning over information to the FBI.

Four career prosecutors involved in Stone’s case initially recommended a sentence of seven to nine years based on federal sentencing guidelines. But after Trump excoriated the recommendation on Twitter, senior DOJ leadership made the unprecedented decision to publicly overrule te prosecutors and seek a more lenient sentence.

The intervention prompted all four prosecutors to withdraw from the case or resign from the DOJ altogether. One of the prosecutors, Aaron Zelinsky, testified to Congress last month that DOJ leaders sought a weaker sentence for Stone at the direction of Attorney General William Barr because they were “afraid of the president.”

Barr, meanwhile, told ABC News after senior officials overrode the prosecutors that he had already decided to request a lighter sentence for Stone before Trump tweeted, but he said the president’s constant public comments made it “impossible” for him to do his job.

Still, the timing of the DOJ’s announcement raised questions and rankled former officials who accused the attorney general of catering to the president’s public demands and allowing Trump to weaponize the DOJ for political purposes.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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5 killed in hostage situation at church in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Police in South Africa say five people are dead and more than 40 have been arrested after an early-morning hostage situation at a church near Johannesburg.

A statement says police and military who responded to reports of a shooting at the International Pentecostal Holiness Church in Zuurbekom found four people “shot and burned to death in a car” and a security guard shot in another car. Six other people were injured.

Police say they rescued men, women and children who had been held hostage and appeared to have been living at the church. The statement doesn’t say how many were rescued.

Police say more than 30 guns were found and the attack by a group of armed people “may have been motivated by a feud” between church members.

The national police commissioner says the response by security forces “averted what could have been a more severe bloodbath.”

The statement says among those arrested are members of the police, defense forces and correctional services.

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Survivors mark 25th anniversary of Srebrenica massacre

SREBRENICA, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) — Bosnia is marking the 25th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the only crime in Europe since World War II that has been declared a genocide, with only a small number of survivors allowed to take part in commemoration events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The brutal execution in July 1995 of more than 8,000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys is being commemorated in a series of events and the reburial of recently identified remains of nine victims in a memorial cemetery and center just outside the town in eastern Bosnia.

The Srebrenica massacre is the only episode of Bosnia’s 1992-95 war to be defined as genocide, including by two U.N. courts. After murdering thousands of Srebrenica’s Muslims, in an attempt to hide the crime, Serbs dumped their bodies in numerous mass graves scattered throughout eastern Bosnia.

Body parts are still being found in mass graves and are being put together and identified through DNA analysis. Close to 7,000 of those killed have already been found and identified.

Newly identified victims are buried each year on July 11 — the anniversary of the day the killing began in 1995 — in the memorial cemetery just outside of Srebrenica.

Typically, thousands of visitors from various countries attend the commemoration service and funeral, but this year only a relatively small number of survivors will be allowed at the cemetery due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dozens of world leaders, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Britain’s Prince Charles, are addressing the commemoration ceremony via prerecorded video messages.

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‘GMA’ Deals and Steals for your home

Tory Johnson has exclusive “GMA” Deals and Steals on items for your home.

Score big savings on everything from towels and kitchen knives to Himalayan salts.

The deals start at just $2.50 and are all at least 50% off.

PHOTO: Deals & Steals for your home (ABC News)

Find all of Tory’s “Deals and Steals” on her special website, GMADeals.com.

Deal Details:

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‘GMA’ Deals and Steals for your home originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com

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Should Disney World reopen? ‘We believe very much it should,’ park says

The phased reopening of Walt Disney World is just days away, and as the number of COVID-19 cases in Florida remains one of the highest in the country, many are wondering, “Should the theme park be opening right now?”

The question was posed to Jim MacPhee, senior vice president of operations at Walt Disney World Resort, on “Good Morning America” as we got a first look inside the park as it prepares for a July 11 reopening of the Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom and a July 13 reopening of Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

MORE: How to make a Walt Disney World park reservation for its July 2020 reopening

“We believe very much we should be reopening,” MacPhee said. “Again, we’ve been focused on this, we’ve got the best protocols in place, and it’s a guest choice environment.”

As of Tuesday, Florida’s positivity rate has climbed to 16.1%, up 1.3% from Monday, according to data from the state’s Department of Health. Florida is reporting 7,347 new cases, with the total number of diagnosed cases now at 213,794. Florida is reporting 7,347 new cases, with the total number of diagnosed cases now at 213,794.

MacPhee presented opening plans to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force in late May. Among those were physical distancing, guests and cast members being required to wear face masks and plexiglass at registers and other places where social distancing is difficult would be installed.

Now as the park prepares to open on Saturday, temperature checks are in place, guests staying at Disney hotels will check in on mobile, a new reservation system was put in place to reduce the capacity in each park and mobile ordering and cashless payments has been implemented at restaurants to reduce contact between guests and employees.

The attractions look different too. At Kilimanjaro Safaris, for example, guests will enter through partitions and when they are on the ride vehicle, there will be barriers between each row.

“We’re really focused on having a thoughtful and methodical reopening strategy that’s phased on various attendance levels, that allow us to launch, learn and adjust,” said MacPhee.

But some are skeptical.

Comments on a video on health and safety precautions posted to Walt Disney World’s Facebook page Tuesday drew comments both in support of and against the reopening. “Bad idea,” said one. “Shouldn’t be opening,” said another. “Too difficult to socially distance,” said a third.

MORE: Exclusive 1st look at the new guest experiences at Walt Disney World

At least 21 states have either reversed or paused reopening measures, ABC News has found.

Six states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan and Texas — have reversed some aspect of their economic reopening. Disneyland in California announced in June it had postponed its planned July 17 reopening.

Many expressed excitement for upcoming trips. Still more said they would be back — as soon as the mask requirement was lifted.

Responsibility for a smooth reopening, Macphee said, is shared.

“Really our success is based on the sum of everyone working together to ensure we really operate well in this environment,” he said.

The Walt Disney Company is the parent company of ABC News.

Should Disney World reopen? ‘We believe very much it should,’ park says originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com