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California Democrat, and #MeToo activist, allegedly urged staffers to play ‘spin the bottle’: report

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A California Democrat who was featured in Time magazine’s Person of the Year issue for her role in the anti-sexual harassment “#MeToo” movement allegedly urged staffers to play the grade-school classic, “spin the bottle,” after a night of heavy drinking at a fundraiser, Politico reported Sunday.

David John Kernick, 38, who worked in Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia’s office for five months in 2014, filed a formal complaint with the state, claiming that he was dismissed from his job for questioning the game.

Kernick told Politico that they played the game after an evening of heavy drinking. Garcia sat on a floor in a hotel room with about six people that included staff, he told the magazine.

“It was definitely uncomfortable,’’ Kernick said. “But I realized it’s different for a man than for a woman. … You know it’s inappropriate, but at the same time you may wonder, ‘How many women do you work for that act like that?’ You think … ’Maybe she’s just really cool.’’’

Last week, Garcia was hit with fresh allegations of misconduct in her office, including frequent discussions about sex and alcohol consumption at the Capitol.

San Diego lawyer Dan Gilleon filed a formal complaint with the Legislature detailing the allegations on behalf of four anonymous former employees in Garcia’s office.

He said they will cooperate with an investigation but do not want their names to be public at this time for fear of retribution.

The complainants allege that Garcia regularly talked about her sexual activity, including with other members, in front of staff. They also allege Garcia drank alcohol while doing official Assembly business and pressured staff to join her in drinking at the office or at bars.

The allegations came as Garcia is on a leave of absence following news she is being investigated in the groping of a former male legislative staff member in 2014.

None of the new complaints involve sexual misconduct, but Gilleon said the former employees considered Garcia’s frequent talk about sex a form sexual harassment.

“My clients will vigorously defend what they have said, but I will insist that the Assembly takes serious steps to ensure their protection against reprisal,” Gilleon said in a letter he delivered to the Assembly Rules Committee after a press conference on the Capitol steps.

Garcia, in a Facebook post, said she will address each of the issues individually once an investigation has been completed. But she said the claims don’t square with the atmosphere she worked to create. Her current and former chiefs of staff denied the behaviors described in the letter.

“I am confident I have consistently treated my staff fairly and respectfully. In a fast-paced legislative office, not everyone is the right fit for every position, and I do understand how a normal employment decision could be misinterpreted by the individual involved in that decision,” Garcia wrote.

Garcia took a leave of absence Friday after news broke that Daniel Fierro, a former staffer in another office, alleged she rubbed his back, grabbed his buttocks and tried to grab his groin at a legislative softball game in 2014. She denies the claims.

The allegations against Garcia mark a stunning twist to the California Legislature’s widening sexual harassment scandal that first broke open last fall and prompted two male assemblymen to resign. Garcia, a Democrat who represents southeast Los Angeles, chaired the Legislative Women’s Caucus until Wednesday, when her colleagues installed Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Eggman of Stockton, as the interim chair.

Garcia has been one of the most vocal critics against her colleagues and a staunch advocate of the #MeToo movement. She has authored numerous bills about sexual assault, activity and consent.

Tim Reardon, Garcia’s former chief of staff, said he never heard or was told that Garcia was discussing her sexual activities in the office. He said alcohol is occasionally present at the Capitol but drinking is never excessive.

“There are times in a lot of offices where someone will have wine or that nature,” he said. “But there has never been excessive drinking like it’s some kind of drinking party.”

The letter also alleges Garcia asked her staff to perform personal duties, such as taking care of her dogs, as well as campaign activities for her and other lawmakers. It alleges Garcia was “vindictive” toward staff and frequently disparaged other lawmakers.

Ashley Labar, her current chief of staff, denied the allegations.

“I’ve never seen the member engage in the behavior listed in the letter by Mr. Gilleon,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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Florida asks Supreme Court to let cruise ships sail again

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WASHINGTON — Florida urged the Supreme Court on Friday to block federal Covid restrictions that have vastly cut back the number of cruise ships operating from the state’s ports.

In an emergency appeal, the state said restrictions imposed by the Centers for Disease Control have made it very difficult for the industry to get going again, after it was shut down for nearly 16 months.

Federal rules now allow ships to board passengers if cruise lines meet such requirements as setting up Covid testing labs, running test voyages, maintaining social distancing, and establishing onshore housing for quarantining passengers.

The federal government said the rules were necessary with the United States in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that included several deadly outbreaks clustered on cruise ships. “These experiences demonstrated that cruise ships are uniquely suited to spread COVID-19, likely due to their close quarters for passengers and crew for prolonged periods.”

Now is not the time to put the rules on hold, the Justice Department argued, as the government works with the industry to get it going again — noting that the cruise industry did not join Florida’s lawsuit.

But the rules allow only a fraction of the normal number of ships to sail, the state said.

“The CDC’s order is manifestly beyond its authority,” Florida said. The federal law giving the CDC power to enact traditional quarantine measures “does not permit the agency to remake the entire cruise ship industry.”

The state said the restrictions have cost Florida tens of millions of dollars in lost tax and port revenue and required it to meet the additional expensive of paying unemployment benefits to cruise industry employees.

In June a federal court agreed with the state and blocked the CDC restrictions. U.S. District Court Judge Steven Merryday of Tampa, Florida, said the effort to impose the rules was “breathtaking, unprecedented, and acutely and singularly authoritarian.” He said he wondered whether the CDC would have argued that it could ban intercourse to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, put Merryday’s order on hold. Florida’s emergency motion asked the Supreme Court to lift that hold and allow the judge’s ruling to take effect.



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'This won't end well' Meghan and Harry warned of US backlash as Sussexes go against Queen

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PRINCE Harry and Meghan Markle cannot hope to win in a popularity contest against the Queen, even among Americans, a former MP who is now based in the US has said.

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Tom Barrack, former Trump inaugural chair, released on $250 million bond

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Former Trump inaugural committee chair Tom Barrack on Friday was released from federal lockup in California on a $250 million bond ahead of his scheduled arraignment in New York on charges he acted as an agent of the United Arab Emirates and obstructed justice.

As part of the terms of his release, Barrack, 74, is subject to electronic monitoring and will have to foot the bill for his GPS ankle bracelet, Judge Patricia Donahue ordered, signing off on an agreement that had been worked out between the government and Barrack’s attorneys.

Barrack, a private equity investor and founder of the investment firm Colony Capital, also had to surrender his passports and is barred from transferring funds overseas, the judge said. He cannot trade any securities without written permission from federal prosecutors and is not allowed to transfer more than $50,000 except for attorneys fees.

He’s scheduled to be arraigned in federal court in Brooklyn, New York on Monday. His spokesman said earlier this week that Barrack “is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”

A longtime friend of former President Donald Trump, Barrack had been behind bars since his arrest Tuesday on charges that he and two co-defendants were “acting and conspiring to act as agents” of the UAE between April 2016 and April 2018, but without registering as foreign agents.

Prosecutors said Barrack and the others acted “to advance the interests of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the United States at the direction of senior UAE officials by influencing the foreign policy positions of the campaign of a candidate in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and, subsequently, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government in the incoming administration.”

Barrack was also charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements to federal law enforcement agents.



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