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Gov. Northam tells staff he won’t resign over blackface scandal



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By Associated Press

RICHMOND, Va. — A senior official in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration said Friday the governor has told his top staff that he does not plan to resign over a racist photo despite intense pressure to step down.

The official says Northam told his Cabinet during a Friday afternoon meeting that he intends to stay. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Northam has faced widespread calls to step down over after his medical school yearbook page with a racist photo surfaced last week. It shows one person in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.

Northam said last Friday that he was in the picture. On Saturday, he denied he was in the picture and said he was not immediately resigning but left his long-term fate unclear.

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ICE deports man awaiting hip replacement surgery to Mauritania



A 60-year-old Ohio man who was waiting for hip replacement surgery was deported to his native Mauritania on Tuesday without the operation, according to his attorney.

Goura Ndiaye lived in Ohio for nearly 20 years, under supervision by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He attended routine check-in meetings with ICE without issue until December 2018, when he was detained.

Ndiaye was deported Tuesday, sent back to a country where the UN says some darker-skinned people like him are enslaved. He also has limited mobility because of his necrotic hip, according to his attorney, Alexandria Lubans-Otto.

Lubans-Otto said Ndiaye had been approved for total hip replacement surgery and was preparing for an operation when he was arrested for overstaying his visa. Medical records submitted in a court proceeding show he was taking classes meant for patients anticipating joint replacement and that a doctor had written, “All your labs look good to proceed with surgery.”

Lubans-Otto said ICE did not allow him to receive that surgery while in custody.

“They certainly were not interested in furloughing him for the surgery, which is what he needed,” said Lubans-Otto. “He was detained and never released, staying in conditions which are less than comfortable for a healthy individual.”

An ICE spokesperson confirmed to NBC News that Ndiaye had been deported from Arizona on Tuesday. ICE did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Ndiaye’s medical condition during detention, or whether he was medically cleared for deportation.

A doctor who said she met with Ndiaye during his detention told NBC News he was able to walk with “great pain,” a limp and “great difficulty.”

According to the doctor, Ndiaye had not scheduled an operation but said he had arranged a payment plan for the anticipated surgery. “He was going to pay for the surgery himself,” she said, “which is indicative of how badly he needed it.”

Slavery in Mauritania

Ndiaye fled Mauritania in 1999 due to government attacks targeting darker-skinned Mauritanians, according to Lubans-Otto. Ndiaye arrived in the U.S. in 2000, and after he was denied asylum, overstayed his visa to avoid returning to Mauritania.

Goura Ndiaye was deported to Mauritania on Aug. 6, 2019.Courtesy Ndiaye family

According to his attorney, he is stateless, having been stripped of his citizenship by Mauritanian authorities because of his ethnicity despite being born in the country.

He was ordered removed from the U.S. in 2007, and his appeal of deportation was dismissed in 2009, according to court documents. He was eventually given an Order of Supervision and had regular check-ins with ICE before his arrest on Dec. 10, 2018.

After eight months of detention in facilities in Ohio, Louisiana and Arizona, ICE removed Ndiaye from its Florence, Arizona facility near Phoenix on Tuesday and sent him on a charter flight to Africa.

Ndiaye called his family in Columbus, Ohio, from Mauritania on Wednesday and later in the week from Senegal, according to a friend of the family. His partner declined to speak to NBC News.

Some deported Mauritanians have reported being tortured or imprisoned on their return.

“A 60-year-old man with a necrotic hip…no criminal history of any kind. I just don’t get it,” said Lubans-Otto.

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Congress weighs gun control measures after latest mass shootings



WASHINGTON — Amid renewed calls for urgent action on gun control, members of Congress are weighing potentially bipartisan ideas to curb gun violence after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, Dayton, Ohio, and Gilroy, California,over the last two weeks have left nearly three dozen people dead.

The legislative proposals under consideration include stronger background checks, “red flag” laws that prevent those threatening harm to themselves or others from buying or possessing firearms and bans on large-capacity magazines or assault-style firearms.

House and Senate lawmakers are back home in their districts for August recess, however, and are expected to stick to that schedule given that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has ignored Democrats’ calls to bring the Senate back for an emergency session to take up House-passed legislation to tighten background checks on gun buyers.

The Senate’s absence through Labor Day could diminish any momentum for action, resulting in Congress not passing any legislation at all — as was the case after numerous mass shootings over the last decade such as the 2012 Newtown mass shooting, the 2017 Las Vegas shooting and 2018 shooting in Parkland, Florida.

“I think that we have to take advantage of this moment of opportunity because once it passes, we go back to the status quo,” said Michael Siegel, professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, who has studied how state gun laws affect gun violence.

A study Siegel conducted of state gun laws and their effects from 1991 to 2016 found that universal background checks, red flag laws and bans on gun possession for those who have committed violent misdemeanors would have the greatest effect in reducing gun deaths.

Democrats are calling on McConnell to take up a bill the House passed in February that would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between unlicensed people. But only eight House Republicans voted in favor of the bill, and its Senate outlook is uncertain.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he wants to revisit a similar universal background checks measure he co-sponsored with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that fell six votes short of advancing in 2013. Of the four Republicans who backed the proposal at the time, only Toomey and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, still serve in the Senate.

After speaking with President Donald Trump and with McConnell after the shootings, however, Toomey said calling the Senate back to Washington immediately could backfire for those seeking legislative action.

“If we force a vote tomorrow, then I think the vote probably fails and we may actually set back this whole effort,” Toomey said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. “So for a successful outcome, which is what I want, then I think you work towards developing the coalition and the consensus so that you actually get the right outcome.”

Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt warned that Republicans will face angry voters at home in their districts if they wait to take action.

“August recess is going to be a very rough month for Republicans because I think what you are going to see is grassroots activists in every district, particularly districts that are up in 2020,” he said. “We have 300 grassroots events already scheduled for just this week. So that gives you a little bit of taste of what August is going to be like.”

Monday morning, Trump initially called for “strong background checks” on Twitter, saying such legislation could be paired with “desperately needed immigration reform.” In later remarks at the White House, he also called for red flag laws and for legislators to reform mental health laws.

Experts, however, have said there’s no evidence that people with mental illness are at a higher risk for committing gun violence.

“It is important to note that the overwhelming majority of people with mental illness are not violent and far more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators of violence,” the American Psychiatric Association said in a statement this week. “Rhetoric that argues otherwise will further stigmatize and interfere with people accessing needed treatment. Individuals can also be emboldened to act violently by the public discourse and divisive rhetoric.”

Democrats expressed skepticism that Trump will commit to these plans given that he initially voiced support for background checks after the Parkland shooting in 2018 only to make more modest proposals after discussions with the NRA.

McConnell has tasked three committee chairmen to “reflect” on what Trump raised as possible legislative solutions, and said they should engage in bipartisan discussions of potential solutions “without infringing on Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said he is “ready to do more, especially on background checks, to identify those who shouldn’t have guns.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said that he’s working on a red flag law with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Other Republicans such as Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also have advocated stronger background checks.

“I think you’re seeing some significant movement within the Republican Party on this issue,” said Feinblatt. “And I think you’re going to hear more voices, particularly voices among Republican senators like Cory Gardner or Thom Tillis, both of whom are up in 2020, and their constituents expect them to protect themselves and their families.”

Schumer said in a statement this week that “red flag” laws — which the NRA suggested this week it would be open to — are not a sufficient solution to the problem of gun violence and called for passing universal background checks.

“We Democrats are not going to settle for half-measures so Republicans can feel better and try to push the issue of gun violence off to the side,” he said. “Democrats in the Senate will seek to require that any [red flag] bill that comes to the floor is accompanied by a vote on the House-passed universal background checks legislation.”

Some Democrats are pushing for Congress to revive the assault weapons ban that President Bill Clinton signed into law, which expired in 2004 — including Clinton himself. But some reviews of the law, including a report commissioned by the National Institute of Justice, found that the ban had mixed results, and gun policy experts have suggested a prohibition on large-capacity magazines could also help reduce shooting deaths.

“It was too easy [under the assault weapons ban] for manufacturers to make simple modifications to guns so they weren’t subject to the ban and then sell that part as an aftermarket accessory,” said Cassandra Crifasi, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I think it would be far more effective to focus on limiting access to large capacity magazines that allow an individual to fire lots of rounds without having to reload.”

Siegel added, “You could have a pistol that has 30 rounds in it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an assault weapon. I don’t want somebody with 30-round magazines and a pistol coming into a public place. You can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time.”

Laura Dugan, associate chair at University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, said that while no single policy will end all mass shootings, measures can at least curb them.

“The harder we make for somebody to be able to spray bullets across the room people, the better it is, the better it’ll be,” she said. “Will it end mass shootings? Probably not. Will it save lives? Probably.”

Recent surveys have shown that an overwhelming majority of the public supports background checks — including gun owners. A 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, for example, found that 97 percent of gun owners support universal background checks.

Some experts hope that Republican discussion of potential reforms could make a difference this time.

“I think that the more people who own guns speak out against the type of gun laws that we have, I think [it] will also be really helpful, because hearing liberal people speak out about what we need is more gun laws isn’t really changing anyone’s minds,” Dugan said. “We need people who are strong gun advocates say, ‘No more.'”

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Trump retweets Epstein conspiracy theory, claiming Clinton connection



President Donald Trump retweeted a conspiracy theory Saturday evening alleging without evidence that former President Bill Clinton was connected to the death of wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, hours after Epstein was found dead by apparent suicide in his federal prison cell.

“Died of SUICIDE on 24/7 SUICIDE WATCH ? Yeah right! How does that happen,” Terrence K. Williams, a conservative commentator and comedian, wrote in the message retweeted by Trump. In a two-minute-long selfie video recording, Williams alleged that the Clintons were responsible for Epstein’s death.

Epstein was not on suicide watch at the time of his death, multiple people familiar with the investigation have told NBC News.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the investigation into Jeffrey Epstein’s death.

The stoking of conspiracy theories about his political rivals is nothing new for the president: he made a political name for himself championing false claims that President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and also suggested that Clinton White House aide Vince Foster’s suicide in 1993 was “very fishy.” But the tweets also notably cast suspicions on his own Justice Department.

In the video, Williams alleged that for Epstein to die by suicide, “somebody not doing their job, or somebody got paid not to do — not to do their job, so somebody can get knocked off, so information don’t come out.”

Epstein died in a federal prison, and the FBI is investigating the death. Attorney General William Barr said he was “appalled” by the news and called for an internal probe as well.

In the tweet, which falsely claims that Epstein was on suicide watch in the prison at the time of his death, Williams includes a two-minute selfie video apparently claiming vindication in predicting Epstein’s death. He also tied it to Foster’s suicide that conspiracy theorists have long blamed on the Clintons, seeming to suggest Epstein and Foster were both murdered by the Clintons.

There is no evidence Foster’s death was anything other than a suicide. The Washington Post reported in 2016, when Trump pushed the conspiracy theory during the campaign, that there were five official investigations into Foster’s death, conducted by professional investigators, forensic experts, psychologists, doctors and independent prosecutors with unlimited resources; none found evidence of foul play.

Williams is a headliner on the Deplorables Comedy Tour, which promises to “unleash the conservative mindset, transcending politics and unabashedly mocking liberals.”

With the president’s retweet, his Saturday tweet is likely the highest profile tweet to use the #ClintonBodyCount hashtag, which alleges a long-held conspiracy theory that scores of people close to the Clintons have ended up dead under suspicious circumstances.

“Word on the street is the Clintons did it,” Williams concludes in the video. “But I don’t know nothing. I’m just another Black man on Twitter.”

Epstein was arrested July 6 at an airport in Teterboro, New Jersey, and charged with one count of sex trafficking conspiracy and one count of sex trafficking, and faced up to 45 years in prison if found guilty. His death came the day after a trove of court documents was unsealed, providing new details about Epstein’s alleged crimes.

The indictment in his case showed that he sought out minors, some as young as 14, from at least 2002 through 2005 and paid them hundreds of dollars in cash for sex at either his Manhattan townhouse or his estate in Palm Beach, Florida, federal prosecutors revealed last month. He pleaded not guilty and was denied bail.

Epstein’s circle of powerful friends and acquaintances at one time included Trump, as they were both fixtures on the glitzy Palm Beach social scene. More than a decade before Epstein pleaded guilty to felony prostitution charges in Florida, they both appeared in footage filmed by NBC at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, now a private club. The two wealthy men are laughing and pointing as they appear to discuss young women dancing at a party.

Trump said last month that he had not spoken to Epstein since his 2008 guilty plea, and that his relationship with Epstein was no different than that of anyone else in their elite circle.

Epstein also visited the Clinton White House in the 1990s, and Clinton flew on Epstein’s plane after leaving office.

CORRECTION (Aug. 10, 2019, 9:50 p.m. ET) An earlier version of this story misstated the year Clinton aide Vince Foster died by suicide. It was 1993, not 1994.

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