NY Lt Gov Benjamin arrested in campaign donation scheme

New York Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, whose seven months in that role has been overshadowed by probes into a previous campaign, was arrested Tuesday in a federal corruption investigation.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said Benjamin was arrested on charges of bribery, honest services wire fraud and falsification of records.

Benjamin, formerly a state senator from Harlem, had joined the administration of Gov. Kathy Hochul in September, chosen by her to fill her former job a couple of weeks after she stepped into the governorship following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo over sexual harassment allegations.

But just over two months later, a real estate developer who steered campaign contributions toward Benjamin’s failed bid for New York City comptroller was indicted.

Federal authorities accused Gerald Migdol of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft in illegally giving donations to Benjamin’s campaign.

Prosecutors had previously not made any accusations against Benjamin, and his campaign said at the time of Migdol’s arrest that it had forfeited any improper donations as soon as they were discovered.

More recently, reports came out saying subpoenas had been issued to Benjamin regarding the financial issues even before Hochul picked him as lieutenant governor.

Despite her saying she didn’t know of the subpoenas at the time, Hochul proclaimed her support for Benjamin, and he said he had told state police as they went though the process of vetting him.

“I have utmost confidence in my lieutenant governor,” Hochul said during a Thursday press conference. “This is an independent investigation related to other people and he’s fully cooperating. He is my running mate.”

Benjamin was the state’s second Black lieutenant governor. During his state Legislature career, the Democrat emphasized criminal justice reform and affordable housing. His district included most of central Harlem, where he was born and raised by Caribbean immigrant parents.

He has a bachelor’s degree in public policy from Brown University and a master’s of business administration from Harvard Business School, and worked as a developer of affordable housing.

Source: WBAL

Marilyn Mosby announces reelection run for Baltimore state’s attorney

Despite her upcoming trial, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has announced she is seeking re-election for her job.

In the three-minute-long announcement video, Mosby said she is proud of the work she does, bringing “real reform and meaning progress for Baltimore.”

Mosby would be the third Democratic nominee seeking the position of Baltimore’s state’s attorney and will face candidates Ivan Bates, Roya Hanna and Thiru Vignarajah in the primary. 

“Looking forward, there is still so much more work to be done, but I am more confident than ever that Baltimore is on the verge of scripting our greatest chapter ever, and I’m running for re-election as state’s attorney because I love Baltimore and I love our people,” Mosby said in the announcement.” We take whatever is thrown our way and we keep pushing, we keep fighting, we keep moving forward,”

Mosby still faces charges of perjury related to a COVID-19 financial hardship withdrawal and a false statement on a loan application.

Her new trial date is Sept. 19 and she maintains her innocence.

This report will be updated.

Source: WBAL

Maryland legislature enters last day, most priorities done

Maryland lawmakers entered the last day of their legislative session Monday with most high-profile measures already passed into law, including tax relief, a paid family leave program and an extensive measure aimed at slowing climate change.

Democrats, who control the legislature, and Republican Gov. Larry Hogan already have signed a bipartisan budget deal. It features nearly $1.86 billion in tax relief over five years for Maryland retirees, small businesses and low-income families in a year of enormous budget surplus for the state’s $58.5 billion budget.

The deal included a tax credit as an incentive for employers and businesses to hire and retain workers from underserved communities. It also includes sales tax exemptions for child care products such as diapers, car seats, and baby bottles, and health products for dental hygiene, diabetic care and medical devices.

“I think we’ve gotten some remarkable work done,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said after Saturday’s session. “We’ve passed an incredible budget that invests in Maryland, gives money back to taxpayers, invests in seniors and working families.”

They also agreed on a one-month gas tax suspension to provide about $100 million in additional relief from high prices at the pump. Lawmakers decided against extending the suspension, which expires at the end of the week.

Democrats still had their disagreements with the term-limited governor, who is in his last year in office. They needed to get priority bills to him early in order to override them while still in session — a strong incentive for getting the bulk of their priorities already passed. Since this is the last year of the term before elections, bills vetoed by the governor after the legislature adjourns can’t be overridden next year.

Lawmakers overrode Hogan’s veto on Saturday to create a paid family leave insurance program that has been discussed for years in the state. Maryland workers will be able to take up to 12 weeks of partially paid leave to deal with such family issues as having a baby, caring for a sick relative or dealing with a military deployment. Up to 24 weeks could be taken in some cases, such as when someone who took 12 weeks due to an illness has a child later.

They also overrode the governor’s veto of legislation to expand access to abortion in the state. Maryland will end a restriction that only physicians perform abortions, enabling nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and physician assistants with training to perform them.

Lawmakers passed a broad measure aimed at slowing climate change. Hogan said Friday he would let the bill go into law without his signature. The “Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022” speeds up Maryland’s current goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from 40% of 2006 levels to 60% by 2031. It also sets a goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2045 in the state.

Lawmakers also approved a constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana in July 2023, giving the final decision to voters in November. A measure lawmakers passed to take initial steps toward implementation went into law without Hogan’s signature. Licensing and taxing issues will be taken up next year, if voters approve.

Legislators and the governor also agreed to a new congressional map for the state, after a judge struck down the map approved by lawmakers over Hogan’s veto in December as a “product of extreme gerrymandering.” The General Assembly redrew the state’s eight U.S. House districts to be more compact, and Hogan signed the measure last week.

A measure to ban so-called “ghost guns,” which do not have serial numbers, is going into law without Hogan’s signature. Lawmakers overrode Hogan’s veto of a bill to require firearms dealers to have certain security measures in place as stores.

The General Assembly also approved juvenile justice reforms. Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto of a bill that prohibits a law enforcement officer conducting custodial interrogation of a child, unless the child has consulted with an attorney.

Lawmakers are still working on details related to enhancing the state’s cybersecurity defenses.

“We have to finish out cyber on Monday, but I think there’s large agreement so that’s probably one of the biggest issues that’s outstanding,” Ferguson said Saturday.

Source: WBAL

Marilyn Mosby trial officially postponed to September

In February, after her indictment charges, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby requested a speedy trial. On Friday, court documents showed she wanted it postponed to September, and the new date has been granted.

According to documents obtained by WBAL, the change was made “at the request of the Defense and for good cause shown.”

Mosby’s attorney, Scott Bolden, alleges the U.S. Attorney’s Office is engaged in a rolling production, which does not allow his client enough time to start the trial in May.

The new trial date is Sept. 19.

In January, a federal grand jury returned the indictment Thursday charging Mosby with federal charges of perjury and making false mortgage applications, relating to the 2020 purchases of two vacation homes in Florida.

This report will be updated.

Source: WBAL

Maryland judge rules new congressional map unconstitutional

A Maryland judge ruled Friday that the state’s new congressional map is unconstitutional, preventing the map from taking effect.

Judge Lynne Battaglia issued the ruling after a trial last week in which Republican lawmakers contended that Maryland’s congressional map approved by the General Assembly in December violates the constitution by drawing districts that favor Democrats, who control the legislature.

Read the judge’s order

“The limitation of the undue extension of power by any branch of government must be exercised to ensure that the will of the people is heard, no matter under which political placard those governing reside. The 2021 Congressional Plan is unconstitutional, and subverts that will of those governed,” Battaglia wrote.

The judge added that she was entering a judgment in favor of the plaintiffs to reject the map and “permanently enjoining its operation, and giving the General Assembly an opportunity to develop new Congressional Plan that is constitutional.”

In Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1 and Democrats hold a strong majority in both chambers of the legislature, the GOP has long criticized the map as one of the most gerrymandered in the nation.

“Judge Battaglia’s ruling confirms what we have all known for years – Maryland is ground zero for gerrymandering, our districts and political reality reek of it, and there is abundant proof that it is occurring,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for Fair Maps Maryland. “Marylanders have been fighting for free and fair elections for decades and for the first time in our state’s shameful history of gerrymandering, we are at the precipice of ending it.”

The ruling comes under the unusual circumstances of Maryland having a Republican governor in a redistricting year. Gov. Larry Hogan, who has long sought reforms to the way the state draws political boundaries, created a separate commission to draw maps for the state’s congressional seats and state legislative districts in hopes of taking politicians out of the process of drawing districts.

If the case comes before the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, all but one of the serving judges have been appointed by Hogan.

Source: WBAL

Supreme Court Justice Thomas released from hospital

Justice Clarence Thomas was discharged from the hospital Friday after a stay of nearly a week, the Supreme Court said.

Thomas, 73, had entered the hospital last Friday evening after experiencing “flu-like symptoms.” He was treated for an infection with intravenous antibiotics, the court said Sunday in announcing his hospitalization. He had been expected to be released from the hospital Monday or Tuesday.

The court did not say why he remained in the hospital longer than initially thought or what kind of infection he was treated for.

Thomas did not have COVID-19, the court said. He has been vaccinated and boosted, like the rest of the court.

The justice missed arguments at the high court on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but Chief Justice John Roberts said he would participate in the cases using briefs the parties filed and the transcript of the arguments.

Thomas, a conservative and appointee of former President George H.W. Bush, has been on the court since 1991.

Source: WBAL

Cruz presses Jackson on critical race theory in tense questioning

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) repeatedly pressed Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first Black woman nominated to serve on the Supreme Court, about critical race theory and whether it might influence her work as a justice during her confirmation hearing on Tuesday.

During the most dramatic part of the questioning, Cruz singled out a book titled “Antiracist Baby,” which argues that babies are taught to be racist or anti-racist and there is no neutrality.  

He said the “stunning” book was being taught at the school and asked Jackson if she agreed “with this book that’s being taught to kids that baby are racist?” Jackson, who had been taking notes as Cruz talked, took a long pause before answering as Cruz took a drink from a plastic soda bottle on the split-screen shown on cable television.

“Senator,” said Jackson, “I do not believe that any child should be made to feel as though they are racist or though they are not valued or though they are less than their victims, that they are oppressors. I don’t believe in any of that.”

Jackson explained that Georgetown Day School has a “special history” as a private school that was founded by three White families and three Black families at time when racial segregation was mandated by law in the nation’s capital.

Psaki tests positive for COVID-19 ahead of Biden trip to Brussels

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday, though she said she is not considered a close contact of President Biden.

“Today, in preparation for travel to Europe, I took a PCR test this morning. That test came back positive, which means I will be adhering to CDC guidance and no longer be traveling on the President’s trip to Europe,” Psaki said in a statement.

Source: The Hill

Confirmation hearings for Ketanji Brown Jackson begin Monday

Confirmation hearings begin Monday (March 21) for Ketanji Brown Jackson, the federal judge President Biden has picked to fill Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer’s seat when he retires this summer.

Democrats are hoping to finish Jackson’s confirmation process before Congress leaves for Easter recess April 11.

The hearings, led by the Senate Judiciary Committee, is set to last four days, with Jackson appearing in front of lawmakers during the first three. She’ll give an opening statement on Monday and then take questions from lawmakers on Tuesday and Wednesday. After a period that typically lasts a week or so after the hearings to consider the nomination, the committee will then hold a vote, and if approved, will send the nomination to the full Senate for consideration.

If confirmed, Jackson will be the first Black woman to serve on the Supreme Court. She heads into the hearings with a vast and expansive career as a judge and attorney.

The hearing process will last four days

Monday: The hearings begin at 11 a.m. EDT, with opening 10-minute statements from the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, along with the ranking member, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, according to a press release. The other 20 members of the committee will also give statements, and the day will conclude with Jackson delivering her opening statement, lasting 10 minutes.

Tuesday and Wednesday: Both days will begin at 9 a.m. EDT. Committee members will each get 30 minutes of questioning time on Tuesday and 20 minutes on Wednesday. Questioning of Jackson on Wednesday is expected to be shorter.

Thursday: Jackson won’t appear on the last day of the hearings. Beginning at 9 a.m. EDT, the committee will hear from outside witnesses and the American Bar Association.

On Fire Television will provide live coverage and analysis of the hearings.

Source: NPR

Zelenskyy tells US Congress, ‘We need you right now’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cited Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11 terror attacks on Wednesday as he appealed to the U.S. Congress to do more to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but acknowledged the no-fly zone he has sought to “close the sky” over his country may not happen.

Livestreamed into the Capitol complex, Zelenskyy said the U.S. must sanction Russian lawmakers and block imports. He showed a packed auditorium of lawmakers a graphic video of the destruction and devastation his country has suffered in the war, along with heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties.

“We need you right now,” Zelenskyy said, adding, “I call on you to do more.” In urging a steeper economic hit to the Russians, he said: “Peace is more important than income.”

Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, before and after his short remarks, which Zelenskyy began in Ukrainian through an interpreter but then switched to English in a heartfelt appeal to help end the bloodshed.

Members of Congress give Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation before he speaks in a virtual address to Congress in the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Auditorium in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he told them.

Wearing a short-sleeved army T-shirt, Zelinskyy began his remarks by invoking the destruction the U.S. suffered in 1941 when Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by militants who commandeered passenger airplanes to crash into the symbols of Western democracy and economy.

“Remember Pearl Harbor? Remember September 11?” Zelenzkyy asked. “Our countries experience the same every day right now.”

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy has been imploring allied leaders to stop the Russian airstrikes. President Joe Biden’s administration has stopped short of providing a no-fly zone or the transfer of military jets from neighboring Poland as the U.S. seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Source: WBAL