Day: February 13, 2020

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After AMAZON Deal, NY Lawmakers Reconsider Incentive Programs…


A year after Amazon.com Inc. abandoned its plans to build a campus in Queens, state lawmakers who opposed the project are looking to rein in the subsidy programs that New York City officials used to lure the company.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Democrat whose Queens district included the project site, said he is drafting legislation to restructure two city programs that offer companies tax credits for relocating jobs or undertaking construction in neighborhoods outside the core of Manhattan.



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Russia alarmed by U.S. Air Force visit to Norwegian island…




a plane flying in the air: FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth fighter jets receive fuel mid-air over Norway


© Reuters/Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Force F-22 stealth fighter jets receive fuel mid-air over Norway

MOSCOW/OSLO (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday it was alarmed by a trip to a Norwegian outpost in the Arctic by a U.S. Air Force unit and urged Oslo to refrain from what it said were de-stabilizing moves in the strategic region.

A squadron of U.S. Air Force staff visited Norway’s air base on the island of Jan Mayen in the North Atlantic in November to test the airfield and to see whether U.S. C-130J Super Hercules military transport planes can land there.

Tensions have been rising in the energy-producing Arctic as climate change has opened up the region, and Russia has built up its own military presence there and touted the potential of the Northern Sea Route across its northern flank.

Moscow has repeatedly raised concerns over NATO-member Norway’s military spending, its moves to develop its military infrastructure and the deployment of foreign military personnel in the country.

Commenting on the U.S. visit to the island, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Reuters Moscow believed Norway’s recent military activity was ultimately aimed at Russia and that such actions destabilize the region.

“…the sheer fact of the possible presence of the U.S. Air Force on the island, albeit occasional, is alarming,” it said.

“We hope Oslo will be responsible and far-sighted in building its policy in the north and will refrain from actions that undermine regional stability and damage bilateral relations,” the ministry said.

Earlier this month, Moscow accused Norway of restricting its activities on the archipelago of Svalbard, a remote chain of islands in the Arctic, and said it wanted talks with Oslo to have the issue resolved.

The U.S. Air Force visit has also raised questions in Oslo.

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has played down the implications of the visit on the security situation in the north and Norway’s relationship with Russia.

“Individual transport flights to Jan Mayen with planes from allied countries will not impact the security policy picture in the north,” he told parliament.

He said a request to help with transport flights to Jan Mayen was sent to allied countries in 2019 as Norway’s air force was stretched.

He said planes from military forces from Austria, Sweden, Denmark and France had flown to Jan Mayen between 2017 and 2019.

“Jan Mayen will not be used for military activities,” he said.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage)



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SURVEY: 7 In 10 Americans Hide Unhealthy Eating Habits…


NEW YORK — Over half of 2,000 surveyed Americans with romantic partners make efforts to hide their unhealthy eating habits from their better halves, according to a new survey.

In all, 71% of respondents make unhealthy dietary choices behind their partner’s back, and 55% have tried to hide food in their home from their partner. Meanwhile, 70% actively lie to their partner about their eating habits. The research was commissioned by the food company Sabra.

The survey tried to uncover how diets impact relationships. The majority (68%) of respondents said their romantic partner negatively influences their eating habits, while 54% said that eating a nutritious diet would improve the health of their relationship. All in all, 64% said their relationship as a whole has seen better days.

Americans in relationships appear to really need some help improving their diets. Nearly half (49%) of respondents said they trust their partner to remind them to stick to their healthy eating goals. On the bright side, 75% even said that they’ve influenced their partner to lead a healthier life overall.

Another 77% said their partner positively influenced their overall life and wellbeing, helping 62% of survey respondents eat healthier, and 59% exercise more often.

The survey indicated that many people don’t only rely on romantic partners to create and maintain healthy habits. In addition, 34% said they need their best friend to hold them accountable for their nutrition and exercise decisions, and 28% put their trust in a coworker to ensure they maintain healthy eating habits.

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Loved ones tend to encourage more healthy habits than just nutrition and exercise. For example, 54% of romantic partners encourage their counterparts to save money, while 53% actively remind them to love themselves, or maintain a positive attitude towards life (41%).

With Valentine’s Day approaching, how many couples forget their nutrition and exercise regimens for the holiday? Well, 42% consider Valentine’s Day a “cheat day” for food.

The survey respondents were also asked to compare their relationships to food. The top choices were melted mac and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs. The top vegetarian comparisons were peanut butter and jelly and creamy hummus with a warm pita.

“Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romance and relationships, but let’s face it, not every relationship is as healthy as it could be,” says Sabra CMO Jason Levine in a statement. “Enjoying foods you feel great about eating with someone you love may be just what you need to smooth things over and swipe right.”

The survey was conducted by OnePoll.


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NYPD Warns Of 'Credible Threat' Targeting Officers…


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The NYPD is investigating what it’s calling a new “credible threat” to target officers in the Bronx, just four days after a violent weekend when police were targeted by multiple shootings including an attack inside the 41st Precinct.

One of the police unions posted to social media a warning about possible attacks meant to be shared with officers on duty and urging them to “remain vigilant and stay alert.” The NYPD confirmed to CBS2 they called the threat credible.

The Sergeants Benevolent Association shared a photo allegedly showing the internal memo about the 41st Precinct, the same place a gunman attacked on Sunday morning and left one lieutenant wounded in the arm.

The depicted message states: “INVESTIGATIVE UNITS HAVE RECEIVED A CREDIBLE THREAT OF AN INDIVIDUAL THAT MAY ATTEMPT TO SHOOT A NYPD MOS, IN PARTICULAR, A 41 PCT MOS. ALL MOS ARE BEING ADVISED TO BE VIGILANT AND ALERT. STATIONHOUSE SECURITY MUST BE POSTED ON ALL TOURS. PLEASE ADVISE ALL MOS AND CONTINUE TO READ THIS MESSAGE AT ROLL CALLS UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.”

The NYPD is adding security to all police station houses across the city and urging police officers to stay alert.

Two police officers were shot during a 12-hour span Saturday night into Sunday morning, allegedly by the same gunman.

The weekend suspect, identified as Robert Williams, 45, of the Bronx, initially shot at two officers, wounding one, as they sat in their marked police van in the Bronx, sources said, and later walked into the 41st Precinct, located at 1035 Longwood Avenue, and opened fire, wounding another officer.

After the street ambush on Saturday night, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea called the shooting “an assassination attempt at two New York City police officers.“



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Hackers could alter ballots in widely used voting app…


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An internet voting app that has been used in pilots in West Virginia, Denver, Oregon and Utah has vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to change a person’s vote without detection, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The analysis of the Voatz app, which has mostly been used for absentee voters and overseas military personnel, found that attackers could “alter, stop or expose how an individual has voted.”

Voting security experts have long argued that online voting is dangerously insecure.

“We all have an interest in increasing access to the ballot, but in order to maintain trust in our elections system, we must assure that voting systems meet the high technical and operation security standards before they are put in the field,” Daniel Weitzner, an MIT scientist who oversaw the report, said Thursday.

The researchers said they were forced to reverse engineer an Android version of the app because Voatz hasn’t allowed transparent third-party testing of the system.

Boston-based Voatz disputed the research methods, issuing a statement that said the analysts used an old version of the app and accused them of acting in “bad faith.” The company noted it hasn’t had any reported issues in its counting of less than 600 votes over nine pilot elections.

Although few voters are expected to cast ballots on such apps in the coming election, the report casts a harsh light on the looming proposition of online voting. In 2018, Alaska explored using an online voting system but shuttered the program because of security concerns.

To some experts, a study finding holes in a smartphone voting app wasn’t a shock.

“Not to in any way diminish this (excellent) work, but the fact that an online mobile voting scheme has serious security flaws is ultimately unsurprising,” tweeted Matt Blaze, a professor of computer science and law at Georgetown University. “Every serious expert has warned against Internet voting.”

Voatz was used in West Virginia’s 2018 elections, but state officials were quick to point out that it counted fewer than 200 ballots and had no reported problems. The app also was used in the 2016 Massachusetts Democratic Convention and the 2016 Utah Republican Convention.

The study comes as West Virginia prepares to choose an online voting system for a newly passed law requiring that it allow people with physical disabilities to vote electronically. Donald Kersey, a general counsel in the secretary of state’s office, said officials haven’t decided on which platform they will use to conform to the new law but maintained that public confidence is paramount.

“Obviously, integrity and security are prime, but voter confidence is equally important,” Kersey said.

J. Alex Halderman, a University of Michigan professor and one of the country’s leading experts on election security, responded to the MIT study in a lengthy Twitter thread, calling the findings “devastating.”

“In my view, based on MIT’s findings, no responsible jurisdiction should use Voatz in real elections any time soon,” he wrote. “It will take major advances in security technology before Internet voting is safe enough.”



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Senate moves to limit President on military force…


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate approved a bipartisan measure Thursday aimed at limiting President Donald Trump’s authority to launch military operations against Iran, with eight Republicans joining Democrats in a post-impeachment bid to constrain the White House.

The rebuke was the Senate’s first major vote since acquitting Trump on impeachment charges last week. Trump is expected to veto the war powers resolution if it reaches his desk, warning that if his “hands were tied, Iran would have a field day.’”

The measure, authored by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., says Trump must win approval from Congress before engaging in further military action against Iran. Kaine and other supporters said the resolution, which passed 55-45, was not about Trump or even the presidency, but instead was an important reassertion of congressional power to declare war.

While Trump and other presidents “must always have the ability to defend the United States from imminent attack, the executive power to initiate war stops there,″ Kaine said. “An offensive war requires a congressional debate and vote.″

The Senate vote continues a pattern in which Republican senators have shown a willingness to challenge Trump on foreign policy, a sharp departure from their strong support during impeachment and on domestic matters. Congress moved to impose restrictions on U.S. involvement with the Saudi-led war in Yemen last year after U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a gruesome murder at Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey.

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The bipartisan vote was a rare exertion of authority from Congress, the first since passage of the War Powers Act of 1973. And Trump promptly vetoed it.

The Democratic-controlled House passed a separate, nonbinding war powers resolution on Iran last month. The House could take up the Senate resolution later this month, House leaders said. Two-thirds votes in the House and GOP-run Senate would be needed to override an expected Trump veto of the war powers resolution.

Answering a claim by some of Trump’s supporters and Trump himself that the measure would send a signal of weakness to Iran and other potential adversaries, Kaine said the opposite was true.

“When we stand up for the rule of law … and say ‘This decision is fundamental, and we have rules that we are going to follow so we can make a good decision,’ that’s a message of strength,″ Kaine said. “If we’re to order our young men and women … to risk their lives in war, it should be on the basis of careful deliberation by the people’s elected legislature and not on the say-so of any one person.″

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, agreed. Lee supports Trump’s foreign policy, including toward Iran, but said Congress cannot escape its constitutional responsibility to act on matters of war and peace.

As the Senate debate made clear, “there is abundant support for the United States taking tough positions with regard to Iran,″ Lee said. ”And as part of that we want to make sure that any military action that needs to be authorized is in fact properly authorized by Congress. That doesn’t show weakness. That shows strength.″’

Trump disputed that, arguing on Twitter that a vote against Kaine’s proposal was important to national security and pointed to the Jan. 3 drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani.

“We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. Americans overwhelmingly support our attack on terrorist Soleimani,″ Trump said. “If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party. Don’t let it happen!″

Tehran responded to the U.S. attack on Soleimani by launching missiles at two military bases in Iraq that house American troops. The attack caused traumatic brain injuries in at least 64 U.S. soldiers, the Pentagon said..

Democrats and Republicans alike criticized a briefing by the Trump administration shortly after the drone strike, saying U.S. officials offered vague information about a possible attack being planned by Iran but no substantial details.

Kaine has long pushed for action reasserting congressional power to declare war. At Republicans’ request, he removed initial language that targeted Trump in favor of a generalized statement declaring that Congress has the sole power to declare war. The resolution also directs Trump to terminate use of military force against Iran or any part of its government without approval from Congress.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a co-sponsor, called the resolution “much needed and long overdue.″ In recent decades, “Congress has too often abdicated its constitutional responsibility on authorizing the sustained use of military force,″ she said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and many other Republicans opposed the resolution, saying it would send the wrong message to U.S. allies. “Just as we have successfully sent Iran this strong signal of our strength and resolve (by killing that country’s top general), a blunt and clumsy war powers resolution would tie our own hands,” McConnell said.

The three senators seeking the Democratic nomination for president — Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — all returned to the Capitol from campaigning and backed the war powers resolution.

Besides Collins and Lee, Republicans joining Democrats were Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Todd Young of Indiana.



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Biologically Male Runner To Compete In USA Women's Olympic Trials…



Biologically Male Runner To Compete In USA Women's Olympic Trials...

(Third column, 10th story, link)


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STOP TWEETING!


In an exclusive interview, Attorney General Bill Barr told ABC News on Thursday that President Donald Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case” but should stop tweeting about the Justice Department because his tweets “make it impossible for me to do my job.”

Barr’s comments are a rare break with a president who the attorney general has aligned himself with and fiercely defended. But it also puts Barr in line with many of Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill who say they support the president but wish he’d cut back on his tweets.

“I think it’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases,” Barr told ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas.

When asked if he was prepared for the consequences of criticizing the president – his boss – Barr said “of course” because his job is to run the Justice Department and make decisions on “what I think is the right thing to do.”

“I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody … whether it’s Congress, a newspaper editorial board, or the president,” Barr said. “I’m gonna do what I think is right. And you know … I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.”

Barr ignited a firestorm this week after top Justice Department officials intervened in the sentencing of Roger Stone, a longtime friend and former campaign adviser to the president who was convicted of lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of justice.

In a stunning reversal, the Justice Department overruled a recommendation by its own prosecution team that Stone spend seven to nine years in jail and told a judge that such a punishment – which was in line with sentencing guidelines – “would not be appropriate.”

The about-face raised serious questions about whether Barr had intervened on behalf of the president’s friend. It also raised questions about whether Trump personally pressured the Justice Department, either directly or indirectly.

In the interview with ABC News, Barr fiercely defended his actions and said it had nothing to do with the president. He said he was supportive of Stone’s convictions but thought the sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years was excessive. When news outlets reported the seven to nine year sentencing recommendation last Monday, Barr said he thought it was spin.

Barr said he told his staff that night that the Justice Department has to amend its recommendation. Hours later, the president tweeted that it was “horrible and very unfair” and that “the real crimes were on the other side.”

“Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” Trump tweeted.

The blowback from such an unprecedented move by the Justice Department leadership was immediate, both internally among the rank-and-file and in Congress. The entire four-man DOJ prosecution team withdrew from the case, and one prosecutor resigned from the Justice Department entirely. Sen. Lindsey Graham, chair of the Judiciary Committee that oversees the Justice Department and one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill, said the president should not have tweeted about an ongoing case.

The Justice Department, while led by a president appointee and Cabinet member, is tasked with enforcing the law and defending the interests of the U.S. without political influence.

Barr said Trump’s middle-of-the-night tweet put him in a bad position. He insists he had already discussed with staff that the sentencing recommendation was too long.

“Do you go forward with what you think is the right decision or do you pull back because of the tweet? And that just sort of illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be,” he said.

When asked directly if he had a problem with the president’s tweets, Barr responded, “Yes. Well, I have a problem with some of, some of the tweets. As I said at my confirmation hearing, I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process sacrosanct to make sure there is no political interference in it. And I have done that and I will continue to do that,” adding, “And I’m happy to say that, in fact the president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.”

Barr also told ABC News he was “a little surprised” that the prosecution team withdrew from the case and said he hadn’t spoken to the team.

He said it was “preposterous” to suggest that he “intervened” in the case as much as he acted to resolve a dispute within the department on a sentencing recommendation.

Trump has been pleased with Barr’s actions on Stone, praising him on Twitter. Trump on Wednesday said he was “not concerned about anything” about the resignations at the Justice Department and suggested the prosecutors “should go back to school and learn.”

“Congratulations to Attorney General Bill Barr for taking charge of a case that was totally out of control and perhaps should not have even been brought,” Trump tweeted this week, after all prosecutors assigned to the case quit.

Trump has repeatedly come under fire for trying to influence the Justice Department, including forcing out his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in 2018 after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Early in his presidency, Trump also encouraged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop a probe into Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, according to a memo Comey wrote at the time.

When asked earlier this week if he would pardon Stone, Trump said: “I don’t want to talk about that now.”

Barr told ABC that he would object if ever asked to use his power at the Justice Department to achieve political means.

“If (Trump) were to say, ‘Go investigate somebody because’—and you sense it’s because they’re a political opponent, then the attorney general shouldn’t carry that out, wouldn’t carry that out,” Barr said.

When asked if he expects the president to react to his criticism of the tweets, Barr said: “I hope he will react.”

“And respect it?” ABC’s Thomas asked.

“Yes,” Barr said.

Senior level White House sources insisted to ABC News that the president and top aides were unaware of the Barr’s intentions in the interview and were informed of the content only just before it aired.

The White House had no immediate comment.

ABC News’ John Santucci, Katherine Faulders and Jordyn Phelps contribute to this report.



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Swiss used as go-between to negotiate release of Americans…


WASHINGTON — Iran and the U.S. came to the brink of war in January but the two sides are still keeping open a diplomatic channel to discuss the fate of Americans imprisoned in Iran, according to multiple sources familiar with the talks.

The communication is indirect, with messages passed through the Swiss government, which has handled U.S. interests in Tehran since the U.S. and Iran severed diplomatic relations 40 years ago.

The Swiss ambassador to Iran, Markus Leitner, has made frequent trips to Washington in recent months to relay information on the prisoners’ status and messages from Tehran, a European diplomat and two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News.

Private individuals working on behalf of the relatives of those held in Iran, including former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and his associates, are also engaged in discussions with Iran in hopes of securing the release of U.S. citizens in Iranian prisons.

Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi in San Francisco in 2006.Ahmad Kiarostami / via Reuters file

“We are in constant contact and are trying to find a way to get Americans back home,” Richardson told NBC News.

The families of Michael White, a U.S. Navy veteran arrested in 2018, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran in 2007, have asked Richardson and his team to help with their cases. But Richardson said that “the tense state of relations between the two countries is not making things easy.”

The State Department declined to comment when asked about indirect talks via the Swiss. The Swiss embassy declined to comment.

In December, Iran released Xiyue Wang, a Princeton graduate student held for three-and-a-half years, as part of a prisoner swap in Switzerland. The exchange raised the possibility of a potential opening or at least a reduction of tensions between two governments that have traded threats for months and teetered on the verge of military conflict.

“Thank you to Iran on a very fair negotiation. See, we can make a deal together!” President Donald Trump tweeted shortly after Wang was released at the Zurich international airport.

Richardson said Wang’s release was designed to be part of a series of releases and humanitarian steps over time. “We’ve been working with the Iranians, from the start, to have a sequence of mutual gestures including further releases. Wang’s release was the first. This was all about getting a positive momentum based on humanitarian gestures.”

But weeks later, an American contractor was killed in northern Iran in a rocket attack that the Trump administration blamed on Iranian-backed militia. That attack set off a chain of events culminating in a U.S. drone strike that took out Iran’s top general Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, one of the country’s most powerful figures. Iran retaliated by launching ballistic missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops.

The military confrontation delivered a serious setback to attempts to resolve the cases of the remaining Americans held in Iran, the sources said.

“That was a huge blow for our efforts,” said one source familiar with Richardson’s work.

Four Americans in Iran

There are at least four Americans known to be held in Iran: Michael White, a Navy veteran arrested in 2018; Morad Tahbaz, an environmental activist detained in 201; Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American business consultant arrested in October 2015; and his father, Baquer Namazi, a former senior UNICEF official arrested in 2016 and later placed on medical furlough in Tehran. Former FBI agent Robert Levinson has been missing since a visit to Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 and the U.S. government has repeatedly demanded information about his whereabouts.

The U.S. and human rights groups consider the Americans imprisoned in Iran as hostages that have been arrested and convicted on baseless charges without fair trials. Iran rejects that description.

Michael White’s mother, Joanne White, told NBC News she is frustrated with how the Trump administration has approached her 48-year-old son’s case and is gravely concerned about his health.

“If it was a priority they would have brought him back already,” said White. “I don’t think they’re paying enough attention.”

White was arrested in 2018 after visiting a girlfriend in Iran he had met online.

Joanne White said her son has multiple chronic conditions, including cancer and asthma, and she was frightened his fragile health could not withstand long-term imprisonment. Before he left for Iran, her son had just finished his chemotherapy for neck cancer. During his imprisonment, she said, his chemotherapy port has not been properly flushed or cleaned, which could lead to a potential lethal blood infection.

“I need them to bring him back before it’s too late,” White said.

She said she was terrified for her son’s safety after the U.S. and Iran appeared on the verge of a shooting war last month. “It panicked me, because he’s in over prison there.”

Swiss diplomats have not been allowed to visit Michael White since August, according to a spokesperson for the family, Jonathan Franks.

The State Department has said it places the highest priority on securing the release of Americans held in Iran and elsewhere. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cited White’s plight in a tweet marking the American’s birthday last month. “For the second straight year, U.S. Navy veteran Michael White spent his birthday suffering in a horrible Iranian prison. The Iranian regime must release all American and foreign hostages!”

Iran has denied White has been mistreated or deprived of adequate medical care. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment.

Richardson vs. U.S. officials

The release of Wang in December showed the Trump administration was open to prisoner exchanges, something previous administrations have tended to rule out. But it also has led to some friction over who should claim credit for the release, with U.S. officials and Richardson in a dispute about what preceded the prisoner releases.

Wang’s release came about partly through more than two years of discreet talks by private intermediaries helping the Princeton graduate’s family, according to Richardson and his colleagues, and Jim Slattery, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas who has forged contacts with Iranian officials through an interfaith initiative.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had called publicly in April last year for a comprehensive swap of Iranians imprisoned in the U.S. and all Americans held in Iran. As of November 2019, there were 29 Iranian citizens in U.S. custody, according to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

Zarif’s proposal was rejected by the administration, so Richardson and Slattery started trying to tackle one case at a time.

It soon became clear that Iran might be ready to release Wang if the U.S. released an Iranian scientist, Masoud Soleimani, specializing in stem-cell research, who was in prison in Atlanta after being accused of violating U.S. sanctions, according to Richardson’s team.

In consultation with administration officials, Slattery, Richardson and Wang’s lawyer, Jason Poblete, worked out a plan for Wang to be released at about the same time as Soleimani, whose case appeared to be wrapping up.

U.S. prosecutors pursued a plea bargain agreement with the Iranian’s scientist’s lawyers, which would allow him to be released based on the time he had already served awaiting trial. The plan for Soleimani’s release and Wang’s release advanced, with logistical arrangements discussed with Iran with the help of Qatar.

At the 11th hour, senior administration officials abandoned the Richardson/Slattery plan for the plea agreement and prosecutors dropped all charges against Soleimani, moving up his release by several days, according to Soleimani’s defense lawyer, Lenny Franco.

U.S. officials then called Franco and his colleague on a Thursday and told them they were going to do a prisoner exchange and it would take place in two days.

“It was fantastic,” Franco said. He said he had never seen anything like it in his career, but believed it was the best possible outcome for all concerned and didn’t press for a detailed explanation. “As a defense attorney, when a prosecutor offers to dismiss the case, you don’t need to know why.”

Brian Hook, special envoy on Iran at the State Department, was initially opposed to the prisoner exchange as he saw it as undermining the Trump administration’s maximum pressure policy, according to sources familiar with the talks. Hook’s view later shifted and he welcomed Wang after his release at Zurich’s international airport.

“We negotiated the deal and advanced it towards a set implementation date. We coordinated and shared information with the White House and the National Security Council,” Richardson said.

“Some players in the U.S. government then decided to cut us off just before implementation in order to claim credit.”

The administration strongly disagreed with Richardson’s portrayal.

“The State Department entirely rejects Governor Richardson’s baseless accusations,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The Justice Department declined to comment when asked why prosecutors decided to drop all charges against Soleimani.

The New Yorker first reported Richardson’s account of the prisoner exchange.

Slattery said it wasn’t worth arguing about who deserved credit as the exchange was a success. “All’s well that ends well, right?”

“Figuring out how to release Dr. Soleimani based on the merits of his case was the key to obtaining the release of Wang,” Slattery said. “I want to give credit to all who helped on the Wang /Soleimani case.”

He added that Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Iran’s Ambassador to the U.N. Majid Takht-Ravanchi, “kept their word to me.”



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CDC admits test kits flawed…


A second US evacuee from China has been diagnosed with coronavirus after the CDC admitted its test kits are flawed.  

The new case announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday brings the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US to 14.  

The patient was aboard a flight from Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week. They are now in isolation at a hospital in San Diego.  

Also in isolation is a woman who was mistakenly released because of a mislabeled sample that hadn’t been tested for coronavirus. She was returned to the hospital on Monday after testing positive for the virus and is expected to make a full recovery.

The latest confirmed case comes hours after a senior CDC official Nancy Messonnier revealed that a number of coronavirus test kits sent out by US health authorities to labs across the country are faulty.

The CDC began shipping 200 test kids nationwide on February 5 to speed up the diagnosis of US cases of the virus dubbed COVID-19.  

But the labs reported that while performing a verification procedure they realized the kits were returning inconclusive results, meaning neither positive nor negative, Messonnier said. 

Now, the CDC is remaking the component they believe to be at fault, a setback for the long-awaited tests meant to cut down wait times for test results. 

A second US evacuee from China has been diagnosed with coronavirus, the CDC confirmed Wednesday. The patient was aboard a flight from Wuhan, the city at the center of the virus outbreak, that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week. Passengers on that flight are seen stepping off the plane

A second US evacuee from China has been diagnosed with coronavirus, the CDC confirmed Wednesday. The patient was aboard a flight from Wuhan, the city at the center of the virus outbreak, that arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in Southern California last week. Passengers on that flight are seen stepping off the plane   

The latest confirmed case came hours after a senior CDC official revealed that a number of coronavirus test kits sent out by US health authorities to labs across the country are faulty

The latest confirmed case came hours after a senior CDC official revealed that a number of coronavirus test kits sent out by US health authorities to labs across the country are faulty

It is unclear whether the second evacuee’s diagnosis was affected by the faulty tests. No details have been released that patient.

Messonnier has said that the mix-up with the first evacuee was unrelated to the test kit issue.  

In quality assurance tests, some labs are reporting that the screening kit is returning inconclusive results on cell samples that should come back positive or negative. 

These tests, Messonnier said, have not yet been used to screen actual patient samples, so they have not created any such issues.  

In California, officials initially believed that the first Wuhan evacuee, had been tested, with negative results, and was thus sent back to quarantine on Marine Corps Station Miramar (MCS Miramar). 

However, the woman’s sample had not actually been tested yet, due to what Messonnier chocked up to a labeling issue. 

‘It isn’t that someone else was falsely identified as positive, it was that [the test] wasn’t initially run,’ she said.  

‘The mishap was unfortunate but it was corrected from happening again in the future by adding additional quality control.’ 

When the patient’s sample was actually run, she was quickly identified as positive for coronavirus and brought back to the hospital at UC San Diego for treatment. 

In the meantime, Messonnier said that infection control precautions were taken. A second person was also transported to the hospital for testing. 

Senior CDC official Dr Nancy Messonnier (pictured) said none of the faulty tests were used on any of the 14 American patients confirmed to have coronavirus

Senior CDC official Dr Nancy Messonnier (pictured) said none of the faulty tests were used on any of the 14 American patients confirmed to have coronavirus  

COVID-19 has sicked more than 45,200 people and killed 1,116 worldwide as of Wednesday

Separately, the CDC is now working to get a new batch of test kits – or at least replacements for the component they think is defective – reissued to more than 100 authorized labs across the US.  

‘We’re looking into what’s wrong…We think that the issue at the stage, can be explained by one reagent that isn’t performing as it should, consistently,’ she said, referring to one the substances used in the kit. 

‘And that’s why we are remanufacturing that reagent.’

For now, the testing of all patient specimens will continue to be carried out at the CDC’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

‘Speed is important, but equally or more important in this situation is making sure lab results are correct,’ said Messonnier.  

The US is shipping the test kit to 36 countries that have placed orders, and each kit can be used approximately 700 to 800 times.  



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