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FBI investigating whether woman stole laptop from Pelosi's office to sell it to Russia

Politico -

The FBI is investigating evidence that a woman who entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 stole a laptop or hard drive from Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office and intended to sell it to Russians.

The bizarre claim, which the FBI emphasized remains under investigation, was included in an affidavit describing the criminal case against Riley June Williams, a Pennsylvania woman who was seen in footage of the Jan. 6 insurrection in area of the Capitol near Pelosi's office.

And it's not clear if the FBI has been able to apprehend her.

"It appears that WILLIAMS has fled," according to the affidavit, which was signed Sunday and posted publicly after 9 p.m.. "According to local law enforcement officers in Harrisburg, WILLIAMS’ mother stated that WILLIAMS packed a bag and left her home and told her mother she would be gone for a couple of weeks. WILLIAMS did not provide her mother any information about her intended destination."

A Pelosi aide was not immediately available for comment. It was not clear if a laptop or hard drive was actually stolen.

According to the affidavit, a witness who spoke to authorities claimed to have seen a video of Williams "taking a laptop computer or hard drive from Speaker Pelosi’s office.""[Witness 1] stated that WILLIAMS intended to send the computer device to a friend in Russia, who then planned to sell the device to SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service," the agent noted. "According to [Witness 1], the transfer of the computer device to Russia fell through for unknown reasons and WILLIAMS still has the computer device or destroyed it."

"This matter remains under investigation," the agent concludes.

For now, Williams is facing charges of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct for her actions inside the Capitol.

The agent handling Williams' case also spoke to law enforcement officials in Harrisburg who had recently interacted with Williams' parents. Williams' mother on Jan. 11 filed a suspicious persons report against the person the FBI has identified as "Witness 1." That witness is described as a former romantic partner of the suspect.

While local officers were present, Williams' mother called her via video, and officers saw her wearing a brown jacket that matched the one she was seen wearing in images from the Jan. 6 riots. Harrisburg officers also spoke with Williams' father, who said he drove with her to Washington for the protests but that they split up for the day while she joined other friends.

The pair drove home from Washington after meeting outside the Capitol.

Slight Relief from Illinois' Predatory Government

Real Clear Politics -

Among all the bad policy coming out of Springfield, Ill., let's celebrate the occasional glimmer of good sense. But first, some background:Illinois's legislature passed legislation on policing and related matters last week in the dead of night. The 764-page bill passed the state Senate at 4:49 a.m. after being introduced and distributed to the members at 3:04 a.m. Only a few legislative insiders could have possibly known what was in the bill before voting; the rest of the legislature, first seeing the measure upon its introduction, voted blind.Only after the Democrat majority passed the bill...

Biden will halt federal executions, other actions on first day in office

Politico -

Joe Biden plans to rejoin the World Health Organization, halt federal executions and rescind the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military among a range of other executive actions on his first day in office, according to people familiar with his plans.

Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, outlined some of the actions the new administration will take in his first 10 days in a memo to senior staff on Sunday. But a document distributed by the transition team detailed more specific actions Biden will take on Jan. 20.

The transition document was first reported by CTV News and its contents were confirmed by POLITICO.

Biden will also rescind the Keystone XL pipeline permit, issue a proclamation terminating the border wall emergency and send an immigration bill to Congress. It remains unclear exactly what will be in the immigration legislation. Biden’s transition declined to comment.

The new administration will also take action to protect Dreamers and improve workforce diversity and equity across the federal government. Biden will also announce a date for a climate summit hosted in the U.S.

The actions are largely grouped into buckets aimed at addressing the four crises Biden has been focused on: the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, racial equity and the economic recession.

Klain specified other actions in Saturday’s memo, including rescinding the travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries, rejoining the Paris climate accords, extending limits on student loan payments and evictions instituted during the pandemic, and issuing a mask mandate on federal properties and for interstate travel.

“These executive actions will deliver relief to the millions of Americans that are struggling in the face of these crises,” Klain wrote. “President-elect Biden will take action — not just to reverse the gravest damages of the Trump administration — but also to start moving our country forward.”

Biden to yank Keystone XL permit on first day of presidency

Politico -

President-elect Joe Biden will rescind the cross-border permit for TC Energy's Keystone XL pipeline on his first day in office, three sources confirm to POLITICO.

The move is billed as one of Biden’s Day One climate change actions, according to a presentation circulating among Washington trade groups and lobbyists, a portion of which was seen by POLITICO. The decision was not included in incoming chief of staff Ron Klain’s Saturday memo outlining Biden’s planned executive actions during the first days of his presidency.

Two lobbyists confirmed that Biden plans to yank the project's permit on Inauguration Day, a development first reported by CBC News. It's the latest development in a decade-long fight over the controversial pipeline and solidifies a campaign promise the Canadian government had hoped was negotiable.

"The only question has always been whether labor can stave off the death sentence," said one oil and gas lobbyist who requested anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the press. "And they never had a chance."

A Biden transition spokesperson declined to comment.

Canada's ambassador to Washington Kirsten Hillman would not confirm reports. "The Government of Canada continues to support the Keystone XL project," she said in a statement to POLITICO on Sunday evening. "Keystone XL fits within Canada’s climate plan. It will also contribute to U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness."

Rescinding Keystone XL would negate one of President Donald Trump's own first actions in office and kill a project that had become a political totem in the fight between climate activists and the oil industry. Despite many analysts saying the boom in U.S. shale oil made new sources of Canadian crude less important, TC Energy has fought years of legal challenges against it obtaining the needed state permits that would all it to build the pipeline.

The reaction: TC Energy announced Sunday that Keystone XL would achieve net-zero emissions across operations once it begins running in 2023. A spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment on Biden’s executive order plans.

Environmentalists applauded the decision. "President-elect Biden is showing courage and empathy to the farmers, ranchers and tribal nations who have dealt with an ongoing threat that disrupted their lives for over a decade," said Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, a grassroots group focused on scuttling the project.

Canada-U.S. relations: TC Energy first proposed the $8 billion pipeline in 2008, saying the 1,200-mile project was crucial to deliver crude from Western Canada to refineries in the Midwest. The Obama administration in 2015 denied a cross-border permit for the pipeline, however, saying the oil it would deliver would exacerbate climate change.

Keystone XL was one of the few issues on which Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed. The Liberal government had planned to continue to advocate for the pipeline.

During a congratulatory call with Biden on Nov. 9, Trudeau told the incoming president he looked forward to joining forces to fight climate change while co-operating on energy projects like the Keystone XL.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bet Biden would not cancel a project already under construction when he announced in March that his government had taken a $1.1 billion stake in Keystone XL. Preliminary construction started last fall in Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota.

The provincial government openly mulled a legal intervention last year into a court case that had put pipeline construction on hold and reportedly hired American lobbyists to make its case in Washington.

Stef Feldman, a policy director for Biden's campaign, told POLITICO in May that the Democrat would "proudly stand in the Roosevelt Room again as President and stop it for good."

What's next: In a statement Sunday night, Kenney vowed to work with TC Energy "to use all legal avenues available to protect" Alberta's interest in the pipeline.

Fearing inside attack, FBI vetting Guard troops in D.C.

Politico -

WASHINGTON — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.

The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues.

”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.

Multiple officials said the process began as the first Guard troops began deploying to D.C. more than a week ago. And they said it is slated to be complete by Wednesday.

“The question is, is that all of them? Are there others?” said McCarthy. “We need to be conscious of it and we need to put all of the mechanisms in place to thoroughly vet these men and women who would support any operations like this.”

In a situation like this one, FBI vetting would involve running peoples’ names through databases and watchlists maintained by the bureau to see if anything alarming comes up. That could include involvement in prior investigations or terrorism-related concerns, said David Gomez, a former FBI national security supervisor in Seattle.

Insider threats have been a persistent law enforcement priority in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But in most cases, the threats are from homegrown insurgents radicalized by al-Qaida, the Islamic State group or similar groups. In contrast, the threats against Biden’s inauguration have been fueled by supporters of President Donald Trump, far-right militants, white supremacists and other radical groups. Many believe Trump’s baseless accusations that the election was stolen from him, a claim that has been refuted by many courts, the Justice Department and Republican officials in key battleground states.

The insurrection at the Capitol began after Trump made incendiary remarks at the Jan. 6 rally. According to McCarthy, service members from across the military were at that rally, but it’s not clear how many were there or who may have participated in the breach at the Capitol. So far only a couple of current active-duty or National Guard members have been arrested in connection with the Capitol assault, which left five people dead. The dead included a Capitol Police officer and a woman shot by police as she climbed through a window in a door near the House chamber.

Gen. Daniel R. Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau, has been meeting with Guard troops as they arrive in D.C. and as they gather downtown. He said he believes there are good processes in place to identify any potential threats.

“If there’s any indication that any of our soldiers or airmen are expressing things that are extremist views, it’s either handed over to law enforcement or dealt with the chain of command immediately,” he said.

The insider threat, however, was just one of the security concerns voiced by officials on Sunday, as dozens of military, National Guard, law enforcement and Washington, D.C., officials and commanders went through a security rehearsal in northern Virginia. As many as three dozen leaders lined tables that ringed a massive color-coded map of D.C. reflected onto the floor. Behind them were dozens more National Guard officers and staff, with their eyes trained on additional maps and charts displayed on the wall.

The Secret Service is in charge of event security, but there is a wide variety of military and law enforcement personnel involved, ranging from the National Guard and the FBI to the Washington, D.C., Capitol and Park Police.

Commanders went over every aspect of the city’s complicated security lockdown, with McCarthy and others peppering them with questions about how the troops will respond in any scenario and how well they can communicate with the other enforcement agencies scattered around the city.

Hokanson said he believes his troops have been adequately equipped and prepared, and that they are rehearsing as much as they can to be prepared for any contingency.

The major security concern is an attack by armed groups of individuals, as well as planted explosives and other devices. McCarthy said intelligence reports suggest that groups are organizing armed rallies leading up to Inauguration Day, and possibly after that.

The bulk of the Guard members will be armed. And McCarthy said units are going through repeated drills to practice when and how to use force and how to work quickly with law enforcement partners. Law enforcement officers would make any arrests.

Consumer advocates Baradaran, Barr are leading contenders for top bank cop

Politico -

Law professor Mehrsa Baradaran and former Treasury Department official Michael Barr are leading contenders to head the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the national bank regulator, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

Baradaran, an expert on the racial wealth gap and a favorite of progressives, would represent a major break from previous leaders of the OCC, who have often been accused of being too cozy with the banks they oversee. One of the policies she is best known for advocating is the delivery of financial services through the U.S. Postal Service, which banks are vehemently opposed to.

Barr, who played a major role in the crafting of financial safeguards in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, has been critical of financial rule rollbacks under the Trump administration and has called for strengthening consumer protection.

“We need to undo the damage caused by the last four years of policy: rebuilding a strong Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and building resiliency in the financial system with stronger capital and liquidity regulations, for example,” he said in June 2020.

Whoever is chosen as comptroller of the currency would grapple with how to reduce the number of people who are shut out of the financial system — a circumstance that hurts their ability to get government aid or take out loans, particularly if they don’t have credit scores.

The new regulator would also supervise the national banking system at a time of technological upheaval, with traditional lenders confronting both competition and business opportunities from upstart online lenders and financial apps — innovation that could lead to more efficient and equitable delivery of financial services but also more consumer abuses.

Enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law designed to combat discriminatory lending practices by banks, is expected to be an early focus for regulators in the Biden administration. A Trump-appointed comptroller, Joseph Otting, overhauled the historic anti-redlining law without support from the other two federal bank regulators: the Federal Reserve and FDIC. His move was also opposed by Democrats and community groups and faced skepticism from banks.

The Fed has already started work on an alternative approach.

Democrats have also pushed for a Biden appointee to reverse other actions by the Trump-era OCC, including rules that they believe make it easier for payday lenders to partner with banks to get around state interest rate caps.

Baradaran teaches at the University of California at Irvine Law School, where she is associate dean for diversity and inclusion. She has written a book called “The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap,” which focuses on barriers facing Black-owned financial institutions and the dynamics behind the barriers to building wealth faced by Black Americans.

Barr is dean of public policy at the University of Michigan and a nonresident senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He worked as assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions in 2009 and 2010 and served in the Obama White House before that. He also worked at Treasury under President Bill Clinton.

History-making female athlete invited to Biden inauguration

Politico -

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sarah Fuller, the first woman to score in a Power Five conference football game, says she’s been invited to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

“It’s an honor to be invited to participate in one of America’s greatest traditions,” Fuller posted Sunday on social media.

“This historic inauguration is especially meaningful for American women and girls. The glass ceilings are breaking,” she added, including the Twitter handles for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — who will become the first woman to hold that office — Biden, and their inaugural committee.

Attendance at the inauguration will be strictly curtailed because of the Covid-19 pandemic and security measures put in place after a violent mob supporting President Donald Trump invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory.

Fuller helped Vanderbilt win the Southeastern Conference women’s soccer tournament as the goalkeeper. She helped out the football team while it was dealing with COVID-19 issues.

She became the first woman to play in a Power Five game Nov. 28 with a squib kick to open the second half of a loss at Missouri in the only time she got on the field in that game. She got another chance on Dec. 12, when Vanderbilt had only 49 scholarship players for its game against Tennessee.

Fuller, listed second out of three available kickers on the depth chart, came out for the extra point that tied the game at 7 with 1:50 left in the first quarter. She converted her second point-after with 7:22 left in the fourth quarter of the 42-17 loss.

Biden taps Warren ally Chopra to lead Consumer Bureau

Politico -

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Rohit Chopra to be the next director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to four sources familiar with the decision, choosing a strong consumer advocate aligned with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

If confirmed, Chopra, now a member of the Federal Trade Commission, would be returning to helm an agency he helped Warren set up after its establishment by the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform law of 2010.

The selection of Chopra signals the Biden administration plans to return the CFPB to the more-muscular posture of its early days following three years of Trump administration appointees curbing the agency's reach.

The Biden transition team declined to comment.

Chopra, a Wharton-trained MBA, worked as a consultant at McKinsey before joining government. Over the course of his term at the FTC, he has pushed the agency to be more skeptical of private equity buyers and more aggressive in using its rulemaking powers to rein in businesses.

Thanks to a Supreme Court ruling last year, Biden can fire current CFPB Director Kathy Kraninger on Day One. But erasing President Donald Trump's industry-friendly imprint on the bureau, which has pulled back on enforcement and watered down Obama-era rules, may take years.

One of Chopra’s first likely priorities, restoring the agency’s focus on enforcing fair lending laws, will be relatively easy to achieve. The other two big-ticket items former officials expect to see on the new director’s agenda — cracking down on payday lenders and building up robust case law on what counts as an “abusive act or practice” under the Dodd-Frank law — couldn't be accomplished until well into Biden's term as president.

Chopra can move quickly to restore the Office of Fair Lending, sidelined by former Acting Director Mick Mulvaney in 2017, to its original position, allowing fair lending staff to draw on both supervision and enforcement tools to combat discrimination.

Rolling back the Trump administration’s revised payday rule would take longer. The new rule released in July rescinded a key requirement of the agency’s controversial earlier regulation cracking down on the industry, which offers small emergency loans to customers at sky-high interest rates, frequently trapping low-income borrowers in costly debt cycles.

The previous rule, released in October 2017 just before then-Director Richard Cordray stepped down, would have required lenders to verify borrowers' income and debts to gauge whether they could afford the loans. The CFPB voided that requirement with the new rule this year, prompting an outcry among congressional Democrats, who requested an inspector general investigation into allegations of improper political influence on the drafting process for the rule.

Consumer groups have sued to overturn the new rule — alleging that the agency violated the Administrative Procedure Act and Dodd-Frank — so it’s possible the courts will strike it down.

Without the intervention of the courts, revising and re-releasing the rule would mean going back to square one — drawing on past research, explaining in a proposal why the newest version of the rule restores various provisions, allowing for a lengthy notice-and-comment period and setting an implementation date that gives the industry enough time to comply. That means payday lenders may not face new consequences until nearly a decade after the bureau kicked off efforts to crack down on the industry under Cordray.

Chopra will also likely move to build out more aggressive enforcement of the “abusive” standard under Dodd-Frank, a pivot away from the more relaxed guidance the agency issued this year.

“Unfair or deceptive acts or practices” have long been banned under federal law, but Dodd-Frank in 2010 added “abusive” to the prohibition, known as UDAAP, and gave the CFPB rulemaking and enforcement authority.

Business groups have pushed for years for clarification on what counts as abusive, and the agency said earlier this year that it would take a restrained approach to charging companies with abusiveness violations, based in part on whether the businesses were acting in good faith. Consumer groups immediately decried the open-ended “good-faith” exemption.

He served as a CFPB assistant director and as student loan ombudsperson after the agency opened its doors in 2011. More recently, he has been a Federal Trade Commissioner since 2018.

Fortress D.C.

Politico -

Late on a drizzly Friday night, just over a week after domestic insurgents stormed the U.S. Capitol, I returned to the scene to see the security blockades being set for Joe Biden’s inauguration. Days before, I’d photographed thousands of National Guard troops bivouacked in the complex and was able to work unimpeded. Clearly, the authorities want to send a message of formidable deterrence.

With stunning efficiency, roadblocks have been established about a half-mile away to all routes leading to the Capitol, Pennsylvania Avenue, the National Mall and the White House. Practically everything that a tourist would come to see in D.C. is now behind cement barricades and high fences, and you have to park your car and walk quite a ways to get to a series of perimeters.

The Secret Service is the lead agency, and it oversees each access point, at which you are also likely to encounter D.C. Metropoitan Police, Capitol Police and the National Guard. I was able to get onto the grounds only by showing my Senate press pass.

The Capitol is surrounded by multiple layers of fencing, some topped with concertina wire, as you’d see at a military installation. The scene continues west along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, the same route used for inaugural parades. This part of Washington is normally pretty quiet at night, but on this midnight, there was almost no one to be seen for blocks, and cars were almost nonexistent.

People have compared Washington right now to the Green Zone in Baghdad, and having been there a few times I can tell you the comparison is apt. But I’m reminded not of how the Green Zone felt months after it had been established, but rather in the first weeks after the invasion. There was an eerie desolation, the shock of transition and violence was still raw, and the future was unknowable.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s Legacy Demands Truth Before Unity

Real Clear Politics -

Contemplating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the wake of a White riot at the US Capitol, historian Peniel Joseph says the violence of January 6 reminds us that King's warnings about racism's dangers to American democracy continue in our own time. here is a striking parallel between 1968 and 2021, Joseph argues, and the King who spoke revolutionary truth to power at the end of his life can show America the way forward now.


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