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November 7, 2018

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was pushed out on Wednesday in what could potentially trigger consequences as significant as the dissolution of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Here's what you need to know.

What does it mean that Sessions was forced to resign?

Because Sessions resigned, President Trump was able to immediately appoint a new acting attorney general, rather than needing to go through the Senate approval process otherwise required to name a new AG. Sessions had recused himself from any involvement in the Mueller investigation; his replacement will not have the same obligation.

Who is the new attorney general?

Matthew Whitaker will serve as acting attorney general. He was formerly chief of staff to Jeff Sessions.

Whitaker, a Republican, published an op-ed in CNN last year arguing that Mueller had gone too far in his probe, an opinion shared by the president. "It does not take a lawyer or even a former federal prosecutor like myself to conclude that investigating Donald Trump's finances or his family's finances falls completely outside of the realm of his 2016 campaign and allegations that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government or anyone else," Whitaker argued. "That goes beyond the scope of the appointment of the special counsel."

What can Whitaker do now?

Sessions' ousting will likely tarnish the integrity of the ongoing Mueller investigation in the eyes of many Democrats and Republicans alike, and Whitaker can even technically fire the special counsel if there is "cause." Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee progressed legislation that would allow Mueller to "challenge" a potential firing "in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia," NBC News explains, although Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has so far refused to bring it to the floor, arguing: "This is not necessary, there’s no indication that Mueller is going to be fired."

Additionally, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will no longer be in charge of overseeing the Mueller investigation, NBC News reports.

What will Democrats do?

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) assured that there would be swift action if the Mueller investigation came under threat, vowing that "protecting Mueller and his investigation is paramount. It would create a constitutional crisis if this were a prelude to ending or greatly limiting the Mueller investigation." Jeva Lange

October 31, 2018

The man suspected of killing 11 people at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday has been indicted on 44 federal counts.

Robert Bowers was indicted Wednesday with federal hate crimes for the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history, and "faces a maximum possible penalty of death, or life without parole, followed by a consecutive sentence of 535 years' imprisonment," reports CNN's Jake Tapper. Those charges include 11 counts of obstructing religious freedom resulting in death and 11 counts of committing violent crime using a firearm, among others.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the charges on Wednesday, saying Bowers was allegedly responsible for "incomprehensibly evil and utterly repugnant" crimes, per The Washington Post. Victims in the case include not just the 11 killed, but also two injured victims, nine who escaped unharmed, and four injured law enforcement officers, reports CNN. The indictment also mentions that Bowers allegedly yelled that he wanted to "kill Jews" while in the synagogue.

The federal charges add to the dozens of state and local charges Bowers was hit with this weekend, including 11 counts of homicide, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 30, 2018

Boston mob boss James "Whitey" Bulger died shortly after he was transferred to a West Virginia prison, a spokeswoman for District Attorney William J. Powell confirmed to The Boston Globe on Tuesday.

Bulger, 89, ran a massive crime ring and served as an FBI informant in the 1970s and 1980s. After more than 16 years on the run, Bulger was arrested in 2011 and charged with 11 counts of murder, extortion, and other crimes in 2013. He was serving two life sentences in a Florida prison before he was transferred to Hazelton penitentiary in West Virginia on Monday, reports the Globe.

Bulger's health was apparently failing right before his move, and he was expected to be placed in a federal prison medical facility. A union official confirmed to West Virginia News earlier that someone had been killed at the prison overnight, but did not reveal the man's identity. Sources subsequently told NBC News the man was Bulger, though his brother told the Globe he hadn't been notified of Bulger's death.

A "fellow inmate with Mafia ties" is being investigated in the death, three anonymous sources tell the Globe. The West Virginia District Attorney's Office confirmed there would be an investigation into Bulger's death but did not comment further. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has not responded to a request for comment, and Bulger's former defense attorney declined to comment to the Globe. Read more about Bulger's life at The Boston Globe. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 24, 2018

Explosive devices were found in mail addressed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's office on Tuesday night, and former President Barack Obama's home on Wednesday morning, The New York Times reports.

"At least two" separate "suspicious packages" were "immediately identified during routine mail screening procedures" before reaching their addressees, a Secret Service statement explained. The Times reports there were explosive devices in both the packages, and that they were similar to a device found at the home of liberal donor and philanthropist George Soros on Monday. Neither Clinton nor Obama were "at risk of receiving" the packages, per the statement.

The Clinton-addressed package was addressed to her Westchester County office — the same county where Soros lives, the Times points out. The Soros-directed device found Monday was 6-inch-long pipe filled with explosive powder. A bomb squad "proactively detonated" the device, an official said. No one has claimed responsibility for the bomb addressed to Soros, and a motive is still unclear, says law enforcement.

A "full scope investigation" into the devices targeting Obama and Clinton is ongoing, the Secret Service statement says. Read the full statement below. Kathryn Krawczyk

Kathryn Krawczyk

October 18, 2018

Sexual abuse allegations in Pennsylvania's Catholic Church are now the subject of a federal investigation, two sources told The Associated Press on Thursday. The Department of Justice has reportedly subpoenaed the state's Catholic dioceses for confidential files regarding the allegations.

This reported investigation comes after an August grand jury report unearthed the names of more than 300 Pennsylvania priests accused of child sex abuse. The massive report soon triggered similar investigations in other states, including New York.

Pennsylvania's statute of limitations prevented further investigation into a number of the report's allegations, though two priests were charged after its release, AP notes. Under federal law, a number of sex abuse crimes, including sex abuse with a minor, have no statute of limitations. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 16, 2018

Brothel owner turned Nevada Assembly candidate Dennis Hof has died, just a day after his 72nd birthday, Nye County police confirmed Tuesday.

Hof was often described as "Nevada's most famous pimp," and starred in the HBO documentary series Cathouse. The bombastic Hof also authored The Art of the Pimp, which foreshadowed his foray into politics earlier this year. Branding himself as the "Trump of Pahrump," Hof unseated a three-term incumbent to win the Republican primary for Nevada's state Assembly in June.

His curious blend of vice and politics led to quite the unique birthday party the night before his death. Hof was celebrating with porn star Ron Jeremy, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and tax opponent Grover Norquist, The Nevada Independent reported. The party doubled as a campaign rally at the Love Ranch, one of his several brothels.

A Nye County spokesman said Hof apparently went to sleep on Monday night, and was found unresponsive the next morning. His death looks "normal" on its face, Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly told the Independent, but there will still be an autopsy.

Hof's campaign manager, Chuck Muth, first tweeted about his death on Tuesday, and later told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he was "confused and stunned" by the news. Hof's Democratic opponent Lesia Romanov sent her condolences to "those who care about him." Nevada state law mandates Hof's name stay on the ballot this fall, but polling places will post that he has died. If Hof wins the election, county commissioners will appoint another Republican to take his place. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 4, 2018

The Department of Justice has indicted seven Russian intelligence officers on hacking charges, saying they allegedly targeted anti-doping agencies in retaliation for Russia's ban from the Olympic Games, the DOJ announced Thursday.

The seven defendants have all been charged with conspiracy to commit computer fraud, with some facing a variety of additional wire fraud, identity theft, and money laundering charges in incidents that started around December 2014. The intelligence officers, working under Russia's GRU intelligence agency, allegedly targeted American and international organizations "based on their strategic interest to the Russian government," a DOJ press release says. Those organizations included FIFA, an international group investigating chemical weapons attacks, and a Pennsylvania nuclear facility.

Most of the attacks happened remotely, the indictment alleges. Yet in some cases, like when the intelligence officers allegedly infiltrated an anti-doping conference in Switzerland, two of the defendants apparently traveled to hack their targets' WiFi networks. The group would then release some "selected items of stolen information" under the name Fancy Bears' Hack Team "in a concerted effort to draw media attention," the indictment's press release details.

Russia has long been suspected of retaliatory hacking after its doping scandal got it banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics. Hackers under the Fancy Bear name previously leaked drug test findings from top athletes, including Serena Williams and gymnast Simone Biles, per BuzzFeed News.

The indictment was not part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe, but three of those indicted Thursday were also charged in February with interfering in the 2016 election. Kathryn Krawczyk

October 2, 2018

The Pentagon has intercepted at least two packages thought to contain the poisonous substance known as ricin, The Associated Press reports.

The packages were caught Monday during a screening in a separate building on the Pentagon grounds, a spokesman tells AP. The spokesman wouldn't say who the packages were addressed to, but a U.S. official said they were headed for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson. All the mail from Monday is under quarantine and "poses no threat to Pentagon personnel," another spokesman said. Ricin is made from castor beans, and inhaling it could lead to low blood pressure and respiratory failure. The FBI is investigating the incident.

The Pentagon packages arrived Monday, but around noon on Tuesday, two people were hospitalized at Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) Houston campaign office after "apparently being exposed to a white powdery substance" in a piece of mail, the Houston Fire Department tweeted. Ricin can take such a form, but an investigation into the substance is still ongoing, Houston's ABC affiliate reports. The entire building was evacuated, though it has since reopened after hazardous substance testing proved negative.

The attacks are reminiscent of the ricin-filled letters sent to the White House and a Senate office in 2003 and 2004. No suspects in those attacks were ever apprehended. Kathryn Krawczyk

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