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White House is Being Investigated by DOJ for Alleged Presidential Pardon Bribery Scheme

In a potentially explosive development, the Justice Department is investigating an alleged “bribery-for-pardon” scheme.

Elias Marat

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In a potentially explosive development in the waning days of outgoing President Donald Trump’s administration, the Justice Department is investigating an alleged “bribery-for-pardon” scheme involving cash payments to the White House or its associates in exchange for a presidential pardon.

The heavily-redacted court records unsealed Tuesday in federal court do not name any individuals involved nor do they mention President Trump, or whether any officials in the White House were acquainted with the scheme.

However, the legal drama that the records hint at create new, dark clouds over the outgoing administration after a number of his top associates and advisers have faced federal criminal charges while Trump has openly mulled pardoning those who have proven their loyalty to him.

In 20 pages of partially redacted documents unsealed by the DC District Court, the question is discussed of whether prosecutors can review documents that are potentially protected by attorney-client privilege and were seized after a search warrant.

The records also reveal Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell’s Aug. 28 opinion on an ongoing investigation involving at least two figures who “acted as lobbyists to senior White House officials, without complying with the registration requirement of the Lobbying Disclosure Act… to secure ‘a pardon or reprieve of sentence for” an individual whose name is redacted.

In the review, the judge noted that the communications could be reviewed by investigators because the email discussion involved a non-attorney.

“This political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from one individual’s role as an attorney advocate for” another individual, the ruling added, with both names involved being redacted.

According to the filings, the communications were seized from an office in a raid that occurred at some point prior to the end of summer 2020.

During the raid, a filter team – meant to ensure that prosecutors don’t receive tainted evidence that should not have fallen into their hands because it was privileged – had over 50 digital devices, including smartphones, tablet computers, laptops, thumb drives and hard drives after investigators raided the undisclosed offices, reports CNN.

In the court documents, prosecutors requested access to the filter team’s trove of devices. This is because the prosecutors believed that the holdings showed alleged crimes such as a “secret lobbying scheme” and bribery conspiracy that solicited “a substantial political contribution in exchange for a presidential pardon or reprieve of sentence” for a defendant who was convicted, according to the redacted records.

“The political strategy to obtain a presidential pardon was ‘parallel’ to and distinct from [redacted]’s role as an attorney-advocate for [redacted name],” Judge Howell wrote in the court order.

A grand jury investigation was also revealed, and appears to relate to unnamed parties who acted as unregistered “lobbyists to senior White House officials” and pursued pardons while using an intermediary to transmit bribes, the records say.

However, prosecutors have not provided evidence to the judge of any direct payment. Instead, they showed evidence that the redacted person was seeking clemency in return for past and future contributions to a political campaign.

Over the last week, the Department of Justice has informed Judge Howell that it wants the filings to reman confidential in court because “individuals and conduct” have not been publicly charged with any crimes related to the potential scheme.

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Exotic “Blue Jet” Lightning Shooting From Electrical Storm Captured by Space Station

Elias Marat

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State-of-the-art equipment on the International Space Station (ISS) has captured a brilliant view of a thunderstorm from above, including a clear view of a strange type of lightning known as a blue jet.

The footage could help us better understand how lighting originates and even how storms distribute greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, offering important pointers on weather systems in general.

However, the footage also offers a damned cool perspective of electrical storms that we’ve never enjoyed until now.

In video released by the European Space Agency that was captured in February 2019, blue-colored lightning bolts can be seen shooting upwards from storm clouds over the Pacific island of Nauru into the highest reaches of the stratosphere.

Blue jets are types of lightning that shoot upwards from thunderclouds into the stratosphere, striking altitudes exceeding 30 miles (50 km) in under a second. While our typical lightning interacts with a mixture of gases in the lower atmosphere to create glowing white bolts, blue jets excite stratospheric nitrogen to create a luminous blue hue.

While the phenomenon has long been observed from aircraft and ground-level vantage points, the European Space Agency’s Atmosphere-Space Interactions Monitor (ASIM) at the ISS, which is about 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth, have enabled researchers to get the best glimpse yet of a blue jet arising from a sudden burst of electricity emanating from the top of a thundercloud, according to research published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature.

“Elves,” or rapidly-expanding rings of optical and UV emissions, were also generated by the flash. The emissions, which took place at the bottom of the ionosphere, were a result of the interaction between electrons, radio waves, and the atmosphere.

Blue jets and elves, like other upper-atmospheric phenomena such as mythological-sounding sprites, are important to our understanding of how radio waves travel through the air, with potential ramifications on our communications technologies as well as the more fundamental questions of how lightning is initiated in our clouds and how greenhouse gases are concentrated in the atmosphere.

However, spotting these brilliant light shows has been difficult for earthbound observers. Yet the highly sensitive tools installed on the Space Station in 2018 – including photometers, optical cameras, and an X- and gamma-ray detector –were able to capture the elusive phenomena.

The knowledge gleaned from the footage could prove crucial to researchers finally making sense of the processes unfolding in the upper atmosphere.

“This paper is an impressive highlight of the many new phenomena ASIM is observing above thunderstorms and shows that we still have so much to discover and learn about our Universe,” said Astrid Orr, the Physical Sciences Coordinator for human and robotic spaceflight at the European Space Agency.

“Congratulations to all the scientists and university teams that made this happen as well as the engineers that built the observatory and the support teams on ground operating ASIM—a true international collaboration that has led to amazing discoveries,” Orr added.

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Advocates Hail Biden Executive Order on LGBTQ Rights as the Most Far-Reaching in US History

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Civil rights advocates on Wednesday applauded President Joe Biden for signing an executive order on his first day in office bolstering anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people after years of attacks and rollbacks during the Trump administration, and for signaling that he will move to reverse his predecessor’s ban on transgender people serving in the U.S. military.

“Every person should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love,” the order begins.

The order continues:

Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports. Adults should be able to earn a living and pursue a vocation knowing that they will not be fired, demoted, or mistreated because of whom they go home to or because how they dress does not conform to sex-based stereotypes. People should be able to access healthcare and secure a roof over their heads without being subjected to sex discrimination. All persons should receive equal treatment under the law, no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“It is the policy of my administration to prevent and combat discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and to fully enforce Title VII and other laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation,” the order states. It goes on to direct the heads of each federal agency to ensure adherence to these principles and to develop plans to implement changes where necessary. 

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) hailed Biden’s order as “the most substantive, wide-ranging executive order concerning sexual orientation and gender identity” in U.S. history. 

HRC president Alphonso David issued a statement declaring that “today, millions of Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their president and their government believe discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not only intolerable but illegal.” 

Biden’s order gives teeth to Bostock v. Clayton County, the June 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling which declared that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The executive order also stands in stark contrast to the past four years, a period during which LGBTQ people saw their rights repeatedly eroded and, in the case of transgender people, their very existence as human beings challenged

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said in a statement that “on his very first day in office, President Biden is stating clearly that there is no place for discrimination in the federal government.”

Bostock v. Clayton County was a major victory for LGBTQ Americans,” added Keisling. “Today’s executive order moves us another step toward a day when transgender people can openly live as who they are without being targeted for discrimination.”

In one particularly egregious rights rollback, the Trump administration banned transgender people from serving in the U.S. military. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden will soon turn the page on this dark chapter in civil rights history. Ending the trans ban, said Psaki, will be among the “additional executive actions” the president will take “in the coming days and weeks.”

Blake Dremann, a transgender rights advocate and active-duty Navy lieutenant commander, told NBC News that trans people are “excited for the ban to be lifted” and the day when “we never have to tell another service member that being their authentic selves is a barrier to serving their nation.”

“The resilience and success of trans service members has shown we are committed to the success of the nation,” said Dremann. 

Republished from CommonDreams.org under Creative Commons

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The Moon, Mars and Uranus Will “Meet” in an Ultra-Rare Conjunction Tonight

Elias Marat

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Last month, stargazers were treated to a rare “Christmas star” that saw Jupiter and Saturn aligned so closely that they appeared to be on a collision course with one another.

And this week, we will be treated to another rare and spectacular space event.

According to astronomers, over the next few nights Mars, Uranus and the Moon will come in remarkably close proximity in our skies, with Mars passing 1.75 degrees to the north of Uranus while also sharing the scene with the Moon, reports EarthSky.

The infrequent occasion will look best on Thursday evening, just after dusk through just after midnight in the eastern United States, when the Moon and the two planets will appear very close along the southwest horizon.

For those in the U.K., the meeting will happen at roughly 4:43 p.m. but when the sky turns dark, the planets will reach their highest point at roughly 6:06 p.m. before remaining visible until about 12:36 a.m.

Mars, which is the fourth planet from the Sun, will be especially luminous as it stands out from the stars and will lie just above the Moon.

Uranus, however, may appear as a somewhat faint dot. However, the vertical alignment of the three planets should allow us to see all three of the planets with Uranus shining somewhat dimly between the Moon and Mars.

“Uranus will be about 1.5 degrees down and to the left of Mars but will not be visible to the naked eye,” Dean Regas, the astronomer for the Cincinnati Observatory, told local12. “You will need binoculars or a telescope to see it since it is almost 2 billion miles away.”

As EarthSky reported, Mars has been increasingly dimmed over the course of the last several months while the Earth has rushed ahead of it in our much more rapid and smaller orbit around the sun.

However, Mars is still shining brilliantly like some of the brightest stars in our skies. If the skies are clear, Mars will be easily visible as a bright, shining celestial object in the vicinity of the Moon.

Uranus, which is the seventh planet from the sun lying at a distance of roughly 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion km) away, will be extremely faint – more than 150 times fainter than the Red Planet.

The planet, which is about four times wider than our home planet – making it the size of a basketball if the Earth were an apple, according to NASA – is the outermost of the planets in our solar system that still remains visible with the naked eye.

However, given that seeing it with the eye requires extremely dark skies, the fact that the moon will be shining – in close proximity, no less – means that stargazers will definitely need binoculars or even a telescope to catch a full glimpse of the rare “meeting.”

“The interesting news is that Mars and Uranus are close together on the sky’s dome, so that – theoretically – you could see Mars and Uranus in a single binocular field of view for the next week or so, if the moon weren’t in the way,” EarthSky added.

So get your binoculars ready, and enjoy!

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