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ACROSS OUR STATE & NATION

Jan. 6 committee requests interview with Ivanka Trump

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol insurrection is asking Ivanka Trump, daughter of former President Donald Trump, to voluntarily cooperate as lawmakers make their first public attempt to arrange an interview with a Trump family member.

The committee sent a letter Thursday requesting a meeting in February with Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser to her father. In the letter, the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Ivanka Trump was in direct contact with her father during key moments on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an effort to halt the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s presidential win.

The riot followed a rally near the White House where Donald Trump had urged his supporters to “fight like hell” as Congress convened to certify the 2020 election results.

The committee says it wants to discuss what Ivanka Trump knew about her father’s efforts, including a telephone call they say she witnessed, to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence to reject those results, as well as concerns she may have heard from Pence’s staff, members of Congress and the White House counsel’s office about those efforts.

“Ivanka Trump just learned that the January 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear,” her spokesperson said. “As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally.”

US sanctions

Ukrainians accused of helping Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department levied new sanctions Thursday against four Ukrainian officials, including two current members of parliament who administration officials say are part of a Russian influence effort to set the pretext for further invasion of Ukraine.

The sanctions name parliament members Taras Kozak and Oleh Voloshyn and two former government officials. According to Treasury, all four have been intimately involved in disinformation efforts by Russia’s federal security service, known as the FSB.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the four men were at the heart of a Kremlin effort begun in 2020 “to degrade the ability of the Ukrainian state to independently function.”

The new sanctions were announced less than 24 hours after President Joe Biden said he thinks Moscow will newly invade Ukraine. He warned Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country would pay a “dear price” in lives lost and a possible restriction in access to the global banking system if it does.

Biden faced criticism from Republicans and Ukrainian officials that he invited a limited Russian invasion by suggesting in comments to reporters on Wednesday that the U.S. would react with a measured response if there was only a “minor incursion.” Administration officials immediately sought to clarify his remarks, and Biden himself did so on Thursday.

Biden issues

new warning

to Russia over

invading Ukraine

GENEVA (AP) — U.S. President Joe Biden said Thursday that any Russian troop movements across Ukraine’s border would constitute an invasion and that Moscow would “pay a heavy price” for such an action.

It was the latest White House effort to clear up comments Biden made a day earlier when he suggested that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukrainian territory could result in a more measured response by the United States and allies.

Facing an avalanche of criticism from Republican lawmakers and Ukrainian officials that Biden’s comments had invited limited military action by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Biden sought to clarify his remarks at the start of a meeting at the White House focused on domestic policy.

“I’ve been absolutely clear with President Putin,” Biden said. “He has no misunderstanding: Any, any assembled Russian units move across the Ukrainian border, that is an invasion,” said Biden, adding that an invasion would be met with a “severe and coordinated economic response.”

His comments came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken prepared to meet Friday in Geneva with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a high-stakes bid to ease tensions that appears likely to fail.

Jury selected for trial over George Floyd’s killing

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A jury was picked Thursday for the federal trial of three Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd’s killing, with the judge stressing repeatedly that fellow Officer Derek Chauvin’s conviction on state murder charges and guilty plea to a federal civil rights violation should not influence the proceedings.

J. Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao are broadly charged with depriving Floyd of his civil rights while acting under government authority as Chauvin used his knee to pin the Black man to the street. Separately, they’re charged in state court with aiding and abetting both murder and manslaughter in the videotaped killing that triggered worldwide protests, violence and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Jury selection took just one day for the federal trial. The judge said opening statements would be Monday, with the court taking up some evidentiary matters on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson questioned potential jurors in groups to get a pool of 40 people, who had already answered an extensive questionnaire. Each side then used their challenges to strike jurors until they had just 18 people — 12 who will deliberate and six alternates.

By comparison, at Chauvin’s state trial, the judge and attorneys questioned each juror individually and spent more than two weeks picking a panel.

4 Belarus officials charged with

air piracy

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. prosecutors charged four Belarusian government officials on Thursday with aircraft piracy for diverting a Ryanair flight last year to arrest an opposition journalist, using a ruse that there was a bomb threat.

The charges, announced by federal prosecutors in New York, recounted how a regularly-scheduled passenger plane traveling between Athens, Greece, and Vilnius, Lithuania, on May 23 was diverted to Minsk, Belarus by air traffic control authorities in Belarus.

“Since the dawn of powered flight, countries around the world have cooperated to keep passenger airplanes safe. The defendants shattered those standards by diverting an airplane to further the improper purpose of repressing dissent and free speech,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release announcing the charges.

Ryanair said Belarusian flight controllers told the pilots that there was a bomb threat against the jetliner and ordered them to land in Minsk. The Belarusian military scrambled a MiG-29 fighter jet in an apparent attempt to encourage the crew to comply with the orders of flight controllers.

In August, President Joe Biden levied sanctions against Belarus on the one-year anniversary of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s election, in a vote the U.S. and international community said was fraught with irregularities.

Georgia DA asks for grand jury in election probe

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia prosecutor looking into possible attempts to interfere in the 2020 general election by former President Donald Trump and others has asked for a special grand jury to aid the investigation.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Thursday sent a letter to Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. She wrote in the letter that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020, including the State’s election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.”

Willis has declined to speak about the specifics of her investigation, but in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month she confirmed that its scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

A Trump spokesman has previously dismissed the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Graham has also denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, Trump said his call to Raffensperger was “perfect.”

Aiming to make CDC nimble, agency director

has rankled many

NEW YORK (AP) — From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the top U.S. public health agency has been criticized as too slow to collect and act on new information.

Now, increasingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also being criticized for moving too fast.

One year into Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s tenure as director, her bid to make the CDC more agile is being challenged by political pressures, vocal scientists and the changing virus itself. In its haste, some experts say, the agency has repeatedly stumbled — moving too quickly, before the science was clear, and then failing to communicate clearly with local health officials and the public.

“I think they are absolutely trying to be more nimble — and that’s a good thing. I don’t criticize that,” said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “I criticize the fact that when you’re doing this quickly, in an evolving environment, you can’t just put it out there and think that people understand it.”

Walensky has said that she came to the CDC thinking about ways to speed data collection and reporting. She once told The Associated Press that she didn’t want the agency to spend months gathering data that gets published after it’s useful. “Like, no one will care,” she said.

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