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Biden won’t invoke executive privilege on Trump Jan. 6 documents

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Biden won’t invoke executive privilege on Trump Jan. 6 documents

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden will not block a tranche of documents sought by a House committee’s investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, setting up a showdown with former President Donald Trump, who has pledged to try to keep records from his time in the White House from being turned over to investigators.

In a letter to the Archivist of the United States, White House counsel Dana Remus writes that Biden has determined that invoking executive privilege “is not in the best interests of the United States.” This comes days after Trump lawyers sought to block the testimony of former Trump officials to the House committee citing executive privilege. On Friday, a lawyer for Steve Bannon said the former White House aide won’t comply with the House committee’s investigation because of Trump’s claim.

In August, the House committee investigating the January insurrection at the Capitol asked for a trove of records, including communication within the White House under Trump and information about planning and funding for rallies held in Washington. Among those events was a rally near the White House featuring remarks by Trump, who egged on a crowd of thousands before loyalists stormed the Capitol.

In the letter, Remus writes that the documents reviewed “shed light on events within the White House on and about January 6 and bear on the Select Committee’s need to understand the facts underlying the most serious attack on the operations of the Federal Government since the Civil War.”

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Friday, which was first reported by NBC News.

Copies of the documents responsive to the request were turned over to the Biden White House and Trump’s lawyers for review for potential executive privilege concerns in accordance with federal law and the executive order governing presidential records.

The committee’s 10-page request to the Archives seeks “All documents and communications within the White House on January 6, 2021,” related to Trump’s close advisers and family members, the rally at the nearby Ellipse and Trump’s Twitter feed. It asks for his specific movements on that day and communications, if any, from the White House Situation Room. Also sought are all documents related to claims of election fraud, as well as Supreme Court decisions on the topic.

Biden’s decision affects only the initial batch of documents reviewed by the White House. Press secretary Jen Psaki said subsequent determinations would be made on a case-by-case basis.

The incumbent president has the final say unless a court orders the Archives to take a different action. Trump has not formally sought to invoke executive privilege over the documents, though that action is expected soon.

Trump is expected to take legal action to block the release of the documents, which if granted, would mark a dramatic expansion of the unwritten executive power. Trump will have an uphill battle, as courts have traditionally left questions of executive privilege up to the current White House occupant — though the former president’s challenges could delay the committee’s investigation.

Two other witnesses subpoenaed by the panel, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon aide Kash Patel, are “engaging” with the committee, according to its Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, and Republican vice chairwoman, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. Thompson and Cheney issued a statement Friday after a deadline for document production had passed.

“Though the Select Committee welcomes good faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” the two lawmakers said.

A spokesman for the panel declined to comment on the status of a fourth witness, former Trump communications aide Dan Scavino.

Bannon’s move sets the stage for a likely clash with House Democrats who are investigating the roles of Trump and his allies in the run-up to the riot, when a large mob of Trump supporters broke into the Capitol as Congress was certifying the results of the presidential election won by Democrat Joe Biden. The committee is rapidly issuing subpoenas to individuals who are either connected to Trump or who helped plan the massive rally on the morning of Jan. 6 at which he told his supporters to “fight like hell.”

Bannon’s refusal to comply, and Trump’s vow to litigate the testimony, will mean certain delays in the panel’s probe. But members of the committee, several of whom worked as prosecutors on Trump’s two impeachments, were prepared for the possibility and have repeatedly threatened charging witnesses with contempt. Trump often successfully fought witness testimony during his presidency, but may find his legal standing shakier now that he is out of office.

A committee effort to charge witnesses with contempt would likely involve a vote of the full House and a referral to the Justice Department. It would then be up to Justice how to proceed with charges.

Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Costello, said in an Oct. 7 letter to the panel that until the issues over privilege are resolved, “we are unable to respond to your requests for documents and testimony.”

Costello wrote that Bannon, a former aide to Trump who had contact with him the week of the Capitol attack, is prepared to “comply with the directions of the courts” when and if they rule on the issue.

The letter includes excerpts from a separate letter sent to Bannon by Justin Clark, a lawyer for Trump. Clark says documents and testimony provided to the Jan. 6 panel could include information that is “potentially protected from disclosure by executive and other privileges, including among others the presidential communications, deliberative process and attorney client privileges.”

Clark wrote to Bannon that “President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court.”

Spokespeople for Trump have not returned messages seeking comment. Trump said in a statement last month that he would “fight the Subpoenas on Executive Privilege and other grounds, for the good of our Country.”

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Ellison: State, localities reach agreement on distributing $300M in opioid settlement

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Ellison: State, localities reach agreement on distributing $300M in opioid settlement

Minnesota moved another step closer this week to unlocking roughly $300 million from a settlement with Johnson & Johnson and the three major U.S. drug distributors in connection to the nation’s opioid painkiller addiction crisis.

Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Monday that the state had reached an agreement with Minnesota counties and cities on how to distribute the state’s share of a pending $26 billion national settlement agreement. The state and local governments had to reach an agreement by Jan. 2, 2022, in order to maximize the amount they receive from the national settlement.

Municipal governments will receive 75% of the settlement funds while the state will receive 25% to help pay for opioid addiction treatment and prevention. The most recent estimate from Ellison’s office projects Minnesota state and local governments will receive $296 million over the next 18 years.

The settlement agreement with Johnson & Johnson and the “big three” drug distributors — Cardinal, McKesson and AmerisourceBergen — is just one of several fronts in ongoing nationwide litigation against drug makers, marketers and wholesalers in connection to an epidemic of opioid painkiller addiction across the U.S.

The settlement stems from investigations by state attorneys general from across the U.S. into whether the distributors failed to screen and stop suspicious drug orders, and whether Johnson & Johnson misled patients and doctors about the addictive nature of opioid painkillers.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 38 people died a day in 2019 of prescription opioid overdoses, totaling about 14,000 deaths. Lawsuits filed against drug makers such as Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, estimate hundreds of thousands of Americans died of opioid painkiller overdoses between 1999 and 2015, while millions became addicted. About 5,500 Minnesotans died as a result of the addiction crisis, Ellison said.

In a statement issued with Ellison’s announcement, Pat Baustian, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and mayor of Luverne, noted the addiction epidemic’s “devastating impact on families and communities throughout Greater Minnesota,” and expressed appreciation for the state’s efforts to cooperate with local governments on distributing the funds.

“Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of life, the funding from these national settlement agreements will help our communities provide services and resources to address this crisis,” Baustian said.

The state settlement fund will be overseen and distributed by the Opioid Epidemic Response Advisory Council, according to Ellison’s office. Under current state law, the state opioid abatement fund distributes to local governments, but the agreement between the state and local governments requires the parties to change the law in the 2022 legislative session, according to Ellison’s office.

The local government abatement fund created by the settlement money will be allocated to all counties that participated in the settlement. It will also include municipalities that have a population of 30,000 or more, have a public health department or filed a lawsuit against the defendants in the settlement.

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Centennial’s Streets at SouthGlenn on track to get more housing as retail sector scrambles amid challenges

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Centennial’s Streets at SouthGlenn on track to get more housing as retail sector scrambles amid challenges

City leaders in Centennial expressed strong and unanimous support Tuesday night for a plan to allow The Streets at SouthGlenn shopping center to add a lot more housing while curtailing the amount of square footage dedicated to shopping — a reflection of the rapid adjustments that commercial property owners here, and nationwide, continue to make amid ongoing upheaval in the retail sector.

The council did all but take a final vote, which won’t occur until Monday. But it was clear from comments from every council member Tuesday that they will be voting in favor next week.

Centennial’s discussion comes less than a month after Littleton narrowly approved a redevelopment plan for the Aspen Grove shopping center that will allow up to 2,000 residential units where none exist now. It also allows retail space to be reduced by half.

And just last month, East West Partners announced plans to pump life into a 13-acre area west of Denver’s Cherry Creek Shopping Center, an effort the developer said will include a “significant residential” component.

David Garcia, policy director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California at Berkeley, said what is happening in metro Denver is part of an “emerging trend” in the country, where the changing retail landscape is dovetailing with an acute housing shortage in many urban areas.

Earlier this year, several lawmakers in California introduced legislation to make it easier to convert commercially zoned property into residential use to address the state’s housing shortage, he said. Metro Denver has its own housing crunch to deal with.

“There is such a demand for housing,” Garcia said. “It follows the trend of trying to put existing land to the highest and best use.”

At The Streets at SouthGlenn, a 77-acre outdoor shopping district laid out on a street grid with familiar brands like Whole Foods, Best Buy and Snooze, the maximum number of allowable housing units would go from 350 to 1,125, while the minimum amount of retail space as outlined in the shopping center’s agreement with the city would drop from just over 900,000 square feet to 621,000 square feet.

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

The Streets at SouthGlenn in Centennial is pictured on Dec. 7, 2021.

There are approximately 750,000 square feet of retail at The Streets at SouthGlenn now and just over 200 housing units, said Don Provost, founding partner at Denver-based Alberta Development Partners. The shopping center, owned by Alberta, opened a dozen years ago at the southwest corner of East Arapahoe Avenue and South University Boulevard, replacing the long-forlorn SouthGlenn Mall that sat at the location for decades.

He said the reconfiguration at SouthGlenn is necessary in a retail environment that has been battered by consumers moving their dollars online, a phenomenon that has only quickened during a pandemic that complicates face-to-face transactions.

“There has been an acceleration in the last 15 years, and especially in the last five years, with online shopping,” Provost said. “We want the existing retail (at SouthGlenn) to thrive. The core of the retail remains.”

The plan to add hundreds of homes to The Streets at SouthGlenn largely revolves around finding a way to best fill space opened up by a recently shuttered Sears store at the site, and a Macy’s that is set to close in March — two big box retail formats that have fallen out of favor among shoppers.

Alberta is partnering with Northwood Investors, which owns the empty Sears building. Construction on the new housing could begin late next year, with new residents moving in in 2023 or 2024, Provost said.

“We need to look at enhancing the long-term viability of SouthGlenn,” he said.

And that means determining what the mix of shopping, entertainment and residences needs to be to “make that retail more productive,” said Neil Marciniak, Centennial’s economic development director.

The Streets at Southglenn contributes around $3 million a year to Centennial’s overall $40 million sales tax haul, Marciniak said. While he said cities “live and die” by their sales tax collections, their shopping centers have to evolve with the larger market.

“What is that appropriate mix to prepare for the future?” Marciniak said. “All shopping centers need to be looking at their tenant mix, their land use mix. Consumers want an experience.

1638943298 592 Centennials Streets at SouthGlenn on track to get more housing

RJ Sangosti, The Denver Post

The Streets at SouthGlenn, pictured on on Dec. 7, 2021, is looking at a potential change to decrease the retail space and up housing in the area. Sears has closed its doors at Streets at SouthGlenn.

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China says US diplomatic boycott violates Olympic spirit

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China says US diplomatic boycott violates Olympic spirit

BEIJING (AP) — China accused the United States of violating the Olympic spirit on Tuesday after the Biden administration announced a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Games over human rights concerns.

Rights groups have pushed for a full-blown boycott of the Games, accusing China of rights abuses against ethnic minorities. The U.S. decision falls short of those calls but comes at an exceptionally turbulent time for relations between the powerhouse nations and was met with a barrage of criticism from China.

The U.S. is attempting to interfere with the Beijing Games “out of ideological prejudice and based on lies and rumors,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters.

The boycott “seriously violates the principle of political neutrality of sports established by the Olympic Charter and runs counter to the Olympic motto ‘more united,’” Zhao said.

As he did the previous day, Zhao vowed that China would respond with “resolute countermeasures” but offered no details.

“The U.S. will pay a price for its practices. You may stay tuned for follow-ups,” Zhao said.

On Monday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration will fully support U.S. athletes competing at the Games but won’t dispatch diplomats or officials to attend.

Psaki said the U.S. has a “fundamental commitment to promoting human rights” and that it “will not be contributing to the fanfare of the Games.”

The diplomatic boycott comes as the U.S. attempts to thread the needle between stabilizing difficult relations with Beijing and maintaining a tough stance on trade and political conflicts. The U.S. has accused China of human rights abuses against Muslim Uyghurs in northwest Xinjiang province, suppressing democratic movements in Hong Kong, committing military aggression against the self-ruled island of Taiwan and more.

Beijing has denounced U.S. criticisms and punitive sanctions as interference in its internal affairs and slapped visa bans on American politicians it regards as anti-China.

Zhao warned the U.S. to “stop politicizing sports” and cease what he said were actions undermining the Beijing Winter Olympics, “otherwise it will undermine the dialogue and cooperation between the two countries in a series of important areas and international issues.”

The Chinese Embassy in Washington dismissed the move as posturing in a tweet.

“In fact, no one would care about whether these people come or not, and it has no impact whatsoever on the #Beijing2022 to be successfully held,” the embassy said.

China’s mission to the United Nations called the boycott a “self-directed political farce.”

Even the ruling Communist Party’s notoriously opaque Central Commission for Discipline Inspection issued a response in the form of a lengthy screed on its website entitled “The Spirit of the Olympic Charter Cannot be Tarnished.”

“Some Western anti-China politicians” have shown a “defensive Cold War mentality aimed at politicizing sport,” the article said, calling that a “clear violation of the Olympic spirit and a challenge to all people who love the Olympic movement.”

People on the streets of Beijing were overall dismissive of the U.S. move.

“I don’t think it matters at all if they would come or not. The Olympic Games are not about one country or a couple of countries,” said coffee shop employee Deng Tao.

“Such remarks from someone we never invited are simply a farce. And I don’t think it will have much impact on the holding of the Winter Olympics,” Lu Xiaolei, who works in trade.

It wasn’t clear which officials the U.S. might have sent to Beijing for the Games and Zhao said Monday that no invitation had been extended by China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, whose relations with China have nosedived in recent years, said Wednesday his government would join the U.S. in the diplomatic boycott.

New Zealand said Tuesday it won’t be attending the games at a diplomatic level, but that it made the decision earlier due mostly to pandemic travel restrictions.

The country told China in October about its plans not to send government ministers, Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said.

“But we’ve made clear to China on numerous occasions our concerns about human rights issues,” Robertson said.

The attitudes of other U.S. allies were less clear.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday that the country would make its own decision “from the perspective of national interests, taking into consideration the significance of the Olympic Games and the significance of Japan’s diplomacy.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said a decision on officials attending would be made “at an appropriate time.”

“In any case, Japan hopes that the Beijing Winter Games will be held as a celebration of peace in line with the principles of the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Matsuno said.

South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesperson Choi Young-sam declined to comment on the U.S. decision and said the ministry had not received any request from its ally not to send officials.

South Korea hopes the Beijing Olympics will “contribute to peace and prosperity in Northeast Asia and the world and help improve relations between South and North Korea,” Choi said.

The dispatching of high-level delegations to each Olympics has long been a tradition among the U.S. and other leading nations. Then-President George W. Bush attended the opening of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games. First lady Jill Biden led the American contingent to the Summer Olympics in Tokyo this year and second gentleman Doug Emhoff led a delegation to the Paralympic Games.

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