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Has rule-breaker Boris Johnson met his match in “partygate”?

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Has rule-breaker Boris Johnson met his match in “partygate”?

LONDON — For Boris Johnson, facts have always been flexible.

The British prime minister’s career is littered with doctored quotes, tall tales, exaggerations and mistruths. When called out, he has generally offered an apologetic shrug or a guilty grin, and moved on. Plenty of people were willing to forgive him.

At least until now. Revelations that the prime minister and his staff partied while Britain was under coronavirus restrictions have provoked public outrage and prompted many in the Conservative Party to consider dumping their leader.

The Conservatives picked Johnson because his image as a cheerful rule-breaker — the naughty schoolboy of British politics — gave him a rare ability to connect with voters. Now, many are having second thoughts.

“His fans would say he’s a force of nature — he doesn’t let things get in his way,” said Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

“Sometimes he’s been caught out, but mostly he’s got away with it,” Fielding added. “Now the reality is becoming more apparent to more and more people.”

Johnson has often been able to talk his way out of crises. The Oxford-educated politician has used words to create the image of a rumpled jokester with a mop of blond hair who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Quips and jokes tumble out of him, sometimes in Latin or ancient Greek.

That persona made Johnson a popular guest on the humorous TV show “Have I Got News for You” from the late 1990s onwards, and brought him global fame as London’s boosterish mayor between 2008 and 2016.

Many people thought he was too lightweight ever to become prime minister, and Johnson didn’t contradict them. He disguised his ambition with jokes, saying he had as much chance of becoming prime minister as of “finding Elvis on Mars” or being “reincarnated as an olive.”

In fact, he had long dreamed of power. His sister Rachel Johnson has said his childhood ambition was to be “world king.” But his route to the top was haphazard.

As a young journalist at The Times of London, he fabricated a quote about King Edward II from a historian, who also happened to be his godfather. He was fired, but that didn’t stop him becoming Brussels correspondent for the Daily Telegraph in the early 1990s, filing exaggerated stories of EU waste and red tape. Those “Euromyths” about one-size-fits-all condoms and plans to ban “bendy bananas” helped turn British opinion against the bloc, and ultimately led to Johnson becoming the Brexit champion who would years later bring the U.K. out of the EU.

Brexit was won in a 2016 referendum campaign that contained many questionable claims, notably the allegation — often repeated by Johnson — that Britain gave the EU 350 million pounds a week that could instead be spent on the U.K.’s health service.

Johnson suffered an early political setback when then-Conservative leader Michael Howard fired him in 2004 for lying about an extramarital affair. A month earlier, Howard forced him to apologize to the city of Liverpool for accusing its residents of “wallowing” in victimhood.

Opponents long argued that Johnson’s loose grasp of facts — and history of glibly offensive comments — made him unfit for high office. Over the years Johnson has called Papua New Guineans cannibals, claimed that “part Kenyan” Barack Obama had an ancestral dislike of Britain and compared Muslim women who wear face-covering veils to “letter boxes.”

Johnson has usually responded by dismissing offensive comments as jokes, or by accusing journalists of dredging up long-ago remarks. Attacking the media — along with “lefty London lawyers” — is a longstanding populist tactic of Johnson. His biographer Andrew Gimson has called him the “Merry England PM” who depicts his opponents as joyless puritans.

Now, though, Johnson’s allies worry that the tide has turned. Johnson has apologized for the lockdown-breaching parties in uncharacteristically subdued and carefully worded statements. He has stopped short of admitting personal wrongdoing, saying he believed he acted within the rules.

But many Britons who stuck to lockdown rules imposed by the government — cut off from friends and family, unable to visit relatives in nursing homes and hospitals — have scoffed at Johnson’s “partygate” excuses, including his claim that he thought a “bring your own booze” garden party was a work event.

Chris Curtis, head of political polling at Opinium Research, said public trust in the prime minister had plummeted and Johnson’s personal approval ratings were now “pretty dire.”

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Cardinals-Mets game postponed because of rain; doubleheader on Tuesday

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Cardinals-Mets game postponed because of rain; doubleheader on Tuesday

It was humid, and the sun was poking out of the clouds above Citi Field when the Mets announced that due to severe weather forecast for later in the evening, their series opener against the Cardinals on Monday was postponed.

The matchup was rescheduled as part of a single-admission doubleheader on Tuesday, beginning at 3:10 p.m. The gates at Citi Field will open one hour before first pitch, at 2:10 p.m. Game two will begin 30-40 minutes following the conclusion of game one.

“With severe weather in the area, we are thinking about everyone’s safety, so tonight’s game has been postponed,” the Mets said in a statement.

The rain, though flagged as a severe thunderstorm watch, was expected to clear out of Flushing by the 7:10 p.m. first pitch on Monday. The Mets did not make a team official available to provide clarity on their decision, as the home team, to postpone the game.

Alas, a doubleheader on Tuesday may just work to the Amazin’s benefit considering their sub-optimal pitching plans.

Taijuan Walker will take the mound Tuesday on his scheduled start day and Trevor Williams will get another one of those starts, but as of Monday evening the team did not announce which order they will pitch in.

With Tylor Megill (right biceps tendinitis) landing on the injured list, retroactive to May 12, the Mets were in need of a spot starter for Monday. Right-hander Williams, typically the team’s long relief option out of the bullpen, was scheduled to pitch Monday’s series opener against Cardinals right-hander Miles Mikolas. But Williams was likely not the Mets’ first choice against a 19-15 second place St. Louis squad.

The Mets have a 5-1 record in doubleheaders this season. They will look to rebound after a tough loss against the Mariners at home on Sunday, which led to their first series loss of the season — after a franchise record 9-0-1 start to the year.

There may even be some animosity lingering between the Cards and Mets after the two teams brawled at Busch Stadium the last time they played each other, just three weeks ago. The Mets, who lead the majors with 24 hit by pitches, were emotional after the Cardinals drilled yet another Met, J.D. Davis, which partly led to the benches-clearing incident in St. Louis.

Mets reliever Yoan Lopez sent a fastball up and in to Nolan Arenado, who then shouted and motioned at Lopez before pushing catcher Tomas Nido and the teams spilled onto the field. Arenado and Cardinals pitcher Genesis Cabrera, who pulled Pete Alonso’s collar during the on-field incident, both received suspensions and fines from MLB. But, to manager Buck Showalter’s surprise, Cardinals coach Stubby Clapp, who wrestled Alonso to the ground bear-hug style, did not receive either a suspension or a fine.

Tuesday will be the first time the Cardinals and Mets meet since the kerfuffle in the series finale, a 10-5 Mets loss, at Busch Stadium on April 27.

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After struggles in playoffs, Kevin Fiala knows his future with Wild is uncertain

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After struggles in playoffs, Kevin Fiala knows his future with Wild is uncertain

Wild winger Kevin Fiala noted the small sample size when talking about his most recent playoff struggles. After the best regular season in franchise history, the Wild fell 4-2 in an opening-round, best-of-7 series with the St. Louis Blues.

Who knows what could have happened if the Wild made a deep playoff run instead? Maybe then Fiala would have caught fire at some point like he has been known to do throughout his career.

Instead, the Wild bowed out in the first round with Fiala’s continued playoff struggles serving as a big reason. The 25-year-old from Switzerland posted a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists during the regular season. He followed up that with no goals in the postseason.

“It’s been tough days,” Fiala said Monday after having the weekend to digest yet another early exit. “You just feel very empty.”

That emptiness is exacerbated by the fact that Fiala’s future with the Wild is uncertain.

He is due a big raise after emerging as an elite goal scorer this season. Perhaps somewhere in the range of $8 million a year.

Will the Wild be able to afford him? Unlikely. Do the Wild even want to afford him? Unclear.

After not giving Fiala a long-term contract last offseason, it’s hard to imagine general manager Bill Guerin will feel much differently this offseason. As much as Fiala dominated play late in the regular season, he went silent once again the playoffs. That’s a problem.

“I tried my best; I tried to get it going,” he said. “It’s just such a shame to go out like that.”

Asked if he thinks he will be back with the Wild next season, Fiala struggled to find the right words.

“There’s no other answer than, ‘We’ll see,’ ” Fiala said. “I don’t know.”

If money wasn’t a factor, there’s no doubt the Wild would want to retain Fiala. He’s a very good player who became an even better player this season.

Not only did Fiala refine his skills in many facets this season, he also became tougher mentally, learning to deal with frustration in a much healthier way than earlier in his career.

Unfortunately for Fiala, after showing so much growth during the regular season, he seemed to let the frustration get the best of him throughout the playoffs. He failed to capitalize on a few scoring chances early in the series against the Blues, and the frustration seemed to increase from there.

“In the playoffs, it feels like you really want to be the difference because every game is so big,” Fiala said. “In the regular season, you can kind of be more quiet in your head and chill kind of because it’s 82 games.”

As for how he is approaching this offseason, Fiala is trying not to think too much. There’s no point since most of this is now out of his hands.

“I’m relaxed right now,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do.”

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Officials: Buffalo gunman taunted law enforcement online

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Officials: Buffalo gunman taunted law enforcement online

By CAROLYN THOMPSON, ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The white gunman accused of massacring 10 Black people in a racist rampage at a Buffalo supermarket taunted law enforcement online last month and visited Buffalo back in March, investigators said Monday.

Payton Gendron, 18, began posting threads on the social media platform Discord about body armor and guns, and last month made provocative remarks about federal law enforcement, the FBI agent in charge for Buffalo, Stephen Belongia, said on a call between law enforcement officials and private-sector and university partners. The Associated Press obtained a recording of the call.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia disclosed that Gendron, who lives about 200 miles (320 kilometers) away in Conklin, New York, had been in Buffalo two months ago. Gramaglia declined to say more about that trip.

The police commissioner also told CNN that Gendron planned to keep on killing if he had escaped the scene and even talked about shooting up another store.

“He was going to get in his car and continue to drive down Jefferson Avenue and continue doing the same thing,” Gramaglia said.

The commissioner’s account was similar to portions of a racist 180-page document, purportedly written by Gendron, that said the assault was intended to terrorize all nonwhite, non-Christian people and get them to leave the country. Federal authorities were working to confirm the document’s authenticity.

Authorities said Gendron wielded an AR-15-style rifle, wore body armor and used a helmet camera to livestream the bloodbath on the internet. He surrendered inside the supermarket and was arraigned on a murder charge over the weekend. He pleaded not guilty and was jailed under a suicide watch.

Federal prosecutors said they are contemplating hate crime charges.

Former Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield Jr., who lost his 86-year-old mother, Ruth Whitfield, in the shooting, asked how the country could allow its history of racist killings to repeat itself.

“We’re not just hurting. We’re angry,” Whitfield said at a news conference with civil rights attorney Ben Crump and others. “We treat people with decency, and we love even our enemies.”

“And you expect us to keep doing this over and over and over again — over again, forgive and forget,” he continued. “While people we elect and trust in offices around this country do their best not to protect us, not to consider us equal.”

Whitfield’s mother was killed after making her daily visit to her husband in a nursing home.

“How do we tell him that she’s gone? Much less that she’s gone at the hands of a white supremacist? Of a terrorist? An evil person who is allowed to live among us?” Whitfield said.

The victims also included a man buying a cake for his grandson; a church deacon helping people get home with their groceries; and a supermarket security guard.

Messages were left with Gendron’s attorneys Monday. No one answered the door at his family’s home in the morning, and relatives did not respond to messages.

Law enforcement officials said Sunday that New York State Police troopers had been called to Gendron’s high school last June for a report that the then-17-year-old had made threatening statements. The threat was “general” in nature and not related to race, Gramaglia said.

He said Gendron had no further contact with law enforcement after a mental health evaluation that put him in a hospital for a day and a half.

It was unclear whether officials could have invoked New York’s “red flag” regulation, which lets law enforcement, school officials and families ask a court to order the seizure of guns from people considered dangerous. Authorities would not say when Gendron acquired the weapons he had during the deadly attack.

Federal law bars people from owning guns if a judge has determined they have a “mental defect” or they have been forced into a mental institution. An evaluation alone would not trigger the prohibition.

The long list of mass shootings in the U.S. involving missed opportunities to intervene includes the 2018 massacre of 17 students at a high school in Parkland, Florida, where law enforcement officials had received numerous complaints about the gunman’s threatening statements, and the killings of more than two dozen people at a Texas church in 2017 by a former Air Force member who was able to buy a gun despite a history of violence.

At the White House, President Joe Biden, who planned a visit Tuesday to Buffalo, paid tribute to one of the victims, security guard and retired police officer Aaron Salter. Salter fired repeatedly at the attacker, striking his armor-plated vest at least once before being shot and killed. Biden said Salter “gave his life trying to save others.”

Authorities said that in addition to the 10 Black people killed, three people were wounded: one Black, two white.

Gendron researched the neighborhood’s demographics and conducted reconnaissance before the attack, investigators said. Mayor Byron Brown said the gunman “came here with the express purpose of taking as many Black lives as he possibly could.”

Zeneta Everhart said her son, supermarket employee Zaire Goodman, was helping a shopper outside when he saw a man get out of a car in military gear and point a gun at him. Then a bullet hit Goodman in the neck.

“Mom! Mom, get here now, get here now! I got shot!” he told his mother by phone. Goodman, 20, was out of the hospital and doing well Monday, his mother said.

In livestreamed video of the attack circulating online, Gendron trained his weapon on a white person cowering behind a checkout counter, but said, “Sorry!” and didn’t shoot. Screenshots purporting to be from the broadcast appear to show a racial slur against Black people scrawled on his rifle.

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This story has been corrected to show that Whitfield, not his father, is a former Buffalo fire commissioner.

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Associated Press reporters Robert Bumsted in Buffalo; Michael Hill in Conklin; Dave Collins in Hartford, Connecticut; and Karen Matthews, Aaron Morrison and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report. Tucker and Balsamo reported from Washington.

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