Massachusetts Senator to Quit After Scathing Ethics Report

Former Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg announced Thursday he would end his long political career after a scathing ethics report concluded he failed to protect the Senate from his husband, who has been charged with sexual misconduct.

In a one-sentence letter delivered to the Senate, Rosenberg said his resignation would be effective at 5 p.m. Friday.

The decision came amid mounting calls, including several from his Democratic colleagues, for the Amherst Democrat to resign. He stepped down from the presidency in December when allegations first surfaced against his husband, Bryon Hefner. The couple has since separated.

In a statement, Rosenberg said he was leaving the Senate because he no longer had the authority to fully represent the interests of his constituents.

He noted that the report found no evidence that he violated any Senate rules, no evidence he was aware of any alleged sexual assaults by Hefner, nor that Hefner asserted any influence over his actions while Senate leader.

Failure in judgment found

But Rosenberg acknowledged findings in the report, prepared by investigators hired by the Senate Ethics Committee, faulting him for not doing more to control Hefner’s access to information and access to people who worked for or had business with the Senate.

“Although, as the report states, I was unaware of many of the events attributed to Bryon, and took steps to address those incidents that came to my attention, that does not diminish my sorrow at what reportedly transpired or my sense of responsibility for what the ethics committee concludes was a failure on my part in not doing more to protect the Senate,” Rosenberg wrote.

He also conveyed his “sincere apology” to anyone who’d been affected by events detailed in the report.

Investigators concluded that Rosenberg showed “significant failure of judgment and leadership,” and knew or should have known that Hefner was “disruptive, volatile and abusive,” and had racially or sexually harassed Senate employees.

Rosenberg also violated Senate policy by allowing Hefner access to his Senate email and to his cellphone, which Hefner on at least two occasions used to send messages to Senate staffers while pretending to be Rosenberg, the report found.

The committee had recommended Rosenberg be barred from serving in any leadership posts or from chairing any committees through 2020, and the full Senate could have imposed further punishment.

Calls for resignation

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey and at least six Democratic senators had publicly called for Rosenberg to quit after the report was released.

“I think the report made very clear that there was damage done … to the Senate and I think it was appropriate for him to step down and I’m glad he did,” Baker told reporters Thursday.

The governor said he was especially troubled that Rosenberg appeared not to keep a promise he made to Senate colleagues in 2014 to build a “firewall” between his personal and professional life.

Baker added that he had appreciated his long working relationship with Rosenberg, dating back to the 1990s when Baker was state Secretary of Administration and Finance and Rosenberg chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The first openly gay person to lead a legislative chamber in Massachusetts, Rosenberg, 68, has served in the Senate for more than a quarter century and helped craft numerous state laws.

He also played a key role in convincing the Legislature not to overturn a 2003 ruling by the state’s highest court that made Massachusetts the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.

Hefner, 30, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month on charges of sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos without consent. The allegations involve four men.

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Massachusetts Senator to Quit After Scathing Ethics Report

Former Massachusetts Senate President Stan Rosenberg announced Thursday he would end his long political career after a scathing ethics report concluded he failed to protect the Senate from his husband, who has been charged with sexual misconduct.

In a one-sentence letter delivered to the Senate, Rosenberg said his resignation would be effective at 5 p.m. Friday.

The decision came amid mounting calls, including several from his Democratic colleagues, for the Amherst Democrat to resign. He stepped down from the presidency in December when allegations first surfaced against his husband, Bryon Hefner. The couple has since separated.

In a statement, Rosenberg said he was leaving the Senate because he no longer had the authority to fully represent the interests of his constituents.

He noted that the report found no evidence that he violated any Senate rules, no evidence he was aware of any alleged sexual assaults by Hefner, nor that Hefner asserted any influence over his actions while Senate leader.

Failure in judgment found

But Rosenberg acknowledged findings in the report, prepared by investigators hired by the Senate Ethics Committee, faulting him for not doing more to control Hefner’s access to information and access to people who worked for or had business with the Senate.

“Although, as the report states, I was unaware of many of the events attributed to Bryon, and took steps to address those incidents that came to my attention, that does not diminish my sorrow at what reportedly transpired or my sense of responsibility for what the ethics committee concludes was a failure on my part in not doing more to protect the Senate,” Rosenberg wrote.

He also conveyed his “sincere apology” to anyone who’d been affected by events detailed in the report.

Investigators concluded that Rosenberg showed “significant failure of judgment and leadership,” and knew or should have known that Hefner was “disruptive, volatile and abusive,” and had racially or sexually harassed Senate employees.

Rosenberg also violated Senate policy by allowing Hefner access to his Senate email and to his cellphone, which Hefner on at least two occasions used to send messages to Senate staffers while pretending to be Rosenberg, the report found.

The committee had recommended Rosenberg be barred from serving in any leadership posts or from chairing any committees through 2020, and the full Senate could have imposed further punishment.

Calls for resignation

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey and at least six Democratic senators had publicly called for Rosenberg to quit after the report was released.

“I think the report made very clear that there was damage done … to the Senate and I think it was appropriate for him to step down and I’m glad he did,” Baker told reporters Thursday.

The governor said he was especially troubled that Rosenberg appeared not to keep a promise he made to Senate colleagues in 2014 to build a “firewall” between his personal and professional life.

Baker added that he had appreciated his long working relationship with Rosenberg, dating back to the 1990s when Baker was state Secretary of Administration and Finance and Rosenberg chaired the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The first openly gay person to lead a legislative chamber in Massachusetts, Rosenberg, 68, has served in the Senate for more than a quarter century and helped craft numerous state laws.

He also played a key role in convincing the Legislature not to overturn a 2003 ruling by the state’s highest court that made Massachusetts the first U.S. state to legalize gay marriage.

Hefner, 30, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month on charges of sexual assault, criminal lewdness and distributing nude photos without consent. The allegations involve four men.

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Ex-Volkswagen Boss Indicted in Emissions Scandal

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud in the car builder’s scheme to rig diesel emissions tests.

“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday. “The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company.”

Winterkorn is alleged to have conspired with other top Volkswagen bosses to defraud the U.S. government and consumers with false claims that the company was complying with the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen already admitted it installed devices on diesel models designed to turn on pollution control devices during emissions tests and turn them off when the car is driven on actual highways.

Volkswagen was fined $2.5 billion and ordered to recall the affected cars.

Winkerton is the ninth Volkswagen executive or employee to be charged. However, he currently lives in Germany, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, and is unlikely ever to see the inside of the U.S. courtroom.

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Ex-Volkswagen Boss Indicted in Emissions Scandal

A federal grand jury in Detroit has indicted former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn with conspiracy and wire fraud in the car builder’s scheme to rig diesel emissions tests.

“If you try to deceive the United States, then you will pay a heavy price,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday. “The indictment unsealed today alleges that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went all the way to the top of the company.”

Winterkorn is alleged to have conspired with other top Volkswagen bosses to defraud the U.S. government and consumers with false claims that the company was complying with the Clean Air Act.

Volkswagen already admitted it installed devices on diesel models designed to turn on pollution control devices during emissions tests and turn them off when the car is driven on actual highways.

Volkswagen was fined $2.5 billion and ordered to recall the affected cars.

Winkerton is the ninth Volkswagen executive or employee to be charged. However, he currently lives in Germany, which has no extradition treaty with the United States, and is unlikely ever to see the inside of the U.S. courtroom.

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US Trade Deficit Narrows Sharply; Labor Market Tightening

The U.S. trade deficit narrowed sharply in March as exports increased to a record high amid a surge in deliveries of commercial aircraft and soybeans, bolstering the economy’s outlook heading into the second quarter.

While other data on Thursday showed a modest increase in new applications for jobless benefits last week, the number of Americans receiving unemployment aid fell to its lowest level since 1973, pointing to tightening labor market conditions.

Wage growth is also rising, with hourly compensation accelerating in the first quarter, more evidence that inflation pressures are building.

“The good news is that we are exporting more, but with the labor markets incredibly tight, labor costs are accelerating as well,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania. “The rise in labor costs will undoubtedly factor into policymakers’ thinking when they meet again in June.”

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday left interest rates unchanged. The Fed said policymakers expected “economic activity will expand at a moderate pace in the medium term and labor market conditions will remain strong.”

The Commerce Department said the trade deficit tumbled 15.2 percent to $49.0 billion in March, the lowest level since September. The trade gap widened to $57.7 billion in February, which was the highest level since October 2008.

March’s decline ended six straight monthly increases in the trade deficit. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the trade gap narrowing to $50.0 billion in March.

The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China dropped 11.6 percent to $25.9 billion, which will probably do little to ease tensions between the United States and China.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened tariffs on up to $150 billion worth of Chinese goods to punish Beijing over its joint-venture requirements and other policies Washington says force American companies to surrender their intellectual property to state-backed Chinese competitors.

China, which denies it coerces such technology transfers, has threatened retaliation in equal measure, including tariffs on U.S. soybeans and aircraft. A U.S. trade delegation arrived in China on Thursday for trade talks.

Trump, who claims the United States is being taken advantage of by its trading partners, has already imposed broad tariffs on imported solar panels and large washing machines. He recently slapped 25 percent import duties on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

The Trump administration argues that the perennial trade deficit is holding back economic growth. The government reported last week that trade contributed 0.20 percentage point to the first quarter’s 2.3 percent annualized growth pace. The economy grew at a 2.9 percent rate in the fourth quarter.

Brightening prospects

Prospects for the economy are brightening. In a separate report, the Labor Department said initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 2,000 to a seasonally adjusted 211,000 for the week ended April 28.

Claims remained near a more than 48-year low of 209,000 touched during the week ended April 21. The labor market is considered to be near or at full employment. The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, close to the Fed’s forecast of 3.8 percent by the end of this year.

The number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 77,000 to 1.76 million in the week ended April 21, the lowest level since December 1973. With labor conditions tightening, wage growth is picking up.

A second report from the Labor Department showed hourly worker compensation accelerated at a 3.4 percent rate in the first quarter after rising at a 2.4 percent pace in the October-December period. It increased at a 2.5 percent rate compared to the first quarter of 2017.

Prices for U.S. Treasuries were trading higher, while the dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies. U.S. stocks were lower.

In March, exports of goods and services increased 2.0 percent to an all-time high of $208.5 billion, lifted by a $1.9 billion increase in shipments of commercial aircraft. There were also increases in exports of soybeans, corn and crude oil. Real goods exports were the highest on record.

Exports to China jumped 26.3 percent in March.

Imports of goods and services fell 1.8 percent to $257.5 billion, in part as the boost from royalties and broadcast license fees related to the Winter Olympics faded. Imports of capital goods fell by $1.5 billion, weighed down by declines in imports of computer accessories, telecommunications equipment and semiconductors.

Imports of consumer goods decreased by $0.9 billion. Crude oil imports dropped by $0.5 billion in March. Imports from China fell 2.1 percent.

Another report from the Commerce Department showed factory goods orders rose 1.6 percent in March after a similar increase in February. The department, however, revised March orders for non-defense capital goods excluding aircraft, which are seen as a measure of business spending plans, to show them falling 0.4 percent instead of dipping 0.1 percent as reported last month.

Orders for these so-called core capital goods rose 1.0 percent in February. Shipments of core capital goods, which are used to calculate business equipment spending in the gross domestic product report, declined 0.8 percent in March instead of the 0.7 percent drop reported last month.

March’s drop in core capital goods orders and shipments suggest business spending on equipment is slowing.

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Trump Confirms He Reimbursed Lawyer for Porn Star Payment

The White House press secretary acknowledged Thursday that she’d first learned the night before, along with the rest of America, that President Donald Trump repaid his lawyer for a payoff to an adult movie performer made just before the 2016 election.

“The first awareness I had was during the interview last night,” Sarah Sanders said during a regular televised press briefing. “The White House press office wouldn’t coordinate with the president’s outside legal team on legal strategy.”

Sanders was pressed about whether she had lied or had been kept in the dark when she previously told reporters that the president was not aware of the payments.

“I’ve given the best information that I had at the time,” she replied.

Giuliani remarks confirmed

Trump confirmed earlier in the day on Twitter what one of his lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, said on a Fox News Channel program the prior evening: The president reimbursed attorney Michael Cohen for the payments made to Stormy Daniels.

This directly contradicted Trump’s earlier comments.

On Air Force One a month ago, the president responded “no” after a reporter asked whether he knew about the payment Cohen had made to Daniels, and Trump also said he did not know why his attorney had made the payment.

The actress and director, whose real name is Stephanie Gregory Clifford, has alleged that she had a one-night affair in 2006 in a Nevada hotel with Trump. The president and his attorneys maintained Thursday there was no such sexual encounter and that no campaign funds were involved in the payments made to Daniels.

 

Daniels has claimed the no-talk agreement is not valid because Trump never signed it. The president’s mention of arbitration for damages refers to the fact that Daniels has given interviews about the purported tryst in recent weeks.

Daniels has also said that the letter of admission that there was no tryst was signed under duress and that she has since disavowed it.

Giuliani, a former mayor of New York City, spoke about Trump’s reimbursement to Cohen with Fox host Sean Hannity, a strong on-air defender of the president’s who frequently speaks with him. 

Giuliani told Hannity that Trump “didn’t know about the specifics of [the payment], as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this. Like I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along.”

On Thursday, in another interview on Fox, Giuliani said the payment to quiet Daniels came at a sensitive time in Trump’s campaign, just before the November 8, 2016, election against his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“Imagine if that came out on October 15th, 2016, in the middle of the, you know, last debate with Hillary Clinton,” Giuliani said on the Fox & Friends show. “Cohen didn’t even ask. Cohen made it go away. He did his job.”

Giuliani, who also is a former federal prosecutor, said the president did not know full details about the payments until about 10 days ago.

After Giuliani’s disclosure about the payment to Daniels, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, said Americans “should be outraged.”

Cohen, under federal investigation for business deals said to be unrelated to his legal work for the president, acknowledges he received a personal loan to make the payment to Daniels through a corporation he created.

The ultimate source of the funds is an important legal distinction. The $130,000 payment far exceeds the allowable size of personal campaign donations that Cohen could have made, although Trump could make sizable donations to his own campaign. Daniels-related expenses have not been reported as campaign donations. 

Trump “appears to have violated federal law” by failing to disclose he owed Cohen for the hush money payment, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), which has filed complaints with the Department of Justice and the Office of Government Ethics about the matter.

“There is now more than enough evidence for the DOJ [Department of Justice] to investigate whether President Trump intentionally omitted the Stormy Daniels liability from his personal financial disclosures,” CREW Board Chairman Norman Eisen said. “This is a very serious matter, including because there can be criminal penalties for false statements.”

VOA’s Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report.

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On World Press Freedom Day, Groups Highlight US Media Threats

With the observation of World Press Freedom Day on Thursday, a group of press freedom organizations is calling attention to challenges faced by journalists in the United States.

The report cites a number of threats to the work of journalists, including a rise in whistleblower prosecutions, government restrictions on public information, stigmatization by politicians, physical attacks and arbitrary arrests.

“The alarming rise in threats to press freedom in the U.S. over recent years must be challenged,” said Thomas Hughes, executive director of Article 19. “Not only do these threats impact on freedom of expression in the U.S., but they have repercussions around the world.”

WATCH: Rights Groups Highlight New Threats on World Press Freedom Day

Article 19 joined with the Committee to Protect Journalists, International Freedom of Expression Exchange, International Press Institute, Index on Censorship and Reporters Without Borders to interview U.S. journalists.

American media under threat

Their report said despite current threats, protections in the U.S. Constitution make media in the United States among the most free in the world. But it noted some of President Donald Trump’s statements, most notably his rejection of what he calls “fake news,” being echoed by leaders in other countries, including Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“The pressures that journalists are facing in the U.S. are reflective of the toxic atmosphere toward journalism being stoked by global leaders,” said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive officer of Index on Censorship. “Animosity toward the press is undermining the public’s right to information.”

The report notes a rise in whistleblower prosecutions began under former President Barack Obama, and expresses concern about the Trump administration’s positions on reporters’ abilities to protect their sources. It also faults Trump for verbal attacks on the media, saying those have helped embolden other politicians to do the same.

“By openly and aggressively targeting journalists and media outlets, the current U.S. administration risks undermining media freedom and creates a culture where journalists find themselves unprotected,” the report says.

Reporters Without Borders cited those concerns in its own annual press freedom rankings last week as it dropped the United States down two spots.

The White House rejected criticisms, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters she thinks the Trump administration is “one of the most accessible” in decades.

“We support a free press, but we also support a fair press,” Sanders said. “And I think that those things should go hand in hand, and there’s a certain responsibility by the press to report accurate information.”

In a statement commemorating the day, new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. “values freedom of press as a key component of democratic governance. By fostering a free press, citizens are more informed, active and engaged in political decision-making, and can better hold their governments accountable.”

He said the U.S. honors “the many journalists and media actors who have dedicated their lives, often at great risk, to promote transparency and accountability throughout the world.”

Global challenges to press freedom

The United Nations launched World Press Freedom Day in 1993 as a way to encourage the development of further freedom of the press, and to highlight the ways in which media organizations are “censored, fined, suspended and closed down,” while journalists face harassment, attacks, detentions and murder.

Reporters Without Borders reports that so far in 2018, 23 journalists have been killed and 176 imprisoned across the world.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday urged countries to adopt and implement laws that protect independent journalism, freedom of expression and the right to information.

“Journalists and media workers shine a light on local and global challenges and tell the stories that need to be told,” he told a U.N. gathering via video message. “Their service to the public is invaluable.”

But a side-event about the “fake news” phenomenon organized by the nonprofit News Literacy Project and the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations was abruptly canceled. The Alliance of Civilizations said it was due to a scheduling conflict, but the News Literacy Project said it was because their organization refused the Alliance’s request to remove references to several countries in which press freedom is limited.

According to the News Literacy Project’s website, they planned to discuss “severe restrictions on press freedom in Turkey, Mexico and Egypt and comments by Russian and Pakistani journalists describing the challenges they face.”

VOA’s Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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At Film Festival, Virtual Reality Films Merge the Digital and Physical

Virtual reality experiences are becoming more physical and more interactive. No longer just a “lean back” experience, the immersive technology is taking viewers out of the living room and into entirely new worlds. At the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, VOA’s Tina Trinh met with creators who are pushing the boundaries of the digital and physical divide.

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Astronomers Given Detailed Map of 1.7 Billion Stars

The European Space Agency has released an updated catalogue of more than 1.7 billion stars in our galaxy, as well as other celestial bodies, such as exoplanets, asteroids and quasars. The new data gives astronomers an unprecedented three-dimensional map for studying the origin of the universe and searching for habitable planets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

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Trump Praises Teachers Amid Wave of US Teacher Strikes

U.S. President Donald Trump met with teachers of the year from several states Wednesday at the White House. Trump conferred the 2018 National Teacher of the Year award, as public teachers in many states protest low pay and criticize the administration for what they see as siphoning education funds from public schools into private alternatives. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

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