News briefs for June 24

Voting largely smooth in primaries in Kentucky, New York

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Voting appeared to be running smoother in primaries on Tuesday than in elections held two weeks earlier in Georgia and Nevada, where voters experienced long lines and stood for hours outside polling places.

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While there were reports of some voters in New York and Kentucky having to cast ballots in person after failing to receive an absentee ballot, it did not appear to be causing the long lines that were seen in places like Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The longest wait times were reported at the lone voting site in Lexington, Kentucky. Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins said he added two more check-in stations at the Lexington site after turnout remained steady into the late morning with voters reporting a wait time of about an hour and a half.

“This is definitely the longest that I’ve ever waited,” said 55-year-old Bob Woods, who spent nearly an hour and fifteen minutes winding through the entryway of Kroger Field on the University of Kentucky’s campus with several hundred others before approaching the room where voters were being checked in.

But voting was moving smoothly in Louisville, the state’s most populous city, despite the fact residents had just one polling place available Tuesday for in-person voting.

As virus surges, Trump turns attention to border wall

SAN LUIS, Ariz. — President Donald Trump visited the U.S.-Mexico border Tuesday and tried to credit his new wall with stopping both illegal immigration and the coronavirus. But his visit played out as top public health officials in Washington were testifying about the ongoing threat posed by COVID-19, singling out Arizona as one of the states now experiencing a surge in cases.

In the blazing summer heat, Trump briefly stopped to inspect a new section of the concrete and rebar structure where the president and other officials took a moment to scrawl their signatures on the wall.

“It stopped COVID, it stopped everything,” Trump said.

Trump was looking to regain campaign momentum after his weekend rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which was supposed to be a sign of the nation’s reopening and a show of political force but instead generated thousands of empty seats and swirling questions about the president’s campaign leadership and his case for another four years in office. The low turnout sharpened the focus on Trump’s visit to Arizona, which doubles as both a 2020 battleground state and a surging coronavirus hot spot.

By visiting the border, Trump sought to change the subject to an issue he believes will help electrify his base in November.

Powerful earthquake shakes southern Mexico, at least 4 dead

MEXICO CITY — A powerful earthquake centered near the southern Mexico resort of Huatulco killed at least four people, swayed buildings in Mexico City and sent thousands fleeing into the streets.

Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said one person was killed and another injured in a building collapse in Huatulco, Oaxaca. Otherwise he said reports were of minor damage from the magnitude 7.4 quake, including broken windows and collapsed walls. Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat later said a second person was killed in an apparent house collapse in the tiny mountain village of San Juan Ozolotepec.

Federal civil defense authorities reported two more deaths: a worker at the state-run oil company, Pemex, fell to his death from a refinery structure, and a man died in the Oaxaca village of San Agustin Amatengo when a wall fell on him.

Pemex also said the quake caused a fire at its refinery in the Pacific coast city of Salina Cruz, relatively near the epicenter. It said one worker was injured and the flames were quickly extinguished. Churches, bridges and highways also suffered damage during the quake.

López Obrador said there had been more than 140 aftershocks, most of them small.

Prosecutor: Trump ally Roger Stone was ‘treated differently’

WASHINGTON — A federal prosecutor is prepared to tell Congress on Wednesday that Roger Stone, a close ally of President Donald Trump, was given special treatment ahead of his sentencing because of his relationship with the president.

Aaron Zelinsky, a career Justice Department prosecutor who worked on cases as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, including the case against Stone, will say he was told in no uncertain terms by supervisors that political considerations influenced the handling of the case, according to testimony released by the House Judiciary Committee. Zelinsky now works in the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland.

“What I heard — repeatedly — was that Roger Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky says in the prepared testimony.

The panel subpoenaed Zelinksy and John Elias, a career official in the department’s antitrust division, as part of its probe into the politicization of the department under Attorney General William Barr. The Democratic-led panel and Barr have been feuding since shortly after he took office in early 2019, when he declined to testify about Mueller’s report.

The Democrats launched the investigation earlier this year over Barr’s handling of the Stone case, but have expanded their focus to several subsequent episodes in which they believe Barr is doing Trump’s bidding. That includes the department’s efforts to dismiss the criminal case against Gen. Michael Flynn and the firing last weekend of the the top prosecutor in New York’s Southern District. The prosecutor, Geoffrey Berman, has been investigating the president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Obama raises $7.6M for Joe Biden’s campaign

WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama helped raise a record-breaking $7.6 million from more than 175,000 individual donors ahead of his first fundraiser for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

“I’m here to say that help is on the way if we do the work,” Obama said during the virtual fundraiser. “Because there’s nobody that I trust more to be able to heal this country and get it back on track than my dear friend Joe Biden.”

The small-dollar fundraiser Tuesday offered a fresh test of Obama’s ability to transfer his popularity to Biden, his former vice president who is now seeking the White House on his own. It was a kickoff of what Obama’s team says will likely be a busy schedule heading into the fall, as he looks to help elect not just Biden but Democrats running for House and Senate.

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Obama sometimes struggled to lift other Democratic candidates while he was in the White House, notably losing control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014. But in the era of President Donald Trump, Democrats believe Obama’s appeal, especially among Black and younger voters, can help boost energy for Biden.

“There’s two groups of voters that Biden needs to move,” said Dan Pfeiffer, former White House communications director. “You have the 4 million Obama 2012 voters that sat out in ‘16, Obama obviously has cache with them. And you have to persuade some number of voters who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and either Trump or a third party candidate in 2016, and Obama obviously is very, very high-performing with those as well.”

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