January 14, 2020

Mustafa Kassem, an American citizen detained in Cairo in August 2013 while visiting family in Egypt, died Monday after more than six years in Egyptian custody, according to the two groups representing his case, Pretrial Rights International and The Freedom Initiative. He was 65 and the given cause was heart failure. Mohamed Soltan, a former Egyptian political prisoner and head of The Freedom Initiative, said Kassem had been on a liquid-only hunger strike on and off for years before stopping the liquids last week.

Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker told reporters Monday that Kassem's "death in custody was needless, tragic, and avoidable," adding that he will "continue to raise our serious concerns over human rights and Americans detained in Egypt at every opportunity, as will the entire team at the Department of State." Soltan told CNN he knows of at least six other Americans in Egyptian custody. A senior State Department official told CNN it's "still premature" to discuss punishing Egypt over the death of a U.S. citizen, but "we are really concerned about this and we're going to — we're going to talk about it, about what we're going to do."

Kassem, sentenced to 15 years in prison in September 2018 after what CNN calls a trial lacking all due process, asked President Trump soon after to intercede on his behalf in a letter hand-delivered by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.). "I pray that you have a plan for me," Kassem told Trump in the letter, which Trump may or may not have read. "I am going on a hunger strike because I am losing my will and I don't know how else to get your attention. ... I am putting my life in your hands." Peter Weber

4:56 p.m.

The Houston Astros are going with a veteran to right the ship in the wake of the franchise's cheating scandal.

While rumblings broke yesterday, reports are in that the team has agreed to bring in Dusty Baker as their newest skipper on a two-year deal. The well-traveled Baker has been around the game a long time — he managed the San Francisco Giants for 10 seasons, the Chicago Cubs for four, the Cincinnati Reds for for six, and, most recently, the Washington Nationals for two.

He'll replace A.J. Hinch in the dugout, who lost his job after it came out that the Astros, in a largely player-orchestrated scheme, were stealing signs with the aid of technology during the 2017 season in which they won the World Series. Baker will inherit many of the same players who were on that team; they won't be disciplined by the league, but will likely face scrutiny from opposing teams and fans.

The 70-year-old Baker has received some knocks for his in-game decisions, especially in the postseason, during his more recent stints, and he's often considered to be in old-school in his approach to the game, which clashes with how Houston has achieved their success over the last few seasons, but most people agree he's a great leader in the clubhouse and a high-character person, so the selection is receiving positive reactions so far.

Plus, despite some of that criticism over his strategy, Baker sure does win. He's got 840 career victories and has taken all four of his previous clubs to the postseason. This Astros team, despite their baggage, is arguably the most talented he's ever helmed, so he's certainly got at least two more shots to capture his first World Series. Tim O'Donnell

4:01 p.m.

Two more Harvey Weinstein accusers took the stand in his rape trial Wednesday, with one witness recalling the disgraced producer telling her, "This is how this industry works."

Dawn Dunning, a once aspiring actress, told jurors in Weinstein's trial Wednesday that he sexually assaulted her in 2004, putting his hand up her skirt without consent, The Wrap reports.

"I just kind of froze for a minute and then stood up," she testified. "He told me not to make a big deal about it, he apologized and said it wouldn't happen again."

Dunning, who says she quit pursuing acting because of Weinstein, went on to testify that he later offered her film roles in exchange for a threesome with his assistant, berating her when she declined.

"He started screaming at me," she testified. "He said, 'You'll never make it in this business. This is how this industry works."

Later, Tamale Wulff, also a once aspiring actress, testified that Weinstein masturbated in front of her at a restaurant and raped her at his New York apartment in 2005, per The Hollywood Reporter.

"He put himself inside me and raped me," Wulff testified. "It was a shock."

Weinstein, who been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women, is facing charges in connection to an alleged 2006 sexual assault and alleged 2013 rape, but Dunning and Wulff both testified as "prior bad acts" witnesses as prosecutors seek to establish a pattern of behavior. Actress Annabella Sciorra, who has accused Weinstein of rape, previously testified as a "prior bad acts" witness, while former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, whose sexual assault allegation is central to the case, also testified earlier this week. Weinstein denies all allegations of non-consensual sex and has pleaded not guilty. Brendan Morrow

3:42 p.m.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) probably doesn't need a lot of reminders about the 2012 election, but he's getting them anyway.

Romney on Wednesday was at the center of some hypothetical scenarios drawn up during the Senate's impeachment trial. First, the House's lead prosecutor Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) posed a scenario in which former President Barack Obama was caught asking former Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev for an investigation into Romney — Obama's 2012 presidential challenger — in exchange for military aid against Ukraine. He was trying to get senators to think about what the Republican response would be in a situation mirroring the exchange between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky.

Afterwards, Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) pulled a similar trick, submitting a question to Schiff about whether Obama would have had the authority to ask for an investigation into Romney's son if he was being paid by a corrupt Russian company and "Romney had acted to benefit that company." In that instance, Romney and his son are playing the role of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, while the Russian company is a stand in for Ukrainian gas company, Burisma (there's no evidence the elder Biden did anything to benefit Burisma.)

All this, of course, was said right in front of Romney, who despite losing the bid for the presidency, has since worked his way back into politics as a senator. The former Republican nominee, for what it's worth, was reportedly a good sport about the whole thing. Tim O'Donnell

3:26 p.m.

World Athletics announced Wednesday its World Indoor Championships for track and field wouldn't be relocated from Nanjing, China, over coronavirus fears. The championships would instead be rescheduled for a whole year from now, erasing an event that, for some athletes, could be a precursor to or even qualifier for the Olympic games in Tokyo this summer.

World Athletics had spent the past few days debating whether it would cancel the championships given that cases of a coronavirus-induced pneumonia were spreading throughout China. Because the spread of the virus was "still at a concerning level," the group eventually decided to put off the event, which was scheduled for March 13–15 of this year. World Athletics said it did consider relocating the event, but "given that concerns still exist regarding the spread of the virus outside China," opted for a total postponement.

The cancellation marks the biggest athletic event to be uprooted as the coronavirus leads to travel cancellations in and out of mainland China. The Olympic women's soccer regional qualifying tournament that was supposed to be held in Wuhan was first relocated to Nanjing, and then to Australia. Yet with China's team quarantined after their hotel after passing through Wuhan recently, the tournament will likely be delayed. An Olympic woman's basketball qualifier scheduled in China was similarly relocated to Serbia. Kathryn Krawczyk

3:25 p.m.

The future is looking bright for solar physicists.

On Wednesday, scientists released the highest resolution images and videos ever taken of the sun's surface. The images, produced by the National Science Foundation's Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on the summit of Haleakala, Maui, in Hawaii, will help scientists learn more about activity on the sun — a.k.a. space weather — per a press release from the National Solar Observatory.

Space weather can affect life on Earth by interfering with satellites and power grids. When Hurricane Irma made landfall in 2017, radio communications used by first responders were down for eight hours due to unrelated space weather coinciding with the storm, says the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This telescope will improve our understanding of what drives space weather and ultimately help forecasters better predict solar storms," said National Science Foundation Director France Córdova. With this information, governments can better prepare for space weather — potentially 48 hours in advance, rather than the current 48 minute standard, per the press release.


The circular structures in the images and videos are each roughly the size of Texas, and the movement is the hot plasma that covers the sun rising then falling as it cools off.

David Boboltz, program director in NSF's division of astronomical sciences, said in the press release the telescope "will collect more information about our sun during the first five years of its lifetime than all the solar data gathered since Galileo first pointed a telescope at the sun in 1612." Taylor Watson

2:57 p.m.

Well, that's one way to spin it.

President Trump's lawyer Alan Dershowitz argued Wednesday during the Senate impeachment trial that Trump's alleged Ukraine quid pro quo wasn't impeachable because he was actually just acting in the "public interest." Dershowitz's reasoning didn't have to do with rooting out corruption or anything of that sort, however. Instead, he was making the case that because every president believes it's in the public interest to win an election, any action geared toward securing victory is immune from impeachment.

You may have some questions — like, say, by that logic shouldn't Watergate have been acceptable? — and you're not alone.

Dershowitz's comments reportedly left some Democratic lawmakers flabbergasted, as well. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) apparently turned to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and silently express his incredulity, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Merkely (D-Ore.) were left visibly frustrated, and a slow grin crept its way on to the face of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

2:51 p.m.

Senators from both sides brought some real "my question is more of a comment" energy to President Trump's impeachment trial.

After the conclusion of opening arguments, the impeachment trial Wednesday entered its next phase, with senators submitting questions for the House managers and Trump's defense. But most of their early questions weren't exactly hard-hitting.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked Democrats, for instance, "Is there any way for the Senate to render a fully informed verdict in this case without hearing the testimony of Bolton, Mulvaney, and the other key eyewitnesses or without seeing the relevant documentary evidence?" Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), given the perfect opportunity to make his case, responded that no, there's not.

Later, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Trump's defense, in part, "Have the House managers met their evidentiary burden to support a vote of removal?" You'll never guess the response from Trump's defense: no, they haven't.

A few more useful inquiries made their way into the mix here and there, but they came in between questions that barely even qualified as questions at all, like when Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) asked, "Would the House managers care to correct the record on any falsehoods or mischaracterizations in the White House's opening arguments?"

"Many of the questions are thinly veiled efforts to tee up talking points," The Washington Post's Aaron Blake observed, while CBS News' Kathryn Watson tweeted, "Senators who ask rhetorical questions get milk dumped on their head." Brendan Morrow

See More Speed Reads