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FBI vetting Guard troops in DC amid fears of insider attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.

The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told The Associated Press on Sunday that officials are conscious of the potential threat, and he warned commanders to be on the lookout for any problems within their ranks as the inauguration approaches. So far, however, he and other leaders say they have seen no evidence of any threats, and officials said the vetting hadn’t flagged any issues that they were aware of.

”We’re continually going through the process, and taking second, third looks at every one of the individuals assigned to this operation,” McCarthy said in an interview after he and other military leaders went through an exhaustive, three-hour security drill in preparation for Wednesday’s inauguration. He said Guard members are also getting training on how to identify potential insider threats.

About 25,000 members of the National Guard are streaming into Washington from across the country — at least two and a half times the number for previous inaugurals. And while the military routinely reviews service members for extremist connections, the FBI screening is in addition to any previous monitoring.

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Heavily fortified statehouses around US see small protests

Small groups of right-wing protesters — some of them carrying rifles — gathered outside heavily fortified statehouses around the country Sunday, outnumbered by National Guard troops and police brought in to prevent a repeat of the violence that erupted at the U.S. Capitol. As darkness fell, there were no reports of any clashes.

Security was stepped up in recent days after the FBI warned of the potential for armed protests in Washington and at all 50 state capitol buildings ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday.

Crowds of only a dozen or two demonstrated at some boarded-up, cordoned-off statehouses, while the streets in many other capital cities remained empty. Some protesters said they were there to back President Donald Trump. Others said they had instead come to voice their support for gun rights or decry government overreach.

“I don’t trust the results of the election,” said Michigan protester Martin Szelag, a 67-year-old semi-retired window salesman from Dearborn Heights. He wore a sign around his neck that read, in part, “We will support Joe Biden as our President if you can convince us he won legally. Show us the proof! Then the healing can begin.”

As the day wore on with no bloodshed around the U.S., a sense of relief spread among officials, though they were not ready to let their guard down.

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Records: Trump allies behind rally that ignited Capitol riot

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of President Donald Trump’s failed presidential campaign played key roles in orchestrating the Washington rally that spawned a deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol, according to an Associated Press review of records, undercutting claims the event was the brainchild of the president’s grassroots supporters.

A pro-Trump nonprofit group called Women for America First hosted the “Save America Rally” on Jan. 6 at the Ellipse, an oval-shaped, federally owned patch of land near the White House. But an attachment to the National Park Service public gathering permit granted to the group lists more than half a dozen people in staff positions for the event who just weeks earlier had been paid thousands of dollars by Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign. Other staff scheduled to be “on site” during the demonstration have close ties to the White House.

Since the siege, several of them have scrambled to distance themselves from the rally.

The riot at the Capitol, incited by Trump’s comments before and during his speech at the Ellipse, has led to a reckoning unprecedented in American history. The president told the crowd to march to the Capitol and that “you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

A week after the rally, Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming the first U.S. president ever to be impeached twice. But the political and legal fallout may stretch well beyond Trump, who will exit the White House on Wednesday before Democrat Joe Biden takes the oath of office. Trump had refused for nearly two months to accept his loss in the 2020 election to the former vice president.

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Deceptions in the time of the ‘alternative facts’ president

WASHINGTON (AP) — Truth caught up with Donald Trump after years of giving chase.

The twice-impeached president painted a fantasy world in office, starring himself. In this world, he did things bigger, better, more boldly than all who came before him while facing enemies more pernicious than any in creation.

In service of his ego, his nature and his reelection prospects, he said things that were not only wrong, but the precise opposite of right. He said them over and over, in leaps and bounds, and no less so when the deceptions were exposed.

We’re rounding the corner on the virus, he said repeatedly, when the obvious reality was that the most lethal stage of the pandemic was just picking up. On the cusp of this danger, he spread the suspicion that masks make you more vulnerable to COVID-19, not less.

Then came his election defeat and a menacing twist in his life history of assaulting the facts.

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Democrats build impeachment case, alleging ‘dangerous crime’

WASHINGTON (AP) — The lead prosecutor for President Donald Trump’s historic second impeachment began building his case for conviction at trial, asserting on Sunday that Trump’s incitement of the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol was “the most dangerous crime” ever committed by a president against the United States. A Senate trial could begin as soon as this week, just as Democrat Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., did not say when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will send the single article of impeachment against Trump — for “incitement of insurrection” — to the Senate, which will trigger the beginning of the trial. But Raskin said “it should be coming up soon” as Pelosi organizes the formal transfer.

The House voted to impeach Trump last Wednesday, one week after the violent insurrection that interrupted the official count of electoral votes, ransacked the Capitol and left Congress deeply shaken. Before the mob overpowered police and entered the building, Trump told them to “fight like hell” against the certification of Biden’s election win.

“We’re going to be able to tell the story of this attack on America and all of the events that led up to it,” Raskin said. “This president set out to dismantle and overturn the election results from the 2020 presidential election. He was perfectly clear about that.”

Democrats and the incoming administration are facing the challenge of reckoning with the Capitol attack at the same time that Biden takes office and tries to move the country forward. They say the Congress can do both, balancing a trial with confirmations of the new president’s Cabinet and consideration of his legislative priorities.

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Biden’s long political evolution leads to his biggest test

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. has navigated a half-century in American politics by relentlessly positioning himself at the core of the Democratic Party.

Wherever that power center shifted, there Biden has been, whether as the young senator who opposed court-ordered busing in school integration cases or the soon-to-be 46th president pitching an agenda on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society.

The common thread through that evolution is Biden always pitching himself as an institutionalist — a mainstream liberal but also a pragmatist who still insists that governing well depends on compromise and consensus.

Now Biden’s central political identity faces the ultimate trial.

On Wednesday, the 78-year-old president-elect will inherit stewardship of a nation wrenched by pandemic, seismic cultural fissures and an opposition party’s base that considers him illegitimate, even to the point of President Donald Trump’s supporters violently attacking the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 as Congress convened to certify Biden’s victory.

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Phil Spector, famed music producer and murderer, dies at 81

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Phil Spector, the eccentric and revolutionary music producer who transformed rock music with his “Wall of Sound” method and who later was convicted of murder, has died. He was 81.

California state prison officials said he died Saturday of natural causes at a hospital.

Spector was convicted of murdering actress Lana Clarkson in 2003 at his castle-like mansion on the edge of Los Angeles. After a trial in 2009, he was sentenced to 19 years to life.

While most sources give Spector’s birth date as 1940, it was listed as 1939 in court documents following his arrest. His lawyer subsequently confirmed that date to The Associated Press.

Clarkson, star of “Barbarian Queen” and other B-movies, was found shot to death in the foyer of Spector’s mansion in the hills overlooking Alhambra, a modest suburban town on the edge of Los Angeles.

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Kremlin critic Navalny detained after landing in Moscow

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested Sunday at a Moscow airport as he tried to enter the country from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.

Navalny’s detention at passport control in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport was widely expected because Russia’s prisons service said he had violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction.

The prisons service said he would be held in custody until a court rules on his case. No date for a court appearance was immediately announced. The service earlier said that it would seek to have Navalny serve his 3 1/2-year sentence behind bars.

Navalny, 44, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent and determined foe, brushed off concerns about arrest as he boarded the plane in Berlin.

“It’s impossible. I’m an innocent man,” he said.

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Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reaches space on 2nd try

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit reached space on Sunday, eight months after the first demonstration flight of its air-launched rocket system failed, the company said.

A 70-foot-long (21.34-meter-long) LauncherOne rocket was released from beneath the wing of a Boeing 747 carrier aircraft off the coast of Southern California, ignited moments later and soared toward space.

The two-stage rocket carried a cluster of very small satellites known as CubeSats developed and built as part of a NASA educational program involving U.S. universities.

The launch occurred after the Boeing 747-400 took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the desert north of Los Angeles and flew out over the Pacific Ocean to a drop point beyond the Channel Islands.

“According to telemetry, LauncherOne has reached orbit!” Virgin Orbit tweeted later. “Everyone on the team who is not in mission control right now is going absolutely bonkers.”

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National Guard sleeping in the Capitol an echo of Civil War

To most Americans, the sight of armed National Guard troops sleeping in the Capitol Rotunda this past week was shocking and disturbing. To me, it was an echo of the far-distant past.

“Don’t despond,” Maj. Bowman Bigelow Breed wrote to his anxious wife back home in Massachusetts as his comrades lounged around him on the polished marble floors in the grand hall that was now their bivouac. “You must know by this time that we are here in safety. We may have to fight but my own opinion is that the overwhelming force concentrated here will prevent an attack.”

Insurrection was in the air, and these citizen soldiers had been called up to secure the seat of government.

The date was April 27, 1861. The writer was surgeon of the 8th Massachusetts Volunteer Militia.

My great-grandfather.