Norwegian cruise hits iceberg near Alaska, no injuries reported

Planet One Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) — A Norwegian cruise ship has canceled its nine-night Alaskan trip after the ship crashed into an iceberg off of the Alaskan coast on Saturday.

While there were no injuries and patrons and staff made it to Alaskan docks safely, the cruise line has canceled the rest of the scheduled trip and will return to Seattle Thursday morning.

The Norwegian Sun was transitioning to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska when the ship made contact with a growler, the cruise line told ABC News.

A growler is a small iceberg that has less than 3.3 feet of ice showing above the water, and is under 6.6 feet in width, the National Snow & Ice Data Center reports.

After impact, the ship changed course to dock in Juneau, Alaska, for further assessment. There, the company decided the cruise would be shortened and future trips canceled.

“The ship was given clearance by the United States Coast Guard and other local maritime authorities to return to Seattle at reduced speed,” a spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line said. “All guests currently onboard will disembark in Seattle as originally planned.”

A Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson told Cruise Hive the ship was “engulfed by dense fog, limiting visibility and resulting in the ship making contact with a growler.”

Stewart Chiron, a cruise industry expert known as The Cruise Guy, told ABC News that growlers are very common when passing through areas with glaciers.

Chiron said ships do not usually get within 1,000 feet of the glaciers themselves, and commonly have impact with small pieces of ice that have broken off and floated away from the glaciers.

While impact with these pieces is common in the area, it is uncommon for a cruise to change its scheduled trip due to such an impact, Chiron said.

Chiron believes that Norwegian acted with “an abundance of caution” when it decided to start its voyage back to Seattle after assessing damages.

He said the ship was “obviously safe enough” since passengers were allowed to stay on the ship to return to Seattle.

Chiron does not think the patrons should worry because ship captains are used to these waters and will continue to sail there without issue.

Norwegian Cruise Line said guests on the canceled cruise would receive a full refund, plus an additional future cruise credit valued at 100% of the original voyage fare paid. Travelers on the canceled cruise scheduled for June 30 will also receive a full refund, a future cruise credit valued at 50% of the original voyage fare, plus up to $300 per person for any airline cancelation/change fees.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Strange lights off San Diego coast have locals taking to social media

Gabe Gunlock/Twitter

(SAN DIEGO, Calif.) — Residents in the San Diego area took to social media after mysterious lights were spotted in the sky just off the coast Monday night.

With no clear indication of what the lights could be, dozens began posting photos and videos on Twitter, questioning what was happening in their night sky.

The posts offered several possible sources for the unusual lights, including UFOs or drones from the Imperial Beach Police Department, which is planning a drone light show for the Fourth of July.

However, the IBPD did not claim the lights as their own.

The San Diego Police Department told ABC News on Tuesday morning that the mysterious lights were actually flares being used for military exercises.

While nearby Naval Air Station North Island and Camp Pendleton both said that they did not know what the lights were, the SDPD said that the lights had been confirmed to them by military officials as being used for exercises.

Gabe Gunlock, a Mission Hills resident, took to Twitter with a video of the lights.

Gunlock told ABC News that he did a double take around 9 p.m. on Monday night, noticing strange, bright lights far off the coast.

He explained that he lives right near the airport in the area, so there are always planes and lights near his home.

However, he said there was something different about the lights he saw off of the coast.

At 9:55 p.m., Gunlock tweeted, “Multiple floating lights over the ocean. Very still, very bright. Orange, reddish light. Patterns of 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6,” alongside a video of distant blinking lights.

Gunlock said that his Twitter post quickly gained views, with other San Diego locals acknowledging the lights and wondering what they were.

“It was a super crazy night, super fun to connect with San Diego,” Gunlock told ABC News.

Gunlock added that his post now has over 100,000 impressions on Twitter.

“All I wanted to know is, ‘what’s going on,’” he said. “It had to be miles and miles off of the coast, it was burning extremely bright.”

When Gunlock heard that the lights were from military exercises, he said that it made sense that they weren’t from the airport, especially because they were so strikingly bright.

San Diego is home to several military bases, with more than 100,000 active duty service members in the area.

Over 15,000 active duty service members transition out of active duty service in San Diego each year. According to Thomas Jefferson School of Law, over half of those transitioning out of active duty decide to stay in San Diego, where there is a deep community of over 240,000 veterans.

San Diego, home to 60% of the ships in the fleet of the U.S. Navy and one third of all active duty service members in the U.S. Marine Corps, could have more mysterious lights in the sky for its civilian neighbors in the future.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Boy Scouts jump into action after Amtrak derailment: ‘We’re really proud’

Boy Scouts of America

(MENDON, Mo.) — Nearly 290 people were aboard an Amtrak train when it derailed in Missouri Monday and among them were two Boy Scout troops heading home to Wisconsin from New Mexico, the Boy Scouts of America confirmed to “Good Morning America.”

Members of Troops 12 and 73 of Boy Scouts of America Bay-Lakes Council in the Appleton, Wisconsin, area were riding along with 251 other passengers when their train struck a dump truck in Mendon, Missouri, and derailed at approximately 12:42 p.m. local time. The two troops included 16 children between the ages of 14 and 17 and eight adult leaders, according to Scott Armstrong, the director of national media relations for the Boy Scouts of America.

“I got alerted from the Council in Wisconsin of the accident and was immediately contacted as well by Roger Hoyt who’s the general manager of Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, which is where the scouts spent the last 10 days or so hiking the high desert mountains in New Mexico on an adventure of a lifetime frankly, and they got a little more adventure than they bargained for on the way home with a train derailment yesterday,” Armstrong told “GMA.”

Armstrong said the scouts, who would’ve all earned their first aid badges and received other related skills training, such as emergency preparedness, leaped into action after the collision occurred.

“One of our scouts, a 15-year-old, he’s actually the senior patrol leader, which is the lead youth of a scout troop, went forward to the point of impact of the crash and actually discovered the driver of the dump truck that was hit, who had been ejected and landed in the field adjacent to the train so our scout located the driver, attempted first aid, summoned state police and emergency responders,” Armstrong said. “They continued to give aid and then wound up just giving comfort frankly as he passed away on the scene, unfortunately.”

Two of the scouts’ mothers also told ABC affiliate station WBAY in Green Bay, Wisconsin, that they heard the scouts were also able to help break train windows and assist in the evacuation of fellow passengers.

Following the incident, the troops and their leaders were transported by bus to Columbia, Missouri, where they stayed in hotels overnight. One of the scouts had to receive medical treatment Monday but has since been released, according to Armstrong.

“All the youth have been cleared from the medical facilities so they’re in relatively decent shape,” he said. “We’ve got a couple of adults that are pretty banged up, but nothing life-threatening but every one of them put their skills and kind of presence of mind to good use yesterday, helping others.”

“These kids are built pretty tough. They just came off an adventure that adults couldn’t handle with 10 days in the mountains, hiking somewhere around 100 miles,” Armstrong added.

The Boy Scouts of America said it is working with Amtrak to arrange transportation home for the scouts and leaders and hope to get them all back to Wisconsin by late Tuesday night or Wednesday.

“The bus that was provided by Amtrak did not have a driver available to depart last night so it never arrived this morning. And so, we’re still working on alternatives to get our scouts and our adult leaders home because we got a number of parents who would like to see their boys after such a traumatic incident,” Armstrong said, adding the scouts are in “good spirits.”

The death toll in the Missouri train derailment has risen to four and at least 150 were injured. It’s the second incident impacting Amtrak this week, after another Amtrak train struck a car in Brentwood, California, Sunday. Three people died and two others were injured in the California accident.

Many have been left shaken and hurt after the Amtrak accidents and the Boy Scouts said they’re planning on providing mental health support to their members and staff in the coming days.

“We’ll be monitoring [the scouts] over the coming weeks to make sure that everybody’s OK. It’s a pretty traumatic experience. It’s not always evident immediately after an incident like this and so we have mental health professionals that we’re in consultation with to make sure that those services are available to the scouts and the leaders as necessary,” Armstrong said.

“It’s stressful enough taking kids that aren’t yours out on a high adventure like this, but when you have a catastrophic incident on top of it, we’re really proud not only just the scouts but also the volunteer adult leaders that are with them,” he added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Jan. 6 hearing witness: Irate Trump grabbed wheel, demanded to go to Capitol

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The House select committee investigating the U.S. Capitol attack heard stunning stunning testimony on Tuesday from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

She told the committee and an international TV audience that then-President Donald Trump was warned about potential violence and crimes, that he wanted supporters with weapons let into his Jan. 6 rally, and that he then demanded his security detail take him to the Capitol, going so far as to grab the wheel of the presidential limousine, “The Beast.”

This was the sixth hearing this month investigating what the committee says was the conspiracy by Trump and his allies to overturn the election.

Please check back for updates. All times Eastern.

Jun 28, 3:18 pm
Cheney raises concerns about witness intimidation, Thompson encourages others to come forward

Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the committee, raised concerns of witness intimidation in her closing remarks.

The committee showed on a large screen above the members a text message that read: “[A person] let me know your deposition tomorrow. He wants me to let you know that he’s thinking about you. He knows you’re loyal, and you’re going to do the right thing when you go in for your deposition.”

“I think most Americans know that attempting to influence witnesses to testify untruthfully presents very serious concerns,” Cheney said in her closing remarks, adding that the panel will be discussing the issue and considering next steps.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., commended Hutchinson for “doing your patriotic duty and helping the American people get a complete understanding of January 6th and its causes.”

Thompson also encouraged others to come forward.

“If you’ve heard if you’ve heard this testimony today and suddenly you remember things you couldn’t previously recall, or or there are some details you’d like to clarify, or you discovered some courage you had hidden away somewhere, our doors remain open,” he said

Jun 28, 3:18 pm
Extraordinary hearing closes

It was among the shortest but most shocking Jan. 6 public hearings so far.

Cassidy Hutchinson, for nearly two-hours Tuesday, testified that Trump and Meadows were aware the Capitol was a target and that Trump supporters at the “Save America” rally were armed with weapons when the president told urged them to march to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

She said Trump told aides to let individuals with weapons past security and into the crowd, which he was “furious” with due to its size, with Hutchinson recalling Trump saying, “‘I don’t care that they have weapons. They are not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags (magnetometers) away.'”

Trump wanted to go to the Capitol himself after his speech, she said, and there was even conversation about having him go into the House chamber, despite the White House counsel’s office raising serious legal concerns and the Secret Service raising safety concerns.

Still, demanding to go to the Capitol, Hutchinson recalled learning that Trump grabbed the steering wheel in “The Beast: — the president’s limousine — on the way back to the White House and said, “‘I’m the f—ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now!'” before lunging at a Secret Service agent.

Hutchinson also confirmed Trump instructed Meadows to make contact with a “war room” in the Willard Hotel on the evening of Jan. 5 and advised Meadows against going in person after hearing Rudy Giuliani’s plans for the day, which she said she overheard included “Oath Keepers” and “Proud Boys.”

In a statement to ABC News, Roger Stone said it was “FALSE” that he spoke to Meadows on the phone on Jan. 5 “or any other date.”

Jun 28, 2:48 pm
Witness: Trump didn’t want to respond as attack on Capitol unfolded

In videotaped testimony, Hutchinson recalled seeing Meadows in his office at the White House, flipping through his phone as Trump supporters marched to the Capitol, and then violently breaching it.

“I said, ‘The rioters are getting really close. Have you talked to the president?'” she recalled. “Meadows said, ‘No. He wants to be alone right now.'”

“I felt like I was watching,” she continued in taped testimony, “a bad car accident that was about to happen. You can’t stop it but you want to do something. I remember thinking in that moment that Mark needs to snap out of this.”

She recalled White House counsel Pat Cipollone “barreling” towards Meadows’s office, and saying something to the effect of, “”Mark, something needs to be done, or people are going to die and blood is going to be on your effing hands.'”

She later overheard Cipollone and Meadows talking about the “Hang Mike Pence” chants at the Capitol.

“You heard it Pat — he thinks Mike deserves it. He thinks they aren’t doing anything wrong,” Meadows said to Cipollone when the White House lawyer said they needed to respond, according to Hutchinson.

-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel

Jun 28, 2:45 pm
Witness ‘disgusted’ by Trump’s attack on Pence

Cassidy Hutchinson said she was “disgusted” by President Trump’s Twitter post during the Capitol attack disparaging then-Vice President Mike Pence for not single-handedly rejecting Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

“Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!” Trump tweeted.

Hutchinson recalled “feeling frustrated, disappointed, and really — it felt personal. I was really saddened. As an American, I was disgusted. It was unpatriotic. It was un-American.”

Matthew Pottinger, who was then serving as the deputy national security adviser, told the committee in previous testimony, it said, that he decided to quit because of what Trump said in that social media post.

“I read that tweet, and made a decision at that moment to resign,” Pottinger said. “That’s where I knew that I was leaving that day, once I read that tweet.”

Jun 28, 2:07 pm
Witness: Trump ‘irate’ in Beast, physically assaulted security detail, demanded to be taken to Capitol

Cassidy Hutchinson recalled a shocking story of Trump’s anger on Jan. 6 after being told he could not go to the Capitol to meet supporters following his “Save America” rally on the Ellipse — leading to Trump physically assaulting his security detail on the way back to the White House.

Hutchinson recalled the conversation she had back at the White House just after the rally with Bobby Engel, part of Trump’s security detail, who was “sitting in the chair, looking somewhat discombobulated,” and Tony Ornato.

“As the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought they were going out of the Capitol and when Bobby had relayed to him were not, ‘You don’t have the access to do it, is not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing.’ The president had a very strong, very angry response to that,” she recalled.

“Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now’ — to which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’ The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.'”

“Mr. Trump used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornado recounted the story to me, he motions towards his clavicle,” she said.

Jun 28, 1:57 pm
Cippollone warned about criminal charges if Trump marched to Capitol

Hutchinson testified about the concerns some White House staff had about President Trump wanting to go to the Capitol with his supporters on Jan. 6. At one point that morning, Hutchinson said, then-White House counsel Pat Cippollone told her to make sure that it didn’t happen.

“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we go up to the Capitol,” Hutchinson said Cippollone told her.

Crimes they were concerned about, she said, included defrauding the electoral count and obstructing justice.

The White House legal team was also concerned about aspects of Trump’s remarks at the Ellipse, Hutchinson testified, and urged speechwriters not to include language about marching to the Capitol.

Jun 28, 1:56 pm
WH lawyer warned speechwriters of rhetoric ahead of Ellipse speech

Hutchinson said there were “many discussions” the morning of Jan. 6 about the rhetoric Trump would use at the speech that ultimately preceded the riot.

Hutchinson testified that Eric Herschmann, a lawyer for Trump, said it would be “foolish to include language that had been included at the president’s request, which had lines along, to the effect of ‘fight for Trump, we’re going to march to the Capitol, I’ll be there with you, fight for me, fight for what we’re doing, fight for the movement,’ things about the vice president at the time too.”

“Both Mr. Herschmann and White House counsel’s office were urging the speechwriters to not include that language for legal concerns and also for the optics of what it could portray the president wanting to do that day,” Hutchinson said.

Trump at his speech ultimately said, “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give “weak” Republicans the “pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Jun 28, 1:51 pm
Trump ‘furious’ people with weapons couldn’t get into Jan.6 Ellipse rally: ‘They are not here to hurt me’

Cassidy Hutchinson recalled how Trump was “furious” with the crowd size of his “Save America” rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6 and with aides who didn’t want to let in individuals in who had weapons, which officials said ranged from AR-15-style rifles to bear spray.

“I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I heard the president say, “‘I don’t care that they have weapons. They are not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in,'” she recalled. “‘They can march to the Capitol after the rally is over.'”

Vice chair Liz Cheney asked Americans to “reflect on that for a moment” and remember what Trump called on the crowd to do, knowing they were equipped with weapons and body armor.

Jun 28, 1:45 pm
Hutchinson says Meadows didn’t act on concerns of violence

Hutchinson described Meadows’ underwhelming reaction to learning about the list of weapons that people had in the rally crowd that morning — including knives, bear spray, guns and flagpoles with spears attached to them.

“I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone,” Hutchinson said, noting it took Meadows a few moments to respond. When he did respond, he asked [security officials], “Alright, anything else?”

In previously taped deposition, Hutchinson told the committee it was accurate to say Meadows “did not act” on concerns of violence.

Jun 28, 1:36 pm
White House was warned ‘Congress itself is the target on the 6th’

The bombshell information the committee is unfolding through Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony is that the Trump administration and Trump himself knew about the potential for violence before Jan. 6.

“I recall hearing the word ‘Oath Keeper’ and hearing the word ‘Proud Boys’ closer to the planning of the January 6 rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around,” Hutchinson said in a taped deposition played by Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney.

Cheney then displayed a Capitol Police bulletin on Jan. 3 warning, “targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”

Hutchinson also recalled receiving a call from then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien, after the Capitol Police bulletin, asking if he could speak with Meadows about the potential violence. She wasn’t sure if that call ever happened.

Jun 28, 1:29 pm
Meadows told Hutchinson ‘things might get real, real bad’ on Jan. 6

Hutchinson described Tuesday conversations she had with Rudy Giuliani and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 2, 2021 — four days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Hutchinson said Giuliani said to her something “to the effect of ‘We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful.'”

When Hutchinson went to Meadows’ office to relay her discussion with Giuliani, Meadows told her: “There is a lot going on, Cass, I don’t know, things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

“That evening was the first moment that I remember feeling scared and nervous for what could happen on Jan. 6,” Hutchinson testified. “I had a deeper concern with what was happening with the planning aspects.”

Jun 28, 1:20 pm
Committee establishes Hutchinson’s proximity to Trump

Introducing Hutchinson to the American people, Chairman Bennie Thompson asked Hutchinson to recall a typical day at the White House.

“When I moved over to the White House chief of staff’s office with Mr. Meadows, when he became the fourth chief of staff, it’s difficult to describe a typical day,” she said.

Thompson established through a series of questions how Hutchinson’s office was a five to 10-second walk from the Oval Office and that she regularly engaged with members of Congress and senior members of the Trump administration.

Jun 28, 1:17 pm
Cheney: Hutchinson will relay firsthand observations of Trump’s conduct

Vice chair Liz Cheney said Cassidy Hutchinson was in a “position to know a great deal about the happenings in the Trump White House.”

“Today, you will hear Ms. Hutchinson relate certain first-hand observations about President Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6,” Cheney said in her opening statement. “You will also hear new information regarding the actions and statements of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers that day, including his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and his White House counsel.”

Cheney said information will also be released on what Trump and members of the White House knew about the potential for violence on Jan. 6.

Jun 28, 1:13 pm
Chair applauds Hutchinson’s ‘courage’ to open hearing

Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., convened the unexpected hearing shortly after 1 p.m. with Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, taking her seat as members took the dais.

In brief opening remarks, he explained information that she had needed to be shared with the American people “immediately” and hailed her courage.

“In recent days, the select committee has obtained new information, dealing with what was going on in the White House on Jan. 6, and in the days prior. Specific, detailed information about what the former president and his top aides were doing and saying in those critical hours. Firsthand details of what transpired in the Office of the White House chief of staff,” Thompson said.

“It hasn’t always been easy to get that information, because the same people who drove the former president’s pressure campaign to overturn the election are now trying to cover up the truth about January 6. But thanks to the courage of certain individuals, the truth won’t be buried. The American people won’t be left in the dark,” he added. “Our witness today is Cassidy Hutchinson, she has embodied that courage.”

Jun 28, 1:08 pm
Cameras flash at high drama hearing

With the nature of the hearing coming up with little notice, signaling urgency for the committee, reporters and cameras swarmed the witness table inside the Cannon Office Building ahead of Cassidy Hutchinson taking her seat.

Hutchinson entered the hearing room at 1 p.m. with members of the Jan. 6 committee.

ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jon Karl said sources have told him the hearing will be “Big —and disturbing.”

Jun 28, 1:00 pm
Former WH deputy press secretary shows support for Hutchinson

Former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews showed support for Cassidy Hutchinson ahead of her scheduled testimony.

“Just want to say how much admiration I have for the tremendous bravery Cassidy Hutchinson is displaying,” Matthews wrote on Twitter. “Even in the face of harassment and threats, she is choosing to put her country first and tell the truth.”

“This is what real courage, integrity, and patriotism looks like,” Matthews added.

Matthews resigned from her position in the Trump administration on Jan. 6 , stating she was “deeply disturbed” by what took place that day.

Jun 28, 12:59 pm
Witness switched attorneys as public hearings began

Cassidy Hutchinson hired a new attorney, Jody Hunt, earlier this month to represent her as the public Jan. 6 hearings began. Her agreement to testify publicly comes after months of negotiations between the committee and her counsel, sources told ABC News.

At the start of the Trump administration, Hunt served as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He later became the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

Jun 28, 12:23 pm
Who is Cassidy Hutchinson?

The committee’s expected witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, is a former top adviser to Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

A 2019 political science graduate of Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, Hutchinson was as an intern to House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in college before serving as a White House intern in 2018. After graduating, she joined the Trump White House Office of Legislative Affairs, before joining Meadows as an executive assistant, and later a special assistant to the president.

“I have set a personal goal to pursue a path of civic significance,” she told her alma mater in a 2018 interview after her White House internship.

Having already sat four separate times for closed-door depositions with the committee, Hutchinson has been featured in clips publicly displayed by the committee, including some in which she discussed members of Congress asking the White House for pardons.

Jun 28, 9:57 am
Surprise hearing signals committee’s urgency

The House select committee will convene Tuesday afternoon for a surprise public hearing, signaling apparent urgency among members to reveal further findings from their year-long inquiry.

The hearing, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, will see the committee “present recently obtained evidence and receive witness testimony,” the group said in a news release Monday.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a top adviser to Donald Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News. Punchbowl News first reported her appearance.

Hutchinson is expected to put a voice to many of the internal White House interactions involving the events of Jan. 6 and offer significant insight into Meadows’ actions and interactions with Trump.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ghislaine Maxwell sentenced to 20 years

Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Ghislaine Maxwell, the associate of Jeffrey Epstein who lured underage girls into the disgraced financier’s lurid world, was sentenced Tuesday to 20 years in federal prison and a $750,000 fine following her December conviction on five criminal counts, including sex trafficking.

Maxwell addressed the court for five minutes and said she empathized with the victims, but she didn’t take responsibility for causing their suffering.

As Maxwell spoke, victims and accusers smirked and raised their eyebrows. At least two broke into tears.

One accuser said seeing Maxwell in ankle chains brought her comfort and felt appropriate.

Maxwell said the statements from victims and accusers were “terribly difficult to hear,” and that it was “difficult to absorb the scale and extent” of their experiences.

To the victims, Maxwell said, “I am sorry for the pain that you experienced,” adding, “I hope my conviction and harsh incarceration” brings some closure.

“It is my sincerest wish to all those in this courtroom … that this day brings this terrible chapter to an end,” she said.

Maxwell also said, “It is the greatest regret of my life that I ever met Jeffrey Epstein.”

She called Epstein a “manipulative man” who was “cunning,” “controlling” and “fooled all of those in his orbit.”

Maxwell, 60, and Epstein, who died by suicide in jail, “were partners in crime who sexually exploited young girls together,” said New York City federal prosecutors, who had asked the judge for a sentence of at least 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Maxwell and Epstein selected their victims carefully and asserted that it was no accident the four accusers who testified — “Jane,” “Kate,” Carolyn and Annie — came from single-mother households. The victims were isolated and plied with gifts, flattery, and promises of career help in what federal prosecutor Alison Moe described as a pattern of grooming and abuse.

“Ghislaine Maxwell played an instrumental role in the horrific sexual abuse of multiple young teenage girls,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “As part of a disturbing agreement with Jeffrey Epstein, Maxwell identified, groomed, and abused multiple victims, while she enjoyed a life of extraordinary luxury and privilege.”

Judge Alison Nathan on Tuesday called Maxwell’s conduct “heinous and predatory” and said, “the damage done to these young girls in incalculable.”

“A very serious and very significant sentence is necessary,” Nathan said.

Nathan took note of Maxwell’s acknowledgment of the courage of the victims and the impact the crimes had on them, saying, “I think that’s important for the victims to hear/”

But Nathan also noted what wasn’t expressed by Maxwell: “An acceptance of responsibility.”

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said the sentence holds her “accountable for perpetrating heinous crimes against children.”

“This sentence sends a strong message that no one is above the law and it is never too late for justice,” Williams said. “We again express our gratitude to Epstein and Maxwell’s victims for their courage in coming forward, in testifying at trial, and in sharing their stories as part of today’s sentencing.”

Maxwell’s lawyer said Sunday that she had been placed on suicide watch while awaiting sentencing at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn — even though her attorneys had told the court she was not suicidal and that outside psychologists agreed with that assessment.

Maxwell, who maintains her innocence, accused the government of treating her “as if she were a proxy” for Epstein and asked the judge to impose a sentence well below the maximum 55 years.

“The witnesses at trial testified about Ms. Maxwell’s facilitation of Epstein’s abuse, but Epstein was always the central figure: Epstein was the mastermind, Epstein was the principal abuser, and Epstein orchestrated the crimes for his personal gratification,” defense attorneys said in their sentencing memorandum. “Indeed, had Ghislaine Maxwell never had the profound misfortune of meeting Jeffrey Epstein over 30 years ago, she would not be here.”

The defense also suggested Maxwell was susceptible to Epstein’s influence in part because of her relationship with her father, the late British publishing magnate Robert Maxwell, who the defense said verbally and physically abused her.

“Ghislaine vividly recalls a time when, at age 13, she tacked a poster of a pony on the newly painted wall of her bedroom. Rather than mar the paint with tape, she carefully hammered a thin tack to mount the poster,” the defense memo said. “This outraged her father, who took the hammer and banged on Ghislaine’s dominant hand, leaving it severely bruised and painful for weeks to come.”

Prosecutors called Maxwell’s efforts to deflect blame “absurd.”

“If anything stands out from the defendant’s sentencing submission, it is her complete failure to address her offensive conduct and her utter lack of remorse,” federal prosecutors said in their memo to the judge. “Instead of showing even a hint of acceptance of responsibility, the defendant makes a desperate attempt to cast blame wherever else she can.”

Maxwell’s defense insisted at trial that the government’s case relied on the “erroneous memories” of four accusers who defense attorney Laura Menninger said “inserted” Maxwell into accounts that initially included only Epstein.

“The accusers’ memories … started to shift,” Menninger said. “The truth was manipulated and changed over time.”

The defense also argued that money brought the accusers forward “with their personal injury lawyers right there next to them.” Menninger said each accuser took home millions, “and now they are stuck with the stories they told.”

Prosecutors, whose case included two dozen witnesses, said Maxwell “made the choice to sexually exploit numerous underage girls” as part of a scheme that ran from at least 1994 to 2004. Two women who testified said they were 14 when Epstein began to abuse them, sometimes with Maxwell present or directly involved.

“She personally engaged in sexual abuse when she fondled the breasts of Jane, Annie, and Carolyn. And she used her role as a supposedly respectable, glamorous, older woman to lure these victims into a false sense of security,” prosecutors said.

Defense attorney Bobbi Sternheim said Maxwell intends to appeal her conviction.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Jan. 6 hearing live updates: Witness: Irate Trump grabbed steering wheel, demanded to go to Capitol

Brandon Bell/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is holding a surprise hearing Tuesday after saying it wouldn’t be holding more until the middle of July.

The committee said the focus would be on “recently obtained evidence.”

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is testifying, sources said.

This is the sixth hearing this month on the attack on the U.S. Capitol and what the committee says was the plot by then-President Donald Trump and his allies to overturn the election.

Please check back for updates. All times Eastern.

Jun 28, 2:07 pm
Witness: Trump ‘irate’ in Beast, physically assaulted security detail, demanded to be taken to Capitol

Cassidy Hutchinson recalled a shocking story of Trump’s anger on Jan. 6 after being told he could not go to the Capitol to meet supporters following his “Save America” rally on the Ellipse — leading to Trump physically assaulting his security detail on the way back to the White House.

Hutchinson recalled the conversation she had back at the White House just after the rally with Bobby Engel, part of Trump’s security detail, who was “sitting in the chair, looking somewhat discombobulated,” and Tony Ornato.

“As the president had gotten into the vehicle with Bobby, he thought they were going out of the Capitol and when Bobby had relayed to him were not, ‘You don’t have the access to do it, is not secure, we’re going back to the West Wing.’ The president had a very strong, very angry response to that,” she recalled.

“Tony described him as being irate. The president said something to the effect of, ‘I’m the effing president, take me up to the Capitol now’ — to which Bobby responded, ‘Sir, we have to go back to the West Wing.’ The president reached up towards the front of the vehicle to grab at the steering wheel. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm, said, ‘Sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We’re going back to the West Wing. We’re not going to the Capitol.'”

“Mr. Trump used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel and when Mr. Ornado recounted the story to me, he motions towards his clavicle,” she said.

Jun 28, 1:57 pm
Cippollone warned about criminal charges if Trump marched to Capitol

Hutchinson testified about the concerns some White House staff had about President Trump wanting to go to the Capitol with his supporters on Jan. 6. At one point that morning, Hutchinson said, then-White House counsel Pat Cippollone told her to make sure that it didn’t happen.

“We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we go up to the Capitol,” Hutchinson said Cippollone told her.

Crimes they were concerned about, she said, included defrauding the electoral count and obstructing justice.

The White House legal team was also concerned about aspects of Trump’s remarks at the Ellipse, Hutchinson testified, and urged speechwriters not to include language about marching to the Capitol.

Jun 28, 1:56 pm
WH lawyer warned speechwriters of rhetoric ahead of Ellipse speech

Hutchinson said there were “many discussions” the morning of Jan. 6 about the rhetoric Trump would use at the speech that ultimately preceded the riot.

Hutchinson testified that Eric Herschmann, a lawyer for Trump, said it would be “foolish to include language that had been included at the president’s request, which had lines along, to the effect of ‘fight for Trump, we’re going to march to the Capitol, I’ll be there with you, fight for me, fight for what we’re doing, fight for the movement,’ things about the vice president at the time too.”

“Both Mr. Herschmann and White House counsel’s office were urging the speechwriters to not include that language for legal concerns and also for the optics of what it could portray the president wanting to do that day,” Hutchinson said.

Trump at his speech ultimately said, “So let’s walk down Pennsylvania Avenue” to give “weak” Republicans the “pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”

Jun 28, 1:51 pm
Trump ‘furious’ people with weapons couldn’t get into Jan.6 Ellipse rally: ‘They are not here to hurt me’

Cassidy Hutchinson recalled how Trump was “furious” with the crowd size of his “Save America” rally on the Ellipse on Jan. 6 and with aides who didn’t want to let in individuals in who had weapons, which officials said ranged from AR-15-style rifles to bear spray.

“I was in the vicinity of a conversation where I heard the president say, “‘I don’t care that they have weapons. They are not here to hurt me. Take the effing mags away. Let my people in,'” she recalled. “‘They can march to the Capitol after the rally is over.'”

Vice chair Liz Cheney asked Americans to “reflect on that for a moment” and remember what Trump called on the crowd to do, knowing they were equipped with weapons and body armor.

Jun 28, 1:45 pm
Hutchinson says Meadows didn’t act on concerns of violence

Hutchinson described Meadows’ underwhelming reaction to learning about the list of weapons that people had in the rally crowd that morning — including knives, bear spray, guns and flagpoles with spears attached to them.

“I remember distinctly Mark not looking up from his phone,” Hutchinson said, noting it took Meadows a few moments to respond. When he did respond, he asked [security officials], “Alright, anything else?”

In previously taped deposition, Hutchinson told the committee it was accurate to say Meadows “did not act” on concerns of violence.

Jun 28, 1:36 pm
White House was warned ‘Congress itself is the target on the 6th’

The bombshell information the committee is unfolding through Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony is that the Trump administration and Trump himself knew about the potential for violence before Jan. 6.

“I recall hearing the word ‘Oath Keeper’ and hearing the word ‘Proud Boys’ closer to the planning of the January 6 rally when Mr. Giuliani would be around,” Hutchinson said in a taped deposition played by Vice Chair Rep. Liz Cheney.

Cheney then displayed a Capitol Police bulletin on Jan. 3 warning, “targets of the pro-Trump supporters are not necessarily the counter-protesters as they were previously, but rather Congress itself is the target on the 6th.”

Hutchinson also recalled receiving a call from then-national security adviser Robert O’Brien, after the Capitol Police bulletin, asking if he could speak with Meadows about the potential violence. She wasn’t sure if that call ever happened.

Jun 28, 1:29 pm
Meadows told Hutchinson ‘things might get real, real bad’ on Jan. 6

Hutchinson described Tuesday conversations she had with Rudy Giuliani and then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Jan. 2, 2021 — four days before the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Hutchinson said Giuliani said to her something “to the effect of ‘We’re going to the Capitol. It’s going to be great. The president’s going to be there. He’s going to look powerful.'”

When Hutchinson went to Meadows’ office to relay her discussion with Giuliani, Meadows told her: “There is a lot going on, Cass, I don’t know, things might get real, real bad on Jan. 6.”

“That evening was the first moment that I remember feeling scared and nervous for what could happen on Jan. 6,” Hutchinson testified. “I had a deeper concern with what was happening with the planning aspects.”

Jun 28, 1:20 pm
Committee establishes Hutchinson’s proximity to Trump

Introducing Hutchinson to the American people, Chairman Bennie Thompson asked Hutchinson to recall a typical day at the White House.

“When I moved over to the White House chief of staff’s office with Mr. Meadows, when he became the fourth chief of staff, it’s difficult to describe a typical day,” she said.

Thompson established through a series of questions how Hutchinson’s office was a five to 10-second walk from the Oval Office and that she regularly engaged with members of Congress and senior members of the Trump administration.

Jun 28, 1:17 pm
Cheney: Hutchinson will relay firsthand observations of Trump’s conduct

Vice chair Liz Cheney said Cassidy Hutchinson was in a “position to know a great deal about the happenings in the Trump White House.”

“Today, you will hear Ms. Hutchinson relate certain first-hand observations about President Trump’s conduct on Jan. 6,” Cheney said in her opening statement. “You will also hear new information regarding the actions and statements of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers that day, including his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and his White House counsel.”

Cheney said information will also be released on what Trump and members of the White House knew about the potential for violence on Jan. 6.

Jun 28, 1:13 pm
Chair applauds Hutchinson’s ‘courage’ to open hearing

Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., convened the unexpected hearing shortly after 1 p.m. with Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, taking her seat as members took the dais.

In brief opening remarks, he explained information that she had needed to be shared with the American people “immediately” and hailed her courage.

“In recent days, the select committee has obtained new information, dealing with what was going on in the White House on Jan. 6, and in the days prior. Specific, detailed information about what the former president and his top aides were doing and saying in those critical hours. Firsthand details of what transpired in the Office of the White House chief of staff,” Thompson said.

“It hasn’t always been easy to get that information, because the same people who drove the former president’s pressure campaign to overturn the election are now trying to cover up the truth about January 6. But thanks to the courage of certain individuals, the truth won’t be buried. The American people won’t be left in the dark,” he added. “Our witness today is Cassidy Hutchinson, she has embodied that courage.”

Jun 28, 1:08 pm
Cameras flash at high drama hearing

With the nature of the hearing coming up with little notice, signaling urgency for the committee, reporters and cameras swarmed the witness table inside the Cannon Office Building ahead of Cassidy Hutchinson taking her seat.

Hutchinson entered the hearing room at 1 p.m. with members of the Jan. 6 committee.

ABC News Chief Washington Correspondent Jon Karl said sources have told him the hearing will be “Big —and disturbing.”

Jun 28, 1:00 pm
Former WH deputy press secretary shows support for Hutchinson

Former White House deputy press secretary Sarah Matthews showed support for Cassidy Hutchinson ahead of her scheduled testimony.

“Just want to say how much admiration I have for the tremendous bravery Cassidy Hutchinson is displaying,” Matthews wrote on Twitter. “Even in the face of harassment and threats, she is choosing to put her country first and tell the truth.”

“This is what real courage, integrity, and patriotism looks like,” Matthews added.

Matthews resigned from her position in the Trump administration on Jan. 6 , stating she was “deeply disturbed” by what took place that day.

Jun 28, 12:59 pm
Witness switched attorneys as public hearings began

Cassidy Hutchinson hired a new attorney, Jody Hunt, earlier this month to represent her as the public Jan. 6 hearings began. Her agreement to testify publicly comes after months of negotiations between the committee and her counsel, sources told ABC News.

At the start of the Trump administration, Hunt served as chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He later became the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Division.

Jun 28, 12:23 pm
Who is Cassidy Hutchinson?

The committee’s expected witness, Cassidy Hutchinson, is a former top adviser to Trump’s White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

A 2019 political science graduate of Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, Hutchinson was as an intern to House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in college before serving as a White House intern in 2018. After graduating, she joined the Trump White House Office of Legislative Affairs, before joining Meadows as an executive assistant, and later a special assistant to the president.

“I have set a personal goal to pursue a path of civic significance,” she told her alma mater in a 2018 interview after her White House internship.

Having already sat four separate times for closed-door depositions with the committee, Hutchinson has been featured in clips publicly displayed by the committee, including some in which she discussed members of Congress asking the White House for pardons.

Jun 28, 9:57 am
Surprise hearing signals committee’s urgency

The House select committee will convene Tuesday afternoon for a surprise public hearing, signaling apparent urgency among members to reveal further findings from their year-long inquiry.

The hearing, scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET, will see the committee “present recently obtained evidence and receive witness testimony,” the group said in a news release Monday.

Former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a top adviser to Donald Trump’s last chief of staff, Mark Meadows, is expected to testify, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News. Punchbowl News first reported her appearance.

Hutchinson is expected to put a voice to many of the internal White House interactions involving the events of Jan. 6 and offer significant insight into Meadows’ actions and interactions with Trump.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Officials ‘horrified’ after finding 50 dead in suspected human smuggling incident in Texas

Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images

(SAN ANTONIO) — The death toll rose to 50 on Tuesday in a suspected case of human smuggling, after dozens were found inside a tractor-trailer in San Antonio, Texas, according to U.S. authorities.

Homeland Security Investigations said initially they found more than 40 people dead upon arrival on the scene Monday evening.

Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard, citing information provided by U.S. authorities, said the death toll was at least 50, including 22 Mexican citizens, seven Guatemalan citizens and two Honduran citizens. The other victims have yet to be identified and Mexico is working with the U.S. on an investigation, according to Ebrard.

“We are in mourning,” Ebrard said in a statement Tuesday via Twitter. “Huge tragedy.”

The incident unfolded in the south-central Texas city on Monday evening at around 5:50 p.m. local time, when a nearby worker heard a cry for help and found the tractor-trailer with the doors partially opened and the bodies of 46 people inside, according to San Antonio Police Chief Bill McManus and San Antonio Fire Department Chief Charles Hood.

An additional 16 people — 12 adults and four children — were transported to area hospitals in what officials called a “mass casualty event.”

Chris Magnus, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), told reporters he was “horrified” by the incident.

“Horrified at this tragic loss of life near San Antonio,” Magnus said Monday. “This speaks to the desperation of migrants who would put their lives in the hands of callous human smugglers who show no regard for human life.”

The trailer was refrigerated but did not have a visibly working air-conditioning unit and there were no signs of water inside, according to Hood.

The victims taken to hospitals were hot to the touch and all suffering from heat stroke and heat exhaustion, Hood said. There were no child fatalities that authorities know of so far, he added.

Three people are in custody in connection with the incident, according to McManus, who added that the case is now a federal investigation.

President Joe Biden issued a statement Tuesday calling the deaths “horrifying and heartbreaking,” blaming the criminal smuggling industry for preying on migrants. Biden also highlighted the anti-smuggling campaign the U.S. has launched with its partners, saying they have made over 2,400 arrests.

“Exploiting vulnerable individuals for profit is shameful, as is political grandstanding around tragedy, and my Administration will continue to do everything possible to stop human smugglers and traffickers from taking advantage of people who are seeking to enter the United States between ports of entry,” Biden said.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told ABC News that Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) responded to a call on Monday regarding an alleged human smuggling event and, upon arriving at the scene, confirmed the deaths of more than 40 people.

“HSI continues its enforcement efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities. We will continue to address the serious public safety threat posed by human smuggling organizations and their reckless disregard for the health and safety of those smuggled,” the ICE spokesperson said in a statement. “To report suspicious activity, we encourage people to call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. All calls are kept confidential.”

HSI is the arm of ICE responsible for taking down smuggling networks

“Details will be released as they are available, the criminal investigation remains ongoing,” the ICE spokesperson added. “HSI continues its enforcement efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.”

The San Antonio Fire Department confirmed to ABC News that HSI and CBP are taking over the investigation from local authorities.

CBP is the umbrella agency of the U.S. Border Patrol, which responded to assist at the scene and is supporting ICE in the federal investigation, according to Magnus, the CBP commissioner.

“We will be working with our federal, state and local partners to assist in every way possible with this investigation,” Magnus told reporters Monday night.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the Biden administration will “continue to take action to disrupt human smuggling networks which have no regard for lives.”

“Our prayers are with those who tragically lost their lives, their loved ones, as well as those still fighting for their lives. We are also grateful for the swift work of federal, state and local first responders,” Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.

When asked about the criticism from Republicans, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who say Biden’s border policies have led to dangerous journeys for immigrants, Jean-Pierre said the White House is focused on the victims and their families.

“But the fact of the matter is, the border is closed, which is in part why you see people trying to make this dangerous journey using smuggling networks,” Jean-Pierre said.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas took to Twitter to say that he was “heartbroken by the tragic loss of life today and am praying for those still fighting for their lives.”

“Far too many lives have been lost as individuals — including families, women, and children — take this dangerous journey,” he tweeted Monday night. “Human smugglers are callous individuals who have no regard for the vulnerable people they exploit and endanger in order to make a profit. We will work alongside our partners to hold those responsible for this tragedy accountable and continue to take action to disrupt smuggling networks.”

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security released more details on the Biden administration’s efforts to combat human smuggling and unauthorized migration in conjunction with the Summit of the Americas held in Los Angeles.

The series of operations launched across the Western Hemisphere is part of the largest human smuggling crackdown ever seen in the region, with more than 1,300 deployed personnel and nearly 2,000 smugglers arrested in just two months.

Agencies from across the administration, including the intelligence community and the U.S. Treasury Department, have engaged to disrupt smuggling operations in real-time and strip down the financial backing of the transnational criminal organizations that coordinate these crimes.

“The Biden administration is focused on putting these organizations out of business,” DHS said in a recent statement prior to Monday’s incident. “But human smuggling is, by definition, a transnational problem and we are committed to working with our regional partners in the Americas to commit our collective expertise and resources to put an end to human smuggling.”

ABC News’ Luke Barr, Marilyn Heck, Anne Laurent and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Biden’s health secretary unveils ‘action plan’ on abortion access

Alex Wong/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Tuesday unveiled what was called an “action plan” on abortion access as advocates call on President Joe Biden and his administration to do more in the wake of the Supreme Court stripping the constitutional right to abortion nationwide.

Becerra said there’s no “magic bullet” that could restore Americans’ constitutional right to abortion, but said the administration was working with its top legal advisers to explore every option.

“Stay tuned,” he told reporters.

Becerra’s comments are likely to be a steep disappointment for progressives after he promised to take action in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. In his remarks, Becerra only noted that federal law allows for abortions through its Medicaid program in cases of rape and incest — a standard at odds with states like Arkansas.

“Friday’s Supreme Court decision was despicable. But it was not unpredictable. HHS has been preparing for this for some time,” he began, before laying out largely existing policy protecting the right to abortion.

When pressed by ABC Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce on why he didn’t have more concrete proposals if the ruling was predictable, Becerra noted that he wanted to ensure the administration was on firm legal ground.

“We’re not interested in going rogue and doing things just because we want to make sure what we tell Americans is accurate — because we hear, we know, a lot Americans are hearing a lot of inaccurate information,” Becerra replied. “And so to every American who’s impacted: My apologies that, I as I said, we can’t tell you there’s a silver bullet. But what I am saying to you is that the more we dig, we will do everything we can with what we find to make sure we’re protecting women’s reproductive health care services. It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law.”

Among actions he ticked off, Becerra said he was directing his Office of Civil Rights to ensure patient privacy of anyone seeking reproductive care, working to ensure the clinical judgment of doctors is supported in treating patients at risk because of pregnancy and working to expand access to family planning and contraceptives.

He also said HHS will first take steps to increase access to medication abortion — but he said later to “stay tuned” on what exactly those steps would be.

“How we respond will speak to how we view the rights, the dignity and the well-being of women everywhere,” he said, before taking questions from reporters. “At HHS, we will leave no stone unturned.”

Abortion rights groups have also pitched a variety of options for the federal government to take.

One option presented was to declare a public health emergency to free up federal funds, possibly to use for transportation, an idea supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. But this approach would likely be challenged in court as a violation of the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funds to cover almost all abortions. Becerra did not call for one Tuesday.

While some Democrats have urged the administration to look into whether reproductive health services could be provided on federal lands or on federal property, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot down the idea Tuesday, saying anyone who is not a federal employee who utilized such facilities could be subject to prosecution under some state laws.

“We understand the proposal as well the intention but here’s the thing, it could actually put women and providers at risk,” she said.

Another idea is to loosen restrictions on the abortion pill so that it can be picked up at pharmacies. Currently, only registered clinicians can prescribe it and mail it. Pharmacies are not part of that network, which would require FDA regulatory action.

“Federal law requires our programs to provide medication abortion in certain circumstances, such as the life of the woman rate, or instance,” Becerra said Tuesday. “Now more than ever, it is imperative that all federally supported programs and services are complying with the law.”

While telehealth medicine is allowable under federal rules, it’s not a loophole to circumvent state restrictions — which Becerra acknowledged.

Asked about possible ways to help with transportation for women who may need to travel to another state to get an abortion, as Becerra hinted the administration was looking into on Monday, he said, “Once we tell you exactly what we believe we are able to do, have the money to do, we will let you know, but until then, what I can simply say to you is every option is on the table.”

Right now, the only legal option a person has in a restricted state for abortion services would be to travel to a state where it is allowed.

“It takes a little time because we want to do it right, and we want to do it according to the law,” a careful Becerra said.

Otherwise, the person can go online and engage providers who are outside the scope of the U.S. regulatory system, such as the international organization Aid Access, which says it will prescribe the pill to women in the U.S. for 95 euros regardless of where they live. The FDA does not recommend this, although advocates say the group is using a reputable pharmacy in India.

“We’re going to stay within the confines of the law,” Becerra stressed, “even though it’s a lot I personally believe jeopardizes the health of women.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Eviction on the Nile: Historic Cairo houseboats facing demolition

John Wreford/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

(CAIRO, Egypt) — Ekhlas Helmy, 88, has spent decades waking up every morning to the scenery of the Nile flowing seamlessly beneath her houseboat, a stationary house moored to the banks of the famous river in Cairo.

But the aging woman, who inherited her house ages ago, now faces eviction after the Egyptian government gave her what she and other houseboat owners described as a short-notice order to evacuate, citing failure to pay license fees and several other reasons.

The Nile houseboats are entrenched in Cairo’s history. Some date back to the early 20th century and hold significant historic value.

“How can we simply wipe out our history?” Helmy told ABC News, her voice cracking. “I was born in the Nile and I lived my entire life here.”

Government officials say the houseboats are dilapidated and cause pollution, reasons which the owners believe are a mere pretext to take them down and make room for other commercial buildings, such as restaurants and cafes, which already straddle big chunks of the river.

More than two dozen houseboats stationed on the banks of the Nile in the working-class neighborhood of Imbaba, a Greater Cairo district, face the imminent threat of being demolished. Five of the 29 houseboats, which are situated opposite the upscale island of Zamalek, were towed away on Monday.

The rest are expected to face the same fate on July 5, as the government presses ahead with a “restructuring plan,” the details of which it has not specified.

Ayman Nour, the head of the General Administration for Nile Protection in Greater Cairo — a government body responsible for removing any encroachments on the river — told MBC, a Saudi-owned television channel, that a government decision was made in 2020 to ban the registration of any residential houseboats.

If owners would like to stay put, they will have to turn their licenses into commercial ones, according to Nour, and thus pay far higher fees.

Owners said obstacles had been thrown their way in recent years, including a decision to increase the fees they pay 20-fold and the “inexplicable” refusal of authorities to accept money from them. While the houseboats are private properties, owners have to pay rental fees for the land and the docks to which they are tied up.

“When I married, I moved with my husband to an apartment in Zamalek. But when he died, I sold it and returned to my houseboat 30 years ago,” Helmy said. “I couldn’t live on my own in Zamalek. In the houseboat, there are people around you. There is warmth.”

Historic value

The wooden structures are featured in many classic black-and-white movies. In one famous novel, “Adrift on the Nile,” written by Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz in 1966, a group of people gather every night in a houseboat to smoke hash — symbolizing the deterioration of society during the era of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. It was adapted into a 1971 film Chitchat on the Nile.

A houseboat owned by late Egyptian actress and dancer Hekmat Fahmy housed two German Nazi spies in the early 1940s and another hosted government meetings during the reign of King Farouk I, from 1936 to 1952.

The houseboats used to number in the hundreds, but had sharply dwindled to a few dozens when they were moved from the Zamalek island to Imbaba in the mid-1960s. It was not until then that the residential houseboats were legalized.

“They never let us know that a decision had already been made [to evacuate us] two years ago,” award-winning novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who is one of the owners, told ABC News. “They didn’t give us a proper chance to argue and get any result. Even if we hadn’t got one, we would have at least been given a decent amount of notice to change our lives.”

“The presence of those houseboats is something beautiful for people passing by. We can have an open day where people can be let into the decks to experience life on a houseboat for one day,” she added, vowing to fight on.

Activists accuse the government of disregarding any historic and architectural heritage when it embarks on urban development. The government says it’s keen on preserving the material fabric of Egypt’s past and that such projects are necessary to accommodate the ever-growing population.

“Where would I go at this age?” Helmy, the 88-year-old woman, said. “This houseboat is my entire life. I’m an old woman who walks on crutches, where would I go?”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Evolution is on omicron subvariants’ side

Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — A new study finds that as the coronavirus continues to evolve, each new omicron subvariant is increasingly likely to lead to reinfection or breakthrough infection. However, researchers say current vaccines are still doing a good job of protecting people against severe illness.

Meanwhile, vaccine makers are working on new and improved boosters that will hopefully be a better match against omicron and its subvariants. Food and Drug Administration advisers are slated to meet on June 28 to discuss the new booster shots.

The new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, echoes prior studies, and the finding is consistent with what we’re seeing in the real world. Working in a laboratory, researchers measured neutralizing antibody response against the original Wuhan variant, compared to the new omicron variant and many of its sub variants.

Antibody levels are one measure of immune response, and often used as a rough indication of a variant’s ability cause reinfection or breakthrough infection. Other parts of your immune system, like T-cells, are harder to measure but are a much better indicator of how well protected you are against severe disease.

Researchers found neutralizing antibody levels were six-fold lower against the original omicron variant, fourteen-fold lower against BA.2.12.1, and twenty-fold lower against BA.4/BA.5.

The BA.2.12.1 sub variant is currently dominant in the U.S., but the BA.4/BA.5 sub variants have been growing proportionally and now account for more than a third of estimated cases.

“It’s essentially an arms race,” said Dr. Dan Barouch, author on the recent study and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “As the population becomes more immune, the virus becomes more and more immune evasive.”

The good news, said Barouch, is current vaccines are still working to dramatically reduce the risk of severe disease. “That’s the most important goal of vaccination.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.