Former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti and former Interior Minister Hector Mauricio Lopez Bonilla were indicted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia this week on drug-trafficking charges, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala said Friday in a statement. The embassy said the former leaders were separately charged with “conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine intending and knowing that the cocaine will be unlawfully imported into the United States,” and added it has not yet received an extradition order from the U.S. Justice Department. Baldetti, who served as the first female vice president of Guatemala, resigned in 2015 amid a corruption scandal, and faces charges of allegedly allowing and benefitting from a multi-million dollar customs graft scheme. She has denied the allegations.
—President Trump is to address the Conservative Political Action Conference this morning.
—The U.K.’s Labour Party has lost its seat in Copeland, in northwestern England, to the ruling Conservatives. Labour has held the seat and its predecessor for more than 80 years. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
U.S. Indicts Former Guatemalan Vice President, Interior Minister on Drug-Trafficking Charges
White House Bars New York Times, CNN, Others From a Briefing
Updated at 4:35 p.m.
The White House blocked The New York Times, CNN, and Politico from attending a press briefing Friday, potentially exacerbating an already contentious relationship between the Trump administration and the reporters who cover it. The New York Times said Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, denied access to the organizations, which CNN added also excluded the Los Angeles Times; Politico added the BBC and BuzzFeed News were also blocked.
The Associated Press and Time, which were allowed to attend, boycotted the gaggle, as such briefings are known, in protest.
The organizations allowed to attend Friday’s gaggle were Breitbart News, The Washington Times, and One America News Network, all conservative outlets. Also attending were journalists from ABC, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CBS, and Fox News; Bloomberg and CBS were in the regular pool. The Journal in a statement said: “Had we known at the time, we would not have participated and we will not participate in such closed briefings in the future.”
The White House Correspondents Association (WHCA) said it was “protesting strongly” against how the matter was handled. “The board will be discussing this further,” Jeff Mason, the WHCA president, said in a statement. Raj Shah, the deputy White House communications director, denied anything of the sort happened. He said: “The pool was invited and everyone was represented. In addition to the pool, we decided to add a couple more reporters.” The pool is a group of news organizations that covers the White House for the entire media. Typically, there is one news organization each from print/web, radio, and television. Sarah Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, was quoted by CNN as saying the presence of the pool meant “everyone would be represented.”
But the White House invited ABC, Fox News, and NBC to the event—thereby, the barred news organizations point out, excluding those outlets deemed critical of the Trump administration. In a separate statement, Dean Baquet, the Times’s executive editor, wrote: “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.”
The White House has consistently complained about the tenor of news coverage it receives from the media; President Trump has called unfavorable coverage “fake news” and called the media “the enemies of the American people,” setting the tone for the relationship with the reporters and news organizations who cover him. Friday’s barring of select news organizations are likely to exacerbate these tensions.
Iraqi Forces Strike ISIS Targets in Syria
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Friday the Iraqi air force conducted successful airstrikes against Islamic State militants in neighboring Syria. Al-Abadi said the airstrikes, which targeted the Syrian towns of Boukamal and Husseibah, mark the first time Iraq has conducted airstrikes against ISIS in Syria. They were conducted, he said, in response to recent bombing attacks in Baghdad claimed by ISIS. It is unclear if the Syrian government was notified. ISIS attacks inside Iraq have increased with frequency since Iraqi forces began their campaign last October to dislodge the militant group from Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. Russia and a U.S.-led coalition—including Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, France, Jordan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.K.—have also carried out airstrikes in Syria. ISIS controls territory in both Iraq and Syria.
Danish Man Charged With Blasphemy for Burning a Quran
A man who filmed himself burning a copy of the Quran, Islam’s holy book, was charged this week with blasphemy by Danish authorities, making him the first person to be tried under such laws in nearly half a century. The 42-year-old man, who has not been identified, posted in December 2015 a video of himself burning the Quran to a Facebook group titled “YES TO FREEDOM - NO TO ISLAM.” Danish prosecutor Jan Reckendorff said in a statement Wednesday the act violated Danish law, which prohibits the “public mockery or scorn against a religion,” adding: “It is our opinion that the circumstances of this case implies that there should be prosecuted so that the courts now have the opportunity to take a position on the matter.” The court date has not been set and, though the maximum sentence for blasphemy violations is four months imprisonment, Reckendorff said the 42-year-old will face a fine if convicted. Denmark is known for its long history of free speech, and this is only the fourth time someone has been prosecuted under its blasphemy laws. There were two convictions in 1938 and 1946; the third in 1971 ended in an acquittal.
U.K.'s Labour Loses a Stronghold to Conservatives
There’s been a Labour member of Parliament from the constituency that’s now called Copeland since 1935. But last night, when the ballots were counted in the area northwest of England, Trudy Harrison of the U.K.’s ruling Conservative Party defeated Labour's Gillian Troughton by 2,147 votes. The defeat is a major blow for Labour, which has seen its support in its traditional northern heartland erode in recent years. That dwindling support was perhaps best illustrated last summer when traditional Labour strongholds voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union despite the party leadership’s apparent support for the U.K.’s continued membership in the bloc. Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has been criticized for some of his positions that critics say are too far to the left to appeal to voters. He does enjoy the support of the vast majority of Labour’s members, however. In a separate byelection, Labour’s Gareth Snell held onto the party stronghold of Stoke-on-Trent Central, defeating Paul Nuttall, the head of the euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party. The two byelections were forced by the resignation of the two Labour members of Parliament who represented those constituencies.
Trump to Address CPAC
President Trump is scheduled this morning to address the Conservative Political Action Conference, just a year after his presence at the conference prompted criticism from the then Republican candidate’s conservative critics. On Thursday, Trump’s two top advisers, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, assured CPAC attendees the president would honor his campaign promises. “Hold us accountable for what we promised,” Bannon added.