Seven officers in the Baltimore Police Department were arrested Wednesday following a string of racketeering indictments in U.S. District Court. The officers, who are accused of falsifying court documents and lying about overtime, were members of a gun unit. Officers are also accused of shaking down citizens for thousands of dollars who didn’t commit crimes. U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein told The Baltimore Sun, “These defendants were allegedly involved in stopping people who had not committed crimes, and not only seizing money but pocketing it.” He added, “These are really robberies by people wearing police uniforms.” The Justice Department was investigating the police department for civil right violations during that time. One of those officers was given an additional indictment related to his alleged involvement in a drug organizations, often tipping members off to investigations. Federal agents were able to use electronic surveillance, including in a police cruiser, to investigate the officers. The officers were members of a unit that had been praised by the Baltimore Police Department late last year after making 110 gun arrests in 11 months. Because of the indictments, some of those arrests may come into question.
—The National Park Service announced its cherry-blossom forecast projects peak bloom will take place between March 14 and March 17 this year, a period that would mark the earliest peak bloom since 1990. More here
—Nearly two-dozen tornadoes ripped through Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana and Iowa on Tuesday, killing three people and injuring several others. More here
—Francois Fillon, the center-right French presidential candidate, announced he will not drop out of the race despite being placed under formal investigation in a case involving claims he paid his wife for work she did not do. More here
—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
Seven Baltimore Police Officers Arrested for Racketeering
Washington's Cherry Blossoms Are Projected to Bloom at Their Earliest Date Ever
Cherry blossoms could be coming early to Washington, D.C., this year. The National Park Service (NPS) announced Wednesday its cherry-blossom forecast projects peak bloom will take place between March 14 and March 17 this year, a period that would mark the earliest peak bloom since 1990. Peak bloom, which occurs when 70 percent of the cherry blossoms along the U.S. capital’s Tidal Basin are open, has typically fallen around early April. But warmer temperatures in February that are expected to continue this month have caused earlier-than-expected blooming; last year’s peak bloom fell on March 25—several weeks earlier than anticipated. If NPS’s forecast proves accurate, peak bloom could start ahead of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which runs from March 20 to April 16.
Former CIA Agent Avoids Jail Time in Italy in Rendition Case
Sabrina De Sousa, the former CIA agent sentenced to four years in prison for her role in the rendition in 2003 of a terrorism suspect in Milan, has been granted clemency by an Italian authorities. ANSA, the Italian news agency, reported that De Sousa and her lawyers were informed Wednesday that “all European arrest warrants against her had been revoked.” She was due to have started a prison sentence Wednesday after being handed over to Italy by Portugal, of which she is a dual citizen. ANSA quoted Dario Bolognesi, her lawyer, as saying she remained free, but under a suspended sentence. Pete Hoekstra, the former representative who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told NPR that negotiations are “hitting a few potholes,” but he was confident De Sousa would avoid going to prison. He tweeted:
Good news for Sabrina DeSousa. Not going to Italian prison. Final details still need to be worked out. Kudos to Team trump for their help!— Pete Hoekstra (@petehoekstra) March 1, 2017
De Sousa was one of more than two-dozen people convicted in absentia on charges of abducting Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, a cleric who was on a U.S. terrorism list, and taking him to Egypt where he alleged he was tortured.
Fillon Refuses to Quit French Presidential Race
Francois Fillon, the center-right presidential candidate, said Wednesday he’d been summoned by a judge to answer questions involving payments made to his wife for work she allegedly did not perform. But Fillon refused to quit the French presidential race, and called the allegations against him “a political assassination.” Fillon said he’d appear before Judge Serge Tournaire on March 15 to answer the charges. As my colleague Yasmeen Serhan reported, the satirical weekly Canard Enchaine noted in January that Fillon had paid his wife and their two children nearly 1 million euros for jobs no one could corroborate them having. Fillon called the payments “an error,” but denied he did anything illegal. He previously said he’d drop out if a formal investigation were launched—comments he later retracted. Fillon was considered a virtual shoo-in for the presidency in a second-round vote after he unexpectedly defeated Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president, in the Republican primary. But since the scandal involving his wife broke, Fillon has lost ground. Recent polls put him in third place in the first round of the presidential race, behind Emmanuel Macron, the independent candidate, and Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Front candidate.
Tornadoes Rip Through Midwest, Killing 3 People
The National Weather Service says 22 tornadoes ripped through Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Indiana, and Iowa, killing three people, damaging cars and property. A driver was killed south of Perryville, Missouri, after a tornado blew more than dozen vehicles from a junkyard onto the interstate, CNN reported, citing a law-enforcement official. There were several injuries, as well. Another man was killed in Ottawa, Illinois, after a tree fell on him. There were injuries in the town as well. CNN also reported that a man was found dead in a field near Crossville, Illinois; his wife was also injured, the network reported. More tornadoes and hail are expected today, the National Weather Service said.
Donald Trump’s remarks last night to a joint session of Congress was more conciliatory than past speeches by the president. My colleague Clare Foran noted: “The president took a loftier, more conciliatory approach in his address to Congress—despite offering few specifics, and sticking by many controversial claims and policies.” Other news organizations took a similar view. But there were critics, as well, including my colleague James Fallows. You can read his account of listening to Trump’s remarks as if they were the first remarks the president had given here.