Live Coverage

Today's News: March 3, 2017

Arrest made in Jewish treats, Russia pushes back against U.S. claims, and more from the United States and around the world.

Tom Mihalek / Reuters

—The FBI and New York Police Department have arrested a man in connection with a spate of threats made against Jewish centers across the U.S. A complaint identifies the individual as Juan Thompson. More here

—Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the controversy over meetings between Moscow’s envoy to Washington and Donald Trump’s top aides as “a witch hunt,” echoing remarks made Thursday by the American president. More here

—We’re tracking the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).

Updates

This live blog has concluded

Former Haitian President René Préval Dies

(Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

The Haitian government announced the death of former President René Préval on Friday. Préval, who was 74, served twice as the country's president and was characterized as “the first leader in Haiti's 202-year history to win a democratic election, serve a full term, and peacefully hand power to a successor.” Préval did this twice. Despite his commitment to building Haiti's infrastructure and increasing Haitian exports, Préval was sometimes accused of too eagerly serving the interests of the United States. In his book Haiti: The Aftershocks of History, Laurent Dubois describes graffiti that appeared in the capital city of Port-au-Prince, which compared Preval to Jean-Baptiste Conze, a Haitian officer who infamously helped American Marines kill a major rebel leader who had been battling the U.S. occupation of Haiti in the early 20th century. Préval's second term coincided with Haiti's massive 2010 earthquake, which killed 200,000 people. Criticism of the government's response to the crisis hastened his departure from power.

EU Parliament, in Nonbinding Vote, Seeks Visas for U.S. Travelers to Europe

(Yves Herman / Reuters)

The European Parliament voted this week to require U.S. citizens to obtain a visa while visiting the bloc’s 28 member states. The nonbinding vote, which took place Thursday, is in response to the U.S. not extending its visa-waiver program to the citizens of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. Most other citizens of EU countries can visit the U.S. for up to 90 days without a visa. Americans don’t need visas to visit EU countries. The U.S. offers visa-free travel for citizens of those countries from where, among other factors, less than 3 percent of nonimmigrant visa applications are rejected. At present, 38 countries around the world are eligible, most of them wealthy Western nations. The Obama administration had declined to change the rules for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Poland, and Romania. The Trump administration has not publicly commented on the European Parliament’s vote, nor has it said anything about extending the program to those countries. The vote gives the European Commission, the EU’s executive, two months to take steps to require visas for U.S. travelers to the bloc. The EC has previously been reluctant to impose such retaliatory measures, given their economic consequences.

Irish Investigators Find a Mass Grave of Children Outside an Old Catholic Mother and Baby Home

AP

Updated March 3 at 2:20 p.m. ET

Investigators in Ireland discovered a mass grave containing the remains of potentially hundreds of babies and young children outside a former Catholic facility for children and unwed mothers, the government announced Friday. The excavation of the grounds near Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home, located in Tuam, a city in the western part of the country, revealed an underground structure divided into 20 chambers. There, investigators found human remains that DNA analysis put at ages ranging from 35 weeks to 3 years old, mostly buried in the 1950s. The findings are the result of an investigation that began in 2014 after a local historian found the death records of nearly 800 children at the facility were missing burial records. That led many to believe the missing remains were buried in unmarked graves. The investigators’ report said the children were placed in chambers originally meant to hold sewage. The facility closed in 1961, but during its operation it was one of more than a dozen of similar of shelters, referred to in Ireland as a “mother and baby home.”

More Than a Dozen MS-13 Gang Members Are Indicted For New York Murders

Ulises Rodriguez / Reuters

More than a dozen members of the MS-13 street gang have been indicted in New York on charges they murdered seven people, including at least three teenagers who all attended the same Long Island high school. The accused are said to have killed some victims with baseball bats and machetes—the sort of violence that seemed to stand in contrast with the small working-class neighborhood of Brentwood, about an hour east of New York City. Two of the victims were students Nisa Mickens, 15, and Kayla Cuevas, 16, both killed in September 2016, and who were reportedly beaten to death after an argument in school and over social media with members of the gang. Another student, Jose Pena, is believed to have been a member of MS-13 who had a falling out with the gang and was killed in June 2016. His body was not discovered until almost six months later. Police are also working to connect other unsolved killings to the gang. The attacks, so close to New York City, caught the attention of President Trump, and in the fall and he mentioned them in his Time magazine person of the year profile, where he used the attacks as an example of local crime committed by foreigners. MS-13 is one of the largest gangs in the U.S., with roots in Los Angeles, but was exported to Central America in the 1990s. It has since become one of the largest gangs the Western Hemisphere, with some 6,000 members in the U.S., and 30,000 in Mexico and Central America.

Former CIA Agent Thanks Trump Administration for Interceding With Italy in Case

(Larry Downing / Reuters)

Sabrina De Sousa, the former CIA agent who was granted a partial pardon this week by Italy’s president just before she was due to start serving a four-year prison sentence for her role in the rendition in 2003 of a terrorism suspect in Milan, has thanked the Trump administration for interceding on her behalf. De Sousa, 61, told the Associated Press Trump administration officials were in touch with both authorities in Italy as well as in Portugal, where she was arrested in 2015. She was freed from Portuguese custody this week after Italy dropped its extradition request. Earlier this week, Pete Hoekstra, the former GOP representative who served as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, thanked the “Trump team for their help.” Hoekstra has served as De Sousa’s spokesman. De Sousa, who is a citizen of both the U.S. and Portugal, has also criticized what she sees as the Obama administration’s lack of action on her case. She 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. De Sousa spent one year of her four-year sentence in prison, and the Italian presidency said she could spend the rest of her sentence performing “alternative measures,” without the need for detention. The Italian president’s office also said its decision was based, in part, on the Obama administration’s abandonment of the practice of extraordinary renditions.  


Arrest Made in Threats Against Jewish Centers

Headstones lie on the ground after vandals pushed them off their bases in the Mount Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, in Philadelphia on February 27 (Tom Mihalek / Reuters)

The Anti-Defamation League says the FBI and New York Police Department have arrested a man in connection with a spate of threats made against Jewish centers across the U.S. A complaint identifies the individual as Juan Thompson, 31. “Based on the investigation, Juan Thompson ... appears to have made some of the JCC Threats as part of a sustained campaign to harass and intimidate victims,” the complaint states. The twitter feed of the man identified in the complaint appears to belong to a reporter who was fired from the Intercept for fabricating his stories.

As we previously reported, nearly two-dozen Jewish community centers and day schools in nearly a dozen states received bomb threats. The threats Monday came a day after nearly 100 headstones were vandalized at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia, and a week after a similar incident in which nearly 170 headstones were toppled at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, as well as at a cemetery in New York. According to this tracker by the Huffington Post, approximately 61 of the 166 JCCs nationwide have received threats since January.

This is a developing story and we’ll update it as we learn more.

More Top Allies Quits François Fillon's Campaign

Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

François Fillon’s spokesman and campaign manager announced their resignations Friday, marking the latest blow to the French center-right candidate’s presidential campaign this week. The announcements by Patrick Stefanini, Fillon’s campaign manager, and Thierry Solère, Fillon’s spokesman, come two days after Bruno Le Maire, a former government minister and top Fillon ally, said he would be quitting the campaign, citing Fillon’s refusal to withdraw from the race despite French authorities’ investigation into his alleged misuse of public funds. Fillon is accused of paying his wife, Penelope, and two of their children nearly 1 million euros for parliamentary work they are alleged not to have performed—allegations the Republican candidate denies, and one he has likened to “a political assassination.” Fillon has slumped to third place in opinion polls since the inquiry began, and though the center-right candidate has reaffirmed he will not withdraw his candidacy, waning support by those within his own party has raised questions over whether Fillon will lead the ticket ahead of the first round of voting in April.

Russia's Lavrov, Echoing Trump, Describes Reports About Envoy as a 'Witch Hunt'

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the controversy over meetings between Moscow’s envoy to Washington and Donald Trump’s top aides as “a witch hunt,” echoing remarks made Thursday by the American president. “The ambassadors are appointed in order to maintain relationships,” Lavrov said at a news conference in Moscow. “They are maintained by holding meetings, talks and establishing contacts with officials from both executive and legislative branches of power.” The remarks come a day after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he would recuse himself from any federal investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign. As we reported yesterday: The Washington Post and others reported that Sessions had met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, twice during the U.S. presidential campaign. Sessions was until recently a U.S. senator who served on the Armed Services Committee; he was also a prominent member of Trump’s campaign for president. Sessions was asked twice during his Senate confirmation hearings if he had any contacts with Russia; he denied any such contact.