Live Coverage

Today's News: March 21, 2017

Judge Neil Gorsuch appeared before Congress for a second day, U.S. and U.K. ban electronics on some flights, and more from the United States and around the world.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

—On the second day of his confirmation hearings to be a Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch seemed eager to be judged on his own merits. More here

—The U.K. is following the U.S. in banning passengers from certain countries from carrying most electronic devices onto planes. More here

—The sole person believed to have had prior knowledge about Dylann Roof’s plan to kill nine black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for failing to report the plot to authorities. More here

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

Updates

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French Interior Minister Resigns Over Jobs Scandal

Charles Platiau / Reuters

French Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux resigned Tuesday amid the launch of a preliminary investigation into the employment of his two daughters as parliamentary aides when they were teenagers. Mattias Fekl, the former trade secretary, was named Le Roux’s replacement. As French-Monacan broadcaster TFM reported Monday night, the 51-year-old interior minister allegedly hired his daughters, now aged 23 and 20, under 24 short-term contracts known as CDDs between 2009 and 2016, during which time they earned a total of 55,000 euros ($59,465). His daughters would have been in high school and college during that period, but Le Roux said they worked for him during their summer holidays. Though it is not illegal for French parliamentarians to employ family members to their office, the allegations earned Le Roux a summons to explain himself to Bernard Cazeneuve, the French prime minister. Le Roux’s resignation comes amid another job scandal facing François Fillon, the center-right presidential candidate, who was placed under formal investigation last week for paying his wife and their two children nearly 1 million euros for jobs they are alleged not to have performed. Though Le Roux denied any wrongdoing, he said he did not want the allegations to “harm the work of the government.” Le Roux’s resignation comes three months after he was first appointed interior minister during President François Hollande’s government reshuffle last December following then-Prime Minister Manuel Valls’s resignation.

Dylann Roof's Friend Sentenced to 27 Months for Not Reporting Charleston Shooting Plot to Authorities

A frame from a video of Joey Meek, Dylann Roof’s friend, speaking to the AP on June 18, 2015. (Associated Press)

The sole person believed to have had prior knowledge about Dylann Roof’s plan to kill nine black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015 was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for failing to report the plot to authorities. Joey Meek, Roof’s childhood friend, was arrested in September 2015 for allegedly failing to report what he knew about Roof’s intention to commit a crime, and for lying to federal authorities when they asked him about it after the fact. Though the 22-year-old told reporters in June 2015 that Roof had expressed his intentions to “do something crazy”—comments that Meek said prompted him to hide Roof’s gun before ultimately returning it—prosecutors said he told authorities that “he did not know specifics” about Roof’s plans. Last April, Meek pleaded guilty to charges of misprision and lying to federal agents, for which he faced up to eight years in prison. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said earlier this month that though Meek could not face harsher penalties for failing to prevent Roof’s attack, he could be held responsible for his inaction afterward. Deborah Barbier, Meek’s lawyer, argued that pinning the blame on Meek for Roof’s actions was “extremely unfair.” Roof was sentenced to death last December for the killings.

Colin Dexter, Author Who Created Inspector Morse, Dies at 86

Colin Dexter with his OBE in October 2000 (Reuters)

Colin Dexter, the British writer who created the curmudgeonly detective Inspector Morse, has died at the age of 86 at his home in Oxfordshire, his publisher, Macmillan, announced Tuesday. Dexter created Morse in 1972 while on vacation with his family in Wales. It was raining and bored with the mystery he was reading (a Miss Silver mystery by Patricia Wentworth), Dexter thought he could do better. The result, Last Bus to Woodstock (1975), introduced Morse to the world. Dexter, who was inexorably linked to his most famous creation in life, and possibly in death, too, gave Morse many of his own attributes—he was a real-ale and Wagner-loving cruciverbalist—but while Morse was prickly, Dexter, a onetime classics teacher, was remembered by Maria Rejt, his most recent editor, as a modest man whose “self-deprecating humor gave joy to many.” There were 13 Morse novels in all, culminating in The Remorseful Day (1999), which killed off E. Morse (his first name, Endeavour, was revealed only in the penultimate book); Dexter said the decision to kill off Morse prompted fans to write calling him “terribly cruel.” But Morse the character had fans beyond the books: A television show with 33 episodes (1987-1993, along with specials that ran from 1995 to 2000) featured John Thaw as the inspector; Dexter appeared in cameos. There were two spinoffs: Inspector Lewis, featuring Sergeant Robert Lewis, Morse’s sidekick, and Endeavour, which features a young Morse. “I think Morse, if he had really existed and was still alive, would probably say to me, ‘Well, you didn’t do me too bad a service in your writing,’” Dexter said in 2000 when he was awarded an OBE for his services to literature. “He might say, ‘I wish you’d made me a slightly less miserable blighter and slightly more generous, and you could have painted me in a little bit of a better light.’ If he had bought me a drink, a large Glenfiddich or something, that would have been very nice, but knowing him I doubt he would have done—Lewis always bought all the drinks.”

   

UPDATE: U.K. to Follow U.S. Move to Restrict Electronics on Some Flights

(Ashraf Mohammad Mohammad Alamra / Reuters)

Updated at 12:35 p.m.

The U.K. is following the U.S. in banning passengers from certain countries from carrying most electronic devices onto planes. Sky News adds: “The ban is not the result of any specific intelligence of an upcoming attack, but is being introduced as a response to the general threat from terrorism to the U.K.” The ban applies to laptops, tablets, DVD players, and phones of a certain size in the airplane’s cabin in flights from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Turkey. Six U.K. airlines—British Airways, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, Thomas Cook, and Thomson—are subject to the restriction, as are eight foreign airlines—Turkish Airlines, Pegasus Airways, Atlas-Global Airlines, Middle East Airlines, Egyptair, Royal Jordanian, Tunis Air, and Saudia. The decision comes hours after the U.S. said cellphones are the only electronic devices that passengers on nonstop U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in eight countries can carry on board.

Our original post:

The  U.S. is limiting to cellphones the kinds of electronics that passengers on nonstop U.S.-bound flights from 10 airports in eight countries can carry on board. Larger devices—including laptops, tablets, and cameras—will need to be checked. The airports affected are those in Amman, Jordan; Kuwait City, Kuwait; Cairo; Istanbul; Jeddah and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Casablanca, Morocco; Doha, Qatar; and Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. All those countries are either Muslim or Muslim majority. About 50 flights each day will be affected. The restrictions began today at 3 a.m. ET. Airlines have 96 hours to implement the order or face being barred from flying to the U.S. My colleague Kaveh Waddell reports the “ban on larger electronics was developed in response to a ‘continuing threat to civil aviation,’ according to … [an]  official, who would not say whether the threat had developed recently, or when the ban might be lifted.”

Israeli Army Chief Says Hezbollah Commander Badreddine Killed by His Own Men

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is projected on a screen during a ceremony for Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine in Beirut, Lebanon on June 24, 2016. (Hussein Malla / AP)

Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli army chief, said Tuesday recent media reports alleging Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hezbollah’s senior-most military commander, was killed by his own men matched the “intelligence we have,” casting doubt about the Shia militant group’s claim Badreddine was killed on the battlefield. As my colleague Krishnadev Calamur previously reported, the Lebanese militia group announced in May that Badreddine, who led the group’s factions fighting in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s six-year civil war, was killed in a “huge blast” near Damascus—an explosion Lebanese media originally attributed to Israel, though these reports were later removed. An investigation published earlier this month by Saudi-owned broadcaster Al Arabiya suggested that Badreddine was killed not in an explosion, but rather was assassinated under the direct orders of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah under pressure from Major General Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s overseas operation, which also supports the Syrian government. Though Hezbollah has dismissed the claim, Eisenkot said Israeli intelligence had reached a similar conclusion, adding the incident “indicates the depth of the internal crisis within Hezbollah,” and “the extent of the cruelty, complexity and tension between Hezbollah and its patron Iran.”

Tillerson to Reportedly Skip NATO Meeting in April, But Will Visit Moscow Later in the Month

(Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will skip what would have been his first NATO meeting next month, but will travel later in April to a meeting of the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries in Italy and then to Moscow. Tillerson’s schedule, reported by Reuters, NBC News, and others, citing anonymous sources, is likely to heighten concerns among the U.S.’s NATO allies that are worried about the Trump administration’s commitment to the Atlantic alliance, the bedrock of Western stability since the end of World War II. Tom Shannon, the under secretary of state, will instead represent the U.S. at the meeting in Brussels. Tillerson is expected to meet key NATO members this week when the Coalition to Defeat ISIS gathers in Washington; the coalition includes, but is not restricted to, NATO partners. Donald Trump, while a presidential candidate, had dismissed NATO as irrelevant. Although he has walked those comments back since assuming the presidency, and his Cabinet members have been unequivocal about the U.S. commitment to NATO, the Trump administration has echoed the views of past administrations that NATO members must contribute their fair share to the military alliance. This, coupled with Trump’s desire for closer cooperation with Russia, whose relationship with some NATO members has been frosty, has NATO members worried. Tillerson’s stop in Moscow immediately after his presence in Italy at the G7 is likely to add to those concerns. The G7 was the G8 until 2014 when the group of rich countries expelled Russia because of its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea. Tillerson also has close personal ties with Russia’s leadership because of his previous role as the CEO of Exxon, the energy giant, which has extensive holdings in Russia.

Sinn Fein's Martin McGuinness Dies

(Kieran Doherty / Reuters)

Martin McGuinness, the former IRA commander-turned Sinn Fein leader who until January served as deputy first minister of Northern Ireland, has died at age 66. The BBC reported McGuinness suffered from a rare heart condition. The Belfast Telegraph described it as a “short illness.” The news comes two months after McGuinness resigned as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister over the “cash for ash” scandal. McGuinness was the former commander of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), and played a leading role in the group during its bombings of Belfast and the U.K. in the 1970s. After imprisonment for his role in a planned attack, and for membership in the outlawed IRA, McGuinness turned to politics, publicly stating he no longer was part of the IRA—though speculation continued about his role in the organization. By the mid-1990s, negotiations had begun between the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part, and the Republic of Ireland; McGuinness was Sinn Fein’s chief negotiator in the process, which culminated in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Less than a decade later, he stood alongside his old nemesis, Ian Paisley, of the Democratic Unionist Party, now both deputy first ministers of Northern Ireland; he remained in that position until his resignation in January. Reaction to his death ranged from praise for his work by his comrade-in-arms Gerry Adams who called McGuinness “a passionate republican who worked tirelessly for peace and reconciliation,” to British Prime Minister Theresa May who said he “played a defining role in leading the republican movement away from violence.” Those whose families were killed or maimed by the IRA were less conciliatory: Julie Hambleton, whose sister was one of 21 people killed in a bombing in 1974 at a pub in Birmingham, England, said: “Mr McGuinness was very fortunate because he was able to live a full life unlike my sister, unlike 20 other victims and unlike so many other thousands of people who were murdered.”