Jussie Smollett’s Bond Set at $100,000, Ordered to Surrender Passport

Jussie Smollett, who was arrested and placed in custody Thursday morning, staged a fake attack on himself as a publicity stunt to “promote his career,” Chicago police officials said. At a press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the attack was a stunt “orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary.” “This announcement today recognizes that Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” he added. The Empire actor was charged with felony disorderly conduct Wednesday evening for allegedly filing a false police report claiming he was attacked by two men in Chicago last month. Tom Ahern, deputy communications director at CPD, added that Smollett was facing a class-four felony charge—punishable by as much as three years in prison—for “disorderly conduct in falsifying police report.”

The judge at Smollett’s Thursday hearing in Cook County Criminal Court reportedly set the actor’s bond at $100,000, and ordered him to surrender his passport. Prosecutors said Amibola “Abel” Osundairio, one of the brothers who was allegedly paid $3,500 to participate in the attack, was a friend of Smollett’s. Smollett “directed Abel to attack him, but not hurt him too badly and give a chance to appear to fight back. Defendant Smollett also said he wanted Ola [Osundairo] to place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell, ‘This is MAGA country,’” Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier said. 


Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s Ties to MSNBC Anchor Stephanie Ruhle Under Scrutiny: Report

Under Armour’s CEO Kevin Plank has repeatedly turned to MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle for business advice, according to a number of company executives, the Wall Street Journal reports. Ruhle’s involvement with the billionaire was problematic because many people close to the pair believed they were also romantically involved, according to the newspaper. Both Plank and Ruhle are married. Several employees told the Journal that the relationship left them unsure how to handle Ruhle’s professional feedback. The news anchor and former banking executive reportedly often traveled with Plank and his staff on the company’s private jet, employees said. According to executives, the CEO took Ruhle’s advice rather than management’s on how to handle backlash over a key shoe design in 2016. She also reportedly gave him advice on how to engage with President Trump in 2017 that was at odds with some executives, who urged Plank to keep his distance from Trump. Plank initially praised the president, but later stepped down from the American Manufacturing Council amid furor over the travel ban.

Plank’s relationship with Ruhle was brought to the attention of the Under Armour board last year after uncovered emails showed an intimate relationship between them, employees told the Journal. The board reportedly asked Plank whether any company assets were used on Ruhle, which the CEO denied.

3. R.I.P.

Monkees Singer and Bassist Peter Tork Dies at 77

Peter Tork, bassist and singer for The Monkees, died Thursday at age 77. The cause of death is unknown. Tork played with the group from their earliest days as a made-for-TV band in the 1960s, through to their recent reunion tours. He was diagnosed with rare tongue cancer in 2009, but made a full recovery and was back on the road with The Monkees in 2012. Tork toured with the band through 2016 when he was sidelined for undisclosed reasons. The musician played a lovable dimwit on The Monkees TV show, but in real life was an accomplished songwriter and performer. He wrote several songs for the group, including “Can You Dig It?” and “For Pete’s Sake.” “While it is true that my health has required a little more attention these days, I’m feeling pretty good,” Tork wrote on Facebook in October. “I’m also cherishing this time with family and friends, and making music... we’ll see what comes down the pipeline. As for the rest, thanks for your good wishes.”

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IRS Analyst Charged in Leak of Cohen’s Bank Records to Michael Avenatti

An Internal Revenue Service analyst was charged with disclosing confidential reports about the bank records of Michael Cohen, president Trump’s former personal attorney, to lawyer Michael Avenatti. According to a criminal complaint, John Fry—who worked in the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division—allegedly downloaded several Suspicious Activity Reports (SARS) about Cohen. He’s accused of handing over some of the reports to Avenatti, and he also told a New Yorker journalist that some of Cohen’s SARS were restricted, the complaint says. According to CNN, the SARS showed how Cohen sought to profit from his access to President Trump through the use of a shell company—which had accepted payments from “Russian oligarch, pharmaceutical giant Novartis, AT&T... and others.” The complaint states that Avenatti used the information given by Fry to compile a “dossier” on the payments and posted it on his Twitter page. Fry also allegedly had a 42-minute phone call with reporter Ronan Farrow and exchanged various WhatsApp messages with the journalist, resulting in an article published in May 2018. Fry faces a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. His next court date is scheduled for Mar. 13.


R. Kelly Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Two More Women

Disgraced musician R. Kelly was accused of sexual misconduct by two more women on Thursday, in a press conference held by famed civil rights attorney Gloria Allred. Latresa Scaff and Rochelle Washington came forward Thursday to allege that in the mid-1990s, when they were 16 and 15, R. Kelly invited them to a hotel room after one of his concerts in Baltimore. Scaff claimed that after R. Kelly entered the room, with his penis fully exposed, he asked the girls to dance for him and participate in a threesome. When Washington refused, Scaff said, he asked her to perform oral sex on him, and then had sex with her—despite the fact that she was underage and allegedly too high and drunk to consent. Allred claimed during the conference that Kelly did not ask the girls’ ages. “I feel hurt by what he did to me,” Schaff said. “I’m coming forward now, because I feel like this is the right thing to do.”

“I can’t get it out of my mind—what I saw and what happened,” Washington said, adding that “victims should not be ashamed. It was Mr. Kelly who took advantage of Latrice and me.” The women will speak to prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York today to provide additional information on the allegations. The new allegations come just a week after Michael Avenatti claimed that he had video footage of Kelly assaulting a girl and referencing her “14-year-old p***y.”


Measles Outbreak in Madagascar Kills 900: WHO

A six month-long measles outbreak in Madagascar has infected more than 68,000 people and killed an estimated 900, according to World Health Organization figures cited Thursday by The Washington Post. The WHO has confirmed 553 deaths, and 373 more are expected. A WHO spokesman told the Post that a major part of the problem is a low vaccination rate on the island: WHO and UNICEF reportedly estimate that less than 60 percent of people are vaccinated against the disease. The nation has launched a mass surveillance and vaccination campaign to try and contain the epidemic.


Trump Administration Ends Talks With California Over Fuel Standards

The White House announced on Thursday that it has ended talks with California over a proposed rollback of federal fuel-efficiency standards. The Trump administration is moving forward to finalize a rule that would end the state’s ability to set its own fuel-efficiency standards. The rule would also eliminate strict fuel-economy mandates approved under former President Obama. California Governor Gavin Newsom called the move “another targeted attack on CA by the Trump administration,” in a tweet on Thursday. “Clean air should be the most basic of human rights,” Newsom wrote. “This is a reckless political stunt that puts the health of MILLIONS of kids, families, and communities across America at risk.” The White House statement accused the California Air Resources Board of failing to put forward a “productive alternative” to the Trump administration’s proposed Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient (SAFE) Vehicles Rule.

The Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department say the easing of mandates will raise car industry sales. California has tried to use its standing as a leader in the automotive industry to push for cleaner cars to mitigate climate change and reduce smog. The Trump administration is attempting to complete the new rules by the end of March.

9. WOW

China Collected DNA With Help From U.S. Experts: Report

The Chinese government was reportedly collecting the DNA of Uighurs, a mostly-Muslim Chinese ethnic group, under the guise of free medical check-ups between 2016 and 2017. Tahir Imin, a 38-year-old Uighur who now lives in Virginia, recalled to The New York Times that officials drew his blood, “scanned his face, recorded his voice and took his fingerprints” during a “free health check” from the government. Other Uighurs reportedly said officials made it seem like participation in the “Physicals for All” campaign was mandatory. China’s state news agency reportedly said 36 million people took part in the campaign, and U.S. parties have had a hand in the country’s DNA collection program. Scientists affiliated with China’s police reportedly used equipment made from a Massachusetts company called Thermo Fisher for the campaign, and DNA samples from a Yale University geneticist were reportedly used to help Chinese scientists conclude how Uighurs were genetically different from other ethnic groups in the region.

On Wednesday, Thermo Fisher said it would no longer sell any equipment to Xinjiang—the part of China where the free check-ups were taking place. Kenneth Kidd, the Yale geneticist, told the Times he was under the impression that he and a Chinese scientist were working on “collaborative research” when he shared his own DNA samples with the scientist. Dr. Kidd reportedly said he had no idea his samples became part of China’s DNA drive.


Trans Inmate Incarcerated in North Carolina Prison Denied Transfer to Women’s Prison

A transgender woman incarcerated in North Carolina has been repeatedly denied a transfer to a woman’s prison despite her fears of sexual assault from male inmates, according to a Thursday report from NBC News. Kanautica Zayre-Brown, 37, who faces a nine-year sentence for insurance fraud, is reportedly the state’s only transgender inmate who has undergone sex reassignment surgery. NBC notes that although she’s repeatedly expressed fears of being sexually assaulted, she’s still forced to shower around male inmates. The state also refers to her by her birth name, despite the fact that it has been legally changed. A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety told NBC that Zayre-Brown’s case is under review.