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Newsletter: Justice or not for Flynn?

Then-national security advisor Michael Flynn speaks at the White House on Feb. 1, 2017.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)

The Justice Department has moved to drop its prosecution of Michael Flynn, restarting debate about President Trump improperly influencing criminal investigations.

TOP STORIES

Justice or Not for Flynn?

On a day filled with aftershocks in the Russia investigation, this was the biggest: The Justice Department moved to drop its prosecution of Michael Flynn, who served as President Trump’s first national security advisor for less than a month before being dismissed. The move not only undoes one of the most high-profile cases brought by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III but also intensifies the debate over whether Trump is improperly influencing criminal prosecutions.

In 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his phone calls with the Russian ambassador to Washington, shortly before Trump took office, about U.S. sanctions that were enacted as punishment for Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign. On Thursday, the Justice Department’s filing with the court argued that the agents’ interview with Flynn did not have “a legitimate investigative basis” and was “untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.”

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After the Flynn filing, Trump praised the retired three-star Army general as “an innocent man” and “a great gentleman” and lashed out at the law enforcement officials who targeted Flynn, calling them “human scum” and accusing them of “treason.” Trump apparently celebrated the news on a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying they talked about “the Russia hoax, this absolute dishonest hoax.”

Critics accused Atty. Gen. William Barr of bowing to pressure in a politically charged case, saying it undermined the Justice Department’s credibility. On Thursday, the department also asked the Supreme Court to block a request by House Democrats to review secret grand jury material from Mueller’s inquiry. Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee released thousands of pages of transcripts from its closed-door interviews with 53 individuals.

Baby Steps and a Giant Hole

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Reopening California’s devastated economy is increasingly looking to be a slow, deliberative process in many parts of the state as Gov. Gavin Newsom issued strict protocols that communities must satisfy to speed reopening — and health experts warned of the risks of a surge if social distancing is abandoned too early.

California will take baby steps in the process today, as a scattering of retail businesses are allowed to reopen for curbside pickup. But that will still leave huge sectors of the economy shut down, and leaders in communities across the state will have to declare they’ve reduced the coronavirus danger to open up more businesses, such as restaurant dining rooms and shopping malls. That is going to be a challenge in hard-hit areas such as Los Angeles County, which has seen more than 1,400 deaths — more than half of the state’s total — and is still recording hundreds of new cases a day.

Meanwhile, the state government faces a $54.3-billion budget deficit through next summer, according to an analysis released by advisors to Newsom. That’s the largest projected fiscal hole in state history and raises the possibility of deep spending cuts or substantial new tax revenue to make up the difference.

Who’s in the Streets?

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The crowds protesting stay-at-home orders aimed at stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus have a litany of grievances: Open the beaches. Free the churches. End the tyranny of a governor who has gone too far.

They hop barricades to surf. They cite the Constitution. They wave American flags. They sport Trump 2020 gear. They rail against vaccines. In some states, including Michigan, protesters have shown up at government buildings carrying rifles.

Despite their varied causes, the protesters have been almost entirely white — even in California, a state that mostly is not. For many, they’ve highlighted racial and class disparities amid a pandemic that has killed more than 2,500 Californians — a disproportionate number of whom are black, Latino and poor.

End of the Buffet Line

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Souplantation‘s food has been called “aggressively mediocre,” but that never stopped it from developing a nearly fanatical following. Now, the buffet-style chain that started in San Diego 42 years ago says all of its restaurants are permanently closing — a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Its dining rooms truly were a democratic space, packed with toddlers, adolescents, harried parents, the elderly — everyone, in short, other than the 20- to 30-somethings who typically define tastes in a late-capitalist society,” writes Sewell Chan, The Times’ editorial page editor and a native New Yorker who became a Souplantation devotee upon moving to L.A.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

—As House Democrats work on the next bill to respond to the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re eschewing negotiations with Republicans or the White House, and hope to vote on their own measure as soon as next week.

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— A member of the U.S. military who works on the White House campus has contracted the coronavirus. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were tested for COVID-19 and found to be negative.

— Republicans, once confident of keeping their Senate majority in the fall election, now fear Democrats could gain control as the coronavirus has reshaped campaigns.

Yuba and Sutter counties in Northern California defied Newsom and issued local orders to allow some businesses to reopen with strict regulations aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Now, state officials are warning that reopened businesses risk losing their license to operate if they continue to violate the state’s order.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Los Angeles has seen its fair share of looming threats. The Big One. Lizard people. And on May 8, 1952, City Hall faced aliens.

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Well, a version of City Hall, specially created for the movie “War of the Worlds,” the cinematic adaptation of the H.G. Wells story Orson Welles famously produced on radio years earlier. For the movie, producers chose to feature the building because it was “a prime and recognizable target,” according to The Times. The crew built a six-foot model of City Hall in plaster at Paramount Studios. It was blown apart with a blast from a “spaceship,” a sequence that lives on on YouTube.

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during the filming of special effects for the 1953 movie "War of the Worlds."
(Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— Six weeks after closing field offices to the public because of the coronavirus, the Department of Motor Vehicles will reopen 25 locations to people with appointments today, including offices in Los Angeles, Inglewood, Glendale and Santa Ana.

— The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission has voted to subpoena L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to appear at its next meeting to discuss his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the jails, marking the first use of a powerful new oversight tool.

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— Officials say at least 138 employees at a meat packing plant in the Central California city of Hanford have tested positive for the coronavirus.

— After pushback from bus drivers and elected officials, L.A. County’s transit network will require all passengers to wear masks on board starting Monday.

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YOUR WEEKEND

— Celebrate Mother’s Day with a good meal, quality takeout, plants or even at a distance.

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— If you’ve gotten into bird watching lately, try these apps to brush up on your local species and their calls.

— Skip the steak and go for brisket and big bones at the store. Your local beef producer will thank you.

— You’ve named it. You’ve fed it. Now here’s what to do with your sourdough starter.

— Nobody’s perfect. Tell us your quarantine secrets.

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NATION-WORLD

— Two and a half months after a white father and son fatally shot Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, as he jogged in a Georgia neighborhood, the two men were arrested Thursday and charged with felony murder and aggravated assault.

— Police say three McDonald’s employees in Oklahoma City were shot when a customer opened fire because she was angry that the restaurant’s dining area was closed during the coronavirus crisis.

— Almost all ethnic minorities in Britain are at greater risk of dying with the coronavirus, and blacks are nearly twice as likely to die than whites, according to an analysis by the national statistics agency.

— The Supreme Court unanimously threw out fraud convictions against former aides to then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in the so-called Bridgegate scandal. The decision is the latest in which the high court has narrowed the scope of federal laws on public corruption.

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— Meet Margaret. She understands President Trump’s speech patterns and Trump himself — his tics, his tells, his tendencies and habits — better than anyone. She’s an artificial intelligence bot tasked with analyzing his every word.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Amazon is celebrating the coronavirus crisis’ “Regular Heroes” in a new eight-part docuseries that will premiere today.

— With TikTok, YouTube and Twitter, San Jose resident Newton Nguyen set out to teach the world to cook. Millions of people are now watching.

— Today was set to be a moment of liberation for Paramore’s Hayley Williams: the release of her first solo album. And it still is, even if it looks different than she was expecting.

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Bob Dylan has released another single and announced a new double album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”

BUSINESS

Flower shops across Los Angeles County will reopen for curbside pickup, giving florists a chance to sell on one of their biggest days of the year: Mother’s Day. But L.A.'s beauty and wellness industry still has to wait, broken gel nails and gnarly roots be damned.

Neiman Marcus has filed for bankruptcy protection. It’s the latest company to struggle with a crushing debt load amid the coronavirus pandemic. J.Crew filed under similar circumstances this week.

SPORTS

— The NFL is ready to call an audible or two if the coronavirus forces schedule changes.

— Hand sanitizers and temperature checks: LAFC tries to adapt to the new normal at its training facility.

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Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

OPINION

— The LAPD had better come clean about the shocking beating of an unarmed Boyle Heights man, The Times’ editorial board writes.

L.A.’s trails and parks are reopening. C’mon, people, don’t screw it up this time.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— She is beauty, she is grace, and she may be key in the COVID-19 treatment race. Belgian scientists say Winter, a chocolate llama with long eyelashes, has coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies. (New York Times)

Why so many people are unhappy in retirement. (The Atlantic)

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ONLY IN L.A.

Although sales on the lower end of the real estate market have all but seized up during the pandemic, luxury homes are apparently still selling like hotcakes. In April, Kylie Jenner turned heads when she dropped $36.5 million on a modern compound in Holmby Hills. A Bel-Air estate once owned by former Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Frontiere traded hands for $43.3 million. The longtime Bel-Air home of auto titan Lee Iacocca recently sold for $19.5 million. When one real estate agent was asked whether or not now’s a good time to buy a $50-million house, he said: “Not to sound so much like a Realtor, but yes.”

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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