Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Aug 3, 2022 at 9:20 AM

click to enlarge Creosote plant heals from the inside out
(Katya Mendoza)
Hand-picked creosote bundles dry in a basket at Sonoran Rosie's workshop on Friday, July 1. Also known as chaparral, these bundles will release the smell of monsoon once activated by a shower's steam.

Monsoon season in Tucson, which lasts from mid-June to late September, is a special time for locals. It provides desert inhabitants with the euphoric sense of biophilia, or innate instinct to connect with the natural world around them.

“The theory is that when you’re looking at these beautiful views and plants, you’re giving yourself a shot of feel good molecules,” said Dr. Esther Sternberg, a University of Arizona researcher who studies the mind-body interaction with its natural and built environments.

The rains can trigger a relaxation response and reduce stress hormones. Certain integrative health behaviors, such as walking outside and inhaling the creosote bush, for example, are posed to change anti-stress brain pathways.

The shrub, which is found in the Southwestern region of North America and most commonly in the Sonoran, Mojave and Chihuahuan deserts, is also known as greasewood or chaparral. Creosote is often credited for the earthy fragrance that emits during monsoon season. It has also been said to have existed since the beginning of time, according to the Tohono O’odham creation story.

According to the O’odham, Shegoi was the first plant that Tcuwut Makai, the Earth-Maker, created.

“It is the greatest, highest, most sacred plant we have that inspires the strongest medicine,” said Camillus Lopez, senior cultural mentor at Tohono O’odham Community College (TOCC).

Lopez, who teaches Tohono O’odham studies courses, is on the Himdag Committee that oversees TOCC students’ growth in cultural knowledge.

The plant has been historically linked to a variety of homeopathic remedies for various ailments such as chest infections, intestinal discomfort, venereal diseases and more. There are even claims it treats cancer. While it has been advised the plant should not be consumed for extended periods of times, its antibacterial properties have found their place in homeopathic remedies.

Local business owner and herbalist-in-training Rosie Crocker, founder of Sonoran Rosie, noticed an absence of desert plants in the herbalism world. An essentially “white-washed” European field, she noticed the lack of natural products sourced from the Sonoran Desert and decided to create sustainable herbal beauty products of her own.

“I want to be respectful to the heritage of the plants that are here,” Crocker said. “I use them in ways that have never been used before.”

Her products use desert herbs for aromatherapy and wellness purposes.

“Although I believe that plants are autonomous, I believe that just like food we can all participate in a relationship with plants,” Crocker said. “It’s always good to be respectful of people’s culture and not just try to capitalize off of a traditional way of making something.”

In addition to making everyday essentials such as deodorant, lip balm or lotions, her naturally sourced products smell like rain.

Creosote is one of her primary ingredients. She said it has a calming, grounding and protective effect. “They have traced back a root system to (about) 11,000 years old and to me that feels like it has that energy of being ancient, tenacious and super healing,” Crocker said.

According to researchers, the volatile organic compounds found in desert plants are good for our health. Gary Nabhan, a research social scientist at the University of Arizona, said the oils desert plants exude as systems are highly potent, like a “symphony orchestra of fragrances.”

Nabhan, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his book “The Desert Smells Like Rain,” has a background in agricultural ecology and ethnobotany. He said he was inspired by a young O’odham student who identified the paradox of the desert’s perfume.

He set out on a scientific mission to address why the desert smells the way it does. The debate between scientists has gone on since the 1930s. While geologists felt the soil crust on the surface of the desert made up of fungi, algae and cyanobacteria emitted fragrances when it rains, botanists have argued the creosote bush is responsible. Botanists used its 35 potent volatile oils as evidence. “The kinds of hazes and desert mirages we see when we look across large distances of the desert are from one of those volatile chemicals and creosote bush called isoprene,” Nabhan said.

Nabhan and his collaborators identified 115 volatile organic compounds in at least 60 plant species in the Sonoran Desert that are released when it rains. At least 15 have been found to offer “tangible” health benefits like improved sleep, heightened mental clarity or stabilized emotional-hormones. Evidence also showed some of these compounds are released at the onset of rain, when there’s an increase in humidity or stronger winds. Once released into the atmosphere, the compounds travel into our lungs and enter the bloodstream.

“When we get a summer monsoon rainstorm, we have a barometric pressure change, a change in wind speed and ferocity (and) sometimes wind direction changes that make us more receptive to these things because our senses are hypersensitive to ozone changes,” Nabhan said.

“Even when it’s not raining on a hot day in June, the creosote are giving off a gas,” Perry Grissom, a restoration ecologist at Saguaro National Park, said. “You can smell them before the rain comes.”

While scientists and indigenous practitioners have known the health benefits of ingestion or even absorption of Sonoran Desert flora, other integrative practices such as forest bathing have become mainstream.

“It’s immersion,” Grissom said. “Stopping, smelling, seeing, letting the desert wash over (you).” Practitioners like Dr. Lee Ann Woolery, an interdisciplinary educator, researcher and artist, developed the practice of art-based perceptual ecology. Woolery held workshops teaching the traditional Japanese practice of, shinrin-yoku, amongst the giant saguaros.

“This fact that we’re out breathing good air, the same air that the cactus are (transpiring) can be a health benefit,” Woolery said. “Coming to be one with the landscape is one of the ways I describe it.”

Her work blended art, ecology, and connected people to the environment. Using her own developed “methodologies,” the core of Woolery’s work exists at the intersection of art and natural science research.

“We’re engaging in multi-modal knowledge systems, (which) means there are many ways of knowing our local habitat, plants, herbs or whatever you’re studying,” Woolery said. She said she feels like her methodologies align more with traditional ecological knowledge than Western science.

Traditional ecological knowledge is the ongoing practice or learning of the relationships between living beings in a specific ecosystem, commonly acquired by Indigenous people over time.

A similar practice can be seen in TOCC’s Himdag curriculum, which teaches students the Tohono O’odham culture, values and way of life. The tribal college requires students to learn some of the language, history and culture from the “beginning” to the 1980s. Certain events at the college revolve around the O’odham seasonal calendar.

The old way of the calendar, according to Lopez, would follow the sun, moon and stars’ placements in the sky. For centuries O’odham people could predict the weather or know when to harvest crops with this knowledge.

For example, Jukiabig, or July, is the month of big rains. Months, which are considered to be more like seasons, follow cactus growth.

“In the traditional myth, there’s a story about how the cactus was born,” Lopez said. Depending on the watershed area and when cactus flowers begin to bloom and gather fruit, or bahidaj, marks the beginning of a new season and new year.

“The saguaro cactus fruit used to be the foremost thing in our culture, to make bahidaj and to make navai’t (cactus wine) because they wanted rain,” Lopez said. “Life centered around the saguaro fruit.”

Juk, or rain, is the most sacred thing in the desert. It is a cause for celebration for other cultures as well. Annually in Tucson, locals who live in the Menlo Park neighborhood host the Dia de San Juan Fiesta, or feast day for Saint John the Baptist on June 24. The celebration has occurred by the Santa Cruz River for at least 25 years. Liza Grant, the program’s coordinator, took over the celebration after her mother passed.

“Without water that area could not be ‘the birthplace of Tucson’,” Grant said in an email. “The [celebration] honors the 4000 years of continuous habitation along the river and the food raised by each culture.

The tradition marks the beginning of monsoon season.

Protecting Native Species

Grissom, who studies invasive plant species in the Rincon District of Saguaro National Park, said certain plants come out of their dormant state during monsoon season faster than native plants, stealing their water supply.

Places such as A Mountain have been overrun by buffelgrass. This invasive species posed a fire risk and completely demolished the saguaro population, Grissom said. “You can see the future if you don’t do anything.”

Saguaro National Park hosts ongoing volunteer buffelgrass removal parties such as Second Saturday in the Rincon District or Fourth Saturdays in the Tucson Mountain District which incentivize park goers with one-day passes for helping. Weed Free Trails Program teaches volunteers a variety of skills and Wilderness Volunteers invite visitors to camp at the park for a week. The park will also launch their Adopt-an-Area program this fall and will be installing boot brush stations with signs at trailheads over the next couple years.

Grissom has been at the park since 2006. He said his favorite-smelling desert plants are odoras, desert lavender and dalea to name a few. When the winds are thrashing about the desert, he said it smells like a “savory stew.”

“Currently we have that smell when it rains in the desert, but it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be that way in the future,” Grissom said.

The truth can be found on A Mountain where the existing plant population has been reduced to sick saguaros, “a few scraggly plants of some kind,” and buffelgrass, which gives off a different smell than the “desert rain” most admire.

“[The Desert] is not guaranteed to be here,” Grissom said. “I just don’t want to be the guy on duty when the saguaros get wiped out at Saguaro National Park.”

Desert lovers can learn more about how to take care of the land and plants here

Monday, August 1, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2022 at 5:02 PM

click to enlarge Man arrested for arson in connection to the Salpointe Fire
(Tucson Police Department/Submitted)
TPD officials identified 26-year-old Forrest Harris responsible for starting the fire at Salpointe Catholic High School on Sunday, July 17. Harris was also charged with third-degree burglary and criminal damage.

The Tucson Police Department announced an arrest over the weekend of 26-year-old Forrest Harris in connection to the Salpointe Catholic Fire that occurred on Sunday, July 17.

TPD responded to a call on Saturday, July 30, over a dispute about a dog, near North Country Club Road and East Grant Road and were able to identify and locate Harris due to an internal “stop and arrest”. A stop and arrest means there is enough probable cause to make an arrest.

After interviews, TPD found further probable cause to arrest Harris and officially charged him with arson of an occupied structure and booked him into the Pima County Jail. He was also charged with third-degree burglary and criminal damage.

Based on forensic evidence that was collected by Tucson Fire Department investigators at the fire scene, blood DNA connected Harris to the fire, according to Sergeant Richard Gradillas, spokesman for TPD.

“Our investigators did a lot of work to identify various ignition sources and sent off samples to labs to analyze where that fire might have started,” Michael Colaianni, spokesman for TPD said. Investigators handed over evidence and samples to TPD’s arson investigator who was able to make the arrest, Colaianni said.

The fire, which began in the attic space in the 700 English wing on the southeast corner of campus, destroyed six classrooms and will have to be rebuilt.

On July 21, school officials announced in a press release that the first day of school would be postponed by one week “in order to guarantee a safe and fully operational campus.”

“When the students come back on August 15, all of the classrooms will be functional with the exception of six classrooms and held in high-quality modular units that will [temporarily] work as our classrooms,” said Jennifer Harris, director of advancement at Salpointe Catholic High School.

The high school is going through the restoration process of smoke, water and electrical damages that were found throughout the 300 and 400 wings on the northeast side of campus and estimates the damages to be in the millions of dollars.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2022 at 9:20 AM

The Pima County Health Department announced the extension of the free COVID-19 Test to Treat program at the county’s East Clinic on Friday, July 22.

The program, which provides testing and access to treatment for COVID-19, in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), will now run through Wednesday, August 24, based on public response.

“We still see a need in our community, and we’re happy to continue to make this free resource available,” Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said in a press release.

Individuals who have tested positive from an at-home test, testing site or at the clinic will be evaluated by a health care provider to determine their eligibility for antiviral medication for COVID-19 or can call the clinic at 520-724-7895 to determine eligibility.

Those who qualify will immediately receive a prescription at no cost and health insurance is not required.

The medications that will be available with a prescription are Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Lagevrio. Both medications, when taken within five days of symptoms, are effective against COVID-19. As of July 20, Pima County had started 773 people on the oral medication, Paxlovid.

The two oral medications are also available at pharmacies within the county and can be prescribed by health care providers.

Those eligible for treatment are over 12 years old, weigh at least 88 pounds, have mild to moderate symptoms and have a high risk of severe COVID-19 illness.

Other Test to Treat sites are available locally at some pharmacies and federally-supported health care centers.

The East Clinic is located at 6920 E. Broadway Boulevard, Suite B. Hours of operation are now from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Test to Treat program will not be available on the weekends. The clinic will open at 1 p.m. on Monday, July 25.

For more information about the Pima County Health Department Test to Treat program visit, For more information on where to get tested for COVID-19 in Pima County, go to

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Jul 20, 2022 at 9:15 AM

click to enlarge Two-alarm fire breaks out at local high school
Tucson Fire Department said the cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Significant damage has been reported at Salpointe Catholic High School, after a fire broke out on Sunday evening.

The Tucson Fire Department was dispatched at 8:09 p.m. to the southeast corner of the school, and arrived on scene by 8:13 p.m. Units from Station 5 observed “heavy smoke and flames,” TFD wrote on Twitter. A second alarm was called shortly after, fighting the fire defensively and controlling the two-alarm fire by 9:12 p.m.

The fire began in the attic space in the 700 English wing, on the southeast corner of campus. Smoke and water damage were also found throughout the 300 and 400 wings, along North Cherry Avenue, on the northeast side of campus.

There were no injuries reported and the cause of the fire is still unknown.

Fire safety assessment personnel and building safety experts were on campus Monday, July 18, to investigate.

The high school campus is closed until further notice, canceling all activities school officials said in a news release, but anticipates to start the school year on time on Monday, August 8.

TFD spokesman Michael Colaianni said the investigation is still underway, as samples will be taken for analysis.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Posted By on Wed, Jul 13, 2022 at 4:00 PM

The Pima County Health Department announced its first probable case of monkeypox during a July 12 press conference. Arizona’s first reported case was reported more than a month ago in Maricopa County.

Pima County Health Department Director Dr. Theresa Cullen said the infected person has been isolated and Pima County epidemiological staff are working on contact tracing.

The case is still under review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and is believed to be considered low risk to the general population.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends watching for early monkeypox symptoms such as fever, chills, headache, swollen lymph nodes, muscle aches and/or exhaustion. A rash or sores can also appear before, after or during symptoms. Antiviral treatment is available upon infection. Consultation with a health care provider is recommended if early monkeypox symptoms are exhibited.

“The most common route of transmission is skin to skin,” Cullen said. “You can transmit monkeypox by having direct skin to skin contact with a lesion.”

Until lesions are 100% scabbed, which takes between 14 and 21 days, people are infectious. Cullen said the chances of an individual becoming infected with monkeypox without having direct contact with an infected person are miniscule.

“Arizona has one confirmed and seven other probable cases pending confirmation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, all of them in Maricopa County,” said Arizona Department of Health Services statement.

Maricopa, Coconino and Pima counties will become “hubs” for monkeypox vaccine distribution.

Pima County will receive about 100 vaccines for monkeypox treatment by Thursday, July 14. The vaccines are a two-dose series and individuals who consider themselves at risk can enroll on a Pima County website. The website will ask for demographic information, and a county representative will call to assess if the individual is at risk and requires a vaccine.

Those who share sheets, towels or unwashed clothing with those who have been infected are at risk. There is a slight chance of contact with prolonged respiratory secretions and face-to-face contact over four to six hours, Cullen said.

Men who have sex with men have been found to be the highest risk group for monkeypox, but not all cases that have been identified as such.

Although no one in the United States has died from monkeypox, a few individuals have been hospitalized primarily due to side effects such as secondary skin infection. 

Individuals who believe they are at risk for monkeypox should reach out to their primary care providers or epidemiologists at the northside Pima County Public Health Clinic. For more information about monkeypox visit,

Coronavirus in Pima County

Coronavirus is in a stage of accelerated transmission.

“The vast majority of our COVID right now is the BA.5 variant,” Cullen said. “We are seeing a resurgence of respiratory symptoms.”

Reported cases fluctuate between BA.4 and BA.5 variants, the BA.5 being more predominant. 

Pima County recommends vaccinations and two booster shots. Officials also said to wear masks in public or social settings.

Individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 are eligible to receive treatment at the Pima County Health Department’s Test To Treat program located at its East Clinic, 6920 E. Broadway Boulevard. The program launched over two and a half weeks ago in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and provides testing and access to antiviral medications for COVID-19 at no cost. Health insurance is not required. The oral medications, Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Lagevrio, are available and effective against COVID-19. 

For more information about the coronavirus, monkey pox or the Pima County Health Department Test to Treat program visit, Visit to find testing locations in Pima County.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Posted By on Tue, Jun 28, 2022 at 9:30 AM

click to enlarge ‘We will see desperation’: Planned Parenthood Arizona stops abortions after Roe v. Wade overturned
(Troy Hill/Cronkite News)
Abortion-rights activists gather at the Arizona Capitol on June 24, 2022, to protest the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

PHOENIX – In the wake of Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade – eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion – Planned Parenthood Arizona announced it has shut down its abortion services, effective immediately, while it sorts through “Arizona’s tangled web of conflicting laws.”

Abortion opponents, meanwhile, said “life has won a great victory.”

“We are working diligently with our team of attorneys to understand Arizona’s tangled web of conflicting laws so we can ensure that our patients know what their rights are and how to access legal abortion,” Brittany Fonteno, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said at a virtual news conference Friday.

The ruling, Fonteno said, will “serve to further our country’s disgraceful legacy of racism and discrimination, because it will have the greatest impact on Black, Indigenous, Latino and other people of color, young people and rural communities.”

She urged Arizonans to protest the court’s 6-3 decision.

“We have never before lost a constitutional right in the history of this country,” Fonteno said.

Thousands of protesters heeded the call and gathered at the Arizona Capitol on Friday night. Many carried signs decrying the Supreme Court’s ruling, with messages such as “My Body, My Choice,” as well as many more strongly worded messages. The crowd marched around the Capitol ground chanting, “Abortion is our right. We won’t give up this fight,” and other abortion-rights messages that had been distributed on small cards, and members of several groups, including event organizers Planned Parenthood, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and Radical Women, shared their frustration with the ruling.

But the activists were met by a smaller group of abortion opponents who displayed signs of their own or crosses.

The groups stayed peaceful until about 8:45 p.m. when, according to AZ Family, the Arizona Department of Public Safety deployed tear gas to scatter demonstrators who were banging on the glass of the Senate. DPS said the gas was also deployed at Wesley Bolin Plaza.

Abortion opponents: ‘Life wins’

As abortion-rights groups were preparing to take to the streets, abortion opponents were all smiles and tears of joy during a media conference Friday afternoon at the Arizona Family Counseling clinic in Phoenix.

“Today, life wins,” said Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy. “Roe will not see 50 (years), and we’re a better nation for it. The court’s decision rights a deadly decades-old wrong. Life is a human right, and we can no longer deny the humanity of the unborn child.”

State Sen. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, shared similar sentiments.

“Many of us in this room have been waiting for this moment,” Barto said. “Life has won a great victory through prayer, unity and 50 years of perseverance.”

The court’s ruling Friday in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization paves the way for Arizona’s 15-week abortion ban to take effect. Signed by Gov. Doug Ducey in March, the law bans abortions after 15 weeks of gestation, except in a medical emergency. The law will take effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns its current session, which is considered imminent.

“Attorneys general have a solemn responsibility to defend the most vulnerable among us, and that’s exactly what we did today,” said Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Repubican who’s running for governor. “I look forward to seeing the issue returned to elected representatives where it belongs. As Americans, we believe in the dignity and value of every person.”

Ducey tweeted on Friday morning:

“Roe v Wade was a poorly-reasoned ruling that had no Constitutional basis. The Supreme Court has made the right decision by finally overturning it and giving governing power back to the people and the states.

“I am proud that Arizona has been ranked the most pro-life state in the country. Here, we will continue to cherish life and protect it in every way possible.”

But others see the ruling and its effects as an affront to women.

‘My heart honestly is breaking’

The medical director of Planned Parenthood Arizona, Dr. Jill Gibson, called the decision and political pressure to limit the availability of abortions “devastating.”

“Today’s decision will be felt the hardest by Arizonans who already face discriminatory and systemic obstacles to health care,” she said, including people with disabilities, people who live far from the city, young people and undocumented people. “My heart honestly is breaking because this decision will cause immense suffering for women, and for their families – we will see desperation.

“Taking away access to abortion isn’t a theoretical talking point. This is real life for our patients. Our patients will now have to go to centers that are out of the state, they will struggle to find someone to watch their children so they can travel, they will have to beg for time off work from the two or three jobs that they’re holding down in order just to make their ends meet.”

Troy Hill contributed to this story.

For more stories from Cronkite News, visit

Monday, June 27, 2022

Posted By on Mon, Jun 27, 2022 at 7:45 PM

This August, Jana Suchy and Nadia Larsen are partnering to host a weekend retreat for breast cancer survivors filled with fabulous photos, friendship and lots of fun.

The Tucson Plastic Surgery Pink Ribbon Boudoir Project event has been an easy project for both Suchy and Larsen, because their visions match up very similarly.

Larsen’s non-profit, the Nadia Strong Foundation, supports and uplifts women surviving breast cancer through free photography sessions. Larsen, now six years cancer-free after enduring 28 radiation sessions for stage four cancer, is an advocate for holistic health and uses her knowledge through her journey to educate others. She is looking forward to talking to the other survivors at the event about their journey’s with breast cancer.

“I am actually very excited to meet all the women and connect with them and share experiences with them because that’s really the big emotional healing that takes place.” Larsen said.

After a double mastectomy, reconstruction, radiation, chemotherapy, and years of hormonal therapy, Larsen understand the important both physical and emotional healing. She will be documenting the entire boudoir photography session through her camera.

Larsen remembered getting a call from Suchy in mid November’s perfect Tucson weather, inquiring about a non-profit breast cancer organization to help her support the project. Suchy was on her third call of the day. As soon as she heard Suchy's vision, she was in for the long haul. “I remember telling her, let’s do it. It sounds great.” Strong said.

Both women’s missions for the project were to show women that they remain beautiful despite their breast cancer.

Seven nominated breast cancer survivors will get to enjoy an extravagant photoshoot from Suchy at a desert home in Tucson.They will be able to choose from different wardrobes, hair and nail stylists will be on hand, and and Suchy’s 70 pairs of Stiletto heels in all different sizes will be available. Suchy had surgery on her feet so she can not wear the high heels, but loves for the women to enjoy them.

“I know about self image and confidence and we’re raised in a supermodel America, and even the most beautiful among us are very self conscious about what we perceive as our flaws. And it just really, it can transform self image and self image with equal confidence.“ Suchy said.

Suchy will create an 8 by 10 photo book with a total of 25 photos for each of the women. Suchy likes to go through every photo with each woman on the platform, Lightroom, to make sure the absolute best photos are in the book.

Jennifer Tirado, a former client of Suchy’s boudoir photography who has been cancer free for 16 years, said that the photoshoot helped her gain a lot of confidence back and Jana made her feel comfortable throughout the process.

“It’s empowering for women just to feel different about themselves, We always get our picture taken, and sometimes we like it, sometimes we don’t.” Tirado said. “It makes you see yourself in a different light.”

Tirado suggests the nominees let loose and have an amazing time because they are going to love the result.

If you have breast cancer or know someone with breast cancer, be sure to nominate them for this event before June 29 online at Suchy’s website at, where she can be messaged via email.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2022 at 1:00 PM

click to enlarge ‘Just say the election was corrupt’: Trump pressure on Justice Department detailed
Photo by Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Witnesses told a congressional committee that former President Trump pressured the Department of Justice to help him subvert the 2020 election.

President Donald Trump sought to use the U.S. Justice Department to create the illusion of a legitimate investigation into the validity of the 2020 election results, the Jan. 6 committee and former Justice Department leaders said Thursday in the panel’s fifth hearing this month.

In the weeks between Election Day 2020 and Jan. 6, 2021, the date of the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the former president implored Justice Department officials to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen,” according to former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue.

Several Republican House members appeared willing to play the role Trump proposed for them, publicly endorsing the president’s unfounded claims of a stolen election and privately strategizing about how to overturn the result.

At least five, including Andy Biggs of Arizona, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, would later seek pardons for their roles in the scheme to overturn the election, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said in a revelation at the end of the U.S. House panel hearing. Perry, who had been identified as a pardon-seeker at an earlier hearing, has denied he asked for a pardon.

The panel presented evidence that Trump mounted an intense pressure campaign against top officials at the Justice Department in late December 2020 and early January 2021, seeking to have them launch a public investigation into nonexistent voter fraud in key swing states.

Failing to get DOJ officials to act, Trump threatened a major shakeup to install an environmental lawyer with no criminal experience at the top of the department, solely to advance his claims of voter fraud.

Trump decided against that move at the last minute as it became clear it would not be effective.

“It was a brazen attempt to use the U.S. Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda,” Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said in an opening statement.

Trump wanted the department to act because it would give legitimacy to his claims that the election was stolen from him, the panel said.

In a Dec. 27 call with acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Donoghue, Trump was not interested in the actual results of a DOJ investigation, Donoghue said.

Rosen told Trump the department could not change the outcome of an election.

“He responded very quickly,” Donoghue said. “And he said, essentially, ‘That’s not what I’m asking you to do. What I’m asking you to do is to say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.’”

The panel showed handwritten notes of Donoghue’s from the call that quoted Trump saying the same thing.

Georgia letter

Trump’s Justice Department meddling centered on a draft letter acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark wrote that was to be sent to legislative leaders in Georgia, said committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican.

Other letters were prepared for other states, she added, though she did not name them.

The letter claimed that a federal DOJ investigation found significant fraud, possibly sufficient to reverse Trump’s loss in the state. The letter urged state lawmakers to convene and approve a slate of fake electors who would then cast their votes for Trump instead of the actual winner of the state, Joe Biden.

“Had this letter been released on official Department of Justice letterhead, it would have falsely informed all Americans, including those who might be inclined to come to Washington on January 6, that President Trump’s election fraud allegations were likely very real,” Cheney said.

Clark wrote the letter with three signature lines: for himself, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Donoghue. Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign the letter, and it was never sent. They both also appeared before the committee Thursday to detail the pressure Trump and allies put on the department to create the illusion of wrongdoing in the election.

In a taped deposition with the committee, Clark invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 125 times, committee member Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said.

Installing Clark

In a “heated” Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting with Rosen, Donoghue, Clark, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, Trump floated the idea of replacing Rosen with Clark because of Rosen’s unwillingness to legitimize his fraud claims.

Rosen had taken over from Attorney General Bill Barr, who investigated Trump’s fraud claims but found nothing substantive and argued with Trump about the claims’ validity. Barr resigned Dec. 23.

Clark had been angling for the job since around that time. He visited the White House with Pennsylvania’s Perry on Dec. 22.

Perry later told a local TV news station that Trump had asked him to introduce Clark to him. Clark is from Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer has reported.

The panel also showed texts from Perry, the leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, to Meadows, who held the same role as a House member from North Carolina before taking the White House job. In the texts, Perry appeared to advocate for elevating Clark within the department.

Clark’s sole qualification was that he would take orders from Trump to work to overturn the election, Kinzinger said.

“President Trump didn’t take no for an answer,” Kinzinger said. “He didn’t accept it from Attorney General Barr, and he wouldn’t accept it from Mr. Rosen, either. So he looked for another attorney general, his third in two weeks. He needed to find someone who was willing to ignore the facts.”

In the Oval Office meeting, Donoghue argued that Clark, an environmental attorney who had never tried a criminal case or led a criminal investigation, was not competent to hold the position. Clark objected, saying he had handled complex environmental litigation.

“And I said, ‘That’s right, you’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill,’” Donoghue testified he said in the Oval Office meeting.

Cipollone also argued against sending the Georgia letter, calling it “a murder-suicide pact” because it would “damage everyone who touches it,” Donoghue testified.

Donoghue and Engel both threatened to quit if Trump replaced Rosen with Clark. They said other assistant attorneys general would as well and Clark would have no help leading the department.

In addition to what they said was improper ethically about the Justice Department taking orders from the president’s campaign, Clark lacked the credibility and experience to effectively lead the department, Donoghue argued. Clark could not close an effective fraud investigation in the three days before the election would be certified, Donoghue said.

Trump then decided against the plan, Donoghue said.

Pardons bombshell

Near the close of the hearing, the panel played parts of a taped deposition of Cassidy Hutchinson, who was an aide to Meadows. Hutchinson said GOP members of Congress reached out to the White House chief of staff seeking pardons related to planning to overturn the election.

Hutchinson named Biggs, Gaetz, Perry, Mo Brooks of Alabama and Louie Gohmert of Texas as having sought pardons directly from Meadows.

In a written statement, Perry flatly denied Hutchinson’s account.

“I stand by my statement that I never sought a Presidential pardon for myself or other Members of Congress,” he said. “At no time did I speak with Miss Hutchinson, a White House scheduler, nor any White House staff about a pardon for myself or any other Member of Congress — this never happened.”

The panel also produced a Jan. 11 email from Brooks to the White House asking that all members who voted against certifying Biden’s election victory be pardoned. Brooks said that Trump asked him to send the email and that it was “also pursuant to a request from Matt Gaetz.”

Eric Herschmann, a Trump White House attorney, said in a taped deposition that Gaetz sought an extremely broad pardon “for any and all things.”

Gaetz had been seeking a pardon since early December, Hutchinson said, adding she didn’t know why.

John McEntee, the former White House director for presidential pardons, said in a taped deposition that Gaetz told him he had sought a pardon.

Gaetz and Brooks both pushed for “a blanket pardon” for members involved in a Dec. 21 meeting, and “a handful of other members,” Hutchinson said.

Asked if the accounts of Gaetz seeking a pardon were true, a spokesman sent a tweet from Gaetz criticizing the committee but not addressing the pardon question.

U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, inquired with Meadows’ office about the blanket pardon, Hutchinson said.

A tweet from the House Judiciary Republicans’ account, which Jordan leads, said Hutchinson’s testimony that Jordan “talked about congressional pardons, but he never asked me for one” was “100% fake news.”

Asked if U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green sought a pardon, Hutchinson said she had “heard” that the Georgia Republican sought a pardon from the White House counsel’s office, but didn’t contact Hutchinson about it.

“Saying ‘I heard’ means you don’t know,” Green tweeted following the hearing. “Spreading gossip and lies is exactly what the January 6th Witch Hunt Committee is all about.”

A spokesman for Biggs did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The committee has not made any official statement about its upcoming schedule, but Thursday’s hearing was expected to be the last until after the July 4 holiday.

Future hearings, “in coming weeks,” will focus on Trump’s direction of violence toward the Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of the presidential election, Thompson said Thursday.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2022 at 12:00 PM

click to enlarge AZGOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward subpoenaed in connection with false elector slate
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy | Arizona Mirror
Arizona GOP chair Kelli Ward speaking at a 2019 press conference.

Arizona GOP Chairwoman Kelli Ward was issued a subpoena by the Department of Justice along with other Arizonans who signed onto a document that would have sent fake electors to Congress on Jan. 6.

Politico first broke the news of Ward and her husband Michael being subject of a subpoena, citing an unnamed source who was familiar with the case but could not speak publicly. Alexander Kolodin, the Wards’ attorney and an attorney for both the Arizona Senate and Cyber Ninjas, confirmed to the Arizona Republic that he was representing them in the matter.

The Washington Post also reported that Arizonans Nancy Cottle and Loraine Pellegrino, who signed the false elector document as chair and secretary, were also served subpoenas in the matter.

This is not the first subpoena that Cottle, Pellegrino or Ward have faced. All three have been issued subpoenas by the House Select Committee investigating the riot on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, with Ward’s phone records specifically being sought by the committee. The Wards have filed a countersuit on the initial subpoena by the committee in federal court in Phoenix, which is still pending.

The document at the heart of the matter, which led the DOJ to issue a subpoena, involves 11 Arizona Republicans who met at the state party headquarters to falsely declare themselves the state’s official presidential electors.

The document created a second set of electors for former President Donald J. Trump and included former and currently elected members of the Arizona legislature.

Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Queen Creek, was one of those electors. Hoffman would later go on to own a business that looks and acts identical to the email campaign platform utilized by Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to email 29 Arizona lawmakers asking them not to certify the election results.

Former Rep. Anthony Kern, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, was also one of the electors, along with Senate Candidate Jim Lamon and Turning Point Action head Tyler Bowyer.

The subpoena appears to be part of a larger investigation into Trump allies and associates and their role in the Jan. 6 riot.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 24, 2022 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge U.S. Supreme Court overturns right to abortion in landmark decision
Photo by Jane Norman | States Newsroom
Demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021. Justices inside heard arguments in a case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, about a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks that seeks to overturn Roe v. Wade.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that established abortion as a constitutional right.

The decision by six of the Court’s nine justices will allow each state to set its own abortion laws, leading to a patchwork of access throughout the country. The result is expected to be an uptick in the number of women traveling out of state for abortions, as well as unsafe abortions in states where the medical procedure will now be banned or heavily restricted.

“We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his opinion, joined by Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Chief Justice John Roberts filed a separate opinion concurring in the judgment.

“The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including the one on which the defenders of Roe and Casey now chiefly rely — the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” Alito continued.

“That provision has been held to guarantee some rights that are not mentioned in the Constitution, but any such right must be ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’ and ‘implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.’”

Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent in the case for himself, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

“With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent,” he wrote.

The new status of abortion access on a state-by-state basis, Breyer wrote , “says that from the very moment of fertilization, a woman has no rights to speak of. A State can force her to bring a pregnancy to term, even at the steepest personal and familial costs.”

Breyer later added, “Whatever the exact scope of the coming laws, one result of today’s decision is certain: the curtailment of women’s rights, and of their status as free and equal citizens.”

Twenty-two states have laws that would restrict when and how a patient can terminate a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health and rights organization.

Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin are among the 10 states that have pre-Roe abortion bans that are now expected to take effect. Thirteen states — including Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee — have laws enacted since Roe that will be “triggered” by the court’s decision.

In March, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that made it illegal for Arizona women to seek an abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy — even if they became pregnant because they were raped.

Under Senate Bill 1164, doctors are prohibited from performing the procedure, even if the patient was a victim of incest or rape. Doctors in violation face a class 6 felony and revoked license. A class 6 felony comes with fines, probation and possible prison time between months and up to 5 years.

“In Arizona, we know there is immeasurable value in every life — including preborn life. I believe it is each state’s responsibility to protect them,” Ducey wrote in a signing letter.

Courts, however, may have to decide exactly what happens in Arizona since there are technically two laws on the books. One is from the late 1800s, when Arizona was still a territory, and it calls for mandatory prison time for abortion providers. The new law did not explicitly revoke the old law. Ducey and sponsors of the new law argue that the 2022 legislation takes precedence, but some anti-abortion groups argue that the more stringent territorial law is still in effect.

Abortion rights activists in Arizona reacted quickly, saying they would try to qualify a constitutional amendment protecting abortion for the fall ballot. Arizonans For Reproductive Freedom said they hope to collect at least 350,000 signatures by the July 7 deadline, less than two weeks away.

“GOP state legislators will cut off access to abortions in Arizona in the coming session when Roe is overturned,” said Dr. Victoria Fewell, an OB-GYN and Chair of Arizonans for Reproductive Freedom. “They are out of sync with the vast majority of Arizonans who believe that the decision to carry a pregnancy to term belongs to individuals, not the state. This constitutional amendment will also proactively protect access to lifesaving reproductive healthcare and ensure medical providers will not risk imprisonment for treating their patients.”

Because of the huge size of the state, Arizona will be deeply affected by the Supreme Court decision, said Honest Arizona, a progressive advocacy group. Patients will need to travel long distances to access abortion services in other states.

The decision “is the result of elected Republicans placing their reactionary ideology over the well-being of those they were elected to serve. Women in Arizona already face life-threatening prohibitions to acquiring a medically necessary abortion,” the organization said in a statement after the court decision was released. “In a post-Roe Arizona, women, particularly women of color, will have to overcome the highest barriers in the nation to getting an abortion, the financial burden of (acquiring) care will rise, and their doctors will be made into criminals for providing medical care.”

A dozen states, including Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington, have laws that would protect abortion access up to the point of viability, usually 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

Colorado, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont have laws that protect abortion access throughout a pregnancy, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Thomas targets birth control, same-sex marriage

Justice Thomas wrote his own concurring opinion, arguing that since the court has overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, which was grounded in the 14th Amendment and the due process clause, other cases that have been rooted in the same right to privacy could all be reconsidered.

Those include:

  • The Griswold v. Connecticut case from 1965 that said states couldn’t bar married couples from making private decisions about birth control use.
  • The Lawrence v. Texas case from 2003 that said states couldn’t criminalize consensual sexual relations between same-sex partners.
  • The Obergefell v. Hodges case from 2015 that legalized same-sex marriage.

“For that reason, in future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell,” Thomas wrote.

Thomas also wrote of the Dobbs case that “The resolution of this case is thus straightforward. Because the Due Process Clause does not secure any substantive rights, it does not secure a right to abortion.”

Reaction pours in

The Center for Reproductive Rights, which brought the case to the Supreme Court, rebuked the Republican-nominated justices for ending the right to an abortion.

“The Court’s opinion delivers a wrecking ball to the constitutional right to abortion, destroying the protections of Roe v. Wade, and utterly disregarding the one in four women in America who make the decision to end a pregnancy,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Utter chaos lies ahead, as some states race to the bottom with criminal abortion bans, forcing people to travel across multiple state lines and, for those without means to travel, carry their pregnancies to term — dictating their health, lives, and futures. Today’s decision will ignite a public health emergency,” Northup continued.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, an anti-abortion group, celebrated the decision, while its president called for “an entirely new pro-life movement” to begin.

“Today’s outcome raises the stakes of the midterm elections. Voters will debate and decide this issue and they deserve to know where every candidate in America stands,” Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement. “Federal as well as state lawmakers must commit to being consensus builders who advocate for the most ambitious protections possible.”

Mississippi ban

The court heard two hours of arguments in December in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which arose after Mississippi enacted a law that banned the vast majority of abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth B. Prelogar, who argued on behalf of the federal government as a “friend of the Court,” said that the “real-world effects of overruling Roe” and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that affirmed the right to an abortion “would be severe and swift.”

“Nearly half of the states already have or are expected to enact bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, many without exceptions for rape or incest,” Prelogar said. “Women who are unable to travel hundreds of miles to gain access to legal abortion will be required to continue with their pregnancies and give birth, with profound effects on their bodies, their health and the course of their lives.”

Mississippi Solicitor General Scott G. Stewart argued the nine justices should not only uphold Mississippi’s 2018 law, which had yet to go into effect, but overturn the two cases that have kept abortion access legal for nearly 50 years.

“Roe versus Wade and Planned Parenthood versus Casey haunt our country,” he said. “They’ve poisoned the law.”

Abortion rights history

The Supreme Court first ruled that a pregnant person has a constitutional right to abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that stemmed from a Texas woman being unable to access an abortion in her home state. The decision was 7-2.

Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that the right to an abortion stemmed from the right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. But the court ruled that a person’s fundamental right to terminate their pregnancy must be weighed against the government’s interest in protecting the person’s health and potential life.

The court established a trimester framework that determined when and how governments could impose regulations on abortion access.

In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey case, a 5-4 ruling, the court upheld a constitutional right to an abortion. But the decision overturned the trimester framework, instead setting viability, about 22 to 24 weeks into a pregnancy, as the line for government regulation.

The court said a person had a right to an abortion before viability without undue interference from the government. After reaching a point of viability, states can regulate abortion as long as it doesn’t affect a person’s health or life.

In the plurality opinion, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote that “Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code.”

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Thomas wrote for himself, Antonin Scalia and two others that they would have overturned Roe v. Wade, saying the issue in the case was “not whether the power of a woman to abort her unborn child is a ‘liberty’ in the absolute sense; or even whether it is a liberty of great importance to many women. Of course it is both.”

“The issue is whether it is a liberty protected by the Constitution of the United States. I am sure it is not,” he wrote.

Will court survive a ‘stench’?

During oral arguments in December in the Mississippi case the justices ruled on Friday, Justice Sotomayor expressed concern over how the court overturning cases that established abortion access as a constitutional right would impact its reputation.

“Now, the sponsors of this bill, the House bill in Mississippi, said we’re doing it because we have new justices. The newest ban that Mississippi has put in place, the six-week ban, the Senate sponsor said we’re doing it because we have new justices on the Supreme Court,” Sotomayor said.

“Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?”

Justice Kagan questioned whether the court overruling Roe and Casey would lead Americans to view the court as “a political institution that will go back and forth, depending on what part of the public yells the loudest or changes to the court’s membership.”

And Justice Breyer read from a decision the entire Supreme Court issued in Casey about when and how justices should overturn watershed cases to avoid a situation that “would subvert the Court’s legitimacy.”

“They say overruling unnecessarily and under pressure would lead to condemnation, the Court’s loss of confidence in the judiciary, the ability of the Court to exercise the judicial power and to function as the Supreme Court of a nation dedicated to the rule of law,” Breyer read.

The Mississippi law at the center of the argument allowed abortions after 15 weeks in cases of “severe fetal abnormality” or medical emergency, but it did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

At the time Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill in March 2018, the 15-week threshold was the earliest abortion ban in the nation.

That has since changed, with several states enacting laws restricting abortion below that benchmark, including an Oklahoma law that makes abortion a felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison, a maximum fine of $10,000, or both.

Abortion rights organizations have filed lawsuits to stop many of those new laws from going into effect on the basis that they violated the constitutional right to an abortion that the court undid this week.

Politico leak

The Supreme Court majority opinion released Friday is similar to a draft version, led by Justice Alito, that was leaked to Politico in early May.

The leak was broadly criticized by Republicans, who at the time didn’t want to talk about the implications of the court overturning Roe, while Democrats rebuked the conservative justices for the expected decision.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, held a floor vote in May on a bill that would have codified a nationwide right to an abortion.

That legislation couldn’t get past the chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster.

Maine Sen. Susan Collins and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans who expressed frustration with how the Trump-nominated justices portrayed their view of Roe as a settled precedent during their confirmation processes, voted against the bill.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin did as well.

Manchin said in a statement Friday that he was “deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court has voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

“I trusted Justice Gorsuch and Justice Kavanaugh when they testified under oath that they also believed Roe v. Wade was settled legal precedent and I am alarmed they chose to reject the stability the ruling has provided for two generations of Americans,” Manchin continued.

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