November 9, 2018

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker may have once been on the other side of the law.

Before Whitaker was appointed as the interim replacement for ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he was on the advisory board for a Miami-based company called World Patent Marketing, the Miami New Times reported. In May, a Federal Trade Commission investigation led to a federal court shutting the business down.

Whitaker joined the marketing firm after his failed 2014 Senate run, which World Patent Marketing donated to, reports The Washington Post. But shortly after, the FTC opened a probe into allegations that the company had charged customers for services it never provided. The New Times spoke to customers who lost upwards of $400,000 each, and found an email in which Whitaker threatened a complaining customer with "serious civil or criminal consequences."

The FTC eventually filed a complaint against World Patent Marketing, calling it a "scam that has bilked thousands of consumers out of millions of dollars." The company apparently offered customers expensive "global patents," which don't even exist, per the complaint, relying on its "illustrious board" members like Whitaker to convince customers to pay up. A Florida federal court ruled in the FTC's favor, ordering World Patent Marketing to shut down and pay $25 million in damages. The company reportedly paid Whitaker nearly $10,000 before shuttering.

The FTC complaint and court ruling didn't specifically tie Whitaker to any wrongdoing, Gizmodo points out. Whitaker did not respond to the Post's requests for comment on the matter, and Justice Department and FTC spokespersons declined to comment. Read more about Whitaker's work with World Patent Marketing at The Miami New Times. Kathryn Krawczyk


At least three people were killed and 29 injured on Monday when Palestinian militants fired at least 300 rockets and mortar bombs at Israel and Israeli fighter jets bombed buildings across Gaza.

The dead include two Palestinian militants. The violence was triggered by a botched raid in Gaza late Sunday night that left seven Hamas militants and an Israeli lieutenant colonel dead. Hamas and a smaller group named Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the rockets, with a spokesman saying they retaliated "so the occupation and its supporters know that the lives of our sons come with a price."

An Israeli airstrike destroyed the headquarters of Al Aqsa, the television station run by Hamas; Israel has said the station "broadcasts violent propaganda" and offers "operational messaging" to militants. The Associated Press reports this was likely the most "intense exchange of fire" since 2014. Catherine Garcia


Mississippi's Senate race hasn't come to an end — and neither has the controversy surrounding comments one candidate made about a "public hanging."

In a video that surfaced Sunday, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) is seen telling a man standing with her at what appears to be a Nov. 2 campaign event that "if he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be on the front row." Hyde-Smith has been asked several times about the comments, and has used every opportunity to double down on her unapologetic statement about the video, The Associated Press reports.

In the statement, Hyde-Smith defended her comments as "an exaggerated expression of regard," adding that "any attempt to turn this into a negative connotation is ridiculous." And when accepting an endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee on Monday, Hyde-Smith again referred questioning reporters to that statement, per AP.

Her comments hit a nerve, especially considering Hyde-Smith's Democratic opponent, former agriculture secretary Mike Espy, is black. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., pointed out that Mississippi has a long history of lynching, and called the senator's comments "a reminder ... that racism is still a festering, pervasive evil in the U.S."

Hyde-Smith was appointed to fill Sen. Thad Cochran's (R) seat after he retired amid health concerns, and has served in the Senate since April. Both she and Espy failed to reach the 50 percent threshold in last week's Senate special election, so they will face each other once more during a runoff on Nov. 27. Hyde-Smith is expected to win the deep red state. Kathryn Krawczyk


As President Trump and Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) continue to float baseless allegations of voter fraud in Florida as ballots are recounted, officials are pushing back on their claims.

Federal Circuit Chief Judge Jack Tuter, who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush, said Monday that he has seen no evidence of illegal activity in Broward County, the center of many of the fraud allegations. President Trump has tweeted about the county multiple times and said without evidence Monday that ballots are "massively infected" in the state, where gubernatorial and Senate elections currently have Republicans ahead by razor thin margins. Scott, who leads in the Senate race, has also accused incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) of attempting to steal the election.

But Tuter wants everyone to "ramp down the rhetoric," saying Monday that "we have to be careful about what we say," reports the Tampa Bay Times. The judge denied Scott's request to impound Broward County voting machines while they're not being used to recount ballots, but he did agree to allow three sheriffs to help oversee the recount there. "There needs to be an additional layer of confidence," Tuter explained. The Florida Department of State has also said there has been no evidence of criminal activity, reports Politico.

Nelson, meanwhile, wants to count ballots whose signatures did not match the one on the voter's registration, and he's suing to count mail-in ballots postmarked before Election Day but not delivered until after polls closed, per The Associated Press. Nelson is additionally calling on Scott to recuse himself from overseeing the recount. As this drama escalates, a Thursday deadline to complete a machine recount looms. Brendan Morrow


A photo of nearly every boy in a Wisconsin high school's class of 2019 giving a Nazi salute was posted on Twitter on Sunday. It's now under investigation by the school district and local police.

The photo seems to have been taken before Baraboo High School's junior prom this past spring, the Baraboo News Republic reports. It was tweeted from the @GoBaraboo account, captioned: "We even got the black kid to throw it up #BarabooProud," reports Madison365. Not all the boys in the photo are giving the salute, but one is flashing the "okay" sign, which some far-right trolls have rebranded as a white power symbol.

The photo was originally posted on local motorcycle photographer Peter Gust's website, but was taken down after Young Turks contributor Jules Suzdaltsev tweeted the photo Monday morning, reports Madison365. After posting the photo, Suzdaltsev began receiving messages from current and former Baraboo students who said racism was a pervasive problem in the school. One student said the photographer told the boys to throw up the Nazi salute.

Students are now on a "soft hold" at the high school and can't leave without parental and office permission while local officials investigate the issue, reports the News Republic. The Baraboo School District, several local and state officials, and even the Auschwitz Memorial Museum have condemned the photo. Kathryn Krawczyk


Stan Lee, the legendary Marvel Comics writer and editor who helped revolutionize the comic book industry and created dozens of iconic superheroes, has died at age 95, The Hollywood Reporter and NBC News report.

The cause of death is still unknown, but TMZ reports that Lee was rushed to the hospital in Los Angeles on Monday morning. Earlier this year, he was forced to cancel numerous appearances due to a battle with pneumonia, telling fans in a video at the time, "I want you to know that I still love you all.”

Born in 1922, Lee was hired in 1939 as an assistant at Timely Publications, which eventually became Marvel Comics. Alongside artist Jack Kirby and others, Lee went on to create countless heroes like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, the Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and Black Panther. Lee created notably flawed and relatable characters, in contrast with the godlike heroes like Superman found in the pages of other comics.

Decades later, many of Lee's characters were brought to life on film, and Lee had a cameo in virtually every single movie adaptation, including every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie from Iron Man to this year's Ant-Man and the Wasp. Lee generally filmed several of his cameos at once, and per Screen Rant, it appears he had already shot his role in next year's Avengers 4 prior to his death. Brendan Morrow


Alex Trebek has some thoughts about the #MeToo movement. Not that anyone asked.

In a Vulture interview published Monday, the longtime Jeopardy! host was asked about how he manages to come across as an expert on every topic the show covers. But contrary to what viewers might think, Trebek said he's "not a nerdy person who spends all his time researching information that might come in handy on Jeopardy!" Then, totally unprompted, Trebek decided to share how he talked about the #MeToo movement with the Jeopardy! staff.

I said, "My gosh, this has got to be a scary time for men." I'm fortunate that I've never been in a position of power where I might be able to lord it over somebody sexually. I said, "But there are guys out there — young guys are stupid in their teens." There's nothing stupider than a teenage boy. They're operating on testosterone.

The conversation then turned back to some standard questions. Trebek said his dream celebrity contestant would be "Kevin Spacey ... but now you can't say that." He declared "there isn't enough humor" in politics today. And he suggested President Trump "might not agree that any of the correct responses are correct" if he appeared on Jeopardy!.

Things wrapped up with talk of the 78-year-old's likely retirement in 2020. And as for a replacement? "We're in the #MeToo movement now ... so I suspect that the producers might give serious consideration to having a woman host," Trebek said. His money is on Betty White. Read more of Trebek's wide-ranging interview at Vulture. Kathryn Krawczyk


When news hit last year that Ryan Reynolds of Deadpool fame would be voicing Pikachu in a live-action Pokémon movie, the news sounded too crazy to be true. But now, a trailer is here to prove that this upcoming movie is definitely very, very real.

The first trailer for Detective Pikachu, released Monday, takes place in a Blade Runner-esque city, in which humans and realistic-looking animated Pokémon live side by side. The main character is 21-year-old Tim, the son of a detective who has gone missing. In an attempt to locate his father, Tim receives help from none other than Pikachu, voiced by Reynolds, who is speaking English and sounding very much like Reynolds. As is soon explained, everyone else within the universe only hears Pikachu's normal high-pitched squealing of his own name, but for whatever reason, Tim can hear Pikachu speaking in clear full sentences.

Per the film's synopsis, this crime-solving Pikachu will join Tim on a quest to unravel a mystery and eventually "uncover a shocking plot that could destroy this peaceful co-existence and threaten the whole Pokémon universe," ScreenCrush reports. From director Rob Letterman (Goosebumps), this movie is the first time the Pokémon franchise has ever been adapted into a live-action film. It will hit theaters in May 2019. Watch the trailer below. Brendan Morrow

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