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Pro-Trump mob storms US Capitol in bid to overturn election

WASHINGTON — A violent mob of reported supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and forced lawmakers into hiding.

It was a stunning attempt to overturn the presidential election and keep Democrat Joe Biden from replacing Trump in the White House.

The nation’s elected representatives scrambled to crouch under desks and donned gas marks, while police tried to barricade the building, one of the most jarring scenes ever to unfold in a seat of American political power.

A woman was shot and killed inside the Capitol, and Washington’s mayor instituted an evening curfew.

The protesters were egged on by Trump, who has spent weeks attacking the integrity of the election and had urged his supporters to descend on Washington on Wednesday to protest Congress’ formal approval of Biden’s victory. Some Republican lawmakers were in the midst of raising objections to the results on his behalf when the proceedings were abruptly halted by the mob.

PHOTOS: Trump supporters storm US Capitol, lawmakers evacuated

Together, the protests and the GOP election objections exposed the depths of the divisions that have coursed through the country during Trump’s four years in office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said lawmakers were resuming the counting of electoral votes Wednesday evening after the Capitol was cleared of the occupiers.

The president gave his supporters an added boost Wednesday morning during an appearance at a rally outside the White House, where he urged them to march to the Capitol. He spent much of the afternoon in his private dining room off the Oval Office watching scenes of the violence on television.

At the urging of his staff, he issued a pair of tweets and a taped video telling his supporters it was time to “go home in peace” — yet he still said he backed their cause.

A somber President-elect Biden, two weeks away from being inaugurated, said American democracy was “under unprecedented assault,” a sentiment echoed by many in Congress, including some Republicans. Former President George W. Bush said he watched the events in “disbelief and dismay.”

The domed Capitol building has for centuries been the scene of protests and occasional violence, including a 1954 shooting involving Puerto Rican nationalists. But Wednesday’s events were particularly astounding both because they unfolded at least initially with the implicit blessing of the president and because of the underlying goal of overturning the results of a free and fair presidential election.

Tensions were already running high when lawmakers gathered early Wednesday afternoon for the constitutionally mandated counting of the Electoral College results, in which Biden defeated Trump, 306-232. Despite pleas from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, more than 150 GOP lawmakers planned to support objections to some of the results, though lacking evidence of fraud or wrongdoing in the election.

Trump spent the lead-up to the proceedings publicly hectoring Vice President Mike Pence, who had a largely ceremonial role in the proceedings, to aid the effort. He tweeted on Wednesday: “Do it Mike, this is a time for extreme courage!”

But Pence, in a statement shortly before presiding, defied Trump, saying he could not claim “unilateral authority” to reject the electoral votes that make Biden president.

Shortly after the first GOP objections, protesters fought past police and breached the building, shouting and waving Trump and American flags as they marched through the halls. Lawmakers were told to duck under their seats for cover and put on gas masks after tear gas was used in the Capitol Rotunda. Some House lawmakers tweeted they were sheltering in place in their offices.

Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., told reporters he was in the House chamber when rioters began storming it. Security officers “made us all get down, you could see that they were fending off some sort of assault, it looked like. They had a piece of furniture up against the door, the door, the entry to the floor from the Rotunda, and they had guns pulled,” Peters said.

“And they just told us to take our pins off,” he added, referring to lapel pins members wear so Capitol Police can quickly identify them. Then the lawmakers were evacuated.

Staff members grabbed the boxes of Electoral College votes as the evacuation took place. Otherwise, said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., the ballots likely would have been destroyed by the protesters.

Trump supporters posting on internet forums popular with far-right fringe elements celebrated the chaos. Messages posted on one turned from profane frustration over the content of Trump’s speech to glee when supporters stormed the building. At least one leading figure was livestreaming video from inside the Capitol during the siege.

The mob’s storming of Congress prompted bipartisan outrage, mostly from Democrats but from Republicans as well, as lawmakers accused Trump of fomenting the violence with his relentless falsehoods about election fraud. Several suggested that Trump be prosecuted for a crime, which seems unlikely two weeks from when his term expires.

Despite Trump’s repeated claims of voter fraud, election officials and his own former attorney general have said there were no problems on a scale that would change the outcome. All the states have certified their results as fair and accurate, by Republican and Democratic officials alike.

The Pentagon said about 1,100 District of Columbia National Guard members were being mobilized to help support law enforcement at the Capitol. More than a dozen people were arrested.

As darkness began to set in, law enforcement officials worked their way toward the protesters, using percussion grenades to try to clear the area around the Capitol. Big clouds of tear gas were visible.

Teachers, school personnel next up for vaccines, Justice announces

Educators and staffers at West Virginia schools may start receiving COVID-19 vaccines Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice announced during his Wednesday COVID-19 briefing.

The vaccinations will start less than two weeks before middle and elementary schools across the state return to in-person classes on Jan. 19, while high schools will remain on the school reopening map.

Some teachers, many a part of the state’s teacher unions, have voiced safety concerns about returning to classrooms as COVID-19 continues to spike across the Mountain State.

If vaccinations for teachers start Thursday, second doses will not be distributed until at least February. That means those who opt to receive the vaccines will not be protected from the virus by the time they’re expected to be in their classrooms.

Teacher vaccines will be scheduled, and information for each county will be sent from the state Department of Education to superintendents to distribute to their teachers.

Justice on Wednesday said that, while he understands that teachers might be concerned to return to school, he “will not be bullied” by teacher unions on the decision.

“Without any question, we should be going back to school,” Justice said. “I will continue to talk to our educators, but I will not be bullied by our teachers unions.”

As of Wednesday, there were 94,678 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in West Virginia, 27,626 of which are active, and 1,481 COVID-19 related deaths. The state has broken records in recent days for the number of new cases in one day (1,620), deaths in one day (46), those hospitalized with COVID-19 (818) and the amount of those people receiving care in an intensive care unit (217) or on a ventilator (102).

Also Wednesday, Justice announced that the state’s “Save Our Wisdom” campaign, which aims to continue vaccinating older people who are more at risk for COVID-19, will include vaccination clinics. Each clinic will be stocked with about 650 doses for the Save Our Wisdom initiative, and that will increase as the vaccine supply increases in coming weeks.

While Justice filled the first 10 minutes of his Wednesday news conference listing the 85 people who have died from COVID-19 in the past two days, he spent much time in the middle defending himself and his resort, The Greenbrier. Over the weekend, footage from a New Year’s Eve party at the resort circulated showing dozens of people at the event, many unmasked.

Justice reiterated Wednesday that he did not know anything about the event.

“I had no clue. You may throw rocks at me if you choose to do so. But I was lying in my bed, watching the ball drop and listening to [Jennifer Lopez] sing,” the governor said.

Justice said Monday that he would find out the names of those responsible for organizing and coordinating the party. On Wednesday, though, he backtracked, saying that would be unfair to those at the resort, including his daughter, Dr. Jill Justice, president of The Greenbrier.

The governor did say he’d been assured that the investigation into the resort’s event would continue and, if there was any wrongdoing, those responsible would be punished. For now, Justice said, he’s made it clear to management at The Greenbrier that they must double-down on the mitigation efforts currently in place.

WV's Congressional delegation safe from harm; state delegate stormed the Capitol with other Trump supporters

Update: Calls for ouster of Wayne delegate who stormed US Capitol grow

A newly elected state delegate joined throngs of President Donald Trump’s supporters Wednesday, breaching the Capitol in Washington as hundreds of federal lawmakers readied to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.

Neither Delegate Derrick Evans, R-Wayne, nor members of the state’s congressional delegation or their staffs was hurt.

The Mountain State’s congressional leaders were safe and away from protesters, including Evans clad in a helmet, forcing their way into the Capitol. Evans posted and later deleted a video that showed him among the mob.

“Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” someone shouts as the video ends.

Evans did not respond to requests for comment. He posted a statement on Twitter and Facebook thanking people for their support and saying he was safe.

Evans said he did not participate in any destruction “that may have occurred.”

“I was simply there as an independent member of the media to film history,” Evans said.

On Sunday, Evans said on Twitter he was going to Washington on Wednesday “because this is the 1st time @realDonaldTrump has asked me to do anything. He’s been fighting for us for years. It’s the least I could do.”

State House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said he was “shocked, angered and disturbed by the images coming out of our nation’s Capitol today.”

Hanshaw said Evans will have to “answer to his constituents and colleagues regarding his involvement in what has occurred today.”

Hanshaw didn’t indicate any immediate reprimand for Evans, but the speaker was in the process of gathering as much information as possible about what happened, said House spokesman Jared Hunt.

Hanshaw plans to “evaluate all the potential consequences once the totality of the situation is understood.”

The West Virginia Legislature is set to reconvene for one day Jan. 13. The regular legislative session begins Feb. 10.

“I have not spoken to Delegate Evans about today’s events, I don’t know the specifics of his involvement, I have only seen what has been posted on social media so far and I’m sure more details may come out soon,” Hanshaw said. “While free speech and peaceful protests are a core value of American society, storming government buildings and participating in a violent intentional disruption of one of our nation’s most fundamental political institutions is a crime that should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

“What occurred today is unpatriotic, un-American and I condemn it in the strongest terms possible.”

House Minority Leader Doug Skaff Jr. applauded Hanshaw’s remarks and in a written statement called on him “to have [Evans’] rights, privileges and access to our capitol building suspended immediately and indefinitely while an investigation is ongoing.”

Skaff is president of HD Media, publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail and (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch.

After protesters breached the Capitol, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., issued statements on Twitter saying they didn’t support the group’s actions.

“This is the United States of America,” Capito said in a tweet at 4:14 p.m. “This needs to stop right now. We don’t do this. It’s not who we are.”

Manchin, who on Monday was the subject of conversation on Twitter over what many say will be his new power now that the U.S. Senate has a Democratic majority, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that Americans shouldn’t be so tribal in their political affiliations.

After the breach, Manchin shared a statement on Twitter and via email referring to “the insurrection at the United States Capitol.”

“We are okay and ready to get back to the Senate chamber to finish our work,” Manchin said. “These thugs cannot and will not run us off. We will continue to govern.”

Republican U.S. House Rep. Alex Mooney tweeted a photo of himself walking in the Capitol while holding what he said was a protective hood issued to all House members as they evacuated chambers. Mooney said he was safe.

Likewise, Republican Rep. Carol Miller tweeted that she was safe and praying for the Capitol Police.

A staff member in Republican Rep. David McKinley’s office confirmed he and staffers were safe.

McKinley later issued a statement on Twitter.

“The violence and destruction at the Capitol cannot be tolerated,” McKinley said. “Yes, there is frustration but in a democracy we need to channel that peacefully. This needs to stop now ...it’s not who we are.”

Huntington, Cabell County opioid trial to start in May after pandemic delays

HUNTINGTON — As attorneys attempt to navigate uncharted waters created by the COVID-19 pandemic, sides met via video conference Wednesday in an effort to push forward a Cabell County and Huntington lawsuit against opioid distributors.

During the hearing, a new trial date was set and motions were heard in which the governments accuse three opioid distributors of helping create and fuel opioid abuse in the area.

AmerisourceBergen Corp., McKesson and Cardinal Health — the “Big Three” drug distributors — were named as defendants in the lawsuit in 2017, accusing them of blindly pumping pain pills into Appalachia, thus fueling opioid and, later, heroin addiction. Since then, more than 3,000 cases have been filed by others.

The case had been set to go to trial this week in Charleston. But it was postponed when U.S. District Court Judge David A. Faber ruled that it was too risky to proceed — a ruling made at least twice in 2020, before the COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket across the country.

Despite the defense’s wish to delay the trial until fall, Faber set opening statements for May 3, with each side getting half a day to make their statements. Each side will receive six weeks to present its case, with possible breaks for holidays and important conferences.

The amount of time allotted will be fluid, Faber said, to give sides time to do proper examinations of witnesses. The defense is expected to begin presenting evidence on June 28, and the trial is expected to end around Aug. 9.

Steve Ruby, an attorney for Cardinal Health, asked the judge to delay setting a trial date until the next video conference in February.

“Our concern is that, if we put an early date on the books and the rollout continues in the way it has so far, we are going to be back here in two or three months, facing the reality that it will be difficult or impossible to have a trial,” he said.

Faber denied the request.

“I think this has gone on an awful long time and we need to get some closure,” he said. “That’s not going to happen until we have a schedule.”

Plaintiffs’ attorneys, including Huntington’s Paul Farrell Jr., had previously pointed to data that showed the opioid epidemic was worsening during the COVID-19 pandemic as reason to move forward as soon as possible.

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ARCOS data show that, from 2006 to the end of 2016, West Virginia received 853.5 million prescription pain pills. Of those, 65 million — about 96 per person, per year — were distributed in Cabell County, with millions more going to surrounding counties. West Virginia, one of the hardest-hit areas for the opioid epidemic, suffered 1,017 overdose deaths in 2017, with Cabell County accounting for 157 of those.

The lawsuit argues that the defendants had a duty to monitor and investigate suspicious orders of the opioids and failed to do so. The defendants deny any wrongdoing.

Now ready for trial, the case has remained at a stalemate for nearly nine months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many as 200 witnesses and a countless number of attorneys and others could travel from across the country for the proceedings.

Among arguments made during Wednesday’s hearing, the defense attempted to block opinion-based testimony by eight witnesses, who walk the line between fact and opinion experts. Those witnesses were interviewed without knowledge that they could be experts expressing their opinion on the matter, instead of just the facts, and thus questions about their opinions were not asked, the defense said.

The plaintiffs argued that the defense had been made aware of the witnesses months ago and that their testimony about their roles, investigations and eyewitness accounts during the crisis are vital to their case.

Much of that focus was on blocking the testimony of former West Virginia Chief Health Officer Dr. Rahul Gupta. Gupta is being paid $500 an hour as an expert opinion witness in a parallel state case with similar accusations, they said, but he is being presented as an unpaid fact expert in the federal case, Ruby said.

Farrell said plaintiffs wanted him to testify to his experiences and role during the pandemic, not on his expert opinion about the situation.

“They want to exclude him because he has a lot of relevant factual testimony about what happened in West Virginia,” he said.

In another motion, the plaintiffs asked that the ARCOS data be placed into the record without them having to present it at trial, which could take several days. Farrell said there are about 500 million lines in the database.

The defendants objected to the motion, stating that the dataset is “potentially under dispute” because of its massive size. While they seek to limit the amount of ARCOS data presented at trial to Cabell County, Farrell said it is important to include it all to show the entire picture. The defense suggested the plaintiffs want to spend their allotted time going over that during trial.

The plaintiffs also are seeking to introduce data from a platform tracking individual prescriptions at a pharmaceutical level.

They said the data would show that a large number of opioids were being prescribed by a small number of doctors, which the defendants should have been aware of, plaintiff attorney Anthony Majestro said.

Ashley Hardin, representing Cardinal Health, said the data is hearsay data in which some defendants had not received. Distributors do not use the data, she said, and thus it was not connected to their case.

“It is not our obligation to police prescribing,” she said.

Faber is expected to make a ruling on those motions later this month.