Elon Musk claims his investigator tricked him about diver he called a ‘pedo’

In court documents, Tesla CEO says he regrets attacking man who helped save young soccer players trapped in underwater cave

Elon Musk

Elon Musk has claimed he was fooled by the investigator he hired to get dirt on a British diver, according to new court documents.

Im a fucking idiot, Musk said, according to documents surfaced in court on Tuesday, in the latest development in a bizarre defamation case brought against the Tesla CEO over comments made in 2018.

Musk has been feuding with Vernon Unsworth, a diver who helped rescue a team of young soccer players stuck in an underwater cave in Thailand, ever since Unsworth criticized Musks plan to save the youth with a submarine.

Musk called Unsworth a pedo guy on Twitter and referred to him as a child rapist in emails to a BuzzFeed reporter.

Unsworth sued for defamation in September 2018.

Musk has argued in earlier court filings that he made the pedo guy insult in jest. Lawyers for Unsworth dismissed that claim at the time, pointing out that Musk had accused Unsworth in subsequent tweets and emails to BuzzFeed of sexual behavior with children and had referred to disturbing information allegedly uncovered in a private investigation funded by Musk.

Unsworths legal team said in a court filing on 7 October that Musk failed to vet the man behind the investigation.

Musk admitted in an email cited in the court filing that the investigator, James Howard-Higgins, whom he hired to look into Vernons background merely was, in retrospect, just taking us for a ride.

In communications cited in the filing, Musk claimed he regretted emailing a BuzzFeed reporter, Ryan Mac, saying it was one of the dumbest things Ive ever done.

Unsworths team called Musk a thin-skinned billionaire who is obsessed with his public image and has a history of vindictively and intentionally ignoring the truth to maintain that PR-created image. In the filing, Unsworths lawyers also noted that Musk paid at least $52,000 to the investigator without vetting him.

The team alleges Musk paid to orchestrate a malicious, false, and anonymous leak campaign in the UK and Australian press regarding Unsworth.

Vernon Unsworth will now spend the rest of his life with the asterisk of pedophilia attached to his name as the direct result of a public relations campaign of false, heinous accusations by Elon Musk, the filing from Unsworths team said.

Musks legal team said Unsworth brought the case in pursuit of self-promotion.

This case is nothing but a money-grab in which Unsworth has hired an agent and pursued profit, publicity and self-promotion at every turn, Alex Spiro, Musks lawyer, told the Guardian by email.

The case is set to go to trial on 2 December 2019.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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This asylum seeker was shot in the head. Ice jailed him and gave him ibuprofen

Rolando, an indigenous man who survived a shooting and torture in Guatemala, was suffering blinding headaches when he arrived in the US

Americas

Some days, Rolando would bleed out of his eyes, ears and nose. Other days, hed lie on the floor, dizzy or barely conscious.

But every time the jailed Guatemalan asylum seeker sought help from a doctor, staff at his US immigration detention center offered the same treatment: ibuprofen.

The 27-year-old migrant survived a gunshot wound to the head in Guatemala and was suffering from excruciating headaches and possible brain hemorrhaging when he presented himself at the San Ysidro port of entry earlier this year. US authorities responded by isolating him in solitary confinement and jailing him for months at the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, giving him sporadic access to medical staff and medicine, his records show.

I feared I was going to die, Rolando, who asked not to use his full name due tothreats against his life, told the Guardian. I thought in this country, there is really good medical care but I wasnt getting any treatment.

Rolando made it out of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) detention alive, but his battle isnt over. Hes still fighting to get asylum, based on the physical torture and persecution he fled as an indigenous Guatemalan. Every step of his journey has collided with the Trump administrations aggressive attacks and expanding restrictions on migrants and refugees.

Now, the White House is moving to block Central Americans like Rolando from presenting their cases at the border, a move that experts agree will have devastating and fatal consequences.

I came to the United States because Id like to at least make it to 30, Rolando said.

An orphan who escaped death: I dont have anyone left

When he met the Guardian on a recent morning, Rolando carried the charger for his ankle monitor, which asylum seekers awaiting hearings are frequently forced to wear. Hes often worried about it running out of battery.

Seated inside the small legal services office of Al Otro Lado, above a pizza shopin San Diego, Rolando looked down and wove a bracelet with his hands as he talked, a practice he developed inside detention to pass the time and distract from his health problems. His native Mayan language is Qeqchi, but he talks to his attorney in Spanish, which he was forced to speak in jail.

Rolando was born into chaos in 1992 in the Petn region of northern Guatemala. His father had been a member of the armed forces but resigned and became a supporter of the pro-indigenous movement. He was killed as a result, just after Rolandos birth, and his mother died soon after from the trauma, he said.

He was an orphan at age one: My brothers and sisters couldnt take care of me and they gave me to neighbors.

Rolando became homeless and later a frequent target of violence by the people who he believes killed his father. Police tortured him when he sought help. According to his asylum application, that included placing nails in his hand and foot and burning his arms with hot knives.

In 2016, while at a soccer game, assailants shot Rolando in the head and left him with a written death threat that referenced his fathers murder. He survived, was forced into hiding and was unable to get medical attention. He said he had to remove the bullet himself. Police later refused to help and assaulted him, according to his file.

I dont have anyone left, he said, adding that fleeing to the US was his only option: Giving me an opportunity to be here is giving me an opportunity to stay alive.

He escaped to Mexico and joined a caravan last year, eventually making it to Tijuana. Then the waiting began.

As part of a vast crackdown on migration, the border patrol under Trump has instituted a policy known as metering, which limits the number of people who can apply for asylum each day. In Tijuana, this has led to a waitlist that has more than 10,000 people, with a few dozen allowed to cross daily, creating a wait time of roughly six to nine months, lawyers estimate.

Trumps Remain in Mexico policy has also resulted in nearly 50,000 migrants from Central America being returned to Mexico while their cases move forward. That has translated to overcrowded shelters, tent encampments and a struggle to access medical and legal services.

It also leaves migrants like Rolando vulnerable to the same violence they were escaping in their home countries. Rolando said he was beaten in Tijuana, suffering injuries to both his arms and forcing him to wear a cast.

In February, he was finally able to enter the US through the San Ysidro port of entry. In his initial processing, authorities took his injured arms and placed him in handcuffs.

In detention, in agony and without treatment

Once he was in custody, Rolandos health problems worsened. More than 150 pages of Ices medical records paint a picture of repeated health crises and his persistent struggle to get help.

Rolando regularly was bleeding from his eyes, ears and nose the cause of which was unclear to doctors but might have been related to his gunshot wound. Rolando said he was bleeding soon after he was taken into custody and that as a result, he was placed in isolation: They said, We dont know whats wrong with you.

Its unclear how many days he spent in solitary, but he said he had difficulty getting any treatment while isolated, and that he would spend all day in a small cell with no window to the outside. Staff would pass him meals through a small slat.

I didnt even know what was night and what was day, he recalled. I was sick already, but I was starting to get worse Nobody was coming to see me.

Once in the general population of Otay Mesa, Rolando continued to suffer periodic bleeding, and at times his head pain was so severe, he would lose consciousness, or he would lie on the ground so that he would not injure himself if he passed out.

Rolando
Rolando made bracelets and sold them to other detainees so he could buy instant soup, he recalled. Photograph: John Francis Peters/The Guardian

Rolando would frequently sign up for sick call to visit medical staff, but he said the appointments did little to help. Records show that on one visit, a nurse told him to drink more water and wash hair/head thoroughly.

Eating the facilitys meats also started to make him sick, but he often struggled to get alternative food options, even though the medical staff said he needed to change his diet. Sometimes he made bracelets and sold them to other detainees so he could buy instant soup, he recalled.

The records show that the main form of treatment Rolando received was prescriptions for ibuprofen in increasingly high doses as his pain worsened. Sometimes, he said, he ran out of ibuprofen and had difficulty getting a refill. He also received an ointment for his eyes.

Anne Rios, his attorney with Al Otro Lado, said she was stunned when she was finally able to get a copy of his medical records: It seems unbelievable, almost too absurd to be true, but its not only documented, its the governments own records.

By August, Ice had twice refused to release him while his asylum case was pending even after dozens of medical visits, including multiple to the emergency room. One ER doctor had written that he was a serious patient that presents with significant complexity of risk, adding that he might have some kind of brain hemorrhage.

He had no criminal history or immigration violations.

Rolando grew increasingly desperate. At one point, he considered giving up and deporting himself back to Guatemala a certain death, Rios said, recalling him telling her on one visit: Im gonna die here or in Guatemala, so I would at least rather go to my home country I just cant take it any more.

After a third request by Rolandos attorneys, an Ice officer ruled that he could be released but only if he paid a $5,000 bond.

For many, $5,000 might as well be $5m, said Rios. They come here with nothing, no resources, no family members, absolutely no way to pay for that.

Rolando was only able to get out when Al Otro Lado found a way to cover the amount through its bond fund.

Ice declined to comment on Rolandos case, citing his privacy. A spokeswoman said: everyone in our custody receives timely access to medical services and treatment, including a full health assessment with two weeks of custody, daily sick calls and 24-hour emergency care. A dietician ensures detainees unique health (included allergies), dietary, and religious needs are met for each meal, and all food must be visually appealing, palatable, and taste good.

A final plea: I followed the rules and I am telling the truth

Rolando struggles to understand why the US has treated him like a criminal: I followed all the rules and I asked for admission.

Trump, however, is working to make the asylum process much more restrictive than what Rolando has experienced. His administration passed a policy in July banning migrants from seeking asylum at the US-Mexico border if they came from another country, saying they must first seek protections elsewhere.

The supreme court ruled last month that Trumps ban could go into effect while legal challenges continued.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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‘We’re not fooling around’: Pelosi and Schiff stand firm as Trump fumes

Were not fooling around: Democratic pair say inquiry will not be slowed and condemn president over blatant effort to intimidate witnesses

Democrats

Donald Trump has been accused of incitement to violence and threatened with obstruction charges in the fast-escalating battle over impeachment, as the president maintained his aggressive counter-attack against Democratic leaders and the whistleblower who precipitated the inquiry.

Were not fooling around here, Adam Schiff, the chair of the powerful House intelligence committee, said in Washington on Wednesday.

Elijah Cummings, the chair of the House oversight committee, revealed that it would issue a subpoena to the White House if it failed to hand over documents on contacts with Ukraine by Friday.

I do not take this step lightly, Cummings said, saying the White House had stonewalled on demands for cooperation for several weeks.

The Democrats investigative steps have infuriated Trump, who was live-tweeting their press conference on Capitol Hill. He denounced the impeachment process, in block capitals, as BULLSHIT and later repeated an extreme claim that Schiff should be investigated for treason.

The speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, announced the start of the impeachment inquiry eight days ago, focusing on a whistleblower complaint that emerged the week before about a July phone call between Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The complaint and a memo of the call issued by the White House have since been released, indicating that Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden, a leading rival for the White House in the 2020 election, while the US was withholding vital aid from Ukraine.

Schiff insisted on Wednesday that the inquiry would not be slowed down by presidential stonewalling or threatening language against potential witnesses.

Were very busy, Schiff said. We are proceeding deliberately but at the same time we feel a real sense of urgency here.

Democratic-run House committees heard from the state departments inspector general, an independent watchdog, on Wednesday, followed by the former special envoy on Ukraine on Thursday and the former ambassador to Kyiv next week. But they are battling with the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, about other depositions by state department officials and the handover of relevant documents.

Schiff and Pelosi condemned Trump for rhetoric directed at an intelligence agency whistleblower who revealed details of the phone call at the core of the impeachment proceedings.

Trump has referred to the whistleblower and the officials who provided information included in the complaint as spies and implied they should face the death penalty. Senior officials and some leading Republicans have confirmed the whistleblower used recommended legal channels but Trump repeated the spy allegation on Wednesday.

Donald
Donald Trump at the White House with the Finnish PM on Wednesday. Pelosi and Schiffs press conference infuriated the president. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

Schiff said the president was engaging in a blatant effort to intimidate witnesses.

Its an incitement of violence, he said.

The president probably doesnt realize how dangerous his statement is, Pelosi added.

Trump, who was clearly watching the press conference live, unleashed an expletive-laced Twitter tirade.

The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyones time and energy on BULLSHIT, which is what they have been doing ever since I got overwhelmingly elected in 2016, he said.

The president continued to tweet every few minutes, lashing out at Schiff, who he called a lowlife, until it was time to greet the visiting Finnish president Sauli Niinist. The fury of Trumps commentary reflected how impeachment has come to consume his focus and attention.

At a press conference at the end of his meeting with Niinist, Trump, who repeated one of his favourite self-descriptions as a very stable genius, repeatedly refused to answer a question about what he had been asking Zelenskiy to do in relation to the Bidens, and lost his temper at the Reuters journalist asking it.

Are you talking to me? Trump shouted. Did you hear me? he demanded, telling the journalist to ask the Finnish president a question instead.

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‘Are you talking to me?’: furious Trump takes aim at journalist over Ukraine question video

In his own struggle with Congress, Pompeo was forced to admit on Wednesday he took part in the July phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy.

Pompeo made the admission while on a trip to Rome, after his participation in the call had been reported in the US press. When asked in a television interview 10 days ago about the Trump conversation with Zelenskiy, Pompeo had looked quizzical and implied he was hearing about it for the first time.

On Wednesday, Pompeo said: As for was I on the phone call? I was on the phone call. But he presented the conversation as part of normal state department business, trying to bolster a new Ukrainian government against the threat of Russia.

He referred dismissively to the growing scandal engulfing the Trump administration as all this noise.

It has become clear Pompeo has only limited power to stop committees from gathering evidence for an impeachment inquiry.

One of the five witnesses deposed, Kurt Volker, former special envoy for Ukraine who resigned last week, confirmed he would speak to the committees in closed session on Thursday. The Daily Beast reported on Wednesday that Volker resigned as Pompeo was attempting to push him out of his post, in the hope of reducing the pressure on the state department.

Schiff said Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Kyiv, would appear next week. Press reports said she was due to give a deposition on 11 October.

The state departments inspector general, Steve Linick, went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to brief Congress on documents related to relations with Ukraine. After the briefing, the Maryland Democratic congressman Jamie Raskin described the material as a collection of unfounded allegations involving the Bidens and Yovanovitch.

Its essentially a packet of propaganda and disinformation spreading conspiracy theories, Raskin said.

The presidents personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has played a central role in the Ukraine scandal, later told CNN that he had sent at least some of the material to Pompeos office earlier this year and that it included information he had been given by previous Ukrainian prosecutors.

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Revealed: how the FBI targeted environmental activists in domestic terror investigations

Protesters were characterized as a threat to national security in what one calls an attempt to criminalize their actions

Dakota Access pipeline

Helen Yost, a 62-year-old environmental educator, has been a committed activist for nearly a decade. She says she spends 60 to 80 hours a week as a community organizer for Wild Idaho Rising Tide; to save money, she lives in an RV. Shes been arrested twice for engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.

Yost may not fit the profile of a domestic terrorist, but in 2014 the FBI classified her as a potential threat to national security. According to hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit, and interviews with activists, Yost and more than a dozen other people campaigning against fossil fuel extraction in North America have been identified indomestic terrorism-related investigations.

The investigations, which targeted individual activists and some environmental organizations, were opened in 2013-2014, at the height of opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and the expansion of fossil fuel production in North America.

From
From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

The new Foia documents reveal the bureaus motivation for investigating a broad cross-section of the environmental movement and its characterization of non-violent protesters as a potential threat to national security.

In 2010, the DoJs inspector general criticized the FBI for using non-violent civil disobedience as grounds to open domestic terrorism investigations. US citizens swept up in such investigations can be placed on terrorism watchlists and subjected to surveillance and restrictions on international travel. The designation can also lead local law enforcement to take a more confrontational approach when engaging with non-violent activists.

The FBIs 2013-2014 investigation of Keystone XL activists in Houston violated internal agency guidelines designed to prevent the bureau from infringing on constitutionally protected activities. The investigations opened in 2013-2014 were closed after the FBI concluded that the individuals and organizations had not engaged in criminal activity and did not a pose a threat to national security.

In 2015, the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, which required state department approval because it would cross international borders, handing the environmental movement a major victory. More large-scale protests followed, including the standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline, which temporarily delayed the project.

But those decisions have been reversed in recent years. Donald Trump has approved construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and his administration has also advocated for stiffer penalties against activists who engage in non-violent direct action targeting fossil fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Standing Rock protests, seven states have passed legislation making it a crime to trespass on property containing critical infrastructure.

In its July 2014 file on Yost, the FBI cited federal anti-terrorism legislation prohibiting attacks and other violence against railroad carriers as the primary justification for opening the investigation. Violation of the law can lead to up to 20 years in prison. Activists who engage in non-violent civil disobedience and are charged with minor offenses such as trespassing are typically released within 48 hours.

The FBI characterized Yost as being driven by a desire to stop fossil fuels which, in her political view, are destroying parts of the US, specifically Montana, Idaho and Washington. In addition, the FBI discussed the case with the US attorneys office in Idaho, local law enforcement, and BNSF Railway, which operates the main rail line delivering coal and oil to export terminals in the Pacific north-west.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

According to the FBI file, the bureau opened the investigation based on information that Yost was organizing and planning on conducting illegal activities against railroad companies from Montana into Idaho and Washington.

Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) never organized direct action protests to disrupt oil train traffic passing in the region. The heavily redacted Yost investigation concludes that no potential criminal violations or priority threats to national security warranting further investigation were identified.

WIRT did participate in a series of community-led events and workshops in July and August 2014 opposing the transport of oil and coal by rail. Investigators may have conflated several community events to assume such fictitious allegations, Yost said in an email.

For several years, WIRT, founded in 2011, had been publicizing its actions on the organizations Facebook page. Much of its activity had focused on stopping the passage of huge trucks known as megaloads, which transport processing equipment to tar sands oil fields in Canada and weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds, along one of Idahos scenic byways.

The campaign involved posting public records on the megaload routes, tracking their progress, and at times blockading their movement.

Yost was also active in protesting against the shipment of coal and oil by rail to export terminals in Seattle. In the summer of 2014, WIRT, along with several other environmental organizations and native groups across the Pacific north-west, sponsored a series of rallies and workshops in the region.

Those protests were peaceful a handful of activists in Montana including the environmental writer Rick Bass were arrested for trespassing and in the end the FBI concluded that Yost did not pose a threat to national security. Several months later the investigation was closed.

However, in the file closing the case, it appears that Yost has been watchlisted, which is standard for named subjects of FBI domestic terrorism investigations, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. Being watchlisted can lead to heightened scrutiny from law enforcement and delays or additional screenings when traveling. Yost said she had not traveled overseas since the FBI investigation.

Yost, who was contacted by an FBI agent when the case was still active, said she was not surprised by the agencys actions. Surveillance was a form of suppression, she said, and this was another attempt to criminalize the actions of normal people working to protect natural resources. But she remains undeterred.

Assume they know the color of your underwear every morning and get up and resist anyway, Yost said.

Herb Goodwin, a 70-year-old activist, has a similar philosophy. Were all under surveillance, Goodwin said. If they want to look at your stuff, theyre going to.

In 2013-2014 Goodwin frequently participated in actions organized by Yost and WIRT. He was also part of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Bellingham, Washington, in 2011 and was one of 12 individuals arrested that year for blockading a BNSF coal train passing through the city. They became known as the Bellingham 12.

Goodwin was one of at least a dozen environmental activists, many of them affiliated with the group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by FBI agents in autumn 2014. In early October that year, not long after Goodwin returned from a megaload resistance campaign in Idaho, an FBI agent and a police intelligence officer showed up at his residence.According to Goodwin, they wanted to ask him questions about the environmental group Deep Green Resistance. Goodwin refused to cooperate and referred the agents to his lawyer, who himself became a subject of interest to the FBI.

Founded in 2011 Deep Green Resistance (DGR), based on the principles laid out in the book of the same name, describes itself as a radical organization that uses direct action in the fight to save the planet. Though the group supports underground movements, its members abide by a code of conduct that includes a commitment to nonviolence and operating entirely above-ground. According to the groups website, We do not want to be involved in or aware of any underground organizing. In another FBI interview with a DGR member documented in the files, the activist even invited the agents to attend one of DGRs presentations.

FBI files show that the bureau initiated the two-year investigation into DGR to determine if the group or any of its members were planning to engage in the destruction of energy facilities or attacks against railroad companies, referring to the same federal statute cited in the Yost investigation.

But the FBI also took an interest in constitutionally protected activities, including DGR members participation in public meetings and lectures and the groups early organizing efforts.

Even though the FBI investigation found no evidence that DGR was planning to engage in violent activity, it often portrayed the group as an extremist organization. One individual contacted numerous times by the FBI was said to have been a suspected member of the Deep Green Resistances extremist wing and a participant in DGRs Midwest extremist planning process. DGR did have a strategic planning conference in Wisconsin in spring 2012 which they said was attended by about 30 people, but it was publicly advertised and focused on building the organization, fundraising and leadership training.

From
From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 28 November 2014.

The FBI also focused its attention on DGR organizing at Western Washington University, which hosted a lecture in 2011 by two of the groups members, Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson. Information about the lecture, titled Environmentalism for the New Century, and about the professor who hosted it was included in the FBI files. Wilbert, who attended WWU, is also a member of DGRs board of directors.

As part of the investigation, the FBI met with the universitys police department to discuss possible Deep Green Resistance presence on the WWU campus. The FBI also said it would attempt to determine whether any of the professors in the environmental sciences department were involved in the DGR movement.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 21 November 2013.

The sweeping investigation into DGRs activities was formally closed in 2014 but Wilbert assumes that the group is still being closely watched. Wilbert, who is also a writer and photographer, frequently posts short polemical essays on his Facebook page or the Deep Green Resistance website.

Wilbert said that on 7 September 2018, nearly four years after the investigation was closed, he got a call from an FBI agent in Seattle informing him that the bureau had received an anonymous tip regarding something he had written online. The agent also left a card at Wilberts parents home.

Im pretty outspoken about being a revolutionary, somebody who believes in the necessity for revolutionary change, Wilbert said. Its not something I hide.

An FBI file documenting the online tip describes Wilbert as an environmental extremist involved in inciting violence in Seattle.

German, the former FBI agent, whose recent book, Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide, chronicles the troubling post-9/11 expansion of the FBIs domestic surveillance powers, said the agency had failed to heed the warnings laid out in a 2010 justice department IG investigation that criticized the FBIs targeting of certain domestic advocacy groups. According to German, the Yost files and the two-year DGR investigation show how ineffective these internal oversight mechanisms are to preventing abusive and wasteful investigations of non-violent protesters.

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When Donald met Scott: a reporter’s view of Trump and his White House wonderland

Australian PM Scott Morrison received a full-blown welcome from the US president. Katharine Murphy was on hand for an inside account Support our independent journalism with a one-off or recurring contribution

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Scott Morrison has made his first visit to the United States as prime minister. It was a trip that included a close encounter with the unpredictability of the Trump White House, a foreign policy pivot, and a backlash about a lack of climate policy action. Guardian Australias political editor, Katharine Murphy, travelled, with the prime minister. Here is what she witnessed:

Washington

Weve been positioned at the White House since 5am, watching the sun creep over the American capital. Security is as laborious as youd expect. Dogs sniff bags, then the secret service guys have a good look, passports are collected, checked and returned, White House passes and pins are distributed, and then at last we clear the metal detectors. Eventually we make it to the press briefing room, the small blue one, famous through several presidential administrations but now abandoned by Donald Trump. The modest proportions dont fit his presidency. Now its just a transit zone.

We are greeted by a blond woman in a broad-brimmed hat. June, a self-described southern belle, is receiving visitors in the briefing room, although its not clear why. She identifies herself as a fellow scribe working for Christian radio and television in Nashville. When shes not reporting on the Trump White House, shes rallying Christians for the president. This seems something of a line cross for a reporter with White House press accreditation but weve been on the premises for about 10 minutes and its clear that were not in Kansas any more.

Donald
Donald and Melania Trump welcome Scott and Jenny Morrison on the south lawn with full military honours. Photograph: MAI/REX/Shutterstock

On the other side of the building, visitors are streaming across the South Lawn to grab prime positions to witness The Donald receiving The Scott at the official welcome. Flags, American and Australian, are held aloft on a glorious summery day. Eventually we are permitted to wander down to the lawn as well.

The Donalds grass is lush and slightly dewy, making me regret my choice of footwear. The daylight is now dazzling but the bucolic scene is disturbed by Austin rebuking Steve in the media pen. The confrontation happens just before the splendidly peppy pipe band strides across the lawn for the ceremonial welcome.

Ive never met Austin before this moment but he looks about 30, buttoned down and watchful as a raptor a White House wrangler who looks as though he hasnt sat down, eaten anything apart from a protein bar, or slept more than four hours straight a night since early infancy. Steve has transgressed and Austin convenes a short, sharp show trial in front of me. Ive nabbed a prime position on the fence in the media pen right in front of the entrance, and I dont intend to move unless the secret service guy standing beside me gets feisty.

You left the media area to make a call, Austin says, voice appropriately low so as not to disdain the Wonderful Occasion swelling around us. Steve is older than his accuser and possesses the rumpled look of a longtime print or news wire reporter. Ive never seen Steve before either, but hes clearly part of the White House press pool and looks like a man disinclined to small talk. My guess, from my quick scan of the body language, the suppressed inner sigh, is that Steve has seen a number of Austins in his reporting lifetime, perhaps a small production line of them, and is not much gripped by this power play.

Steve says nothing. Austin persists. In a minute we are going to go full Veep. The secret service told me you left the media area to make a call is this correct? Steve, at the end of his tolerance for JAccuse now, delivers his mic drop. Yah, he says. One of the secret service guys held back the rope so I could get out to make the call. I needed to take the call. I suspect Austin doesnt really know where to take this from here. The aide returns to the front of the fence, shoulders back, eyes front. Its showtime.

Trump strides out of the White House with Melania. From my vantage point they look like a pair of Easter Island statues. This is my first encounter with the current leader of the free world and my curiosity is intense. How will Trump look uncut?

Donald
Donald and Melania Trump arrive to greet Scott Morrison. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Will he look how he does on television, with that weird affect the pursed lips, narrowed eyes and nose and chin set to an upward inflection, indicative of defiance and displeasure? Or is this a posture he adopts only after he pulls on the presidential onesie every day and heads for Fox News, purring ready for my close-up Mr DeMille?

I discover this is how Trump looks all the time, or at least all the time he is in open space. Hes striding to the podium with exactly that look, with Melania, who is a dignified presence yet strangely devoid of life force. Perhaps she laughs and sings and dances in her track pants like no one is watching in her private domain but, in public, Mrs Trump looks like a perfectly proportioned doll in a dolls house.

Over the next little while, Trump will lavish praise on Melania for her crack presidential spouse skills. The first lady, Trump reports over and over during the course of Friday, worked so hard on the table settings for the state dinner, pondering every detail. The flowers, the centrepieces, so wonderful, so beautiful. The best table decorations anyone has ever seen.

Its hard for me to imagine the reality of the first ladys life, what it must be like to agonise over centrepieces for state dinners amid the sound and fury of her husbands bitterly contested presidency. Given her reserved public presence, it feels like an impertinence to wonder.

Theres no time for whimsy in any case, because the Morrisons are now on the premises, ready for their induction into the Trumpiverse. In comparison with the Trumps, Scott and Jenny Morrison, from the Sutherland shire, Australia more latterly of Kirribilli House look like a well-to-do couple from the suburbs. They are earthed in this big moment, respectful of the tradition they are now associated with, the tradition of Washingtons special friends being drawn to the nations bosom.

Scott
Scott Morrisons arrival in Washington marks the second state visit of Donald Trumps presidency. Photograph: Tasos Katopodis/ABACA POOL/EPA

Presumably they are buzzing with anticipation and anxiety, given that the unofficial White House weather forecast for Friday is clear skies, a light breeze and a high probability of catastrophic cyclone once their delegation reaches the Oval Office. Looking normal in this environment takes some doing, but the Morrisons manage.

The troops march, and are duly inspected; the visitors clutch their flags, which flutter gaily in the breeze. The anthems are played. The two couples appear content with each other and the scripted remarks they share with each other and the crowd. Just before the conclusion of the formalities, Austin is back working the fence line to move us, lickety split, to the holding pen outside the Oval Office. Fortunately, the war with Steve seems to have subsided.

Trump
Trump and Morrison review the troops during an official arrival ceremony. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

I wash up near Steve and the other White House wire reporters. One of the group explains to me that Steve is the man if they want to get a question to the president. Trump will answer Steve. Its unclear why thats the case, and I dont ask.

She also gives us tremendously helpful advice: Trump will be on for a rave when we get in there. We are surprised by this. Our assumption was wed be in and out in a matter of minutes. Our river guide shakes her head. Trump, she says, is in an expansive frame of mind. Best we prepare some questions. She also predicts that Trump will struggle to understand our accents. If he doesnt understand, the president will say: Say it. This means ask the question again, she says.

I assume this is some sort of weird in-joke until I hear Trump do just that. Say it, Trump says, narrowing his eyes and curling his lip. Its utterly peculiar, but its an earworm. Once you hear it, its hard to get the locution out of your brain. Say it.

Trump
Trump reacts to questions during a joint press conference with Morrison. Photograph: Sipa USA/SIPA USA/PA Images

The door of the Oval Office swings open and we are thrust into pure madness. The media scrum feeds off the static electricity in the room. It heaves like a wave. Our questions crash on the shore. Thud, thud, thud. Mr President. The Americans in the pool want to know about Joe Biden and the Ukraine controversy a story that will spiral towards impeachment during the week of our visit.

No American journalist gives a crap about Australia, and Morrison, and the second state visit to Washington of this febrile presidency. Fun fact: Emmanuel Macron, back when he imagined he had a talent for Trump whispering, was the first to be afforded the honour. But who cares? Conventions are devalued in the coarseness of politics in 2019. No one pretends to care. Everyone just has to emerge with what they need.

Journalists
Journalists crowd around Morrison and Trump during their press conference. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

Once we realise this is going to be nuts a small blazing blitzkrieg at the seat of American power with no rules of engagement Australian reporters also start hurling questions across a range of topics. Trump looks delighted by the disorder. Its where he thrives. Morrison shifts in his seat.

The president lays into the media. We are hopeless, finished, friendless. But Mr President, what about the call? Did you speak to Ukraines new president? It was a beautiful call. Next question. Say it.

The Morrisons sit tight as the stiff westerly blows. The prime minister isnt visibly alarmed but hes hyper alert. Jenny Morrison composes her face into a placid mask until Trump suddenly raises the spectre of nuclear weapons and Iran. I catch her eye at that moment and she startles, ever so slightly. Her eyes, to me, say help me. I catch Morrisons eye a couple of times and the corners of his mouth crinkle.

I am a spectator at this circus but the prime minister isnt permitted the luxury of distancing. Morrison is a peer of the president, a leader of a respectable middle power who has chosen, as the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd puts it with just the right squeeze of lemon during our visit, to play ball with the Mad King to give friendless Donald a friend.

'It
It was a beautiful call. Trump responds to journalists asking about his call with the president of Ukraine. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

The prime minister, unlike us, enjoys the benefit of knowing what Trump really thinks on a range of fronts; he has that baseline to keep him tethered through the rhetorical turbulence. But back in the nosebleed seats we lack those insights. During our 33 minutes in the Oval Office, Australian journalists are on a rollercoaster, hanging upside down, while the president indulges a dialogue with himself about whether to launch a military strike against Iran, or whether restraint is the better course. He lands eventually at restraint but the disorientation is so profound it takes me a while to process thats where weve landed.

Eventually Trump stops feeling all the feelings and we are herded out. I ask one of my fellow travelling reporters whether the president just raised the prospect of nuclear attack, because I fear the sleep deprivation might be messing with my cognition. Hes as knocked around as I am. Yes, he thinks so, but he needs to listen to the recording. TV reporters are wondering out loud how on earth they are going to distil what just happened into a package. How do you do this in a minute and a half?

At the height of my disorientation, I spot Paul Murray from Skys Fox News lite after-dark crew at the back of the room. As we are guided out, Morrison beckons Murray forward and introduces him to the president. This introduction yields an exclusive interview with Trump which includes the simpering question: What do you want to say to your many Australian supporters who wish you nothing but the best in November 2020? I suppose it could have been what was his favourite colour.

Globalisation Stephen Mayne (@MayneReport)

Paul Murray gets his exclusive with @realDonaldTrump but talk about not asking the hard questions. pic.twitter.com/5QnxMW5cHh

September 20, 2019

The madness persists. The day ends with wranglers trying to facilitate some access to the state dinner, which is al fresco, in the Rose Garden. As we are herded through the South Lawn accompanied by the lilt of violins serenading guests and the murmur of clinking glassware and small talk, a secret service guy in night goggles, with foliage in his helmet, suddenly materialises from the bushes and sprints across in front of us.

Mr.
Mr. and Mrs. Trump meet with Mr. and Mrs. Morrison as they attend a state dinner. Photograph: Pool/ABACA/PA Images

Shortly after this our White House wrangler declares this walk off the record, which generates considerable confusion among the scribes. How can a walk to a pool position be off the record? Which bit is off the record? This walk never happened? How do we explain our capacity to bear witness to events at the state dinner? Did we parachute in?

We resolve not to overthink this and press on, and eventually get close enough to see the guests drifting around the Rose Garden: the Australian billionaire box maker Anthony Pratt is hard to miss with his shock of orange hair; the younger Murdochs are there, Lachlan and Sarah, I reckon Ive spotted the mining magnates Twiggy Forrest and the generally reclusive Gina Rinehart, who appears to be floating. I rub my eyes, fearing a fancy. Perhaps Rinehart is not floating, more likely Im swaying, peering through a large shrub, sleep deprived and smacking the mosquitos that threaten my ankles, questioning my life choices.

Fox
Fox CEO and co-chairman of News Corp Lachlan Murdoch (L) and Sarah Murdoch arrive for the state dinner. Photograph: Ron Sachs/POOL/EPA

Hancock
Hancock Prospecting chairwoman Georgina Rinehart arrives for the state dinner. Photograph: Ron Sachs/POOL/EPA

I see Rinehart again the next day, floating (she is definitely wafting like a cloud, because I know Im no longer swaying) into a soiree at the Australian ambassador Joe Hockeys residence, in a white dress with sequins and what appear to be pom poms trailing at the back. Morrisons old chief of staff and new department head, Phil Gaetjens, by contrast, is wandering around in a Wallabies rugby jersey with cut-off sleeves.

While the grandees mingle, Rinehart sets up court with her entourage in a shaded corner of the garden on what looks like a sedan chair, but is actually just a garden settee. The visual cue is Ms Rinehart is receiving guests, as long as they are not journalists. The media mogul Kerry Stokes is also said to be mingling but I dont clap eyes on him.

In Hockeys garden I strike up a conversation with an expatriate pub owner who is now the mayor of Annapolis and is campaigning to tighten gun control. Gavin Buckley, formerly from Western Australia, is an avuncular Democrat at a Republican knees-up, a fish out of water who cant quite believe his luck. Buckley tells me he hugged Hockey for the great honour bestowed upon him.

The whole scene is F Scott Fitzgerald meets the pre-woke capitalism of the 1980s, and the humidity is sending us all bonkers. Servers hand out party pies and sausages with disturbing names like cheese and Vegemite, and bald men in linen sports jackets compete for shade. One of our travelling media pack then proceeds to conduct a mock interview of a new magnolia tree which has just been planted to celebrate the Morrison state visit. With the Magnolia, this is Brett Mason, SBS News. Its a joke, hijinks to help us stay alert when we are hitting that hour of the day when jetlag threatens to take your legs out. But weve crossed the sense barrier and we havent even hit the Trump rally. What could possibly go wrong?

Ohio

Its a voyage with billionaires, this American excursion with Morrison. I confess that this is new territory for me. The cashed-up and politically connected drifted past us during the pomp and circumstance in Washington, and now we are closing in on Anthony Pratt as we speed to Wapakoneta, first airborne and then jammed in Morrisons motorcade with police cars racing past, sirens blaring, to stop traffic on the freeway.

The Trump-Ukraine scandal is a taste of how dirty the US elections will get | Richard Wolffe

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it

donald trump

America has a grand tradition of the brazenly dumb criminal: the kind who is so desperately needy that he brags about his guilt.

Back in the earliest days of the new media known as newspapers, a certain Chicago mob boss rose to fame by calling a press conference to proclaim everyone elses guilt, if not exactly his innocence.

Al Capone claimed he played no role in the gunning down of a young states attorney called Bill McSwiggin. In fact he said he could have killed him any time but preferred to keep him alive. I paid McSwiggin, Capone said. I paid him plenty and I got what I was paying for.

Sure enough, Capone was cleared of the murder and became the darling of an insatiable press pack. If you dont act guilty, will anyone really think youre guilty? Especially if everyone else is guilty too.

Almost a century later, Donald Trump has cornered the Scarface strategy. If he didnt think neo-Nazis were very fine people, Trump could win a Maccabiah medal for chutzpah.

In some corner of his orange-tipped cranium there are surely a handful of brain cells that are fully aware that his entire family has engaged with foreign dictators and their oligarchs for personal profit.

But the rest of Trumps brain is an irony-free zone entirely empty of self-awareness. So he and much of his Cabinet fanned out across the gullible media to proclaim everyone elses guilt in a Ukraine scandal that would normally lead to certain impeachment.

To be clear, the only scandal involving Ukraine is that Trump openly admits that he repeatedly pressed a foreign leader for dirt on his political opponents ahead of a presidential election. For the second election in a row. Only this time, he could use the promise of military and foreign aid to grease his request.

Its worth quoting Trumps bizarre explanation of this gambit in full, describing his call to the newly-elected president of Ukraine as follows: The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, he told reporters on Sunday. It was largely corruption. All of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we dont want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.

Now Donald Trump is something of an expert in corruption, if not creating to the corruption. It takes a great deal of creativity to get your own vice-president to stay at your Irish hotel when its 180 miles away from his meetings in Dublin. You cant even conceive of the creativity needed to explain away the US Air Force staying at a luxury golf resort in Scotland that just happens to be another Trump property.

Trumps excuse was that he knew nothing about the military staying at his hotel, and had nothing to do with Mike Pences long commute from Doonbeg to Dublin. So what if Pences chief of staff said Trump had made a suggestion about the stay? He just had great taste like the military that loves Turnberry so much.

Trump apparently knows nothing about his own officials lining his own pockets. But he does know a thing or two about Ukraine.

It was at his own convention in 2016 when his own campaign chairman changed his own party platform to weaken US support for Ukraine against Russias annexation of Crimea and its interference in Ukraines politics.

Ukraine has got a lot of problems, Trump explained to reporters. The new president is saying that hes going to be able to rid the country of corruption. And I said that would be a great thing. We had a great conversation. We backed I backed Ukraine from the beginning.

Amnesia is a terrible problem for todays world leaders. Especially the morally dubious ones who are either too brazen or too lazy to think of a decent excuse.

Somehow Trump has forgotten about how bad a liar his lawyer is, or why Ukraine is even enmeshed in the multiple scandals that would lead to the impeachment of any other president.

Would Trump let Rudy Giuliani testify to Congress about his own efforts?

Oh I would have no problem with it, he told reporters on Sunday. Rudy is a very straight shooter. And Rudy wants to see the same thing as a lot of other people with respect to your Ukraine. Ukraine has had a tremendous corruption problem. Somehow they were involved in a lot of different things that took place in our country, and hopefully it can be straightened out.

Hopefully we can straighten this out for you, Mr President. Rudy shoots so straight that he can break land speed records for lying on national television. Did he ask Ukraines government to investigate Joe Biden? No, actually I didnt, he told CNN, before admitting 30 seconds later, of course I did.

Somehow Ukraine was involved in a lot of things in American politics, Mr President. Most of them involving Paul Manafort, your old campaign chairman, now serving time in jail for tax evasion on all the cash he made from Ukraines former president. The one supported by Vladimir Putin, whom you asked for help to hack into the emails of your opponents in the last election during a press conference.

It was a perfect call. A perfect call, Trump said on Sunday. What wasnt perfect is the horrible thing that Joe Biden said. And now he made it a lie when he said he never spoke to his son. I mean, give me a break. Hes already said he spoke to his son. And now he said, yesterday, very firmly. Who wouldnt speak to your son? Of course you spoke to your son. So he made the mistake of saying he never spoke to his son. He spoke to his son.

The son thing is troubling, Mr President. Troubling because you sound unhinged.

But more importantly, Trump continued, what he said about the billions of dollars that he wouldnt give them unless they fired the prosecutor. And then he bragged about how they fired the prosecutor and they got the money.

Oh yes. The money thing. Its a beauty. Biden is smeared by the most braggadociously corrupt president for pushing Ukraine to have a prosecutor who will fight corruption.

It may be no surprise that Trump is circling the drain while clinging on to his own dizzy conspiracies. His election prospects are miserable and he desperately needs another looney-tuned cartoon like the Clinton email saga.

But its still surprising to see his secretary of state and Treasury secretary peddling the same smear as if it was just another Sunday talk show subject.

Is there anyone left with any self-respect in the Republican party? Step forward Mitt Romney, the former Republican nominee and now Utah senator. No really, step forward.

If the President asked or pressured Ukraines president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out, Romney tweeted.

Damn the torpedoes. The senator is extremely troubled, if not rather exercised, by the possibility of something that Trump and Giuliani have already admitted on camera.

If youre wondering what the next 14 months of the presidential election looks like, you are already looking at it. The poor citizens of Ukraine have been looking at it for the last five years, ever since Russian troops marched in and unleashed their disinformation on an unsuspecting world.

Like Vladimir Putin, Al Capone knew that dont have to be smart to get away with murder. You just have to confuse everyone about what guilt looks like.

  • Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist

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Cokie Roberts, famed journalist and political commentator, dies at 75

Roberts spent decades at ABC News, wrote books and never became cynical, colleagues say: When I think of politics, I think of Cokie Roberts

ABC

Cokie Roberts, the daughter of politicians who grew up to cover the family business in Washington for ABC News and NPR over several decades, died on Tuesday in Washington of complications from breast cancer. She was 75.

ABC broke into network programming to announce her death and pay tribute.

Roberts was the daughter of Hale Boggs, a former House majority leader from Louisiana, and Lindy Boggs, who succeeded her husband in Congress. Roberts worked in radio and at CBS News and PBS before joining ABC News in 1988.

She was a congressional reporter and analyst who co-anchored the Sunday political show This Week with Sam Donaldson from 1996 to 2002.

Roberts, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002, kept working nearly to the end. She appeared on This Week in August, drawing enough concern about her evident weight loss that she released a statement saying I am doing fine and was looking forward to covering next years election.

She co-wrote a political column for many years with her husband of 53 years, Steven, who survives her. They had two children.

Roberts wrote books, focusing on the role of women in history. She wrote two with her husband, one about interfaith families and From This Day Forward, an account of their marriage.

Current ABC News political reporter Jonathan Karl recalled being in awe of Roberts when he first started working at the network.

When I think of politics, I think of Cokie Roberts, he said.

Her colleagues said she never became cynical or lost her love for politics. She did force NPR to clarify her role as a commentator when she wrote a column in 2016 calling on the rational wing of the Republican party to reject Donald Trump as their presidential candidate.

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Starting school can be a traumatic experience for the parents | Emma Brockes

Dropping my children off each morning has stirred a panic I havent felt since they were babies, says Guardian columnist Emma Brockes

Anxiety

There is so much to worry about, said Gertrude Stein, you might as well not worry about any of it. But then again she never dropped two children off at school for the first time. Mine started last week and while one was fine, the other stood in the doorway of her new classroom looking tiny and lost and very alarmed and did the thing that, in extremis, parents fear more than tears: no tears. Looking on from the corridor, I felt something lift up and leave my body like the spirits in Ghost.

Controlling anxiety is the great labour of our age and one with no discernible end. I try to divide my fears into categories: those with controllable outcomes (there is a mouse in our skirting board), those with no solution but that I consider manageable (why do I persist in buying jeans that are too small when I know Im too lazy to return them?), and those that form part of a great, amorphous cloud of dread that hovers just over the horizon (where will it end? Why do we live like this? If there is a God, why did He allow Instagram to happen?).

When my children were babies, the existential terror of being responsible for other people was so vast the only way to control it was to attach it to real-world anxieties. It didnt matter how fantastical; I just needed a shape to hang on to. For a long time, every time I passed the waste-disposal chute in our hallway, I had to staunch a mental image of tripping, wrenching the door open and accidentally dropping one of my children down the 13-storey shaft to the cruncher below. It wasnt great, but it was better than shapeless fear.

That phase eventually wore off to be replaced with a worse one: the fear not of freak accident or ill-health but unhappiness. Were they unhappy? Why were they unhappy? Was it contextual or constitutional? Were signs of distress actually a good thing, given that the unhappiest people in the world are the ones who cant show their unhappiness?

Once my children learned to speak, it was curious to observe that their own anxieties trammelled along similar lines, the necessity of attaching a cause any cause to their fears. Over the past few months, I have talked them down about getting struck by lightning, getting killed in a flood, having a creature come out of the wall at them and something I still cant get a handle on about the Spice Girls not being real. What if a bug crawls into my mouth? asked my daughter the other day, and my answer It just wouldnt, dont worry about it was clearly inadequate because it keeps coming up.

Meanwhile, with school, my own anxiety seems to have gone back to square one: amorphous dread. The place is good, and safe, and well organised. Apart from the agony of drop-off, my girls seem happy. But handing them over has thrown up the dust from those earliest days of unsoothable panic and here I am once again: wandering the aisles of the supermarket on a Tuesday morning, crushing an indent into the side of a pack of tofu sausages while shouting at myself in my head. Get a grip, woman! What would Gertrude Stein say?!

Emma Brockes is a Guardian columnist

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Arkansas: tree honoring 1919 Elaine Massacre victims cut down

Officials investigating after tree planted in remembrance of one of the largest racial mass killings in US history was removed

Arkansas

Officials are investigating after someone cut down a willow tree that was planted earlier this year to honor the victims of the 1919 Elaine Massacre in eastern Arkansas.

The willow was planted in April in remembrance of the victims of the massacre, one of the largest racial mass killings in US history.

It occurred during the summer of 1919, when hundreds of African Americans died across the country, at the hands of white mob violence during what came to be known as the Red Summer.

Estimates of how many African Americans were killed in Elaine range from the low hundreds to more than 800, which would make it the deadliest such massacre in US history. Mass graves are thought to be situated around the town.

Events are planned for later next month to mark the 100th anniversary of the massacre. An Elaine Massacre Memorial will be unveiled, the committee behind it including descendants of those killed and those who carried out the killing.

The Elaine Legacy Center said the willow tree was chopped down at its base last week and a memorial tag was stolen.

The Memphis television station WMC reported that police and state parks officials were investigating.

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Perhaps the best dinosaur fossil ever discovered. So why has hardly anyone seen it?

A Montana rancher found two skeletons in combat the Dueling Dinosaurs. But who do they belong to, and will the public ever see them?

biology

The early June morning in Montana was already very hot and dry by 7.30, when Clayton Phipps and his friend, Mark Eatman, set out to search for fossils. Phipps, a rancher who calls himself the Dino Cowboy, was wearing his trademark black felt Stetson cattleman hat.

The two had gone bone collecting before, but they were joined on this day for the first time by Phippss cousin, Chad OConnor. The trio fanned out to hike through the badlands of what they thought was the Judith River Formation; later, they would learn they had actually been in an area called Hell Creek, a division of gray and ochre sandstone, shale and clay deposited about 66m years ago during the Late Cretaceous, when the area was a swampy floodplain.

Phipps, like most locals, calls it the Hell Crik. Its one of the most storied dinosaur fossil sites in the world.

At lunchtime, the group reconvened for roast beef sandwiches. Phipps asked Eatman if he had found anything. Yes, he said, a pelvis weathering out of a hill not a big deal, except this one appeared to have an articulated femur, potentially suggesting a rare level of completeness. They went to the site. Phipps could tell right away it was from a ceratopsian, a group of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs. He brushed away some of the sand, and thought there might be more of the dinosaur buried in the hillside.

But excavating it would have to wait for another day: he had 260 acres of hay to cut for cattle feed.

Eatman went back to Billings, where he had gotten a job at a carpet store after a run of bad luck put an end to his 13-year career as a full-time fossil hunter. (His wife said: Were starving to death you gotta get a real job, Phipps recalls.)

OConnor and Phipps headed home to Phippss ranch. We werent all that excited, he says. It was a pelvis in the ground at the bottom of a canyon that was really remote and no roads to it at all. We had no plans to go back, but Chad convinced us to. Im sure glad we did.

The
The site in Montana is one of the most storied dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Photograph: Clayton Phillips

Phipps and OConnor returned to the site about a month later, this time with Lige and Mary Ann Murray, ranchers who owned the land where the bones had been found. In the US, fossils found on private land belong to the landowner; prospectors simply need their permission to dig. The Murrays signed off, and Phipps and OConnor got to work. They built a road to the site. They began excavating the ceratopsian with penknives and brushes. Business partners were brought in; secret contracts were arranged. Eatman came to help when he could, along with a rotating cast of confidants.

After two weeks, the body of the plant-eater had been revealed. It was more than a pelvis and femur it looked like a fairly complete skeleton of Triceratops horridus, which is the triceratops youre thinking of. One day, Phipps was behind the wheel of his uncles backhoe, scooping out soil from around the fossil so it could be removed. Carefully watching each dump of the bucket, at one point he noticed dark fragments among the light-colored sandstone.

Bone chips.

Oh no, he thought. He jumped down, combed through the sand, found the claw of a theropod. Theropods, like Tyrannosaurus rex, are three-toed carnivores. That doesnt match the plant-eater, Phipps thought. What is happening here?

Phipps scrambled down into the quarry where he had been digging and brushed away more sand. A hand appeared. Then a leg. It was clear: there was another dinosaur in the outcrop.

It was just surreal, Phelps remembers. Obviously, these two dinosaurs werent friends, so what were they doing in there together?

Phipps had been hunting for dinosaur fossils since 1998, excavating and preparing them to sell at trade shows and to museums and private collectors. But he had never found anything like this. I think, he says, my hat went in the air that day.

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This was in 2006. Three months of intensive excavation followed, during which Phipps lost 15 pounds. In the end, he and his partners had a 28ft-long ceratopsian and a 22ft-long theropod in four multi-ton blocks. A little cowboy ingenuity, and we got em out of the hills, Phipps says.

The
The number of people who have seen the fossils remains in the low double digits. Photograph: Peter Larson

The meat-eater was either a juvenile T rex or its relative, Nanotyrannus lancensis, a rare dwarf species whose existence is disputed. Both dinosaurs were extraordinarily well-preserved, fully articulated, with envelopes of skin and, possibly, mummified internal organs.

Best of all, they seemed to have died together, not washed into their grave separately. And they appeared to have been battling when they died: teeth were found in the spine and near the pelvis of the ceratopsian, and the theropods skull was split laterally, as if it had been kicked.

Phipps dubbed them the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs. Theyre remarkable specimens, says Mark Norell, chairman of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. Especially the tyrannosaur it could go a long way toward resolving whether nanotyrannus was its own species.

Thirteen years later, the number of people who have seen the fossils remains in the low double digits. Theyve still not been fully extracted from the rock matrix, cleaned, prepped, studied or put on display. Phipps isnt even at liberty to say where they are hell only reveal that theyre at an American museum, pending the resolution of Murray v BEJ Minerals LLC, which deals with who owns whats on top of the land versus whats beneath it.

Dinosaurs bring drama, Phipps says, and being a cowboy, Im not a drama fan. You can have it.

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For years after unearthing the Dueling Dinosaurs, Phipps and his team tried every tactic they could think of to drum up interest for a sale. They set up a website, and a marketing campaign called the Paleo-Incident Project. They tried to get sponsors, like Dr Pepper, to fund further work on the fossils. They posted videos on YouTube, men in western wear standing around the fossil jackets, taking turns talking into microphones.

They contacted natural history museums around the world, including the Smithsonian where the bones were offered for a reported $15m and the Museum of the Rockies, in Bozeman, Montana, whose then head paleontologist, Jack Horner (the inspiration for the character played by Sam Neill in Jurassic Park) told them they were scientifically useless.

In order for a specimen to be of scientific use and publishable, we have to know its exact geographic position, its exact stratigraphic position, and the specimen must also be in the public trust, accessible for study, which this specimen is not, Horner says.

The
The bones were offered to the Smithsonian for $15m. They didnt sell. Photograph: Peter Larson

Phipps called Horners reaction sad, adding: If somebody in his position is telling the world that the best dinosaurs possibly ever discovered in the world are worthless, what donors gonna donate anything to paleontology?

Acrimony between commercial and academic paleontologists is abundant. The haters are always gonna hate, Phipps says. No question about that.

In the meantime, other valuable dinosaur fossils were found on the 27,000-acre Murray ranch, including a well-preserved triceratops skull and nearly complete adult T rex, which a Dutch museum purchased for several million dollars. The Dueling Dinosaurs themselves went to auction in 2013 at Bonhams in New York, but no bid met the reserve price of $6m.

Though the fossils technically belonged to the Murrays, they ceded control of what to do with them to Phipps and his team via a contract, the details of which remain private. We have a pretty loose arrangement, to be real truthful, Mary Ann says. The deal specifies that any proceeds be split between the Murrays and Phipps; Phipps will then subdivide his percentage with his team, which includes the owners of CK Preparations, a commercial fossil services company, and Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, which has unearthed some of the most complete T rex specimens ever found.

Larsons story is also one of loss. After the T rex known as Sue was discovered by Black Hills in 1990, a dispute arose over its legal ownership. Two years later, the bones were seized by the FBI and South Dakota national guard in a highly publicized case, and ownership was returned to the landowner, a Sioux rancher whose deed was held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He sold Sue at auction for a record $8.36m to the Field Museum in Chicago. Subsequently, Larson was sentenced to two years in federal prison on separate charges related to trafficking fossils, including failing to report to customs travelers checks and cash transported internationally, and illegally taking a fossil worth less than $100 from federal land.

His experience with the legal morass around dinosaur fossils would prove useful later.

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Lige and Mary Ann Murray were young hired hands in 1983 when they began working for George Severson, a longtime Montana rancher. The Murrays had a good relationship with him and a few years later, near the end of his life, Severson sold them half of his ranch, leaving the rest to his sons, Jerry and Bo, who live outside the state.

For 14 years, the Seversons and Murrays operated the ranch in amicable partnership. But in 2005, the Murrays purchased the other half of the land. Exactly why is unclear; the Seversons say Lige called to ask about buying them out, while Mary Ann says the Seversons approached them unexpectedly. An agreement was reached to split the estate: the Murrays would control all of the surface rights and one-third of the mineral rights, and the Seversons would retain the rest of the mineral rights.

The following summer, the Dueling Dinosaurs were found.

Lige and I knew nothing about fossils, Mary Ann Murray says. We just ran cows and farms, thats all we did.

Last
Last November, a court ruled that fossils on Montana state and private land could be considered minerals. Photograph: Peter Larson

Fossils, undoubtedly, can be composed of minerals, but they have generally been recognized as belonging to the surface estate owner whom we normally think of as the landowner in cases where the estate is split. The Department of the Interior ruled in 1915 that fossil remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are not mineral, after the Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist Earl Douglass had tried to procure a huge deposit of dinosaur bones with a mining claim. (The site today is Dinosaur National Monument.) This imposed some semblance of order after the wild west days of fossil hunting, when rivalrous collectors like Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh would freely roam public lands, digging up fossils to sell to museums or wealthy collectors. It has been the precedent ever since.

The Seversons say they didnt know the bones were worth much until 2013, when they were appraised between $7 and $9m before the auction. So they decided to assert a mineral rights claim after the Murrays refused to share any of the future proceeds. The following year, the Murrays filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the fossils were theirs because they owned the surface estate. A district court ruled in their favor, leading the Seversons to appeal to the US ninth circuit.

In a test, last November that court ruled that fossils on Montana state and private land could be considered minerals. Once upon a time, in a place now known as Montana, dinosaurs roamed the land, begins Judge Eduardo Robrenos opinion. On a fateful day, some 66m years ago, two such creatures, a 22ft-long theropod and a 28ft-long ceratopsian, engaged in mortal combat. While history has not recorded the circumstances surrounding this encounter, the remnants of these Cretaceous species, interlocked in combat, became entombed under a pile of sandstone. That was then this is now.

The decision sent shockwaves through the field of paleontology, jeopardizing as it did the status of any fossil found on private land in Montana. The Murrays filed for an en banc appeal, supported by an amicus curiae brief from paleontological institutions including the Field Museum, the Museum of the Rockies and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology which had opposed Larson in the Sue case.

By reversing a widely accepted understanding of land rights, the brief states, the panel decision subjects scientifically important fossil collections to damaging ownership disputes and impedes future efforts of the paleontological community to discover, collect and study fossils.

The state of Montana, meanwhile, unanimously passed legislation clarifying the definition of fossils and distinguishing them from minerals.

En banc appeals are rarely granted, but in May the Murrays got good news: the ninth circuit, in the spirit of comity and federalism, vacated its decision and punted the case to the Montana supreme court, where it will be taken up later this year.

Larson sees some similarities to the Sue case when people, through a lot of hard work, make a fantastic discovery, theres always somebody with their hand open but hes more optimistic about the outcome for the Dueling Dinosaurs. And while the Seversons, the Murrays and the commercial paleontologists disagree on much, they all claim to want the fossils to end up in a museum, where their immense scientific potential can be explored, and they can be put on display for people the undisputed inheritors of natural history.

The question of who owns a fossil gets slippier the further back one goes. Before the Murrays or Seversons ever set foot in Montana, it was Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow and Blackfoot territory. The oldest dated human burial site in North America is near present-day Wilsall, Montana. For millions of years before that, the uplift of the Laramide orogeny, which created the Rocky Mountains in the west, was depositing thousands of feet of sediment in what is now eastern Montana, creating the rare conditions needed to fossilize the remains of the terrible lizards that had roamed that land long before, for humans to later find and fight over.

But that was then. This is now.

To get it down in cowboy terms, Im getting an education in our justice system I never wanted to pay for, Phipps says. Im in my 40s and Id never needed an attorney until this. I try to live my life to avoid em.

This article was amended on 17 July 2019. The Museum of the Rockies is located in Bozeman, Montana, not Billings as stated in an earlier version.

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