Hack fuels gas crunch; US suspects Russian origins

CLEMMONS, N.C. — Motorists found gas pumps shrouded in plastic bags at tapped-out service stations across more than a dozen U.S. states Thursday while the operator of the nation’s largest gasoline pipeline reported making “substantial progress” in resolving the computer hack-induced shutdown responsible for the empty tanks.

Nearly 70% of North Carolina’s gas stations were still without fuel amid panic-buying. More than half the stations in Virginia were tapped out, as were about half the stations in South Carolina and Georgia, GasBuddy.com reported. Washington, D.C., was among the hardest-hit locations, with 73% of stations out, the site’s tracking service showed.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that U.S. officials do not believe the Russian government was involved in the hack of the Colonial Pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey. But he added, “We do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia. That’s where it came from.”

US restaurants and stores raise pay

WASHINGTON — U.S. restaurants and stores are rapidly raising pay in an urgent effort to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as the pandemic eases.

McDonald’s, Sheetz and Chipotle are just some of the latest companies to follow Amazon, Walmart and Costco in boosting wages, in some cases to $15 an hour or higher.

The pay gains are, of course, a boon to these employees. Restaurants, bars, hotels and stores remain the lowest-paying industries, and many of their workers ran the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job over the past year while white-collar employees were able to work from home.

Still, the pay increases could contribute to higher inflation if companies raise prices to cover the additional labor costs. Some businesses, however, could absorb the costs or invest over time in automation to offset higher wages.

Growing number of GOP lawmakers downplay Jan. 6

WASHINGTON — What insurrection?

Flouting all evidence and their own first-hand experience, a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers are propagating a false portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, brazenly arguing that the rioters who used flagpoles as weapons, brutally beat police officers and chanted that they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence were somehow acting peacefully in their violent bid to overturn Joe Biden’s election.

One Republican at a hearing Wednesday called the rioters a “mob of misfits.” Another compared them to tourists. And a third suggested the sweeping federal investigation into the riot — which has yielded more than 400 arrests and counting — amounts to a national campaign of harassment.

It’s a turn of events that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another target of the rioters, called “appalling” and “sick,” and it raises the possibility that the public’s understanding of the worst domestic attack on Congress in 200 years — an attack that was captured extensively on video — could become distorted by the same kinds of disinformation that fueled former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. It was the lie about the election that motivated the rioters in the first place.

West Virginia trial puts spotlight on opioid cases

A corner of West Virginia wrenched by opioid addiction is getting the chance to argue in a courtroom that some of the corporate giants it blames for a public health crisis that left hundreds of people dead deserve to be held accountable.

The city of Huntington and surrounding Cabell County sued the nation’s three largest opioid distributors No matter the outcome of the federal court trial that opened this month, the verdict is expected to resonate well beyond the industrial region.

The trial in West Virginia, as well as legal proceedings underway in California, could set the stage for resolutions to similar lawsuits brought by thousands of local governments across the United States. Opioid overdoses have been linked to the deaths of nearly 500,000 Americans since 2000 and reached a record of nearly 50,000 in 2019.

Yet the sprawling nature of litigation over the addiction epidemic around the country means it could take years to wrap up, years to get money to communities to expand treatment and to make up for some of the economic losses caused by the crisis.

Company: Powell raiding nonprofit for personal use

Former Trump attorney and self-proclaimed “Kraken releaser” Sidney Powell has told prospective donors that her group, Defending the Republic, is a legal defense fund to protect the integrity of U.S. elections.

But the company suing Powell over her baseless claims of a rigged presidential election says the true beneficiary of her social welfare organization is Powell herself.

Dominion Voting Systems claims Powell has raided Defending the Republic’s coffers to pay for personal legal expenses, citing her own remarks from a radio interview. The Denver-based voting technology vendor sued Powell and others who spread false claims that the company helped steal the 2020 election from Donald Trump.

“Now, Powell seeks to abuse the corporate forms she created for her law firm and fundraising website to hide funds that she raised through her defamatory campaign, shielding those funds from the very company that was harmed by the defamatory campaign,” Dominion lawyers wrote in a May 5 court filing.

Marine Corps officer arrested for assault in Jan. 6 riot

An active-duty Marine Corps officer seen on camera scuffling with a police officer and helping other members of the pro-Trump mob force their way into the Capitol on Jan. 6 has been charged in the riot, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

Maj. Christopher Warnagiris, 40, of Woodbridge, Virginia, is the first active-duty service member to be charged in the insurrection, the Department of Justice said. Warnagiris, who has been stationed at Marine Corps Base Quantico since last summer, was arrested Thursday in Virginia, prosecutors said.

He faces charges including assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder and obstruction of justice.

Warnagiris, a field artillery officer who joined the Marine Corps in 2002 and completed tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was ordered released after a brief appearance before a federal judge in Virginia. It was not immediately clear Thursday if he had an attorney to comment on his behalf.

Warnagiris, who was wearing a dark jacket, military green backpack and black and tan gloves, pushed past police officers standing guard outside Capitol doors and forced his way into the building, according to court documents. He then appeared to use his body to keep the door partially open and helped pull others inside, authorities said.

A U.S. Capitol Police officer, who moved between Warnagiris and the crowd outside, tried to pull the door shut while Warnagiris fought to keep it open, court documents say. The officer told the FBI that he had tried to push Warnagiris out of the way and the man shoved him back, authorities said.

A former coworker who recognized Warnagiris in photos reported him to the FBI in March, court documents say. The next day, FBI agents went to his military command and showed pictures to someone he works with, who identified the man in the photos as Warnagiris.

The Marine Corps said in a statement that “there is no place for racial hatred or extremism” in its ranks.

“Those who can’t value the contributions of others, regardless of background, are destructive to our culture, our warfighting ability, and have no place in our ranks,” it said.

More than 400 people have been charged so far in the siege. Among them are four members or reservists of the National Guard and about 40 military veterans, according to the Justice Department.

The charges against the rioters range from misdemeanor offenses, such as disorderly conduct in a restricted building, to serious conspiracy cases against members and associates of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers extremist groups.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo and Lolita C. Baldor contributed to this report from Washington.