Defendant in alleged Whitmer kidnap plot agrees to plead guilty

(Reuters) – A defendant charged by the U.S. federal government with plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has agreed to plead guilty to a kidnapping conspiracy charge, according to a court document filed on Wednesday.

The defendant, Ty Garbin, was one of six men indicted by a federal grand jury last month in the alleged plot.

Garbin and the other five indicted men, Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta, were arrested and charged in October with conspiring to grab Whitmer from her vacation home earlier this year.

Some of the men belong to an anti-government militia group called Wolverine Watchmen.

Under the plea agreement, filed in U.S. District Court in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Garbin agreed to cooperate with investigators and prosecutors and to offer his testimony regarding knowledge of the plot.

While the agreement did not obligate the government to recommend a reduced prison sentence for the charge, which carries a maximum term of life in prison, prosecutors said they would decide their recommendation based on Garbin’s cooperation.

The indictment accuses the six men of discussing kidnapping Whitmer; meeting in July in Wisconsin to practice using assault rifles; and surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home in August and September, mapping out how far it was from the nearest police station.

Prosecutors have said the defendants were angered at the restrictions Whitmer imposed to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Editing by Franklin Paul and Richard Chang)

Grand jury indicts six men for Michigan governor kidnap plot

By Jonathan Allen

(Reuters) – Six men facing charges of plotting to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer were indicted by a grand jury this week, the U.S. attorney’s office for western Michigan said on Thursday.

The men — Adam Fox, Barry Croft, Ty Garbin, Kaleb Franks, Daniel Harris and Brandon Caserta — were arrested and charged in October with conspiring to grab Whitmer, a Democrat, from her vacation home earlier this year.

Some of the men belong to an anti-government militia group called Wolverine Watchmen. At least one of the defendants, Fox, considered Whitmer to be a sort of tyrant because she had ordered gyms closed in the state to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, according to prosecutors.

Obtaining the grand jury indictments, which came down on Wednesday, was a necessary step to proceed with the federal prosecutions, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement.

Parker Douglas, a lawyer representing Harris, said Harris had pleaded not guilty because “there was no actual conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer.”

“As you can see from the indictment, the government is extremely vague regarding the alleged conspiracy’s nature, the alleged conspiracy’s object and any steps my client allegedly took to agree with the conspiracy,” Douglas wrote in an email.

Lawyers for the other defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

If convicted at trial, the defendants, who are in jail after being denied bail, would face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The indictment accuses the men of discussing kidnapping Whitmer, meeting in July in Wisconsin to practice using assault rifles, and surveilling Whitmer’s vacation home in August and September, mapping out how far it was from the nearest police station.

Some of the men also bought supplies for kidnapping, the indictment said. In September, Fox bought a Taser-style stun gun and placed a $4,000 order for explosives with someone he did not realize was, in fact, an undercover agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Philadelphia bans all indoor gatherings as COVID-19 surges across the United States

By Maria Caspani and Sharon Bernstein

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The city of Philadelphia will ban indoor gatherings altogether and the nearby state of New Jersey will strictly limit their size as U.S. officials struggle to slow a COVID-19 surge that could overwhelm hospitals and kill thousands.

Philadelphia, the nation’s sixth-largest city, is strongly urging residents to shelter at home and “prohibiting indoor gatherings of any size in any location, public or private,” health commissioner Thomas Farley said at a news conference on Monday.

“We need to keep this virus from jumping from one household to another,” Farley said. If “exponential” growth of cases continues, hospitals will soon become overwhelmed and more than 1,000 people could die in Philadelphia over the next six weeks before the end of the year, he said.

In neighboring New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy on Monday said a maximum of 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors, down from 25. On Nov. 23, the limit for outdoor gatherings will drop from 500 to 150.

“It’s gotten worse and it’s gonna get worse,” the Northeastern state’s Democratic governor said in an interview with MSNBC.

Total U.S. infections crossed the 11 million mark, just over a week after hitting 10 million, the fastest time it took the country to report an additional 1 million cases since the pandemic began. States across the nation have re-imposed restrictions to stem the resurgent virus straining many healthcare systems.

Dr. Alexander Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, said hospitals in Missouri could run out of capacity in two weeks as cases there continue to rise.

“If this continues, we’re absolutely going to need more staff, more help, more of everything to deal with the crush of patients that we see coming at us,” Garza told CNN on Monday.


Forty U.S. states have reported record increases in COVID-19 cases in November, while 20 have seen a record rise in deaths and 26 reported record hospitalizations, according to a Reuters tally of public health data.

The latest seven-day average shows the United States is reporting more than 148,000 daily cases and 1,120 daily deaths. U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations hit an all-time high on Sunday.

In Ohio, where total cases have increased by about 17% and total hospitalizations have risen by at least 25% in the past seven days, the state’s health department issued a revised order to limit mass gatherings, which takes effect on Tuesday, Governor Mike DeWine said on Monday.

In what she called the re-enactment of the “most heightened level of statewide” coronavirus restrictions, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham instructed residents to stay home for two weeks beginning on Monday, among other curbs.

“We face a life-or-death situation and we cannot fail to act,” Grisham wrote on Twitter.

Michigan and Washington state on Sunday imposed sweeping new restrictions on gatherings, including halting indoor restaurant service.


The slew of grim records and news was partly offset by Monday’s announcement by drugmaker Moderna that its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19, based on interim data from a late-stage trial.

Together with Pfizer Inc’s vaccine, which is also more than 90% effective, and pending more safety data and regulatory review, the United States could have two vaccines authorized for emergency use in December with as many as 60 million doses available this year.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, said the Moderna vaccine results were impressive but cautioned the United States could still go through a “dark winter” as COVID-19 fatigue sets in and people grow tired of restrictions.

“It’s a very serious situation,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Today” program. “But the fact that help is on the way should spur us even more to double down on some of the public health measures. … We can do it.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; additional reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru, David Shepardson and David Lawder in Washington; Writing by Maria Caspani; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Tarrant and Aurora Ellis)

Michigan governor signs bill giving state clerks more time to count absentee ballots

DETROIT (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed into law a bill that gives clerks in larger cities of the battleground state an extra 10 hours to open and sort, but not count, absentee ballots in a move to speed the Election Day counting process on Nov. 3.

Whitmer and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, both Democrats, for months had advocated for the Republican-controlled state legislature to pass such a bill, arguing that without it election results could be significantly delayed and thousands of voters possibly disenfranchised.

“Your voice will be heard in November,” Whitmer said during a video news conference.

Benson called the new law “a step in the right direction,” but added that a final tally in Michigan may not be available until the Friday after Election Day.

The law also allows clerks to use an additional shift to process and count the ballots, and to contact voters if there are issues with signatures on the outside of the ballots, and calls for the installation of video monitors of absentee-ballot drop boxes.

The issue has taken on added importance as Americans rush to cast ballots ahead of the election at an unprecedented pace, indicating a possible record turnout for the showdown between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

Michigan is an important state, which Trump won by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016, but is now leaning toward Biden according to opinion polls.

Demand for absentee ballots, especially among Democrats, has been driven by fear of infection from the coronavirus in public. Trump has repeatedly claimed without evidence that mail-in voting is prone to fraud.

Counting mail ballots is often slower because officials must open thick envelopes, verify ballots and voters’ identities, compared with the simpler, speedier process at a polling center where voters cast ballots in person.

Last month, a Michigan judge ruled that mailed ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted in the state as long as they are received within two weeks of the election.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Michigan aims for carbon neutrality by 2050

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday signed an executive directive setting a goal for the midwestern state to become carbon neutral by 2050, the ninth U.S. state to take on this target.

Whitmer’s plan directs the state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy to come up with a strategy to carry out the target by the end of next year that would reduce emissions across the state’s key economic sectors.

Michigan, where temperatures have risen over the last three decades across all counties, is the 10th biggest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It is a swing state in the Nov. 3 presidential election that President Donald Trump, a Republican who has rolled back efforts by Democrats to fight climate change, won narrowly in 2016.

“Through comprehensive and aggressive steps, we will combat the climate crisis by formally setting and relentlessly pursuing a goal of statewide decarbonization by 2050,” said Whitmer, a Democrat. The target will spur the creation of clean energy and energy efficiency jobs, she said.

It calls for all new state-owned buildings to be carbon neutral by 2040 and existing buildings to reduce energy use by 40% by 2040.

Whitmer also set an interim goal for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 28% below 1999 levels by 2025.

The order does not yet outline emissions-cutting requirements for the state’s auto manufacturers, but companies like Ford have already set a carbon neutrality goal. Ford and GM have also said they plan to build electric pickup trucks in the state.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici)