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Iran jails U.S. businessman, possibly jeopardizing Biden’s plans for diplomacy with Tehran

WASHINGTON — Only weeks after the U.S, election, and three days after an Iranian nuclear scientist was assassinated, Iranian authorities convicted an American businessman on spying charges, a family friend told NBC News.

The case threatens to complicate plans by the next administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran, as President-elect Joe Biden has said he would be open to easing sanctions on Tehran if the regime returned to compliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement.

Iranian-American Emad Shargi, 56, was summoned to a Tehran court on Nov. 30 and told he had been convicted of espionage without a trial and sentenced to 10 years, a family friend told NBC News.

Shargi’s family has not heard from him for more than six weeks, the family said in a statement.

Only a year earlier, in December 2019, an Iranian court had cleared Shargi of any wrongdoing, but the regime withheld his Iranian and U.S. passports.

The about-face by the Iranian authorities took place only weeks after Biden won the U.S. presidential election and three days after the killing of a leading nuclear scientist and senior defense official, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, east of Tehran. Iran blamed Israel for the assassination, but Israel has declined to comment on the incident.

Iranian media and Farsi-language outlets had earlier reported Shargi’s conviction but did not mention his American citizenship. After his sentencing, Shargi was not taken into custody but Iranian media reported Shargi was arrested on Dec. 6 in the West Azerbaijan province of Iran, near the northern border with Iraq.

Shargi has been held incommunicado since then, according to his family.

“Emad is the heart and soul of our family,” Shargi’s family said in a statement obtained by NBC News.

“We just pray for his health and safety. It’s been more than six weeks since he was taken and we have no idea where he is or who has him. Out of caution for his well-being, we’ve never spoken publicly about his case and don’t wish to now. Please pray for Emad and for his safe return home.”

Iran’s U.N. mission did not respond to a request for comment.

The White House National Security Council and the Biden transition team did not respond to requests for comment.

Apart from Shargi, there are three other Iranian-Americans under detention in Iran: Siamak Namazi, who has been behind bars since 2015, his elderly father, Baquer, who is on medical furlough, and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American environmental activist, who also holds British citizenship.

Image: Handout photo of Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi is pictured in San Francisco (Ahmad Kiarostami / via Reuters file)
Image: Handout photo of Iranian-American consultant Siamak Namazi is pictured in San Francisco (Ahmad Kiarostami / via Reuters file)

The timing of Shargi’s conviction and imprisonment could put at risk planned efforts by the incoming Biden administration to pursue diplomacy with Iran to revive a 2015 nuclear agreement and reduce tensions between the two countries.

President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multinational JCPOA nuclear deal two years ago and reimposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran. Tehran in turn has gradually violated the terms of the accord that had placed limits on its nuclear work. Biden has said he would be ready to ease the sanctions if Iran returned to compliance with the agreement, which was backed by European powers, Russia and China.

Hardline elements in Iran have remained skeptical of diplomatic overtures to Washington and in the past have backed provocative actions, including the imprisonment of foreign nationals, as a way of undermining any rapprochement with the West, according to regional analysts, human rights groups and former senior U.S. officials.

Shargi was born in Iran and educated in the U.S., earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree from George Washington University. He and his wife had moved back to Iran in 2016 to reacquaint themselves with the country, the family friend said.

He had worked in the plastics materials industry while in the U.S., for an aviation brokerage firm in Abu Dhabi and, at the time of his arrest, he was working for an investment company called Sarava Holding focused on the tech industry. The family friend said an Iranian media report that suggested he was the number two-ranking executive at the firm was inaccurate and that he was not a major shareholder. He had only been working for the company for a number of months when he was imprisoned in 2018.

Iranian Judge Salavati  (Ali Rafiei / AFP via Getty Images file)
Iranian Judge Salavati (Ali Rafiei / AFP via Getty Images file)

The family friend described Shargi as a gentle, caring man who was devoted to his family and had no history or interest in political activity.

Shargi was first arrested in April 2018 and held at Evin Prison in Tehran until December 2018, when he was released on bail. While he was behind bars, he was subjected to repeated interrogations, and was blindfolded and placed in the corner of the room facing the wall, the family friend said.

During the first 44 days of his detention, Shargi had no contact with or access to the outside world, including his family, the family friend said.

Shargi’s conviction and sentencing in November 2020 was handled by Judge Abolqasem Salavati of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Court, the family friend said. The judge is known for meting out harsh punishments and has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. Salavati has “sentenced more than 100 political prisoners, human rights activists, media workers and others seeking to exercise freedom of assembly,” according to the Treasury Department.

Human rights groups have accused Iran of arbitrarily imprisoning foreign nationals, violating their rights to due process and using the cases as potential bargaining chips with other governments.

Iran denies the allegations and has rejected accounts that inmates are subject to inhuman treatment or abuse.


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The Things I’ll Miss Most On An Inauguration Day Unlike Any Other

Wednesday’s inauguration, coming two weeks to the day after the insurrection on the Capitol, will be unlike any other in living memory, writes NPR’s Michel Martin. Above, the Capitol building is seen as workers prepare for the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama in 2013.

J. Countess/Getty Images


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J. Countess/Getty Images

I was thinking about the inauguration this week. I’ve been a journalist a long time, which means I’ve been to more inaugurations than I can count. And I’m talking about the gamut — I’m talking county council to president. I’m talking boxed Pepperidge Farm cookie and coffee-urn affairs where you mix and mingle with the newly elected official’s mom, to the not quite front-row tickets within arms length of famous people events, complete with fancy party invitations.

What I think about most, though, apart from being hungry and cold — because it’s always cold here in Washington, D.C. in January and I’m always hungry — is the crowds. They’re usually so happy — happy to be there, happy to be part of history, happy for the country, happy to have a story to tell their kids or future kids even.

Often the people I’ve met at these things honestly didn’t seem to care that much about who had won the election — they just appreciated the occasion. I think I’ve met more social studies and history teachers at inaugurations than I have anywhere else. And forget that classroom decorum — they do as much hooting and hollering as anybody else when the camera lights are on and it’s time for that classic crowd shot.

And yes, 12 years ago was different. At President Obama’s first inauguration, there was an electricity and emotion which is hard to describe, but which I feel confident in saying most people there felt. Everywhere you looked, people were laughing and crying and hugging and praying. Giddy is the word that comes to mind.

Security was tight then too — let’s not forget Obama was assigned Secret Service protection earlier than any previous major candidate. And yet, it was a remarkable day, a day where all different kinds of people, from all walks of life celebrated together.

And yes, four years ago it was different still. I wasn’t out on the lawn or National Mall that day as I have been most years — I had a different assignment — but colleagues, especially colleagues of color, it has to be said, caught a very different vibe, one that was far less about the moment and far more about the man at the center of it all.

President-elect Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday is also going to be different in another way — in a way that seems necessary and yet still feels wrong. Many streets are already blocked off by tall fencing or police cars. The U.S. Capitol right now is a fortress, a place that must, seemingly of necessity, seal itself off from its own citizens, at least some of them. How many of them? Who really knows? How long is this going to last? Who knows? I just know that these fences, these barricades, are the hallmarks of a country at war, and most tragically, at war with itself.

One time, a few years ago, I complained to one of my colleagues — one of the swells who got to sit up in the booth offering his insights while I was out there freezing my you know what off. I asked him, “How come I’m always outside on the Mall while you get to be inside?” He said, and I quote, “Oh that’s easy. That’s because you still like people.”

Well, I still like people, for the most part anyway, but I’m going to be inside this year helping to guide you through the day with my NPR colleagues. I’m looking forward to it, and I hope you’ll join us. But I have to admit it, I will miss being outside, I will miss the crowds, but most of all I will miss that feeling, however illusory it was, that at least for a moment, at least for a few hours, we are all in it together. Maybe next time.


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Author: Michel Martin

Kamala’s Way review: Harris as symbol of hope – and hard politics

The president of the United States spent weeks recruiting then inciting a mob to invade Congress and prevent the certification of his opponent’s victory. The intruders killed one police officer and injured more than a dozen, pummeling them with everything from flagstaffs to fire extinguishers.

Democratic House members talked openly about feeling threatened in the presence of newly-elected white supremacist, QAnon-friendly colleagues across the aisle, as evidence grew that several such gun-toting Republicans may have directly collaborated with the lovely people who tried to destroy their workspace.

All this after the president issued waves of pardons for war criminals and stock manipulators – and, perhaps, just before a new wave of pardons for himself, his family and everyone he incited to destroy the Capitol.

After being assaulted for four long years with so much evidence of American venality, now more than ever we need to remind ourselves that a new and hopeful era will begin just three days from now – thanks to the extraordinary hard work of a majority of decent, voting Americans.

Yes, 74 million inexplicably voted to re-elect the most corrupt and incompetent president in American history. But surely this is the more important fact: 81 million chose Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, thereby giving us the first woman, the first African American and the first Indian American ever to serve as vice-president.

The good news from the author of this new biography of Harris is that even a former editorial writer who endorsed Harris’ opponent when she ran for California attorney general now recognizes she is supremely qualified to be Biden’s governing partner.

“Kamala Harris comes to play … every single day,” said her Senate colleague Ron Wyden, from Oregon. “She’s prepared, she’s focused, she’s smart, she’s effective, she does her homework. And that’s really the coin of the realm of the Senate: who’s doing their homework and who’s just throwing press releases out for a 10-second sizzle.”

In this case, heritage is almost as important as talent. The daughter of a Jamaican-born economist and Indian-born cancer researcher, Harris embodies the American immigrant dream – and everything Donald Trump and his disgusting minions have spent four years seeking to destroy.

Dan Morain is a former state political reporter for the Los Angeles Times and former editorial page editor of the Sacramento Bee but he doesn’t have any scoops in Kamala’s Way. He has done a workmanlike job of assessing her passions and her accomplishments. But often his best details are lifted directly from her own autobiography, including this description of her life as an undergraduate at Howard University, America’s premier black college in Washington DC:

“You could stand in the middle of the Yard and see, on your right, young dancers practicing their steps or musicians playing instruments. Look to your left and there were briefcase-toting students strolling out of the business school, and medical students in their white coats … That was the beauty of Howard. Every signal told students that we could be anything – that we were young, gifted and black, and we shouldn’t let anything get in the way of our success.”

One thing Harris doesn’t describe in her autobiography is the jump start her career got from a romance with Willie Brown, the grand old man of California politics, a long-time speaker of the state assembly who became mayor of San Francisco. Harris was just 30 when she was outed as Brown’s girlfriend at his 60th birthday party. The legendary San Francisco columnist, Herb Caen, reported that Clint Eastwood spilled champagne “on the Speaker’s new steady, Kamala Harris”.

The political education she received from Brown undoubtedly contributed to her rapid rise, from San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general to United States senator. But even as she enjoyed the usual perks of a California politician, crossing paths with everyone from Elton John to George Lucas and Sharon Stone, Harris was always impressing colleagues with her seriousness – from early advocacy for marriage equality to determination to get $20bn out of the nation’s largest banks as punishment for their abuses of the foreclosure process after the collapse of the housing bubble.

Kamala Harris speaks to supporters in San Francisco in October 2008.
Kamala Harris speaks to supporters in San Francisco in October 2008. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

She was also an enthusiastic enforcer of a California law that takes guns out of the hands of convicted felons.

By the time she ran her first campaign for DA, eight years after her romance with Brown was over, she didn’t hesitate to call him her “albatross”. In a clever bit of political jiujitsu, she told SF Weekly: “I refuse to design my campaign around criticizing Willie Brown for the sake of appearing to be independent when I have no doubt that I am independent of him – and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me. His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years.”

From the beginning she was a superb networker, becoming one of Barack Obama’s earliest supporters when he ran for president, befriending Joe Biden’s son Beau when both were state attorneys general. In the Senate, she was appropriately abrasive when she interrogated Trump’s cabinet nominees. But she was also careful to be much more respectful of Senate staffers than many other senators.

All her life, Harris has made a habit of exceeding expectations. This book suggests she will do that again as vice-president – and that one day she might also excel as America’s first woman, first Indian and second Black president.


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Author: Charles Kaiser

Congresswoman’s spokesman quits less than 2 weeks into term

DENVER (AP) — The spokesman for Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert has quit less than two weeks after she was sworn into office, saying he was prompted to by the insurrection at the nation’s Capitol.

Ben Goldey confirmed his departure to The Colorado Sun after it was first reported on Saturday by Axios. The Sun reported that Goldey did not respond to additional questions, but he told Axios he was leaving in the wake of a deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

Boebert, a first-term Colorado Republican with links to the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, has sought to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s victory and gained attention for vowing to carry a gun in the Capitol.

“Following the events of January 6th, I’ve decided to part ways with the office,” Goldey told Axios. “I wish her and the people of Colorado’s Third District the best.”

Boebert’s office declined to comment. “The office does not comment on internal personnel matters with individual employees,” Jeff Small, Boebert’s chief of staff, told The Colorado Sun on Saturday.

Goldey’s replacement has already been hired. Boebert’s staff is largely made up of former staffers of President Donald Trump and Republican ex-U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner.


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Opinion | Mainstream Media Partisanship Comes to Voice of America

The polarization that led to last week’s calamity on Capitol Hill has many underlying causes, but one stood out to me: America’s partisan media. During the last election, it was obvious that nearly every news outlet was in the tank for one candidate or the other. Half the country lived in one reality and the other half in another—with dire consequences. In my capacity as director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which oversees the government’s five international broadcast networks, I grappled directly with the polarizing forces that make truth-seeking journalism so difficult.

The task of these networks is to tell the truth to parts of the world where that isn’t permitted, notably China, Iran, North Korea and Cuba. They differ from commercial networks in two crucial ways. First, they are entirely funded by the U.S. taxpayer. Second, they are required by law to provide objective, balanced and comprehensive coverage.

The presidential election raised the stakes. In one instance, a whistleblower told my office about a troubling video report by the Urdu-language service of Voice of America, which is intended to reach Pakistan with objective news. The report repackaged a Biden campaign commercial, appealing to Muslims in Michigan to swing the state for the Democrat—in apparent violation of the VOA’s legal charter. Such naked politicking goes beyond bias, and surely VOA employees knew that. As a Trump appointee, I would never have permitted a pro-Trump campaign ad to be broadcast on the VOA. The VOA took the video down at our direction, though weeks later versions were still on their social media platforms.

When we launched an internal investigation of those responsible for the pro-Biden Urdu report, the journalists and managers inside the VOA rebelled, using their contacts in the media and in Congress. There was an unending flood of leaks, false press accounts, baseless lawsuits and inquiries from Capitol Hill. In the end, for the first time in decades, those responsible for biased reporting, from the most junior reporters to senior managers, faced consequences.

I came to see that the crisis affecting U.S. international broadcasting is part of the transformation of the media away from the old standards of objectivity and balance. The journalists my agency oversees look up to the most prestigious members of mainstream media: the Washington Post, New York Times , NPR, CNN. These organizations are nakedly and unapologetically partisan and networks like VOA follow their lead. American taxpayers can’t be expected to continue to spend close to $1 billion a year for the government equivalent of MSNBC.

Online far-right movements fracture in wake of Capitol riot over ‘gullible’ QAnon believers

Online far-right movements are splintering in the wake of last week’s Capitol riot, as some radical anti-government movements show signs of disillusionment with the relatively hands-off approach of some QAnon conspiracy theorists amid warnings of future violence.

Users on forums that openly helped coordinate the Jan. 6 riot and called for insurrection, including 4chan and TheDonald, have become increasingly agitated with QAnon supporters, who are largely still in denial that President Donald Trump will no longer be in the Oval Office after Jan. 20.

QAnon adherents, who believe Trump is secretly saving the world from a cabal of child-eating Satanists, have identified Inauguration Day as a last stand, and falsely think he will force a 10-day, countrywide blackout that ends in the mass execution of his political enemies and a second Trump term.

Several QAnon supporters were arrested after storming the Capitol last week, including Jacob Chansley, whose lawyer said his client believed he was “answering the call of our president.”

QAnon believers have spent the last week forwarding chain letters on Facebook and via text message, often removing the conspiracy theory’s QAnon origins, in an effort to prepare friends and family for what they believe to be the upcoming judgment day.

According to researchers who study the real-life effects of the QAnon movement, the false belief in a secret plan for Jan. 20 is irking militant pro-Trump and anti-government groups, who believe the magical thinking is counterproductive to future insurrections.

Jan. 15, 202101:54

Travis View, who hosts the QAnon-debunking podcast QAnon Anonymous, said Q supporters are waiting for a “miracle that prevents Biden from being inaugurated,” and it is beginning to grate on those anxious for more real-world conflict.

“I have seen some Trump supporters chastising people promoting QAnon-like conspiracy theories,” he said. “It seems some Trump supporters are reassessing their coalition and laying judgment on the QAnon wing.”

The split has become apparent on extremist forums like TheDonald, from which QAnon adherents have fled to an identical sister site due to constant pillorying for their fantastical thinking on the original site. The new website is named after The Great Awakening, the mythical judgment day of mass arrests and executions.

It is also apparent on viral TikToks and Facebook posts on the more mainstream parts of the web.

“I can’t believe the number of the gullible people who are still out there saying Q is going to run to the rescue in the next five days and you’re going to see military tribunals,” a user in one viral TikTok video said. “Look, I’m a full Trump supporter and I enjoyed reading all the stuff about the deep state and I believe most of it.”

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has frequently quibbled with QAnon supporters, also lashed out at believers of the conspiracy theory in a viral video earlier this week.

QAnon supporters have predicted blackouts for years, citing posts from “Q,” the false digital prophet at the center of the conspiracy theory. Q frequently posted about routine outages of major services, alluding to them as potential warning signs of the Great Awakening. In August 2018, Q posted three times about outages on the video game service Xbox Live, wondering “Anybody have problems with their X-Box Live accounts?” to the conspiracy theory’s followers.

While several specific doomsdays have passed without any prophecies coming true, experts who study QAnon believe another failed prophecy on Inauguration Day could further decimate the movement.

Fredrick Brennan, who created the website 8chan where “Q” posts and has spent the last two years attempting to have the site removed from the internet for its ties to white supremacist terror attacks, said he believes reality may devastate the movement on Inauguration Day.

“This week has been hugely demoralizing so far and that will be the final straw,” he said. “Even though Q is at the moment based on Donald Trump, it is certainly possible for a significant faction to rise up that believes he was in the deep state all along and foiled the plan.”


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Author: Ben Collins

“48 Hours” preview: The Murder of Jackie Vandagriff

This week’s “48 Hours” investigates the case of a young Texas woman who may have been murdered because she resembled the killer’s ex-girlfriend. In 2016, police discovered the body of 24-year-old college student Jackie Vandagriff the morning after she met Charles Bryant at a bar. As police investigated, they learned Bryant had been stalking another woman, his ex-girlfriend Caitlin Mathis, and that Vandagriff may have been targeted because of her likeness to his ex. Mathis spoke to CBS News senior national correspondent Jim Axelrod in her first television interview, and Axelrod joined CBSN to discuss the case.


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US Capitol on high alert ahead of inauguration

In the aftermath of last week’s Capitol riots, Washington DC is preparing for Joe Biden’s inauguration with extreme security measures – closing roads, erecting barbed wire fences and deploying 20,000 US troops.

The FBI revealed that dozens of people on its watchlist came to the capital the day of the riot.


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As investigators review Capitol attack videos, some rioters appear to have used military style tactics

As investigators look over videos from last week’s assault on the Capitol, they are learning that some rioters used military style tactics. CBS News senior investigative correspondent Catherine Herridge reports.


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