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By Dareh Gregorian and Hallie Jackson

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam apologized Friday for appearing in a racially offensive photo on his medical school yearbook page that featured men in blackface and Ku Klux Klan robes.

“Earlier today, a website published a photograph of me from my 1984 medical school yearbook in a costume that is clearly racist and offensive,” Northam, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I am deeply sorry for the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.”

He added, “This behavior is not in keeping with who I am today and the values I have fought for throughout my career in the military, in medicine and in public service. But I want to be clear, I understand how this decision shakes Virginians’ faith in that commitment.

“I recognize that it will take time and serious effort to heal the damage this conduct has caused. I am ready to do that important work. The first step is to offer my sincerest apology and to state my absolute commitment to living up to the expectations Virginians set for me when they elected me to be their Governor.”

The photo from the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook ran alongside pictures of and personal information about Northam.

NBC verified the yearbook pictures with the school. NBC is not aware of the identities of both of the men in the picture in blackface or the Klan robes — although the governor’s statement confirms he is one or the other — but all the other photos on the page are clearly of Northam: one in a suit jacket, one in a cowboy hat where he is holding a beer, one sitting next to a Corvette.

Vincent Rhodes, chief communications officer for the school, said the production of the yearbook was a student activity, adding, “We don’t know when or where the picture was taken and we don’t know anything about its content.”

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, center, speaks about the Virginians for Reconciliation and Civility proclamation during a press conference inside the Pocahontas Building in Richmond, Virginia on Jan. 16, 2019.Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP

“Racism has no place in Virginia,” said Republican Party of Virginia chairman Jack Wilson in a statement before Northam apologized. “These pictures are wholly inappropriate. If Governor Northam appeared in blackface or dressed in a KKK robe, he should resign immediately.”

Republican state Sen. Bryce Reeves said in a statement to the Associated Press that Northam should resign if the reports of the photos are accurate.

“I hope that this picture is inaccurate and that the Governor brings clarity to this issue. This has no place in Virginia,” Reeves said before Northam apologized.

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro called on Northam to step down after his apology.

“It doesn’t matter if he is a Republican or a Democrat. This behavior was racist and unconscionable. Governor Northam should resign,” he tweeted.

And the executive director of MoveOn.org, a progressive group, tweeted Friday night that Northam’s got to go.



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Lawmakers move to end ‘barbaric’ dog experiments at the VA

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By Dareh Gregorian

The Department of Veteran Affairs’ inspector general is reviewing whether the agency flouted regulations on dog experimentation, as a new bill was introduced to outlaw the often-gruesome testing.

In a letter to a bipartisan group of lawmakers, VA Inspector General Michael Missal said his office will probe whether nine ongoing dog studies were being carried out in violation of a law signed by President Donald Trump last year. That law said the VA secretary had to sign off on any such procedures, which animal advocates and members of Congress say are painful and unnecessary. The IG’s letter was first reported by Stars and Stripes.

“We welcome the oversight from the inspector general,” VA press secretary Curt Cashour said.

The VA maintains former Secretary David Shulkin verbally signed off on the experiments on the day he was fired by the president, but Shulkin has denied that claim. He told USA Today in November that he “wasn’t asked, nor did I request a review for an approval” of the dog experiments.

In a letter last year to Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., current Secretary Robert Wilkie said the experiments include “critical research to investigate how to restore the ability of Veterans with traumatic spinal cord injuries to breathe properly and avoid repeated bouts of pneumonia and early death.”

The current experiments include forced heart attack experiments at a veterans’ center in Richmond, Virginia, and tests involving damaging dogs’ spinal cords and collapsing their lungs in Cleveland in an effort to see how their cough reflexes respond to electrode treatments, according to the White Coat Waste Project, an animal advocacy group. A past VA experiment involved drilling into live dogs’ skulls.

The agency maintains the testing has led to a breakthrough on cough restoration for paralyzed vets, and has helped researchers better understand links between heart rate irregularities and heart disease. The agency also maintains it only uses dogs for the tests when necessary, and said it adheres to animal welfare guidelines.

In a letter to members of Congress on Tuesday, Wilkie said, “These canine research decisions are complex and taken with great care and solemnity, but the choice is clear that Veterans with these debilitating injuries deserve a better quality of life.”

Congress now wants to outlaw the experiments altogether. On Wednesday, Titus introduced the Preventing Unkind and Painful Procedures and Experiments on Respected Species (PUPPERS) to end what she called this “barbaric practice.”

“There are proven alternatives to this unnecessary testing that inflicts severe pain on puppies and dogs while producing no discernible medical advances,” she said.

The bipartisan bill has 60 co-sponsors, including Florida Republican Rep. Brian Mast, an Army veteran who lost his legs in Afghanistan.

“While I was recovering from my injuries, I saw firsthand the important role that dogs play in helping veterans recover from war’s physical and psychological tolls,” Mast said in a statement. “For too long, the VA has gotten away with conducting these harmful — sometimes fatal — experiments on dogs. These tests are abusive, waste taxpayer dollars and must be stopped.”

The lawmakers’ push has some high-profile help with White House ties. Lara Trump, who is married to the president’s son Eric and is an adviser to his re-election campaign, told USA Today the experiments are “cruel and ineffective” and should be stopped.

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BREXIT REVEAL: MPs urge Barclay to discipline Olly Robbins – 'Seen and NOT heard'

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FURIOUS MPs have bombarded Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay with demands to discipline senior civil servant Olly Robbins after claims he was overheard talking about Theresa May’s strategy in a bar in Brussels, a Westminster insider has said.

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Rep. Ilhan Omar, Trump envoy Elliott Abrams clash at Venezuela hearing

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By Dartunorro Clark and Alexandra Bacallao

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar clashed on Wednesday with Elliott Abrams, President Donald Trump’s new special envoy to Venezuela, at a heated House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing about the crisis in the South American country.

The freshman congresswoman from Minnesota and Abrams had the testy exchange after she questioned his truthfulness, his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal under President Ronald Reagan and his position on the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador in 1981.

“Mr. Adams (sic),” Omar said, calling Abrams by an incorrect name, “in 1991 you pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress regarding your involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, for which you were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. I fail to understand why members of this committee or the American people should find any testimony that you give today to be truthful.”

When Abrams tried to respond, Omar interrupted him, saying “it wasn’t a question,” to which the diplomat countered, “It was an attack. It is not right members of this committee can attack a witness who is not permitted to reply.”

But Omar kept going, bringing up the 1982 hearing in which Abrams, then Reagan’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, testified about the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador during that country’s civil war. Tensions grew.

“In that hearing, you dismissed as communist propaganda (a) report about the massacre of El Mozote of which more than 800 civilians, including children as young as 2 years old, were brutally murdered by U.S.-trained troops,” she said.

“You later said that the U.S. policy in El Salvador was a ‘fabulous achievement.'” Omar added. “Yes or no, do you still think so?”

Abrams responded by crediting the Reagan administration for the country’s movement toward democracy, calling it a “fabulous achievement.”

“Yes or no, do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement that happened under our watch?” Omar asked.

“That is a ridiculous question,” Abrams replied. “And — “

“Yes or no?” Omar pressed. “I will take that as a yes.”

“No — I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman, I am not going to respond to that kind of personal attack, which is not a question,” Abrams said.

“Yes or no, would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide if you believe they were serving U.S. interests as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua?” Omar asked.

“I’m not going to respond to that question,” Abrams again answered. “I’m sorry, I don’t think this entire line of questioning is meant to be real questions, so I will not reply.”

Omar then asked, “Does the interests of the United States include protecting human rights and include protecting people against genocide?”

“That is always the position of the united states,” Abrams said.

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