By Sarah Dadouch and Katie Paul RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabian billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom's top international businessmen, was released from detention on Saturday, more than two months after he was taken into custody in a sweeping crackdown on corruption. His release came hours after he told Reuters in an interview at Riyadh's opulent Ritz-Carlton hotel that he expected to be cleared of any wrongdoing and be freed within days. A senior Saudi official said Prince Alwaleed was freed after he reached a financial settlement with the attorney general. "The attorney general has approved this morning the settlement that was reached with Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, and the prince returned home at 1100 a.m. (0800 GMT)," the official told Reuters, without giving details of the terms. The decision to free him, and the release of several other well-known tycoons on Friday, suggested the main part of the corruption probe was winding down after it sent shockwaves through Saudi Arabia's business and political establishment. In his first interview since being detained, conducted hours before his release, Prince Alwaleed told Reuters he maintained his innocence of any corruption in talks with the authorities. He said he expected to keep full control of his global investment firm Kingdom Holding Co <4280.SE> without being required to hand assets to the state. He said he had been able to communicate with executives at his business while detained. Prince Alwaleed, who is in his early 60s, described his confinement as a "misunderstanding" and said he supported reform efforts by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "There are no charges. There are just some discussions between me and the government," he said. Prince Alwaleed had been confined at the Ritz-Carlton since early November, along with dozens of other senior officials and businessmen, part of the crown prince's plan to reform oil superpower Saudi Arabia and consolidate his position. FOREIGN INVESTOR CONCERNS When asked if the attorney general was convinced of Prince Alwaleed's innocence, the senior Saudi official said: "I will not negate or confirm what he says. Generally this falls back to those who concluded the settlement, and for sure there is no settlement unless there are violations, and they are not concluded without the accused admitting it in writing and promising not to repeat it." The source declined to give further details, but confirmed that Prince Alwaleed would remain head of Kingdom Holding. A Gulf banker who deals with Saudi Arabia said the authorities appeared keen to conclude the probe partly because foreign investors were concerned their assets or local business partners could be targeted in the wide-ranging crackdown. Prince Alwaleed's detention was particularly worrying for foreigners because of his international prominence as an investor in top Western companies such as Twitter and Citigroup , and in top hotels including the George V in Paris and the Plaza in New York, the banker said. "The government is signaling that it wants to move to a new phase now, away from the crackdown and into other economic reforms," the banker said. Outside Prince Alwaleed's Riyadh palace, dozens of cars lined the entrances as a huge Saudi flag flapped above. Guards cracked jokes and drank coffee. His office said the prince was out visiting family, but declined to give any details. The attorney general said earlier this week that 90 detainees had been released after their were charges dropped, while others traded cash, real estate and other assets for their freedom. The authorities were still holding 95 people, he said. Some are expected to be put on trial. "NOTHING TO HIDE" An official Saudi source said on Friday that several prominent businessmen had reached financial settlements with the authorities, including Waleed al-Ibrahim, owner of regional television network MBC, who was released. Terms of his settlement were not revealed. Saudi authorities have said they expect to raise some $100 billion for the government through such settlements - a huge windfall for the state, which has seen its finances squeezed by low oil prices. Some private analysts think that target will be hard to hit, given how many suspects have seen charges dropped. Allegations against Prince Alwaleed included money laundering, bribery and extorting officials, a Saudi official told Reuters in November. The prince's net worth has been estimated by Forbes magazine at $17 billion. While declaring his innocence in the Reuters interview, the prince appeared greyer and thinner than in his last public appearance, a television interview in October, and had grown a beard while in detention. "I have nothing to hide at all. I'm so comfortable, I'm so relaxed. I shave here, like at home. My barber comes here. I'm like at home, frankly speaking," he said, adding he had been able to communicate with family members while in detention. He granted the 30-minute interview to Reuters, including a tour of his suite, partly to disprove rumors about mistreatment and that he had been moved from the hotel to a prison. Prince Alwaleed showed off the comforts of his gold-accented private office, dining room and kitchen, which was fully stocked with his preferred vegetarian meals. In the corner of his office sat tennis shoes, which he said he used regularly for exercise. A television played business news programs, and a mug with an image of his own face on it was perched on the desk. After being released, Prince Alwaleed said, he would stay in Saudi Arabia and would return to the challenge of juggling his global business interests. "I will not leave Saudi Arabia, for sure. This is my country." (Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul and Rania El Gamal,; Writing by Sami Aboudi and Andrew Torchia; Editing by Stephen Powell and Edmund Blair)
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The inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris was splashed across the front pages of newspapers in the United States and around the world on Thursday, a day after they were sworn into office.
- The Week
The evenly split Senate is having a hard time agreeing who's in charge.Georgia's two new Democratic senators were sworn in Wednesday, giving Republicans and Democrats 50 senators each, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a Democratic tiebreaker. The two parties are now working out a power-sharing agreement, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) commitment to the filibuster is standing in the way.McConnell on Thursday formally acknowledged Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the chamber's new majority leader. But as he has been for days, McConnell again implored Democrats to preserve the filibuster that lets a senator extend debate and block a timely vote on a bill if there aren't 60 votes to stop it. Democrats "have no plans to gut the filibuster further, but argue it would be a mistake to take one of their tools off the table just as they're about to govern," Politico reports; More progressive senators do want to remove the option completely.If his filibuster demands aren't met, McConnell has threatened to block the Senate power-sharing agreement that would put Democrats in charge of the body's committees. But Democrats already seem confident in their newfound power, with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) telling Politico that "Chuck Schumer is the majority leader and he should be treated like majority leader." Giving in to McConnell "would be exactly the wrong way to begin," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) echoed.Other Democrats shared their resistance to McConnell's demands in tweets. > McConnell is threatening to filibuster the Organizing Resolution which allows Democrats to assume the committee Chair positions. It's an absolutely unprecedented, wacky, counterproductive request. We won the Senate. We get the gavels.> > -- Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 21, 2021> So after Mitch McConnell changed the Senate rules at a blistering pace during his 6 years in charge, he is threatening to filibuster the Senate's organizing resolution unless the Democratic majority agrees to never change the rules again.> > Huh.> > -- Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) January 21, 2021More stories from theweek.com Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit The Lincoln Project used an old Saved by the Bell PSA to troll Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley
- The Telegraph
Donald Trump spent his first hours as a private citizen scrambling to find lawyers to represent him in his upcoming impeachment trial, as he settled into his new home at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. One of Mr Trump’s first calls after leaving office was to Lindsey Graham, South Carolina senator and staunch ally, telling him he was now “looking for some lawyers” for the imminent Senate hearing. "[Trump] said, 'I really don't know the lay of the land here,' and he's looking for some lawyers," Mr Graham told Punchbowl News. "I'm trying to help him there, and he's just trying to put together a team." Mr Trump will not be drawing on his usual litigators: Rudy Giuliani, his longtime personal lawyer, is likely to step aside as he could be called as a witness, while attorneys who represented him at the first impeachment hearing have declined.
- Associated Press
Transgender kids would be banned from playing on school sports teams for the gender with which they identify under a GOP-backed bill that advanced Thursday in Montana, one of more than a dozen states where lawmakers are proposing restrictions on athletics or gender-confirming health care for trans minors this year. The order immediately sparked a backlash from conservative groups, a split that reflects the deep divisions in the U.S. around transgender youth. Proponents of the Montana bill say allowing transgender athletes to compete can create an unfair playing field in middle and high schools, especially in girls' sports.
- CBS News
The vice president's residence at the Naval Observatory, where Harris will live, is undergoing repairs.
- National Review
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, refuted a claim by the Biden administration that the outgoing Trump administration left no plan for distributing coronavirus vaccines. President Biden said at a White House press conference on Thursday that the Trump administration’s distribution of coronavirus vaccines has been a “dismal failure,” and set a goal to vaccinate 100 million Americans by the end of April. Meanwhile, sources in the Biden administration claimed that the previous administration left no vaccine distribution plan. “There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch,” one source told CNN on Thursday. However, Dr. Fauci directly refuted this claim after Biden left the press conference. “We certainly are not starting from scratch,” Dr. Fauci told reporters. Regarding the Trump administration’s vaccination effort, Dr. Fauci said, “You can’t say it was absolutely not usable at all.” The seven-day rolling average of coronavirus vaccines administered to Americans is 914,000, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, with 1.6 million doses administered on Wednesday alone. Biden’s plan calls for a million Americans to be vaccinated each day. When asked by a reporter whether the goal to vaccinate one million people per day is not ambitious enough, Biden said that the goal was a “good start.” “When I announced it you all said it wasn’t possible. Come on, give me a break, man,” Biden said.
Returned Honduran migrants are directing anger against their president this week after their U.S.-bound caravan was blocked by the region's security forces, accusing him of making their county unlivable while thwarting their escape to a better life. Honduras is reeling from two back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Central America in November, as well as an historic economic contraction on the back of coronavirus pandemic. President Juan Orlando Hernandez has also been under fire from U.S. prosecutors that have accused him of having ties to drug cartels, an allegation he has strongly denied.
- Associated Press
The master tenant of a cluttered, dilapidated San Francisco Bay Area warehouse where 36 people perished in a late-night fire in 2016 is scheduled to plead guilty Friday to the deaths, avoiding a second trial after the first ended in a hung jury. Families of several victims told the East Bay Times last week that prosecutors told them Derick Almena, 50, will plead guilty to 36 counts of involuntary manslaughter in exchange for a nine-year sentence. Almena may serve little or none of that term because of time already spent behind bars and credit for good behavior.
- CBS News
Vice presidents since Vice President Walter Mondale have been living in the residence at the Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C.
Capt. Scott Moss, who led the NOSC in Knoxville, was relieved of command by Capt. Dale Maxey.
- Architectural Digest
800 feet up in the sky, the Dreamy 6,000 square foot space offers panoramic views from the East River to the HudsonOriginally Appeared on Architectural Digest
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Recent history shows the opportunity to pass major bills can disappear quickly. What should Democrats’ top priority be?
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Former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama delivered a recorded message to President Biden on Wednesday night.
- National Review
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) vowed that any Congressman found to have aided rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 would be prosecuted, in remarks to reporters on Thursday. Pelosi’s comments came several days after Representative Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) implied that Representative Lauren Boebert (R., Fla.) may have aided rioters, saying he saw her giving a tour of the Capitol about two days prior to the event. Boebert has received criticism for her support for the QAnon conspiracy theory, however no evidence has emerged that she aided rioters. Speaker Pelosi on House lawmaker involvement in the 1/6 Capitol insurrection: "Everything has to be based on evidence … There will be prosecution, if they aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died." pic.twitter.com/OxtZLBAomy — The Recount (@therecount) January 21, 2021 “Everything has to be based on evidence, and that remains to be seen,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “If people did aid and abet [the riots], there will be more than just comments from their colleagues here: there will be prosecution, if they aided and abetted an insurrection in which people died.” However, Pelosi added, “that is something you have to collect evidence for as you proceed.” Rioters managed to overrun Capitol police and forced lawmakers to evacuate the building or shelter in place, interrupting the certification of the Electoral College results. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) blamed former President Trump for provoking the riots in a floor speech on Tuesday. “The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government that they did not like,” McConnell said. However, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that he does not think Trump incited the riot. “I don’t believe he provoked it if you listen to what he said at the rally,” McCarthy said. The comments appear to contradict remarks made by McCarthy last week, in which he said Trump “bears responsibility” for the riots.
- Associated Press
A prominent Chicago family law attorney who was charged last summer with sexually assaulting a colleague has been charged with doing the same thing to two other women, including a client who says he told her that if he didn't have sex with him, she'd lose custody of her children. Prosecutors outlined the new charges against David Pasulka, 61, during a court hearing on Wednesday that ended with Judge Susana Ortiz setting his new bail amount at $100,000 on charges of sexual assault, aggravated sex assault and criminal sexual abuse. Pasulka, who was already out on bond in the initial case, was released from custody after posting the new amount, according to the Cook County Jail.
The estimated COVID-19 reproduction number in Israel has dipped below 1 for the first time since the country launched the world's fastest vaccination drive, suggesting the pandemic may be starting to recede, the government said on Thursday. An "R" number above 1 indicates infections will grow at an exponential rate, while below 1 points to their eventual halt. Israel's "R" number hit 1.3 on Dec. 11.
- The Week
Trump's team fired the White House chief usher right before Biden took office, maybe at Biden's request
When President Biden and first lady Dr. Jill Biden arrived at the White House on Wednesday afternoon, there was no chief usher to greet them. He had been fired at about 11:30 a.m., half an hour before Biden was sworn in as president, The New York Times reports. Former first lady Melania Trump had hired the chief usher, Timothy Harleth, from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2017, after the previous chief usher, Angella Reid, was dismissed a few months into Donald Trump's term.The White House chief usher is in charge of the first family's residence, overseeing everything from personnel issues to budgets. It is typically an apolitical job, and ushers typically stay through several administrations. Reid, hired in 2011, was only the ninth chief usher since 1885, though she was the first woman hired for the job. The Bidens had communicated to the White House counsel that they intended to bring in their own chief usher, a person familiar with the process told the Times. A Biden White House official told CNN that Harleth "was let go before the Bidens arrived," though CNN reports it was the Bidens who gave him the ax.Harleth was already in hot water with Trump's team, though. He "had found himself in an untenable position" since the election, "trying to begin preparations for a new resident in the White House, even as its occupant refused to concede that he would be leaving the premises," the Times reports. And Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, was "unhappy" with Harleth "for trying to send briefing books about the residence to the Biden transition team in November." Harleth "had worked with Jill Biden's staff for weeks to organize the move of household belongings," The Washington Post adds.The absence of a chief usher was one manifestation of the chaotic transition period, but it doesn't entirely explain the curious breach in protocol where nobody opened the doors for the BIdens when they arrived at the White House, the Times notes. The doors, which awkwardly stood closed for about 10 long seconds as the Bidens watched, are typically opened by Marine guards.Once the Bidens passed through the doors into the newly sanitized White House, things got better, the Post reports. "Awaiting Biden in a room adjacent to the Oval Office were two trays stacked with chocolate chip cookies, each one in plastic wrap with a gold presidential seal."More stories from theweek.com Biden removes Trump's Diet Coke button from the Oval Office 7 brutally funny cartoons about Trump's White House exit The Lincoln Project used an old Saved by the Bell PSA to troll Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley
A Starbucks branch in Dublin, Ireland compensated a female customer of Thai descent €12,000 ($14,600) after one of its employees drew a smiley face with "slanty" eyes on her cup. Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Kevin Baneham forced Atercin Liffey Unlimited trading as Starbucks Tallaght to pay Suchavadee Foley for the Jan. 12 incident, according to The Irish Times. Baneham, while recounting Foley’s story, said the woman was interrupted by a female employee from Brazil while trying to spell out her name in her order.
- Associated Press
Iran's capital and major cities plunged into darkness in recent weeks as rolling outages left millions without electricity for hours. With toxic smog blanketing Tehran skies and the country buckling under the pandemic and other mounting crises, social media has been rife with speculation. Within days, as frustration spread among residents, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown on Bitcoin processing centers, which require immense amounts of electricity to power their specialized computers and to keep them cool — a burden on Iran's power grid.
- NBC News
A GoPro camera was found inside a bathroom and changing area at a Premier Athletics facility, which trains young cheerleaders, gymnasts and dancers in Franklin.