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Massachusetts officials seek probe into claims against Senator’s husband

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Massachusetts officials called for an independent investigation into accusations that state Senate Majority Leader Stanley Rosenberg’s husband used his political connections to sexually harass men, following a Boston Globe report on the claims.

Rosenberg, a Democrat, said in a statement sent by email to reporters late Thursday that he supported the investigation and would recuse himself from anything related to it, after the newspaper quoted four unnamed men who said Rosenberg’s husband, Bryon Hefner, had groped them or had other unwanted sexual contact. Hefner in a statement issued by an attorney expressed surprise at the report but did not specifically deny the allegations, the newspaper reported.

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“I support the call for an independent investigation of the serious allegations in today’s Globe story regarding the activities of my husband and their effects on Senate business,” Rosenberg, 68, said in a statement. “Further, I am recusing myself from any matters relating to this investigation.”

The newspaper quoted the four men who accused Hefner, 30, anonymously as they feared their work as political advocates would be imperiled by levying accusations against the spouse of a powerful lawmaker. Several also told the newspaper they respected the Rosenberg’s positions and achievements.

The allegations, which the newspaper said related to incidents in 2015 and 2016, could not be confirmed by Reuters.

“I was shocked to learn of these anonymous and hurtful allegations,” the newspaper quoted Hefner’s attorney-issued statement as saying. “To my knowledge, no one has complained to me or any political or governmental authority about these allegations which are now surfacing years afterward.”

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It did not name the attorney. A spokesman for Rosenberg said he did not know who was representing Hefner and Reuters could not immediately reach Hefner for comment.

“These charges are very serious and very disturbing, and I am shocked and saddened,” said Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, in a statement e-mailed to Reuters. “To ensure a completely impartial process … we will be going to the unprecedented step of bringing in an independent special investigator.”

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, and Attorney General Maura Healey, a Democrat, agreed with the call for an immediate probe.

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“Frankly, I am appalled by the allegations,” Baker told reporters late Thursday. “The Senate needs to start an investigation, and it needs to start pronto.”

The allegations are the latest in a wave of sexual assault and sexual harassment claims levied against powerful men in U.S. politics, entertainment and journalism.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Alden Bentley)

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Australia readies for ‘catastrophic’ bushfires

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Thousands of firefighters fanned out across eastern Australia Tuesday as gale-force winds, scorching temperatures and tinder-dry bushland brought "catastrophic" fire conditions.

Dozens of bushfires were already burning out of control as temperatures were expected to climb toward 40 degrees celsius (104 Fahrenheit) and winds were forecast to top 60 kilometres (40 miles) per hour in parts of New South Wales.

Firefighters warned the threat to a vast region surrounding Sydney was "off the scale" after days of blazes that have killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes.

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Hong Kong protests hit universities, business district

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Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters clashed with riot police in the city's upmarket business district and on university campuses Tuesday, extending one of the most violent stretches of unrest seen in more than five months of political chaos.

The confrontations followed a particularly brutal day on Monday, when police shot a protester and a man was set on fire, prompting calls from western powers for compromise but further fury in China against the challenge to its rule.

"Hong Kong's rule of law has been pushed to the brink of total collapse," police spokesman Kong Wing-cheung told a press conference on Tuesday afternoon as he denounced the latest rounds of violence.

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New testimony adds 2 stunning — and previously unknown — details about the Ukraine extortion

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New testimony released Monday from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Ukraine scandal included at least two new stunning details about the quid pro quo scheme at the heart of the matter.

Overall, the transcripts for depositions of Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson, who were advisers to U.S. envoy Kurt Volker, built on the story of that we already know: that President Donald Trump pushed a shadow foreign policy to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political opponents, a scheme that involved using his office and military aid as leverage over the country in opposition to the official policy.

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