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Epstein accuser sues Prince Andrew, alleging sex abuse

One of Jeffrey Epstein’s most prominent accusers has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.K.’s Prince Andrew alleging that he sexually abused her when she was 17 years old.

The lawsuit by Virginia Giuffre accuses Andrew of sexually abusing her on separate occasions — in London and New York and on Epstein’s private island in the U.S. Virgin Islands — about 20 years ago when she was under age 18.

The suit says that Epstein and his longtime associate Ghislaine Maxwell compelled Giuffre to engage in sexual acts with Andrew and that he knew she was a sex-trafficking victim.

“Twenty years ago Prince Andrew’s wealth, power, position, and connections enabled him to abuse a frightened, vulnerable child with no one there to protect her. It is long past the time for him to be held to account,” says the lawsuit filed Monday in New York, which seeks damages for battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Giuffre has made the allegations in court papers and in TV interviews before, including on NBC’s “Dateline.” But the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York opens a new front in her bid to hold Andrew, now 61, accountable over her allegations that he sexually abused her when she was a teenager.

“The powerful and rich are not exempt from being held responsible for their actions,” Giuffre said in a statement. “I hope that other victims will see that it is possible not to live in silence and fear, but to reclaim one’s life by speaking out and demanding justice.”

The suit was filed under the Child Victims Act, a New York law that gives people a one-year window to sue for sex abuse damages, regardless of when the alleged acts happened. The law went into effect in August 2019 and included a deadline for victims to file their claims by next Saturday.

Representatives for Andrew declined to comment when reached late Monday London time.

The prince has previously denied allegations that he had sex with Giuffre.

Virginia Giuffre with Prince Andrew and Ghislaine Maxwell at Prince Andrew’s London home in a photo released with court documents.

In a widely criticized interview with the BBC in 2019, Andrew said that he had no recollection of having ever met her — despite a widely circulated photograph showing otherwise — and that he was at a pizza restaurant with his daughter on the day in 2001 that Giuffre alleges they had a sexual encounter in London.

Epstein, 66, died by suicide in a New York jail in August 2019 while awaiting sex trafficking charges.

The investigation into his alleged circle of enablers continues. In January 2020, Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said investigators from his office and the FBI had reached out to Prince Andrew and his attorneys but had yet to receive any assistance from him.

The lawsuit filed Monday says Giuffre was 16 when Epstein began preying on her and lending her out to his powerful friends.

It also alleges that she did not consent to engaging in sex acts with Andrew and that he knew she was under 18 at the time “based on communications from Epstein and Maxwell.”

Attorneys for Maxwell, who is locked up in Brooklyn while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She has pleaded not guilty.

On July 19, Giuffre’s attorney proposed an agreement that would have allowed her to postpone filing any lawsuit, the suit says. “Again Prince Andrew stonewalled — ignoring plaintiff’s letter and emails without any reply or response, thereby making this action necessary now.”

Giuffre previously detailed her allegations of sexual encounters with Andrew — in London and on Epstein’s private island — in a “Dateline” interview that aired in 2019.

In the interview, Giuffre also recounted an incident at Epstein’s New York City mansion, where, she says, she and another young girl were instructed to sit on Andrew’s lap. He proceeded to grope one of their breasts, Giuffre said.

A person who was there previously told NBC News that she remembers the incident.

Giuffre said the encounters with Andrew stood out because of his title.

“He was a prince. He was famous. He’s royalty. And it just stuck out in my mind,” she said. “I grew up watching Disney just like most little girls grow up watching Disney, and princesses and princes were the good people in the world, and he wasn’t.”

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Minnesota wildfire doubles in size, creates its own weather

A wildfire in northeastern Minnesota more than doubled in size Tuesday, growing to more than 19,000 acres, after it produced pyrocumulous clouds that generated lightning and even raindrops, fire officials said.

The Greenwood Fire’s growth, most of which happened Monday afternoon, prompted firefighters to leave McDougal Lake, about 80 miles south-southwest of Duluth, officials said. Authorities fear that structures might have been destroyed or damaged.

“We had crews embedded, and as this fire took off, it was quite an effort to communicate with forces on the ground so they could get out,” said federal fire incident spokesman Clark McCreedy.

The pullout was a success, and no injuries were reported. However, downed trees and necessary cleanup mean crews have been unable to assess damage around the lake, McCreedy said.

In addition to the firefighter pullout, 159 dwellings were evacuated Monday, according to an update from the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Cabins, homes and recreational sites remain under threat, the group said.

Patrick Prochaska, a Minneapolis resident who built a cabin near McDougal Lake in 2012, told NBC affiliate KARE that he watched via security camera as flames mostly bypassed his property Monday, causing minor damage.

“I was feeling very scared,” he said. “At the same time, I could see that it was not doing anything to the house, and it was kind of reassuring.”

The fire in and north of Superior National Forest has mostly performed according to the weather, fire officials said. On Monday, with dry fuel on the ground and temperatures in the high 80s, it was an expanding inferno punctuated by strobes of lightning.

“The winds were drawn into the fire from all directions,” the incident’s fire behavior analyst, Michael Locke, said in a video update Tuesday. “It created what we call pyrocumulous clouds. And really high in the atmosphere … you’d see a thunderstorm, and in fact they went high enough to produce a few sprinkles of rain and even some lightning.”

Temperatures dipped into the mid-70s Tuesday, and the blaze mellowed. “The real story was cloud cover and cooler temperatures,” McCreedy said.

More of the same, and possibly rain, was in the forecast, giving officials hope that they might be able to close the book on an unusually active and dry fire season in Minnesota.

Experts have said climate change has set the stage for extreme weather, including an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Northern Hemisphere.

Firefighters — 426 were assigned to the Greenwood event — have been confronted with “prolonged, severe drought,” making parts of Minnesota look like the fire-prone West this summer, McCreedy said.

The Greenwood Fire, which was detected Aug. 15, is believed to have been sparked by lightning.

So far, firefighters have scored no containment, and areas including McDougal Lake, Sand Lake and the Highway 2 corridor have been under mandatory evacuation orders. The federal Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was closed Saturday “due to active and increasing fire activity, extreme drought, limited resources,” the National Forest Service said in a notice.

Officials set a goal of Sept. 1 for full containment.

“We’re probably going to get more of that moderating weather for the rest of the week,” McCreedy said. “That opens the door for fire crews to make progress on the ground.”

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Hiker survives grizzly bear attack at Denali National Park

A tourist from Indiana was attacked and injured by a grizzly bear at Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska on Monday night, park officials said.

The 55-year-old tourist, whose name was not released, was hiking alone in dense fog in the Thoroughfare Pass area when a mother bear and multiple cubs charged him from nearby bushes, the National Park Service said in a statement Tuesday.

He had puncture wounds to a calf, his left ribs and his left shoulder, the agency said.

The victim used bear spray that might have cut the attack short, the park service indicated. He walked 1.5 miles to a visitor’s center where “medical personnel” vacationing at Denali treated him as a park bus driver called 911, it said.

The hiker was taken to a medical center near the park before he was transferred to Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, about 120 miles away, park officials said. He was stabilized at the Fairbanks hospital, they said.

“Due to the apparent defensive nature of this attack, there are no plans to locate the bear involved,” the park service said. “Female bears with cubs are naturally defensive of their young, especially when surprised. There is no indication that this bear is unusually dangerous.”

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species in the lower 48 states. According to the National Wildlife Federation, fewer than 1,500 grizzlies are left in the lower 48, but they thrive, comparatively, in Alaska, where they have a population of about 31,000.

The backcountry area of the attack is closed for one week as a precaution, the park service said.

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House passes John Lewis voting rights bill, sends measure to Senate for tougher fight

House Democrats on Tuesday passed a sweeping voting rights bill named after Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., the late civil rights icon.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved 219-212. All Republicans voted against the legislation.

The bill is part of congressional Democrats’ broader campaign to strengthen voting laws at the federal level to fight restrictive voting laws passed in Republican-led states, such as Texas and Georgia. However, it faces steep opposition in the Senate, where Democrats hold a wafer-thin majority.

The House returned from its recess this week to take up the bipartisan infrastructure bill and a resolution for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion budget package, which includes funding for much of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. The procedural motion used to pass the multitrillion-dollar resolution paved the way for the House to vote on the voting rights bill, which was re-introduced last week by Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala.

The legislation would require states with recent histories of discrimination to get federal “preclearance” to change their voting laws, which directly addresses the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder. The ruling gutted the preclearance system in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which civil rights advocates argue was successful in blocking proposed voting restrictions in states and localities with histories of racial discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement last week that Congress had “not only an ironclad Constitutional mandate, but a moral responsibility” to pass the bill.

Shortly before its passage, Pelosi said on the House floor that the bill would honor Lewis’ legacy.

“We should have the right to vote and shouldn’t be diminished by anyone. It is unpatriotic to undermine the ability of people who have a right to vote, who have access to the polls,” she said. “As John knew, this precious pillar of our democracy is under attack from one of the worst voter suppression campaigns since Jim Crow.”

It isn’t the first time House Democrats have tackled election law. In March, House Democrats passed the For the People Act, a sweeping bill that seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws.

The bill would expand access to the ballot box by creating automatic voter registration across the country by registering eligible voters whenever they interact with government agencies, restoring the voting rights of the formerly incarcerated, expanding early voting and modernizing the country’s voting systems.

However, Senate Republicans filibustered the voting rights legislation in June, and the vote to advance an amended version of the For the People Act split along party lines 50-50, short of the 60 votes needed. All Democratic-aligned senators voted to begin debate, and Republicans unanimously voted to block the bill.

Passage of the voting measure was the final vote of the week for the House, whose members are leaving Washington and won’t return until Sept. 20.

Haley Talbot contributed.

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