Headlines: April 11, 2019
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Julian Assange the founder of Wikileaks has been arrested after seven years of effective house arrest at the Ecuadorian embassy in London, England. He was taken into custody on Thursday morning by British authorities and after which he is expected to be extradited to the US. The single charge on which US authorities have indicted him is conspiracy to break into a government computer – a charge which carries a maximum penalty of up to 5 years, and which centers around Wikileaks’ role in obtaining classified war documents from Chelsea Manning. Assange and Wikileaks have also come under fire for releasing thousands of hacked emails from Democratic National Committee servers that are seen as having negatively impacted Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign in 2016. But Assange does not face charges over those accusations. Assange’s lawyers say they will fight the US extradition in court. His lawyer, Barry J. Pollack accused the US of, “an unprecedented effort by the United States seeking to extradite a foreign journalist to face criminal charges for publishing truthful information.” On Thursday Wikileaks Editor-in-chief Kristinn Hrafnsson spoke to reporters.
Meanwhile President Donald Trump on Thursday responded to reporters’ questions claiming ignorance of Wikileaks: “It’s not my thing. I know there is something having to do with Julian Assange. I’ve been seeing what’s happened with Assange and that will be a determination, I would imagine, mostly by the attorney general, who’s doing an excellent job. So, he’ll be making a determination . I know nothing really about him.” In 2016 Trump spoke in glowing terms about Wikileaks because of the apparent benefit to his campaign from it’s hacking of the DNC servers.
In other news, the deadline for the IRS to turn over President Donald Trump’s tax returns for the past 6 years has come and gone. Democratic Representative Richard Neal had given the IRS until April 10th to comply with a request based on a federal tax provision but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, has refused to comply, likely setting up a major legal battle. Mnuchin has said he wants to consult the Justice Department on the constitutionality of the request and in a letter to the House Ways and Means committee he wrote that the committee request raises, “serious issues concerning the constitutional scope of Congressional investigative authority, the legitimacy of the asserted legislative purpose, and the constitutional rights of American citizens.”
House Democrats on Wednesday released an internal memo from the Education Department making the argument that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has the authority to use federal funds to purchase guns for public school teachers. According to the memo, dated July 16th of last year, “The Department’s Office of the General Counsel has advised that the Secretary has discretion to interpret the broad language of the statute as to its permissiveness regarding the purchase of firearms and training on the use of firearms.” Federal funds have never been used to purchase firearms for teachers. DeVos has publicly said to lawmakers that she did not have the authority to make a decision about arming teachers. At a Congressional hearing on Wednesday Democratic lawmaker Jahana Hayes of Connecticut asked DeVos why her department’s memo contradicted her statements. DeVos has said it is up to states to decide whether to arm teachers as a preventative measure against school shootings.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with AP on Wednesday and during her interview she reiterated her deep concern about Attorney General William Barr’s oversight of the Special Counsel’s investigation and final report. She also expressed her candid opinion of President Trump. Attorney General Barr has said that a redacted version of the Special Counsel’s report will be forthcoming in days. Barr has also said to lawmakers in hearings this week that he believes the Obama Administration was spying on the Trump campaign in 2016. Trump agreed, saying on Thursday, “There was absolutely spying into my campaign. I’ll go a step further. In my opinion it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again.”
Presidential frontrunner Senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a Medicare-for-All bill in the US senate this week, and has decided to take on headfirst the strongest critique of such a healthcare program – its price tag. In an easy-to-understand 4-page white paper that he released on Wednesday he explained how his plan does not actually require new spending. Rather it “represents a rebalance of how our current dollars are spent.” The paper also adds, “Medicare for All represents a belief that our current system relies far too heavily on individuals’ ability to finance necessary and lifesaving medical care through premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and other out-of-pocket expenses. Under a Medicare for All system, government would be the chief financer of health care.”
In Louisiana authorities have arrested a man in connection with the burning down of 3 black churches in a single parish over 10 days. Twenty one-year old Holden Matthews, a white man and the son of the Sheriff’s Deputy was arrested on Wednesday evening and charged with three counts of arson. Attempting to explain away his motives – a privilege rarely afforded to suspects of color – the state fire marshal Butch Browning said “Information investigators have uncovered, and that Matthews has offered, suggests a possible connection with a genre of music called ‘black metal’ and its associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world, which have been documented in movies and books.” He added, “Any questions as to the potential motives of hate are continuing to be vetted by federal authorities.” The NAACP had called the church burnings “domestic terrorism.”
And in international news, Sudan’s long-time president Omar Al-Bashir has been ousted by a military coup. Weeks of mass protests during which dozens of people were killed by security forces, paved the way for the ouster. Al Bashir had himself come to power more than 30 years ago as the result of a military coup. In addition to national anger over Al Bashir’s decades of rule, the ousted President was charged by the International Criminal Court over genocide in Darfur. Sudan’s Defense Minister Awad Ibn Auf has declared himself interim leader, saying that there would be a 2-year transition period during which the military would remain in charge. Already the military has begun cracking down however, with the imposition of a month-long curfew.
And finally in the long-running saga that is Brexit, European Union leaders on Wednesday allowed Britain a six-month delay in coming up with a divorce agreement for leaving the EU. The new deadline is October 31st. European Council President Donald Tusk warned British Prime Minister Theresa May, “Please, do not waste this time.”