Headlines: April 24, 2019
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President Donald Trump was shielded from plans to counter Russian interference in the 2020 elections, news reports revealed today. White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reportedly requested former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to not raise the issue in front of Trump. As head of Homeland Security it was one of Nielsen’s most critical tasks to thwart any foreign interference attempts in US elections. According to the New York Times Mulvaney, “made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it ‘wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.'” The report was based on testimony from, “three senior Trump administration officials and one former senior administration official.” Meanwhile Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner on Tuesday dismissed the depth of Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election. During a conference in New York this is what he said. According to the Times, “Facebook estimated that Russia-backed ads and social media posts reached 126 million Americans during the election, only about 10 million fewer than voted in 2016.”
The other major social media company Twitter – the one that Trump relies on most heavily to spread his messages – is also in the news. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and several other Twitter executives are now known to have secretly met with Trump to discuss, “protecting the health of the public conversation ahead of the 2020 U.S. elections.” The meeting became public only after Trump himself tweeted a photo of it on Tuesday. A leaked internal email from Dorsey to Twitter employees revealed that he believes meeting with the President, “bridges gaps and drives towards solutions.” Twitter has come under intense criticism for enabling Trump to spew hateful messages that violate their own standards. Twitter’s response has been that blocking Trump would not be a good idea because it would, “hide important information people should be able to see and debate.”
The IRS broke a second deadline on Tuesday to hand over President Trump’s tax returns to House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin wrote to Mr. Neal saying he, “cannot act upon your request unless and until it is determined to be consistent with law.” But critics have pointed out that there is a very straightforward section of the federal tax code that Neal’s request is based on, leaving little room for discretion. Still, Mnuchin, who has pledged to protect Trump in the past, said he would make a final decision about the tax returns by May 6th, “after receiving the Justice Department’s legal conclusions.” Democrats accused the Trump administration of “lawlessness,” and may hold Mnuchin in contempt of Congress or issue a subpoena for the tax returns.
On Wednesday Trump, seemingly cornered by Democratic attempts to hold him accountable railed to reporters about the various subpoenas he was facing. Earlier on Wednesday morning he ranted on Twitter once more mischaracterizing the conclusions of the Special Counsel report as having absolved him. He also lashed out against the possibility of impeachment saying, “If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.” During his remarks to reporters Trump also said he was, “draining the swamp” – a familiar campaign reference on the same day that news broke about 6 of his appointees to the Interior Department are being investigated for violations of federal ethics rules. The Department’s Office of Inspector General will be examining whether those appointees broke the law by, “engaging with their former employers or clients on department-related business.”
A state legislator in Iowa has publicly announced his departure from the Republican Party, citing President Trump as his reason. State Representative Andy McKean, who is Iowa’s longest-serving GOP lawmaker said he was switching to the Democratic Party. He also said, “Americans of all parties should insist on something far better in the leader of their country and the free world.”
Trump on Wednesday will be speaking alongside his wife Melania at a conference addressing opioid addiction. The President has given himself credit for addressing the crisis. On Tuesday two former executives of Rochester Drug Co-Operative were charged for their roles in opioid epidemic. They become the first drug-distribution company executives to be formally charged. Rochester itself was also charged. US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, in announcing the charges said, “This prosecution is the first of its kind: Executives of a pharmaceutical distributor and the distributor itself have been charged with drug trafficking, trafficking the same drugs that are fueling the opioid epidemic that is ravaging this country.” He added, “Our office will do everything in its power to combat this epidemic, from street-level dealers to the executives who illegally distribute drugs from their boardrooms.”
Abigail Disney, the great niece of Walt Disney, has been in the news for calling out Disney CEO Bob Iger’s massive compensation package and how it is more than a thousand times that of the median Disney employee wage. She wrote on Twitter last weekend, “by any objective measure a pay ratio over a thousand is insane.” On Wednesday she published an op-ed in the Washington Post, expanding on the issue and calling out the “naked indecency,” of Iger’s pay. She added, “It is time to call out the men and women who lead us and to draw a line in the sand about how low we are prepared to let hard-working people sink while top management takes home ever-more-outrageous sums of money.”
In international news, Sri Lanka is still reeling from the massive suicide attacks it faced on Easter Sunday. President Maithripala Sirisena has now demanded the resignations of his nation’s chief of police and Defense Secretary over their inaction on intelligence reports about the impending attacks. A total of nine suicide bombers have been identified including one woman. At least 60 people have been arrested so far. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks that killed more than 350 people.
And finally a new UN report on the Afghanistan war has found that US-backed Afghan government forces along with US and other foreign troops were responsible for killing more Afghan civilians in the first 3 months of this year than the Taliban and other insurgent groups. A total of 581 Afghan civilians were killed from January 1 through March 31st of this year. Of those, 305 were killed by the US and its foreign and domestic allies. The Afghanistan war is the longest official war the US has ever waged and there remains no end in sight.