News & Analysis of Economic, Racial, Gender Justice and More

US Attorney General William Barr testified before the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, for the first time speaking publicly before Congressional members since becoming head of the DOJ. He confirmed that he would release the Special Counsel’s report to the public within a week.  Democratic Representative Charlie Crist asked Barr to elaborate on one line he wrote in his 4-page summary of the Mueller report.  Committee chair Nita Lowey spoke with reporters after the hearing saying she did not trust Barr’s interpretation of the report.

In immigration news top ranking Republican Senator Chuck Grassley on Monday warned the White House not to fire more agency heads at the Department of Homeland Security. Grassley’s words came a day after Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced her resignation, apparently forced out by President Donald Trump for not being “tough” enough against immigrant families. Grassley and other leading Republicans seemed to view Nielsen’s disturbing legacy in overseeing the separation of thousands of children from their parents as perfectly acceptable. In an interview with the Washington Post Grassley said he was, “very, very concerned” about rumors that Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would be the next to go. He told the paper, “One, those are good public servants…Secondly, besides the personal connection I have with them and the qualifications they have, they are the intellectual basis for what the president wants to accomplish in immigration.” On Monday Trump fired the head of the US Secret Service– without cause.

Reports emerged after Nielsen’s resignation that Trump wants to reverse his own executive order ending the family separation policy after a massive public outcry last year. CNN quoted one source attending a recent White House meeting that the President was, “ranting and raving, saying border security was his issue.” Additionally, “According to multiple sources, the President wanted families separated even if they came in at a legal port of entry and were legal asylum seekers. The President wanted families separated even if they were apprehended within the US. He thinks the separations work to deter migrants from coming.” But on Tuesday Trump publicly denied that he wanted to restart family separations, saying, “We’re not looking to do that, no.” However he then boasted about the deterrent effect of separating families saying, “Once you don’t have it, that’s why you see many more people coming. They’re coming like it’s a picnic.”

In other immigration news, a federal judge on Monday blocked Trump’s policy of forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while they apply. Judge Jon S. Tigar of San Francisco wrote, “Whatever the scope of the President’s authority, he may not rewrite the immigration laws to impose a condition that Congress has expressly forbidden.” NBC reported on Tuesday that Trump wants to put border agents in charge of conducting credible fear interviews of asylum seekers, saying they will be tougher.  And the New York Times exposed the President’s hypocrisy with a report on how his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago has quietly been removing undocumented employees from its staff.

Federal Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin testified in front of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday where he was questioned about President Trump’s tax returns and the House Ways and Means committee’s recent request to turn over the last 6 years of returns. During his testimony he revealed that lawyers for the Treasury Department consulted with White House lawyers on the request for the returns, even though there is not supposed to be such type of communication.

Buzzfeed on Monday reported that Congressional Republicans Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows are advising drug companies not to cooperate with their Democratic colleagues in an inquiry into drug prices. The GOP members of the House Oversight Committee took pains to write letters to drug company CEOs warning them that any information they share with committee chair Elijah Cummings could be made public and could impact their stock prices. According to the letter Jordan and Meadows contend that Democrats are seeking information, “that would likely harm the competitiveness of your company if disclosed publicly.” Mr. Cummings has launched an investigation into how 12 companies set their prescription drug prices. According to Buzzfeed, “warning companies not to comply with an investigation is unconventional — perhaps even unprecedented.” Cummings was flabbergasted saying Rep. Jordan, “would rather protect drug company ‘stock prices’ than the interests of the American people.”

Vanity Fair reported on Monday that Trump’s decision to designate Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (I.R.G.C.) as a terrorist organization was deeply hypocritical given that years ago the Trump Organization had no problem doing business with the military unit. Citing a New Yorker investigative piece from 2017, the magazine wrote that, “the Trump Organization participated in a scheme that likely helped the I.R.G.C. launder money and acquire weapons of mass destruction.” Trump’s designation of the I.R.G.C. as a terrorist organization is unprecedented and means that those doing business with it would face sanctions.

The city of New York has declared a public health emergency over a measles outbreak within an ultraorthodox Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio announced that residents of Williamsburg, Brooklyn would be required to get vaccinated against the highly contagious virus and that those not cooperating would be fined.

And finally Blase Bonpane, a giant among Los Angeles social justice activists, has died. The former Maryknoll priest who spent decades doing solidarity work in Central America, and who headed the Office of the Americas and hosted World Focus on KPFK for 50 years, was beloved throughout Southern California and the nation. He will be deeply missed by all those who knew and loved and cherished him.

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