Headlines: December 13, 2018
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President Donald Trump has remained silent on Twitter and to the press in the hours following the news of his former attorney Michael Cohen being sentenced to 3 years in prison. Then on Thursday morning he tweeted three times about it. He said, “I never directed Michael Cohen to break the law. He was a lawyer and he is supposed to know the law. It is called ‘advice of counsel,’ and a lawyer has great liability if a mistake is made.” A White House official on condition of anonymity told CNN that privately Trump said about Cohen, “He’s a liar.” Trump is increasingly isolated as one after another of his former colleagues and associates is charged, convicted, and sentenced in investigations linked to the Special Counsel.
On Wednesday, the news broke that American Media Inc., which owns the National Enquirer, admitted to paying a woman named Karen McDougal $15,000 ahead of the 2016 election to buy her silence over an affair with Trump. AMI is run by David Pecker, a close associate of Trump. The news of the admission came from federal prosecutors’ court filings saying that they would not prosecute AMI in exchange for cooperation in the investigation. Pecker and Cohen had a meeting in 2015, and, as the court filing explains, “At the meeting, Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. . . . Pecker agreed to keep Cohen apprised of any such negative stories.” Any money spent on the purposes of influencing an election must be declared as a campaign contribution as per federal election law.
Meanwhile Russian national Maria Butina, who has been in US custody in relation to charges filed by the Special Counsel, is expected to file a guilty plea on Thursday. According to CNN, “The 30-year-old Russian national initially pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent after prosecutors accused her of infiltrating political groups like the National Rifle Association to bolster Russian interests. But on Thursday morning Butina is slated to appear in DC federal court to plead guilty to conspiracy as part of a deal with prosecutors.”
In other news, the US Senate is expected to cast a critical vote on US support for the Yemen war on Thursday. On Wednesday, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders made an impassioned plea for the bill on the floor of the Senate next to a picture of a starving Yemeni child. Senator Sanders also appeared on Fox News making his case for the Senate to stop US participation in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. In the House of Representatives lawmakers voted to prevent any resolutions that use the War Powers Act regarding the Yemen war for the rest of the year. Five Democrats joined Republicans in passing that vote. The rule was tucked into the Farm Bill.
And in fact the Farm Bill now heads to the President’s desk for a signature, having made it past the House and Senate this week. The bill had bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. The must-pass legislation occurs every five years and covers a vast set of policies from farming and energy use, to nutrition and food stamps, conservation, and forestry. The bill was passed after months of negotiation during which steep cuts to the food stamp program pushed by Trump and many of his allies, failed to make it into the final version.
The US Senate also passed a bill on Wednesday that overturned a policy allowing non-profit organizations to limit disclosure of their donors. The IRS policy, which had been in place under Trump’s White House, was reversed by a vote of 50 to 49. Republican Senator Susan Collins broke ranks with her party to join all Democrats in passing it. Under the Congressional Review Act, the Senate only needs a simply majority to overturn a government agency rule. Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said ahead of the vote, “The Trump administration’s dark money rule makes it easier for foreigners and special interests to corrupt and interfere in our elections.” It is not likely that the House will take up the measure though.
A new study by the Center for Health and Gender Equity has found that under the Trump administration the US government has worsened its record on reproductive rights abroad. The Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Index (SRHR) grades the White House, Congress, the US State Department, the US Agency for International Development, and a number of other federal agencies, for how well they promote good sexual and reproductive rights around the world. Under Trump, overall grades have declined.
China is reported to have arrested a Canadian national in apparent retaliation for the arrest of one of its telecomm company executives Meng Wanzhou, Chief Financial Officer of Huawei. Meng is expected to be extradited to the US over alleged sanctions violations. Now a Canadian man named Michael Spavor, director of the Paektu Cultural Exchange, is missing while in China and is feared to be in detention. If true, it would be the second Canadian that China is detaining in apparent retaliation for Meng’s arrest.
British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence by her Parliament on Wednesday. The vote centers on her handling of the Brexit deal with the European Union. According to the BBC, “After securing 63% of the total vote, she is now immune from a leadership challenge for a year.” Conservative MPs who voted against her, are calling on her to resign nonetheless.