Headlines: December 19, 2018
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The sentencing hearing for President Donald Trump’s former National Security advisor Michael Flynn has been postponed to next March in an unexpected twist. Flynn went into the hearing hoping that the judge in question would take prosecutors’ request for no prison time seriously. Instead he and the federal prosecutors in the case got an earful from U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan about his dishonest testimony to the FBI in January 2017. Sullivan said, “Not only did you lie to the FBI, you lied to senior officials in the incoming administration.” He added, “All along, you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for. Arguably, you sold your country out.” He even asked if Flynn’s behavior, “rises to the level of treasonous activity. . . . Could he have been charged with treason?” The judge later walked back some of his comments but ultimately decided to delay the sentencing.
Reporters later asked White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to explain why the President, who had wish Flynn ‘good luck,’ thought so highly of his former national security adviser, but had such disdain for his former attorney Michael Cohen, going as far as calling Cohen, “a rat.” Huckabee Sanders failed to explain why the President has differing opinions of two of his former colleagues caught in the net of the Special Counsel’s investigation.
Huckabee Sanders was also asked about Trump’s reversal on a government shut down over his border wall funding. The White House Press Secretary responded to reporters about “other options” to fund Trump’s border wall. Meanwhile Senators agreed on a spending bill on Wednesday that does not include the border wall funding. The vote will take place later in the day and the President has indicated that he might sign it, signalizing yet another political defeat on immigration.
A court in New York has ordered the Trump Foundation to be shut down as part of on-going investigations into the President’s charitable organization. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood, who has led the probe into the organization, said she found, “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation — including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.” She added, “The Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments to not-for-profits from Mr. Trump or the Trump Organization.” The investigation was prompted by a Washington Post report into the foundation that documented how Trump used money from his charity to pay off legal settlements, make illegal political donations, and even purchase art to decorate his clubs. Trump had denounced the investigation as a partisan attack but then settled with the Attorney General’s office and agreed to shut down the foundation.
The US Senate on Tuesday passed a sweeping criminal justice reform bill with bipartisan support. The House had already passed a version of the bill, which extensively revises prison and sentencing guidelines. The President’s support of the bill in question resulted from an unlikely scenario – pressure from his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as the liberal CNN commentator Van Jones, and the reality TV star Kim Kardashian, who used the case of a 63-year woman named Alice Marie Johnson to change the President’s mind. Johnson had been serving a life sentence for a non-violent drug offense and money laundering until Trump granted her clemency. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly backed the bill in turn, and got it passed through the senate 87-12, with some conservative Republicans refusing to support it. Trump is expected to sign the bill into law this week. As per CNN, “Under the legislation, thousands of federal inmates will be able to leave prison earlier than they otherwise would have. Many could secure an earlier release thanks to new credits awarded for good behavior or through participation in rehabilitation programs. The bill also eases some mandatory minimum sentences, gives judges more leeway to eschew certain sentencing guidelines and eliminates ‘stacking’ provisions that leave offenders serving consecutive sentences for crimes committed with firearms.”
December 22nd will mark the first anniversary of the sweeping tax reform law that the Republican Party passed last year and that Trump signed amid mass public opposition. Trump and the GOP had promised an economic miracle and higher wages and bonuses from the bill because of the windfall tax cuts that corporations would receive. Instead new analysis has shown that while corporations got a massive $54 billion back, workers only received about 2 cents more per hour in bonuses. Additionally only about 4.4% of US workers got any kind of wage increase or bonus directly as a result of the tax reform law. Instead of paying their workers more, corporations have used the benefits from the law to buy back company stock.
The Trump White House on Tuesday released a report on school safety that was commissioned in the aftermath of the 2017 Parkland, Florida massacre. Shockingly the report downplays the role of guns in gun-related school violence. Instead it focuses on undoing disciplinary policies that were enacted under Obama, and improving mental health services. It also argues – much like the President and the NRA have publicly done – to arm teachers as first responders to an active shooter. On the same day that the White House released the report, the Justice Department published a rule outlawing “bump stocks,” which are used to convert semi-automatic rifles into fully automatic ones.
A campaign by progressive groups to draft Texas Representative Beto O’ Rourke for a presidential bid has hit a snag. A report in the investigative outlet Sludge, which examines money in politics, revealed that O’Rourke received $430,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, even though he had signed a pledge saying he would not take money from Fossil Fuel-linked Political Action Committees. O’Rourke has also been slammed for taking centrist positions as a House Democrat.
And finally the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday morning that the US military is preparing for a complete withdrawal of US forces from Syria. An official told the paper, “The Pentagon has an order to move troops out of Syria as quickly as possible.” The only indication that Trump gave on this surprise announcement was a cryptic tweet on Wednesday morning saying, “We have defeated ISIS in Syria, my only reason for being there during the Trump Presidency.” The Wall Street Journal gave another explanation for US withdrawal from Syria saying, “The move follows a call last week between Mr. Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has threatened to launch an assault on America’s Kurdish partners in Syria.”