Headlines: December 5, 2018
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CIA director Gina Haspel briefed US Senators on Tuesday about the murder of Saudi dissident journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Senators concluded unequivocally that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman was responsible for ordering Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul. Republican Senators Bob Corker, and Lindsey Graham, concluded in strong terms that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman was responsible for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The GOP Senators are breaking with President Donald Trump as well as State Department head Mike Pompeo and Defense Department head James Mattis on the issue.
In other news, the Special Counsel’s investigators have filed court documents requesting a short to no prison sentence for Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn. The move is bad news for the President as it means that Flynn has been cooperating so well with investigators that he may have earned his freedom. Indeed the court filing on Tuesday, according to AP, “provides the first details of Flynn’s assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe.” Mr. Flynn pled guilty to various charges just over a year ago, becoming the first of five of Trump’s colleagues to do so.
The Attorneys General of Washington DC and Maryland have indicated that they are filing subpoenas of the Trump organization, the Treasury Department and dozens of other agencies, businesses and institutions, as part of a probe into whether the President has personally profited from his office. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh said, “We’re seeking to confirm the information that everybody already knows: Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution. He’s received numerous payments from foreign governments and state governments and they’ve been funneled, at least in part, through the Trump (hotel) in D.C.”
Politico reported on Tuesday that the National Republican Congressional Committee had been hacked into ahead of this fall’s midterm elections. According to Politico, “The email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months.” Once the intrusion was discovered, the NRCC contacted the FBI and conducted an internal investigation. But several senior House Republicans including Paul Ryan, were not even aware it had happened until Politico contacted them for comment. Additionally, “Party officials would not say when the hack began or who was behind it, although they privately believe it was a foreign agent because of the nature of the attack.” President Trump has routinely mocked Democrats for having their servers hacked into in 2016. Just this past July he said, “The DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked. They had bad defenses, and they were able to be hacked…I heard they were trying to hack the Republicans, too. But, and this may be wrong, but they had much stronger defenses.”
The out-going Republican dominated state government in Wisconsin has passed a broad set of bills this week, voting early Wednesday morning, to weaken the power of the incoming Democratic governor and attorney general. Lawmakers worked feverishly through the night as thousands of protesters gathered at the State Capitol outside denouncing them for their undemocratic moves. Democratic State Representative Katrina Shankland told the New York Times, “That’s what this is about: power-hungry politicians using their grubby hands in their last-ditch effort to desperately cling to power. All we’ve seen demonstrated today and over the past few days is a contempt for the public.” Protesters gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Tuesday night.
According to the Times, the measures “limit early voting, require lawmaker approval for the attorney general to settle certain lawsuits, and give lawmakers, not the governor, the majority of appointments on an economic development board. They also prevent Mr. Evers from banning guns in the Wisconsin Capitol without permission from legislators.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was shocked to find in November that he lost to Democrat Tony Evers. He is expected to sign the bills into law as one of his last major acts as Governor. The GOP lawmakers also approved a number of Walker’s political appointees at the last minute.
At the federal level, an appointee completely inexperienced in consumer affairs is likely to be installed as the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau this week. Kathy Kraninger is a White House budget official and was approved by the full Senate last week in a party-line vote of 50 to 49. She is likely to formally begin her five-year term this week, replacing out-going interim CFPB chair Mick Mulvaney who was appointed by Trump expressly to undercut the power of the agency. Kraninger is expected to follow in Mulvaney’s footsteps. The CFPB is the only federal agency protecting the interests of consumers.
In other news, an independently conducted autopsy of a black man named EJ Bradford Jr. was made public on Tuesday and shows that police shot him in the back multiple times. The 21-year old US military service member was home for Thanksgiving in Birmingham, Alabama with his family when police shot him three times, killing him while he was at the mall. Initially the Hoover Police Department said Bradford was an armed suspect and lauded the officer who pulled the trigger. But they later retracted the assertion saying he was not a suspect.
And, a 50-year old man in Salt Lake City, Utah, is not being charged with a hate crime despite the fact that he yelled, “I want to kill a Mexican” before allegedly beating up two Latino men. Prosecutors say their hands are tied because of the way in which the state’s hate crimes statutes are written. According to Tribune Media, “The statute currently only applies as an enhancer to existing charges — but only misdemeanors, not felonies.” Fifty-year old Alan Covington viciously attacked a 55-year old father and his 18-year old son with a metal bar, leaving the younger man in particular with serious injuries. Now, because of Utah’s legal loophole Covington will only face lesser charges.