Headlines: February 20, 2019
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House Democrats released a new report on Tuesday detailing the Trump Administration’s plans to push nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. The plan, according to the 24-page report by the House Oversight and Reform Committee involved senior White House officials such as Michael T. Flynn in the early part of the Trump Administration. Flynn had apparently worked for the same company that would build the nuclear power plants when he took his job as National Security Adviser at the White House and continued to promote his former employer. According to the New York Times, Flynn, “worked with retired military officers to circumvent the normal policymaking process to promote an export plan that experts worried could spread nuclear weapons technology in the volatile Middle East.”
A number of other White House officials and Trump associates are also implicated in the plan, including a National Security Council official named Derek Harvey, and Trump’s inaugural committee chair, Tom Barrack. The Trump administration was, as recently as last week, still hoping to push some sort of plan to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. The House Committee members based their report on whistleblowers who were concerned, “about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law — efforts that may be ongoing to this day.” The nuclear plan for Saudi Arabia may explain President Trump’s reluctance to strongly rebuke Saudi royals over the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Democrats have said they are launching an inquiry.
Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday gave his annual address on the state of his nation and said that he would not take first steps to threaten any nation now that the US-Russia Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty was on its way to being nullified. But he did issue a worrying threat saying that any deployment of intermediate range missiles in Europe would be met with a targeting of decision-making centers in the United States. According to a Reuters translation of the speech, Putin said, “Russia will be forced to create and deploy types of weapons which can be used not only in respect of those territories from which the direct threat to us originates, but also in respect of those territories where the centers of decision-making are located.”
The New York Times on Tuesday published a lengthy report entitled, “Intimidation, Pressure and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him.” The report focuses on how Trump has likely committed crimes of obstruction of justice in his efforts to install loyalty among those overseeing the Special Counsel investigation into his 2016 campaign. The report apparently, “reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.” Among the previously unreported allegations is how Trump asked Acting Attorney General Mathew Whitaker if a US attorney named Geoffrey S. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. Berman is a Trump loyalist. On Tuesday reporters asked Trump about that specific charge and he denied it.
On the same day that the Times released its detailed report on obstruction of justice, reporters published an analysis of nearly all the public statements that the President has ever made on the Special Counsel’s investigation. According to the paper, “While it is highly unusual for anyone — let alone the president of the United States — to comment on continuing criminal investigations, Mr. Trump has done so at least once on 330 days, or more than 43 percent of his time in office as of Feb. 14.”
Trump’s friends also seem to think the strategy of attacking those investigating them is a smart one. Trump’s long-time associate and friend Roger Stone who has been indicted of lying to Congress has been summoned before a judge after he posted a pointed critique of her on his Instagram account along with a photo of her face next to what appears to be the crosshairs of a gun. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson will consider on Thursday whether or not to revoke Stone’s bail. Stone apologized for posting the photo and insisted he did not mean to threaten the judge.
In other news, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats who has served in the Trump administration for nearly two years, may be the next official on the chopping block. Coats was one of three top intelligence officials who spoke at a Congressional hearing last month and whose testimony contradicted the President’s claims on North Korea, Iran, and the Islamic State. According to the Washington Post, Trump told one of the paper’s sources that Coats was, “not loyal” and “he’s not on the team.”
Despite the fact that the White House is facing numerous major lawsuits over Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to appropriate funds for his border wall, the President is moving ahead with securing the funds. A senior administration official told CNN that, “the White House plans to first draw from the Defense Department’s drug interdiction program and the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture funds before moving to divert military construction funds.” When reporters asked him on Tuesday if he had the legal right to do it, he explained that he had the right to appropriate funds for his border wall despite the many lawsuits that his emergency declaration has prompted.
The federal government on Tuesday admitted that it has shared its “terrorist watchlist“ with more than a thousand private institutions such as hospitals and universities. After years of claiming that it never shares the list with private groups, the admission shocked privacy advocates. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) is one of the groups suing the government over the use of the watchlist. Gadeir Abbas, a CAIR lawyer, said to reporters, “We’ve always suspected there was private-sector dissemination of the terror watchlist, but we had no idea the breadth of the dissemination would be so large.” There are apparently hundreds of thousands of names on the list. The government’s so-called “no-fly” list is a smaller subset of the watchlist. Muslim Americans in particular appear to be targeted by the list and routinely suffer hardships and indignities as a result of likely being on the list. Abbas remarked that the list was ineffective to begin with, calling it, “a fool’s errand.” He added, “They are trying to predict, among the innocent, which people will be terrorists. That is an impossibility.”
And finally Senator Bernie Sanders broke fundraising records on his very first day of announcing a new presidential campaign. Within just the first 24 hours, the Sanders campaign raised about $6 million in small donations from more than 200,000 supporters. He has raised significantly more than his Democratic colleagues.