Headlines: February 21, 2020
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:24 — 7.7MB)
President Donald Trump dismissed intelligence reports that the Russian government was once again attempting to interfere in US elections. On Friday morning he tweeted angrily, “Another misinformation campaign is being launched by Democrats in Congress saying that Russia prefers me to any of the Do Nothing Democrat candidates who still have been unable to, after two weeks, count their votes in Iowa. Hoax number 7!” Except that the reports were not produced by Democrats, they were part of an intelligence briefing last week to House Intelligence Committee members. The New York Times reports that, “The president’s decision to remove Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, and install Richard Grenell, the ambassador to Germany and a fervent loyalist, was also seen as a direct outcome of the briefing.” Trump declared that he would offer the permanent position of DNI to Georgia Representative Doug Collins, but Collins has turned him down. Last week’s intelligence briefing was led by an intelligence official named Shelby Pierson, who the Washington Post reports, “said several times during the briefing that Russia had ‘developed a preference’ for Trump, according to a U.S. official familiar with her comments.”
Meanwhile Trump backer Dana Rohrabacher, a former California Congressman, said on Thursday that he did in fact dangle a Presidential pardon to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange if Assange agreed to cover up Russia’s involvement in hacking the DNC server in 2016. Rohrabacher initially denied his actions after Assange’s lawyer made them public. Rohrabacher said to reporters, “I spoke to Julian Assange and told him if he would provide evidence about who gave WikiLeaks the emails I would petition the president to give him a pardon…He knew I could get to the president.” White House Press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissed the account saying it was a “complete fabrication,” and that Trump, “barely knows Dana Rohrabacher” and has “never spoken to him on this subject or almost any subject.” Trump has often denied knowing people after they have made statements incriminating him, such as political operative Lev Parnas.
Meanwhile Trump headed to Colorado on Thursday for a rally in support of his ally Senator Cory Gardner who faces reelection in November. A new non-partisan poll found that Gardner faces a tough race with Colorado voters now “leaning Democratic.” Trump’s speech was so off the rails that analysts used terms like “unhinged” to describe it. During a rally that was meant to shore up support for Gardner, Trump joked about staying in office for decades, swiped at actor Brad Pitt, mocked Democratic presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar, complained about the South Korean film Parasite winning the Oscar for Best Picture, and whined about not being named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year.
In election-related news, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll of black voters concluded that while former Vice President Joe Biden still retains his top spot at 31%, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has now inched up close to Biden’s numbers with 29% support from that crucial demographic. A new poll released by the University of Massachusetts on Thursday found that Sanders leading all other candidates in the states of Texas and North Carolina while he is tied with Senator Elizabeth Warren in her home state of Massachusetts. And a Quinnipiac University poll of how Trump matches up with the various Democratic candidates in swing states has found Trump would still win the state of Wisconsin while in Pennsylvania several of the Democratic front runners would beat him. In Michigan the numbers are closer.
Meanwhile candidates continue to rack up important endorsements. The co-founders of the prominent student-led gun control group March for Our Lives have endorsed Sanders. The San Diego Tribune has endorsed Mayor Pete Buttigieg, while the American Federation of Teachers couldn’t decide on a single candidate and instead is urging its members to pick Biden, Sanders, or Warren. In other election news, Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was widely praised for her Wednesday night debate performance in Nevada, has just released a document she created for Mayor Mike Bloomberg to sign so he could release numerous women from the Non-Disclosure Agreements they have had to sign over the years in relation to Bloomberg and his companies. Meanwhile the Nation Magazine on Friday published the NDA that Bloomberg’s employees are made to sign. The NDA, according to reporter Ken Klippenstein, “contains language that could prevent staffers from reporting workplace abuse.”
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney at an overseas event this week apparently made comments complaining about the scarcity of immigrants in the US and its potential damage to the economy. Mulvaney who is a top administration official in the most anti-immigrant US government in the modern era, said at a private gathering in England, “We are desperate — desperate — for more people…We are running out of people to fuel the economic growth that we’ve had in our nation over the last four years. We need more immigrants.” In line with that sentiment the Trump administration has quietly raised the cap on seasonal immigrant workers allowing 45,000 additional “guest workers” as they are called to enter the US this summer and work legally. In other immigration news, the LA Times reports that the Republican Party has been mailing out documents labeled, “2020 Congressional District Census” to residents all across states like California just weeks ahead of the official US Census documents are mailed out. Already Census officials are struggling to combat fear and misinformation after the end of a high-profile Republican-led battle to demand a question about citizenship on the Census. The move, clearly intended to scare immigrants into not counting themselves, is now apparently being bolstered by the misleading new mailers.
In climate related news, Christiana Figueres, who was the lead negotiator of the United Nations Paris climate accord in 2015, has issued a dire new warning saying that there is only a decade left to stop irreversible climate catastrophe. Figueres sets out the warning in her new book, “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis.” Signs of climate change are all around us. Here in the US, more than 12 million people could be affected by massive snow storms in the Southeastern part of the country including the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia. Extremely dry weather in California suggests the drought that was declared over after last year’s major rains, seems to be back. The month of February has been so dry that a UCLA climate scientist explained, “This hasn’t happened in 150 years or more.” Meanwhile social media activity has been tapped for the continued perpetuation of climate denialism. The Guardian newspaper analyzed activity on Twitter and found that, “a quarter of all tweets about climate on an average day are produced by bots,” and that they, “tended to applaud president [Trump] for his actions and spread misinformation about the science.”
And finally in Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced he plans to sign a peace deal with the Taliban to reduce violence in a precursor to ending the longest official war in US history. Taliban officials confirmed the action. The organization was set to begin a seven-day period of lowered violence leading up to the agreement which is to be signed on February 29th. The deputy leader of the Taliban, Sirajuddin Haqqani, published an op-ed in the New York Times on Friday saying, “The long war has exacted a terrible cost from everyone. We thought it unwise to dismiss any potential opportunity for peace no matter how meager the prospects of its success.” He added, “For more than four decades, precious Afghan lives have been lost every day. Everyone has lost somebody they loved. Everyone is tired of war. I am convinced that the killing and the maiming must stop.” Critics slammed the Times’ decision to print the op-ed by a man considered a violent terrorist.