Headlines: February 27, 2019
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President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen testified publicly in front of the House Oversight committee on Wednesday morning – a day after closed-door testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On Tuesday afternoon Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz posted a tweet that sounded like an overt threat and blackmail attempt. He wrote, “Hey @MichaelCohen212– Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot…” Gaetz defended his tweet to reporters later saying that it wasn’t “witness tampering,” rather that it was “witness testing.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that Cohen would reveal details about Trump’s alleged criminal activity while in office, and that he, “plans to make public some of Mr. Trump’s private financial statements and allege that Mr. Trump at times inflated or deflated his net worth for business and personal purposes, including avoiding paying property taxes.” On Wednesday morning the Washington Post reported that Cohen will be testifying that Trump knew all along about the plan to use incriminating data obtained by Wikileaks against his Democratic rival. Cohen’s testimony comes as Trump is in Vietnam for a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
In other news the House on Tuesday voted to block Trump’s national emergency declaration on border violence by a vote of 245 to 182. Among those who voted for the bill were 13 Republicans. The bill now moves to the Senate where at least 3 Republicans are likely to join Democrats. During a press conference on Tuesday, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell struggled to offer a legal justification for the President’s emergency declaration and end-run around Congress’s spending authority saying, “We’re in the process of weighing that…I haven’t reached a total conclusion.” He added, “You can’t blame the president for trying to use whatever tool he thinks he has to address it.”
Meanwhile in immigration news, the investigative outlet Axios reported on Tuesday that House Representative Ted Deutch’s office had released data showing thousands of accusations of sexual abuse of undocumented children in US custody. The shocking report on so-called Unaccompanied Alien Children or UACs, said that, “Allegations against staff members reported to the DOJ included everything from rumors of relationships with UACs to showing pornographic videos to minors to forcibly touching minors’ genitals.” The data covers a 4-year period 2014 to 2018 and came from the Department of Health and Human Services at the request of the House Judiciary Committee. Rep. Deutch told Axios, “This behavior — it’s despicable, it’s disgusting, and this is just the start of questions that HHS is going to have to answer about how they handle these and what’s happening in these facilities.”
Anonymous government officials have told the Washington Post that the federal government effectively shutdown the Russia-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) on election day last year. IRA is based in St. Petersburg and overseen by a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It has been documented to have flooded American social media with polarizing fake news stories in an effort to influence the 2016 election outcome. On November 6, 2018, the US took action that, “was part of the first offensive cyber-campaign against Russia designed to thwart attempts to interfere with a U.S. election.” One of the Post’s sources told the paper, “They basically took the IRA offline…They shut them down.”
Chicagoans will be getting their first black female mayor ever. A primary race on Tuesday to fill the seat vacated by Mayor Rahm Emanuael resulted in former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle being the top two vote getters in a crowded field of 14 candidates. Both Lightfoot and Preckwinkle are African American. Lightfoot is also openly gay. They will face each other in a runoff in April.
The Department of Justice has decided not to appeal a decision in favor of an $85.4 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner. The Trump administration had blocked the merger – apparently because Time Warner owns CNN and the President has made clear his animosity toward the network. The US Court of Appeals in DC on Tuesday ruled in favor of the merger saying that the government’s argument that a merger would lead to price increases did not hold.
The United Methodist Church decided on Tuesday that it would continue to oppose same-sex marriage as well as openly gay clergy. At a meeting that was many years in the making, hundreds of international clergy from the church voted to preserve the archaic values despite pressure from the American faithful especially to modernize the rules. According to the Washington Post, “Many American ministers in the United Methodist Church already perform same-sex marriages and approve of the ordination of LGBT people as clergy, although the Protestant church’s rules officially forbid these marriages and ordinations.”
And finally in international news, tensions between India and Pakistan have hit a decades-long high. Indian fighter jets on Tuesday dropped bombs into Pakistani territory that India says was aimed at a terrorist training camp. The strike was in retaliation for a suicide bombing in the contested Indian state of Kashmir less than two weeks ago during which 40 Indian paramilitary police officers were killed. On Tuesday India’s foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale laid out India’s justification for an airstrike on Pakistan. India and Pakistan have battled over Kashmir for decades and the last time the two nations went to war over it was in 1999. This time however, both South Asian states are armed with nuclear weapons, significantly raising the stakes for violence. In fact Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan convened an emergency session of Parliament and met with nuclear officials in government in response to India’s strike.