Headlines: January 16, 2020
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The US Senate formally opened its impeachment trial on Thursday with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts being sworn in to preside over what will be only the third time in US history that a president is tried in the Senate. A day of rituals around impeachment played out as the House impeachment managers that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had named, carried the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump to the floor of the Senate to be read in their entirety. Once at the Senate, Congressman Adam Schiff, who is leading the House impeachment team, read the articles out to Senators. Senators are also expected to be sworn in individually pledging to do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who has openly promised anything but impartial justice, has said that the trial will begin “in earnest” next week. Top GOP Senator Lindsey Graham has also expressed his disdain for the process saying on Fox News on Wednesday that, “the best thing for the American people is to end this crap as quickly as possible.”
As the Senate trial formally begins, the Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog group, made Trump’s defense even weaker announcing on Thursday morning that the White House’s withholding of US military aid to Ukraine without Congressional approval was illegal. The GAO formally issued its opinion that the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) violated the Impoundment Control Act. The GAO statement also contended that, “Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.”
At the same time, an associate of Trump’s personal attorney, Lev Parnas, has been giving interviews to media claiming that he acted in concert with Rudy Giuliani and President Trump to pressure Ukraine for political dirt on Joe Biden. Mr. Parnas gave an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night Parnas also spoke with the New York Times saying, “My biggest regret is trusting so much…I thought I was being a patriot and helping the president,” he said, adding that he “thought by listening to the president and his attorney that I couldn’t possibly get in trouble or do anything wrong.”
Among the documents that Parnas’s attorney turned over to House investigators this week was evidence showing that former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovytch was being illegally surveilled. Now Congress is demanding documents from the State Department to verify the surveillance and the government of Ukraine has opened its own investigation into the matter.
Just before the Senate impeachment trial began on Thursday, US Senators overwhelmingly voted to pass the USMCA – the new version of the NAFTA trade deal between the US, Mexico, and Canada. In spite of their differences Democrats and Republicans voted together 89 to 10 to pass the bill. The ten Senators who voted against the USMCA – which came up in this week’s Democratic debate – included Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who had publicly announced his opposition. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer also voted against it echoing Sanders’ argument that the trade deal does not address climate change. Others voting no included former Presidential candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar voted for the deal.
In light of the feud that has opened between Presidential candidates Sanders and Warren, 18 progressive groups on Thursday signed a “unity pledge” that called on Americans to, “focus our fight for the nomination against candidates supported by the corporate wing, instead of fighting each other.” The groups included 7 that have openly backed Sanders and two that have backed Warren, with the rest backing both or undecided. Meanwhile, the audio of what Warren and Sanders said to one another on stage just after Tuesday night’s debate has become public. Warren apparently said to Sanders, “I think you called me a liar on national TV.” Sanders responded, “You know, let’s not do it right now. If you want to have that discussion, we’ll have that discussion.”
A new lawsuit over the late Jeffrey Epstein’s sordid deeds alleges that the financier who killed himself in jail was trafficking and abusing underage girls on his private island as late as 2018. According to the New York Times, Epstein, “was bringing girls as young as 11 and 12 to his secluded estate in the Virgin Islands …and kept a computerized database to track the availability and movements of women and girls.” The suit is being brought by the Virgin Islands Attorney General and is aimed at Epstein’s estate which is worth at least $500 million.
President Trump, in his on-going bid to woo evangelical voters, is releasing updated guidelines on prayer in schools. On the same day that the Senate opened its impeachment trial against him Trump held an Oval Office event announcing the rule change. According to the Wall Street Journal the new rule clarifies, “the requirements for state departments of education to report to the federal government complaints or lawsuits about local schools denying students the right to prayer.”
An internal battle within the family of the media conglomerate Rupert Murdoch is threatening to expose a long-standing practice of rightwing media outlets promoting climate change denialism. The Australian-based Murdochs have witnessed devastating wildfires in their home country over the past month and now the elder Murdoch’s son, James, along with his wife Kathryn released a brief statement expressing their frustration over the role of the Murdoch media empire in fueling climate change. James Murdoch is officially no longer part of his father’s company and has become increasingly vocal on his political differences.
In international news, John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR) testified to Congress this week on the failure of US officials to tell the truth about the war. Mr. Sopko’s testimony came just weeks after a massive internal trove of papers from his institution was published in the Washington Post exposing the dishonesty on the war. According to the Washington Post, “Sopko said U.S. officials have lied in the past about the number of Afghan children enrolled in schools — a key marker of progress touted by the Obama administration — even though they ‘knew the data was bad.’ He also said U.S. officials falsely claimed major gains in Afghan life expectancy that were statistically impossible to achieve.” Sopko also said, “It turns out that everything that is bad news has been classified for the last few years.” Meanwhile US and Taliban negotiators appear to be returning to the table to discuss a peace plan after Taliban officials said they would consider a ceasefire in exchange for peace.
And finally in Syria, the government of Bashar Al Assad continued its assault on opposition forces bombing the rebel-held town of Idlib and killing nearly 2 dozen people – this despite a ceasefire that was brokered by Russia and Turkey. A United Nations group called Commission of Inquiry for Syria released its report into the impact of the war on Syrian children on Thursday and the results are damning. According to the report, “After eight years of conflict, children in Syria have experienced unabated violations of their rights: they continue to be killed, maimed, injured and orphaned, bearing the brunt of violence perpetrated by warring parties.” Associated Press summarized, “girls as young as nine have been raped and forced into sexual slavery. Boys have been tortured, forced into military training and ordered to carry out killings in public. Children have been targeted by sniper fire and used as bargaining chips to extract ransoms.”