Headlines: January 29, 2019
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Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker announced on Monday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was close to being completed. He also said that some of Mueller’s decisions would be reviewed by the Justice Department – a statement that rattled some Democrats. Just hours earlier a bi-partisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill to require Special Counsel Mueller to summarize his findings in a public report for Congress. Meanwhile news broke on Tuesday that Roger Stone, a long-time associate of the President, has entered a not-guilty plea in charges brought against him by the Special Counsel.
Whitaker also announced on Monday new charges brought against the Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer, Huawei and its chief financial officer Meng Wangzhou – who was arrested by Canadian authorities on December 1st. The DOJ’s charges include bank and wire fraud, and violating sanctions on Iran. The Chinese government has been pressuring US and Canadian authorities to drop the charges and free CFO Ms. Meng who remains in Vancouver, Canada. Canadian authorities have formally received an extradition request for her from the US. A Chinese government spokesperson said, “For some time, the U.S. has used its government power to discredit and crack down on specific Chinese companies in an attempt to stifle their legitimate operations…We strongly urge the U.S. to stop the unreasonable suppression of Chinese companies, including Huawei, and treat Chinese companies objectively and fairly.”
Meanwhile the US and China are expected to start a new round of trade talks this week with a top Chinese trade negotiator arriving in Washington on Tuesday. Although the Huawei charges are considered separate from the trade negotiations, they are likely to set the tone for talks and have worried many US business representatives that are counting on a favorable trade agreement. President Donald Trump has imposed tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports that will jump from 10% to 25% by March 1st unless some sort of deal is reached. The chief US negotiator Robert Lighthizer has explained that his main goal is to stop the Chinese government from unfairly subsidizing Chinese corporations and to crack down on intellectual property theft of technological secrets. Expectations for progress on this week’s talks are low.
In other news, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has invited Trump to deliver his State of the Union address on February 5th – a week later than the traditional date. In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, Pelosi wrote, “When I wrote to you on January 23rd, I stated that we should work together to find a mutually agreeable date when government has reopened to schedule this year’s State of the Union address. In our conversation today, we agreed on February 5th.” Mr. Trump replied just hours later writing, “It is my great honor to accept. We have a great story to tell and yet, great goals to achieve!” Pelosi had cited the government shutdown as a reason for postponing the address.
The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned oil company as part of the latest tactic to push President Nicolas Maduro out of power. The US along with several other countries has recognized a 35-year old opposition leader named Juan Guaido as after he simply swore himself in as “interim President.” The US sanctions bar US companies from entering into business dealings with the state-owned oil company in Venezuela for as long as Maduro remains President. Venezuelan oil exports to the US have sharply dropped in recent years. Because of a glut in oil production globally, it would be relatively easy for the US to replace Venezuelan crude oil supplies.White House National Security Advisor John Bolton announced the sanctions on Monday and urged the overthrow of Maduro’s government. Bolton was carrying a yellow note pad during the briefing that clearly had the words “5,000 troops to Colombia,” written on it. Colombia is a US ally, sharing a lengthy border with Venezuela. On Tuesday morning Maduro’s government moved to bar Guaido from leaving the country and launched a criminal probe into his activities.
A number of prominent Democratic operatives have formed a new pro-Israel lobby group whose goal will be to keep the Democratic Party firmly behind Israel. The newly formed organization is called Democratic Majority for Israel, and according to the New York Times it, “is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies.” The group was formed out of concern that a number of younger and more liberal members of the party are increasingly skeptical of Israel’s claims of being a democracy while it oppresses Palestinians. The election of Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib and others sympathetic to Palestinians is also a matter of concern. The new lobby group’s President Mark Mellman said, “Most Democrats are strongly pro-Israel and we want to keep it that way…There are a few discordant voices, but we want to make sure that what’s a very small problem doesn’t metastasize into a bigger problem.”
The ACLU has slammed Texas in its conclusion that non-citizens have been voting in the state since 1992. Texas authorities are claiming that tens of thousands of people ineligible to vote have illegally done so – a finding that President Donald Trump jumped on to try to make his case and prove his long-standing claims against immigrants. According to Associated Press, “The ACLU, along with a dozen other voter and minority rights groups, sent state election officials a letter calling the state’s method for identifying non-citizens ‘deeply flawed’ and warning that local officials who took voters off their rolls based on those records risk violating federal law.” On Monday county election officials admitted that once the names were investigated it was unclear how many would hold up as having truly illegally voted.
And finally a terrifying sounding “polar vortex“ is enveloping much of the Midwest in below-freezing temperatures this week. It is being viewed as the worst “in a generation.” On Wednesday a high of 14 degrees below freezing is expected, with low temperatures falling to 22 degrees below freezing. Such rare weather patterns have become more and more common in recent years and many scientists suspect a link to climate change.