Headlines: March 1, 2019
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North Korea is disputing President Donald Trump’s claim that it insisted on a lifting of all sanctions as a condition for a deal. Early on Thursday Trump walked out of talks taking place in Hanoi, Vietnam saying, “Sometimes you have to walk.” He explained, “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.” But hours later at a press conference in the middle of the night, North Korean spokespeople said they had been asking for a lifting of sanctions imposed since March 2016 – a demand they had been making in lower-level talks for weeks and which should not have come as a surprise to the US. According to Associated Press, President “Kim [Jong Un] had asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down the North’s main nuclear complex.” In essence Mr. Kim was seeking a relief of those sanctions that have hurt ordinary people, not a lifting of sanctions on armaments. AP also explained that, “Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said the North was also ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of the country’s nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.” Before the summit Trump had said he would be happy to make a deal if North Korea agreed to stop all nuclear testing.
The GOP is upset with its president on the case of Otto Warmbier, an American student who died in North Korea in 2017. During his summit with North Korea Trump dismissed President Kim Jong Un’s role in Warmbier’s death, believing that Kim knew nothing about it. Trump had said, “He tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word…I don’t believe that he would have allowed that to happen, it just wasn’t to his advantage to allow that to happen. Those prisons are rough, they’re rough places, and bad things happened. But I really don’t believe that he, I don’t believe that he knew about it.” Republican Senator Rob Portman who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee responded angrily that, “We can’t be naïve about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen.” Several other Republicans expressed similar anger.
President Trump is also facing push back from members of his own party on the matter of his declaration of a national emergency. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander on Thursday spoke on the floor of the Senate and hinted that he might become the 51st Senator to oppose Trump’s national emergency declaration in a bill that has already passed the House. Three of his Republican colleagues plan to join Democrats in the Senate and he could become the fourth, pushing the bill into passage. Senator Alexander on Thursday implied that he may become the 4th Republican in the Senate to oppose Trump’s emergency declaration.
The House Intelligence Committee held a closed-door hearing with Trump’s former Attorney Michael Cohen on Thursday. After the hearing Committee chair Adam Schiff held a press conference explaining that Mr. Cohen would be returning for more testimony on March 6th and that one of Trump’s other colleagues Felix Sater will be called in to testify.
The House Oversight Committee is expanding its investigation into President Trump and his colleagues based on the many allegations that Cohen made at the public hearing on Wednesday. Committee chair Elijah Cummings said to reporters on Thursday, “All you have to do is follow the transcript. If there were names that were mentioned or records that were mentioned during the hearing, we’re going to take a look at all of that…We’ll go through, we’ll figure out who we want to talk to and we’ll bring them in.” The list of people could include Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, as well as Trump’s children Ivanka and Donald Jr.
The New York Times on Thursday published an exposé of how President Trump last year overrode the concerns of intelligence officers and demanded security clearance for his son-in-law Jared Kushner. According to the Times, “Mr. Trump’s decision in May so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.” Additionally the Times found that, “The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.” Trump had earlier said in public that he played no role in Kushner being given clearance. Based on several sources the Times determined that, “Officials had raised questions about his own and his family’s real estate business’s ties to foreign governments and investors, and about initially unreported contacts he had with foreigners. The issue also generated criticism of Mr. Trump for having two family members serve in official capacities in the West Wing.”
In other news, Acting chair of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Andrew Wheeler, was confirmed as the agency’s permanent head on Thursday. The Senate in a largely partisan vote of 52-47 voted to confirm the former coal lobbyist who has been credited with heading most of the rolling back of environmental protections at the EPA. Senator Susan Collins was the only Republican to vote against Wheeler saying, “The policies he has supported as acting administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”
More than 30 women leaders from around the world have written an open letter decrying the erosion of women’s rights and the rise of dictatorial regimes globally. The letter was signed by such leaders as Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the UN framework convention on climate change, Ethiopian president Sahle-Work Zewde, former Irish president Mary Robinson, Helen Clark, the former prime minister of New Zealand, and Irina Bokova, a Bulgarian politician.
And finally Afghan women are worried about their rights being traded away in negotiations with the Taliban. More than 700 women from all over Afghanistan gathered this week at a conference in Kabul to demand that the US-backed Afghan government pursue peace with the Taliban, but not at the expense of their rights.