Headlines: March 8, 2019
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UPDATED: Former whistleblower Chelsea Manning has been taken into custody for refusing to testify to a grand jury against Wikileaks. Manning was held in contempt of court in a secret investigation into Wikileaks. In a statement outside the court Manning said, “These secret proceedings tend to favor the government. I’m always willing to explain things publicly.” She was sentenced to 35 years for sharing government documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with Wikileaks and served 7 years before being pardoned by President Barack Obama. Manning will apparently remain in custody until she decides to testify or until the grand jury disbands.
President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort has been sentenced to 47 months in prison for one of two charges he was convicted for in investigations originating from the Special Counsel probe. Manafort’s crimes were consistent with a 19-24 year prison term and yet he was ultimately sentenced to less than 4 years. With nine months already served, Manafort will be released in just over 3 years from now. According to the New York Times, “Judge T. S. Ellis III of the United States District Court in Alexandria, Va., said that although Mr. Manafort’s crimes were ‘very serious,’ following the guidelines would have resulted in an unduly harsh punishment.” Manafort was convicted of crimes that involved hiding millions of dollars overseas, and then deceiving banks to obtain loans. He was also caught repeatedly lying to prosecutors, and although he met with the Special Counsel for 50 hours to cooperate in the investigation, prosecutors said what he told them was of little value. Barbara McQuade, a former United States attorney told the Times that Manafort’s sentence was, “atrociously low,” and that while “many judges do sentence leniently in white-collar cases…dropping all the way from 19 years to four years is absurd.” Manafort faces a second sentencing hearing on his other convictions with a different judge next week and may not be so lucky then.
In other news related to the Special Counsel, Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen is suing the Trump Organization over legal bills. Cohen is saying the organization had promised to pay for his defense and owed him $1.9 million. It was apparently covering his legal bills until about 2 months after Cohen’s office was raided by the FBI. Cohen says the bills went unpaid as soon as the Trump organization suspected he might be cooperating with the Special Counsel. Meanwhile one of Cohen’s current lawyers Lanny Davis filed a statement this week saying that his client was, “open to the ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon by Trump representatives privately and in the media.” Davis’ statement appears to contradict Cohen who said in his public testimony last week that he had never sought nor would accept a pardon from Trump.
The House passed a broad resolution on Thursday condemning all forms of bigotry and hate including anti-Semitism. The resolution was the culmination of a bitter internal battle within the Democratic Party over Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar’s comments on the influence that the Israel lobby wields over American lawmakers. After initially proposing a resolution condemning only anti-Semitism, a grassroots outcry as well as recriminations from within the party demanded why there had been no such resolution during all the times that other members of Congress and the President himself spewed hateful, Islamophobic, and/or anti-black racist rhetoric. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained what led to the final resolution that passed on Thursday with a vote of 407-23. Republican Representative Steve King, who has been Congress’s most notorious contemporary racist, did not vote for it. Meanwhile Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris all released statements defending Omar.
The House Financial Services committee has opened inquiries into the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Newly appointed CFPB head Kathy Kraninger appeared at a committee hearing on Thursday and was grilled by Democratic lawmakers over her continuation of her predecessor Mick Mulvaney’s policy of defanging the consumer watchdog group. A particularly tense exchange between newly elected Representative Katie Porter of California grilling CFPB chair Kathy Kraninger on Thursday at a House Financial Services Committee hearing. California Representative Maxine Waters, who heads the committee said, “The Trump administration has undertaken a sustained effort to destroy the agency…I’m committed to reversing the damage that Mulvaney caused.”
The Justice Department has begun cracking down on fraud schemes that target elderly Americans. In what is considered the largest-ever crackdown on such fraud, the DOJ announced on Thursday that it had filed criminal charges against more than 200 people. According to AP, “Among the defendants identified by the department are two people who prosecutors say ran a telemarketing scam out of Costa Rica and swindled victims by telling them they had won prizes in sweepstake contests and needed to transfer large sums to collect the prizes. The two were extradited to face charges in North Carolina.” Attorney General William Barr on Thursday explained the fraud charges against people targeting elderly Americans.
The US Customs and Border Protection Agency is under fire over news that it kept a dossier on immigrant rights activists, journalists, and even lawyers working on the border immigration crisis. The CBP’s own independent watchdog agency says it is now looking into the matter. Andrew Meehan, assistant commissioner of public affairs said, “CBP has policies in place that prohibit discrimination against arriving travelers and has specific provisions regarding encounters with journalists.” Some of the people that CBP tracked were labeled as “instigators.” The House Homeland Security Committee has also opened an inquiry into the issue. Committee members Bennie Thompson of Mississippi and Kathleen Rice of New York have written to the agency saying, “The appearance that CBP is targeting journalists, lawyers, and advocates, and particularly those who work on immigration matters or report on border and immigration issues, raises questions about possible misuse of CBP’s border search authority and requires oversight to ensure the protection of Americans’ legal and constitutional rights.”
A former police officer in Florida was found guilty on Thursday of multiple charges in the shooting death of a black motorist. It is the first time in 30 years that a law enforcement agent has been found guilty in the state in such a case. After four hours of deliberation, an all-white jury found the 41-year old fired officer Nouman Raja – who happens to be South Asian – guilty of killing 31-year old Corey Jones who had been in his car speaking on the phone with a tow-truck dispatcher when Raja approached him dressed in plain clothes. What followed was a chase on foot during which Raja fired several shots and killed Jones. The Palm Beach Gardens police department fired the officer soon after the shooting. Guilty verdicts were read on Thursday against a fired police officer in Florida in the shooting death of Corey Jones.