Headlines: November 25, 2019
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Richard Spencer, secretary of the US Navy resigned under pressure from Defense Secretary Mark Esper over the reinstatement of a Navy SEAL that President Trump had pardoned. Chief Petty officer Ed Gallagher had been charged with committing war crimes and ultimately convicted of a minor charge. Secretary Esper says that Trump ordered him to allow Gallagher to retain his elite status in the Navy SEALS despite Navy leadership’s resistance. Esper accused Secretary Spencer of mishandling the situation and even attempting to offer the President a deal whereby Gallagher could retire from his position and retain his status if Trump stayed out of the case. Esper then demanded Spencer’s resignation. In his letter of resignation Spencer maintained that it was integral to the Navy’s reputation to maintain discipline in its ranks.
A number of stories broke over the weekend pertinent to the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. Internal emails from the US State Department obtained via a FOIA request by the group American Oversight, implicated Secretary Mike Pompeo in the scheme led by Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to malign Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of the Ukraine scheme. Pompeo had refused to release the documents to House committees conducting the hearings but was forced to turn them over in response to the FOIA request. American Oversight’s Executive Director explained the significance saying the documents offer, “a clear paper trail from Rudy Giuliani to the Oval Office to Secretary Pompeo to facilitate Giuliani’s smear campaign against a U.S. ambassador.”
Emails from the White House also became public as part of an internal review that showed officials close to Trump – in particular Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney – scrambling to come up with a legal justification to withhold US military aid from Ukraine as per Trump and Giuliani’s scheme.
The New York Times interviewed two Ukrainian oligarchs Dmitry Firtash and Ihor Kolomoisky and found that Giuliani attempted to use them for dirt on Trump’s political rival Joe Biden in exchange for implied help with charges they were facing in the US. According to the Times, “Mr. Firtash, an energy tycoon with deep ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges.” Apparently Trump’s lawyer offered him, “help with his Justice Department problems — if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to President Trump and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission.” Those two lawyers were Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Giuliani’s associates who have been charged in the US with various crimes. A similar situation transpired with Mr. Kolomoisky.
Congressman Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has denounced reports suggesting that he too was involved in the Ukraine scheme. Nunes, who was one of the lead aggressive questioners in the public impeachment hearings of the past two weeks, has accused the “totally corrupt” media of making up a story about him. Mr. Parnas, who has begun cooperating with prosecutors has said that Nunes planned to meet with a former Ukrainian Prosecutor General in 2018. Parnas is apparently willing to testify about the planned meeting.
And, a federal judge is expected to rule by the end of the day on Monday whether former White House Counsel Don McGahn is required to testify to House committees in the impeachment inquiry, or required to follow a White House directive claiming executive privilege to not testify. If Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson rules in favor of House Democrats it could encourage more witnesses to speak up. As of this recording the ruling has not yet been made.
An undocumented worker in New Orleans is facing deportation after surviving the collapse of a building that he was working on. The accident killed three other workers and injured dozens. The building in question was slated to become a hotel, part of the Hard Rock chain, and was facing accusations of severely cutting corners. Now, Mr. Delmar Palma, who is still recovering from his injuries and who had filed numerous complaints about problems with the construction, is facing deportation in a case that has had a chilling effect on immigrant communities.
Three black men who were sentenced to life in prison in Baltimore when they were teenagers, are being released after 36 years. The men, who maintained their innocence in the murder of a 14-year old boy, were finally exonerated after new evidence emerged and the case re-tried. Alfred Chestnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart were arrested in 1983 and although all three were minors, they were tried as a adults. Chestnut’s hand-written letter to Baltimore state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit prompted city prosecutor Marilyn Mosby to reopen the case and lead to their exoneration.
In international news, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has said that it will be investigating violence in Bolivia after President Evo Morales was forced to step down. Nine supporters of Morales had been massacred on November 15th and a total of 32 people died in protests. The self-declared interim President of Bolivia, Jeanine Añez has just signed a deal overturning the results of recent elections won by Morales, and paving the way for new elections to take place without the former President’s participation. According to Reuters, as part of the deal she has struck in the legislature, “military officers will remain on guard at strategic state companies to prevent vandalism. The deal also commits the government to protect social leaders and lawmakers from persecution, provide compensation for family members of people killed in clashes and free those arrested in protests.” The new government has also declared Mr. Morales a “terrorist.”
The controversial ride share corporation Uber has just lost its license to operate in London. The city is considered Europe’s most “lucrative” market. Uber’s license was not renewed in the face of persistent safety issues, in what is being considered a blow to the company that wants to treat its employees as independent contractors in order to skirt labor laws.
Local district elections in the embattled city of Hong Kong resulted in a massive increase in turnout and support for pro-democracy political parties compared to pro-China parties. Candidates supporting the massive uprising that has rocked the city for the past six months won 85% of seats in district councils. The election results show that the majority of the city’s residents back protesters. Chief Executive Carrie Lam says she will “seriously reflect” on the results and admitted that they reflected a, “dissatisfaction with the current situation and the deep-seated problems in society.”
Israel has expelled an official with Human Rights Watch (HRW), saying that he supports the boycott movement against the country. Mr. Omar Shakir is HRW’s Israel and Palestine representative and had been fighting a case in court to remain in Israel after the government refused to renew his visa. He was forced to leave on Monday. Hours before his departure Shakir gave a press conference saying, “If the Israelis can deport somebody documenting rights abuse without facing consequence, how can we ever stop rights abuse?” He added that Israel joins a “ugly club” of authoritarian regimes in taking this action.