Headlines: October 1, 2019
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The Washington Post reported that Attorney General William Barr had enlisted the help of foreign government officials to dig into the role of the CIA and FBI in launching the Special Counsel investigation into President Donald Trump and the 2016 election. Barr has been overseeing the work of John Durham, a US Attorney in Connecticut who has been assigned to the task of reviewing materials. According to the Post, “Barr has already made overtures to British intelligence officials, and last week the attorney general traveled to Italy, where he and Durham met senior Italian government officials and Barr asked the Italians to assist Durham.” Additionally, “The Trump administration has made similar requests of Australia.” In fact Trump himself, “[I]n a recent phone call, Trump urged Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to provide assistance to the ongoing Justice Department inquiry.” A New York Times report found that, just as records of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president were restricted on a highly secret server, the transcript of his call with Australia’s leader was also kept secret.
As House Democrats move swiftly with their impeachment inquiry, lawyers for the House Judiciary Committee in a court filing on Monday requested access to the Special Counsel’s grand jury materials which have so far remained secret. The lawyers wrote, “Not only could those materials demonstrate the president’s motives for obstructing the special counsel’s investigation, they also could reveal that Trump was aware of his campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks.” The statement made the stunning implication that Trump may have lied to the Special Counsel about Wikileaks.
Meanwhile Trump expressed once more how little he understands about Presidential power and the US Constitution by railing against whistleblower protections. In one set of his many tweets (here and here) that Trump has been relentlessly deploying he demanded, “why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about…. the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him. This is simply about a phone conversation that could not have been nicer, warmer, or better. No pressure at all.” And, commentators are reviving another whistleblower complaint regarding Trump. House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal, who has been trying to get Trump’s tax returns released for months says he is considering making public a complaint about potential misconduct within the IRS to keep Trump’s tax returns hidden.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is also deeply implicated in the political firestorm around Trump with news emerging that he was listening in on the same phone call that Trump had with Ukraine’s President on July 25th. When asked if he knew about the phone call in media interviews, Pompeo had earlier dodged the question. On Tuesday Pompeo accused House Democrats of trying to “bully” and “intimidate” State Department officials over depositions. Three House committee had informed Pompeo of depositions of some members of his staff in relation to the Ukraine phone call. Pompeo has now announced that his staff will not show up to the committee hearings. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has also been subpoenaed for his records relating to the Ukraine scandal. In a letter to Giuliani, Democratic committee leaders wrote, “Our inquiry includes an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president.”
In other news, Amber Guyger, the white police officer in Dallas, Texas, accused of killing her neighbor, a black man named Botham Jean, has just been found guilty by a jury. Despite ample evidence of racially motivated police killings of African Americans, it is extremely rare for law enforcement officers to be convicted of murder. Guyger’s case had struck a deep chord in Dallas with community members accusing the justice system of giving yet another police officer preferential treatment. The jury deliberated for less than a day. Guyger now faces a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison.
Chris Collins, the Republican Congressman from New York, has resigned after he and his son were charged with insider trading of a pharmaceutical company. He is expected to plead guilty. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Prosecutors accused him of passing a confidential tip to his son, Cameron Collins, so he could sell shares in the biotechnology company before the public disclosure of a failed drug trial.”
An Appeals court just upheld the controversial decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to overturn Obama-era “net neutrality” rules. But, in its 200-page ruling the court also said that the FCC cannot impose limits on states to maintain their own net neutrality rules.
In foreign policy, the US and North Korea are resuming high-level talks this Saturday months into a diplomatic stalemate. There will be preliminary talks on Friday followed by official talks a day later. North Korea had been angered by the Trump administration’s public comments and by the resumption of joint military exercises between the US and South Korea. Meanwhile Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton gave a speech on Monday criticizing the President’s policy on North Korea.
The People’s Republic of China, as part of its 70th anniversary commemorations held a military parade during which it showed off for the first time a powerful new nuclear weapon. According to Al Jazeera the weapon is a, “hypersonic ballistic nuclear missile believed capable of breaching all existing anti-missile shields deployed by the United States and its allies,” “capable of reaching US in 30 minutes.” The terrifying speed and maneuverability of the missile makes it harder to detect, intercept, and respond to. China’s military is the largest in the world with 2 million active duty members, compared to the US’s 1.29 million.
Hong Kong, which has become a serious thorn in China’s side, continued to remain overwhelmed by a persistent uprising. On Tuesday, Hong Kong police for the first time struck a protester with live rounds, hitting an 18-year old in the shoulder. The gunshot victim, who is receiving medical treatment was reportedly striking the officer with a metal pipe when he was shot.
And finally Peru is facing a political crisis after President Martín Vizcarra ordered his Congress to be dissolved on Monday night. Lawmakers from the opposition party responded by saying the President fomented a coup and promptly suspended him for 12 months. Vice President Mercedes Aráoz has been nominated to replace him as Acting President but so far it is not clear if Vizcarra will accept the suspension, leading to confusion about who is in charge. Mr. Vizcarra has not obtained his office through election, rather he assumed office after his predecessor resigned.