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Democrats on impeaching Trump: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

VICE News - 3 hours 24 min ago

Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib famously promised to “impeach the motherfucker” long before special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report had dropped. But now that Congress has the results, the possibility of impeaching the president depends on who you ask.

So far, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 candidate for president, has been the most prominent voice to call for President Trump’s impeachment.

“To ignore a president’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways,” she tweeted Friday.

Warren's decision — which she made while reading Mueller’s report on the campaign trail — broke from Democratic leaders in the House, which the Constitution grants the sole power to impeach. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, have, at best, expressed an ambivalence on the issue of impeachment. And several leaders of key committees, whose support will be necessary to force a vote, also seem to be avoiding the question — or say they need more information before deciding.

In his 448-page report, Mueller didn't find sufficient proof that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to undermine the 2016 U.S. election. The two-year investigation did, however, detail the numerous ties between Russian nationals and Trump and his campaign staff, who often lied about those contacts. The report also laid out 10 instances where Trump may have obstructed the investigation, although Mueller wouldn’t rule on whether the president had acted criminally.

In response, at least seven Democrats have directly said they support impeaching the president. And that’s not out of the realm of possibility. Pelosi said last week that the Democratic caucus would hold a conference call Monday to decide how to respond to the Mueller report’s release.

“Congress will not be silent,” Pelosi tweeted.

“He should have been impeached a long time ago”

So far, numerous key Democrats in the House have joined Warren, who has attempted to stand out as a candidate focusing on policy instead of attacking the president, in her calls for impeachment proceedings to begin.

The House’s four popular new progressives — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and of course, Tlaib — have all already called for impeachment motions to move forward against the U.S. president.

A month before the Mueller report’s release, Tlaib introduced an impeachment resolution. Ocasio-Cortez said seeing the report convinced her to sign on.

“Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it and rarely discuss it unprompted,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “We all prefer working on our priorities: pushing Medicare for All, tackling student loans, and a Green New Deal. But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.”

But the House will need far more support than four outspoken progressives to get impeachment proceedings underway.

Rep. Maxine Waters, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, said Democrats had nothing more to prove to begin impeachment proceedings.

“I can only tell you I, for one, have been for impeachment for a long time. I'm going to continue to be for impeachment,” Waters said Sunday on MSNBC. “I think he should have been impeached a long time ago.”

Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat who has twice pushed unsuccessfully for votes on articles of impeachment against Trump, pressed his congressional colleagues Sunday to join his calls.

“This rests solely now on the shoulders of the Congress of the United States of America,” Green said in a press conference Sunday.

“Not there yet”

Despite the strong calls for impeachment within the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, some committee leaders and other Democratic members of the House seem a bit more reserved about what to do next.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Monday that he was “not there yet.”

Similarly, Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, didn’t give a clear answer and said he would have to hear additional information from Attorney General Bill Barr and Mueller as well as get access to the unredacted report.

“Some of this would be impeachable,” Nadler told NBC Sunday. “Obstruction of justice, if proven, would be impeachable.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff also told Fox News Sunday that he will reserve judgment on impeachment proceedings until he's discussed the issue with his colleagues in the House.

“That’s going to be a very consequential decision and one that I’m going to reserve judgment on until we’ve had a chance to fully deliberate on it,” Schiff said.

Aside from Warren, the other 2020 Democrats seem far more tepid on the issue. Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg have said, in so many words, that Trump probably deserves to be impeached but they would leave the decision up to Congress. Bernie Sanders reportedly ignored questions about impeachment at a campaign stop over the weekend.

President Trump on Monday pushed back on the possibility of his impeachment by tweeting that he did not commit any crimes, even though that’s not the conclusion Mueller came to in his report.

"Only high crimes and misdemeanors can lead to impeachment," Trump tweeted. "There were no crimes by me (No Collusion, No Obstruction), so you can’t impeach. It was the Democrats that committed the crimes, not your Republican President! Tables are finally turning on the Witch Hunt!"

Cover image: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., addresses the media at the House Democrats' 2019 Issues Conference at the Lansdowne Resort and Spa in Leesburg, Va. on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Trump assures kids at the White House Easter Egg Roll that the wall is happening

VICE News - 3 hours 53 min ago

President Donald Trump assured some young children gathered for the annual White House Easter Egg Roll Monday that, yes, thousands of miles away, the government was building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s unclear whether the children had asked for assurance.

“It’s happening, it’s being built now,” Trump said of the wall, talking to a gaggle of children standing on the South Lawn. “Here’s a young guy who said, ‘Keep building that wall.’ Do you believe it? He’s going to be a conservative some day,” he said of one kid, to no one in particular.

Trump, who authorized border-wall funding through an emergency declaration after the longest government shutdown in U.S. history didn’t produce the cash necessary, has a history of boosting his policy proposals to unsuspecting children. Memorably, at the July 2017 Boy Scouts Jamboree, after kicking off his remarks by saying “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” Trump criticized president Barack Obama and talked about repealing Obamacare.

Some of the federal money being redirected toward the wall could take away from schools and childcare centers for military children, according to Reuters. Trump has repeatedly said the wall is necessary to stem the rise of migrants flowing across the U.S. southern border, many of them seeking asylum and escaping violence in Central American countries.

However, some of his anti-immigrant rhetoric has also been accused of stoking violence toward asylum seekers. Last week, armed vigilantes on the border captured and videotaped hundreds of migrants at gunpoint, including young children, to turn over to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In one video the group took of its round-up, a woman can be heard saying “How bad does it have to get until we build the wall? This is an invasion.” The FBI arrested the leader of the right-wing militia behind that event over the weekend.

Cover: President Donald Trump talks with children as they color on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 22, 2019, during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A Trump official's anti-abortion novel involves something called a “Porn Storm”

VICE News - 4 hours 32 min ago

Scott Lloyd, a Trump administration official who personally sought to stop migrant teenagers in the administration’s custody from getting abortions, has published a novel. It’s about abortion — and regretting getting one.

The book follows the misadventures of William Ferguson, who attends the fictional Montpelier University in the 1990s and maintains a sexual relationship with his classmate Kristen. As Will deals with that entanglement, Kristen’s eventual pregnancy, and her decision to get an abortion, his intense guilt over the abortion — which he compares to “murder” — leads him to rekindle his Catholic faith.

At various points in the 300-plus-page book, Will also attends a so-called “Porn Storm,” tries to get a sex worker to “stop this life,” and frequently drinks himself into a joyless stupor.

Lloyd previously headed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is tasked with caring for migrant teenagers who enter the United States without authorization and without their parents or guardians — including those separated from their parents under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy.

During Lloyd’s tenure, a handful of teenagers sued the agency over accusations that it had refused to let them get abortions. That lawsuit ultimately led to a court order against the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which blocked its officials from intervening in minors’ decisions to get abortions.

READ: Trump officials discussed "reversing" abortion for undocumented teen

Lloyd’s handling of the family separation crisis also prompted a review of his work, as he made decisions that made it harder to reunite separated families, Politico reported last year. In November, Lloyd transferred to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives to serve as a senior adviser.

One month later, he published his book, titled “The Undergraduate.”

While Will decides that Kristen should have the baby and put it up for adoption, Kristen wants to get an abortion. The book doesn’t paint a flattering portrait of abortion providers: Will drives her to the abortion clinic, which Lloyd notes is across from a “fast-food joint,” and helps pay for the procedure in cash. The staffers at the clinic treat Will and Kristen with barely disguised disdain and apparent shame. As Will waits in the clinic — a hellish place with a “Cosmo” magazine, kissing “kiddies,” and a fish-less fish tank — he sees one teenage girl sob on her way out.

When another leaves, Lloyd writes, “Her nose was wrinkled like she had smelled something foul. Her eyes were blank, and across the entire lobby she noticed nothing but the doors ahead. Some kids got up and went out after her.”

“He must have felt perverted, standing there watching”

After the procedure, a male friend of Kristen’s asks Will if he’s alright. “The question struck me as a little funny, and I chuckled for a breath,” Lloyd writes. He then observes, in an evident reference to sexual violence, “He must have felt perverted, standing there watching. This was full penetration.”

In another jarring moment, after Kristen has revealed that she’s pregnant, Will’s friend — who’s described as “half Italian” — compliments Will's sperm and calls him a diminutive form of the n-word. Will laughs.

READ: The Trump administration won't stop trying to block abortions for undocumented teens

The abortion leaves both Will and Kristen depressed and anguished for weeks, and Kristen calls herself a “such a bad person.” Their grief only starts to subside when they meet with a priest. Throughout this meeting, Kristen seems to remain essentially mute while the two men talk.

In confession, Will also admits to hooking up with other women, masturbating, and cursing, among other sins. (This is somewhat odd, because the characters in “The Undergraduate” don’t really curse; they tend to say “effin’” or “friggin’.”) He confesses to objectifying women, though Will continues to describe women by their attractiveness throughout the book.

“I paid for the abortion of my baby, which...would mean that I have helped commit murder...of my own child,” Will tells his priest. (The ellipses are Lloyd’s.) “I can’t think of anything a person can do that is worse than that.”

But while he’s gotten closer to God, Will doesn’t forgive himself for the abortion. He must first endure multiple drunken binges, seemingly endless descriptions of European cities, one failed encounter with a sex worker — who Will wants to give up sex work — and an Australian man who goes by the nickname “Doodles.”

Throughout the book, Will also struggles with his love for his classmate Lily. The two knew each other as children but reconnected when they both attended a dorm event known as the “Porn Storm,” where male and female residents watch porn together.

“Kristen, who had hinted to a few of us that she was into watching porn, was feeding off it all by standing up and lifting her shirt a little and pulling her underwear out of her jeans to show the guys what color she was wearing,” Lloyd writes. “Red.”

Lily helps end the Porn Storm when she starts praying in front of the TV (which, in a bizarre twist, is playing a video that stars one of Will’s ex-girlfriends). When Will joins her in solidarity, the crowd basically riots, flinging condoms and change at the pair.

By the end of his time in college, Will has fully embraced his Catholic faith. He condemns abortion providers, pornographers, and his fifth-grade sex ed teacher — who is revealed to have been a pedophile who helped lead a young girl into porn. Lily also finally proclaims her love for him.

“We smooched a little more, but there was no undressing,” Lloyd writes of their climatic union, hundreds of pages in the making. “She had a lot of work to do, so she went home. We married a year later.”

The book’s plot mirrors reporting by Mother Jones, which found that Lloyd told his law school classmates that he once helped a woman he’d impregnated get an abortion. Lloyd also shares at least one biographical detail with his literary protagonist: While Lloyd’s legal name is Edward, Will’s middle name is Edward. While Will is studying abroad in Italy, a woman struggles to pronounce Will’s name and calls him “Eduardo.” That leads Will to announce, “Then I guess I’m Eduardo.”

During his time at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Lloyd repeatedly cited fears that young people would come to regret their abortions. When a 17-year-old who’d been impregnated through rape wanted an abortion, Lloyd refused to authorize one, writing, “Although formal research on this matter appears to be sparse, those who have worked with women who have experienced abortion have compiled a catalogue of anecdotal evidence, impossible to ignore, that shows that many women go on to experience it as a devastating trauma, even in the instance of rape.”

When news of Lloyd’s book first surfaced last November, Politico reported that government employees usually refrain from writing books on topics that touch on their responsibilities in office.

HHS spokesperson Evelyn Stauffer said Lloyd's novel did not breach agency rules. "HHS Employees — whether political or career — are permitted to write novels on their own time and that do not derive from their official duties," she wrote in an email. "Mr. Lloyd’s novel satisfied both of these requisites."

“The Undergraduate” was published by Liberty Island Media Group, which targets “readers of a conservative or libertarian bent,” according to its website. Liberty Island declined to reveal the book’s sales figures, but “The Undergraduate” has one five-star review on Amazon. Its official Amazon description also calls the novel a “‘Less Than Zero’ for the millennial generation.”

In a statement, Mary Alice Carter, the head of the watchdog group Equity Forward, renewed calls for Lloyd’s firing.

“Rather than focusing his efforts on reuniting children ripped from their parents during the family separation crisis, Scott Lloyd spent his time working on a bizarre, seemingly autobiographical anti-abortion ‘novel,’” said Carter, whose organization supports abortion rights. “This is also the same Trump official who couldn’t keep a spreadsheet of separated children, but managed to obessively track the menstrual cycles of pregnant women in his custody while also tracking changes to his anti-abortion manuscript.”

Cover: Senior adviser for Department of Health and Human Services Scott Lloyd testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on the Trump administration's separation policy involving migrant families on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

What we know about the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka

VICE News - 5 hours 39 min ago

Sri Lanka has instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew after a series of bombings ripped through Christian churches and popular hotels in three cities on Easter Sunday, killing nearly 300 people and injuring several hundred more.

Now, as the death toll climbs, authorities have arrested 24 people in connection with the attacks and have identified a little-known Islamist group as responsible, though no group has yet claimed responsibility.

Authorities have also shut down social media sites in an effort to curb the spread of disinformation, the Sri Lankan president’s secretary, Udaya Seneviratne, said in a brief statement.

Here’s what we know about the attacks so far:

COORDINATED EXPLOSIONS

What authorities believe to have been coordinated suicide attacks took place in a series of bombings across the country. Authorities said on Monday that six suicide bombers carried out the attacks.

  • In the capital of Colombo, three bombings happened simultaneously at 8:45 a.m. local time, and another five minutes later. A fifth bomb went off later in the day.
  • A bomb blew through St. Anthony’s Shrine, a Roman Catholic church, while worshippers attended mass.
  • At the same time, explosions went off at the Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels in Colombo.
  • Five minutes later, a bomb struck another Colombo hotel, the Cinnamon Grand.
  • Later in the afternoon, a bomb went off at the Tropical Inn, a smaller hotel in the city’s outskirts.
  • As the police were searching for suspects at the Dematagoda housing complex in eastern Colombo, the suspects appear to have detonated another bomb, killing three police officers, according to Sri Lankan officials. The cops found more bombs stashed away at the residence.
  • In Negombo, a coastal town north of Colombo, one bomb exploded at a church, killing at least 104 people, according to the New York Times. Another was discovered and defused before it exploded at the nearby Bandaranaike International Airport.
  • On the other side of the country, in the east coast city of Batticaloa, a bomb went off at Zion Church, around 9:05 a.m., and the local hospital received about 300 injured people following the explosion, according to the Guardian.

Police in Colombo also blew up a suspicious van in a controlled explosion, and they found 87 detonators at the capital’s main bus station, according to Reuters. Authorities are continuing to look for more undetonated explosives.

A Sri Lankan woman living near St. Anthony's shrine runs for safety with her infant after police found explosive devices in a parked vehicle in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019. Easter Sunday bombings that ripped through churches and luxury hotels killed more than 200 people. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena) CHRISTIANS AND TOURISTS TARGETED

The bombings ripped through churches and luxury hotels on Sunday as Christians gathered to celebrate Easter. As of Monday morning, the death toll stood at 290, with an additional 500 people injured. Sri Lankan authorities have not yet confirmed how many people had been killed at each location that was attacked.

At least 39 of the victims were tourists. The Sri Lankan tourism minister, John Amaratunga said authorities had identified victims from the U.S., Japan, Britain, Australia, China, Japan, and Portugal.

WHO’S RESPONSIBLE?

At least 10 days before the bombings, the Sri Lankan government received intelligence that the National Thowheeth Jama’ath were planning attacks against churches, but they took no action. Now the government is under fire for allowing a massive intelligence failure by not acting on those tips.

But it's far from clear that the National Thowheeth Jama’ath, a small local group that has largely targeted Buddhist places of worship with vandalism, is capable of such a wide-scale terror attack. A series of bombings like the ones that took place over the weekend requires a massive logistical lift — bomb-making workshops, handlers to keep bombers committed, and an extensive planning network to keep the detonations coordinated.

“We do not believe these attacks were carried out by a group of people who were confined to this country,” Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne told reporters, according to the Washington Post. “There was an international network without which these attacks could not have succeeded.”

As the news broke that the government had been warned of the possibility of attacks in the days prior to the bombings, the president was quick to say that he had not personally been warned.

“We placed our hands on our heads when we came to know that these deaths could have been avoided. Why this was not prevented?” said Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, according to the Associated Press.

Relatives weep near the coffin with the remains of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church, Monday, April 22, 2019 in Negombo, Sri Lanka. Easter Sunday bombings of churches, luxury hotels and other sites was Sri Lanka's deadliest violence since a devastating civil war in the South Asian island nation ended a decade ago. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe) CURFEWS AND CRACKDOWNS

In response to the attacks, the Sri Lankan government will institute a national emergency starting at midnight on Monday, and for the last two nights, it has imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the nation’s capital. The newly-declared national emergency will afford the military war-time powers to detain and question suspects in the attacks without warrants.

In an extraordinary measure to try to curb the spread of misinformation, the government has also shut down major social networks like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp. The weekend’s attacks were not immediately linked to any activity on social media, but the country has wrestled with the role of social networking in politics. Posts that circulated on Facebook last year are credited with stoking anti-Muslim hatred that led to riots and lynchings.

A BLOODY HISTORY

Between 1983 and 2009, Sri Lanka was ravaged by a civil war. During that time, terror attacks were relatively common, with many attacks attributed to the group known as the Tamil Tigers, who were the Hindu government’s antagonists in the war, though the group was avowedly secular.

The war had its roots in the country’s colonial history. British, who ruled over Sri Lanka until 1948, were seen as favoring the country’s Tamil minority. When the Sinahelese took over, they disenfranchised the Tamil plantation workers and made Sinhala the country’s official language.

But since the war’s end, the country’s been enjoying a period of relative peace and had even experienced a tourism boom. More than 200 million people visited Sri Lanka in 2018 alone, according to the New York Times.

But political tensions have rippled up to the seats of power in recent years. The country’s president, Maithripala Sirisena, sought to have the prime minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, deposed in October of last year. That resulted in actual blows on the floor of parliament, where legislators hurled chairs and chili powder at one another. It also led to conflict in the streets, with a Sri Lankan minister’s bodyguard shooting a protester dead in the days following the prime minister’s ouster.

Sunday’s attacks are the most violent attacks the country has seen since the end of the war. In their wake, the U.S. and Australia increased their travel advisories, and the U.S. State Department warned of the possibility of more violence.

Cover image: A suspicious object explodes without warning while the police was processing in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 22, 2019 (The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images). Body: A Sri Lankan woman living near St. Anthony's shrine runs for safety with her infant after police found explosive devices in a parked vehicle in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, April 22, 2019 (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena); Relatives weep near the coffin with the remains of 12-year Sneha Savindi, who was a victim of Easter Sunday bombing at St. Sebastian Church in Negombo, Sri Lanka (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe).

Republicans are about to go full Benghazi over the Mueller report

VICE News - 6 hours 39 min ago

WASHINGTON — Just as Mueller’s report created a roadmap for Democrats, Republicans have their own plans to weaponize it for Trump: by putting the origins of the investigation and the Obama administration on trial.

Even as the redacted version of the Mueller report documented some 10 instances where Trump potentially obstructed justice along with dozens and dozens of contacts between Russian operatives, trolls or compromised individuals, many Republicans are once again doubling down on their contention that the real culprit is Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who lost to Trump in the 2016 election and is now a private citizen.

“Certainly a thorough investigation that looks at wrongdoing and how we can make sure that bias is not remotely involved in investigative decisions for anyone is appropriate,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who has Trump’s ear as the head of the House Freedom Caucus, texted VICE News as he was on a plane.

While Democrats now run the House, Republicans still control all the gavels in the Senate. And Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a one-time moderate, has become as Trumpian as they come, particularly as his reelection campaign is in full swing.

Graham recently told VICE News he’s preparing to investigate the FBI, DOJ and other sources in order to look into the underpinnings of the Mueller investigation, and Trump's conservative media machine has been raising completely unfounded questions — even conspiracies — for months.

READ: The Mueller report makes a damning case that Trump obstructed justice

That’s why rank-and-file Republicans are now pushing Graham to investigate the origins of the investigation, particularly since the Mueller report discredits the so-called Steele Dossier, a salacious account of prostitutes and spies created by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and paid-for by the Democratic National Committee.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla), a Trump ally, is among those asking the Senate to investigate “how political opposition research drafted by a foreign, known liar was able to fuel a weaponizing of our intelligence community against a rival campaign,” he said. “Also how the Trump campaign was never given a defensive briefing in a country intelligence investigation. They’ve never had a good answer for that.”

One former member of the House Oversight Committee famous for spearheading the Benghazi hearings, former Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, told VICE News it would be entirely appropriate to dig into skeletons from election years past.

“I think it’s fair to do it,” he said. “Congress doesn’t do legal investigations. Congress does political investigations.”

Issa spent much of the winter awaiting his likely Senate confirmation to become the director of America’s Trade Development Administration – a little-known arm of the American government that promotes trade abroad, but he’s still tuned into politics enough to fully embrace Trump’s attorney general.

“The legal process has concluded,” Issa said. “I didn’t see the attorney general haul the former FBI director [James Comey] and others in to prosecute them for knowingly presenting to a FISA judge false and misleading information and causing him to issue excessive wiretap warrants.”

“For Democratic base voters — for the Resistance — they’re going to wonder why they elected a Democratic Congress that’s going to sit back and do nothing with this”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), who sits on both the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, says Barr’s claim that there was no evidence of collusion or conspiracy is laughable now that the full, if redacted, Mueller report has been sent to Congress.

“There was clear evidence, certainly not beyond a reasonable doubt, but 200 pages of a multiplicity of contacts,” said Swalwell, who is widely viewed as a long shot presidential candidate, told VICE News on a phone call from the campaign trial in New Hampshire. “I think he’s demonstrated that he’s acting as the president’s lawyer, not as America’s lawyer, and you can’t do both.”

But it’s deeper than just the politics of the day. Congress is currently on a two week recess, a time when some members of congress fan across the globe to represent “American” ideals, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who spent a week in Ireland. But that’s harder these days, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) who was in Armenia as the Mueller report was released.

“The day I’m meeting with the prime minister and members of parliament who are showing such courage I have to read a report about the president and his campaign team that dodged and ducked a criminal indictment about collusion, barely staying within the law, but clearly enticing and being receptive to Russian intelligence and interference in our 2016 election," Connolly said.

“That’s more than embarrassing being overseas, that’s deeply troubling and, and I don’t know – somewhat mortifying,” Connolly said quasi to himself. “I mean, we’re the United States, we’re supposed to be a beacon of democratic ideals and we don’t engage in this kind of sordid behavior. Yet in the case of Trump we did.”

The take-it-or-leave-it choices Washington often presents lawmakers may be off though, at least according to a more old school lawmaker who argues this political tit-for-tat from both sides of the political aisle isn’t merely bad for the nation but also potentially detrimental for both parties.

“This is going to be a dilemma for a lot of these members as to how they proceed,” former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who chaired the House Oversight Committee until 2007, told VICE News.

Davis sees potential pitfalls ahead for both of today’s political parties.

“For Democratic base voters — for the Resistance — they’re going to wonder why they elected a Democratic Congress that’s going to sit back and do nothing with this,” Davis said.

As for his home team (the GOP, that is), Davis cautions some patience because the Inspector General’s office at the Department of Justice is conducting their own audit of the investigation.

“Let’s see what he finds. I wouldn’t do anything of a high profile nature going after what happened in the Obama administration at this point,” Davis said. “I don’t know that the voters have any more tolerance for that than they would going after the president at this point.”

Cover: US President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn to board Marine One before departing from the White House in Washington, DC on April 18, 2019. (Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Sheriff's deputy gets to keep his job after he punched and pepper-sprayed a black teen

VICE News - 6 hours 46 min ago

After a sheriff’s deputy in Broward County, Florida pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old black boy and punched him in the head Thursday, activists nationwide — and even the local mayor — want to see him fired.

The Broward Sheriff’s Office, however, has placed the deputy on restricted duty and hasn’t decided yet whether he should be dismissed entirely.

The incident, which occurred near the teen’s high school, was captured on cellphone video and shared on Snapchat, stoking outrage on social media. Over the weekend, thousands rallied online, calling for action against deputy Christopher Krickovich. More than 40,000 people have signed a petition calling for the deputy’s removal. Celebrities and athletes have also gotten involved, including LeBron James, who shared the video on Twitter Saturday.

“The behavior of these Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies was outrageous and unacceptable,” Broward Mayor Mark Bogen said in a statement Friday. “The officer who jumped on the student, punched the student and banged his head to the ground should be fired immediately.”

The sheriff’s department said in its report that the 15-year-old was near a large group of teenagers that were allegedly fighting outside the McDonald’s by their school, according to the Miami Herald. Cops asked the teens to leave the area, and arrested one male student for trespassing. While they were arresting that student, a cellphone slipped out of his pocket and the 15-year-old picked it up.

Krickovich said the 15-year-old, who was arrested on charges of assault, resisting arrested, and trespassing, took an “aggressive stance” toward a deputy and “began clenching his fists.”

“Again, the three of us were outnumbered by the large group of students who were yelling, threatening us and surrounding us,” Krickovich wrote in an arrest report seen by the Miami Herald. “I had to act quickly fearing I would get struck or having a student potentially grab weapons off of my belt vest.”

The sheriff’s office, headed by the recently appointed sheriff Gregory Tony, is investigating the incident. In a meeting with black community leaders Saturday, Tony, the county’s first black sheriff, explained the investigative process.

"There has been a large cry of, 'Just go out and fire him. Get rid of him.' And all these other things,” Tony said, according to the Local10 news station. “Folks, it don't work that way. You all understand that. There has to be an investigative process and due process elements so it's going to be done the right way."

David Hogg, a survivor of last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in nearby Parkland, shared a fundraiser for the boy’s legal fund on Twitter. He called for the sheriff’s office to hold a town hall, adding that police brutality “needs to be addressed before they murder a child.”

Cover photo: Then-acting Sheriff Gregory Tony, right, speaks at the Broward County Sheriff's Office Fort Lauderdale headquarters, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee).

The left is not happy that Mayor Pete compared Trump to Bernie

VICE News - 6 hours 49 min ago

Bernie Sanders supporters — and even some members of Congress — aren’t too happy with Mayor Pete Buttigieg for seeming to compare Sanders to Donald Trump.

The Democratic 2020 contender told supporters at a New Hampshire campaign event over the weekend that people feel a “sense of anger and disaffection” when there’s low unemployment and a growing GDP but yet they’re not seeing benefits themselves. When they feel like they’re “stuck,” Buttigieg said, they’re more likely to vote against “the system.”

“It just kind of turns you against the system in general, and then you’re more likely to want to vote to blow up the system,” said the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana. “Which could lead you to somebody like Bernie, and it could lead you to somebody like Trump. That’s how we got where we are.”

As a teenager, Buttigieg actually wrote an award-winning essay about his admiration of Sanders, but his views of the Vermont senator have apparently changed. Buttigieg, positioning himself as a moderate alternative in the 2020 race, reportedly attended a “What To Do About Bernie” dinner hosted by wealthy Democratic donor and Hillary Clinton supporter Bernard Schwartz, along with party leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

Buttigieg’s comments have already sparked controversy from Bernie supporters and Democrats who take offense at the notion that Trump’s win was rooted more in “economic anxiety” than racism. Rep. Ro Khanna, a prominent progressive Democrat from California, criticized Buttigieg’s equating Bernie to Trump in a tweet Sunday night and specifically called out Buttigieg’s refusal to back tuition-free public college.

“It is intellectually dishonest to compare Bernie to Trump,” Khanna tweeted. “Bernie is for giving people healthcare, education, childcare, & more pay. He wants to blow up credentialed elitism — those who reject tuition-free college for all.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the most famous new Democrats in Congress, retweeted one of Bernie’s surrogates, Nina Turner, who defended the senator from Buttigieg’s remarks.

In the crowded and growing field of 202 Democrats, Buttigieg has surprised with his ascendance in recent polling. He has also outdone some of his more famous opponents in fundraising, although he hasn’t sworn off donor bundlers and private fundraising events like Elizabeth Warren, for example.

Cover: Pete Buttigieg announces that he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination during a rally in South Bend, Ind., Sunday, April 14, 2019. Buttigieg, 37, is serving his second term as the mayor of South Bend. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Inside the UN's first tent camp for Venezuelans who fled to Colombia

VICE News - 7 hours 9 min ago

MAICAO, Colombia — Aldemiro Santo Choles held out for as long as he could. For months, he had hoped it wouldn’t become necessary to open a refugee camp in the small desert city where he serves as city secretary. But early this year, it became clear he had no choice.

Thousands of Venezuelans had fled to Maicao and were now living in its parks and plazas. Streets stank or urine and diseases were spreading, and as city secretary, he was charged with keeping order and tidiness in public places. In January, after Choles enlisted the federal government's help, the U.N. refugee agency began setting up its tents.

“We never thought the situation would collapse so much.”

The $1.7 million facility opened March 8 with 60 family-sized tents and a lengthy waiting list. Across the border, Venezuela plunged into a catastrophic blackout, which would last one week and affect over 80 percent of the country, sending desperate Venezuelans to urban drainage ditches for drinking water. Multi-day blackouts have become common occurrences since, driving more people across the border into Colombia.

“There’s a bigger flow of people, thanks to the loss of electricity and water,” said Choles from his office in Maicao’s city hall. “We never thought the situation would collapse so much.”

“My fear is that things will get worse,” said Jozef Merkx, head of the UNHCR in Colombia, who previously worked with the agency in Iraq. “We are not really prepared. We are trying to get more money, but it is not easy.”

A grim sign

This small camp in Maicao — housing just 350 Venezuelans for up to six weeks at a time — stands in the barren desert as a grim signal of what’s ahead.

Officials hope to quadruple its size but haven’t found the funds. Other Colombian border cities have asked for similar installations, but agencies are struggling to maintain the few emergency facilities they have.

The blackouts in March represented a dramatic decline for Venezuelans already accustomed to poor conditions. Though intermittent power loss had long been normal, the extended nationwide failure was a crippling blow to an already withered economy.

Orlando Arbelo and his wife, Marilu Palacio, hide from the desert sun in their family-sized tent. They’ll only spend six weeks here before another Venezuelan family eagerly fills their place. (Dylan Baddour for VICE News)

Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro made his government’s first subtle admission of a humanitarian crisis this week when he allowed the Red Cross to begin a large scale medical relief campaign in the country. He had previously blocked humanitarian aid efforts, denying his country was in crisis and calling aid a pretext for military intervention.

The U.N. estimates more than 3.4 million people have left Venezuela in the last three years, with more than 1.2 million settled in Colombia. Merkx at the UNHCR said he expects those figures to hit 5 million and two million, respectively, in 2019.

Yet no one knows exactly how many Venezuelans are currently on the move. Most official border crossings have remained closed by Venezuelan authorities since a showdown in February between Maduro and US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido. With the crossings closed, Colombia has lost track of the numbers of people coming over the border.

Read: This is why Venezuela’s Maduro is still in power

Before the closure, Colombia estimated that about 5,000 Venezuelans entered the country each day to either settle or migrate through. Many come with bus tickets for faraway cities but many others show up penniless, preferring to sleep in the streets of Colombian border cities or to hike 1,000 miles than to go hungry in Venezuela.

'IT WILL BE CHAOS'

With Maduro and Guaido locked in political stalemate, and no political solution in sight, Choles and other officials worry that the strain on their already-limited resources will only worsen.

“I think more people will come. I think this is only beginning.”

“People will keep coming until Venezuela is left empty,” said Liset Dinares, a 38-year-old Venezuelan mother who crossed the border in early December with her 13-year-old son Luis. “It will be chaos, like terrorism everywhere. It could become a war.”

Like most other migrants, she doesn’t have a passport. She and Luis paid in bread to ride six hours in a truck carrying scrap iron down a dirt road through the desert, past unknown men with guns and into Colombia.

They settled alongside thousands of other migrants on the streets of Maicao, an impoverished and arid region near the Caribbean coast.

Life on the street was better than in Venezuela, Liset said, but it was tough. She sold candies and begged, gathering enough money each day to feed herself and Luis. Still, she had to wait until the streets had cleared late at night to use the bathroom somewhere, and she stayed awake many nights, holding Luis and listening, afraid, to every person that walked past. She cried a lot in the first days.

Liset Dinares and her 13-year-old son Luis slept in the streets of Maicao before the UNHCR gave them a tent for six weeks. (Dylan Baddour for VICE News)“Every day it gets worse.”

Stories like Liset's now number in the thousands, and were the inspiration behind the government of Maicao's decision to seek help from the United Nations. The U.H. High Commission on Refugees graded ten acres of city-owned land, and raised a chain link fence. It poured concrete sidewalks, set up tents, and built bathrooms, a kitchen and a small concrete building for children. The facility purifies its own water supply and generates its own power.

“It’s not a refugee camp,” said Felipe Muñoz, Colombia’s manager of border issues, who was appointed last year amid the burgeoning crisis. “It’s a center for temporary attention.”

Families are allowed to stay in the center for about six weeks to get on their feet, save some money and make some plans.

“We don’t have the capacity to set up a traditional camp where people enter with no date to leave,” said Federico Sersale, the head of UNHCR’s office for La Guajira region.

He said the idea is for Venezuelan families to use their time to find employment, though he acknowledged that was “a little unrealistic” in an already impoverished region now inundated with migrants.

Otherwise, the migrants are on their own.

For Liliana Mendez, a 21-year-old from Trujillo, Venezuela, that means returning to the public plaza where she was sleeping before the camp opened.

“One comes with the hope to find work and send money home to the family, but there isn’t any work to be found for Venezuelans,” she said recently on the last of her 56 days in the UN camp. “Every day it gets worse.”

Other than getting people off the streets of Maicao, the center also serves for contingency plans, Sersale said. If one thousand people turn up together at the border, the new facility is the only place authorities could house a crowd of that size.

No one knows if that will happen, but Colombian authorities fear the worst as Venezuela continues its collapse with little hope for peaceful change.

“I think more people will come,” Sersale said. “I think this is only beginning.”

Cover: A young girl draws water from a spigot at a new tent camp in Maicao, Colombia providing temporary housing to Venezuelan migrants. (Dylan Baddour for VICE News).

FBI arrests "dangerous felon" and leader of armed militia group detaining migrants

VICE News - 7 hours 27 min ago

The FBI has arrested the leader of the right-wing armed militia that’s been detaining migrants near the New Mexico border. He’s expected in federal court on Monday on charges of being a felon in possession of a gun.

Larry Mitchell Hopkins, 69, who heads the United Constitutional Patriots militia, was taken into custody on Saturday near the city of Sunland Park, where the group had detained 300 migrants last week, according to the New Mexico attorney general. A series of Facebook videos published last week showed members of Hopkins’ group forcing migrants, including many children, to huddle on the ground at night before turning them over to Customs and Border Protection.

“This is a dangerous felon who should not have weapons around children and families,” said Attorney General Hector Balderas in a statement. “Today’s arrest by the FBI indicates clearly that the rule of law should be in the hands of trained law enforcement officials, not vigilantes.”

After the United Constitutional Patriot’s actions came to light last week, the ACLU immediately called on law enforcement to investigate.

Back in 2006, the Klamath County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon arrested Hopkins on charges of impersonating a police officer and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Att he time, Hopkins was caught wearing a uniform and pretending to be a law enforcement officer while showing his firearms to a group of children at a gas station, according to an incident report cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). He did not serve a sentence for those charges, the SPLC found.

In the decades prior to that arrest, Hopkins racked up an extensive rap sheet in Montana, Michigan, and Idaho on charges linked to financial and firearms violations. He was charged with trying to escape from prison, writing bad checks, and fleeing without paying his bond. He was also transferred to a psychiatric institution in 1999 in Michigan, according to public records.

Members of the United Constitutional Patriots claimed that they were patrolling the border at the request of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents. In a statement to VICE News last week, however, CBP said they do “not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands.”

The militia was also dealt another blow late last week when PayPal and GoFundMe announced they were banning the group from using its services. The militia’s operations relied heavily on donations made via those sites, according to the Verge.

Cover image: In this Oct. 3, 2018 photo, a border fence in Columbus, N.M., sits along the U.S.-Mexico border at sunset. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

Trump is suing to stop Democrats from digging into his finances

VICE News - 8 hours 4 min ago

WASHINGTON — President Trump really doesn’t want House Democrats poking around in his finances. So on Monday morning, he slapped one of them with a lawsuit, demanding a judge make it stop.

Trump and a handful of his companies filed suit against Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to block the committee’s subpoena of records from Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA. The filing asks the judge to void the subpoena, arguing that the investigation into Trump’s finances is based on nothing more than partisan political harassment.

“The Democrat Party, with its newfound control of the U.S. House of Representatives, has declared all-out political war against President Donald J. Trump,” the document reads. “Subpoenas are their weapon of choice.“

Cummings’ committee subpoenaed Mazars last week for eight years’ worth of financial statements, communications and supporting documents regarding President Trump and his businesses. The move followed Congressional testimony from Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime attorney and self-styled “fixer,” who claimed that Trump regularly misrepresented the size of his fortune in statements to banks and insurance companies. Cohen also handed over copies of those statements, which had been prepared by Mazars.

Trump’s lawsuit argues that Congressional investigations must be attached to some pending legislation — and that an inquiry focused solely on the question of whether the president may have engaged in criminal conduct should be ruled invalid, because it has no such basis.

“There is no possible legislation at the end of this tunnel,” the document says. “Chairman Cummings has ignored the constitutional limits on Congress’ power to investigate.”

Trump has previously called investigations into his finances a “red line” — though House Democrats have shown little interest in observing it, especially following Cohen’s public assertions about Trump’s past business practices. The House Ways & Means Committee has also launched an effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns using a decades-old and little-known provision of the law that allows that committee’s chairman to request pretty much anyone’s filings. The White House has pushed back, saying it will fight that request.

Cover: United States President Donald J. Trump delivers opening remarks at the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event at the White House in Washington on April 18, 2019. He began by discussing the release of the report regarding the investigation conducted by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, stating it was a good day for him, there was no collision, and he hopes this never happens to another sitting president. Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/CNP | usage worldwide Photo by: Stefani Reynolds/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Elizabeth Warren just unveiled a plan to cancel student debt for 75% of Americans

VICE News - 10 hours 34 min ago

Sen. Elizabeth Warren just dropped yet another bold proposal that she said would not only make undergraduate tuition free at all public colleges but also cancel student debt for 75 percent of people with loans.

Warren has already established herself as the policy heavyweight in the 2020 race, but her most recent proposal, which she released Monday morning, is the most radical plan yet to tackle the student debt crisis. Most Democratic presidential candidates support at least some form of “debt-free” college, which can mean free tuition — or simply cutting costs. Only Warren has proposed canceling a significant amount of student loans, both public and private.

Under Warren’s plan, every person with an annual household income under $100,000 would automatically have $50,000 of their student loan debt forgiven. That would immediately wipe out debt for 75 percent of the 45 million Americans with student loans and provide some sort of relief for 95 percent, according to the Massachusetts senator. For every $3 people earn beyond the $100,000 threshold, they lose $1 of the $50,000 in debt forgiven. In other words, if they make $100,003, just $49,999 of their debt will be canceled. Nobody in a household making above $250,000 a year will get student-debt relief.

The proposal would still offer federal grants to low-income students to help them cover non-tuition expenses, like housing, textbooks, and food, at universities. Warren’s plan also places an emphasis on students of color through an additional $50 billion fund for historically black universities, which she said would help close the racial wealth gap.

Warren, who described the American higher education system as a “failed experiment,” estimates that her plan would cost $1.25 trillion over 10 years, but she said the wealth tax she proposed in January could cover the entire cost. That policy would require America’s richest multimillionaires and billionaires to pay a 2 percent annual tax on their wealth, which Warren said would generate an estimated $2.75 trillion over 10 years from just 0.1 percent of U.S. households. For Warren’s plan to have any chance of becoming reality, however, Democrats would need to control Congress and the White House.

“Higher education opened a million doors for me. It’s how the daughter of a janitor in a small town in Oklahoma got to become a teacher, a law school professor, a U.S. senator, and eventually, a candidate for president of the United States,” Warren wrote in a blog post announcing the proposal. “Today, it’s virtually impossible for a young person to find that kind of opportunity. As states have invested less per-student at community colleges and public four-year colleges, the schools themselves have raised tuition and fees to make up the gap.”

Student debt in the United States has skyrocketed since 2006 and now exceeds $1.5 trillion, often interfering with millennials’ ability to buy homes, and more than 2 million people have debt that exceeds $100,000, according to the Federal Reserve. Since the first few months of Donal Trump’s presidency, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and Republicans have proposed ending student loan protections that could harm some of the most economically vulnerable populations in the U.S. Trump’s latest budget proposal also calls for ending student loan forgiveness programs for public employees, reducing the Education Department’s budget, cutting the options for repayment plans, and more changes that could harm borrowers.

“The result is a huge student loan debt burden that’s crushing millions of families and acting as an anchor on our economy,” Warren wrote. “It’s reducing home ownership rates. It’s leading fewer people to start businesses. It’s forcing students to drop out of school before getting a degree. It’s a problem for all of us.”

Student debt and free college have become hot-button topics for 2020 Democrats. The next-most-ambitious plan to Warren’s recent $1.25 trillion proposal is Bernie Sanders’ $47 billion plan to eliminate undergraduate tuition at public universities for families with incomes beneath $125,000. Warren signed on as a co-sponsor — along with Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand — to Bernie’s College for All Act in 2017, which also lowered interest rates and outlined new ways for people to refinance their loans.

Cover image: In this Jan. 12, 2019, file photo, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks during an organizing event at Manchester Community College in Manchester, N.H. Warren is expected to formally launch her presidential bid on Saturday with a populist call to fight economic inequality. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)

The Midwest needs more than levees to survive its "biblical" floods

VICE News - April 20, 2019 - 10:20am

PERU, Nebraska — Brett Adams’ corn and soybean fields were still underwater three weeks after the record flooding in the Midwest in March, set off by a bomb cyclone and torrential rain. River waters tore through the area’s aging levee system that was supposed to protect Adams' land and the town of Peru. He doesn’t know if he’ll be able to replant next year, or even the year after.

Along the Midwest’s big rivers, hundreds of miles of levees protect people and property. But when water surged into the Missouri River in March, the levees crumbled — exposing an aging, insufficient flood protection system. The flow, capacity and management of the river has changed a lot since Adams was a kid, he says, but the 50-year-old levees haven’t. And they're not up to the challenge.

Last month’s floods were the most intense the Army Corps of Engineers has ever seen in the Midwest. "It's immense," Bret Budd, Army Corps of Engineers Chief of the Omaha District Systems Restoration Team, told VICE News. "It's a biblical flood for us. It is going to tax the resources of everybody around. We have over 500 miles of levee to provide to reduce the risk of flooding. Of those 500 miles, we had over 50 breaches."

The Corps has been scrambling to patch the broken levees before the rivers rise again — but gaping holes are still unfilled. For now, they’re only able to put temporary fixes in place anyway, so the Corps looking into redesigning their flood control systems to adapt with the changing landscape.

In 1936 Congress assigned the task of flood protection on to the Army Corps of Engineers. It built levees, dikes and dams along thousands of miles of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. The levees stopped flooding but made the rivers straighter, deeper, and more powerful — which contributed to a 20% increase in the risk of a 100-year flood.

So building higher barriers as climate change brings heavier rainfall could make future flooding worse.

This segment originally aired April 11, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

The evolution (or not) of school shootings in America

VICE News - April 20, 2019 - 10:19am

When the Columbine shooting happened in 1999, the survivors had no concept of what a school shooting was. Neither did most of America.

“We thought there was some sort of unknown or undisclosed senior prank going on,” said Zach Cartaya, now 37, who survived the shooting and has since started an organization that helps survivors of mass shootings. “Something to do with fireworks in the parking lot.”

Twenty years later, school shootings have become a staple of news cycles, and active shooter drills have been put into place in schools across the country. School shootings have become a thing all students know about, and to some extent, expect to happen.

"It's sort of just an unspoken fear that we all had growing up," said Marisol Garrido, who survived the Parkland school shooting.

But even as shootings at schools have become more common, little has changed in terms of either policy or the public’s ability to reckon with them productively.

"I thought it would end after us," said Garrido, now a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. "I thought that it was enough to make any sort of change but it's a year later. I don't really see anything done. I guess school shootings will end when America wants to. They just don't want to yet."

This segment originally aired April 19, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

‘The FBI Appears to Be Engaged in a Modern-Day Version of COINTELPRO’ - CounterSpin interview with Nusrat Choudhury on FBI targeting of black activists

FAIR - April 19, 2019 - 3:07pm

Janine Jackson interviewed Nusrat Choudhury about FBI targeting of black activists for the April 12, 2019, episode of CounterSpin. This is a lightly edited transcript.

 

An FBI intelligence assessment fabricated a new domestic terrorism threat category: “Black Identity Extremists.”

Janine Jackson: In the summer of 2017, as demonstrations roiled St. Louis, Missouri, in response to the acquittal of yet another police officer who killed yet another black person, the FBI issued an intelligence assessment that purported to designate a new domestic terror threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” And they predicted that

perceptions of unjust treatment of African Americans and the perceived unchallenged illegitimate actions of law enforcement will inspire premeditated attacks against law enforcement.

Does that sound like a bizarre and dangerously imprecise targeting of people of color engaged in righteous and constitutionally protected protest? It sure does.

But as we discussed at the time with our next guest, a tool in the hands of the country’s most powerful law enforcement need not be precise to be used to do tremendous damage.

Nusrat Choudhury is deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. She joins us now by phone from here in town. Welcome back to CounterSpin, Nusrat Choudhury.

NC: Thank you so much for having me.

JJ: When we spoke with you in the fall of 2017, the FBI Domestic Terrorism Analysis Unit had just issued this weird and disturbing threat assessment, with this new fabricated category of “Black Identity Extremists.” And the ACLU and other groups were working to see just what they were doing—how was this being used? And the FBI wasn’t all that keen for the sunshine. What has happened, or not happened, since then, such that now the ACLU, along with the Center for Media Justice, have filed a lawsuit against the FBI?

Rep. Karen Bass challenges then-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the “Black Identity Extremists” FBI assessment in 2017.

NC: As you said, we requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, records about what appears to be a highly disturbing surveillance program, targeting a fictitious threat of so-called “Black Identity Extremists,” which we and civil rights groups, black-led organizations, black activists and even members of Congress have said raises a red flag that there may be racial profiling and the targeting of black protesters for their First Amendment–protected activity.

After sending that Freedom of Information Act request, what we got back from the FBI were two letters, refusing to even search for certain categories of records that we had requested, and a number of documents, several hundred pages of highly redacted FBI emails, in response to one of the three categories of requested records.

And the FBI, to the extent that it has disclosed any information, hasn’t explained why it’s keeping that information secret with any reliable justifications. So we don’t really know what else is even out there, as well as information from the emails that they’ve redacted.

And this refusal to search is barring the public from getting the information that we need to find out how this surveillance program, targeting this fictitious group that even some law enforcement have said doesn’t exist, is operating and impacting people on the ground.

And that’s why we need a lawsuit. And we the ACLU are standing with our partners at the Center for Media Justice to demand information on behalf of ourselves and the public.

JJ: You’re describing it as a surveillance program. I was going to ask, what sorts of activities do we think that this designation is trying to justify, or is trying to encourage? I mean, it sounds like it could be almost anything. Once you’ve designated something a domestic terrorist threat, it sort of greenlights all kinds of activities, mightn’t it?

COINTELPRO targeted civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. 

NC: The FBI appears to be engaged in a modern-day version of COINTELPRO, and many of us remember, COINTELPRO took place in the last century, in the ’50s and ’60s, targeting covert activities against civil rights leaders and black people who had the courage to protest racial discrimination and to advocate for full equality and racial equity in this country. It looks like it’s version 2.0.

And when we look at this document, this FBI intelligence assessment, from August 2017 that creates this label of “Black Identity Extremists,” it’s based on nothing; there’s no credible evidence that such a movement or group even exists.

But what that report shows is that the FBI is looking at First Amendment–protected activity to determine who is a so-called “Black Identity Extremist.” That report shows a focus at the FBI on social media activity, on the online search terms that people use, and what kind of internet content a person may like, as well as their associations with certain groups.

The Center for Media Justice announced a lawsuit in 2019 against the FBI for “hiding its surveillance of Black activists and organizations.”

A lot of that activity is protected by the First Amendment. And this is precisely why the Center for Media Justice and the ACLU are concerned that this creation of this label was simply to justify surveillance of black people who are protesting police violence and state-sanctioned violence against black people.

JJ: Yeah, even, I think, law enforcement—a former FBI agent, I seem to remember, giving a quote saying, basically, “It’s just black people who scare them”; they’re just working backwards from that.

There’s so many levels to this, but to imagine that various groups would only be fighting back against police racist brutality if they were part of a unified ideological project, and an inherently violent ideological project, that outrage at racist policing is not a motivation that anyone with eyes could have…. I mean, even if you thought that was their sincere belief, that would reflect a lack of intelligence that’s so painful it’s almost unbearable. But that would be the idea, that all of these groups must somehow be linked in an ideological project, otherwise, why would they be engaged in this resistance?

NC: And the assessment itself, this FBI report that creates this label of a “Black Identity Extremist” boogeyman, if you look at the text of it, it’s talking about these six incidents of violence or threatened violence against police. And it doesn’t even link them and, in points, actually says that some of the people involved in these incidents have divergent views.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives issued a press release that “expresses concern over the Black Identity Extremists FBI assessment.”

So it’s circular logic; it undermines itself. There’s really no basis; former law enforcement have criticized it as being a flawed intelligence product. And even current law enforcement, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, has called on the FBI to withdraw this assessment, because it is so faulty, and they’ve asked to eliminate the “Black Identity Extremist” threat classification. That means something, when even law enforcement are looking at this and saying, “This doesn’t make sense.”

Members of Congress have also articulated a concern that it looks like it’s directed at people who are protesting police killing of black people, and that includes the Movement for Black Lives.

And this is why this effort, through the lawsuit and through advocacy, to get information about this surveillance program, this effort by the ACLU and the Center for Media Justice, is so important. Racial justice in this country comes about when people protest, and black people have been critical to these movements that have brought about a better protection and realization of rights to equality and fairness that has benefited all of us.

The Movement for Black Lives

So these modern-day protest movements are critical to realizing the full potential of American democracy and promises to equality and racial justice. Those movements should not be surveilled. The law enforcement resources of this country should be directed towards real threats to public safety, not for targeting people because of their race and their protected beliefs.

JJ: Just finally, we’re talking about it as though it’s a potential tool, or as though it’s something that is on paper. We have to recognize that just the existence of this designation is already having a real effect on the ground, and putting folks in danger.

NC: Absolutely. When the FBI disseminates an intelligence assessment, and this one was disseminated to at least 18,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide, when it does that, it risks inciting police fear of black people, particularly black activists. That is the real, tangible result. And despite the calls by members of Congress, as well as the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, to withdraw this flawed intelligence product, the FBI hasn’t done that. And so we have no reason to believe that that kind of incitement and harassment at the local and state level isn’t already happening.

JJ: We’ve been speaking with Nusrat Choudhury; she’s deputy director of the ACLU Racial Justice Program. You can find more information on their work and on this lawsuit online at ACLU.org. Nusrat Choudhury, thank you so much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

NC: Thank you for having me.

 

Mayor Pete is dealing with homophobic attacks. He knew they were coming.

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 2:34pm

Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 candidate for president and the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is, unsurprisingly, facing homophobic protests on the campaign trail.

A man interrupted a recent Buttigieg rally in Iowa, for example, and shouted at the candidate: “Remember Sodom and Gomorrah.” The protester was quickly drowned out by Buttigieg’s supporters, and the mayor also indirectly addressed the comment to the crowd.

“The good news is the condition of my soul is in the hands of God, but the Iowa caucuses are up to you,” Buttigieg, a moderate Democrat, said.

At another Buttigieg event, costumed fringe religious demonstrators showed up dressed as Mayor Pete, Jesus, and Satan. Pete was whipping Jesus, who’s carrying the cross, while the devil shouts at them. The person dressed as the devil can be heard shouting: “Beat him Peter, beat him. I hate this guy,” as well as, “More blood, Peter. Every vote is a lash on the back of Christ.”

The protests are not shocking. LGBTQ candidates expect them and usually have strategies in place to deal with the events, as well as more subtle attacks on their identities, according to political strategists who work to get them elected.

“The purpose of anti-LGBTQ attacks on our candidates is to mobilize homophobic and transphobic voters and to distract the LGBTQ candidates from the messages that resonate with their constituents,” said Elliot Imse, communications director at the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that helps elect queer candidates.

Imse said that the group advises candidates to not fixate on homophobic or transphobic attacks but on the issues that appeal to voters. But candidates can use hostile protests to their advantage to rally loyal supporters and donors.

“When an LGBTQ candidate comes under attack, we usually try to ensure that the mainstream media picks up on that attack, because that is an opportunity to mobilize,” Imse said.

The Victory Fund has worked with numerous candidates targeted by anti-gay and anti-trans attacks. Opponents of Malcolm Kenyatta, a Pennsylvania state representative whom Victory fundraised for and endorsed, distributed fliers during his campaign that showed him with an ex-boyfriend.

“Say no!!!!” the fliers said, in red capital letters.

Kenyatta refocused the attacks on his platform.

"There are big issues to address: poverty, schools, and housing," Kenyatta said last May. "People have no patience for the bigoted political games, and our resounding victory on Tuesday makes that clear."

Similarly, Danica Roem, a Virginia state representative and the first transgender woman elected to any U.S. state legislature, faced off against an opponent who distributed fliers that willfully misgendered her. “Danica Roem In His Own Words,” the flier said.

But sometimes attacks can be much more subtle and rely on dog whistles to attack gay and trans candidates, Imse said. Candidates may be smeared as “unelectable,” for example, or as being “too weak.” (This latter form of attack has already materialized against Buttigieg, with one prominent GOP political strategist, Patrick Ruffini, implying that Vladimir Putin would not be threatened by Buttigieg.)

“The veiled attacks are powerful,” Imse said. “Those attacks work.”

Tucker Carlson recently targeted Buttigieg in a monologue that some have characterized as a dog whistle-homophobia. Carlson said the news media had abandoned Beto O’Rourke for a “younger, hotter” candidate, Buttigieg, whom they want to eat "like a hearty stew ... yum!”

That said, American voters seem more willing than ever to support LGBTQ candidates. Sixty-eight percent of American voters said in a recent poll that they would be “OK” with a gay man as president, a stark shift from just 43 percent who said the same in 2006. It’s a sign that real progress has been made — with a wave of historic wins for LGBTQ candidates in just the last few years — even as they continue to face transphobic and homophobic opposition.

Cover image: 2020 Democratic presidential candidate South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks during a town hall meeting, Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Cops arrest Florida man who allegedly threatened to kill Omar and Tlaib

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 1:47pm

Federal authorities arrested a Florida man Friday for allegedly threatening to kill at least three Democratic lawmakers, according to reports. John Kless, 49, called the offices of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Eric Swalwell, and Sen. Cory Booker.

"You're going to be the motherfuckers that pay," Kless allegedly told Booker in a voicemail. "Don't worry, you government officials will be in the graves where you belong."

In some of the voice messages, Kless defended President Trump, and in all three messages, he insulted and threatened Rep. Ilhan Omar and attempted to link her to terrorist groups.

In his message to Tlaib, Kless allegedly referred to both Tlaib and Omar using racist, Islamophobic, and gendered slurs. The messages also insulted the Muslim prophet Mohamed and included homophobic innuendo about the two women. Kless also said he’d like to throw Omar off the Empire State Building.

Omar and Tlaib are the only two Muslim women ever elected to Congress. Kless also allegedly defended Trump in his expletive-laden message to the congresswoman.

“You won’t fucking tell Americans what to say and you definitely don’t tell our president, Donald Trump, what to say,” he said.

In his call to Swalwell, Kless allegedly focused on Swalwell’s position on gun control. Swalwell has made gun control his principal issue in his 2020 campaign for the U.S. presidency.

"The day you come after our guns, motherfucker, is the day you'll be dead," Kless said, according to a federal indictment.

He added: "You're gonna die. Don't wanna do that shit, boy. You'll be [on] your death bed, motherfucker, along with the rest of you Democrats. So if you want death, keep that shit up, motherfucker."

Rep. Omar is frequently targeted with death threats and other Islamophobic attacks. The congresswoman is the most vocal critic of Israel in Congress, which has resulted in repeated controversy and accusations of anti-Semitism from Republicans and some Democrats. Most recently, President Trump tweeted a video that interspersed a single sentence Omar said about 9/11 — “some people did something” — with footage of the terrorist attacks. Omar said the video caused a spike in direct threats on her life.

Trump, meanwhile, says he has no regrets about the video or the threats against Omar.

“She’s been very disrespectful to this country,” Trump said of Omar earlier this week. “She’s been very disrespectful, frankly, to Israel. She is somebody that doesn’t really understand, I think, life, real life.”

Kless allegedly directly referenced Omar’s use of the words “some people did something” — the same words Trump has publicly targeted — in his message to Tlaib.

“You know what? She's lucky she's just getting death threats,” Kless allegedly said. “So are you.”

Cover: Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., right, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., attend a rally with Democrats in the Capitol to introduce the "Equality Act," which will amend existing civil rights legislation to bar discrimination based on gender identification and sexual orientation on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

An armed militia is rounding up migrants and forcing them into border patrol custody

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 1:14pm

Armed vigilantes patrolling the U.S.-Mexico border have detained hundreds of migrants, some with young children, over the last week in the New Mexico desert.

A series of Facebook Live videos that surfaced this week show the men, from a militia group called the United Constitutional Patriots, rounding up groups of migrants — including many families with young children — at gunpoint and making them kneel on the ground. The militia then detains the migrants until Customs and Border Protection agents show up.

In the videos, the militia members shine their flashlights onto the group while making cruel comments. In one case, a woman who's with the group can be seen filming and saying: “Lots of coughing. How bad does it have to get until we build the wall. This is an invasion.”

Militia groups have patrolled the U.S.-Mexico border for decades. But as President Donald Trump ramps up his rhetoric against new migrants — he's called them “an invasion” and declared “our country is full” — the United Constitutional Patriots appears to have taken matters into their own hands.

In an interview last month with ABC-7 KVIA, one member of the United Constitutional Patriots said that CBP asked for their help at the border. CBP didn’t outright deny that.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not endorse private groups or organizations taking enforcement matters into their own hands,” a CBP spokesperson wrote in an email to VICE News. “Interference by civilians in law enforcement matters could have public safety and legal consequences for all parties involved.”

To experts who have studied the militia movement, the United Constitutional Patriots' actions suggest a return to a dark period in American border history.

In the 1970s, the Ku Klux Klan formed vigilante groups in Texas and California with the goal of detaining undocumented immigrants and assisting CBP, according to Kathleen Belew, an assistant history professor at the University of Chicago and author of “Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America.”

In the 1980s, a militia group called the Civilian Military Assistant, equipped with semiautomatic weapons, ventured into Mexico, where they set booby traps and fired on groups of immigrants making their way to the United States, Belew found.

Vigilante groups have continued to patrol the border in recent decades, although in a less organized and paramilitary manner, compared to previous years. But the new development has troubled civil rights groups.

"We’ve never seen anything like this," said Peter Simonson, executive director of New Mexico’s ACLU. "This would always be our worst nightmare: that the vigilante groups would start falsely arresting people."

The national arm of the organization has now called on New Mexico’s governor and attorney general to investigate the militia’s border actions. “They have no authority under New Mexico or federal law to detain or arrest migrants in the United States,” the ACLU wrote in a letter.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas released a statement Friday urging the militia members to stop detaining migrants. "My office has been informed that this week, an armed group has detained nearly 300 people near Sunland Park, New Mexico," Balderas wrote. "These individuals should not attempt to exercise authority reserved for law enforcement."

“They are treating these folks as if they were cattle. Herding them up. Making them kneel in the sand. Even though there are children, infants, even,” Simonson added. “No compassion for the fact that they are holding innocent families at gunpoint.”

“Not a bunch of hillbillies”

For a report on the United Constitutional Patriots published last November, the Southern Poverty Law Center interviewed the militia’s “general,” Jim Peyton, who estimated the group had about 100 members. Peyton also said that every member had served in the military.

“We’re not a bunch of hillbillies running around with muskets,” Peyton told the SPLC. “People know what the rules are, what the rules of engagement are, what the rules of the border patrol are. And that’s how we’re operating.”

The SPLC’s report also zeroed in on how the United Constitutional Patriots felt emboldened by and promoted anti-immigration conspiracy theories — many of which Fox News hosts and Republican lawmakers, like Florida congressman Matt Gaetz, also shared.

For example, militia members advanced the baseless theory that Islamic State terrorists were embedded with the thousands of migrants traveling caravan-style toward the border. They also believe that billionaire George Soros bankrolled the caravan. The MAGA-Bomber, who last Novemberwaged a weeklong mail-bomb campaign targeting Trump’s biggest critics, also shared similar conspiracy theories.

The militia also produces a radio program that peddles anti-immigrant conspiracy theories, according to a report by the Daily Beast. The Beast also found evidence that the militia was pro-QAnon, a bizarre group of conspiracy theorists who believe that Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller were in cahoots to bring down a global child sex-trafficking ring run by Democrats.

Cover image: Members of the United Constitutional Patriots share cigarettes while patrolling the US-Mexico border in Sunland Park, New Mexico on March 20, 2019. (PAUL RATJE/AFP/Getty Images)

Mueller: Assange worked with the Russians because he thought Hillary was a “sociopath”

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 1:11pm

A year before Donald Trump won the White House, Julian Assange told his WikiLeaks colleagues in a group chat on Twitter that then-candidate Hillary Clinton seemed like a “bright, well connected, sadistic sociopath.” It’d be better if Republicans seized office, he concluded.

Months later, in March 2016, WikiLeaks, founded by Assange, published a searchable archive of Clinton’s emails, sourced by a public records request that mined Clinton’s private email server from June 2010 to August 2014.

A few months after that, in June 2016, WikiLeaks would get a Twitter direct message from @DCLeaks, an account Russians used to disseminate information, according special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released Thursday. The account had already started posting stolen emails.

"You announced your organization was preparing to publish more of Hillary's emails. We are ready to support you,” @DCLeaks wrote to WikiLeaks, according to the Mueller report. “We have some sensitive information too, in particular, her financial documents. Let's do it together. What do you think about publishing our info at the same moment? Thank you."

What would come next — Russia hacking the Democratic National Committee, and WikiLeaks dumping private emails from the Clinton campaign — would dominate the rest of the election’s news cycle.

In part, it would also lead to the two-year Mueller investigation into whether the Trump administration colluded in Russia’s efforts to sway the election.

While WikiLeaks’ role in distributing stolen emails was well known, the particulars of Assange’s conversations with Russian intelligence officers weren’t clear until Attorney General William Barr released the Mueller report on Thursday.

Here’s what we learned about WikiLeaks and Assange Thursday:

Talking with Russia

In the summer of 2016, WikiLeaks was in touch with a Russia front for GRU, the persona Guccifer 2.0, and had urged its Twitter account to send any stolen emails to WikiLeaks for greater impact, rather than just posting them to the GRU-operated Twitter accounts.

At the time, Assange had internet access from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he'd been staying in asylum for years. (He was dragged out of that embassy and arrested last week on charges of breaking into U.S. government computers and conspiring with former U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to and distribute classified documents.)

On July 6, WikiLeaks reached out to Guccifer 2.0 via Twitter DM: "if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next two days preferable,” WikiLeaks said, mentioning that the Democratic National Convention was happening soon and Clinton would “solidify Bernie supporters behind her after.”

"ok ... i see,” WikiLeaks responded, according to Mueller.

Russia’s GRU, in an effort to influence the presidential election, then began to transfer documents they stole from the Democratic National Committee and John Podesta, then-chairman of the Clinton campaign.

In mid-July, WikiLeaks received an email with the subject line “big archive.” A few days later — three days before the Democratic National Convention — the organization released 20,000 emails and documents hacked and stolen from the DNC.

While it’s not clear whether WikiLeaks participated in that now-infamous DNC hack, Mueller’s investigation revealed that WikiLeaks sought to spread conspiracies about where they got the information, obscure whether they knew it came from Russia, and release documents at times that seemingly benefited Trump by consuming the news cycle.

Assange spread conspiracies about Seth Rich

In July 2016, shortly before WikiLeaks released the hacked emails, a 27-year-old DNC staffer, Seth Rich, was shot and killed near his home in D.C. Police said he was likely the victim of a robbery gone wrong, but Assange started falsely implying his death was connected to the stolen emails.

The WikiLeaks Twitter account posted on August 9 that it had “decided to issue a US$20k reward for information leading to conviction for the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich." And Assange said in an interview with Fox News justifying the reward that he was “interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged WikiLeaks sources.”

"We're not saying that Seth Rich's death necessarily is connected to our publication”

"We're not saying that Seth Rich's death necessarily is connected to our publication,” Assange said. “That's something that has to be established. But if there's any question about a source of WikiLeaks being threatened, then people can be assured that this organization will go after anyone who may have been involved in some kind of attempt to coerce or possibly, in this case, kill a potential source."

U.S. intelligence officials publicly stated that Russia was behind the DNC hack, which Assange vehemently denied. Rich’s family insisted he wasn’t WikiLeaks’ source, and Mueller wrote “the statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails.”

"As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing," Mueller wrote in his report.

As WikiLeaks itself noted, however, the report also obscures quite a lot about what Mueller knew about Assange or his organization. The organization saw what was published as a vindication of its actions, though.

“WikiLeaks has always been confident that this investigation would vindicate our groundbreaking publishing of the 2016 materials, which it has,” the organization said in a tweet Thursday. “We disapprove of the large redactions which permit conspiracy theories to abound. Full transparency please.

Cover: Julian Assange arrives at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London, after the WikiLeaks founder was arrested by officers from the Metropolitan Police and taken into custody following the Ecuadorian government's withdrawal of asylum. (Photo by Victoria Jones/PA Images via Getty Images)

Mueller uncovered all these times Trump asked people to lie for him

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 1:02pm

While the special counsel’s report stops short of concluding that President Trump committed crimes, it does lays out a disturbing pattern of Trump wielding his power against staff and frequently asking them to lie on his behalf.

As the investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia in the 2016 election unfolded, and the press reported on Trump's efforts at obstruction, the president not only lied himself but also leaned on underlings and high-level government officials to clear his name by making false public statements, the Mueller report details.

Here are some of the most egregious instances that Mueller documented:

Trump pushed intelligence chiefs to say publicly that he had no connection to Russia

In March of 2017, shortly after the Mueller investigation kicked off, the president pulled Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo aside after a meeting in the Oval Office. He urged them to help turn down the heat on the Russia investigation.

Trump wanted to know: Was there anything they could do to help Trump with the investigations? He asked them to make public statements that Trump had no ties to Russia.

And Trump didn’t let things go after that Oval Office meeting. He followed up with another phone call to Coats. As Director of National Intelligence, Coats had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, and he told Trump it wasn’t his place to make a public statement about it.

So Trump, undeterred, called up NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers. The news stories about Russian contacts, Trump said, were false. Was there anything the NSA could do to refute them? Deputy Director of the NSA Richard Ledgett, who was also on the call, told Mueller it was the strangest experience he’d had in his 40 years of working for the government.

After the call, Rogers and Ledgett wrote up a memo about it, signed it, and stored it away in a safe.

Trump tried to get Mueller fired as special counsel. Then, when the incident was reported in the press, he tried to get his staff to lie about it.

Trump pushed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to get Mueller fired over “conflicts of interest.” A number of close advisers to the president all thought the “conflicts” were bogus — and McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the president’s bidding.

Then, when the New York Times reported in 2018 that McGahn had threatened to resign rather than push for Mueller’s ouster, Trump tried to get McGahn to make the Times run a correction on the story.

"I never said to fire Mueller. I never said 'fire.’ This story doesn't look good. You need to correct this. You're the White House counsel,” Trump said.

But McGahn told him he thought the Times’ reporting was just about on point. McGahn had interpreted what Trump said as a request to fire Mueller. Trump insisted that he “do a correction” nonetheless. McGahn refused.

Trump wanted to make it look like it was Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey

Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over a purported lack of loyalty and his unwillingness to do anything to influence Mueller’s investigation. But in the days after the firing, Trump wanted to make it look like it was Jeff Sessions’ and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey.

The White House was going to go so far as to put out an official statement alleging, falsely, that Comey was fired based on Rosenstein’s recommendation. Rosenstein told the White House that he wouldn’t participate in putting out a “false news story,” but that didn’t stop then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer from saying, in an unplanned press conference on May 9, 2017, that Comey’s firing was all Rosenstein’s idea.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed that narrative further, alleging that Comey’s firing was recommended not just by Rosenstein but also by a bipartisan group of officials and lawmakers — and even a bunch of FBI employees — who had all lost faith in Comey’s abilities. That was, Sanders later told Mueller’s team, a “slip of the tongue.” That rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made "in the heat of the moment,” but later admitted was completely unfounded.

On Friday morning, Sanders said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the “slip of the tongue” was her use of the word “countless,” and then she doubled down: “There were a number of FBI, both former and current, that agreed with the president’s decision.” She also said that Comey was a “disgraced leaker.”

“I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign,” she added.

Don Jr. wanted to come clean about the Trump Tower meeting. Trump wouldn’t let him.

After the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, Donald Trump Jr., who had solicited “dirt” that a Russian lawyer was offering on Hillary Clinton, penned a letter to the New York Times.

In drafting the letter, Don Jr. wrote that the meeting was with "an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign." But his father edited that line out. The letter after Trump’s edits indicated that the meeting was only about adoption issues. The president, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow then repeatedly lied about Trump’s involvement in editing the letter.

Trump may not have “directed” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, but he didn’t tell him not to, either.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, had been the point person on Trump Organization negotiations over the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow. The president was aware the negotiations were ongoing throughout much of the 2016 presidential campaign, but Trump’s official line on the matter was that they ended in January of 2016.

They didn’t. Cohen was in touch with Russians about the Trump Tower Moscow project until June of 2016.

As Cohen was preparing his testimony for Congress about the Trump Organization’s interactions with Moscow, the president’s lawyers repeatedly told him to “stay on message.”

For Cohen, that amounted to an implied directive to lie to Congress. “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” Cohen told Congress in February. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”

In January, BuzzFeed News reported that Trump had instructed Cohen to lie to Congress. In a rare public statement in the midst of the investigation, Mueller’s team refuted the report.

Now that Mueller’s report is public, we know why: The evidence that Trump directly instructed Cohen to lie wasn’t quite enough for Mueller.

Mueller cited evidence that the president likely knew that Cohen’s statements to Congress were false, but that Cohen largely made the statements on his own. They didn’t find enough evidence that Trump “directed or aided” Cohen’s false testimony.

The report does, however, indicate that Cohen shared his prepared false statement to Congress with Trump’s lawyers. They signed off on them. And immediately before and after Cohen’s testimony, phone records that Mueller reviewed show he’d had repeated calls with Trump’s personal lawyers.

Trump may not have directed Cohen to lie. But Trump certainly didn’t encourage him not to.


Cover: President Donald Trump speaks at a Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Florida Republicans are making it harder for former felons to claim their new voting rights

VICE News - April 19, 2019 - 10:58am

TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Former felons and their advocates cheered when Florida passed a landmark ballot initiative last fall restoring certain felons' voting rights. But now they're having to fight against Republican lawmakers proposing more conditions that may make it impossible for former felons to claim their new right.

In November, Florida passed Amendment 4, the largest expansion of voting rights in decades. The landmark ballot initiative restored the right to vote to approximately 1.5 million former felons who hadn't committed crimes like murder or sexual violence. But in the months since the election, some Republican lawmakers have worked to add clarifications to the amendment’s implementation. One crucial proposal is to require former felons to pay off all of the restitution, court fines, and fees associated with their sentence before they can actually qualify.

According to the Fines and Fees Justice Center, Florida has instituted about 115 different fines and fees. Between 2013 and 2018 alone, the state issued $1 billion in fines and fees for felonies. Many felons leave prison and struggle to find work, so it's unlikely they coud pay off debts and the interest that quickly accrues.

In the eyes of former felons like Coral Nichols, lawmakers aren’t trying to clarify Amendment 4. They’re using a loophole to undermine it.

Coral Nichols had been sentenced to pay $190,000 at a rate of $100 per month. “Sentencing someone to pay an amount of money that you know they will never pay back in a lifetime? It’s incomprehensible to me that we would set someone up in that manner,” Nichols told VICE News. The proposed legislation would make it impossible for her to settle the full debt before she dies. Her only option would be to ask for clemency.

In a purple state like Florida, 1.5 million new voters could drastically change the electorate and threaten the edge Republicans currently hold.

Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, who drafted the controversial House bill, says that this isn’t about politics but about laying out plainly what it means for someone to have completed their sentence — a requirement that has to be fulfilled before the right to vote is reinstated.

“What we are doing is upholding Amendment 4 exactly as it was offered to the voters,” Grant told VICE News. "Whether I like all of it or dislike some of it or I dislike all of it, my job is not to inject my beliefs here; my job is to uphold the integrity of our elections and exactly what was put before the voters.”

Grant’s bill in the House passed, but after meetings with activists like Coral, he did add an amendment that removed the expectation that they’d have to pay off interest. Legislators will have to get their bills passed in the House and the Senate the end of legislative session on May 3 if they want to get a bill before Gov. DeSantis this year.

This segment originally aired April 10, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.

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