10 things you need to know today ! 1. Sessions pushes back against renewed Trump criticism over his Russia recusal Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against criticism by President Trump, […]
10 things you need to know today !
1. Sessions pushes back against renewed Trump criticism over his Russia recusal
Attorney General Jeff Sessions pushed back against criticism by President Trump, saying Thursday that the Justice Department would not be “improperly influenced by political considerations.” During an interview that aired hours earlier on Fox & Friends, Trump criticized Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion by Trump associates. Trump said Sessions “took the job and then he said, ‘I’m going to recuse myself.’ I said, ‘What kind of a man is this?'” Sessions said he was in control and had successfully pushed Trump’s agenda. Trump has bashed Sessions over his recusal before. He renewed his criticism after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty and ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted in cases uncovered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation team. [CNBC, The New York Times]
In an implicit but pointed reply, Mr. Sessions warned the president not to intrude on federal law enforcement. “While I am attorney general, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations,” he said in a statement issued shortly before he met with Mr. Trump at the White House about criminal justice overhaul.
“Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the ‘other side,’” Mr. Trump wrote in a pair of Twitter posts early Friday morning. “Come on Jeff, you can do it, the country is waiting!”
“Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.” Jeff, this is GREAT, what everyone wants, so look into all of the corruption on the “other side” including deleted Emails, Comey lies & leaks, Mueller conflicts, McCabe, Strzok, Page, Ohr……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 24, 2018
The statement from Sessions was released as the attorney general headed to the White House to discuss criminal sentencing reform with the president and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor.
Read the full statement below:
I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda—one that protects the safety and security and rights of the American people, reduces violent crime, enforces our immigration laws, promotes economic growth, and advances religious liberty.
While I am Attorney General, the actions of the Department of Justice will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action. However, no nation has a more talented, more dedicated group of law enforcement investigators and prosecutors than the United States. I am proud to serve with them and proud of the work we have done in successfully advancing the rule of law.
Mr. Trump wanted to rebut Mr. Sessions’s statement on Thursday on Twitter, but his advisers stopped him, according to people briefed on the matter, at least into the evening.
He also complained during his Fox interview that the campaign finance crimes Mr. Cohen admitted committing at his direction were “tiny ones,” or “not even crimes.”
But he appeared to chiefly blame Mr. Sessions for his legal woes. “I put in an attorney general that never took control of the Justice Department,” Mr. Trump said. “Jeff Sessions never took control of the Justice Department and it’s a sort of an incredible thing.”
The president’s comments showed that his feud with federal law enforcement has taken on a new urgency.
“What is different now is that the Justice Department noose is tightening around the president’s neck,” said Jack L. Goldsmith, a Harvard law professor who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush. “That context makes this confrontation more significant, for it might indicate that the president is finally going to follow through on his threats and insinuations, over many months, about firing Justice Department officials or taking other actions against the Mueller investigation.”
Mr. Grassley also reached out on Thursday to lawyers representing Mr. Cohen, inviting him to testify privately before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republicans on the panel have led an intermittent investigation of the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia but have not sought new witness testimony in months.
2. Malcolm Turnbull ousted as Australia’s prime minister
Rivals within the Liberal Party ousted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday and replaced him with Treasurer Scott Morrison. A dispute over energy policy last week renewed longstanding tensions between the moderate Turnbull and the party’s conservative wing.
Turnbull survived a challenge on Tuesday from former Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, but called a second vote after receiving a letter signed by a majority of the party’s members calling for new leadership. Morrison beat Dutton 45-40 in an internal ballot. Turnbull, who took office in a similar revolt in 2015, was the fourth Australian prime minister in a decade to be pushed out in a leadership fight. His ouster came as party lawmakers grew increasingly concerned about poor polling ahead of looming elections. Morrison said his priorities would be reuniting the party after a chaotic week and dealing with a record drought in parts of eastern Australia. [BBC News, CNBC]
Who is Morrison?
Mr Morrison, a former Tourism Australia official, entered parliament in 2007 and has since held three key ministerial portfolios.
A social conservative who appeals to the moderate elements of the Liberal party
Rose to national prominence as immigration minister in Tony Abbott’s government
Built a reputation as a tough operator in enforcing Australia’s hardline “stop the boats” policy
Drew criticism over the controversial asylum seeker policies and offshore detention centres
Seen as a pragmatic, ambitious politician who has long eyed the top job
The 50-year old father-of-two is a leading religious conservative and opposed last year’s same-sex marriage bill.
Speaking to reporters after the vote on Friday, Mr Morrison said he would be working to “bring our party back together which has been bruised and battered this week” and bring the country together.
He also said dealing with a severe drought, which has hit parts of eastern Australia, would be “our most urgent and pressing need right now”.
The rise of Scott Morrison, Australia’s new PM
How has everyone reacted?
With a mixture of bemusement, anger and sheer frustration: many have described this week as one of the most chaotic in Australian political history.
In his final press briefing, Mr Turnbull called the week “madness” and thanked his colleagues for choosing Mr Morrison over Mr Dutton.
“We have so much going for us in this country. We have to be proud of it and cherish it,” he said.
Six moments that defined Turnbull as PM
Coup capital of the democratic world
The ex-cop who tried to oust Australia’s PM
Mr Dutton said: “My course from here is to provide absolute loyalty to Scott Morrison, and make sure we win the election.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was also in the running for the leadership, but did not make it to the final round.
Why is Australian politics so turbulent?
The past decade has been marked by a series of leadership coups, with three other sitting prime ministers deposed by party rivals.
Not a single leader in recent times has succeeded in serving a full term as prime minister, partly because elections come around so often – every three years – two years less than in the UK.
So in recent years, prime ministers unpopular in the polls – or with their colleagues – have been swiftly sacrificed from within.
Dave Sharma, a former Australian diplomat, says “an election is always just around the corner, meaning members of parliament are forever focused on their electoral survival – and less so on the national interest”.
Four reasons why Australian politics is so crazy
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Mr Sharma says “the steady drip of opinion polls and the relentless media cycle exacerbates the short-termism”.
Under the Australian system, as in the UK, the prime minister is not directly elected by voters but is the leader of the party or coalition that can command a majority in parliament.
3. Trump has considered pardoning Manafort for weeks, Giuliani says
President Trump has been mulling a pardon of his ex-campaign chair Paul Manafort for a few weeks, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Washington Post on Thursday.The subject of pardoning Manafort came as Trump’s former campaign chairman faced multiple charges of bank fraud and tax evasion in an Alexandria criminal.
Manafort was found guilty on eight counts of financial crimes on Tuesday. Trump has long thought prosecutors “beat up” Manafort in the trial, and asked his lawyers’ advice on pardons a few weeks ago, Giuliani said, seeming to contradict comments he made to The New York Times. The president’s lawyers apparently told him to wait until Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation ended, and Trump agreed.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters a Manafort pardon has not been “up for discussion,” but Trump reportedly told Fox & Friends later that day he’d consider it. [The Washington Post]
4.National Enquirer publisher David Pecker granted immunity in Cohen case
Federal prosecutors have granted immunity to David Pecker, head of the National Enquirer publisher’s parent company, in the investigation into hush money deals described by President Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, in his plea deal, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday. Pecker, the CEO of American Media Inc., reportedly told prosecutors that Trump knew about Cohen’s payments shortly before the 2016 election to two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump.Cohen arranged a nondisclosure agreement with Clifford in which he paid the adult film star $130,000. Cohen was charged with making an excessive campaign contribution, since the payment was made in service of the campaign and exceeded the federal limit.
Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty to bank fraud and campaign violations linked to the hush money payments. Cohen said he and Pecker collaborated to silence potentially damaging claims about Trump during his candidacy by using a tabloid tactic known as “catch and kill,” in which AMI bought the rights to potentially harmful claims and never ran stories about them. [The Wall Street Journal, CNN] Pecker considers himself a longtime friend of the President, whose relationship with Trump dates back decades.
Vanity Fair was the first to report on Pecker’s immunity status.
Cohen’s sentencing date is set for December 12 and he faces up to 65 years in prison.
The White House and Trump have said that he has done nothing wrong relating to the hush money.
Trump told Fox News in an interview Wednesday that he knew about the two payments only “later on,” without specifying when. However, in a September 2016 tape recording released by Cohen’s attorney Lanny Davis, Trump can be heard discussing with Cohen whether to buy the rights to McDougal’s story from AMI.
5. Hurricane Lane dumps torrential rain on Hawaii
Hurricane Lane hit Hawaii’s Big Island with nearly 20 inches of rain on Thursday, triggering landslides that blocked rural roads. The storm was still offshore but was expected to hit or come dangerously close to parts of Hawaii’s main islands by Friday, bringing waves as high as 20 feet and a four-foot storm surge.
The hurricane’s top sustained winds dropped from 155 miles per hour to a range between 111 and 129 mph. Federal authorities urged Hawaiians to “heed all warnings” and brace for a major blow from the storm. Major hotels remained open, saying they were confident they could keep guests safe as long as they remained indoors. [The Associated Press]
6. Reality Winner sentenced to 63 months for leak
Former government contractor Reality Winner has been sentenced to 63 months in prison for leaking a report about a 2016 Russian military-intelligence cyberattack. Winner was accused of taking the document from the National Security Agency facility where she worked and giving it to an online media outlet. She had faced 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine before accepting a plea deal.
The former U.S. Air Force linguist’s attorneys defended her character in court. “She’s a good person,” said attorney John Bell. “Someone who didn’t understand the magnitude of what she was doing.” Winner said she “had no intention to harm national security.” John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said Winner’s “betrayal” had “put at risk sources and methods of intelligence gathering, thereby offering advantage to our adversaries.” [CNN] “She’s a good person,” said attorney John Bell. “Someone who didn’t understand the magnitude of what she was doing.” Bell also pointed out that Winner was a first-time offender who had wanted to serve her country.
“I had no intention to harm national security,” Winner told the court. In a statement, John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, praised prosecutors and agents for holding Winner accountable.“I hope their success will deter others from similar unlawful action in the future,” Demers said.
“This defendant used her position of trust to steal and divulge closely guarded intelligences information, said US Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “Her betrayal of the United States put at risk sources and methods of intelligence gathering, thereby offering advantage to our adversaries.”Winner was a federal contractor working with Pluribus International Corp. in Augusta with top-secret security clearance when she leaked information that served as the basis for a June 2017 article by The Intercept, detailing a classified National Security Agency memo that contained information about a Russian cyberattack on a supplier of US voting software supplier.According to a federal complaint, Winner printed the intelligence report and mailed it to the news outlet. When the outlet contacted the NSA, saying it had what appeared to be a classified document, the outlet provided a copy, which appeared to have been folded or creased, the complaint said.
That led to an internal audit that revealed that Winner was one of just six people who had printed the document and the only one who had email contact from a desk computer with the news outlet, according to the complaint.
Winner’s actions raised questions about whether the leak was politically motivated.
She had previously criticized President Donald Trump on social media. When it became clear that Trump would win on election night in November 2016, she posted, “Well. People suck. #ElectionNight.” She once called Trump an “orange fascist.”
And while Winner didn’t explicitly post about hacking or leaking, she followed Edward Snowden and WikiLeaks on Twitter, where she used an account with a pseudonym, but used a photo of herself as the profile picture.
7. U.S.-China trade talks end without progress
Trade talks between the U.S. and China ended Thursday with no sign of progress, raising concerns that the trade war between the world’s two largest economies is poised to escalate. The White House said the two sides had “exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance, and reciprocity in the economic relationship,” and China called the discussions “constructive, candid.” No further talks are scheduled. The meeting ended hours after 25 percent tariffs on another $16 billion worth of Chinese goods took effect, and China retaliated with new tariffs on the same amount of U.S. goods.
“Now, it seems quite likely that the U.S. will impose tariffs on the $200 billion in imports from China, which will trigger a bigger round of shooting,” said Zhou Xiaoming, a former commerce ministry official and diplomat. [Bloomberg]
8. Missouri investigates St. Louis archdiocese handling of sexual abuse cases
Missouri is investigating potential sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Louis, state Attorney General Josh Hawley said Thursday. “I am firmly of the view that full transparency benefits not only the public but also the church and, most importantly, it will help us expose and address potential wrongdoing and protect the vulnerable from abuse,” Hawley said. In a letter to Hawley, St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson said he had invited investigators to have “unfettered access” to archdiocese files so they would determine whether he had handled such cases properly.
Carlson said the archdiocese had removed 27 living priests over sexual abuse allegations. “We did this for one reason, the credibility of the archdiocese,” Carlson told reporters. Some of the priests were forced to leave the priesthood. [Reuters] The probe initially covers only the Archdiocese of St. Louis, one of five Roman Catholic dioceses in the state, Hawley said. He asked the bishops of the four other dioceses to agree to cooperate with the probe. Dioceses are groupings of parishes and one of the main organizational structures of the Catholic church.Hawley, a Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate this year, a seat now held by Democrat Claire McCaskill.
Jack Smith, spokesman for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, said the diocese had not yet been formally contacted by Hawley’s office, but would cooperate with any requests for a review of files.
Pennsylvania officials last week released the results of a two-year grand jury probe that found evidence that at least 1,000 people, mostly children, had been sexually abused by some 300 clergymen in the state during the past 70 years. The most-wide ranging report on clergy sex abuse in the United States said the numbers of actual victims and abusers could be much higher.
Similar reports have emerged in Europe, Australia and Chile, prompting lawsuits and investigations, sending dioceses into bankruptcy and undercutting the moral authority of the leadership of the Catholic Church, which has some 1.2 billion members around the world.
9. South Africa blasts Trump for tweet repeating white nationalist conspiracy theory
The South African government on Thursday criticized President Trump for tweeting that the U.S. should examine South Africa’s land and “farm seizures” from white farmers, and “the large scale killing of farmers.” The South African government tweeted back rejecting Trump’s “narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past.”
South Africa is in the middle of a racially charged debate over land reform to fix the legacy of white-minority rule, which has left black South Africans, who comprise 80 percent of the population, with just 4 percent of the land. Critics said the claim of “large scale killing” of white farmers was a widely debunked conspiracy theory spread by white nationalists.
Trump’s tweet came shortly after a Fox News segment in which host Tucker Carlson railed against the land reform plan.“South Africa totally rejects this narrow perception which only seeks to divide our nation and reminds us of our colonial past,” the South African government tweeted in response to Trump’s statement. [USA Today, The Washington Post] South Africa is in the throes of a racially charged national debate over land reform, a lawful process that seeks to correct the legacy of decades of white minority rule that stripped blacks of their land. Today, nearly a quarter-century after the first democratic elections, black South Africans comprise 80 percent of the population but own just 4 percent of the country’s land, according to the government.
In July, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his party would amend the constitution so the state could expropriate land without compensation to speed up the land reform process, but that has not yet happened and no land has been seized.
For years, a small but vocal group of white South Africans have claimed white farmers are the target of violent, racially motivated farm attacks. Experts say the attacks reflect the country’s generally high crime rate and that there is no evidence connecting them to the victims’ race.
Farm murders have been declining since their peak in 2001, according to research by Agri SA, an umbrella group of South African agricultural associations. In 2016-17, there were 74 murders during farm attacks, according to Africa Check , compared to 19,000 murders across the country in the same period.
On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed that Trump and Pompeo had spoken about the issue of land reform in South Africa.
“I can tell you that the Secretary and the president certainly discussed it,” Nauert said. “The president asked him to look at the current state of action with regard to land reform,” she said, and Pompeo plans to “take a look at it.”
Nauert said that expropriation of land without compensation “would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path.” She added that the U.S. has encouraged a “peaceful and transparent debate” about land rights in South Africa, adding “that seems to be happening right now.”
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., took to Twitter to condemn Trump’s “racially-charged” comments.
“Absolutely disgraceful that the president continues to target African nations and spread racially-charged claims that have no basis in evidence or fact,” Booker wrote.
The former U.S. Ambassador to South African under President Obama also slammed Trump
“The President of the US needs political distractions to turn our gaze away from his criminal cabal, and so he’s attacking South Africa with the disproven racial myth of “large scale killings of farmers” This man has never visited the continent and has no discernible Africa policy,” Gaspard tweeted.
10. Poll: 7 in 10 Americans support Medicare-for-all
Seven in 10 Americans support Medicare-for-all as a policy, a Reuterspoll published Thursday found. That includes 84.5 percent of Democrats and 51.9 percent of Republicans. Candidates like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic congressional nominee Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have drawn attention to the policy in recent years, pushing a populist message that has nudged lawmakers and Americans alike toward a more positive view on the idea that the government should allow everyone to enroll in publicly funded health insurance. In 2017, just 30 percent of Republicans said the government had a responsibility to ensure Americans had health care, and only 18 percent of conservatives said the same in 2014. [Reuters, Pew Research Center]
THE MOVEMENT’S BEGINNINGS
One audacious plan began to take hold in early 2016, as a crew of organizers for Sanders’ presidential campaign traveled the country, staging revival-style rallies.
The crew included Zack Exley, a veteran political and tech consultant who cut his teeth as an organizer in union fights in Detroit; Saikat Chakrabarti, a technology consultant who started as a volunteer in an online group called Coders for Sanders; Alexandra Rojas, a just-turned 21-year-old college student who was working three jobs; and Corbin Trent, who was selling gourmet burgers in Morristown, Tennessee.
“I asked the wife if I could sell the food truck and go to work for Bernie,” Trent said. A month and a half later, he was hired on.
When it became clear Sanders would lose, supporters shifted to a new mission. “What if we could do exactly the same thing, not only for president, but Congress, all at once?” asked Chakrabarti.
Brand New Congress was launched in April 2016 with a goal of recruiting 400 candidates, all political outsiders with a record of community activism who would run on a single populist platform. Scornful of the Democratic Party hierarchy and the influence of big-money donors, the founders vowed to stay independent of any party – even if it meant finding progressives willing to run as Republicans.
Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats are just two players in a movement where different groups with different agendas jostle for donations and influence in the midterms. Some, like Democracy for America and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, were in place years before the Sanders campaign.
California billionaire Tom Steyer, the Democrats’ largest donor, has spent millions of his own money on NextGen America, a group that aims to mobilize young voters. The hedge-fund manager turned activist vows to build the largest progressive operation in America.
“The overwhelming number of people whatever their particular affiliation – whether Republican or Democrat or independent – feel as if the political establishment is not hearing them,” he said. The result, he says, is low turnout – particularly by young people who lean toward Democrats.
With his fiery calls to impeach Trump, Steyer is among the progressives butting heads with leaders of the Democratic Party’s establishment, who fear turning off moderate voters.
THE RACE IN NEBRASKA
One race that may help answer the question is in Omaha, where Eastman will try to unseat a Republican incumbent, Don Bacon, in a district with 13,000 more Republicans than Democrats.
Unlike the rest of deeply Republican Nebraska, though, Democrats have been able to win in this district, which stretches from the gentrifying neighborhoods of Omaha, now attracting a surge of millennials, to conservative-leaning suburban neighborhoods near Offutt Air Force Base, where Bacon once served as commanding officer. Obama narrowly won the district in 2008; Trump took it by two points in 2016.
Eastman, a nonprofit executive, was considered by the party establishment as far too liberal for Nebraska. She supported a single-payer healthcare system that would replace private insurance, and a list of other progressive causes: tough gun rules, support for abortion rights, a $15 minimum wage.
Democratic state and national party leaders mostly lined up behind Brad Ashford, a moderate one-time Republican who already represented the district for one term. Thanks in part to backing from the DCCC and other national groups, Ashford had far more money.
THE FIGHT IN MIAMI
The same debate is playing out this summer in South Florida, where the progressive insurgency has touched off a raucous fight between Democratic hopefuls in Florida’s Congressional District 27, which includes trendy Miami Beach, affluent Coral Gables and Little Havana’s Hispanic immigrants.
Represented for three decades by a retiring Cuban-American Republican, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the district favored Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016. It’s considered perhaps the easiest takeover target for Democrats in the country, though nine Republicans are running, including former Miami-Dade County Commissioner Bruno Barreiro and television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar.