Politics From victory to vengeance: Trump scents blood in 2020 fight Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington•It felt like a victory lap. At a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday night, surrounded by a sea of red Make America Great Again hats, a defiant Donald Trump held the podium before a raucous crowd.Related: Trump Fed pick was held in contempt for failing to pay ex-wife over $300,000“After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead,” the president declared in a 90-minute speech.Basking after the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which clouded the first two years of his presidency, Trump falsely claimed “total exoneration”.He vowed retaliation against some of his sharpest critics and suggested consequences for the media were in order. He spoke of doing away with Barack Obama’s healthcare law. And he threatened to shut down the US-Mexico border as early as next week.It was a stark reminder of how Trump views his executive authority and a glimpse of his looming fight for re-election.He is much more likely to be re-elected today than he seemed at the end of last week Michael Steel-“He is much more likely to be re-elected today than he seemed at the end of last week,” said Michael Steel, a Republican operative who was an aide to former House speaker John Boehner. “I think that Democratic oversight activities will continue, but this definitely took the wind out of their sails.”However, Trump’s legal perils are far from over. According to a short letter to Congress by attorney general William Barr, the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election did not clear Trump of wrongdoing. Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, specifically stating that his report “does not exonerate” the president.Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Trump aides and Moscow, which the president said supported his longstanding claim of “no collusion”. Left unclear was what the special counsel had to say of repeated contacts between Trump associates and Russian nationals, and lies to prosecutors about such communications.On Friday, Barr said that by mid-April he would make public a redacted versionof the Mueller report, which is nearly 400 pages long. The attorney general faced criticism after drawing his own conclusion, in his letter to Congress, that Mueller did not have sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.In a second letter released on Friday, Barr said his initial assessment was not intended to be a summary of the Mueller report and that the American public “would soon be able to read it on their own”.Trump nonetheless seized on Barr’s rendering of the Mueller report.“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, some bad things, I would say some treasonous things against our country,” Trump told reporters last Sunday. “And hopefully people that have done such harm to our country – we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening – those people will certainly be looked at. I’ve been looking at them for a long time.”On Fox News, Trump’s most prominent boosters chimed in.“This must be a day of reckoning for the media, for the deep state, for people who abuse power, and they did it so blatantly in this country,” said Sean Hannity, who ranks among Trump’s closest allies It could be a reset but it’s not going to be, because the president is congenially incapable of resettingRick Tyler-“If we do not get this right, if we do not hold these people accountable, I promise you, with all the love I can muster for this country and our future for our kids and grandkids, we will lose the greatest country God has ever given man. We will lose it.”Initial polls showed little change in public perception of the Mueller investigation or potential wrongdoing by Trump.A CNN survey found nearly 60% of Americans believed Congress should continue to investigate, while 56% said they did not believe Trump had been exonerated of collusion, even though Barr’s letter said the special counsel could not establish a criminal conspiracy. Perhaps most tellingly, 86% said the findings would not affect their vote in 2020.“The political divide is virtually the same,” said Rick Tyler, a former aide to Ted Cruz’s 2016 presidential campaign. “If you didn’t like Trump before, you don’t like him anymore now. If you like Trump, you still like him.”“It could be a reset but it’s not going to be, because the president is congenially incapable of resetting.”‘The party of healthcare’Indeed, in the immediate wake of what some called the best week of his presidency, Trump returned to the impulsive style of governing that has prompted disorder and left his own party flatfooted.In a major shift, the administration announced on Wednesday it would back a legal effort to fully invalidate the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare, a move that would threaten healthcare coverage for millions of Americans, an issue which proved central to November’s midterm elections, in which Democrats regained the House.At his Michigan rally Trump renewed his call to toss out the ACA, insisting Republicans would come to be known as the ‘party of healthcare’. Photograph: Paul Sancya/AP Trump’s move came over the objections of Barr and Alex Azar, his health secretary. The House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, reportedly told Trump the move made no sense, given Republicans do not have a plan to replace the ACA and would be unable to move legislation.“Members feel like [the Mueller report announcement] was great and Trump stepped all over that message with the Obamacare lawsuit announcement,” a House GOP aide told Axios.Related: Trump intervenes in case of Navy Seal charged in stabbing of Isis prisonerTyler said: “While I can argue lots of different structures that would be better than Obamacare, that would be like overthrowing a foreign government with no replacement government. The result would be chaos.”Undaunted, at his Michigan rally Trump renewed his call to toss out the ACA, insisting Republicans would come to be known as the “party of healthcare”. And he didn’t stop there.Trump also vowed to shut down the Mexico border “next week”, a move that would do significant damage to the US economy. Mexico is a vital trading partner but Trump complained it was not doing enough to stop illegal immigration.Trump received familiar support from Fox. But other Republicans warned Trump not to jeopardize an otherwise positive moment.“I think it’s a good thing for America that a detailed and thorough investigation concluded that the president of the United States is not a witting or unwitting agent of a foreign power,” said Steel.“I do think there’s some danger that in the hubris of his response, the president makes mistakes.”• This article was amended on 1 April 2019. Due to an editing error, Michael Steel’s family name was misspelled as Steele in a pullquote.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A career official in the White House security office says dozens of people in President Donald Trump’s administration were granted security clearances despite „disqualifying issues” in their backgrounds, including concerns about foreign influence, drug use and criminal conduct.
Tricia Newbold, an 18-year government employee who oversaw the issuance of clearances for some senior White House aides, says she compiled a list of at least 25 officials who were initially denied security clearances last year but then had those denials overruled by senior administration officials.
The allegations were detailed in a letter and memo released Monday by Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The documents, which are based on Newbold’s March 23 private committee interview, don’t identify the officials on the list but say they include „two current senior White House officials, as well as contractors and individuals” in different parts of the Executive Office of the President.
„According to Ms. Newbold, these individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use and criminal conduct,” the memo says.
The release of the documents sets the stage for another fight between the White House and the Democratic-controlled House, and immediately drew criticism from House Republicans who called the allegations overblown and „cherry-picked.”
Cummings’ panel has been investigating security clearances issued to senior officials including Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House aide Rob Porter. That probe has picked up steam after The New York Times reported that Trump ordered officials to grant Kushner a clearance over the objections of national security officials, and after Newbold spoke out to NBC News and other news outlets about her concerns.
On Monday, Cummings said he will move this week to authorize his first subpoena in the probe. The subpoena will be for the deposition of Carl Kline, who served as the White House personnel security director and supervised Newbold. He has since left the White House for the Defense Department.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
Rep. Jim Jordan, the committee’s ranking Republican, said in a statement that Cummings’ probe is a „partisan attack” and an „excuse to go fishing” through personnel files. He also said that one person on Newbold’s list is a GSA custodian.
Also, in a response memo circulated to Republican members, Jordan’s staff cast Newbold as a disgruntled employee who had only limited knowledge of the reasons security clearances were granted. The Republican document also suggests Newbold’s concerns were „overblown,” saying that four or five of the clearance denials for „very serious reasons” were a small fraction of about 5,000 employees who work in the Executive Office of the President.
According to Democrat Cummings’ memo, though, Newbold considered the decisions to be part of a „systematic” problem within her office where the decisions of security clearance reviewers were „continuously” overridden.
Newbold said she raised her concerns up the chain of command in the White House to no avail. Instead, she said, the White House retaliated, suspending her in January for 14 days without pay for not following a new policy requiring that documents be scanned as separate PDF files rather than one single PDF file.
Newbold said that when she returned to work in February, she was cut out of the security clearance process. The office also announced a plan to „restructure” that would remove her from a supervisory role, she said.
In response to Newbold’s interview, Cummings is asking the White House to turn over the list she created as well as documents related to the handling of security clearances for several senior officials including Flynn, Kushner and Porter.
Flynn maintained his clearance even after the White House learned that he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador and that he was under investigation by the Justice Department for his previous foreign work.
Kushner failed to initially disclose numerous foreign meetings on security clearance forms, and, according to the Times, career officials recommended against granting him a clearance before Trump personally overruled them.
Porter had high-level access with an interim security clearance even though the FBI repeatedly told the White House of past allegations of domestic violence lodged against him by two ex-wives.
Porter resigned after the allegations becoming public.
Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
Read the documents: http://apne.ws/NuF4iSJ
Congressional Democrats are moving forward with investigations into Russian meddling and President Donald Trump’s family, setting the stage for a major legal fight with the Administration.
The House Oversight and Judiciary committees — two of the most powerful — announced Monday that they are preparing subpoenas on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian collusion in the 2016 election and security clearance probes that implicate the president’s family.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the Judiciary committee, said Monday that his committee would mark up a subpoena on April 3 to obtain the full Mueller report. Nadler, along with five chairs of other committees, sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr last week demanding they see the full report by Tuesday, April 2. While Barr said he was working to make the report public as soon as possible, he speculated that would not happen until at least mid-April, past the Democrats’ deadline. (A short summary of the report written by Barr has been made public, but the full report remains private.)
“Attorney General Barr has thus far indicated he will not meet the April 2 deadline set by myself and five other Committee chairs, and refused to work with us to provide the full report, without redactions, to Congress,” Nadler said in a statement Monday. “The Attorney General should reconsider so that we can work together to ensure the maximum transparency of this important report to both Congress and the American people.”
Nadler also said his committee would vote to authorize subpoenas for Don McGahn, former White House Counsel; Steve Bannon, former White House Chief Strategist; Hope Hicks, former White House communications director; Reince Priebus, former White House chief of staff; and Ann Donaldson, former White House deputy counsel. The committee had sent request for documents to all five last month when it opened its investigation into abuse of power. But Nadler said Monday that they – or their attorneys – all could have received documents from the White House relating to probes from both his committee and Mueller, invalidating any claims of privilege to waive compliance.
Nadler said he would not officially issue the subpoenas if all the documents were produced. He also did not set a timeline for sending the subpoena for the Mueller report to the Department of Justice.
Less than an hour after Nadler announced his plans, Rep. Elijah Cummings, who chairs the House Oversight committee, released a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone that the committee is set to officially authorize a subpoena on April 2 to depose Carl Kline, who was the personnel security director at the White House for the first two years of the Trump Administration. Cummings said that Kline, who now works at the Department of Defense, has ignored all of the committee’s previous document requests. NBC News reported in January that Kline authorized Kushner’s security clearance over objections from other staffers.
“The Committee will depose Mr. Kline about the security clearance practices in place when he was at the White House, the treatment of specific security clearance adjudications during his tenure, and his interactions with the whistleblower,” Cummings wrote to Cipollone.
The whistleblower who came forward to the committee publicly identified herself as Tricia Newbold, an adjudications manager in the Personnel Security Office. According to NBC News, Newbold, who worked with Kline at the White House, had previously filed a complaint against him with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that he discriminated against her height by placing security files too high for her to reach. NBC News also cited a letter from Newbold to her family in which she stated part of her grievances against Kline stem from his security clearance judgements.
Newbold, who was interviewed by the Oversight committee on March 23, said other White House staffers have retaliated against her for voicing concerns, and that she was suspended without pay in January for 14 days because she would not follow the Administration’s protocols. “I’m terrified of going back. I know that this will not be perceived in favor of my intentions, which is to bring back the integrity of the office,” she told the committee.
According to a transcript released by the committee, Newbold said she had denied security clearances for multiple Trump Administration staffers, only to have those decisions overturned by more senior officials such as Kline. In 2018, she told the committee, she made a list of these staffers. The list included 25 people in total, including two current senior White House officials. Newbold said the office had recommended some White House officials not be granted clearances in part because of concerns about foreign influence.
The White House officials in question were not named in the transcript released by the committee. But the situation Newbold describes closely hews to January’s NBC News report about Kushner.
The committee launched an investigation in January into the White House’s security clearance processes, shortly after Cummings became chairman. In explaining the investigation, Cummings described how both Kushner and former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn were able to obtain clearances, despite the fact that both men failed to disclose their contacts with Russian officials.
Cummings released a letter from Cipollone last month showing that the White House was unwilling to cooperate with the probe. Cipollone described the committee’s requests as “unprecedented and extraordinarily intrusive.”
While Cummings sent Cipollone a list of other witnesses the committee is seeking to interview, Kline is the only person for whom they will authorize a subpoena at the moment.
“I hope the White House will begin cooperating voluntarily with these requests and that additional subpoenas will not be necessary,” Cummings wrote, adding that interviews may not be necessary if the White House produces the previously requested documents. He gave the White House four days to deliver a response.
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s children play a starring role in a memo from House Oversight Committee Democrats detailing claims made by a White House whistleblower who raised concerns about high-level security clearances that were given to 25 officials after they were initially denied access to top secret information.
According to a source familiar with the whistleblower’s testimony, Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, are two of three unnamed White House officials described in the memo. Kushner was identified as “Senior White House Official 1” and Ivanka was described as “Senior White House Official 2” in the memo, which was written and released on Monday, the source told Yahoo News.
The memo was sent from Democratic Oversight Committee staffers to the committee members. It summarized an interview Democratic and Republican committee staffers conducted with White House security adviser Tricia Newbold on March 23. Newbold, the adjudications manager in the personnel security office of the White House, has worked there as a nonpartisan career employee for over 18 years.
According to the memo, Newbold claimed decisions that she and other career officials made to deny individuals security clearances were routinely “overturned by senior officials in order to grant the employees access to classified information.” Last year, Newbold began keeping track of all the employees who were granted clearances after first being denied them and the memo said “her list eventually grew to 25 officials, including two current senior White House officials.”
“These individuals had a wide range of serious disqualifying issues involving foreign influence, conflicts of interest, concerning personal conduct, financial problems, drug use, and criminal conduct,” the memo said.
The memo described Newbold as having gone to the committee because she “strongly believes Congress must intervene immediately to investigate and reform the White House security clearance process.” Newbold did not respond to a request for comment on this story and a spokesperson for the Oversight Committee Democrats also declined to comment.
None of the 25 officials on Newbold’s list were identified in the memo, but there were sections detailing her allegations against three specific individuals who were described as “”Senior White House Official 1, 2, and 3.” The source familiar with Newbold’s testimony said Kushner was the first anonymous official and Ivanka was the second. The source did not reveal the identity of “Senior White House Official 3.”
The memo stated Newbold claimed Kushner’s clearance was initially denied “after the background investigation revealed significant disqualifying factors, including foreign influence, outside activities … and personal conduct.” According to Newbold, that decision was overruled by the director of the personnel office, who noted the disqualifying activities “occurred prior to federal service.” Before joining his father-in-law in the White House, Kushner was an executive at his family’s real estate company, which has actively tried to woo foreign investors.
“Senior White House Official 2,” who the source said is president Trump’s daughter, is also described as having had clearance issues. The memo said Newbold claimed an initial clearance reviewer “wrote an ‘extremely thorough’ 14-page adjudication summary” in Ivanka Trump’s case “that described multiple disqualifiers, including foreign influence and outside activities.” Afterward, Newbold said the director of the personnel office told her “do not touch.” When Newbold stepped aside, she said the director ultimately granted the clearance. Before entering her father’s administration, Ivanka worked for Trump’s real estate company and her own fashion brand, both of which courted foreign interests.
There have previously been reports that president personally intervened after clearances for Ivanka and Kushner were denied. Abbe Lowell, an attorney for both Ivanka and Kushner, has previously said the couple’s clearances were “handled in the regular process with no pressure from anyone.” Lowell declined to comment on this story and referred questions to the White House, which did not respond.
Along with the memo, the Oversight Committee released a letter to White House counsel Pat Cipollone requesting Newbold’s full list of “approximately 25 individuals who were granted security clearances or eligibility to access national security information despite recommendations to deny their applications.” Cipollone did not respond to a request for comment.
A Democratic committee aide told Yahoo News they would be unable to identify the 25 officials in question without receiving the list.
“The Committee has requested that the White House turn over the list to the Committee,” the aide said.
In the letter, the committee also requested information from the Executive Office of the President People Information Center database for nine current and former White House officials, including Kushner, Ivanka and national security adviser John Bolton. The aide said all nine of these officials were not necessarily among those who were initially denied clearances and said the records were being requested based on “previous public reporting” about issues with their clearances.
Republicans on the Oversight Committee released their own memo objecting to “Chairman Cummings’s unilateral and partisan investigation into White House security clearances.” That rebuttal said the Democrats’ memo amounted to “cherry-picked excerpts from Ms. Newbold’s transcribed interview” that were designed to justify a continuing investigation into the clearance process.
“Chairman Cummings solicited this material from Ms. Newbold despite Ms. Newbold’s stated reservations about discussing highly personal information about White House officials. We did not intend to release any material from the interview; however, Chairman Cummings’s reckless decision to release cherry-picked excerpts forces us to provide this supplemental information,” the Republican staffers said.
The Republican memo also argued Newbold had “limited” knowledge about the clearances in question and said GOP members of the committee were given short notice about her interview. It also noted that Newbold acknowledged the Trump administration had “improved some aspects of the security clearance processes” since last year.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is going on a leave of absence after becoming engulfed in a scandal about a series of children’s books she authored.
The Baltimore Sun reported last month that while serving on the University of Maryland Medical System’s (UMMS) board of directors, Pugh arranged deals beginning in 2001 to sell 100,000 copies of her self-published “Healthy Holly” series to the medical system at a total cost of $500,000. There were no competitive bids for the deal, and Pugh resigned from the board last month.
On Monday, the Sun reported that the health insurance giant Kaiser Permanente paid Pugh $114,000 for copies of her books from 2015 to 2018. In September 2017, the city’s spending board, which Pugh controls, awarded Kaiser a $48 million contract for insurance for city employees. Pugh has not said anything about a deal with Kaiser.
Pugh initially called the investigation into her deal with the UMMS a “witch hunt,” but has refunded $100,000 to the medical system.
“In hindsight, this arrangement with the University of Maryland Medical System was a regrettable mistake,” she said during a press conference Thursday.
Pugh said the system then gave the books to day care programs and the city school system. As of last month, at least 8,700 books Pugh sold the medical system sat unread in a warehouse.
Pugh’s office put out a statement Monday afternoon saying she would be taking time off for health reasons:
“Mayor Catherine Pugh has been battling pneumonia for the past few weeks. She has been advised by her physicians that she needs to take time to recover and focus on her health. At this time, with the Mayor’s health deteriorating, she feels as though she is unable to fulfill her obligations as Mayor of Baltimore City. To that end, Mayor Pugh will be taking an indefinite leave of absence to recuperate from this serious illness.”
Earlier Monday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan formally asked for an investigation into Pugh’s dealings.
„I am writing to you to request that you investigate the matters and facts surrounding Mayor Catherine Pugh’s sales of thousands of books to the University of Maryland Medical System while she was a board member,” Hogan wrote in a letter to State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt. “These are deeply disturbing allegations. I am particularly concerned about the UMMS sale because it has significant continuing ties with the state and receives very substantial public funding.”
Nine total members of the 30-person board had other business deals with the hospital system. Pugh’s indefinite leave of absence would begin at midnight Monday, with Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young set to fill in per the city’s charter.
Pugh’s political career began in 1999 when she won election to the City Council. After serving in the state Legislature and rising to the post of Senate majority leader, she clinched the mayoral office by winning 37 percent in the 2016 Democratic primary.
There is one book in the “Healthy Holly” series — titled “Exercising Is Fun” — on the Amazon website, listed as “currently unavailable.” It has nine one-star customer ratings, but it doesn’t appear as if any of the reviewers actually read the book.
This is not Pugh’s first foray into literature. In 2005, before she became mayor, she self-published a book of poetry titled “Mind Garden: Where Thoughts Grow.” An excerpt:
Can you take a politician at their word? For what is said . . . May not be what you heard . . . They can twist and turn and show concern . . . But what they spoke could be a joke . . .
The mayor’s troubles are the latest embarrassment for the city. On Friday, former Baltimore Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa was sentenced to 10 months in prison for failing to file federal tax returns.
MPs have already rejected the Brexit divorce deal three times, shredding May’s authority
London (AFP) – MPs on Monday once again failed to find a majority on any alternative Brexit plan before them, leaving Britain’s chaotic path towards leaving the EU mired in uncertainty less than two weeks before its departure date.
Brussels has set Britain an April 12 deadline to agree to the divorce terms Prime Minister Theresa May has struck with the bloc, find an alternative or crash out of the European Union.
MPs have already rejected the Brexit divorce deal three times, shredding May’s authority.
Parliament’s lower House of Commons seized the initiative last week by holding a first round of votes on eight alternative Brexit options but failed to find a majority on any of them.
Refining them down to four, backbenchers voted again on Monday, hoping to find one solution that most of them could agree on.
All four failed to find a majority although the result was close for proposals to hold a second referendum and negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU.
Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay hinted the government could now bring its deal back for a fourth vote this week and avoid a longer delay to Brexit that would mean holding European Parliament elections in May.
He warned that otherwise „the default legal position is the UK will leave the EU in just 11 days time” without a deal — an option that experts have warned could cause huge economic disruption on both sides of the Channel.
„Cabinet will meet in the morning to consider the results of tonight’s vote and how we should proceed,” Barclay said.
The EU has called an emergency summit for April 10 and warned that without a plan, Britain risks abruptly ending ties with its largest trading partner two days later, causing huge economic disruption.
„With our British friends we have had a lot of patience, but even patience is running out,” European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker told Italian television channel Rai 1.
Following the result, Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the European Parliament’s Brexit committee, said: „A hard Brexit becomes nearly inevitable”.
When MPs meet again on Wednesday „the UK has a last chance to break the deadlock or face the abyss,” Verhofstadt said.
– Elusive majority –
Britain voted by 52 percent to leave the EU in a 2016 referendum, but the process has been mired in divisions over the terms of the divorce and what kind of future ties to seek.
The political chaos forced May to postpone Britain’s exit from the original date of March 29, but she said it would be „unacceptable” for a further delay beyond European Parliament elections on May 23-26.
Frustrated with her approach, MPs last week gave themselves powers to find an alternative strategy, by holding so-called „indicative votes” on a range of different Brexit options.
They brought them back on Monday but once again, nothing produced a majority, even with May’s cabinet abstaining.
The first motion, calling for the government to negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU, was defeated by 276 votes to 273.
The second option, dubbed „Common Market 2.0”, would accept May’s divorce terms but require her to negotiate a new EU customs arrangement and membership of the EU single market. It was beaten by 282 votes to 261.
A vote on plans for a second referendum went down by 292 to 280.
The final option, which would have instructed government to revoke the legislation to leave the EU a day before Britain is due to crash out, was rejected by 292 to 191.
Nick Boles, a Conservative MP who had proposed the Common Market 2.0 plan, announced he was leaving the party after the vote.
„I have given everything to an attempt to find a compromise,” an emotional Boles told parliament.
„I accept I have failed. I have failed chiefly because my party refuses to compromise. I regret therefore to announce I can no longer sit for this party,” he said.
Cabinet ministers will meet on Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the ballots, and could still decide to hold a fourth vote on May’s deal on Wednesday or Thursday.
The votes by MPs were are not legally binding but would have been politically hard to ignore if a majority was found.
This past Friday, former assemblywoman Lucy Flores published an essay titled „An Awkward Kiss Changed How I Saw Joe Biden,” in which she detailed an incident from 2014, when she was running for lieutenant governor in Nevada. At the time, Biden had decided to attend a rally for Flores in order to boost voter turnout, and the two were waiting backstage together.
Flores wrote, „As I was taking deep breaths and preparing myself to make my case to the crowd, I felt two hands on my shoulders. I froze. ‘Why is the vice-president of the United States touching me?’ I felt him get closer to me from behind. He leaned further in and inhaled my hair. I was mortified. I thought to myself, ‘I didn’t wash my hair today and the vice-president of the United States is smelling it. And also, what in the actual fuck? Why is the vice-president of the United States smelling my hair?’ He proceeded to plant a big slow kiss on the back of my head. My brain couldn’t process what was happening. I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was confused.”
She continued, „He stopped treating me like a peer the moment he touched me. Even if his behavior wasn’t violent or sexual, it was demeaning and disrespectful. I wasn’t attending the rally as his mentee or even his friend; I was there as the most qualified person for the job,” before referencing how other articles over the years have critiqued Biden’s inappropriate behavior toward women.
Flores later went on CNN, where she said she hopes her essay evolves into a bigger discussion „about how there is no accountability structure within our political space.” She said, „We are not protected in politics, and frankly, on a much larger scale, we also need to have a conversation about powerful men feeling that they have the right to invade a woman’s space whenever they’d like.”
State of the Union
Lucy Flores: “Of course I want him to change his behavior. And I want him to acknowledge that it was wrong. And I want this to be a bigger discussion about how there is no accountability structure within our political space. … We are not protected in politics” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/WgrPz6iPzk
Early on Sunday, Biden released a statement in response: „In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expression of affection, support and comfort. And not once-never-did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”
He continued, „I may not recall these moments the same way, and I may be surprised at what I hear. But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will.”
While Biden, who has been rumored to be considering entering the 2020 presidential race, has yet to announce if he’s running, a few of the other 2020 candidates have spoken out about Flores’s essay. Sen. Bernie Sanders told CBS he has „no reason not to believe Lucy,” and when asked whether he thinks the accusation is disqualifying, Sanders said, „I think that’s a decision for the vice president to make. I’m not sure that one incident alone disqualifies anybody.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren also said she believes Flores and added, „Joe Biden needs to give an answer.” When asked whether Biden should still enter the race, Warren said, „That’s for Joe Biden to decide.” Similarly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar told ABCshe has „no reason not to believe” Flores and that Biden will „continue to address [the incident] if he decides to get into this race.”
— Additional reporting by Mike Isikoff.
Pope Francis celebrates mass in the Moroccan capital Rabat
Rabat (AFP) – Pope Francis has called for tolerance and peace at a mass for thousands of Catholics during a rare visit by a pontiff to Morocco, after warning the faithful there against trying to convert others.
Ten thousand worshippers, many migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, packed a sports complex in Rabat on Sunday as the pope rounded off his two-day stay in the Muslim North African state.
„Often we are tempted to believe that hatred and revenge are legitimate ways of ensuring quick and effective justice,” the 82-year-old pontiff told those gathered.
„Yet experience tells us that hatred, division and revenge succeed only in killing our peoples’ soul, poisoning our children’s hopes, and destroying and sweeping away everything we cherish.”
Ahead of the mass the pope insisted to an audience of around 400 at Rabat’s cathedral that trying to convert people to one’s own belief „always leads to an impasse”.
„Please, no proselytism!” he said.
– Visit with migrants –
Christians are a tiny minority in Morocco where 99 percent of the population is Muslim, with sub-Saharan Africans making up a large part of the country’s 30,000-strong Catholic community.
Islam is the state religion and authorities are keen to stress the country’s „religious tolerance”, which allows Christians and Jews to worship freely.
But Moroccans are automatically considered Muslim if they are not born into the Jewish community, apostasy is socially frowned upon, and proselytising is criminalised.
„I protect Moroccan Jews as well as Christians from other countries, who are living in Morocco,” King Mohammed VI told crowds on Saturday, following the pontiff’s arrival.
There are a few thousand Christian converts in Morocco, who since 2017 have called openly for the right to live „without persecution” and „without discrimination”.
Francis is the first pontiff to visit the North African country since John Paul II in 1985 and the cathedral had been repainted for the occasion.
Waiting for the pope outside, a Nigerian man said the visit „shows that living together is possible in Morocco”.
But „there are things to improve, notably the question of migrants and that of Moroccan Christians”, said 36-year-old Antoine, who works for an association to defend migrant rights.
The need to support migrants was mentioned again Sunday by Francis, who has made the issue a focal point of his papacy.
On Saturday he visited migrants at a Caritas charity centre, where the pope criticised „collective expulsions” and said ways for migrants to regularise their status should be encouraged.
Morocco says it has a „humanistic” approach to migration and rejects allegations by rights groups of „brutal arrest campaigns” and „forced displacement” to the country’s southern border.
– Jerusalem declaration –
Earlier on Sunday, Francis visited a social centre run by nuns and volunteers near Rabat, including a health centre where he met with unwell children.
The Moroccan king also welcomed Francis to the royal palace, where the two addressed the „sacred character of Jerusalem” in a joint declaration.
The city should be a „symbol of peaceful coexistence” for Christians, Jews and Muslims, they said in a statement released by the Vatican.
„The specific multi-religious character, the spiritual dimension and the particular cultural identity of Jerusalem… must be protected and promoted,” said the text, which was jointly signed at Rabat’s royal palace.
The Moroccan king chairs a committee created by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to safeguard and restore Jerusalem’s religious, cultural and architectural heritage.
Jerusalem’s status is one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Israel sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern sector as the capital of their future state.
Returning to Rome later Sunday, Francis told reporters on board the papal plane the „presumption of innocence” must prevail in relation to the appeal by French cardinal Philippe Barbarin who was handed a six-month suspended jail sentence earlier this month for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his authority.
„When the second court delivers a sentence we will see what happens,” the pope said, warning against a „superficial media condemnation”.
„Perhaps he is not innocent, but it must be presumed that he is,” he added.
In another interview the pope said a process of „healing” had started within the Church in the wake of a paedophilia summit in February, but acknowledged guilty priests had not been punished.
He told Spanish TV station La Sexta he understood that many were disappointed at the lack of concrete results of the landmark Vatican summit, but insisted progress was being made.
Caputova, a 45-year-old environmental lawyer, won a clear victory Saturday over the ruling party’s candidate
Bratislava (AFP) – The election of Zuzana Caputova as Slovakia’s first female president was hailed Sunday as a vote for change, with the anti-graft activist expected to provide a check on a government tarnished after last year’s murder of a journalist.
The 45-year-old environmental lawyer’s clear victory Saturday over the ruling party’s candidate was a blow to the populist-left Smer-SD — the largest grouping in parliament — and could spell trouble for them in the EU elections and next year’s general vote.
She is a relative political newcomer known for taking part in mass anti-government protests last year after the shootings of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee. The uproar toppled the then-premier.
Caputova won 58.4 percent of the vote according to a final tally of results released Sunday, compared with 41.6 percent for her ruling party rival, EU energy commissioner Maros Sefcovic.
„A candidate embodying democratic forces has won, and Sefcovic, who was a symbol of continuity, has lost,” analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP.
Headlines from the country’s newspapers on Sunday suggested the vote was a fresh start for the central European nation of 5.4 million.
„Zuzana Caputova gives us hope but the real fight will only come now,” said Dennik N, a leading opposition daily.
European Council President Donald Tusk congratulated Caputova Sunday, tweeting: „A strong vote, at the heart of Europe, for decency in politics, rule of law and tolerance.”
Caputova ran on the slogan of „Stand up to evil” but made a point of keeping her rhetoric measured.
„Let us look for what connects us. Let us promote cooperation above personal interests,” she said as the results rolled in.
The office of president is largely ceremonial, but the role does involve ratifying international treaties, appointing top judges. The president is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and can veto laws passed by parliament.
Analyst Aneta Vilagi predicted Caputova would „engage in a purposeful confrontation with the government… rather than become an opposition president criticising everything the ruling coalition does.”
Yet „she will represent a stronger system of checks and balances in relation to the government than Sefcovic would have.”
– ‘Justice for all’ –
Caputova, who will be sworn in on June 15, is no stranger to tough battles. She is known for having successfully blocked a planned landfill in her hometown of Pezinok after a decade-long grassroots campaign.
She was also one of the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after Kuciak’s death in February 2018.
The journalist had been preparing to publish a story on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia.
The killings forced then prime minister Robert Fico to resign but he remains the Smer-SD’s leader and is a close ally of the current premier.
Five people have been charged, including a millionaire businessman with alleged Smer-SD ties who is suspected of ordering the murders over Kuciak’s investigation into his activity.
Speaking to AFP on the campaign trail, Caputova said she would „initiate systematic changes that would deprive prosecutors and the police of political influence.”
In addition to fighting for justice for all, Caputova had promised better care for the elderly and environmental protection.
– Fresh approach –
Teacher Iveta Rabelyova said „Caputova has challenged the typical image of a top politician: she is a woman, divorced, a political novice.”
„It is a good feeling that our citizens chose someone who breaks all these stereotypes,” the 34-year-old told AFP.
„Women are under-represented at top-level posts, this might begin to change now,” added the resident of the southern town of Komarno.
Many Slovaks who voted for Sefcovic had said the important position necessitated a man, yet „Caputova won despite her sex” according to analyst Vilagi.
She had been „a strong opponent to Sefcovic more because of her story, her personality, values,” Vilagi told AFP.
Caputova also won in conservative, Catholic Slovakia despite being openly pro-choice and promoting greater rights for same-sex couples.
Sefcovic had tried to use that liberal stance to his advantage by stressing traditional family values on the campaign trail, appealing to voters „who insist that Slovakia remain a Christian country.”
But according to official statistics, Caputova not only won over big-city voters but she also took the lead for the more conservative rural elecorate, if by a slim margin.
Yet fewer than 42 percent of eligible voters chose to cast a ballot — compared to 50 percent at the last presidential run-off — suggesting that Caputova’s idea of change was not to the liking of everyone fed up with the main political players.
A Vietnamese woman accused of assassinating Kim Jong-un’s half-brother pled guilty to a lesser charge on Monday and may now be freed in early May.
Doan Thi Huong, 29, had been facing the death penalty after being charged with the murder of Kim Jong Nam, 45, who died in February 2017 after the Vietnamese woman and an accomplice allegedly smeared toxic VX agent on his face at Kuala Lumpur airport.
Her high-profile trial in a Malaysian court ended abruptly on Monday after prosecutors offered to reduce the murder charge to a lesser one of “causing hurt by a dangerous weapon.”
Ms Doan accepted the plea deal and was sentenced to just over three years in prison, with the jail term backdated to her arrest in 2017.
“It is my view that the length of imprisonment would serve the interest of justice,” said Judge Azmi Ariffin, as he announced the verdict. He told Ms Doan that she was “very very lucky” and he wished her “all the best.”
The defendant stood up in the dock and thanked the judge, prosecutors and the Malaysian and Vietnamese governments.
As she left the courtroom, she told reporters she was happy and hoped to be a singer and actress when she returned to Vietnam.
Hisyam Teh Poh Teik, her lawyer, said she was expected to be freed by the first week of May, after a one third reduction in her sentence for good behaviour.
Ms Doan had been the sole remaining suspect on trial for the painful, public death of Kim whose body seized up and organs shut down within minutes of inhaling the VX agent in the departures hall of the busy international airport.
Vietnam also publicly appealed to the Malaysian authorities for the fair treatment and acquittal of Ms Doan who her lawyers said had been left “traumatised” that she had been left to face charges alone.
The two women, from impoverished backgrounds and with aspirations in showbusiness, claimed that they had been duped into believing they were actors in a reality TV prank show and had no intention to murder Kim.
Their legal teams argued that the women had been cynically used as pawns in an audacious Cold War-style assassination of a potential future challenger to Kim Jong-un, who maintains an iron grip on power in reclusive North Korea.
Four North Korean suspects in the murder remain at large, although Pyongyang has always denied any state involvement in the crime.
Le Quy Qunyh, the Vietnamese ambassador to Malaysia, said he was “very happy” that Ms Doan had been released and thanked the Vietnamese and Malaysian governments.
“But I have to say that Doan Thi Huong is a victim in this case, like the Indonesian citizen, Siti Aisyah,” he added.
(Bloomberg) — Caracas residents blocked streets and set fires after electricity went out again Sunday in Venezuela’s capital and some other regions, fueling a climate of political unrest.
Power went out in all of western Zulia state at 9:55 a.m., Willy Casanova, mayor of the city of Maracaibo, said on Twitter. The outage extended to most of the country, the Panorama newspaper reported. Netblocks.org, which tracks internet disruptions globally, said only 15 percent of the country had internet after the power failure.
Weeks of power cuts have increased instability in Venezuela. With President Nicolas Maduro unable to restore power, he has accused National Assembly head Juan Guaido — whom some 50 governments, including the U.S., recognize as interim president — of a conspiracy.
Maduro in a speech late Sunday on national television announced a 30-day power rationing plan, which he said would help the country deal with the outages. The embattled president also warned against any further unrest.
Fuerzas Armadas, a main traffic artery in the capital, was a focal point of the protests, which followed power cuts over the preceding two days. Maduro said this week that the government plans to ration power as authorities try to fix what industry experts say is a poorly maintained national grid that badly needs investment.
Guaido said two protesters on Fuerzas Armadas suffered bullet wounds, without giving further details. Pro-government paramilitary motorcycle gangs are taking the lead in repressing protests because many soldiers are also upset by the deteriorating conditions, he said.
“Of course we would like a transition to democracy that is peaceful, democratic, quick above all and immediate,” Guaido said in an interview on CNN en Espanol Sunday night. The loss of lives during this power struggle results from Maduro’s resistance to a democratic and constitutional transition of power, he said.
Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said power went out Friday and Saturday evenings because of attacks on the national power grid, Venezuelan national television reported. Without providing evidence, Maduro has blamed President Donald Trump and the Venezuelan opposition for alleged attacks seeking to spark unrest and oust him from power.
Schools will remain closed on Monday while public and private institutions work a shorter day to 2 p.m. until further notice, Rodriguez said on state television.
The alleged attacks caused considerable damage at the Guri hydroelectric plant, affecting generators, transmission and distribution, the government said in an emailed statement. The government said it’s applying “all its strength” to repair the system.
(Updates with Guaido comments starting in sixth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Andrew Rosati.
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BEIRUT (AP) — A Turkish soldier was killed in a mortar attack on Sunday near the northern Syrian town of Afrin, the Turkish ministry of defense said, blaming the attack on „terrorists” and responding with a barrage of shelling.
The ministry said another soldier was wounded in the attack, and that Turkish forces had struck back against „terrorist targets.”
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said Turkey shelled at least three villages north of the town of Afrin, mainly causing material damage.
Turkey and allied Syrian fighters took control of Afrin last year, expelling local Kurdish fighters that Ankara considers terrorists. The Turkish takeover set off a series of attacks against Turkey’s presence in the originally Kurdish-dominated areas.
The Observatory said at least 140 Turkish shells hit the villages. The area north of Afrin is controlled by the Syrian government, but Kurdish militia fighters have maintained some presence there.
The Kurdish-run Hawar news agency also reported the shelling but gave no details on casualties.
Local elections in Turkey
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AKP) candidate for Istanbul mayor said he had won Sunday’s election but his opposition rival said the declaration was premature.
Speaking after more than 98 percent of ballot boxes had been opened, AKP candidate and former prime minister Binali Yildirim said his party had won. Opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu dismissed Yildirim’s statement as a „manipulation” and said that votes were still being counted.
Turkish broadcasters said the latest count, with 98.8 percent of ballot boxes opened, showed Yildirim with a razor-thin lead having secured 4,111,219 votes against Imamoglu’s 4,106,776.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)
Multiple airlines, including Southwest, American and Delta, saw their planes temporarily grounded early Monday morning due to a computer outage in a central system. As a result, travelers can expect lingering flight delays as airlines play catch-up.
The Federal Aviation Administration said several airlines experienced issues with AeroData, a program that provides weight-and-balance information that is necessary to grant clearance for takeoff. The FAA said severity varied by airline.
Southwest Airlines said the outage grounded flights for about 40 minutes.
Airline spokesman Dan Landson said that scattered flight delays are anticipated and customers should check Southwest.com for the latest updates on specific flights.
„We’re working with customers on any impacts to their travel plans and we appreciate their understanding as we place nothing higher than the safe operation of every flight,” he said in a statement.
“Earlier this morning, AeroData had a technical issue that impacted a few of our regional carriers,” American spokesman Ross Feinstein said in a statement. „This technical issue has been resolved. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”
Delta spokeswoman Savannah Huddleston said that airline was also back up and running after the AeroData outage, which had prevented its regional Delta Connection flights from taking off.
“A brief third-party technology issue that prevented some Delta Connection flights from being dispatched on time this morning has been resolved,” she said in a statement. ”No cancellations are expected due to the issue and our teams are working to resolve some resulting delays.”
Delta advised travelers to check their flight’s status.
Passengers complaining about the delays on Twitter said they were told it was a pilot paperwork issue.
Task and Purpose
Or maybe not.
F-15s on Steroids: Why the F-15X Should Make F-35 Fans Pretty Nervous
“In any of the fights that we have been asked to plan for, more fifth gen aircraft make a huge difference, and we think that getting to 50-50 means not buying new fourth-gen aircraft, it means continuing to increase the fifth generation.”
Brace yourselves: the Department of Defense is eyeing a brand new variant of the storied F-15 Eagle to rule the skies, the U.S. military’s first purchase of the storied aircraft in more than 15 years.
(This first appeared several months ago.)
Bloomberg Government reports that the Pentagon plans on asking lawmakers for $1.2 billion to procure 12 Boeing’s F-15X fighters as part of its fiscal year 2020 budget request. The request, if approved, would be the Air Force’s first F-15 purchase since 2001, when it snatched up a handful of F-15E Strike Eagle variants.
The proposed variant of the 45-year-old fourth-generation fighter, whose existence was first reported by Defense One in July, was described by The War Zone as the product of a “quiet” inquiry to Boeing and Lockheed Martin regarding a new aircraft that “could seamlessly plug into their existing air combat infrastructure as part of better-defined high-low capability mix strategy.”
Here are some of the technical details of the F-15X’s technical details and intended capabilities, courtesy of the War Zone:
The F-15X configuration is impressive as it includes a flat-panel glass cockpit, JHMCS II helmet mounted display (HMD), revised internal wing structure, fly-by-wire controls, APG-82 AESA radar, activation of outer wing stations one and nine, advanced mission computer, low-profile heads-up display, updated radio and satellite communications, the highly advanced Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System (EPAWSS) electronic warfare and electronic surveillance suite, Legion Pod-mounted infrared search and track system (IRST) and the list goes on.
With the help of the company’s new AMBER missile carrying racks, the F-15X will be able to carry a whopping 22 air-to-air missiles during a single sortie. Alternatively, it could fly with eight air-to-air missiles and 28 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs), or up to seven 2,000lb bombs and eight air-to-air missiles. We are talking crazy weapons hauling capabilities here. Keep in mind that the F-15C/D Eagle can carry eight air-to-air missiles currently, and the penultimate Eagle variant that is currently being built, the F-15SA, can carry a dozen.
If purchased, the F-15X aircraft will reportedly end up in the hands of several Air National Guard units as a replacement for the service’s current F-15C aircraft. But at the moment, it appears any acquisition of the advanced F-15 variant will prove an uphill battle within the Pentagon.
According to Bloomberg Government, the push for the new aircraft came from senior leaders within the Pentagon like deputy secretary of defense Pat Shanahan “and not the Air Force, which would be flying the planes.”
Indeed, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in September stated that the Air Force had no interest in picking up the fourth-generation F-15X, preferring instead to invest in expanding its fleet of fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
“We are currently 80 percent fourth-gen aircraft and 20 percent fifth-generation aircraft,” Wilson told Defense News in a Sept. 5 interview. “In any of the fights that we have been asked to plan for, more fifth gen aircraft make a huge difference, and we think that getting to 50-50 means not buying new fourth-gen aircraft, it means continuing to increase the fifth generation.”
The National Interest’s Dave Majumdar put the Air Force’s skepticism more bluntly: “It’s amazing this Boeing sales pitch is being swallowed hook, line, and sinker by the trade press . . . The Air Force will never buy this jet. It is useless inside heavily defended airspace if we are dealing with any sort of real military force.”
This originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter.