Hours after being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on a charge of “incitement of insurrection,” President Trump released a video in which he called for calm from those who plan to take to the streets to protest President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.
“There has been reporting that additional demonstrations are being planned in the coming days both here in Washington and across the country. I have been briefed by the U.S. Secret Service on the potential threats,” Trump said in a video posted to YouTube, a site that had restricted his use in recent days. “Every American deserves to have their voice heard in a respectful and peaceful way. That is your First Amendment right, but I cannot emphasize that there must be no violence, no law-breaking and no vandalism of any kind.”
On Tuesday, the FBI warned in a bulletin that “armed protests” were expected at state capitols across the country from Jan. 16 through Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.
“On 8 January, the FBI received information on an identified group calling for others to join them in ‘storming’ state, local and federal government courthouses and administrative buildings in the event POTUS is removed as President prior to Inauguration Day. This identified group is also planning to ‘storm’ government offices including in the District of Columbia and in every state, regardless of whether the states certified electoral votes for Biden or Trump, on 20 January,” the bulletin stated.
A Joint Intelligence Bulletin, a product of the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and National Counterterrorism Center, obtained by Yahoo News on Wednesday stated that insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week will likely spur domestic extremists to carry out more violent attacks.
Trump’s second impeachment, which the House passed Wednesday, came one week after he spoke to thousands of supporters at a rally near the White House. Immediately afterwards, many of those who attended marched to the U.S. Capitol, broke into the building and disrupted the certification of the Electoral College vote in Biden’s favor. Five people died in the riot, and a Capitol Police officer who was on duty at the time was later reported to have committed suicide.
Trump himself had summoned his followers to the nation’s capital, promising them a “wild” event, and in his speech exhorted them to “fight like hell” to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he insists was tainted by vote fraud.
State governors and election officials of both parties insist the election was honest, and numerous legal challenges to the results have failed.
Notably, Trump did not correct his debunked claims of voter fraud in the new video. Instead he called for an end to violence “whether you are on the right or on the left.” Self-described “antifascist” and Black Lives Matter protesters held demonstrations in numerous cities last summer, some of which turned violent, in response to a series of police killings of Black men and women. But there is nothing to suggest that the rioters who took over the Capitol were other than the same Trump supporters who had just come from his “Stop the Steal” rally.
Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., also gave fiery speeches at the rally.
In a video posted last week as his supporters continued to skirmish with police inside and outside the Capitol, Trump had also told the crowd to disperse, but added, “We love you, you’re very special.” That video was removed by YouTube, which said it contained messages that could be interpreted as encouraging further violence.
House Democrats and 10 House Republicans cast votes Wednesday signifying their belief that Trump’s role in inciting the insurrection as disqualifying him for the presidency.
“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-most-powerful Republican in the House, wrote in a statement. “Everything that followed was his doing. None of this would have happened without the President. The President could have immediately and forcefully intervened to stop the violence. He did not. There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”
In his new video, Trump struck a very different note than he had last week, or for almost all of the last four years. “Mob violence goes against everything I believe in,” Trump said, “and everything our movement stands for. No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence.”
But footage from the riot showed that those who attacked the Capitol considered themselves true supporters of the president, who believed they were acting on his wishes.
In his latest message, which YouTube allowed to be posted to its platform despite an earlier suspension of his account, Trump noted that he had activated National Guard troops to help protect Washington as Biden’s inauguration approached.
“I have directed federal agencies to use all necessary resources to maintain order,” Trump said. “In Washington, D.C., we are bringing in thousands of National Guard members to secure the city and ensure that a transition can occur safely and without incident.”
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen also warned Wednesday that violent protest would not be tolerated.
“I want to send a clear message to anyone contemplating violence, threats of violence or other criminal conduct,” Rosen said. “We will have no tolerance whatsoever for any attempts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power on Jan. 20 that our Constitution calls for.”
A recurring refrain from Republicans who voted against Trump’s impeachment on Wednesday was that impeaching Trump would lead to more disorder and strife. The president seemed to be trying to reinforce that message.
“Now I am asking everyone who has ever believed in our agenda to be thinking of ways to ease tensions, calm tempers and help to promote peace in our country,” Trump said.
One might think Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would be preoccupied with shoring up the United States’ battered international image after his boss encouraged a mob that stormed the Capitol in a bid to reverse the outcome of the last election, leaving five dead.
But America’s top foreign policy official has more pressing matters to attend to. Besides burnishing his reputation with a barrage of over 200 self-congratulatory tweets, he’s spending his final days in office throwing diplomatic banana peels in the path of his successors by formally, but oh so very spuriously, designating foreign actors he doesn’t like as terrorists.
Unfortunately, Pompeo’s efforts to stick it to the Biden administration will impose harsh and entirely unnecessary costs on millions of civilians. Though ultimately reversible, the policies will inflict collateral damage on innocent people while the monthslong review process to terminate them is completed
Pompeo began on Sunday by designating the Houthis, a rebel group that controls large parts of Yemen, as a “foreign terrorist organization.” On Monday, he followed suit by designating Cuba a state sponsor of terrorism.
The more obviously outrageous of Pompeo’s moves is that against Cuba. Yes, the country systematically represses political dissent and has a poor human rights record, and it’s allied with countries on bad terms with Washington, notably Venezuela. But that’s simply not the same as sponsoring terrorism.
The technicality Pompeo is leaning on for the accusation of terrorism is particularly risible. In 2018 Cuba agreed to a request from the Colombian government to provide safe harbor and passage to leaders of the ELN, a Marxist guerilla group in Colombia designated by the U.S. and others as a terrorist organization, so they could hold peace talks with Bogotá. But after the ELN claimed responsibility for a deadly bombing of a police academy in January 2019, a new Colombian government asked Cuba to drop its promise of safe passage and hand over the ELN leaders for trial, which Havana refused to do.
Not only is Cuba’s refusal to violate a safe harbor assurance made for peace negotiations a far cry from actually sponsoring terror attacks, but the U.S. has for years allowed other countries similar leeway — permitting Qatar to offer safe harbor to Taliban leaders, for instance, to carry out peace talks with the U.S despite ongoing attacks on U.S. forces.
Pompeo’s announcement also cites Cuba’s refusal to extradite violent 1970s-era radicals and renounce its relationship with Venezuela as justifications. But do these grievances actually fulfill the criteria of having “repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” in any present day sense?
The misuse of the terrorism designation is generally understood to be a political handout to Cuban-American hard-liners who boosted President Donald Trump’s victory in Florida in November. But the terrorism designation will primarily harm Cuba’s tourism-oriented economy by impeding economic relations with other countries who could now run afoul of U.S. law for dealing with Cuba.That will succeed in hurting ordinary Cubans but not the regime’s hold on power.
Pompeo’s decision a day earlier to designate Yemen’s Houthi rebels as a foreign terrorist organization is superficially more defensible — but actually more fundamentally flawed, as it threatens graver consequences than the Cuba policy.
The Houthi rebels, who govern the majority of Yemen’s population centers, including the capital of Sanaa, are undeniably a violent group. They seized control of much of the country in 2015 and are now at war with Saudi forces and Yemeni factions seeking to restore the former government, and receive a moderate degree of material support from Iran in their military undertakings.
In this wartime context, the Houthis have launched attacks against targets in Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (which mostly bowed out of the conflict in 2019). However, they have not launched any significant attacks against the U.S. or its close ally Israel.
The definition for a foreign terrorist organization specifies that the country or group must have carried out or intends to carry out politically motivated attacks on noncombatants that specifically threaten U.S. interests. While Houthi missile attacks have indiscriminately killed civilians, the same is true on a far larger scale of Saudi airstrikes — which have killed thousands of Yemeni civilians — while enjoying support from President Barack Obama and then Trump.
The terrorist group designation is undoubtedly intended as a parting gift to a country Trump still sees as a loyal partner, as well as a means to ratchet up pressure on Iran by designating its increasingly open support for the Houthis as aid to terrorists — which may help undermine Biden’s already difficult project of reviving the nuclear deal with Iran that Trump quit.
To be sure, the Houthis are guilty of indiscriminate and brutal acts. But by designating a rebel army with purely regional goals as an international terror group, Pompeo is fomenting a humanitarian crisis that will most heavily affect the over 16 million Yemeni civilians who live in areas controlled by the Houthis.
That’s because the terror designation makes humanitarian aid groups potentially criminally culpable for delivering food and medical assistance to those areas, with possibly devastating consequences for the 80 percent of Yemen’s population that depends on humanitarian aid. Though Pompeo has signaled that the designation’s legal powers will not be used against humanitarian groups, legal protections for aid groups were not carved out in Pompeo’s rush to roll out the terrorism designation.
Pompeo knows this decision will create a mess his successor will have to clean up, as two years earlier the Trump administration decided not to apply such a designation precisely for fear it would impede aid deliveries.
And never mind that decades of U.S. sanctions on Cuba and years of war in Yemen should have long ago shattered any illusions that heaping additional disapproval on Havana or the Houthis will force them to go away.
The damage of this irresponsible move sadly extends beyond Cuba and Yemen. Pompeo’s flagrant misuse of the “terrorism” designation also weakens the application of the term to states and groups that indisputably carry out terrorist activities. After all, the presumed moral authority driving the list, and adherence to it by foreign companies, could evaporate if its powers are used frivolously against states and armed groups that don’t fit the billing.
Fortunately, the Biden administration can — and in both cases almost certainly will — reverse Pompeo’s last-minute designations. However, it will require a contentious and time-consuming review process that will needlessly consume tax dollars and political capital.
That suits Pompeo and Trump just fine, of course, as it will create new opportunities to gin up outrage against Biden and gum up the works of his foreign policy agenda. But that doesn’t make these acts of “diplomatic vandalism” against America’s foreign policy any less deliberate or puerile.
A retired firefighter was arrested Thursday amid allegations that he threw a fire extinguisher at U.S. Capitol Police officers during last week’s violent insurrection in the halls of Congress.
Robert Sanford, 55, of Pennsylvania, turned himself in to the FBI this week and faces four charges: assaulting a police officer, disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, unlawfully entering the Capitol and civil disorder. Three of those charges are felonies, and Sanford was ordered held without bail.
Sanford retired from the Chester Fire Department, near Philadelphia, last year. A week after the riot, a friend contacted federal investigators to turn Sanford in, saying he had known him for years and that Sanford had confessed “he was the person the FBI was looking for” after the agency sent out public appeals to help identify rioters.
Federal officials told a judge that Sanford appeared to throw a “red object” during the riot in video footage obtained after the attack. The riot left five people dead, including one Capitol Police officer (the charges against Sanford are not related to the death of Officer Brian Sicknick, who was also attacked with a fire extinguisher and later died).
“The object appears to strike one officer, who was wearing a helmet, in the head,” the FBI said in a court filing of Sanford’s alleged acts. “The object then ricochets and strikes another officer, who was not wearing a helmet, in the head. The object then ricochets a third time and strikes a third officer, wearing a helmet, in the head. Immediately after throwing the object, the Subject moves quickly in the opposite direction.”
Sanford’s lawyer told The Associated Press that his client was “caught up in the mob mentality.” The attorney has asked for Sanford to be released on bail, pointing to his long career as a firefighter.
Prosecutors also noted that a search warrant executed at Sanford’s home uncovered a shirt bearing markings linked to the far-right Proud Boys, although his lawyer denied his client owned such an item.
The FBI has received more than 126,000 tips as federal agents scour video footage for evidence to charge those who broke that law during the insurrection. Dozens have been arrested, including a man on Thursday who was photographed in the Capitol holding a Confederate battle flag.
Sanford’s case will be prosecuted in Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. humanitarian chief is urging the United States to reverse its decision to declare Yemen’s Houthi rebels a terrorist group, warning that the designation will likely lead to “a large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years.”
Mark Lowcock planned to make the appeal in a speech to the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared the Iranian-backed Houthis a “foreign terrorist organization” late Sunday and said the designation will take effect Jan. 19, President Donald Trump’s last full day in office before Joe Biden is inaugurated as president.
Aid organizations and senior Republicans also have warned that the U.S. designation could have a devastating humanitarian impact on the conflict-wracked nation facing the risk of famine.
Lowcock said data show that 16 million of Yemen’s 30 million people will go hungry this year.
“Already, about 50,000 people are essentially starving to death in what is essentially a small famine,” he said. “Another 5 million are just one step behind them.”
Lowcock said every decision made now must take this into account.
Stressing that the terrorist designation has companies pulling back from dealing with Yemenis, Lowcock warned that famine will not be prevented by the licenses the United States has said it will introduce so some humanitarian aid and imports can continue to reach Yemen.
“What would prevent it? A reversal of the decision,” Lowcock said.
He said Yemen imports 90% of its food, nearly all purchased through commercial channels, so aid shipments cannot be enough to stave off hunger.
“Aid agencies give people vouchers or cash to buy commercially imported food in the market. Aid agencies cannot — they simply cannot — replace the commercial import system,” he said.
Six years of war between a U.S.-backed Arab coalition and the Houthi rebels have been catastrophic for Yemen, killing more than 112,000 people and wrecking infrastructure from roads and hospitals to water and electricity networks. It began with the Houthi takeover of the north in 2014, which prompted a destructive air campaign by the Saudi-led coalition, aimed at restoring the internationally recognized government.
The Houthis, who receive financial and military support from Iran, rule the capital and Yemen’s north where the majority of the population lives, forcing international aid groups to work with them. Agencies depend on the Houthis to deliver aid, and they pay salaries to Houthis to do so.
The U.S. designation is part of the Trump administration’s broader effort to isolate and cripple Iran. It also shows support to its close ally, Saudi Arabia, which leads the anti-Houthi coalition in the war. Saudi Arabia advocated the terror designation, hoping it would pressure the rebels to reach a peace deal. Past rounds of peace talks and cease-fire agreements have faltered.
Lowcock, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said the U.N. talked to commercial traders when the U.S. first raised the possibility of designating the Houthis as terrorists, and they said they weren’t sure they would be able to continue importing food.
After the U.S. announcement, Lowcock said, the U.N. went back to the traders and “the Yemeni companies who bring in most of the food are using words like `disaster,’ `havoc’ and `unimaginable’ when they describe to us what they fear is coming.”
He said global suppliers, bankers, shippers and insurers for Yemen companies are “very risk-averse” and some are now phoning their Yemeni partners saying “they now plan to walk away from Yemen altogether.”
“They say the risks are too high,” Lowcock said. “They fear being accidentally or otherwise caught up in U.S. regulatory action which would put them out of business or into jail.”
He said some hope they can keep going but if they can “their best-case estimate is that costs could go up by 400 percent” which would make it too expensive for many importers to do business and too expensive for Yemenis to buy food.