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Potentially explosive news surfaced yesterday of unsubstantiated reports, which have already been presented to President-elect Donald Trump, President Obama and the nation’s top lawmakers, and have now been published online by BuzzFeed, that claim Russia has compromising information on Trump and that Trump’s team knew about alleged Russian hacking and leaking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. The allegations were summarized in a two-page appendix to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which Trump was briefed on last week. The summary is based on memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative. The information in the memos, which has not been independently verified by the FBI, nor any major media outlets, includes claims that Trump representatives met multiple times with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign and discussed the hacking of the DNC and the email of Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. The memos also allege that Russia has a sex tape of Trump from 2013 involving sex workers. CNN is reporting some of these allegations were reported to top lawmakers during classified briefings last fall. In October, then-Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director Comey, writing, “It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government—a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States.” The Guardian is reporting the FBI applied for a warrant over the summer from the secret FISA court in order to monitor top Trump campaign members who the FBI suspected of being in communication with Russian officials. The Guardian reports the FISA court rejected the FBI’s initial application. Mother Jones was the first outlet to report some of these allegations, in an article the week before the election. In response to the publication of the unsubstantiated memos, journalist Glenn Greenwald expressed skepticism, tweeting, “An anonymous person, claiming to be an ex-British intel agent & working as a Dem oppo researcher, said anonymous people told him things.” Following the news reports Tuesday, comedian Seth Meyers questioned Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway about the reports. Conway was recently named by Trump to the position of counselor to the president. This clip begins with Conway.
Kellyanne Conway: “We should be concerned that intelligence officials leaked to the press and won’t go and tell the president-elect or the president of the United States himself now, Mr. Obama, what the information is. They would rather go tell the press as unnamed sources.”
Seth Meyers: “But the report was—the press report was about them—”
Kellyanne Conway: “It’s an allegation.”
Seth Meyers: “—going to the president.”
Kellyanne Conway: “And it says that they never briefed him on it, that they appended two pages to the bottom of his intelligence report.”
Seth Meyers: “I believe it said they did brief him on it.”
Kellyanne Conway: “He has said that he is not aware of that.”
Seth Meyers: OK. That concerns me.”
Kellyanne Conway: “No.”
Seth Meyers: “I’m concerned.”
Kellyanne Conway: “No. He is not aware—”
Seth Meyers: “But, in general, I just want to—”
Kellyanne Conway: “That’s not fair.”
Seth Meyers: “I understand. No, I understand that—”
Kellyanne Conway: “That’s not fair. And it’s not true.”
Seth Meyers: “What is not true? That I’m concerned?”
Kellyanne Conway: “No. That, I—that, I see.”
Seth Meyers: “OK. I assure you I am.”
Following the news reports, Trump tweeted, ”FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” Donald Trump is slated to give his first news conference in nearly six months today. Trump’s last news conference was on July 27, when he called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email servers.
President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. attorney general, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, faced more than nine hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which he denied being a racist and tried to distance himself from Trump’s most extreme promises. The hearing was repeatedly disrupted by protesters who chanted “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!” During one interruption, protesters wore white, hooded robes and pretended to be members of the Ku Klux Klan.
Protester: “Thank you so much for being here for all the people. What do we have to do? Wait a minute, you can’t arrest me. I’m white! White people don’t get arrested. Wait a minute. White people—what do we have to do? Wait for the inauguration? What is this craziness? I’m a white man! You cannot take me out of here! I own this country! White people own this country!”
During his two decades on Capitol Hill, Senator Sessions has opposed legislation that provides a path to citizenship for immigrants, questioned if the Constitution guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States, criticized the courts for interpreting the separation of church and state too broadly, and has declared same-sex marriage a threat to American culture. He also voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, opposed the Voting Rights Act and has a history of making racist comments, including reportedly saying he thought the Ku Klux Klan was “OK until I found out they smoked pot.” In 1986, Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing Sessions for a federal judgeship, writing, “The irony of Mr. Sessions’ nomination is that, if confirmed, he will be given a life tenure for doing with a federal prosecution what the local sheriffs accomplished twenty years ago with clubs and cattle prods. … I believe his confirmation would have a devastating effect on not only the judicial system in Alabama, but also on the progress we have made toward fulfilling my husband’s dream.” Sessions was not confirmed for the federal judgeship in 1986, over concerns about his history of racist comments. We’ll have more on Sessions’s confirmation hearing after headlines.
Confirmation hearings are continuing on Capitol Hill today with day two of questioning for Sessions, along with a hearing for Trump’s transportation secretary pick Elaine Chao and another for his choice for secretary of state, longtime CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson, who stepped down from his position in December. Tillerson could face questions about his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his position on Trump’s vow to “cancel” the Paris climate accord. Opponents also want Tillerson to respond to allegations that under his leadership ExxonMobil continued to work in close partnership with repressive regimes. A handful of the confirmation hearings scheduled for this week have been delayed, after concerns the nominees had not been vetted by the Office of Government Ethics. As of Monday afternoon, the ethics disclosure reports for four Trump nominees slated to go before the Senate this week had not been made public at all. The hearings have now been delayed for Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary nominee; Kansas Congressmember Mike Pompeo for CIA director; billionaire Wilbur Ross for commerce secretary; and Andrew Puzder for labor secretary.
Workers at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, the two fast-food chains run by Trump’s labor secretary pick Andrew Puzder, spoke about widespread wage theft and abuse at his restaurants on Tuesday during a forum hosted by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Washington Senator Patty Murray. A survey by Restaurant Opportunities Center United has found a shocking two-thirds of women working at Puzder’s restaurants experience sexual harassment at work. One-third of Puzder workers said they have had some of their wages stolen, or have not received required breaks. The report also called into question the food safety standards at Puzder’s restaurants, with nearly 80 percent of Puzder workers saying they had prepared or served food while they were sick.
President Obama gave his farewell presidential address at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center Tuesday night. In the sweeping and, at times, emotional speech, President Obama spoke about everything from the Affordable Care Act to his love for his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. He also offered veiled critiques of President-elect Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant and xenophobic campaign proposals and invoked what he called the country’s “call to citizenship.”
President Barack Obama: “For 240 years, our nation’s call to citizenship has given work and purpose to each new generation. It’s what led patriots to choose republic over tyranny, pioneers to trek west, slaves to brave that makeshift railroad to freedom. It’s what pulled immigrants and refugees across oceans and the Rio Grande. It’s what pushed women to reach for the ballot. It’s what powered workers to organize. It’s why GIs gave their lives at Omaha Beach and Iwo Jima, Iraq and Afghanistan, and why men and women from Selma to Stonewall were prepared to give theirs, as well.”
During his speech Tuesday night, President Obama, the United States’ first black president, also spoke about racism.
President Barack Obama: “After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. And such a vision, however well intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.”
We’ll have more on President Obama’s farewell speech later in the broadcast with Rev. William Barber.
In South Carolina, white supremacist and convicted murderer Dylann Roof has received the death penalty for murdering nine black worshipers, including Pastor Clementa Pinckney, at the historic Emanuel AME Church in June of 2015. During the trial, prosecutors quoted excerpts of a racist manifesto written by Roof while he was held in a Charleston jail. Roof wrote, “I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. … I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.” On Tuesday, after about three hours of deliberations, the jury returned with the unanimous decision that Roof should be put to death. Rev. Sharon Risher, the daughter of one of Roof’s victims, Ethel Lee Lance, said, “I don’t believe in the death penalty, but I’m my mother’s child, and with everything that’s happened, sometimes I want him to die. It’s like, you know what, this fool continues to just be evil.” We’ll have more on Dylann Roof’s death sentence later in the broadcast with Rev. William Barber.
More allegations of sexual harassment has surfaced at Fox News—this time against the network’s top anchor, Bill O’Reilly. The New York Times has reported that in the weeks after Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes was ousted over allegations of sexual harassment by more than 20 women, Fox News paid anchor Juliet Huddy a six-figure sum to stay quiet about allegations Bill O’Reilly repeatedly sexually harassed her. A letter by Huddy’s lawyers says O’Reilly called her all the time and sometimes sounded like he was masturbating. The letter also accuses O’Reilly of trying to kiss Huddy and once opening the door to his hotel room—where he’d asked her to return a key—in his boxer shorts. The letter says that when Ruddy rejected O’Reilly’s advances, he retaliated against her both on air and at the office. Fox News and Bill O’Reilly have rejected the accusations.
In Afghanistan, at least 30 people have been killed in two bombings near the Parliament building in Kabul. Another 70 people were wounded in the two explosions. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for both attacks.
In Yemen, a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led airstrike has killed five people near an elementary school in northern Yemen. At least two children were killed in the bombing. Despite concerns about being implicated in possible war crimes, the United States has continued to sell warplanes and munitions to the Saudi-led coalition throughout its bombing campaign in Yemen, and U.S.-made munitions have been found at the scene of Saudi-led bombings where civilians have been killed.
Rita Lasar, co-founder of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, has died at the age of 85. Her brother, Abe Zelmanowitz, died on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks, after he refused to leave until emergency workers came to help rescue his best friend Ed, a paraplegic. Lasar went on to become a peace activist who traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the families of those killed in the U.S. war there. This is a clip of a remarkable conversation on Democracy Now! in 2002 between Rita Lasar and Masuda Sultan, an Afghan woman living in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks, who soon learned that 19 members of her family had been killed by the U.S. attacks on Afghanistan. This is Rita Lasar.
Rita Lasar: “President Bush mentioned him in the National Cathedral speech and cited him as being a hero. And I realized that my government was going to use my brother as justification for killing other people, and that had a tremendous impact on me. I didn’t want that to happen, not in my brother’s name. And so I wrote a letter to the Times, which they printed, asking our government to please be cautious and not do something they couldn’t take back. And then I was asked to speak at a peace rally, and I did it. And just before I went on, I was told they had started bombing Afghanistan, and I realized something I had never realized before. I had heard the term 'collateral damage' all my life. It was always used about people far away from us. And I realized now what it meant, because my brother was collateral damage, in a war that he didn’t want and Masuda’s people didn’t want.”
That was Rita Lasar, speaking on Democracy Now! in 2002. She died of cancer at her East Village apartment on Sunday. The United States war in Afghanistan continues. It’s the longest war in U.S. history. Among those who survive her are Matthew Lasar, who wrote “Pacifica Radio.”