In Puerto Rico, more than 90 percent of the island still does not have electricity from the power grid, and half the island does not have drinking water, now more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria. On Wednesday, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, contradicted President Trump’s comments about wiping out Puerto Rico’s billions-dollar debt amid the catastrophic aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Mick Mulvaney: “Dealing with the challenges that Puerto Rico had—the island is at least $72 billion in debt, $120 [billion] if you go by other counts, before the storm. We are going to focus our attention right now on rebuilding the island, repairing the island, making sure everybody is safe and that we get through this difficult times. We are not going to deal right now with those fundamental difficulties that Puerto Rico had before the storm. By the way—and that not—many folks have not talked about this yet—a lot of those issues are already dealt with through previous legislation called PROMESA.”
Mulvaney was walking back comments Trump made on Tuesday, when Trump told Geraldo Rivera of Fox News that he would move to eliminate the island’s debt. Meanwhile, federal officials are now concerned that the damage from Hurricane Maria will lead to nationwide shortages of critical medicine and other supplies, since Puerto Rico is one of the world’s biggest centers of pharmaceutical manufacturing. We’ll have more on Puerto Rico with Congressmember Nydia Velázquez of New York, who is originally from Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria made landfall just over two weeks ago.
President Trump traveled to Las Vegas and met with victims of Sunday night’s mass shooting, in which Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old white man, killed 59 people, including himself, and injured nearly 500 people. More than 120 people are still hospitalized. On Wednesday, the FBI questioned his girlfriend, Marilou Danley, who returned from her trip to visit family in the Philippines to meet with FBI agents. She said she had no prior knowledge of Paddock’s plans to open fire from the 32nd floor of his Mandalay Bay casino hotel room onto more than 20,000 concert-goers below.
More details also emerged Wednesday about how Paddock had been stockpiling firearms, including buying 33 weapons in the past year alone, from Nevada, Utah, California and Texas. Authorities also say Paddock bought at least 12 devices known as “bump stocks,” that allow semi-automatic rifles to act like machine guns, capable of firing hundreds of rounds a minute. Some Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they’d be open to legislation to ban the sale of bump stocks. In Nevada, even some gun range owners are speaking out against the lax gun laws that allow people to purchase bump stocks and high-capacity magazines. This is gun range owner Genghis Cohen.
Genghis Cohen: “There’s absolutely no reason for an average citizen who wants to have a gun to have a 100-round magazine, OK. There is no reason for them to be able to buy accessories for their gun which makes the gun almost fully automatic. There’s just no reason for it.”
In news from Washington, the head of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday the committee has concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr also said the committee is still examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.
Sen. Richard Burr: “The issue of collusion is still open, that we continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses, and that we’re not in a position where we will come to any type of temporary finding on that until we’ve completed the process.”
CNN is reporting a number of Russian-linked Facebook ads seeking to polarize the U.S. electorate specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states crucial to Trump’s victory in November. The ads focused on issues such as gun rights, immigration, LGBTQ rights and racial justice protests like Black Lives Matter. The NAACP said, “The utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community or alleged election manipulation by foreign nations is both disturbing and reprehensible.”
A new investigation has revealed President Trump’s adult children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., were nearly charged with felony fraud in 2012 for lying to people interested in buying apartments in the Trump SoHo, a hotel and condo development. The near criminal prosecution was revealed in an article jointly published by The New Yorker, ProPublica and WNYC. The article also reveals that the case was dropped by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office only after Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, visited Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. in 2012—only months after Kasowitz donated $25,000 to Vance’s re-election campaign. While Vance returned that $25,000 donation ahead of his meeting with Kasowitz, Vance went on to overrule his own prosecutors and instruct them to drop the case against Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. Six months later, Vance received a $50,000 donation from Kasowitz and his friends.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held a hastily called news conference Wednesday in which he denied he has considered resigning over conflicts with President Trump.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson: “The vice president has never had to persuade me to remain as secretary of state, because I have never considered leaving this post. While I’m new to Washington, I have learned that there are some who try to sow dissension to advance their own agenda by tearing others apart, in an effort to undermine President Trump’s own agenda. I do not and I will not operate that way, and the same applies to everyone on my team here at the State Department.”
NBC News has reported Tillerson was on the verge of resigning last summer and that he called Trump a “moron” during a meeting at the Pentagon with Cabinet officials and members of Trump’s national security team in July. President Trump lashed out at NBC over the report, tweeting Wednesday, ”NBC news is #FakeNews and more dishonest than even CNN. They are a disgrace to good reporting. No wonder their news ratings are way down!”
In international news, the U.S.-backed Iraqi military says it’s seized control of the northern Iraqi town of Hawija from ISIS. Hawija is home to tens of thousands of people and has been occupied by ISIS since 2014. It was one of the last ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq.
The Egyptian government has launched a widescale crackdown against the LGBT community, arresting at least 34 people. The crackdown began when Egyptian authorities arrested a 22-year-old law student and six others for waving a rainbow flag during a concert in Cairo of the internationally renowned Lebanese band Mashrou’ Leila, whose lead singer is openly gay. The New York Times reports Egyptian prosecutors say many of the arrests were made after authorities entrapped gay and trans individuals on social media or dating apps. Amnesty International says Egypt has carried out at least 10 torturous “forced anal examinations” against those arrested during the crackdown.
In Sweden, prosecutors have convicted a Syrian soldier of committing a war crime—marking the first war crimes conviction of a member of the Syrian military since the beginning of the ongoing war. Former soldier Mohammad Abdullah had been living in Sweden for three years. The landmark conviction came after Syrian refugees in Sweden identified him and connected him to a photo he had posted on Facebook showing him smiling while standing over a pile of bloody corpses with his boot on one of the bodies. After years of pressure by the Syrian refugees, Abdullah was convicted in Swedish court of “violating human dignity” and has been sentenced to eight months in prison.
The Israeli military has forcibly sealed off the Israeli-occupied West Bank and besieged Gaza Strip for the next 11 days, amid the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot. Human rights groups say the border closures are illegal under international law. It prevents tens of thousands of Palestinians from getting to their jobs inside Israel. This comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced plans to expand a Jewish-only settlement in the West Bank, promising a “development boom.” These settlements are also illegal under international law.
In Bangladesh, authorities have destroyed nearly two dozen boats that are used to ferry Rohingya fleeing the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign. More than half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh amid the violent crackdown. In Britain, the Oxford City Council has voted to strip Burma’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, of her Freedom of Oxford award over the violence. She studied at Oxford in the 1960s and met her husband there. Thousands have also called for her to be stripped of her Nobel Peace Prize.
Back in the United States, the House has passed a bill that would make abortions illegal after 20 weeks, except when the life of the mother is at risk or the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. Women’s health advocates say the legislation is unconstitutional. The White House supports the extreme anti-abortion bill, but it’s likely to face opposition in the Senate.
In St. Louis, Missouri, massive protests continue over the acquittal of white former police officer Jason Stockley for the murder of 24-year-old African American Anthony Lamar Smith. Police arrested more than 140 people overnight on Tuesday as protesters blocked traffic on Interstate 64. More than 300 people have been arrested since the protests erupted nearly three weeks ago. Among those arrested on Tuesday were two journalists with the news outlet The Young Turks.
And prisoner rights advocate John Thompson has died at the age of 55. Thompson was a former death row prisoner who was exonerated after it was revealed that the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office had suppressed evidence of his innocence. After winning his release in 2003, Thompson became a leading organizer against prosecutorial abuse. He also founded the organization Resurrection After Exoneration to support former prisoners’ re-entry into the free world. This is John Thompson speaking in 2013.
John Thompson: “I spent 18 years of my life in prison. Fourteen of them was on death row. While on death row, I received seven execution dates. I also watched 12 men be executed, leave off my tier to the death house, never return. Cruel and unusual punishment start there, you know? To watch a man that claimed to be innocent walk away, claiming he’s innocent all the way, and then you read it in the newspaper or you know he don’t return back to the tier because he had been executed.”