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Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked for the resignations of 46 U.S. attorneys on Friday, angering the prosecutors, who say they weren’t warned in advance. Although the dismissal of U.S. attorneys is common during presidential transitions, those affected say the Trump administration bungled the layoffs—with many U.S. attorneys learning only through the media that they had to clear out their desks by the end of the day.
One of the most high-profile prosecutors asked to resign, United States attorney in Manhattan, Preet Bharara, refused to step down Friday, and was quickly fired. Bharara’s termination came as a surprise, since Donald Trump met personally with Bharara at Trump Tower last November and assured him he could remain at his post. Bharara says his office received a voicemail Thursday from the White House, but that he declined to speak with the president, citing Department of Justice rules. The unusual circumstances of Bharara’s dismissal prompted Democrats to suggest it was politically motivated. This is Maryland Democratic Congressmember Elijah Cummings, speaking on ABC’s “This Week”.
Rep. Elijah Cummings: “Just not very long ago, the president was saying that he was going to keep the U.S. attorney there in New York. And then, suddenly, he’s, I guess, changed his mind. I’m just curious as to why that is. And certainly, there’s a lot of questions coming up as to whether Mr. Trump is—President Trump is concerned about the jurisdiction of this U.S. attorney and whether that might affect his future.”
Bharara’s dismissal came as his office was probing Fox News after it allegedly failed to inform shareholders about numerous settlements in sexual harassment and assault cases. The dismissal came less than a week after government watchdog groups sent a letter to the Manhattan prosecutor’s office asking for an investigation into whether President Trump violated a clause of the Constitution barring federal employees from receiving benefits from foreign governments. In 2013, Preet Bharara was one of 18 U.S. officials barred from entering Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin was reportedly angered by Bharara’s prosecution of Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. On Sunday, Bharara tweeted about his firing, writing, “By the way, now I know what the Moreland Commission must have felt like.” That’s a reference to an anti-corruption commission set up by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2013, which the governor then disbanded the next year. The tweet fueled speculation that Bharara was fired because of his investigations into Trump’s businesses and the White House.
In Washington, D.C., the Congressional Budget Office is slated to release its assessment of a House Republican healthcare bill as early as today. Ahead of the report’s release, the Brookings Institution estimated as many as 15 million people will lose coverage under the American Health Care Act within 10 years. The legislation would also give huge tax relief to the wealthiest Americans. According to the nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation, those earning more than $1 million annually would save an estimated $165 billion in taxes over 10 years.
On Capitol Hill, the House intelligence panel has set today as the deadline for the Justice Department to turn over any evidence to support President Trump’s unfounded claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower in the run-up to November’s election. The ultimatum by ranking Democrats on the panel came as even top Republican lawmakers questioned President Trump’s claims. This is Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, speaking on CNN Sunday.
Sen. John McCain: “The president has one or two choices: either retract, or to provide the information that the American people deserve, because if his predecessor violated the law—President Obama violated the law—we’ve got a serious issue here. … I have no reason to believe that the charge is true. But I also believe that the president of the United States could clear this up in a minute. All he has to do is pick up the phone, call the director of the CIA, director of national intelligence, and say, 'OK. What happened?'”
In Washington, D.C., thousands of Native American activists marched to the White House on Friday, protesting the Trump administration’s policies toward indigenous people and its support for the Dakota Access pipeline. Along the march route, protesters erected a giant tipi outside the Trump Hotel to “reclaim stolen land.” This is activist Deborah His Horse is Thunder.
Deborah His Horse is Thunder: “I mean, as Native people, we’ve continued to have our resources extracted. You know, they’re in the process of doing that now with this pipeline, to the detriment or the possible detriment or the very real detriment of loss of clean water. And then what? Nothing is going to survive without water. Nothing.”
The protest came just days after a federal judge ruled against a lawsuit by the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes seeking to halt construction of the last section of the $3.8 billion pipeline, which they say could pollute their main source of drinking water, the Missouri River. The ruling came after President Trump fast-tracked the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines for completion. The company building the Dakota Access pipeline says it expects to pump oil through the pipeline by April 1.
Jewish community centers and synagogues around the U.S. reported another wave of bomb threats over the weekend, as Jews observed the religious holiday of Purim. In Rochester, New York, the Louis S. Wolk JCC was evacuated for the second time in less than a week, as police searched for explosives. This is Police Chief Mark Henderson.
Mark Henderson: “We do believe that this is part of, as I mentioned on Tuesday, a larger picture, the national trend. That’s why I did mention that the FBI was involved. They are assisting us. The state police has taken a lead role from a New York state perspective.”
There were other weekend bomb threats against Jewish centers in Illinois, Indiana, Texas, Wisconsin and in Vancouver, Canada. The Jewish Community Center Association of North America says it has documented 128 incidents at 87 community centers so far this year.
In Florida, a man attempted to set a convenience store on fire Friday morning, later telling police he wanted to “run the Arabs out of our country.” Sixty-four-year-old Richard Leslie Lloyd told police he believed the store’s owners were Muslim—although they are of Indian ancestry—and that he was “doing his part for America.” The arson followed a rash of recent hate crimes targeting South Asian men.
Iowa Republican Congressmember Steve King sparked outrage Sunday after publishing a racist tweet in support of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Rep. King was retweeting a cartoon by the anti-immigrant group Voice of Europe depicting Wilders with a finger plugging a leak in a dike, labeled “Western Civilization,” holding back a toxic wave of Islam. The cartoon also depicts Muslim men with a sword and a suicide bomb vest. Rep. King’s retweet of the cartoon read, “Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny. We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” The tweet drew praise from former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana politician David Duke, who tweeted, “God Bless Steve King!” It was not Congressmember King’s first white supremacist comment. Last July, he told MSNBC that white Christians have contributed more to Western civilization than any other “subgroup.”
In South Dakota, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed legislation Friday allowing taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to cite religious exemptions to refuse services to LGBTQ people. Critics say the law also opens the door to discrimination against interracial couples, single parents and non-Christians. Similar bills are winding their way through legislatures in Alabama, Oklahoma, Texas and other states.
In New Orleans, an unknown assailant threw a brick through a stained glass window of the First Unitarian Universalist Church during Sunday morning services. No one was injured by the vandalism, which came less than 48 hours after the church hosted a well-publicized town hall meeting aimed at stopping violence against the transgender community. The meeting followed the recent murders of two black transgender women in New Orleans: 31-year-old Chyna Gibson and 25-year-old Ciara McElveen.
In Texas, a federal court panel ruled Friday that the state’s Republican-led Legislature illegally drew three congressional districts to suppress the voting power of minorities. The 2-1 ruling by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found the state’s illegal gerrymandering packed minorities into some districts and split them in others, diluting the voting power of Latinos and other nonwhite citizens. The districts were drawn in 2011, the same year then-Governor Rick Perry signed a voter ID law that was later struck down by federal courts because it discriminated against people of color.
A new documentary casts further doubt on the claims that a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer acted in self-defense when he shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in August of 2014. After the killing, the Ferguson Police Department released video footage showing what officers said was Michael Brown shoplifting a box of cigarillos from a convenience store and pushing a clerk who confronted him. The video was unrelated to Brown’s killing later that day, but police used it to portray Michael Brown as violent. Previously unreleased video revealed Saturday at the premiere of the documentary “Stranger Fruit” shows Michael Brown entering the same convenience store the night before his death.
Narrator: “St. Louis County has written documentation that we found, which shows they saw the 1:13 a.m. videotape, but they leave out what really happened that night in their report. Mike traded the store a little bag of weed and got two boxes of cigarillos in return. He left his items at the store, and he went back the next day to pick them up. Mike did not rob the store.”
Michael Brown’s killing sparked months of protests in Ferguson and in cities across the country. Brown’s killer, Officer Darren Wilson, did not face criminal charges after a grand jury that declined to indict him in November 2014.
In Iraq, U.S.-backed Iraqi and Kurdish forces pressed deeper into ISIS-held western Mosul over the weekend, leaving terrified residents to risk their lives fleeing to camps for the displaced. One civilian, Saad Mohamed, said families had to run through sniper fire as they tried to escape the violence.
Saad Mohamed: “About 14 or 15 fleeing from al-Mansour district, while the snipers were firing on them in the valley. They do not care about women, children or anything. The people were running in zigzags trying to avoid the sniper fire.”
Outside Mosul, a Shia paramilitary group said it had unearthed a mass grave for hundreds of prisoners who were slaughtered in June of 2014, when ISIS took control of the region. Human Rights Watch reports as many as 600 people were killed in the Badush prison massacre.
In Syria, a pair of suicide bomb blasts tore through buses transporting Iraqis to a cemetery near Damascus Saturday, killing at least 74 people and injuring scores of others. Most of the dead were Shia pilgrims. A Sunni rebel alliance called the Fatah al-Sham Front, which was formerly allied with al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility. The violence came as the United Nations Children’s Fund reported 2016 was the worst year yet in Syria’s 6-year-old civil war. UNICEF found child deaths jumped at least 20 percent over the prior year, while the rate of child conscription doubled.
In Ethiopia, at least 46 people were killed after a landslide swept through a garbage dump on the outskirts of the capital city, Addis Ababa, Saturday. Among the dead were residents of a series of shanty homes on the perimeter of the landfill. The disaster also claimed the lives of some of the hundreds of waste pickers who sort through trash looking for valuable scraps.
In Haiti, at least 38 people are dead after a bus driver plowed into a parade in the city of Gonaïves. Witnesses say the driver initially struck two pedestrians, before driving several miles further to seek out more victims. The driver then fled on foot and has not been apprehended.
In California, a group of four activists sneaked onto one of President Trump’s golf courses Sunday morning, carving a statement into the green around the fifth hole to protest the Trump administration’s environmental policies—which they say threaten endangered species and forests. Their message read, “No more tigers, no more woods.” The message also appeared to reference President Trump’s recent outing with golfer Tiger Woods. In a statement sent to The Washington Post, the group said, “We hope this sends a message to Trump and his corrupt administration that their actions will be met with action.”