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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov amid mounting tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the war in Syria.
On Tuesday, White House officials accused Russia of trying to cover up the Syrian government’s alleged role in last week’s chemical attack, which killed 86 civilians, including dozens of children. While the U.S. asserts the Syrian government carried out the attack, Russia has blamed it on the anti-government rebels. The Russian foreign minister has called the U.S. rhetoric “primitive and loutish.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signaled he may meet with Tillerson during the secretary of state’s trip—a reversal from Putin’s earlier position.
Meanwhile, lawmakers and Jewish organizations, including the Anne Frank Center, are calling for White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s resignation, after Spicer tried to drum up support for more U.S. military attacks against the Syrian regime by comparing Assad to Hitler and falsely claiming Hitler never used chemical weapons.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “You look, we didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had a—you know, someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to the—to using chemical weapons. So you have to, if you’re Russia, ask yourself: Is this a country that you, and a regime, that you want to align yourself with?”
In fact, the Nazis systematically used poison gas as part of its genocide of 6 million Jews and others. The Nazis began experimenting with gas with the specific purpose of carrying out mass murder in the late 1930s. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, they deployed gas vans to kill hundreds of thousands of people. By 1942, the Nazis had set up a series of concentration camps where gas chambers were the main method of killing people. At its peak, as many as 6,000 people, mostly Jews, were gassed to death every day at Auschwitz concentration camp alone.
During his comments, Spicer also referred to Nazi concentration camps as “holocaust centers.”
Hours later, Spicer apologized, although he made a number of mistakes during his apology, including mispronouncing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s name.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “I mistakenly used an inappropriate and insensitive reference to the Holocaust, for which, frankly, there is no—there is no comparison. And for that, I apologize. It was a mistake to do that. I needed to make sure that I clarified and not was in any way, shape or form any more of a distraction from the president’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he’s making to destabilize the region. There’s no way that I can see a stable and peaceful Syria with Bashad al-Asiya—Bashar al-Saad in charge.”
Wolf Blitzer: “Bashar al-Assad. I know you’ve mispronounced his name a few times, but it’s Bashar al-Assad.”
Spicer later said he meant to say President Trump was seeking to stabilize the region, not to destabilize the region.
In news from the Korean Peninsula, Japan’s navy will carry out joint military drills with the United States, amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. Earlier this week, the U.S. deployed an aircraft carrier and multiple warships to the peninsula. Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Trump that China will work with the United States to denuclearize the peninsula.
The Washington Post has revealed the FBI obtained a secret FISA warrant to monitor the communications of Trump adviser Carter Page last summer. The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant after arguing Carter was acting as a Russian agent. Earlier this month, Politico revealed Trump’s campaign sent Page to Russia in July, on the condition Page would not be acting as an official representative for Trump. Page’s visit came just days before WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of emails hacked from the servers of the Democratic National Committee.
The Associated Press is also reporting that financial records show another Trump associate, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, received at least $1.2 million in payments for doing political consulting work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. It’s the first evidence that Manafort actually received some of the $12.7 million in cash payments detailed on handwritten ledgers unearthed in Ukraine.
Meanwhile, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are contradicting that the secret documents seen by former House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes show former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice broke the law by “unmasking” the names of Americans whose communications were swept up in foreign surveillance. The lawmakers from both parties say the documents do not show Rice’s move was either unusual or illegal.
In Washington state, organizers say hundreds of immigrants imprisoned at the for-profit Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma have launched a hunger strike to protest the poor living conditions inside the immigrant prison. Organizers say prisoners have also launched work stoppages to protest the fact they are paid only $1 a day to cook, clean and do the laundry necessary to keep the prison running. The prison is owned by GEO Group, which is facing a class-action lawsuit arguing the company violates federal anti-slavery laws at its Aurora, Colorado, prison, where it also pays only $1 a day.
Human rights organizations and Russian media outlets are reporting that gay men are facing a wave of violence and imprisonment in Chechnya. Human Rights Watch says dozens of men have been rounded up in recent weeks and subjected to torture and beatings. The Russian LGBT Network, based in St. Petersburg, says men have been tortured with electric shocks and cables and that three people have been killed since the crackdown began. A Chechen government spokesperson has denied the reports, saying gay men “simply don’t exist in the republic.”
In Florida, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala has sued Governor Rick Scott in an escalating battle over the death penalty. Ayala has sued Scott over his decision to remove her from two dozen murder cases, after she announced she’d no longer seek the death penalty in any cases, including in the case of a man accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend and a police officer. Aramis Ayala is the first African-American state attorney in Florida history, and she’s received racist death threats, including suggestions that she should be lynched, in the wake of her announcement.
United Airlines has finally apologized, after stocks temporarily plummeted Tuesday amid controversy over a video of a doctor being forcibly dragged off a flight United had overbooked. When no passengers volunteered to disembark from Sunday’s flight, Dr. David Dao was selected to be forced off. When he refused to leave, saying he had to see patients at a hospital in Kentucky the following morning, multiple Chicago Department of Aviation security officers dragged Dao through the aisle, bloodying him. He tried to run back on the flight and was forcibly removed a second time. United CEO Oscar Muñoz first defended the company’s actions, claiming Dao was “disruptive and belligerent,” but then finally apologized Tuesday, calling the incident “horrific.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has called for an investigation of the airline. Dao is still hospitalized in Chicago from his injuries.
In Atlanta, four Georgia State University students and a local resident were arrested at a sit-in outside the Georgia State president’s office, demanding the university reach a community benefits agreement with local residents over the plan to develop 67 acres of land known as Turner Field. The university is seeking to turn the field into a football stadium and university housing. Local residents fear the $300 million plan will lead to gentrification and displacement. Longtime local residents have set up an ongoing tent city in protest and have been camped out at Turner Field for more than 10 days. This is Sherise Brown.
Sherise Brown: “We are out here because we are trying to get a negotiation for a community benefit contract that is binding and legal with Georgia State University, Carter Development and Oakwood Development. And we’re going to be out here as long as it takes, until they listen to us and know that this is not a joke, this is our livelihood, and we’re willing to stay on this front line as long as we have to.”
And in New Orleans, civil rights activist Lolis Edward Elie has died in his home in New Orleans at the age of 87. Elie was a lawyer, journalist and filmmaker. He was part of the movement to end segregation in New Orleans in the 1960s, helping organize lunch counter sit-ins and boycotts.