Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has wrapped up a visit to Moscow, where he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The meetings come at a time of increased tension between Washington and Moscow. On Wednesday during a press conference with NATO’s secretary general, President Trump said relations with Russia had reached a new low point.
President Donald Trump: “It would be wonderful, as we were discussing just a little while ago, if NATO and our country could get along with Russia. Right now we’re not getting along with Russia at all. We may be at an all-time low in terms of relationship with Russia. This has built for a long period of time.”
Trump’s comments came a day after the White House accused Russia of attempting to cover up the role of the Syrian government in the recent chemical attack in Syria that killed 87 people. Russia has rejected the claim, saying the U.S. has been too quick to blame Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. At the United Nations, Russia blocked a Security Council resolution Wednesday to denounce the chemical attack and to call on Assad’s government to cooperate with an international probe. Meanwhile, Russia has accused the United States of violating international law by bombing a Syrian air base last week.
The rising tension with Russia came as President Trump on Wednesday reversed his long-running criticism of NATO, saying in a joint press conference with NATO’s secretary general that he no longer believes the military alliance is “obsolete.”
President Donald Trump: “The secretary general and I had a productive discussion about what more NATO can do in the fight against terrorism. I complained about that a long time ago, and they made a change, and now they do fight terrorism. I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete.”
On the campaign trail, Trump described NATO as “obsolete” and vowed to reconsider U.S. membership unless other NATO members increased their share of military spending.
Donald Trump’s adult son Eric Trump has cited mounting tensions between the U.S. and Russia as evidence that top Trump associates weren’t colluding with Russia to sway the 2016 election. In an interview with The Telegraph, Eric Trump said, “If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie.”
Eric Trump’s comment came as the Associated Press reported Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, will register retroactively with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, for lobbying he carried out between 2012 and 2014 on behalf of a pro-Russia Ukrainian think tank. The revelation came a day after The Washington Post reported the FBI obtained a secret FISA warrant to monitor the communications of Trump adviser Carter Page last summer, arguing Carter was acting as a Russian agent.
President Trump said he ordered last week’s Tomahawk missile attack over a dessert of chocolate cake with visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump made the remarks in an interview broadcast Wednesday by Fox Business.
President Donald Trump: “We had finished dinner. We’re now having dessert. And we had the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen, and President Xi was enjoying it. … So what happens is, I said, ’We’ve just launched 59 missiles, heading to Iraq.’”
Maria Bartiromo: “Wait. Headed to Syria.”
President Donald Trump: “Yes, heading toward Syria. 'And I want you to know that.'”
President Trump’s comment came as he reversed his long-running campaign pledge to brand China as a currency manipulator. The U-turn came as Trump sought President Xi’s help in pressuring North Korea over its nuclear program. U.S. intelligence officials said Wednesday satellite photos show North Korea is making preparations for what could be its sixth nuclear weapons test.
President Donald Trump signaled Wednesday he’s souring on his chief strategist, Steve Bannon. In an interview with the New York Post, Trump said, “I like Steve, but you have to remember he was not involved in my campaign until very late. … I’m my own strategist and it wasn’t like I was going to change strategies because I was facing crooked Hillary.” Trump also confirmed a reported rift between Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner. According to The Daily Beast, the conflict became so fierce that at one point Bannon called Kushner a “globalist.” Bannon is the former editor of the website Breitbart.com, which frequently publishes racist, sexist and white supremacist views.
The United Nations warned Wednesday the risk of mass starvation is rapidly rising in Yemen, Nigeria, Somalia and South Sudan. U.N. spokesperson Adrian Edwards said a preventable humanitarian catastrophe is “fast becoming an inevitability.”
Adrian Edwards: “The risk of mass deaths from starvation among populations in the Horn of Africa, in Yemen and Nigeria, is growing. This warning is in light of the drought situations that you’ve been hearing about, that are also affecting many neighboring countries, and a funding shortfall that has become so severe that an avoidable humanitarian crisis in the region, possibly worse than that in the case of the Horn of Africa of 2011, is fast becoming an inevitability.”
Earlier this year, the U.N. appealed for $4.4 billion to prevent famine, but has received only about one-fifth of those funds. The U.N. warning came as a group of 55 U.S. lawmakers wrote to Donald Trump warning the president needs congressional approval if he seeks to expand U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign and blockade of Yemen.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer continued an apology tour Wednesday, after he tried to drum up support for more U.S. military attacks against the Syrian regime by comparing President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler and falsely claiming Hitler never used chemical weapons. One of Spicer’s apologies came at a public forum in Washington, D.C., with former Fox News—now MSNBC—personality Greta Van Susteren.
Press Secretary Sean Spicer: “I made a mistake. There’s no either way—I mean, there’s no other way to say it. I got into a topic that I shouldn’t have. And—and I screwed up.”
Meanwhile, the office of billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson said that Spicer called Adelson to apologize for his comments. Last year, Adelson spent tens of millions of dollars to support Trump and Republican campaigns. There’s no indication Spicer called Jewish organizations or Jewish members of Congress to apologize. There have been widespread calls for Spicer to step down. Steven Goldstein, the executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, said Spicer is guilty of Holocaust denial and should be fired at once. We’ll have more on Sean Spicer with Steven Goldstein after headlines.
In Kansas, Republican Ron Estes won a congressional seat in a special election Tuesday in a surprisingly close vote for a heavily conservative district. Estes beat Democratic challenger James Thompson by a slim 53-46 margin, in a district that Donald Trump carried by 27 percentage points last November. The narrow victory could signal trouble for Republicans in another congressional special election in Georgia next week—and could be a sign of voter anger against the Republican Party less than 100 days into the Trump administration.
In Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed five people and injured 10 others Wednesday in an attack near government offices in the capital city, Kabul. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred in one of Kabul’s safest neighborhoods and was timed with the end of the working day for government employees.
In Washington state, immigrant rights groups say a hunger strike at an ICE jail grew to more than 750 people Wednesday, or about half the population of the for-profit detention center in Tacoma. The hunger strikers are demanding better food and conditions, and are protesting the fact they are paid only $1 a day for jail work assignments. This is an audio recording of hunger striker Johnathan Rodriguez Guzman.
Johnathan Rodriguez Guzman: “We don’t have contact visits here. So that’s one of the things that we wanted to point out to them. The food, to give us better food, better medical care. Or we shouldn’t be held indoors 23 hours. We should be able to get sun more than just one hour.”
ICE policy dictates that hunger strikers can face force-feeding after refusing meals for 72 hours. It’s not clear if ICE will impose the policy today, when some of the protesters will have been on hunger strike for three days.
In Florida, prosecutors have charged a North Miami police officer with attempted manslaughter for shooting the unarmed behavioral therapist of an autistic man. Video of the incident last summer shows Charles Kinsey lying on his back with his hands up and telling police not to shoot, saying, “All he has is a toy truck.” Kinsey was shot by North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda in the leg, and says he was handcuffed and left bleeding for 20 minutes without medical aid. At the time of the shooting, Kinsey was helping to calm his patient, a young autistic man who had wandered away from a group home. If convicted, Aledda faces up to five years in prison.
In Sacramento, California, police have launched a criminal investigation into a white police officer who was caught on video slamming a black man to the ground and pummeling him, after stopping the man for allegedly jaywalking. Cellphone footage, as well as newly released police dash-cam video, shows the officer—whose name has not been released—tackling and then repeatedly punching 24-year-old Nandi Cain Jr. in the face.
Naomi Montaie: “No, you’ve got to stay right here. You can’t. You can’t. Hey! Hey! Hey! Why you doing him like that? Wait! Wait! Wait! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Why you beating him like that?”
The Sacramento Police Department on Wednesday called the officer’s behavior unprofessional and “disturbing.” The officer has been placed on paid leave, pending an investigation; after it’s completed, the Sacramento County district attorney will decide whether to press criminal charges.
In New York City, the family of Ramarley Graham filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the NYPD demanding it comply with open records laws and hand over documents related to Graham’s killing more than five years ago. On February 2, 2012, police officer Richard Haste shot the teenaged Graham inside his home, in front of his grandmother and 6-year-old brother. Haste was initially charged with manslaughter, but a judge later threw out the indictment on procedural grounds. A second grand jury elected not to indict. Wednesday’s lawsuit seeks police disciplinary records, evidence logs and other information. Graham’s family is also demanding the New York Police Department fire other officers involved in the killing and put them on trial. The lawsuit was filed on what would have been Ramarley Graham’s 24th birthday.
United Airlines said Wednesday it will fully refund the tickets of all passengers on board Saturday’s flight on which a doctor was beaten before being forcibly dragged off the plane, after he refused to give up his paid seat. Video of the incident, which left Dr. David Dao bleeding and disoriented, went viral, prompting a backlash against United that sparked boycotts and wiped hundreds of millions of dollars from the company’s stock price. Chicago’s Aviation Department said Wednesday that two more officers involved in the beating had been placed on leave. Meanwhile, lawyers for Dr. Dao filed an emergency request Wednesday that would require United to preserve all video of the incident as they prepare a civil case against the airline.
In South Africa, more than 30,000 protesters marched in the capital Pretoria Wednesday, calling on President Jacob Zuma to resign over charges of corruption and mismanagement of the economy. This is protester Queen Marema.
Queen Marema: “We want to remove Zuma from his presidency. We are tired of corruption. And ever since became president, he has done nothing. And we are not happy about how he does things. So please help us. Zuma must fall.”
Protester 2: “Hashtag Zuma must fall!”
Protester 3: “Hashtag Zuma must fall!”
Wednesday’s protests came on Jacob Zuma’s 75th birthday and less than a week before he faces a no-confidence vote in Parliament.
And in New York, the first Muslim woman to serve as a U.S. judge was found dead in the Hudson River Wednesday. Police say Sheila Abdus-Salaam was found floating in the river near Upper Manhattan, not far from her home in Harlem. Her body was fully clothed and showed no signs of trauma, although her family said an autopsy will determine the cause of death. Judge Abdus-Salaam was appointed to the New York Court of Appeals in 2013 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. In a video for the Citizens Committee for New York City, Abdus-Salaam recalled tracing her ancestry.
Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam: “Researching that history, I discovered that I am the great-granddaughter of slaves. That’s important because this great-granddaughter of slaves is the first African-American woman on the highest court of the state of New York.”
Sheila Abdus-Salaam was 65 years old.