The U.K.-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports dozens of people have been killed, and more than 200 wounded, in a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town in Idlib Province in northwest Syria. The observatory reports at least 11 children under the age of eight were killed in the attack. Agence France-Presse is reporting that a few hours after the alleged gas attack a rocket hit a nearby hospital where victims were being treated. The observatory says it does not know whether the attack was carried out by the Syrian government or its ally, Russia.
The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons during the six-year conflict, although the U.N. says the Syrian government used the chemical weapons at least three times in 2014 and 2015. While speaking at the United Nations on Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the U.S. does not think the Syrian people want to be ruled by President Assad any longer, but on Friday Haley said, “our priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”
The Washington Post is reporting that Blackwater founder Erik Prince secretly met with a Russian close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in efforts to establish a secret back channel between Trump and Putin in the days before Trump’s inauguration. The meeting was reportedly held in the Seychelles and was arranged by high-ranking Emirati officials. The article says Prince represented himself as an unofficial representative for Trump.
Unnamed U.S. officials told the Post the FBI is looking into the Seychelles meeting as part of its investigation over whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia in efforts to influence the 2016 election.
The White House denies Prince was an unofficial envoy for Trump, and says Prince had no official role within the transition team. However, Prince has ties both to Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, as well as to Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who is Prince’s sister. Citing unnamed officials, the Post reports Prince was frequently referenced in internal Trump transition team conversations, suggesting he acted as a form of outside adviser. Prince also donated $250,000 to elect Donald Trump.
Prince is the founder of the now-defunct private paramilitary company Blackwater, whose guards were convicted of killing civilians in Iraq in 2007.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-9 in a straight-party vote to send the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice to the full Senate floor. Democrats say they have enough votes to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. The full Senate is expected to vote Friday. Republicans have threatened to invoke the so-called “nuclear option” to push through Gorsuch’s confirmation. This means Republicans would change Senate rules to allow confirmation with a bare majority of senators, rather than the 60 now needed to overcome a filibuster.
President Trump praised Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a meeting at the White House Monday, saying the two leaders “agree on so many things.”
President Donald Trump: “It’s great to be with the president of Egypt. And I will tell you, President el-Sisi has been somebody that’s been very close to me from the first time I met him. We agree on so many things. I just want to let everybody know, in case there was any doubt, that we are very much behind President el-Sisi. He’s done a fantastic job in a very difficult situation.”
Human rights organizations say Sisi and his security forces have arrested tens of thousands of Egyptians and have committed torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Protesters gathered near the White House Monday to protest the meeting, holding signs calling Sisi a “war criminal.”
President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Iraq on Monday amid the ongoing U.S. and Iraqi militaries’ battle to retake the city of Mosul from ISIS. The journalistic monitoring group Airwars says U.S.-led coalition airstrikes reportedly killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul last month, including a single airstrike on March 17 that killed up to 200 civilians.
The U.S. also has thousands of on-the-ground troops in Iraq, although it’s becoming harder to track their numbers and movements. Last week, a Pentagon spokesman announced that, unlike under the Obama administration, the U.S. will no longer announce or confirm the deployments of conventional U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria. Jared Kushner’s trip to Iraq comes before Rex Tillerson has visited the country as secretary of state.
President Trump has signed a directive classifying parts of Somalia as “areas of active hostilities”—meaning the Pentagon now has more power to carry out airstrikes and ground raids in the region. The new classification also means the Pentagon will have more permission to kill civilian bystanders. Trump also declared parts of Yemen “areas of active hostilities” last month.
In Russia, authorities say at least 14 people were killed, and dozens more wounded, in a bombing on a metro station in St. Petersburg Monday. Kyrgyz authorities identified the attacker as 22-year-old Akbarzhon Dzhalilov, who was born in Kyrgyzstan and had Russian citizenship. Authorities say a second bomb, which was disguised as a fire extinguisher, was placed at another station but was disarmed before it exploded. St. Petersburg residents gathered Monday to mourn the victims of the blast and call for peace.
Arsen Bogdanov: “I really hope that such events will help all of us, not only people in Russia, but around the whole world, to understand that we should remain human, to encourage humanity inside ourselves, not being animalistic and not to treat each other like wild animals.”
Back in the United States, Fox News continues to be rocked by accusations of sexual harassment. On Monday, Fox News contributor Julie Roginsky sued former Fox Chair Roger Ailes for repeatedly sexually harassing her and then retaliating against her professionally after she rejected his unwanted advances. In the suit, Roginsky says Fox also pressured her to publicly support Ailes after he was accused of sexual harassment by former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson. Roginsky said she refused, telling a colleague that Ailes was “a sexual predator and that she would not join in the smearing of Gretchen Carlson.”
Also on Monday, television commentator Dr. Wendy Walsh came forward to accuse Fox News star Bill O’Reilly of sexually harassing her and then retaliating against her professionally when she rejected him. This is Dr. Walsh, describing what happened after O’Reilly offered her a job at Fox News over dinner.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: “So when dinner was finished, he simply said, ’Let’s get out of here.’ I assumed he meant that we should move to the bar to continue our conversation about my career at Fox News. And so he caught up with me and said, 'No, no. Come back to my suite.' At that point, you know, I’m a woman of a certain age, I’ve had situations like this in my life, I knew how to behave. And I simply said, ’I’m sorry, I can’t do that.’ And he immediately got defensive and said, 'What do you mean? You think I'm going to attack you or something?’ And then, very soon after, he had the executive producer of the show call me and say that they’re going to take a break from the segment for a little while, but they’d start up again later. Well, they did with the other psychologist, but not me. But I knew it was coming.”
That was television commentator Dr. Wendy Walsh. Her testimony comes after The New York Times revealed Saturday that Fox News and O’Reilly have paid out $13 million to five other women who have accused O’Reilly of sexual harassment. On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported Fox News recently renewed O’Reilly’s contract. In response to the revelations, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai both announced they were pulling current or upcoming advertisements from “The O’Reilly Factor.”
The Jewish American newspaper The Forward has reported that Trump’s chief counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka publicly supported an anti-Semitic and racist paramilitary militia in 2007 while he served as a Hungarian politician. The militia, known as the Hungarian Guard, was later banned, after the European Court of Human Rights accused it of racism. The Forward report draws on a 2007 television interview in which Gorka expresses his support for the Hungarian Guard.
A previous investigation by The Forward revealed Gorka took a lifelong oath of loyalty to a Hungarian far-right, Nazi-allied group. Click here to see our interview with Forward editor Larry Cohler-Esses.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a wide-ranging review of the federal consent decrees and agreements with dozens of local law enforcement agencies that have been accused of violating civil rights laws. The review signals the Justice Department intends to shift away from monitoring and forcing changes within police departments such as the police department of Ferguson, Missouri, where systematic racial discrimination by the police and the police killing of unarmed 18-year-old African American Michael Brown sparked an uprising in 2014.
This comes as, in Utah, a video has emerged of a police officer shooting and killing a man with the man’s own gun. The video shows Roy police officers approaching 38-year-old Nicolas Sanchez, who is standing outside a gas station on February 21. He is carrying a gun on his waist. Utah is an open-carry state. The police officers demand he come speak with them, and when he asks why, they threaten to arrest him. When he lifts up his sweatshirt, one officer then lunges at Sanchez, who begins to run away. He’s then shot multiple times. The Guardian reports he was shot both by one of the officers using his police gun and by another officer who grabbed Sanchez’s gun and shot him with it.
The California Senate has passed the so-called sanctuary state bill, which would limit police statewide from cooperating with federal immigration agents in carrying out President Trump’s promised mass deportations. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to withhold federal law enforcement grants to so-called sanctuary cities. The bill, SB 54, now heads to the California State Assembly. Click here to see our full interview with the bill’s author, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León.
Florida Governor Rick Scott has removed Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala from about two dozen murder cases in an escalating dispute over the death penalty. In March, Ayala announced she would no longer seek the death penalty in any murder cases, including in the case of Markeith Loyd, who’s accused of murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend as well as Orlando police officer Debra Clayton. In response, Scott took Ayala off that case.
More than 100 judges, former prosecutors and legal experts have expressed their support for Ayala, saying Scott has overstepped his legal authority by removing her from cases, and saying she has the legal discretion to not seek the death penalty. 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.
In Virginia, the word ”RESIST” was spray-painted on the grass of the 13th hole at President Trump’s National Golf Club over the weekend. It’s the second time the Virginia golf course has been the site of anti-Trump protests. In October, ahead of Trump’s election, the words “Black Lives Matter” and “No justice, no peace” were spray-painted on the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.
And in New York City, hundreds of artists, librarians, broadcasters and museum workers gathered at City Hall Monday for a rally aimed at stopping federal cuts to the arts and humanities. President Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate funding to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This is New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Melissa Mark-Viverito: “People who are and appreciate culture and the arts are people that have a greater understanding of the world. That is a threat to this administration.”