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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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More details are coming to light about President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The New York Times is reporting Comey’s dismissal came just days after he asked the Justice Department for more resources to expand the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. Comey made the appeal to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—the same official who wrote the memo Trump later used to justify Comey’s firing. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports Rosenstein has threatened to resign after the White House cast him as the main instigator in the firing of Comey.
The White House has given conflicting explanations as to why Comey was dismissed. Privately, White House aides say Trump was infuriated by Comey’s recent congressional testimony about the FBI probe into Russia. But during a press briefing on Wednesday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders accused Comey of committing “atrocities” while investigating former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I think also having a letter like the one that he received and having that conversation that outlined the basic just atrocities in circumventing the chain of command in the Department of Justice.”
On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has rejected calls from Senate Democrats for a special prosecutor. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Comey’s firing was part of a troubling pattern.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “This is part of a deeply troubling pattern from the Trump administration. They fired Sally Yates. They fired Preet Bharara. And now they’ve fired Director Comey, the very man leading the investigation. This does not seem to be a coincidence.”
In his first public comment since his dismissal, former FBI Director James Comey urged agents at the FBI to remain “a rock of competence, honesty, and independence.” In the letter, Comey went on to say, “I have long believed that a president can fire an FBI director for any reason, or for no reason at all. I’m not going to spend time on the decision or the way it was executed. I hope you won’t either.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena to Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, for documents regarding his interactions with Russian officials, including Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak. Senate investigators have also sought documents from Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page and former adviser Roger Stone.
These developments all occurred on the same day that President Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the White House to talk about Syria and other issues. Politico reports Trump invited Lavrov after a request from Russian President Vladmir Putin. A White House spokesperson said, “He chose to receive him because Putin asked him to. Putin did specifically ask on the call when they last talked.” The White House faced some criticism for allowing the Russian state media agency TASS inside the White House to take photographs while barring all U.S. media. Trump also spent part of the day on Wednesday meeting with Henry Kissinger, who served as President Richard Nixon’s secretary of state.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was repeatedly booed and heckled Wednesday when she addressed graduating seniors at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black college in Florida. Many students turned their backs on DeVos.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos: “Dr. Jackson, Board of Trustees, thank you so very, very much for this great honor and privilege. I am honored to become a Wildcat. And it’s a real honor and privilege to be with you as we celebrate the Bethune-Cookman University Class of 2017.”
As the booing of Betsy DeVos grew louder, school President Edison Jackson interrupted her commencement address to issue a warning to students.
Edison Jackson: “If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you.”
Despite the warning, many students kept booing with their backs turned to DeVos. More than 60,000 people had signed petitions opposing the selection of DeVos as commencement speaker at Bethune-Cookman University. DeVos was widely criticized in February when she said historically black colleges and universities are “real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” HBCUs were established because black students were prohibited from attending public colleges and universities throughout much of the United States’s history.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has defended the recent arrest of a journalist in West Virginia who attempted to ask him a question in the hallway of the West Virginia State Capitol. Dan Heyman of Public News Service was arrested and jailed on $5,000 bail after he repeatedly asked Price whether domestic violence would be categorized as a pre-existing condition under the new Republican healthcare plan. On Wednesday, Price said the arrest was justified.
Dr. Tom Price: “I want to commend the West Virginia Capitol police. They did what they felt was appropriate. We thank them for the work that they do. It’s important to appreciate that gentleman was not in a press conference. We were walking down a hall, and the Capitol police acted as they felt necessary. And I would refer any questions to them.”
In other news from Washington, the head of the Census Bureau has unexpectedly resigned just as the department prepares for the 2020 census, which will determine how many seats each state gets in Congress. John Thompson had served in the post since 2013.
In a surprising victory for environmentalists, the U.S. Senate has rejected a resolution to revoke an Obama-era rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas directly linked to global warming. Three Republicans voted against the bill: John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine.
In other environmental news, the North Carolina House has voted 74 to 40 to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of a bill that would have shielded factory farms from damages brought by residents sickened by hog farms. The bill now goes to the North Carolina Senate. Residents have long complained about pork producers who collect billions of gallons of untreated pig feces and urine in cesspools, then dispose of the waste by spraying it into the air.
A new study is predicting Glacier National Park will be glacier-free in the coming decades. In the late 19th century, the park, which is in Montana’s Rocky Mountains, had 150 glaciers. Today the number is down to 26, and many of those are rapidly shrinking.
In South Korea, Moon Jae-in has been sworn in as the country’s new president. In his inaugural address, the former human rights lawyer vowed to bring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
President Moon Jae-in: “I will urgently try to solve the security crisis. I’ll be always on the move for peace in the Korean Peninsula. If necessary, I will fly straight to Washington. I will go to Beijing and Tokyo, and, if the conditions allow, to Pyongyang, as well.”
The United Nations is reporting as many as 245 refugees died last weekend in a pair of shipwrecks off the coast of Libya. So far, more than 1,300 people have died this year trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya. On Wednesday, the Libyan coast guard intercepted nearly 500 refugees packed onto a wooden boat, and returned them to Tripoli. The refugees were attempting to reach a boat operated by the European NGO SeaWatch. One of the refugees had fled the violence in Syria.
Syrian refugee: “I have been trying to migrate to Europe for the past six months to rejoin my children. I left the war in Syria and went to Jordan, where I did not benefit from anything as it is still an Arab country. I went then to Lebanon, where I was not accepted. Egypt was the same, and Sudan was the same. I then went to Libya, which was also in a war similar to Syria’s. I am now trying to go to Europe for my children and because [Europe] respects human rights. Arabs do not have human rights. They have no more humanity.”
In news from Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is reporting U.S.-led airstrikes have killed at least 11 people, including four children, in a village north of the Syrian city of Raqqa.
In New York, hundreds of students and faculty at Stony Brook University held sit-ins and demonstrations Wednesday to protest proposed $1.5 million budget cuts to the Humanities and Language departments. The cuts would particularly affect the Hispanic languages and cultural studies.
Gabriel Rudas: “My name is Gabriel Rudas. I’m a graduate student from the Hispanic Languages and Literature Department. We came here to protest against the irrational cuts Professor Sacha Kopp is doing against our department. We stand for the high quality of the research and for diversity, and we think that these cuts are a discriminatory measure taken against the Latino community.”
In New Orleans, city officials removed a statue this morning of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis. This marks the second Confederate monument to come down in the city after a City Council vote in 2015.