The White House was rocked by yet another major scandal Tuesday, after The New York Times reported that President Trump personally asked FBI Director James Comey to end the agency’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The Times reports Trump made the extraordinary request to Comey during an Oval Office meeting on February 14th—one day after Trump fired Flynn for lying both publicly and privately about his contacts with Russian officials. Trump reportedly asked Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to leave the room before making the request to Comey, saying, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." The Times based its report on two sources who cited a memo written by Director Comey after the meeting. On Tuesday night, Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee, called on the FBI to turn over all "memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings" of discussions between Trump and Comey. The revelation came one week after Trump fired Comey amid reports that the FBI director was seeking additional resources for his probe into possible ties between Russia and the Trump Organization. The report bolstered evidence that the president may have committed the crime of obstruction of justice. Speaking from the Senate floor, New York Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told his colleagues, "History is watching."
Sen. Chuck Schumer: "Concerns about our national security, the rule of law, the independence of our nation’s highest law enforcement agencies are mounting. The country is being tested in unprecedented ways. I say to all of my colleagues in the Senate: History is watching."
The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff of California, said Comey should return to Capitol Hill to testify, and promised to subpoena all relevant materials.
Meanwhile, The New York Times also reported that President Trump asked James Comey during the February 14 Oval Office meeting to consider imprisoning journalists who report on leaks of classified information. In a statement, Bruce Brown of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote, "No president gets to jail journalists. Reporters are protected by judges and juries, by a Congress that relies on them to stay informed, and by a Justice Department that for decades has honored the role of a free press by spurning prosecutions of journalists for publishing leaks of classified information."
The New York Times has reported that Israel was the source of highly classified intelligence that President Trump reportedly disclosed to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the White House last week. At a Tuesday news conference, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster sought to minimize damage from Trump’s disclosure.
Jonathan Karl: "A yes-or-no question here: Did the President share classified information with the Russians in that meeting?"
H.R. McMaster: "And as I mentioned already, we don’t say what’s classified, what’s not classified. What I will tell you again is that what the president shared was wholly appropriate."
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered this morning to share with the U.S. Congress a recording of the Oval Office meeting between Trump, Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak. It’s not clear whether such a recording exists. During the meeting, the Trump administration barred all U.S. media while allowing a photographer from the Russian state media agency TASS inside the Oval Office.
The mounting White House scandals have led some lawmakers to openly discuss impeaching President Trump. On Monday, Texas Democratic Congressmember Al Green said Trump should be removed from office for obstructing the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Congressmembers Maxine Waters of California, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Keith Ellison of Minnesota and other House Democrats have also raised the possibility of impeachment—as has Maine independent Senator Angus King, who spoke Thursday evening with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Wolf Blitzer: "If these allegations, Senator, are true, are we getting closer and closer to the possibility of yet another impeachment process?"
Sen. Angus King: "Reluctantly, Wolf, I have to say yes, simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense."
After Tuesday’s White House meeting, members of President Erdogan’s security detail attacked a peaceful protest held by anti-Erdogan protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. Video of the incident shows men in suits punching and kicking protesters carrying the flag of the Kurdish PYD party. Nine people were hurt, with two of the protesters hospitalized with serious injuries. Police made two arrests.
In breaking news from Afghanistan, gunmen armed with explosives have stormed the offices of the national television and radio station in Jalalabad. At least two people have been killed and more than a dozen wounded. Officials warn the number of casualties is expected to rise.
In Iraq, the journalistic monitoring group Airwars reports a U.S.-led coalition airstrike on Mosul flattened a civilian home Monday, killing eight members of a single family. The reported airstrike killed resident Al-Haj Alaa al-Safi, his wife, mother, sons, brother and sister-in-law.
In Kansas, imprisoned Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning walked free from Fort Leavenworth prison this morning, after spending seven years behind bars for leaking more than 700,000 classified files and videos to WikiLeaks about U.S. foreign policy and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2013 after she was convicted under the World War I-era Espionage Act. In January, President Obama commuted her sentence shortly before leaving office. Manning is already the longest-held whistleblower in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera is set to be freed today after 36 years in prison—much of the time spent in solitary confinement. In February, López Rivera was transferred to Puerto Rico to serve the remainder of his sentence. He’s slated to return to Chicago on Thursday, where he’ll be welcomed in a celebration featuring U.S. lawmakers of Puerto Rican descent, including Reps. Luis Gutiérrez and Roberto Maldonado.
In Mexico, hundreds of journalists protested outside the Interior Ministry Tuesday to demand an end to the violence against reporters and media workers.The protest was held only hours after the funeral of award-winning journalist Javier Valdez, who was killed by gunmen Monday. Another journalist, Sonia Córdova, was also shot and wounded Monday in a separate attack that left her son dead. On Tuesday, multiple Mexican digital media outlets also went on a 24-hour strike, refusing to publish anything but a black banner with information about assassinated journalists. This is award-winning journalist Carmen Aristegui speaking at the protest in Mexico City.
Carmen Aristegui: "For us, Valdez has been converted into an emblematic case. The death of Javier Valdez should imply deep things for us. Javier Valdez and all the others who have lost their lives on this path should be a driving force for us. No to the silence. No to the self-censorship. No to the fear. Here, we all have courage to keep informing, keep reporting, keep investigating, keep denouncing, keep sharing opinions and speak out, speak out, speak out."
Back in the United States, a federal judge in Mississippi has sentenced a Gulfport man to 49 years in prison for murdering a transgender teenager, in the first-ever hate crime prosecution involving a transgender victim. Joshua Vallum, who pleaded guilty in 2015 to killing 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, was sentenced under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act. In a statement, Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the sentencing—even though then-Senator Sessions voted against the hate crimes bill in 2009. Williamson was one of at least 21 transgender people murdered in the U.S. in 2015. So far this year, at least 10 transgender people have been murdered nationwide.
In Georgia, a Panamanian immigrant has reportedly committed suicide in ICE custody after he was held 19 days in solitary confinement. Federal authorities say they found 27-year-old Jean Jimenez-Joseph unresponsive, with a sheet around his neck, early Monday morning at the Stewart Detention Center south of Columbus. Human rights advocacy group Project South told Democracy Now!, "The suicide of this young immigrant at Stewart is a horrific tragedy that could have been prevented." Stewart can hold more than 1,700 people and is run by CoreCivic, the private prison company formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America. A year-long investigation found deplorable conditions at the facility and lack of adequate access to mental healthcare. Court records show judges there order more deportations than anywhere else in the country. Critics call Stewart the black hole of the immigration system and have called for its closure.
In more news from Georgia, prison officials killed 45-year-old death row prisoner J.W. Ledford with a lethal dose of the barbiturate pentobarbital early Wednesday, after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the method of the execution. Lawyers argued there was a high risk the injection would not render Ledford fully unconscious, exposing him to an unconstitutionally cruel and unusual death. The high court rejected that motion and denied Ledford’s request to be executed by firing squad.
And in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, civil rights attorney Larry Krasner is positioned to become the city’s next district attorney, after overwhelmingly winning the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Krasner has represented protesters with Black Lives Matter, ACT UP, Occupy Philadelphia and other progressive groups. He’s a longtime opponent of capital punishment who’s promised never to seek the death penalty. Krasner opposes police stop-and-frisk policies and told The Intercept he hopes to create a team that will investigate and prosecute police and public officials for abuses.
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