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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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The Department of Justice has tapped former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in an investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election—including allegations Russia colluded with Donald Trump’s campaign to sway the presidential race. The move by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein came one day after reports emerged that President Trump had personally asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the agency’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was fired for lying both publicly and privately about his contacts with Russian officials.
Mueller’s appointment came as The New York Times reported that Michael Flynn told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign—far earlier than the administration previously admitted.
Meanwhile, Reuters is reporting Flynn and other advisers to Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 undisclosed calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race. The communications are being examined as part of the FBI probe.
And in another development, McClatchy is reporting one of Flynn’s first decisions as national security adviser was to reject an Obama-era military plan that would have been opposed by Turkey. Trump eventually agreed to the plan—after Flynn was fired. We’ll have more on the mounting Trump administration scandals after headlines with journalist Marcy Wheeler.
On Capitol Hill, Texas Democrat Al Green on Wednesday became the first congressmember to call for President Trump’s impeachment from the floor of the House of Representatives.
Rep. Al Green: “I rise today, Mr. Speaker, to call for the impeachment of the president of the United States of America for obstruction of justice. … I do it because, Mr. Speaker, there is a belief in this country that no one is above the law, and that includes the president of the United States of America.”
Party leaders have sought to tamp down public discussion by a growing number of rank-and-file Democrats over whether to impeach Trump.
President Trump lashed out at the media Wednesday for the scandals rocking his administration. Trump was speaking at a commencement ceremony at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.
President Donald Trump: “No politician in history—and I say this with great surety—has been treated worse or more unfairly. You can’t let them get you down. You can’t let the critics and the naysayers get in the way of your dreams.”
During his speech, President Trump promised graduating Coast Guard cadets he would never stop fighting for them. In fact, Trump has proposed slashing the Coast Guard’s budget by $1.3 billion, or 12 percent.
President Trump is departing to Saudi Arabia Friday for his first trip abroad as president. In Riyadh, Trump is slated to give a speech about Islam—which is being written by Islamophobic White House senior adviser Stephen Miller. Miller was the architect of Trump’s first Muslim travel ban, which sought to block all refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations from entering the United States. Miller also gave a series of vehemently Islamophobic speeches as part of Trump’s campaign team. After Trump visits Saudi Arabia, he’ll head to Israel and then to the Vatican.
U.S. Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning celebrated her first steps of freedom Wednesday, tweeting a photograph of her shoes as she walked out of Fort Leavenworth Prison in Kansas as a free woman. Manning spent seven years behind bars, much of it in solitary confinement. President Obama commuted the remainder of her 35-year prison sentence shortly before he left office. The Obama administration prosecuted Manning under the Espionage Act after she revealed secrets of the U.S. State Department and Pentagon—including evidence of war crimes and support for U.S. allies committing torture.
In Puerto Rico, a federal court in San Juan opened bankruptcy proceedings Wednesday as the island seeks to restructure $123 billion in debt and pension obligations. Judge Laura Taylor Swain will now oversee the largest-ever municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in proceedings that are expected to drag on for years. Puerto Rico is legally barred from using Chapter 9, the bankruptcy route normally taken by insolvent local governments. Puerto Rico’s debt crisis has forced austerity measures on a population suffering from skyrocketing poverty and unemployment. Most recently, the government closed nearly 200 schools across the island.
In Greece, tens of thousands of striking workers flooded the streets of Athens and other cities Wednesday, ahead of today’s vote by the Greek Parliament on another round of austerity measures. Trade union activists say the latest planned cuts would continue a downward spiral for the Greek economy.
Nikolaos Tragas: “This government fooled the workers and the rest of the Greek people by saying that they’ll get rid of the bailouts, and yet tomorrow it is voting in a fourth bailout, which is much harsher than the previous ones.”
Grigoris Vafiadis: “The workers cannot bear any more suffering from austerity measures that are constantly being imposed and that slowly eat away at the small income they receive. The government must try any way that it can to take from those that have, and not from the have-nots.”
In Brazil, an explosive new report reveals President Michel Temer was secretly recorded approving hush-money payoffs for a powerful politician jailed on corruption charges. The newspaper O Globo reports, in one recording from March, President Temer is told by a wealthy businessman about cash payments to keep former House Speaker Eduardo Cunha from revealing secrets about his former colleagues. The paper reports Temer responded, “You have to keep it going, OK?” Brazil is already embroiled in a vast corruption scandal involving nearly 100 prominent politicians and a third of Temer’s Cabinet.
Back in the United States, in immigration news, newly released U.S. government data show the Trump administration is deporting immigrants at a record rate—40 percent higher than the previous record pace set by the Obama administration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement reported Wednesday it deported more than 41,000 people through the end of April—up from about 30,000 deported during the same period last year. More than a third of those arrested by ICE had no criminal convictions.
In Wisconsin, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said Wednesday he has accepted an appointment as assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Clarke has called on local police to work as immigration officers in partnership with ICE. He has also declared there is “no police brutality in America,” and has called members of the Black Lives Matter movement “garbage,” “black slime” and “subhuman creeps.” Clarke’s appointment comes as his Milwaukee jail remains under investigation after prisoner Terrill Thomas died of extreme dehydration when guards reportedly cut off the water in his solitary confinement cell for seven days. Thomas is one of four people who died at the Milwaukee County Jail over a six-month period last year.
In Tulsa, Oklahoma, a jury on Wednesday found white police officer Betty Shelby not guilty of manslaughter for killing unarmed African American Terence Crutcher after his car broke down last September. Police video footage shows Crutcher walking slowly away from officers with his hands in the air, then putting his hands on the side of his own car before he’s surrounded by officers and fatally wounded by Officer Shelby. This is Terence Crutcher’s twin sister, Tiffany Crutcher, speaking after the “not guilty” verdict.
Tiffany Crutcher: “I’m going to make sure that I don’t rest until we get reform for this police department in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and we change the culture of this corrupt police department. … Now, we’ve got to go home. We have to go home and hug on his four kids and love on them and explain to them a system that’s perpetuated so much injustice, a justice system that’s perpetuated so much injustice. And I promise you I won’t rest until we break that chain.”
In Texas, a leaked police body cam video from 2016 shows a white police officer in a Dallas suburb using his Taser to electrocute a handcuffed black man who was not resisting arrest. In the video, an unidentified sergeant with the Balch Springs Police Department draws his Taser and shocks 39-year-old Marco Stephenson, who collapses. The sergeant then jabs his Taser into Stephenson’s back and repeatedly electrocutes him.
Sergeant: “Don’t pull away! You understand? You understand? Don’t pull away. You understand? Don’t pull away. You get it? Do you get it?”
Marco Stephenson: “Yes, sir.”
Sergeant: “Are you going to straighten up?”
Marco Stephenson: “Yes, sir.”
Sergeant: “Because I ain’t playing with you today! Do you understand? Do you understand?”
Marco Stephenson: “Yes, sir.”
The video was mailed to Dallas TV station FOX 4 from an unknown source. The Balch Springs police chief says the sergeant was not fired over the incident and instead was temporarily removed from contact with members of the public until he completed classes on conflict resolution. This is the same police department where former officer Roy Oliver shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards in April, after firing his assault rifle into a car carrying five black teenagers as they drove away from the officer. Oliver is awaiting trial for murdering Edwards.
In New Orleans, work crews removed a statue of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard early Wednesday morning—the third of four such monuments ordered to be removed by the City Council and Mayor Mitch Landrieu. White nationalists had staged a series of protests in the lead-up to the Confederate memorials’ removals, prompting some workers to wear masks and bulletproof vests for protection. One statue remains to be removed—that of Confederate Army leader Gen. Robert E. Lee.
In New York City, dozens of protesters gathered outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s offices Wednesday to oppose a bailout of New York’s aging nuclear power plants that could cost ratepayers up to $7.6 billion over the next 12 years. Bruce Rosen of the group United for Action says New York should instead turn to clean energy sources like solar and wind to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Bruce Rosen: “The governor has promoted renewables. In no way is nuclear power renewable. We don’t know how to handle the waste. … So these have to go. The state should be going, as everybody’s here, 100 percent as fast as possible to renewable energy.”
The New York protest came as a draft budget document seen by the website Axios reveals the Trump administration hopes to slash the Energy Department’s renewable and energy efficiency program by nearly 70 percent.
And Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera has walked free after serving 36 years in prison—much of the time spent in solitary confinement. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges including seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico. In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of the FALN, but López Rivera refused to accept the deal because it didn’t include two fellow activists, who have since been released. In January, President Obama commuted Oscar López Rivera’s sentence. He spoke yesterday after being freed.
Oscar López Rivera: “I want to thank Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, because they responded to the complaints and demands of our people and commuted the sentences of all our political prisoners.”