In Brazil, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was convicted on corruption charges Wednesday and sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison. He will remain free on appeal. Lula was the front-runner in the 2018 elections and is widely considered one of Brazil’s most popular political figures. The sentencing of Lula comes a year after his successor, President Dilma Rousseff, also of the Workers’ Party, was impeached by the Brazilian Senate in a move she has denounced as a coup. Lula has been accused of masterminding a corruption scheme at the state-run oil company Petrobras. Prosecutors allege Latin America’s biggest construction firm spent about $1.1 million refurbishing a beachside apartment for Lula and his wife in exchange for public contracts. A top ally of Lula, Paulo Okamotto, denounced the charges on Wednesday.
Paulo Okamotto: "Lula is innocent. He is not the owner of that residence. He never asked for that residence. He never lived in that residence. He never frequented that residence. It really is a case of great injustice."
President Trump arrived in Paris today for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on Bastille Day. Outside the talks, thousands of protesters planned to create what they’re calling a "no Trump zone" amid a massive security operation. Trump’s visit came as the White House reeled from this week’s revelations that Donald Trump Jr. openly embraced an effort by the Russian government to peddle information incriminating Hillary Clinton in an attempt to help Trump win the election.
Meanwhile, Democratic Congressmember Brad Sherman of California on Wednesday introduced an article of impeachment against President Trump, accusing him of obstructing justice in the FBI’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. This is Rep. Sherman speaking with Los Angeles station KABC.
Rep. Brad Sherman: "This is not a political matter. This is a matter of conscience. We do know that there’s obstruction of justice. We do know that this presidency is ignorant, incompetent and impulsive. And unless behavior of the White House changes, I think we will see a new president—not anytime soon, but before the end of the four years."
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, President Trump’s pick to replace fired FBI Director James Comey, Christopher Wray, told the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday he will act independently from the White House, if confirmed. Christopher Wray said no one had asked him for a loyalty oath, as Trump reportedly asked Comey to give. South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked Wray about Trump’s claim on Twitter Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into ties between Russia and Trump’s associates is "the greatest Witch Hunt in political history."
Christopher Wray: "Well, Senator, I can’t speak to the basis for those comments. I can tell you that my experience with Director Mueller"—
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "I’m asking you, as the future FBI director, do you consider this endeavor a witch hunt?"
Christopher Wray: "I do not consider Director Mueller to be on a witch hunt."
Christopher Wray is a defense lawyer and former federal prosecutor who served as assistant attorney general under George W. Bush from 2003 to 2005, at a time when the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel signed off on the use of torture against detainees in CIA and military custody. At Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Wray whether he approved a memo that retained a policy by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee approving of waterboarding and other forms of torture.
Sen. Dick Durbin: "In a footnote, the memo indicates that under the new analysis, all of the torture techniques that were approved under the Bybee memo, like waterboarding, would still be legal under the new memo. In other words, nothing changed. And it says that expressly had the approval of your division. Do you recall reviewing and approving that memo?"
Christopher Wray: "I do not recall approving—reviewing and approving that memo."
After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Christopher Wray played a key role in the FBI PENTTBOM investigation, which saw more than 750 mostly Arab or Muslim men rounded up and detained under often harsh conditions.
Senate Republican leaders are set to unveil a revised healthcare bill today after their previous effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act failed to win enough support from their own party. The latest effort comes amid questions about whether Republicans have the 50 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle to even begin debating the measure. This is President Trump speaking Wednesday with right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson.
President Donald Trump: "For years, they’ve been talking about repeal, replace, repeal, replace. I think they passed it 61 times, repeal and replace. But that didn’t mean anything, because you had the minority, the Republicans—they didn’t have the majority, so it wasn’t going to get to the president, but if it ever did, Obama wasn’t going to sign it, so it didn’t mean. Now we have a president that’s waiting to sign it. I have pen in hand."
The latest Senate bill would retain more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicaid by 2026 and is modeled on a previous effort that would cause 22 million people to lose their health insurance over the next decade.
Tenants and housing rights activists converged Wednesday on Washington, D.C., to protest President Trump’s proposed $7.4 billion cuts to HUD—the Department of Housing and Urban Development—which oversees public housing in the United States. Among those at the march was Massachusetts Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "We believe that hardworking people should not be kicked out of their homes so that big banks and billionaires can make more in profits. And we will fight back. This is about dignity. This is about who we are as a country and who we are as a people."
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates Trump’s budget proposal would end vouchers for about 250,000 households.
In breaking news—ice breaking, that is—one of the biggest icebergs ever recorded broke away from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica Wednesday, in the latest sign that climate change will drive sea levels to rise dramatically over the coming decades. The iceberg weighs an estimated 1 trillion tons and is roughly the size of Delaware. Geophysicist Edward King of the British Antarctic Survey said the iceberg itself won’t contribute to sea level rise, but that if the entire ice shelf breaks apart, Antarctica’s glaciers could soon begin spilling into the ocean.
Edward King: "If you look at all the ice in Antarctica, you’re talking about many meters of sea level rise potential. But we’re not talking tomorrow, we’re not talking next year. It will be a process that will take time. But we think that, in places, that process has started."
In Yemen, the United Nations is reversing plans to begin a cholera vaccination program because the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led bombing campaign has devastated the country’s health system and made it too dangerous for medical workers to carry out their mission. The disclosure came as the number of cholera cases in Yemen topped 313,000, with more than 1,700 deaths from the water-borne disease. At the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, top U.N. officials blasted Saudi Arabia and its allies for Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe. This is U.N. aid chief Stephen O’Brien.
Stephen O’Brien: "Seven million people, including 2.3 million malnourished children, of whom 500,000 are severely malnourished, under the age of five, are on the cusp of famine, vulnerable to disease and ultimately at risk of a slow and painful death. … Mr. President, this cholera scandal is entirely man-made by the conflicting parties and those beyond Yemen’s borders who are leading, supplying, fighting and perpetuating the fear and the fighting."
Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held talks in Saudi Arabia Wednesday with members of the Saudi royal family, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi defense minister and architect of the war in Yemen. Their meeting came just weeks after President Trump signed a series of arms deals with Saudi Arabia totaling a record $110 billion. This is Secretary Tillerson.
Secretary Rex Tillerson: "I appreciate the joint interests that we share, our two countries, our mutual interests here, in terms of security, stability for the region and economic prosperity for the region, as well. It’s a very important, strong partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia."
Tillerson’s visit came as the Saudi kingdom and its Gulf allies press sanctions against Qatar. The Gulf allies broke off relations with Qatar in June, issuing 13 demands including an end to Qatar’s diplomatic ties with Iran and closure of the Al Jazeera TV channel. Secretary Tillerson returned to Qatar today for more shuttle diplomacy after meeting Tuesday with the Qatari emir and foreign minister.
In the Gaza Strip, the United Nations warned this week the Palestinian territory has become unlivable for its 2 million residents due to Israel’s stifling blockade. This is Robert Piper, the U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory.
Robert Piper: "I see this extraordinarily inhuman and unjust process of strangling, gradually, 2 million civilians in Gaza that really pose a threat to nobody. … Across the board, we’re watching de-development in slow motion. Every indicator, from energy to water to healthcare to employment to poverty to food insecurity, every indicator is declining."
The warning came as Israeli-imposed restrictions on electricity have left Gazans with barely two hours of power per day. The blackouts were supported by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who saw them as a way to pressure his political rivals in Hamas.
Meanwhile, in the occupied West Bank, hundreds of Palestinians attended a funeral Wednesday for a young man and a teenage boy shot and killed by Israeli soldiers in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel’s military claimed the killings were in self-defense after Palestinians opened fire, but camp residents say the troops were attacked only with stones and not gunfire.
In Iraq, newly published drone footage shows at least 100 civilians remained trapped by house-to-house fighting in west Mosul this week, despite claims by Iraq’s military that a U.S.-backed offensive had defeated ISIS. The video, published by The New York Times, shows residents trapped in a narrow alleyway among ruined buildings near the Tigris River on Monday, while fighting reportedly raged nearby. More drone footage published by AP showed airstrikes ripping through a densely packed neighborhood of heavily damaged buildings. Thousands of civilians were killed during the nine-month battle in Mosul, and nearly 1 million residents were forced to flee their homes.
Back in the United States, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity says it will ask states not to send voter roll data to the commission, while a lawsuit by a privacy group winds through the courts. The request for voter data came from the commission’s vice chair, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, who has pushed for the strictest voter identification laws in the country and advocated for a "proof-of-citizenship" requirement that civil rights advocates say is aimed at suppressing voter turnout. At least 46 states and the District of Columbia have refused to cooperate with the commission’s request for voter information, with many critics calling it a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.
In sports news, the nation’s premier women’s golf championship, the LPGA Open, tees off today at the Trump National course in Bedminster, New Jersey. The White House on Wednesday wouldn’t say whether President Trump might attend this weekend after he returns from France. A petition circulated by the feminist group UltraViolet garnered over 110,000 signatures calling on the LPGA to move the venue. UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said in a statement, "The LPGA is giving millions in revenue, free advertising and branding to Trump, a racist, sexist, sexual predator. ... The LPGA should not be rewarding Trump’s bigoted brand and normalize his platform and policies that degrade women and divide our country."
And in Malta, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the Mediterranean island nation. This is Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat: "I think it’s a historic vote. It shows that our democracy and our society is maturing, has reached an unprecedented level of maturity, and it’s a society where we can all say we are equal."
Malta is a predominantly Roman Catholic country that has in recent years seen a rapid shift away from its conservative roots. Until 2011, Malta was just one of three nations where divorce was illegal.
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