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Special counsel Robert Mueller has impaneled a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., as he expands a probe into Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. The move, first reported by The Wall Street Journal, gives Mueller’s investigation the power of subpoena and opens the door to possible criminal charges against President Trump and his associates. Mueller is reportedly looking into whether Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey last May constituted obstruction of justice. Mueller has also reportedly subpoenaed documents related to the business dealings of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, as well as General Michael Flynn, Trump’s one-time national security adviser. News of the grand jury came after Mueller added a 16th lawyer to his team of investigators: Greg Andres, a former member of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and white-collar lawyer specializing in foreign bribery.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate barred President Trump Thursday from making recess appointments while lawmakers return to their home states for a summer break that will last through the Labor Day weekend. The move was widely seen as a bid to block Trump from firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions as special counsel Robert Mueller continues the Russia investigation. Meanwhile, a pair of bipartisan bills introduced in the Senate Thursday would restrict President Trump’s power to fire special counsel Mueller.
President Trump urged Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto not to publicly state his opposition to Trump’s plan to build a border wall and have Mexico pay for it. According to a transcript of the January 27 phone call, published Thursday by The Washington Post, Peña Nieto told Trump that Mexico would not pay for the wall, prompting Trump to reply, “You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.” During the same call, Trump threatened Mexico with trade tariffs and called New Hampshire a “drug-infested den.”
In a separate leaked transcript of a January 28 call, President Trump blasted a U.S.-Australian agreement to resettle 2,000 refugees, telling Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, “Boy, that will make us look awfully bad.” Trump ended the call in frustration, telling Turnbull, “I have had it. I have been making these calls all day, and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call. This is ridiculous.”
In Syria, the journalistic monitoring group Airwars reports a series of U.S.-led coalition attacks in recent days have left scores of civilians dead. Airwars said one coalition airstrike on Tuesday leveled a home in Raqqa, killing up to 50 civilians, including entire families. Among the dead were Hamada Al-Saeed Al-Hamzawi and three of his family members. A separate U.S.-led airstrike that same day reportedly killed 11 members of a single family. And on Wednesday, an artillery attack, likely from U.S.-backed forces, reportedly killed Raqqa resident Mohammed Ahmed Abdel-Rahim.
In Canada, the government of Quebec says it’s processing as many as 150 migrants a day as they cross into Canada from northern New York state seeking friendlier immigration laws. The influx has led authorities to set up hundreds of cots at a temporary welcome center at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium. Among those who recently crossed to Canada was Haitian asylee Marie-Claude Celestin.
Marie-Claude Celestin: “I found that Canada is—was the best option for me and my family. You guys understand humanitarian, unlike in the United States. You treat people as human beings.”
Most of those seeking asylum in Canada are Haitians who took refuge in the U.S. after a devastating earthquake in 2010. The Trump administration has threatened to remove protected status for Haitians, which could affect up to 58,000 people.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York has withdrawn her sponsorship of a bill that critics say would criminalize free speech and peaceful protest. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would make it a felony for U.S. citizens to support boycotts of Israel and Israeli settlements, punishable by at least a $250,000 fine, with a maximum penalty of a fine of $1 million and 20 years in prison. Gillibrand’s reversal came as groups including the ACLU, Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Legal mount a campaign challenging anti-BDS bills as unconstitutional. Nearly half of the Senate and 234 congressmembers continue as co-sponsors of the bill.
In Nicaragua, Amnesty International has accused the government of a “campaign of harassment” against activists challenging a proposed $50 billion canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Campesinos say the project could devastate the environment while displacing up to 120,000 people. This is Amnesty International lawyer Erika Guevara Rosas.
Erika Guevara Rosas: “This canal, whose construction has not yet begun, has in four years seen threats, grave human rights violations against communities and the organizations which accompany them in their fight and resistance, because there have been incidents of repression by authorities toward communities that are demanding information from the government.”
In one incident last December, activists say federal police attacked a campesino protest caravan with tear gas and both live and rubber bullets.
Back in the U.S., In West Virginia, hundreds of protesters gathered outside an arena in the city of Huntington Thursday, as President Trump rallied thousands inside for a campaign-style event. The protesters largely ignored a so-called First Amendment area set up by city officials two blocks from the arena, and instead protested just outside the entrance to the venue. Inside, President Trump hit themes familiar to his 2016 campaign and blasted the Russia investigation as a “total fabrication.” Trump was joined on stage by West Virginia Democratic Governor Jim Justice.
Gov. Jim Justice: “Today, I will tell you, with lots of prayers and lots of thinking—today, I’ll tell you, as West Virginians, I can’t help you anymore being a Democrat governor. So, tomorrow, I will be changing my registration to Republican.”
Governor Justice’s address was interrupted when Trump supporters tore a Mexican flag away from an anti-Trump protester in the stands, while security guards escorted other demonstrators from the arena. The skirmish escalated to a brawl as one person had another in a headlock and security guards struggled to break up the fight.
In Russia, a court on Thursday fined opposition politician Alexei Navalny $5,000 for violating election laws ahead of Russia’s 2018 presidential race. After a court appearance, Navalny told reporters he was charged after he posted an online video calling for people to participate in unsanctioned protests.
Alexei Navalny: “They fine, we will continue our campaign. They steal our leaflets, we will continue our campaign. They close our headquarters, we will continue our campaign. They arrest us, and we will still continue our campaign, simply because we are right.”
In recent months, Navalny helped organize two large, nationwide anti-government protests that were met with beatings and mass arrests by Russian police.
In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will lead commemorations Sunday and next Wednesday for the 72nd anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Last November, the mayors of both cities invited President Trump to join ceremonies marking the anniversary, to follow up on President Obama’s historic trip to Hiroshima in 2016. President Trump did not accept their invitation.
A former guest who appeared regularly on the Fox News channel says a senior producer solicited sex in exchange for a paid job at the network. The declaration by Occidental College professor Caroline Heldman came as part of a lawsuit that charges former Fox consultant Woody Fraser made numerous unwelcome sexual advances on Heldman and other women who appeared on Fox News programs. Heldman has also accused former Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly of sexist comments and of blacklisting her from the air after she complained.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved Thursday to cut off federal aid to four cities accused by the Justice Department of failing to turn over jailed immigrants to federal immigration authorities. The move will deny funds from a program combating drug trafficking and gang violence to the cities of Baltimore, Maryland; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and the California cities of San Bernardino and Stockton. Sessions’s move follows a series of actions taken by the Trump administration cracking down on sanctuary cities that limit cooperation with immigration authorities.
In Los Angeles, an elote—or roasted corn—street vendor has become a folk hero in the ongoing campaign to “Legalize Street Vending” for some 50,000 workers in the area, a large majority of whom are Latinos and/or immigrants. Benjamín Ramírez filmed himself being attacked by a man who knocked over his cart after telling him to move off the sidewalk. When Ramírez stood his ground, telling the man that there was room for him to walk, the man knocked the cart over, spilling utensils, coolers and corn. The video went viral at the end of July. Advocates say because the street vending industry is not fully regularized, some vendors are afraid to contact police after being physically attacked. Orange County Weekly columnist Gustavo Arellano featured Ramírez as “the EveryHombre” and also lauded him for neutralizing his assailant with chili pepper. Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz is selling “Elote Justice” prints and donating half of the proceeds to Benjamín. A GoFundMe campaign is also underway for Ramírez and other eloteros who have had their carts damaged in attacks.
And in Phoenix, Arizona, Celso Mireles, a “DREAMer” known as an innovator and artist, has died at the age of 30 after he was struck in a motorcycle accident on his way to work. Mireles co-founded the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition and was known for his kindness, insight and passion and as the “guy behind the scenes” of local and national online campaigns to stop deportations. His latest project involved developing a web application to alert migrants of raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.