President Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon has portrayed his former boss as wholly unprepared for the presidency, predicting President Trump’s administration could unravel as special counsel Robert Mueller finds evidence of money laundering, while accusing Donald Trump Jr. of “treason” over a 2016 meeting in Trump Tower with Russian officials. That’s according to explosive excerpts from the new book “Fire and Fury” by journalist Michael Wolff made public on Wednesday. In the book, Bannon is quoted predicting that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation will find strong evidence of money laundering, saying, “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.” Speaking about a June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between a Russian lawyer and top campaign officials Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, Bannon is quoted as saying, “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad [expletive], and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.” Bannon’s comments prompted President Trump’s lawyers to issue a cease-and-desist letter, saying Bannon violated a non-disclosure agreement. In a statement, President Trump wrote, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. … Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself.” At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the book “trashy tabloid fiction,” as reporters grilled her over its revelations.
Peter Alexander: “Did the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., commit treason?”
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “I think that is a ridiculous accusation and one that I’m pretty sure we’ve addressed many times from here before. And if that’s in reference to comments made by Mr. Bannon, I’d refer you back to the ones that he made previously on '60 Minutes,' where he called the collusion with Russia about this president a total farce. So I think I would look back at that. If anybody’s been inconsistent, it’s been him. Certainly hasn’t been the president or this administration.”
President Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort, filed suit in federal court Wednesday, seeking to limit the power of special counsel Robert Mueller, accusing the investigation into alleged Trump-Russia ties of overstretching its authority. Last October, Mueller indicted Manafort and his former business associate Rick Gates on 12 counts, including money laundering, acting as unregistered agents of Ukraine’s former pro-Russian government and conspiracy against the United States.
President Trump abruptly shut down his Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on Wednesday, after it failed to provide any evidence of voter fraud. Civil rights groups say the commission’s true aim was laying the groundwork for a nationwide voter suppression effort. The commission’s chair, Kris Kobach, blamed a “barrage of meritless lawsuits” for the investigation’s closure, after most U.S. states and the District of Columbia refused to share data with the commission. Kobach has a long record of employing voter suppression tactics as secretary of state of Kansas and as a Republican consultant. President Trump has repeatedly falsely asserted that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in 2016 because 3 to 5 million unauthorized votes were cast in the election.
A major winter storm is raking the Atlantic Seaboard, bringing high winds, coastal flooding and heavy snow to cities as far south as Savannah, Georgia, and parts of northern Florida. Meteorologists describe the storm as a “hyper-bombogenesis” that rapidly dropped pressure and quickly intensified over the Atlantic. Forecasters predict the storm will be followed by bone-chilling temperatures as a “polar vortex” returns to much of the U.S. later this week. Last month, President Trump cited cold winter weather in the U.S. to repeat his claim that global warming is a hoax, but climate scientists say greenhouse gas emissions may be contributing to such weather events.
In Baltimore, Maryland, parents, teachers and students are protesting frigid conditions at public schools, with schoolchildren left shivering in classrooms and temperatures barely rising above freezing. Photos shared widely on social media show children bundled in winter parkas seated on a classroom floor; a high school classroom and a gymnasium left badly damaged after they were flooded by burst pipes; and a thermometer measuring one classroom’s temperature at 42 degrees. The Baltimore Teachers Union condemned the conditions as “unfair” and “inhumane” and called on officials to close schools for the rest of the week. State Senator Bill Ferguson—a former Baltimore public school teacher—said the city’s schools requested funds for heating and air conditioning but were denied due to “fiscal constraints.” Ferguson blasted Republican Governor Bill Hogan in a tweet, writing, “Governor Hogan suggests enough money has gone to Baltimore City, additional resources not needed.”
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces shot and killed Palestinian Musab Tamimi during a protest near Ramallah Wednesday, making the 17-year-old the first teenager to be killed by Israel in 2018. Tamimi was also the 16th Palestinian to be killed in demonstrations since President Trump declared last month that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Witnesses say Tamimi was unarmed when he was shot in the neck. This is Musab Tamimi’s father, Firas Tamimi.
Firas Tamimi: “The soldiers arrested a mentally ill boy, and when I tried to release him, the officer said to me, 'We want to kill someone.' I moved backward to disperse youths away, because I saw the bad will in their eyes. I was close to the youths when the soldiers shot my boy in the neck and killed him. I was five or six meters away from him. Thank God he is a martyr.”
Musab Tamimi was a relative of another Palestinian teenager, 16-year-old Ahed Tamimi, who is in Israeli custody awaiting trial before a military court after she was filmed in a viral video slapping an Israeli soldier.
Israel’s government has ordered thousands of African migrants to leave the country within 90 days or face arrest. The plan was announced as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the migrants “infiltrators” during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “The infiltrators have a simple choice: cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectfully, humanely and legally, or we will have to use the many other tools at our disposal, which are also according to law. I hope that they will choose to cooperate with us.”
Most of the estimated 40,000 migrants in Israel are refugees from Eritrea and Sudan fleeing war and persecution, although Israel considers them economic migrants.
Meanwhile, members of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, erupted in a shouting match Wednesday, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and right-wing lawmakers advanced legislation that would make it easier to carry out death sentences against Palestinians convicted on terrorism charges. Capital punishment is legal in Israel but has not been implemented since 1962, when Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann was put to death for his role in the Holocaust.
In Iran, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of cities across the country Wednesday for pro-government rallies. The state-sanctioned demonstrations were held one week after anti-government protests erupted across Iran, targeting high unemployment, inequality and housing costs. On Wednesday, the head of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said there would be no more “sedition” and that protest leaders had been arrested. State media have reported the detention of over 500 people across Iran.
In Ethiopia, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said Wednesday he would release all of Ethiopia’s political prisoners and close a notorious prison that human rights groups have labeled a torture chamber. Amnesty International welcomed the surprise announcement, saying that if authorities follow through, it will mark the “end of an era of bloody repression in Ethiopia.” Ethiopia remains a major U.S. ally in Africa despite its long history of human rights abuses and its record of silencing journalists, protesters and opposition political parties.
Back in the United States, the acting director of ICE—the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency—says politicians who resist the Trump administration’s immigration policies should be arrested and charged with crimes. Thomas Homan made the comment during an appearance on Fox News on Tuesday—one day after California formally declared itself a “sanctuary state” for immigrants.
Thomas Homan: “California better hold on tight. They’re about to see a lot more special agents, a lot more deportation orders in the state of California. If the politicians in California don’t want to protect their communities, then ICE will.”
Homan’s comment came as the Trump administration continues its campaign to force local police officers to cooperate with the federal government’s mass deportation plans.
Washington state filed suit against the budget hotel chain Motel 6 on Wednesday, accusing it of violating anti-discrimination and privacy laws by handing over personal information of hotel guests to ICE. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says hotel managers gave the names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers and license plate numbers of some 9,000 guests to immigration officers, who scrutinized the lists for “Latino-sounding names,” leading to the arrests of at least six people. The lawsuit comes four months after the Phoenix New Times reported Motel 6 managers in Arizona had a similar cooperation agreement with ICE.
In New York City, the daughter of Haitian immigrant Jean Montrevil says her father was arrested Wednesday by ICE agents outside his home in Far Rockaway, Queens, and was taken to the Essex County jail in New Jersey. Jean Montrevil came to the U.S. from Haiti with a green card in 1986 at the age of 17. Last June, when he went to his first check-in under President Trump, Montrevil was detained, handcuffed, processed to be deported, until calls from his supporters apparently prompted his release. Speaking on Democracy Now! last summer, Jean Montrevil described the dangers he could face if he’s deported to Haiti.
Jean Montrevil: “Once you get deported from here as a criminal alien, there’s a process you’ve got to go through in Haiti. You’ve got to be interviewed by the Haitian government, and then you have to have a family member to come and sign you off. I have no family in Haiti. All my family lives over here now, you know. And if you can’t get out, you’ve got to pay money to get out. They are making money off of criminal deportees in Haiti. And people have died in the Haitian jails.”
Montrevil’s arrest by ICE on Wednesday came after the Trump administration said it is revoking a special immigration program for nearly 60,000 Haitians, including many who came to the United States after a devastating earthquake in 2010. Their temporary protected status, or TPS, will now end in July 2019.
On Capitol Hill, Vice President Mike Pence swore in two Democrats to the Senate on Thursday, giving the Democratic caucus 49 seats to the Republicans’ 51. Democrats are now two seats shy of a Senate majority, after former federal prosecutor Doug Jones beat Republican Roy Moore in a special election last month. Jones was seated Wednesday along with Tina Smith of Minnesota, who was appointed by Governor Mark Dayton to replace former Sen. Al Franken. Franken formally resigned Tuesday after at least seven women said he groped them or forcibly tried to kiss them without their consent.
And Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy have wrapped up a two-day trip to Puerto Rico, warning the island remains in “deplorable” shape more than 100 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall. Senator Murphy noted Congress approved a $36.5 billion disaster relief package for hurricane-devastated states and Puerto Rico, but said much of the needed funds—including Community Development Block Grants—have not yet reached the island.
Sen. Chris Murphy: “The White House is nickeling and diming the Puerto Rican government, making them go through all sorts of bureaucracy and red tape that is unnecessary. And the result is that the economy is still hemorrhaging.”