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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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President Trump’s former longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about Trump’s efforts to build a skyscraper in Moscow while he was running for president. Cohen admitted in court Thursday that he lied when he said plans for Trump’s Moscow project ended before the Iowa caucus in February 2016. In fact, Cohen worked on the project up until June 2016 and continued to give direct updates to Trump, who is identified as “Individual 1” in the court documents. Cohen also admitted he directly spoke with a Kremlin official about the project and even considered arranging for Trump to travel to Moscow after the 2016 Republican National Convention. Cohen said he lied to Congress in an attempt to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging” that the campaign had no ties to Russia. Michael Cohen’s admission comes less than two weeks before he is scheduled to be sentenced on other charges. In August, he pleaded guilty to eight criminal charges, including tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations. President Trump reacted to Thursday’s news by calling Cohen a liar who was trying to decrease his prison sentence. But Trump insisted he did nothing wrong.
President Donald Trump: “We had a position to possibly do a deal to build a building of some kind in Moscow. I decided not to do it. The primary reason—there could have been other reasons, but the primary reason, it was very simple: I was focused on running for president. There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News is reporting the Trump Organization planned to give a $50 million penthouse at the proposed Trump Tower Moscow to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
As the news about Cohen’s guilty plea broke, President Trump announced via Twitter that he was canceling his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Argentina. The tweet came less than an hour after he told reporters the meeting was still on. The reason Trump gave for the cancellation was Russia’s refusal to return the Ukrainian ships and sailors that were seized over the weekend.
In Germany, Deutsche Bank’s headquarters were raided Thursday as part of a probe into money laundering. The probe stems from the 2016 Panama Papers affair, which revealed mass money laundering and tax evasion schemes set up by the Mossack Fonseca law firm. Deutsche Bank is President Trump’s largest lender, with Trump reportedly owing hundreds of millions of dollars to the German bank for real estate loans dating back some 20 years.
As thousands of Central American migrants continue to camp out by the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana, a small group of women from the caravan announced Thursday they were starting a hunger strike to protest the asylum process and the migrants’ treatment. Steady rain has worsened conditions for the caravan members, who are mostly sleeping and living outdoors. Members of the caravan have been organizing to demand better conditions and fair treatment from authorities. This is one of the members speaking at a press conference.
Migrant representative: “So what this exodus is asking is, one, to stop the arbitrary, involuntary, manipulative deportations; two, for the United States President Donald Trump, we ask for a more efficient asylum process, since everyone has a right to ask for political asylum; three, we also ask for the formation of a commission by the incoming Mexican government to negotiate a permanent solution for those who want to stay here; four, make public the names of those deported, because they’re deported, and their families here don’t hear anything or know what happened; and, five, for there always to be a human rights presence during all detentions to protect migrants’ rights.”
Meanwhile, media outlets are reporting that tear gas used against migrants at the border was supplied by U.S. company Safariland, which is headed by Warren Kanders—a prominent political donor who has contributed to both Republican and Democratic candidates, including Senator Cory Booker and Hillary Clinton.
Earlier today outside the G20, Trump joined outgoing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in signing a new trade deal to replace NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. The deal still needs to be ratified by each country. Peña Nieto signed the deal on his last day in office. Mexico’s new President Andrés Manuel López Obrador will be sworn in on Saturday.
A Honduran court has convicted seven men for the murder of Honduran indigenous environmental leader Berta Cáceres. Cáceres, a winner of the Goldman Prize for environmental defenders, was fighting the construction of a major hydroelectric dam on sacred indigenous land when she was shot dead in her home in March 2016, just two days before her 45th birthday. The court ruled the murder of Cáceres was ordered by executives of the Honduran company behind the dam, known as DESA, who hired the convicted hit men to carry out the killing. After the sentencing, Olivia Zúniga, Cáceres’s oldest daughter, demanded that the masterminds behind the murder be brought to justice.
Olivia Zúniga: “We will not support this until the authorities bring to justice the masterminds of this murder, with a DESA official being linked, also officials from the last three illegitimate governments as a result of a coup that has taken place in the country. The authorities are committing grave acts of corruption.”
In Northern California, the search for human remains from the Camp Fire ended Thursday, three weeks after the deadliest wildfire in history scorched the town of Paradise, killing 88 people. Nearly 200 are still reported as missing. Meanwhile, heavy rains and flooding in the region this week prompted evacuation warnings for residents still reeling from the devastation.
This comes as Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is being accused of using the deadly Camp Fire to advance provisions in a new farm bill. The bill seeks to make logging in federal forests easier by fast-tracking forest management projects and removing the environmental review process. While visiting Paradise this week, Zinke suggested that thinning forests could help prevent wildfires. But recent studies have found that logged forests with low environmental protections experience more destructive wildfires.
Meanwhile, a new report from Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting, finds that the effects of wildfires on human health last long after the smoke has cleared. The report looks at last year’s Tubbs Fire, which tore through Northern California’s Sonoma County and Napa Valley, and found that area hospitals saw an increase of 20 percent in emergency room visits for both respiratory and cardiac problems three months after the wildfire.
CNN fired contributor and Temple University professor Marc Lamont Hill Thursday, following his speech at the United Nations in support of Palestinian rights. Lamont Hill’s comments sparked backlash among conservatives and pro-Israel groups, who singled out his use of the phrase “free Palestine from the river to the sea,” which they say is used by Hamas and anti-Israeli government groups.
Marc Lamont Hill: “So, as we stand here on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the tragic commemoration of the Nakba, we have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words, but to commit to political action, grassroots action, local action and international action, that will give us what justice requires—and that is a free Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
Lamont Hill defended his comments on Twitter yesterday after the news broke, writing, “I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination. I am deeply critical of Israeli policy and practice. I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things.”
In the Philippines, leading independent news site Rappler and its CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa have been indicted on tax evasion charges. The case is seen as the latest attack against the press by authoritarian Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte. Last week, Democracy Now! spoke to Maria Ressa in our New York studio.
Maria Ressa: “These are all political attacks against us. They haven’t shut us down. We continue operating. But we are fighting many cases, six or seven different investigations and legal cases. And these cases do—it’s like a war of attrition. … But we continue to do investigative work, and we continue to expose impunity that is happening at all levels.”
Maria Ressa was given the the Knight International Journalism Award and the Committee to Protect Journalists 2018 Gwen Ifill Press Freedom Award.
The New York Times is reporting Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg requested research on billionaire liberal donor George Soros after he made public remarks critical of Facebook in January, in which he said the company was a “menace” to society. Soros is an investor in Facebook. The company says that the research into Soros was already underway at the time of Sandberg’s request. Earlier this month, the Times revealed that Facebook hired conservative opposition research firm Definers Public Affairs to investigate and discredit critics of the social networking site, including by linking some critics to Soros.
The digital news publisher Mic has laid off most of its staff after being acquired by Bustle Digital Group. The company, which positioned itself as a video-driven media outlet for millennials, had been steadily losing viewers over the past year. The company employed around 100 people.
South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott said Thursday he would oppose the nomination of Thomas Farr for a lifetime federal judgeship in eastern North Carolina. Scott, who is the sole black Republican in the Senate, cited Farr’s role in Jesse Helms’ Senate campaigns in 1984 and 1990, which engaged in voter intimidation and suppression targeted at North Carolina’s black voters. Scott’s opposition to Farr would likely be the deciding vote, with Senator Jeff Flake also voting “no” along with the entire Democratic caucus.
Police arrested a man in Atlanta suspected of shooting and injuring two teenagers at an Alabama mall last week. At the time of the incident, police officers killed a different man, after responding to the shooting at the mall in suburban Birmingham and firing on 21-year-old Emantic Fitzgerald Bradford Jr. Protests are continuing in Alabama to protest Bradford’s wrongful killing.
In Australia, thousands of students walked out of class today to demand action on climate change in a nationwide student strike.
Student: “Well, I think our government needs to take more action on climate change, so that our generation and our kids’ generation and their kids can have a future that’s sustainable and healthy on a planet that we haven’t destroyed.”
The students of all ages are calling for their government to stop the construction of new coal mines and move toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2030.
The protests come as eastern Australia is experiencing record-breaking wildfires, with close to 200 separate fires identified this week.
And in Buenos Aires, community leaders and activists from around Latin America are holding the “People’s Summit,” a counter-conference to the G20 summit, outside Argentina’s Congress building. Participants demonstrated at the official meetings with signs denouncing the G20 and the International Monetary Fund. This is a representative from an indigenous community in Argentina.
Kantuta Killa: “It’s really easy to make decisions and plans without the participation of those who it truly matters to. And that’s the way things are done, to benefit the few and not to benefit everyone.”