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Federal prosecutors have accused President Trump of committing a federal crime by directing illegal hush money during the presidential campaign to two women—adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal—during the presidential election. The accusation is contained in a sentencing memo for Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney, who has admitted that Trump directed him to pay the women in order to prevent them from speaking to the media during the campaign about their alleged affairs with Trump. Incoming House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler says the payments could be an impeachable offense. He was interviewed on Sunday by CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Jake Tapper: “If it’s proven, are those impeachable offenses?”
Rep. Jerry Nadler: “Well, they would be impeachable offenses. Whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question. But certainly they’d be impeachable offenses, because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office. That would be the—that would be an impeachable offense.”
Michael Cohen is being prosecuted for the payments by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York. On Friday, special counsel Robert Mueller also issued a sentencing memo for Cohen as well as Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort as part of the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. We will have more on the significance of the filings after headlines.
President Trump announced Saturday that his chief of staff, John Kelly, would step down at the end of the year. Early reports said that Trump wanted Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, to replace Kelly, but Ayers said Sunday he would not take the job and would soon leave the administration.
The New York Times is reporting President Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner circumvented White House protocol by having private conversations with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi hit men on October 2. Kushner reportedly advised the crown prince on how to “weather the storm.” President Trump and a number of top White House officials have refused to acknowledge bin Salman’s involvement in the murder despite the CIA concluding with “high confidence” that he was directly responsible for ordering the killing. CNN is reporting Khashoggi repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” during his final moments alive in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
President Trump has nominated William Barr to be the next attorney general. Barr previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s and is known for his expansive view of executive power. If confirmed, Barr will oversee Mueller’s investigation. As Bush’s attorney general, he was involved in the pardon of six Reagan officials for the Iran-Contra scandal. More recently, he has expressed sympathy for President Trump’s demand that Hillary Clinton be prosecuted over her use of a private email server. Barr also supports former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s positions on so-called religious freedom and his hard-line stance on immigration. In 1995, he wrote that the U.S. government should not be secular and should subsidize Catholic religious education and promote laws that “restrain sexual immorality.”
The European Union’s top court ruled today that the United Kingdom can unilaterally reverse Brexit anytime before March 29—the deadline for the U.K. to leave the European Union under the current schedule. The ruling comes as British Prime Minister Theresa May moments ago called off a parliamentary vote amid vocal opposition, including from within her own Conservative Party. If May fails to pass a vote on Brexit, it could undergo a second referendum. Thousands of demonstrators from both the Remain and pro-Brexit camps took to the streets in London over the weekend ahead of the crucial vote.
In France, the “yellow vest” protests continued for a fourth consecutive week. An estimated 130,000 people took to the streets across the country over the weekend, resulting in over 1,700 arrests. In Paris, major attractions, including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, were closed in anticipation of the demonstrations. Protesters and police clashed again in the capital and other cities with police firing rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas at crowds, and some protesters smashing windows and setting vehicles on fire. The French government halted plans for the fuel tax hike at the center of the protest, but demonstrators are calling for additional economic reforms, and many for the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron. Macron is set to address the nation later today.
Meanwhile, a video has gone viral showing French high school students lined up on their knees with their hands behind their heads or their backs as police officers watch over them. Students have been protesting plans to reform the exam system. Some yellow vest protesters kneeled before police in Paris Saturday in a gesture of solidarity with the students.
Yellow vest protests have started in other countries, including Belgium, where around 400 people were reportedly arrested over the weekend as protesters clashed with riot squads in the capital Brussels.
Here at the U.N. climate talks in Katowice, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait have blocked language “welcoming” October’s landmark IPCC climate report, which warned of the catastrophic effects of a global temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius—or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit—beyond which global crises could unfold at a rapid pace. The four countries rejected using the word “welcome,” insisting that members instead “note” the findings of the widely cited U.N. report.
The report was blocked hours after thousands of climate protesters marched in Katowice on Saturday to call out Poland’s promotion of coal mining and to demand urgent action on climate change. Major climate protests took place in a number of other cities, including Montreal, where protesters spoke out against the Trans Mountain expansion pipeline, and in Paris, where an estimated 25,000 people marched, at times overlapping with the “yellow vest” demonstrations.
Tristan: “Climate nowadays is really fundamental, and in particular in a context of social debate. Both causes converge, because decision makers and leaders are elected to take decisions in both areas. And today the context urges us to fight, because there is a climate emergency and also an increasing social emergency.”
We’ll bring you voices from the protest here in Katowice later in the broadcast.
In Colombia, an indigenous governor from the southwestern department of Cauca was killed last week. Edwin Dagua Ipia had received death threats from paramilitary groups prior to his murder. A local human rights group reported 10 indigenous people have been murdered in Colombia in a span of just eight days. Another indigenous governor in a neighboring area was attacked Saturday but survived. Local leaders are calling out the far-right government of Iván Duque for the spike in murders and a failure to protect indigenous leaders.
In Virginia, a jury convicted self-described neo-Nazi James Alex Fields of first-degree murder for killing anti-fascist protester Heather Heyer. At the deadly Charlottesville rally last year, Fields plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally, killing 32-year-old Heyer and injuring 35 others. A sentencing hearing is set to take place today. Fields is also facing separate federal hate crime charges, which could result in the death penalty.
In Canada, prosecutors have confirmed that Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested in connection with possible U.S. fraud charges linked to Iran sanctions. Meng was arrested in Vancouver on December 1 after a U.S. arrest warrant was issued in August; she now faces extradition to the United States. Meng, who is also the daughter of the founder of Huawei, is accused of using a subsidiary, Skycom, to mislead financial institutions and to try to import U.S.-made technology to Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. China has called for Meng’s release and summoned the U.S. and Canadian ambassadors over the weekend.
And this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was handed out today to Dr. Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad. Dr. Mukwege founded the Panzi Hospital in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which treats women requiring surgery as a result of sexual violence. Nadia Murad is a Yazidi Kurdish human rights activist from Iraq. She was kidnapped by the Islamic State and repeatedly raped. This is Nadia Murad accepting her award.
Nadia Murad: “Today is a special day for me. It is the day when good has triumphed over evil, the day when humanity defeated terrorism, the day that the children and women who have suffered persecution have triumphed over the perpetrators of these crimes. I hope that today marks the beginning of a new era, when peace is the priority and the world can collectively begin to define a new road map to protect women, children and minorities from persecution, in particular victims of sexual violence.”