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On Wednesday, President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria, in a move that surprised many in Washington and around the world.
President Donald Trump: “We’ve been fighting for a long time in Syria. I’ve been president for almost two years, and we’ve really stepped it up. And we have won against ISIS. We’ve beaten them, and we’ve beaten them badly. We’ve taken back the land, and now it’s time for our troops to come back home.”
Trump ordered the withdrawal despite opposition from within the White House. In September, Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, had said U.S. troops would stay in Syria until Iranian troops and its proxy forces leave. While Trump claims ISIS has been defeated, a report by the United Nations in August found that up to 30,000 ISIS fighters remain in Iraq and Syria. President Trump’s move has been praised by some in the American peace movement and some progressive lawmakers, as well as anti-interventionist Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee. But other Republican lawmakers have openly criticized Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham said, “An American withdrawal at this time would be a big win for ISIS, Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Russia.”
In addition to the fight against ISIS, Syria remains the center of multiple proxy wars involving the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and other nations. We’ll have more on Trump’s decision and the situation in Syria after headlines.
The Senate passed a last-minute stopgap spending bill late Wednesday in an effort to avert a possible government shutdown Friday. The measure would keep the government open until February and does not include funding for Trump’s $5 billion border wall. Last week, Trump declared he would be “proud” to shut down the government over border wall funding during a contentious public meeting with Democratic leaders. The measure will now have to pass through the House before arriving at President Trump’s desk. It’s unclear whether he will sign it. On Wednesday, Trump appeared to back off the border wall funding provision, tweeting, “Mexico is paying (indirectly) for the Wall through the new USMCA, the replacement for NAFTA! Far more money coming to the U.S. Because of the tremendous dangers at the Border, including large scale criminal and drug inflow, the United States Military will build the Wall!”
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that William Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, sent an “unsolicited memo” to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in June criticizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing Russia investigation. According to the report, Barr wrote in the memo, “Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction.” If confirmed, Barr will oversee Mueller’s investigation.
CNN revealed Wednesday that President Trump signed a letter of intent during negotiations on the proposed Trump Tower Moscow, despite his lawyer Rudy Giuliani claiming just days ago Trump never signed such a document. The letter is dated October 28, 2015. Last month, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said he lied to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower plans in an attempt to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging” that the campaign had no ties to Russia. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison last week.
In Washington, D.C., former Blackwater contractor Nicholas Slatten was found guilty of first-degree murder Wednesday for his role in the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in central Baghdad. On September 16, 2007, Blackwater contractors killed 17 civilians after opening fire with machine guns and grenades on a crowded public space. Slatten was convicted of killing 19-year-old Ahmed Haithem Ahmed Al Rubia’y, an aspiring doctor. Slatten had previously been found guilty in 2014, but the verdict was thrown out on appeal least year. Three other Blackwater guards charged in the case are awaiting resentencing after their 30-year sentences were vacated.
The D.C. attorney general sued Facebook Wednesday for allowing outside companies, including political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, to access user data and misleading users on the privacy of their data. In more news about Facebook, the social networking giant has temporarily blocked the account of Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over “hate speech.” Earlier this month, Yair Netanyahu posted multiple racist posts, calling Palestinians “monsters” and saying he wished there were no Muslims in Israel, claiming Muslims were terrorists.
In Britain, tensions are continuing to mount among leadership as the spectre of a “no-deal Brexit” looms. This is the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, during a parliamentary session Wednesday.
Jeremy Corbyn: “The prime minister has plunged this country into a national crisis. She refused Parliament the right to vote on her Brexit deal. She said that she did that to seek further assurances. She failed. She’s now claiming that she is still seeking further assurances, while all the time running down the clock on the alternatives. So, can the prime minister explain to us when the European Council will meet to approve the changes that they have already ruled out?”
Meanwhile, Britain and the European Commission say they are preparing for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, which many fear will severely disrupt trade, travel and the flow of essential goods, including food and medicine. Britain is currently scheduled to exit the EU on March 29.
In Tijuana, Mexico, two Honduran teenagers who traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with the migrant caravan have been killed. The teenage boys, believed to be aged 16 and 17, were reportedly strangled and stabbed after leaving the migrant youth shelter where they were staying. Two men and one woman have been arrested and charged in the case, according to local authorities.
In more news from the border, Maria Lila Meza Castro, the Honduran woman who was captured in a viral Reuters photograph fleeing from a border tear gas attack with her children, is reportedly now in the U.S. California Congressmembers Jimmy Gomez and Nanette Barragán said Meza and her five children had been taken in and their asylum request is currently being processed.
In California, a 5-month-old girl who traveled to the U.S.-Mexico border with the Central American migrant caravan has been hospitalized with pneumonia after she spent five days in freezing government cells known as hieleras, or “iceboxes.” Agents at the immigration prison in California where she was being held reportedly refused to seek medical attention for the girl after her mother notified them she was ill.
This comes as public outrage is growing over the death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquín from Guatemala, who died in U.S. custody after she was detained at the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month.
A federal judge has struck down Trump administration policies designed to prevent people fleeing gang and domestic violence from seeking asylum in the U.S. The Wednesday ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies, representing 12 adults and minors who were denied asylum under the new government rules. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan, who called the Trump administration policies “arbitrary, capricious and in violation of the immigration laws,” ordered any deported plaintiffs in the case be returned to the U.S.
Earlier this week, Judge Sullivan delayed sentencing for former national security adviser Michael Flynn and told him in his courtroom, “You sold your country out.”
In more immigration news, the Trump administration is easing the requirements for sponsoring migrant children in government custody. Sponsors are most commonly relatives of unaccompanied children who are able to take them into their care. The Department of Health and Human Services announced it will no longer require a full background check on all members of a potential sponsor’s household, which draws out the process significantly. In September, ICE confirmed it was arresting potential sponsors for possible immigration violations. Recently revealed data showed that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested 170 people since July. A reported 15,000 immigrant children are currently being held in government custody, a record high.
The Department of Agriculture is proposing a new rule making it more difficult for low-income Americans to receive federal assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP. The proposed rule limits states’ ability to issue waivers on employment requirements before people are deemed eligible for food assistance.
In legal news, a Colorado appeals court dismissed 83 complaints against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. One of the ethics complaints alleged Kavanaugh lied under oath to the Senate during nomination proceedings. The judicial panel said that they do not have the authority to take action on the complaints—which relate to events before his confirmation as a Supreme Court justice—because his seat on the Supreme Court bench excludes him from the judiciary’s misconduct rules.
The New York Times is reporting hackers accessed diplomatic European Union cables for years. A trove of hacked documents reveals concerns over Trump and his relationship with world leaders, the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and fears of Russia-annexed Crimea turning into a nuclear “hot zone.” Other major international institutions, including the United Nations, were also reportedly targeted in the widespread cyberattack. Cyber experts say the attack was perpetrated by Chinese hackers linked to the government.
The New York Times is reporting that Democratic operatives employed covert methods borrowed from Russian cyber agents on Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to sway last year’s special Senate election in Alabama. The Democratic operatives admitted to using “false flag” operations to make it look like Russian bots were helping Republican Roy Moore’s campaign. Democrat Doug Jones narrowly beat out Moore in the historically conservative state, after Moore came under intense fire as at least nine women accused him of sexually harassing or assaulting them when they were teenagers.
The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved a bill to make lynching a federal crime. It was sponsored by the Senate’s three African American members, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Tim Scott. Newly elected Mississippi Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith presided over the vote. Last month, Hyde-Smith came under fire after she made the campaign-stop remark, “If he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She was referring to a supporter.
In Illinois, a new report by the attorney general finds that nearly 700 Catholic priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors, but the church withheld the identity of at least 500 of the alleged sexual predators. The report reveals a pattern of discrediting survivors and neglecting to investigate allegations. The report is the latest shockwave in the ongoing sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. Earlier this month, an American Catholic priest, Kenneth Hendricks, was charged with sexually abusing at least 10 young boys in the Philippines.
Altria, the company who produces Marlboro cigarettes, is reportedly close to signing a $13 billion deal with e-cigarette maker Juul. Earlier this month, Altria invested $1.8 billion in Canadian cannabis company Cronos. Canada legalized recreational marijuana use in October.
In Brooklyn, Ohio, a black man was apprehended and handcuffed by police after tellers at Huntington Bank refused to cash his check, then called 911 on him. Thirty-year-old Paul McCowns was attempting to cash a paycheck of just over $1,000. Social media reports of the incident—which took place on December 1—have been circulating with the hashtag #BankingWhileBlack.
In Texas, the ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state’s attorney general, two universities and two school districts over the controversial state law requiring employees to vow not to boycott Israel. The suit claims that such a demand violates constitutional rights. One of the plaintiffs in the case is a reporter at NPR-affiliate radio station KETR, which is licensed with a public college in Texas.
Last week, the ACLU of Arkansas filed a suit on behalf of the Arkansas Times, challenging a similar law that says government workers must pledge not to boycott Israel, or suffer a pay cut.
Austin-based Palestinian-American speech pathologist Bahia Amawi is also suing in Texas for losing her job over her refusal to sign the pro-Israel oath. Click here to see our interview with Amawi.
In New York City, the activist who climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest President Trump’s anti-immigrant policies has been found guilty on multiple counts, including trespassing and interfering with government agency functions. Therese Patricia Okoumou and other activists staged a 4th of July protest, dropping a banner reading ”ABOLISH ICE” from the base of the statue, before Okoumou attempted to scale the structure. Okoumou, wearing a dress with the words “Seeking asylum is not a crime” written on it, addressed supporters outside of the courthouse Monday.
Therese Patricia Okoumou: “I’m really happy with the outcome because we are still talking about the children in these concentration camps. Thank you for those who are at home in solidarity with us, in spirit.”