Secretary of Defense James Mattis announced he will resign at the end of February, while publicly rebuking President Trump’s foreign policy. His resignation comes one day after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria and half the troops—that’s 7,000 troops—from Afghanistan. In his resignation letter, the four-star general implicitly criticized President Trump’s foreign policy. Mattis wrote, “My views on treating allies with respect and also being clear-eyed about both malign actors and strategic competitors are strongly held and informed by over four decades of immersion in these issues. We must do everything possible to advance an international order that is most conducive to our security, prosperity and values, and we are strengthened in this effort by the solidarity of our alliances.” In the letter, Mattis did not make a direct reference to Syria, but he did call out Russia and China.
Much of the Washington establishment expressed shock over Mattis’s resignation. This is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “Secretary Mattis was one of the few symbols, the few items of strength and stability, in this administration. Everything that indicates stability, everything that indicates strength, everything that indicates knowledge is leaving this administration—General Kelly, General Mattis, so many others.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi: “McMaster.”
Sen. Chuck Schumer: “McMaster, exactly. There is chaos now in this administration.”
President Trump first said that Mattis was retiring. But when the letter came out that Mattis wrote, it was clear he was resigning over Trump’s foreign policy. We’ll have more on this story with author and retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich after headlines.
With the clock ticking, it’s still unclear whether Congress and President Trump will come to an agreement that would avert a partial government shutdown. On Thursday, President Trump said he would not sign the stopgap spending measure passed in the Senate Wednesday, as it did not include funding for his $5 billion U.S.-Mexico border wall, which he always insisted Mexico would pay for. Late Thursday, the House passed a new version of the spending bill which included the border wall funding, but it is expected to be rejected in the Senate today. In a video address, Trump compared his proposed wall to the separation wall in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
President Donald Trump: “I am asking Congress to defend the border of our nation for a tiny fraction—tiny fraction—of the cost. Essential to border security is a powerful physical barrier. Walls work, whether we like it or not. They work better than anything. In Israel, 99.9 percent successful. Think of it. I spoke to Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, two days ago. We were talking about it. He said it’s 99.9. I mean, he came up; I didn’t ask. He said 99.9 percent successful.”
If no deal is reached, the government will go into partial shutdown at midnight tonight. Some of the agencies that will be most affected by a possible shutdown include those dealing with homeland security, law enforcement, national parks, transportation and housing. Hundreds of thousands of government workers will not be paid if that shutdown happens. President Trump now says if the shutdown occurs, it’s the Democrats’ fault. Last week he said he was proud to own the government shutdown if the wall isn’t funded.
Reports emerged Thursday that acting U.S. Attorney General Matt Whitaker refused to heed the advice of a Justice Department ethics official who said Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. While Whitaker was not legally required to recuse himself, he was advised to do so because of the possible appearance of a conflict of interest based on Whitaker’s past public remarks against the Mueller inquiry. He once referred to the probe as a “witch hunt.”
This follows the news that William Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, sent an “unsolicited memo” to the Justice Department in June criticizing Mueller’s probe. Barr stated in the memo that Trump did not obstruct justice when he asked former FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump went on to fire James Comey.
The Trump administration announced Thursday it will start sending asylum seekers who enter the U.S. on the southern border back to Mexico while they wait for the outcome of their claims. The new policy was apparently imposed on the Mexican government by the United States. Mexico has agreed to allow Central American migrants to work and travel within Mexico while waiting on the U.S. asylum process. Under the current system, it can take months or even years to process asylum claims. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen announced the new policy at a heated congressional hearing where she was asked by Democratic Congressmember Hank Johnson, “Do you view those you call 'illegal aliens' to be human or subhuman?”
Rep. Hank Johnson: “Do you view those to you call 'illegal aliens' to be human or subhuman?”
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen: “Illegal aliens are human, sir.”
In more news from the Trump administration, the Treasury Department announced Wednesday it will lift sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s businesses. The companies were sanctioned in April after Deripaska was accused of “threatening the lives of business rivals, illegally wiretapping a government official, and taking part in extortion and racketeering.” Deripaska himself will still be subject to sanctions. Deripaska, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has appeared in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference, in connection with his dealings with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.
The Justice Department has charged two Chinese nationals in a worldwide, 12-year hacking campaign that included the U.S. government and military as targets. The hackers are said to be part of a network connected to Chinese Intelligence, and successfully penetrated multiple government agencies, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, NASA and the Navy, among others. The personal information of more than 100,000 Navy personnel was reportedly stolen in the cyberattack.
In California, Yemeni mother Shaima Swileh was reunited with her dying 2-year-old son after being granted a State Department waiver from President Trump’s travel ban earlier this week. The toddler, Abdullah Hassan, is in an Oakland children’s hospital with a rare brain disease. Both Abdullah and his father, Ali, are U.S. citizens, but the mother, Shaima Swileh, is a Yemeni citizen living in Egypt. Yemen is one of five majority-Muslim countries whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S. under Trump’s executive order. This is attorney Banan Al-Akhras, speaking as Swileh landed at the San Francisco airport.
Banan Al-Akhras: “Let’s be clear: Issuance of her visa this week was not an act of kindness on their part. The embassy and Department of State had a legal obligation to adjudicate Shaima’s waiver request within a reasonable amount of time, and they failed on that obligation. The result of that failure is that a dying 2-year-old boy has suffered for the last two months without his mother by his side.”
An Egyptian court has acquitted 40 NGO workers, including citizens from the U.S. and other countries, after a retrial of a case dating back to 2013, when 43 people were arrested and convicted of illegally using foreign funds to stir up opposition to the former military government. Many of the foreign defendants, including 15 Americans, left Egypt after posting bail in 2013 and were sentenced in absentia.
At a Christmas address at the Vatican today, Pope Francis pledged that the Catholic Church will “never again” cover up sexual abuse, and said that clergy members who are guilty of sexually abusing children should turn themselves in. He added that they should “prepare for divine justice.”
The Catholic Church has been rocked by the ongoing sexual abuse crisis over the past year, which reached all the way to Pope Francis’s inner circle, with two cardinals last week being removed as his close advisers and a third stepping down. Top members of the clergy were expelled or resigned in countries around the world. In May, every bishop in Chile offered their resignation as the scandal exploded there. Here in the U.S., a Pennsylvania grand jury investigation revealed systematic, widespread sexual abuse in the church. The Justice Department has opened investigations into several dioceses.
In Britain, Gatwick Airport has started to resume flights, after drone sightings on Wednesday and Thursday shut down service for over a day, causing passenger chaos as flights were canceled, postponed or rerouted. Authorities say they still do not know who is behind the unmanned aerial devices.
In environmental news, Washington, D.C., city lawmakers voted unanimously on a clean energy bill mandating 100 percent renewable electricity by 2032. The legislation also requires public transportation and fleet vehicles achieve zero carbon emissions by 2045. The mandate would apply to government buildings in the capital, including the White House. The Trump administration has been blasted by environmental groups for feverishly rolling back emissions limits and other environmental regulations.
And in France, four environmental groups are planning possible legal action against the government for failing to effectively respond to climate change. This is the director of Greenpeace France.
Jean-François Julliard: “We are issuing a legal complaint against the French government, because we think that the French government doesn’t do enough to tackle climate change. So this is why we are trying to sue the French government, to ensure that they can ramp up their ambition in terms of fighting climate change, which is not the situation right now.”
That was Jean-François Julliard. Over 1.2 million people had signed an online petition as of Friday morning in support of the legal action. The government of French President Emmanuel Macron has come under fire before for its response to the climate crisis. In August, French Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot resigned live on a radio show due to the country’s failure to adequately address climate change and other environmental threats, he said.