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HeadlinesFebruary 01, 2018

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FBI Cites “Grave Concerns” over Release of Russia Probe Memo

Feb 01, 2018

The FBI said Wednesday it has “grave concerns” over President Trump’s plans to release a four-page document written by Republican House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes purporting to show that the FBI abused its power when it began surveilling Trump campaign adviser Carter Page in 2016 due to his dealings with Russia. Supporters of President Trump claim the memo offers proof that the FBI’s investigation was tainted by politics from the start—in part because the FBI won approval of the wiretap by citing a dossier funded by supporters of Hillary Clinton.

The memo is expected to lay blame on the actions of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—the same man who is the only official with the authority to fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller. Earlier this week, House Intelligence Committee Republicans voted along party lines to declassify the memo, which had become a rallying cry for President Trump and his supporters. In a highly unusual statement issued on Wednesday, the FBI said it was “provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Speaking Wednesday, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, echoed the concerns.

Rep. Adam Schiff: “This is not about the facts. This is about a narrative that the chairman wants to put out, a misleading narrative, to undermine the FBI, undermine the department, and ultimately undermine Bob Mueller. And, of course, the danger in all of this, besides the obvious one of politicizing the intelligence process, is that it send a message to the White House that he can fire Rod Rosenstein or he can fire Bob Mueller, and there are GOP members who are so vested in his presidency that they will roll over. And that will cause a constitutional crisis, if that’s the message he takes from this.”

Congressmember Schiff later said that committee chair Devin Nunes had made “material changes” to a version of the memo he sent to the White House and that the changes were not approved by the committee.

NYT: Robert Mueller Probing Trump Officials’ Spin on Russia Meeting

Feb 01, 2018

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating how top Trump officials worked to put forward a false version of events surrounding a meeting at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016 between Russians and senior campaign officials. According to the Times, a former spokesperson for Trump’s legal team, Mark Corallo, is planning to tell Mueller about a conference call when White House communications director Hope Hicks said that emails about the meeting “will never get out.” The statement could be viewed as contemplating obstruction of justice.

CDC Director Steps Down Amid Reports of Tobacco Investments

Feb 01, 2018

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abruptly resigned Wednesday, following a report she bought shares in a tobacco company after she took the reins of the top U.S. public health agency. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation came after just six months on the job and after Politico reported that she purchased up to $15,000 of shares in Japan Tobacco. As CDC director, Fitzgerald also bought shares in pharmaceutical and healthcare companies that critics say posed potential conflicts of interest.

1 Dead After Amtrak Train Carrying Republican Lawmakers Hits Truck

Feb 01, 2018

In Virginia, an Amtrak train chartered by Republican lawmakers crashed into a garbage truck outside Charlottesville on Wednesday, killing one of the truck’s passengers and injuring two others. Three people aboard the train were also lightly injured, including Minnesota Congressmember Jason Lewis, who was taken to a nearby hospital. The crash occurred as the lawmakers were headed to an annual Republican Party policy retreat in West Virginia.

Trump Admin to Extend Protected Status to Syrian Refugees, For Now

Feb 01, 2018

The Trump administration said Wednesday it will reauthorize temporary protected status—or TPS—for Syrian refugees, but said it will bar any more Syrian citizens from applying to the program. TPS benefits just 6,900 Syrians living in the U.S. The United Nations says some 5.4 million people have fled Syria since 2011. The Associated Press reports two government officials said this will be the last time the Trump administration extends TPS for Syrians. In recent months, the administration ended TPS for as many as 250,000 Salvadorans, as well as tens of thousands of Haitian, Nicaraguan and Sudanese immigrants.

Syria: Civilian Casualties Rise as Turkey Presses Afrin Offensive

Feb 01, 2018

In Syria, human rights groups say the civilian death toll is mounting in the northern city of Afrin, where Turkey’s military is pursuing a bombing campaign and ground offensive against the U.S.-backed Kurdish forces who control the region. On Wednesday, the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia circulated video showing what it said was the aftermath of an attack on civilians in Afrin.

Injured civilian: “I was on the road when it was shelled. I was injured in my head and my legs. Do we look like soldiers? It is not a military area. I had already fled my village with my family from Jalama village.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday the Turkish offensive in Afrin has killed several hundred people, including civilians. Meanwhile, the Turkish offensive has left an ancient temple in the region seriously damaged. Photos show the 3,000-year-old site of Ain Dara reduced to rubble after it was hit by Turkish airstrikes.

Turkish Court Reverses Release of Jailed Amnesty International Chair

Feb 01, 2018

In Turkey, Amnesty International is condemning the Turkish government after it ordered the release of Taner Kiliç, Amnesty International’s Turkey chair, and then promptly reversed its decision. Kiliç was first arrested last June along with 10 other human rights activists and accused of supporting terrorism. If convicted, they face up to 15 years in jail. In a statement, Amnesty International said, “Over the last 24 hours we have borne witness to a travesty of justice of spectacular proportions. To have been granted release only to have the door to freedom so callously slammed in his face is devastating for Taner, his family and all who stand for justice in Turkey.”

Trump Admin Designates Hamas Leader Ismail Haniyeh as a “Terrorist”

Feb 01, 2018

The U.S. State Department has designated Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the Palestinian political party and militant group Hamas, as a terrorist. The move comes as the Trump administration continues to face worldwide protest over its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and as the U.S. slashes funding to U.N. agencies helping Palestinian refugees. This is Hamas spokesperson Ismail Radwan.

Ismail Radwan: “It is clear that putting the name of Ismail Haniyeh on the terrorism list by the Americans came at a time that the U.S. administration is targeting Jerusalem, putting sanctions on and preventing aid to the U.N. refugee agency UNRWA. This is a continuation of the crimes against the Palestinian people. The U.S. administration has cast itself as an enemy of the Palestinian people. It’s taking the side of the Zionist occupation. This shows that the U.S. administration is working against the aspirations of free Palestinian people in liberation and achieving independence.”

Former China Editor Blasts Gender Pay Gap at BBC

Feb 01, 2018

In Britain, the former editor of the BBC’s China desk, Carrie Gracie, told members of Parliament Wednesday that the BBC is failing to abide by pay equity laws by paying men more than women. Gracie recently stepped down after serving three decades at the BBC, accusing the publicly funded broadcaster of “secretive and illegal” behavior.

Carrie Gracie: “You know, we’re not in the business of producing toothpaste or tires at the BBC. Our business is truth. We can’t operate without the truth. If we’re not prepared to look at ourselves honestly, how can we be trusted to look at anything else in our reporting honestly? It just won’t do. It can’t be a starting place, to not deal with the facts.”

265 Women and Girls Have Now Reported Sexual Abuse by Larry Nassar

Feb 01, 2018

In Michigan, more women and girls have stepped forward to say they were sexually abused by USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar as girls—raising the number of his accusers to at least 265. This is Jessica Thomashow, speaking at the third of Nassar’s sentencing hearings on Wednesday.

Jessica Thomashow: “I am Jessica Thomashow. I am 17 and a senior in high school. I’m victim A in both Eaton County and Ingham County criminal cases. I was sexually assaulted by Larry Nassar when I was 9 and 12 years old. … What you did to me was twisted. You manipulated me and my entire family. How dare you!”

Half of Iraq and Afghanistan War Vets Not Getting Mental Healthcare

Feb 01, 2018

A new study finds roughly half of all U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan need mental healthcare—but aren’t getting it. The congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds staffing shortages and bureaucracy at the VA leaves many vets unable to find treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and depression. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day.

Federal Prosecutors Drop Corruption Case Against NJ Sen. Bob Menendez

Feb 01, 2018

In Newark, New Jersey, federal prosecutors have dropped corruption charges against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez. Wednesday’s decision came two weeks after the Justice Department initially said it would seek to retry the case after a jury deadlocked over charges last November. Menendez was accused of peddling influence on behalf of New Jersey ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for flights on a private jet, luxury hotel stays and six-figure campaign contributions. Senator Menendez, who is running for re-election in November, has denied the charges.

Hong Kong Votes to Ban Ivory Sales in Major Animal Rights Victory

Feb 01, 2018

And in Hong Kong, lawmakers voted Wednesday to ban the sale of ivory—a move hailed by animal rights campaigners as a major step toward protecting elephants. This is Michael Lau with the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong.

Michael Lau: “This will show the commitment by Hong Kong government towards conserving the African elephants. What is needed next is, step up the enforcement to make sure that there will no longer be any illegal trade into Hong Kong or through Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong is the world’s largest market for ivory sales. Its ban came one month after authorities in mainland China adopted a similar prohibition.

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