One day after tweeting, “Get ready Russia, because [missiles] will be coming, nice and new and 'smart!',” President Trump has appeared to back off slightly from his aggressive stance over Syria. This morning, Trump tweeted, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” Trump’s tweet came after he missed a self-imposed deadline of 48 hours to announce “major decisions” on Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical attack in Douma on Saturday. On Wednesday, Pentagon chief James Mattis said the U.S. was still investigating who was responsible.
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “We’re still assessing the intelligence. Ourselves and our allies, we’re still working on this.”
Reporter: “Is the U.S. military ready right now to conduct a retaliatory strike, if ordered?”
Defense Secretary James Mattis: “We stand ready to provide military options, if they’re appropriate, as the president determined.”
Mattis’s comments came as Russia raised the specter of a direct military confrontation with the United States in Syria. Speaking at the United Nations Security Council, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vasily Nebenzya directly addressed his U.S. counterpart, Nikki Haley.
Vasily Nebenzya: “You are very good at threatening. And the threats you are proffering, that you are now stating vis-à-vis Syria, should make us seriously worried—all of us—because we could find ourselves on the threshold of some very sad and serious events. I would once again ask you, once again beseech you, to refrain from the plans that you’re currently developing for Syria.”
Meanwhile, Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders has warned the White House against any attack on Syria without a declaration of war from Congress. On Wednesday, Sanders tweeted, “President Trump has no legal authority for broadening the war in Syria. It is Congress, not the president, who determines whether our country goes to war, and Congress must not abdicate that responsibility.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he will not seek re-election this fall, sending shock waves through the Republican Party ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Ryan said he’s retiring to spend more time with his family, but many have cited Ryan’s frequent clashes with President Donald Trump. More than 40 House Republicans have announced they will resign or retire this year, including nine committee chairs. During a Wednesday morning news conference, Ryan downplayed Republicans’ concerns that his departure could add to a “blue wave” of Democratic gains in November.
Speaker Paul Ryan: “I gave it some consideration, but I really do not believe whether I stay or go in 2019 is going to affect a person’s individual race for Congress. I really don’t think a person’s race for Congress is going to hinge on whether Paul Ryan is speaker or not.”
Top contenders to replace Ryan as Republican House leader are Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. We’ll have more on Paul Ryan’s retirement from Congress later in the broadcast.
FBI agents who raided the home, hotel room and offices of President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, were seeking clues about how Cohen worked with the Trump campaign in 2016 to suppress negative information. That’s according to The New York Times, which reports the agents were seeking documents related to the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump is recorded openly boasting about sexually assaulting women. The latest revelations come as Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, urged the president to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and to stop cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
In Algeria, the government has declared three days of national mourning, after a military passenger jet crashed outside the capital Algiers on Wednesday, killing 257 people on board. It was Algeria’s worst-ever air disaster and the deadliest plane crash since 2014, when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine. Among the dead in Wednesday’s crash were 26 members of the Polisario Front, a Western Saharan independence movement seeking to end Morocco’s 42-year rule of the West African territory.
On Capitol Hill, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg faced off with lawmakers for a second straight day Wednesday, admitting to a House committee that he, too, had data from his Facebook account collected by a third party without his consent. Zuckerberg’s testimony came as lawmakers investigate how the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica harvested data from more than 87 million Facebook users, without their permission, in efforts to sway voters to support President Donald Trump. This is Zuckerberg being questioned by Illinois Democratic Congressmember Bobby Rush.
Rep. Bobby Rush: “Mr. Zuckerberg, what is the difference between Facebook’s methodology and the methodology of the American political pariah, J. Edgar Hoover?
Mark Zuckerberg: “Congressman, this is an important question, because I think people often ask what the difference is between surveillance and what we do. And I think that the difference is extremely clear, which is that, on Facebook, you have control over your information. The content that you share, you put there. You can take it down at any time. The information that we collect, you can choose to have us not collect. You can delete any of it. And, of course, you can leave Facebook if you want.”
President Trump’s nominee to become a federal district court judge in Louisiana refused to say Wednesday whether she supports the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling on school segregation. This is Louisiana lawyer Wendy Vitter, under questioning by Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal: “Do you believe that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided?”
Wendy Vitter: “Senator, I don’t mean to be coy, but I think I get into a difficult—different—difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with.”
At Wednesday’s confirmation hearing, Vitter also insisted that, if confirmed, she could “put aside” her long-standing anti-abortion advocacy. Vitter has spoken frequently at anti-abortion rallies and has worked for years to defund Planned Parenthood; she once told the New Orleans Clarion Herald that Planned Parenthood “kills over 150,000 females a year.”
In Missouri, Republican Governor Eric Greitens is refusing to resign, after a report commissioned by the state’s Republican-led Legislature found he sexually assaulted and physically abused a woman, before blackmailing her to cover up his crime. The report cited a woman whose name was withheld, who says Greitens repeatedly groped her, slapped her across the face, coerced her into sex and verbally abused her. Speaking just before the report’s release Wednesday, Governor Greitens insisted its findings were “tabloid trash” and “gossip.”
Gov. Eric Greitens: “We fully expect that the report being released tonight will include lies and falsehoods. I want to say again what I’ve said from the beginning: This is a political witch hunt.”
Governor Greitens, a former Navy SEAL, faces a felony charge of invasion of privacy at a trial scheduled for next month. Missouri’s Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson called Wednesday for Governor Greitens to resign, and the state’s top Democrat said lawmakers should begin impeachment proceedings if he doesn’t step down.
In climate news, new research finds the Atlantic Ocean’s Gulf Stream current has weakened dramatically in recent years and could be headed for a collapse that would bring extreme winters to western Europe while accelerating sea level rise in the eastern United States. The findings come in a pair of new reports published in the journal Nature. Researchers found prevailing ocean currents have weakened by about 15 percent since the mid-20th century, as human-caused climate change added vast amounts of fresh water to the North Atlantic due to melting ice from Greenland.
In Chicago, dozens of employees of the Chicago Tribune said Wednesday they’re organizing a labor union—which would be the first in the 170-year history of the traditionally anti-union newspaper. Members of the organizing committee of the Chicago Tribune Guild say they’re looking for job security, raises, lower healthcare costs and greater diversity in the Tribune’s newsroom.
And former Republican House Speaker John Boehner has joined the board of directors of Acreage Holdings, a medical marijuana company. On Wednesday, Boehner tweeted, “I’m joining the board of #AcreageHoldings because my thinking on cannabis has evolved. I’m convinced de-scheduling the drug is needed so we can do research, help our veterans, and reverse the opioid epidemic ravaging our communities.” During his 24 years in Congress, Boehner championed laws that saw millions of people arrested on marijuana charges—a highly disproportionate number of them people of color.