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President Trump said Wednesday he’s looking forward to planned talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, but said he’s prepared to walk away from the table if he’s not happy with how they’re proceeding. Trump’s comments came as U.S. and North Korean officials solidified plans for an unprecedented summit between the two leaders—likely to be held in Mongolia’s capital Ulaanbaatar. On Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to praise his CIA chief Mike Pompeo for secretly meeting with Kim Jong-un over Easter weekend. The praise was widely seen as an effort to boost Pompeo’s bid to become secretary of state, as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is poised to reject his nomination.
President Trump demurred Wednesday when asked if he was moving to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, even as he called the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump Organization and Russian officials a “hoax.” Trump was speaking in a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
President Donald Trump: “This is a hoax. As far as the investigation, nobody has ever been more transparent than I have, instructed our lawyers—’Be totally transparent.’ I believe we’ve given them 1.4 million pages of documents, if you can believe this, and haven’t used—that I know of, or for the most part—presidential powers or privilege. So, we are hopefully coming to the end. It is a bad thing for our country, very, very bad thing for our country. But there has been no collusion.”
Trump’s comments came as Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would “move ahead” with hearings on bipartisan legislation that would protect special counsel Mueller. Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed he will not bring the measure to a vote in the full Senate.
This comes as police in at least one major U.S. city are preparing for possible riots if President Trump fires Robert Mueller. A memo from Pittsburgh Police Commander Victor Joseph reads, “Beginning April 19 all Major Crimes detectives are required to bring a full uniform and any issued protective equipment (riot gear) with them to work until further notice. We may be needed in the event that there is a large-scale protest.”
The Senate moved Wednesday to end an Obama-era policy that warns auto lenders against discriminating against people of color by charging them more on auto loans. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin joined Republicans in a 51-47 vote to overrule the policy by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—an agency that’s been assailed by Republicans since its creation in 2010. The House is expected to approve the bill and to send it to President Trump for his signature. The rule was adopted after a 2011 report by the Center for Responsible Lending found African Americans and Latinos disproportionately received interest rate markups more frequently and to a greater degree than their white counterparts.
The Senate has approved a rule change that will allow nursing mothers to bring infants to the Senate floor during votes and to breastfeed them inside the chamber. The rule change comes after Illinois Democrat Tammy Duckworth became the first U.S. senator to give birth while in office. Duckworth has not been present in Senate votes since the birth of her daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, earlier this month.
In Puerto Rico, most of the island’s 1.4 million residents are without power, after an excavator downed a transmission line Wednesday, blacking out the entire electrical grid for the U.S. territory. The latest blackout comes after hundreds of thousands of residents went for months without power in the wake of Hurricane Maria last fall and less than a week after another blackout left more than 800,000 people temporarily without electricity.
In Syria, a U.N. security team with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has delayed its inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, after members of the team were shot at by unknown assailants as they approached the site. The latest delay to the inspectors’ mission came amid competing claims about whether chemical weapons were to blame for the deaths of at least 40 people in the Damascus suburb on April 7 and over who was responsible. President Trump cited the alleged attack as his rationale for a coordinated U.S., British and French attack on Syria last Friday. We’ll have more on Syria after headlines with Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi and Moazzam Begg.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, press freedom groups are expressing alarm over the arrest of a journalist early Wednesday by Palestinian security forces. Relatives say the officers presented a search warrant and arrested Hazem Naser without mention of what charge he’s being held on. Naser works for the Najah Broadcasting Channel, which frequently covers Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes, the arrests of Palestinians and the condition of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists said, “The authorities must explain immediately on what grounds they snatched this journalist away from his home in the middle of the night.”
In Cuba, President Raúl Castro is stepping down today and will hand power to his handpicked successor, Miguel Díaz-Canel. Castro will remain head of Cuba’s ruling Communist Party. The 57-year-old Díaz-Canel comes to power as the Trump administration seeks to reverse a thaw in relations between the U.S. and Cuba begun under President Barack Obama.
In Kansas, a federal jury convicted three white male militia members Wednesday of plotting to massacre Somali immigrants at a mosque and an apartment building in Garden City. Gavin Wright, Patrick Stein and Curtis Allen were found guilty of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, after an FBI informant said they were plotting to use guns and car bombs to mass murder Somalis. The three belonged to a militia called the Crusaders. At trial, their lawyer admitted the trio referred to Muslims as “cockroaches,” but argued they hadn’t meant to go through with their plot.
In Minnesota, an FBI whistleblower who leaked classified information about how the bureau aggressively targets potential informants pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges of unauthorized disclosure. Terry J. Albury, who was the only African-American agent at the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis, called his leaks an “an act of conscience” aimed at calling out racism at the bureau. He faces up to 10 years in prison but is likely to receive less than five under a plea deal.
In Georgia, immigrants imprisoned at a for-profit detention center have filed a class action lawsuit, claiming they were forced to work for $8 a day—or less—in violation of U.S. labor law. The suit alleges that prisoners at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, who refuse to join so-called voluntary work programs face retaliation by guards, including threats of criminal prosecution. One former prisoner says he worked 8-hour shifts in the prison’s kitchen for up to seven days per week, earning just $4 per day. He says when he refused to work, he was put in solitary confinement for 10 days. The prison is operated by CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America.
New York state will restore voting rights to thousands of people with felony convictions on parole, under an executive order signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday. Civil rights lawyer Myrna Pérez of the Brennan Center for Justice welcomed the order, writing in a statement, “New York State’s disenfranchisement policy is rooted in historical racism, a shameful extension of 19th century efforts to intentionally block black men from casting ballots. And today, depriving Americans on parole of the right to vote continues to have a drastic impact on people of color.”
In Poland, environmentalists are celebrating after Europe’s highest court ordered an immediate halt to large-scale logging in one of the continent’s last pristine forests. Tuesday’s ruling by the European Union Court of Justice found Poland violated EU laws by allowing as many as 100,000 ancient trees to be logged in the Bialowieza Forest. Following the ruling, Greenpeace and other forest protectors have demanded Poland’s government drop charges against 300 activists arrested during protests against the illegal logging.
And in Great Britain, protesters blocked entry to Canada’s main Embassy in London on Wednesday, erecting a mock oil pipeline marked with the words “Crudeau Oil.” The protest came as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in London for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May. The demonstrators want Trudeau to end his support for an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which would accelerate oil shipments from Canada’s tar sands region to a terminal near Vancouver. This is U.K. Greenpeace program director Pat Venditti.
Pat Venditti: “Tar sands oil is amongst the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet. It’s dirtier than coal. And Prime Minister Trudeau is here in London to talk about climate responsibility. And our message to Mr. Trudeau is that climate leaders don’t build pipelines.”