The U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to uphold President Trump’s travel ban, which blocks most people from seven countries—including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen—from entering the United States. During oral arguments on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who is often seen as a swing vote, appeared to side with the conservative wing of the court. U.S. Solicitor General Noel Francisco argued the travel restrictions were not a “so-called Muslim ban” and that the order fell within the president’s executive authority. Francisco made the claim even though Trump campaigned for president calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This is Justice Samuel Alito.
Justice Samuel Alito: “If you look at what was done, it does not look at all like a Muslim ban. There are other justifications that jump out as to why these particular countries were put on—on the list. So, you—it seems to me the list creates a strong inference that this was not done for that invidious purpose.”
We’ll have more on President Trump’s travel ban after headlines.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Wednesday canceled temporary protected status for about 9,000 Nepali immigrants, who now face the prospect of deportation from the U.S. The move came exactly three years after a devastating earthquake in Nepal killed almost 9,000 people.
President Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs has withdrawn from consideration amid mounting scandals. On Wednesday, new details emerged about White House physician Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson’s behavior, including allegations he drunkenly wrecked a government vehicle and created a “hostile work environment” for his colleagues. Jackson also allegedly routinely handed out prescription drugs to West Wing staff, including the opioid Percocet, the sleeping pill Ambien and the stimulant modafinil, given to senior White House officials on international trips. Reports also surfaced that Jackson once drunkenly banged on the hotel room door of a female employee during an overseas work trip in 2015, until the Secret Service intervened. President Trump and his aides spent much of Wednesday publicly defending Jackson against the charges. Lawmakers from both parties raised concerns that Jackson has no experience heading a vast government bureaucracy like the Veterans Administration—the second-largest agency in the U.S. government. President Trump fired the previous VA chief, David Shulkin, who later said it was because of his opposition to Trump’s plans to privatize the VA.
EPA chief Scott Pruitt heads to Capitol Hill today, where he’ll face questions about a slew of inspector general investigations into his spending habits and ties to industry lobbyists. Pruitt faces more than a half-dozen inquiries, including charges he paid just $50 a night to live in a Capitol Hill condo linked to a prominent Washington lobbyist whose firm represents a roster of fossil fuel companies. Pruitt then lied by saying the lobbyist did not have business before the EPA. Pruitt had a $43,000 soundproof phone booth installed in his office, which a government watchdog says violated spending laws. Pruitt had the EPA spend $3 million on his security detail, including 18 full-time agents. He later demoted officials who challenged his use of those funds, and fired a security agent who refused to turn on his car’s emergency sirens in order to speed through a Washington, D.C., traffic jam. Pruitt routinely travels first- or business-class; an EPA official told Politico it’s because Pruitt was routinely confronted by economy-class customers angry over his policies. When away from home, Pruitt stays in luxury hotels, and his international travel expenses have soared into six figures. And as Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt used a private email for state business. He later told the Senate Environment Committee that he hadn’t.
President Trump’s personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen signaled Wednesday he’ll claim his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when a lawsuit filed by adult film star Stephanie Clifford—also known as Stormy Daniels—heads to trial. The president has previously criticized people for taking the Fifth. This is Donald Trump, speaking in September 2016.
Donald Trump: “She has people taking the Fifth Amendment. Four people plus the guy who illegally did the server. You know, he put in the illegal server. So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment. Like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
By pleading the Fifth, Cohen can avoid being deposed and being forced to reveal information about hush-money payments paid to Stormy Daniels and to Karen McDougal—another woman President Trump is alleged to have had an affair with. The payments are a central focus of a criminal probe launched by New York prosecutors against Cohen, which became public after FBI agents raided Cohen’s home, offices and hotel room earlier this month. Court papers filed Wednesday show President Trump has offered to personally review documents seized by the FBI in that raid, in Trump’s latest bid to claim attorney-client privilege in order to prevent prosecutors from reading over the materials.
French President Emmanuel Macron addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress Wednesday, drawing a three-minute standing ovation as he took the podium. Macron claimed the U.S. and France share the values of liberty, tolerance and equal rights, and spent much of his 50-minute speech swiping at President Trump’s policies on trade and the environment. He also urged the U.S. not to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement.
President Emmanuel Macron: “It is true to say that this agreement may not address all concerns and very important concerns. This is true. But we should not abandon it without having something substantial and more substantial instead. That’s my position.”
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein died Wednesday from wounds he sustained while covering protests against Israel’s occupation. Hussein was shot in the abdomen on April 13 even though he was wearing protective gear clearly marked ”PRESS.” He’s the second Palestinian journalist killed since large-scale protests erupted in Gaza on March 30. Earlier this month, Yaser Murtaja was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper under similar circumstances.
In Kandahar, Afghanistan, gunmen assassinated Afghan journalist Abdul Manan Arghand Tuesday as he was driving his car during the morning rush hour. Police say two attackers riding on a motorcycle fled the scene and remain at large. The killing has already had a chilling effect on Afghan reporters. This is Abdul Sami of the media group Nai.
Abdul Sami “Until the safety of journalists are guaranteed and the perpetrators of Abdul Manan’s killing are arrested, we will not broadcast any news from the south of the country.”
The killing came on the same day that officials met in the Afghan capital Kabul to discuss ways to protect journalists. The Afghan Journalists Safety Committee says last year was the deadliest yet for media workers, with 20 killed and scores more assaulted or threatened.
In Okinawa, Japan, hundreds of protesters are in the midst of a week-long demonstration against the construction of a massive new U.S. Marine Corps base. On Wednesday, riot police moved in to arrest scores of people as they held a nonviolent sit-in protest at the gates of Marine Corps Camp Schwab. Activists in about 80 canoes and boats also held a protest offshore. Okinawan peace activists have fought for decades for the expulsion of U.S. troops from their island.
Back in the United States, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proposed legislation Wednesday that would triple the rent of the lowest-income families who receive federal housing subsidies. Carson’s “Making Affordable Housing Work Act” would also require many recipients of Section 8 housing assistance to work at least 15 hours a week. Nearly 5 million households would be affected by the bill.
In Sacramento, California, police arrested 72-year-old former police officer Joseph James DeAngelo on Wednesday, saying they have DNA evidence he is the “Golden State Killer,” a serial rapist and murderer who terrorized California in the 1970s and '80s. The killer was blamed for at least 12 murders, more than 50 rapes and a slew of burglaries and other crimes. The is Bruce Harrington, brother of one of the killer's victims.
Bruce Harrington: “To the entire reservoir of victims out there, my sadness is with you. For the 51 ladies who were brutally raped in this crime scene, sleep better tonight; he isn’t coming through the window.”
Philippines peace activist Jerome Aba is speaking out after he was held for 28 hours by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials at San Francisco International Airport last week before being denied entry into the United States. Aba says the border agents accused him of being a terrorist, ordered him to strip naked, denied him food for nearly 24 hours and then offered him only pork to eat, in an insult to his Muslim faith. This is Jerome Aba describing the ordeal.
Jerome Aba: “When I arrived at the San Francisco airport, they immediately took me and handcuffed me. Then they interrogated me, until they deported me back to the Philippines. They asked me again and again if I am a terrorist, if I am a communist. This, I denied. I am not a terrorist. I am an activist.”
Jerome Aba had been scheduled to tour the U.S. to speak out about Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, which human rights groups say has led to the extrajudicial killings of up to 8,000 people. President Trump has cited Duterte’s drug policies favorably, as part of Trump’s push to bring the death penalty to drug dealers.
And the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opens today in Montgomery, Alabama—a monument to victims of white supremacy in the United States. The museum’s centerpiece is a walkway with 800 weathered steel pillars overhead, each of them naming a U.S. county and the people who were lynched there by white mobs. The museum’s creation was overseen by Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, who says more than 4,400 black people died by lynching throughout U.S. history. Stevenson spoke to Democracy Now! in 2014.
Bryan Stevenson: “Lynching was horrific and terrifying. And we don’t talk about it. We put markers about the Confederacy in front of these courthouses, but we don’t say a word about the thousands of people that were lynched, hundreds of whom were lynched on courthouse lawns.”