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You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines, or for in-depth stories that expose government and corporate abuses of power. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation, all without ads, government funding or corporate underwriting? This is only possible with your support. Right now every donation to Democracy Now! will be doubled by a generous supporter. This means if you give $25 today, Democracy Now! will get $50 to support our daily news hour. Please do your part. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in the coming year. Thanks so much. -Amy Goodman
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The White House is struggling to explain President Trump’s shifting accounts of his relationship with Stephanie Clifford—also known as Stormy Daniels—the adult film star who claims she had a sexual affair with Trump in 2006. Trump acknowledged for the first time Thursday that he reimbursed his lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. Trump’s admission came after another one of his lawyers, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, made the revelation about Trump’s payment during an interview Wednesday evening on Fox News. At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders struggled Thursday when asked by reporters about Trump’s earlier claims that he had no knowledge of the payments.
Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “This was information that the president didn’t know at the time but eventually learned. … The president has denied and continues to deny the underlying claim. And again, I’ve given the best information I had at the time. And I would refer you back to the comments that you yourself just mentioned a few minutes ago about the timeline from Mayor Giuliani.”
Giuliani’s admission that Trump repaid Michael Cohen caught many White House officials and Trump’s allies off guard. On Fox News, host Neil Cavuto—a longtime advocate for the Trump administration—appeared to turn on Trump and Giuliani on Thursday.
Neil Cavuto: “How can you drain the swamp if you’re the one who keeps muddying the waters? You didn’t know about that $130,000 payment to a porn star, until you did; said you knew nothing about how your former lawyer Michael Cohen handled this, until acknowledging today you were the guy behind the retainer payment that took care of this. You insist that money from the campaign or campaign contributions played no role in this transaction. Of that, you’re sure. Thing is, not even 24 hours ago, sir, you couldn’t recall any of this. And you seemed very sure. Now, I’m not saying you’re a liar. You’re president, you’re busy. I’m just having a devil of a time figuring out which news is fake.”
That’s Neil Cavuto of Fox News. Legal analysts say Cohen’s $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels likely amounted to a campaign finance violation, since it constituted a loan to Trump’s campaign that went unreported in federal election filings.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are headed today to Dallas, Texas, where they’re set to address an annual convention of the National Rifle Association. The Secret Service has banned firearms, knives and other weapons from today’s event, which comes on the heels of high-profile mass shootings, including last October’s massacre in Las Vegas—the worst in modern U.S. history—and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Florida, which sparked a national movement of students protesting for gun control laws. Last year Trump became the first U.S. president since Ronald Reagan to address the NRA.
In the Arabian Peninsula, U.S. Army Green Berets secretly deployed to Yemen last December and are helping the Saudi-led coalition seek out and destroy ballistic missiles held by Houthi rebels. That’s according to The New York Times, which reports in a front-page exposé today that the operation contradicts Pentagon claims that the U.S. was limiting its involvement in Yemen to refueling, logistics and intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia and its allies. More than 15,000 people have been killed since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015. Saudi-led airstrikes have devastated Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems, sparking a massive cholera outbreak—it’s believed more than a million Yemenis have cholera—and pushing millions of Yemenis to the brink of starvation.
In Syria, anti-government rebels have evacuated areas in Homs province in a Russian-brokered deal that will grant them safe passage to another rebel-held part of the country. The surrender came amid a withering assault by Syrian forces.
In the Gaza Strip, Israeli forces opened fire with tear gas and live bullets today, as Palestinians continued mass protests against Israel’s occupation. The Haaretz newspaper reports at least three people were injured by live fire. The latest crackdown came after a Palestinian teen shot by an Israeli sniper on April 27 died from his wounds on Thursday. Medics say 19-year-old Anas Abu Aser is the 49th Palestinian killed by Israeli fire since mass protests began in late March. At least two journalists are among the dead; more than a thousand protesters have been injured. Palestinian medics told Al Jazeera at least 24 people have had their limbs amputated after they were hit by a new kind of ammunition—so-called butterfly bullets, which explode on impact, shattering bones and shredding internal organs.
The New York Times reports that President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare a plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. The report came as the U.S. and North Korea are making plans for an unprecedented summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, to be held in May or June. This week, reports emerged that three U.S. citizens imprisoned in North Korea have been relocated to a hotel in Pyongyang ahead of their imminent release. President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, had said the trio were to have been released yesterday. Tony Kim, Kim Hak-song and Kim Dong-chul were convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to long prison terms. It’s believed North Korea is preparing to return them to the U.S. as a goodwill gesture.
The U.S. Justice Department charged a former Volkswagen CEO with criminal conspiracy Thursday over his role in rigging diesel engines to circumvent air pollution standards. A federal grand jury indictment unsealed in Detroit says CEO Martin Winterkorn knew in 2014 that his company’s cars contained software that lowered carbon dioxide emissions under testing conditions, even though the cars’ emissions rose dramatically under real-world conditions. Volkswagen has admitted to rigging some 11 million vehicles worldwide. The automaker has already paid $26 billion in fines and civil damages, and faces a $10 billion lawsuit by shareholders.
In Arizona, tens of thousands of public school employees have ended a week-long strike after Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a budget bill that will grant teachers and school staffers a 20 percent raise by 2020. The bill will also raise spending on education by another $138 million. The teachers had been demanding the restoration of $1 billion in funding cuts to Arizona’s public schools since the 2008 recession. The New York Times reports teacher pay in Arizona is so low that administrators have in recent years recruited teachers from the Philippines to work in public schools under the U.S. J-1 visa program.
The winner of the National Teacher of the Year award held a silent protest Wednesday against the Trump administration’s policies as she was honored by the president in a White House ceremony. Mandy Manning wore six politically themed buttons as she accepted her award from Trump, while billionaire Education Secretary Betsy DeVos looked on. Manning’s buttons featured artwork from the 2017 Women’s March, a rainbow flag and the slogan “Trans Equality Now!” She later presented Trump with a stack of letters from her students—teenage refugees at Joel E. Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. After her protest, Manning told USA Today, “I am here for refugee and immigrant students, for the kids in the gay-straight alliance, and for all the girls I’ve coached over the years.”
Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted Thursday, spewing lava into a residential neighborhood and triggering dozens of earthquakes. The eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island caused levels of the dangerous gas sulphur dioxide to spike, prompting a mandatory evacuation for at least 1,700 people.
In India, the death toll from heavy rainfall and a major dust storm has risen to 127, as officials blamed “heat wave” conditions for extreme weather that came weeks ahead of the normal monsoon season. The deaths came days after an unprecedented heat wave in neighboring Pakistan saw temperatures in parts of the country climb above 50 degrees Celsius Monday—or 122 degrees Fahrenheit—an all-time record for Pakistan in April. The extreme weather came as Oxfam reported that wealthy countries have contributed only about half of a $100 billion target pledged under the Paris climate accord to help poorer nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a warming planet.
Activists with Black Lives Matter have called a nationwide protest today against Waffle House restaurants, after a viral video showed the violent arrest of an African-American patron by a pair of white police officers in Alabama. The incident occurred April 22 at a Waffle House in suburban Mobile, where employees called police after 25-year-old Chikesia Clemons objected to a 50-cent charge for plastic utensils. In cellphone video shot by Clemons’s friend, the officers are seen pinning Clemons to the ground and exposing her breasts, as one of them says, “I’ll break your arm. That’s what I’m about to do.”
Chikesia Clemons: “What are you doing?”
Police officer: “I’m about to break your arm. That’s what I’m about to do.”
Canita Adams: “You’re going to break her arm?”
Protesters are demanding that charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest against Clemons be dropped. They’re also demanding discipline for employees who were part of the incident, access to police video, and a statement from Waffle House denouncing how Clemons was arrested. Protesters say they’ll spend just $2 to purchase sodas so they can occupy seats at Waffle House restaurants nationwide during peak business hours today.
Meanwhile, the White House said this week it’s working to set up a meeting between President Trump and James Shaw Jr., a 29-year-old resident of Nashville, Tennessee, who’s been credited with saving many lives after he wrestled an assault rifle from a gunman at a mass shooting at a Waffle House last month—also on April 22. The White House’s overture came after Trump came under criticism for remaining silent over the heroic actions of Shaw, who’s African-American. After the shooting, Shaw—who was injured in the attack—set up a GoFundMe page that’s raised over $224,000 for victims of the shooting.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, a jury has found 34-year-old Georgia resident Alex Michael Ramos guilty of malicious wounding, over his role in the parking lot beating of Deandre Harris, a 20-year-old African American who was brutally assaulted by white supremacists at a far-right protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August. Photos and video show at least six white supremacists punching, kicking and beating Harris with large metal poles. Ramos is the fourth person convicted for the assault. He faced up to 20 years in prison, but the jury has recommended a sentence of six years with no fine. Even though he was badly beaten, Harris was arrested on a felony charge of “unlawful wounding” after the assault. In March, he was acquitted of charges.
Meanwhile, ProPublica reports that an active-duty U.S. marine was among the far-right protesters in Charlottesville last summer. The news site published a selfie photograph of 18-year-old Vasillios Pistolis in his Marine uniform, revealing he is a member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen. After the Charlottesville protests, Pistolis bragged about assaulting transgender activist Emily Gorcenski, who came out to confront the “Unite the Right” rally.
The state of Georgia is set to execute condemned prisoner Robert Earl Butts Jr. tonight. Earlier this week Georgia’s parole board issued a 90-day stay to examine his case, but then, 18 hours later, the board lifted its own stay. Butts will become the 1,475th person to be executed in the United States since 1976.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is backing a plan that would see the city become the first in the U.S. to open supervised injection sites for intravenous drug users. The plan is aimed at ending an epidemic of overdoses—mostly from opioids—which saw more than 1,400 deaths in New York City last year alone. Cities in Canada and Europe say they’ve succeeded in cutting overdose deaths while combating HIV, hepatitis and other viruses by setting up safe injection programs.
In news from Capitol Hill, House Chaplain Patrick Conroy has rescinded his resignation, just two weeks after House Speaker Paul Ryan asked him to resign. On Thursday, Ryan said Conroy can remain in his position. According to The Washington Post, Ryan initially forced Conroy into retirement over a prayer the chaplain delivered last November while the House was debating a Republican tax bill that overwhelmingly favored wealthy Americans.
Rev. Patrick Conroy: “May their efforts these days guarantee that there are not winners and losers under new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.”