The Trump administration likely separated thousands more children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border than previously reported. That’s the conclusion of the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, which said in a report Thursday that efforts to track those children have been so spotty that the exact number of family separations is unknown. Last summer, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to reunite families separated by Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy along the southern border; but the inspector general’s report makes clear that many migrant families weren’t identified and reunited as part of the judge’s order.
President Trump canceled a military flight Thursday that was set to deliver House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a congressional delegation to visit NATO leaders in Brussels and U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In a letter to the speaker, Trump wrote, “In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate.” Pelosi was leading a delegation that included the chairs of the House Intelligence and Veterans’ Affairs committees; Trump’s 11th-hour order caused the bus carrying the delegation to turn around on its way to the airport. Trump’s order drew protests from congressional Democrats, and even some Republicans criticized the move. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said in a statement, “One sophomoric response does not deserve another.” Trump’s retaliation came a day after Pelosi told the president to deliver the State of the Union address in writing, from the Oval Office, or at a later date. Pelosi cited security concerns caused by the government shutdown.
Meanwhile, the shutdown has entered its 28th day, with state and local governments warning social safety net programs could soon buckle under the strain. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned Thursday that if the shutdown stretches into March, some 1.6 million low-income New York City residents will lose benefits as the city loses a half-billion dollars a month in federal aid for food stamps, rental assistance and school lunches.
Mayor Bill de Blasio: “I met with clergy leaders this morning. I asked them to prepare to help members of their congregations in every conceivable way, starting in all instances with food. But that reality of the loss of half a billion dollars a month is just too staggering to miss. We will not be able to make people whole. We just won’t.”
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell scheduled a vote Thursday—not on a bill to end the government shutdown, but on a legislation to restrict abortion rights for low-income women. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would have permanently barred federal funds from paying for abortions. It stalled after it failed to muster the 60 votes needed.
Elsewhere, the Interior Department has recalled dozens of federal employees furloughed by the shutdown. The workers from the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management will assist in Trump’s efforts to expand offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans. The bureau’s offshore wind development program remains idled by the shutdown.
BuzzFeed News is reporting President Trump directed his former personal attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. BuzzFeed cited two unnamed federal law enforcement officials investigating the matter, who also said Trump supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. Two of Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., reportedly received regular, detailed updates about the project from Cohen. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, California Democrat Adam Schiff, tweeted that the president of the United States may have “suborned perjury” by ordering Cohen to lie to his committee. Democrats say such an order would also constitute obstruction of justice—a felony. Trump’s nominee to become the next attorney general, William Barr, appeared to agree with that position during his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. Barr was questioned by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “The president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?”
William Barr: “That—yes.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “OK, and”—
William Barr: “Or, any—well, you know, any person who persuades another to”—
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “Any person.”
William Barr: “Yeah.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “OK. You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?”
William Barr: “Yes.”
Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump ordered Michael Cohen to rig online polls in Trump’s favor during the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen reportedly paid for the service by handing the head of an IT firm a bag of cash containing more than $12,000. On Twitter, Cohen did not dispute the Journal’s report, and tweeted, “[W]hat I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS.” Campaign finance experts say the payment could be a criminal breach of campaign finance laws because Trump failed to report it to the Federal Elections Commission.
In Bogotá, Colombia, at least 21 people were killed and 68 others injured Thursday after a suicide car bomber targeted cadets at a police academy. The explosion shattered windows of nearby apartments and houses, and rattled a city that hasn’t seen a terror attack in years. Authorities have identified a suspect but have not identified a motive. No group has claimed responsibility for the explosion.
In Sudan, security forces opened fire today on a crowd of mourners outside the home of a man who died after he was shot by authorities during an earlier protest in the capital, Khartoum. This followed the killing of two other protesters Thursday elsewhere in Khartoum—a doctor and a 16-year-old, who were both shot in the head by government forces. Protests erupted across Sudan a month ago calling for the overthrow of the ruling National Congress Party and an end to the military regime of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
An American journalist and news anchor for Iran’s state television network Press TV is due in a Washington, D.C., courtroom today, after she was arrested and detained by the FBI during a visit to the United States. Marzieh Hashemi, who’s a U.S. citizen who lives in Tehran, was arrested at the St. Louis airport Sunday and then transferred to a prison in Washington, D.C., according to her son. The Committee to Protect Journalists says it’s concerned about the arrest, and called on the U.S. Department of Justice to immediately disclose the basis for her detention for the past five days.
In Brazil, a former Rio de Janeiro police officer with ties to organized crime has been identified as the likely killer of prominent human rights and gay rights activist and city councilmember Marielle Franco, who was shot dead along with her driver in Rio de Janeiro in March. According to a police report reviewed by The Intercept, six witnesses have identified the ex-cop as the killer. The officer—who has not been publicly named—had been kicked out of Rio’s military force and now works as a mercenary for dirty politicians and others. The witnesses say the gunman did not act alone. No arrests have been made. Franco was a longtime critic of Brazil’s police, who have been linked to hundreds of killings and thousands of incidents of brutality in Rio’s impoverished favela neighborhoods.
Back in the United States, a Chicago judge on Thursday acquitted three police officers accused of covering up the 2014 murder of black teenager Laquan McDonald by a fellow officer. The acquittal came despite discrepancies between the three officers’ police reports and dash cam video showing that McDonald posed no threat and walked away from officers before he was shot 16 times by white police officer Jason Van Dyke. Van Dyke was convicted of second-degree murder for the shooting in October.
And in California, contract negotiations between Los Angeles school district officials and the union representing more than 30,000 teachers are set to resume today, after marathon talks Thursday failed to bring an end to the strike—now in its fifth day. Meanwhile, teachers in Oakland are planning a one-day wildcat strike today to protest stalled contract talks. Oakland teachers say they’re struggling to make ends meet as the cost of living has risen 14 percent across the Bay Area over the past five years; teachers are demanding a 12 percent pay increase over the next three years.