President Trump said Wednesday that sanctions will be lifted on Turkey as a ceasefire remains in place in northern Syria. Turkey invaded the region earlier this month after Trump withdrew U.S. support for Syrian Kurds who had helped the U.S. fight ISIS. More than 11,000 Kurds died in that campaign. While President Trump had vowed to remove U.S. forces from Syria, he acknowledged on Wednesday that some U.S. troops would stay to guard oil fields.
President Donald Trump: “A small number of U.S. troops will remain in the area where they have the oil. And we’re going to be protecting it, and we’ll be deciding what we’re going to do with it in the future. … Let someone else fight over this long, bloodstained sand.”
Russian and Turkish forces have agreed to joint patrols along the Syrian-Turkish border, after presidents Erdogan and Putin met in Sochi, Russia, on Tuesday and agreed to a plan that would force Syrian Kurdish forces to retreat from a wide swath of the region. The United Nations reports Turkey’s offensive displaced over 176,000 people, including nearly 80,000 children. Meanwhile, in Geneva, Switzerland, a Syrian Kurdish man set himself on fire outside the headquarters of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Wednesday. He was airlifted to an area hospital with severe burns. We’ll have more on the crisis in Syria after headlines.
On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers stormed a closed congressional hearing room Wednesday, disrupting the House impeachment investigation and preventing a Pentagon official from testifying for five hours. The protest violated House rules — including a ban on cellphones and other electronic devices inside a room known as the SCIF, or sensitive compartmented information facility.
Meanwhile, Trump continues to lash out at the impeachment investigation. On Wednesday, he blasted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor as a “Never Trumper,” one day after Taylor told Congress that Trump withheld hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid to Ukraine in a bid to force its leaders to incriminate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden. In an angry tirade on Twitter, Trump warned of a growing number of Republican critics, tweeting, “Watch out for them, they are human scum!”
This comes as The New York Times is reporting top Ukrainian officials were told in early August about the delay of military aid, undercutting one of President Trump’s main arguments that he hadn’t engaged in a quid pro quo. And the Associated Press reports that in May Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spent hours with his advisers discussing Trump’s pressure campaign to force him to investigate Joe Biden. Later in the broadcast, we’ll go to Capitol Hill for the latest on the impeachment investigation.
In Manhattan, a personal attorney for Donald Trump told a federal court Wednesday that the president could neither be investigated for a crime nor prosecuted — even for murder. The argument by Trump’s attorney, William S. Consovoy, came as he sought to quash a subpoena seeking the president’s private financial records about hush money payments made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. During Wednesday’s hearing, Judge Denny Chin asked Consovoy about Trump’s infamous comment in 2016 that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and not lose any voters.
Judge Denny Chin: “And what’s your view on the Fifth Avenue example? Local authorities couldn’t investigate? They couldn’t do anything about it?”
William S. Consovoy: “I think once a president is removed from office, any local authority – this is not a permanent immunity.”
Judge Denny Chin: “Well, I’m talking about while in office.”
William S. Consovoy: “No.”
Judge Denny Chin: “That’s the hypo. Nothing could be done? That’s your position?”
William S. Consovoy: “That is correct.”
A lawyer for Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office responded, “There is no such thing as presidential immunity for tax returns,” and “They’re making this up.”
In Chile, the death toll from anti-government protests has risen to 18 as concessions by President Sebastián Piñera failed to quell anger over rising inequality, the high cost of living and privatization. On Wednesday, a 4-year-old child and an adult were killed after an unidentified driver rammed a crowd of protesters in the city of San Pedro de la Paz. This comes amid mounting reports of brutality and torture by Chilean authorities. Chile’s National Institute of Human Rights says police or soldiers have killed at least five of the protesters.
In Spain, authorities have exhumed the body of fascist dictator Francisco Franco from a state-run mausoleum to be reburied in a private family vault. Franco oversaw a brutal 40-year dictatorship until his death in 1975. This is Spanish historian and former political prisoner under Franco’s dictatorship, Nicolás Sánchez Albornoz.
Nicolás Sánchez Albornoz: “It was time to move him. We’ve waited many decades for Franco to disappear from this monument, which in and of itself was the shame of Spain. All the dictators of Franco’s ilk have vanished from Europe — Hitler, Mussolini — and were not honored with such tombs. The truth is, the contradiction was obvious between a democracy and a monument dedicated to the cult of a man who was the opposite of democratic.”
In London, lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange are warning of a blow to press freedom worldwide after a court denied Assange’s request for a delay in his U.S. extradition hearing scheduled for February. Assange, who’s been jailed by British authorities since he was dragged out of the Ecuadorian Embassy by London police in April, appeared dazed and frail at a court appearance Monday, struggling to say his own name and birthday before telling a judge, “I can’t think properly.” Human rights groups have warned Assange has suffered “psychological torture” in British custody. This is Nils Melzer, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, who visited Assange last May in London’s Belmarsh Prison.
Nils Melzer: “I spoke with him for an hour just to get a good first impression. Then we had a physical examination for an hour by our forensic expert, and then we had a two-hour psychiatric examination. And all three of us had the same impression — and, well, I had certainly an impression, and the medical doctors had a diagnosis. But we all came to the conclusion that he showed all the symptoms that are typical for a person that has been exposed to psychological torture over an extended period of time.”
Julian Assange faces up to 175 years in prison if he’s extradited to the U.S. to face hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act.
Elsewhere in Britain, police have launched one of the largest murder investigations in decades after the bodies of 39 people were discovered in the back of a tractor-trailer at an industrial park east of London. The truck had a refrigerator unit; it was not immediately clear if the victims froze to death or suffocated. The Essex police department said the deaths were likely the result of human trafficking. A police spokesperson said the truck had a Bulgarian license plate and entered the U.K. on October 19.
Pippa Mills: “Emergency services attended, but, sadly, all 39 people inside the container had died. Early indications suggest that one of these people was a teenager. The rest are believed to be adults. A murder investigation was launched, and the lorry driver, a 25-year-old man from Northern Ireland, was arrested on suspicion of murder and remains in police custody.”
All of the 39 people who died are believed to be Chinese nationals.
Back in the United States, a Honduran immigrant has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in Connecticut, charging she was forced into sexual slavery by an immigration agent who threatened her with deportation. The woman, identified in the federal lawsuit as Jane Doe, says she was first recruited by ICE agent Wilfredo Rodriguez in 2006 to become an informant after her brother was arrested for entering the U.S. without documentation. She says Rodriguez later forced her into sex, warning she’d be deported if she didn’t obey and at one point threatening her with a gun. She says she was raped by Rodriguez as often as four times a week over a seven-year period, becoming pregnant three times. A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment on the lawsuit but confirmed Rodriguez no longer works for the agency.
In Louisiana, relatives of construction workers who were killed when the half-built Hard Rock Hotel in New Orleans collapsed earlier this month are suing the companies behind the disaster. The families say the 18-story building was poorly designed and unsafely built by unlicensed contractors and non-union labor. Its collapse on October 12 left three workers dead and dozens injured. Meanwhile, an immigrant worker at the site who was injured after falling three stories was arrested by ICE agents just two days after narrowly surviving the disaster. Lawyers say Delmer Ramirez-Palma needs surgery but has yet to receive proper medical attention as he awaits deportation to Honduras in an ICE jail in Oakdale, Louisiana. Ramirez-Palma’s arrest came shortly after he described his injuries to a Spanish-language television station.
California’s largest energy utilities are planning a new round of power cuts that will bring blackouts to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses over the next two days. Pacific Gas & Electric says dry and windy conditions are forcing it to cut power to more than a half-million people in Northern California in order to prevent a repeat of last year’s devastating Camp Fire, which killed 85 people after poorly maintained PG&E transmission lines sparked the blaze. Meanwhile, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric are planning to shut off power to more than 300,000 customers, after a fire in the western Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacific Palisades damaged multimillion-dollar hillside homes. Climate scientists say greenhouse gas emissions are making California hotter and drier, leading to bigger and more frequent fires.
In Pittsburgh, President Trump touted his administration’s support for the natural gas industry on Wednesday, praising the growth of fracking wells in Pennsylvania and defending his plan to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate accord. During his keynote address to the Shale Insight energy conference, Trump also praised his administration’s construction of new barriers on the southern border.
President Donald Trump: “And we’re building a wall on the border of New Mexico. And we’re building a wall in Colorado. We’re building a beautiful wall, a big one that really works.”
In response, Colorado Governor Jared Polis tweeted, “Colorado doesn’t border Mexico. Good thing Colorado now offers free full day kindergarten so our kids can learn basic geography.”
Ahead of Trump’s arrival in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, police arrested 14 people as they held a sit-in protest blocking a bridge near the Shale Insight conference. The protest was led by Jewish leaders who marched behind a banner reading “Our solidarity will defeat White Nationalism.” It came almost exactly one year after a gunman armed with an AR-15 assault rifle opened fire inside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 worshipers. Just ahead of the shooting, the gunman posted a racist screed echoing President Trump’s language about an “invasion” of immigrants. This is Dove Kent of the group Jewish Action, who led Wednesday’s protest.
Dove Kent: “We know that the violence from the state that is separating immigrant families is connected to the vigilante violence that is killing Jews in synagogues, black people in churches, and Muslim people on the streets. We know, as a Jewish community, that our safety is dependent on the safety of all people. And that is why we are here, as Jews, in Pittsburgh, one year after the most anti-Semitic shooting that has ever happened in this country, to say that our safety matters.”
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg Wednesday over the social media giant’s plans to launch a cryptocurrency called Libra that would reshape the world’s financial system. They also blasted Zuckerberg over Facebook’s policy allowing politicians to lie in political advertisements.
Michigan Congressmember Rashida Tlaib said she feared that far-right hate groups were using Facebook event pages to incite violence against Muslims and other minorities — including death threats directed at her office. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez questioning Zuckerberg.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “One more question: In your ongoing dinner parties with far-right figures, some of whom advanced the conspiracy theory that white supremacy is a hoax, did you discuss so-called social media bias against conservatives? And do you believe there is a bias?”
Mark Zuckerberg: “Congresswoman, sorry, I don’t remember everything that was in the question.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “That’s all right, I’ll move on. Can you explain why you’ve named The Daily Caller, a publication well documented with ties to white supremacists, as an official fact-checker for Facebook?”
Mark Zuckerberg: “Congresswoman, sure. We actually don’t appoint the independent fact-checkers. They go through an independent organization called the Independent Fact-Checking Network that has a rigorous standard for who they allow to serve as a fact-checker.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “So, you would say that white supremacist-tied publications meet a rigorous standard for fact-checking? Thank you.”
Mark Zuckerberg: “Congresswoman, I would say that we’re not the one assessing that standard. The International Fact-Checking Network is the one who is setting that standard.”