The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, in the latest move by the White House to discredit the work of special counsel Robert Mueller. The move by Attorney General Bill Barr will give the Justice Department the power to subpoena witnesses and to convene grand juries and to file criminal charges. Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, tweeted in response, “These reports, if true, raise profound new concerns that the Department of Justice under AG Barr has lost its independence and become a vehicle for President Trump’s political revenge.”
President Trump is planning to send hundreds of U.S. troops and tanks to eastern Syria to protect oil fields, reversing his earlier abrupt decision to withdraw ground forces from the country. That’s according to reports by CNN — and Fox News, which reported the deployment now appears “likely.” The move appears aimed at protecting a gas plant near the city of Deir ez-Zor operated by the U.S. fossil fuel giant Conoco.
The United Nations is sending a team to Chile to investigate allegations of human rights abuses against anti-government protesters following weeks of massive demonstrations nationwide over inequality, low wages and the rising cost of healthcare and education. At least 18 people have been killed since protests erupted on October 19, amid mounting reports of brutality and torture by Chilean authorities.
In Ecuador, indigenous rights activists say they have halted negotiations with President Lenín Moreno over the government’s persecution of indigenous leader Jaime Vargas. Vargas is the head of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, the organization that led recent anti-austerity protests in Ecuador. The massive anti-government demonstrations were ongoing for two weeks and ceased after President Moreno and indigenous leaders struck a deal to cancel an austerity package pushed by the International Monetary Fund.
Bolivian President Evo Morales declared victory Thursday in his campaign for a fourth presidential term, prompting a new round of protests from opponents who claim Sunday’s presidential election was rigged. Election officials said a new round of voting will be held in five regions next month due to irregularities in the ballot, but said the outcome won’t be enough to trigger a runoff election in December. Official figures show Morales took 47% of the vote in a nine-candidate field, just over 10 points more than his nearest opponent, Carlos Mesa, who condemned the vote count as a “gigantic fraud” and accused Morales of holding on to power illegally.
In Guinea, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of the capital Conakry and other cities around the West African nation Thursday, opposing a proposed constitutional change that would let President Alpha Condé run for a third term in office. The protests were heavily policed but peaceful — unlike smaller demonstrations last week that saw police open fire with live rounds, killing at least nine people and sending scores to hospitals. After those protests, authorities sentenced a dozen opposition politicians and civil society leaders to jail terms of up to one year.
In Washington, D.C., thousands of mourners honored the late Congressmember Elijah Cummings Thursday as his body lay in state in the U.S. Capitol. Cummings, who passed away last week at the age of 68, was the first African-American lawmaker to receive the honor. He spent decades championing the rights of African Americans and the poor — first as a civil rights activist and later as a Maryland state legislator, before being elected to represent his Baltimore district in the House of Representatives 13 times. Cummings will be laid to rest today after a funeral in Baltimore. Former presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama will be among those speaking.
Former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden on Thursday reversed a pledge not to accept the help of super PACs. A Biden campaign spokesperson said the move was necessary to counter a barrage of attack ads from President Trump. A spokesperson for Bernie Sanders’s campaign — which opposes super PACs — slammed Biden’s move, saying, “Joe Biden has spent his campaign promising elite donors that nothing will fundamentally change for them, and he has made clear to fossil fuel and pharmaceutical donors that he will be their ally.”
In Newark, New Jersey, police arrested over a dozen activists Thursday as they blocked downtown traffic in a sit-in protest demanding that all residents be eligible to receive driver’s licenses — including undocumented immigrants. This is one of the protesters, speaking as she joined a peaceful blockade of a Newark intersection.
Protester: “We’re here because the immigrant community in New Jersey has been waiting 15 years for access to a driver’s license. And enough is enough. And we need the New Jersey Legislature to pass this bill right now. This is a major reason why people are getting picked up by ICE, ending up deported and separated from their families.”
Thirteen U.S. states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C., issue driver’s licenses regardless of a person’s immigration status.
In New York City, a woman comedian was booed and two attendees were kicked out of an event for young performers in Manhattan’s Lower East Side Wednesday night after they protested the presence of accused sexual predator and former Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, who was spotted in the audience. One of the evening’s performers, comedian Kelly Bachman, who is a rape survivor, called out Weinstein during her act on stage.
Kelly Bachman: “I’m a comic. And it’s our job to name the elephant in the room. Do we know what that is? Yeah, it’s a Freddy Krueger in the room, if you will. I didn’t know that we had to bring our own Mace and rape whistles to Actor’s Hour. You know?”
Men in audience: “Boo! Boo! Shut up!”
Kelly Bachman: “Oh, 'shut up'? Yeah.”
Man in audience: “Boo!”
Kelly Bachman: “This kills at group therapy for rape survivors.”
Another attendee, actor Zoe Stuckless, was kicked out of the event after confronting Weinstein.
Zoe Stuckless: “Nobody’s going to say anything? Nobody’s really going to say anything? I’ll get out of here, that’s fine. I am happy to leave. But nobody’s going to say anything? I’m going to stand four feet from a f— rapist, and nobody’s going to say anything? I’ll go.”
Amber Rollo, who is also a comedian, confronted Weinstein and was kicked out, as well, after a member of Weinstein’s entourage called her the c-word. Rollo is also a rape survivor. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges of rape, sexual assault and “predatory sexual assault.” He faces trial in a Manhattan court in January.
In sports news, the Houston Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday, after he yelled at Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein and two other female reporters, “Thank God we got Osuna! I’m so f— glad we got Osuna!” The Astros signed relief pitcher Roberto Osuna from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018 only weeks after the league handed him a 75-game suspension for violating its domestic violence policy. One of the reporters was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet at the time of the incident.
Major League Baseball is reviewing the status of Bob Drake, one of its senior umpires. Just ahead of Game 2 of the World Series Wednesday night, he tweeted, “will be buying an AR-15 tomorrow, because if you impeach MY PRESIDENT this way, YOU WILL HAVE ANOTHER CIVAL [sic] WAR!!! #MAGA2020.” He’s since deleted his Twitter account and apologized.
In California, high winds and bone-dry conditions fueled an explosion of new wildfires overnight, with at least nine active major fires now raging across the state. Eighteen million people are under red flag warnings across Southern California, as the Tick Fire north of Los Angeles exploded to consume over 3,000 acres in a matter of hours, forcing thousands of residents to flee their homes. In Northern California, the Pacific Gas and Electric Company said a broken jumper cable on a transmission tower was spotted near the source of the 10,000-acre Kincade Fire in Sonoma County.
In South Dakota, environmentalists are declaring victory after the state’s Republican governor and attorney general agreed not to enforce laws allowing draconian fines and prison terms for protesters opposing oil and gas pipelines. Under the Riot Boosting Act, protest organizers faced up to 25 years behind bars. The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed Thursday’s settlement agreement, calling the law an unconstitutional attempt to silence protesters of the Keystone XL pipeline. The ACLU tweeted, “Let this be a lesson to other states: If you criminalize protest, we will sue.”
The Trump administration’s top student loan official said Thursday he will resign his position at the Education Department and will work for the cancellation of nearly $1 trillion in federally administered student loan debt. A. Wayne Johnson says he’ll promote a plan that would forgive up to $50,000 for anyone with federal student loans, worth about $925 billion. He told The Wall Street Journal, “We run through the process of putting this debt burden on somebody … but it rides on their credit files — it rides on their back — for decades. The time has come for us to end and stop the insanity.” His high-profile resignation came as a federal judge on Thursday held Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in contempt of court for violating an order to stop collecting student debt for people who were defrauded by the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges. The court ruled DeVos ignored the rights of more than 60,000 former students who were granted relief from the federal government after Corinthian Colleges collapsed in 2014 amid government scrutiny of its fraud and predatory lending. Under Thursday’s contempt-of-court ruling, DeVos will face no jail time, and her Education Department will be fined $100,000.