Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen defended President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency at the southern border Wednesday, telling lawmakers in a contentious hearing that officials are on track to detain more than 900,000 migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border this year. Nielsen pushed back against widespread reports that the Trump administration routinely denies migrants a chance to apply for asylum in the U.S., claiming no one would be turned away at a U.S. port of entry. The claim prompted Democrat Nanette Barragán of the House Homeland Security Committee to reply, “Either you’re lying to this committee, or you don’t know what’s happening at the border.” Asked how many children are detained at the border, Nielsen replied she didn’t have the number handy. And she denied that migrant detainees are being held in cages. This is New Jersey Congressmember Bonnie Watson Coleman questioning Nielsen.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “What does a chain-link fence enclosed into a chamber on a concrete floor represent to you? Is that a cage?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “It’s a detention space, ma’am, that you know has existed for decades.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “Does it differ from the cages you put your dogs in when you let them stay outside? Is it—is it different?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “Yes.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “In what sense?”
Kirstjen Nielsen: “It’s larger. It has facilities. It provides room to sit, to stand, to lay down.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman: “So did my dog’s cage.”
Nielsen’s testimony came as U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported its agents arrested over 66,000 people crossing the southern border between legal ports of entry in February, the highest number for a single month in nearly 10 years.
A new report finds the investigative arm of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency—ICE—maintained a secret list of New York City activist groups that protested Trump administration policies. A four-page document obtained by The Nation magazine titled “Anti-Trump Protest Spreadsheet” shows Homeland Security Investigations kept tabs on a series of protests held in New York over a 17-day period last summer targeting white supremacy, deportations and the National Rifle Association. None of the demonstrations appear to be linked to HSI’s mandate to investigate “cross-border criminal activity.” One of the protests surveilled by HSI was a rally organized by Congressmember Adriano Espaillat responding to a neo-Nazi group’s display of a racist banner. He told The Nation, “I would like to find out why our event was on that list, and whether it was surveilled or infiltrated, and why the racist, anti-Semitic group was not on the list.”
Meanwhile, in San Diego, California, newly revealed documents show the U.S. government created a secret database of activists and journalists who were documenting the Trump administration’s efforts to thwart a caravan of migrants hoping to win asylum in the U.S. last year at the San Ysidro port of entry between Tijuana and San Diego. An investigation from San Diego’s NBC 7 revealed the list was shared among Homeland Security Investigations, ICE, Customs and Border Protection and the FBI. It included the names of 10 journalists—seven of whom were U.S. citizens—along with nearly four dozen others listed as “organizers” or “instigators.” Some of the journalists and at least one immigration lawyer had alerts placed on their passports that prevented them from entering Mexico. Others on the list reported they were stopped by Mexican police or were subjected to lengthy interviews and searches when re-entering the U.S.
President Trump revoked a rule Wednesday requiring that the director of national intelligence report annually on civilians killed by U.S. drone strikes outside of official war zones. The Trump administration was already in violation of the reporting requirement, which the White House ignored as a deadline came and went last May. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports President Trump has further accelerated the U.S. drone assassination program, with over 2,200 drone strikes during Trump’s first two years in office—more strikes than occurred over eight years under President Obama.
In news from Yemen, a major new report from several human rights groups details the role that the U.S. and Europe have played in the deaths of hundreds of civilians in the U.S.-backed, Saudi- and UAE-led war on Yemen. The report found that between April 2015 and April 2018, 27 coalition attacks killed at least 203 civilians and injured at least 749 people. At least 22 of the attacks likely involved weapons produced in the United States. We’ll have more on the report later in the broadcast.
In Syria, Kurdish-led forces backed by the United States say they captured 400 ISIS fighters Wednesday who were fleeing the group’s last stronghold in eastern Syria. Their reported capture came as 2,000 civilians fled the town of Baghouz, near the Iraqi border. Meanwhile, President Trump has reversed his promise—made in a tweet last December—to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. In a handwritten response to a February 22 letter from senators requesting the U.S. keep a contingent of hundreds of troops in Syria, Trump wrote, “I agree 100%.”
Back on Capitol Hill, Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally revealed Wednesday that she was raped by a superior officer when she served in the U.S. Air Force. Senator McSally—a former Air Force colonel who was the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat—made the disclosure during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on rampant sexual assault in the U.S. military.
Sen. Martha McSally: “The perpetrators abuse their position of power in profound ways. And in one case, I was preyed upon and then raped by a superior officer. I stayed silent for many years, but later in my career, as the military grappled with scandals and their wholly inadequate responses, I felt the need to let some people know I, too, was a survivor. I was horrified at how my attempt to share generally my experiences were handled. I almost separated from the Air Force at 18 years over my despair. Like many victims, I felt the system was raping me all over again.”
Pentagon figures show that in 2017—the most recent year for which data are available—there were nearly 6,800 reports of sexual assault involving members of the military, though sexual assaults are still dramatically underreported in military ranks. A 2011 survey estimated 26,000 people were sexually assaulted in the military that year alone, with women soldiers far more likely to be raped by fellow soldiers than killed in combat.
A second federal judge has ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census, setting up a likely challenge at the Supreme Court. U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg of California ruled Wednesday that the move is unconstitutional because it prevents the government from carrying out its mandate of conducting the census every 10 years. In January, a federal judge in New York also ordered a halt to the census’s citizenship question, ruling U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross violated federal rules and “alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him.” Voting rights activists say the question is meant to deter immigrants from participating in the census, leading to a vast undercount in states with large immigrant communities. This would impact everything from the redrawing of congressional maps to the allocation of federal funds.
President Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, was back on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a fourth day of congressional testimony. Cohen and his legal team were photographed lugging several suitcases and briefcases into a closed-door session with the House Intelligence Committee, suggesting Cohen provided Congress with hundreds of new documents detailing his dealings with the Trump Organization. Cohen reportedly provided evidence showing that Trump’s then-lawyer Jay Sekulow edited Cohen’s false 2017 testimony to Congress about the Trump Organization’s plans to build a skyscraper in Moscow.
Texas officials and the Environmental Protection Agency barred NASA scientists from studying the release of toxic chemicals in and around Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in 2017. That’s according to the Los Angeles Times, which reports NASA scientists were stunned after they were barred from flying a jet over Houston equipped with sophisticated air samplers that would have helped to identify areas where toxic releases posed a threat to human health. Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas coast with record rainfall, dropping more than 60 inches of rain over the course of a few days. The area is home to thousands of oil refineries and petrochemical plants, as well as over a dozen Superfund sites.
The Trump administration is proposing ending endangered species protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Critics say the move would endanger the estimated 5,000 gray wolves currently living in the continental United States, excluding Alaska. In a statement, the Western Environmental Law Center said, “Allowing people to kill wolves in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana has already stunted recovery in those states. Applying this same death-sentence to wolves throughout the contiguous U.S., would nationalize these negative effects, with potentially catastrophic ripple effects on ecosystems wherever wolves are found today.”
The Food and Drug Administration has confirmed that makeup products from two popular brands of cosmetics contain the carcinogenic substance asbestos. FDA tests of three powdered makeup products from Claire’s, and one from the brand Justice, tested positive for asbestos, which can cause lung disease and cancer. Americans spend some $60 billion a year on cosmetics, though the industry is largely unregulated. Congress last approved regulations on makeup in 1938.
In Chicago, police arrested R&B singer R. Kelly Wednesday, charging him with failure to pay more than $160,000 in child support. Kelly’s arrest came less than two weeks after he was arrested and charged with 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault against four women and girls—three of whom were under the age of consent at the time. His arrest Wednesday came just hours after he was seen screaming and cursing during an interview with Gayle King broadcast on ”CBS This Morning.”
R. Kelly: “I didn’t do this stuff! This is not me! I’m fighting for my [bleep] life! Y’all are killing me with this [bleep]! I gave y’all 30 years of my [bleep] career!”
Gayle King: “Robert.”
R. Kelly: “Thirty years of my career, and y’all are trying to kill me!”
After months of mounting criticism about Facebook’s lack of privacy protections, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Wednesday that he will be shifting the social media giant from focusing on publicly sharing information to private communication. Zuckerberg said that he would do this in part by integrating Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger—which are all platforms that he controls—and by allowing communication to be deleted instead of remaining on the internet permanently.
Lawmakers have introduced legislation to restore Obama-era net neutrality rules that were gutted by the Trump administration. The changes, approved in 2017 in a 3-2 vote by Republican commissioners on the FCC, paved the way for internet service providers to throttle internet traffic speeds according to how much customers pay—or based on the websites they wish to favor. The Save the Internet Act, introduced by congressional Democrats Wednesday, would bar telecom companies from blocking, throttling or otherwise interfering with internet access. This is New York Democratic Congressmember Yvette Clarke.
Rep. Yvette Clarke: “The Republican FCC has dismantled net neutrality, saddling consumers with higher costs and less choice, throttling competition and punishing entrepreneurs, small businesses, communities of color and other Americans who are vulnerable and disenfranchised. This is the 21st century issue of equity.”
And House Democratic leaders say they’ll proceed with a vote today on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. The resolution is seen as a direct rebuke of recent comments by Minnesota Congressmember Ilhan Omar questioning the U.S.’s relationship with Israel—even though the draft resolution does not explicitly name the freshman congressmember. The resolution was announced after comments by Omar at an event last week, in which she called out the “political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country”—referring to Israel. Omar has repeatedly condemned anti-Semitism.
Democratic leaders said Wednesday the vote would be indefinitely delayed after a revolt from progressive Democrats. But on Thursday morning, they reversed course again and said they would bring the resolution to a vote.
In a statement to The Hill, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote, “We must not … equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace.”