President Trump pushed closer toward a constitutional crisis with Congress Wednesday, vowing to fight all subpoenas from House Democrats ordering current and former aides to testify on Capitol Hill. Trump’s remarks came as the White House continued to suggest the president may invoke executive privilege to prevent former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying publicly to the House Judiciary Committee on May 21.
President Donald Trump: “Well, the subpoena is ridiculous. We have been—I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country, by far. … We’re fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”
House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings said aides who defy subpoenas could be held in contempt of Congress, warning, “These employees and their personal attorneys should think very carefully about their own legal interests rather than being swept up in the obstruction schemes of the Trump administration.” House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler has suggested fining officials personally if they refuse to testify to his committee.
In Afghanistan, the United Nations says U.S., its NATO allies and Afghan security forces have killed more civilians so far this year than the Taliban. New U.N. figures show that, between January and March, anti-government fighters killed 227 civilians, while Afghan and international forces killed 305 civilians. The report also found U.S. and NATO airstrikes have killed 145 civilians so far in 2019—half of them women and children.
Meanwhile, a major new investigation by Amnesty International and Airwars has revealed the U.S.-led military coalition in Syria killed more than 1,600 civilians during the 2017 offensive to oust ISIS militants from the city of Raqqa. Amnesty is calling on the U.S. and coalition nations to fully investigate the mass civilian casualties. After headlines, we’ll go to London to speak with Donatella Rovera, the exposé’s lead investigator.
In Hong Kong, hundreds of activists held a candlelight vigil Wednesday outside the prison where four protest leaders have been ordered to serve 16-month sentences for organizing pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014. Four other activists received suspended sentences, while a ninth had her sentencing trial delayed for health reasons. The so-called Umbrella Movement brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets of Hong Kong to oppose the Chinese government’s plans to allow only candidates approved by Beijing to run for office. They were ultimately unsuccessful, as Chinese officials continue a rollback of the policy known as “one country, two systems” that grants greater freedoms and political autonomy to Hong Kong.
Sri Lankan police are on high alert amid fresh bomb scares in the wake of Easter Sunday attacks that killed 359 people and injured more than 500 others. Overnight, authorities arrested 16 more suspects in the case. Among those arrested so far is Mohammad Yusuf Ibrahim, one of Sri Lanka’s richest spice traders. Authorities say two of his sons were among eight suicide bombers who died in Sunday’s attacks. On Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s president sacked the country’s police chief and defense secretary amid widespread reports that security forces had ample warnings about imminent attacks ahead of the bombings, but failed to act.
The United Nations has condemned Saudi Arabia’s mass public execution this week of 37 prisoners—some of whom were convicted based on confessions extracted through torture. This is U.N. human rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani.
Ravina Shamdasani: “We had concerns about confessions that had been extracted through torture. We had concerns that the due process and the fair trial rights of the individuals had not been respected. And in at least three cases, the individuals who were executed yesterday were sentenced to death when they were minors. And this is completely unacceptable in international human rights law. So we utterly condemn the executions carried out yesterday by Saudi Arabia.”
Back in the United States, Texas has executed one of three white supremacists convicted of killing an African-American man more than two decades ago, in a modern-day lynching that shocked the conscience of the nation and led to state and federal hate crime laws. In June of 1998, 49-year-old Jasper resident James Byrd Jr. was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to his death. James Byrd Jr. was black. The three men who murdered him were white. One of the men, John William King, was killed Wednesday evening by a prison official in Huntsville who injected him with a single lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital. King was an avowed racist, covered in tattoos depicting Nazi imagery, a lynching and the words “Aryan Pride.” He was the second man to be executed for James Byrd Jr.’s murder. A third man serving a life sentence for the murder is due for a parole hearing in 2034.
Former Vice President Joe Biden has formally entered the 2020 race for the White House, becoming the 20th Democrat to seek the nomination—the largest field ever for the party. In a campaign video released on social media this morning, Biden took aim at President Trump’s response to the 2017 “Unite the Right” march of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the killing of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer.
Joe Biden: “It was there in August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and bearing the fangs of racism, chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the '30s. And they were met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued. And a brave young woman lost her life. And that's when we heard the words of the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were, quote, 'some very fine people on both sides.' 'Very fine people on both sides'?”
As a longtime senator from Delaware, Biden previously ran twice for the Democratic nomination. Biden’s 1994 crime bill, while implementing sweeping gun control, also helped fuel mass incarceration with financial incentives to keep people behind bars. Biden has long faced criticism for his handling of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment allegations against Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991. At the time, Biden was the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Biden is known for close ties to the financial industry, notably helping push through a 2005 bill that made it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy. He also voted to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. We’ll have more on Joe Biden’s record as a senator and vice president later in the broadcast with journalist Andrew Cockburn.
The New York Times is reporting that before she left her post as head of the Department of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen sought repeatedly to sound the alarm over Russian interference in the 2020 election, but was ordered not to bring it up in front of the president. As DHS secretary, Nielsen was tasked with overseeing the nation’s civilian cyberdefenses, but according to the Times, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney made it clear that Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. Nielsen resigned earlier this month after overseeing Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy that’s seen children separated from their parents and entire families held in cages resembling dog kennels.
In Brazil, thousands of indigenous peoples and their allies are rallying in the capital Brasília, protesting a massive assault on their rights and territories by ranchers, miners and the government of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. This is Kawaua Apurina of the Apurina tribe.
Kawaua Apurina: “We are tired of being murdered. We are tired of not having our lands demarcated. We are tired of this genocide, ecocide with the indigenous peoples. We’re defending the planet!”
The protest comes as new data from the World Resources Institute show nearly 9 million acres of pristine rainforest were cut down in 2018—with most of the destruction caused by clearcutting in the Amazon. The data show deforestation is still on an upward trend, with losses accelerating in Brazil, where loggers and cattle ranchers are pressing further into indigenous territories, aided by the government.
And in Belfast, funeral services were held Wednesday for Northern Irish journalist Lyra McKee, who was shot in the head by an Irish nationalist militant last week during riots in the city of Derry. Leaders from both sides of Northern Ireland’s political divide appeared side by side at the funeral; they were joined by British officials and leaders from the Republic of Ireland in St. Anne’s Protestant cathedral.
At Wednesday’s funeral, a friend revealed that just hours before she was murdered, Lyra McKee said she was about to propose marriage to her partner, Sara Canning.
A group calling itself the New IRA, which opposes the 1998 Belfast Agreement peace accord, has claimed responsibility for the murder, though it didn’t identify the shooter. Ahead of Wednesday’s funeral, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald condemned the assassination.
Mary Lou McDonald: “So it’s past time now for these groups that masquerade as Republicans to pack up and pack it in, to end their activities and to let the people get on with the work of building a new united Ireland, that Ireland that we all want, an Ireland that will be a tribute to our patriot dead and to all who died, the Ireland in which Lyra McKee should have lived.”