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Burmese authorities released award-winning Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo today after months of global outrage and pressure. The pair had been behind bars for nearly a year and a half. They reported on the systematic expulsion and murder of Rohingya Muslims from Burma in 2017 and uncovered a massacre committed by the Burmese military against a group of Rohingya in the village of Inn Din.
The two men were sentenced to seven years in prison last September for allegedly violating Burma’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act. Just last month, Burma’s Supreme Court rejected the pair’s final appeal. They were awarded the Pulitzer Prize in April and were honored in last year’s Time magazine Person of the Year feature. This is Wa Lone speaking shortly after he was freed from prison.
Wa Lone: “I am very happy, and thank you so much for everyone who helped us while we were in prison and who wished for our release. I want to say thank you very much. … Inside, in the prison and also around the world, people who were wishing to release us, so I would like to say thank you very much for everything. I’m really happy and excited to get to see my family and my colleagues, and I can’t wait to go to my newsroom now.”
A bipartisan group of over 550 former federal prosecutors have signed on to a statement saying President Trump’s actions would have resulted in obstruction of justice charges were Trump not the sitting president of the United States. The letter elaborates on actions by Trump uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, falling under the categories of “The President’s efforts to fire Mueller and to falsify evidence about that effort; the President’s efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to exclude his conduct; and the President’s efforts to prevent witnesses from cooperating with investigators probing him and his campaign.” Special counsel Mueller’s report did not come to any conclusions about obstruction, saying instead it could not exonerate Trump. However, Attorney General William Barr concluded in his summary of the report that there is insufficient evidence to pursue obstruction charges.
The House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote Wednesday to determine whether they will hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt after he failed to meet Monday’s deadline to hand over special counsel Robert Mueller’s unredacted report to lawmakers. The move also follows Barr’s no-show at a congressional hearing before the committee last Thursday. Lawmakers have set a tentative date of May 15 for Mueller to testify. On Sunday, Trump tweeted that Mueller should not testify before Congress, reversing an earlier statement saying the decision was up to Barr.
In more news from Capitol Hill, the Treasury Department failed to comply with a congressional request to hand over six years’ worth of President Trump’s tax returns Monday. In a letter to the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the request “presents serious constitutional questions” and “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.” Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal said he is consulting with legal counsel to determine the appropriate response to Mnuchin’s refusal.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov Monday at the Arctic Council meetings in Finland. After the meeting, Lavrov again warned against a “reckless military solution” in Venezuela. Russia has stood by the government of President Nicolás Maduro during the ongoing political crisis, while the U.S. has supported opposition leader Juan Guaidó and calls to overthrow Maduro. The Trump administration has refused to take military intervention off the table.
While at the Arctic Council meetings, Pompeo celebrated the shrinking levels of sea ice in the region, saying it opened up new opportunities for trade. He also called for the exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “The Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30% of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds and millions of square miles of untapped resources. … Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade.”
Pompeo added that “Arctic sea lanes could become the 21st century Suez and Panama Canals.” Scientists warn that melting sea ice in the Arctic due to climate change will have catastrophic effects on coastal cities, biodiversity and the global economy. President Trump has called climate change a “Chinese hoax.”
Mike Pompeo was scheduled to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin today after leaving the Arctic Council gathering. However, the U.S. State Department announced the meeting had been canceled due to “pressing issues.” No further details have been made available.
Turkish election authorities announced Monday a redo of recent elections in Istanbul. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party claimed fraud in the election, which saw opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoglu claim victory and be sworn in as the new mayor of Istanbul. Local elections in Turkey at the end of March dealt a major blow to Erdogan and the AKP, which lost control in both of Turkey’s largest cities, Ankara and his home city of Istanbul. The Supreme Electoral Council, which made the decision to scrap the election results, is dominated by the AKP. A new vote in Istanbul has been scheduled for June 23.
In Syria, intensified air raids by government forces killed at least 17 civilians in Aleppo and Idlib provinces over the past few days, and local reports say dozens of people have been killed over the past two weeks as a bombardment campaign pummeled what is believed to be the last rebel stronghold around Idlib. The Syria Civil Defence, also known as the White Helmets, have reported several attacks by Russian warplanes on hospitals and medical facilities in the past few days.
In Panama, voters elected a new president Sunday. Laurentino “Nito” Cortizo of the centrist Democratic Revolutionary Party won a narrow victory over his opponents in an election dominated by voter concerns over government corruption and growing economic inequality. In his victory speech, Cortizo pledged to root out corruption and impunity for leaders involved in misconduct.
President-elect Laurentino Cortizo: “I owe you, Panama and its people, to not get into power to steal or pay favors to economic or political groups—nobody! Today, I repeat, in Panama, there will be no untouchables, not even if they are great businessmen or lawmakers, not even the president.”
Back in the United States, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has called for an overhaul of the military’s handling of sexual assault and harassment following a new report showing a whopping 38% increase in reported assaults from 2016 to 2018. The report finds that the majority of survivors knew their attacker personally and that alcohol was involved in many of the reported cases. In March, Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally revealed she was raped by a superior officer when she served in the U.S. Air Force. She made the disclosure during a congressional hearing on the epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. military.
In media news, New Orleans’s oldest newspaper, The Times-Picayune, has been sold to The Advocate, a rival publication. The paper was sold by parent company Advance Local Media to John and Dathel Georges, millionaire business owners who bought The Advocate in 2013. John Georges has previously made unsuccessful runs for governor, as well as mayor of New Orleans. The Times-Picayune has been in operation since 1837. It has received several Pulitzer Prizes, including for its reporting on Hurricane Katrina. All of the paper’s staff is reportedly being fired, and the publication will be merged with The Advocate.
The new head of the National Rifle Association, Carolyn Meadows, has apologized after coming under fire for attacking fellow Georgian, Democratic freshman Congressmember Lucy McBath, claiming in an interview with the Marietta Daily Journal that McBath only won her seat because she is a “minority female”—not because she advocated for gun control reform. Congressmember McBath, whose African-American 17-year-old son Jordan Davis was shot dead in 2012 at a Florida gas station, campaigned on a gun control platform and said she was inspired to run for office after witnessing the student activism following the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Previous NRA head Oliver North was ousted last week after he threatened to reveal evidence of corruption against longtime chief executive Wayne LaPierre and after New York’s attorney general opened an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
And New Jersey senator and 2020 presidential hopeful Cory Booker unveiled a 14-part plan to combat gun violence Monday. The plan includes a nationwide gun licensing program, which would involve a background check, fingerprinting, an interview and gun safety classes. The plan also includes more funding for research on gun violence and a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity ammunition and bump stocks.