In the Gulf of Oman, the crews of two oil tankers evacuated their ships today after reporting explosions that prompted fears of a conflict between the U.S. and Iran. An image shared by Iranian state television showed a plume of smoke rising from one of the two vessels east of the Strait of Hormuz. Taiwan’s state oil refiner, which chartered one of the two tankers, said it suspected the ship had been hit by a torpedo. Iran denied involvement and said through a state news agency that Iran’s Navy had helped to safely evacuate 44 sailors from the stricken vessels. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton—who’s frequently called for U.S. military action against Iran—blamed Iran for attacks on oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates last month, without providing evidence.
The House Oversight Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with congressional subpoenas. The vote came just hours after the Justice Department said President Trump had declared executive privilege in a bid to keep the documents from the public record. Democrats are seeking information on how Trump administration officials sought to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Last month The New York Times reported that a senior Republican strategist who specialized in gerrymandering was secretly behind the efforts, arguing privately that adding the question would benefit Republicans and hurt Democrats. This is New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaking at Wednesday’s House Oversight hearing.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “I want to know why this question was magically added, after we have seen that a political operative knew and detailed an intent to intimidate racial and immigrant communities for a partisan purpose, saying this will hurt Democrats and help Republicans. That’s what I want to know. I want to know why Wilbur Ross, why Secretary Ross, continued to meet with people of disturbing political affiliations after his own administration warned him to stop. He came right here, and I asked him, 'Did you continue speaking with him after this?' He told me no. We have an email, and he did. He did.”
Donald Trump Jr. was called before the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday to testify in a closed-door session about an email he received in the spring of 2016 from someone he believed to be a Russian government attorney promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. accepted the invitation and scheduled a meeting at Trump Tower with the official in June of 2016.
Meanwhile, President Trump said Wednesday he would accept damaging information on campaign rivals from foreign actors—and might not even alert the FBI about efforts by a foreign adversary to intervene in the U.S. election. Speaking with ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos in the Oval Office, Trump said his son was right not to inform the FBI about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
President Donald Trump: “I’ve seen a lot of things over my life. I don’t think in my whole life I’ve ever called the FBI. In my whole life. I don’t—you don’t call the FBI. You throw somebody out of your office. You do whatever you do.”
George Stephanopoulos: “Al Gore got a stolen briefing book. He called the FBI.”
President Donald Trump: “Well, that’s different, a stolen briefing book. This isn’t a stolen—this is somebody that said, 'We have information on your opponent.' Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn’t work that way.”
George Stephanopoulos: “The FBI director says that’s what should happen.”
President Donald Trump: “The FBI director is wrong.”
President Trump’s hand-picked FBI director, Christopher Wray, told Congress just last month that the bureau would want to know if a public official or a campaign was contacted by a foreign government seeking to interfere in an election. President Trump dismissed the notion, saying he would consider accepting “opposition research” if a foreign figure approached him.
Meanwhile, President Trump welcomed Polish President Andrzej Duda to the White House Wednesday, signing a military agreement to station an additional 1,000 U.S. troops in Poland. Their announcement came as the U.S. Marine Corps executed a rare flyover of an F-35 stealth fighter jet over the White House as Presidents Trump and Duda looked on from the South Lawn. Trump said Poland had agreed to purchase at least 32 of the Lockheed Martin jets. The F-35 program has been marked by multibillion-dollar cost overruns, with the Pentagon’s own estimates putting the cost of maintaining the jets at nearly $1.2 trillion in the coming decades.
In the Arabian peninsula, Houthi rebels from Yemen attacked an airport in southern Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, injuring 26 civilians in the airport’s arrival hall. A Houthi spokesperson called the missile attack retribution for the U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition’s continued “aggression and blockade” against Yemen.
On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers grilled a senior State Department official Wednesday over the Trump administration’s plans to circumvent Congress to sell over $8 billion of precision-guided bombs and other weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates without congressional approval. Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Clarke Cooper defended President Trump’s decision in May to declare a national emergency in order to complete the arms sales, citing a threat from Saudi Arabia’s regional rival, Iran. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Eliot Engel called Trump’s declaration “phony” and an “abuse of the law.” This is Clarke Cooper being questioned by Rhode Island Democratic Congressmember David Cicilline.
Rep. David Cicilline: “The vast majority of the arms the administration wants to sell with respect to this transaction are offensive weapons, correct?”
Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper: “It’s not limited to that. There are sustainment”—
Rep. David Cicilline: “Is it—didn’t say 'limited.' The vast majority are offensive weapons.”
Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper: “There are offensive weapons. There are sustainment packages that are”—
Rep. David Cicilline: “But the vast majority of are offensive. Isn’t that correct, sir?”
Assistant Secretary of State Clarke Cooper: “A number of them are offensive.”
The U.S.-backed war in Yemen has killed thousands of civilians and sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, pushing half of Yemen’s 28 million people to the brink of famine.
Authorities in Hong Kong have shut down government offices and postponed debate in the Legislative Council, one day after riot police fired tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray at tens of thousands of demonstrators who took to the streets to protest a bill that would allow the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. This comes after as many as a million protesters marched against the extradition bill on Sunday. The protests are some of the largest Hong Kong has seen since before Britain’s handover of Hong Kong in 1997. After headlines, we’ll go to Hong Kong for the latest.
In Mexico, crime reporter Norma Sarabia was shot and killed in the southern state of Tabasco late Tuesday, becoming the sixth journalist to be assassinated in Mexico this year. Police say two masked men on a motorbike shot Sarabia repeatedly outside her home before fleeing the scene. In the neighboring state of Veracruz, armed men raided the home of journalist Marcos Miranda Cogco and kidnapped him. On Wednesday, Cogco’s wife pleaded for his return, noting he has received death threats for years over his critical reporting on local government officials. Reporters Without Borders has called Mexico the world’s deadliest country for media workers outside of an active war zone.
Elsewhere in Mexico, two immigration activists known for their work assisting Central American migrants who were arrested on June 5 were freed from jail Wednesday ahead of their upcoming trials. The arrests of Irineo Mujica and Cristobal Sánchez earlier this month came as President Trump threatened to impose tariffs on Mexican imports unless the Mexican government agreed to crack down on asylum seekers headed for the U.S.-Mexico border. On Wednesday, a judge ruled the pair should not be held in pretrial custody as they await trial on human trafficking charges. Mujica has worked closely with Scott Warren, a humanitarian aid volunteer with the group No More Deaths in Tucson, Arizona. Later in the broadcast, we’ll go to Arizona, where a federal judge has just declared a mistrial in a criminal case against Scott Warren that could see him sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for providing water, clean clothes and beds to two asylum seekers in the Sonoran Desert.
In Uganda, health officials say a 5-year-old boy and his grandmother have died after falling ill with Ebola—the first deaths among eight new suspected cases of the deadly virus reported in the country. The deaths came as health workers in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo warn a massive Ebola outbreak has become the second worst on record, with over 2,000 new cases and nearly 1,400 deaths since last August. Medical workers are struggling to reach infected people amid ongoing violence by anti-government militias, as well as widespread mistrust of foreign medical workers.
In South Dakota, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe on Monday turned around a truck believed to be carrying construction equipment for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. In a statement, Tribal Chair Harold Frazier said, “Any vehicles or personnel working on the Keystone XL pipeline are not welcome on this reservation. … This is Sioux Territory, we will not stand for more encroachments and defilement of our land.” The Keystone XL pipeline has long been opposed by environmentalists, farmers and Native Americans. If completed, the pipeline would carry oil from Canada’s tar sands region in Alberta to refineries as far away as the Gulf of Mexico.
Former Stanford University sailing coach John Vandemoer has avoided a possible prison term for his role in a college admissions cheating scandal that saw wealthy and powerful parents spend millions of dollars in bribes to get their children into elite universities. On Wednesday, a U.S. district court judge in Boston sentenced Vandemoer to two years’ supervised release and a $10,000 fine, after he pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy charges. Prosecutors asked for a 13-month prison sentence. They say Vandemoer took in over $600,000 in bribes to fast-track student applicants for Stanford’s sailing team, funneling the money to the Stanford sailing program. The two students he received the bribes for did not attend Stanford.
Britain’s home secretary has signed a formal request for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited to the United States, where he faces 17 counts of violating the Espionage Act, in the first-ever case of a journalist or publisher being indicted under the World War I-era law. British courts will now decide whether to honor the extradition request. Assange is currently behind bars at London’s Belmarsh Prison for skipping bail in 2012, after being forcibly removed from the Ecuadorean Embassy by British police in April.