Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan withdrew from consideration for the permanent head of the department and resigned from his post as deputy secretary of defense Tuesday as reports of domestic violence against his ex-wife circulated. Reports included details on a 2011 attack by Shanahan’s then 17-year-old son, who beat his mother with a baseball bat. She was left unconscious with a fractured skull and internal injuries that required surgery. Patrick Shanahan then wrote a memo arguing his son was acting in self-defense after his mother verbally harassed him. He is also believed to have delayed his son’s surrender to police. He apologized for the memo, saying it was only intended for his son’s attorneys. According to The Washington Post, court records also revealed a previous incident in which both Shanahan and his wife alleged they were assaulted by one another.
Lawmakers are raising questions about the vetting process for administration officials and whether the White House knew and deliberately withheld allegations against Shanahan as early as 2017, when he was confirmed as deputy secretary of defense. President Trump, who met with him earlier in the day, said he did not request that Shanahan withdraw.
President Donald Trump: “We have a great vetting process, but this is something that came up a little bit over the last short period of time. And as you know, Pat was acting, and so acting gives you much greater flexibility. A lot easier to do things.”
The Department of Defense has not had a permanent head since James Mattis resigned in December. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have urged for the position to be filled by a permanent head as soon as possible. Shanahan was never formally nominated by Trump. Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, will be replaced by Mark Esper, another former aerospace executive and top lobbyist for Raytheon.
In a highly anticipated report released Wednesday, a U.N. expert has called for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to be investigated for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, citing “credible evidence” that he and other top Saudi officials are individually liable for the October killing. Special rapporteur Agnes Callamard wrote that Khashoggi’s death “constituted an extrajudicial killing for which the State of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible,” and called for targeted sanctions against the crown prince.
In other news on Saudi Arabia, Reuters reports that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blocked the kingdom from being included on a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers, dismissing expert findings that Saudi Arabia has used child fighters in Yemen. The U.S.-backed, Saudi-led war in Yemen has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. The U.N. reports that 80% of the population—over 24 million people—need some form of assistance.
New concerns over the Justice Department’s impartiality are emerging following reports that Attorney General William Barr’s top deputy intervened to prevent Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort from being transferred to Rikers Island while he awaits trial. Manafort is expected instead to be held at a federal prison in Manhattan, after he was transferred from a Pennsylvania federal prison, where he is currently serving a 7.5-year sentence on criminal conspiracy charges and charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.
Katharine Gorka, a Homeland Security adviser and wife of far-right former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka, has been tapped to become the new press secretary at Customs and Border Protection, according to CNN. Katharine Gorka, a political appointee who previously wrote for far-right outlet Breitbart, is known for her anti-Muslim views. At DHS, Gorka was involved in cutting funding to groups that assist people who want to leave white supremacist groups. Sebastian Gorka left the White House in 2017 after reports emerged of his ties to a Nazi-allied group and racist paramilitary militia while he served as a Hungarian politician.
In related news, the acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, sent an email Tuesday directing agency officers to deny entry to asylum seekers who express credible fear but do not have a “significant possibility of receiving a grant of asylum.” The letter also said that many of the claims are “frivolous.” Staffers say the letter read like a threat against asylum agents in a likely effort to push them toward accepting fewer migrants based on initial assessments. While asylum agents are charged with determining an applicant’s “credible fear” claim, judges ultimately determine whether the asylum will be granted after due process.
New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has come under fire for comments made in an Instagram video Monday, in which she called immigrant prisons “concentration camps.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: “The United States is running concentration camps on our southern border. And that is exactly what they are. They’re concentration camps.”
The congressmember defended her remarks Tuesday, tweeting: “And for the shrieking Republicans who don’t know the difference: concentration camps are not the same as death camps. Concentration camps are considered by experts as 'the mass detention of civilians without trial.' And that’s exactly what this administration is doing.”
In more news about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Amazon responded to comments made by the congressmember to ABC News Sunday in which she said that CEO Jeff Bezos’s fortune is built on Amazon’s practice of paying “starvation wages” and denying healthcare to its workers. Amazon tweeted, “@AOC is just wrong. Amazon is a leader on pay at $15 min wage + full benefits from day one. We also lobby to raise federal min wage.” Amazon has been criticized for its poor working conditions and efforts to suppress unionization. The company did not pay any federal taxes last year despite making over $11 billion in profits. Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest man, with a net worth of $131 billion.
In Mali, armed men killed at least 40 people in two villages Monday in the latest deadly attack to hit the country amid mounting ethnic tensions between Dogon and Fulani fighters. The mayor of one of the villages, which are populated by ethnic Dogons, says around 100 gunmen on motorbikes stormed both towns, opening fire at residents. The attack comes just a week after another deadly raid on a Dogon village. In March, suspected Dogon militias killed over 150 Fulani in two villages in central Mali. The U.N. warned earlier this month that the atrocities in central Mali are likely to continue unless immediate action is taken.
Back in the United States, President Trump kicked off his 2020 presidential bid with a “Keep America Great” rally in Orlando, Florida, Tuesday evening. Trump again attacked immigrants, his 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton, CNN and Democratic lawmakers, accusing them of “flood[ing] the country with illegal immigrants.” Democratic Congressmember David Cicilline tweeted that it was a “hate rally.” In his response to the rally, 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders called Trump a racist, a sexist and a xenophobe, and accused him of neglecting climate change, gun violence and inequality.
The House Judiciary panel will hold a hearing today on reparations for slavery—the first hearing in over a decade on the subject. Among others, writer Ta-Nehisi Coates and actor and activist Danny Glover are set to testify. The question of reparations is expected to be a key issue for black voters as the 2020 presidential campaign rolls out. Ahead of today’s hearing, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked by reporter Eva McKend whether the government should issue a public apology for slavery.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago, for whom none of us currently living are responsible, is a good idea.”
Today’s hearing coincides with Juneteenth, the day that commemorates June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that the Emancipation Proclamation had abolished slavery.
As the fallout mounts over the handling of the “Central Park 5” case, President Trump refused Tuesday to apologize for his actions at the time. Trump ran full-page newspaper ads during the 1989 case, calling for the death penalty for the five teenage boys of color who were wrongfully accused and convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. They were eventually exonerated, and the case has been brought back into the spotlight following the release of Ava DuVernay’s Netflix miniseries “When They See Us.” Longtime White House correspondent April Ryan, who is African-American, asked Trump if he would apologize for his actions.
President Donald Trump: “You have people on both sides of that. They admitted their guilt. If you look at Linda Fairstein and if you look at some of the prosecutors, they think that the city should never have settled that case. So, we’ll leave it at that.”
Former prosecutor Linda Fairstein was dropped by her publisher and forced to step down from several nonprofit and education boards in recent weeks. Meanwhile, New York Public Advocate Jumaane Williams has backed a call from activists to reopen other cases tried by Fairstein and prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has so far refused.
In a 5-4 decision, Supreme Court justices ruled Monday along partisan lines that New York City’s public access station MNN is not bound by the First Amendment, which would protect producers from editorial control or censorship by the network. Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the opinion for the conservative majority.
The case against the nonprofit cable channel Manhattan Neighborhood Network, known as MNN, was brought by independent producer DeeDee Halleck, who said she and her co-producer were suspended after submitting a video accusing the station of neglecting the East Harlem area, where one of its production facilities is located. MNN alleged she was suspended because her video contained footage in which her co-producer made statements intended to incite violence and harassed staff in violation of MNN program content restrictions.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “New York City opened up a public forum on public-access channels in which it has a property interest. It asked MNN to run that public forum, and MNN accepted the job. That makes MNN subject to the First Amendment, just as if the City had decided to run the public forum itself.”
In California, Pacific Gas and Electric has agreed to pay the town of Paradise, Butte County and other surrounding municipalities $1 billion for its role in destructive wildfires in Northern California, including last year’s record-breaking Camp Fire, which killed 85 people and burned the town of Paradise to the ground. Last month, California fire investigators concluded that PG&E was to blame for the Camp Fire, which started after electrical transmission lines ignited dry vegetation in at least two spots.
And Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved Tuesday the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which the Canadian government purchased from Kinder Morgan last year, despite major concerns by environmental and indigenous rights groups and multiple legal challenges against the pipeline. Construction on the pipeline, which carries crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands to British Columbia’s Pacific coast, is set to resume this year. First Nations groups have said they will continue to challenge the expansion, which was previously halted by the courts in 2016. This is Khelsilem of the Squamish Nation Council.
Khelsilem: “It’s unfortunate this government, that ran on a promise of doing things differently, decides to behave this way. But our interests as a people is to protect our community, our territory, the livelihood of our generations living today and the ones to come. And we are committed to fighting this climate emergency and the climate crisis, but we have a government that does not seem to want to be leaders when it comes to fighting the climate emergency. Climate leaders do not build pipelines.”