Defense Secretary Mark Esper has acknowledged he did not see specific evidence that Iranian General Qassem Soleimani was planning attacks against U.S. embassies at the time U.S. forces assassinated him in a drone strike at the Baghdad International Airport a week ago Friday. This is despite Trump’s claims that Soleimani was planning to attack embassies.
President Donald Trump: “I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies. … But Baghdad certainly would have been the lead, but I think it would have been four embassies, could have been military bases, could have been a lot of other things, too. But it was imminent, and then all of a sudden he was gone.”
That was President Trump on Friday. But this is Esper speaking with CBS “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan Sunday.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper: “He didn’t cite a specific piece of evidence. What he said is he probably, he believed, could have been.”
Margaret Brennan: “Are you saying there wasn’t one?”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper: “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies. What I’m saying is I share the president’s view that probably, my expectation was, they were going to go after our embassies.”
NBC is reporting President Donald Trump authorized the killing of Qassem Soleimani seven months ago. Meanwhile, The Washington Post has revealed U.S. forces unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate a top Iranian commander in Yemen on the same day Soleimani was killed in a drone strike in Baghdad, suggesting Soleimani’s death was part of a large U.S. campaign to target Iranian commanders. Abdul Reza Shahlai, the commander of the Yemen division of Iran’s elite Quds Force, survived the assassination attempt that killed at least a member of the Quds Force. This all comes as The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump reportedly told associates after Soleimani’s killing that he had been facing pressure to deal with Soleimani from Republican senators that he viewed as important supporters in his upcoming impeachment trial in the Senate.
Iranian protesters have taken to the streets for a third day after the Iranian military acknowledged it accidentally shot down a Ukrainian airliner last week, killing all 176 people on board. Iran initially denied downing the plane, but then Iran’s Revolutionary Guard took responsibility for what authorities described as a “disastrous mistake.” The plane headed to Kiev was downed just hours after Iranian forces fired 22 rockets at military bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops in retaliation for the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander General Qassem Soleimani. There are reports Iranian forces have fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the protesters. Britain’s ambassador to Tehran, Robert Macaire, was briefly detained in Iran, with officials claiming he participated in protests over the downed jet. Ambassador Macaire denies being at the protests. The victims of the plane crash included 82 Iranians and 57 Canadians. Among those killed was indigenous Iranian Ph.D. student Ghanimat Azhdari.
In impeachment news, the House of Representatives is expected to vote this week to name their impeachment managers and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Three Republican senators have said they want the Senate to call former national security adviser John Bolton as a witness during the Senate impeachment trial: Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins. Fifty-one senators can vote to subpoena witnesses in an impeachment trial, meaning that if one more Republican senator joins the 47 Democratic senators, the group could force McConnell to subpoena Bolton, who has said he would testify if subpoenaed.
In election news, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been endorsed by one of New Hampshire’s largest and most influential labor unions, SEIU Local 1984. Meanwhile, author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson has ended her presidential campaign and has vowed to support the Democratic nominee. Six candidates will take the stage tomorrow night for the seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa, the last debate before the Iowa caucuses.
A group of 13 former bipartisan White House press secretaries, Foreign Service and military officials have written a CNN opinion piece demanding the Trump administration resume its press briefings. White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham has yet to hold a single briefing since becoming President Trump’s chief spokesperson in July. White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley called the letter writers “D.C. establishment swamp creatures.”
In the Philippines, authorities are urging nearly half a million people near the capital Manila to evacuate their homes, after the Taal volcano spewed ash into the air Sunday. Authorities are now warning about a possible “explosive eruption” or volcanic tsunami. The Taal volcano is one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, a 5.9 magnitude earthquake rattled the island on Saturday. There have been powerful tremors almost daily after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck Puerto Rico last week, knocking out power. About 96% of electricity customers in Puerto Rico have had their electrical service restored by Sunday.
In France, the government is backing down on its effort to raise the retirement age, as transportation workers and other unions continue a massive strike now entering its sixth week. On Saturday, the French government caved to some of the protesters’ demands and said it would temporarily scrap the proposal to raise the full-benefits retirement age, the most controversial part of French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension overhaul. Despite the concession, some unionized workers remain on strike today across France.
In Taiwan, voters re-elected President Tsai Ing-wen, in a rebuke to Beijing. President Tsai has promised to preserve Taiwan’s sovereignty, even as China has tried to exert more political power over Taiwan. Saturday’s election in Taiwan comes amid months of protests in Hong Kong, where demonstrators are calling for increasing political independence from mainland China.
In Malta, lawyer Robert Abela is slated to be sworn in as Malta’s next prime minister today, after former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat was forced to resign over the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. Malta’s richest man, gambling tycoon Yorgen Fenech, has been charged with complicity in the journalist’s murder and has been arrested in a separate money laundering case. Fenech is also linked to Muscat’s former chief of staff.
Two Iraqi journalists have been assassinated in the southern city of Basra, sparking fear among journalists across Iraq. Local television correspondent Ahmad Abdelsamad, and his cameraman Safaa Ghali, were killed in a drive-by shooting. Meanwhile, in Mexico, radio presenter Fidel Ávila Gómez was found dead in the state of Michoacán last week, marking the first murder of a journalist in Mexico this year. The Committee to Protect Journalists says Mexico is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, with more journalists murdered there last year than in any other country except Syria.
An Illinois judge has ordered the Chicago Police Department to turn over documents detailing nearly five decades of misconduct allegations against police officers. Judge Alison Conlon ordered the police department to turn over the files after ruling that the department had “willfully and intentionally failed to comply” with the Illinois Freedom of Information Act. The documents will be published on the website of the Invisible Institute, which covers police misconduct and abuse in Chicago.
The game show “Jeopardy!” has sparked outrage.
Alek Van Houghton: “Church, 200.”
Alex Trebek: “Built in the 300s AD, the Church of the Nativity. Katie?”
Katie Needle: “What is Palestine?”
Alex Trebek: “No. Jack?”
Jack McGuire: “What is Israel?”
Alex Trebek: “That’s it. And that takes you to $2,200. You’re still in third place, however, which of course means that you get to go first in double jeopardy.”
In fact, the Church of the Nativity is located in the Palestinian territory of the West Bank, which is occupied by Israel in violation of international law. Palestinian and human rights activists have called on “Jeopardy!” to apologize.
In New York City, at least 100 women protested against accused sexual predator Harvey Weinstein outside the Manhattan courthouse where the disgraced Hollywood mogul is standing trial for rape.
Protesters: “Patriarchy is our judge! God imprisons us at birth! And our punishment … It’s not my fault, not where I was, not how I dressed! And the rapist was you!”
This anti-rape anthem was developed by the Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis and has since gone viral. The women also took aim at President Trump, who has been accused of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment by at least 25 women. This is one of the protesters, Zakiyah Ansari.
Zakiyah Ansari: “It’s such a representation of the assault on women’s bodies, from assault on reproductive rights to black trans women being attacked all over this world and all over this country, to old white men trying to take control of our bodies, right? And I’m not void of that. You know, I have seven daughters, and unfortunately one of my daughters had one of those experiences of being assaulted herself. So this is personal to me. But the reality is that we all know someone. It’s something, there’s some story, whether it’s #MeToo or something else, of oppression of women.”
In South Africa, the LGBTQ community is mourning the death of transgender activist Nare Mphela, who was found murdered on Sunday. In 2017, she won a landmark discrimination case against her high school that accused the principal of encouraging other students to harass and humiliate her over her gender identity. Friends and fellow advocates describe her as being a selfless, determined and outspoken advocate for transgender rights. South African police have taken her boyfriend in for questioning. Some believe her murder may have been a hate crime.