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« Reply #2250 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:26 AM »

'A whole generation has gone': Ukrainians seek a better life in Poland

As Ukraine prepares to elect a new president, millions of its citizens have moved across the border
Shaun Walker

Shaun Walker in Lublin
Thu 18 Apr 2019 05.00 BST

When the small business run by Kristina Melnytska’s father began to struggle in 2014 he did what hundreds of thousands of other Ukrainians were doing and moved his family to Poland.

Melnytska, then 19, enrolled in a university in the eastern city of Lublin. She worked long nights in a kebab shop, where she was paid about £1 an hour. Five years later she is still here and one of an estimated 2 million Ukrainians working and living in Poland.

While Poland’s rightwing populist government has rejected resettlement quotas for refugees from Syria and other conflict zones, the country has quietly accepted what may amount to the largest migration into a European country in recent years. There are about 400,000 Ukrainians on proper contracts but many more who work in the parallel economy or are short-term, seasonal labourers.

Their presence helps replace the labour shortage created by the Poles who have left for Britain, Germany and other EU countries since Poland joined the bloc. The numbers also tell a story about Ukraine, where the economy tanked after the 2014 Maidan revolution and the war in the east.

On Sunday the country will vote in a presidential election in which the television comedian and political neophyte Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to score a crushing victory over the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, in a sign of just how dissatisfied people are with widespread corruption and the lack of economic opportunities over the past few years.

“We have ended up with a whole generation that has gone,” said Irina Vereshchuk, a former mayor of Rava-Ruska, a town on the border with Poland. “Poland has taken our best minds, our best labourers.”

In towns and cities across Ukraine there are advertisements and recruitment drives to find people keen to move to Poland for higher salaries. According to data from the World Bank, Ukraine is now the biggest recipient of wage remittances of any country in Europe, with £11bn being sent back to the country by workers abroad last year, amounting to 11% of the country’s GDP.

Olena Babakova, a Ukrainian journalist who moved to Warsaw in 2008, said that while there were no Ukrainian-majority areas of Warsaw or other cities there was what she described as a “horizontal ghetto” of her fellow nationals. “The barmen in the bars I go to are Ukrainians, my hair and nails are done by Ukrainians and some of the bank clerks are Ukrainians.”

Poland for a long time had a programme allowing short-term workers to obtain visas, but things are even more simple, with the EU granting Ukrainian citizens visa-free entry since 2017.

Many Poles say the government is asking for trouble by allowing so many Ukrainians to settle in Poland.

“Ukrainians are quite close to us physically and culturally, but if you build a multinational country you get political problems,” said Krzysztof Bosak, a former MP and deputy leader of the National Movement, a nationalist political force. “Economic mass migration for a country is like cocaine for a workaholic. It makes you more effective in the short term but after, the problems start.”

Many Ukrainians do low-paid, low-skilled jobs the Polish locals do not want. Unlike Polish workers in other EU countries, however, the Ukrainians in Poland have few legal safeguards to fall back on.

In Lublin, Melnytska said she frequently suffered abuse at the hands of drunken customers while working in the kebab shop. “People shouted that I should go home and was ruining Poland. One time someone threw a kebab at me, and there was one guy who said he was going to wait outside and attack me on the way home.”

She called the police, who did nothing except laugh at her and tell her that in Poland there is freedom of speech, she said.

Ruslana Poberezhna, a 20-year-old from the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia who came to Lublin and found work as a waitress, said she was paid a third of the amount the establishment’s Polish workers were paid, and when she complained was laughed at and told she had no rights.

“There’s absolutely nobody for them to turn to,” said Anna Dąbrowska of Homo Faber, a Lublin-based NGO that offers advice and free language lessons to Ukrainians and other foreigners to help them integrate. There are no government-organised or subsidised language programmes for immigrants. She said she was frequently approached by people who had suffered racist abuse or had problems getting their salaries.

An imminent easing of German labour regulations means many Polish employers fear they will lose their Ukrainian workers to higher salaries farther west. So far, though, the Ukrainians continue to come. At Lublin bus station, most of the adverts are in Ukrainian, offering arriving workers cheap sim cards, banking and other services. There are 17 departures per day to Kyiv and many more to other cities across Ukraine.

For Polish nationalists, according more rights to Ukrainians would be a second mistake after allowing them entry in the first place. “The vast majority understand they are guests here and they should be careful and not talk about sensitive issues. If they get citizenship, they won’t be as shy as they are now,” said Bosak.

History remains the trickiest subject, especially the massacre of Polish civilians by Ukrainian nationalist forces during the second world war. A monument to the victims was erected last year in Lublin. Melnytska said she has learned to avoid talking about history with Poles, fearing it will end up in accusations and abuse.

For many Ukrainians, carving out an existence in Poland, despite all the hurdles they face to integrate, is still a more appealing prospect than the one that waits at home.

Melnytska said despite the hardships during her four years in Poland, she planned to stay. She now speaks fluent Polish, has a Polish boyfriend and next year wants to apply for citizenship.

Dmitry, from a small town close to Kyiv, worked in a management position for a large multinational until he relocated to Warsaw with his family two years ago. Now, he drives an Uber in the Polish capital, and by working 70 hours per weeks he can earn about 7000 Zloty (£1,400) per month.

“It’s more than I earned in Ukraine, but it wasn’t really about the money. I was just tired of the unpredictability of life in Ukraine, with revolution, war, uncertainty. I just wanted to feel settled somewhere.”

Additional reporting by Paulina Olszanka

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« Reply #2251 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:29 AM »

‘It’s dangerous to go out now’: young, gay and scared in Brunei

Kate Lamb in Bandar Seri Begawan

A day after it became legally possible to be stoned to death for having gay sex in Brunei, 21-year-old Zain* got a bitter taste of the new reality.

Walking down the street in skinny jeans and high-heeled boots, a flamboyant anomaly in the conservative sultanate, the university student became a target.

“I saw this van about 50 metres away,” said Zain, who is gay. “When the driver saw me, the van accelerated, just to run me over, but I dodged it. I was like, ‘Bitch, what the hell was that?’”

Last week Brunei – a tiny tropical nation on the island of Borneo, a former British protectorate that is home to 420,000 people – introduced harsh new sharia laws, including death by stoning for adultery and gay sex, and amputation of limbs for theft.

The punishments are part of the third and final phase of sharia laws to be implemented after they were first announced in 2013. Following panic and outcry then, plans for the most grievous penalties had lain seemingly dormant for years. Many had hoped that the government had quietly decided to back down.

But in late December last year a little-read official gazette announced that the laws would be effective as of Wednesday last week.

Decried as inhumane, archaic and barbaric, the new laws have seen Brunei dubbed the Saudi Arabia of south-east Asia, sparked widespread international condemnation and calls from celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John to boycott hotels owned by sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, including the Dorchester in London, and the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

But amid the cacophony of international criticism, in Brunei the laws came into effect with zero official fanfare, or even a passing mention. On Wednesday the lead story in the Borneo Bulletin, Brunei’s main English-language daily newspaper, was about missing fire hydrants – with not a word about the laws.

At a public event the same day, the sultan was similarly oblique, saying only that he advocated “stronger Islamic teaching”. In fact, in the quiet and predictable Bruneian capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, the reception of the new sharia penal code has run counter to international perceptions.

On the ground, young Bruneians say they are less scared of being prosecuted under the new laws than of how they might embolden religious conservatives, and justify acts of hate against them – like strangers trying to run them over in the street, or worse.

Given the absence of reports in the self-censoring local press, Zain heard the news on Twitter. His first thought, he told the Observer, was “oh my God I am going to die, I am going to be stoned to death”.

But after reading the fine print, he and others in Brunei’s underground LGBT scene are sceptical that anyone will actually be stoned. The high burden of proof, requiring a confession, or at least four credible witnesses to a criminalised act, means it won’t be easy to prosecute.
RAF and Royal Navy urged to cut ties to sultan of Brunei over anti-gay law
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And while capital punishment has long been law in Brunei – although by hanging rather than stoning – no one has been executed since 1957.

“So that’s why I am not really scared about the law, but I am scared about the people,” said Zain. “The implementation gives a lot of conservative people who are very homophobic a lot of power. It is more dangerous for people like me to go out now.”

Other LGBT Bruneians agree the laws will be very difficult to enforce, but that hasn’t stopped them feeling paranoid. Are their neighbours, for example, watching them now?

Many, especially the more visible transgender people, are keeping a low profile, living even more discreetly than they already did.

Rafay, another gay Bruneian man, said: “To me, it makes my life even more complicated. It’s somewhat harder for me to be open when I’m in public.”

Although the draconian measures are in place, in the capital it feels as though little has changed. Days after the law came into effect, no cases had been prosecuted and sharia police were not combing the streets. LGBT Bruneians are in an uneasy state of wait and see. “I might leave Brunei,” said Rafay, “if the situation worsens.”

Some have already made changes to their lifestyles. Ali, a thirtysomething artist, said he would simply stop dating men. “I consider myself bi[sexual], so for me I guess it is just pretty easy – I just cut the other half,” he said. “For me it’s an extra risk I can just cut off. I know that doesn’t apply to most people. If they are gay they can’t just cut off guys, so I am fundamentally opposed to the laws.”

Living in a conservative majority-Muslim society with strict laws already in place – gay sex, for example, has long been illegal – young Bruneians are skilled adapters. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes is banned, but they know where to find contraband sources.

If they want to party they can drive a few hours to the Malaysian border town of Miri, and go clubbing for the night, or take a short flight to neighbouring Kuala Lumpur. And if they do party at home, it’s always best to have a member of the royal family in tow, some half-joke. In Brunei, locals say it’s all about who you know.

“It sucks, but it wasn’t great to begin with. We are very good at adapting, we all learn to have two or three social media accounts,” said Anna, a young professional, of the new laws. “We Bruneians can’t do anything about it, so I don’t know how outside forces can help. It’s more about how we as Bruneians can get through this together.”

Alongside the shock and uncertainty, there is also a feeling of indignation that the international coverage has skewed perceptions of their country that detract from what they see as its attributes – a strong education and healthcare system, and no income tax. Typically proud of their nation, Bruneians also worry about the economic repercussions, even those who identify as LGBT.

    The laws might give them a reason to crack down on people who are not loyal to the throne

The sultan has pushed for sharia law since the 90s, despite the failure of other family members to live up to his standards. His brother Prince Jefri’s flamboyant lifestyle involved a harem of foreign mistresses, erotic sculptures of himself with his fiancee, and a luxury yacht he called Tits.

In a country that bills itself as something of a sanctuary – the full name of the country is Brunei Darussalam, meaning in Arabic “abode of peace” – Bruneians have different answers when asked how it has become a country with draconian sharia law.

Ali’s working theory was that, as rumours swirl that the sultan, 72, is likely to abdicate soon, he was paving the way for his son, the crown prince, to take over. “The laws might give them a reason to crack down on people who are not loyal to the throne, and the people that are not loyal to the throne are usually people who are more liberal and progressive and probably doing all the adultery,” he said. “They are preparing for when the crown prince, who is not popular at all, takes the throne, and then there is going to be a lot more dissent, I think.”

Some Bruneians are hoping that, eventually, all this will fade away. That life will be back to business as usual, soon enough. “I can’t imagine anyone carrying this punishment out. It’s not the Brunei I know, at least not the one I grew up in,” said Anna. “The future isn’t bright, but it isn’t bleak either. We just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

*All names have been changed.

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« Reply #2252 on: Apr 18, 2019, 04:41 AM »

Trump and America brace for release of redacted Mueller report

Long-awaited document to be released on Thursday could shed light on details of evidence gathered during two-year Trump-Russia investigation

Ed Pilkington and Tom McCarthy in New York
Thu 18 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

Almost two years after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel to investigate potential ties between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia, the American people will finally read his report on Thursday – albeit in redacted form.

The public release of the 400-page Mueller report marks a significant moment for a country on tenterhooks over what the former FBI director has uncovered. It marks the first time that US citizens and members of Congress will be able to hear from the special counsel directly rather than through the lens of his Department of Justice bosses or the media.

In the lead-up to the report’s release, the White House was in a defensive crouch. Justice department officials provided lawyers close to Trump with briefings on the content of the report in advance of its release, the New York Times reported Wednesday, assisting the White House in the preparation of a rebuttal to a document that Trump previously claimed had “totally exonerated” him.

The report will be issued by the Department of Justice in paper form at its headquarters in Washington DC and online, sometime on Thursday morning. William Barr, the attorney general, will hold a news conference at 9.30am ET, after which the redacted report will be delivered to Congress.

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, called a news conference late Wednesday to criticize the multi-step rollout and to accuse Barr of attempting to prejudice the public reception of the report in favor of the White House.

“The fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented in his own words, rather than in the words of special counsel Robert Mueller,” Nadler said.

“The central concern here is that attorney general Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is instead trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.”

Just how revelatory the document is, and how much it puts to rest the partisan dispute that has raged ceaselessly in Washington since Mueller was appointed in May 2017, will depend on the extent of its redactions.

Since the report was handed on 21 March to the recently appointed US attorney general, he has been busily obscuring parts of it from public and congressional view.

Barr has insisted the redactions are necessary for legal reasons involving material gathered secretly by a grand jury and evidence in other continuing criminal cases. But Democrats are suspicious, given the fact that Barr was handpicked by Trump to head the justice department and the speed with which he rushed out a four-page summary of the Mueller report – a summary that was generally favorable to the president.

One of the most important questions that will be raised by Thursday’s release is whether Barr’s brief summary is true to Mueller’s original report.

Democratic leaders in Congress are unlikely in any case to be satisfied until they have seen the complete, unredacted version. Nadler has indicated that he will subpoena the justice department for the full document potentially as soon as Friday.

There will be much riding on what emerges from the report. Criminal charges have been ruled out after Barr said that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had decided there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump had committed obstruction of justice.

But it remains a possibility, though unlikely, that Democratic leaders in the House will see material in the report that merits the framing of impeachment charges against the president. Last month Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, said that she was not in favour of impeaching Trump as “he’s just not worth it”.

The Mueller report could still provide political ammunition against Trump as the president seeks re-election in next year’s presidential contest.

The document is expected to fall into two clear sections.

The first will look at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and the question of any involvement in that effort by the Trump campaign. Barr’s summary quoted Mueller as saying “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated” with Russia, but it remains to be seen whether that sentence was taken out of context.

The second part will deal with the obstruction of justice allegations. Trump aroused suspicions that he tried to impede the work of the FBI after it emerged that he had put pressure on the then head of the agency, James Comey, to end an investigation into the Russia links of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Those suspicions deepened when Trump fired Comey on 9 May 2017, triggering the appointment of Mueller.

Trump previously told NBC news during an interview on camera, on his decision to fire Comey: “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.’”

Though Barr decided that evidence was lacking for a criminal charge, his summary did make the point that Mueller was ambivalent on the subject. The special counsel opted to make no prosecutorial judgment – neither accusing Trump of any crime nor exonerating him.


Mueller report: five things to look out for in the redacted document

Barr has said the report has two parts: one on Russian tampering efforts and one on alleged obstruction of justice by Trump

Tom McCarthy in New York
Thu 18 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

On Thursday, the US justice department is expected to release a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian election tampering and the Donald Trump campaign to the public. The attorney general, William Barr, has announced a press conference at the justice department at 9.30am to discuss it.

Barr has previously described the Mueller report as having two parts: one part devoted to describing the Russian tampering efforts, believed to include a rundown of Russian contacts with Trump campaign officials; and one part devoted to evidence of alleged obstruction of justice by the president.

Here are five things to look out for with the release of the report, which reportedly runs to nearly 400 pages and is officially titled Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election:

Obstruction of justice

The Mueller report “catalogues the President’s actions” that could amount to an obstruction of justice by Trump, according to an earlier letter issued by Barr summarizing his view of the report’s findings. How much of this catalogue will the public get to see on Thursday?

Mueller left the decision of whether to charge Trump to Barr, who decided not to. But it appears that Mueller gathered substantial evidence of potential obstruction of justice by the president. In his letter, Barr quoted this line from the report: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

What did Mueller, a lifelong prosecutor, see or discover that led him to believe that the president might have committed a crime?

Contacts with Russia

According to Barr, the Mueller report does exonerate the Trump campaign from allegations that it conspired with Russia. In his letter, Barr quoted the report: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But there are signs that the report contains new information about contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives. One source close to Mueller’s team told NBC News that the report “paints a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation”.

Trump’s political base appears to be unbothered by his campaign’s contacts with Russia, and by his subsequent chronic lying about those contacts. But could the report put those contacts in a new light?


Mueller delivered his report one month ago, on 22 March. Since then, Barr and colleagues in the justice department have been preparing it for release to Congress and the public.

A big question is how much of the report will be redacted. Barr is seen as a Trump loyalist with a low opinion of Mueller’s investigation. Barr will probably be challenged to explain why certain material was deemed unfit for public view. Democrats in the House have already said they will subpoena the full report.

Barr has described to Congress four categories of material he intended to redact and said the redactions would be color-coded by category: first, grand jury information, including witness interviews; second, classified information; third, information related to continuing investigations; fourth, so-called derogatory information – information about people who were interviewed or scrutinized in investigations but not charged.

That last category could prominently include Trump.

In the report, Mueller’s team included multiple summary paragraphs intended for quick public release after the report was submitted to Barr, according to multiple media accounts. Some members of Mueller’s team were reported to have been displeased that Barr did not release the summaries.

The report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately – or very quickly”, one official not on Mueller’s team told the Washington Post. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”

Will we see the summaries? Will they be significantly redacted?

Based on media reports and previous indictments, the public knows some of what was going on behind the scenes as the Trump campaign lurched toward victory in 2016, Russian operatives dangling off it, leech-like, on all sides.

But the Mueller report, which would draw on material not available to journalists, such as surveilled communications and seized evidence, could reveal what was really happening in some of the set pieces from the Trump campaign and early presidency.

We might find out more about what happened at a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and whether Trump was ignorant of the meeting, as he claims. New evidence could come to light about the firing of former FBI director James Comey. We could learn more about Trump campaign contacts with WikiLeaks.

The report could contain damaging new information about the conduct of Trump family members, including Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, who have been accused of using the campaign to try to enrich their companies and keeping up inappropriate, if not illegal, contacts with foreign operatives.

The Mueller report might weigh in on whether Trump told Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, as Cohen has alleged, or whether Trump tried at least twice to fire Mueller, only to be stopped by the former White House counsel Don McGahn, as has been reported.

But key sections of the Mueller report might remain redacted for now.


Democrats condemn attorney general's plan for rollout of Mueller report

Attorney general has sought to ‘put his own spin’ on special counsel’s report, say lawmakers before report’s release

Tom McCarthy and agencies
Thu 18 Apr 2019 01.55 BST

On the eve of the long-anticipated release of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian tampering in the 2016 election and alleged Trump campaign involvement, Democrats accused the attorney general, William Barr, of trying to “cherry-pick” and “put his own spin” on the conclusions of the investigation.

Representative Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, appeared with colleagues at a press conference in New York City late Wednesday to protest against Barr’s plan for rolling out a redacted version of the Mueller report.

Barr is scheduled to hold a 9.30am press conference on Thursday. Nadler tweeted on Wednesday that the justice department informed him that Congress would receive the report around 11am or noon, after which it would be posted online.

That plan amounted to an effort by Barr to put up a smokescreen to obscure the true findings of the report, Nadler charged.

“Now it appears that the attorney general intends to once again put his own spin on the investigative work completed by the special counsel and his team,” Nadler said.

“The fact that the attorney general is not releasing even the redacted report to Congress until after his press conference will again result in the report being presented in his own words, rather than in the words of special counsel Robert Mueller.

“The central concern here is that Attorney General Barr is not allowing the facts of the Mueller report to speak for themselves, but is instead trying to bake in the narrative about the report to the benefit of the White House.”

Nadler said he would subpoena the full report “in very short order” and said he assumed it would be useful to call Mueller and members of his team to testify before Congress.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, argued Americans deserved to see the truth, “not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin”.

“AG Barr has thrown out his credibility”, she added.

    Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi)

    AG Barr has thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect @realDonaldTrump above all else. The American people deserve the truth, not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin. https://t.co/fgXwiLuQfr
    April 17, 2019

Democratic House committee leaders followed by asking Barr to cancel his scheduled morning address. “This press conference, which apparently will not include Special Counsel Mueller, is unnecessary and inappropriate, and appears designed to shape public perceptions of the report before anyone can read it”, they wrote.

“Barr should let the full report speak for itself. The Attorney General should cancel the press conference and provide the full report to Congress, as we have requested”, they added.

The justice department also plans to provide a “limited number” of members of Congress and their staff access to a copy of the Mueller report with fewer redactions than the public version, according to a court filing Wednesday.

The nearly 400-page report is expected to reveal what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct. It will also lay out the special counsel’s conclusions about formative episodes in Trump’s presidency, including his firing of the FBI director James Comey and his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation publicly and privately.

The report is not expected to place the president in legal jeopardy, as Barr made his own decision that Trump should not be prosecuted for obstruction. But it is likely to contain unflattering details about the president’s efforts to control the Russia investigation that will cloud his ability to credibly claim total exoneration.

And it may paint the Trump campaign as eager to exploit Russian aid and emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign even if no Americans crossed the line into criminal activity.

The report’s release will be a test of Barr’s credibility as the public and Congress judge whether he is using his post to shield the president who appointed him.

Trump announced Barr’s press conference during a radio interview Wednesday before the justice department did. Trump also said he might take questions about the report after its release.

Barr will also face scrutiny over how much of the report he blacks out and whether Mueller’s document lines up with a letter the attorney general released last month. The letter said Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government but he found evidence on “both sides” of the question of whether the president obstructed justice.

Barr has said he is withholding grand jury and classified information as well as portions relating to continuing investigations and the privacy or reputation of uncharged “peripheral” people. But how liberally he interprets those categories is yet to be seen.

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« Reply #2253 on: Apr 18, 2019, 05:14 AM »

MSNBC’s Morning Joe drops the hammer on Bill Barr as ‘unfit’ — and challenges Dems to do something about him

Travis Gettys
18 Apr 2019 at 06:45 ET   

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said William Barr had proven himself “unfit” to serve as attorney general — and he challenged congressional Democrats to do something about it.

Barr will brief reporters Thursday before they’ve had a chance to review the Mueller report he has redacted, and the Department of Justice he oversees has briefed the White House to help prepare a rebuttal that will be issued before the special counsel’s report.

“Yes, Attorney General Barr has proven once again that he’s unfit to be attorney general of the United States of America — fine, full stop,” Scarborough said. “Let’s put a period and move that to the side. What happens next? What happens?”

The attorney general was helping President Donald Trump slow walk the findings of the 21-month investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, and the “Morning Joe” host said Democrats must be prepared to win the next stage of the public relations battle.

“What should we expect to see tomorrow and the next day and the next week?” he said. “Because chances are good this is going to start an entirely new process in the United States House of Representatives.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fU0-UQ6_Gk

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« Reply #2254 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:51 AM »

‘Killer’ cells raise hope of universal flu vaccine

Agence France-Presse

Scientists said they had discovered immune cells that can fight all known flu viruses in what was hailed as an “extraordinary breakthrough” that could lead to a universal, one-shot vaccine against the killer disease.

Influenza epidemics, largely seasonal, kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, according to the World Health Organization.

Due to its mutating strains, vaccine formulas must be regularly updated and only offer limited protection currently.

Researchers in Australia said that “killer T cells” — found in over half the world’s population — had shown in testing to be effective in fighting all common flu varieties.

This means the cells could potentially be used to develop an all-encompassing flu shot that did not need to be changed annually, and even be effective in people who don’t naturally possess them.

“Influenza viruses continuously mutate to evade recognition by our immune system, and they are vastly diverse, making it nearly impossible to predict and vaccinate against the strain that will cause the next influenza pandemic,” said Marios Koutsakos, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Doherty Institute.

T cells are a type of white blood cell that roams the body scanning for abnormalities and infections. They are essential for human immunity against a host of invading bacteria and viruses.

So-called “killer” T cells are unique in that they can directly target and kill other infected cells.

Koutsakos and his colleagues used mass spectrometry — a scanning technique that helps separate molecules based on their mass — to identify parts of the virus that are shared across all flu strains, and realised that killer T cells could effectively fight variations of influenza A, B and C.

Flu is especially dangerous for elderly people, children and those with compromised immune systems, as well as certain ethnic groups who never developed immune responses to the disease.

The team behind the research has patented their discovery, and researchers said they hoped it would enable them to develop a universal influenza vaccine “to reduce the impact of pandemic and seasonal influenza around the world”

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« Reply #2255 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:56 AM »

Trump policy of less safety and more offshore drilling is 'a recipe for disaster'

Nine years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Trump administration is exacerbating the industry’s ‘systemic failures’, report warns

Oliver Milman in New York
19 Apr 2019 09.00 BST

Offshore oil and gas drilling in the US is plagued by “systemic failures” in oversight that are being worsened by Trump administration attempts to expand drilling and roll back safety requirements, a new report has warned.

The analysis of public documents by the conservation group Oceana found that while some minor improvements have been made since the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, a system of lax oversight, paltry fines and overstretched inspectors risks further major oil spills.

This situation is further deteriorating due to the Trump administration opening up almost all US waters to offshore drilling, as well as repealing Obama-era safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill, according to the report, released on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the disaster.
US official reveals Atlantic drilling plan while hailing Trump’s ability to distract public
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“Less safety and more drilling is a recipe for disaster,” said Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. “We should be implementing safety reforms, not rolling back what we have. Nearly 10 years on from the BP disaster, overarching failures haven’t been remedied.”

The report criticizes the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, for relying upon industry-written standards and for regularly granting exemptions to safety rules.

Penalties for rule-breaking by drilling companies are capped at little more than $44,000 per violation per day, with just 120 BSEE inspectors tasked with conducting 20,000 inspections in US waters each year. Oceana called this oversight regime “alarming” and demanded a much tougher system of inspections and fines.

A spokeswoman for BSEE said the agency had doubled its number of inspectors since 2010 “to significantly enhance our inspection program and ensure that we are providing sufficient oversight to drive improved safety performance and environmental stewardship.

“BSEE has made significant advances in technology, safety and environmental management systems, inspection strategies and risk management, and the regulatory framework since 2010,” reducing the risk of another accident, the representative said.

Conservationists have attacked the Trump administration for its sweeping “energy dominance” agenda that has seen oil and gas businesses invited to explore for resources in waters surrounding the US, including swaths of the Atlantic and Arctic previously put out of bounds due to concerns over environmental impacts and vocal opposition from coastal communities.

Many leading Republicans in coastal states have also expressed alarm over the huge expansion in drilling, with some warning that the potential auctioning off of Florida’s waters could cost Donald Trump dearly in the state in the 2020 presidential election.

In September, BSEE eased key safety rules put in place by the Obama administration in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon calamity, where an explosion killed 11 people and caused millions of barrels of oil to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, fouling the coastline. BSEE said the watered-down rule would save industry around $13m a year.

While the BP oil spill is considered the worst environmental disaster in US history, smaller-scale oil spills are commonplace in US waters, with about 6,500 leaks occurring in federal waters between 2007 and 2017.

One such oil spill is now in its 15th year, with up to 700 barrels of oil a day flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from a wrecked Taylor Energy oil platform, which was toppled by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

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« Reply #2256 on: Apr 19, 2019, 03:59 AM »

The Alps will lose all their glaciers by 2100 if we don’t do something about it


We could be looking at ice-free Alps by 2100. And yes, it’s because of climate change.

Matterhorn, the ‘Peak of the Meadows’, a mountain in the Alpine range straddling the border between Switzerland and Italy.
Image via Pixabay.

New research found that the European Alps could lose all their glacier ice by the end of the century. Under a limited warming scenario, the mountain range would lose about two-thirds of their current ice volume. However, under a strong, unmitigated warming scenario, virtually all Alpine glaciers will be gone by 2100.
Alps, stirred, no ice

    “Glaciers in the European Alps and their recent evolution are some of the clearest indicators of the ongoing changes in climate,” says senior co-author Daniel Farinotti from ETH Zurich.

    “The future of these glaciers in indeed at risk, but there is still a possibility to limit their future losses.”

The study provides the most up-to-date estimates of how Alpine glaciers (of which there are around 4000) will evolve in the coming decades, the team writes. According to the results, large changes in glacier ice volume in this area will occur in the next few decades. From 2017 to 2050, for example, the team expects roughly 50% of their volume to melt away — regardless of any slashing of emissions on our part (due to climate inertia). After 2050, however, “the future evolution of glaciers will strongly depend on how the climate will evolve,” says study-leader Harry Zekollari.

    “In case of a more limited warming, a far more substantial part of the glaciers could be saved,” Zekollari, a researcher at ETH Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, now at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, adds.

This melting will have a pronounced impact on local alpine ecosystems, of which the glaciers play an important part. Local landscape and economy are also likely to see perturbations, the team adds. The glaciers supply local ecosystems with fresh water, and keep local agriculture and hydroelectricity production going in warm or dry periods. They also attract a lot of tourists.

Zekollari and his team used computer models that combined ice-flow and ice-melt processes with observational data to see how Alpine glaciers will fare in the future. They used 2017, when Alpine glaciers had a total volume of about 100 cubic kilometers, as the ‘present day’ reference.

Under a limited warming scenario (RCP2.6), where greenhouse gas emissions would peak in the next few years and then decline sharply — leading to warming below 2°C compared to pre-industrial levels by 2100 — Alpine glaciers would lose around 37 cubic kilometers of ice by the end of the century.

Under a high-emissions scenario (RCP8.5), where emissions would continue to rise rapidly over the next few decades, the glaciers would be virtually gone by 2100.

    “In this pessimistic case, the Alps will be mostly ice free by 2100, with only isolated ice patches remaining at high elevation, representing 5% or less of the present-day ice volume,” says Matthias Huss, a researcher at ETH Zurich and co-author of the study.

It pays to keep in mind that our current emissions are just above the quantities considered for this scenario.

All in all, no matter what we do, the Alps would lose around 50% of their glacier volume by 2050. This happens because all the greenhouse gases we’ve already emitted will linger in the atmosphere for a while — until they break down, mean temperature increase is largely independent of new emissions. However, what happens after 2050 is very much in our hands. Another reason for this decline in glacier volume by 2050, the team adds, is that the Alpine glaciers currently have ‘too much’ ice. Their volume, especially at lower elevations, still reflects the colder climate of the past, as glaciers are slow to respond to changing climate conditions.

Even if we manage to stop the climate from warming any further, keeping it at the level of the past 10 years, glaciers would still lose about 40% of their present-day volume by 2050 because of this “glacier response time,” says Zekollari.

The paper ” Modelling the future evolution of glaciers in the European Alps under the EURO-CORDEX RCM ensemble” has been published in the journal The Cryosphere.

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« Reply #2257 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:03 AM »

'The perfect storm': hydrogen gains ground on LNG as alternative fuel

With demand set to rise across the world, Australia is set to become a global primary producer of hydrogen

Royce Kurmelovs

In March, the Queensland University of Technology made history when it achieved the first export of a small quantity of clean, green hydrogen produced in Australia from renewable energy, to Japanese energy giant JXTG – proving that it was in fact possible.

Hydrogen is increasingly being seen as an alternative to LNG and other fossil fuels and Australia has a lot to gain from a new export industry, with companies such as Woodside Energy and Siemens already investing.

Each year the world consumes 55 million tonnes of hydrogen, a figure which is expected to increase dramatically over the next decade. As countries such as Japan and South Korea embrace hydrogen to rapidly decarbonise their economies in response to climate change, global demand is expected to rise by eight million tonnes as of 2030 and about 35 million tonnes by 2040.

While hydrogen is used in the manufacture of glass, steel and fertiliser, the greatest demand is likely to come from its use as a fuel for hydrogen-powered electric cars, long-haul heavy transport and public transport such as buses.

And while Australia may not be able to make those vehicles, it has the potential to become a primary producer of hydrogen. The only thing holding it back is the pace at which it embraces the technology and build its industrial capacity over the next few years.

So far, the main roadblock has been political will. This seemed to have been resolved in February when the Coalition announced it would hold public consultations on establishing the new industry before the next election.

Labor has likewise set aside $1bn in funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to develop clean hydrogen technologies and an additional $90m for the Australia Renewable Energy Agency for research.

Support for a clean hydrogen industry has been a long time coming. In August 2018, Dr Alan Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, released a National Hydrogen Roadmap spelling out how Australia could develop a hydrogen export industry.

Finkel’s plan was adopted by COAG and the 30 companies currently working on hydrogen projects in Australia knew they had a future.

Dr Fiona Beck, a theoretical physicist working with an ANU team recently awarded $10m in funding to conduct holistic research into setting up a hydrogen export industry in the Asia-Pacific, compared the current state of hydrogen to the early days of solar.

“With hydrogen, there is really the feeling right now that it’s not just researchers and technologists talking about this. There is the alignment. The perfect storm,” said Beck.

She said in the past hydrogen faced objections from people who said it just was not possible. Like solar, the technology had been around since the 1970s, but it was only with a growing awareness of climate change and the need for a transition that the technology started to receive more attention.

A hydrogen powered bus is refuelled at a depot in London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian

Broadly, there are currently three ways to make hydrogen. Brown hydrogen is is produced when the element is stripped out of fossil fuels such as coal, while blue hydrogen is produced from gas. Green hydrogen is produced from running an electric current through water using an electrolyser powered by renewable energy such as solar.

While the current policy focus has been on the production of blue hydrogen, the technology needed to produce, store and transport green hydrogen at scale is improving rapidly.

Among industry titans, Woodside Petroleum chief executive Peter Coleman said blue hydrogen is currently the cheapest to produce and, while he didn’t see exports reaching scale until 2030, the company was already planning ahead.

“The technology is ready today but has not been widely deployed in Australia,” Coleman said. “We view hydrogen production and export as a potential adjacent activity to our core business of LNG. We are also ideally placed to produce hydrogen in the north-west of Australia, where we have access to abundant sunshine for solar power.

“Blue hydrogen is the key to building scale and lowering costs in hydrogen transport and distribution, which will enable an earlier transition to renewable green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis of water, powered by renewables. The earlier we can shift, the faster we can reduce emissions.”

Martin Hablutzel, the head of strategy for Siemens – which manufacturers electrolysers, the main equipment needed to make zero carbon hydrogen – said the company welcomed bipartisan support for the industry and said demand for the company’s equipment is growing.

“What we need now is for Australia to fast-track green hydrogen projects of scale and governments to have a clear role in supporting this great new industry as it establishes,” Hablutzel said.

Where once their electrolysers were only capable of turning kilowatts of renewable energy into clean hydrogen, the company is now building larger scale devices.

Siemens will soon deliver a unit with a 1.25MW capacity to the Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia. It also offers another unit capable of scaling up above 10MW, with plans for newer equipment capable of producing into the triple digits.

Other companies aren’t waiting either. Yara Pilbara operates a fertiliser plant on the Burrup Peninsula in Western Australia’s far north and is racing to commercialise hydrogen production in partnership with French company Engie. Hydrogen is a key ingredient in fertiliser and general manager Chris Rijkson says the company sees it as a way to decarbonise its range.

While the original plan was to build a test-site, about a year ago Yara Pilbara chose to skip straight to building a full-scale 100MW solar-powered commercial-scale green hydrogen plant with a 66MW electrolyser. If successful, it would be the first in the world.

“With this we could make our whole product portfolio carbon-free in the future,” Rijkson said. “On top of that, Yara is looking into what other options there are to produce fuel in the future.”

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« Reply #2258 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:06 AM »

Forget Brexit and focus on climate change, Greta Thunberg tells EU

Teenager who started school strike movement urges MEPs to ‘wake up and take action’

Jennifer Rankin in Strasbourg

The teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has chided EU leaders for holding three emergency summits on Brexit and none on the threat posed by climate change.

In a clarion call to Europe’s political leaders ahead of European parliament elections in May, the founder of the school strike movement said if politicians were serious about tackling climate change they would not spend all their time “talking about taxes or Brexit”.

In a typically blunt speech, she said politicians were failing to take enough action on climate change and the threats to the natural world.

“Our house is falling apart and our leaders need to start acting accordingly because at the moment they are not,” the 16-year old schoolgirl from Sweden told a standing room-only meeting of MEPs and EU officials in Strasbourg.

“If our house was falling apart our leaders wouldn’t go on like we do today,” she said. “If our house was falling apart, you wouldn’t hold three emergency Brexit summits and no emergency summit regarding the breakdown of the climate and the environment.”

While climate change is sometimes discussed at the EU’s regular summits, the issue has never dominated because Brexit, migration or the eurozone crisis have monopolised the attention of Europe’s top leaders.

Greta’s 10-minute speech was interrupted by frequent applause and ended with a 30-second standing ovation.

Before she began speaking, many in the room rose to their feet to applaud and take photos of her as she sat on the podium surrounded by cameras.

As the young climate activist spoke of a “sixth mass extinction”, her voice faltered. “The extinction rate is up to 10,000 times faster than what is considered normal, with up to 200 species becoming extinct every single day,” she said. “Erosion of fertile topsoil, deforestation of the rainforest, toxic air pollution, loss of insects and wildlife, acidification of our oceans – these are all disastrous trends.”

She was applauded after getting to the end of the passage and continued the speech without faltering again.

Greta had previously addressed the UN climate change summit in Poland and the World Economic Forum in Davos since her lone protest outside the Swedish parliament last August triggered a worldwide school strike movement to raise the alarm about climate change.

Neither was it the first time Greta had taken her uncompromising message to the EU institutions. In February, she told an audience including the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU needed to double the ambition of its climate targets.

At that time, the parliament’s senior leaders, led by the European parliament president, Antonio Tajani, decided against inviting Greta to address MEPs in the parliament’s debating chamber. Centre-right and liberal groups argued against the invitation, which had been proposed by the Greens. Objections ranged from the potential vulnerability of a child exposed to the chamber to a desire to reserve the plenary address for politicians or senior officials.

The meeting took place in the more low-key setting of a special meeting of the European parliament’s environment committee.

Noting the imminent European elections and the fact that her generation could not vote, Greta urged MEPs to listen to scientists and millions of children who had taken part in school strikes. “In this election, you vote for the future living conditions of humankind,” she said.

Referring to Monday’s fire at Notre Dame in Paris in her speech, Greta called for “cathedral thinking” to tackle climate change.

“It is still not too late to act. It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling,” she said. “In other words it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible.”

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWsM9-_zrKo

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« Reply #2259 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:08 AM »

A topless photo ruined this teacher's career. Now she's speaking out

Lauren Miranda says what should have been an innocuous photo spun out of control – and would have a different outcome for a man in her position

Lucia Graves
Fri 19 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

Lauren Miranda’s nightmare began as a school day like any other. She was teaching math during first period at Bellport middle school on Long Island, New York, when she received a text from a friend in another building. There was a nude photo going around, and kids were saying it was her.

“I just thought it was impossible,” Miranda told the Guardian. “I was almost offended that she thought it was a picture of me.”

But when she arrived in the principal’s office, he spun the computer monitor around to show her the image in question. There it was: a picture of her topless on the screen. She had sent the picture to one and one person only: a male colleague she was dating.

“It’s one of those things you read about in the newspaper. You never expect it to be you,” she said.

That Friday, 11 January 2019, changed her life forever, sparking a lively conversation about citizen rights, privacy in the age of sexting and social media and even the right to be sexual – with Miranda at the center of it.

    All of these milestones were ripped away from me because of a picture of my upper body
    Lauren Miranda

“I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” she said of her dream of being a math teacher. “I was so proud of myself and so proud of everything that I’ve accomplished being 25 years old and about to be granted tenure – all of these milestones were ripped away from me because of a picture of my upper body.”

Miranda was suspended immediately after the 11 January meeting with the principal. The school board voted to fire her several months later, following a closed-door meeting in March.

Now she’s suing the school district and its administrators for her job back or for $3m in restitution for gender discrimination, claiming in court documents that they failed to conduct a “full and adequate” review.

The school district declined to discuss the case, saying in a statement from the superintendent, Joseph Giani: “The district does not comment on active litigation.”

The photo at the center of the controversy was one Miranda had taken at home in 2016, sitting on the floor before a mirror, a towel draped across her legs and her breasts exposed.

A letter recommending her termination faulted her for having “caused, allowed or otherwise made it possible” for the photo of her to circulate, or for “failing to take adequate precautionary measures” in preventing its circulation.

Miranda had only shared the image with a colleague she was dating, according to court documents. “I gave one person permission to have this picture. How it got out I can only speculate but I never gave anyone aside from one person permission to have my personal image,” she said.

She had told the school as much, but said it didn’t seem to register. The male teacher in question was not disciplined or discharged for the photos purportedly disseminated to students, according to a notice of complaint.

The man she sent it to has not been named publicly, so his side of things cannot be told. Miranda said the story isn’t about the man she sent the photo to, whom she is no longer dating.

It’s about how what should have been an innocuous photo spun out of control, threatening to ruin her career. And how different she thinks it would be for a man in her position.

“It’s always the boys hurting the girls and the girls taking the brunt of it,” she said. “Having this picture gain so much traction really shows the disparity between how women are viewed and how men are viewed, and how men can openly sexualize women and how it’s a real problem.”

Before the topless photo surfaced publicly, Miranda had received high praise for her work as a middle school math teacher, according to a performance evaluation shared by her lawyer, John Ray, and seemed on track to receive tenure the following year.

Afterwards, however, school officials told Miranda she could no longer serve as a “role model” for students, according to Ray. After all, the image was an unwelcome distraction and not something students could not unsee, regardless of how it got out.

The case is a personal one for Miranda, who grew up nearby in a small beach town on the southern shore of Long Island and has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember.

“I started there when I was student teaching in college,” she said of the school, “so to now not be treated with any type of dignity or respect or even be treated in a professional manner, hit that much harder.”

She didn’t set out to become a poster child for women’s rights, but she hopes there’s a teachable moment in helping students navigate a new era in digital privacy.

Last fall GQ declared “The age of sending nudes is upon us”, and the same month Miranda was voted out of her job nearly 50 students were caught sharing nude photos of their classmates at a Georgia high school.

A study done by security software firm McAfee in the wake of former congressman Anthony Weiner’s sexting scandal found 70% of people ages 18 to 24 receive sexually suggestive photos and messages. And numbers among young people appear to be on the rise.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already been swept up in a fake nude photo scandal. And a real one involving Jeff Bezos lost steam when his would-be extorters realized that in 2019, a semi-clothed photo just isn’t that compromising.

Not if you’re a man, anyway.

For Miranda, it still cost her job, even as – like so many other Americans who’ve seen their photos circulated without their permission – she has said she has no knowledge of how her image leaked.

No wonder she has received an outpouring of sympathy in the community and online.

“Because you can’t have a private sex life *and* be a role model at the same time, apparently? this story makes me want to bash my head against a wall,” tweeted Ej Dickson, a writer at Rolling Stone.

“How are we still here in the discourse,” tweeted the writer Rachel Syme.

Locally, protesters have voiced support for Miranda, including the activist known as Sister Leona, who did so topless and interviewed with Vice.

    At the end of the day it really comes down to: the picture is just a picture of my upper body – it’s not offensive
    Lauren Miranda

Miranda never intended to become the cause du jour, but the central irony of combatting her firing is that she has had to fight her case against the private photo that ruined her life when it became public by going even more public with it.

That hasn’t come naturally to the 25-year-old teacher, who has described herself as “a very private person” – she would rather be teaching math. But it does appear to be what her new lesson plan requires.

“It’s a huge problem, even just in terms of adolescents not taking the severity of the situation into consideration because they have no education on it. They don’t know what’s appropriate, how to appropriately use social media, how harmful and detrimental it could be,” she said.

In court, however, the case will probably hinge less on digital privacy than gender parity and, specifically, the sexualizing of women’s nipples while men are free to flaunt their chests.

“At the end of the day it really comes down to: the picture is just a picture of my upper body – it’s not offensive,” Miranda said. “A guy wouldn’t have the same problem. If a male teacher took the same picture with a towel around his waist sitting in his room getting ready, he wouldn’t be fired.”

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« Reply #2260 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:23 AM »

Resisting the right: the woman who is a beacon of hope in Salvini's Italy

Antonella Bundu is the lead candidate in a coalition of anti-fascist radical-left parties

Lorenzo Tondo
Fri 19 Apr 2019 05.00 BST

On a peaceful Monday morning in March 2018, a Senegalese street vendor named Idy Diene was murdered on the Vespucci bridge in Florence. The man who fired the six fatal shots was an Italian pensioner who told the police he had shot randomly at the first person he encountered. He had previously attempted to take his own life.

Antonella Bundu, 49, was one of the first people to arrive at the scene. She burst into tears when she was told that under the blood-stained sheet lay Diene. She had come to know him well, watching him set up and take down his makeshift table of cigarette lighters, tissues and umbrellas.

That afternoon she took part in the protests led by the Senegalese community in Florence. Diene had become the most recent victim of a series of attacks against Africans in Italy as anti-immigrant propaganda, spread in part by the far-right leader Matteo Salvini, continued to circulated in mass media.

Since that day, the number of racially motivated attacks against migrants has risen sharply in Italy, tripling between 2017 and 2018, and Salvini has become interior minister. One year after Diene’s death, spurred on by the climate of intolerance and racism that has spread throughout the country, Bundu has decided to run for mayor of Florence. The daughter of a Florentine mother and a Sierra Leonean father, she has become the first black female candidate for mayor of a large Italian city.

She is the lead candidate in a coalition of radical-left parties including Potere al Popolo (Power to the People) and Rifondazione Comunista (Communist Refoundation). The vote will be held at the same time as the European elections on 23-26 May.

“Until a few months ago I never imagined I could take on such a role,” Bundu told the Guardian. “Then a movement tied to the left invited me to speak at the Alfieri Theatre in Florence. I was given one word on which to improvise a seven-minute speech. The word was ‘black’. Without hesitation I poured out about what was happening in Italy. I spoke about myself, my story. They must have liked my monologue, because they immediately asked me if I’d be interested in running for mayor’s office.”

An ex-DJ and activist for Oxfam, Bundu is poised as Salvini’s nemesis. The interior minister has closed Italian ports to NGOs that rescue migrants, and he was recently one of the speakers at the controversial Family Congress in Verona, which brought together anti-gay, anti-feminist and anti-abortion activists from around the world.

Bundu is running for office in a country that in recent years has sunk into a climate of intolerance, and where thousands of Italians have joined self-described fascist groups, more than 70 years after Benito Mussolini’s death. Her political rival, Ubaldo Bocci, who is running under the League and Brothers of Italy parties, has decided to abandon the upcoming 25 April holiday, which celebrates the country’s liberation from the Nazis.

    Politics is riding a wave of hatred that gets more threatening and unruly every day

The vote is seen as a three-way contest between Bundu, Bocci and the faltering centre-left Democratic party (PD), out of the eight candidates standing. But if Bundu makes it through to a second-round runoff, she can expect support from former PD voters.

“Politics is riding a wave of hatred that gets more threatening and unruly every day,” said Bundu. “I too have been a victim of Italian racial hatred. When I opened my door to the parcel delivery man, he asked me if the owner was home, thinking that I was the cleaning woman. While taking a stroll with my daughter, a woman once called me a ‘dirty nigger’. I sued her, and she was found guilty of racial hatred. What’s worse is that people who insult blacks or beat Africans do so without fear of reprisal, legitimised by the pronouncements of political leaders and a subsequent perception of impunity.”

Bundu’s passion for politics did not emerge on the stage of the Alfieri Theatre. Her political commitment began on the streets of Toxteth, Liverpool, in the 1980s.

“Liverpool in the late 1980s was a politically charged city,” she says. “I was studying black history in the city’s libraries and participated actively in the neighbourhood’s protests. For nine days before my arrival, the city had been consumed in revolt. There were torched homes, injured people and some deaths.”

Following the announcement of her candidacy, some people in Florence turned up their noses, and argued that her entry into politics – in a country that reluctantly accepts black footballers on its national team – could be counterproductive to the left and help hand victory to the extreme right. For some, a black woman candidate in Florence could be interpreted as provocation in an Italy dominated by Salvini.

“The real provocation is not that I am a woman, or even a black woman. The real irritation for some is that we have succeeded in creating a coalition of parties of the true left, whose values are anti-fascism and the struggle for freedom,” said Bundu.

“We represent the left of equality, the left that is close to the people, the left that Italy has always had within itself, but that recently seems forgotten. Florence is the city that received the gold medal for its resistance against the fascists. The time has come to remind people.”

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« Reply #2261 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:25 AM »

Sudan: huge crowds call for civilian rule in biggest protest since Bashir ousting

Hundreds of thousands converge on defence ministry demanding military hand over power

Reuters in Khartoum
Fri 19 Apr 2019 02.29 BST

Huge crowds formed outside Sudan’s defence ministry to demand the country’s transitional military council hand over power to civilians.

Hundreds of thousands packed the streets by early evening on Thursday – the largest crowds to gather in the centre of the capital since last week, when the former president Omar al-Bashir was ousted and the military council took over.

Protesters chanted, “Freedom and revolution are the choice of the people” and “Civilian rule, civilian rule”, and waved national flags. Giant screens showed a film documenting apparent abuses by the security services.

“We will remain in the street until power is handed to civilian authority,” said 24-year-old protester Samia Abdallah. “We will bring down military rule.”

The protesters joined a sit-in that began on 6 April outside the defence ministry – the culmination of 16 weeks of protests triggered by a worsening economic crisis. It led to Bashir being ousted and arrested after three decades in power.

The council has said it is ready to meet some of the protesters’ demands, including fighting corruption, but has indicated that it would not hand over power to protest leaders.

It has said that a transitional period of up to two years will be followed by elections and that it is ready to work with anti-Bashir activists and opposition groups to form an interim civilian government.

“We are completely committed to handing over power within a maximum two years,” one of the members of the council, Lt Gen Salah Abdelkhalek, told state TV on Thursday.

“Perhaps the most difficult issue facing the military council now through its political committee is getting agreement from the political spectrum and the community forces on the naming of a prime minister. The ball is in their court.”

The US state department on Thursday called on Sudan’s military to step aside and make way for a peaceful civilian-led transition.

“The will of the Sudanese people is clear: it is time to move toward a transitional government that is inclusive and respectful of human rights and the rule of law,” a department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

A senior state department official said the US deputy assistant secretary Makila James would hold talks in Khartoum over the weekend, to assess the situation on the ground.

The official described the situation in Sudan as “extremely fluid” and said it was important to avoid a “quagmire of endless deliberations” over who should lead an interim civilian authority.

The US said it was encouraged by the release of political prisoners and the cancellation of a curfew.

It said Washington’s policies toward Sudan would be based on “our assessment of events on the ground and the actions of transitional authorities”.

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« Reply #2262 on: Apr 19, 2019, 04:29 AM »

'Bike country No 1': Dutch go electric in record numbers

E-bikes now outsell standard bicycles in Netherlands, with quality prized more than price

Daniel Boffey

In what was already a long-running purple patch for the Dutch cycle industry, domestic sales records have been broken in the last 12 months despite spiralling prices, as technological developments push the standard push-bike into the annals of history.

The Dutch love affair with the bicycle is well chronicled – there are 22.5m of them in a country of 17 million people – but has moved up a level, according to a study by the RAI Vereniging, an organisation representing the automotive and cycling sector.

More than 1m bicycles of all types were sold last year in the Netherlands, up 5.7% on 2017, and at the same time Dutch consumers appear willing to spend big on their bicycles, particularly on e-bikes, statistics show.

E-bikes accounted for €823m of €1.2bn in bicycle sales in 2018. It was the first year that overall sales passed €1bn and the first time more e-bikes were sold than standard bicycles (excluding racing and children’s bikes). In terms of units, 409,400 e-bikes were sold, up 40% on 2017. As a result the average price of a bicycle in the Netherlands rose by about €200 to €1,207. In 2011 the average was €734.

Asked whether rising prices would begin to put the Dutch public off the two-wheeled mode of transport, RAI’s Floris Liebrand said: “Not in the Netherlands. It is in our culture, in our blood.

“We are bike country No 1 in the world so we are used to investing in innovative bikes so there is difference there compared with other countries, including the UK.

“For us it quite normal to spend €1,000 on a bike. An average for an e-bike is over €2,000 but that is in our culture. We believe in the quality of our products. There are e-bikes of €700 or €900 but they are from south-east Asia and the quality is lower.”

The buoyant sales are partly being put down to the good weather of the summer of 2018.

But Liebrand said there had been a change in the Dutch mindset as electric bikes have moved on from being seen as the choice of older people. “In the future we will not talk about e-bikes, but just bikes,” he said. “E-bikes will be the new normal, I think, within 10 to 15 years. We think that all bikes will be supported by small engines.

“In the Netherlands, 60% of those who work live within 15km [9.3 miles] of their work and that is perfect for an e-bike.

“There are consequences. We have fewer traffic deaths but an increase in severe injuries because people cycle more and [are also doing so] when they are older. People cycle when they are 80.”

The RAI Vereniging is pushing for an increase in investment before provincial elections on 20 March.

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Mr. Mueller’s Indictment

The special counsel’s report reveals a pattern of deceit and dysfunction. What comes next is up to Congress.

By The Editorial Board

The editorial board represents the opinions of the board, its editor and the publisher. It is separate from the newsroom and the Op-Ed section.

April 19, 2019
NY Times

So much for “complete and total exoneration.”

To the contrary, it turns out that Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators found “substantial evidence” that President Trump broke federal law on numerous occasions by attempting to shut down or interfere with the nearly-two-year Russia investigation.

In addition to pointing to possible criminality, the report revealed a White House riddled with dysfunction and distrust, one in which Mr. Trump and his aides lie with contempt for one another and the public. Some of the president’s efforts to interfere with the investigation failed, the report concluded, only because “the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Put another way, Mr. Trump may survive, thanks to advisers who chose to refuse or simply ignore his demands to do what the former White House counsel Donald McGahn at one point referred to as “crazy shit.”

Mr. Trump — referred to repeatedly by aides as “the boss” — is shown as so attentive to covering his tracks that at one point he scolds Mr. McGahn for taking notes during a meeting. “I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Mr. Trump is quoted as saying. Mr. McGahn responded that he was a “real lawyer.”

With the public release of a redacted version of the special counsel’s report on Thursday, Americans also at last got a clear answer for a central question raised by the terse — and now clearly misleading — summary offered four weeks ago by Attorney General William Barr: Why did Mr. Mueller decide not to make a finding about whether President Trump obstructed justice?

“We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes,” the report explains, because “fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought.”

In other words, Mr. Mueller felt his hands were tied. Longstanding Justice Department policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president, and it isn’t fair to make accusations without giving the president a legal forum in which to respond.

A bit further on, the 448-page report says, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

So what now? Although Mr. Mueller was unable to bring criminal charges against the president himself, his report lays a foundation for investigation by Congress, which has the authority and the responsibility to check the executive branch and hold the president accountable. “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report states.

It is up to Congress to decide whether the behavior described in this report meets an acceptable standard for the country’s chief executive.

In order to adequately conduct such an investigation, Congress must have access to a fully uncensored version of the report and all its underlying materials. Congressional leaders are right to subpoena the full report, as the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, said he would do on Thursday.

The public also has a right to hear Mr. Mueller testify before Congress at the earliest opportunity.

Descriptions in the public version of the report of the ways in which the president used, and abused, his powers challenge the dignity of the presidency and the free and fair function of the justice system. The special counsel investigated 11 incidents in which the president may have obstructed justice, the same offense facing Richard Nixon during Watergate and Bill Clinton during his impeachment.

The report notes that the president engaged in “public attacks on the investigation, nonpublic efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation.” That the president’s norm-shattering behavior has become so flagrant and familiar doesn’t make it right.

Little wonder that Mr. Trump, when notified that a special counsel had been appointed to scrutinize his behavior, reportedly slumped in his chair and said: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

In addition to indicting, convicting or securing guilty pleas from 34 people, the special counsel’s office made 14 referrals for further investigation of potential criminal activity outside the purview of the investigation’s mandate. Twelve of those referrals remain secret.

As technology advances, will it continue to blur the lines between public and private? Explore what's at stake and what you can do about it.

The report is more definitive when it comes to the extensive interference by Russian spies and hackers in the 2016 election, a campaign of disruption it calls “sweeping and systematic.”

Mr. Mueller’s investigation found that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” Mr. Mueller was not able in the end to establish definitive coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

At the same time, large sections of the report, apparently regarding dealings between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign, have been blacked out. Mr. Barr said Thursday that any such coordination between the website and the campaign wouldn’t be criminal. Congress and the American people deserve to know what happened nonetheless.

If the report — and the entire saga around the Russia investigation — has one through-line, it is the dishonesty at the heart of the Trump administration. The president told Mr. McGahn to lie to reporters about Mr. Trump’s attempt to fire the special prosecutor. The press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, made up from whole cloth the notion that “rank-and-file F.B.I. agents had lost confidence” in the ousted director, James Comey. Half a dozen people connected with the Mueller investigation have been formally charged with — or pleaded guilty to — lying to investigators.

Then on Thursday, just before the report was made public, the attorney general tarnished himself and undermined the integrity of his office by dissembling about what the report said.

By contrast, the special prosecutor’s report illustrates again and again that, despite Mr. Trump’s constant cries of “fake news,” the responsible news media’s reporting on the investigation was overwhelmingly accurate.

Mr. Mueller may have thought he couldn’t indict a president in the legal sense of the term, but he has delivered a devastating description of Mr. Trump’s attempts to abuse his powers and corrupt his aides. This report, even in its censored format, is an important step toward putting the truth of this presidency in the public record. But there’s still a long way to go before it can be said that justice has been done.


Here’s the most crucial paragraph from the Mueller report

Cody Fenwick, AlterNet - COMMENTARY
18 Apr 2019 at 16:34 ET      

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a revealing and incisive document, explicating and detailing the extensive evidence uncovered in the investigation of a potential conspiracy between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government as well as presidential attempts to obstruct justice.

And while many of these new details and the narrative they tie together are of incredible value, much of the outline of the behavior documented were already known. Trump and his campaign aides were interacting frequently with figures tied to the Russian government, gleefully accepted their help during the election, and tried — sometimes illegally and sometimes successfully — to cover it all up. As president, Trump engaged in a series of outrageous acts designed to stymie the probe, many of which could clearly be considered criminal obstruction of justice — but Mueller declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on this question.

Instead, he clearly thinks it is up to Congress to decide whether to hold Trump accountable. In arguably the most crucial paragraph of the report, the Mueller team sets forth why potential charges for Trump’s obstruction would be legitimate under the Constitution and fall to lawmakers, at least for now:

    Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice through the use of his Article II powers. The separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source. We also concluded that any inroad on presidential authority that would occur from prohibiting corrupt acts does not undermine the President’s ability to fulfill his constitutional mission. The term “corruptly” sets a demanding standard. It requires a concrete showing that a person acted with an intent to obtain an improper advantage for himself or someone else, inconsistent with official duty and the rights of others. A preclusion of “corrupt” official action does not diminish the President’s ability to exercise Article II powers. For example, the proper supervision of criminal law does not demand freedom for the President to act with a corrupt intention of shielding himself from criminal punishment, avoiding financial liability, or preventing personal embarrassment. To the contrary, a statute that prohibits official action undertaken for such corrupt purposes furthers, rather than hinders, the impartial and evenhanded administration of the law. It also aligns with the President’s constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws. Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President’s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chili his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.

This paragraph is so important because it lays out why the obstruction portion of the report matters. Attorney General Bill Barr has dismissed the obstruction charges, saying that because Mueller didn’t make a determination about whether Trump committed a crime, it was up to him as the head of the Justice Department to make that call.

Mueller disagrees. He thinks it’s up to Congress — and the constitutional check to make sure “no person is above the law.”

Before he became attorney general, Barr drafted a 19-page memo arguing that a president couldn’t obstruct justice using his constitutional powers. That memo is, in all likelihood, the reason he got the job he has now. And before the report was released, Barr said that he disagrees with Mueller’s theory of obstruction of justice.

But that’s the reason Mueller was appointed. A special counsel is needed when the traditional operations of the Justice Department are not sufficient to ensure the credibility of its actions in a particularly sensitive matter. Mueller has the credibility — and the paragraph above shows why.


Mueller report unable to clear Trump of obstruction of justice

Special counsel says evidence obtained about the president threw up ‘difficult issues’
Luke Harding

Luke Harding
Fri 19 Apr 2019 06.00 BST

Robert Mueller’s much-awaited report details “multiple contacts” between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials, and sets out 10 “episodes” in which Donald Trump possibly obstructed justice.

Mueller says he did not make a “traditional prosecutorial judgement” on whether Trump did obstruct justice and adds that the evidence obtained about “the president’s actions and intent” threw up “difficult issues”.

However, the special counsel refused to exonerate Trump on the charge. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote in his conclusion.

He added: “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgement.”

Mueller’s 448-page report also reveals that Trump believed he was “fucked” and his presidency was over when Mueller was first appointed. The special counsel began his investigation into possible collusion in May 2017, soon after Trump unceremoniously fired FBI chief James Comey.

The report is divided into two distinct parts – the first concerning Russia’s efforts to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election, and the second on whether Trump obstructed justice once installed in the White House.

The report concludes there was not an “active” criminal-level conspiracy between the Trump election team and Moscow. But the document contradicts claims of total exoneration made by Trump and his hand-picked attorney general William Barr, and provides fascinating new details.
Russian contacts

Mueller says that the Kremlin interfered in the US election in “sweeping and systematic fashion”. This interference – some of it detailed in previous indictments – included a social media operation run out of Russia and the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails by Russian military intelligence from Moscow.

These emails were given to WikiLeaks, which released them in July and October and November 2016. “The investigation ... identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign,” Mueller writes.

In March, Barr released a quote from the report suggesting that Mueller had unambiguously cleared Trump and his associates of any collusion. We now know that Barr was quoting selectively and left out a crucial sub-clause which says that Trump’s campaign expected to profit from Russian hacking.

The full paragraph says:

“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from the a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Mueller is careful to explain how he reached his conclusions. He points out that “collusion” is not a term in US federal law. He defines conspiracy as “an agreement – tacit or express” between Russians and the Trump team, and stresses its active component.

The report makes clear that the Trump campaign “showed interest” in Democratic party emails hacked by Moscow and welcomed their potential to damage Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent.

It lists “numerous links” between campaign officials and “individuals with ties to Russia”. These include business connections, offers of assistance, invitations for campaign officials to meet with Russian representatives, and “policy positions” setting out how to improve US-Russian ties.

Most of these interactions are already known. The report gives compelling new texture. It says that numerous individuals connected to Trump – his campaign manager Paul Manafort, and national security adviser Michael Flynn, among others – lied about these encounters. They used encrypted communications which the special counsel says he wasn’t always able to recover.

The GRU, Russian military intelligence, used WikiLeaks to disseminate its filched material. The report says Julian Assange was opposed to Clinton and described her in 2015 as a “bright, well-connected, sadistic sociopath”. It says the GRU delivered stolen emails to Assange who was living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London. They arrived via an encrypted attachment.

Passages concerning Trump’s friend and ally Roger Stone and WikiLeaks are redacted, ahead of Stone’s felony trial in November. Nevertheless, the report says that Trump’s team including Manafort, Donald Trump Jr and others were “excited” by the email dumps and planned a “communications campaign” around them.

It suggests Trump was personally involved in these decisions: “REDACTED discussed with campaign officials that WikiLeaks would release the hacked material. Some witnesses said that Trump himself discussed the upcoming releases.”

The US political commentator Jerome Corsi tried to get in touch with Assange and asked Ted Malloch – a Trump supporter based in London – if he could help. Corsi suggested that “individuals in the orbit of the UK politician Nigel Farage might be able to contact Assange”, the report says.

Mueller also details an elaborate operation by associates of Flynn to locate Clinton’s “missing” 30,000 emails. Barbara Ledeen, a long-time US Senate staffer, briefed Flynn about her efforts throughout the summer of 2016. She collaborated with Peter Smith, a Republican party activist who killed himself in 2017.

“Trump asked individuals affiliated with his campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report says.

Some of the most striking new facts concern Manafort’s meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian national who worked with Manafort for more than a decade in Ukraine and who – according to the FBI – has ties to Russian intelligence. The pair met twice during the campaign, with Manafort passing Kilmink “internal polling data”.

Kilimnik has denied being a spy. The report reveals that Kilimnik travelled to the US in 1997 on a Russian diplomatic passport. It says he “maintains a relationship” with Viktor Boyarkin, who served in office of the Russian defence attache in Washington. Boyarkin worked as deputy to the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Meanwhile, after Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates were indicted by a grand jury on multiple felony counts Manafort told Gates he had spoken to Trump’s personal counsel, and said: “We’ll be taken care of.”

The word “pardon” is not explicitly mentioned, but Mueller writes that Manafort told Gates he “had talked to the president’s personal counsel and they were ‘going to take care of us’”.
Obstruction of justice

The Mueller report says that in June 2017, Trump told his White House counsel to call acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein and order him to fire Mueller. Trump declared: “Mueller has to go.”

Don McGahn, the counsel, refused, deciding he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential “Saturday Night Massacre” – a reference to Richard Nixon’s 1973 attempts to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal.

Trump twice told McGahn to order Rosenstein to fire Mueller, the report says. McGahn, who left the White House in October 2018, recalled the president telling him: “Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be special counsel.” McGahn also recalled Trump telling him: “Mueller has to go” and: “Call me back when you do it.”

McGahn appears to have behaved honourably under trying conditions, the report suggests. Trump told him to deny a report by the New York Times that said the president had wanted to fire the special counsel; McGahn refused.

“Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate,” the report says.

The incident was one of 10 examples where Mueller considered that Trump had possibly obstructed justice.

Other instances include Trump’s instruction to Comey to “lift the cloud” over his presidency – the cloud being Russia – and his subsequent firing of Comey for failing to make the cloud go away.

Also referenced are the president’s efforts to curtail Mueller’s investigation and to force Sessions – his unloved attorney general – to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

The report mentions Trump’s attempts to cover up the notorious Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between Manafort, Don Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on Clinton. It also cites his behaviour towards Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen – national security adviser and personal lawyer respectively – after they began cooperating with investigators.

Mueller gives a nuanced explanation for why he ultimately decided not to subpoena Trump, who refused to sit for a face-to-face interview and instead provided written answers to the special counsel’s questions. Mueller called these answers “inadequate”. Compelling Trump to appear in person would have meant “substantial delay”.

Yesterday’s report reveals for the first time the president’s answers to the questions the special counsel posed him, reproduced as an appendix.

As a clearly exasperated Mueller notes, “the president stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall’ or ‘remember’ or ‘have an independent recollection’” of information called for by the questions”.

The first three responses the president gives relating to the Trump Tower meeting gives a flavour of his spectacular memory failure.

They begin:

– “I have no recollection…”

– “Nor do I recall…”

– “I have no independent recollection…”

After he received these replies, Mueller went back to Trump and asked again for a face-to-face interview, given the “inadequacy of the written format”. Trump again declined.

Despite this, Mueller writes that he was able to gather “sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony”.

Another factor weighing on Mueller’s decision not to reach a conclusion on obstruction, the report says, is that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, under current US Department of Justice guidelines. The president is also invested with more powers by virtue of his office than other government employees, it says.


Mueller report: the key takeaways from the Trump-Russia investigation

The special counsel found 11 instances in which Trump and his campaign’s actions may have amounted to obstruction of justice  

Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington
Thu 18 Apr 2019 18.45 BST

The special counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was made public on Thursday, examining potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow and whether Donald Trump obstructed justice.

The special counsel found 10 episodes in which Trump’s own actions may have amounted to obstruction of justice, detailing several instances in which the president’s demands to interfere with the investigation were blocked by his aides. And in a separate instance, it was found there were additional efforts by the Trump campaign before the election to obscure its contacts with Russian figures.

The report separately examined the repeated contacts between the Trump campaign and individuals with ties to the Russian government. While Mueller did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy, investigators made clear the Trump campaign was “receptive” to offers of assistance from the Russians.

Here are the key takeaways:

Obstruction inquiry finds numerous ‘episodes’ involving Trump

Mueller investigated 10 instances in which Trump sought to use the power of the presidency to obstruct justice by either personally interfering with the Russia investigation or directing his aides to do so.

They included Trump’s request that the then FBI director, James Comey, drop the investigation of the former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Trump’s attempts to stop the then attorney general Jeff Sessions’ recusal from overseeing the Russia investigation; Trump’s demand that the special counsel’s investigation be limited to election meddling only; and Trump’s efforts behind the scenes to fire Mueller.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” the report states, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

In other words, Mueller ultimately did not definitively conclude that Trump obstructed justice, but it was not for a lack of trying.

Mueller made clear he was not exonerating Trump of obstruction, writing:

    The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards however we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

Mueller separately noted that as a candidate, Trump repeatedly denied any connections to Russia even as his business was pursuing a potential real estate deal in Moscow. Trump also voiced skepticism that Russia had hacked Democratic party emails “at the same time as he and other Campaign advisors privately sought information … about any future planned WikiLeaks releases”, the report states.
Trump campaign was ‘receptive’ to help from the Russians

Although Mueller did not find evidence amounting to a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow, the report makes clear that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election “in a sweeping and systematic fashion”.

It also notes that Russia was keen for Trump to win the 2016 election, beating Hillary Clinton. “The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.”

Investigators found multiple ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians, which were described as follows:

    The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the Campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for Campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations.

Some of the earliest contacts dated back to 2015 and were in connection to a potential real estate project, known as Trump Tower Moscow and negotiated by the Trump Organization. Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen was convicted in part for lying to Congress about the timeline and nature of those discussions, which reportedly entailed gifting Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a $50m penthouse. The project ultimately did not come to fruition.

Among the most notable early contacts with the Russians was through the Trump campaign’s foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who learned that the Kremlin had “dirt” on Clinton “in the form of thousands of emails”.

Although Mueller did not prove that the contacts resulted in collusion, the report states that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts”.

    The investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances , the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away. Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.

Trump believed Mueller’s appointment would end his presidency

One of the most damning revelations in the 400-plus-page report is how Trump reacted to the appointment of a special counsel. Mueller was appointed by the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, on 17 May 2017, following the recusal of Sessions and the firing of Comey.

Trump was informed of Mueller’s appointment by Sessions while in the midst of conducting interviews for a new FBI director. According to notes written by Jody Hunt, who served at the time as Sessions’ chief of staff, Trump did not take the news well:

    When Sessions told the President that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.’

Trump then “became angry” and lambasted his attorney general for recusing himself from the investigation after it was revealed Sessions misled Congress about his own contacts with the Russians.

“How could you let this happen, Jeff?” Trump asked Sessions. According to Sessions’ recollection, Trump then told him: “You were supposed to protect me,” or words to that effect.

    The President returned to the consequences of the appointment and said, ‘Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.’

Mueller could not prove Donald Trump Jr ‘willfully’ violated the law

Much was made of Donald Trump Jr’s role in arranging the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York with the prospect of receiving incriminating information about Clinton. (According to emails released by the president’s eldest son, when informed of an effort by the Russian government to help elect his father, Trump Jr said: “If it’s what you say I love it.”)

Participants included Trump Jr; the president’s son-in-law and senior campaign adviser Jared Kushner; the then campaign chairman, Paul Manafort; and the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The Mueller report states that Trump Jr had informed top campaign officials and Trump family members in advance that “he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation”.

The 9 June 2016 meeting, according to the report, raised “difficult statutory and constitutional questions” relating to “schemes involving the solicitation or receipt of assistance from foreign sources”. But the special counsel ultimately concluded that they could not prove Trump Jr or other participants were knowingly in violation of the law:

    The Office ultimately concluded that, even if the principal legal questions were resolved favorably to the government, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law.

Sarah Sanders admitted she lied to press about Comey’s firing

The White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, has long come under fire for making public statements that are untruthful or misleading.

But her role in covering up Trump’s motivations for firing Comey were laid bare in the report, which cited how her statements at a press briefing days after the FBI’s firing were at odds with the facts. Sanders insisted at the briefing that Trump fired Comey at the justice department’s recommendation and repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that rank-and-file members of the FBI had lost confidence in Comey.

Sanders acknowledged to the special counsel’s office that her assertion “was not founded on anything”.

According to the Mueller report, Trump actually decided to fire Comey before hearing the recommendation of the justice department and further pointed to the Russia investigation in his rationale:

    The day after firing Comey, the President told Russian officials that he had ‘faced great pressure because of Russia’, which had been ‘taken off’ by Comey’s firing.

Mueller lays out case for Congress to investigate Trump on obstruction

The attorney general, William Barr, made his own determination that the special counsel lacked sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. He also said he did not know if Mueller intended for Congress to be the arbiter of the matter.

Mueller, in fact, left little room for interpretation on Congress’s authority to evaluate the evidence and reach its own decision on obstruction:

“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” the report states, adding:

    The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.


Mueller's report would have signaled the end for anyone other than Trump

Analysis: activity discovered by Mueller was not, as Trump and his allies falsely insist, standard stuff for a political campaign  

Jon Swaine in New York

For all his bluster about being a master builder, Donald Trump really made his millions through branding. From chewy steaks to failing casinos, Trump has spent decades putting lucrative lipstick on pigs.

So when faced with a sprawling criminal investigation into how Russia worked to get him elected – and how he then repeatedly tried to obstruct the inquiry – the president devised a brutally effective public relations campaign.

During his two years under investigation by Robert Mueller, Trump repeated his newest slogan ad nauseum: “no collusion”. Some Americans seemed tricked into forgetting that conduct falling short of that bar could be seriously problematic, too.

Mueller’s 448-page report confirms that his investigators did not find any overarching conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russian operatives.

But it also lays out, in damning detail, how senior Trump advisers acquiesced with Russia’s interference, while Trump simultaneously sought the Kremlin’s approval for a property deal in Moscow that could make him millions of dollars.

Then, Trump tried time and again to influence the investigation that he thought could end his presidency – once ordering his top White House lawyer to fire Mueller, and then ordering him to deny that he ever gave such an order. Trump submitted written answers to questions, but refused to be interviewed for the inquiry.

Any other president in America’s history would have had to resign or now face being ousted.

But no past president has so frequently denied reality, nor seemed so unfamiliar with the very concept of shame. Neither, perhaps, has any past president enjoyed the support of such a compliant Senate, which is Republican-held, and willing to excuse his every scandal in the service of their agenda.

The activity discovered by Mueller was not, as Trump and his allies falsely insist, standard stuff for a rough-and-tumble political campaign.

In September 2000, Vice-President Al Gore’s presidential campaign received a video tape of George W Bush’s private practice sessions for their upcoming televised debates. It was political dynamite that could feasibly swing an election.

Gore’s team promptly called in federal investigators. The only adviser who had watched a few seconds of the footage removed himself from the rest of the campaign. The election, as you may recall, was not swung.

But when Donald Trump Jr received an email 16 years later, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father’s presidential candidacy, he did not even ask “WTF”, let alone contact the FBI.

“If it’s what you say I love it,” Trump Jr replied instead. He forwarded the message to two more senior Trump aides. Then they invited the Russians into their campaign headquarters and lied about the meeting’s purpose when it was exposed.

Mueller confirmed on Thursday that he considered prosecuting Trump Jr for taking the meeting but ultimately declined. Among other factors, Mueller explained, he would have had a difficult task proving that Donald Jr had a “culpable mental state”.

Not, one might think, anything to boast about.

Yet with a brass neck shinier than the interior of his father’s home, Trump Jr on Thursday could not contain his joy at getting away with it. “Better luck next hoax,” he said to his critics. We won. Tough luck. Get over it.

Weeks after the Trump Tower meeting, Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, shared reams of detailed polling data with a Russian believed by the FBI to have ties to Moscow’s intelligence services.

Manafort understood the data would go to Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch closely tied to Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. When grilled by Mueller’s investigators on the scheme, Manafort continued lying about it even as it sent him to prison for years.

Separately, a foreign policy adviser to Trump had boasted privately that Russia planned to release damaging material on Clinton in 2016. He, too, went to prison after lying to the FBI. Trump’s national security adviser, too, pleaded guilty and awaits sentence for lies about his own talks with Russians.

Yet all this is now blithely excused by Trump’s Republican allies in Congress, several of whom voted to impeach Bill Clinton over the Monica Lewinsky scandal – and his obstruction of justice by interfering in the investigation – 20 years ago.

Senator Lindsey Graham, a friend to Trump who served as one of the “prosecutors” of Clinton during the impeachment trial, now even hopes to reheat the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s emails as the 2020 election campaign grows nearer.

Mueller’s findings were also explained away on Thursday by Trump’s new favourite bag man: William Barr, the attorney general.

Sounding less like the nation’s chief law enforcement officer and more like the Trump Organization’s chief branding officer, Barr gave a masterclass in spin with a speech at the justice department given before the report was even available to read.

As Trump had said “from the beginning”, the attorney general said in a soundbite ready for the evening news bulletins, “there was in fact no collusion.”


Mueller report: press secretary Sarah Sanders admitted to lying to reporters

Sanders said her claim that countless members of the FBI opposed former director James Comey was ‘not founded on anything’

Lois Beckett
Fri 19 Apr 2019 01.51 BST

After Trump fired James Comey, the White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders repeatedly claimed in live press briefings that the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in the FBI director, and that “we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI” who did not support him.

Those statements had no basis in fact, Sanders later admitted in interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

The redacted version of the special counsel’s report released on Thursday included multiple examples of Trump’s current and former press secretaries making false claims to journalists, particularly in the days after Comey’s firing.

Sanders, the current White House press secretary, told the special counsel’s office that a statement she had made to journalists about the Comey’s lack of support within the FBI “was not founded on anything”.
Trump claims 'game over' on Mueller report as Democrats say game on
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Sanders’ claim on 10 May 2017, the day after Comey was fired, that “countless members of the FBI” opposed Comey was “a slip of the tongue”, Sanders told the special counsel’s office in an interview last year.

Sanders repeated that “slip of the tongue” during a press briefing the following day, when skeptical White House reporters questioned her on her claim that Comey did not have support within the FBI’s rank and file. One reporter asked what basis the White House had for that conclusion, given that the FBI’s acting director had publicly said that Comey still had the support among the FBI’s agents.

“I can speak to my own personal experience,” Sanders told the White House press. “I’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president’s decision.” She went on: “I’ve certainly heard from a large number of individuals. And that’s just myself. And I don’t know that many people in the FBI.”

“You personally have talked to countless officials, employees, since this happened?” another reporter asked later.

“Correct,” Sanders said.

“I mean, really?” the second reporter asked.

“Between like, email, text messages – absolutely,” Sanders said.

“Fifty? Sixty? Seventy?” the reporter asked.

“Look, we’re not going to get into a numbers game. I have heard from a large number of individuals that work at the FBI that said they’re very happy with the president’s decision. I don’t know what else I can say.”

    POLITICO (@politico)

    Mueller's report said Sarah Huckabee Sanders told investigators she made comments to reporters that were "not founded on anything." Here's that moment 👇 pic.twitter.com/cqrnTqKDLa
    April 18, 2019

A year later, in interviews with the special counsel’s office, Sanders said “that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything”.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary at the time, also made a false claim to reporters about Comey’s firing, telling journalists that night Comey was fired that the decision to fire him “was all” Rosenstein.

Rosenstein said in an interview with the special counsel’s office that he had told other justice department officials that night that he would not participate in putting out a “false story” that Comey’s firing had been his idea.

Sanders replaced Spicer as White House press secretary in July 2017.

A year ago, when comedian Michelle Wolfe mocked Sanders for lying at the White House Correspondents Dinner, the comments about Sanders sparked outrage and condemnation for conservatives, as well as criticism from some national political reporters. Spicer called the criticism “disgusting”.
Mueller's report would have signaled the end for anyone other than Trump
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“Every time Sarah steps up to the podium, I get excited,” the comedian had said. “I’m not really sure what we’re going to get, you know? A press briefing, a bunch of lies or [being] divided into softball teams.”

Wolfe also called Sanders “very resourceful.”

“She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies,” the comedian said.

The White House Correspondents Association backed away from Wolfe’s comments in response to criticism, calling her monologue “not in the spirit” of the association.

The White House’s public press briefings to journalists have become increasingly rare and increasingly brief, another issue of concern for the American press.


‘Barr intentionally misled the American people’: Former federal prosecutor lays out damning case against Trump’s AG

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
19 Apr 2019 at 06:08 ET                  

Special counsel Robert Mueller carefully laid out an obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump, which the attorney general intercepted and then tried to cover up.

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, writing for Politico Magazine, walked through Mueller’s findings and exposed Attorney General William Barr’s efforts to shield findings of criminal wrongdoing from the public.

“Barr intentionally misled the American people about Mueller’s findings and his legal reasoning,” Mariotti said. “As a former federal prosecutor, when I look at Mueller’s work, I don’t see a murky set of facts. I see a case meticulously laid out by a prosecutor who knew he was not allowed to bring it.”

Department of Justice guidelines prohibit the indictment of a sitting president, but Mariotti said the special counsel clearly concluded that Trump abused his power to undermine the nearly two-year-long investigation into his campaign ties to Russia, which was also laid out in startling detail.

Mueller did not reach a conclusion that Trump had obstructed justice because, as the special counsel makes explicit in his report, his inability to indict the president meant that Trump could not go to court to challenge the charges against him.

“If he had reached a conclusion that Trump obstructed justice, Mueller wrote, Trump could not go to court to obtain a ‘speedy and public trial’ with the ‘procedural protections’ afforded to a criminal defendant by the Constitution,” Mariotti said.

Trump and his allies, including the attorney general, are exploiting that small loophole — and the public’s misunderstanding of the finer points of constitutional law — to claim that Mueller found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

“Reading Mueller’s report,” Mariotti said, “it is obvious the contortions Barr undertook to pronounce Trump exonerated. In the report, Mueller went out of his way to debunk Barr’s unconventional view that the Constitution ‘categorically and permanently immunize[d]’ Trump from prosecution for abusing his power to undermine the investigation.”

Barr deliberately misled the public in his March letter summarizing Mueller’s findings, Mariotti said, by omitting a portion of a sentence from the special counsel’s report to claim the investigation had not established that “members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

However, the rest of that sentence in Mueller’s report showed investigators had established that the Russian government believed it would benefit from a Trump presidency, and undertook efforts to make that happen, and the campaign believed it would benefit from those efforts.

“If I engaged in that sort of selective quotation in a court of law,” Mariotti wrote, “I would be censured for misleading the court. As attorney general of the United States, Barr should be held to a higher standard than any ordinary lawyer. There can be no serious question that Barr deliberately misled the American people and its elected representatives about a matter of the utmost public concern.”

Barr has insisted that Mueller left the decision on obstruction up to him, as attorney general, but in fact Mueller concluded that Congress had the authority to remove Trump from office.

“And now Congress can see the case Mueller laid out,” Mariotti said.


‘Trump should be in handcuffs right now’: CNN panel explodes after president’s defender claims White House was cleared by Barr

Raw Story

On Thursday, a CNN panel hosted by Jake Tapper went off the rails over the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

Attorney General Bill Barr released the highly anticipated report which, reveals several bombshells about President Donald Trump and his aides.

Political commentator Symone Sanders noted that if Trump was not the president he would most likely be in handcuffs right now as a result of the report.

“Did the president and his allies and the people around him engage in the nefarious activities? That if they were not sitting in the White House or if he was not the president of the United States of America would he and the folks around him currently be in jail?” she said.

‘What was the president of the United States doing constantly trying to interfere with this investigation?” Legal analyst Jeffery Toobin said. “The morality of his behavior is worth focusing on. The actual things he did, I don’t know what the political implications are.”

“This is not the justice system. Honestly, with the things laid out right now, Donald Trump would be in handcuffs. This is an enforcement system,” Sanders said.


Here’s the biggest mystery the Mueller report left unanswered

Raw Story

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into President Donald Trump tied up many loose ends — but left another huge one hanging.

The Daily Beast reported Thursday evening that the question hanging over the report’s detailed descriptions of Trump campaign contacts with Russians is why those Russians were so interested in the campaign in the first place.

“Mueller reaffirmed the intelligence community’s conclusions that the Russian government directed an online campaign of hacking and trolling to help Donald Trump in 2016,” the Beast‘s Adam Rawnsley wrote. “What’s less clear are the intentions of the many Russians who reached out to the Trump campaign offline and whether they were well-connected covert emissaries of the Kremlin or just hucksters trying to latch onto the coattails of a potential president.”

It’s difficult to figure out the motives behind the Russian hangers-on “in part because many of them were a mirror image of their counterparts in Trump World: D-listers in their own political hierarchy for whom the line between state policy and personal gain is unclear,” Rawnsley observed.

The writer noted that although Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik — two of the Russians whose roles in the Trump-Russia saga have long been investigated by prosecutors and reporters alike — may have had nefarious intentions to pass along information to the Kremlin, not all the Russians mentioned in the report did.

Rawnsley noted that when Mueller’s office charged Michael Cohen, he included a “tantalizing” detail about a mysterious person who promised “political synergy” and a meeting with Putin.

“Stripped of his anonymity, synergy man seems a far less impressive operator,” the writer mused. “Mueller’s final report identifies him as Dmitry Klokov, the director of public relations for a Russian electrical transmission company who had once been a spokesperson for a former Russian energy minister. If he could’ve set up a Putin meeting, he didn’t try very hard—Cohen dumped him after a few phone calls.”

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who was integral to the infamous Trump Tower meeting, is another question mark that may lead to a dead end.

Though her links to Russian government sources were teased, her clients revealed that her “most pressing” priority was to get rid of sanctions against Russian individuals and companies.

“So was she representing her clients at that meeting or the broader interests of the Kremlin?” Rawnsley mused. “Mueller doesn’t say, but the bait she offered—unsupported allegations about money laundering she couldn’t connect to Hillary Clinton—was far short of tempting.”

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‘Impeach the president’: MSNBC’s Morning Joe says Democrats should follow Mueller’s roadmap

Raw Story

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said special counsel Robert Mueller laid out a road map for impeachment — and he urged Democrats to follow where it leads.

The “Morning Joe” host said the Mueller probe had turned up “damning” evidence of Trump’s campaign ties to Russia, and his subsequent efforts to obstruct the investigation, but he said the Republican Party’s blind support for the president made impeachment a big risk for Democrats.

“There’s so much more damning evidence here that anything we saw in the Obama administration or the Bush administration or the Clinton administration,” Scarborough said.

Democratic leadership had so far shied away from pushing impeachment, but Scarborough said that might be more risky than moving forward without GOP cover.

“It is a tough choice for Nancy Pelosi,” he said, “but there may be a counterintuitive argument that is certainly not safe, that the Democrats go ahead and follow the law wherever it leads them, and if that leads to impeachment, impeach the president, and then take it over to the Republican Senate and put them in the position, the horribly uncomfortable position, of defending a president who tried repeatedly to obstruct justice and breach constitutional and political norms.”

He’s certain the GOP majority would back the president despite evidence of wrongdoing, but he urged Democrats to uphold their constitutional duty.

“I’m not so sure that would be be a good look for them day in and day out because the evidence is so damning,” Scarborough said.

Watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJ5g4yHJd9U

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