After two days of deadlock, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives will try again Thursday to agree on who should be the next speaker of the House.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy’s bid floundered Wednesday when, for a second day, a group of conservative lawmakers withheld crucial support in multiple rounds of voting.
McCarthy, a 16-year lawmaker from California and the House Republican leader in the session of Congress that ended Tuesday, has long sought to become speaker. But he lost three votes on Tuesday in his quest for a 218-vote majority in the 435-member chamber, and he failed in three more rounds of balloting on Wednesday.
McCarthy fell short by as many as 17 votes Wednesday, as conservative members of his own party continued to say he was not ideologically strong enough to lead.
The House adjourned for a few hours early Wednesday evening only to then adjourn until noon Thursday.
It has been 100 years since neither a Republican nor a Democrat won the House speakership on the first round of voting to become the leader of the lower house of Congress.
The fourth vote came hours after former President Donald Trump publicly called for McCarthy’s election as House speaker, a lawmaker he has described as “My Kevin.”
“It’s now time for all of our great Republican House members to vote for Kevin, close the deal, take the victory,” Trump said on his social media network.
Trump warned the slim Republican majority in the 118th session of Congress to “not turn a great triumph into a giant & embarrassing defeat. It’s time to celebrate, you deserve it. Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a great job — just watch!”
But Trump’s new statement, following calls in recent days to some of the dissidents opposing McCarthy, had no effect. The former president, who has announced his 2024 campaign to try to reclaim the White House, had for weeks voiced his support for McCarthy.
Republican Representative Lauren Boebert said on the House floor Wednesday that Trump “needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes, and it’s time to withdraw.'”
President Joe Biden answered a question about the stalemate as well, telling reporters at the White House before the fourth vote, “With regard to the fight over the speaker, that’s not my problem.
“I just think it’s a little embarrassing that it’s taking so long … and the rest of the world is looking,” he said. “They’re looking at, you know, we need to get our act together.”
Republicans will hold a narrow 222-212 majority in the House, with one current vacancy, requiring McCarthy to win at least 218 votes to claim the speakership, assuming all 434 lawmakers vote. Under a provision in the U.S. Constitution, he also would become second in line of succession to the presidency.
Nineteen Republicans, many of them in recent weeks expressing the view that McCarthy was not conservative enough to lead House Republicans, voted for other Republican lawmakers in the first round of voting, including Representatives Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan, two vocal opponents of Biden.
In the second round of voting, 19 dissident Republicans voted for Jordan, even though he nominated McCarthy as his choice to lead the majority Republican caucus in the new two-year House session. On the third round, another Republican, Representative Byron Donalds of Florida, a second-term lawmaker, switched his vote to Jordan after voting for McCarthy on the first two ballots.
In the Wednesday balloting, 20 lawmakers in the anti-McCarthy bloc voted for Donalds to become the new speaker in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds.
Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, with all 212 Democrats voting for him, led the voting for the speakership, although he has no chance of winning the job because no Republicans plan to vote for him to help him reach the 218 majority.
On the fourth and fifth ballots, 201 Republicans voted for McCarthy,16 short of the 217 he needed because in both rounds of voting, one lawmaker voted “present,” lowering the required majority total by one vote.
The 57-year-old McCarthy, a staunch conservative himself, has sought for years to lead the House. Over the past several weeks, he has met repeatedly with his Republican foes to secure their support.
McCarthy offered to change the House’s governing rules in several ways, including to permit snap votes to declare the speakership vacant and select someone else if they did not like his policy stances or how the party caucus was conducting its promised investigations of Biden and his administration.
Whomever the Republicans eventually elect will replace outgoing Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who remains a House member and cast her votes for Jeffries.
Democrats, who have been locked in a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate the past two years, gained an edge in the nationwide congressional elections nearly two months ago and will hold a 50-49 majority in the upper chamber, even after onetime Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema announced she is now an independent but would not change her voting philosophy. She usually has voted with the Democratic lawmakers and Biden.
Choosing a House speaker occurs even before representatives are sworn into office for their two-year terms. Lawmakers have called out the name of their choice for House speaker from the floor of the chamber, and the same scenario will continue to play out in succeeding rounds of voting until someone wins the speakership.
By Polityk | 05/01/2023 | Повідомлення, Політика
The U.S. House of Representatives failed to choose the next Speaker of the House Tuesday, as a group of conservative U.S. lawmakers continued to vote against fellow Republican Kevin McCarthy’s bid to lead the 118th session of Congress. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more.
By Polityk | 04/01/2023 | Повідомлення, Політика
The 118th session of the U.S. Congress opens Tuesday with all attention focused on whether Congressman Kevin McCarthy of California can secure enough votes from his fellow Republicans to become the speaker of the House of Representatives and second in line to the U.S. presidency.
The 57-year-old McCarthy, who for years has sought to lead the 435-member House, is now tantalizingly close to winning the speakership yet not quite assured of securing the 218-vote majority he needs.
Republicans won a narrow 222-213 majority in nationwide House congressional elections in November and will take control of the chamber from Democrats and outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Democrats, who have been locked in a 50-50 split with Republicans in the Senate the past two years, gained a 51-49 edge in the elections nearly two months ago and will maintain a majority even though Arizona Senator Krysten Sinema later switched from Democrat to independent.
McCarthy, a staunch conservative, won 188 votes in a House Republican caucus in November, and since then has secured more support in his effort to reach the 218-vote majority for the speakership.
But a hard-right group of House Republicans — five or more — oppose McCarthy’s bid for the speakership, saying that he has not been devoted enough to the conservative cause.
The dissidents have vowed to vote against McCarthy, which would leave him short of the needed majority because all Democrats almost assuredly will vote for their newly selected party leader, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York.
Over the past several weeks, McCarthy has held numerous conversations with the band of Republicans opposing him to try to secure their support.
He has offered them a variety of changes to the way the House operates or appointment to committees where key legislation is considered. One change will give the small number of dissident Republicans the right to a House vote to declare the House speakership vacant if they disagree with the way McCarthy is handling party policy on legislation or expected investigations of U.S. President Joe Biden and his administration.
But so far, with less than a day before Congress convenes at noon Tuesday, McCarthy’s quest for the speakership hangs in the balance, even though no one has gained any substantial support as an alternative.
No vote for the House speakership has gone beyond a single ballot in a century, but it could Tuesday.
Choosing a House speaker occurs even before representatives are sworn into office for their two-year terms. Lawmakers will call out the name of their choice for House speaker from the floor of the chamber.
Should McCarthy come up short of the required 218 votes — or fewer if some lawmakers vote themselves as “present” in the chamber, lowering the number McCarthy would need for a majority — one or more new votes would occur. The clerk of the House would continue to laboriously call the roll of all 435 members until McCarthy, or someone else, reaches a majority to become speaker.
By Polityk | 03/01/2023 | Повідомлення, Політика
Democrats in the U.S. Congress released six years’ worth of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns following a years-long legal fight in which Trump sought to keep the information private. The newly publicized records amount to nearly 6,000 pages, including the personal tax returns of Trump and his wife, Melania, from 2015 to 2020, as well as tax returns from Trump’s businesses.
Here are five key takeaways from the documents:
- Trump’s personal income varied greatly year by year.
Of the six years covered by the documents from 2015 to 2020, Trump’s adjusted gross income ranged from a low of negative $32.4 million (in 2016) to a high of $24.4 million (in 2018).
- Trump’s tax liability also greatly fluctuated.
Trump paid little to no taxes in three of the six years covered by the documents released: $0 taxes paid in 2020 and $750 in taxes paid in both 2016 and 2017. The former president paid larger sums in 2015 ($641,931), 2018 ($999,466) and 2019 ($133,445).
- Trump claimed large deductions and losses.
While Trump’s gross income ran into the hundreds of millions of dollars, he also reported large losses and claimed various tax deductions, which reduced his adjusted gross income, along with the taxes he would have to pay on it.
- Trump had bank accounts in several foreign countries.
In his tax filings, Trump said he had financial accounts in various foreign countries between 2015-2020, including China, Ireland, Great Britain and the Caribbean nation of St. Martin. By 2018, he had closed all his overseas accounts except for the one in Great Britain. The former president also reported earning money in foreign nations.
- Trump’s charitable giving varied year by year.
Of the six years covered by the documents, Trump’s charitable giving ranged from a low of $0 in 2020 to a high of $1.8 million in 2017. Trump gave about half a million in each of 2018 and 2019, and $1.1 million in 2016.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.
By Polityk | 31/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
U.S. Representative-elect George Santos of New York was under investigation by Long Island prosecutors on Wednesday after revelations surfaced that the now-embattled Republican lied about his heritage, education and professional pedigree as he campaigned for office.
Despite intensifying doubt about his fitness to hold federal office, Santos has shown no signs of stepping aside — even as he publicly admitted to a long list of lies.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly, a Republican, said the fabrications and inconsistencies were “nothing short of stunning.”
“The residents of Nassau County and other parts of the third district must have an honest and accountable representative in Congress,” she said. “If a crime was committed in this county, we will prosecute it.”
Santos’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.
He is scheduled to be sworn in next Tuesday, when the U.S. House reconvenes. If he assumes office, he could face investigations by the House Committee on Ethics and the Justice Department.
The Republican has admitted to lying about having Jewish ancestry, a Wall Street pedigree and a college degree, but he has yet to address other lingering questions — including the source of what appears to be a quickly amassed fortune despite recent financial problems, including evictions and owing thousands in back rent.
Fellow Long Island Republican Representative-elect Nick Lalota said he was troubled by the revelations.
“I believe a full investigation by the House Ethics Committee and, if necessary, law enforcement, is required,” Lalota said Tuesday.
The New York attorney general’s office has already said it’s looking into issues that have come to light.
Brendan Brosh, a spokesperson for the Nassau County DA’s office, said Wednesday, “We are looking into the matter.” The scope of the investigation was not immediately clear.
Other Republicans castigated Santos but stopped short of asking him to step aside.
“Congressman-elect George Santos has broken the public trust by making serious misstatements regarding his background, experience and education, among other issues,” said Joseph G. Cairo, chair of the Nassau County Republican Committee, which is within the 3rd Congressional District.
Questions intensified after The New York Times examined the narrative Santos, 34, presented to voters during his successful campaign for a congressional district that straddles the north shore suburbs of Long Island and a sliver of Queens.
The Times uncovered records in Brazil that show Santos was the subject of a criminal investigation there in 2008 over allegations that he used stolen checks to buy items at a clothing shop in the city of Niteroi. At the time, Santos would have been 19. The Times quoted local prosecutors as saying the case was dormant because Santos had never appeared in court.
Santos continued to deny he was being sought by authorities in South America.
Democrats pounced, calling Santos a serial fabulist and demanded he voluntarily not take office.
In an interview with the New York Post earlier this week, Santos apologized for his fabrications but downplayed them as “sins” over embellishing his resume, adding that “we do stupid things in life.”
He admitted to lying about working for Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, as well as having earned a degree in finance and economics from Baruch College in New York.
Beyond his resume, Santos invented a life story that has also come under question, including claims that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium and again fled persecution during World War II.”
During his campaign, he referred to himself as “a proud American Jew.”
He backtracked on that claim, saying he never intended to claim Jewish heritage, which would have likely raised his appeal among his district’s significant ranks of Jewish voters.
“I am Catholic,” he told the Post. “Because I learned my maternal family had a Jewish background, I said I was ‘Jew-ish.'”
In a statement Tuesday, the Republican Jewish Coalition repudiated Santos.
“He deceived us and misrepresented his heritage. In public comments and to us personally, he previously claimed to be Jewish,” the coalition said. “He will not be welcome at any future RJC event.”
On Fox News Tuesday night, Santos came under withering questioning by former Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who was sitting in for Tucker Carlson.
“You don’t really seem to be taking this seriously,” she told him.
“You’ve apologized. You’ve said you’ve made mistakes. But you’ve outright lied. A lie is not an embellishment on a resume,” she said.
“Look, I agree with what you’re saying,” Santos replied. “We can debate my resume and how I worked with firms such as —”
“Is it debatable?” Gabbard interjected. “Or is it just false?”
“No, it’s not false at all,” he said. “It’s debatable.”
Santos lost his first race for Congress in 2020 but successfully ran again this year.
In its opposition research on Santos, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised several red flags about the Republican’s record — but also accepted some of his assertions, including his educational record, as fact. The 87-page dossier sought to tie him to the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and his support for baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
The report also sought to depict him as a far-right candidate. But buried within its report, the DCCC had raised issues about his shaky financial standing and multiple evictions that left him thousands of dollars in debt.
Federal campaign records show that he loaned his campaign more than $700,000, but the source of that money has yet to be explained.
While his Democratic opponent, Robert Zimmerman, also tried to raise Santos’ misrepresentations during his losing campaign, it did not gain much traction.
Zimmerman has said that Santos is unfit for office and has called for him to step aside so a special election can be held.
By Polityk | 29/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
President Joe Biden, currently vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands, has said he would take time over the holidays to discuss with family members whether he should seek re-election in 2024.
White House and Democratic Party officials say it is almost certain Biden will run again. But will he secure his party’s nomination?
An ideal place to explore that question is Prince George’s County, Maryland, where Biden received 89% support — his highest percentage in the 2020 general election.
Only about one-fourth of the 400,000 eligible voters in Prince George’s County usually cast ballots in major elections. Regardless of the turnout, the outcome is predictable in general elections for countywide offices — Democrats are almost assured victory in the largest African American-majority county in the United States.
The county executive, the 11 members of the county council, the sheriff, the clerk of the court and the nearly two dozen lawmakers from the county holding office in the state general assembly are all Democrats.
“There is no Republican I can think of that actually is viable, that would be able to win within Prince George’s County,” county Democratic Central Committee chair Kent Roberson said.
The Republican Central Committee vice chair in Prince George’s County agrees.
“Not in my lifetime. I’m 70 years old right now. So, Maryland has become more Democrat-leaning — certainly the county has — over the years that I’ve been here,” Jim Wass told VOA.
That does not mean Republicans in the county should give up casting ballots in general elections, said Wass.
“One of these times, it’s going to matter.”
An issue of age
What matters for many voters of both parties is that Biden, already the oldest U.S. president, would be 86 years old if he were to finish a second term. But in this county where he topped the polls in 2016, would he be able to vanquish all primary election challengers in 2024?
“I don’t believe he has blind total support,” Roberson told VOA. “And one, if we look at the [low] approval ratings, I don’t think that’s just all Republicans who feel that way, but it is Democrats, as well. And regardless of how I feel about the president and how he is succeeding, I think that we’re also aware that individuals are concerned that he might not be the one to continue in office for another four years.”
Biden, according to Roberson, did his part by bringing the country “through a transition stage from President [Donald] Trump to where we are now.”
As in other heavily Democratic districts across the country, Prince George’s County Democrats are not monolithic. Democrats individually wear different labels: progressive, moderate, liberal or conservative. In 2016, they came together for Biden to deny Trump a second term.
“We all have been able to take all of our differences and work together. But you’ll also see where some of those individuals think that leadership is needed to move forward in a different candidate. And so, that also sways how individuals feel whether President Biden should continue in office or not,” Roberson said.
Many possible contenders
Incumbent presidents seeking a second term rarely face serious intraparty challenges, but Biden’s age could put precedent aside.
Asked to assess Democratic presidential hopefuls, Republican Wass said Gavin Newsom, the 55-year-old governor of California, perhaps could appeal to Prince George’s Democrats more than Biden.
“Somebody like Gavin Newsom might fit the mentality of Prince George’s Democrats,” he said.
As recently as November, Newsom has dismissed speculation he would challenge Biden.
“He not only beat Trump once, I think he can beat him again,” Newsom told Politico in an interview. “I hope he runs. I’ll enthusiastically support him.”
If Biden does not run for reelection or is forced out of contention by a health issue, Newsom is seen as a leading candidate, along with Vice President Kamala Harris, who is 58; Senator Bernie Sanders, 81; and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a relatively youthful 40. All three were contenders in the 2020 Democratic primaries.
Wass recalls 1992 when an obscure governor from Arkansas named Bill Clinton decided to run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, despite political pundits predicting New York Governor Mario Cuomo was the one to beat incumbent Republican George H.W. Bush. Cuomo’s campaign collapsed before it began, and Clinton defeated Bush in the general election.
“Gavin Newsom must run or he’s wasting that opportunity,” said Wass, adding that for the same reason, former Vice President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should enter the Republican primary contests in 2024.
“Even with former President Trump appearing to lock up a lot of the money and attention right now, these guys must run,” Wass said.
Other possible primary challengers to Trump include Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, South Carolina Senator Tim Scott and Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney (who was defeated for reelection this year and is the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney). Also mentioned among moderate Republicans are New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
The only elected president in American history to be denied his party’s nomination for a second term was Democrat Franklin Pierce in 1856. But the concern then was the president’s policies, not his age.
The hard-drinking Pierce favored enslavement as the country headed toward civil war over the issue. His party decided to instead nominate James Buchanan, a former secretary of state who had served as Pierce’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and thus had not been involved in the contentious slavery debate.
Buchanan, who was himself no friend to the abolitionists, bested two contenders in the general election from the Whig and Republican parties, despite not actively campaigning, capturing every slave state except Maryland.
Historians generally consider Pierce and Buchanan among America’s worst presidents.
By Polityk | 29/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The popular Chinese video app TikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administration arm, mimicking a law soon to go into effect banning the app from all U.S. government devices.
The app is considered “high risk due to a number of security issues,” the House’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) said in a message sent on Tuesday to all lawmakers and staff and must be deleted from all devices managed by the House.
The new rule follows a series of moves by U.S. state governments to ban TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, from government devices. As of last week, 19 states have at least partially blocked the app from state-managed devices over concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to track Americans and censor content.
The $1.66 trillion omnibus spending bill, passed last week to fund the U.S. government through September 30, 2023, includes a provision to ban the app on federally managed devices and will take effect once President Joe Biden signs the legislation into law.
“With the passage of the Omnibus that banned TikTok on executive branch devices, the CAO worked with the Committee on House Administration to implement a similar policy for the House,” a spokesperson for the Chief Administrative Officer told Reuters on Tuesday.
The message to staff said anyone with TikTok on their device would be contacted about removing it, and future downloads of the app were prohibited.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the new rule.
U.S. lawmakers have put forward a proposal to implement a nationwide ban on the app.
By Polityk | 28/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
A judge has thrown out Republican Kari Lake’s challenge of her defeat in the Arizona governor’s race to Democrat Katie Hobbs, rejecting her claim that problems with ballot printers at some polling places on Election Day were the result of intentional misconduct.
In a decision Saturday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Peter Thompson, who was appointed by former Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, found that the court did not find clear and convincing evidence of the widespread misconduct that Lake had alleged had affected the result of the 2022 general election. Lake will appeal the ruling, she said in a statement.
The judge said Lake’s witnesses didn’t have any personal knowledge of intentional misconduct.
“The Court cannot accept speculation or conjecture in place of clear and convincing evidence,” Thompson said.
Lake, who lost to Hobbs by just over 17,000 votes, was among the most vocal 2022 Republicans promoting former President Donald Trump’s election lies, which she made the centerpiece of her campaign. While most of the other election deniers around the country conceded after losing their races in November, Lake has not. Instead, she asked the judge to either declare her the winner or order a revote in Maricopa County, home to more than 60% of Arizona’s voters.
Hobbs takes office as governor on Jan. 2.
In the ruling, the judge acknowledged the “anger and frustration” of voters who were inconvenienced in the election and noted that setting aside the results of an election “has never been done in the history of the United States.”
“But this court’s duty is not solely to incline an ear to public outcry,” the judge continued. “It is to subject plaintiff’s claims and defendant’s actions to the light of the courtroom and scrutiny of the law.”
Lawyers for Lake focused on problems with ballot printers at some polling places in Maricopa County. The defective printers produced ballots that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators at polling places. Lines backed up in some areas amid the confusion.
County officials say everyone had a chance to vote and all ballots were counted, since ballots affected by the printers were taken to more sophisticated counters at the elections department headquarters. They are in the process of investigating the root cause of the printer problems.
Lake’s attorneys also claimed the chain of custody for ballots was broken at an off-site facility, where a contractor scans mail ballots to prepare them for processing. They claimed workers at the facility put their own mail ballots into the pile, rather than sending their ballots through normal channels, and also that paperwork documenting the transfer of ballots was missing. The county disputes the claim.
Lake faced extremely long odds in her challenge, needing to prove not only that misconduct occurred, but also that it was intended to deny her victory and did in fact result in the wrong woman being declared the winner.
By Polityk | 25/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
A special grand jury investigating whether then-President Donald Trump and his allies illegally tried to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election in the southern U.S. state of Georgia appears to be wrapping up its work, but many questions remain.
The investigation is one of several that could result in criminal charges against the former president as he asks voters to return him to the White House in 2024.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who began investigating nearly two years ago, has said she will go where the facts lead. It would be an extraordinary step if she chooses to bring charges against Trump himself.
“Even if he’s acquitted by a jury, for him to face trial and to have a public trial with evidence on the record would be an epic thing for American history,” Georgia State University law professor Clark Cunningham said.
Here’s what we know as the special grand jury appears to be winding down:
What’s the latest?
Over about six months, the grand jurors have considered evidence and heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including high-profile Trump associates and top state officials. A prosecutor on Willis’ team said during a hearing in November that they had few witnesses left and didn’t anticipate the special grand jury continuing much longer.
The grand jurors are expected to produce a final report with recommendations on potential further action. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney, who’s supervising the panel, will review the report and recommend to the court’s chief judge that the special grand jury be dissolved. The judges of the county Superior Court will then vote on whether to let the special grand jurors go or whether more investigation is necessary.
The special grand jury cannot issue indictments. Willis will decide whether to go to a regular grand jury to pursue criminal charges.
What have we learned about the investigation?
For more than a year after opening the investigation, Willis revealed little. But, ironically, once the special grand jury began meeting in June, its proceedings shrouded in mandatory secrecy, hints about where the investigation was headed began to come out.
That’s because whenever Willis wanted to compel the testimony of someone who lives outside Georgia, she had to file paperwork in a public court docket explaining why that person was a “necessary and material witness.” Additionally, anyone fighting a summons had to do so in public court filings and hearings.
In the paperwork Willis filed seeking to compel testimony from some Trump associates, she said she wanted to know about their communications with the Trump campaign and others “involved in the multi-state, coordinated efforts to influence the results of the November 2020 election in Georgia and elsewhere.”
Prominent Trump allies whose testimony was sought included former New York mayor and Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as John Eastman and other lawyers who participated in Trump’s attempts to stay in power.
“We learned from the identity of the witnesses that this is a far-ranging conspiracy that she’s looking at,” said Norm Eisen, who served as special counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the first Trump impeachment and co-wrote a Brookings Institution report analyzing the “reported facts and applicable law” in the Fulton County investigation.
Have there been setbacks?
A number of Trump advisers and allies fought Willis’ attempts to bring them in for testimony, but Willis prevailed in most cases.
“I think that augurs well for the pretrial skirmishing to come if she charges,” Eisen said.
Willis had a notable misstep when she hosted a fundraiser for a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor even as her investigation zeroed in on the state’s fake electors, including Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. McBurney said that created “a plain – and actual and untenable – conflict” and ruled that Willis could not question or pursue charges against Jones, who won election in November.
What’s been the focus of the investigation?
The information that has come out publicly has indicated that Willis was looking at the following:
Phone calls by Trump and others to Georgia officials in the wake of the 2020 election A group of 16 Georgia Republicans who signed a certificate in December 2020 falsely stating that Trump had won the state and that they were the state's “duly elected and qualified” electors False allegations of election fraud made during meetings of state legislators at the Georgia Capitol in December 2020 The copying of data and software from election equipment in rural Coffee County by a computer forensics team hired by Trump allies Alleged attempts to pressure Fulton County elections worker Ruby Freeman into falsely confessing to election fraud The abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta in January 2021
What about that infamous phone call?
In a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the president suggested that the state’s top elections official, a fellow Republican, could “find” the votes needed to overturn his narrow loss in the state to Democrat Joe Biden.
A month later, Willis sent letters to Raffensperger and other top state officials instructing them to retain records because she was investigating “attempts to influence the administration of the 2020 Georgia General Election.”
Trump told Raffensperger he needed 11,780 votes, one more than Biden won. That was a mistake, Cunningham said, because the specific and transactional nature of that comment makes it hard to say he was just generally urging Raffensperger to look into alleged fraud.
But other legal experts have said prosecutors could struggle to prove criminal intent, which requires showing that actions were taken purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently.
What charges might be considered?
In her February 2021 letters to state leaders, Willis said she was looking into potential crimes that included “solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local governmental bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration.”
Many believe Willis will pursue charges under the state Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, commonly known as RICO. In a high-profile prosecution when she was an assistant district attorney, she used that law successfully to secure charges against Atlanta educators in a test cheating scandal. She has also used it more recently to target alleged gang activity.
The state RICO law, which is broader than the federal version, requires prosecutors to prove a pattern of criminal activity by an enterprise, which could be a single person or a group of associated individuals. It allows prosecutors to assert involvement in a pattern of criminality without having to prove that each person participated in every act.
Eisen said RICO seems “most commensurate with the nature of the people testifying and the questions that she wanted to ask.”
As the special grand jury was working, Willis informed some people that they were targets of the investigation, including Giuliani and the state’s 16 fake electors. It’s possible others received similar notifications but haven’t disclosed that publicly.
What has Trump said?
The former president has consistently called his phone call with Raffensperger “perfect” and has dismissed the Fulton County investigation as a witch hunt.
Criminal defense attorney Drew Findling, part of Trump’s legal team in Georgia, in August said the focus on Trump “is clearly an erroneous and politically driven persecution.”
Trump allies have also denied any wrongdoing.
By Polityk | 24/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The committee formed by the House of Representatives to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol on Thursday released its final report, an 845-page set of documents supporting the committee’s claim that the attack was directly caused by former President Donald Trump and represented the final act in a “multipart conspiracy to overturn the lawful results of the 2020 Presidential election.”
The product of more than 17 months of investigation, the report is the distillation of evidence gathered from thousands of witness interviews, documents and subpoenaed electronic communications. According to the committee, “That evidence has led to an overriding and straight-forward conclusion: The central cause of January 6th was one man, former President Donald Trump, who many others followed. None of the events of January 6th would have happened without him.”
Trump himself has consistently denounced the committee and its work, and has continued to insist, falsely, that the 2020 election was stolen from him.
In addition to examining the attack itself, the report describes Trump’s pressure on U.S. officials, states, legislators and then-Vice President Mike Pence to manipulate the system or violate the law.
The release of the report follows a final hearing by the committee, held on Monday, in which members accused the former president of committing multiple crimes and referred him to the Department of Justice for prosecution. The charges include insurrection, obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to make a false statement.
The referral carries no legal weight, but the voluminous records produced by the committee will supplement evidence gathered by the Justice Department in its own investigation and could influence the final decision on whether to prosecute the former president.
The report issued Thursday builds a case that former President Trump was at the center of a conspiracy to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, using multiple strategies, all of which ultimately failed.
It documents efforts to pressure state and local officials to challenge or throw out election results that showed a Biden victory, even after dozens of lawsuits challenging the results were dismissed in court challenges.
After other attempts were thwarted, Trump latched on to a theory proposed by attorney John Eastman, which claimed that Pence had the authority to refuse to count the votes of specific states when Congress convened on January 6, a strategy meant to buy time to persuade state legislatures to take action to overturn state-level results. Pence ultimately refused to go along with the plan, and evidence uncovered by the committee indicates that even as he proposed it, Eastman was aware that the scheme was illegal.
Effort to corrupt DOJ
The committee report also lays out in detail what it describes as an effort by the former president to “corrupt the Department of Justice.”
In the aftermath of the election, former Attorney General William Barr informed Trump that all of the investigations into election irregularities undertaken by the Department of Justice had failed to find evidence of fraud sufficiently large to overturn the results of the balloting. In the face of Trump’s continued claims of fraud, Barr announced his resignation in December 2020.
The report documents that, in the weeks that followed, Trump took a number of steps to try to persuade senior officials in the department to issue statements expressing doubt about the results of the election.
Trump found an ally in DOJ attorney Jeffrey Clark, an official in the department’s Civil Division, who drafted a document for the department to send to election officials in Georgia, falsely claiming that the department had “significant concerns” about possible fraud that might have affected the election outcome there and in other states. The document, which was never transmitted, also urged the state legislature to consider overturning the election result in that state.
The report chronicles a dramatic showdown in the Oval Office, in which Trump proposed installing Clark as acting attorney general. The most senior officials in the department all told the president that if he took that step, they would immediately resign.
Trump knew claims were false
A crucial finding in the report, and one that was hammered home in public hearings, was that Trump knew that he had lost a fair election, having been told so unequivocally by a number of his top advisers.
The point is important, because demonstrating that the former president was not acting in good faith when he claimed that the election had been stolen and sought to have state officials produce alternative results is a key component of the fraud charges.
Trump pushed back against that claim in particular on his social media network, Truth Social, writing, “This is a total LIE. I never thought, for even a moment, that the Presidential Election of 2020 was not Rigged & Stolen, and my conviction became even stronger as time went by.”
The investigative committee, formally the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol, was originally conceived of as a bipartisan effort with support from leaders of both the Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House.
It was formed to gather facts and conclusions about the events of that day, when a thousands-strong crowd of Trump supporters attended a rally near the White House, at which Trump told them to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell.” The mob descended on the Capitol, where lawmakers had gathered to certify now-President Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
The crowd quickly became violent, and despite the presence of more than 1,000 law enforcement officers, was able to force entry into the building and force members of Congress and Pence to flee. Members of the crowd were angry at the vice president for his refusal to illegally declare Trump the victor, and many were chanting “Hang Mike Pence.”
The report establishes that, during the hourslong attack, President Trump was aware of what was taking place, and nevertheless sent out a tweet attacking Pence, further inflaming the crowd. Witnesses produced by the committee said that Trump declined requests by aides and members of his family to ask the rioters to leave.
Trump was eventually persuaded to ask the mob to disperse, which he did in a video address that described the rioters as “very special.” Order was eventually restored late in the day, with the help of National Guard troops, and Congress formally certified Biden’s victory.
Born in controversy
In the immediate aftermath of the assault, condemnation of the attack was bipartisan, and a proposal to fully investigate its causes received strong support from leaders on both sides. However, in the weeks that followed the assault, Republican lawmakers, taking cues from Trump, tried to minimize the seriousness of the event.
When the committee was formed in the early summer of 2021, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy nominated five Republicans, including Reps. Jim Jordan and Jim Banks. Because Jordan, a close Trump ally, was likely to be a target of the investigation, and because Banks had publicly stated his unwillingness to cooperate with an investigation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected their appointments and requested that McCarthy name replacements. Instead, the Republican leader withdrew all five nominees and declined to offer new ones.
Pelosi replied by designating two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, both of whom had continued to denounce the attack and Trump’s role in inciting it.
Beginning in the summer of 2022, the committee held a series of nine public hearings in which it laid out a comprehensive timeline of the assault itself and of the efforts to overturn the election that preceded it.
House Republican report
A competing report issued by the five House Republicans who were originally nominated to serve on the Jan. 6 committee was released Wednesday.
The report focused primarily on the security failures that led the Capitol Police and Washington Metropolitan Police Department to be underprepared for the violence at the Capitol. The report lays much of the blame for the results of the riot on Pelosi, claiming that she decided not to bring on additional security, including the National Guard, in advance of the riot.
The Republican report does not address the root causes of the riot, the actions of former President Trump on Jan. 6 and before, or the broader effort to overturn the results of the election.
By Polityk | 23/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The House select committee probing the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol is scheduled to release its final report Thursday, referring former president Donald Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal investigation and potential prosecution for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden.
As Attorney General Merrick Garland considers whether to accept the recommendation, the White House has been treading carefully to avoid the appearance it is targeting a potential political opponent in the 2024 election.
On numerous occasions White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has emphasized that the White House will not politicize the process.
“I just want to be very careful and refer you to the Department of Justice on those, because this administration and the DOJ conduct criminal investigation independently, free of any sort of — any kind of political interference or any interference at all,” she said earlier this week.
The report, released just two weeks shy of the two-year anniversary of the storming of the Capitol by Trump supporters, caps an unprecedented chapter in American history where a committee of lawmakers, which included two Republicans, recommended the Justice Department pursue at least four criminal charges against Trump related to his alleged efforts to prevent the peaceful transfer of presidential power: obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to make a false statement and incitement, rebellion or insurrection.
No former U.S. president has ever been indicted for criminal conduct. Given the high stakes and sensitivity, it would be prudent for the administration at this point to simply get out of the way, said Peter Loge, director of the Project on Ethics in Political Communication at George Washington University.
“The best thing that President Biden can do is what he’s doing, which is to say – you know, the House committee made a really compelling case. In my view, it’s really clear, I agree with their conclusions, we have to continue to defend and promote democracy, and now it’s up to the Department of Justice.”
Hold accountable those responsible
Last month after a jury in Washington convicted two members of the far-right group the Oath Keepers on seditious conspiracy charges for crimes related to the Capitol attack, Garland said the department will continue to work “to hold accountable those responsible for crimes related to the attack on our democracy on January 6, 2021.”
However, there are clearly political implications to investigating such a public and controversial figure as Trump, especially after his November announcement that he will be a candidate for president in 2024.
Running for president does not shield an individual from criminal probes: Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in 2016, was investigated beginning in 2015 on her use of a private email server. Also, the Justice Department for months has been running investigations related to Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, as well as potential attempts to nullify the 2020 election results. Still, officials must take extra caution to avoid even the appearance that the investigation of the former president is politically motivated.
Independence of Justice Department
The attorney general is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but the Justice Department has a degree of independence stemming from practices established after the 1974 Watergate scandal, when President Richard Nixon attempted to use department officials for his political agenda, ordering Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox; Ruckelshaus refused, and also resigned.
There’s also the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 that allows investigations into misconduct to operate independently of presidential control, which provided the legal basis for Garland to appoint special counsel Jack Smith to lead the Trump investigations in November.
“Such an appointment underscores the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.
Many Republicans, including Mike Pence, Trump’s former vice president, say that even with the investigation being conducted by a special counsel, the Justice Department should not accept the committee’s recommendation.
“I would hope that they would not bring charges against the former president,” Pence said in an interview with FOX News earlier this week. “I think the president’s actions and words on January 6th were reckless. But I don’t know that it is criminal to take bad advice from lawyers. And so I hope the Justice Department is careful.”
Other observers say that despite the risk of widening political divisions even further, a full investigation is worth it.
“There’s at least the possibility of the genuine independence of the Department of Justice and a careful prosecution waged against a former president who in important ways was lawless, that will have the effect of shoring up the rule of law and protecting our democracy,” said William Howell, professor of American politics at the University of Chicago. “That’s the bet the Department of Justice is making.”
Howell said no matter how well Smith carries out the investigations, how much evidence he unearths and how carefully he abides by the law, expect Trump and his supporters to cry foul.
Trump already did. Last month he slammed Smith’s appointment and called it a continuation of what he calls the Democrats’ witch hunt against him.
“Over the years, I’ve given millions and millions of pages of documents, tax returns and everything else, and they have found nothing,” Trump said during a speech at Mar-a-Lago.
“Which means I’ve proven to be one of the most honest and innocent people ever in our country.”
By Polityk | 22/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The Senate passed a massive $1.7 trillion spending bill Thursday that finances federal agencies through September and provides another large round of aid to Ukraine one day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s dramatic address to a joint meeting of Congress.
The bill, which runs for 4,155 pages, includes about $772.5 billion for domestic programs and $858 billion for defense and would finance federal agencies through the fiscal year at the end of September.
The bill passed by a vote of 68-29 and now goes to the House for a final vote before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
“This is one of the most significant appropriations packages we have done in a very long time,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said moments before the vote. “The range of people it helps is large and deep,”
Lawmakers were racing to get the bill approved before a partial government shutdown would occur at midnight Friday, and many were anxious to complete the task before a deep freeze and wintry conditions left them stranded in Washington for the holidays. Many also want to lock in government funding before a new GOP-controlled House next year could make it harder to find compromise on spending.
Lawmakers heard from Zelenskyy about the importance of U.S. aid to his country for its war with Russia on Wednesday night. The measure provides about $45 billion in military, economic and humanitarian assistance for the devastated nation and NATO allies, more than Biden requested, raising total assistance so far to more than $100 billion.
“Your money is not charity,” Zelenskyy told lawmakers and Americans watching from home. “It’s an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”
The spending bill is supported by Schumer and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, though for different reasons.
McConnell cited the bill’s 10% boost in defense spending, which he says will give America’s armed forces the funding and certainty needed to ensure the country’s security.
“The world’s greatest military will get the funding increase that it needs, outpacing inflation,” McConnell said. “Meanwhile, non-defense, non-veterans spending will come in below the rate of inflation, for a real-dollar cut.”
McConnell faced pushback from many Republicans who don’t support the spending bill and resent being forced to vote on such a massive package with so little time before a potential shutdown and the Christmas holiday.
“There has not been enough time for a single person to have read this entire bill. The bill and process ignores soaring inflation, rising interest rates and our ballooning debt of $31 trillion,” said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. “Enough is enough.”
For two senators, the bill puts the finishing touches on their work in Washington. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is retiring after serving some 48 years in the Senate and as the current chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He negotiated the bill for months with Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, the committee’s ranking Republican, who was elected to the Senate in 1986 and is also retiring.
“What a capstone to a brilliant career,” Schumer said.
The bill also contains roughly $40 billion in emergency spending in the U.S., mostly to assist communities across the country recovering from drought, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
And, of course, it includes scores of policy changes unrelated to spending that lawmakers sought to include in what is going to be the last major bill of the Congress.
One of the most notable examples was a historic revision to federal election law that aims to prevent any future presidents or presidential candidates from trying to overturn an election. The bipartisan overhaul of the Electoral Count Act is in direct response to former President Donald Trump’s efforts to convince Republican lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence to object to the certification of Biden’s victory on Jan. 6, 2021.
By Polityk | 22/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
U.S. congressional leaders early Tuesday unveiled a more than $1.6 trillion spending and policy plan to fund the government through the end of next September, including billions of dollars in new aid for Ukraine to fight its war against Russia, a 10% boost in defense spending and revised controls on certifying the election of U.S. presidents.
The measure, which also includes about $40 billion to help U.S. communities recover from drought, hurricanes and other natural disasters, is likely to be the last major piece of legislation that lawmakers will consider in the current session of Congress.
But the 4,155-page bill must be approved by midnight Friday, when current, temporary funding expires, or lawmakers will face the prospect of a partial government shutdown heading into the Christmas holiday this coming weekend.
If the measure is not passed, lawmakers could approve another temporary funding bill extending into next month. Some Republican lawmakers favor that outcome because they will narrowly control the House of Representatives when the new session of Congress opens on January 3, which could give them leverage in negotiating spending policies with the Democratic-controlled Senate and Democratic President Joe Biden.
The proposal includes $772.5 billion for non-defense discretionary programs and $858 billion in defense funding.
Included in the package is about $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine as it battles Russia’s 10-month invasion, the biggest single allocation yet for the Kyiv government, although piecemeal measures for Ukraine have already totaled about $68 billion. The congressional proposal for Ukraine would top Biden’s $37 billion request.
The overall end-of-year proposal wraps in other measures that have languished as stand-alone bills. Various provisions would improve the country’s readiness for future disease pandemics and ban the use of Chinese-owned TikTok on government-owned devices.
It also tightens the rules under which lawmakers can object to the final vote counts submitted by each of the 50 states when Congress meets every four years to certify the outcome of presidential elections. Dozens of Republican lawmakers supporting former President Donald Trump objected to declaring Biden the winner when Congress met on January 6 last year to certify the outcome of the 2020 election, on a day when about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed the Capitol to try to keep Congress from acting.
As it stands now, only one senator and one member of the House of Representatives is needed to contest the outcome of the presidential vote in any state. But the new proposal would require at least 20 of the 100 senators and 87 of the 435 House members to object before their protest could be considered.
The legislative proposal also clarifies an 1887 law to explicitly say that the vice president’s role in counting the Electoral College votes from throughout the country is ceremonial and does not give the vice president the right to overturn the outcome of the election. Trump claimed erroneously last year that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the right to upend Biden’s victory and keep Trump in power for another four years.
In the United States, presidents are not elected by national popular balloting, although Biden won 7 million more votes than Trump. Instead, presidents are elected in the Electoral College, depending on the state-by-state outcome in each of the 50 states, with the most populous states having the most electors and thus the most sway on the national outcome.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in the early hours of Tuesday, “Nobody wants a shutdown, nobody benefits from a shutdown, so I hope nobody will stand in the way of funding the government ASAP. Finalizing the omnibus [spending bill] is critical, absolutely critical for supporting our friends in Ukraine.”
Shalanda Young, director of the government’s Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement that neither Republicans nor Democrats got everything they wanted in the deal. But she praised the measure as “good for our economy, our competitiveness, and our country, and I urge Congress to send it to the president’s desk without delay.”
But some Republicans threatened to hold up the measure to push the funding debate into January to give them new leverage, even as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said his party had curtailed Biden spending plans in the proposal announced Tuesday.
But House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who is attempting to become the new House speaker in two weeks, assailed his Republican counterparts in the Senate for even negotiating with Democrats.
Another Republican, Congressman Chip Roy, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, complained on “Fox News Sunday” this past weekend, “Republicans are about to literally give the Biden administration a blank check. Republican leadership in the Senate — and frankly, too many in the House — are walking away from using that important tool to check the executive branch.”
By Polityk | 21/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
U.S. lawmakers this week face a tight deadline to pass a massive bill funding the federal government through next September. The size and scope of the U.S. military budget and a new round of aid for the conflict in Ukraine are among the high-profile items being negotiated. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent, Katherine Gypson, has more.
By Polityk | 19/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
Kari Lake, the Republican defeated in the Arizona governor’s race, is formally challenging her loss to Democrat Katie Hobbs, asking a court to throw out certified election results from the state’s most populous county and either declare her the winner or rerun the governor’s election in that county.
The lawsuit filed late Friday by Lake centers on long lines and other difficulties that people experienced while voting on Election Day in Maricopa County. The challenge filed in Maricopa County Superior Court also alleges hundreds of thousands of ballots were illegally cast, but there’s no evidence that’s true.
Lake has refused to acknowledge that she lost to Hobbs by more than 17,000 votes.
The Donald Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate has bombarded Maricopa County with complaints, largely related to a problem with printers at some vote centers that led to ballots being printed with markings that were too light to be read by the on-site tabulators.
Lines backed up in some polling places, fueling Republican suspicions that some supporters were unable to cast a ballot, though there’s no evidence it affected the outcome. County officials say everyone was able to vote and all legal ballots were counted.
Lake sued Maricopa County officials and Hobbs in her current role as Arizona’s secretary of state.
Sophia Solis, a spokesperson for the secretary of state’s office, said Lake’s lawsuit was being reviewed but had no other comment on the filing.
Jason Berry, a Maricopa County spokesperson, declined to comment on Lake’s request to throw out the county’s election results in the governor’s race. But he said the county “respects the election contest process and looks forward to sharing facts about the administration of the 2022 general election and our work to ensure every legal voter had an opportunity to cast their ballot.”
Hobbs in a post on her Twitter account called the lawsuit “Lake’s latest desperate attempt to undermine our democracy and throw out the will of the voters.” She posted a statement from her campaign manager that called the lawsuit a “sham” and said her camp remained focused on “getting ready to hit the ground running on Day One of Katie Hobbs’ administration.”
Lake’s lawsuit says Republicans were disproportionately affected by the problems in Maricopa County because they outvoted Democrats on Election Day 3-1. GOP leaders had urged their voters to wait until Election Day to vote.
In late November, Lake filed a public records lawsuit demanding Maricopa County hand over documents related to the election. She was seeking to identify voters who may have had trouble casting a ballot, such as people who checked in at more than one vote center or those who returned a mail ballot and also checked in at a polling place.
During the summer, a federal judge also rejected a request by Lake and Mark Finchem, the defeated Republican candidate for secretary of state, to require hand counting of all ballots during the November election.
The judge has since sanctioned lawyers representing Lake and Finchem, saying they “made false, misleading, and unsupported factual assertions” in their lawsuit. The lawyers told the court that their claims were “legally sound and supported by strong evidence.”
Hobbs in her role as secretary of state has petitioned a court to begin an automatic statewide recount required by law in three races decided by less than half a percentage point.
The race for attorney general was one of the closest contests in state history, with Democrat Kris Mayes leading Republican Abe Hamadeh by just 510 votes out of 2.5 million cast.
The races for superintendent of public instruction and a state legislative seat in the Phoenix suburbs will also be recounted, but the margins are much larger.
By Polityk | 11/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
Viktor Bout, the former Russian military officer convicted of illegal arms trafficking in U.S. courts in 2012, and who was serving a 25-year prison sentence, has had his sentence commuted and is being repatriated as part of a prisoner exchange that freed United States basketball star Brittney Griner from prison in Russia.
Bout, nicknamed the “Merchant of Death,” started an air freight business in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union, which prosecutors alleged he used to transport military-grade weapons around the world, often supplying arms to combatants on opposing sides of the same conflicts.
In an indictment of Bout issued in February 2010, the U.S. Justice Department alleged, “Bout, an international weapons trafficker since the 1990s, has carried out a massive weapons-trafficking business by assembling a fleet of cargo airplanes capable of transporting weapons and military equipment to various parts of the world, including Africa, South America, and the Middle East. The arms that Bout has sold or brokered have fueled conflicts and supported regimes in Afghanistan, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and Sudan.”
The Russian government has long claimed that Bout was wrongly convicted and unjustly imprisoned. He had, most recently, been held in a federal prison facility in the city of Marion in the U.S. state of Illinois.
Griner had spent 10 months in prison in Russia after being arrested at a Moscow airport with a small amount of cannabis oil in an electronic cigarette cartridge in her luggage. Sentenced to nine years in prison, she was recently transferred to a prison labor camp.
Little is known for certain about Bout’s early life, other than that he grew up in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and was conscripted into the Russian military at age 18. He is believed to be multilingual, and is thought to have studied at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow. The institute has close ties to Russian intelligence services.
Bout appears to have left military service around the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union, and moved to the United Arab Emirates, where he purchased four Soviet-era Antonov-8 cargo planes and established an air freight firm called Air Cess.
Bout’s fleet of planes eventually numbered around 60, and much of his business was legitimate. According to Douglas Farah and Stephen Braun, authors of the book Merchant of Death: Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible, Bout’s contracts included some with the U.S. government for ferrying reconstruction supplies into Afghanistan and some with the United Nations for delivering humanitarian aid.
Active in Africa
It was arms dealing, however, that made Bout both internationally famous and extremely wealthy. In the years following the breakup of the Soviet Union, vast quantities of military weapons appeared on the black market, and prosecutors and journalists have produced evidence that Bout transported weapons to conflict zones around the globe, often to parties that were subject to international arms embargoes.
Bout was especially active in Africa, and in the 1990s is believed to have supplied arms to both the government of Angola and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) who were fighting against it.
Similarly, Bout is believed to have supplied arms to both sides of the civil war in what was then Zaire, and is now the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to have sold arms used in conflicts in Rwanda, Sudan, and Somalia.
Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who was convicted of war crimes for his role in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone, is also believed to have been one of Bout’s clients.
‘Truly a monster’
David M. Crane, the founding chief prosecutor of the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone, saw the results of Bout’s arms dealing in West Africa up close.
“He was truly a monster in his own right,” Crane told VOA. “This is someone who spread his arms and ammunition around the world, in very dark corners of the world, causing pain and suffering wherever he went.”
Crane, who went on to found the non-profit Global Accountability Network, which seeks justice for the victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity, said that the destruction wrought in Sierra Leone by the forces Bout armed was extensive.
“He was the main supplier of arms and ammunition…to that terrible conflict in West Africa, which saw the murder, rape, maiming and mutilation of over 1.2 million human beings,” Chase said.
While Africa may have been Bout’s primary focus, he was also active in other parts of the world. For example, he is believed to have sold weapons and equipment to both the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Northern Alliance that opposed it in the late 1990s.
By the late 2000s, Bout was subject to multiple arrest warrants around the world, and rarely left Russia, where the government of Vladimir Putin refused to extradite him.
In 2008, however, he was lured to Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with people he believed to be representatives of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, the rebel group that for decades sought to overthrow the Colombian government before a 2016 peace accord. FARC was, at the time, designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
In fact, Bout was actually meeting with informants for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, who recorded him offering to sell them hundreds of surface-to-air missiles and other heavy weaponry. In the conversation, Bout acknowledged that the missiles, in particular, were to be used to bring down U.S. planes flying drug interdiction missions.
Bout was arrested on the spot by Thai law enforcement, and two years later he was extradited to the U.S., where he was charged with several crimes, including breaking weapons embargoes, conspiring to kill U.S. officials, and various money laundering and wire fraud charges.
In 2012, Bout was convicted and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
In a statement on Thursday, the Russian Foreign Ministry characterized the negotiations that led to Bout’s release as long, with the U.S. resisting demands that he be made part of the deal.
“Washington was categorically refusing to engage in dialogue on putting the Russian national on the exchange scheme,” the foreign ministry told the news outlet TASS. “Nevertheless, the Russian Federation continued to actively work towards the release of our fellow countryman.”
In remarks announcing Griner’s release Thursday morning, U.S. President Joe Biden did not mention Bout, but criticized Russia for holding the basketball star. He said that Griner “lost months of her life [and] experienced a needless trauma.”
Biden also referred to another high-profile American detainee in Russia, former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been held there for four years.
“We’ve not forgotten about Paul Whelan, who has been unjustly detained in Russia for years,” Biden said. “This was not a choice of which American to bring home….Sadly, for totally illegitimate reasons, Russia is treating Paul’s case differently than Brittney’s. And while we have not yet succeeded in securing Paul’s release, we are not giving up. We will never give up.”
By Polityk | 08/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters Wednesday that Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock’s runoff election win was an important boost for Democrats.
“The practical effects of the 51-seat majority — it’s big. It’s significant,” he said. “We can breathe a sigh of relief.”
The Senate had stood for the past two years at a 50-50 tie with Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote. But with Warnock winning re-election to his first full six-year term in office, Democrats have now gained a seat and secured a clear majority for the rest of President Joe Biden’s first term in office.
“After a hard-fought campaign, or should I say campaigns? It is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock told supporters at a victory party late Tuesday.
In the November election, both Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker failed to secure a 50% majority of the vote required in Georgia to win, leading to the runoff. As of midday Wednesday, Warnock led Walker by a little under three percentage points with 95% of votes counted.
In a concession speech in front of his supporters Tuesday, Walker said, “I don’t want any of you to stop dreaming. I don’t want any of you to stop believing in America. I want you to believe in America and continue to believe in the Constitution and believe in our elected officials. Most of all, continue to pray for them.”
Walker was one of multiple Senate candidates nationwide who were endorsed by former President Donald Trump but who lost their elections. During the campaign, Walker faced allegations he had paid for abortions and engaged in domestic abuse. His campaign accused Warnock of unfairly evicting tenants from properties he owns. Warnock ultimately won out in the runoff that saw record voter turnout.
Schumer told reporters that voters sent a clear message about Republican priorities, particularly in the wake of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe vs. Wade, the court’s 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
“The public began to realize how far right these MAGA Republicans had gone. The Dobbs decision was the crystallization of that. Of course, when people said, ‘Wow, these MAGA Republicans are serious about turning the dial all the way back,” he said.
Dobbs vs. Jackson was the case that led to the Supreme Court ruling.
Schumer would not discuss priorities for the new Congress but did acknowledge the clear majority gives Democrats a significant advantage in bringing their legislation and nominees up for votes.
“It’s important to the committee structure — that was a shared committee responsibility,” Amy Dacey, executive director of the Stein Institute of Policy and Politics at American University, told VOA. “Now you’ll have clear chairs who drive the calendar, drive what issues will come up in front of the Senate.”
The U.S. Congress, however, will be divided when lawmakers are sworn in for a new session in January, with Republicans holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives.
Some information provided by Reuters.
By Polityk | 08/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The U.S. Congress is considering the White House’s request for $38 billion in additional support for Ukraine in its defense against Russia aggression. Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Senator Jim Risch say they believe the aid will be approved in the coming weeks.
The two senators have been strong supporters of aid to Ukraine, part of bipartisan congressional support that, if the latest appropriation bill passes, will deliver more than $100 billion in aid to Ukraine this year.
The senators sat down with VOA Georgian Service’s managing editor Ia Meurmishvili on November 30 to discuss U.S. policy toward Ukraine and Russia, and the likelihood that Congress will continue backing Ukraine in 2023.
Shaheen said the lessons from World War II are still relevant in the context of Ukraine, and the West must stop Russia before it invades other countries in Europe. On providing arms to Ukraine, Risch said the U.S. should not engage in self-deterrence out of concern that Russia might escalate the war. He said Russian President Vladimir Putin should instead be thinking about how to avoid U.S. escalation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
VOA: NATO reaffirmed its 2008 commitment that Ukraine will one day become a member. Do you think that reaffirmation is advancing Ukraine’s NATO membership? And when do you think Ukraine can join NATO?
Shaheen: Well sadly, Ukraine right now is engaged in a brutal war from Russia’s unprovoked invasion. But I think the aspiration that Ukraine should be able to join NATO is very important. And for the EU, for NATO, for the Western alliance to support them as they are fighting this war against Russia is absolutely critical. Because we can’t allow dictators like Vladimir Putin to think they can upend the international, rules-based order and just take over any country because they might like to. And then, to commit war crimes and atrocities, to bomb civilians, to bomb hospitals and schools. … It’s unthinkable in a civilized society. So, we need to do everything we can to support the Ukrainians.
Risch: I agree with that. I would add that NATO is as strong as I have ever seen NATO, and I think it is getting stronger every day. There is no deterioration. NATO is committed to do what NATO was formed to do. Article 5 means just what it says — an attack on one is an attack on all. We have said clearly to the Russians that we will not give up one inch of NATO ground, whether it’s in the Baltics, in London, or in Los Angeles. We will not give up one inch of NATO ground, and we will all come shoulder to shoulder to defend it.
When it comes to Ukraine joining NATO, Ukraine or any other country is welcome to join NATO so long as they meet the requirements. We feel strongly about that. If Ukraine meets the requirements, and Ukraine wants to join NATO, then Ukraine should be let in. Neither Russia nor any other country should be able to stand up and say, ‘No, you can’t go where you want to go.’ Every country is sovereign and should have that right to enter any kind of alliance they want to for their defense.
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VOA: The Biden administration has requested an additional $38 billion for assistance to Ukraine. Do you think it will be approved before recess?
Shaheen: I do. I think there’s still strong bipartisan and bicameral support for Ukraine. We understand that Ukraine is fighting for democracies around the world, and the role of democracies is on the line here in this war.
Risch: Putin has already lost this war. He set out to occupy that country. It is obvious to the world he will never occupy that country. If you talk with Ukrainians, they will fight in the street with broomsticks if they have to, but the Russians will never occupy that country. So, what’s his exit ramp? I don’t know, but he better find one.
VOA: Do you support the idea of providing Ukraine with the Patriot missiles and the other long-range artillery they have been asking for, which the administration has been hesitant to provide?
Risch: I’ve wanted to ratchet up for some time. The Ukrainians are fighting with one hand tied behind their back. They’ve got a country adjacent to them that has invaded them and is committing all of these atrocities. On top of that, over the recent weeks, [the Russians] have done everything they can to totally eliminate [Ukraine’s] infrastructure for heat and electricity and everything else. We can’t stand by and watch that happen.
You know, some people in the administration — not all of them — say, ‘Oh, you know, we don’t want to escalate.’ That’s nonsense. I want Putin to wake up in the morning worried about what he’s going to do that might cause us to escalate. We have to escalate, or you lose the war. So, I’m all in. I think the Patriots are fine. If it was up to me — even from the beginning — I said we should give them planes. When we fought in Korea, when we fought in Vietnam, the Russians supplied the enemy with jet aircraft and trained the pilots. It’s time to return the favor, as far as I’m concerned.
Shaheen: I think that’s the intent of the U.S. We’re working closely with our allies and with the Ukrainians on what they need and supplying them as soon as we can with the weapons that they need. I think we need to continue to do that.
VOA: The world, especially the West, is beginning to talk about how Ukraine will emerge from this war — that it will be a united, democratic, sovereign country in Europe that will only get stronger from this point on. We don’t know much about how Russia will emerge from it. How do you see Russia after this war?
Shaheen: We had a hearing today in the Foreign Relations Committee with the nominee to be the ambassador to Russia. One of the things we talked about in that hearing is the difficult balance that the new ambassador is going to have in trying to keep an open channel of communication to the leadership in Russia, and at the same time expressing our strong opposition to what Russia is doing in the war in Ukraine, to express the concerns that we have about Russia walking away from the new START nuclear negotiations, about their human rights record, and the American detainees that they have in their prisons. So, it’s going to be a challenge.
I had a chance to speak with Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is an amazing, very courageous human rights activist, as he was planning to go back to Russia. One of the things he said to me when I said, you know, ‘You’re going to be in prison. Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘Because the Russian people are better than the government of Russia, and we need to make the world see that.’ So, it’s my hope that at some point, the Russian people will have that opportunity for self-governance and to determine their own future.
Risch: First of all, I’ve said all along — when this is over, it’s not over. Russia is going to suffer from this for a long, long time. The world made a mistake when the Iron Curtain came down and Russia was welcomed to the international stage, and everyone started doing business with them. The Europeans really relied on them for energy and that sort of thing. Nobody even conceived that they would start a medieval war in the 21st century. Seven hundred companies from America have pulled out. They’re not going back there. We talk to the Europeans all the time. They’ve had it with Russia. Even if Putin disappeared tomorrow and you brought in a moderate — if there is such a thing in Russia — I still think it would take decades before the Russians can get back any kind of credibility that this isn’t going to happen again.
VOA: Thus far, Congress has been united on the issues of support toward Ukraine, toward the region, NATO and such. There are some concerns that with the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, that [unity] may change.
Risch: Look, there’s 535 members of Congress —100 in the Senate, 435 in the House. We are as diverse a group as you could possibly find. We are a true representation of America top to bottom. As a result of that, there is about every view you could possibly want there. No matter what issue you have, with very few exceptions, you’re always going to have dissent. We were born in dissent. We dissent all the time. Having said that, when things are appropriate, we come together.
On Ukraine, there is strong, strong support in both houses and both parties. Are there a handful of people who are dissidents? Yes. But the media here focuses on those that do dissent. That’s the American way, and that’s the way it should be. People have the right to express an opinion on either side, and then you vote and get behind the vote. I think the media has asked me this question a number of times, and I’ve said over and over again that the dissent on this is de minimis, and it’s way overreported.
Shaheen: We had a bipartisan, bicameral delegation in Halifax [Nova Scotia] a couple of weeks ago, nine of us from the House and Senate. We were all virtually aligned on support for Ukraine and the need to continue that support. And that included prominent members of the House, as well as prominent members of the Senate. So I think Senator Risch is absolutely right.
By Polityk | 07/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock defeated Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a Georgia runoff election Tuesday, ensuring Democrats an outright majority in the Senate for the rest of President Joe Biden’s current term and capping an underwhelming midterm cycle for the GOP in the last major vote of the year.
With Warnock’s second runoff victory in as many years, Democrats will have a 51-49 Senate majority, gaining a seat from the current 50-50 split with John Fetterman’s victory in Pennsylvania. There will be divided government, however, with Republicans having narrowly flipped House control.
“After a hard-fought campaign — or, should I say, campaigns — it is my honor to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken,” Warnock, 53, told jubilant supporters who packed a downtown Atlanta hotel ballroom.
“I often say that a vote is a kind of prayer for the world we desire for ourselves and for our children,” declared Warnock, a Baptist pastor and his state’s first Black senator.
“Georgia, you have been praying with your lips and your legs, your hands and your feet, your heads and your hearts. You have put in the hard work, and here we are standing together.”
In last month’s election, Warnock led Walker by 37,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The senator appeared to be headed for a wider final margin in Tuesday’s runoff, with Walker, a football legend at the University of Georgia and in the NFL, unable to overcome a bevy of damaging allegations, including claims that he paid for two former girlfriends’ abortions despite supporting a national ban on the procedure.
“The numbers look like they’re not going to add up,” Walker, an ally and friend of former President Donald Trump, told supporters late Tuesday at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. “There’s no excuses in life, and I’m not going to make any excuses now because we put up one heck of a fight.”
Democrats’ Georgia victory solidifies the state’s place as a Deep South battleground two years after Warnock and fellow Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff won 2021 runoffs that gave the party Senate control just months after Biden became the first Democratic presidential candidate in 30 years to win Georgia. Voters returned Warnock to the Senate in the same cycle they reelected Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by a comfortable margin and chose an all-GOP slate of statewide constitutional officers.
Walker’s defeat bookends the GOP’s struggles this year to win with flawed candidates cast from Trump’s mold, a blow to the former president as he builds his third White House bid ahead of 2024.
Democrats’ new outright majority in the Senate means the party will no longer have to negotiate a power-sharing deal with Republicans and won’t have to rely on Vice President Kamala Harris to break as many tie votes.
National Democrats celebrated Tuesday, with Biden tweeting a photo of his congratulatory phone call to the senator. “Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and … sent a good man back to the Senate,” Biden tweeted, referencing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
About 1.9 million runoff votes were cast in Georgia by mail and during early voting. A robust Election Day turnout added about 1.4 million more, slightly more than the Election Day totals in November and in 2020.
Total turnout still trailed the 2021 runoff turnout of about 4.5 million. Voting rights groups pointed to changes made by state lawmakers after the 2020 election that shortened the period for runoffs, from nine weeks to four, as a reason for the decline in early and mail voting.
Warnock emphasized his willingness to work across the aisle and his personal values, buoyed by his status as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, where civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. once preached.
Walker benefited during the campaign from nearly unmatched name recognition from his football career yet was dogged by questions about his fitness for office.
A multimillionaire businessman, Walker faced questions about his past, including his exaggerations of his business achievements, academic credentials and philanthropic activities.
In his personal life, Walker faced new attention on his ex-wife’s previous accounts of domestic violence, including details that he once held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her. He has never denied those specifics and wrote of his violent tendencies in a 2008 memoir that attributed the behavior to mental illness.
As a candidate, he sometimes mangled policy discussions, attributing the climate crisis to China’s “bad air” overtaking “good air” from the United States and arguing that diabetics could manage their health by “eating right,” a practice that isn’t enough for insulin-dependent diabetic patients.
On Tuesday, Atlanta voter Tom Callaway praised the Republican Party’s strength in Georgia and said he’d supported Kemp in the opening round of voting. But he said he cast his ballot for Warnock because he didn’t think “Herschel Walker has the credentials to be a senator.”
“I didn’t believe he had a statement of what he really believed in or had a campaign that made sense,” Callaway said.
Walker, meanwhile, sought to portray Warnock as a yes-man for Biden. He sometimes made the attack in especially personal terms, accusing Warnock of “being on his knees, begging” at the White House — a searing charge for a Black challenger to level against a Black senator about his relationship with a white president.
Warnock promoted his Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for Medicare patients. He hailed deals on infrastructure and maternal health care forged with Republican senators, mentioning those GOP colleagues more than he did Biden or other Washington Democrats.
Warnock distanced himself from Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation remains high. After the general election, Biden promised to help Warnock in any way he could, even if it meant staying away from Georgia. Bypassing the president, Warnock decided instead to campaign with former President Barack Obama in the days before the runoff election.
Walker, meanwhile, avoided campaigning with Trump until the campaign’s final day, when the pair conducted a conference call Monday with supporters.
Walker joins failed Senate nominees Dr. Mehmet Oz of Pennsylvania, Blake Masters of Arizona, Adam Laxalt of Nevada and Don Bolduc of New Hampshire as Trump loyalists who ultimately lost races that Republicans once thought they would — or at least could — win.
By Polityk | 07/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика
The U.S. congressional committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol last year is planning to make referrals to the Justice Department recommending criminal prosecutions, panel chairman Bennie Thompson said Tuesday.
Thompson did not disclose whether former President Donald Trump would be one of the targets.
He said the nine-member panel is meeting later Tuesday to discuss specifics of its recommendations as it wraps up its probe of the mayhem that unfolded as about 2,000 Trump supporters stormed into the Capitol Building to try to block certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.
“At this point, there’ll be a separate document coming from me” to the Justice Department, Thompson told reporters at the Capitol.
AG will decide whether to bring charges
The decision of whether to bring charges against Trump or any of his advisers rests with Attorney General Merrick Garland. To this day, Trump contends without evidence that he was cheated out of reelection by illegal voting and vote-counting. He has announced another run for the presidency in 2024.
Garland appointed career prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation of Trump’s actions leading up to the rampage at the Capitol and whether the former president illegally took highly classified government documents with him to his oceanside retreat in Florida after he left office.
‘We will stop the steal,’ Trump says before the riot
Just before the riot unfolded, Trump told supporters at a rally near the White House, “Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore and that’s what this is all about. To use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal.”
He concluded, “We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
More than 950 of the rioters have been charged, and more than 450 have pleaded guilty or have been convicted so far. Some have received prison terms of more than four years.
At nine hearings in recent months, witnesses before the House investigative panel testified how Trump privately, along with public admonitions, pushed then-Vice President Mike Pence to override the state-by-state Electoral College vote count that showed Biden had won.
But Pence refused, and after the rioters were cleared from the Capitol, Congress affirmed in the early hours of January 7, 2021, that Biden had won.
The U.S. does not elect its president by a national popular vote but rather through state-by-state voting, with the most populous states holding the most Electoral College votes and thus the most sway in determining the national outcome.
Biden won the national balloting over Trump by more than 7 million votes.
By Polityk | 07/12/2022 | Повідомлення, Політика