Category Archives: World

Politics news. The world is the totality of entities, the whole of reality, or everything that exists. The nature of the world has been conceptualized differently in different fields. Some conceptions see the world as unique while others talk of a “plurality of worlds”. Some treat the world as one simple object while others analyse the world as a complex made up of parts

Cuba Marks First Anniversary of the Death of Fidel Castro

Cuba marks the first anniversary of the death of revolutionary leader Fidel Castro on Saturday followed by municipal elections on Sunday that will usher in a new leader who for the first time in 60 years will not be a Castro brother.

The island will hold a series of remembrances from Saturday through Dec. 4, the day Castro was laid to rest in a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, where he launched the Cuban revolution.

Fidel Castro’s death last Nov. 25 ushered in a nine days of national mourning. The Cold War icon, who defied U.S. efforts to topple him, died at the age of 90.

By the time he died, Castro had been largely out of public view for nearly a decade because of ill health. He ceded the presidency to his younger brother, Raul Castro, in 2008 after intestinal troubles nearly killed him in 2006.

State-run media reports that galas and vigils will be held around the country this week in honor of Fidel Castro. State television is running archived footage of Fidel Castro, and cultural institutions are dedicating their performances to his memory.

Elections and gradual transition

During the weeklong events, citizens will also take part in municipal elections. The vote will end with the selection of a new president in late February, after Raul Castro said he would step down at the end of his two consecutive five-year terms.

The transition to new leadership, however, is expected to be gradual as Raul Castro will remain head of the Communist Party, the only legal party in Cuba.

State-run media is championing the belief that the elections are a way for citizens to show support for Fidel Castro’s ideas. In the provincial and national votes, candidates were chosen by commissions made up of Communist Party representatives.

 

The elections come at difficult time for Cuba, as relations with the United States have worsened under U.S. President Donald Trump and its economy continues to suffer as the fortunes of its key ally Venezuela declines.

Texas Company Reports Selling Lethal Weapons to Ukraine

A U.S. company says it has been selling lethal weapons to Ukraine since last year, ahead of an expected decision by the Trump administration on whether to provide such weapons to Ukraine.

“We started delivering our product to Ukraine last year and we are continuing deliveries up until now,” said Richard Vandiver, Chief Operating Officer at the Texas company AirTronic, USA, in an interview with VOA’s Ukrainian service.

Vandiver said the sales have been limited to short-range defensive weapons, principally Precision Shoulder Fired Rocket launchers (PSRLs), which are a redesigned and updated version of the widely deployed Soviet RPG-7 anti-tank weapon. Ukraine is engaged in a struggle against Russian-trained and funded separatists in its eastern region and fears an armored assault.

“The ability to stop armored vehicles is essential for Ukraine to protect itself,” said General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 26.

Vandiver told VOA the PSRL should be considered a defensive weapon because of its limited range.

“Obviously, PSRL is a lethal system, but it’s a defensive lethal system,” Vandiver said. “The RPG-7 has the effective range of under a thousand meters.

“As long as the weapon system stays [in government-controlled territory], it’s not an offensive weapon, but if armor starts to cross the river than I would assume that the Ukrainian defense forces would employ our systems to stop the armor.”

The U.S. Congress has approved $350 million in security aid for Ukraine in its most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), including $47 million for defensive lethal weapons. The act awaits final approval in the House of Representatives before going to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Trump is reported to be considering a recommendation received from his National Security Council this week to provide lethal weaponry to Ukraine. The weapon considered most likely to be included is the shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missile, which features a sophisticated self-guidance system and a range more than four times greater than the PSRL.

‘De facto embargo’

Any sales of lethal weaponry to Ukraine marks a reversal of a non-binding policy implemented under the administration of former president Barack Obama.

“In the formal sense, there is no embargo on Ukraine, but you could say that there is a de facto embargo,” said Michael Carpenter, senior director of the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement at the University of Pennsylvania. “Formally speaking, [Obama] did not make a decision on sending weapons to Ukraine, so de facto that became an embargo.”

Any such U.S. military sales must be licensed by the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, which says it is restricted under federal regulations from commenting on commercial sales export licensing activity.

However, the department issues a list of defense articles and services that have been authorized as direct commercial sales each year. The most recent list shows that more than $26.9 million in military sales to Ukraine were authorized in 2016, with more than $17.6 million of that having been shipped.

More than $5 million of the authorized sales comprised lethal weaponry, mainly comprising firearms and ammunition. The report does not show how much of that was actually shipped.

AirTronic, US coordination

Vandiver declined to discuss exact details of the AirTronic supply contract with Ukraine, but he emphasized that the activities are conducted in “very close coordination with the U.S. Embassy, with the U.S. State Department, with the U.S. Pentagon and with the Ukrainian government.”

“It took quite a bit for us to secure authorizations that we needed, because of the sensitivity of the issue under Minsk II,” Vandiver said, adding that the lethal system is not banned by the agreement. The Minsk II agreement — brokered by Germany and France in negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko in February of 2015 — was aimed at limiting the fighting in the East of Ukraine, but has had only limited success. 

“We are very familiar with the accords that were reached in Europe under the treaties … and we abide by those,” he said. He added that AirTronic obtained an export license for the sale, “following the same application process as any defense contractor would follow.”

The Ukrainian government hopes to expand its purchases of lethal weapons from the U.S. substantially, and attaches great hope to the possibility that the White House will approve financial assistance for those purchases.

The $47 million in possible lethal aid for Ukraine included in the NDAA would allow Kyiv to obtain more powerful defensive weapons, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.S. Valery Chaly told VOA.

“We hope that the bill [NDAA], which has been already approved by Congress, will be signed by President Trump. This would allow to unlock about $50 million in lethal defense assistance for Ukraine. The decision is with the U.S. president and then we will be talking about more powerful weapons,” Chaly said.

During his visit to Ukraine in August this year, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis rejected any suggestion that the provision of such weapons may be considered provocative by Russia. “Defensive weapons are not provocative unless you are an aggressor, and clearly Ukraine is not an aggressor since it is their own territory where the fighting is happening,” Mattis said.

Still, some analysts doubt that the Trump administration is willing to abandon the self-imposed restriction on lethal arms sales to Ukraine.

“I remain a pessimist on this,” said Carpenter, director of the Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. However, he said, “I’ve long supported providing defensive arms to Ukraine. I think this is the right thing to do. It’s the moral thing to do and also the strategic thing to do for the United States, because it would deter further Russia aggression.”

Trump Complains That Players Are ‘Boss’ In NFL

President Donald Trump is continuing to rail against football players who kneel during the National Anthem to protest racism and police brutality.

Trump asks his followers in a Black Friday tweet: “Can you believe that the disrespect for our Country, our Flag, our Anthem continues without penalty to the players.”

He’s accusing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell of having “lost control” of what he called a “hemorrhaging league” where “Players are the boss!”

Trump’s tweet was in response to one from his social media chief, Dan Scavino.

Scavino had shared a Breitbart News story about New York Giants player Olivier Vernon taking a knee during the anthem on Thanksgiving ahead of a game against the Redskins.

The website is run by Trump’s former chief strategist.

Bannon Insurgency Stresses Loyalty to Trump, Not Policy Test

Wisconsin Senate candidate Kevin Nicholson, a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, doesn’t look much like the renegade outsiders whom political strategist Steve Bannon says he’s recruiting for his war on the Republican establishment. But Nicholson has Bannon’s backing anyway, thanks to his loyalty to President Donald Trump.

As Bannon drafts his team of challengers to the old guard, the new guard is increasingly aligned not by ideology, but by its history of support for the president. Republicans who have criticized the president or been slow to embrace him are out.

One particular test for the Breitbart News chairman and former Trump White House strategist is how such Republicans reacted during the campaign to the 2005 Access Hollywood video showing Trump bragging about sexually imposing himself on women. Those who kept quiet about it or stuck with him earn Bannon’s favor now, even if it means looking the other way on some policy positions and affiliations. Nicholson, for example, has backing from wealthy free-trade advocates, an awkward policy fit with Trump’s economic nationalism.

“If you were never-Trump, refused to ever endorse the president or withdrew your endorsement following Access Hollywood weekend, don’t even bother walking through Bannon’s door,” said Bannon adviser Andy Surabian.

Bannon hopes chiefly to topple Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he has blamed for obstructing Trump’s agenda, especially efforts to dismantle Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law. Bannon has threatened to find a Republican primary opponent for almost every GOP senator seeking re-election in 2018.

“The United States Senate in particular has done, I think, a terrible job in supporting President Trump,” Bannon told the California Republican convention last month.

In Wisconsin, state Senator Leah Vukmir is opposing Nicholson for the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination. In last year’s presidential campaign, she first supported Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s short campaign before shifting to Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  She helped record a pro-Trump radio ad a week before the election — perhaps too little, too late, in Bannon’s eyes.

“The voters know I have been a supporter of Donald Trump,” she told The Associated Press last month. “I’ve traveled around this state and talked to countless people who want to see the president’s agenda move and are frustrated that it’s not happening.” She hasn’t said publicly whether she supports McConnell.

Nicholson only recently swung against McConnell. He’s backed by the pro-trade Club for Growth, and in 2000, spoke to the 2000 Democratic National Convention as the national president of College Democrats.

In September, he said: “I have no issues voting for Mitch McConnell.”

But the following month, after meeting with Bannon, Nicholson publicly called for “new leadership.”

Bannon endorsements

While Surabian said Bannon is generally “looking for candidates who support the president and his America First agenda,” policy unity is not a prerequisite.

“You don’t have to be perfect,” Bannon told the California convention. “This is not a commoditized product like Procter & Gamble.”

Nor is it a free-for-all. Some positions, such as supporting a route to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally, would be a big problem for Bannon.

Bannon thinks his nascent insurgency is already having results, thanks to the retirement announcements of two sharp critics of Trump, Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona. In Tennessee, Bannon supports Representative Marcia Blackburn, a popular conservative House member bidding for the Senate.  She has McConnell’s backing, too.

Bannon also has endorsed former Arizona state Senator Kelli Ward, who lost her 2016 primary challenge to Senator John McCain. Republican Representative Martha McSally, who never endorsed Trump, is weighing a campaign for Flake’s seat.

Bannon is also looking to unseat Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, who opposed Trump last year and opposed legislation in July aimed at dismantling Obamacare.

Yet Heller’s challenger, Danny Tarkanian, has supported trade treaties, specifically the Trans Pacific Partnership. Trump pulled out of the Obama-era treaty in January, a move Bannon praised.

In Montana, Bannon is supporting the state auditor, Matt Rosendale, hardly an anti-establishment figure as the former majority leader in the Montana House. But he runs without the trail of tweets left by rival Troy Downing, who last year described Trump as “not electable” and having a “tenuous relationship with the truth.”

In West Virginia, Bannon is supporting Attorney General Patrick Morrisey over Representative Evan Jenkins, a Democrat who switched parties four years ago to run for Congress. Morrisey, however, is no Washington newcomer, having been a lawyer for a Washington lobbying firm and later a lawyer for the House Energy and Commerce Committee before he moved to West Virginia.

Flynn’s Attorneys Split From Trump, Newspaper Reports

Attorneys for Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, have told Trump’s legal team they can no longer discuss the probe by a special counsel, indicating Flynn may be cooperating with the investigation, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Flynn’s attorneys and a spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. A representative for Trump’s legal team could not immediately be reached for comment.

Flynn is a central figure in the federal probe led by Mueller into whether Trump aides colluded with Russia to boost his 2016 presidential campaign. Russia has denied interfering in the U.S. election, and Trump has said there was no collusion.

The Times reported that Flynn’s attorneys had been sharing information with Trump’s legal team about the Mueller investigation.

Citing four people involved in the case, the newspaper reported the cooperation agreement had ended, although adding that that in itself did not prove Flynn was cooperating with Mueller.

Flynn served 24 days as Trump’s national security adviser but was fired after it was discovered he had misrepresented his contacts with a Russian diplomat to Vice President Michael Pence.

President’s Remarks to US Military Members on Thanksgiving

THE WHITE HOUSE

 

Office of the Press Secretary


          For Immediate Release                          November 23, 2017

 

 

REMARKS BY PRESIDENT TRUMP

TO MEMBERS OF THE MILITARY

 

 

Via Video Teleconference

Mar-a-Lago Club and Resort | Palm Beach, Florida

 

 

 

9:06 A.M. EST

 

     THE PRESIDENT:  Hello, everybody, and happy Thanksgiving.  You’re very, very special people to me and to everybody in this country — that I can tell you.  And I’ve got five deployed units bravely representing each branch of our armed forces.  And we’re going on live right now, and surrounding me is a lot of press. Better me than you — believe me, fellas.  Better me than you. 

 

     It’s an honor to speak with you all and to give God thanks for the blessings of freedom and for the heroes who really have this tremendous courage that you do to defend us and to defend freedom.  So we want to thank you all very much.  Very, very special people.  It doesn’t get more special.  

 

     Representing the Army, we have the First Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne who are conducting operations in Kandahar, Afghanistan in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.  Colonel Toby — where is Toby?  Raise your hand, Toby.  Where’s Toby?  Thank you, Toby.  I hear so many good things about you, Toby.  That’s good news. 

 

But, Toby Magsig, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.  And I have to say, just directly to the folks in Afghanistan, everybody is talking about the progress you’ve made in the last few months since I opened it open.  We opened it up.  We said go ahead, we’re going to fight to win.  We’re not fighting anymore to just walk around.  We’re fighting to win.  And you people are really — you’ve turned it around over the last three to four months like nobody has seen.  And they are talking about it.  So, thank you very much — brave, incredible fighters.

 

     Direct Support Team Golf of the Marine Corps Special Operations is also on the line.  These great Marines are operating in Iraq in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.  Major Jonathan Rigline is the commanding officer.  Semper Fi.   Semper Fi. 

 

I have a great Marine who’s the Chief of Staff — as you know, John Kelly — doing an incredible job, just like any Marine would.  And, Major, to you and to all the Marines doing this great work in delivering defeat after defeat to ISIS — what you’re doing with ISIS is, again, being talked about.  We’re being talked about again as an armed forces.  We’re really winning.  We know how to win, but we have to let you win.  They weren’t letting you win before; they we’re letting you play even. We’re letting you win. 

 

I also want to say hello to Captain Dave Stoner and all of the sailors abroad the USS Monterey, sailing in support of both the 6th and 5th fleets.  The Monterey’s primary missions include ballistic missile defense, anti-air warfare, anti-surface warfare, and anti-submarine warfare.  Thank you to everyone aboard the USS Monterey for your dedication.  Thank you very much. 

 

We’re also joined by the 74th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Incirlik Air Base.  Lieutenant Colonel Craig Morash, your squadron has done a tremendous job — tremendous — and we appreciate it.  The fight against ISIS, it’s coming our way — coming our way.  Big, big difference.  A lot of things have happened.  They say we’ve made more progress against ISIS than they did in years of the previous administration, and that’s because I’m letting you do your job. 

 

You’re performing more than 1,000 missions over the skies of Iraq and Syria in the last four months.  We’re very, very proud of you.  And believe me, everybody in this country is watching and they’re seeing, and they’re seeing positive reports for a change, instead of the neutral and negative reports.  It’s all positive. 

 

To the Coasties aboard the Cutter Wrangell:  Welcome and Happy Thanksgiving.  Lieutenant Brian Hudson, you and the entire crew abroad the Wrangell are doing incredible work in the Arabian Gulf, performing theater security, defense operations, and maritime infrastructure protection.  Thank you very much for your service.  Very important area.

 

For each of you, I know it’s very hard to be away from home at this time of the year.  We’re doing well at home.  The economy is doing really great.  When you come back, you’re going to see with the jobs and the companies coming back into our country and the stock market just hit a record high.  Unemployment is the lowest it’s been in 17 years.  So you’re fighting for something real, you’re fighting for something good. 

 

A lot of things have happened with our country over the last very short period of time, and they’re really good — they’re really good.  I especially like saying that companies are starting to come back.  Now we’re working on tax cuts — big, fat, beautiful tax cuts.  And hopefully we’ll get that and then you’re going to really see things happen.

 

So as we give thanks for this holiday, I know I speak on behalf of all Americans when I say that we totally support you.  In fact, we love you — we really do.  We love you.  And this is a thanksgiving that you won’t forget.  You’re in a very different part of the world than you were used to, but, boy, are you doing a job there.  And thank God for you.  Thank God for you. 

 

We also want to give thanks to our loved ones — our amazing military families.  I know they miss you, and they miss you so deeply and so badly.  They’re every bit as important as every else you work with because they put up with so much.  They put up with the time away and all of those things that they have to endure.  And they endure it because they love our country and because they love you.  And believe me, I know so much about military families.  They respect and appreciate what you’re doing for this country, and they respect and appreciate what you’re doing for them, as a family.  So your families love you and they miss you.

 

And again, I’m going to now — I’m surrounded by reporters and press, and I’m going to ask them to leave, and we’re going to have very confidential, personal conversations.  We’re set up for that.

 

You know, it’s really wonderful what technology can do.  So I’ll ask the press to get out, and I’ll say, “You’re fired.”  And, by the way, media, Happy thanksgiving, I must say.  Have a good Thanksgiving in Palm Beach, Florida.  Thank you all for being here.  I appreciate it. 

 

                               END                 9:13 A.M. EST

 

Congressional Probes Likely to Head Into 2018

Some Republicans are hoping lawmakers will soon wrap up investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that have dragged on for most of the year. But with new details in the probe emerging almost daily, that seems unlikely.

Three congressional committees are investigating Russian interference and whether President Donald Trump’s campaign was in any way involved. The panels have obtained thousands of pages of documents from Trump’s campaign and other officials, and have done dozens of interviews.

The probes are separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller can prosecute for criminal activity, while Congress can only lay out findings, publicize any perceived wrongdoing and pass legislation to try to keep problems from happening again. If any committee finds evidence of criminal activity, it must refer the matter to Mueller.

All three committees have focused on a June 2016 meeting that Trump campaign officials held in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer and others. They are also looking into outreach by several other Russians to the campaign, including involvement of George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty this month to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s probe. New threads continue to emerge, such as a recent revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was messaging with WikiLeaks, the website that leaked emails from top Democratic officials during the campaign.

A look at the committees that are investigating, and the status of their work when they return from their Thanksgiving break:

Senate Intelligence Committee

The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people, including most of those attending the Trump Tower meeting. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina and the panel’s top Democrat, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, have said they plan to bring in Donald Trump Jr. The president’s son was one of several Trump campaign officials in the meeting.

The committee has looked broadly at the issue of interference, and called in executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google, pushing them to take steps to prevent Russian election meddling on their platforms. Warner told The Associated Press the committee is still looking for more information from those companies, which were initially reluctant to cooperate.

Burr has said that he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring, when congressional primaries begin. While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia.

Warner said it’s plain there were “unprecedented contacts” as Russians reached out to the Trump campaign but what’s not established is collusion.

House Intelligence Committee

In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. Nunes stepped back from the Russia probe in April after criticism that he was too close to the White House, but remains chairman of the committee.

Some Republicans on the panel have grown restless with the probe, saying it has amounted to a fishing expedition and pushing for it to end. Still, the committee has continued to interview dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, among them several participants in the 2016 meeting. On Nov. 30, the panel will interview Attorney General Jeff Sessions behind closed doors. Lawmakers are interested in Sessions’ knowledge about interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russians, and also his own contacts.

The top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. He said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon.

Senate Judiciary Committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. But as in the House, the panel has proceeded anyway, conducting bipartisan, closed-door interviews with several people who were in the 2016 meeting.

The panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. The committee is the only one to have interviewed Trump Jr. And just before the Thanksgiving break, it sent Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a letter asking him to be more forthcoming with the committee.

Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. Along with the other committees, Judiciary is also looking into a dossier of allegations about Trump’s own connections to Russia.

It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.

 

Report: Rep. Joe Barton Threatened Former Lover with Police

U.S. Rep. Joe Barton told a woman that he would complain to the U.S. Capitol Police if sexually explicit photographs of him and other material from their relationship were to be exposed publicly, according to a published report.

The Washington Post reported the threat Wednesday after Barton, a North Texas Republican, apologized for a nude photo of him that circulated on social media.

The photo of Barton appeared on an anonymous Twitter account. It was not immediately known who posted the photo or when it was taken. 

Barton issued a statement saying that while separated from his second wife, before their divorce in 2015, he had sexual relationships “with other mature adult women.” The 68-year-old Republican said each relationship was consensual and had ended.

“I am sorry I did not use better judgment during those days. I am sorry that I let my constituents down,” said Barton, the longest-serving member of Congress from Texas.

Woman’s story

However, a woman whom The Post did not identify told the newspaper of Barton’s threat over the sexually explicit photographs, videos and messages he had sent to her. The woman described sexual encounters and contact extending over five years, beginning with her posting of a message on Barton’s Facebook page in 2011. 

She also shared with The Post a secretly recorded telephone conversation with Barton in 2015 in which he warned her against using the material “in a way that would negatively affect my career.”

The Post reported the woman, who is not married, spoke on the condition of anonymity to protect her privacy.

A message left by The Associated Press at Barton’s district office in Arlington, Texas, also was not returned. The voicemail for his office in Washington was full. 

Barton: Capitol Police investigating

In a statement to The Post, Barton said a transcript of the telephone conversation provided by the newspaper may be evidence of a “potential crime against me.” He also said that Capitol Police had informed him Wednesday that they were opening an inquiry.

Capitol Police did not respond to a request by the AP for comment late Wednesday. 

Barton’s spokeswoman told The Dallas Morning News that the congressman has no plans to step down.

Barton, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, announced his re-election bid this month. His district includes several counties in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

He is currently the vice chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee. He was the committee’s chairman from 2004 to 2007. 

Federal Judge Blocks Texas Ban of Common Abortion Procedure

A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a new Texas law seeking to ban a commonly used abortion method, the latest in a string of court defeats to the Legislature’s attempts to make getting an abortion as difficult as possible in America’s second most-populous state. 

Austin-based U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel extended indefinitely a temporary ban he’d previously issued before the law was set to take effect Sept. 1. That overturns – at least for now – a law that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed in June banning a second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Texas is set to appeal, but federal courts in at least four other states already had blocked similar laws.

Yeakel’s ruling followed a trial early this fall where the judge heard arguments from Texas, which defended the law, and from abortion rights groups who argue it unconstitutionally burdens women seeking abortions. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed an immediate notice of appeal to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

“A five-day trial in district court allowed us to build a record like no other in exposing the truth about the barbaric practice of dismemberment abortions. We are eager to present that extensive record before the 5th Circuit. No just society should tolerate the tearing of living human beings to pieces,” Paxton said in a statement.

Federal judges have already ruled against past Texas efforts to change the disposal of fetal remains and deny Medicaid funding to abortion provider Planned Parenthood over videos secretly recorded by an anti-abortion group. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court gutted most of a sweeping, anti-abortion law approved in Texas in 2013 which helped force the closure of more than half of the state’s abortion clinics. 

Texas law

Texas for years approved tight abortion restrictions arguing that they would safeguard the lives of pregnant women. After the Supreme Court defeat, the Legislature this session began backing proposals aimed at protecting fetuses, but always with top Republicans’ stated goal of reducing the number of abortions performed in their state to as close to zero as possible. 

The Texas law Yeakel suspended uses the non-medical term “dismemberment abortion” to describe a procedure in which forceps and other instruments are used to remove the fetus from the womb. Paxton’s office had argued that “prohibiting this inhumane procedure does not impose any significant health risks or burdens on women” while citing alternative procedures that abortion providers say are less safe and reliable.

However, in a 27-page opinion, Yeakel wrote that the Supreme Court had already weight in on second-trimester abortions twice. In both cases, justices held that “the law imposed an undue burden on a woman seeking a pre-fetal-viability abortion,” he wrote.

The power to decide to have an abortion “is her right,” Yeakel wrote, adding that the right over the interest of the fetus before it becomes viable “is self-evident.”

“Here the state’s interest must give way to the woman’s right,” Yeakel wrote.

Federal courts previously blocked dilation and evacuation bans in Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. Texas currently has around 20 abortion clinics, down from 41 in 2012.

Facebook to Let Users See Whether They ‘Liked’ Russian Accounts

Facebook Inc. said Wednesday that it would build a web page to allow users to see which Russian propaganda accounts they have liked or followed, after U.S. lawmakers demanded that the social network be more open about the reach of the accounts.

U.S. lawmakers called the announcement a positive step. The web page, though, would fall short of their demands that Facebook individually notify users about Russian propaganda posts or ads they were exposed to.

Facebook, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. are facing a backlash after saying Russians used their services to anonymously spread divisive messages among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. elections.

U.S. lawmakers have criticized the tech firms for not doing more to detect the alleged election meddling, which the Russian government denies involvement in.

Facebook says the propaganda came from the Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization that according to lawmakers and researchers employs hundreds of people to push pro-Kremlin content under phony social media accounts.

As many as 126 million people could have been served posts on Facebook and 20 million on Instagram, the company says. Facebook has since deactivated the accounts.

Available by year’s end

Facebook, in a statement, said it would let people see which pages or accounts they liked or followed between January 2015 and August 2017 that were affiliated with the Internet Research Agency.

The tool will be available by the end of the year as “part of our ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” Facebook said.

The web page will show only a list of accounts, not the posts or ads affiliated with them, according to a mock-up. U.S. lawmakers have separately published some posts.

It was not clear whether Facebook would eventually do more, such as sending individualized notifications to users.

Lawmakers at congressional hearings this month suggested that Facebook might have an obligation to notify people who accessed deceptive foreign government material.

Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who had asked for notifications, said Facebook’s plan “seems to be a serious response” to his request.

“My hope is that it will be a responsible first step towards protecting against future assaults on its platform,” he said in a statement.

Representative Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, called it a “very positive step” and said lawmakers look forward to additional steps by tech companies to improve transparency.

Trump Indicates Support for Moore in Alabama Senate Race

U.S. President Donald Trump all but endorsed embattled Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday, saying the former state judge “totally denies” allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago.

“I can tell you one thing for sure: We don’t need a liberal person in there, a Democrat,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Moore’s opponent in the Senate race, Democrat Doug Jones, has a record that is “terrible on crime, it’s terrible on the border, it’s terrible on the military,” Trump said.

Trump said he would announce next week whether he will campaign on the Republican candidate’s behalf.

Moore’s campaign has been in turmoil since The Washington Post published a story detailing the accounts of three women who claimed he pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. Three more women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Moore has adamantly rejected accusations of sexual abuse, but prominent Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and two former presidential candidates, Senator John McCain of Arizona and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, have called for him to end his candidacy.

Trump, himself the subject of sexual abuse allegations during his 2016 presidential campaign, which he said were false, had said little about the accusations against Moore until Tuesday. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that Trump thought it was “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

But earlier, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked whether the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

One of Moore’s accusers, Leigh Corfman, told NBC on Monday that it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself after the 1979 encounter she alleges she had with him.

Now 53, Corfman said she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” but that she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses; what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame.

“I met him around the corner from my house — my mother did not know — and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him, he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in the Post more than a week ago.

She told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Moore leads an expanding list of lawmakers accused of sexual misconduct. On Monday, the website BuzzFeed alleged that longtime U.S. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, paid $27,000 to a woman who alleged that he’d fired her from his Washington staff after she rebuffed his sexual overtures.

Conyers, 88, at first denied the report, then on Tuesday he acknowledged the settlement, which he said he made to avoid protracted litigation. But he continued to deny he had sexually harassed the woman.

Ryan, the leader of the majority Republicans in the chamber, called the allegation “extremely troubling. People who work in the House deserve and are entitled to a workplace without harassment or discrimination.”

Leaders of the House Ethics Committee said they were opening an investigation into the allegations, including whether Conyers had used official resources for impermissible personal purposes. Conyers said he would fully cooperate.

White House Asks Supreme Court to Uphold Travel Ban

The White House is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a ban on travelers from six countries after an appeals court in California last week allowed only parts of the president’s order to go into effect.

The request on Monday is the most recent salvo in an ongoing legal skirmish between plaintiffs in federal court and President Donald Trump’s administration, which has issued three variations of an executive order since January in an attempt to block travelers from some countries from coming to the United States.

The state of Hawaii, which sued to block the restrictions, argued that federal immigration law did not give Trump the authority to impose a ban on six of the eight countries included in the third and most recent ban, issued in September.

U.S. officials say Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen are not in compliance with certain security screening measures. They are also Muslim-majority countries — a sticking point for the previous two versions of the order, first in January then in March — and the subject of related lawsuits.

The Hawaii lawsuit did not challenge restrictions toward people from the two other countries listed in Trump’s most recent ban, North Korea and Venezuela.

A three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 13 partially granted a Trump administration request to block at least temporarily a judge’s ruling that had put the new ban on hold. It ruled the government could bar entry of people from six Muslim-majority countries with no connections to the United States.

Meanwhile, in a document obtained by Politico, and first reported late Monday, Inspector General John Roth at the Department of Homeland Security said the federal agency, which oversees many of the practical aspects of the travel bans, such as security at ports of entry, made several missteps while trying to carry out the orders.

Roth, an internal watchdog at the agency, said in a letter to members of Congress who requested the review of the travel bans, that senior DHS officials have also been slow to release the findings of his report sent to them Oct. 6.

In summarizing the report, he noted that while federal officials “largely complied” with the court orders restricting how the travel ban was implemented, U.S. Customs and Border Protection had violated two of them. CBP lacked clear guidance from senior officials during a hastily executed process, Roth said in the letter.

“During the early period of the implementation of the order, neither CBP nor the Department was sure of the answers to basic questions as to the scope of the order, such as whether the order applied to Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), a significant percentage of the affected travelers and a fundamental question that should have been resolved early in the process,” Roth wrote.

DHS issued a press statement on the report Tuesday, saying it is in the midst of a “sensitivity review” and has not yet decided “whether it will invoke the attorney-client privilege or deliberative process privilege over portions of the report, which would prevent release of significant portions to the Congress and the public.”

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

With Christmas Tree Delivered, White House to Unveil Holiday Decor Monday

Melania Trump and son Barron joined in a time-honored tradition of receiving the official White House Christmas tree, which will become the showstopper for a president who has vowed to put Christmas back at the center of the winter holidays.

A military quartet played holiday tunes Monday as a horse-drawn wagon carried the 19 1/2-foot (5.9-meter) Balsam fir from Wisconsin up the White House driveway.

The first lady, wearing a red turtleneck and a coat draped over her shoulders, and 11-year-old Barron, in a dark suit coat, white shirt and dark slacks, circled the tree and then visited with growers Jim and Diane Chapman. The Chapmans own a Wisconsin Christmas tree farm and won an annual contest sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association.

“This is a beautiful tree. Thank you so much. We will decorate it very nicely,” the first lady told the Chapmans and other family members. “I hope you can come and visit with us.”

The White House grounds superintendent and the chief usher, who oversees the residence, picked out the tree during a September scouting trip.

After Mrs. Trump and Barron gave their symbolic approval, the tree was carefully carted off to the Blue Room where, after a slight trim and the removal of a monstrous chandelier, it will take center stage.

President Donald Trump has been eagerly waiting to celebrate a Trump Christmas at the White House. During last year’s presidential campaign, he railed against the habit of saying “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” characterizing it as a “chipping away at Christianity.”

“And we’re not going to let that happen anymore, folks. I’ll tell you,” the then-candidate said at a March 2016 news conference in Florida. “A lot of times I’ll say at the rallies around Christmastime we’re going to start saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. You know, they don’t say it anymore. The department stores don’t put it up. We’re going to start saying it again.”

Invitations to dozens of holiday parties hosted by the Trumps are going out. The subject line of one emailed invite references a White House “Christmas reception” while the language of the invitation itself refers to a “holiday reception.”

The tree for the Blue Room usually arrives the day after Thanksgiving, but it was delivered early this year to accommodate the Trumps, who are spending the holiday at their Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

While the Trumps are away, a small army of volunteer decorators and florists from around the country will descend on the White House on Friday and spend the holiday weekend transforming the 132-room mansion for Christmas, complete with a tree in every public room.

The White House kitchens will go into overdrive preparing all the food and cakes, cookies and pies that are typically served at the parties, along with the gingerbread White House — which, for health reasons, is never eaten. In recent years, cookies in the image of former President Barack Obama’s dogs Bo and Sunny were always among the first items to be slipped into purses for the trip home.

Trump does not have a pet.

The White House plans to unveil the holiday decor Monday, and the first lady will also welcome children and students from Joint Base Andrews for a holiday arts and crafts event. The president plans to light the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse on Thursday.

FCC Chairman Sets Out to Repeal ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday followed through on his pledge to repeal 2015 regulations designed to ensure that internet service providers treat all online content and apps equally, setting up a showdown with consumer groups and internet companies who fear the move will stifle competition and innovation.

The current rules, known as net neutrality, impose utility-style regulation on ISPs such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to prevent them from favoring their own digital services over those of their rivals.

Pai said that he believes the net neutrality rules adopted during the Obama administration discourage the ISPs from making investments in their network that would provide even better and faster online access.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement.

Pai distributed his alternative plan to other FCC commissioners Tuesday in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote on the proposal. He promised to release his entire proposal Wednesday.

The attempt to repeal net neutrality has triggered protests from consumer groups and internet companies. More than 22 million comments have been filed with the FCC about whether net neutrality should be rolled back.

The Internet Association, a group whose members include major internet companies such as Google and Amazon, vowed to continue to fight to keep the current net neutrality rules intact.

“Consumers have little choice in their ISP, and service providers should not be allowed to use this gatekeeper position at the point of connection to discriminate against websites and apps,” the group’s CEO Michael Beckerman said in a Tuesday statement.

Consumers Union predicted a repeal of net neutrality would allow ISPs to raise their prices and give preferential treatment to certain sites and apps.

“Strong net neutrality rules are vital to consumers’ everyday lives and essential to preserving the internet as we know it today _ an open marketplace where websites large and small compete on equal terms and where information and ideas move freely,” said Jonathan Schwantes, the advocacy group’s senior policy counsel.

Two of the FCC’s five voting commissioners signaled they will oppose Pai’s plan.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel derided Pai’s plan as “ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day.”

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn skewered Pai’s proposals as “a giveaway to the nation’s largest communications companies, at the expense of consumers and innovation.”

Rosenworcel and Clyburn are the lone Democrats on the FCC.

Pai’s proposal on net neutrality comes after the Republican-dominated commission voted 3-2 last week to weaken rules meant to support independent local media, undoing a ban on companies owning newspapers and broadcast stations in a single market.

US Judge Blocks Trump Order on Sanctuary Cities

A federal judge has further blocked the Trump administration’s order to cut funding to so-called sanctuary cities.

The move by U.S. District Court Judge William Orrick in San Francisco made permanent Monday his earlier ruling from April that temporarily stayed the order. Orrick agreed with plaintiffs who argued the order violates the constitution.

The city and county of San Francisco and Santa Clara County filed the suit.

“The Counties have demonstrated that the Executive Order has caused and will cause them constitutional injuries by violating the separation of powers doctrine and depriving them of their Tenth and Fifth Amendment rights,” Orrick wrote in his order.

The January 25 executive order called for federal funding to be withheld from sanctuary jurisdictions, and the judge said the president cannot put new conditions on money already allocated by Congress.

But the administration has argued that sanctuary cities, which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to detain illegal immigrants arrested in criminal cases, often for minor offenses, pose a threat to the safety of their residents.

“Jurisdictions that adopt so-called ‘sanctuary policies’ also adopt the view that the protection of criminal aliens is more important than the protection of law-abiding citizens and of the rule of law,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions last Wednesday, urging all jurisdictions “found to be potentially out of compliance” to reconsider “policies that undermine the safety of their residents. Sessions’ statement accompanied a list 29 jurisdictions that the Justice Department says may be in violation of a statute that promotes immigration enforcement. The list includes both Santa Clara County and the city and county of San Francisco.

The city of Chicago has also sued the federal government over threats of cuts to funding. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. government from denying the public safety grants in September.

US Ending Temporary Permits for At Least 50,000 Haitians

After years of being shielded from deportation from the United States while their country recovers from a devastating 2010 earthquake, tens of thousands of Haitians will lose that security status.

“It was assessed overall that the extraordinary but temporary conditions that served as the basis of Haiti’s most recent designation has sufficiently improved such that they no longer prevent nationals of Haiti from returning safely,” a senior Trump administration official said during a briefing.

Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, will be revoked for at least 50,000 Haitians living and working in the U.S.

The announcement came in advance of a Thursday deadline for the decision to be made regarding Haiti’s TPS benefits.

The protection will expire July 22, 2019, giving Haitians living in the U.S. an 18-month window to go back to their homeland or legalize their status in the United States.

Haitians with TPS status have a 60-day window to submit an application to renew their status until the 2019 deadline. When that time comes, they will revert to their prior immigration status. Administration officials said Monday evening that Haitians with TPS would not be subject to deportation proceedings until the deadline.

In making the announcement, officials said that conditions on the ground in Haiti resulting from the 2010 earthquake that first let to the establishment of TPS “no longer exist.”

However, advocates argue that Haiti is in no condition to handle the influx, seven years after the 7.0-magnitude quake created billions of dollars in damages, and left 300,000 dead, 1.5 million injured and an equal number internally displaced.

The country was also recently hit by Hurricane Matthew, which created $2.8 billion in damages last year, followed by damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Haiti also is battling a deadly cholera epidemic.

Last week, the Office of Civil Protection confirmed that at least five people had died and 10,000 homes were flooded after days of rain.

In May, then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly extended TPS for Haitians for six months, not the one-year extension advocated by Haiti’s government.

Kelly said at the time that the extension “should allow Haitian TPS recipients living in the United States time to attain travel documents and make other necessary arrangements for their ultimate departure from the United States, and should also provide the Haitian government with the time it needs to prepare for the future repatriation of all current TPS recipients.”

Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, Paul Altidor, told VOA at the time that the Caribbean country, while glad to welcome back “our brothers and sisters,” was not ready to absorb tens of thousands of returnees “overnight.”

Fear of deportation sparked an exodus of at least several thousand Haitian immigrants this summer, who illegally crossed the Canadian border seeking asylum in the French-speaking province of Quebec.

According to a recent study by the Center for Migration Studies, most Haitians on TPS have been living in the United States for 13 years and have 27,000 U.S.-citizen children among them. More than 80 percent are employed, while 6,200 have mortgages. Haitian immigrant communities primarily are in South Florida, New York, New Jersey and eastern Massachusetts.

TPS was ended for Sudan last month. On January 8, the administration will have to make a decision about more than 130,000 TPS holders from El Salvador.

Earlier this month, in terminating the TPS program for thousands of Nicaraguans who fled to the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and deferring a decision on 57,000 similarly affected Hondurans until July, the acting secretary of homeland security, Elaine Duke, acknowledged the “difficulties” families would face and called on Congress to find a permanent solution.

Elephant Advocates Sue Trump Administration on Trophy Hunting

Conservation groups sued the U.S. government on Monday over a plan to allow hunters to bring home elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, following changing statements about the possible move by President Donald Trump’s administration.

The lawsuit in federal court in Washington was the latest move in a saga that began last week when a trophy hunting group said at a conference in Africa that the White House was ready to overturn a rule banning the import of elephant trophies, sparking a surge of criticism from wildlife advocates.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council said in a statement that their lawsuit intended to resolve “contradictory announcements” by the Republican administration about trophy imports of the at-risk species.

The Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday said it had concluded that Zimbabwe and Zambia had developed conservation plans that would allow sustainable hunting of the endangered species, an announcement that came the same week that Zimbabwe was rocked by a coup. A proposal published on Friday would have allowed both elephant and lion trophies shot in Zimbabwe, but not Zambia, to be imported into the United States.

“These two final agency actions are arbitrary and capricious, as the conclusions that trophy hunting of elephants and lions in Zimbabwe enhances the survival of the species are not supported by the evidence,” the conservation groups said in their 34-page lawsuit Monday.

The lawsuit asked a judge to rule the move illegal and named as defendants Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Interior Department referred queries about the lawsuit to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Following the release of the proposed Zimbabwe rules, the White House said it had made no decision to allow trophy imports.

“Big-game trophy decision will be announced next week but will be very hard pressed to change my mind that this horror show in any way helps conservation of Elephants or any other animal,” Trump said on Twitter on Sunday.

Africa’s elephant population plunged by about a fifth between 2006 and 2015 because of increased poaching for ivory, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said last year.

Wildlife activists argue that corruption is endemic in impoverished Zimbabwe, and that money generated by big game hunting and meant for conservation has been diverted to crooks and poachers.

Alabama Candidate’s Sexual Abuse Accuser Says She Took Decades to Recover

The Alabama woman who has accused Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of sexually abusing her four decades ago when she was 14 and he was 32 said Monday it took her decades before she regained her sense of trust and confidence in herself.

Leigh Corfman, now 53, told NBC’s Today show that she was “a 14-year-old child trying to play in an adult’s world” when Moore, then a local prosecutor, initiated the 1979 encounter with her.

“I was expecting candlelight and roses, what I got was very different,” she said. “I felt guilty. I felt like I was the one to blame. It was decades before I was able to let that go.”

Corfman’s accusations against Moore first appeared in The Washington Post more than a week ago, but her NBC appearance was her first televised account.

Corfman said she “didn’t deserve to have a 32-year-old man prey upon” her.

“I met him around the corner from my house, my mother did not know and he took me to his home,” Corfman said. “After arriving at his home on the second occasion that I went with him he basically laid out some blankets on the floor of his living room and proceeded to … seduce me, I guess you would say.”

She had told the newspaper that Moore took off her “shirt and pants and removed his clothes,” touched her over her bra and underpants and guided her hand to touch him over his underwear before she ended the encounter. She asked him to take her home, and he did.

Franken allegations

Meanwhile, a second woman has accused Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota of groping her.

The woman, Lindsay Menz, told CNN that while she posed for a picture with Franken at the 2010 Minnesota State Fair, he “pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear. It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek.”

Last week, Los Angeles radio newscaster Leann Tweeden accused Franken of forcibly kissing her in 2006 while they were on a Middle East tour to entertain U.S. troops, then grabbing her breasts while she slept on the flight home. She posted a photo offering evidence of the latter accusation on her radio station’s website.

Franken apologized to Tweeden. Franken said that while he does not remember having a picture taken with Menz, “I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected.”

In Alabama, Moore has repeatedly denied the accusations and rebuffed calls from prominent Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and two former Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Senator John McCain, to end his candidacy in the December 12 election. However, the deadline to withdraw from the contest has long since passed and Republican calls for a write-in candidacy of anyone as an alternative to Moore have faltered.

Corfman’s allegations of sexual abuse against Moore, as well as those from another woman, and recollections of Moore’s pursuit of other teenage girls in the late 1970s, have dominated Moore’s attempt to win the contest in the southern state of Alabama against Democrat Doug Jones, a former federal prosecutor. The election is to fill the last three years of the Senate seat once held by Jeff Sessions, who resigned from it to join President Donald Trump’s Cabinet as attorney general, the country’s top law enforcement position.

Since the allegations first surfaced, Trump has largely avoided commenting on them, with the White House at first saying Moore should drop out of the race if the accusations were true. Trump had pushed for Republicans to nominate Luther Strange, the appointed senator now holding the seat, but when Strange lost to Moore in a party primary in September, Trump voiced his support for Moore on Twitter.

The White House signaled Monday it wants Moore to win the contest.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, in interviews with CNN and Fox News, described Jones as a “doctrinaire liberal” who would vote against tax cuts the Trump administration is pushing Congress to adopt.

Asked if the White House was asking people to vote for Moore, Conway deflected the question, but said, “I’m telling you we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump believes it is “up to the people of Alabama who their next senator will be.”

Voter surveys in Alabama have shown that Jones has pulled ahead of Moore by about 5 to 8 percentage points.

US Envoy to Russia Slams Moscow’s Pending Curbs on US-funded News Outlets

The U.S. ambassador to Russia on Sunday attacked Moscow’s move toward forcing nine United States government-funded news operations to register as “foreign agents” as “a reach beyond” what the U.S. government did in requiring the Kremlin-funded RT television network to register as such in the United States.

Ambassador Jon Huntsman said the Russian reaction is not “reciprocal at all” and Moscow’s move toward regulation of the news agencies, if it is implemented, would make “it virtually impossible for them to operate” in Russia.

WATCH: Ambassador Jon Huntsman

He said the eight-decade-old Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) under which RT has registered as a foreign agent is aimed at promoting transparency, but does not restrict the television network’s operation in the United States.

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved amendments Wednesday to expand a 2012 law that targets non-governmental organizations, including foreign media. A declaration as a foreign agent would require foreign media to regularly disclose their objectives, full details of finances, funding sources and staffing.

Media outlets also may be required to disclose on their social platforms and internet sites visible in Russia that they are “foreign agents.” The amendments also would allow the extrajudicial blocking of websites the Kremlin considers undesirable.

The Russian Justice Ministry said Thursday it had notified the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and seven separate regional outlets active in Russia they could be affected.

“It isn’t at all similar to what we’re doing under FARA — it’s a reach beyond,” Huntsman said. “And, we just think the principles of free media, in any free society and democracy, are absolutely critical to our strength, health, and well-being. Freedom of speech is part of that. So, that’s why I care about the issue. That’s why we in the embassy care about the issue. And, it’s why we’re going to follow the work that is going on in the Duma and the legislation that is being drafted, very very carefully, because we’re concerned about it.”

The Justice Ministry said the new requirements in Russia were likely to become law “in the near future.”

VOA Director Amanda Bennett said last week that if Russia imposes the new restrictions, “We can’t say at this time what effect this will have on our news-gathering operations within Russia. All we can say is that Voice of America is, by law, an independent, unbiased, fact-based news organization, and we remain committed to those principles.”

RFE/RL President Tom Kent said until the legislation becomes law, “we do not know how the Ministry of Justice will use this law in the context of our work.”

 

Kent said unlike Sputnik and other Russian media operating in the United States, U.S. media outlets operating in Russia do not have access to cable television and radio frequencies.

“Russian media in the U.S. are distributing their programs on American cable television. Sputnik has its own radio frequency in Washington. This means that even at the moment there is no equality,” he said.

Serious blow to freedom

The speaker of Russia’s lower house, the Duma, said last week that foreign-funded media outlets that refused to register as foreign agents under the proposed legislation would be prohibited from operating in the country.

However, since the law’s language is so broad, it potentially could be used to target any foreign media group, especially if it is in conflict with the Kremlin. “We are watching carefully… to see whether it is passed and how it is implemented,” said Maria Olson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. embassy in Moscow.

The Russian amendments, which Amnesty International said would inflict a “serious blow” to media freedom in Russia if they become law, were approved in response to a U.S. accusation that RT executed a Russian-mandated influence campaign on U.S. citizens during the 2016 presidential election, a charge the media channel denies.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in early 2017 that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed a campaign to undermine American democracy and help real estate mogul Donald Trump win the presidency. A criminal investigation of the interference is underway in the United States, as are numerous congressional probes.

The foreign registration amendments must next be approved by the Russian Senate and then signed into law by Putin.

RT, which is funded by the Kremlin to provide Russia’s perspective on global issues, confirmed last week it met the U.S. Justice Department’s deadline by registering as a foreign agent in the United States.

New Orleans Elects Its First Woman Mayor

LaToya Cantrell, a City Council member who first gained a political following as she worked to help her hard-hit neighborhood recover from Hurricane Katrina, won a historic election Saturday that made her the first woman mayor of New Orleans.

 

The Democrat will succeed term-limited fellow Democrat Mitch Landrieu as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary next year. 

 

“Almost 300 years, my friends. And New Orleans, we’re still making history,” Cantrell told a cheering crowd in her victory speech.

Immigrant wins council seat

Voters also made history in a New Orleans City Council race. 

 

Cyndi Nguyen defeated incumbent James Gray in an eastern New Orleans district. An immigrant who fled Vietnam with her family when she was 5 in 1975, Nguyen is the organizer of a nonprofit and will be the first Vietnamese-American to serve on the council.

 

Mayor’s race

In the mayor’s race, Cantrell was the leader in most polls before the runoff election, she never trailed as votes were counted.

 

Her opponent, former municipal Judge Desiree Charbonnet, conceded the race and congratulated Cantrell late Saturday. Later, complete returns showed Cantrell with 60 percent of the vote. 

 

The two women led a field of 18 candidates in an October general election to win runoff spots. 

 

Landrieu earned credit for accelerating the recovery from Hurricane Katrina in an administration cited for reduced blight, improvements in the celebrated tourism economy and economic development that included last week’s announcement that a digital services company is bringing 2,000 new jobs to the city. 

 

But Cantrell will face lingering problems. Crime is one. Another is dysfunction at the agency overseeing the city’s drinking water system and storm drainage — a problem that became evident during serious flash flooding in August. 

 

About 32 percent of the city’s voters took part in last month’s election. It was unclear whether turnout would surpass that on Saturday.

 

Cantrell faced questions about her use of a city credit card. Charbonnet had to fight back against critics who cast her as an insider who would steer city work to cronies.

 

Katrina a theme

Katrina was a theme in the backstory of both candidates. Cantrell moved to the city from California. Her work as a neighborhood activist in the aftermath of Katrina in the hard-hit Broadmoor neighborhood helped her win a seat on council in 2012. 

 

Charbonnet, from a well-known political family in New Orleans, was the city’s elected recorder of mortgages before she was a judge. In the campaign she made a point of saying hers was the first city office to re-open after Katrina, providing critical property records to the displaced.

 

Former state civil court Judge Michael Bagneris, who finished third in last month’s race, endorsed Cantrell, as did Troy Henry, a businessman who also ran for the post last month. 

 

University of New Orleans political science professor Edward Chervenak said the endorsements appeared to help Cantrell overcome revelations that she had used her city-issued credit card for thousands of dollars in purchases without clear indications that they were for public purposes. The money was eventually reimbursed, but questions lingered about whether she had improperly used city money for personal or campaign expenditures. 

U.S. General Says He’d Resist ‘Illegal’ Nuclear Strike Order From Trump

The top U.S. nuclear commander was quoted as saying Saturday that he would resist President Donald Trump if he ordered an “illegal” launch of nuclear weapons.

CBS News said Air Force General John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM), told an audience at the Halifax International Security Forum in Nova Scotia, Canada, that he had given a lot of thought to what he would say if he received such an order.

“I think some people think we’re stupid,” Hyten said in response to a question about such a scenario. “We’re not stupid people. We think about these things a lot. When you have this responsibility, how do you not think about it?”

CBS said Hyten, who is responsible for overseeing the U.S. nuclear arsenal, explained the process that would follow such a command.

“As head of STRATCOM, I provide advice to the president, he will tell me what to do,” he said.

“And if it’s illegal, guess what’s going to happen? I’m going to say, ‘Mr. President, that’s illegal.’ And guess what he’s going to do? He’s going to say, ‘What would be legal?’ And we’ll come up [with] options, with a mix of capabilities to respond to whatever the situation is, and that’s the way it works. It’s not that complicated.”

Hyten said running through scenarios of how to react in the event of an illegal order was standard practice, and added: “If you execute an unlawful order, you will go to jail. You could go to jail for the rest of your life.”

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hyten’s remarks.

They came after questions by U.S. senators, including Democrats and Trump’s fellow Republicans, about Trump’s authority to wage war, use nuclear weapons, and enter into or end international agreements, amid concern that tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs could lead to hostilities.

Trump has traded insults and threats with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and threatened in his maiden U.N. address to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if it threatened the United States.

Some senators want legislation to alter the nuclear authority of the U.S. president, and a Senate committee on Tuesday held the first congressional hearing in more than four decades on the president’s authority to launch a nuclear strike.

Sexual Harassment, Other Claims in Congress Cost $17 Million Since 1997

The government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money during the last 20 years to resolve claims of sexual harassment, overtime pay disputes and other workplace violations filed by employees of Congress.

The Office of Compliance released the numbers amid a wave of revelations of sexual misconduct in the worlds of entertainment, business and politics that consumed Capitol Hill this past week.

Two female lawmakers described incidents of sexual harassment, one in explicit detail, and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken apologized to a woman who said he forcibly kissed her and groped her during a 2006 USO tour.

Franken faces a likely investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

264 settlements

In a statement on the office’s website Friday, it said “based on the volume of recent inquiries about settlements reached under the Congressional Accountability Act, the executive director is releasing awards and settlement figures for 2015, 2016 and 2017 that would have been released as part of the OOC Annual Report early.”

 

The independent office doesn’t break the figures down, meaning there’s no way to determine how many of the 264 settlements and awards dealt specifically with cases of sexual misconduct brought by legislative branch employees. The office, which was created in 1995 by the Congressional Accountability Act, said the cases may involve violations of multiple statutes.

The claims range from sexual harassment complaints, allegations of religious and racial discrimination, and overtime pay disputes, according to the office. The money has been paid out between 1997 and 2017. The largest number of settlements, 25, occurred in 2007 when just more than $4 million was paid out, according to the figures. The money comes from an account in the U.S. Treasury.

House Speaker Paul Ryan has said the House will move ahead on legislation requiring anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training for all members and their staffs. The Senate has voted for mandatory training for senators, staff and interns.

​Move to overhaul reporting process

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., have introduced legislation to overhaul the process of reporting sexual harassment. Victims of sexual misconduct are currently required to undergo counseling, mediation and a 30-day “cooling off period” before filing a formal complaint with the compliance office.

The bill would eliminate nondisclosure agreements as a condition of initiating mediation and create a public list to identify offices that have sexual harassment complaints pending.

The bill would also protect interns and fellows, make mediation and counseling optional, rather than required before a victim can file a lawsuit or formal complaint, and require members of Congress who settle discrimination cases to pay back the Treasury for the amount of the award.

Kushner’s Lawyer Pushes Back on US Senate Committee Request

A lawyer for White House adviser Jared Kushner pushed back Friday after a Senate committee said he had not been fully forthcoming in its probe into Russian election interference.

 

Lawyer Abbe Lowell said Kushner encouraged others in President Donald Trump’s campaign to decline meetings with foreign people who “go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves.”

 

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote a letter to Kushner, who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, on Thursday asking him to provide additional documents to the committee, including one sent to him involving WikiLeaks and a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.”

 

The senators noted they have received documents from other campaign officials that were copied to or forwarded to Kushner, but which he did not produce. Those include “September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks.” It was revealed this week that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., corresponded with WikiLeaks that month and later sent an email to several Trump campaign advisers to tell them about it.

Lowell wrote Friday to Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. He said the email from Donald Trump Jr. referring to his contact with WikiLeaks was forwarded to Kushner, but he did not respond.

 

Apparently referring to the email that the senators called a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” Lowell said that was part of an email chain that included biographies of various individuals. Lowell wrote that “there is a reference to one of these people suggesting an idea that somewhere, sometime (before the words ‘Russia’ or ‘Putin’ were politically charged or relevant in the campaign), someone thought candidate Trump should visit Russia.”

 

Lowell goes on to quote Kushner’s response to that email: “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings. Most likely these people go home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.”

The senators’ request is part of the panel’s probe into the Russian election meddling and whether the Trump campaign was involved. The Judiciary committee is one of three congressional committees looking into the issue, along with the Senate and House intelligence panels. The committees have separately requested and received thousands of documents from people associated with the Trump campaign, and have interviewed dozens of individuals. Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into the meddling.

 

In the letter to Kushner, the senators noted they had asked him to provide documents to, from, or copied to him “relating to” certain individuals of interest to investigators, but Kushner responded that no emails had been found in which those individuals were sent emails, received emails, or were copied on them.

 

Lowell replied that Kushner had provided the Judiciary panel with the same documents he had provided the intelligence panels, believing that would be enough to satisfy the Judiciary request.

 

The Senate and House intelligence committees interviewed Kushner in July. The Judiciary panel has also sought an interview with Kushner, but his lawyers offered to make the transcripts available from the other interviews instead, according to the letters. Grassley and Feinstein say those panels haven’t provided them with those transcripts, and ask Lowell to secure that access.

 

“I do not understand why these committees would not provide the transcripts to you, but we do not have those transcripts,” Lowell wrote, adding that it would be “duplicative” if the committees did not share their transcripts.