UPDATE: Sessions to Recuse Himself From Any Investigation Into Presidential Campaign
Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he would recuse himself from any federal investigation into the 2016 presidential campaign. The decision came after The Washington Post and others reported that Sessions had met with met with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to Washington, twice during the U.S. presidential campaign. At a news conference at the Justice Department, Sessions said: “I have followed the right procedure just as I promised [to the Senate Judiciary Committee] I would.” Sessions was until recently a U.S. senator who served on the Armed Services Committee; he was also a prominent member of Donald Trump’s campaign for president. Sessions was asked twice during his Senate confirmation hearings if he had any contacts with Russia; he denied any such contact. The Post reported Sessions spoke with Kislyak in July 2016 at an event that also included about 50 other ambassadors; and then again on September 8 in a private meeting. “I don’t recall having met him” on other occasions, Sessions said at the news conference. Democrats and Republicans have urged Sessions to appoint an independent, special prosecutor in the case. Contacts between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials have plagued the administration. It already cost Michael Flynn, Trump’s national-security adviser, to resign following revelations he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his conversations with Kislyak.
Egypt's Mubarak Acquitted in 2011 Protest Killings
Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was acquitted Thursday by Egypt’s highest court of charges he ordered the killing of protesters involved in the mass demonstrations against his rule in 2011. The landmark ruling marks the end of a case dubbed “the trial of the century.” Mubarak, now 88, was sentenced first in 2012 to life in prison (the equivalent of 20 years under Egyptian law) for his alleged complicity in the killings of hundreds of demonstrators during the 18 days of protests that ultimately ended his three-decade rule. Mubarak denied involvement. The conviction was later repealed and a retrial ordered in January 2013, which resulted in the charges against the former president and other senior Egyptian officials being dropped. Another appeal was filed, leading to Mubarak’s latest retrial that resulted in Thursday’s decision. There is no option for appeal or retrial. Mubarak, who has convicted of corruption charges in May 2015, has been confined to Maadi Military Hospital since 2012. The decision could mean freedom for Mubarak.
Syrian Army Recaptures Palmyra From ISIS for Second Time
Syrian government forces retook control of Palmyra from the Islamic State Thursday, marking the second such recapture of the historic city from ISIS control within the last year. The Syrian army said it recaptured the city after military operations, which included Russian airstrikes and help from other forces. The Syrian government last wrested control of the city from ISIS militants last year, only to have it claimed by ISIS 10 months later. Since then, the UNESCO heritage site has faced extensive destruction. As my colleague J. Weston Phippen reported, Russian drone video released last month revealed damage to the facade of the Roman-era amphitheater and to the Tetrapylon, the set of four-columned monuments arranged in a square. ISIS previously destroyed several of the ruins it deemed un-Islamic, including the Temple of Baalshamin and the Arch of Triumph. UNESCO condemned the destruction of the ancient ruins as a “war crime.”
Marine Le Pen Loses Parliamentary Immunity Over Graphic Tweets
The European Parliament voted Thursday to lift French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary immunity over an investigation into graphic images the far-right leader tweeted of Islamic State violence. In December 2015, Le Pen posted three graphic ISIS photos in response to a journalist who likened her far-right National Front party to the militant group. One of the images showed the body of James Foley, the American journalist who was beheaded by ISIS militants in August 2014. Foley’s parents, John and Diane Foley, condemned Le Pen for tweeting the “shamefully uncensored” image, and asked the photos be taken down. Le Pen, who claimed she did not know the photo was of Foley, deleted the image, but left the remaining two. The tweet got Le Pen into legal trouble. Under French law, “publishing violent images” is an offense that can carry up to three years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($78,746) fine. By lifting her immunity, the European Parliament is opening up the possibility of legal action against Le Pen, though only for this particular case (she faces separate allegations of misusing European Parliament funds to pay her staff—a charge she denies). Le Pen, who has denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the move as an attempt to undermine her run for the French presidency; polls project she’ll advance to the second-round run-off. This is not the first time the European Parliament has lifted Le Pen’s immunity. In 2013, she lost her immunity after she was charged with “incitement to discrimination over people’s religious beliefs” after she likened Muslim public prayer to the Nazi occupation of France during World War II. Those charges were eventually dropped.
Sweden Reintroduces Conscription Amid Russian Military Drills in the Baltics
Sweden is reintroducing military conscription in apparent response to Russian military drills in the Baltics. The BBC, citing Marinette Radebo, a Swedish Defense Ministry spokeswoman, reported 4,000 people, selected from 13,000 men and women born in 1999, will be called up for service from January 1, 2018. “Russian military activity is one of the reasons,” she told the BBC. The move restores a practice that was suspended in 2010; only men were previously selected. Russian activity in the region, combined with its invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea, has many countries worried. Sweden is not a member of NATO, but it cooperates closely with the U.S.-led military alliance.
A tectonic demographic shift is under way. Can the country hold together?
Democracy depends on the consent of the losers. For most of the 20th century, parties and candidates in the United States have competed in elections with the understanding that electoral defeats are neither permanent nor intolerable. The losers could accept the result, adjust their ideas and coalitions, and move on to fight in the next election. Ideas and policies would be contested, sometimes viciously, but however heated the rhetoric got, defeat was not generally equated with political annihilation. The stakes could feel high, but rarely existential. In recent years, however, beginning before the election of Donald Trump and accelerating since, that has changed.
A record-setting acqua alta has left much of Venice submerged, following stormy conditions blowing in from the Adriatic Sea.
Yesterday, strong winds and rainstorms pushed water levels in Venice, Italy, to the second-highest levels ever recorded. The high-water mark hit 74 inches (187 centimeters), just short of the record set in 1966. This exceptional acqua alta has flooded businesses and historic structures, sank boats, and been blamed for one death so far.
HONG KONG—For months now, I’ve been told that Hong Kong’s protests would end soon. They’ll end when school starts, I heard during the summer. School did start, but the protests wore on, only now I saw high-school students in crisp school uniforms joining the protesters’ ranks. Next, the mask ban of early October was supposed to slow protesters down, but the very first day after that ban, I watched streams of protesters in masks and helmets make their way to their usual haunts on Hong Kong Island.
The government shut down many of the subway lines that day, a practice that has become a de facto curfew, because Hong Kong’s über-efficient subway system is the way most people get around. No matter; the protesters ended up walking, sometimes a lot, and I walked with them, asking some of the same questions I had asked for months: Do you think you will continue protesting? What would it take for you to stop?
The GOP will not be a great or a good party until those who lead it straighten their backbones.
The first day of public hearings into the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump included an explosive revelation. William B. Taylor, Jr., the senior American diplomat in Ukraine, tied Trump even more directly than we previously knew to the effort to pressure Ukraine to probe his political opponent.
But as damaging as Taylor’s testimony proved, it was merely another massive boulder in the avalanche of evidence against the president. We are well beyond the point that any disinterested person can deny the president abused his power and acted in a corrupt manner, in ways the American founders explicitly warned against.
That the president acted the way he did should surprise exactly no one, given his disordered personality and Nietzschean ethic, his pathological lying and brutishness and bullying, and his history of personal and professional depravity. The president is a deeply damaged human being—and therefore a deeply dangerous president.
Corbyn and Trump are both populists and in a battle with ‘the swamp.’ Brexit aside, Johnson is not.
Donald Trump has claimed Boris Johnson as his bumbling, blond-haired mini-me from across the water. The U.K. Labour Party is doing all it can to push the same message ahead of next month’s general election, claiming there is a Trump-Johnson alliance at foot. Even Hillary Clinton has criticized the British prime minister for his refusal to publish a report into Russia’s involvement in the Brexit referendum.
And yet, by any serious audit of the two men and what they represent, it is not Boris Johnson who is Britain’s Trump. It’s Jeremy Corbyn.
Take away Brexit, and Johnson is a run-of-the-mill conservative whose policy agenda, instincts, and world view, as opposed to his personality, verge on the dull; a member and defender of the establishment whose wish is to climb atop it, not rip it down. Corbyn is the opposite: a populist who believes in the inherent corruption of the established order, at home and abroad; a man who sees conspiracy and injustice everywhere. Only one of these descriptions comes close to the U.S. president.
Suppose that the biblical story of Creation were true: God created the universe in six days, including all the laws of physics and all the physical constants that apply throughout the universe. Now imagine that one day, in the early 21st century, God became bored and, just for fun, doubled the gravitational constant. What would it be like to live through such a change? We’d all be pulled toward the floor; many buildings would collapse; birds would fall from the sky; the Earth would move closer to the sun, reestablishing orbit in a far hotter zone.
Let’s rerun this thought experiment in the social and political world, rather than the physical one. The U.S. Constitution was an exercise in intelligent design. The Founding Fathers knew that most previous democracies had been unstable and short-lived. But they were excellent psychologists, and they strove to create institutions and procedures that would work with human nature to resist the forces that had torn apart so many other attempts at self-governance.
Alumni of the Obama administration love Joe Biden. But some of them think that Deval Patrick is better equipped to win the presidency.
Joe Biden rarely goes anywhere without mentioning “my friend Barack.” Pete Buttigieg has a line in his stump speech about how he first went to Iowa to campaign for another “young man with a funny name.” Even though Barack Obama will not endorse in this primary, he has made a point of meeting with almost all the candidates, and he looms over the race.
But the politician personally closest to Obama is Deval Patrick. As several people in Obama’s inner circle have been saying to me for months before Patrick’s potential presidential candidacy leaked out on Monday, Biden originally came into the Obama fold as a matter of transactional politics, picked to balance the 2008 ticket; Patrick is an actual longtime friend based on mutual affinities. That Patrick seems poised to jump into the race at the last minute is the clearest sign yet of how much anxiety there is among Obama’s inner circle about Biden’s campaign. “Deval is a lot like Obama,” a former Obama aide told me. “People who were drawn to Obama would be drawn to Patrick.”
The forces of hatred that Trump stoked to benefit himself politically are spiraling out of control.
Donald Trump is 73. Mitch McConnell is 77. Rush Limbaugh is 68. The median Fox News viewer is 65. For good reason, observers of the American right often focus on folks who already qualify for Medicare and Social Security. But anyone wanting to understand the right’s future would do well to study the public-speaking appearance that Donald Trump Jr. made Sunday at UCLA.
Don Jr. expected leftist protesters.
As it turned out, he and his girlfriend, the former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle, were drowned out and forced off stage by chanting alt-right activists.
Understanding the unexpected turn requires a bit of background. But the effort is worth it. Few events better illustrate the complex interplay of ideologies, tactics, and hypocrisies that are influencing the right’s youngest activists, who’ll ultimately decide what to do with the Birchers of their generation.
The ambassador to Ukraine detailed a previously unknown phone call involving President Trump, potentially adding to the Democrats’ case that he put his own interests above the nation’s.
It took all of about 90 minutes for the public phase of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump to yield its first big new revelation.
Appearing this morning before the House Intelligence Committee, Ambassador William Taylor told lawmakers—and the millions of people watching around the world—that on the day after his now-infamous call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump personally asked a top U.S. diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, about the investigations he wanted Zelensky to pursue against the Biden family. Taylor told the committee that a member of his staff overheard the call between Trump and Sondland and then asked Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, what the president thought about Ukraine.
The first day of impeachment hearings showed Trump’s improper bullying of Ukraine setting off alarms throughout the government.
George Tenet, the former CIA director, told the 9/11 Commission that, given the stream of intelligence warnings about potential terrorist attacks against the United States before 9/11, “the system was blinking red.” Those words reflected just how widespread the concern was across the U.S. government that something bad was unfolding—in that case, a terrorist attack. It turns out that in the summer of 2019, the system was again blinking red.
Those who listened to the first day of public impeachment hearings, focused on Ukraine-related matters, heard a lot about Donald Trump and a lot about Rudy Giuliani. And for good reason: Both were central players in the White House–driven push to trade American weapons and a meeting at the White House for Ukraine’s help with Trump’s reelection.