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Headlines: May 19, 2017

Courtesy of Democracy Now 

Swedish Prosecutor Drops Sex Crimes Investigation of Julian Assange

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President Trump Denies Ordering James Comey to Call Off Flynn Probe

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President Donald Trump: "Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing has been a witch hunt. And there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign—but I can always speak for myself—and the Russians, zero."

Asked if he urged former FBI Director James Comey to close or to back down on the FBI’s investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, the president responded flatly, "No." The statement directly contradicts a memo Comey drafted after a February 14 Oval Office meeting, in which Trump reportedly asked Comey to end the investigation into Flynn’s ties to Russian officials. On Thursday, The New York Times published new details of Comey’s interactions with the president before Trump fired him on May 9. The Times reports Trump called Comey weeks before his inauguration, urging him to state publicly that Trump was not personally under investigation.

House Democratic Leader Questions Special Counsel's Independence

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi: "I’m concerned that Director Mueller will still be subject to the supervision of the Trump-appointed leadership at the Justice Department. We must remain vigilant to protect the integrity of the Mueller investigation. A special prosecutor cannot take the place of a truly independent outside commission that is completely free from the Trump administration’s meddling."

Mueller was appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed to have recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Deputy AG Knew Trump Planned to Fire Comey Before Writing Memo

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Reporter: "Did the president plan to fire Comey before he wrote that memo?"

Sen. Dick Durbin: "He didn’t go into detail on that, other than to say on May 8th he learned that the president was going to terminate Comey."

Rosenstein’s memo was dated May 9. Last week, President Trump contradicted his staff’s account of Comey’s ouster, telling NBC he had decided to fire Comey "regardless" of the Justice Department’s recommendations.

Trump to Announce $110 Billion Saudi Arms Deal in First Trip Overseas

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President Trump leaves for the Middle East today on the first overseas trip of his presidency. Trump’s first stop will be Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where he’s expected to announce a $110 billion arms deal. The agreement was brokered by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and Reuters reports it could see as much as $300 billion in weapons sold to the Saudi monarchy over the next decade. The deal comes as the Pentagon continues to support a Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, where years of fighting have decimated the country’s health, water, sewage and sanitation systems. The U.N. says around 19 million of Yemen’s 28 million people need some form of aid, with many of them at risk of famine.

Former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes Dead at 77

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In media news, former Fox News chair and CEO Roger Ailes, who molded the network into a vast right-wing media empire, died Thursday at the age of 77. Ailes resigned from Fox News last July after he was accused of sexual harassment by more than 20 women, including Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly, Andrea Tantaros and Gretchen Carlson. Fox ultimately paid out $45 million to settle the claims. Ailes began his career as a Republican Party operative as a consultant for President Richard Nixon. Over the decades, he advised other Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Donald Trump. Trump has called Ailes a friend and defended Ailes after the sexual harassment allegations.

FCC Vote Advances Bid to End Net Neutrality

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Reporter "Manhandled" by FCC Security Guards for Asking Question

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In Video, Turkish President Watches Bodyguards Attack D.C. Protesters

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In Washington, D.C., newly published video shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looking on as members of his security detail assaulted a group of peaceful protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Tuesday’s violence left nine anti-Erdogan protesters hospitalized. It’s not clear if Erdogan gave the order for the attack. Among those assaulted were American Diplomatic Security officers assigned to protect Erdogan’s delegation. Police briefly detained the assailants but released them after learning they held diplomatic immunity. The assault came shortly after Erdogan was welcomed to the White House by President Trump. During the meeting, Trump did not mention Turkey’s deteriorating human rights situation, which has seen nearly 50,000 people and 150 journalists arrested since a failed coup last summer.

Syria: U.S. Warplanes Attack Convoy of Pro-Assad Forces

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In Syria, U.S. warplanes bombed a convoy of pro-government militia members Thursday, in what appears to be the Trump administration’s third attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. The Pentagon says it ordered airstrikes after the convoy came too close to a zone where the U.S. and British troops are training Syrian rebels. The assault drew fire from some lawmakers, including California Democratic Congressmember Ted Lieu, who tweeted, "If true, this is FRICKIN ILLEGAL. Trump does not have Congressional authorization to attack Syria, a country that has not attacked US."

Brazil: President Michel Temer Refuses to Resign Amid New Scandal

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In Brazil, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and other cities Thursday, demanding the resignation of President Michel Temer over a corruption scandal.

Alexandre Carvalho: "We want Temer out. And not just him, we want everyone who is corrupt out, as well, because this Congress is a group of thugs. It is not worth it just to make Temer go to then have Congress put up another person in his place."

There are growing calls for Temer’s impeachment, after the newspaper O Globo reported the president was secretly recorded approving hush-money payoffs for a powerful politician jailed on corruption charges. Temer on Thursday refused to step down, even as Brazil’s Supreme Court released the audiotape and said it was investigating him for bribery of a potential witness.

President Michel Temer: "At no moment did I authorize anyone to be paid so that they’d remain quiet. I did not buy the silence of anyone, for a very simple reason: exactly and precisely because I am not afraid of any testimony."

Temer said he should remain in office to help end Brazil’s recession—the longest in its history. The claim came as Brazil’s stock market halted trading early Thursday after plunging by more than 10 percent on news of the corruption scandal.

Venezuela: Antigovernment Protests Rage as Trump Talks Intervention

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President Donald Trump: "We will be working with Colombia and other countries on the Venezuela problem. It is a very, very horrible problem. And from a humanitarian standpoint, it is like nothing we’ve seen in quite a long time."

On Thursday, the Trump administration announced sanctions against eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, after they ruled in January that opposition party members were in contempt of the constitution and removed them from power. President Maduro has accused the U.S. of supporting an attempt by opposition parties to mount a coup.

Greek Parliament Approves Fresh Austerity Measures Amid Protests

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Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras: "We feel that we are on the final step. Nobody is denying, nobody doubts, that this agreement has difficulties; however, it does open a path in front of us."

Outside the Parliament, anti-austerity anger boiled over into protest. Police fired tear gas to beat back a crowd of more than 10,000 people demanding a new government.

Antonis Stamatopoulos: "There is no other solution but revolution. They have taken everything from us, and these pseudo-leftists are finishing us off. The only thing we can do is resist and revolt."

Mary Athanasiou: "The government must resign immediately! The people demand their resignation."

The latest round of austerity will see taxes rise and pensions slashed further. Eurozone finance ministers will decide on Monday whether to disburse another $8 billion in bailout funds.

 

California: Police Investigate Murder of Gender Nonconforming Person

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In Fresno, California, police are investigating the murder of 34-year-old Imer Alvarado as a possible hate crime. Alvarado was found dead of multiple gunshot wounds several blocks from the Fresno gay bar The Alibi early Wednesday morning. Police described Alvarado as a transgender woman, though friends describe Alvarado as a gay man. Alvarado’s killing is the 11th reported murder of a transgender or gender nonconforming person in the U.S. so far this year.

Chelsea Manning Tweets First Picture of Herself as a Free Woman

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Courtesy of Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org).  The original content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License