Through The Smog: Last Week’s Stories You Might’ve Missed
The Russia problem returns, blitzkrieg deportations, and an uncharacteristic response from Trump on North Korea
Michael Flynn Brings Trump’s Russia Problem Back To The Forefront
After denying discussing US sanctions on Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, it has been revealed that Trump’s National Security Advisor Michael Flynn has been caught doing just that. On Thursday, The Washington Post reported:
Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.
The New York Times corroborated the report.
This comes after Vice President Mike Pence denied that Michael Flynn and Ambassador Kislyak ever spoke about sanctions. After these reports, the White House has yet to publicly defend Flynn and The Wall Street Journal reported that the White House is reviewing whether or not to retain Flynn as National Security Advisor.
Although Ambassador Kislyak would not confirm the content of the conversations, he did confirm that the communications did indeed take place. Kislyak added that communications between him and Michael Flynn were ongoing, and occurred both during the transition and before Nov 8th.
For the first time, US investigators say they have corroborated some of the communications detailed in a 35-page dossier compiled by a former British intelligence agent, multiple current and former US law enforcement and intelligence officials tell CNN. As CNN first reported, then-President-elect Donald Trump and President Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier prior to Trump’s inauguration. None of the newly learned information relates to the salacious allegations in the dossier. Rather it relates to conversations between foreign nationals.
All of this information does not look good for President Trump, who has had the legitimacy of his election victory under fire after the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded Russia’s hacks on Democratic organizations, and spread of propaganda, were in an effort to help elect Donald Trump.
There has also been suspicions that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials, given the fact U.S. officials are currently investigating Trump’s former associates’ (Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page) for communications and financial ties to Russia.
This story just keeps getting bigger.
Trump’s Three Law Enforcement Executive Orders
Last Thursday, the same day Jeff Sessions was officially sworn in as Attorney General, Donald Trump signed three executive orders. These executive orders are intentionally designed to embolden federal agencies with new power and create specialized task-forces. Here is the summary of these orders found on whitehouse.gov:
[The] first executive order will place the government firmly on the side of federal, state, tribal, and local law enforcement. This will ensure that funding supports officers on the street, and anyone who tries to do them harm will be aggressively prosecuted.
The second Executive Order will instruct the Attorney General to form a task force to look at how crime can be reduced and public safety increased.
The third Executive Order instructs the Attorney General to form a separate task force to focus on destroying transnational criminal organizations and drug cartels. These dangerous groups bring drugs and violence to once- peaceful neighborhoods in the United States and around the world. They have fueled addiction and fatal overdoses. They will no longer operate with impunity in this country or this hemisphere.
Trump appears to have signed these executive orders to embroider the “tough on crime” rhetoric that was used during the campaign trail. Donald Trump infamously repeats false claims such as “the murder rate in the United States is the highest it’s been in 45 years.” Claims which, given the available data, are simply not true.
To what effect, if any, these new laws will have is still ambiguous. As their true purpose may still remain hidden for the time being, there is speculation that these new executive orders are the first stepping stones to a full-blown police state.
Trump Begins Deportations
This past week, the Trump administration began large scale raids, arresting hundreds of people in multiple states. Immigration officials confirmed that raids took place in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, the Los Angeles area, North Carolina and South Carolina. These raids targeted illegal immigrants with and without criminal records.
The Washington Post reports that immigration activists said the raids expanded past those states, and that fear of being deported without a criminal record is alarming immigrant communities:
Immigration activists said the crackdown went beyond the six states DHS identified, and said they had also documented ICE raids of unusual intensity during the past two days in Florida, Kansas, Texas and Northern Virginia. That undocumented immigrants with no criminal records were arrested and could potentially be deported sent a shock wave through immigrant communities nationwide amid concerns that the U.S. government could start going after law-abiding people.
The Trump Administration’s methods are also under scrutiny. There have been reports that ICE agents have been detaining people at shopping centers and creating checkpoints on roads, asking for ID and documentation.
An example of this is the deportation of an undocumented mother of two American-born children.
As immigration activists and immigrant communties are in a state of panic, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to defend his actions as merely fulfilling his campaign promises.
The crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise. Gang members, drug dealers & others are being removed!
Dakota Access Pipeline Moving Forward
On Wednesday, the Army Corps of Engineers told Congress that they will be moving forward with the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline. The $3.8 billion dollar, 1,100 mile Pipeline will run under the Missouri River and carry roughly 450,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
In response to this, “The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe joined a motion filed on Thursday by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe seeking a temporary restraining order to stop construction of the final section of the Dakota Access Pipeline.”
Trump’s approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline has drawn criticism, not only because it is a health hazard to the folks who use the Missouri River as their main water source, but because President Trump has had a business relationship with the company building the pipeline.
Trump owned between $15,000 and $50,000 of Energy Transfer Partners’ stock (the company building the Dakota Accesss Pipeline) according to his most recent 2016 financial disclosure form. Trump’s share dropped from his May 2015 disclosure, which listed it between $500,000 and $1 million. Trump’s Director of Strategic Communications Hope Hicks said he has sold his stock, but we have yet to see proof of that sale. Also important to note that Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren gave $100,000 to Trump’s fundraising effort with the GOP, according to FEC records.
Hundreds Of Thousands Rally In Iran Against Trump
On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered to pledge their allegiance to the states clerical leaders. What prompted this? Donald Trump’s thoughtless remark where he stated that the Iran was “on notice.” The Trump administration also imposed new sanctions on Iranian individuals and entities. Among those marching were military leaders and other law enforcement officers. Many were seen carrying “death to America” signs.
A young man being interviewed reportedly told a state television reporter that “America and Trump cannot do a damn thing. We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our leader (Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei).”
North Korea Missile Test
On Sunday, North Korea launched the Pukguksong-2 — a long-range ballistic missile. Swift condemnation came from the United Nations and an urgent meeting will be called to discuss actions to be brought against North Korea. The meeting was called forth by The United States, Japan, and South Korea.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, the missile launch was carried out while Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, was visiting the US. At a news conference, in Palm Beach, Florida, Abe gave the following statement:
“North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable. North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”
Trump showed appropriate restraint with his follow up response that reassured Japan as a meaningful ally to the US.
“I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%.”