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Trump’s honesty was on trial in the Roger Stone case. The verdict was harsh.

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WASHINGTON — In his final statement to the jury in the trial of political operative Roger Stone, federal prosecutor Michael Marando sought to boil the case down to a simple and stark premise.

“I know we live in a world nowadays with Twitter, tweets, social media, where you can find any political view you want,” he said. “However, in our institutions of self-governance — courts of law or committee hearings, where people under oath have to testify — truth still matters.”

Marando didn’t mention President Donald Trump in that portion of his closing — he didn’t have to. He and his colleagues had already made Trump a central character in the trial that ended with a conviction of the president’s longtime associate on seven felonies — a trial that presented new information about the Trump campaign’s zeal to capitalize on Russia’s election interference in 2016.

Prosecutors argued that Stone, charged with obstructing a Congressional investigation, lied to Congress because the truth was “terrible” for Trump. They presented evidence painting a picture of a candidate who was actively involved in his campaign’s effort to benefit from hacked emails obtained by WikiLeaks that were the fruits of a Russian intelligence operation. And they presented phone records and testimony suggesting that Trump didn’t tell the truth in written answers to special counsel Robert Mueller, when Trump said he didn’t remember ever discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.

“Trump was in the conspiratorial loop,” said Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News legal analyst who watched the trial. “He was in the hard collusion loop by virtue of him having phone calls in real time with Roger Stone while these email dumps were in progress.”

But Joyce Vance, another former prosecutor and NBC news legal analyst, said she’s not convinced the government had the evidence “to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that there was conspiracy between the campaign and the Russians. Does it strongly suggest it? Yes. But as long as the central figures destroy evidence, or are unavailable as witnesses, as long as the president ducks testimony, then it’s difficult to have evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt.”

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Phone records introduced as evidence in the trial show Stone called Trump on the very day in June 2016 that the world learned that the Democratic National Committee had been hacked by the Russians. The records show that Trump spoke to Stone at key moments during the summer of 2016 as Stone was single-mindedly seeking access to the stolen emails from Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. Steve Bannon, who led the Trump campaign, testified that Stone was considered the “access point” to WikiLeaks.

Trump mentioned WikiLeaks 145 times in the last month of the campaign alone, according to an NBC News analysis.

“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” Trump said a few days before the election at an appearance in Michigan.

Asked to respond to the new evidence, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s personal attorney, said the president’s written statements to Mueller stand.

“I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016,” Trump wrote in his statements to Mueller. “I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.”

Democrats have long called that statement a lie. If prosecutors believe Trump was telling the truth, it wasn’t evident from their comments at the trial. They called former Trump deputy campaign chairman Richard Gates, who testified he overheard Stone calling Trump about WikiLeaks, which was leaking embarrassing Democratic emails. After the call, Gates said Trump told him that more disclosures were coming.

“Roger Stone knew that if this came out it would look really bad for his longtime associate, Donald Trump,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis said. “So he lied to the committee.”

Prosecutors didn’t expressly accuse Trump of acting improperly by ordering Stone to pursue the emails hacked by the Russians. They noted that the government didn’t know what was said in the Trump-Stone phone calls — the FBI wasn’t wiretapping either man.

But “those are the only reasonable inferences you can draw from the evidence,” Kirschner said. “Everybody who watched the trial couldn’t help but draw those reasonable inferences.”

Details about the Trump campaign’s efforts to pursue hacked Democratic emails appear to have been covered in Volume I of the Mueller report, but the section is almost entirely blacked out, because the Stone case was still pending when the report was released.

In that sense, the Stone trial served as a sort of final chapter of the Mueller report. It unfolded as much of the country and the news media was focused on the Ukraine impeachment drama, which at its heart is about whether Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign government to help his 2020 election campaign.

If the Stone trial revealed anything, it showed that Donald Trump and the people around him had no problem making use of hacked emails that were the fruits of foreign election interference.

Or, as prosecutor Kravis put it, “trying to fish for information from WikiLeaks, knowing it had been hacked by a foreign government.”



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Trump admin intends to announce withdrawal of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan

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WASHINGTON — The Trump administration intends to announce the drawdown of more than 4,000 troops from Afghanistan as early next week, according to three current and former U.S. officials. The withdrawal will leave between 8,000 and 9,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the officials said.

The announcement comes just days after Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad rejoined diplomatic talks with the Taliban, which had broken down in September. On Thursday Amb. Khalilzad said the U.S. was “taking a brief pause” in talks after a Wednesday attack near Bagram Airfield killed two Afghan civilians and wounded 70 more.

The U.S. has between 12,000 and 13,000 troops in Afghanistan now. The officials would not say when the drawdown would begin, but did characterize it as a phased withdrawal that would occur over a few months. Two U.S. officials said the drawdown would be a combination of troops re-deploying early and others not being replaced when they rotate out.

U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) base in Logar province, Afghanistan on Aug. 7, 2018.Omar Sobhani / Reuters file

In a statement, a spokesman for U.S. Forces-Afghanistan said, “U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has not received orders to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan. We remain fully committed to the Resolute Support mission and our Afghan partners, and focused on our key objective: ensuring Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten the United States, our allies or our interests.”

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President Donald Trump has pushed for a withdrawal from Afghanistan for some time, including during his recent visit to Afghanistan on Thanksgiving, his first as commander in chief.

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told an audience at the Reagan National Defense Forum last weekend that the reduction of U.S. troops will happen even if the Taliban does not negotiate an agreement, and that the commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, has said he can sustain a reduction in forces.

“The commander feels confident we can go down to a lower level without jeopardizing our ability to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a safe haven for terrorism,” Esper said, adding that he hopes to reallocate forces from CENTCOM to the Asia Pacific region, which he called his “priority theater.”

The announcement of withdrawal is “part of trying to reset the talks with the Taliban,” the former defense official said. Khalilzad can then propose to the Taliban that the two sides restart negotiations where they left off, with the U.S. withdrawing troops and the Taliban promising a ceasefire.

“This takes us to the minimum that you have to keep in the country to remain credible negotiating with the Taliban,” the former official said.

In October Esper said the U.S. could decrease to 8,600 troops without affecting the counterterror operations.

The commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, participated in meetings Thursday to discuss the footprint for U.S. troops in the Middle East, according to three U.S. officials. The discussion also included talk of increasing the U.S. military footprint in other parts of the Middle East to counter the threat from Iran.

Trump has promised since campaigning for the White House in 2016 to end wars like the one in Afghanistan and reduce the number of U.S. troops deployed overseas. His advisers have over the past three years convinced him not to pull the plug on the Afghanistan mission, but the president showed a willingness to take such a step in October when he abruptly pulled U.S. troops out of Syria.

Trump had made clear to his advisers earlier this year that he wanted to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan by the November 2020 election.

“It’s all about talking points in 2020,” the former official said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hans Nichols contributed.



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Labour scrambles for new members in a 'final battle' to escape Corbyn’s brutal hard left

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LABOUR MPs have began calling for an influx of new members to help elect the next leader of the party, after Jeremy Corbyn’s humiliating defeat in this week’s general election.

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Seven candidates. One Issue. Here’s what Democratic presidential candidates had to say about education

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PITTSBURGH — Seven Democratic candidates for president on Saturday offered plans to make their mark on American schools.

Though the vast majority of education decisions in the U.S. are made at the state and local levels, candidates who participated in a public forum sponsored by 11 education groups vowed to increase federal spending in schools — some by enormous amounts — and proposed other ways to make schools more equitable and to support teachers, students and parents.

The six-hour forum at a downtown convention center, moderated by Ali Velshi, host of “MSNBC Live,” and Rehema Ellis, an NBC News education correspondent, streamed live on NBC News Now, MSNBC.com and NBC News Learn.

Each candidate spoke for 25 minutes, fielding questions about K-12, early childhood and higher education from the moderators and members of the audience, made up of more than 1,000 students, parents and community members.

The event — one of the first times public education has been the main focus of the 2020 presidential race — featured Sen. Michael Bennet, Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. An eighth candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, had planned to participate but canceled Friday when he came down with the flu.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., one of seven scheduled Democratic candidates participating in a public education forum, makes opening remarks, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Pittsburgh.Keith Srakocic / AP

Watch it here. These were some of the highlights:

People arriving for the forum Saturday morning were greeted by more than 100 charter school parents, educators and advocates who protested under umbrellas in the rain.

Supporters of the publicly funded but privately managed schools say they have concerns that some candidates, notably Warren and Sanders, have called for cutting federal funding for new charter schools and restricting their growth. Warren and Sanders say charters draw money from traditional school districts and aren’t subject to the same rules.

Some of the candidates “have not included charter schools for the most part in a positive way in their platform,” said protester Sonya Toler, who works for the 13-school Propel charter network in Pittsburgh.

Those candidates might be courting the votes of large teachers unions like the American Federation of Teachers, which was one of the sponsors of the forum, Toler said, but “they can’t forget the vote of the people who work and send their children to our schools. They vote as well. Charter schools need to be a part of their platform.”

The protesters say they were excluded from the forum and not allowed to participate or question candidates. Forum organizers say charter school backers would have been included if they had asked. Tolder said she did ask but was rebuffed.

Charter schools comprise just 7 percent of public schools across the nation, but they still earned a lot attention at the forum.

Warren interrupted a moderator who suggested she wanted to “cut off funding” to charters.

“I’m not sure I’d call it cutting off,” she said, noting that she doesn’t want to stop funding to existing schools. “What I believe is that public school money needs to stay in public schools.”

Charter schools are public schools typically required to admit students through a lottery, including students with disabilities. Their students have the same standardized testing requirements as other public schools, but in some parts of the country, the schools are run by for-profit management companies. Even those run by nonprofits are not always subject to open-records laws and other regulations that apply to government agencies

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Warren has been confronted on the campaign trail by charter school parents who say charter schools give a choicev to low-income parents who don’t have the option to move their children to a private school, as Warren did with her son when he was in fifth grade. Warren said she is sensitive to those parents.

“They’re looking for the best educational opportunities for their children,” she said. “But I believe it is our responsibility as a nation to make certain that every public school is an excellent public school:”

Other candidates said they support charter schools but want them held to higher standards across the country.

Bennet said he oversaw charter schools when he was schools superintendent in Denver, where they are held to the same standards as district schools..

“I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot more perfect than almost any other area,” he said.

He singled out Detroit, where he said schools have been negatively affected by policies supported by U.S. Education Secretary Besty DeVos, a philanthropist who helped expand charter schools in her home state of Michigan before joining the Trump administration.

After the forum, Bennet retweeted a picture of himself meeting with pro-charter activists.

Buttigeig, who has been less critical of charter schools than some of his opponents, has joined them in calling for tighter rules. He fielded questions after the forum about a fundraiser being hosted for him by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, a prominent charter school donor.

“There are 700,000 donors to my campaign. Some of them may disagree with me on some of those issues,” Buttigieg said. “But my stance will not change, including my support for teachers and my support for labor.”

Much of the media attention on education has focused on how candidates want to lower the cost of a college education and reduce or eliminate college debt. Those issues came up on Saturday, as did a host of spending proposals to give children the kind of education that would help them succeed in college

Sanders, Biden and Buttigieg said they wanted to triple the funding to Title I, the federal government’s main program for schools that serve children from low-income families. Warren said she wants to quadruple the funding.

Candidates said the extra money could be used to address a host of educational challenges, including raising teacher pay and hiring support staff, such as school psychologists.

Warren dismissed a question about how to make the formula the government currently uses to distribute TItle I dollars more equitable, saying she wants to put so much money into the program that how it’s distributed won’t be an issue.

“The question is not how do we take what we currently spend at the federal level and move it around,” she said, adding the government needs to “invest what it takes to create a quality opportunity for every one of our children.”

Several candidates also called for funding early childhood education, with some calling for preschool to be free for all 3- and 4-year-olds and others calling for it to be free to children from needy families.

“If you had $10 to spend and that’s all you had to spend on education, I’d spend seven of them on preschool,” Biden said.

But Title 1 is not the only federal programs the candidates suggested boosting.

Klobuchar said she would help schools but also work to improve affordable housing, arguing that fewer homeless children would put less of a burden on schools

When asked whether the federal government should expand the free lunch program to all children so no one is “lunch shamed” for being unable to pay for a meal, Sanders responded, “You know what? And breakfast and dinner, as well.”

Candidates want schools to become less segregated

Several candidates offered solutions to how to make schools less segregated in response to recent studies showing that six decades after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling, American schools are increasingly racially segregated.

Sanders, who said his elementary school class in Brooklyn had just one black student, said additional funding is one solution to inequality in schools. He also vowed as president to beef up the education department’s office of civil rights to investigate violations.

Biden, who was taken to task by Sen. Kamala Harris (who dropped out of the race last week) during a debate last summer for his opposition to school busing in the 1970s, seemed flustered when asked about segregation at the forum but asserted he is “extremely proud” of his civil rights record.

“It’s as good or better than anybody in politics,” he said.

Candidates tried to connect personally

Most of the candidates played up their personal connections to education, highlighting spouses and parents who worked in schools. Biden spoke of his experience with teachers who helped him as a child with a stutter.

“I had teachers who first and foremost worked on my confidence, told me I was smart, told me I could do what I needed to do, sat with me and gave me the confidence to stand up and try to speak,” he said.

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