Today’s National News Stories – McConnell Wants Omar Off Foreign Affairs Committee

Today’s News Headlines

THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2019

Disturbing Comments and Reaction from Democrats says Senate leader Mitch McConnell

The latest on the fallout from Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s most recent comments on Israel is that from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who says he finds rising anti-Israel sentiments increasingly “disturbing,” including by “some of the new members of the House of Representatives.”  

The Kentucky Republican was asked today about freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comment last week that suggested Israel’s supporters are pushing lawmakers to pledge “allegiance” to the Jewish state. In response, House Democrats are expected this week to present a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

McConnell noted that the Senate last month passed a provision that would let states penalize businesses that take part in boycotts or divestments of Israel.

Omar is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that promotes various forms of boycotts against Israel. McConnell says the BDS movement “is a clear example of rising anti-Israel sentiment in our country which is very disturbing and that’s been underscored by comments of some of the new members of the House of Representatives.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is giving a fellow freshman a boost in the party’s increasingly bitter split over Israel.

The New York Democrat tweeted Tuesday about her party’s leaders and their plan to rebuke Rep. Ilhan Omar for suggesting that supporters of Israel pledge “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “No one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities.”

Omar, the Minnesota Democrat, has apologized for previous comments about Israel, but she’s not apologizing for the statement that reminded many members of Congress of a Jewish trope about having split loyalties. Republicans have demanded that she be stripped of her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Today, a federal judge will sentence Paul Manafort  for defrauding banks and the government and failing to pay taxes on millions of dollars in income he earned from Ukrainian political consulting — charges that stemmed from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  Collusion? No. 

The penalty may be steep enough to keep the longtime lobbyist and former Trump campaign chairman in prison for the rest of his life.  A pardon by Trump down the line?  Likely.

Prosecutors say that Manafort, 69, deserves between 19 and 25 years in prison as well as millions of dollars in fines and restitution for the crimes, for which a jury convicted him after a three-week trial last summer. Manafort has shown little remorse, they say, and even lied under oath following a plea deal after the trial.

“The defendant blames everyone from the special counsel’s office to his Ukrainian clients for his own criminal choices,” prosecutors wrote in a final court filing this week to Judge T.S. Ellis in Alexandria, Virginia.

In many ways, the Manafort case — which reached back almost a decade to track the movement of money from his Ukrainian political consulting work, through the time he was broke and working for Trump in 2016 — has shaped Mueller’s actions for almost two years.

Manafort’s was the first indictment Mueller announced in late 2017 and it used the criminal prosecution to ratchet up pressure on him throughout 2018 as they sought his cooperation on matters central to their probe.

At one point, after securing Manafort’s longtime deputy Rick Gates as a witness against him, prosecutors split his case in two, putting the more clear-cut financial crimes indictment in the fast-moving Northern Virginia federal court. Manafort’s conviction at trial was a major win for Mueller — the only official certification from an impartial group of citizens that Mueller had uncovered major crime.

The eight crimes for which Manafort will be sentenced on Thursday include five convictions of tax fraud from 2010 through 2014, hiding his foreign bank accounts from federal authorities in 2012 and defrauding two banks for more than $4 million in loans intended for real estate. At his trial, one juror refused to join the other 11 to convict him on 10 additional foreign banking and bank fraud charges. Prosecutors later dropped those counts.

STAR WARS: Galaxy’s Edge

ANAHEIM, Calif. and ORLANDO, Fla. — Star Wars fans, the wait is almost over.  We finally know when “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge” will be open to fans, and it’s probably sooner than you think. 

The parks will be opening ahead of schedule, Disney announced on Thursday. The Disneyland Park will be opening in Southern California on May 31, and the Disney World park will be opening in Orlando on August 29. 

D23, Disney’s official fan club, also confirmed that the park will be inhabited by some familiar faces, including Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, BB-8, and Chewbacca-and even members of the First Order. 

We have also learned more about the food options (including, of course, a cantina), the retailers (get ready to build your own lightsaber!) and the costumes. 

As for the rides, the two main attractions involve flying the Millenium Falcon and facing off against Kylo Ren. 

By playing along in the Play Disney Parks mobile app, visitors will be able to customize their experiences and make decisions such as whether their loyalties lie with the Resistance or the First Order. 

“This depth of storytelling is part of the total immersion that will distinguish the two, 14-acre lands – the largest and most technologically advanced single-themed land expansions ever in a Disney park – from any other themed land in history,” reads a press release. 
The park will be opening in two phases. The first phase, which begins on opening day, includes food, shopping, and the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run ride. 

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 6, 2019

North Korea is restoring facilities at a long-range rocket launch site that it dismantled last year as part of disarmament steps, according to foreign experts and a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by Seoul’s spy service.

The finding follows a high-stakes nuclear summit last week between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump that ended without any agreement.

South Korea’s National Intelligence Service provided the assessment about the North’s Tongchang-ri launch site to lawmakers during a private briefing yesterday.   North Korea didn’t immediately respond in its state media.  An article from 38 North, a website specializing in North Korea studies, cited commercial satellite imagery as indicating that efforts to rebuild some structures at the site started sometime between Feb. 16 and March 2.

Dismantling parts of its long-range rocket launch facility was among several steps the North took last year when it entered nuclear talks with the United States and South Korea.  North Korea has carried out satellite launches at the site in recent years, resulting in U.N. sanctions over expert claims that they were disguised tests of banned missile technology.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the report might affect nuclear diplomacy. The Trump-Kim summit fell apart because of differences over how much sanction relief North Korea could win in return for closing its aging main nuclear complex.  The U.S. and North Korea accused each other of causing the summit breakdown, but both sides left the door open for future negotiations.

At the engine test stand, the website said it appears that the engine support structure is being reassembled. It said new roofs have been installed on the fuel and oxidizer buildings.

Congressional Democrats are still crafting a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, in an indirect but public rebuke of one of their own, Rep. Ilhan Omar, after the latest in a series of remarks she’s made about Israel and its American supporters that have generated a blitz of criticism.  Omar has refused to shy away from her remarks about Israel.

Omar, who was elected alongside Rep. Rashida Tlaib as the first women Muslim members of Congress in U.S. history, continues to speak out against Israel, attracting the scorn of Republicans and Democratic colleagues alike — and competing resolutions from both parties. 

A vote on the Democratic version could occur as early as today, with the apparent approval of party leaders who have grown tired of Omar’s rhetoric and signaled they will allow the resolution to receive a vote. 

In February, Omar gained notoriety after she asserted that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group known as AIPAC, was using its influence to pressure Members of Congress to adopt an “allegiance to a foreign country.” 

Lawmakers, including her party’s leader — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — roundly condemned Omar’s comments as an anti-Semitic trope, and Republicans subsequently deployed a procedural gambit to force the House, including Omar, to vote Feb. 13 to support an amendment condemning anti-Semitism. That effort passed 424-0, with two Republicans voting present and five lawmakers skipping the vote. 

The hullabaloo and media attention led to an increased profile for Omar, who just landed a spot on the cover of Rolling Stone alongside Pelosi celebrating the new Democratic majority’s diversity. 

But now the congresswoman says she’s facing death threats. Perhaps more shocking, the Minnesota Democrat was featured on an Islamophobic poster at the Republican-sponsored WVGOP Day at the West Virginia statehouse tying her to the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. 

Unlike before, this time Omar is not apologizing and is pushing back hard, aided by the firepower of other congressional allies like New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t alone in condemning the poster.  Rep. Nita Lowey, the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, offered her own condemnation of “gross islamophobic stereotypes” – before she added a dig at Omar, tweeting that “Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must be roundly condemned.” 
 

Then Lowey, a New York Democrat serving in her 16th term, tweeted this shot at Omar: 

Omar then continued the public clash, tweeting a long thread that decried any expectation that she should “pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress.”   Before she was a member of Congress, Omar warned in a 2012 tweet, now deleted, that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.” 

Monday night, another Democratic colleague, Rep. Juan Vargas of California, called on Omar to apologize “for her offensive comments.” 

Ocasio-Cortez again dove into the fray, launching into another long thread expressing curiosity whether Vargas would “further explain his stance here that it’s unacceptable to even *question* US foreign policy.” 

A draft copy of the four-page Democratic resolution text is said not to name Omar, but summarizes the history of anti-Semitism before rejecting anti-Semitism “as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.” 

In the meantime, Republicans are enjoying the Democratic distraction, with the president even taking notice in a tweet. 

The US Food and Drug Administration approved Janssen Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s Esketamine yesterday, for treatment-resistant depression; the drug is the chemical cousin of ketamine, the powerful anesthetic that has been used illegally as the club drug Special K.

It will be sold as Spravato.  More specifically, it’s for patients who have tried at least two other medications without success, and it should be taken with an oral antidepressant.

“There has been a longstanding need for additional effective treatments for treatment-resistant depression, a serious and life-threatening condition,” Dr. Tiffany Farchione, acting director of the Division of Psychiatry Products at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release announcing the approval.

Spravato is a nasal spray administered by an approved health care provider in a doctor’s office or a medical clinic. It may also be self-administered but only under the supervision of a care provider and cannot be taken home.

“Because of [safety] concerns, the drug will only be available through a restricted distribution system and it must be administered in a certified medical office where the health care provider can monitor the patient,” Farchione said.

Depending on the severity of the patient’s depression, it is given either once a week or once every other week.

The drug is rapidly acting, so it starts working faster than other antidepressants, according to Janssen. It works by restoring brain cells in patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Currently available treatments for major depression are ineffective in 30% to 40% of patients. According to the FDA, there is one other approved medication for treatment-resistant depression, Symbyax, which was approved in 2009.

Side effects of Spravato include dizziness, nausea, vertigo, anxiety, lethargy, increased blood pressure, vomiting, feeling drunk, decreased sensitivity, sedation and dissociation, a feeling of being temporarily “disconnected” from your body and your mind.

The drug label will contain a “boxed warning” to alert patients to the risk of “sedation, and difficulty with attention, judgment and thinking (dissociation), abuse and misuse, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors after administration of the drug,” the agency said in its announcement.

Because of these risks, patients must be monitored for at least two hours after being given the drug.

TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2019

In Sacramento the street protests regarding the shooting death of Stephon Clark say more than 80 people arrested during a protest in California’s capital on Monday night in the wake of the district attorney’s decision to not charge the two police officers who shot and killed Clark last year, authorities said.

The people were arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly after authorities tried to disperse the rally on the streets east of downtown Sacramento, according to Capt. Norm Leong of the Sacramento Police Department. A number of cars were found keyed during the demonstration.

Dale Kasler, a reporter for The Sacramento Bee, was among those arrested. He was covering the demonstration and had been filming a livestream at the time of his arrest. He was released late Monday after being detained for about an hour, the newspaper said.

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said he was “very disappointed” about Kasler’s arrest.

“I’m very disappointed the protest ended the way it did,” Steinberg said in a statement late Monday night. “I have many questions about what went on that precipitated the order to disperse and the subsequent arrests. I will withhold further comment until I get answers to these crucial questions tonight or tomorrow morning. No matter the reason an order to disperse was given, no member of the press should be detained for doing their job.”

China says it will lower its growth target for gross domestic product from a hard 6.5% to a more flexible range of 6% to 6.5% as it waits for more negotiating of trade deals with the U.S. and President Trump. China’s central government on Tuesday said it would lower its growth target for gross domestic product, the latest sign that the world’s second-biggest economy is in the grips of a major slowdown.

In a rare acknowledgment of weakness from the Chinese state, Premier Li Keqiang said the trade war with the United States, which has seen the two countries swap tit-for-tat tariffs on a combined $360 billion worth of goods, was having a material negative impact on the economy.

“What we faced was profound change in our external environment,” Li said at the opening of China’s National People’s Congress, as reported by several news outlets.

He added that China-US economic and trade frictions “had an adverse effect on the production and business operations of some companies and on market expectations.”

There’s a new muti-millonaire in South Carolina.  Lottery officials on Monday announced that a South Carolina resident had stepped forward to claim their portion of the $1.5 billion Mega Millions jackpot from last October — the largest jackpot payout to a single winner in U.S. history — but the person elected to remain anonymous.

A lottery commission statement said the person submitting the claim for what was the second-largest lottery in U.S. history has chosen the cash option, a one-time payment of nearly $878,000,000.

The biggest jackpot in U.S. history — a $1.585 billion Powerball prize won on Jan. 13, 2016 — was split between buyers in three states. That jackpot also had some mystery as the California winners didn’t come forward until about six months later.

“We are delighted that the winner is a South Carolinian and has come forward to claim this remarkable prize,” said Hogan Brown, the Commission’s Executive Director. “We respect the winner’s decision to remain anonymous, and we will honor the winner’s wishes.”

South Carolina is one of a handful of states where winners can remain anonymous — a choice that winners often make to protect themselves from being targeted by criminals or unscrupulous people seeking money.

The winner had until April 19 to claim the prize. If it had gone unclaimed, the money would have gone back to the 44 states where the tickets were purchased. The statement Monday gave no clue as to why the winner took his or her time to come forward.

MONDAY, MARCH 4, 2019

A dozen tornadoes rolled throught Alabama on Sunday, one that was an EF3 half-mile wide tornado, hitting and killing at least 23 people in the sourtheastern part of the state.  A slew of tornadoes ripped the area there and some are still missing says Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones.

The death toll in rural Lee County likely will rise as rescue crews sift through the debris Monday morning. So far, all of those killed lived in roughly a one-square-mile area of the town of Beauregard, a community of roughly 9,000, Jones said.

The youngest killed was a 6-year-old, he said.   In this area, which has many mobile homes, houses were “completely destroyed, nothing left but the slabs — concrete slabs that they existed on.” Jones told reporters.

He said it’s “like a bomb went off.”

At least a dozen tornadoes touched down in Alabama, near the Georgia state line, on Sunday, according to data from the National Weather Service. The first one to hit Lee County was at least a half-mile wide with dangerous winds that peaked at 165 mph.

Residents in the storm’s path shared harrowing video on social media Sunday as winds ripped apart entire neighborhoods. One person posted footage of what appeared to be an uprooted metal guardrail wrapped around a tree, while others shared videos of large poles and street lights twisting in the wind.

Today’s News Stories and Headlines

Trump angers many in Congress with latest statement regarding student Otto Warmbier's death and what North Korea's Kim Jong Un knew.

Trump angers many in Congress with latest statement regarding student Otto Warmbier’s death and what North Korea’s Kim Jong Un knew.

FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2019

Friday, Republican senators were vocal and angry over President Trump’s defense of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s role regarding the death of American college student Otto Warmbier. 

Trump’s statement that he believed Kim when he said he didn’t know at the time of Warmbier’s treatment left a number of GOP senators upset.

“I personally find that statement extremely hard to believe,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). 

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who represents Warmbier’s home state, warned the president not to be “naive” about the “brutal nature” of the North Korean regime in a speech on the Senate floor.

“I want to make clear that we can never forget about Otto. His treatment at the hands of his captors was unforgivable and it tells us a lot about the nature of the regime,” said Portman, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

“We can’t be naive about what they did to Otto, about the brutal nature of the regime that would do this to an American citizen,” he warned.

Portman later told The Hill that Kim and his lieutenants are “human rights violators across the board” and said it’s likely that Kim knew about Warmbier’s status. 

“I can’t tell you specifically who was knowledgeable of it but I would assume it goes straight to the top,” he added. 

While Republican senators expressed relief that Trump had walked away from the negotiations with Kim after he insisted that the United States drop economic sanctions in exchange for concessions on North Korea’s nuclear program, the remarks about Warmbier were what many were talking about. 

“I think it was probably smart for him to walk away when he didn’t get the concessions,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). 

“It’s high stakes, it’s high risk but it’s also high reward if you can make it happen,” she added.

Collins said she was surprised that Trump was willing to take Kim at his word on Warmbier given the North Korea’s long record of human rights abuses.

“I am surprised that he accepted at face value apparently what happened to the American who was held there,” she said.

Warmbier, a Cincinnati native and University of Virginia student, was arrested in January 2016 for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster while on a tour of Pyongyang. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor but later released to the United States in a vegetative state and died in June of 2017. 

March is definitely coming in like a lion over the next few days.

First, a winter storm will spread snow along a 2,500-mile path from Friday through Monday, all the way from California to Maine.

The snow will start late Friday in California and the central Rockies, then move into the central Plains and Midwest on Saturday, the Weather Channel said. By Sunday, the system will strengthen and spread snow from Missouri to New York State.

Some of the storm’s heaviest snow is likely to fall when it reaches the Northeast late Sunday and into Monday.

Also this weekend, a ferocious, “punishing” blast of record cold air will first invade the central U.S. Saturday into Sunday, then attack the eastern and southern U.S. early next week, the National Weather Service said.   

How cold? By Sunday morning, some parts of the northern Plains will see wind chills nearing 55 degrees below zero. A few spots could see all-time record cold temperatures for March, the weather service predicted.

Tesla will only sell its electric cars online as it accelerates its cost cutting so it can realize its long-running goal of selling a mass-market sedan for $35,000. 

The change announced Thursday will allow the Silicon Valley automaker to begin selling its Model 3 for $35,000 – a price point that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been striving to reach in order to appeal to more consumers and generate the sales the company needs to survive. 
 

Tesla has Model 3 at lower price, but it comes with a price.   To save money, Tesla will close many of its stores, but leave some open as galleries or “information centers” in high-traffic areas. Musk declined to specify how many stores will be closed or how many employees will be laid off.  The company has 378 stores and service locations worldwide. 

“This is the only way to achieve the savings for this car and be financially sustainable,” Musk told reporters during a conference call.

“It is excruciatingly difficult to make this car for $35,000 and be financially sustainable.” 

The online sales shift will enable Tesla to lower all vehicle prices by 6 percent, on average, including its higher-end Model S and Model X. 

All other major automakers rely on vast dealer networks, but Musk co-founded Tesla in 2003 in an effort to shake up the industry, starting with a focus entirely on a fleet of cars powered by electricity instead of gasoline. 

Although he said going online-only was a difficult decision, Musk believes it’s the right one. 

“It’s 2019,” he said. “People want to buy things online.” 

That is particularly true of younger, technologically fluent consumers who already are accustomed to buying almost everything at Amazon and having it delivered to them quickly, said Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. 

Musk “doesn’t need the whole world to buy into this,” Brauer said. “All he needs is the same basic demographic that has been interested in his cars from Day One.” 

Although he said he didn’t know for certain, Musk predicted there’s enough pent-up demand to sell about 500,000 Model 3s annually at the starting price of $35,000. 

But buyers will have to wait far longer than they do when shopping on Amazon. 

A U.S. consumer who places an order for the Model 3 at its new lower price now will likely get it by the end of June before a tax credit for electric vehicles is scheduled to be reduced, Musk said. 

The store closures will come on top of a decision to cut 3,150 jobs , or about 7 percent of Tesla’s workforce, announced earlier this year. 

No new deal reached yet. President Trump did not get an agreement with North Korea's Kim Jung Un.  Read more.

No new deal yet. President Trump did not get an agreement with North Korea’s Kim Jung Un. Read more.

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2019

No new deal reached yet in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. 

The two sides failed to reach a deal due to a standoff over U.S. sanctions on the reclusive nation, a stunning end to high-stakes meetings meant to disarm a global threat. 

Trump, in a news conference after the abrupt end to the talks, said the breakdown occurred over North Korea’s insistence that all punishing sanctions the U.S. had imposed on North Korea be lifted without Pyongyang committing to eliminate its entire nuclear arsenal. 

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Trump explained, adding that an agreement was “ready to sign.” 

“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” the president said. “We’re in position to do something very special.” 

Both leaders motorcades roared away from the downtown Hanoi summit site within minutes of each other after both a lunch and the signing ceremony were scuttled. Trump’s closing news conference was moved up and he was expected to depart for Washington ahead of schedule. 

The breakdown came after Trump and Kim had appeared to inch toward normalizing relations between their still technically-warring nations as the American leader tamped down expectations that their talks would yield an agreement by North Korea to take concrete steps toward ending its nuclear program. 

In something of a role reversal, Trump deliberately ratcheted down some of the pressure on Pyongyang, abandoning his fiery rhetoric and declaring he wanted the “right deal” over a rushed agreement. 

For his part, Kim, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearize, said “If I’m not willing to do that I won’t be here right now.” 

The breakdown denied Trump of a much-needed victory that could have offset some of the growing domestic turmoil back home. But he insisted that relations with Kim remained warm, stressed that progress had been made and said he was still hopeful of eventually reaching a deal to denuclearize North Korea.

In a mostly pointless hearing by the now Democrat-controlled House of Representatives who are now in control of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, former personal attorney Michael Cohen testified yesterday before he heads for prison. 

Cohen made several unproven accusations against President Trump, as the public got to see what Special Counsel Robert Mueller apparently saw: no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election.  Which also means Mueller’s upcoming report that’s already cost over $26 million dollars and lasted two years, will likely find little about Donald Trump.

In damning statements regarding Trump, the president’s former lawyer cast him as a racist and a con man who used his inner circle to cover up politically damaging allegations about sex and who lied throughout the 2016 election campaign about his business interests in Russia.

Cohen, who previously pleaded guilty to lying to Congress, told lawmakers Wednesday that Trump had advance knowledge and embraced the news that emails damaging to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton would be released during the campaign. But he also said he had no “direct evidence” that Trump or his aides colluded with Russia to get him elected, the primary question of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Cohen, shaking off incessant criticism from Republicans anxious to paint him as a felon and a liar, became the first Trump insider to pull back the curtain on a version of the inner workings of Trump’s political and business operations.

“I am not protecting Mr. Trump anymore,” Cohen declared.  “My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything: my family’s happiness, friendships, my law license, my company, my livelihood, my honor, my reputation and soon my freedom,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”

Cohen’s matter-of-fact testimony about secret payments and lies unfolded as Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. At a Vietnam hotel and unable to ignore the drama thousands of miles away, Trump lashed out on Twitter, saying Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

Later, Trump, speaking at a press conference in Vietnam after the summit with Kim ended early, said he was a “little impressed” that Cohen told Congress there was “no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia.

Trump said Thursday he tried to watch as much of Cohen’s marathon congressional hearing as he could. He slammed the hearing as “fake” and said it was a “terrible thing” for Democrats to hold it during another historic summit to secure peace in the world.

Cohen, in his testimony, said he arranged a hush money payment to a porn actress at Trump’s behest and agreed to lie about it to the public and the first lady. Cohen said he had lied by claiming that Trump was “not knowledgeable” about the transaction even though Trump had directly arranged for his reimbursement. And he said he was left with the unmistakable impression Trump wanted him to lie to Congress about a Moscow real estate project, though the president never directly told him so.

As the day drew on, Cohen looked more like a liar, untrustworthy, crooked and in violation of the law. The Justice Department has prosecuted him and he will service his time in a federal penitentiary.

Wednesday’s hearing simply confirmed what we already knew: there was no such evidence, because there was no collusion.  

WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 27, 2019

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The meetings are on starting, with a handshake and smile, President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un kicked off their second summit Wednesday evening at the historic Sofitel Legend Metropole Hotel and offered an optimistic outlook for their coming meetings.

“I thought the first summit was a great success and I hope this one hopefully will be equal or greater than the first. And we made a lot of progress and think the biggest progress was our relationship is really a good one,” Trump, who has called Kim a “friend,” said.

Speaking through a translator, Kim expressed hope that whatever results from the summit would be welcomed by everyone. “I’m sure that we can do this,” he added.

Despite the friendly interactions, when asked if he had walked back his vow to denuclearization the Korean Peninsula, Trump simply replied, “No.” Accompanied by their translators, the two leaders held a one-on-one meeting before having a small, private dinner.  Sitting at a white table-clothed table, the president was joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

Kim was joined by his two top advisers, former spy chief Kim Yong Chol and Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho.   Kim said the leaders had “very interesting dialogue” during their one-on-one meeting.

“If you could have heard that dialogue,” Trump teased in reply.

The summit begins in full on Thursday with a day of meetings and lunch expected. But first, the president met with the host of the summit, Vietnamese President and General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Nguyen Phu Trong at the presidential palace for a bilateral meeting and to sign a commercial trade agreement.

The road to Hanoi, Vietnam, and the second meeting between President Trump and North Korea’s Kim has been long: A 10,300-mile flight with two refueling stops for the American president and a 2,500-mile train ride through China and 100-mile drive through Vietnam for the young dictator.  But it’s also been a process filled with stops and starts. After tense early meetings, long periods without high-level engagement and a burst of diplomacy in the last month, the two leaders will meet again to advance the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” that they agreed to in Singapore last June.

There’s still no agreement on what that term means, however, and both sides are under pressure to win concrete results from the meeting.

Just hours before his first handshake with Kim, the president also turned his attention to another high profile event at home — the public testimony of his former attorney Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee.  In a Twitter attack, the president sought to distance himself from his former fixer.

Once at war with the U.S. and now a growing economic power in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is seen as a potential model for North Korea — a communist state that maintains tight political control while allowing for some economic liberalization, like private businesses and property.

Trump himself offered up the prospect in a tweet, saying Vietnam is “thriving” and North Korea “would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize.”

Meanwhile, in India, the long-standing tensions between nuclear powers India and Pakistan have escalated today after each country said it carried out airstrikes against the other, prompting concerns over the potential outbreak of a war in South Asia.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged both countries to “exercise restraint” and avoid an “escalation.” France, Australia and China, which is a close ally of Islamabad and a major investor in the country, also called for restraint.

While the countries have had a contentious relationship since 1947, this week’s escalation reached heights not seen in recent years.

India said its air force conducted strikes against a militant camp in Pakistani territory. That attack killed a “very large number” of terrorists, trainers and senior commanders belonging to the Jaish-e-Mohammed, according to New Delhi.

India’s response came after the group recently claimed responsibility for an attack in India-controlled Kashmir that killed more than 40 security officers. The suicide car bombing prompted a barrage of international criticism toward Pakistan for failing to crack down on terror groups operating on its soil.

For its part, Islamabad denied there were any casualties from India’s Tuesday strike.

On Wednesday, Pakistan said its air force carried out strikes along the so-called Line of Control to demonstrate its “right, will and capability for self defence.” The Line of Control is the de facto border between the Indian and Pakistani parts of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir.


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 2019

President Trump will be in Vietnam Tuesday to meet with North Korean President Kim Jung Un.  At the same time, the president announced on Monday a delay to increase in tariffs on Chinese goods set to take effect at the end of this week.  He said progress was made in the U.S. China trade dispute negotiations last week.   The year’s a yearlong trade fight between the two nations has weighed on the global economy, and could affect the global appetite for oil, say experts.

U.S. tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods had been scheduled to rise to 25% from 10% at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

In recent talks, Beijing offered to increase purchases of U.S. farm and energy products and services, ease restrictions on U.S. firms in financial services and auto manufacturing and improve protection of U.S. intellectual-property rights, according to people briefed on the discussions.  Stay tuned.

2019 OSCAR WINNERS

BEST PICTURE

WINNER: Green Book
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

BEST DIRECTOR

WINNER: Alfonso Cuaron for Roma
Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Adam McKay for Vice
Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite

BEST ACTRESS

WINNER: Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Yalitza Aparicio in Roma
Glenn Close in The Wife
Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?

BEST ACTOR

WINNER: Rami Malek in Bohemian Rhapsody
Christian Bale in Vice
Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born
Willem Dafoe in At Eternity’s Gate
Viggo Mortensen in Green Book

BEST SONG

WINNER: “Shallow” from A Star is Born
“All the Stars” from Black Panther
“I’ll Fight” from RBG
“The Place Where the Lost Things Go” from Mary Poppins Returns
“When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings” from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

BEST SCORE

WINNER: Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

WINNER: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

WINNER: Mahershala Ali in Green Book
Adam Driver in BlacKkKlansman
Sam Elliott in A Star Is Born
Richard E. Grant in Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Rockwell in Vice

BEST FILM EDITING

WINNER: Bohemian Rhapsody
BlacKkKlansman
The Favourite
Green Book
Vice

WINNER: Black Panther
The Favourite
First Man
Mary Poppins Returns
Roma

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

WINNER: Black Panther
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
The Favourite
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Monday accused the U.S. government of trying to fabricate a crisis to start a war in South America in his first interview with an American television network in years.

“Everything that the United States government has done has been doomed to failure,” Maduro told ABC News in Spanish from the presidential palace in Caracas.  “They are trying to fabricate a crisis to justify political escalation and a military intervention in Venezuela to bring a war to South America.”

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence traveled to Colombia Monday morning to deliver a message from President Donald Trump to Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido: “We are with you 100 percent.” There, he announced that the U.S. will provide an additional $56 million in aid to Venezuelan citizens and that the U.S. Treasury Department would be imposing “stronger sanctions” on the Maduro regime’s “corrupt financial networks.”

Maduro said that the meeting in Bogota was “part of the politics to attempt to establish a parallel government in Venezuela.” He added that the U.S. “wants Venezuela’s oil” and is “willing to go to war for that oil.”

“The extremist Ku Klux Klan government that Donald Trump directs wants a war over oil, and more than just oil,” he said, describing Venezuela as a “pacifist, humble nation.”

Asked if he had a message for Trump, Maduro said he needs to “fix your policy over Venezuela.”

“Venezuela has the right to peace, Venezuela has legitimate institutions. I, as President of Venezuela, am prepared for a direct dialogue with your government and with you to look for, like the Americans that we are. We are South Americans, you are North Americans. To look for 21st century solutions not Cold War solutions. The Cold War should stay behind,” Maduro said.

“We cannot have this war of are you a communist, are you anti-communist, inter-communist, anti-communist – that is not of this century. We are Democrats that believe in a new type of socialism and we have the right to the diversity of criterion and ideology. And so President Trump should always be ready to see Venezuela’s truth – the other side of the coin and rectify and start a new path,” Maduro continued.

ABC News has obtained a copy of a $3,500 check apparently written by “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett to Abimbola Osundairo, one of the two brothers who police say helped stage an attack on Smollett in Chicago last month.

Meanwhile, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, appearing exclusively on “Good Morning America” on Monday, doubled down on his contention that the ‘Empire’ star fabricated the account.

The check’s memo line reads, “5 week Nutrition/Workout program (Don’t Go).”  The check was dated Jan. 23, six days before Smollett claims he was attacked in a hate crime. A copy of the check was first published online by TMZ.   Sources close to Smollett told reporters the actor was starting to train for an upcoming music video titled “Don’t Go,” in which he had to appear shirtless. ABC News obtained a calendar entry of Smollett’s that indicates the video was scheduled to be filmed Feb. 23.

The $3,500 check was $600 per week for the workout plan, plus $100 per week for the nutrition plan, over five weeks, a source close to Smollett told ABC News.

Johnson said there is more to investigators’ confidence in their conclusion that the public has yet seen.

“Let me tell, you, Robin, there’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet, and does not support the version he gave,” Johnson said. “There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply does not support his version of what happened.”

Johnson made a point to note that statements about the case are not opinions, but based rather on a surfeit of evidence gathered by investigators before the actor was charged.

Singer R. Kelly, one of the most successful R&B acts of all time, was still in jail yesterday afternoon after he failed to immediately produce the $100,000 in cash required to make bail.  A judge in Chicago set Kelly’s total bond at $1 million on Saturday, a day after he was indicted on 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse against four victims, three of whom would have been underage at the time of the alleged crimes, according to prosecutors.

Kelly’s bond was set at $250,000 for each of the alleged victims in the case. To leave police custody, he’s required to pay 10% of the total, or $100,000.

Steve Greenberg, Kelly’s attorney, told reporters after Saturday’s bail hearing that he was “very happy” with the bond and that it seemed “fair and reasonable given the allegations.”

But Greenberg said his client “really doesn’t have any money at this point” due to “mismanagement,” “hangers-on” and “bad deals.”

He added Kelly would ultimately be able to come up with the required $100,000.

“He’s trying to get it together,” Greenberg said. “He doesn’t have it sitting in the bank.”

Illinois does not have bail bondsmen, Greenberg pointed out.  But Kelly’s money problems don’t stop with his bail.    According to court documents, Kelly owed more than $169,000 in unpaid child support to his ex-wife as of February 6.

GE shares surge 13% after Danaher agrees to buy GE’s biopharma business for $21.4 billion

The GE Life Sciences unit will join Danaher’s Life Science as a stand-alone business. The GE Biopharma unit is expected to generate about $3.2 billion in revenue this year.   The deal will see Danaher pay $21 billion in cash, as well as assume certain GE pension liabilities.

GE shares surged as much as 15 percent in trading today.

“We are focused on completing the carve out [of the biopharma business] – which is 15 percent of the $20 billion healthcare segment – and focused on managing the remaining core business,” GE Chairman and CEO Larry Culp told the media today.

Cowen Research said in a note to investors that this deal came at “a rich valuation that goes a long way towards GE’s debt reduction.”

“Sale of biopharma a positive,” Credit Suisse said in a note. “Under CEO Culp, GE has been accelerating its strategy to strengthen and deleverage the balance sheet.”

Friday, Feb. 22, 2019

In Washington D.C., few House Republicans appear ready to stand against President Trump and his resolution for his emergency declaration to build a wall on the Mexican border. Most seem ready to see how Trump does against the Democrats and soon, the Supreme Court regarding the issue.

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi tees up a floor vote on a resolution to block Trump’s unilateral move, most Republicans are set to line up in defense of their White House ally — despite some publicly voiced concerns about his action.

The reasons are both practical and political.   With Democrats in control of the lower chamber, Republicans are powerless to block the disapproval resolution, which Rep. Joaquin Castro introduced in the House Friday morning.   Perhaps more importantly, polls indicate that Trump’s declaration enjoys the overwhelming support of Republican voters, leaving GOP lawmakers no cover to buck the president — particular on his signature issue of border security.

If some have lingering reservations about the move’s legality — or the possibility Trump could use dollars headed toward their districts to construct the wall — there’s little sense they want to invite a primary challenge next year.

“As long as Trump’s popularity with Republican voters remains in the high 80s to low 90s, it’s hard to see how the political laws of nature will change,” said Doug Heye, a former House GOP leadership aide and former spokesman at the Republican National Committee.

A top official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the value of U.S. farm exports is expected to drop by over $1 billion in fiscal 2019 amid the trade war with China.   Much of the drop is a result of a loss of soybean sales in China, according to Robert Johansson, the chief economist at the USDA.

Johansson told the USDA’s annual forum on Thursday that the U.S. exported 24 million metric tonnes of soybeans in the 2019 crop year — down 13.5 million metric tonnes from this time last year.

“Under the trade dispute, exports to China alone have plummeted by 22 million tonnes, or over 90 percent,” he said.

China, the world’s largest soybean buyer, restricted U.S. soybeans in retaliation for tariffs on Chinese imports imposed by President Trump.

The tariffs have led to great anxiety in the farm community, and criticism from Midwest senators from both parties.

Sales of U.S. soybeans in other regions, such as the European Union, Egypt and Argentina have risen, Johansson said. But those sales have “not been enough to make up for the lost exports to China.”

China placed a 25 percent tariff on U.S. imports in July in response tariffs imposed by Trump. Soybean shipments to the country abruptly halted, leaving crops to rot in American fields, Reuters noted. 

“The share of total U.S. agricultural exports to China in value terms is projected to be 6 percent, down sharply, with China falling from the top market in 2017 to fifth place,” Johansson said.

He said that U.S. farm exports are expected to bring in $141.5 billion this fiscal year. 

Trump agreed to halt any new tariffs by making a 90-day truce with China while at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina in December. 

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