Pelosi Blames GOP for Russian Annexation of Crimea During Obama Admin

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) on Wednesday blamed Russia’s annexation of Crimea on Republicans, though the invasion took place on President Barack Obama’s watch.

Pelosi slammed President Donald Trump and Republicans for their alleged inability to face Russian aggression—and tied them to President Barack Obama’s appeasement of Moscow.

“You just described, not only for the president, but the Republicans in Congress, dereliction of duty,” Pelosi told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. “Undermining our own elections, undermining our commitment to NATO, giving away the store, the base, in Syria. The list goes on and on. Ignoring the annexation of Crimea, the invasion of eastern Ukraine. The list goes on and on.”

In 2014, the Obama administration took heat from Republicans for its failure to provide defense assistance to Ukraine when Russian president Vladimir Putin led a campaign to annex the Crimean peninsula. The Trump administration changed course on this policy, selling arms to Ukraine for its defense against Russia.

Pelosi was addressing reports that Russia may have paid bounties for U.S. servicemen killed in Afghanistan. She said the reports are evidence that Trump “lets the Russians get away with murder,” but national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Trump had not been briefed about the bounties because intelligence officials had not found corroboration.

“The president was not briefed, because at the time of these allegations, they were uncorroborated,” O’Brien said on Fox News. “And as a result, the president’s career CIA briefer decided not to brief him.”

Long before Trump became president, Republicans were lambasting Obama for not providing military aid to the Ukrainians as they faced down Russia, with then-senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) calling U.S. inaction “shameful.”

Pelosi voted with most of her House colleagues to affirm Ukraine’s territorial integrity in March of 2014, but she did not publicly push back on the Obama administration for its inaction against Putin.

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NY Times Joins DNC in Criticism of Mount Rushmore

Ahead of President Donald Trump’s Friday visit to Mount Rushmore the New York Times published an article criticizing the racist history of the memorial, its sculptor, and the “complicated legacy” of the presidents represented on it.

The article, “How Mount Rushmore Became Mount Rushmore,” states that the national monument has “never been without controversy.” The article comes ahead of a planned Independence Day celebration at the monument featuring Trump, an event the Times says has “invited even more scrutiny of the monument’s history, the leaders it celebrates, the sculptor who created it and the land it towers over.”

Reporters Bryan Pietsch and Jacey Fortin note critiques of each of the four presidents featured on Mount Rushmore—criticizing George Washington and Thomas Jefferson as slaveowners, Theodore Roosevelt as “a racist” who “actively sought to Christianize and uproot Native Americans,” and even Abraham Lincoln, noting that “some have characterized [the Emancipation Proclamation] as reluctant and late.”

The article follows a Monday attack on Mount Rushmore by the Democratic National Committee, which wrote in a now-deleted social media post that Trump was “glorifying white supremacy” by hosting a fireworks display at the monument.

The Times article invoked immediate criticism from Republicans such as Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), who just last month was targeted by what he calls the “woke mob” at the paper.

“Now, the woke mob at the New York Times is coming after Mount Rushmore,” Cotton said. “If we give this mob an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

Several past presidents, including Trump’s immediate predecessor Barack Obama, have visited Mount Rushmore. Obama visited the structure during his 2008 campaign for president, an event that was covered by the paper without mention of its “complicated legacy.” First Lady Michelle Obama and their two daughters also visited as part of a vacation in 2012.

Longtime Times columnist Maureen Dowd in a 2016 piece on Obama’s legacy pondered whether Obama had established himself as “a Mount Rushmore president.” It wasn’t made clear whether this would have been an honor.

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Detroit Removes Thousands of Dead Registrants From Voter Rolls

The city of Detroit has removed thousands of deceased and duplicate registrants from its voter rolls after being hit with a lawsuit.

City officials cleaned up the voter rolls after the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a government watchdog, filed suit against them in December. Nearly 2,500 deceased individuals and 4,800 duplicate registrations were removed from the voter rolls. The officials have also moved to review another 16,465 registrants who lacked actual dates of registration.

“This is another win for election integrity,” said J. Christian Adams, the watchdog’s president and general counsel. “This case wasn’t complicated. The City of Detroit could have started to fix these problems before litigation, but didn’t. Other jurisdictions should take note—if you don’t act on solid data that your voter rolls are corrupted with dead and duplicate registrations, you will be sued.”

Debates over voter fraud have appeared as Democrats across the country push for mail-in voting during the coronavirus pandemic. President Donald Trump claimed that mail-in voting will lead to the “most corrupt Election in USA history.” Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, are pressuring Senate Republicans to pass legislation to support such measures. Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.), chair of the Senate Rules Committee, blocked a bill brought forth by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.) on the issue, saying he worried it would lead to a “federal takeover of elections.”

The watchdog filed suit against two Detroit officials—City Clerk Janice Winfrey and Director of Elections George Azzouz—after studying Detroit’s voter list maintenance efforts dating back to 2017. Outside liberal groups, such as the New York-based Brennan Center for Justice and League of Women Voters of Michigan, swooped into the city to intervene on behalf of the election officials but ultimately did not play much of a role. Adams’s group dropped the lawsuit after the officials cleaned up the registrations.

The voter roll cleanup comes just four months before the November elections in a state that Trump carried by just over 10,000 votes in 2016. Michigan could again serve as a battleground state in the 2020 elections.

The voter registration irregularities were not the only time Detroit has faced election-related controversy in recent years. Last year, clerk Sherikia L. Hawkins was charged with several felony counts for altering absentee ballots during the 2018 elections. Past reports also showed voter machine irregularities in the city when 37 percent of its precincts in 2016 registered more votes than the number of voters who were tallied in polling stations.

PILF has identified a number of similar situations across the country. The group filed a lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh, which settled in May and agreed to turn over records to the watchdog, including information on dead voting registrants. The Pennsylvania Department of State, the North Carolina State Board of Elections, and Harris County, Texas, were also sued by the group last year for withholding noncitizen voting records.

Detroit’s City Clerk’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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Virginia Police Will Now Ask for Race, Gender During Traffic Stops

A new Virginia law requires police officers to ask individuals pulled over during traffic stops for their race, ethnicity, and gender.

The change is part of the Community Policing Act, which took effect Wednesday. Aimed at eliminating “bias-based profiling,” the law requires officers to record the driver’s race, ethnicity, age, and sex while conducting traffic stops.

The law says the police will collect data “based on the officer’s observation or information provided to the officer by the driver.”

The city of Arlington released a statement telling residents that they should be prepared for the change, as “it may involve the officer asking them additional questions on a traffic stop.”

Luke Torian, a Democratic delegate representing Prince William County, proposed the legislation to track complaints on the use of excessive force and determine whether police engage in racial targeting. A similar bill was passed in Washington, D.C., last year, and the ACLU issued a report in June charging that disparities found in the data on police stops suggest that there may be “racial bias” in the city’s police department.

The legislation in Virginia comes amid calls from protesters to reform or defund the police. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio (D.) confirmed earlier this week that he will be making a $1 billion budget cut to the NYPD.

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Losers for Biden: Romney Campaign Alums Abandon GOP for Joe

Former staffers from Mitt Romney’s failed presidential campaign are abandoning the Republican Party and working to elect former vice president Joe Biden.

Micah Spangler, who worked as a Florida field director for Romney in 2012, is working with the Biden campaign to “cultivate a network of Romney alums that want to help elect Joe in November,” according to an email Spangler wrote to solicit support for his deviant scheme.

Spangler’s former failed boss, who was the only GOP senator to vote to convict President Donald Trump, could be among those who end up backing Biden in the fall, or at least writing in “Alexander Hamilton.” Romney was forced to endure a ritualistic humiliation after Trump’s victory in 2016 when the president-elect invited him to dinner and pretended like he wanted to nominate him for secretary of state.

Spangler told the Washington Times that “dozens and dozens” of his former colleagues on Romney’s failed 2012 campaign have “signed up” to be a part of the “network,” whatever that means. A poor man’s Lincoln Project? Or a desperate ploy to improve their social standing and advance their careers in politics?

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump super PAC started by a group of failed Republican strategists, has been lavished with Twitter praise from anti-Trump liberals for its snarky attack ads. One of the group’s founders, John Weaver, was an adviser to failed GOP candidates John McCain, Jon Huntsman, and John Kasich, and has also advised the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Not all former Romney staffers were eager to jump on the Biden bandwagon. Brett Doster, who also worked for Romney’s campaign in Florida but didn’t remember Spangler, told the Times he wished his former colleagues “no personal ill-will,” but questioned “the patriotism and wisdom of supporting Joe Biden, who would be a cultural and economic disaster for the country.”

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Trump Admin Vows to Secure Permanent U.N. Arms Embargo on Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

The United States will seek a permanent extension of an arms embargo on Iran that is set to expire later this year, setting up a confrontation at the United Nations with Russia and China, Iranian allies poised to block the Trump administration’s efforts.

The October expiration of the United Nations arms embargo on Iran was a key part of the Obama-era nuclear deal that blocked nations from exporting arms to Tehran. The Trump administration has vowed to keep the embargo alive and in recent months expended significant diplomatic capital preparing a U.N. resolution to accomplish that goal. Russia and China promise to veto any such measure and are able to unilaterally do so as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Both countries remain close allies of Iran and have already discussed plans to sell Tehran billions of dollars’ worth of advanced weaponry once the embargo lifts.

The Trump administration has made extending the arms embargo a centerpiece of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, which includes crippling economic sanctions. The diplomatic push comes as Iran ramps up its contested nuclear work, particularly the enrichment of uranium, the key component in an atomic weapon. For months, Tehran has blatantly violated the nuclear deal by, among other things, preventing international atomic inspectors from accessing key military sites believed to contain undeclared nuclear materials. As the 2020 U.S. presidential election approaches, the arms embargo could be the Trump administration’s last chance to prevent Tehran from becoming an international arms dealer.

Amid the showdown between the United States, Russia, and China, European countries on the U.N. Security Council have sought to forge a compromise. Under this proposal, the arms embargo would be extended, but only for a short time, and might be limited in other ways, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ruled out such a plan on Wednesday in some of his clearest comments on the matter to date. The United States, he said, will not tolerate any plan that only extends the embargo for a limited time.

“Our objective is not to extend the arms embargo for another short period of time,” Pompeo said in response to questions from the Washington Free Beacon during a briefing at the State Department.

The embargo is “not a time-limited matter,” Pompeo said. “Extending it for six months or a year or two years fundamentally falls into the same trap that the previous administration fell into.”

The only other option to extend the arms embargo would involve revoking the nuclear deal itself through a “snapback mechanism” written into the original U.N. resolution that endorsed the deal and lifted the embargo. Iran hawks in Congress have long called for such a move, but Pompeo on Wednesday said snapback “is not our first objective.”

As part of the administration’s efforts to extend the arms embargo, Brian Hook, the administration’s top Iran diplomat, has been meeting with Middle Eastern and European allies. Hook won the support of several key nations, including Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. He also pushed France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—collectively known as the E3—to publicly support U.S. efforts to extend the arms ban.

Richard Goldberg, the former director for Countering Iranian Weapons of Mass Destruction at the White House National Security Council, told the Free Beacon that Europe should not stand in the way of U.S. efforts to extend the embargo.

“Remember, the president vowed in 2016 to dismantle the Iran Deal,” Goldberg said. “It was a major campaign promise. But here we are four years later, the Iran Deal is on its last legs despite the Deep State’s efforts to save it, and now on the one-yard line the Europeans want the President to take a phony, temporary arms embargo extension instead of completing the snapback?”

On Tuesday, Pompeo delivered a major address to the U.N. Security Council in which he emphasized the dangers of letting the arms embargo lapse.

“Iran will be free to purchase Russian-made fighter jets that can strike up to a 3,000-kilometer radius—putting cities like Riyadh, New Delhi, Rome, and Warsaw in its crosshairs,” he said. “Iran will be free to upgrade and expand its fleet of submarines to further threaten international shipping and freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, Persian Gulf, and Arabian Sea.”

All of these weapons, Pompeo said, will be shared with Tehran’s terror proxy groups, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and Houthi militia groups in Yemen.

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Study: Border Barriers Work

U.S.-Mexico wall

Barriers along America’s southwestern border significantly reduce illegal immigration, especially by low-skilled migrants, a new study argues.

The analysis, by University of Illinois at Chicago economist Benjamin Feigenberg, provides empirical evidence that the construction of border barriers—in this case, the 700 miles of border fencing authorized by Congress in 2006—cuts migration both in the areas where they are constructed and in adjacent territory.

In total, Feigenberg estimates, a fully fenced border would deter some 86,000 people from crossing the border every three months, at a cost of less than $2,000 per person deterred.

These findings provide robust empirical support for the idea of constructing a barrier along America’s often-porous border with Mexico—a proposal long-supported by Republicans, and President Donald Trump in particular, but vociferously opposed by Democrats. The failure to support more border fencing, once a bipartisan goal, may have helped drive the recent wave of immigration that led to a crisis at the border.

To reach his conclusions, Feigenberg examined the results of the 2006 Secure Fence Act, a bipartisan bill signed into law under then-president George W. Bush. The bill called for the construction of some 700 miles of fencing along the Mexican-American border; a subsequent appropriations bill put the exact location of the fencing at the discretion of the secretary of homeland security.

Using a novel dataset, Feigenberg argues that the locations at which the fencing was constructed were effectively randomly distributed. That allows him to exploit the randomness in variation in construction timing to measure the effects of building a border fence on migration in adjacent Mexican territories using a robust collection of U.S. and Mexican government data.

The results are pronounced. The paper finds that fence construction in a given municipality reduces average migration by 27 percent. In addition, fence construction in an adjacent municipality has a spillover effect, reducing migration by an additional 15 percent.

The total effect, Feigenberg writes, is to alter the illegal immigrant population in the United States: “Fence construction significantly decreases the size of the likely undocumented, Mexican-born population on the US side of the border and in the US interior.”

That reduction is particularly concentrated among low-skilled migrants, with the data indicating that the probability of migration becomes less biased towards those with less education after border fencing is constructed. Feigenberg is not able to conclude what drives this change, but speculates that increased crossing costs’ differential effect on low-earners, limited access to credit, and “differences in access to legal migration opportunities offer potential explanations.”

This last finding is significant because of the particular role that low-skilled migration plays in the debate over immigration restriction. Proponents of increased immigration argue that the complementary effects of immigrants increase national wealth on net. But opponents argue that low-skilled migration lowers wages and job opportunities for the lowest-skilled Americans, in turn fomenting social unrest.

The overall effect of border fencing, Feigenberg writes, is likely relatively easy to explain, attributable to “the increase in the risk of apprehension for those who would attempt to climb over new fencing,” as well as “the increase in mortality (and perhaps apprehension) risk faced by migrants who choose to go around the fence and cross in remote, topographically inhospitable border segments where border fencing was more likely to be delayed.”

Feigenberg’s is just the latest contribution to a literature that argues that immigration enforcement can substantially reduce levels of illegal immigration. One 2018 study, for example, found that more aggressive sanctions on repeated illegal border crossings did significantly deter reentry.

At present, illegal immigration has returned to near-record lows, with just 23,000 individuals apprehended illegally entering in May compared with 144,000 in May of 2019. That decline is likely attributable to the novel coronavirus, which has spread as virulently throughout Central America as elsewhere. Feigenberg’s findings, however, suggest that future border fencing construction may help mitigate any surge like the 2019 wave of illegal immigration.

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The Toughest Questions Chris Cuomo Asked His Big Brother

CNN primetime host Chris Cuomo has a famous and powerful older brother: New York governor Andrew Cuomo (D.).

The elder Cuomo has appeared on CNN’s Cuomo Prime Time throughout the coronavirus pandemic despite the obvious potential for chummy interviews, good-natured ribbing, and mutual expressions of brotherly love.

Chris Cuomo has confessed to viewers he cannot be objective with his older brother, repeatedly lauded Andrew’s approach to battling coronavirus in the worst-hit state in the country, and last week called him the “best politician in the country.”

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Hong Kong Police Arrest More Than 300 Following New Security Law

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested more than 300 people on Wednesday as protesters took to the streets in defiance of sweeping security legislation introduced by China to snuff out dissent.

Beijing unveiled the details of the much-anticipated law late on Tuesday after weeks of uncertainty, pushing China’s freest city and one of the world’s most glittering financial hubs on to a more authoritarian path.

As thousands of protesters gathered for an annual rally marking the anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to China in 1997, riot police used pepper spray and fired pellets as they made arrests after crowds spilled into the streets chanting “resist till the end” and “Hong Kong independence”.

“I’m scared of going to jail but for justice I have to come out today, I have to stand up,” said one 35-year-old man who gave his name as Seth.

Police said they had made more than 300 arrests for illegal assembly and other offenses, with nine involving violations of the new law.

The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison, will see mainland security agencies in Hong Kong for the first time and allows extradition to the mainland for trial.

China’s parliament adopted the law in response to protests last year triggered by fears that Beijing was stifling the city’s freedoms, guaranteed by a “one country, two systems” formula agreed when it returned to Chinese rule. Beijing denies the accusation.

Hong Kong police cited the law in confronting protesters.

“You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offenses under the … national security law,” police said in a message displayed on a purple banner.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investors’ interests.

‘HEARTBREAKING’

But critics fear it will end the pro-democracy opposition and crush freedoms, including an independent legal system and right to protest, that are seen as key to Hong Kong’s success as a financial centre.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the new law was an affront to all nations and Washington would continue to implement President Donald Trump’s directive to end the territory’s special status.

Britain said it would stand by its word and offer all those in Hong Kong with British National Overseas status a “bespoke” immigration route.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab described Wednesday’s protests as heartbreaking and reprimanded HSBC and other banks for supporting the new law, saying the rights of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed for bankers’ bonuses.

Britain and Canada also updated their travel advisories for Hong Kong, saying there was an increased risk of detention.

A former employee of the British consulate in Hong Kong, Simon Cheng, said he had been granted political asylum by the British government after being beaten by Chinese secret police last year in mainland China during 15 days of detention.

In a post on Facebook after the enactment of the national security law, he said he hoped other Hong Kong people would be offered protection by Britain.

Police fired water cannon to try to disperse the protesters. A game of cat and mouse reminiscent of last year’s often violent demonstrations followed, with protesters blocking roads before running away from riot police charging with batons, only to re-emerge elsewhere.

Police posted pictures on Twitter of an officer with a bleeding arm saying he was stabbed by “rioters holding sharp objects”. The suspects fled while bystanders offered no help, police said.

On July 1 last year, hundreds of protesters stormed and vandalized the city’s legislature to protest against a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Those protests evolved into anti-China demonstrations and calls for democracy, paralyzing parts of the city and paving the way for Beijing’s new law.

‘BIRTHDAY GIFT’

In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters suspects arrested by a new Beijing-run security office could be tried on the mainland.

He said the new office abided by Chinese law and that Hong Kong’s legal system could not be expected to implement the laws of the mainland. Article 55 of the law states that Beijing’s security office in Hong Kong could exercise jurisdiction over “complex” or “serious” cases.

“The law is a birthday gift to (Hong Kong) and will show its precious value in the future,” Zhang said, adding the law would not be applied retroactively.

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover, the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since 1997.

“It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability,” Lam said at the harbor-front venue where the last colonial governor, Chris Patten, a staunch critic of the security law, tearfully handed back Hong Kong to China.

Some pro-Beijing officials and political commentators say the law is aimed at sealing Hong Kong’s “second return” to the motherland after the first failed to bring residents to heel.

Luo Huining, the head of Beijing’s top representative office in Hong Kong, said at the ceremony the law was a “common aspiration” of Hong Kong citizens.

Some pro-democracy activists gave up membership of their groups just before the law came into force on Tuesday, though they called for the campaign to carry on from abroad.

“I saw this morning there are celebrations for Hong Kong’s handover, but to me it is a funeral, a funeral for ‘one country two systems’,” said pro-democracy lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki.

(Reporting by Yanni Chow, Twinnie Siu, Pak Yiu, Scott Murdoch, Joyce Zhou, Clare Jim, Jessie Pang, Tyrone Siu and James Pomfret in Hong Kong, Yew Lun Tian in Beijing, William James and Guy Faulconbridge in London and Denny Thomas in Toronto; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

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Seattle Police to Clear Out ‘Lawless and Brutal’ Protest Zone

(Reuters) – Seattle police are working to clear out a protest zone in the city that has become “lawless and brutal” after weeks of violence, including four shootings and the deaths of two teenagers, the city’s police chief said on Wednesday.

The move came after Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan declared the gathering of people in and around the police department’s East Precinct and Cal Anderson Park an “unlawful assembly,” the city’s police chief, Carmen Best, said in a statement.

“As I have said, and I will say again, I support peaceful demonstrations,” Best said. “But enough is enough.”

Four nights of gun violence in the last 10 days have left two black teenagers dead and two more people hospitalized amid an increasingly diminished presence of demonstrators in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) outside the abandoned East Precinct.

President Donald Trump has been demanding that Washington state and Seattle take action to eject the protesters, calling them “domestic terrorists,” but city authorities had until Wednesday taken a nonconfrontational approach.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Steve Orlofsky)

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