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Tag: politics

Justice Department: Documents 'Likely Concealed' To Obstruct Trump Probe

Washington (AFP) - Documents at former President Donald Trump's Florida home were "likely concealed" to obstruct an FBI probe into his potential mishandling of classified materials, the Justice Department said in a court filing Tuesday.

The filing provides the most detailed account yet of the motivation for the FBI raid this month on Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate, which was triggered by a review of records he previously surrendered to authorities that contained top secret information.

Before the raid, the FBI uncovered "multiple sources of evidence" showing that "classified documents" remained at Mar-a-Lago, the filing says.

"The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed... and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government's investigation," the filing adds.

The DOJ said it provided the detailed background on the build-up to the raid "to correct the incomplete and inaccurate narrative set forth in (Trump's) filings."

The filing responds to Trump's request last week for an independent party, or "special master," to screen files seized in the FBI raid for materials protected by personal privilege.

Naming a special master could potentially block investigators' access to the documents, especially if he or she accepts Trump's claims that most were privileged.

The filing argues that the court should not appoint a special master, "because those records do not belong to (Trump)."

The "appointment of a special master is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests," the filing adds.

Trump, who is weighing another White House run in 2024, has accused the Justice Department under Democratic President Joe Biden of conducting a "witch hunt" and said the judge "should never have allowed the break-in of my home."

Senate Adopts Massive Climate And Health Plan In Big Win For Biden

The US Senate's passage of a major climate and health plan is a significnat victory for President Joe Biden ahead of midterm elections

Washington (AFP) - After 18 months of arduous negotiations and a marathon night of debate, the US Senate on Sunday passed Joe Biden's ambitious climate, tax and health care plan -- a significant victory for the president ahead of crucial midterm elections.

Voting as a unified bloc and with the tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Kamala Harris, Democrats approved the $430 billion spending plan, which will go to the House of Representatives next week, where it is expected to pass before being signed into law by Biden.

The plan, crafted in sensitive talks with members on the right wing of his Democratic Party, would include the biggest US investment ever on climate -- $370 billion aimed at effecting a 40 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

That would give Biden a clear victory on one of his top agenda items and go some way toward restoring US leadership in meeting the global climate challenge.

Biden hailed the passage of the bill, highlighting the work that went into it -- and acknowledging that not everyone is happy with the final result.

"It required many compromises. Doing important things almost always does. The House should pass this as soon as possible and I look forward to signing it into law," the president said in a statement.

Electric cars

The bill would provide ordinary Americans with a tax credit of up to $7,500 when purchasing an electric car, plus a 30 percent discount when they install solar panels on their roofs.

It would also provide millions to help protect and conserve forests -- which have been increasingly ravaged in recent years by wildfires during record heat waves that scientists say are linked to global warming.

Billions of dollars in tax credits would also go to some of the country's worst-polluting industries to help their transition to greener methods -- a measure bitterly opposed by some liberal Democrats who have, however, accepted this as a least-bad alternative after months of frustration.

Biden, who came to office with promises of sweeping reforms, has seen his hopes dashed, then revived, then dashed again.

Democrats' narrow edge in the Senate has given a virtual veto to moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who earlier had used that power to block Biden's much more expansive Build Back Better plan.

But in late July, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer managed to engineer a compromise with the West Virginian, whose state's economy depends heavily on coal mining.

And on Saturday, senators finally opened their debate on the text.


Late in the day, senators kicked off a marathon procedure known as a "vote-a-rama," in which members can propose dozens of amendments and demand a vote on each one.

That allowed both Republicans, who view Biden's plan as too costly, and liberal Democrats, who say it does not reach far enough, to make their opposition clear.

Influential progressive Senator Bernie Sanders used that platform through the evening to propose several amendments aimed at strengthening social planks in the legislation, which were considerably weakened during the months of negotiation.

The bill would provide $64 billion for health care initiatives and ensure a lowering of some drug costs -- which can be 10 times more expensive in the United States than in some other rich countries.

But progressive Democrats long ago had to give up their ambitions for free preschool and community colleges and expanded healthcare for the elderly.

"Millions of seniors will continue to have rotten teeth and lack the dentures, hearing aids or eyeglasses that they deserve," Sanders said from the Senate floor. "This bill, as currently written, does nothing to address it."

But fellow Democrats, eager to pass the legislation ahead of November midterms when control of Congress is at stake, have rejected any change in the text.

To help offset the plan's massive spending, it would reduce the US deficit through a new 15-percent minimum tax on companies with profits of $1 billion or more -- a move targeting some that now pay far less.

That measure could generate more than $258 billion in tax receipts for the government over the 10 next years, by some estimates.

Senate Passes Aid For Veterans Injured By Exposure To Toxic Burn Pits

Washington (AFP) - US senators on Tuesday approved benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, which President Joe Biden, who believes his son Beau died of such exposure, has called a "decisive and bipartisan win."

Open trash fires have been commonly used by the US military in conflicts after the September 11, 2001 attacks, and are lit to get rid of everything from plastic bottles to human waste and old tires -- all incinerated with jet fuel.

But the fumes from these holes in the ground are suspected of causing a range of illnesses among soldiers, from chronic respiratory ailments to a variety of cancers.

Biden believes the pits are at the root of the brain cancer that claimed the life of his son Beau, who served in Iraq in 2008.

By 86 votes to 11, the Senate passed the PACT Act, which expands the window of eligibility for free medical care and ensures that, for certain respiratory illnesses and cancers, veterans will get disability benefits without having to prove they were made sick by exposure to the pits.

The passage came just days after Republican senators had rejected the bill, triggering withering condemnation from veterans groups and activists, including the outspoken comedian Jon Stewart, who had championed the cause.

Biden welcomed the approval of the act, saying, "While we can never fully repay the enormous debt we owe to those who have worn the uniform, today, the United States Congress took important action to meet this sacred obligation."

He said the new law would be "the biggest expansion of benefits for service-connected health issues in 30 years and the largest single bill ever to comprehensively address exposure to burn pits."

'Proper Care' For Exposure

Vice President Kamala Harris said that "too many of our veterans and their families have long waited for this day. With today's passage of the PACT Act, our veterans will finally see an expansion of their health benefits and proper care for burn pit exposure. They deserve it."

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that some 3.5 million US service members were exposed to toxic smoke in Afghanistan, Iraq or other conflict zones, and more than 200,000 veterans have registered on lists of people who came into contact with burn pits.

The Pentagon funded a $10 million study in 2018 that concluded there was "a potential cause and effect relationship between exposure to emissions from simulated burn pits and subsequent health outcomes."

Until now, nearly 80 percent of veterans' requests to have suspected burn pit ailments acknowledged by the government were rejected, according to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

A poll by the organization found that 82 percent of those questioned said they were exposed to burn pits or other airborne toxic chemicals.

Of these people, 90 percent said they are or may be suffering from symptoms linked to that exposure.

House Passes Abortion Rights Bills, But Senate Approval Unlikely

Washington (AFP) - The House of Representatives adopted two bills on Friday aimed at protecting access to abortion after the Supreme Court ruled that individual states can ban or restrict the procedure.

The legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled House is unlikely, however, to advance in the Senate, where 10 Republican votes would be needed to bring the measures to the floor.

"Just three weeks ago, the Supreme Court took a wrecking ball to fundamental rights by overturning Roe v. Wade," Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, referring to the landmark case that enshrined legal access to abortion.

"That is why today, our pro-choice, pro-women Democratic majority stands resolute," Pelosi said. "We will take further action to defend women's reproductive freedom."

The first bill, the "Women's Health Protection Act," adopted only with Democratic support, would legalize abortion throughout the United States.

The House passed a similar bill last year but it failed in the Senate.

The other bill adopted on Friday would provide legal protection to women who leave one state to undergo an abortion in another.

Several conservative states have already banned abortion since the Supreme Court ruling, and about half of the 50 US states are expected to impose near or total bans in weeks or months to come.

Democratic President Joe Biden denounced last month's abortion ruling by the conservative-dominated Supreme Court and has urged Americans to turn out in large numbers to vote in November's midterm elections.

The party in power tends to perform poorly in the midterms, however, and Democrats risk losing their majority in the House and their slim hold on the Senate.

Senate Advances Bipartisan Breakthrough Legislation On Gun Safety

Washington (AFP) - The United States Senate advanced a bipartisan bill late Thursday addressing the epidemic of gun violence convulsing the country, approving a narrow package of new firearms restrictions and billions of dollars in mental health and school security funding.

The reforms -- which are almost certain to be rubber-stamped by the House of Representatives on Friday -- fall short of the demands of gun safety advocates and President Joe Biden, but have been hailed as a life-saving breakthrough after almost 30 years of inaction by Congress.

"This bipartisan legislation will help protect Americans," Biden said in a statement shortly after the Senate vote. "Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it."

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which was backed by all 50 Democratic senators and 15 Republicans, includes enhanced background checks for buyers under the age of 21, $11 billion in funding for mental health and $2 billion for school safety programs.

It also provides funding to incentivize states to implement "red flag" laws to remove firearms from people considered a threat.

And it closes the so-called "boyfriend" loophole, under which domestic abusers could avoid a ban on buying firearms if they were not married to or living with their victim.

"Tonight, the United States Senate is doing something many believed was impossible even a few weeks ago: we are passing the first significant gun safety bill in nearly 30 years," Senate Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer said after the legislation passed.

"The gun safety bill we are passing tonight can be described with three adjectives: bipartisan, common sense, lifesaving."

His Republican counterpart Mitch McConnell said the legislation would make America safer "without making our country one bit less free."

"This is a common-sense package. Its provisions are very, very popular. It contains zero new restrictions, zero new waiting periods, zero mandates and zero bans of any kind for law-abiding gun owners."

The National Rifle Association and most Republicans in both chambers of Congress opposed the bill but it is endorsed by advocacy groups working in policing, domestic violence and mental illness.

The Senate and House are on a two-week recess starting next week but the Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve the Senate's bill with little drama before members leave town on Friday night.

'Historic Day'

The breakthrough is the work of a cross-party group of senators who have been hammering out the details and resolving disputes for weeks.

The lawmakers had been scrambling to finish the negotiations quickly enough to capitalize on the momentum generated by the fatal shooting of 19 children in Uvalde, Texas and of 10 Black people at a supermarket in Buffalo, upstate New York, both last month.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), who led negotiations for the Democrats, hailed a "historic day."

"This will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress has passed in three decades," he said on the Senate floor.

"This bill also has the chance to prove to the weary American public that democracy is not so broken, that it is able to rise to the moment."

The last significant federal gun control legislation was passed in 1994, introducing a national background check system and banning the manufacture for civilian use of assault rifles and large capacity ammunition clips.

But it expired a decade later and there has since been no serious movement on reform, despite rising gun violence.

Biden had pushed for more substantial reforms, including a reinstatement of the ban on assault rifles -- which were used in both the Texas and New York shootings -- and high-capacity magazines.

But the political challenge of legislating in a 50-50 Senate, where most bills require 60 votes to pass, means that more wide-ranging reforms are unrealistic.

"The morning after the tragedy in Uvalde, the United States Senate faced a choice," Schumer added.

"We could surrender to gridlock... Or we could choose to try and forge a bipartisan path forward to pass a real bill, as difficult as that may have seemed to many."

The vote came as a boon for gun safety activists hours after they were dismayed by a Supreme Court ruling that Americans have a fundamental right to carry a handgun in public.

The 6-3 decision struck down a more than century-old New York law that required a person to prove they had a legitimate self-defense need to receive a permit to carry a concealed handgun outside the home.

Lindsey Graham: Trump Rules Republicans Because They Adore A Bully

There are few reasons to admire Sen. Lindsey Graham. Actually, that’s not quite right. There are no reasons to admire Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Still, every now and then, just by accident, Graham gets something exactly right, and at the “Faith and Freedom Coalition” meeting held this week in Nashville, Graham managed to do something that might even seem amazing. In just two sentences, Graham deftly defined the difference between Democrats and Republicans.

He did it without mentioning a single policy. He did it without talking about the price of gas, or attacking LGBTQ people, or suggesting there should be a law allowing officials to peek under the skirts of teenage girls. He didn’t even mention “faith” or “freedom,” which was supposed to be the theme of the day. But he did it very effectively, and in a way that everyone can understand.

At the podium, Graham made it clear what he really missed about Trump — the bullying. “You know what I like about Trump?” Graham asks the audience, before providing the answer. “Everybody was afraid of him.” He then waits for — and collects — applause for this insight before jumping in to express how terrified he was of his own leader.

It’s true. Everyone was afraid of Trump. I woke up every morning concerned that he might launch a military attack to distract from his latest scandal, or destroy a diplomatic alliance to fit some twisted narrative, or finger some group of Americans as the source of all the nation’s ills, or ruin he environment just because he could. There were good reasons to fear all those things. Because they all happened.

Trump was, and is, an erratic, logic-free id storm whose tantrums often call for his followers to rain down abuse on anyone he deems a critic. He’s a guy who thinks his ability to hate powerfully, is his best quality. He may even be right.

The difference is … Republicans like it. They like being afraid. They want that bully at the bully pulpit. They want a “strong man” to tell them what to do, to yell at anyone who strays from the course, and to threaten everyone who refuses to go along with the fascistic flow. They don’t want to have to deal with facts and reason, much less justice and fairness.

Republicans like being afraid of Trump. It’s no wonder that they are always making paintings and posters in which Trump is some muscle-bound action hero. Because admitting they enjoy being bullied by the actual Trump … is simply pathetic.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

Watergate Anniversary Arrives As Trump Scandal Eclipses Nixon

Washington (AFP) - Fifty years since it ignited Washington, the Watergate affair remains a cautionary tale on the threat of untrammeled presidential power and the yardstick against which all other political scandals are judged.

Yet some historians believe its architect, Richard Nixon, risks being displaced as the norm-breaking exemplar of presidential corruption by Donald Trump and the firestorm over his role in the 2021 US Capitol assault.

Nixon's underlying crime was covering up a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington's Watergate complex to steal documents that might have helped him in an election he would ultimately win by a landslide anyway.

The accusations against Trump -- that he incited a deadly riot to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power as part of a conspiracy to overturn an election -- appear "far more serious," says history professor Michael Green.

Nixon "already has been knocked off his perch, frankly," Green, of the University of Nevada Las Vegas, told AFP.

"One of the ironies is that Nixon did not need to order a break-in to win that election," he said. "And there is no evidence, even with all of the tapes, that there was ever a discussion or thought of overturning the result if it went against him."

Five Watergate burglars were caught red-handed on June 17, 1972 and it quickly emerged that some were linked to the Nixon campaign and the White House.

The ensuing probe eventually opened a Pandora's box of abuses and dirty tricks that included political spying, the forgery of correspondence and even the theft of a pair of shoes to intimidate a Nixon rival.

But the cover-up was initially so successful that Nixon won 49 of the 50 states in his landslide victory over Democrat George McGovern in that year's presidential election.

'The First Seditious President'

The whitewash might have succeeded were it not for the chance discovery in the summer of 1973 that the president had secretly recorded all of his White House meetings.

They included a "smoking gun" tape in which Nixon could be heard ordering that the FBI, which was set to investigate the Watergate break-in, be told to "stay the hell out of this."

Nixon resigned after a delegation of Republican elders, led by ultra-conservative Barry Goldwater, came to the White House in 1974 to tell him he was likely to be impeached and the jig was up.

He was ultimately pardoned but many of his top aides went to jail.

Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the reporters who played a pivotal role in bringing down Nixon, have written a new foreword for their iconic book All the President's Men drawing parallels to Trump.

Their comparison offers an insight into a pair of outsiders who felt besieged by enemies in the media and institutions of state.

But they suggest that Trump's incitement of a mob to march on the Capitol constituted "a deception that exceeded even Nixon's imagination."

"By legal definition this is clearly sedition... thus Trump became the first seditious president in our history," they say.

Analysts interviewed by AFP pointed to the vastly different political and media landscape Nixon and Trump faced when it came to consequences for their actions.

The Goldwater intervention, for example, would be inconceivable among the vast majority of today's serving Republicans, who have stuck by Trump through two impeachments and numerous other controversies.

'Just Another Story'

And while the Senate voted unanimously to set up a cross-party investigative committee on Watergate, the Republicans of the 2020s vetoed a bipartisan commission and punished two members who joined the Democratic-led House committee investigating January 6.

Some 80 million Americans -- considerably more than a third of the population -- tuned in to White House counsel John Dean's televised testimony against Nixon at the Watergate hearings.

Around 20 million -- just six percent of Americans -- watched the blockbuster first hearing put on by the January 6 panel.

For David Greenberg, author of Nixon's Shadow: The History of an Image, the Watergate hearings were "instrumental" in bringing down a president attempting to subvert democracy.

"The difference, however, is that in 1973 and 1974 a great many Republican congressmen and senators loyal to Nixon ended up admitting that he was engaged in criminal activity," he told AFP.

"Today, only a few... have been willing to acknowledge Trump's complicity. Our polarized, partisan environment may prevent the January 6 hearings from achieving all they should."

Meanwhile Trump's impeachment for inciting the insurrection -- and the apparent cover up of almost eight hours of his phone calls on January 6 -- have not significantly eroded his support base.

"At the time of Watergate, Americans were united and trusted their media sources as part of one national conversation. Today that is impossible," former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez told AFP.

If the right-wing cable news outlets that dominate current conservative discourse had been around in the 1970s, argues Sanchez, Watergate would have been "just another story in the 24-hour news cycle of America."

Senate Gun Measures Gaining Support Despite Limited Scope

Washington (AFP) - Two horrific massacres in recent weeks have succeeded in bringing Democrats and Republicans close to the most significant federal legislation addressing US gun violence in three decades.

Twenty senators -- 10 from each party -- reached a deal Sunday to put through legislation that would tighten some rules on gun sales and put more resources toward mental health treatment.

The 10 Republicans are just enough to ensure that the legislation could overcome Senate rules that have allowed the party since the 1990s to block almost every single measure aimed at controlling the flood of personal firearms on the US market.

Their agreement comes less than a month after two shocking mass shootings: first, when 10 African Americans were killed on May 14 at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, and then less than two weeks later when 19 children and two teachers were shot and killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

Those tragedies also brought into focus smaller, but more frequent instances of gun violence across the United States.

Chris Coons, a Senate Democrat who led the chamber's bipartisan effort, said the legislation could be introduced within days and possibly passed in early July.

"In the wake of the horrifying recent shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and across the country, Americans have demanded that the Senate take meaningful steps forward on this issue," said Coons.

"This framework will save lives. If it becomes law, it will lower the risks of mass shootings, of lethal domestic violence incidents, of violence we see too frequently on our streets."

Modest Measures

The senators' agreed measures are modest, and far short of what US President Joe Biden called for following last month's tragic killings.

They include:

  • Enhanced background checks for people under 21 buying a gun, allowing a review of juvenile crime and mental health records
  • Funding and incentives for states to pass "red flag" laws to keep guns out of the hands of people deemed a danger to themselves or society, and perpetrators of domestic abuse
  • Tougher penalties for "straw purchasers" of guns for others that feed illegal firearms trafficking
  • Closing loopholes on gun dealer regulations
  • Federal support for state investments in school security and mental health programs

But they did not approach demands from gun control advocates, including an outright ban on assault rifles, as was in place from 1994 to 2004, a ban on gun sales to people under 21, mandatory waiting periods in all gun purchases, and bans on high-capacity magazines.

Both the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings were by 18-year-olds using high-powered AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles.

Moreover, whatever gains that come with the legislation could be dealt a setback by a Supreme Court ruling due this month that could overturn state restrictions on carrying guns in public.

  • 'Breaking the logjam' -

Even so, gun control advocates cheered the measures, recognizing the potential for a significant shift towards breaking the gun industry's stranglehold.

"We applaud this historic step forward for gun violence prevention -- one born out of the recognition that this nation needs change and action to save American lives from preventable gun violence," said Kris Brown, president of the Brady: United Against Gun Violence group.

"We're breaking the logjam in Congress and proving that gun safety isn't just good policy -– it's good politics," said Shannon Watts, founder of the group Moms Demand Action.

Narrow Political Margin

Yet supporters were not fully confident the measures will pass, knowing that the legislation could be blocked if fewer than 10 of the Senate's 50 Republicans support it.

Working in their favor is that none of the 10 Republicans who agreed to the deal Sunday are standing for reelection in November. Four are retiring, and five won't face reelection until 2026; one other faces reelection in 2024.

The 20 senators "are committed to each other and to this project," said Coons.

But the National Rifle Association, which has wielded powerful influence over Republicans for decades, made clear their fundamental opposition.

"NRA will continue to oppose any effort to insert gun control policies, initiatives that override constitutional due process protections and efforts to deprive law-abiding citizens of their fundamental right to protect themselves into this or any legislation," the group said.

David Hogg, leader of anti-gun violence group March For Our Lives and himself a school shooting survivor, called for action to counter the NRA's political pressure.

"We're going to need a lot of gun owners to speak out and let these Republican senators know that they are supported, that the NRA speaks only for the NRA and not the majority of responsible, voting gun owners," he said.