The UN Security Council failed to find a consensus on prolonging cross-border humanitarian aid to Syria on Friday after Russia and China vetoed an extension and members rejected a counter proposal by Moscow. Without an agreement, authorization for the transport of aid to war-torn Syria, which has existed since 2014, expired Friday night.
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With the start of the US school year only weeks away, Marina Avalos still has no idea how or where her 7-year-old daughter will attend classes. Like many mothers, Avalos is reluctant to send her child back to school at a time when coronavirus across the country has surged past three million cases, including 130,000 deaths. On Tuesday, California -- where she lives -- set a new daily cases record, with 11,694 infections.
Nobody howled louder than Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner barred the state GOP from holding its convention there amid a COVID-19 explosion.“This is nothing but a political hack job by Mayor Turner,” Patrick told Laura Ingraham on Fox News.Patrick failed to mention that he and Gov. Greg Abbott and various other GOP elected officials had earlier opted out of actually joining the 6,000 party stalwarts who signed up for the July 16th gathering at the George R. Brown Convention center. They had instead planned to address the gathering via video.“All the elected officials are switching from a live, in-person speech to videos,” state GOP executive director Kyle Whatley said during a virtual town hall on Tuesday night. “They’re doing that for us in order to focus all the attention on the business of the meeting and to get everybody in and out of here as quickly and as safely as possible.” Surely, virtual appearances would require as much attention as live. But video might in fact prompt everybody to leave quicker. Each virtual speech would carry the unstated message that the official was leery of actually being there. And those who did attend would be left with the question, “Then what the heck am I doing here?”Even such big and bright stars of the Texas conservative firmament as Rep. Dan Crenshaw approved of the mayor’s decision.“A prudent move for public health,” Crenshaw said.Patrick had already made a prudent move for his own health when he opted to go virtual. He nonetheless denounced Turner’s push for the entire GOP convention to go online, as the state Democratic convention already had with no difficulties and zero infections.Turner should have moved last month to stop the insanity of a large indoor gathering as COVID-19 continued to spike. The virus then became what he termed “out of control.” He was reportedly further spurred into action when one of his sisters reminded him that the convention would also endanger hotel workers such as their mother, who had long been at the city’s Rice Hotel. He did not have to be told that your basic Texas Republican is not likely to worry about endangering a maid by failing to wear a mask in a hotel.Of course, scientific fact and common sense have not stopped the GOP from filing suit to stop the mayor from stopping their convention. Turner noted to the press that Harris County District Court is holding much of its business on Zoom.“It’s ironic they’re going to the courthouse, that in many cases is hearing and seeing cases virtually, to ask them to agree to allow 6,000 people to meet in person,” Turner said.In fact, the entire Texas court system went largely virtual in late March. Courthouse News reported Texas held more than 8,500 virtual proceedings with 113,000 participants in the first months. Not even emergency matters were held in person. “Obviously even that would put participants at risk,” a spokesman for the Texas Office of Court Administration was quoted saying.District Court Judge Larry Weiman denied the GOP’s application. The GOP said that was only what it expected from such a liberal court and appealed to the Supreme Court of Texas.Who Are You Going to Trust—Dr. Fauci or Texas’ Joke of a Lieutenant Governor?The state’s top court had also gone virtual, with oral arguments available for public viewing on YouTube. The GOP was now asking the nine justices to intercede and allow it to go ahead with an all too actual gathering. Never mind that the convention’s own organizers implicitly recognized it as so risky that the state's two top Repulican officials were appearing only on video. A spokesman for the state Supreme Court said the justices had asked for a response from the city of Houston and from the Houston First Corporation, which operates the convention arena. The city’s response is due by 5 pm Saturday.“Too early to know whether oral arguments might be held,” the spokesman told The Daily Beast . “If yes, would be on Zoom.”If it goes to oral arguments, anybody who so desires will be able to go on YouTube and witness irony that has become quite literally supreme. Maybe if the state Supreme Court finds in favor of the mayor, Patrick and his GOP crew will dare to appear live on Zoom. Either way, two words come back that Ingraham uttered when interviewing Patrick. They started out talking about reopening the schools. And Ingraham remarked that a teacher’s union was holding a webinar.“How brave,” she said.The interview proceeded on to Turner’s decision to block the Texas state GOP convention. “He didn’t say a word when 60,000 people protested in the streets of Houston,” Patrick said. “Many of these people [are] now in the hospitals that are causing the spike.”Where most major cities that had protests have found little if any accompanying risk in infections, health officials in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, have discerned what seems to be a resulting uptick. But they are quick to add that the biggest factor was, in the words of Harris County Public Health Director Dr. Umair Shah, “People interpreting reopening as back to normal.”And the experts agree that the risk is considerably heightened when people gather indoors. That would include the in-person convention where Patrick himself bravely planned to appear only from the safety of a screen. Apparently for him it’s only an afterthought that those at risk on the front lines of COVID include the people who clean the hospitals, hotels, transportation facilities, and gathering places such as the one where he wants to pack thousands. ‘If People Die, People Die’: Texas COVID Hot Spots Keep Getting WorseRead more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.
‘This Was a Mistake’: Not All of Trump World Is Pleased With the President Commuting Roger Stone’s Sentence
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant convicted of lying to Congress about his connection to WikiLeaks and intimidating another witness to do the same, had his sentence commuted by President Trump on Friday—just a few days before he was set to report to jail.President Trump had raised the possibility of clemency almost immediately after Stone, 67, was convicted last November, often complaining—without evidence—that Stone had been treated poorly by law enforcement or targeted unfairly.In a statement announcing Stone's clemency, the White House described Stone as “a victim of the Russia Hoax that the Left and its allies in the media perpetuated for years in an attempt to undermine the Trump Presidency.” “Mr. Stone, like every American, deserves a fair trial and every opportunity to vindicate himself before the courts. The President does not wish to interfere with his efforts to do so,” the White House wrote. “At this time, however, and particularly in light of the egregious facts and circumstances surrounding his unfair prosecution, arrest, and trial, the President has determined to commute his sentence. Roger Stone has already suffered greatly. He was treated very unfairly, as were many others in this case. Roger Stone is now a free man!”Ex-Roger Stone Prosecutor: DOJ Under ‘Heavy Pressure’ to Spare Trump’s FriendGrant Smith, a lawyer representing Stone, told The New York Times his client was “incredibly honored that President Trump used his awesome and unique power under the Constitution of the United States for this act of mercy.”Likewise, many in Trumpworld rejoiced. Michael Caputo, a close Stone friend and former Trump adviser who now serves as a senior administration official, told The Daily Beast Friday evening, “I still cannot speak to Roger [Stone] due to an unconstitutional court order, but I’ve ordered the lobster.”Rudy Giuliani, another Trump confidant who’s served as the president’s personal lawyer, told The Daily Beast, “Justice was done. The treatment of Stone and the sentence was purely political. It was a perversion of the system of justice.”And yet, elsewhere within the president’s inner sanctum, others were less than jubilant. “This was a mistake,” said a senior White House official who had advised Trump against pardoning or intervening in the Stone matter. “But the president had made clear [for months] that he was going to get involved.”This official was very much not alone in the West Wing, where various aides had for several months told the president to just stay out of it. Some had personal animus toward Stone, who has his fair share of enemies among the Trump orbit, perhaps most prominently Corey Lewandowski, the president’s former 2016 campaign manager who now works as a senior adviser to Trump 2020.House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff was also quick to denounce the move, saying that by granting the commutation, “Trump makes clear that there are two systems of justice in America: one for his criminal friends, and one for everyone else.”The Biden campaign called the commutation an abuse of power and said Trump had chosen to make the move on a Friday night because he was “hoping to yet again avoid scrutiny as he lays waste to the norms and the values that make our country a shining beacon to the rest of the world.” The commutation capped a week of mixed fortunes for Stone. He’d taken to begging Trump for a presidential pardon on Instagram after he had a last-ditch appeal denied—and before he was booted off Facebook and Instagram on Wednesday for coordinated inauthentic behavior linked to the Proud Boys far-right organization.Hours before the presidential clemency, which came after Stone’s final request to postpone his sentencing date was denied, the 67-year-0ld told journalist Howard Fineman the president “knows I was under enormous pressure to turn on him. It would have eased my situation considerably. But I didn’t.”On Thursday, Stone also told SiriusXM he was hoping for the pardon so he could continue to fight the charges against him in court. “I would still have to battle it out on appeal, which frankly I want to do, because I want an opportunity to clear my name,” he said.Stone was convicted last year of several charges, including lying to congressional investigators, witness tampering, and obstructing justice. Prosecutors argued he knowingly lied to House Intelligence Committee investigators about his attempts to learn more about Democratic Party emails hacked by Russia to hurt Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In an attempt to cover his tracks, Stone then forced another witness to lie about his connections.Stone was due to report to prison on Tuesday to serve a 40-month prison sentence after numerous attempts to appeal his sentence fell flat. Most recently, his sentence was delayed by two weeks due to coronavirus at the medium-security prison in Jesup, Georgia, where Stone was to report.Prosecutors had initially recommended a sentence of seven to nine years for Stone but the Department of Justice headquarters stepped in to shorten it on Feb. 11, calling the prosecutor’s recommendation “extreme and excessive and grossly disproportionate to Stone’s offenses.”Nevertheless, the department said in a Thursday court filing that they supported Stone going to prison on July 14 despite a complaint from Stone that he would be exposed to coronavirus.Trump had called the seven to nine year prison recommendation “a horrible and very unfair situation.” “The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them. Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” he tweeted earlier this year.Hours after the DOJ’s intervention, all four of the prosecutors handling Stone’s case—Aaron Zelinsky, Adam Jed, Jonathan Kravis, and Michael Marando—filed separate notices advising the judge they were withdrawing immediately.The former Republican operative—who once worked on Nixon’s 1972 campaign—worked with Trump for decades before joining the president’s campaign just after he formally announced his bid in June 2015. Although he left just two months later, Stone was still involved behind the scenes, campaign officials said. During his week-long trial in Washington federal court, several former members of Trump’s inner circle testified Stone was viewed at the campaign’s “access point” to WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. The connection, they said, was crucial to learn information about the anti-secrecy group’s plans to publish hacked Democratic National Committee emails.“Roger is an agent provocateur. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics, when you’re this far behind you’re going to have to use every tool in the toolbox,” Steven Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, testified under subpoena during the trial. Trump Ally Roger Stone Gets 40 Months for Lying, Witness-TamperingThroughout the campaign, prosecutors said, Stone secretly passed information from WikiLeaks to the Trump team about the stolen emails—which were later released at crucial points throughout the 2016 election to help secure the Republican nomination. In September 2017, Stone then lied to congressional investigators about these communications in order to protect the president.“Roger Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee because the truth looked bad for the Trump campaign and the truth looked bad for Donald Trump," Zelinsky said in his opening statements.To further cover his tracks, Stone used threats to force former stand-up comedian and radio talk-show host Randy Credico to stay silent and lie about acting as an intermediary to WikiLeaks during his congressional deposition.“Roger Stone doesn’t get to choose which facts he thinks are important, and lie about the rest of them. The committee is entitled to the truth of facts under investigation, and wherever the truth takes them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Kravis said in his closing statement. The night before his conviction, Stone allegedly asked for a presidential pardon through his most loyal ally and proxy—right-wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. According to the Infowars host, Stone slipped him a message in court begging Trump for clemency because “only a miracle can save me now.”The next day, jurors convicted the self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” after less than two days of deliberations. Before Stone could even leave the court, a White House presidential pardon petition was created. Trump attacked the guilty verdict in a tweet, calling it “a double standard.” “So they now convict Roger Stone of lying and want to jail him for many years to come,” Trump tweeted. “Well, what about Crooked Hillary, Comey, Strzok, Page, McCabe, Brennan, Clapper, Shifty Schiff, Ohr & Nellie, Steele & all of the others, including even Mueller himself? Didn’t they lie? A double standard like never seen before in the history of our Country?”Read more at The Daily Beast.Got a tip? Send it to The Daily Beast hereGet our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. 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New Flynn Notes: ‘FBI Leadership’ Decided Not to Provide Russian Call Transcripts to Flynn in Interview
Newly released documents in the Michael Flynn case include a January 2017 DOJ draft memo that states “FBI leadership” decided against showing Flynn transcripts of his calls with the Russian ambassador in the White House interview that led to his guilty plea.The DOJ document, dated January 30, 2017 — along with a batch of handwritten notes from DOJ and FBI officials describing Flynn’s White House interview with former FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI agent Joseph Pientka on January 24, 2017 — shed further light on the FBI’s spontaneous interview with Flynn, who had just begun his role as national-security adviser for President Trump.“FBI advised that based on this interview, they did not believe General Flynn was acting as an age of Russia,” the DOJ draft document, which is heavily redacted, states. “FBI also advised that although they recognized the statements were inconsistent with the FISA collection, they believed that Flynn believed what he was telling them. FBI did not confront Flynn with the communications during the interview.”The document explains that while the Bureau “prompted Flynn with language used during the call,” Flynn was not shown his actual words because of a decision “made by FBI leadership not to confront Flynn with the actual tech cuts.”The mentioning of “tech cuts” about the interview’s subject matter — Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak — adds further context to the questions over how Flynn’s calls were monitored in the first place. “Tech cuts” are commonly referred to as internal FBI documents that contain and describe FISA intelligence, suggesting that the FBI picked up Flynn’s calls through FISA surveillance. DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz has said his office found no evidence of a FISA application on Flynn, raising the possibility that Flynn's calls with Kislyak were picked up through FISA surveillance of the Russians.In texts between Strzok and then-DOJ lawyer Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair, Strzok references the cuts that the Bureau had obtained of Flynn’s calls, saying that then-FBI Assistant Director Bill Priestap was concerned with “sharing” information on Flynn — dubbed Crossfire Razor, or “CR” for short — with the Obama White House.“He, like us, is concerned with over sharing,” Strzok texted Page on January 3, 2017, according to a transcript obtained by John Solomon. “Doesn’t want Clapper giving CR cuts to WH. All political, just shows our hand and potentially makes enemies.”In April, unsealed documents from the Flynn investigation showed that Flynn was investigated in a case predicated by the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” probe of the 2016 Trump campaign, but the Bureau moved to close the investigation on January 4, 2017, after an “absence of any derogatory information” about Flynn’s Russian contacts. Strzok then intervened to keep the case open, explaining that “7th floor involved” — referencing the floor in Bureau headquarters that houses senior FBI leadership.Transcripts of Flynn’s calls with Kislyak were released in May, showing that Flynn never mentioned “sanctions” and asked Russia not to “escalate” after the Obama administration sanctioned the Kremlin for election interference.Flynn released the documents in a Friday court filing after they were handed over to his defense team by the Justice Department this week. Flynn is currently locked in a battle with U.S. District Court judge Emmet Sullivan, who has so far refused to drop Flynn’s guilty plea despite the DOJ’s move to withdraw its case, citing previously undisclosed exculpatory information.“In short, there was no crime for many reasons,” Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell wrote of the new information. “These documents were known to exist at the highest levels of the Justice Department and by Special Counsel, yet they were hidden from the defense for three years.”On Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ordered Powell and the DOJ to respond within 10 days to Judge Sullivan's Thursday "en banc" petition for Flynn's case to be heard by the full appeals court. A panel for the D.C. Circuit has already ruled that Sullivan must dismiss the case.
The protests were held as the Balkan nation announced a record daily death toll from COVID-19. Prime Minister Ana Brnabic said earlier Friday the Balkan state recorded 18 fatalities and 386 new cases over 24 hours in what she described as a "dramatic increase". At the same time, Brnabic condemned as "irresponsible" protests held in Belgrade and other cities on Thursday, after demonstrations in the capital on the previous two days had spilled over into violence.
The Chinese Communist Party’s new security law has criminalized any actions it deems to be subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign entities in Hong Kong. The law spells an abrupt end to the political freedoms that Hong Kongers used to enjoy. Authorities Friday raided the offices of a research and polling institute associated with the pro-democracy camp just ahead of primaries in which it will choose its candidates for Legislative Council elections, and there’s certainly more to come. But there’s an additional reason to be wary of the law: It is Beijing’s assertion of legal jurisdiction over the entire world.The text of the legislation’s Article 38 is blunt, and makes an unprecedented jurisdictional claim: “The Law shall apply to offences under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.” If the provision is enforced as it is written, Hong Kong authorities could charge and prosecute individuals who have never stepped foot in the city but whom Beijing deems to have violated the law. “If mainland practice to date is any guide—and it is—then the definitions don’t matter that much,” wrote Donald Clarke, a professor at The George Washington University Law School, in an analysis. “Anything can be stretched as necessary to cover something done by the person being targeted.”The CCP could thus use Article 38 to prosecute offenses that are illegal in China but legal in the West. Theoretically, Westerners could be arrested by security agents from Beijing’s new base in the city, then rendered to the mainland for trial — for the crime of speaking freely in liberal democracies. Or as Clarke put it, the CCP “is asserting extraterritorial jurisdiction over every person on the planet.”This is not just a theoretical concern, either, says Kevin Carrico, a senior research fellow at Melbourne’s Monash University. In 2015, Beijing abducted five employees of Causeway Bay Books, a store that sold works on political topics considered sensitive by mainland authorities, in violation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law. The kidnappings demonstrate the CCP’s desire for extraterritorial law-enforcement authority, says Carrico in an email, and the new law “just gives the false appearance of legality” to its efforts to secure such authority.It’s not abnormal for countries to make legal claims that stretch beyond their borders or to punish their own nationals for crimes they commit abroad. But for a country to prosecute a foreigner for acts abroad would require harm to that country under widely accepted interpretations of international law. The other way that countries might claim jurisdiction over foreigners who live abroad is through extradition treaties. Without such treaties, says Terri Marsh, the executive director of the Human Rights Law Foundation, it would be very hard for China to reach non-Chinese citizens living in foreign countries. “China’s incursion into our sovereignty is a demonstration of why precisely other nations who are equally sovereign should not comply or cooperate in any way shape, or form,” says Marsh.As it happens, some 20 countries have extradition treaties with Hong Kong, including several that have not inked such agreements with the mainland. The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a group comprising legislators from 13 countries, has in the wake of the new security law’s enactment led a drive for countries to cancel these treaties. In recent days, Australia and Canada have suspended theirs, earning Beijing’s ire, and the United States could soon follow suit. Others, such as the Netherlands, have warned their citizens against traveling to Hong Kong.Although most countries will not extradite an individual based on political charges, Jerome Cohen, an expert in Chinese law at New York University School of Law, points to Beijing’s history of concocting false charges of conventional crimes, such as tax evasion, to target dissidents. Just this week, Xu Zhangrun, a prominent critic of the CCP, was arrested in Beijing on prostitution charges. Fake allegations won’t be a problem in countries with robust justice systems, such as France, but Cohen says he’s wary of countries that have voted with China on the U.N. Human Rights Council, and even of certain European countries.In addition to the risk of extradition, the high concentration of foreign journalists and businesspeople in Hong Kong would make it “a very convenient target, if China wanted to do something to hold some Americans hostage,” says Ho-fung Hung, a professor at Johns Hopkins University. He notes the 2018 detention of two Canadian citizens in retaliation for Ottawa’s arrest of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. While hostage diplomacy had already existed as a possibility on the mainland, Americans critical of the Chinese Communist Party have generally been denied visas to visit China, ending up in Hong Kong instead. They used to enjoy immunity from Beijing’s reach there, but with the security law, Beijing could well detain and try them for speaking against the CCP in other countries. Carrico offers a dire warning: “In traveling to China and Hong Kong today, one is in effect taking the same type of risks as someone travelling to Pyongyang.”The danger is particularly acute for Taiwanese individuals and organizations. Leaders in Taipei have watched the Hong Kong crackdown with apprehension, fearing that the CCP will turn its focus to them next. Carrico notes that Hong Kong, which despite its former autonomy from the mainland did not diverge from Beijing’s official position on Taiwan, had until now allowed Taiwanese organizations to operate in the city. But “the [national-security law] means the end of that, and if I was in any way linked to the Taiwanese government and living in Hong Kong right now, I would leave immediately.” In fact, the law subjects foreign and Taiwan-based organizations with offices in Hong Kong to onerous regulations requiring cooperation with the city’s police commissioner. According to new rules released this week, the city police can even ask staff at “foreign and Taiwan political organizations” in Hong Kong to provide personal and financial information about their organizations.It is important to note that until Hong Kong’s rulers release further guidelines on implementation of the law, the precise nature of the danger it poses will remain unclear. Cohen predicts that Article 38 will be interpreted more narrowly than its wording would suggest. “Now even China’s regular domestic criminal law doesn’t go as far as this new national security law could be interpreted,” he says, noting that the mainland’s criminal code would not lead to prosecutions of foreigners over political speech legal in their own countries. He thinks that Article 38’s expansive wording was the result of a time crunch faced by those responsible for drafting it. But he is careful to emphasize that he’s only making a prediction, and that the law is already intimidating some activists into silence. “They are already being deterred, not only in Hong Kong, but around the world,” he says.
Mexico is to seek the arrest and extradition from Canada of the former chief investigator in the murky disappearance of 43 students in 2014, Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Friday. Tomas Zeron, who was head of the Criminal Investigation Agency, is in Canada and work is underway to extradite him, the minister said. "There is going to be no impunity, part of our function at the ministry of foreign affairs is to guarantee that, when there are cases of this nature, extradition occurs," Ebrard said.