Top House Dems raise prospect of impeachment, jail for Trump
By HOPE YEN
Monday, December 10
WASHINGTON (AP) — Top House Democrats have raised the prospect of impeachment or the real possibility of prison time for President Donald Trump if it’s proved that he directed illegal hush money payments to women, adding to the legal pressure on the president over the Russia investigation and other scandals.
“There’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office, the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House intelligence committee. “The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, described the details in prosecutors’ filings Friday in the case of Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, as evidence that Trump was “at the center of a massive fraud.”
“They would be impeachable offenses,” Nadler said.
In the filings, prosecutors in New York for the first time link Trump to a federal crime of illegal payments to buy the silence of two women during the 2016 campaign. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office also laid out previously undisclosed contacts between Trump associates and Russian intermediaries and suggested the Kremlin aimed early on to influence Trump and his Republican campaign by playing to both his political and personal business interests.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has compared the investigations to a “witch hunt.”
Nadler, D-N.Y., said it was too early to say whether Congress would pursue impeachment proceedings based on the illegal payments alone because lawmakers would need to weigh the gravity of the offense to justify “overturning” the 2016 election. Nadler and other lawmakers said Sunday they would await additional details from Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign to determine the extent of Trump’s misconduct.
Regarding the illegal payments, “whether they are important enough to justify an impeachment is a different question, but certainly they’d be impeachable offenses because even though they were committed before the president became president, they were committed in the service of fraudulently obtaining the office,” Nadler said.
Mueller has not said when he will complete a report of any findings, and it isn’t clear that any such report would be made available to Congress. That would be up to the attorney general. Trump on Friday said he would nominate former Attorney General William Barr to the post to succeed Jeff Sessions.
Nadler indicated that Democrats, who will control the House in January, will step up their own investigations. He said Congress, the Justice Department and the special counsel need to dig deeper into the allegations, which include questions about whether Trump lied about his business arrangements with Russians and about possible obstruction of justice.
“The new Congress will not try to shield the president,” he said. “We will try to get to the bottom of this, in order to serve the American people and to stop this massive conspiracy — this massive fraud on the American people.”
Schiff, D-Calif., also stressed a need to wait “until we see the full picture.” He has previously indicated his panel would seek to look into the Trump family’s business ties with Russia.
“I think we also need to see this as a part of a broader pattern of potential misconduct by the president, and it’s that broad pattern, I think, that will lead us to a conclusion about whether it rises to the level to warrant removal from office,” Schiff said.
In the legal filings, the Justice Department stopped short of accusing Trump of directly committing a crime. But it said Trump told Cohen to make illegal payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with Trump more than a decade ago.
In separate filings, Mueller’s team detail how Cohen spoke to a Russian who “claimed to be a ‘trusted person’ in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign ‘political synergy’ and ‘synergy on a government level.’” Cohen said he never followed up on that meeting. Mueller’s team also said former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to them about his contacts with a Russian associate and Trump administration officials, including in 2018.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called the latest filings “relevant” in judging Trump’s fitness for office but said lawmakers need more information to render judgment. He also warned the White House about considering a pardon for Manafort, saying such a step could trigger congressional debate about limiting a president’s pardon powers.
Such a move would be “a terrible mistake,” Rubio said. “Pardons should be used judiciously. They’re used for cases with extraordinary circumstances.”
Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine and a member of the Senate intelligence committee, cautioned against a rush to impeachment, which he said citizens could interpret as “political revenge and a coup against the president.”
“The best way to solve a problem like this, to me, is elections,” King said. “I’m a conservative when it comes to impeachment. I think it’s a last resort and only when the evidence is clear of a really substantial legal violation. We may get there, but we’re not there now.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut urged Mueller to “show his cards soon” so that Congress can make a determination early next year on whether to act on impeachment.
“Let’s be clear: We have reached a new level in the investigation,” Murphy said. “It’s important for Congress to get all of the underlying facts and data and evidence that the special counsel has.”
Nadler spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Rubio was on CNN and ABC’s “This Week,” and Schiff appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Murphy spoke on ABC, and King was on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Why Huawei arrest deepens conflict between US and China
By PAUL WISEMAN and FRANK BAJAK
Friday, December 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — The arrest of a prominent Chinese telecommunications executive has driven home why it will be so hard for the Trump administration to resolve its deepening conflict with China.
The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial officer, has heightened skepticism over the trade truce that Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping reached last weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Stock markets tumbled Thursday on fears that the 90-day cease-fire won’t last, but regained their equilibrium in Europe and Asia on Friday.
A bail hearing for Meng, who faces possible extradition to the United States after her arrest in Vancouver, Canada, last weekend, was set for later Friday.
Huawei has been a subject of U.S. national security concerns for years and Meng’s case echoes well beyond tariffs or market access. Washington and Beijing are locked in a clash between the world’s two largest economies for economic and political dominance for decades to come.
“It’s a much broader issue than just a trade dispute,” said Amanda DeBusk, chair of the international trade practice at Dechert LLP. “It pulls in: Who is going to be the world leader essentially.”
Meng was detained on the same day that Trump and Xi met at the Group of 20 summit in Argentina and agreed to a cease-fire in their trade war. The Globe and Mail newspaper, citing law enforcement sources, reported she is suspected of trying to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran.
Huawei is the world’s biggest supplier of network gear used by phone and internet companies and long has been seen as a front for spying by the Chinese military or security services. A U.S. National Security Agency cybersecurity adviser, Rob Joyce, last month accused Beijing of violating a 2015 agreement with the U.S. to halt electronic theft of intellectual property.
Other nations are increasingly being forced to choose between Chinese and U.S. suppliers for next-generation “5G” wireless technology. U.S. critics are lobbying other countries not to buy the equipment from Huawei, arguing that the company may be working stealthily for Beijing’s spymasters.
“There is ample evidence to suggest that no major Chinese company is independent of the Chinese government and Communist Party — and Huawei, which China’s government and military tout as a ‘national champion’ is no exception,” Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., wrote in October to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They urged him to keep Huawei off Canada’s next-generation network.
Still, a senior Japanese official cast doubt Friday over reports that his country was considering blocking Huawei and its biggest Chinese rival, ZTE Corp., from government procurement contracts. He said there had been no decision. Australia, New Zealand and Britain are among the countries that have moved to limit the Chinese companies’ involvement in their next-generation telecoms networks.
In a sign Meng’s case might not derail the Trump-Xi truce, Beijing protested Meng’s arrest but said talks with the Trump administration would go ahead. Chinese Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng said China is confident it can reach a deal during the 90 days that Trump agreed to suspend a scheduled increase in U.S. import taxes on $200 billion worth of Chinese products.
Some analysts say China has deployed predatory tactics in its drive to overtake America’s dominance in technology and global economic leadership, such as forcing American and other foreign companies to hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market and engaging in cyber-theft.
Washington also regards Beijing’s ambitious long-term development plan, “Made in China 2025,” as a scheme to dominate such fields as robotics and electric vehicles by unfairly subsidizing Chinese companies and discriminating against foreign competitors.
Priscilla Moriuchi, a former East Asia specialist at National Security Agency now with the cybersecurity firm Recorded Future, said both ZTE and Huawei are wedded to China’s military and political leadership.
“The threat from these companies lies in their access to critical internet backbone infrastructure,” she said.
The Trump administration has tightened regulations on high-tech exports to China and made it harder for Chinese firms to invest in U.S. companies or to buy American technology in cutting-edge areas like robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
Earlier this year, the United States nearly drove Huawei’s biggest Chinese rival, ZTE Corp., out of business for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions. But Trump issued a reprieve, perhaps partly because U.S. tech companies, major suppliers to ZTE, would also have been scorched. ZTE agreed to pay a $1 billion fine, change its board and management and to let American regulators monitor its operations.
The U.S. and Chinese tech industries depend on each other so much for components that “it is very hard to decouple the two without punishing U.S. companies, without shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Adam Segal, cyberspace analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Dean Garfield, president of the U.S. Information Technology Industry Council trade group, said innovation by U.S. companies often depends utterly on product development and testing by Chinese partners and component suppliers.
Still, the pushback against Huawei and ZTE is limiting their reach into the world’s richest markets. Nearly a year ago, AT&T pulled out of a deal to sell Huawei smartphones. Barred from use by U.S. government agencies and contractors, they’re mostly locked out of the American market.
Derek Scissors, a China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, doubts that China will change its tech policies since it needs innovative technologies to keep its economy growing as its labor force ages and it confronts a huge stockpile of debt.
“We’re not going to deal that away in 90 days,” he said. “I don’t see a way out of this.”
Likewise, Rod Hunter, an international economic official in President George W. Bush’s White House and a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie, said, “I’m skeptical that the Chinese are going to want to say ‘uncle.’” U.S. and Chinese officials are “trying to tackle a problem that is going to take years, maybe a decade, to resolve.”
Bajak reported from Boston. AP staff writers Rob Gillies in Toronto, Joe McDonald in Beijing and Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.
Madagascar: fear and violence making rainforest conservation more challenging than ever
December 5, 2018
Julia P G Jones
Professor of Conservation Science, Bangor University
Julia P G Jones does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Bangor University provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
People are too afraid to return to the village so they are sleeping in the forest or have left altogether. They have lost their stored grain and all their belongings. I don’t know how they will get by.
These are the words of Riana*, a young woman from Bevoahazo, a tiny village in the eastern rainforests of Madagascar. Bevoahazo sits on the edge of Ranomafana National Park in a UNESCO world heritage site teeming with endangered and endemic species. Security in the area has been deteriorating over the last few years but things have escalated recently.
On November 24, 50 men raided the village stealing stores of rice – vital food reserves for local people who are mostly subsistence farmers – and injuring anyone who tried to defend their property. A few days later the local police chief, Heritiana Emilson Rambeloson, who had come to the area with a small team to investigate, was shot dead.
I spent two years living in Bevoahazo in the early 2000s while researching the sustainability of crayfish harvesting. I have spoken to friends from the village who are are currently staying in the nearby town of Ranomafana for safety, and researchers in the area to get a better understanding of what is happening.
Bandits and biodiversity
Patricia Wright, a professor of anthropology, has spent more than 30 years working in Ranomafana. She directs the Centre Valbio, an internationally renowned conservation research centre situated on the edge of the forest. She said:
The security situation is at crisis point. This is leading to real human suffering in one of the most important places for biodiversity on the planet. The [murdered policeman] was smart, dedicated to his job and was interested in wildlife and the importance of the forest. A genuine friend. We will miss him.
The recent death comes just months after a member of Valbio staff was killed by bandits. Jean François Xavier Razafindraibe was killed when armed men raided his village close to the park entrance in June 2018.
Ranomafana National Park was established by the Malagasy government to protect its globally important biodiversity. As part of the Forests of Atsinanana it is home to a number of critically endangered endemic lemurs such as the golden bamboo lemur and the black-and-white ruffed lemur.
Ranomafana is a popular tourist spot in Madagascar with stunning scenery, rare wildlife and the friendly, sleepy town nearby. So far the insecurity hasn’t influenced tourism. As Wright says:
The bandits steer clear of tourists, but the villagers are living a life of fear.
Gold mining’s dark influence
Miners panning for gold illegally in the forest interior are a source of the insecurity. This has been an ongoing issue for many years but has become much more difficult for the park authorities to control. The miners pollute rivers, clear the rare swamp forest and hunt endangered wildlife for meat.
The situation is complicated. Armed cattle thieves known as dahalo are causing havoc in many areas of Madagascar. A recent estimate suggests they have caused 4,000 deaths in the last five years alone.
In 2017, the mayor of the neighbouring town of Ambalakindresy, Elysé Arsène Ratsimbazafy, was shot dead in what is widely believed to have been a hit. He had run for election on a platform of ridding the town of the bandits and had cooperated with efforts to get the miners expelled from the national park interior.
Mar Cabeza, a professor of biology at the University of Helsinki, returned from the area a few days ago. She said:
The gold mining has escalated in recent years and differs greatly from previous subsistence-related threats. The widespread fear has negatively affected both research and conservation management.
One of Cabeza’s PhD students, Marketta Vuola, was meant to conduct research in the attacked villages recently, but was warned of the danger and moved to another village. Vuola told me:
News spread fast, with all villages in the region being afraid. We spent last night hiding, with our day packs ready to escape to the forest.
There has been a robust response to the recent series of attacks. The district quickly sent reinforcements of 80 police. This will hopefully reassure the local population, allowing people to return to their village, and will reduce the immediate threat.
This reassurance is essential as my old friend Koto* told me over the phone:
People need to be able to get back home to tend their crops; if they can’t do this they will suffer even more.
However the rise in insecurity reflects a wider problem of respect for the rule of law in Madagascar. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, a professor of paleontology at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, said:
If you focus on what is happening, then you will lose your hope for Madagascar. We must focus on the solutions. Good governance is crucial in order to develop the economy of Madagascar and for saving the irreplaceable biodiversity.
Madagascar will elect a new president on December 19. People in Bevoahazo, and throughout Madagascar, are hoping that the new government can bring the change so desperately needed.
* Names changed to protect identities.
GOP House leader notes gap of distrust as Google CEO grilled
By MARCY GORDON
AP Business Writer
Tuesday, December 11
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy kicked off a congressional grilling of Google CEO Sundar Pichai by noting a “widening gap of distrust” between tech companies and the American people.
McCarthy, a California Republican, asked whether tech companies are “serving as instruments of freedom or instruments of control” in the U.S. and beyond.
Pichai is facing the Republican-majority House Judiciary Committee before Democrats take control of the House in January. Lawmakers are asking him about alleged bias in the company’s search results, as well as its reported plans to launch a censored search engine in China.
Pichai’s appearance comes after he angered members of a Senate panel in September by declining their invitation to testify about foreign governments’ manipulation of online services to sway U.S. elections. Pichai’s no-show at that hearing was marked by an empty chair for Google alongside the Facebook and Twitter executives who did appear.
Pichai went to Washington later in September to mend fences, meeting with some two dozen Republicans and indicating he also planned to meet with Democrats. He took part last week in a White House meeting with other tech industry executives that focused mainly on getting government and businesses working more closely on accelerating emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence.
In October, Google announced it was shutting down its long-shunned Plus social network following its disclosure of a flaw discovered in March that could have exposed some personal information of as many as 500,000 people. The company deliberately avoided disclosing the privacy lapse at the time, in part to avoid drawing regulators’ scrutiny and damaging its reputation, according to a Wall Street Journal report citing anonymous individuals and documents.
Lawmakers want Google to explain its failure to reveal the breach.
On Monday, the company said it was accelerating its plans to shutter Plus after discovering a privacy flaw that inadvertently exposed the names, email addresses, ages and other personal information of 52.5 million users last month. The service will now go dark in April instead of August, as previously announced.
“We work hard to ensure the integrity of our products, and we’ve put a number of checks and balances in place to ensure they continue to live up to our standards,” Pichai said in his opening statement prepared for Tuesday’s hearing.
Lawmakers are also concerned by recent reports that Google is poised to re-enter China with a search engine generating censored results to comply with the demands of that country’s Communist government.
President Donald Trump has accused Google of rigging the results of its dominant search engine to suppress conservative viewpoints and highlight coverage from media that he says distribute “fake news.” That’s another area of potential questions to Pichai by committee members.
The company has denied any political bias, and there’s no evidence of an anti-conservative tilt. Pichai said in his written testimony that “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”
Google has good reason to communicate with lawmakers and policymakers, and to seek to weigh in on thorny issues. Trump and some lawmakers have raised the possibility of asking regulators to investigate whether Google — which handles nearly two of every three online searches in the U.S. — has abused its clout as a major gateway to the internet to stifle competition.
And momentum is building in Congress for legislation to put stricter limits and privacy protections around the big tech companies’ collection of data. With the Democrats having captured control of the House in the midterm elections, and poised to take over as the majority running the Judiciary Committee next month, tougher legislation could be in the offing.
Pichai, a former engineer, took the helm of Google in 2015 in a major restructuring that made Google a division of conglomerate Alphabet Inc. — whose businesses include Waymo, a self-driving technology development company. Bolstering the dominance of its search engine, Google’s Android operating system runs most of the world’s smartphones, and its other services — including Gmail, YouTube, online ads and the Chrome web browser — are widely used.