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Trump Under Fire for Syria Troop Withdrawal

U.S. lawmakers of both political parties on Wednesday continued to savage President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northeastern Syria, where U.S.-allied Kurds are under attack from Turkey.FILE – Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaks to reporters after a briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 21, 2019.”Pray for our Kurdish allies who have been shamelessly abandoned by the Trump administration,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted. “This move ensures the reemergence of ISIS,” an acronym for the Islamic State.He also tweeted he would “lead effort in Congress to make (Turkish President) Erdogan pay a heavy price” for launching a military offensive against the Kurds.”I urge President Trump to change course while there is still time,” added Graham, who is usually one of the president’s most loyal defenders.’Abandoning’ Kurdish alliesIn a statement, Delaware Democratic Senator Chris Coons accused the Trump administration of “abandoning our Syrian Kurdish allies,” adding that the offensive “is a direct result of President Trump’s failure to stand up for our partners and interests in the region — a move that calls into question the credibility and reliability of the United States.”For his part, Trump sought to distance himself from Turkey’s action.”The United States does not endorse this attack and has made it clear to Turkey that this operation is a bad idea,” the president said in a statement.Trump added that no U.S. soldiers are participating in the attack area and that “Turkey has committed to protecting civilians, protecting religious minorities, including Christians, and ensuring no humanitarian crisis takes place — and we will hold them to this commitment.”FILE – Republican Sen. Rand Paul pauses during a Senate committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 5, 2019.Applauding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria was Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who praised Trump for “stopping the endless wars” and predicted “we [the United States] will be stronger as a result.”Paul’s praise stood in stark contrast to the condemnation of many other lawmakers.The top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, tweeted Trump “completely ignored the calls from Congress, from human rights advocates, from the realities on the ground, and from the Kurds themselves.”Menendez projected that “only chaos & havoc will follow” and that “this is the second chance ISIS has been waiting for.”Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine also took to Twitter, accusing Trump of leaving “our allies at risk of being slaughtered.”FILE – Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., questions a witness on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 16, 2019.By “putting our troops and diplomats in the region at risk,” Kaine said, Trump is “playing right into the hands of our adversaries.”Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen declared that “Turkey must pay a heavy price for attacking our Syrian Kurdish partners.”Van Hollen predicted that Democratic or Republican senators “won’t support abandoning the one regional group most responsible for putting ISIS on its heels.”Threatens fight against ISHouse Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy warned on Twitter the attack “threatens to halt momentum against ISIS, directly assaults our SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) partners, and could give the likes of al-Qaeda and Iran new footholds in the region.”McCarthy also called on Turkey to “stop immediately and continue to work with the US to secure the region.”The International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian relief organization, expressed deep concern “about the lives and livelihoods of the two million people in northeast Syria who have already survived ISIS brutality and multiple displacements.”The IRC also cautioned the offensive “could displace 300,000 people and disrupt life-saving humanitarian services, including the IRC’s.”American minister Franklin Graham, an evangelist who appeals to Trump’s most fervent supporters, also weighed in. He tweeted: “The Turks have a dismal record on human rights & they can’t be trusted. Pray for the Kurds, Christians, & other minorities in the region.”

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Woman Accuses Matt Lauer of Rape; Former Anchor Denies Claim

A woman who worked at NBC News claimed that former anchor Matt Lauer raped her at a hotel while on assignment for the Sochi Olympics, an encounter the former “Today” show host claimed was consensual.The claim outlined by Brooke Nevils in Ronan Farrow’s book, “Catch and Kill,” puts a name and details behind the event that led to Lauer’s firing by NBC in 2017. It also provoked the first public response from Lauer, who said in a defiant and graphic letter made public by his lawyer that “my silence was a mistake.”Variety first reported Nevils’ charges after obtaining a copy of Farrow’s book. The Associated Press typically does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault, unless they step forward publicly as Nevils has done.Nevils, who was working for Meredith Vieira in Sochi, met her for drinks one night and Lauer joined them. Nevils said she had six shots of vodka and wound up going to Lauer’s room.She said that Lauer pushed her onto a bed and asked if she liked anal sex. Nevils said she declined several times, but then Lauer “just did it.” She described the encounter as “excruciatingly painful.”“It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” Nevils told Farrow, according to Variety. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.”In his letter, Lauer admitted to his extramarital affair with Nevils. He said on that night in Sochi that they consensually performed a variety of sexual acts.“She was a fully enthusiastic and willing partner,” he wrote. “At no time did she behave in a way that made it appear she was incapable of consent. She seemed to know exactly what she wanted to do.”Lauer’s defense of his behavior extends beyond his relationship with Nevils. He said he has “never assaulted anyone or forced anyone to have sex. Period.”He also acknowledges other extramarital encounters, and criticized the women involved for having “abandoned shared responsibility” for the affairs to shield themselves from blame behind false allegations.“They have avoided having to look at a boyfriend, a husband or a child in the eye and say, ‘I cheated,’” Lauer said. “And I will no longer provide them the shelter of my silence.”Lauer said the night in Sochi was the first of several sexual encounters he had with Nevils over several months, including one in his dressing room at NBC, which “showed terrible judgment on my part.”Nevils’ lawyer did not immediately return a message for comment on Lauer’s letter Wednesday.Eleanor McManus, who co-founded the group Press Forward to support victims of sexual abuse in the news industry, said Lauer’s letter was “unbelievable.“Lauer’s statement demonstrates not only his lack of remorse, but his lack of understanding of sexual harassment and the (hash)MeToo movement,” said McManus, who said she was harassed by journalist Mark Halperin (who lost jobs at NBC and elsewhere because of these and other accusations). “Nowhere in his letter does Lauer acknowledge the power he yielded as a celebrity and the star of NBC’s highest-rated show. The two people in that hotel room in Sochi did not have equal power.”NBC News abruptly fired Lauer for “inappropriate sexual conduct.”“Matt Lauer’s conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible, as we said at the time,” NBC News said in a statement Wednesday. “That’s why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague.”Nevils’ story was reported Wednesday on the show Lauer hosted for two decades. His former co-host, Savannah Guthrie, called it shocking and appalling.“We’re disturbed to our core,” Guthrie said.Lauer said in his letter that he ended the affair poorly and understands how that must have made Nevils feel.He said that he hadn’t responded publicly before to allegations in order to spare his family pain, but that now he has their support to address them publicly.“Anyone who knows me will tell you I am a very private person,” Lauer wrote. “I had no desire to write this, but I had no choice.” 

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High-Profile Soccer Wives in Twitter Spat Over Story Leaks

The wives of two of English soccer’s most high-profile players got embroiled in a spat on Twitter on Wednesday about the leaking of information to a tabloid newspaper.In a post to her 1.3 million followers, Wayne Rooney’s wife, Coleen, accused Rebekah Vardy, the wife of Leicester striker Jamie Vardy, of informing The Sun about details of her private stories written on Instagram.Coleen said she spent five months attempting to work out who was sharing the stories, going as far as blocking everyone from viewing her Instagram page except for one account and then posting “a series of false stories to see if they made their way into” the newspaper.Coleen finished her tweet by saying her private investigation showed “just one person has viewed them. It’s ……….Rebekah Vardy’s account.”Vardy, who has 90,400 Twitter followers of her own and is well known for appearing in a reality TV show in Britain, denied leaking the information.Vardy replied to Coleen on Twitter, saying she “never” speaks to journalists about her and that she recently discovered that “various people have had access to my insta.”“I’m disgusted that I’m even having to deny this,” added Vardy, who said she was “upset” at being accused by Coleen, especially because she is pregnant with her fifth child.Wayne Rooney, a former Manchester United striker who has been playing in the United States for MLS team D.C. United since July 2018, is returning to English soccer in January as player-coach of second-tier club Derby County.

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Boston Jail to Stop Housing Federal Immigration Detainees

Boston’s sheriff is ending his office’s longtime relationship with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, saying his jails will stop housing hundreds of federal detainees in order to house more female inmates.Suffolk County Sheriff Steven Tompkins maintained the move, which he announced late Tuesday, is not a political statement but an effort to improve the lives of incarcerated women, which he said is the fastest-growing incarcerated population in the country.ICE has had a contract with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office since 2003, but the Suffolk County House of Correction, which is sometimes referred to as South Bay jail, has become a focal point of local protests against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies in recent years.“We take pride in the services that we have been able to provide to ICE detainees,” Tompkins said in a statement. “But we are elated about this new opportunity to expand our services across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to reach more women with our dedicated programming so that we can begin to work on their recovery, address some the issues that first led them into the system, and return them to society better able to care for themselves and their families.”The jail’s decision will have a “huge impact” on ICE’s day-to-day operations as the facility is close to federal immigration court and Logan International Airport in Boston, said Todd Michael Lyons, the agency’s New England deputy director.Most federal detainees at the Boston jail are “high-level category offenders,” including people convicted of violent felonies and gang members, he said.The agency said detainees will now have to be placed in other Massachusetts jails or elsewhere in the country, potentially impacting the ability of families or lawyers to visit in person.The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts applauded the sheriff’s decision but said it would be a “disservice” to Massachusetts families if the decision led to the creation of new detention space or resulted in detainees losing access to their families and legal representation.Tompkins said federal authorities are expected to complete the transfer of about 200 federal detainees by mid-December.He said the jail will begin receiving female inmates from Essex, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties this week as part of a new effort to regionalize services. He said the women will be enrolled in the jail’s specialized programs, which work to address issues such as domestic violence, sexual exploitation and substance use in order to better prepare them for release.The South Bay jail currently houses about 1,200 inmates, of which about 200 are ICE detainees and nearly 100 are female inmates. 

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While Most Republicans Back Trump on Impeachment, a Small Number Are Voicing Concern

Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio is one of the few Republicans lawmakers to openly rebuke President Donald Trump for asking the new Ukrainian president in late July to investigate one of Trump’s major Democratic rivals, former vice president Joe Biden.“The President should not have raised the Biden issue on that call, period,” Portman told The Columbus Dispatch on Monday. “It is not appropriate for a president to engage a foreign government in an investigation of a political opponent.”Portman’s views are a relative rarity among the 252 Republican members of Congress. For the president to be impeached and removed from office, 20 out of 53 Republican senators would need to join with the Democrats and vote to remove him.  For Portman, that’s a step too far for now.Congressman Rob Portman said despite his differences with Trump, who recently urged both Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, he did not view Trump’s conduct as an impeachable offense.Portman said despite his differences with Trump, who recently urged both Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, he did not view Trump’s conduct as an impeachable offense. Trump so far has commanded overwhelming Republican backing as he battles against the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry that was sparked by the phone call between the U.S. and Ukrainian presidents.However, a small but growing number of Republicans are favoring an investigation as more details of the scandal emerge, according to a VOA review.Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served in Republican President George W. Bush’s administration, recently criticized the state of U.S. foreign policy and blamed Republicans for being “terrified” of criticizing Trump.Powell said during a televised lecture moderated by CNN columnist Fareed Zakaria that “Republican leaders and members of the Congress . . . are holding back because they’re terrified of what will happen [to] any one of them if they speak out.” What they fear, he said, was losing their primary elections if Trump forces came after them. The four-star general suggested that losing a primary would not be “such a disaster.”In all, about 16 prominent Republicans including Portman and Powell have publicly raised concern about Trump’s conduct or defended the House Democrats’ right to seek answers to questions about Trump’s efforts to enlist foreign countries to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter — who did business in Ukraine and China during his father’s tenure as vice president. Here is a summary of the 14 other Republicans who have spoken out.Congressman Mark Amodei: “Let’s put it through the process and see what happens.”The Nevada House member initially suggested that the impeachment inquiry is justified, but later pulled back.  In a call with the Nevada Independent, Amodei stated he was “a big fan of oversight, so let’s let the committees get to work and see where it goes.” Later Amodei emphasized that “In no way, shape, or form, did I indicate support for impeachment.” He said that he would base his vote on whether he found “credible evidence” that Trump “broke a specific law.”From left, Congressman Mark Amodei of Nevada and Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska.Senator Ben Sasse: “Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth.”The Nebraska senator wrote to the Omaha World-Herald after Trump suggested China investigate Joe Biden for corruption. “If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps,” Sasse wrote. The senator called the House Democrats’  impeachment inquiry a “partisan clown show.” In contrast, he said the Senate inquiry is “working to follow the facts one step at a time.” Sasse previously said the whistleblower complaint against Trump that triggered the impeachment probe contained “real troubling things” and that Republicans “ought not just circle the wagons.”     However, he has not made a judgment on whether Trump should be impeached.Senator Susan Collins: “The president made a big mistake by asking China to get involved in investigating a political opponent.”The Maine senator took issue with Trump’s comments on the White House lawn that China should investigate Biden for corruption.  Collins said she had no comment on the current evidence for the impeachment inquiry. She said she hopes the impeachment inquiry will “be done with the seriousness that any impeachment proceeding deserves.” Collins said she was preparing for the likelihood that the House would send articles of impeachment to the Senate. Collins told the Bangor Daily News that she plans to act as a juror as she did in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998.From left, Senator Susan Collins of Maine and Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania.Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick: Law Enforcement should look into the case and report to CongressThe Pennsylvania House member does not support the House’s impeachment inquiry. Instead he suggests allowing law enforcement to evaluate the case. “Whether or not law enforcement matters and investigations should be initiated or closed are decisions that should be made by law enforcement and law enforcement alone, not by politicians,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. Fitzpatrick was an FBI agent assigned to anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine in 2015 at the time Joe Biden was vice president and his son was working in Ukraine.Senator Mitt Romney: “The President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”The Utah senator and former presidential candidate issued a statement on Twitter after President Trump suggested China could investigate Joe Biden for corruption.  The senator tweeted: “When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated. President Trump struck back at the senator in a series of expletive tweets saying Romney “choked” in the 2012 presidential election and tagging one tweet ‘#IMPEACHMITTROMNEY.’From left, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah and Congressman Will Hurd of Texas.Congressman Will Hurd: “We need to fully investigate all of the allegations addressed in the letter.”The Texas congressman said the House should investigate the allegations in the whistleblower’s  report. On CBS’ 60 Minutes, Hurd emphasized he wanted to understand “the motivations and intentions” of those involved in the phone call. “What I want to do is understand the truth,” said Hurd. He is on the committee leading the investigation into the whistleblowers complaints. Hurd called the impeachment inquiry “wordplay” used by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to “placate some of the extreme wings of her party.”Congressman John Curtis: Says he has the “utmost confidence in the investigative tools Congress has at its disposal.”The Utah House member released an official statement saying that he is “closely monitoring” the formal inquiry and that he was pleased that Trump released the transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.From left, Congressman John Curtis of Utah and Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.Senator Chuck Grassley: “No one should be making judgments or pronouncements without hearing from the whistleblower first.”The Iowa senator issued a statement saying the whistleblower who revealed Trump’s call should be heard out and protected. Grassley did not offer an opinion on whether Trump should be impeached. Instead he said that “uninformed speculation wielded by politicians or media commentators as a partisan weapon is counterproductive and doesn’t serve the country.” The senator said that media reports on the whistleblowers identity “don’t serve the public interest.” Grassley is the chairman and co-founder of the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus.Congressman Troy Balderson: “At this moment we don’t have all the facts.”The Ohio House member  told Spectrum News that he believed in “full transparency,” in the impeachment inquiry. Balderson said the allegations against the president are “serious and concerning.” The representative said he looks forward to “reviewing all available information so Congress may address the situation based on the facts presented to us.” Balderson narrowly won his district’s special election thank to an endorsement from Trump and former governor John Kasich, a moderate Republican.From left, Congressman Troy Balderson of Ohio and Congressman Steve Stivers of Ohio.Congressman Steve Stivers: “These are very serious allegations, and I’ll be monitoring the situation closely.”The Ohio House member’s spokeswoman told The Columbus Dispatch that Stivers “has concerns about the president’s call with the Ukrainian president, but has been encouraged by the amount of information that has been disclosed in the past couple of weeks.”Jeff Flake: “35 Republican Senators” would convict Trump if the vote were a secret ballot.The former Arizona senator suggested that many GOP senators want to break away from Trump but are concerned about backlash from voters.  Flake made the comment in response to political consultant Mike Murphy’s statement on MSNBC that he had been told by an anonymous Republican senator that 30 Republican senators would impeach Trump if their vote was secret. “There’s a lot of fear of what it means to go against the president,” said Flake, a critic of the president, “but most Republican senators would not like to be dealing with this for another year or another five years.”Trump’s Republican primary challengers have also weighed in on the inquiry, varying from supporting an investigation into potential wrongdoings to suggesting the president could be convicted of treason.From left, former Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.Mark Sanford: “Very troubling charges” against Trump.The former South Carolina Governor and 2020 presidential candidate appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to address the House’s impeachment inquiry. Sanford suggested a congressional censure of Trump might be more appropriate, but did not outright say impeachment proceedings would be wrong. He favors Congress leading an investigation into potential wrong doing.Joe Walsh: “Donald Trump is a traitor.”The former Illinois House member and 2020 presidential candidate appeared alongside Sanford on CNN’s State of the Union to address the House’s impeachment inquiry. “He [Trump] stood on the White House lawn … and told two additional foreign governments to interfere in our election. That alone is impeachable.” said Walsh.    The presidential candidate said if he was still in Congress, where he served one term, he would vote to impeach Trump. Walsh said he did not consider the president’s actions to be treasonous.From left, former Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois and former Massachusetts Governor Bill Weld.Bill Weld: “It’s treason, pure and simple.”The former Massachusetts governor and 2020 presidential candidate, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” and suggested that Trump’s phone call to the Ukraine president could go beyond impeachment. “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election, it couldn’t be clearer, and that’s not just undermining democratic institutions,” Weld said. “That is treason. It’s treason, pure and simple. And the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death. “That’s the only penalty.”

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Top Honor For Hero Dog That Stopped White House Attack

A Secret Service dog that prevented a potential attack on President Barack Obama in the White House has been given the rare honor of an Order of Merit from a British charity — the first foreign animal to receive the award. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the brave recipient traveled in style to receive his medal in London.

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US Condemns Iraq Violence, Urges Government to Exercise ‘Restraint’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned deadly violence during protests in Iraq and called on the country’s government to “exercise maximum restraint,” the State Department said Tuesday.In a call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul Mahdi, Pompeo “condemned the recent violence in Iraq and noted that those who violated human rights should be held accountable,” the department said in a statement.”The secretary lamented the tragic loss of life over the past few days and urged the Iraqi government to exercise maximum restraint.”Pompeo reiterated that peaceful public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies, and emphasized that there is no place for violence in demonstrations, either by security forces or protestors.”Demonstrations in Iraq began with demands for an end to rampant corruption and chronic unemployment but escalated with calls for a complete overhaul of the political system.They were unprecedented because of their apparent spontaneity and independence in a deeply politicized society, and have also been bloody — with more than 100 people killed and 6,000 wounded in one week. 

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Johnson & Johnson, Risperdal Maker Hit With $8 Billion Verdict

A Philadelphia jury on Tuesday awarded $8 billion in punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson and one if its subsidiaries over a drug the companies made that the plaintiff’s attorneys say is linked to the abnormal growth of female breast tissue in boys.Johnson and Johnson immediately denounced the award after the jury’s decision in the Court of Common pleas, saying it’s “excessive and unfounded” and vowing immediate action to overturn it.The antipsychotic drug Risperdal is at the center of the lawsuit, with the plaintiff’s attorneys arguing it’s linked to abnormal growth of female breast tissue in boys, an incurable condition known as gynecomastia.Johnson & Johnson used an organized scheme to make billions of dollars while illegally marketing and promoting the drug, attorneys Tom Kline and Jason Itkin said in a statement.Kline and Itkin said that Johnson & Johnson was “a corporation that valued profits over safety and profits over patients.” Thousands of lawsuits have been filed over the drug, but the attorneys said this was the first in which a jury decided whether to award punitive damages and came up with an amount.Johnson & Johnson said in a statement on its website it was confident that the award would be overturned, calling it “grossly disproportionate” with the initial compensatory damage award and “a clear violation of due process.”Johnson & Johnson said the court’s exclusion of key evidence left it unable to present a meaningful defense, including what they said was a drug label that “clearly and appropriately outlined the risks associated with the medicine” or Risperdal’s benefits for patients with serious mental illness. They also said the plaintiff’s attorneys failed to present any evidence of actual harm.”This decision is inconsistent with multiple determinations outside of Philadelphia regarding the adequacy of the Risperdal labeling, the medicine’s efficacy, and findings in support of the company,” Johnson & Johnson said. “We will be immediately moving to set aside this excessive and unfounded verdict.”

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