By Robert A. Vella
Interim Attorney General Matthew Whitaker is testifying today before the House Judiciary Committee in an open session. He will likely be replaced by President Trump’s nominee William Barr within a few days. Whitaker was initially combative, acted disrespectfully, and was overtly evasive in answering direct questions from the Democratic committee members, but he behaved more professionally later on. He stated that he has not interfered with the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller nor has he had any discussions with Trump or any intermediaries about that investigation; however, he invoked “executive privilege” in refusing to answer any questions regarding his private communications with the President. Whitaker also refused to answer whether or not Department of Justice ethics officers had recommended that he recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of highly critical remarks he had made in public prior to his appointment as Attorney General. Instead, he simply asserted that it was his personal decision not to recuse himself.
Whitaker’s testimony before the committee was accompanied by the typical political grandstanding from each side, and nothing new has been discovered so far as was expected. However, the public hearing itself is notable for the presidency of Donald Trump because such congressional scrutiny would not have occurred had not Democrats won control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections.
Bezos accuses National Enquirer of blackmail
Jeff Bezos – founder and head of Amazon, owner of The Washington Post, and reportedly the richest person in the world – has accused the tabloid magazine National Enquirer of trying to blackmail him over an extramarital affair he had with another woman for political reasons which may involve President Trump and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The publisher of the tabloid, David Pecker, is a longtime friend of Donald Trump who signed a non-prosecution agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York last year in exchange for witness cooperation in the criminal case against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen regarding hush money payments which violated campaign finance laws. That agreement contained a provision withholding prosecution against National Enquirer contingent upon its lawful conduct for a period of three years. Therefore, had Pecker or any other employee of the magazine committed a crime of blackmail or extortion against Bezos, then the non-prosecution agreement would be invalidated.
The Washington Post is a frequent target for President Trump’s rage against the news media, and it is also hated by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman because of its examination of his alleged involvement in the assassination of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Bezos has suggested that a foreign actor, possibly Saudi Arabia, hacked into his private communications and then gave the material to the National Enquirer for the sole purpose of threatening him.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he was the target of “extortion and blackmail” by the publisher of the National Enquirer, which he said threatened to publish revealing personal photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the tabloid obtained his private exchanges with his mistress.
Bezos, who is also owner of The Washington Post, detailed his interactions with American Media Inc., or AMI, in an extraordinary blog post Thursday on Medium.com. The billionaire did not say the tabloid was seeking money — instead, he said, the Enquirer wanted him to make a public statement that the tabloid’s coverage was not politically motivated.
Bezos’ accusations add another twist to a high-profile clash between the world’s richest man and the leader of America’s best-known tabloid, a strong backer of President Donald Trump. Bezos’ investigators have suggested the Enquirer’s coverage of his affair — which included the release of risque texts — was driven by dirty politics.
Several days ago, someone at AMI told Bezos’ team that the company’s CEO David Pecker was “apoplectic” about the investigation, Bezos said. AMI later approached Bezos’ representatives with an offer.
“They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation,” Bezos wrote.
It is a federal crime to threaten to injure someone’s reputation in exchange for money or a “thing of value,” though federal courts haven’t made it directly clear whether a public statement, like the one demanded by AMI, could be considered something of value.
Supreme Court abortion ruling
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined with the Supreme Court’s liberals Thursday night to block a Louisiana law that opponents say would close most of the state’s abortion clinics and leave it with only one doctor eligible to perform the procedure.
The justices may yet consider whether the 2014 law — requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals — unduly burdens women’s access to abortion. The Louisiana law has never been enforced, and the Supreme Court in 2016 found a nearly identical Texas law to be unconstitutional.