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By Robert A. Vella

In the news today, Turkey ordered a military attack against the Kurds immediately after President Trump announced a withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria raising fears of an ethnic cleansing campaign and a geopolitical crisis.  The Senate Intelligence Committee has issued another report on Russian meddling in U.S. elections.  A federal judge is deciding whether to release redacted portions of the Mueller report to Congress.  Trump ordered State Department officials and Energy Secretary Rick Perry to talk to his “personal lawyer” Rudy Giuliani about what he wanted from the Ukrainian government, his appellate court nominee is refusing to answer senators’ questions about Ukraine, and he is planning to withdrawal the U.S. from another longstanding arms control treaty.  Federal judges have issued a ruling against FBI domestic surveillance operations, and are considering punitive actions against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for disobeying court orders on student loans.  Gun deaths in the U.S. are skyrocketing except for two states which enacted strict gun control measures.

Turkey’s attack

From:  Erdogan orders Turkish offensive against northern Syria as Kurds mobilize civilian defense

ISTANBUL —President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced Wednesday that Turkey’s military has launched a long-expected offensive into northeastern Syria targeting U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters who have played a central role in battling the Islamic State militant group.

The offensive has presented the Trump administration with a dilemma, because of the Syrian-Kurdish forces alliance with the United States.

The White House announced Sunday that it was withdrawing U.S. troops from the area that Turkey planned to invade, igniting a firestorm of criticism. Republican leaders denounced Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds. Pentagon officials struggled with explanations, humanitarian workers warned of civilian casualties, and Kurdish commanders said they might be forced to abandon their Syrian prisons holding thousands of captured Islamic State fighters and head for the front lines against Turkey.

See also:  Iran Holds Military Drills Near Turkey, Tells It to Stop Syria Attack As Russia Accuses U.S. of ‘Dangerous Game’

Russia’s meddling

From:  Senate Intel report urges action to prevent Russian meddling in 2020 election

The Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday recommended a set of sweeping steps for Congress, President Trump and social media companies to take to prevent Russian disinformation efforts from impairing the 2020 elections.

In a bipartisan report, the panel said Congress should consider legislation to increase the transparency of political advertisements on social media. It also called on social media companies to improve efforts to notify users of exposure to disinformation, three years after Russian actors directed by the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

From:  Russian Operative Said ‘We Made America Great’ After Trump’s Win

(Bloomberg) — Kremlin-directed operatives opened champagne when Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016, according to a communication disclosed in a new Senate Intelligence Committee report outlining Russia’s sweeping social media efforts to help him win.

“We uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne … took one gulp each and looked into each other’s eyes …. We uttered almost in unison: ‘We made America great,’” one operative at the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency said in the message obtained by the Republican-led committee.

The long-pending report by the Intelligence panel concluded that Russia directed an aggressive social media campaign to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump in the 2016 presidential election and warns similar efforts to interfere in U.S. politics are still under way. It was a bipartisan endorsement of the finding made by U.S. intelligence agencies and often questioned by Trump.

Mueller’s secrets

From:  Judge signals Dems may get to see Mueller’s secrets

A federal judge signaled Tuesday that she might give House Democrats access to some of Robert Mueller’s remaining secrets.

During a two-hour hearing, Beryl Howell, chief judge for the U.S. District Court, challenged the Justice Department to explain its “extraordinary position” of trying to block lawmakers from seeing the special counsel’s grand jury materials, which include testimony and evidence that has been kept private since the Mueller probe ended in March. Grand jury material is protected by law, but judges can release information under special circumstances.

Trump’s orders

From:  First on CNN: Trump told Perry and State Department officials as early as May to talk to Giuliani about Ukraine

President Donald Trump directed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and two top State Department officials to deal with his private attorney Rudy Giuliani when the Ukrainian President sought to meet Trump, in a clear circumvention of official channels, according to two sources familiar with the conversation.

Trump believed Ukraine was still rampantly corrupt and said that if President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted to meet with him, Giuliani would have to be convinced first, one source said.

[…]

Trump’s push to have Giuliani as gatekeeper is more direct than what was previously disclosed by one of the meeting’s participants in his statement to the House last week. It also further demonstrates how significant Giuliani was in brokering access to the President regarding Ukraine policy and in passing messages to other administration officials.

From:  Trump Court Pick Ignores Senators’ Questions About His Role In Ukraine Scandal

WASHINGTON ― White House legal adviser Steven Menashi, who is also President Donald Trump’s nominee to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, is ignoring questions from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee about what he knew about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

From:  Trump administration expected to announce exit from ‘Open Skies’ treaty

The Trump administration is expected to soon announce that it plans to exit the “Open Skies” treaty, a US official tells CNN, a move that has already drawn condemnation from Democrats in Congress.

The decision to leave the treaty — which was signed in 1992 and went into effect in 2002 and allows 34 member states to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another’s territories — could affect the American military’s ability to conduct aerial surveillance of Russia and other member countries. The treaty is used to help verify arms control agreements, according to the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency, part of the Defense Department.

Court actions

From:  FBI Use of Surveillance Database Violated Privacy Rights, Court Ruled

WASHINGTON—Some of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s electronic surveillance activities violated the constitutional privacy rights of Americans swept up in a controversial foreign intelligence program, a secretive surveillance court has ruled.

The ruling deals a rare rebuke to U.S. spying programs that have generally withstood legal challenge and review since they were dramatically expanded after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The opinion resulted in the FBI agreeing to better safeguard privacy and apply new procedures, including recording how the database is searched to detect possible future compliance issues.

The intelligence community disclosed Tuesday that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court last year found that the FBI’s efforts to search data about Americans ensnared in a warrantless internet-surveillance program intended to target foreign suspects have violated the law authorizing the program, as well as the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches. The issue was made public by the government only after it lost an appeal of the judgment earlier this year before another secret court.

From:  Federal judge slams DeVos, Education Department for violating order on Corinthian loans

A federal judge on Monday sharply criticized the Education Department for violating her order to stop collecting the student loans of tens of thousands of borrowers who attended Corinthian Colleges, the now-defunct for-profit education company.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim said in a hearing she was “extremely disturbed” and “really astounded” that the department and Secretary Betsy DeVos had sought to collect on the student loans in spite of her May 2018 order to stop doing so.

“Whether it’s contempt or whether it’s sanctions, I’m going to entertain them,” Kim said during the hearing, according to an audio recording provided by the court to POLITICO. She added: “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

Gun deaths

From:  Study: U.S. Gun Deaths Surge, Except for Two States With Restrictive Gun Laws

U.S. gun deaths have have surged over the last several years, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs.

Since 1999, researchers from the University of Michigan found that the annual rate of people killed by firearms had remained relatively stable, hovering around 10.4 deaths per 100,000. But from 2015 to 2017, a new pattern emerged, and the rate began to skyrocket, ultimately increasing by around 14 percent over the previous 15 years.

Nearly one-fifth of all people living in the United States who died at the hands of a firearm since 1999 were killed over a three-year period.

The study reported that only two states, California and New York, and the District of Columbia saw firearm mortality rates decline in recent years. This is notable considering these jurisdictions’ relatively strict gun laws.

More news

Trump’s fast-tracking of oil pipelines hits legal roadblocks

New Florida system restoring voting rights to ex-felons an ‘administrative nightmare,’ judge says

Californians can register to vote on Election Day at any polling place under new law

California’s new police body cam law blocks the use of facial recognition

Five UK ministers on ‘resignation watch list’, PM faces no-deal cabinet rebellion: report

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