By Robert A. Vella
Eight big stories top today’s news coverage. New reporting details the $100,000 bounty offered by Russia to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Senate Republicans are moving to sidestep a threatened Trump veto over the renaming of U.S. military bases honoring Confederate figures by delaying the vote on a bipartisan national defense authorizations bill until after the November election. The U.S. Supreme Court has also moved to protect President Trump from political repercussions by accepting his challenge to an appeals court ruling, which mandated that the secret Mueller investigation grand jury evidence (detailing obstruction of justice crimes) be released to the House of Representatives, and by declaring that it probably won’t decide the case until next year. In another example of officialdom concealing dirty laundry from the public view, a Republican-appointed judge in one of the Jeffrey Epstein cases ruled that the plaintiff’s lawyers must destroy evidence that they had obtained. Vladimir Putin has essentially become dictator-for-life after an “election” changed Russia’s “constitutional” limitation. China has completed its authoritarian crackdown on Hong Kong marking the end of that administrative region’s democratic autonomy and probably its economic prosperity as well. The U.K. returned to its imperialistic heritage when a court ruled that $2 billion of Venezuelan gold in its possession no longer belongs to that nation because it disapproves of Venezuela’s government. In other news, the coronavirus pandemic crisis in the U.S. continues to worsen as some job gains made during June (when the economy was reopened) are likely to be lost again as necessary social restrictions are re-implemented.
Russia’s $100,000 bounty
… Rahmatullah Azizi stands as a central piece of a puzzle rocking Washington, named in American intelligence reports and confirmed by Afghan officials as a key middleman who for years handed out money from a Russian military intelligence unit to reward Taliban-linked fighters for targeting American troops in Afghanistan, according to American and Afghan officials.
As security agencies connected the dots of the bounty scheme and narrowed in on him, they carried out sweeping raids to arrest dozens of his relatives and associates about six months ago, but discovered that Mr. Azizi had sneaked out of Afghanistan and was likely back in Russia. What they did find in one of his homes, in Kabul, was about half a million dollars in cash.
American and Afghan officials for years have maintained that Russia was running clandestine operations to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and aid the Taliban.
But they only recently concluded a Russian spy agency was paying bounties for killing coalition troops, including Americans, which the Kremlin and the Taliban have denied.
According to officials briefed on the matter, U.S. intelligence officials believe the program is run by Unit 29155, an arm of the Russian military intelligence agency known as the G.R.U. that has carried out assassinations and other operations overseas.
GOP to sidestep Trump veto
From: Republicans fear backlash over Trump’s threatened veto on Confederate names [clarification by The Secular Jurist]
Senate Republicans fear President Trump is putting them into a political no-win situation by threatening to veto a popular defense policy bill [which includes pay raises for military personnel] over bipartisan language to rename military bases named after Confederate generals.
GOP lawmakers are trying to wave the president off his veto threat and may end up delaying the bill to avoid a political disaster before Election Day.
With Trump and several Senate GOP incumbents down in the polls to Democratic opponents, Republican lawmakers are not looking forward to a racially-charged debate in Congress over preserving the memories of Confederate generals.
“We are now in an era of live grenades lying around. Nobody wants to jump on them,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
SCOTUS delays Mueller information
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is denying Congress access to secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation through the November election.
The justices agreed on Thursday to hear the Trump administration’s appeal of a lower court order for the material to be turned over to the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. The high court’s action will keep the documents out of congressional hands at least until the case is resolved, which is not likely to happen before 2021.
Arguments themselves might not even take place before Americans decide whether to give President Donald Trump a second term.
The delay is a victory for Trump, who also is mounting a Supreme Court fight against congressional efforts to obtain his banking and other financial records. Those cases are expected to be decided in the coming days or weeks.
Jeffrey Epstein news
From: Judge Rules Virginia Giuffre’s Lawyers Must ‘Destroy’ Jeffrey Epstein Files [clarification by The Secular Jurist]
Attorneys for Virginia Giuffre, who publicly accused Jeffrey Epstein of sex trafficking, must destroy files they obtained on Epstein after a Wednesday ruling by a federal judge.
Epstein was arrested in July 2019 on charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking. Allegedly, Epstein procured women to have sexual relations with high-profile individuals, such as Prince Andrew. Information about Epstein, culled from a 2015 civil suit filed against Epstein by Giuffre, allegedly contained the names of individuals with whom Epstein had conducted business.
Senior U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska [appointed by President George H. W. Bush] ruled Wednesday that Giuffre’s lawyers had come into possession of the documents improperly, noting that the protective order could only be enforced during the civil lawsuit proceedings which had already been settled. Preska wrote that all the materials in the files “shall be destroyed.”
Preska’s ruling came after a request by attorney Alan Dershowitz to gain access to the documents. Dershowitz defended Epstein during his 2019 trial. Giuffre has claimed that Dershowitz was one of the men Epstein forced her to have sex with. In response, Dershowitz sued Giuffre for defamation in 2019. Dershowitz claimed that obtaining the Epstein files would be an asset to his defense.
From: Ghislaine Maxwell, Associate of Jeffrey Epstein, Is Arrested [clarification by The Secular Jurist]
Ghislaine Maxwell, the former girlfriend and longtime associate of the disgraced financier Jeffrey Epstein, was arrested Thursday in New Hampshire on criminal charges linked to his alleged sex-trafficking operation, according to a law enforcement official.
Ms. Maxwell was accused in an indictment of recruiting and grooming “multiple” girls, including one as young as 14, for Mr. Epstein, who sexually abused them. She also faces perjury charges.
The arrest came nearly a year after Mr. Epstein was charged in a federal indictment with sexually exploiting and abusing dozens of underage girls at his mansion in Manhattan, his estate in Palm Beach, Fla. and other locations between at least 2002 and 2005.
Mr. Epstein hanged himself [according to officials] in August in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, where he was jailed pending trial on the federal sex-trafficking charges.
Putin becomes dictator for life
From: Kremlin hails vote allowing Putin to extend his rule a triumph as critics cry foul [emphasis by The Secular Jurist]
Opposition activists have called the vote illegitimate and said it was designed to legalise Putin’s presidency for life.
Golos, a non-governmental organisation that monitors elections, said on Thursday it had recorded numerous irregularities during the vote, including ballot stuffing and widespread cases of employers forcing staff to cast a ballot.
“This past vote was indeed unprecedented and will go down in the history of the country as an example of an attempt to encroach on people’s sovereignty,” Golos said.
Moscow resident Ksenia was one of several people who told Reuters she did not believe official figures about the vote’s outcome.
“I think none of my friends took part in the vote, I think it is all a fake (the result). No one voted. Everyone understands that they will vote for us anyway, what’s the point in attending?”
The end of Hong Kong
China’s imposition of its sweeping national security law on Hong Kong has already divided the business community. Now executives are anxiously waiting to see whether its implementation will undermine the city’s role as a global finance and trading hub.
Hong Kong’s government insists the law will be good for stability and prosperity, and won’t harm the political freedoms and judicial autonomy the city was guaranteed for half a century when the United Kingdom handed it back to China exactly 23 years ago.
But no draft was made public ahead of its approval by Beijing’s top lawmaking body on Tuesday. The law was finally published at 11 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) as it went into effect.
It criminalizes offenses such as secession and subversion against the central Chinese government, and its passage has already prompted some opposition groups in Hong Kong to disband. It has caused outcry in the West, where politicians and democracy activists have criticized it as damaging to Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status.
(Bloomberg) — Boris Johnson’s government refused to back down after China warned of “consequences” if it presses ahead with the offer a home in the U.K. for millions of Hong Kong residents.
The British prime minister promised almost 3 million people new visas and a path to citizenship after China enforced a security law on the former British colony, which Johnson called a “clear and serious breach” of the 1984 handover treaty between London and Beijing.
But China hit back, questioning the U.K.’s right under the “joint declaration” treaty to make the offer to people in Hong Kong. “China strongly condemns that and reserves the right to make further reactions,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on Thursday. “All the consequences shall be borne by the U.K. side.”
Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, said the U.K.’s offer still stands and China’s warning will not change the British government’s stance.
U.K. robs Venezuela’s gold
LONDON (Reuters) – A London court ruled on Thursday that the British government recognizes Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president, instead of Nicolas Maduro, in a case to decide which leader controls $2 billion worth of Venezuelan central bank gold stored in the Bank of England.