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May 23, 2019

The Trump administration is preparing to bypass Congress in order to sell $7 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, current and former U.S. officials and lawmakers told The New York Times on Thursday.

Right now, Congress has the sale on hold, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other senior aides are urging Trump to invoke a provision in the Arms Export Control Act that would let him circumvent lawmakers, the Times reports. This is sure to stoke tensions between the U.S. and Iran, which considers Saudi Arabia its biggest rival, and anger Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who are already upset with Trump over his reaction to the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year and his support of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in the Yemen war.

"It sets an incredibly dangerous precedent that future presidents can use to sell weapons without a check from Congress," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Ct.) told the Times. "We have the constitutional duty to declare war and the responsibility to oversee arm sales that contravene our national security interests. If we don't stand up to this abuse of authority, we will permanently box ourselves out of deciding who we should sell weapons to." Read more about the broad implications of Trump sidestepping Congress at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

8:35 a.m.

President Trump is angry at The New York Times once again.

The newspaper reported on Saturday that the U.S. has enacted a more aggressive approach when it comes to cyber attacks on Russia's electric power grid. The Times conducted interviews over a three month period in which current and former officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia's grid and other targets. The actions are reportedly seen as a warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Two administration officials told the Times that they do not believe President Trump has been briefed about the new digital incursion strategy, while Pentagon and intelligence officials told the newspaper that they were concerned about how the president would react to the news. They also reportedly feared he would reverse the operations or discuss the classified information with foreign officials.

Trump has denied the story, even calling it a "virtual act of treason". Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

7:52 a.m.

Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators returned to the streets in Hong Kong on Sunday to protest a proposed extradition bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. The rally reportedly looks like it could reach the scale of last Sunday's protests, for which around 1 million people gathered.

The protesters were also calling for Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down, despite their understanding that she had little choice but to carry out orders from Beijing, The Associated Press reports.

Lam, reportedly with the backing of Beijing, announced on Saturday that she was suspending the extradition legislation after the protests turned violent during the week, but those opposed to the bill want it scrapped entirely. They fear the law would subject criminal suspects to possible torture and unfair trials if they are sent to China. Generally speaking, the protesters believe the bill is in conflict with Hong Kong's judicial independence and contributes to the territory's eroding freedoms. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, on Friday called for an "independent and credible" investigation into the violence waged by Sudan's paramilitary security forces when they stormed a protest camp in the country's capital, Khartoum, earlier in June, The Associated Press reports.

Sudan's ruling military council, which recently ousted former autocratic President Omar al-Bashir, said it plans to announce the findings of its own investigation on Saturday. Protest organizers say over 100 people were killed by the security forces, while state authorities said the death toll was 61.

Nagy's stance echoes that of the protesters, who are hoping for an internationally-backed probe into the crackdown. The military council, which admitted that it ordered the dispersal of the sit-in, rejected that idea, as did Sudan's chief prosecutor.

Nagy added that he supports the mediation efforts by the African Union and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but did not say whether Washington would take any measures if the situation worsens. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

One might recall President Trump declaring in an April speech that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential candidate, was "finished." Now, though, Trump's re-election campaign team considers Warren a legitimate threat and is reportedly ready to make her a target, Politico reports, based on conversations with multiple Trump advisers.

Trump aides and their allies at the Republican National Committee are reportedly digging up opposition research and deploying camera-wielding trackers in the hopes of halting Warren's momentum. They also reportedly plan to label her a "liberal extremist." Trump's advisers are reportedly concerned by Warren's disciplined style mixed with "populist-infused" speeches and her potential ability to win over suburban female voters.

The change in tune doesn't mean the Trump campaign won't continue to focus its energy on the current frontrunner, former Vice President Joe Biden, as well, Politico reports; but they're just less certain he'll face off against the president in the general election now.

Warren's prospects looked rough out of the gate, but the senator has polled well recently and has even surpassed Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), long considered Biden's top challenger, in some of the latest tallies. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

It's unlikely to make a difference in outcome, but Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said on Friday she will oppose one of President Trump's federal judicial nominees, anyway, The Washington Post reports.

Collins, who has opposed Trump on various occasions before, specifically cited nominee Matthew Kacsmaryk's "alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents," such as Roe v. Wade, as her primary reasons for doing so. Again, it would be a surprise if Collins' opposition makes any difference regarding Kacsmaryk's confirmation, but it is notable because of the senator's decision to vote to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, which led her to face intense criticism from liberals, the Post reports. Collins was singled out, in particular, because of her past willingness to split from her own party.

Kacsmaryk currently serves as deputy general counsel to First Liberty Institute, which defends religious freedom issues. He also defended the right of a shop owner to refuse to bake a cake for a gay couple's union in a high-profile case three years ago, the Post reports. LGBTQ and women's rights groups reportedly "vehemently" oppose his nomination. Read more at The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

President Trump on Friday told Fox News that "it doesn't matter" if China's President Xi Jinping meets with him at the G-20 summit in Osaka in June. But, Bloomberg reports, Trump is indeed thinking long term when it comes to trade negotiations with China.

Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly set to give a speech on June 4, the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, criticizing China's human rights record. The president, though, reportedly stepped in before it could happen in an effort to avoid upsetting Beijing before the summit, four people familiar with the planning told Bloomberg. Trump also reportedly postponed sanctions on Chinese surveillance companies that Pence planned to preview in his speech.

Pence's remarks were then tentatively rescheduled for June 24, just a few days before Osaka, but there is now debate within the Trump administration over when Pence should deliver the speech and, perhaps more importantly, how much he should challenge Beijing during it. If Pence ultimately does go ahead with his remarks, experts, such as Robert Daly, the head of the China program at the Wilson Center, say Beijing's officials would watch it very closely, monitoring for signs that the White House is willing to resume trade negotiations. Read more at Bloomberg. Tim O'Donnell

June 15, 2019

That's one victory for wildlife conservation.

Niassa, one of the largest wildlife preserves on the African continent, situated in a remote region in northern Mozambique, has marked a year without a single elephant found killed by poachers; the last time a killing was reported was May 17 of last year.

Thousands of animals have reportedly been slaughtered in the region in recent years, but the introduction of a rapid intervention police force and more assertive patrolling and response by air has apparently quelled the damage, the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, which co-manages the reserve with Mozambique's government and other partners, said.

Experts have called the drop in elephant poaching an extraordinary development. But despite the progress, it reportedly could still take years to rebuild the elephant population in Niassa to its former levels after aggressive poaching cut initial numbers from around 12,000 to 3,600 in 2016.

Still, wildlife experts are excited by the news. "This represents a major success," George Wittemyer, the chair of the scientific board for the Kenya-based organization, Save the Elephants, told The Associated Press. Other nearby reserves, such as Tanzania's Selous Game Reserve, have also seen recent declines in poaching. Read more at The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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