August 18, 2019

A local affiliate of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Saturday night at a crowded wedding party in Kabul, Afghanistan. The blast killed at least 63 people, including women and children, and another 182 were injured.

The Taliban, which is negotiating an end to an 18-year conflict with the United States, condemned the violence and denied any involvement. "The attack on the wedding hall is a brutal act," Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban, said. "The Islamic Emirate condemns it in the strongest terms. We share the sorrow of the people."

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani, on the other hand, was not ready to rid them of responsibility. In a tweet expressing condolences to the victims, Ghani wrote that the "Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists."

The attack occurred in a neighborhood in the western part of the city that is home to many of the country's Shiite Hazara community. ISIS, whose members follow Sunni doctrine, have frequently claimed responsibility for attacks targeting Shiites. The militant group's statement said a Pakistani ISIS fighter seeking martyrdom targeted the gathering.

The incident has stoked fear. Mohammed Naeem, a part owner of the venue where the attack occurred, said "very few people may dare to go to wedding halls from now on." Read more at The Associated Press and The Washington Post. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

House Republicans may soon have a new member in their ranks.

Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), probably the most vocally anti-impeachment Democrat — and one of only two House Democrats to vote against formalizing an impeachment inquiry in October — apparently met with President Trump, who urged him to switch parties. And the congressman is giving it some serious thought, The Washington Post reports. In fact, he's serious enough about it that he's discussed which day he should make an announcement and whether it should come before or after the full House vote on two articles of impeachment, The New York Times reports.

Van Drew is a centrist freshman lawmaker who considers impeachment too divisive and hails from a district that swung from supporting President Obama by eight points in 2012 to backing Trump by five points in 2016, although it reportedly leans red historically. By crossing the aisle, Van Drew would be less likely to face a primary threat, two Democrats and one Republican told the Times on condition of anonymity. As it stands, Van Drew feels nervous about a Democratic primary challenge, as well as his chance in the general election, a Republican familiar with the discussions said.

Van Drew and his team haven't responded to the Post or the Times yet, but he did deny rumors about a switch earlier in the week. Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) has a lot of people scratching their heads over how he's managing to pay the legal fees for the numerous defamation lawsuits he's filed against entities ranging from CNN to a social media parody account called Devin Nunes' Cow, McClatchy reports.

Nunes' $174,000 congressional salary is reportedly his main source of income, so McClatchy notes it's unlikely he's simply paying out of pocket. He could theoretically rely on a benefactor by setting up a legal defense fund, but he would have had to disclose that since members of Congress have strict rules against receiving gifts.

The most plausible theory, campaign finance and legal experts seem to think, is that he's paying his lawyer, Steven Biss, by promising a contingency fee, which isn't mentioned by House Ethics rules and likely doesn't require disclosure. A contingency fee means representation receives a percentage of monetary damages Nunes would be awarded if he wins the lawsuits. So, in such an instance, a lawyer would front the costs, and then bank on a big payoff down the line. But McClatchy reports that most lawyers aren't too keen on relying solely on the possibility of a win, so contingency fees aren't too common. Read more at The Fresno Bee. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

Hindsight, they say, is 20/20. Some House Republicans might have that cliche on their minds these days.

That's because U.S. District Court Judge David Briones has continually ruled against the Trump administration's efforts to fund the president's oft-promised wall at the U.S.'s southern border by pointing to an obscure legislative provision passed by the House GOP back in 2014, Politico reports.

The provision, which prohibits the chief executive from doing anything to "eliminate or reduce funding for any program, project, or activity as proposed in the president's budget request" until Congress gives the thumbs up, was initially put in place to prevent former President Barack Obama from making cuts to space exploration. While born from a narrow dispute, the restrictions wound up being applied government-wide when enacted, and a year later Republicans added "increase" along side "eliminate" and "reduce."

Briones has utilized the language in his rulings on the wall, noting that Trump doesn't have the authority to move money from other military construction projects to fund the wall. It looks like he has his own party to thank. Read more at Politico. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg knows mayors. He was, after all, the leader of the nation's largest city, but even after giving up the reins to New York, Bloomberg has spent a lot of time building relationships with city leaders through philanthropy. Now, he's hoping some mayors might help boost his young Democratic presidential campaign, The New York Times reports.

So far, eight mayors across the country are backing Bloomberg. All eight attended his boot camp for mayors at Harvard University, where they had access to advice from Bloomberg-funded experts, and more than half have reportedly received millions of dollars in grants and support packages from Bloomberg.

The mayors maintain they're endorsing Bloomberg because of his platform and ideas, not because they felt pressured on account of his aid. But some did acknowledge that his philanthropy helped establish his credibility. "Lots of people have money," said Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Cobbs, who endorsed Bloomberg's campaign earlier this week. "But the way he uses his money speaks to how he's someone who has a vision for [the Democratic Party]."

There's plenty of mayors who attended Bloomberg's Harvard program or received grants from his foundation that haven't endorsed him yet, as well, though. So it's hardly a given that he'll rack up much more support from mayors, especially when considering that one mayor who attended the Harvard program is now his Democratic presidential competitor, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Buttigieg, for what it's worth, probably has a leg up on Bloomberg when it comes to the mayoral vote after more than 50 city executives pledged their support back in September. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

As Sudan's transitional civilian government continues its nascent rule, the country's former President Omar al-Bashir, who was removed from power after 30 years earlier this year following nationwide protests, was sentenced Saturday to two years detention in a state-run reform center on financial irregularities and corruption charges. Some of his supporters briefly disrupted the proceedings before being forced out of the courtroom.

The 75-year-old is reportedly protected somewhat by a law that prevents anyone over the age of 70 from serving jail time. He will reportedly serve his sentence after a verdict is reached in another case in which he is accused of ordering security forces to kill the protesters in the movement that led to his removal, and he was also questioned about the 1989 coup in which he was brought to power. One of his lawyers said they would appeal the verdict.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague is also pursuing al-Bashir for crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in Sudan's Darfur region, but none of the cases against him in Sudan are connected to those allegations. Read more at Al Jazeera and BBC. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

Come back with a better plan.

That's essentially what California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Friday told Pacific Gas & Electric after he rejected the utility company's plan to pull itself out of bankruptcy and pay victims of California's wildfires. Newsom said the proposal didn't meet safety requirements under state law and that PG&E fell "woefully short" of the safety benchmark. The company reportedly won't receive state assistance without implementing major changes to its plan. Without that money, it's future is murky.

"For too long, PG&E has been mismanaged, failed to make adequate investments in fire safety and fire prevention, and neglected critical infrastructure," Newsom said in a letter. "PG&E has simply violated the public trust."

PG&E, whose faulty equipment has been blamed for sparking some the state's recent fires, is on the hook for $30 billion in financial liabilities from California. The company didn't actually need Newsom's approval, but asked him to weigh in anyway. Now it looks like the gamble backfired, and PG&E is pushing back against Newsom's comments, arguing its plan does conform to the safety requirements.

PG&E has until Tuesday to revise its plan. Read more at The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times. Tim O'Donnell

December 14, 2019

North Korea appears committed to that year-end deadline.

The country conducted its second successful test this week geared toward strengthening Pyongyang's nuclear deterrent at the Sohae satellite launch site Friday, state media said Saturday. Although North Korea's Academy of Defense Science didn't specify what was tested, the trial may have included technologies to improve intercontinental ballistic missiles, The Associated Press reports. North Korea considers ICBMs as strategic defensive weapons.

The test, in addition to one on Dec. 7, is widely seen as an attempt to pressure the Trump administration to make major concessions in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang. North Korea set a year-end deadline for the United States to change course from its insistence on unilateral denuclearization before it sets out on a "new path."

Still some experts don't believe North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will reverse course too drastically and create tensions that existed in 2017 by running nuclear and ICBM tests. Instead, they predict he'll try to provoke Trump with military activities that don't pose a direct threat to Washington and by strengthening Pyongyang's alliance with Moscow and Beijing, AP reports. Read more at Reuters and The Associated Press. Tim O'Donnell

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