WASHINGTON, Feb 7 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, moved closer to a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, winning approval from a key committee despite Democrats’ concerns about how he might handle Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
Barr is expected to win confirmation in the Republican-controlled chamber as soon as next week, after the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve him by a party-line vote of 12 to 10.
A corporate lawyer who previously served as attorney general under Republican President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, Barr has been praised by lawmakers from both parties as someone who is deeply familiar with the workings of the Justice Department and does not owe his career to Trump.
If he wins the job, Barr’s independence could be put to the test when Mueller wraps up his investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russia during the 2016 election.
The Republican president has repeatedly criticized the investigation as a “witch hunt” and denies any collusion with Moscow.
Barr criticized the investigation last year in a memo to the Justice Department, but he told the committee in confirmation hearings three weeks ago that he would allow Mueller to conclude his work and said he would make as much of his findings public as possible.
But Barr has refused to promise that he will release the report in its entirety, citing Justice Department regulations that encourage prosecutors not to criticize people who they do not end up charging with criminal behavior.
Democrats on the committee said they were concerned that Barr’s expansive views of presidential power, as outlined in his memo, would lead him to suppress parts of Mueller’s report that address whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation.
“I believe the memo is disqualifying,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee’s top Democrat.
Republicans said they were confident Barr would make as much of the report public as possible.
“We need a steady hand at the Department of Justice, and I believe Mr. Barr provides that steady hand,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, the committee’s chairman.
For the time being, Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker will remain in charge of the department – and the Mueller investigation.
US Judge In Oregon Will Block New Trump Abortion Policy
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A U.S. judge in Oregon said Tuesday he intends to at least partially block a rule change by President Donald Trump’s administration that could cut off federal funding for providers who refer patients for an abortion, though the scope of his decision remains to be seen.
U.S. District Judge Michael McShane made the comments after more than three hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by 20 states and the District of Columbia, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported . The states say the rule change, due to take effect May 3, is a transparent attack on Planned Parenthood and a violation of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits “unreasonable barriers to the ability of individuals to obtain appropriate medical care.”
“At the heart of these rules is an arrogant assumption that the government is better suited to direct women’s health care than their providers,” Oregon Public Broadcasting quoted the judge as saying.
McShane said he needs more time to decide whether he will issue a national injunction or a more limited one blocking the policy from taking effect. The judge said he’s reluctant to set national health care policy and would describe the scope of his injunction in a written opinion soon.
“We will need to see what the final ruling says,” Oregon Justice Department spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said in an email. “We are pleased with the decision.”
Under the new policy, health care providers that receive federal funding would be barred from referring patients for an abortion. Programs that receive the money would also have to be in a separate physical space from facilities where abortion is performed.
The rule change announced early this year concerns Title X, a family planning program created in 1970 which serves roughly 4 million low-income Americans every year. Clinics that receive money under Title X provide a wide array of services, including birth control and screening for diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases and cancer.
Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman. Religious conservatives and abortion opponents have long complained that Title X has been used to indirectly subsidize abortion providers.
“Title X grant funds are a true safety net for low income individuals and those who would not be able to access care, due to a lack of insurance or other barriers,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told the judge. “Put simply, this is an attempt to politicize what has been a successful, non-political public health program for 50 years.”
U.S. Justice Department lawyer Andrew M. Bernie said there was nothing in the administrative record to suggest the change was politically motivated.
But the judge was not swayed. McShane suggested it would be “insane” for a man to go to his doctor seeking a vasectomy, only to be referred to a fertility clinic.
Several other lawsuits have also challenged the new policy. California and Washington have sued separately; arguments in the latter case are scheduled for Thursday in U.S. District Court in Yakima.
ICE Faces Migrant Detention Crunch as Border Chaos Spills Into Interior of the Country
Federal immigration authorities faced with overburdened detention centers are scouring the country to find space to house migrants as the crush of asylum seekers that has overwhelmed the Southwest border spreads deep into the nation’s interior.
With mounting federal initiatives to hold more and more migrants in custody, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees long-term detention centers for migrants, are looking for additional space that can be rented inside existing jails, as well as fast-tracking the deportations of current detainees and releasing as many migrants as possible into the country to make room for newcomers.
In one initiative examined earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials looked at housing migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum seekers. The proposal to house migrant children from the Southwest border there has not gained traction, perhaps because of the optics of housing young people adjacent to terrorism suspects, according to one official who had seen the proposal but was not authorized to discuss it publicly.
While there were no “immediate” plans to house migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the Defense Department is attempting to identify military bases that might be used for that purpose, a department spokesman, Tom Crosson, said on Monday.
Much of the administration’s focus in recent months has been on the Southwest border, where the surge of migrant families seeking asylum has overwhelmed short-term holding facilities and left people languishing there for longer periods of time. But authorities already are confronting the next phase of detention, the long-term facilities in the interior of the country where many of the incoming migrants will eventually be transferred, and these also appear to be bucking under pressure.
Populations in the long-term detention facilities have grown markedly under President Trump, both because of increasing border crossings and his administration’s aggressive moves to arrest more undocumented immigrants in the interior of the country. ICE is currently housing 50,223 migrants, one of the highest numbers on record, and about 5,000 more than the congressionally mandated limit of 45,274.
In 2016, President Obama’s last year in office, the average daily population of immigrants in detention dipped to 34,376.
A detention crunch that homeland security officials described as already dire threatened last week to become worse with the announcement by Attorney General William Barr that the administration would soon begin mandatorily detaining additional asylum seekers, a move that, if implemented, could put thousands more in custody each month.
“It’s clear that all of our resources are being stretched thin. The system is full, and we are beyond capacity,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, the new acting homeland security secretary, speaking to reporters at a news conference on the border.
Despite its potential impact on the already congested detention system, a D.H.S. press officer said the agency supported Mr. Barr’s order on the detention of asylum seekers because it might discourage migrants from crossing the border to begin with.
Immigrant advocates said the detention crunch has been self-imposed by the administration and its policies.
Under President Trump, ICE agents have been encouraged to arrest anyone living in the country without legal status, regardless of their criminal record, whereas the previous administration put a priority on arresting and deporting undocumented migrants who were considered dangerous.
The Trump administration has also expanded collaboration with local sheriff’s departments to gain easier access to anyone in criminal custody who is also suspected of immigration violations. It has once again expanded the use of workplace raids — officials carried out the largest one in a decade earlier this month in Texas. And it has scaled back the use of humanitarian parole, which once allowed many asylum seekers to roam freely and work with temporary permits while they waited for their cases to be resolved.
The result is an increasingly congested system of long-term detention centers around the country, with officials signaling the need for more resources to house more detainees, while immigrant advocates argue that there are humane and effective alternatives to detention.
“We have to remember that it is a choice to jail asylum seekers, and it is a choice that is at odds with international human rights norms,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.
Ms. Altman pointed to case management programs that have been used in the past to ensure that immigrants show up for court. Studies have shown that the programs are both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance.
To address the current crush of detained migrants, ICE officials are working urgently to both expand the current system and to purge it of anyone possible, according to two officials at the Department of Homeland Security who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal operations. That effort involves scanning the records of the detained population to find anyone who is ready to be deported immediately, and to identify anyone who qualifies for humanitarian parole and can be released to make room for others.
Another idea, drafted in a memo from Mr. McAleenan in his new capacity as the acting homeland security secretary, would ask the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to dedicate most or all of its resources toward processing the cases of detained immigrants — temporarily pausing the court proceedings of anyone who has already been released into the country. The memo has not yet been sent, according to the official who disclosed it.
Officials in Washington have also suggested to ICE field offices around the country that they begin to release immigrants who have been granted bond by judges but have not yet paid them — presumably because they cannot afford to — in order to make more room.
Many of these measures aimed at clearing out space could face opposition from the White House, since they run contrary to the very policies that are creating the problem — President Trump’s often-stated desire to end what he calls “catch and release” of migrants at the border.
Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to identify new locations where migrants can be held in detention. The military awarded a $23 million contract in February to build a “contingency mass migration complex” at Guantánamo, a plan that would expand the existing facility to house 13,000 migrants and 5,000 support staff in tents. That project appears intended primarily to accommodate a crush of migrants that might accompany a new crisis in the Caribbean, though it could theoretically be used to house Central Americans.
In recent months, ICE has also signed or expanded a series of contracts, procuring nearly 3,000 additional beds to house migrants in state and local prisons and jails across the country. Staff have been moved to run the new facilities, but that has further stretched resources at existing detention centers, making it harder to keep cases moving on track.
Medical providers at some ICE facilities have also complained about not having enough resources to maintain minimum requirements, and the officials who spoke on background said that some ICE detention centers had been forced to lower their populations recently because they did not have enough staffing to meet medical standards.
Watchdog groups that favor less immigration detention are warning that slapdash efforts to expand the ICE system could leave detainees at risk.
“You don’t have to take my word for it. Their own inspector general has looked into this and expressed concerns about oversight, conditions, inspections, contracting,” said Mary Small, policy director of the Detention Watch Network, referring to reports that have documented a long history of inadequacies with health care, sanitation, the use of force and legal access inside detention centers. “Whether by systematically overcrowding the existing system or rapidly expanding it, it’s logical to expect to exacerbate all of the underlying problems,” Ms. Small said.
Congress has control over ICE’s budget for detention, and Democrats have often tried to limit funds in order to rein in the agency’s ability to make arrests indiscriminately. Even before the spike in migrant crossings earlier this year, the agency had been on track to require additional emergency funds this fiscal year in order to keep pace with trends at the southern border. Though the majority of those crossing recently are members of migrant families, who are typically being released into the country rather than detained, tens of thousands of individual adults continue to arrive each month, most of whom will end up in long-term detention centers.
Because most migrant families are being released to await the outcome of their asylum cases, ICE’s three family detention centers are largely empty now. Facilities certified to house families only have a capacity of about 2,500 people, in any case. Currently, 675 members of migrant families are being detained in one of those facilities in Dilley, Tex. A second one in Karnes City, Tex., has been converted to house adults, to help with overcrowding elsewhere. And the third in Leesport, Pa., is empty.
(Reporting by New York Times)
Northern Ireland Police Arrest Woman For Slaying Of Journalist Lyra McKee
LONDON (AP) — The Northern Ireland Police Service said Tuesday they have arrested a woman under the Terrorism Act in connection with the slaying of journalist Lyra McKee.
The arrest of the 57-year-old under the Terrorism Act came as an Irish Republican Army splinter group admitted that one of its “volunteers” killed journalist McKee, who was shot dead while reporting on rioting in Londonderry.
In a statement issued Tuesday to the Irish News, the New IRA offered “full and sincere” apologies to McKee’s family and friends.
The group said the 29-year-old journalist was killed during Thursday night’s unrest “while standing beside enemy forces” — a reference to the police.
The IRA and most other militant groups have disarmed since Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. The New IRA has been formed from splinter groups opposed to the peace process.
Authorities believe one person pulled the trigger during the chaotic rioting that began Thursday night but had organizational support.
The use of a firearm apparently aimed at police marks a dangerous escalation in sporadic violence that continues to plague Northern Ireland 21 years after the Good Friday peace agreement was signed. The New IRA group rejects the peace agreement.
The riot followed a pattern familiar to those who lived through the worst years of violence in Northern Ireland. Police arrived in the city’s Creggan neighborhood to search for weapons and dissidents. They were barraged with gasoline bombs and other flying objects before someone wearing a black mask appeared, fired some shots and fled.
No police were struck by the bullets, but McKee — who had been trying to film the riot on her phone — was hit. The journalist was rushed to a nearby hospital in a police car but died.
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