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Biden says his transition team has ‘encountered roadblocks’ from Trump appointees Kate Sullivan byline545438 CNN NY Talent Expansion, New York, 9/11/19

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President-elect Joe Biden on Monday said his transition team has “encountered roadblocks” from political leadership at the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget as his advisers work with the Trump administration.

“We just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas,” Biden said, after receiving a virtual briefing from members of his national security and foreign policy agency review teams.
“It’s nothing short, in my view, of irresponsibility,” he said.
The President-elect said his team “needs a clear picture of our force posture around the world and our operations to deter our enemies. We need full visibility into the budget planning underway at the Defense Department and other agencies in order to avoid any window of confusion or catch-up that our adversaries may try to exploit.”
A Defense Department spokesperson told CNN that there are three briefings/interviews scheduled for this week with the Biden transition team. Two of the briefings pertain to coronavirus issues and the other one is on “cybersecurity.”
Tensions between the Pentagon and the Biden transition team have been intensifying in recent weeks over stalled transition briefings.
Last week, Biden said that the Defense Department had refused to brief his team on the massive cyberattack on government agencies and major American technology and accounting companies. The week prior, Biden’s transition team said they had not agreed to a two-week break in the discussions with Pentagon officials, despite the acting defense secretary saying that both sides had agreed to take a “holiday pause.”
A transition official told CNN that the Defense Department continues to “deny and delay” meetings with agency review team members.
“There has been no substantial progress since transition officials spoke to the intransigence of the Department’s political leadership earlier this month,” the official said. “As the President-elect alluded to, no Department is more pivotal to our national security than the Department of Defense, and an unwillingness to work together could have consequences well beyond January 20.”
Biden said there are a number of pressing national security issues his administration is preparing to tackle when he takes office next month, including the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis and the humanitarian crisis at the US southern border. He reiterated his pledge to sharply depart from President Donald Trump’s isolationist foreign policy and instead rebuild alliances across the globe and work with partners to tackle global issues.
“We’re going to have to regain the trust and confidence of a world that has begun to find ways to work around us or work without us,” Biden said.
The President-elect said part of the discussion in the briefing earlier in the day focused on strategic challenges that China and Russia pose to the United States. He spoke about “modernizing our defense priorities to better deter aggression in the future, rather than continuing to overinvest in legacy systems designed to address threats of the past.”
Biden echoed his comments last week calling the recent cyberattack on US federal agencies and companies a grave risk to US national security. Trump, by contrast, downplayed the attack and contradicted Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s public remarks linking the hack to Russia.
Biden spoke about building coalitions to compete with China and hold the country’s government accountable “for its trade abuses, technology, human rights and other fronts.”
The President-elect also focused on the humanitarian crisis at the US southern border and processing asylum seekers.
“We will institute humane and orderly responses. That means rebuilding the capacity we need to safely and quickly process asylum seekers, without creating a near-term crisis in the midst of this deadly pandemic,” Biden said.
Trump’s administration has taken steps to make it harder for people to claim asylum in the US throughout his presidency.
Biden spoke about mass distributing authorized Covid-19 vaccines, and said his administration would use the full powers of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to combat the virus.
“Many of the agencies that are critical to our security have incurred enormous damage,” Biden said. “Many of them have been hollowed out in personnel, capacity and in morale.”
“All of it makes it harder for our government to protect the American people, to defend our vital interests in a world where threats are constantly evolving and our adversaries are constantly adapting,” the President-elect said.
Biden praised career officials in government departments, and said that his team had received “exemplary cooperation” from some agencies.
A transition official previously told CNN that the briefing Biden received would focus in large part on the findings of the review teams since the delayed beginning of the formal transition process, and that Biden’s remarks would serve as a broad overview of some of those key points.
The briefing was expected to be less about specific headlines in the news, and focus more broadly on the country’s institutional health and wellness on the national security and foreign policy fronts.
Biden also condemned the bombing on Christmas morning in Nashville. The blast injured at least eight people and damaged more than 40 buildings, and the bomber was found dead.
“This bombing was a reminder of the destructive power of an individual or a small group can muster and the need for continuing vigilance across the board,” Biden said, speaking from Wilmington, Delaware. He thanked the police officers who evacuated the area and first responders on the scene.
Trump had not commented publicly on the explosion in Nashville as of Monday afternoon, but the White House said in a news release last week that he had been briefed on the incident.

A different approach coming soon

Biden has vowed to take a markedly different approach to governing than Trump, particularly when it comes to foreign policy.
He has vowed to undo Trump’s “America First” isolationist foreign policy and restore the United States’ reputation on the world stage. Biden has pledged to rebuild international alliances and has said that global challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis, require partnerships and international coordination.
Trump, by contrast, has denigrated and questioned several of the US’s longstanding alliances, including with NATO, and pulled the US out of various international bodies and treaties. Trump has withdrawn the US from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal and the World Health Organization and other international pacts.
Biden will inherit a number of pressing challenges when he is sworn in next month as president, chief among them the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 334,000 Americans as of Monday afternoon.
The President-elect has named several top members of his foreign policy and national security teams, including his longtime foreign policy adviser Antony Blinken as his nominee for secretary of state. Biden has selected retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the former commander of US Central Command, to be his secretary of defense.
He also named Avril Haines, a former top CIA official and deputy national security adviser, as his pick for director of national intelligence, and Alejandro Mayorkas, a former deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to lead DHS. Haines would be the first woman to lead the US intelligence community and Mayorkas would be first Latino to helm the Department of Homeland Security.

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Jussie Smollett’s Lawyer Says Actor Is ‘A Real Victim’ Of Attack

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huffpost— Jussie Smollett “is a real victim” of a “real crime,” his attorney said in opening statements at the ex-“Empire” actor’s trial Monday, rejecting prosecutors’ allegation that he staged a homophobic and racist attack in Chicago after the television studio where he worked didn’t take hate mail he had received seriously.

Defense attorney Nenye Uche said two brothers attacked Smollett in January 2019 because they didn’t like him, and that a $3,500 check the actor paid the men was for training so he could prepare for an upcoming music video, not as payment for staging a hate crime, as prosecutors allege. Uche also suggested a third attacker was involved and told jurors there is not a “shred “ of physical and forensic evidence linking Smollett to the crime prosecutors allege.

“Jussie Smollett is a real victim,” Uche said.

Special prosecutor Dan Webb said the actor recruited the brothers to help him carry out a fake attack, then reported it to Chicago police, who classified it as a hate crime and spent 3,000 staff hours on the investigation. Smollett said he was attacked by supporters of then-President Donald Trump, a report that ignited political and ideological divisions around the country.

“When he reported the fake hate crime that was a real crime,” said Webb, who was named as special prosecutor after Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office dropped the original charges filed against Smollett. A new indictment was returned in 2020.

Smollett, who arrived at the courthouse in Chicago Monday with his mother and other family members, is charged with felony disorderly conduct. The class 4 felony carries a prison sentence of up to three years, but experts have said it is likely that if Smollett is convicted he would be placed on probation and perhaps ordered to perform community service.

Webb told jurors Smollett was unhappy about how the studio handled the letter he received. That letter included a drawing of a stick figure hanging from a tree and “MAGA,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan, Webb said.

He said Smollett then concocted the fake attack and had a “dress rehearsal” with the two brothers — who worked on the “Empire” set with Smollett — including telling them to shout racial and homophobic slurs and “MAGA.” Smollett also told the brothers to buy ski masks, red hats and a rope, Webb told jurors.

“He told them to use a rope to make it look like a hate crime,” Webb said.

But Uche said Smollett had turned down extra security when the studio offered it. He also portrayed the brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, as unreliable, saying their story has changed while Smollett’s has not, and that when police searched their home they found heroin and guns.

Twelve jurors plus three alternates were sworn in late Monday for a trial that Judge James Linn said he expects to take about one week. Cameras are not allowed inside the courtroom and the proceedings are not being livestreamed, unlike in other recent high-profile trials.

Whether Smollett, who is Black and gay, will testify remains an open question. But the siblings will take the witness stand.

Jurors also may see surveillance video from more than four dozen cameras that police reviewed to trace the brothers’ movements before and after the reported attack, as well as a video showing the brothers purchasing supplies hours earlier.

Buried in nearly 500 pages of Chicago Police Department reports is a statement from an area resident who says she saw a white man with “reddish brown hair” who appeared to be waiting for someone that night. She told a detective that when the man turned away from her, she “could see hanging out from underneath his jacket what appeared to be a rope.”

Her comments could back up Smollett’s contention that his attackers draped a makeshift noose around his neck. Further, if she testified that the man was white, it would support Smollett’s statements — widely ridiculed because the brothers, who come from Nigeria, are Black — that he saw pale or white skin around the eyes of one of his masked attackers.

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The White House is tapping oil reserves to try to bring down high gas prices

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npr– The United States plans to draw 50 million barrels of oil from its emergency oil reserves in coming months, a widely anticipated step aimed at trying to take the edge off high gas prices that have been hurting consumers at the pump — and hurting President Biden in the polls.

Inflation has emerged as a top political concern with voters, who have seen prices for gasoline and other staples surge in recent months. U.S. gas prices are at their highest level since 2014.

Biden has been talking with other leaders about the problem, and other major consumers — China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom — will take similar steps to release oil from their stockpiles, the White House said on Tuesday.

In a Tuesday news conference announcing the decision, Biden said, “We’re taking action.”

“The big part of the reason Americans are facing high gas prices is because oil-producing countries and large companies have not ramped up the supply of oil quickly enough to meet the demand. And the smaller supply means higher prices globally — globally — for oil,” he said.

Biden warned that actions by the U.S. and other nations wouldn’t fix problems at the pump “overnight,” but said Americans could soon expect relief.

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Myanmar election body charges Suu Kyi with electoral fraud

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independent– Myanmar’s state election commission announced it is prosecuting the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in last November’s general election.

The announcement was published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and other official media.

Allegations of widespread electoral fraud were the main reason cited by the military for its Feb. 1 seizure of power that toppled Suu Kyi’s government. Her National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after its landslide victory in the polls. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party suffered unexpectedly heavy losses.

Independent observers, such as the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of substantive irregularities in the polls, though they criticized some aspects.

The action by the Union Election Commission could potentially result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover. However, the commission’s notice, dated Monday, did not specify which laws would be used to prosecute the accused.

In May, the military-appointed new head of the election commission said his agency would consider dissolving Suu Kyi’s former governing party for alleged involvement in electoral fraud and have its leaders charged with treason. Commission Chairman Thein Soe said an investigation had determined that the party had worked illegally with the government to give itself an advantage at the polls.

After taking power, the military dismissed the members of the election commission that had certified the results of last year’s poll and appointed new ones. It also detained members of the old commission, and, according to reports in independent Myanmar media, pressured them to state there had been election fraud.

The new commission declared last year’s election’s results invalid.

The new notice from the commission said Suu Kyi, former President Win Myint, other leading figures in her party and the commission’s former chairman were “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions” related to the polls.

It accused 16 people of carrying out illegal actions, including compelling local election officials to obstruct military polling booths, threatening such officials in connection with advance voting for voters over 60 years old, forcing local officials to approve voting lists that included ineligible voters and interfering in campaigning to favor Suu Kyi’s party.

Suu Kyi is already on trial or charged in about a dozen criminal cases in which a conviction would almost certainly bar her from running for office again. Several of her top political allies also have been tried or are facing charges. Suu Kyi’s supporters as well as independent rights organizations contend that the cases are spurious and meant to discredit Suu Kyi and her party while legitimizing military rule.

Dissolving Suu Kyi’s party would follow a regional trend of dissolving popular political parties seen as a threat to governments in power.

Cambodia’s high court in 2017 dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party the sole credible opposition force, ahead of a 2018 general election.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court in 2020 dissolved the newly formed Future Forward Party, which had won the third highest number of seats in the lower house in the 2019 general election.

In both the Cambodian and Thai cases, the courts cited specific violations of the law for their rulings, but their actions were widely seen as reflecting political pressures.

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