The political week in 5 points

Brexit vote (may) finally be happening

A meaningful vote on Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal bill is expected to happen on Tuesday (despite some last minute reports that the Prime Minister may delay the vote and run back to Brussels). The deal is widely excepted to fail to pass Parliament. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the DUP, the SNP and dozens of Conservative MPs have said they will vote against the Withdrawal Agreement. The Prime Minister has said voting against the deal “would mean grave uncertainty for the nation with a very real risk of no Brexit or leaving the European Union with no deal.” Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said, “The vote is going ahead and that’s because it’s a good deal and it’s the only deal”. Jeremy Corbyn (he’s the leader of the Labour Party, if you forgot) claims that he is ready to form a minority government as early as Wednesday morning if the Withdrawal Bill fails. Boris Johnson, sporting a new haircut befit of a man making a leadership challenge, is also rumored to be preparing a bid for №10.

Although some who oppose the Withdrawal Bill accuse May not securing a hard enough Brexit and urge her to go back to Brussels, the always-brilliant Katy Hayward told Mark Caruthers on BBC The View that this agreement would produce “the hardest Brexit we are going to get.” Meanwhile, Tory MP Priti Patel came under fire for suggesting that the UK use the predicted food shortages in Ireland that would occur in the event of No-Deal Brexit as a bargaining chip for the EU to grant more concessions to the UK.

The Times offers a very helpful graph here about what happens if the Withdrawal Bill fails to pass on Tuesday.

The BBC (attempting to be less mainstream, we assume?) published a list of indie “alternative ways” to get out of Brexit deadlock. Check them out here.

Friday was a popcorn kind of day for followers of the Mueller probe

The US special counsel Robert Mueller filed no less than three briefs on Friday, regarding Trump’s former lawyer Michel Cohen, former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

In the first memo, Mueller argued that Manafort breached his cooperation agreement by lying to the FBI and the Special Counsel’s Office. In particular, the brief argues that Manafort minimized his contact and communications with the Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilmnik, who may be a possible conduit between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

In the second brief, Mueller issued a scathing indictment of Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, recommending a substantial term of imprisonment despite his cooperation. And boy, do we mean scathing. The memo read, “Cohen did not need to commit the crimes that he did, yet he committed them for personal gain. He was motivated in part by greed and the desire to live an opulent and lavish lifestyle.” Cohen’s other court case hasn’t gone so well either. Cohen pleaded guilty to eight federal charges (including tax fraud and paying hush money to women who had affairs with Trump during the campaign) in the Southern District Court of New York. The New York prosecutors criticized Cohen’s “rose-colored view of the seriousness of his crimes,” and went on to say that, “Hundreds of billions of dollars are lost annually because people like Cohen — who otherwise take full advantage of all that taxes bring, such as schools, paved roads, transit systems, and Government buildings — shirk their responsibilities as American taxpayers.” New Yorkers do not mess around!

Finally, the third brief addresses Cohen’s lies to Congress case. Cohen has pled guilty to lying-to-Congress about contact between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and about his own contact with the White House. Most notably, the memo said that Cohen “described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements within it.” In other words: someone in the White House knew that Cohen was going to lie to Congress before he did it. If that person is Trump, it is an impeachable offense.

President Trump seemed unaware of how bad the memos were for him personally, tweeting it “totally clears the President. Thank you!” (They do not totally clear the president — it heavily implicates Trump in campaign finance fraud.) Meanwhile, a sentencing memo for former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn revealed that he is cooperating with the Mueller probe more than previously expected.

If you’re confused by the number of people involved in this probe (because I certainly am!), NPR did a fantastic chart of all the criminal charges emerging from the Mueller investigation so far.

Chinese trade war may be about to take a turn for the worse, with arrest of Chinese telecom ‘princess’ Meng Wanzhou

The Chief Financial Officer of Chinese telecom company Huawei Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver this week, right on the heels of an agreed 90-day truce in the trade war between Chinese Premier and US President Trump. The arrest was widely unexpected by observers of US-Sino relations. The United States for years has been worried about the spying capability of Huawei, calling it a national security threat and alleging that the Chinese company exploits the infrastructure of national telecom systems to steal information, spy on people, and launch cyber attacks. US National Security Advisor John Bolton said, “We’ve had enormous concern for years about … the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property to engage in forced technology transfers and to be used really as arms of the Chinese government’s objectives in terms of information technology in particular.” New Zealand and Australia already banned products made by Huawei and ZTE (another Chinese company) and Japan is widely expected to follow suit.

Despite these concerns, Meng’s arrest is reportedly to do with Huawei’s alleged evasion of US sanctions against Iran. If found guilty, Huawei could be barred from operating in the US and purchasing US technology, which could cripple the company. The US is currently seeking Meng’s extradition from Canada.

State-run Chinese media have accused the US of “hooliganism” over Meng’s arrest. A Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters: “The detention without giving any reason violates a person’s human rights.” (We presume the foreign minister of a country that has been arbitrarily detaining hundreds of thousands of Muslims without trial in its western region of Xinjiang in what has been called a “precursor to genocide” saw the irony of his remarks.)

RHI inquiry update, Arlene Foster has admitted it is possible part of her sworn evidence to the RHI Inquiry may be “wrong”

Fantastic coverage of the RHI continues by the News Letter’s Sam McBride. In December 2016, Foster said on the Nolan Show that she had “no idea” why cost controls on RHI had been delayed. However, evidence show that her closest advisors had been told that her own SPAD Andrew Crawford had worked to delay cost controls. Stormont Civil servant Andrew McCormick said in October that Foster’s remarks could not be true.

Arlene Foster, who at the DUP conference last apologized for the DUP’s role in the RHI scandal, said in a new statement that McCormick may be correct. Foster said, “Given the febrile atmosphere … it is possible that I am wrong about the sequencing of Dr McCormick telling me his view that Dr Crawford delayed the scheme. However, regardless of when Dr McCormick’s belief was communicated to me, I was already aware of the contents of Dr Crawford’s emails and would have taken the view that there was insufficient evidence at that time to draw any conclusions about the reasons for delay in the scheme, hence my reply to Mr Nolan that ‘I had no idea’.”

Check out the rest of Sam McBride’s fantastic RHI coverage here.

White House personnel changes are happening (again)

Finally, the White House is once again shaking up its personnel. President Trump has named state department spokeswoman and former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as his pick for ambassador to the United Nations, replacing Nikki Haley. (This is particularly disappointing news for me, as I am now on the losing side of a betting pool amongst some Northern Slant contributors that the pick would be Jared Kushner.) Nauert has been criticized as she does not have any prior political or policy making experience.

President Trump also announced his pick for the new Attorney General, former Attorney General William Barr. Barr previously worked at the CIA and several roles at the US Department of Justice under President George HW Bush. The Justice Department is, according to CNN, thrilled — “He’s universally seen as solid, reliable conservative, but also someone who can get confirmed.” Barr is, however, facing calls to recuse himself from the Russia investigation because of his public comments defending Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey.

Finally, Trump announced that chief of staff John Kelly will be leaving his job by the end of the year, as reports that the relationship between the president and the retired Marine Corps general have deteriorated. Kelly has previous joked that his job as chief of staff was a “punishment from God” and has been forced to deny that he called President Trump an “idiot”. In honor of his departure, some Twitter users have been taking look back at some of the best shots of Kelly looking horrified as Donald Trump speaks.

By the way, 28 people have resigned or been fired from the White House during the Trump administration — more than an advent calendar.

Extra bonus point

In this week’s edition of “how do you miss that?”, the Atlantic revealed that the US Pentagon have “accidentally” spent millions of dollars refuelling Saudi aircraft fighting in Yemen over the past three-and-a-half years. So the next time your mum asks you how spent all that money on a night out without realizing it, you can refer her to the Pentagon’s accountants.

Originally published at Northern Slant.



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