Top News Stories for Today – December 16, 2016
Obama vows action on Russian hacking
President Obama told NPR on Thursday that America will “take action” against Russia for trying to “impact the integrity of our elections,” and will do so “at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be.” In the interview to be broadcast Friday morning, Obama said US intelligence agencies are still trying to determine Russia’s motivations for meddling in the election but everyone has long “perceived accurately” that “what the Russian hack had done was create more problems for the Clinton campaign than it had for the Trump campaign.”
Earlier Thursday, White House press secretary Josh Earnest and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes endorsed the idea that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the cyberattacks. “I don’t think things happen in the Russian government of this consequence without Vladimir Putin knowing about it,” Rhodes said on MSNBC. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the reports of Putin’s direct involvement “ludicrous nonsense.” President Obama is scheduled to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET on Friday before he departs for his annual family holiday. NPR, USA Today, The Week
Trump picks Israel hard-liner for US ambassador to Israel
On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump announced he has selected David M. Friedman, a New York bankruptcy lawyer with strong ties to Israel’s hawkish right, as his pick for ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s “strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission,” the Trump transition team said in a statement.
Friedman immediately set off controversy by saying he looks forward to strengthening the “unbreakable bond” between Israel and the US “from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem.” For decades, US presidents have kept the US embassy in Tel Aviv, since Jerusalem is claimed as capital by both Israel and the Palestinians. Friedman has also disagreed with most of the world and US policy since 1967 by calling Jewish settlements in the West Bank “legal” and fair game for Israeli annexation. His appointment requires Senate confirmation. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Week
Jury convicts Dylann Roof for Charleston church massacre
Dylann Roof, the self-described white supremacist accused of murdering nine people at the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been found guilty on all 33 counts brought against him.
Roof, 22, faced multiple charges stemming from the June 2015 attack, including hate crimes, religious obstruction crimes, and firearms crimes. The jury reportedly took just two hours to reach its decision; Roof will face either life imprisonment or the death penalty, to be decided at a separate trial with the same jurors in January. During testimony, one of the three survivors of the massacre described Roof as “evil, evil, evil as can be,” although Roof’s lawyer asked in closing arguments Thursday morning for the court to “look past the surface of things.” The Associated Press, The Daily Beast, The Week
EU extends sanctions on Russia
European Union leaders meeting Thursday in Brussels agreed to extend sanctions on Russia for another six months, EU officials said. The one-day summit, which ran late into the evening, capped a turbulent year for the 28-member group as questions loom over the integrity and future of the organization.
The decision to extend sanctions on Russia came as no surprise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande said this week that they would support extending sanctions in light of Russia’s failure to abide by the Minsk agreements on Ukraine.
The decision, to be announced officially in the next few days, came despite growing pressure among investors and energy interests in Europe, including within Germany itself, for sanctions to be rolled back. VOA
N Carolina GOP’s power grab to limit new governor
North Carolina Republicans narrowly lost the state’s governor’s race, and now, they’re rapidly stripping away the Democratic winner’s authority and influence. The unprecedented power grab led to chaos in Raleigh on Thursday, where hundreds of protesters crammed into the state Capitol building. Some were arrested.
The Republican-led legislature this week called a surprise special session, rolling out bills to limit Gov.-elect Roy Cooper’s ability to make Cabinet appointments, remove state and county election boards from Democratic control, slow legal battles’ path to the state Supreme Court — where a majority of justices were appointed by Democrats — and make the state Supreme Court elections partisan rather than non-partisan. Another bill would block Cooper from appointing any members to the state Board of Education and to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina system. It would reduce the number of appointments up to the Cooper administration from 1,500 to 300. CNN
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