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Will Georgia Deal Trump Another Political Blow?



The former president faces serious legal jeopardy. A defeat for Herschel Walker would hardly help him with Republican voters.

The polls are now closed in the Georgia runoff for Senate, and it’s time to start tallying the votes. We’re about to learn whether Herschel Walker, the Republican nominee, was able to rustle up the Election Day surge he needed to overcome Senator Raphael Warnock, the Democrat, who seems to have banked a significant lead in the early balloting.

While you’re waiting for the returns to come in — follow them here, and track our live updates — dig into some reading material:

the former guy

Saul Martinez for The New York Times

As the political world awaits the outcome in Georgia, things are moving swiftly in the legal arena, where Donald Trump faces a serious threat from Justice Department investigators. A Manhattan jury convicted his business, the Trump Organization, of tax fraud on Tuesday. And if Walker — Trump’s handpicked candidate — loses the Senate race, these seemingly disparate events could soon intersect.

Trump has been hammering away at Attorney General Merrick Garland and Jack Smith, the newly appointed special counsel for two cases that could lead to the indictment of a former president for the first time in American history. Trump has cast the investigations as a political “witch hunt,” with echoes of tactics he has long used to keep Republicans in his corner.

Complicating matters, Trump has announced a third presidential bid. But he is a damaged commodity, burdened by the defeats his candidates suffered in the midterm elections. His Republican critics have grown increasingly bold; polls suggest that substantial numbers of rank-and-file G.O.P. voters now agree. Will Trump’s political force field fail him this time around?

And another shoe may yet drop. On Tuesday, the head of the Jan. 6 committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said the panel would “probably” make criminal referrals to the Justice Department. The committee is weighing whether to include Trump in that list.

A referral from the Jan. 6 panel would be only a recommendation. But any such move would be freighted with uncertain political consequences — and it’s by no means clear how Trump’s battle for Republican hearts and minds would play out.

To sift through these and other aspects of Trump’s challenges, I spoke with Glenn Thrush, a longtime political and White House reporter who now covers the Justice Department for The Times and has been tracking Garland’s moves closely. Our conversation:

It sounds as if, from your reporting, Garland appointed a special prosecutor only reluctantly. What made him change his mind?

I wouldn’t cast it as a change of mind by Garland so much as it was a gradual, grudging acceptance that it was an inevitable, and somewhat forced, move on a crowded chessboard with few lanes of maneuver.

Garland’s aides have tried to portray the decision to pick Jack Smith as compulsory, dictated by the regulations governing the appointment of special counsels.

It wasn’t. It was Garland’s choice. It was predicated on external forces rather than any deep self-examination of whether or not he was capable of investigating Trump impartially, and it chafed for the attorney general.

Garland did not, notably, invoke the section of the special counsel regulation triggered by an actual conflict of interest — which Republicans have accused him of having; instead, he chose the “extraordinary circumstances” clause in the regulation.

This is something a lot of people miss about Garland, whose quietude can be mistaken for passivity: He might appear to be a “smaller-than-life figure,” as one recent chronicler memorably quipped, but this is a man who once saw himself in the mirror as a Supreme Court justice, and who views himself as a capable arbiter of final resort in any case.

When you talk to experts outside the Justice Department, how seriously are they taking the Mar-a-Lago documents case? Has there ever been anything like this before?

The Mar-a-Lago investigation is very serious.

The Jan. 6 inquiry deals more directly with Trump’s attempts to reverse the results of the 2020 election, but it is an extraordinarily complex case — and there are indications that prosecutors have a long way to go before even considering the kinds of charges that could eventually be brought.

The documents case, which Trump has tried to shrug off as a partisan spat over paperwork, would not be an easy prosecution, either, but it is a lot more straightforward, and hence more dangerous to him in the immediate future.

The government has already made it clear that it is focused on two primary possible charges, the mishandling of sensitive national security documents under the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. One of the biggest decisions Smith is likely to face, people close to the situation have told me, would be whether to charge Trump with both — or focus on obstruction alone, with the Espionage Act as background music.

It’s also possible prosecutors would bring a case alone on the mishandling of documents. But that could be problematic, especially if there is no evidence that any of the material Trump possessed actually hurt the country.

Moreover, it is unlikely the department would have embarked on a high-risk criminal investigation if Trump had effectively said, “My bad,” and returned everything he had taken when the government issued a subpoena in May.

Trump is running for president again, but he appears pretty wounded after his candidates did poorly in the midterm elections. Does that affect whatever pressure Garland might be under from Democrats to indict Trump? That is, if he’s politically weak, maybe there’s less of a sense on the left that he’s a real threat to become president again.

Two things seem certain. Democrats are going to want Garland to indict Trump whether he is the front-runner or polling below Asa Hutchinson. Politically, you could make the case that charging Trump would create a backlash that could help him. And Garland is going to say that he is paying zero heed to politics.

Enter Jack Smith, who provides Garland with thin, but not negligible, cover.

While Garland technically has the ultimate say over both cases, his power is one of negation. He can reject Smith’s final recommendations, but under the special counsel regulation, he must inform Congress that he is opposing the man he picked, so it seems pretty unlikely that Garland would reject Smith’s work unless something really crazy happens.

Putting your old political reporter hat back on, what’s your read on how vigorously Republicans are inclined to defend Trump and attack the Justice Department? Are you seeing any signs that some in the party are now thinking, “Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Merrick Garland and Jack Smith handled this problem for us”?

This is a great question. We covered the 2016 campaign together, and how many times did we predict that some Trump disaster — a debate blunder, his refusal to quickly denounce David Duke, the “Access Hollywood” tape, you name it — would finally set off a mass defection inside the party?

This time might be different, but let’s withhold judgment and watch his political altimeter.

Anyway, that won’t have an impact on these two investigations. Evidence will. Jack Smith and Merrick Garland won’t bring a prosecution they can’t win, and public filings indicate that the Justice Department is not close to bringing charges.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China




The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.


Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.


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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel



Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.


The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.


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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP



Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”


Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.


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