Here are the main events that occurred in Politics this week:
1. Bowing into Pressure, President Donald Trump Caves in Regarding Government Shutdown
President Donald Trump agreed on January 24 to reopen the federal government for three weeks while negotiations continued over how to secure the nation’s southwestern border, backing down after a monthlong standoff failed to force Democrats to give him billions of dollars for his long-promised wall. The President’s concession paved the way for the House and the Senate to pass a stopgap spending bill by voice vote. President Trump signed the stopgap measure immediately after its passage, restoring normal operations at a series of federal agencies for three weeks and opening the way to paying the 800,000 federal workers who have been furloughed or forced to work without pay for 35 days. The President relented as the effects of the shutdown were rippling with ever greater force across the economy, with fallout far beyond paychecks. On January 24, air traffic controllers calling in sick slowed air traffic across the Northeast, hundreds of workers at the Internal Revenue Service also did not show up, and the FBI director said he was as angry as he had ever been over his agents not being paid.
2. Tensions Between the US and Venezuela Increase
The already tense relationship between the US and Venezuela took a turn for the worse this past week. On January 23, Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, took an oath as interim President amid nationwide marches in opposition to President Nicolás Maduro, who was elected to a second six-year term last May in an election generally recognized as “questionable” by a majority of countries. “In my condition as president of the National Assembly, invoking the articles of the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela … I swear to assume formally the competencies of the national executive,” Guaidó told a crowd of protesters in Caracas.
The Trump Administration immediately recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. “In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. “The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” President Donald Trump said in the statement. “We encourage other Western Hemisphere governments to recognize National Assembly President
3. President Donald Trump Says He Will Hold a Second Summit with Kim Jong Un
On January 25, President Donald Trump announced a second summit with North Korea President Kim Jong Un to negotiate North Korea’s denuclearization would take place toward the end of February. Details on the precise date and location of the summit remain unclear. “The President looks forward to meeting with Chairman Kim at a place to be announced at a later date,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a press statement. The statement came after Kim dispatched one of his closest aides, former spy chief Kim Yong Chol, to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and President Trump. The positive announcement breathes new life into negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, following hostile exchanges between Kim and President Trump during the Trump’s first year in office and unprecedented negotiations during his second year.
President Donald Trump met Kim in Singapore for a historic summit in June 2018, but negotiations between
Experts and former officials say Kim Jong Un’s strategy in recent months has been to spurn top Trump deputies and hold out for direct negotiations with the President himself. Trump has touted his personal rapport with the North Korean diplomat as a positive sign he can strike a deal. This, coupled with South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s own rapprochement with Pyongyang, gives some experts hope, even as past North Korea talks have failed. “What makes this set of negotiations particularly interesting is the weird mind melds you see happen between Trump and Kim, and Kim and Moon. Personalities have played such an outsized role in these negotiations,” said Kristine Lee of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank. Lee believes the diplomatic window for negotiations will not stay open forever, however, and said the next summit could be a make-or-break moment for Trump’s aspirations to hash out a viable deal on denuclearizing North Korea.
4. Trump Advisor Roger Stone Indicted For Election Meddling
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller unveiled criminal charges on January 24 against Roger Stone, a longtime friend of President Donald Trump, accusing him of lying, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering in one of the longest legal sagas of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In charging Stone, Mueller has struck deep inside Trump’s inner circle. The indictment charges that Stone, a seasoned Republican political operative, sought to gather information about hacked Democratic Party emails at the direction of an unidentified senior Trump campaign official and engaged in extensive efforts to keep secret the details of those actions. The 24-page document goes further than Mueller ever has toward answering the core question of his probe: Did Trump or those close to him try to conspire with the Kremlin? The indictment notes that before Stone’s alleged actions in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee announced it had been hacked by Russian government operatives, implying that Stone must have known that. Indicting Stone caps one of the special counsel’s longest pursuits since his appointment in May 2017, but it remains uncertain whether Mueller is nearing the end of his investigation.
After the early-morning arrest at his Florida home, Roger Stone appeared briefly in federal court in Fort Lauderdale wearing a navy blue polo shirt, jeans and steel shackles on his wrists and ankles. The judge ordered him released on a $250,000 bond. “I will plead not guilty to these charges. I will defeat them in court,” he said to a crowd of about 300 reporters. “There is no circumstance whatsoever under which I will bear false witness against the president, nor will I make up lies to ease the pressure on myself. I look forward to being fully and completely vindicated,” Stone said. “I will not testify against the president, because I would have to bear false witness.” As expected, President Donald Trump tweeted angrily after the arrest: “Greatest Witch Hunt in the History of our Country! NO COLLUSION! Border Coyotes, Drug Dealers, and Human Traffickers are treated better.” The president also suggested someone may have tipped off CNN to record Stone’s arrest, though there were growing signs the day before that Stone could be charged soon.
Roger Stone who has been friends with President Donald Trump since the 1990s (when Trump identified as a liberal Democrat), served as an adviser to the presidential campaign in 2015 and then remained in contact with Trump and top advisers through the election. Trump’s legal team said the Stone case posed no legal jeopardy for the president. “Another false-statement case? God almighty,” said Trump’s lead attorney, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “They do have some alleged false statements, and I don’t want to minimize that. That’s not right. You shouldn’t do that. But there is no evidence of anything else but false statements. The president is safe here.”
5. In a Major Step Towards Ending the War in Afghanistan, the US Reports ‘Agreements in Principle’ With the Taliban
Negotiators for the United States and the Taliban insurgents have reached “agreements in principle” on key issues for a peace deal that would end 17 years of war in Afghanistan, the top US envoy said on January 28. The statement by US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad followed six days of talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar, where he urged the insurgents to enter into direct negotiations with the government of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
Khalilzad said in an interview with The New York Times that an agreement in principle was reached with the Taliban on the framework of a peace deal “which still has to be fleshed out” that will see the insurgents commit to guaranteeing that Afghan territory is not used as a “platform for international terrorist groups or individuals.” He said the deal could lead to a full pullout of US troops in return for a cease-fire and Taliban talks with the Afghan government. In his statement released by the US Embassy, Khalilzad said, “We made progress on vital issues in our discussions and agreed to agreements in principle on a couple of very important issues.” “There is a lot more work to be done before we can say we have succeeded in our efforts but I believe for the first time I can say that we have made significant progress,” he said.
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said he has been briefed on the talks and described them as encouraging, but he also told reporters that the department has not been directed to prepare for a full withdrawal from Afghanistan. Speaking before a meeting at the Pentagon with Shanahan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said any discussion about the removal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would be premature. He said Khalilzad had briefed NATO allies on the talks weeks ago. “We are in Afghanistan to create the conditions for a peaceful negotiated solution,” Stoltenberg said. “We will not stay longer than necessary, but we will not leave before we have a situation that enables us to leave or reduce the number of troops without jeopardizing the main goal of our presence and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a haven for international terrorists once again.” He added that he believes it is too soon to speculate on withdrawal because “what we have to do now is to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. We strongly support those efforts.”
Khalilzad’s statement emphasized the inclusion of the Afghan government in the talks. “There is a false narrative that Afghans are not included. That is not true. The Afghan voice is there,” he said. “We are working together to get to a comprehensive cease-fire. We are working with the Afghan government, with international partners, to find implementing mechanisms to reach these goals.” Khalilzad had tweeted on January 26 about progress in the talks in Qatar, where the insurgents have a political office, saying: “Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past.” “We made significant progress on vital issues,” he tweeted, without offering details.