U.S. warns of Maduro’s plan to use military against his own people

During her testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley warned lawmakers about the worsening crisis in Venezuela. 

Haley said that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was planning to use military weapons against his own people. She added that what is shown on television doesn’t reflect the degree of the conflict between Maduro and his opposition. 

“If you heard his speech yesterday, he very much is saying he is going to use military action,” said Haley during her testimony on Wednesday. “He is very much saying that he is going to get more aggressive and he is blaming the protesters for trying to overthrow his government when all they want is true democracy.”  

After three months of anti-Maduro protests and at least 75 dead, an actor who works in law enforcement used a police helicopter to execute a minor attack on the Supreme Court and the Interior Ministry buildings in Caracas on Tuesday.

Maduro is “acting with impunity,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said. 

Haley said the protesters who have been marching in the streets of most of Venezuela’s major cities “just want to be heard. She said the government wasn’t taking care of their people. There is a shortage of food and medicine. 

“Conflict will follow,” Haley said. “It is a direct correlation.”

Ros-Lehtinen, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher and Rep. Albio Sires were among the lawmakers who said the U.S. needed to do more to support Venezuelans. 

“We need to keep the pressure on Maduro,” Haley said. She later added, “I will continue to be a thorn on Maduro’s side.” 

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Ivanka Trump spotlights global human trafficking

Ivanka Trump, who serves as a top adviser to President Donald Trump, used her platform Tuesday to shine a light on human trafficking, which she called an “ugly stain on civilization.”

“Combating this crime here in the United States as well as around the globe is in both our moral and our strategic interest,” she said at a State Department event unveiling the annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Ending human trafficking “is a major foreign policy priority for the Trump administration,” she said.

While a far cry from human trafficking, Trump’s own apparel and accessories brand came under some scrutiny earlier this year in light of a report of bad conditions inside one of its Chinese manufacturers, according to The Washington Post. Trump took a formal leave of absence from the brand in January, but kept her ownership stake and moved the assets into a trust.

It also comes one day after she told Fox News that she “(tries) to stay out of politics.” But as a top adviser to the President, her work on several issues has signaled an unequivocal embrace of her powerful — and political — role in the White House.

In the last week, she’s attended meetings and events around Washington on a range of issues she’s named as top priorities, including human trafficking, global entrepreneurship, childcare tax credits, workforce and workplace development and technological innovation.

Getting to work

Tuesday’s event wasn’t the first daughter’s first foray into discussing human trafficking, a chronically under-reported problem that affects at least 20.9 million people globally in both forced labor and sex trafficking.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Trump “somebody who is doing a great deal to raise the profile of this issue.”

In February, she held a meeting alongside the President and members representing several organizations fighting the problem. And in May, she hosted a roundtable discussion with bipartisan members of Congress and organizations on legislation ahead of Capitol Hill’s “Combating Trafficking and Child Protection Week.”

Later that month on a stop in Italy during the President’s first foreign trip, she met with officials and survivors at the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Vatican-affiliated NGO.

“While in Rome, I had an opportunity to talk first hand with human trafficking survivors. They told me their harrowing stories, how they were trapped in this ugly, dark web, how they survived, how they escaped and how they are very slowly reconstructing their lives,” she said Tuesday, noting that the White House also has its own council of survivors.

“We cannot meaningfully address this pervasive issue without the brave voice of survivors at the table. They can help us understand what they experienced and they will play a leading role in solving this pervasive crisis,” she said.

The Ivanka Trump brand

Trump’s eponymous apparel and accessories brand, Ivanka Trump HQ, manufactures clothes abroad, including in China, a country listed in this year’s TIP report as one of the worst offenders for human trafficking.

“The brand has and has always had a zero tolerance policy on human trafficking and takes the integrity of their supply chain very seriously,” a spokesperson for the brand told CNN.

But the brand faced other problems when an audit in October last year of one Chinese factory used by the brand and other brands found workers were working nearly 60 hours a week with wages around $62, the Post reported. It’s not clear whether Ivanka Trump-brand products were being manufactured at the time of the inspection, per the Post’s report. The audit did not disclose the factory’s name or location in China.

Brand president Abigail Klem said in a statement that the brand has set a vendor code of conduct.

“Ivanka Trump HQ is committed to only working with licensees who maintain internationally recognized labor standards across their supply chains. Our licensees and their manufacturers, subcontractors and suppliers must comply with all applicable local and international labor laws, and the legal and ethical practices set forth in our vendor code of conduct,” Klem said.

It’s complicated

Trump cited specific progress by the administration in her remarks, including “an executive order designed to strengthen the enforcement of federal law in regards to transnational criminal organizations, including traffickers,” and steps taken to ensure Department of Homeland Security personnel are trained to combat trafficking at points of entry into the United States.

As she presses forward with her work on the topic, further specific policy prescriptions become more complicated, with partisan divides on issues like immigration and criminalization of prostitution.

“Even if she were to propose something promising, the political situation is so dicey that there isn’t trust there,” said a source in the anti-trafficking community, who requested anonymity in order speak freely. The source noted that many activists are concerned by the administration’s broader immigration policies and rhetoric.

Undocumented workers could be taken advantage of if they are further pushed into the shadows, activists say. The threat of deportation is a key indicator of areas with labor trafficking problems, and many traffickers force their victims to let their visas expire as a tool of control to keep victims in the United States.

The administration’s executive order on sanctuary cities is another area of concern. Some organizations involved with survivor services are concerned that undocumented victims will not reach out for fear of deportation, which also impacts law enforcement’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes.

Advocates also fear how the administration’s travel ban could impact trafficking. Refugees and people in conflict zones are vulnerable to trafficking, advocates say, and ISIS has been documented putting refugees into various forms of slavery.

Many in the community are also concerned about funding for human trafficking prevention and services for survivors, which relies on federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, often through funds distributed through other organizations.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about how their policies might affect human trafficking.

“It’s weirdly one of the few issues where we’re able to work with Democrats and Republicans. Both sides generally agree that funding is needed, but the administration is a question mark,” said another anti-trafficking advocate, who asked for permission to speak anonymously so as not to jeopardize federal funding.

Ivanka Trump’s involvement with the issue is still cause for some optimism.

“We want to be cautiously optimistic. There’s a lot of skepticism that anything could happen, but it’s reassuring that this is even being discussed,” the source said. “We want to see results, whether it’s more funding or laws that are changed or strengthened. That these conversations are happening, that they’re looking into this is a good sign.”

Trump, who has demurred from wading into partisan issues thus far, made it clear Tuesday that this is a topic she is willing to fight for.

“On a personal level, as a mother, this is much more than a policy priority. It is a clarion call to action in defense of the vulnerable, the abused, and the exploited,” she said.

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Miami Gardens man threatens to kill Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, police say

A Miami Gardens man has been arrested after threatening to kill a Florida lawmaker, police said.

Miami-Dade police said Steve St. Felix tagged Florida Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, on a threatening Facebook post Sunday.

The Facebook post read, “I’ll kill your ass and you better not show up to the next rec meeting.”

Police said St. Felix removed the post from Facebook a short time later.

Diaz told police that, because of recent attacks on government officials, he was in fear for his life and the safety of his family.

“I rest easy knowing that the suspect’s been apprehended, and I think that the threat has been dealt with,” Diaz told Local 10 News reporter Sanela Sabovic.

According to an arrest affidavit, St. Felix told police when he was questioned about the post that he is “fed up with the Republican Party.”

“It was something that I reported immediately to the police, and they took it very seriously because of what happened in Washington, D.C. recently with (U.S. Rep. Steve) Scalise,” Diaz said.

Police said St. Felix apologized for making the threat and said he didn’t mean to harm Diaz. He also said that he wasn’t taking his medication when he posted the message.

“Because this gentleman was unknown to me, it really escalated the situation in my mind and made me very reluctant to be out in public without a police presence,” Diaz said.  

St. Felix’s mother, who did not want to give her name, said her son was diagnosed with schizophrenia several years ago by doctors. She said that he would never hurt anyone that he is just “ill.” 

His mother went on to say that her son was not feeling well over the weekend because he didn’t take his medications. That’s when he made the Facebook post. 

She said St. Felix graduated from Florida A&M University and had held good jobs before mental illness took a toll on his life. 

St. Felix was being held on a $500,000 bond at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center.

His attorney said St. Felix suffers from mental health issues.

“This is an opportunity to remind people that they have to take mental health very seriously,” Diaz said.

Diaz is resigning from his seat in the state House to run for the Florida Senate.

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Senator incorrectly tweeted about Russians

In March, Sen. Claire McCaskill was unambiguous. The Missouri Democrat said she never once met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in her 10 years serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“No call or meeting w/Russian ambassador. Ever,” McCaskill tweeted. “Ambassadors call members of Foreign [Relations Committee].”

Soon after that tweet, it was revealed she did interact with the Russian ambassador.

And now, CNN has learned, McCaskill spent an evening at a black-tie reception at the ambassador’s Washington residence in November 2015.

McCaskill was photographed at the event, honoring former Democratic Rep. James Symington, who hails from her state of Missouri and worked to promote US-Russia relations.

In an interview, McCaskill acknowledged attending the dinner, but she said she only did so because of her long-standing relationship with Symington, whom she said “kind of got me started in politics.” She claimed the 140-character limit on Twitter did not let her clarify that she never met “one-on-one” with the Russian ambassador, and added she “did not” speak with Kislyak at the reception.

McCaskill, who is one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection next year, conceded she should have exercised more caution in her initial tweet.

“I should’ve been careful about the 140 characters and given it context,” McCaskill said. “But it’s not the first or the last time my tweets will get me in trouble.”

A spokesman for McCaskill later said the senator interned for Symington in college and considers him a mentor.

Kislyak’s meetings with Trump officials during the election season have become a major source of controversy for the White House — not just because of the meetings themselves, but also because a number of prominent officials have failed to disclose the meetings until they have become public.

Indeed, the controversy over McCaskill’s comments started once it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose during his Senate confirmation proceedings the fact that he had multiple meetings with Kislyak during the election year. The meetings raised suspicions given Russia’s role in trying to sway the elections and Sessions’ role as a high-profile Trump surrogate.

But Sessions said the meetings were not campaign related, arguing they occurred in his capacity as an Alabama senator who was a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

To make her point that Sessions’ meetings were unusual, McCaskill fired off the March tweet making the case that members of that committee rarely — if ever — meet with the Russian ambassador.

After her March tweet, it was revealed that McCaskill tweeted twice about interacting with the Russian ambassador: once in 2013 about a meeting pertaining to US adoptions and again in 2015 about a phone call with the ambassador about the Iran nuclear deal.

Asked about the discrepancy at the time, McCaskill claimed that her meeting with the Russian ambassador was part of a larger meeting with a group of senators and that her phone call was a brief one about the nuclear deal.

And in an interview last week with CNN, she also made a similar distinction in explaining her presence at the Russian ambassador’s home in 2015.

“So on those two occasions, I was in the presence of the Russian ambassador, was in the same place I was, but never did he come to my office, never did he request a meeting with me, never did I have a meeting with him as a member of the Armed Services Committee,” McCaskill said. “140 characters were my enemy there because Jeff Sessions was giving the impression that these were part of his — part and parcel of his duty on the Armed Services Committee.”

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Supreme Court reinstates Trump travel ban

The Supreme Court is letting the Trump administration mostly enforce its 90-day ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries, overturning lower court orders that blocked it.

The action Monday is a victory for President Donald Trump in the biggest legal controversy of his young presidency.

Trump hailed the decision as a “clear victory for our national security.”

In a statement, Trump said his “number one responsibility” is to keep the American people safe.

The ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced as long if those visitors lack a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

The court did leave one category of foreigners protected, those “with a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,” the court said in an unsigned opinion.

Local 10 News reporter Shyann Malone spoke Monday to travelers at Miami International Airport about how they felt about the ban.

“I think it will be a good thing,” Heath Herring said. “They need to do it for a lot longer than 90 days, that’s for sure.”

Others weren’t so thrilled with the news.

“I am horrified. It just worries me,” Peter Rigler said.  

The first time the travel ban was announced, MIA saw backed up customs lines, which delayed passengers from getting through checkpoints in a timely manner, as travelers were randomly pulled aside and questioned.

“The problem was it went into effect immediately,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, said. “There was no training for those on the ground as to how to process individuals from those countries, so there was chaos.”

Ros-Lehtinen isn’t in favor of the ban, but said we shouldn’t see the chaos that it created last time.

“You will have protests, you will have people saying it’s unfair, but it should be implemented in an airport in a far smoother way, because now they know what they’ve been dealing with for many months,” she said. 

Loretta Westin, a resident of the Cayman Islands, said implementing restrictions on travel makes sense.

“I think targeting countries that are particularly messed up — and also known to be violent against the west — for a short term while they figure out whether or not they have a good system for vetting in place makes sense,” Westin said.

Others told Local 10 the ban was discriminatory.

“As an immigrant — I actually don’t fall into the categories being banned — but I still believe that’s not the solution to the problem (the president is) stating we have,” said Alberto Garrido.

The justices will hear arguments in the case in October.

Trump said last week that the ban would take effect 72 hours after being cleared by courts.

The Trump administration said the ban was needed to allow an internal review of the screening procedures for visa applicants from those countries.

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