Trump Pulling US Out Of Syria – On Wednesday, President Trump announced plans to withdraw US servicemen from war-torn Syria. The move comes after a phone call between Trump and Turkish president Erdogan who reportedly urged Trump to remove the US from the country. The announcement was lauded by Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said the decision was “the correct one”. Pentagon officials were reportedly taken off guard by the news, and they, along with US intelligence, believe that withdrawing from Syria at this point will have serious negative consequences for long-term US plans for the region.
Mattis Resigns – Following President Trump’s announcement that he would be withdrawing all troops from Syria, Secretary of Defense James Mattis submitted a letter of resignation which was accepted by the president. In it, he rebuked Trump, and said the president needs a Secretary of Defense whose world views are more aligned with Trump. In a Thursday tweet, Trump thanked Mattis for his service, and said a replacement for Mattis would be chosen shortly.
Afghanistan Retreat – President Trump announced that he would be withdrawing some 7000 troops, roughly half the total amount, that are currently serving in Afghanistan. The move marks a significant change in strategy, which until now was to keep a large military presence in Afghanistan in order to force the Taliban to the negotiating table. The US has been fighting in the country for 17 years, has spent over $900 billion on operations there, and the war there has cost the lives of more than 2400 soldiers.
Shutdown Looms – President Trump told Congressional leaders that he would not be signing an interim spending bill that does not include funding to build a wall along the border with Mexico. A hastily passed bill passed by the House on Thursday which includes border wall funding, but it is not believed to have the votes to pass the Senate. President Trump took to Twitter on Friday morning to revel in the House’s passing of the bill, and to blame Democrats for a shutdown in the event that one does occur. The deadline for the government to avoid a shutdown is late Friday night.
Prison Reform Bill Passed By Congress – The House and Senate both passed a bill aimed at reforming archaic prison sentencing guidelines. The First Step Act, which will reduce prison terms for federal drug and white collar crimes, was passed by an 87-12 margin in the Senate, and and 358-36 in the House, a rare bipartisan achievement. The bill will now go to the desk of President Trump who has championed the bill and is expected to sign it.
Trump Org Agrees To Dissolve – As NY Attorney General Barbara Underwood continues investigating its finances, the Donald J. Trump organization has agreed to dissolve and provide Underwood’s office with the recipients of its charitable donations. Following the agreement, Underwood released a statement saying that the Trump Organization was involved in a “shocking pattern of illegality”, including the unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign and improper use of its tax-exempt status, among a host of other financial crimes. The Donald J. Trump organization functioned “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests” said Underwood in her statement. The lawsuit against the organization will continue, with prosecutors seeking $2.8 million in restitution from the organization, plus a ban on Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr. from ever serving on the board of a New York charitable organization again.
Flynn Sentencing Postponed – Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s sentencing for lying to FBI agents regarding his talks with the Russian ambassador prior to President Trump taking office has been postponed at the request of Flynn’s lawyers. His lawyers had gone into the sentencing on Tuesday confident that Flynn would avoid time in jail, following a recommendation from Robert Mueller that he receive no prison time for his cooperation with three federal investigations. However, it soon became clear that Judge Emmett G. Sullivan was contemplating imprisoning Flynn, prompting his lawyers to request a delay in his sentencing, giving him more time to provide more cooperation to the ongoing investigations. The next hearing will take place in March.
Trump Picks New Chief Of Staff – President Trump announced via tweet that budget director Mick Mulvaney will replace John Kelly as his chief of staff. Kelly announced that he would be leaving his position at the end of the year. Although Mulvaney will technically be just an “acting”, or temporary, replacement for Kelly, a White House official said that Mulvaney may ultimately keep the job on a permanent basis. Even as chief of staff, Mulvaney is expected to remain as director of the Office of Management and Budget, although his deputy will handle the day-to-day operations. Mr. Mulvaney will serve as Trump’s third chief of staff, following John Kelly and Reince Priebus.
Zinke Resigns – Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke resigned his post, citing “vicious attacks” on his character as prompting him to leave the position. Incoming House Democrats have expressed a strong interest in investigating Zinke for alleged ethical transgressions, including improper usage of funds for traveling and prohibited political activities. Zinke’s resignation comes as Democrats are preparing to take over the majority in the House of Representatives, when they will have the power to investigate Zinke. His resignation before the new Congress starts guarantees that the investigation will not happen.
Judge: Obamacare Is Unconstitutional – A federal judge in Texas has ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is unconstitutional. The ruling once again throws the law, arguably President Barack Obama’s crowning achievement as president, into jeopardy. The individual mandate, requiring everyone to buy health insurance, underpins the entire law, and with the individual mandate being unconstitutional, the entire law is unconstitutional, according to the ruling handed down US District Judge Reed O’Connor. The ruling will undoubtedly begin a long and arduous battle between proponents and opponents of the law, with the law’s fate ultimately lying in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Trump Administration Bans Bump Stocks – Mathew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, signed a new regulation Tuesday morning banning the use of “bump stocks” on semi-automatic weapons. A bump stock allows a semi-automatic weapon to act as an automatic weapon, firing a massive amount of bullets in a short period of time. The use of bump stocks on semi-automatic guns came to national attention after Stephen Paddock committed the most deadly mass shooting in US history on October 1st, 2017 in Las Vegas. With the help of bump stocks outfitted to his AR-15 rifles, Paddock killed 59 people attending a concert, and wounded hundreds of others. Justice Department officials say owners of bump stocks will have 90 days to turn them in or destroy them before the regulation goes into effect, after which those in possession of bump stocks could face criminal charges.
McSally Appointed To Senate – Weeks after losing her bid to replace retiring Senator Jeff Flake in the US Senate, GOP Rep. Martha McSally was appointed by Arizona governor Doug Ducey to serve in Arizona’s other US Senate seat vacated after the death of John McCain. Former Senator Jon Kyl was appointed to serve out the remainder of McCain’s term in the Senate, but Kyl announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year. McSally will have the opportunity to sit in the Senate until 2020 when she can launch a bid to win a full 6 year term.