Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad in Sochi, Russia, on Monday, the Kremlin announced Tuesday. Assad thanked Putin "and all Russian people" for "the efforts that Russia made to save our country," and Putin said Russia's "joint operation to fight terrorists in Syria, this military operation is indeed coming to an end." Putin and Assad use the word "terrorists" to describe both Islamic State militants and Syrians who oppose Assad in the civil war that has roiled Syria since March 2011.
More than 400,000 people have been killed in the war and millions of Syrians fled to Europe and elsewhere, and Russia's use of military force on Assad's behalf starting in 2015 tipped the war decisively in Assad's favor. This was only Assad's second trip out of Syria since his harsh crackdown on protesters led to war, following an October 2015 visit to Russia. On Wednesday, Putin is hosting the leaders of Iran, which also backed Assad, and Turkey, which supported the opposition.
Video and photos released by Russia show Putin and Assad embracing and meeting with Russian generals and other military leaders. "I would like to introduce you to people who played a key role in saving Syria," Putin told Assad.
In an effort to protect children from sexual abuse, Australia has put forth an interesting proposal: Catholic priests should no longer be forced into involuntary celibacy.
BBC reported that the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, a public inquiry panel convened to examine how children are exploited and abused within society frameworks like churches and schools, published that recommendation Friday as part of its final report after a five-year study. The panel claimed involuntary celibacy could contribute to "psychosexual immaturity" in Catholic clergy, which could in turn put children at risk.
Although the commission is careful not to claim that Church-sanctioned virility is the ultimate solution to ending child sex abuse, the report does note that celibacy "contributed to the occurrence of child sexual abuse, especially when combined with other risk factors." The commission also recommended mandatory reporting of abuse by those who work as early childhood workers, registered psychologists, and religious ministers.
The commission received over 40,000 phone calls and 1,300 written accounts of child sexual abuse from the public, as well as reviewed more than 8,000 cases since 2013. The commission found schoolteachers and religious ministers were the most common perpetrators of child sex abuse, and that Catholic priests accounted for over 60 percent of reported abusers in the religious community.
The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Denis Hart, said in statement that child abuse was part of "a shameful past, in which a prevailing culture of secrecy and self-protection led to unnecessary suffering for many victims and their families."
Republicans made last-minute changes to their tax overhaul legislation Friday to win over holdouts like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), CNBC News reports. Rubio told reporters Thursday he wouldn't support the legislation unless it increases the refundable portion of the child tax credit.
Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.) confirmed the party will increase the refundable portion to $1,400, up from $1,100. "I believe that we're in a good spot and we should be able to earn his support," Noem said.
A spokesperson for Rubio's office said they hadn't seen the update, "and until we see if the percentage of the refundable credit is significantly higher, then our position remains the same." The GOP can only afford to lose two votes in the Senate. Jeva Lange
Cursing in public has been banned in the state of Virginia since before the Civil War. Even today, public profanity in Old Dominion is a misdemeanor that can cost you $250.
If you think that's some bullshirt, you're not alone, The Washington Post reports: Virginia House Delegate Michael Webert (R) wants to overturn this unusual law in the name of free speech. But Webert's plan could face some opposition in the state legislature, the Post explains, because "legislators who vote for repeal could stand accused of promoting profanity."
The profanity ban was actually ruled unconstitutional decades ago, but Webert has already failed to overturn it twice. Del. David Albo (R), a Webert ally in the battle over cursing, said the quest is difficult because people won't look at the issue in context. He compared profanity to flag burning — bans on which have been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court but still exist in Virginia state law — predicting that some politicians would use the issue to smear their opponents. "They're not going to explain the whole thing. For most people it's not worth it," Albo told the Post.
Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union's Virginia affiliate, explained to the Post that although public cursing is only a misdemeanor, police "often" use it as an excuse to detain a subject, conduct a search, and then "arrest the person on another charge."
Webert has a more old-school way to punish foul-mouthed Virginians. "When I cursed, my mother told me not to and handed me a bar of soap," he said. "You shouldn't get hit with a Class 4 misdemeanor." Kelly O'Meara Morales
President Trump spoke at the FBI National Academy Graduation Ceremony on Friday, just hours after the White House claimed there is an "extreme bias" against the president among FBI officials. Trump himself had said earlier Friday that "when you look at what's going on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."
On stage, though, the president told the law enforcement graduates, "You rarely get the recognition you deserve. With me as your president, America's police will have a true friend and loyal champion in the White House, more loyal than anyone else can be." Trump additionally disparaged conditions in Chicago — "what the hell is going on in Chicago?" he asked the audience — and said "we believe criminals who kill police officers should get the death penalty."
Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute noted that the graduates Trump was addressing are "high level, strong performing state and local law enforcement officers from around the country," rather than FBI agents — "i.e. Trump's base." Watch a portion of Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange
— CNN (@CNN) December 15, 2017
President Trump left open an awful lot of room for speculation Friday when he refused to talk about a potential pardon for his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Earlier this month, Flynn pleaded guilty to making "willfully" false statements to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
"I don't want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet, we'll see what happens, let's see," Trump told reporters. "I can say this, when you look at what's going on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."
There was one particular word that stuck out to listeners:
"I don't want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet," Trump tells reporters on the South Lawn.
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) December 15, 2017
Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange
“I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We'll see what happens.” pic.twitter.com/7Sy0m9yKKE
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) December 15, 2017
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) made the most of his five minutes of questioning Thursday during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for President Trump's judicial nominees — much to the detriment of Matthew Spencer Petersen, a nominee for the U.S. District Court judgeship for the District of Columbia.
Kennedy's first question seemed pretty innocuous: "Have any of you not tried a case to verdict in a courtroom?" Petersen was the only one of the five nominees to raise his hand, thus inviting 10 seconds of brutal, rapid-fire questioning from Kennedy, as the Louisiana senator confirmed that Petersen had not tried a case in any of the following instances: a jury trial, a civil trial, a criminal trial, a bench trial, a state court, or a federal court.
After pleading his ignorance toward several legal terms, Petersen gave a rambling non-answer about his litigation experience in response to a question from Kennedy about his familiarity with "a motion in limine," which is a request made to exclude certain evidence from a trial. The motions are filed without a jury present and are decided by judges. "Just for the record, do you know what a motion in limine is?" Kennedy asked again. Petersen replied, "I would probably not be able to give you a good definition right here at the table."
If confirmed, Petersen would be charged with trying federal and civil cases in the District of Columbia's federal court, as well as evaluating issues of legality in proceedings. Watch him squirm under Kennedy's relentless questioning — if you can do so without cringing — below. Kelly O'Meara Morales
— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) December 15, 2017
Former FBI Director James Comey evidently walked back what was initially planned to be a much harsher condemnation of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, The Associated Press reports, prompting the White House to claim Friday there is an "extreme bias" in the bureau against President Trump.
Comey's draft of his highly-scrutinized remarks on July 5, 2016 — obtained by the Republican chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee — used language such as calling Clinton and her aides "grossly negligent." That phrasing was later changed to the now-famous declaration that Clinton was "extremely careless" with her emails, a shift in tone that eliminated "language also contained in the relevant criminal statute," AP writes.
In another case, Comey changed phrasing claiming that it was "reasonably likely" that a hostile entity had gained access to Clinton's server to "possible," and deleted a phrase about the "sheer volume" of classified information shared on the server. The Senate Homeland Security chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), said Comey's draft shows that he appeared to edit "the tone and substance" of his remarks. Johnson additionally requested FBI Director Chris Wray name the official who suggested the changes to Comey.
Separately, the Justice Department turned over to the House Intelligence Committee some 375 text messages on Tuesday between two FBI officials that referred to Trump as an "idiot" between Aug. 16, 2015, and Dec. 1, 2016. One of the officials, senior counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok, was removed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's relationship with Russia over the summer, immediately after such messages were discovered. The other, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, had already returned to the FBI.
On Friday, the White House commented on the Comey draft and the text messages, claiming there is an "extreme bias" against Trump among the FBI. Trump, meanwhile, is due to attend an FBI National Academy graduation service later Friday morning. Jeva Lange