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WH blocks ex-counsel from testifying to Congress

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Donald McGahn

Washington, May 21 (IANS) The White House has blocked former counsel Donald McGahn from testifying to Congress, the latest act of defiance in the ongoing war between House Democrats and President Donald Trump.

McGahn, who Democrats hoped would become a star witness in their investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice, was subpoenaed to testify on Tuesday morning, The Washington Post reported.

The former White House counsel delivered critical testimony in several instances of potential obstruction by Trump detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“The Department of Justice (DoJ) has provided a legal opinion stating that, based on long-standing, bipartisan, and constitutional precedent, the former counsel to the President cannot be forced to give such testimony, and Mr. McGahn has been directed to act accordingly,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement on Monday.

“This action has been taken in order to ensure that future presidents can effectively execute the responsibilities of the office of the presidency.”

Trump, speaking to reporters on Monday evening, called the directive “a very important precedent. And the attorneys say that they’re not doing that for me. They’re doing it for the office of the president. So we’re talking about the future”.

The DoJ’s 15-page legal opinion written by Assistant Attorney General Steven A. Engel argues that McGahn cannot be compelled to testify before the committee, based on past Justice Department legal opinions regarding the President’s close advisers.

It adds that McGahn’s immunity from congressional testimony is separate and broader than a claim of executive privilege.

The immunity “extends beyond answers to particular questions, precluding Congress from compelling even the appearance of a senior presidential adviser – as a function of the independence and autonomy of the president himself”, Engel wrote.

But Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler said Trump was trying to block damaging testimony about him obstructing justice.

“The President acted again and again — perhaps criminally — to protect himself from federal law enforcement. Don McGahn personally witnessed the most egregious of these acts,” he said in a statement.

The White House direction to McGahn, Nadler added, was “just the latest act of obstruction from the White House that includes its blanket refusal to cooperate with this committee”.

Meanwhile, Representative David Cicilline, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on Twitter: “If Don McGahn does not testify tomorrow (Tuesday), it will be time to begin an impeachment inquiry of” Trump.

Election

Did PM Modi have tea with you all? Rahul Gandhi asks at Champaran rally

Blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for migrant crisis, Rahul Gandhi asked why PM Modi has stopped talking about creating employment opportunities.

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Rahul Gandhi Farmers

Addressing his election rally at Champaran, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday doubled down on BJP-JD(U) for “destroying” Bihar as polling is underway in 71 constituencies of the state in the first phase of Bihar Assembly Election 2020.

“When Prime Minister Narendra Modi came here last time he promised that a sugar factory will be set up here and he will have tea with you all. Do you remember? Did he have tea with you?” Rahul Gandhi said. The Congress leader said he was surprised to see Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s effigies getting burnt in Dussehra in Punjab. This is sad and should not happen as he is the prime minister of the country, but this how Punjab farmers feel about him, Rahul Gandhi added.

WATCH: ‘Did PM Modi have tea with you?’: Rahul Gandhi’s jibe in Bihar

“What Nitish Kumar did to Bihar in 2006, PM Modi is doing the same to Punjab and to the rest of the country,” Rahul Gandhi said referring to the three farm laws recently passed by Parliament.

Talking about Bihar’s unemployment, Rahul Gandhi said, “ Nowadays, PM Modi does not talk about jobs. Because Bihar people won’t believe in his lies anymore. Congress has been in Centre for decades. We know how to rule. But of course, we have some shortcomings. We can’t lie through our teeth.”

“Why do Bihar people have to go to other states for jobs? Do our Bihar brothers and sisters lack in anything? No, your CM and PM lack,” Rahul Gandhi said.

On Covid-19-induced lockdown, the Congress leader said, “Noteban and lockdown followed similar trends. PM Modi announced both at the last moment. Middle class and lower middle class people suffered the most, while the industrialists were cushioned.”

Rahul Gandhi will address another rally on Wednesday at Kuseshwar Sthan in Darbhanga. Earlier, he addressed two election rallies, at Hisua in Nawada and Kahalgaon in Bhagalpur, to boost the electioneering for the first phase polls.

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Election

Bihar Election: 53.54% vote in ‘peaceful’ first phase

Due to security and logistical reasons, polling was held in some areas till 3 pm and in some areas till 4 pm while 36 seats were held till 6 pm.

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2019 Election India

Patna: A total 53.54 per cent voters exercised their franchise as polling was conducted peacefully on Wednesday in 71 assembly constituencies in Bihar for the first phase of assembly elections.

H.R. Srinivas, Chief electoral officer of Bihar said elections for the first phase were held across 16 districts including the four Naxal-affected districts of Gaya, Aurangabad, Lakhisarai and Shekhpura.

“The polling was conducted in Naxal-affected constituencies till 4 pm and 37 constituencies till 6 PM. We have allowed voters to cast their votes beyond 6 pm as they entered the polling premises. We have also extended time for some of the booths where polling was started late due to technical errors in EVM and VVPATs,” added Srinivas.

Srinivas pointed out that the polling percentage was almost similar to 2015 when the turnout was 54.57 per cent.

An official of the state Election Commission said that the first phase of polling was peaceful, with no major untoward incident reported from anywhere so far.

In the first phase of elections, 53.54 per cent voters exercised their franchise. The voter turnout was 59.57 per cent in Banka, 54.2 per cent in Bhagalpur, 47.36 in Munger, 55.44 in Lakhisarai, 55.96 per cent in Sheikhpura, 52.51 per cent in Patna and 48.29 per cent in Bhojpur.

In addition, 54.07 per cent people exercised their franchise in Buxar, 56.20 per cent in Kaimur, 49.59 per cent in Rohtas, 53.85 per cent in Arwal, 53.93 per cent in Jahanabad, 52.85 per cent in Aurangabad, 57.05 per cent in Gaya, 52.34 per cent in Nawada and 57.41 per cent in Jamui.

In the first phase, polling was held in 71 assembly constituencies spread over 16 districts of the state. According to the state election commission, 31,371 polling booths were set up for 2.14 crore voters In the first phase, 1066 candidates including 114 women are in the fray.

According to the Commission, EVMs were initially reported to have malfunctioned in several polling booths, but the glitch was later corrected. Paramilitary forces were deployed at all polling booths for the first phase of polling and special preparations were made for the corona.

Due to security and logistical reasons, polling was held in some areas till 3 pm and in some areas till 4 pm while 36 seats were held till 6 pm.

In the first phase, international shooter Shreyasi Singh from Jamui, contesting on a BJP ticket, was one of the prominent faces in the electoral fray. Other prominent candidates include BJP’s Prem Kumar, former Bihar Chief Minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, Krishnandan Prasad Verma, Jai Kumar Singh, Ramnarayan Mandal, Vijay Kumar Sinha and Brij Kishore Bind, among other ministers.

Out of these 71 seats, the RJD has 25 seats while the JD(U) has 23 seats. In addition, the BJP has 13 and the Congress eight.

In Bihar, elections are being held in three phases for 243 assembly seats. Counting of votes will be held on 10th November.

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Facebook must demonstrate neutrality, revamp its SOPs: Congress

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Karnataka, K.C. Venugopal

New Delhi: A day after the resignation of Facebook India’s controversial public policy head Ankhi Das, the Congress on Wednesday welcomed the change in Facebook India’s leadership team.

The Congress also said that the matter will not be resolved by just changing one individual.

“Facebook must demonstrate its neutrality through a thorough revamp of its institutional processes and standard operating procedures (SOPs), so as to ensure foolproof checks and balances that cannot be tinkered by an individual’s whims and political leanings,” said Congress General Secretary (organisation), K.C. Venugopal.

“It must also outline the steps taken to curb false, polarising and hate news/content spread rampantly on its platform, threatening India’s social harmony,” he added.

After American newspaper Wall Street Journal had on August 14 reported substantively on the blatant biases of Facebook India’s team headed by Ankhi Das, the Congress had raised the issue.

The newspaper had reported that Das and her political partisanship towards the ruling party and its leaders, by way of wilful propagation, was spreading spread fake and hate news.

Subsequently, the Congress wrote two formal letters to the CEO of Facebook Inc, Mark Zuckerberg, urging him to look into the matter seriously. Facebook responded to the letter reiterating its neutrality and promising due action.

Facebook India’s controversial public policy head Ankhi Das is leaving the company with immediate effect “to pursue her interest in public service”, the social networking giant announced on Tuesday.

“Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service. Ankhi was one of our earliest employees in India and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company and its services over the last nine years,” Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, Facebook India, said in a statement.

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