New York : President Donald Trump has promised a “major announcement” about the shutdown as it enters its 29th day on Saturday, while his opposition received a blow when the special investigator looking into allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election refuted a widely reported story that his lawyer had claimed Trump asked him to lie to Congress.
Trump tweeted that he will be making the announcement at 3 pm (1:30 am Sunday in India) from the White House “concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border”.
While he left the nation in suspense about his plans, there was a small sign of progress in finding a solution to the shutdown with the Democrats offering to add $1.87 billion to the budget for border security, but not for the wall.
Democrats had hoped to increase pressure on his presidency by pursuing claims that Trump had made his former lawyer lie to Congress that was reported by BuzzFeed News, a website, and picked up by several major news outlets including the Washington Post. Now that has fallen apart.
A spokesperson for the special counsel investigating allegations of Russian interference took the unusual step of issuing a late night statement denying report that the lawyer Michael Cohen had told investigators that Trump had asked him to lie to Congress about Trump Organisation’s plans for a hotel in Moscow.
Democratic Party leaders had seized on the now refuted BuzzFeed report based on anonymous sources involved in the investigation and demanded Congressional probes into the allegations with prospects of impeaching Trump.
Democrat Senator Ralph Blumenthal had said that if the reports were true, Trump would be guilty of obstruction of justice, suborning perjury, and conspiracy to violate laws prohibiting false statements to Congress.
Another Democrat, Representative Joaquin Castro tweeted that Trump “must resign or be impeached” if the report is true.
The official denial by the office of Robert Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director, who is heading the Russia probe, is a major setback for the credibility of US media that has relied on anonymous and unidentified sources for many reports about Trump.
It gives a measure of vindication for Trump, who has repeatedly accused the media of spreading “fake news”.
Cohen’s credibility was questionable because he has admitted in court in November that he had been sentenced to three years in prison after admitting to lying and been convicted of that and other offences.
Trump pounced on it immediately and tweeted that Cohen is “lying to reduce his jail time”.
In a Saturday morning tweet after the Mueller’s office denial, Trump tweeted: “Many people are saying that the Mainstream Media will have a very hard time restoring credibility because of the way they have treated me over the past 3 years (including the election lead-up), as highlighted by the disgraceful Buzzfeed story & the even more disgraceful coverage!”
The shutdown was caused by Trump’s insistence on getting $5.7 billion in the budget to build a wall along the Mexican border, which the Democrats have refused with equal vehemence. Because of their disagreement there is no budget and all but the essential government operations have been shutdown temporarily because there is no money to pay for them.
About 800,000 workers are off work because of the shutdown and most, including those working, haven’t been paid since January 11.
The standoff over the budget has descended into cheap drama with Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocking Trump from delivering the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of the Congress and the President retaliating by refusing to let her use a government plane to visit US troops in Afghanistan.
Trump’s planned speech on Saturday will come after a nation-wide Women’s March starting that morning to protest his policies considered detrimental to women, demand the preservation of abortion rights and to promote their rights, as well as those of minorities and immigrants.
The March has been an annual event after the first massive event held in 2017 in Washington the day after Trump’s swearing-in. Drawing abut 500,000 participants it is considered to be among the biggest demonstrations held in the nation’s capital.
Reflecting the nation’s deep polarisation, an anti-abortion rally was held in Washington on Friday with thousands participating. Trump sent a prerecorded message of support to the rally and Vice President Mike Pence attended it personally, telling them: “We will stand with you until that great day comes where we restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law.”
Unlike in India, abortion continues to be a live issue with political conservatives, mostly in the Republican Party, constantly vowing to criminalise it – a position supported by Trump – making it a symbol of the nation’s political divide.
Published on: Jan 19, 2019 at 21:56 IST