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TikTok Refuses to Testify at Hearing About Chinese Influence Amid National Security Investigation

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  • TikTok denied requests by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) to testify under oath during a Tuesday Congressional hearing concerning fears that the Chinese-owned social media platform is sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government.
  • According to reports, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S opened a national security investigation into TikTok’s $1 billion purchase of Musical.ly in 2017.
  • For its part, TikTok has repeatedly said that its servers are all outside of China, and therefore, outside of Chinese law. Because of this, it also says it does not censor content.

Sen. Hawley Invites TikTok to Testify

Executives for the social media platform TikTok refused to testify at a Congressional hearing on Tuesday amid ongoing fears that it may pose a national security risk regarding Chinese counter-intelligence.

On Friday, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States reportedly opened an investigation into TikTok, which was created as an international version of the app Douyin and is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. According to anonymous sources, the investigation involves TikTok’s 2017 $1 billion acquisition of Musical.ly.

Both the hearing and the investigation are the latest in a series of concerns that TikTok is sharing American data with China’s Communist Party, particularly that is sharing the data it collects on users’ locations and censoring content.

Tuesday’s hearing organized by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) focused on two main concerns. The first was business deals between American tech companies and the Chinese government and the second was rapidly growing Chinese companies in America and how they collect U.S. user data.

“[As] these Big Tech companies try to get into the Chinese market, the compromises that they have to make with the Communist Chinese Party — who, let’s not forget, partner with or control every industry of any size in China — what does that do to American security?” Hawley told Axios ahead of the hearing. 

Also prior to the hearing, Hawley blasted TikTok’s decision to decline appearing in a series of tweets. 

Hawley has also been a vocal critic surrounding China’s influence over Hong Kong, having visited the city last month and co-sponsoring the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Is TikTok Sending Americans’ Data to the Chinese Government?

Last month, Senator Marco Rubio actually asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States to open an investigation into TikTok because of concerns that the platform was censoring content. 

A couple of weeks later, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) then echoed those concerns by asking U.S. Intelligence officials to open a national security review of the platform.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” both Schumer and Cotton said in a joint statement. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”

TikTok representatives responded in a blog post the next day saying, “We store all TikTok US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law.

“Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the statement read. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”

Despite TikTok’s assurance that China does not intercept its data, Schumer and Cotton said they fear that TikTok “is still required to adhere to the laws of China” and that could “compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

U.S. Opens Investigation into TikTok

Following reports that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States had opened a national security investigation, TikTok declined to speak on the confidential matter, but it did issue a statement. 

“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes,” the statement reads, “TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so.”

Schumer then praised the news of the probe, saying it was “validation of our concern that apps like TikTok…may pose serious risks to millions of Americans and deserve greater scrutiny.”

Similar Concerns Over Apple

TikTok isn’t the only social media platform under fire. Hawley also invited Apple to Tuesday’s hearing, but like TikTok, it denied the request.

Regarding Apple, Hawley is particularly interested in the tech giant’s business deals with China and where it stores encryption keys for iCloud data.

“My question is, are they storing encryption keys in China? “ Hawley asked ahead of the hearing. “The answer to that is yes. Then what kind of data are they storing in China? Whose data? Any American data? What about people who have Chinese relatives or business partners or other ventures, so they’re communicating with people in China? Does that expose American users to potential surveillance by the Chinese state?”

Although Apple did not directly respond to Hawley’s question, in the past, it has said that it retains its encryption keys, not its Chinese partner.

See what others are saying: (Axios) (Washington Post) (BBC)

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Trump Signs Order Interpreting Judaism as Race or Nationality

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  • President Trump signed an executive order that will effectively label Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.
  • The move is intended to crack down on what the Trump administration views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.
  • The reclassification places Judaism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin,” but not religion.
  • While some praised the move, a number of Jewish groups condemned it. Others said the policy was reminiscent of when Nazi Germany labeled Jews as a race.

Trump Executive Order

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would legally interpret Judaism as a race or nationality and not just a religion under federal law.

The Trump administration said that the move will allow the Education Department to crack down on what it views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Reclassifying Judaism as a nationality puts it under the purview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin.”

Notably, that does not include discrimination based religion, so labeling Judaism as a race or nationality will let the Education Department prevent colleges that it believes are acting in an anti-Semitic way from receiving funding.

The move comes at a time when anti-Israel sentiments have become more prevalent on college campuses largely due to the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The goal of the movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting the country and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. 

Supporters of the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.

Criticisms of Executive Order

News that Trump would likely sign the executive order circulated Tuesday night, and the topic quickly began trending on Twitter.

Critics of the move argued that the policy could be used to stifle free speech because it could be used to stop legitimate criticism and concerns about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

That point was echoed by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who told the New York Times that the policy was part of an ongoing campaign “to silence Palestinian rights activism” by amounting any opposition of the Israeli treatment Palestinians to anti-Semitism.

Notably, a number of Jewish groups also spoke out and condemned Trump’s efforts.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the prominent Jewish advocacy group J Street criticized the policy, saying in a statement that it would “have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel.”

“We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,” he added.

Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America also echoed that point in a similar statement. 

“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said.

Some also argued that Trump was being hypocritical, pointing to remarks he made in a speech on Saturday to the Israeli American Council that were condemned by a number of Jewish groups who accused the president of using Anti-Semitic tropes.

This included the president telling the Jewish audience that they had “no choice” but to vote for him because they would lose money to Democratic wealth tax plans, as well as Trump saying that Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”

Others noted that labeling Judaism as a nationality or race has dangerous roots in history, with a number of Twitter users pointing out that Nazi Germany labeled Judaism as a race and not just a religion under the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.

Some, like Emily Mayer, the policy director of activist group IfNotNow, also argued that defining Judaism as a nationality is also connected to the anti-Semitic trope that American Jews are not American, or that they have dual loyalties to Israel.

“The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American,” she told the Washington Post.

Praise for Executive Order

However, there were also a number of individuals and Jewish groups that commended the proposed executive order.

“These are significant steps in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement on college campuses,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement.

Several American Jewish groups applauded the move, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told the Times. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition also praised the policy, with its chairman, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) calling the policy a “truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans.”

President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination,” he added.

While signing the order Wednesday, Trump said the new policy “makes clear” that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would “apply to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate.”

See what others are saying: (Vox) (NBC News) (The Jerusalem Post)

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House Democrats Introduce Two Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump

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  • The House officially announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
  • The articles will now go to the Judiciary Committee for debate and approval before being sent to the House floor for a full vote. If approved, they will be sent to the Senate for the trial portion, which is likely to be set for January. 
  • Notably, the articles did not mention allegations that Trump obstructed the Mueller report investigation, which members had debated including as a separate article.

Democrats Announce Articles

House Democrats announced Tuesday that they were introducing two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Flanked by Democratic House leaders, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) outlined the charges against the president.

“It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest,” Nadler said, addressing the first article, abuse of power.

“That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election.”

“These actions moreover are consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in our 2016 presidential election,” he added.  

“And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler continued, introducing the second article, obstruction of Congress.

“A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress’ power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions, is a president who sees himself as above the law,” he said. 

“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law.” 

Several hours later, the House released the official text of the articles of impeachment in a formal resolution.

Article I: Abuse of Power

Describing the abuse of power charge, the first article alleges Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference from Ukraine by asking the government to “publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.”

“President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit,” the resolution continued.

The document then goes on to say that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations by conditioning the announcement on two official acts: a White House meeting and “the release of $391 million of United States taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated on a bipartisan basis for the purpose of providing vital military and security assistance to Ukraine.”

The resolution continues on, noting that the president released the military aid once acts became public, “but has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.”

Article II: Obstruction of Congress

The second article claims that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by blocking subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and rejecting requests to hand over key documents.

“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’” the resolution says.

“This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives,” it continued.

Both articles conclude with the same excerpt: “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”

Next Steps

With the articles formally drafted, the next step will be for the Judiciary Committee to debate and approve them, which is set to happen Wednesday and Thursday, respectively to the articles.

Technically, individual members can propose amendments and changes to the articles, but they are not likely to change; however, members can also propose more articles of impeachment.

This may be relevant because in the lead up to the announcement of the articles, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to draft a third article.

That article would charge Trump with obstruction of justice in regards to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller outlined several instances that could be considered obstruction but left it up to Congress to decide if it was.

Many of the more progressive Democrats in the House pushed to include that decision in their articles, but the leadership ultimately decided to zero in on the Ukraine case.

Once the articles have been approved by the Judiciary, they will go to the full House for a vote, which is expected to happen next week.

The House only needs to approve one of the articles for Trump to be impeached. After that, any approved articles will be sent to the Senate for a trial, which will likely be held in January.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vox) (Fox News)

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Pelosi Announces House Will Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump

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  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin drafting the official articles of impeachment for President Trump.
  • This follows the release of the final report from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and the Judiciary Committee formally launching impeachment proceedings.
  • The process is anticipated to move very quickly, with a Committee vote as soon as next week, and a full House vote before Christmas.

Pelosi Announces Articles of Impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will officially begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

“The facts are uncontested,” the Speaker said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.” 

“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” she continued.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”  

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she concluded.

Pelosi’s announcement marks a significant step in the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment the House now drafts will essentially be the “charges” they will bring against President Trump.

Intelligence Committee Report

The decision follows several major developments in the impeachment proceedings that have occurred throughout the week.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee— which has been leading the impeachment investigation for the last two months— released its final report on the findings of that investigation.

In the 300-page report, the Committee found that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Committee wrote.

“In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

The report also goes on to say that in response to the House launching the impeachment investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”

The Committee outlined how examples of how Trump obstructed their investigation, such as his refusal to cooperate with the investigation or hand over subpoenaed documents, and his efforts to direct State Department and White House officials to do the same.

The report said that Trump also obstructed their investigation by blocking key witnesses from testifying, including those who had been subpoenaed. It also accused Trump of engaging in “a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly authorized subpoenas and testify about his conduct.”

“Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process,” the report notes.

Judiciary Committee Starts Proceedings

The Intelligence Committee report does not include a direct recommendation for impeachment, but it will likely serve as the basis for which the articles of impeachment are drafted.

The articles will be written by the Judiciary Committee, which officially began the formal impeachment proceedings on Wednesday by holding a hearing where constitutional experts discussed the legal basis for impeaching Trump.

Four experts testified at the hearing: three brought in by Democrats and one brought in by Republicans.

The experts requested by Democrats argued that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine definitely met the threshold for an impeachable offense set by the framers of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the expert the Republicans brought in argued that the Democrats were rushing the process and did not have adequate evidence and that Trump should be investigated more.

Next Steps

But Democrats appear eager to press on, with leadership pushing to hold the full House vote on the impeachment articles before Christmas.

As a result, it has been reported that the Judiciary Committee will draft the articles in the next few days and hold the debate and vote on the articles as early as next week. The bigger question is what the articles will be, and how many the Committee will propose. 

Each offense they claim Trump committed must be its own article— for example “obstruction of justice” would be a separate article from “misconduct.”

Right now, the Democrats are deciding if they want to zero in on the Ukraine matter, or include a broader look at Trump’s other alleged wrongdoings, which notably could include his alleged efforts to obstruct the Mueller report investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Once the Judiciary has approved the articles, they will go to the full House for a vote.

The House just has to approve one of the articles for the president to be impeached, and if approved, the matter would head to the Senate for the trial portion of the process, which would likely be held in January.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)

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