Afghan Politicians, Taliban Enter Talks in Moscow
On Wednesday, peace talks in Moscow between Taliban officials and Afghan politicians (who are not part of President Ashraf Ghani’s government) ended -- two days of negotiations culminating in a nine-point, mostly symbolic and unofficial agreement on topics like human rights and the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country. The Afghan delegation met the Taliban at the President-Hotel, owned by the Russian government, and were led by former president Hamid Karzai, who felt optimistic along with members of the Taliban about the meeting’s results. The delegation’s unofficial status, in part due to the Taliban’s refusal to meet with the government, drew criticism about the meeting’s validity. Ghani, members of his government and Afghans on social media claimed the meeting lacked authority without the official government’s involvement. The conference comes after talks between the United States and Taliban (which is covered in last week’s edition of In a Nutshell), and further complicates the negotiation process; U.S. officials had to deny Taliban statements made after the conference about specific timetables for a withdrawal of troops while another conference between Karzai’s delegation and the Taliban is expected in Qatar’s capital of Doha, where the U.S. and Taliban have previously met.
Virginia Political Chaos
Jan 31 through Friday
On Friday, Jan. 31, pictures from the 1984 medical school yearbook of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) surfaced showing one man in blackface and one dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Among increasing calls to resign from members of both parties, including statements from former Vice President Joe Biden (D) and the Republican Party of Virginia, Northam released a statement apologizing for the picture and saying he would not leave his position, wanting to continue to serve the people of Virginia. Northam originally acknowledged that he was one of the men pictured, then later denied participating, but admitted to having darkened his skin for a Michael Jackson dance contest in 1984. The yearbook photo surfaced after Northam’s comments on abortion on Wednesday, Jan. 29 from a “concerned citizen” who showed the photo to the Editor-in-Chief of Big League Politics. On Tuesday, Northam announced his intention to hire a private investigator to look into the circumstances of the picture resurfacing. Adding to the chaos, on Wednesday, Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) admitted to wearing blackface at a college party. Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax (D) was also thrown into the fire this week as two women, Dr. Vanessa Tyson and Meredith Watson, came forward to accuse Fairfax of sexual assault. If all three men were to resign because of their statements and actions, the next in line for the governor position would be Kirk Cox, the Republican Speaker of the House, creating the potential to lose a typically Democratic state.
Trump Inaugural Committee Subpoena
On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York served President Trump’s inaugural committee multiple subpoenas, possibly meaning that the inquiry, which is investigating the way that Trump’s inaugural committee spent its money, is heating up. The crimes that the District Attorney's Office is investigating ranges from false statements to money laundering, more specifically dealing with the committee’s spending and donations. The subpoena requires the committee to turn over all documents relating to basically every donor and donation, attendee at every event, all paperwork attached to the legal specifics of each donation, and even the “possibility” of money given to the committee by foreign nationals. This investigation, which is separate from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, started after Trump’s inaugural committee raised over $100 million dollars, which was double the previous record set by former President Obama’s committee. This raised suspicions about where exactly this money came from, and how they got it in such a short amount of time. Thus, the Southern District started an investigation into the committee. Inaugural committee spokeswoman Kristin Celauro stated that the committee is still reviewing the subpoena and that “it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry.”
The State of the Union Address
On Tuesday, President Trump gave the annual State of the Union address. The speech was initially meant for Jan. 29, however, a dispute with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the partial government shutdown two weeks ago delayed the speech until Feb. 5. In total, there have been 96 addresses, and Trump almost set the record for the longest by speaking for a solid 82 minutes. Special guests included two undocumented immigrants, Victoria Morales and Jin Park, brought by Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), with Watson’s guest being a worker fired from one of Trump’s golf clubs. Many hot topics were brought up throughout the night, including support for favorable Democratic initiatives. Some involved new funding to eradicate HIV/AIDS and a campaign to reduce childhood cancer. He also attempted to call the Democratic majority in the House to steer away from “ridiculous partisan investigations” in regards to the impending threat of congressional investigations into his conduct. Trump also surprisingly got a roaring applause from Democratic women after they got up to cheer on the women who have gained jobs within the past year, which was followed up by a congratulations from Trump himself. “No one has benefited more from our thriving economy than women, who have filled 58 percent of the newly created jobs last year,” Trump said. Many Democratic women were dressed in white, a salute to women's suffrage. He also won the hearts of Republicans by stating that “walls work and walls save lives.” Democrats tensed as the Republicans applauded at Trump's statement. Overall, both parties had their moments, and Trump found a way to get an applause from both sides.
President Hotel; Flickr/giarc80; Flickr; Flickr/whitehouse