×
May 15, 2019

The Trump administration has already started tearing down trees and leveling ground to erect tall border fencing in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge in Texas, and Arizona's Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge are next, The Associated Press reports. On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security again waived dozens of environmental and other federal laws to allow barrier construction along stretches of U.S.-Mexico border in California and Arizona.

DHS was vague about its plans, but the Center for Biological Diversity says the administration plans to build or replace 100 miles of fencing in Arizona and California, including through the two public lands. "The Trump administration just ignored bedrock environmental and public health laws to plow a disastrous border wall through protected, spectacular wildlands," the center's Laiken Jordahl tells AP.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, established in 1937, encompasses 516 square miles filled with its unique namesake cactus. Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1975 on land set aside in 1939, is home to 275 wildlife species. DHS, using redirected Pentagon funds, will replace waist-high bollard fences meant to stop vehicles with fences 18-30 feet high, AP reports. "The government will also build new roads and lighting in those areas in Arizona."

Organ Pipe Cactus was once a heavy corridor for drug smuggling, and much of the park was closed to visitors from 2002 to 2015, when "the National Park Service and Border Patrol conceived a plan to allow continued surveillance by the Patrol while Park Service crews erased hundreds of miles of illegal roads and road traces that had been woven through Organ Pipe Cactus," National Park Traveler reports. The waist-high fencing, put up in the mid-2000s, "succeeded in ending illegal vehicular border crossings while allowing wildlife to pass through." Environmental groups say the new fencing will further endanger vulnerable species, including jaguars and the Sonoran pronghorn.

DHS is accepting public comment on the plan through July 5. Peter Weber

12:22 a.m.

Slowly but surely, the coral reefs in Jamaica are making a comeback.

In the 1980s and '90s, Jamaica lost 85 percent of its coral reefs due to hurricanes, overfishing, and water pollution that caused algae and seaweed to take over. Coral sustains one-quarter of all marine species, and as the reefs disappeared in Jamaica, so did the fish.

To revive the reefs, at least 12 organizations have launched "coral nurseries" underwater, where pieces of staghorn coral are tied to suspended ropes, slowly growing until they reach the size of a human hand, The Associated Press reports. Then, those pieces are taken to reefs and tied to rocks, where the limestone skeleton ultimately becomes attached. The groups have had great success restoring sections of different reefs through this process.

Thanks to the hard work of coral gardeners, as well as the volunteers who patrol the nurseries and fish sanctuaries to stop illegal fishing, the reefs are growing and the fish populations are increasing. "When you give nature a chance, she can repair herself," marine biologist Stuart Sandin told AP. "It's not too late." Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

The White House is expected to soon announce it will withdraw the nomination of Jeff Byard, President Trump's choice to head the Federal Emergency Management Agency, CNN reports.

Byard's nomination was announced seven months ago, and several lawmakers recently said issues came up during his background check. Trump has now settled on nominating Acting FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor, people with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

In a letter obtained by the network, Byard wrote to Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan last week, letting him know that he wanted his nomination withdrawn as it "would be best for me to focus entirely on pressing issues related to my current role as the associate administrator for response and recovery." Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

A whistleblower complaint filed on Aug. 12 by an official in the U.S. intelligence community involves President Trump's communications with a foreign leader, two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter told The Washington Post on Wednesday.

During the interaction, Trump made a "promise" to the foreign leader that the whistleblower found so troubling they decided to file the complaint to Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, the Post reports. In turn, Atkinson found the complaint worrisome enough that he marked the matter of "urgent concern" and submitted it to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. Maguire replaced former DNI Dan Coats, who resigned in August.

By law, Maguire was supposed to send the complaint on to Congress, but after asking Justice Department officials for legal guidance, he refused, the Post reports. The House and Senate intelligence committees only learned of the complaint after Atkinson, not Maguire, notified them earlier this month, though he did not say what was in the complaint. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is trying to get intelligence officials to share the details with lawmakers, and Atkinson is scheduled to appear before Schiff's committee for a private session on Thursday.

One former official told the Post the communication in question was a phone call. It's not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking to or what he promised them. In the five weeks before the complaint was filed, White House records show that Trump spoke and interacted with at least five foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau apologized on Wednesday night for a 2001 photo showing him at an Arabian Nights–themed gala wearing brownface makeup.

At the time, Trudeau was 29 and working as a teacher at West Point Gray Academy in Vancouver. The picture, published on Wednesday by Time, appeared in the private school's 2000-2001 yearbook. Trudeau is seen wearing a turban and robe, with his face, neck, and hands darkened. A Vancouver businessman gave the yearbook to Time, saying that after he saw the photo in July, he thought it needed to be made public.

Trudeau confirmed he attended the gala, dressing up as Aladdin and donning makeup. "I shouldn't have done that," he said. "I should have known better, but I didn't, and I'm really sorry." Trudeau is running for a second term, and the election is scheduled for Oct. 21. He is already facing one scandal, as the former attorney general says Trudeau's administration pressured her into settling corruption charges against a major engineering firm. Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

Former National Security Adviser John Bolton turned a private lunch into a roast of President Trump, several attendees told Politico.

Bolton was asked to speak by the Gatestone Institute, a conservative think tank, and the invitation came before he resigned (or was fired, depending on who you ask). The lunch, held Wednesday in Manhattan, was attended by billionaire Rebekah Mercer, attorney Alan Dershowitz, Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy, and former Fox News host John Stossel, and Bolton made it clear he thinks Trump's foreign policy is the pits, two attendees said.

Bolton took umbrage at Trump inviting the Taliban to Camp David, saying it sent a "terrible signal" and was "disrespectful" to the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, as the Taliban let Osama bin Laden hide out and plan the attack in Afghanistan. He said negotiations with North Korea and Iran were "doomed to fail," and all Pyongyang and Tehran are worried about is easing sanctions so they can have a bit of economic relief. Bolton, one attendee told Politico, "ripped Trump, without using his name, several times."

Bolton is a longtime hardliner on Iran, and attendees said he mentioned several times that because Trump did not retaliate against Iran for shooting down an American drone in June, it emboldened Tehran. This, Bolton suggested, could be one of the reasons why Iran allegedly attacked Saudi oil facilities over the weekend. Read more about Bolton's criticisms, and how the audience received them, at Politico. Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

Documents and figures released by the Pentagon show that since August 2017, the U.S. military has spent close to $200,000 on about three dozen separate stays at President Trump's Turnberry resort in Scotland.

The information was provided to the House Oversight Committee. The Pentagon said that on average, from August 2017 to July 2019, the cost of a room at Turnberry for service members was $189. The total amount of expenditures was $124,578.96, plus $59,729.12 in unspecified charges to government travel credit cards, Politico reports.

In a letter to Acting Defense Secretary Mark Esper sent Wednesday, Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said that if these numbers are correct, "it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017 — or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years."

Earlier this month, Politico reported that the committee began investigating in April whether this was a violation of the domestic emoluments clause, which prohibits the president from receiving any compensation from the federal government that is not a salary. Last week, the Air Force confirmed that since 2015, crews have stayed at Turnberry up to 40 times, and an internal review is now underway. Catherine Garcia

September 18, 2019

The drone strikes on two of Saudi Arabia's major oil facilities over the weekend have dominated the news cycle in the U.S., but they seemingly haven't altered how European leaders are approaching their continued diplomatic efforts with Iran.

As things stand, The New York Times reports, Europe appears cautious about jumping aboard the blame-Iran bandwagon, even after Saudi Arabia doubled down on its accusations that Tehran, not Yemen's Houthi rebels, were behind the attacks. And there are no signs that Europe's largest powers, such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, are reneging on their endeavors to once again get Iran to comply with the terms of the 2015 nuclear pact, which is now in jeopardy.

Indeed, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as recently as Tuesday called for a return to the nuclear deal and added that "Germany will always be in favor of de-escalation" even after "tensions in the region rose" last weekend. Germany on Wednesday also extended its ban on exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, which, while not necessarily related, certainly does not appear to be a call to war with Iran.

The other possible reason Europe has stayed silent so far, aside from evading angering Iran, is that the continent's leaders aren't keen on blindly falling in line with President Trump as Washington seemingly strengthens its stance against Tehran. In fact, the Times reports that Ellie Geranmayeh, a scholar of Iran at the European Council on Foreign relations, said the European powers blame Trump for creating the environment that led to the attacks as much as the Iranians, even if the latter do turn out to be responsible for them. Tim O'Donnell

See More Speed Reads