Thursday morning news: July 25, 2019

Mueller testifies before two House committees » Special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Wednesday—fielding questions about his Russia report from two House panels. 

NADLER: [gavel] The Judiciary Committee will come to order. 

In morning testimony, Mueller defended the integrity of his investigation. He rejected President Trump’s claim that it was a witch hunt and he said political bias was not a factor in the probe or in his conclusions.  

Regarding possible obstruction of justice by the president, Mueller answered this question from Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu:

LIEU: The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct? MUELLER: That is correct. 

But testifying later before the Intelligence Committee he offered a correction. He referred to the earlier question by Congressman Lieu. 

MUELLER: He said and I quote, you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion. That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime. 

But Mueller on Wednesday again made clear that his report did not exonerate the president. And he suggested Trump could still be charged with a crime. GOP Congressman Ken Buck posed this question…  

BUCK: You believe that he committed—you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office? MUELLER: Yes. 

Mueller also warned that Russian interference remains a threat and that Russia is still trying to meddle in U.S. elections—quote—“as we sit here.” 

Judge blocks Trump asylum restrictions »  A federal judge on Wednesday halted a new Trump administration asylum policy. 

The new rules state in order to seek asylum at the U.S. border, migrants who pass through another country along the way must first apply for protection there.  

The ruling by District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco came hours after another federal judge in Washington let the 9-day-old policy stand. 

The California judge’s preliminary injunction halts the policy while the lawsuit plays out in court. The same judge halted another Trump policy last year to deny asylum to people who crossed the border illegally.

Facebook to pay record FTC fine for privacy violations » Federal regulators have fined Facebook $5 billion for violating users’ privacy. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has details. 

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The Federal Trade Commission announced the fine on Wednesday. It is the largest ever levied on a tech company. But it represents a little less than 10 percent of Facebook’s $56 billion in revenue last year. 

As part of the settlement, CEO Mark Zuckerberg will have to personally certify his company’s compliance with its privacy programs. And he will be legally liable for the accuracy of those reports. 

But he avoided personal punishment. Some experts thought the FTC might fine Zuckerberg directly or limit his authority over the company.

Facebook will also pay a separate $100 million fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission. That payment will settle charges that it made misleading disclosures about the risk of Facebook users’ data being misused. 

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg. 

Judge halts new legal protections for the unborn in Arkansas » A federal judge in Arkansas blocked three new pro-life laws this week. District Judge Kristine Baker’s 14-day temporary restraining order stopped the laws from taking effect on Wednesday. 

The measures would have protected unborn babies after 18 weeks of pregnancy required abortionists to be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology and protected babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb.

But opponents of the laws sued to halt them. 

BROWNSTEIN: If they are allowed to go into effect they will in all likelihood shut down abortion or most of the legal abortions in Arkansas.

Attorney Bettina Brownstein heard there. She’s with the American Civil Liberties Union, one of the groups that challenged the laws. 

But another new law increasing the waiting period for an abortion in Arkansas from 48 to 72 hours did take effect Wednesday. 

USDA proposes rule change to close food stamp “loophole” » The Trump administration wants to tighten the rules that determine who is automatically eligible for food stamps. WORLD Radio’s Kristen Flavin has more. 

KRISTEN FLAVIN, REPORTER: The Department of Agriculture said the proposed change would close a big “loophole” in the system. Under current rules, anyone receiving even minimal benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program—TAN-IF for short—is automatically eligible for food stamps.

The USDA said because of this loophole, many people get food stamps even though they don’t need them and wouldn’t qualify under regular program rules. The agency estimates the rule change could affect about 3 million food stamp recipients in 2020.

To qualify for automatic eligibility under the new proposal, people would have to get at least $50 a month in TAN-IF benefits for a minimum of six months.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the change is needed to prevent “abuse of a critical safety net system.” The rule is open for public comment for 60 days.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Kristen Flavin.

(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File) This May 29, 2019 file photo shows special counsel Robert Mueller speaking about the Russia investigation at the Department of Justice in Washington. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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