House Republicans voted 119-74 to eviscerate Congress’ outside ethics watchdog and put it under the control of the very same lawmakers it’s meant to be keeping in check. Under a proposal by Representative Bob Goodlatte (Republican-VA), the Office of Congressional Ethics, set up in 2008 to investigate allegations of misconduct against lawmakers, will be controlled by the House Ethics Committee. Republicans voted in favor of the change Monday night without so much as a debate beforehand. Goodlatte said his proposal “builds upon and strengthens the existing Office of Congressional Ethics by maintaining its primary area of focus of accepting and reviewing complaints from the public and referring them, if appropriate, to the Committee on Ethics.” Democrats and watchdog groups reacted with alarm to the surprise move. “Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement released after the vote. “Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress.”
The Syrian military has agreed to a nationwide ceasefire, including a halt to airstrikes and shelling, set to begin at midnight Friday. President Vladimir Putin said Russia and Turkey will be guarantors of the peace arrangement, and it will be followed by more talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and opposition forces. Separately, Putin ordered an immediate drawdown of Russian forces and weaponry in Syria, though it was unclear how many troops, crucial to Assad’s defense, would be withdrawn. The truce includes 62,000 opposition fighters throughout Syria, said Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, but excludes groups labeled as terror organizations by the United Nations, including ISIS and al Qaeda-linked factions. Turkish and Russian officials said they have established a new hotline intended to monitor compliance with the peace deal.
George Michael, the British pop icon who died yesterday at age 53, had been battling a secret heroin addiction in the months leading up to his death, according to multiple media outlets. Reports in British newspapers allege that the “Last Christmas” singer, who was arrested while smoking crack cocaine in a public restroom in 2008, had been struggling with addiction in his final days. The Daily Telegraph today quotes a source as saying: “He’s been rushed to A&E on several occasions. He used heroin. I think it’s amazing he’s lasted as long as he has.” The Sun, meanwhile, quoted Michael’s friend, publicist Gary Farrow, saying: “I believe easy access to drugs was the cause of his problems. I thought George was too bright to get involved with illegal substances. But once this disease gets hold of you, it’s hard to fight it.” The death was described as “unexplained but not suspicious” by police at Michael’s $1.8 million home in an Oxfordshire village.
In the final, certified presidential-election tally, Hillary Clinton received more votes than any other losing candidate in U.S. history. She won about 2.9 million more votes than President-elect Donald Trump, with a total of 65,844,954—or 48.2 percent of the vote. Trump received 62,979,879 votes, or 46.1 percent of the total. However, Clinton’s margin only ranks third among defeated presidential candidates. Andrew Jackson, in 1824, won the popular vote by 10 percent and still lost the presidency to John Quincy Adams. In second place, Samuel Tilden got 3 percent more votes than Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876. Hayes won the Electoral College by just one electoral vote.
German police say the driver who rammed his truck into a crowded Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 people and injuring another nearly 50 yesterday, did so intentionally. Early Tuesday, Germany’s top security official indicated the suspect was from Pakistan and had applied for asylum, entering the country this year—but Berlin’s police chief later said it was unclear if they had the right man in custody. He denied any involvement and reportedly had no blood on his clothes. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was “shocked, shaken, and deeply saddened” by the news of the incident. The attacker reportedly sped the 18-wheeler through the wooden Christmas stalls for about 150 feet, crushing shoppers in his wake. “There is still a lot that we don’t know about this act with sufficient certainty,” Merkel told reporters.
President-elect Donald Trump made a $10,000 donation to institutions in a West Bank settlement in 2003, a report claims. Yaakov “Katzele” Katz, one of the founders of the settlement of Beit El, told an Israeli radio station that Trump made the donation to honor David Friedman, his personal friend and recently announced pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel. Friedman, who’s faced scrutiny since his nomination for his hardline stance on liberal U.S. Jews and a two-state solution in the Middle East, is president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions. Trump reportedly made his donation at a gala dinner for Friedman. “If I would have known he would be elected president, I would have saved the check,” Katz was cited as telling the radio station. Trump has donated to numerous Jewish institutions over the years, but his donation to Beit El signals a sharp turnaround from the Obama administration’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Trump and Friedman support the Israeli settlements, the Obama administration has often treated the settlements as obstacles to achieving peace between Palestine and Israel.
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, former Clinton campaign chief John Podesta railed against the FBI’s response to the cyberattacks that led to his and the DNC’s emails being publicly released in the run-up to Election Day. “I was surprised to read in The New York Times that when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015, it failed to send even a single agent to warn senior Democratic National Committee officials,” he wrote. “Instead, messages were left with the DNC IT ‘help desk.’” Podesta described the “infuriating” comparison between the FBI’s “seemingly lackadaisical response” to Russian hackings and the agency’s “massive response to the overblown email scandal”—a juxtaposition that is “particularly troubling because of [the FBI’s] power and responsibility.”
President-elect Donald Trump has chosen ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson as his nominee to serve as his secretary of State. “Rex Tillerson’s career is the embodiment of the American dream,” Trump said in a statement. “Through hard work, dedication, and smart dealmaking, Rex rose through the ranks to become CEO of ExxonMobil, one of the world’s largest and most respected companies. His tenacity, broad experience, and deep understanding of geopolitics make him an excellent choice for secretary of State.” The real-estate mogul considered several people for the position, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. “It was an honor to have been considered for secretary of State of our great country,” Romney wrote on Facebook.
Chinese officials have warned that relations with the U.S. may fall apart if President-elect Donald Trump does not respect China’s “core interests” going forward. The comments were made in response to Trump’s now-infamous phone call with Taiwan’s president. “I want to stress that the Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and involves China’s core interests,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said during a news briefing. “Upholding the ‘One China’ principle is the political basis for developing China-U.S. ties. If this basis is interfered with or damaged, then the healthy development of China-U.S. relations and bilateral cooperation in important areas is out of the question.” The warning comes hours after reports emerged indicating China flew a nuclear-capable bomber over a disputed part of the South China Sea, in a move U.S. officials say was meant to send a message to Trump. The Xian H-6 bomber, at times accompanied by fighter jets, flew along the demarcation line between China and disputed territories, including Taiwan, Fox News reported, citing U.S. officials.
Officials today announced that a building code enforcement inspector hadn’t entered an Oakland warehouse (in which 36 people died Friday night) in more than 30 years despite complaints about the building. Usually, the agency only enters properties when the city’s planning and building department is prompted by a complaint or if the owner is seeking a permit, the organization’s interim director said. But the city says it had received complaints about the warehouse for alleged safety problems and was already investigating those reports when the catastrophic fire broke out last weekend. The building had received about two dozen code complaints and other city actions in the past three decades. It’s not yet clear why an inspector had not yet visited the interior of the art venue, home, and music space, called the Ghost Ship. An inspector did visit the site two weeks before the blaze but did not enter the structure.
President-elect Donald Trump has been named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2016. The cover reads “Donald Trump: President of the Divided States of America,” and Trump marked the announcement with an appearance on NBC's Today Show. “To be on the cover of Time as Person of the Year is a tremendous honor,” Trump told Matt Lauer, complaining, however—in typical Trump fashion—that he found the word “divided” to be a “snarky” choice for the magazine’s headline. Since 1932, every U.S. president has been named Person of the Year at least one time. President Obama was given the award in both 2008 and 2012, after he won those respective elections. President George W. Bush received the same honor in 2000 and 2004.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump went on a Twitter tirade against China late tonight, accusing Beijing of currency manipulations and military expansionism. The tweetstorm came just two days after Trump’s phone conversation with Taiwan’s leader threatened to ruin China-U.S. relations, in a move sources later said was planned weeks in advance. “Did China ask us if it was OK to devalue their currency (making it hard for our companies to compete), heavily tax our products going into their country (the US doesn't tax them) or to build a massive military complex in the middle of the South China Sea?” Trump wrote tonight, adding: “I don't think so!” Trump’s comments echo much of his campaign rhetoric, in which he vilified Chinese leadership and vowed to take the country down a notch, despite China being a major trading partner for the U.S. A Washington Post report published Sunday cited sources familiar with the matter saying Trump's team had planned the phone as a provocative stunt to portray Trump as a radical change from previous presidents. While Trump has repeatedly lashed out at China, China has mostly responded as if dealing with a small child. In the wake of Trump’s phone chat with Taiwan, China’s foreign minister said Trump had fallen victim to Taiwan’s “shenanigan.”
The aircraft carrying a Brazilian football team that crashed Monday night after apparently running out of fuel begged Colombian air-traffic controllers for clearance to land, but were denied permission as a second plane was already engaged in an emergency landing, according to an extraordinary audio exchange between the co-pilot of a third flight who overheard the desperate final messages. The doomed LaMia plane was not able to land as a plane from passenger airline VivaColombia, which had also run into difficulties, was already making its descent. In a leaked audio message, a co-pilot from a third plane, operated by airline Avianca, can be heard retelling the story as he witnessed it from the cockpit of his aircraft. The crew overheard an exchange between the doomed LaMia plane and the airport’s control tower. The pilot on the doomed plane reportedly told the air-traffic control tower: “We request priority to proceed to the runway, we request priority to proceed to the locator. We have fuel problems... Now we have a total electric failure, we have a total electric failure… Help—we need vectors to approach the runway.” The pilots in the LaMia plane made one final plea before falling silent. Avianca officials have confirmed the authenticity of the recording but have declined to comment further. The plane’s black-box flight recorder has been recovered in perfect condition, authorities said.