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Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories
- Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday replaced Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, commander in chief of the nation’s military, following months of reported tension between the two leaders as Ukraine’s war against Russia trudges toward its second anniversary. “I am grateful to General Zaluzhnyi for two years of defense,” Zelensky tweeted yesterday. “I appreciate every victory we have achieved together, thanks to all the Ukrainian warriors who are heroically carrying this war on their shoulders. We candidly discussed issues in the army that require change. Urgent change.” Zaluzhnyi will be replaced by Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, who has led Ukraine’s ground forces.
- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Western allies to provide more aid to Ukraine on Thursday, and met with U.S. lawmakers last night to discuss continued support for the war-torn country. He is set to meet with President Joe Biden today.
- U.S. military officials on Thursday confirmed the deaths of the five Marines who were onboard a helicopter that crashed outside of San Diego in rough weather conditions. The aircraft went missing on Tuesday night during an attempt to return to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego after a training exercise. An investigation into the crash and a mission to recover the soldiers’ remains are underway.
- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Thursday to decide whether Colorado may remove former President Donald Trump from the ballot under Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and the justices appeared to be skeptical of the state’s ability to disqualify Trump. “I think that the question that you have to confront is why a single state should decide who gets to be president of the United States,” said Justice Elena Kagan, appointed by former President Barack Obama. Several justices considered the consequences of upholding Colorado’s decision, including the possibility that different states could remove candidates from the ballot in retaliation—a scenario Justice Samuel Alito called an “unmanageable situation.” The justices did not ask either side whether Trump had engaged in insurrection.
- Special counsel Robert Hur wrote that President Joe Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen” in a report released on Thursday, but recommended no criminal charges. The nearly 400-page document, the result of a yearlong investigation into documents found in Biden’s Delaware home and private D.C. offices, also called into question the president’s memory, pointing out numerous instances where Biden had problems recollecting dates and details. “We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” the report stated.
- The Senate voted 67-32 on Thursday to advance a $95 billion foreign-aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific—but missing any border security provisions—with 16 Republicans joining Democrats to pave the way for amendments to the bill and an eventual vote. A final vote is likely days away, and it’s not clear whether or when House Speaker Mike Johnson will bring the package to the House floor for a vote.
- The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday banned the use of artificial intelligence-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls, saying in a unanimous ruling that using AI in such calls is illegal under the 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act. The ruling comes after an incident last month in which New Hampshire voters received a call featuring an AI-generated copy of President Joe Biden’s voice encouraging them to skip the Democratic primary.
- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers of Washington, chairwoman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce committee, said Thursday she will not seek reelection, potentially forgoing another appointment as chair of that committee. She is the third committee chair to decide to announce his or her retirement this Congress, following Financial Services Chairman Patrick McHenry of North Carolina and Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger of Texas.
A ‘Well-Meaning, Elderly Man With a Poor Memory’
That a yearlong investigation into President Joe Biden’s handling of sensitive and classified documents ended with a recommendation against criminal charges should theoretically have been cause for celebration in the White House—but the reasoning Special Counsel Robert Hur provided for not pursuing charges instead triggered panic that quickly rippled through Democratic circles. Detailing multiple instances of the president’s poor memory, Hur concluded that it “would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict [Biden] … of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
The bombshell report released Thursday, which summarized an investigation into boxes of documents originating from Biden’s time in the Senate as well as his vice presidency, found that the president “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials” and shared some of that information with a ghostwriter who was helping to draft his 2017 memoir. Hur’s report did make clear that Biden willingly participated in each step of the investigation, and it found that there was not enough evidence to convict the president of wrongdoing. But Hur seemed to believe that Biden’s age and mental state—more than a lack of evidence—stood as the greatest impediment to a possible jury conviction. Twice in the report, Hur called Biden “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”—echoing the concerns of a vast majority of voters about the president’s mental ability to handle a second term.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur—who served in former President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice—in January 2023, tasking him with investigating the president after classified documents were found in Biden’s home in Delaware as well as his private offices in Washington, D.C. According to the report, the documents included both classified and top-secret materials, including handwritten notes and memos sent to former President Barack Obama detailing Biden’s opposition to sending additional troops to Afghanistan.