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News Wrap: Venezuela’s controversial new assembly convenes

August 4, 2017 at 6:45 PM EDT
In our news wrap Friday, Venezuela's new constitutional assembly convened for the first time. The governing body has sweeping powers that opponents fear will be used to impose a dictatorship for President Nicolas Maduro. Also, a federal appeals court in Washington has thrown out the murder conviction of a former Blackwater security guard for the 2007 massacre of 14 Iraqi civilians.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And in the day’s other news: The Justice Department announced a new crackdown on leaks to the press of classified government information.

Since January, the department has tripled the number of investigations into leaks compared with when President Obama left office. And four people have been charged with unlawful disclosures or concealing contacts with foreign officers.

Alongside top intelligence officials, Attorney General Jeff Sessions called the crackdown a top priority.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. Attorney General: This nation must end this culture of leaks. We will investigate and seek to bring criminals to justice. We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country.

These cases to investigate and prosecute are never easy, but cases will be made, and leakers will be held accountable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just yesterday, The Washington Post published transcripts of President Trump’s phone calls with the leaders of Australia and Mexico coming from the first days of his presidency. The leaked exchanges revealed at times contentious conversations, at odds with the White House’s description to the press.

Today, the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, issued a warning to any would-be leakers.

DAN COATS, U.S. National Intelligence Director: Anyone who engages in these criminal acts is betraying the intelligence community and the American people. We feel the pain of those betrayals intensely. And I can assure you that I will do everything in my power as the director of national intelligence to hold these individuals accountable.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We will have more on his department’s efforts right after the news summary.

President Trump kicked off his 17-day working vacation today. He left Washington this afternoon, en route to his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey. It is his first extended vacation as president. While Mr. Trump is gone, the West Wing of the White House will undergo a series of renovations.

In Venezuela, the country’s new Constitutional Assembly convened for the first time today. The body has sweeping powers, which opponents fear will be used to impose a dictatorship for President Nicolas Maduro. Pro-government demonstrators took to the streets in Caracas, as the assembly picked its head, an ex-foreign minister, and a Maduro loyalist, who took aim at President Trump.

DELCY RODRIGUEZ, President of the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly (through interpreter): To the head of the empire, we say, and we will repeat as many times as necessary, don’t mess with Venezuela. From here, from this powerful chamber surrounded by our liberators, we say, savage and barbarous empire, don’t mess with Venezuela, because Venezuela will never faint, nor surrender.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The results of the election for the assembly have faced mounting scrutiny, after the company that provided Venezuela’s electronic voting machines said that turnout numbers were manipulated.

A federal appeals court in Washington has thrown out the murder conviction of a former Blackwater security guard in the 2007 massacre of 14 Iraqi civilians. Nicholas Slatten will now get a new trial, after the court said that he should have been tried separately from his three co-defendants. The court also ordered new sentences for those men.

Prosecutors have added a key witness in the two corruption cases against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli police say that Netanyahu’s former chief of staff has agreed to testify against him. The investigations involve improper gifts and attempts to influence media coverage. Netanyahu has dismissed the news as — quote — “background noise.”

Back in this country, former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli, who gained notoriety for hiking the price of anti-infection medicine, was convicted today in an unrelated case. Federal prosecutors accused Shkreli of misleading investors and stealing money from one of his companies to pay them back. Shkreli, however, was found not guilty today on five of eight charges, and he praised that outcome.

MARTIN SHKRELI, Former Pharmaceutical Executive: I’m delighted the jury did their job. They saw the facts as they were. This was a witch-hunt of epic proportions, and maybe they found one or two broomsticks, but at the end of the day, we have been acquitted of the most important charges of this case. And I’m delighted to report that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shkreli could face up to 20 years in prison, but legal experts expect he will get a lighter sentence.

And the British security researcher credited with stopping a global cyber-attack back in May was due in court today on unrelated hacking charges; 22-year-old Marcus Hutchins was arrested in Las Vegas this week for allegedly distributing software years ago to collect bank account passwords. Hutchins helped control the so-called WannaCry attack that crippled thousands of computers.

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