Ruling party candidate quits Australian campaign over anti-Muslim posts

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten shake hands before the first leaders forum at the Seven West Media Studios in Perth, Australia, on April 29, 2019. (AAP Image/ The West Australian POOL, Nic Ellis/via REUTERS)
Updated 03 May 2019

Ruling party candidate quits Australian campaign over anti-Muslim posts

  • In her posts, Jessica Whelan called for a referendum to ban immigration of “filthy Muslims”
  • Whelan is running for the lower house of parliament from the island state of Tasmania

SYDNEY: Another candidate for Australia’s governing Liberals was forced to stand down over anti-Muslim comments Friday as the party struggles to fend off charges it harbors right-wing extremists.
Jessica Whelan became the third Liberal candidate to quit the race for May 18 elections in the past three days over racist or homophobic social media posts.
Whelan, running for the lower house of parliament from the island state of Tasmania, initially said the posts, which included references to “filthy Muslims” and called for a referendum to ban Muslim immigration, had been doctored by hackers.
But after screenshots of additional anti-Islam posts emerged in the Australian press overnight, Whelan withdrew from the race early Friday.
The move came after the Liberals, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, were forced to drop two other candidates in the key state of Victoria on Wednesday after they were found to have posted anti-Islam or homophobic messages on social media.
The incidents provided new ammunition to opposition parties’ charges that the Liberals have become dominated by extremists since party hard-liners ousted moderate prime minister Malcolm Turnbull last August, putting the more conservative Morrison in power.
“The Liberals have been forced to dump another one of its extreme right-wing candidates,” trumpeted Bill Shorten, leader of the main opposition Labor party, which is leading in opinion polls.
Morrison denied that Whelan’s views reflected a broader far-right agenda for his party.
“Her views were her views and they do not represent the views of the party I lead,” he said.
But Labor has also been hit by controversy as both major party campaigns are roiled by social media posts made by their candidates, sometimes years earlier.
One Labor candidate dropped out of the race earlier this week over posts deemed anti-Semitic, while Liberal leaders demanded on Friday that Shorten sack another Labor hopeful for posting rape jokes and other sexist comments.
Luke Creasey, a 29-year-old school teacher running for office in the Victorian capital of Melbourne, posted the comments in 2012 and Shorten defended him on Friday, saying the candidate regretted the posts made when he was 22.
“He has apologized deeply and he certainly doesn’t hold those views now,” Shorten said, adding, “Jessica Whelan said what she believes now (and) tried to cover it up.”
In an increasing fiery campaign, both parties are learning the value of vetting candidates even in long-shot races where they stand little chance of taking office.


Trump linked Ukraine aid to demand for probe: US diplomat

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP)
Updated 24 min 53 sec ago

Trump linked Ukraine aid to demand for probe: US diplomat

  • Taylor’s appearance was among the most anticipated before House investigators because of a series of text messages with the other diplomats in which he called Trump’s attempt to hold back military aid to Ukraine “crazy”

WASHINGTON: A top US diplomat testified Tuesday that President Donald Trump was holding back military aid for Ukraine unless the country agreed to investigate Democrats and a company linked to Joe Biden’s family, providing lawmakers with a detailed new account of the quid pro quo central to the impeachment probe.
In a lengthy opening statement to House investigators obtained by The Associated Press, William Taylor described Trump’s demand that “everything” President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wanted, including vital aid to counter Russia, hinged on making a public vow that Ukraine would investigate Democrats going back to the 2016 US election as well as a company linked to the family of Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rival.
Taylor testified that what he discovered in Kyiv was the Trump administration’s “irregular” back channel to foreign policy led by the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and “ultimately alarming circumstances” that threatened to erode the United States’ relationship with a budding Eastern European ally facing Russian aggression.
In a date-by-date account, detailed across several pages, the seasoned diplomat who came out of retirement to take over as charge d’affaires at the embassy in Ukraine details his mounting concern as he realized Trump was trying to put the newly elected president of the young democracy “in a public box.”
“I sensed something odd,” he testified, describing a trio of Trump officials planning a call with Zelenskiy, including one, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, who wanted to make sure “no one was transcribing or monitoring” it.
Lawmakers who emerged after nearly 10 hours of the private deposition were stunned at Taylor’s account, which some Democrats said established a “direct line” to the quid pro quo at the center of the impeachment probe.
“It was shocking,” said Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat. “It was very clear that it was required — if you want the assistance, you have to make a public statement.”
She characterized it as “it’s this for that.”
Rep. Dina Titus, a Democrat from Nevada, said, “You can see how damning this is.”
Titus said, “This certainly makes it pretty clear what was going on. And it was a quid pro quo.”
The account reaches to the highest levels of the administration, drawing in Vice President Mike Pence and Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, and slices at the core of the Republican defense of the administration and the president’s insistence of no wrongdoing.
It also lays bare the struggle between Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton and those who a previous State Department witness described as the “three amigos” — Sondland, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and special envoy Kurt Volker— who were involved in the alternative Ukraine policy vis-a-vis Russia.
It’s illegal to seek or receive contributions of value from a foreign entity for a US election.
“President Trump has done nothing wrong,” said White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham. “This is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution. There was no quid pro quo.”
Taylor’s appearance was among the most anticipated before House investigators because of a series of text messages with the other diplomats in which he called Trump’s attempt to hold back military aid to Ukraine “crazy.”
His testimony opens a new front in the impeachment inquiry, and it calls into question the account from Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, who told Congress last week that he did not fully remember some details of the events and was initially unaware that the gas company Burisma was tied to the Bidens.
Taylor told lawmakers that Sondland, a wealthy businessman who donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, was aware of the demands and later admitted he made a mistake by telling the Ukrainians that military assistance was not contingent on agreeing to Trump’s requests.
“In fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including the security assistance,” Taylor recalled.
“Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelenskyy to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election,” Taylor said about a Sept. 1 phone call between them.
Taylor apparently kept detailed records of conversations and documents, including two personal notebooks, lawmakers said.
The retired diplomat, a former Army officer, had been serving as executive vice president at the US Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kyiv after Trump suddenly recalled Ambassador Maria Yovanovitch.
Taylor testified that he had concerns about taking over the post under those circumstances, but she urged him to go “for policy reasons and for the morale of the embassy.” He had served as US ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
Lawmakers described the career civil servant’s delivery as credible and consistent, as he answered hours of questions from Democrats and Republicans, drawing silence in the room as lawmakers exchanged glances.
Taylor testified that he “sat in astonishment” on a July 18 call in which a White House budget official said that Trump had relayed a message through Mulvaney that the aid should be withheld.
A month later, his concerns had so deepened that he was preparing to resign. Sensing the US policy toward Ukraine has shifted, he described an Aug. 22 phone call with Tim Morrison, a Russia adviser at the White House, who told him, the “president doesn’t want to provide any assistance at all.”
“That was extremely troubling to me,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s description of Trump’s position is in sharp contrast to how the president has characterized it. Trump has said many times that there was no quid pro quo, though Mulvaney contradicted that last week. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his remarks.
“The testimony is very disturbing,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, used the same word.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Taylor “drew a straight line” with documents, timelines and individual conversations in his records.
“I do not know how you would listen to today’s testimony from Ambassador Taylor and come to any other (conclusion) except that the president abused his power and withheld foreign aid,” she said.
The impeachment probe was sparked by a whistleblower’s complaint of a July call. In that call, Trump told Zelenskiy he wanted “a favor,” which the White House later acknowledged in a rough transcript of the conversation was Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate the Democratic National Committee’s email hack in 2016 as well as the Ukrainian gas company Burisma tied to Biden’s family.