Trump called on spy chiefs for help as Mueller probe began

international News, Politics, Power

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two months before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed in the spring of 2017, President Donald Trump picked up the phone and called the head of the largest U.S. intelligence agency. Trump told Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, that news stories alleging that Trump’s 2016 White House campaign had ties to Russia were false and the president asked whether Rogers could do anything to counter them.

Rogers and his deputy Richard Ledgett, who was present for the call, were taken aback.

Afterward, Ledgett wrote a memo about the conversation and Trump’s request. He and Rogers signed it and stashed it in a safe. Ledgett said it was the “most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service.”

Trump’s outreach to Rogers, who retired last year, and other top intelligence officials stands in sharp contrast to his public, combative stance toward his intelligence agencies. At the time of the call, Trump was just some 60 days into his presidency, but he already had managed to alienate large parts of the intelligence apparatus with comments denigrating the profession.

Since then, Trump only has dug in. He said at a news conference in Helsinki after his 2017 summit with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that he gave weight to Putin’s denial that Russia meddled in the 2016 election, despite the firm conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that it had. “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russia, Trump said. And earlier this year, Trump called national security assessments “naive,” tweeting “perhaps intelligence should go back to school.”

Yet in moments of concern as Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election got underway, Trump turned to his spy chiefs for help.

The phone call to Rogers on March 26, 2017, came only weeks after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had angered Trump by stepping aside from the investigation. James Comey, the FBI director who would be fired that May, had just told Congress that the FBI was not only investigating Russian meddling in the election, but also possible links or coordination between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

The call to Rogers and others like it were uncovered by Mueller as he investigated possible obstruction. In his 448-page report released Thursday, Mueller concluded that while Trump attempted to seize control of the Russia investigation and bring it to a halt, the president was ultimately thwarted by those around him.

The special counsel said the evidence did not establish that Trump asked or directed intelligence officials to “stop or interfere with the FBI’s Russia investigation.” The requests to those officials, Mueller said, “were not interpreted by the officials who received them as directives to improperly interfere with the investigation.”

During the call to Rogers, the president “expressed frustration with the Russia investigation, saying that it made relations with the Russians difficult,” according to the report.

Trump said news stories linking him with Russia were not true and he asked Rogers “if he could do anything to refute the stories.” Even though Rogers signed the memo about the conversation and put it in a safe, he told investigators he did not think Trump was giving him an order.

Trump made a number of similar requests of other top intelligence officials.

On March 22, 2017, Trump asked then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats to stay behind after a meeting at the White House to ask if the men could “say publicly that no link existed between him and Russia,” the report said.

In two other instances, the president began meetings to discuss sensitive intelligence matters by stating he hoped a media statement could be issued saying there was no collusion with Russia.

After Trump repeatedly brought up the Russia investigation with his national intelligence director, “Coats said he finally told the President that Coats’s job was to provide intelligence and not get involved in investigations,” the report said.

Pompeo recalled that Trump regularly urged officials to get the word out that he had not done anything wrong related to Russia. But Pompeo, now secretary of state, said he had no recollection of being asked to stay behind after the March 22 meeting, according to the report.

https://www.newsbreakapp.com/n/0LfqeUcH?s=a99&pd=31667862

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AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s false claims on migrant child deaths

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Catarina Alonzo Perez, the mother of Felipe Gomez Alonzo, the second Guatemalan child this month to die while in U.S. custody near the Mexican border, pauses during an interview in her home in Yalambojoch, Guatemala, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018. Felipe was chosen to make the journey north with his father because he was the oldest son. It didn’t occur to anyone that the road could be dangerous. “I didn’t think of that, because several families had already left and they made it,” Alonzo said. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump twisted circumstances behind the deaths of two migrant Guatemalan children to insulate his administration from any blame, contending without justification that they were in dire health before they reached the border.

Felipe Gomez Alonzo

Felipe Gomez Alonzo , 8,

The children cleared initial U.S. health screenings and one of them was in the U.S. for five days before suddenly showing signs of illness.

His tweets on the deaths in U.S. custody of a 7-year-old girl and an 8-year old boy were his first words on the subject and came with no expression of remorse for what happened. Instead he said their fate shows why the U.S. needs a wall at the Mexican border

TRUMP: “The two … children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn’t given her water in days. Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end.” — tweets Saturday.

THE FACTS: This account is not supported by timelines released by Customs and Border Protection or other sources.

As well, Trump is wrong in saying the father of the girl who died has absolved U.S. officials of responsibility. Through family lawyers, Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz said he made sure his daughter Jakelin had food and water as they traveled through Mexico. The Border Protection timeline on her case says: “The initial screening revealed no evidence of health issues.” And nothing was mentioned about the girl being dehydrated.

The record so far neither establishes that U.S. officials were to blame for the children’s deaths nor clears them of blame, despite Trump’s pronouncement. All the facts are not known, but he rendered what is known inaccurately.

Circumstances are laid out in the Customs and Border Protection accounts of the capture, treatment and deaths of Jakelin Caal, 7, and Felipe Gomez Alonzo , 8, who both came to the border with their fathers:

When Jakelin Caal and her father were caught the evening of Dec. 6, her father described her as in good health and no illness was observed by agents. It’s possible father and daughter did not acknowledge an illness. The next morning, she vomited on a bus waiting to take them to a Border Patrol station, then stopped breathing. Twice revived by Border Patrol personnel, she was then flown by helicopter to an El Paso, Texas, trauma center, went into cardiac arrest and was revived once more. She died Dec. 8 at 12:35 a.m.

Trump’s assertion that both children were very ill before their apprehension is even more flagrantly untethered from the record in the case of Alonzo.

Catarina Alonzo, the boy’s mother, told The Associated Press her son was well and eating chicken after arriving at the U.S. border when she spoke with him by phone.

According to a Border Protection timeline, Felipe and his father, Agustin Gomez, were caught Dec. 18 near El Paso. Agents recorded giving them 23 “welfare checks” — checking on the well-being of father and son — over the next four days. No concern about the boy’s health is noted in the timeline. But on Dec. 24, a day after being transferred to a New Mexico center, the boy was taken to a hospital with a cough and high fever, released after more than five hours with flu medicine, then taken back late that evening. He lost consciousness on the way and doctors could not revive him.

___

BORDER WALL

TRUMP: “I am in the Oval Office & just gave out a 115 mile long contract for another large section of the Wall in Texas.” — tweet Dec. 24.

TRUMP: “Yesterday, I gave out 115 miles’ worth of wall, 115 miles in Texas. It’s going to be built, hopefully rapidly. I’m going there at the end of January for the start of construction.” — remarks to reporters Tuesday.

THE FACTS: He appears to be representing work financed months ago, as new construction. A president cannot simply give out a construction contract. U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers award contracts for border wall construction after Congress approves the money and months have gone into planning.

In March, Congress approved money for 33 miles (53 kilometers) of construction in South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, the busiest corridor for illegal border crossings. The government said in November that construction in the Rio Grande Valley would begin in February. Targeted areas include the nonprofit National Butterfly Center, a state park and privately owned ranches and farmland. Trump’s statement that he plans to visit the site in late January suggests he may be referring to this previously announced construction.

It’s a mystery how he comes up with 115 miles (185 km), and neither the White House nor the Homeland Security Department explained that when asked.

Homeland Security has said the money approved by Congress in March will pay for 84 miles (135 km) altogether along the southern border, including the Texas stretch. If the Trump administration got the entire $5 billion it’s requested from Congress, the administration says that would be enough to build 215 miles (346 km) of barrier.

What’s not a mystery is that Trump has repeatedly exaggerated what’s been accomplished on his campaign promise to build a wall sealing the border with Mexico.

___

MILITARY PAY

TRUMP: “You just got one of the biggest pay raises you ever received. Unless you don’t want it. Does anybody here? Is anybody here willing to give up the big pay raise you just got? I don’t see too many hands. Ah, OK. Don’t give it up. It’s great. You know what? Nobody deserves it more. You haven’t gotten one in more than 10 years. More than 10 years. And we got you a big one. I got you a big one.” — remarks prompting cheers from troops Wednesday at al-Asad Air Base in Iraq.

THE FACTS: He’s wrong about there being no pay increase for service members in more than 10 years and about their raise being especially large. U.S. military members have gotten a pay raise every year for decades. As well, several in the last 10 years have been larger than service members are getting now — 2.4 percent this year and 2.6 percent in 2019. Raises in 2008, 2009 and 2010, for example, were all 3.4 percent or more.

Trump has repeatedly told service members that they’re getting the biggest or only pay raise that they have received in 10 years or more. In May, for example, he told graduates of the United States Naval Academy: “We just got you a big pay raise. First time in 10 years.”

___

TRUMP: “You had plenty of people, they came up, they said, you know we could make it smaller. We could make it 3 percent, we could make it 2 percent, we could make it 4 percent. I said, ‘no, make it 10 percent — make it more than 10 percent.’” — remarks Wednesday at al-Asad base.

THE FACTS: Whatever he might have said at the time, the 2.6 percent for 2019 obviously falls far short of the 10 percent or more that he implied was achieved.

___

IRAN

TRUMP: “For all of the sympathizers out there of Brett McGurk remember, he was the Obama appointee who was responsible for loading up airplanes with 1.8 Billion Dollars in CASH & sending it to Iran as part of the horrific Iran Nuclear Deal (now terminated) approved by Little Bob Corker.” — tweet Monday.

THE FACTS: There are three or more things wrong with this short tweet as he takes a slap at a retiring Republican senator who criticized him, Bob Corker of Tennessee, and a U.S. official who resigned in protest against Trump’s plan to pull troops from Syria, Brett McGurk.

First, Corker was no architect of the 2015 deal between world powers and Iran. He was a leading critic of it in Congress.

He argued at the time that President Barack Obama should have made the pact a treaty subject to approval by the Senate. When Obama didn’t do that, Corker helped fellow senators write legislation that subjected the accord to periodic congressional review. The legislation would have blocked the deal if that effort got enough votes. It didn’t. Obama brought the deal into effect, not Congress.

Corker has sharply criticized Trump, calling him “utterly untruthful” and responsible for “the debasing of our nation.”

Second, branding McGurk an “Obama appointee” is misleading. The veteran diplomat bridges administrations. Republican President George W. Bush appointed him as a senior aide for Iraq and Afghanistan. During the negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal by the Obama administration, McGurk led secret side talks with Tehran on the release of Americans imprisoned there. He is Trump’s envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Syria, but quitting in protest of the troop withdrawal.

As for cash flown to Iran, that’s true, though Trump is off on the amount and leaves out important context: The money was a debt owed to Tehran, which bought military equipment from the U.S. that it never received because relations ruptured when the shah was overthrown in 1979. A cargo plane took $400 million, representing the principal, to the Iranians. The remaining $1.3 billion, representing interest accrued over nearly 40 years, was transferred separately.

The diplomatic break meant that a variety of debts between the two countries went uncollected and became the subject of international arbitration. As part of that process, Iran paid settlements of more than $2.5 billion to U.S. citizens and businesses over the years.

___

Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant in Houston and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Border Protection information on Jakelin Caal: https://www.cbp.gov/newsroom/speeches-and-statements/statement-us-customs-and-border-protection-death-seven-year-old

Border Protection information on Felipe Gomez Alonzo: https://www.dhs.gov/news/2018/12/25/cbp-shares-additional-information-about-recent-passing-guatemalan-child

Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd

US university’s 44th list of words it would like to banish

News

Lake Superior State University’s 44th annual list of words nominated for banishment by members of the public:

–Wheelhouse

— In the books

— Wrap my head around

— Platform

— Collusion

— OTUS family of acronyms (such as POTUS, FLOTUS, SCOTUS)

— Ghosting

— Yeet

— Litigate

— Grapple

— Eschew

— Crusty

— Optics

— Legally drunk

–Thought leader

— Unpack

— Importantly

— Accoutrements

— Most important election of our time

Associated Press

Trump asks 7-year-old, ‘Are you still a believer in Santa?’

Celebrity Gists

By Eric Levenson, CNN

At what age do children wonder whether Santa really exists?President Donald Trump would like to know.In a Christmas Eve call, Trump asked a 7-year-old named Coleman whether the child still believes in Santa Claus.”Are you still a believer in Santa? Because at 7, it’s marginal, right?”

Trump asked Coleman.Coleman’s response, though inaudible to the press, left Trump with a chuckle and a smile.The call came around 6:30 p.m. Monday as the President and first lady Melania Trump spoke on separate phones to children whose calls to NORAD had been patched through to the White House lines.

The Trumps answer calls from people to the NORAD Santa tracker phone line Monday at the White House.

The Trumps answer calls from people to the NORAD Santa tracker phone line Monday at the White House.In front of a crackling fire and between two Christmas trees, Trump wished Coleman a Merry Christmas and asked the child’s age and Christmas plans and wondered how school was going.”Well, honey, happy Christmas, and you just take care of yourself and say hello to your family, OK? Say hello to everybody,” Trump said.In another phone call, Trump took a child’s belief in Santa as a given.”What’s Santa going to get you for Christmas?” he asked, according to pool reports. “Have a great Christmas, and I’ll talk to you again, OK?”Melania Trump said on Twitter that helping children track Santa “is becoming one of my favorite traditions!” The couple participated in phone calls last year as well.

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Melania Trump@FLOTUS

Helping children across the country track #Santa is becoming one of my favorite traditions! @Potus and I enjoyed working with @NORADSanta#ChristmasEve92.2K7:13 PM – Dec 24, 201834.5K people are talking about thisTwitter Ads info and privacyNORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has made a tradition of using its radar system to track Santa on his trip around the globe every Christmas Eve.The tradition, which began with a phone line mix-up in 1955, continued this year despite the ongoing government shutdown.

CNN’s Aaron Pellish contributed to this report.

North Korea warns U.S. as it suspends South Korea talks over military drills — FOX2now.com

News

WASHINGTON — North Korea says the US should carefully consider the fate of the North Korea-US summit, in view of what it calls “provocative military disturbances with South Korea,” North Korea’s state news agency reported early Wednesday local time.

WASHINGTON — North Korea says the US should carefully consider the fate of the North Korea-US summit, in view of what it calls “provocative military disturbances with South Korea,” North Korea’s state news agency reported early Wednesday local time.

The warning comes as KCNA reported North Korea has suspended talks with South Korea because of a joint military drill conducted by South Korea and the US.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert defended joint US-South Korean military exercises Tuesday and said the US had not heard of any disruptions to either the planned exercises or the upcoming summit.

While media reports were just emerging as she took the briefing room podium, Nauert said, “We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” she cautioned to reporters. “This news just came out. We need to verify it to get additional information on that but we’re going forward in planning our meetings next month.”

A senior administration official told CNN that President Donald Trump has been alerted to the warning about the fate of the June 12 summit in Singapore and that the White House is preparing a response.

Meetings are underway now between White House officials, the National Security Council and Defense Department, the official said.

Talks between the Koreas were set to resume Wednesday.

The KCNA report said the Max Thunder 2018 air combat drill was against the Panmunjom declaration — signed last month between the Koreas — wherein they agreed to cease all hostile acts against each other.

KCNA labeled the Max Thunder drills a “deliberate provocation.”

Back in March, when South Korea’s national security adviser told reporters at the White House that Kim had invited Trump to meet, he also said that Kim “understands that the routine joint military exercises between the Republic of Korea and the United States must continue.”

via North Korea warns U.S. as it suspends South Korea talks over military drills — FOX2now.com

The homeland security chief told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her in a cabinet meeting over border security

international News, law enforcement, News

homeland-bb86f416-da0d-11e7-b1a8-62589434a581.jpg

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, told colleagues she was close to resigning after President Trump berated her on Wednesday in front of the entire cabinet for what he said was her failure to adequately secure the nation’s borders, according to several current and former officials familiar with the incident.

Ms. Nielsen, who is a protégée of John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, has drafted a resignation letter but has not submitted it, according to two of the people.

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‘Yesterday Was Not a Good Day.’ Novartis CEO Says Hiring Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Was a Mistake — Fortune

News

Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said the Swiss drugmaker “made a mistake” in signing up lawyer Michael Cohen to give the company insight on President Donald Trump’s health-care plans.

“Yesterday was not a good day for Novartis,” Narasimhan wrote to employees Thursday in a letter reviewed by Bloomberg News. A day earlier, the drug company said it had paid $1.2 million to a firm led by Cohen, who is at the center of a U.S. law enforcement probe, as well as a civil lawsuit related to payments to an exotic dancer.

“We made a mistake in entering into this engagement and, as a consequence are being criticized by a world that expects more from us,” Narasimhan said in the letter. “What defines us now is how we respond to this difficult situation.”

Novartis hired Cohen’s company in 2017. The company said it quickly determined that the lawyer’s firm would be unable to provide the services it anticipated and decided not to engage further, but was contractually bound to keep making monthly payments of $100,000.

While Novartis said it got little from Cohen, the arrangement dragged Novartis nvs into Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into suspected Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. The company said it was contacted by Mueller’s office in November, though now considers its role in that inquiry closed.

The latest developments come just as the company seeks to move beyond a string of legal troubles and its new CEO looks to reshape the company’s culture and reputation. Separately, AT&T t paid Cohen up to $600,000 for insights and asked him to look into its proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner twx as it sought government antitrust approval, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Novartis shares fell 0.5% in early trading in Zurich, having dropped 6% this year.

Narasimhan, a 13-year company veteran, took the helm earlier this year, replacing Joe Jimenez. He said in his letter that he went to sleep “frustrated and tired” and woke up “full of determination.”

“I look to you to remain resilient and keep your focus on serving patients,” he said.

via ‘Yesterday Was Not a Good Day.’ Novartis CEO Says Hiring Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen Was a Mistake — Fortune

Firm Tied to Russian Oligarch Made Payments to Michael Cohen

international News, News
Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s lawyer and fixer. His shell company received payments from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch, as well as corporations with business before the Trump administration.CreditBrendan Mcdermid/Reuters

A shell company that Michael D. Cohen used to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration, according to documents and interviews.

Financial records reviewed by The New York Times show that Mr. Cohen, President Trump’s personal lawyer and longtime fixer, used the shell company, Essential Consultants L.L.C., for an array of business activities that went far beyond what was publicly known. Transactions adding up to at least $4.4 million flowed through Essential Consultants starting shortly before Mr. Trump was elected president and continuing to this January, the records show.

Among the previously unreported transactions were payments last year of about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the Russian oligarch. A lawyer for Columbus Nova, in a statement on Tuesday, described the money as a consulting fee that had nothing to do with Mr. Vekselberg.

Other transactions described in the financial records include hundreds of thousands of dollars Mr. Cohen received from Fortune 500 companies with business before the Trump administration, as well as smaller amounts he paid for luxury expenses like a Mercedes-Benz and private club dues.

References to the transactions first appeared in a document posted to Twitter on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stephanie Clifford, the adult film star who was paid $130,000 by Essential Consultants to keep quiet about an alleged affair with Mr. Trump. The lawyer’s seven-page document, titled “Preliminary Report of Findings,” does not explain the source of his information but describes in detail dates, dollar amounts and parties involved in various dealings by Mr. Cohen and his company. Most of the transactions involved two banks: First Republic Bank and City National Bank.

The Times’s review of financial records confirmed much of what was in Mr. Avenatti’s report. In addition, a review of documents and interviews shed additional light on Mr. Cohen’s dealings with the company connected to Mr. Vekselberg, who was stopped and questioned at an airport earlier this year by investigators for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Taken together, The Times’s findings and Mr. Avenatti’s report offer the most detailed picture yet on Mr. Cohen’s business dealings and financial entanglements in the run-up to the election and its aftermath. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating Mr. Cohen for possible bank fraud and election-law violations, among other matters, according to people briefed on the investigation. Stephen Ryan, a lawyer representing Mr. Cohen, declined to comment.

merlin_137864961_53a07143-4c80-4668-a4ee-30bc217ed8de-superJumboViktor Vekselberg, left, the Russian oligarch, with Marat Khusnullin, deputy mayor of Moscow, before the inauguration ceremony of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia this week.CreditAlexey Filippov/Sputnik, via Associated Press

Ms. Clifford, whose stage name is Stormy Daniels, is suing Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump to break her nondisclosure agreement related to the $130,000.

It is unclear whether that or any of the other transactions were improper, but Mr. Avenatti has asserted that Mr. Cohen’s use of Essential Consultants potentially violated banking laws. The financial records indicate that at least some of the money that passed through Essential Consultants was from sources and in amounts that were inconsistent with the company’s stated purpose.

Mr. Cohen also used the company to collect $250,000 after arranging payments in 2017 and 2018 by a major Republican donor, Elliott Broidy, to a former Playboy model he allegedly impregnated, according to news reports last month.

Among the other payments to Mr. Cohen’s company described in the financial records were four for $99,980 each between October and January by Novartis Investments S.A.R.L., a subsidiary of Novartis, the multinational pharmaceutical giant based in Switzerland. Novartis — whose chief executive was among 15 business leaders invited to dinner with Mr. Trump at the World Economic Forum in January — spent more than $10 million on lobbying in Washington last year and frequently seeks approvals from federal drug regulators. Novartis said in a statement that its agreement with Essential Consultants had expired.

In addition, Korea Aerospace Industries paid Mr. Cohen’s company $150,000 last November, according to the records. The company, an aircraft manufacturer, has teamed with the American defense contractor Lockheed Martin in competing for a multibillion-dollar contract to provide trainer jets for the United States Air Force that is expected to be awarded this year. A representative for Korea Aerospace declined to comment.

AT&T made four payments totaling $200,000 between October 2017 and January 2018, according to the documents. AT&T, whose proposed merger with Time Warner is pending before the Justice Department, issued a statement on Tuesday evening confirming that it made payments to Mr. Cohen’s firm.

“Essential Consulting was one of several firms we engaged in early 2017 to provide insights into understanding the new administration,” the statement said. “They did no legal or lobbying work for us, and the contract ended in December 2017.”

The payments by Columbus Nova occurred between January and August of last year. Andrew Intrater, the company’s American chief executive and Mr. Vekselberg’s cousin, donated $250,000 to Mr. Trump’s inauguration,campaign finance records show. He and Mr. Vekselberg attended the event together and met with Mr. Cohen there, according to a person briefed on the matter. Columbus Nova retained him as a consultant soon afterward.

A person close to Mr. Intrater said that the executive had no idea Essential Consultants was used for the separate payment to Ms. Clifford, and that he hired a number of other consultants at the time for similar prices.

“Columbus Nova is an investment management company solely owned and controlled by Americans,” said Richard Owens, a lawyer for Mr. Intrater and Columbus Nova, adding that Mr. Vekselberg has never owned the firm. “After the inauguration, the firm hired Michael Cohen as a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.

“Reports today that Viktor Vekselberg used Columbus Nova as a conduit for payments to Michael Cohen are false. The claim that Viktor Vekselberg was involved in or provided any funding for Columbus Nova’s engagement of Michael Cohen is patently untrue,” Mr. Owens said. “Neither Viktor Vekselberg nor anyone else outside of Columbus Nova was involved in the decision to hire Cohen or provided funding for his engagement.”

A lawyer for Mr. Vekselberg did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to questioning Mr. Vekselberg, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have also interviewed Mr. Intrater, though there is no indication that either man is suspected of wrongdoing, The Times reported last week.

The person close to Mr. Intrater said that he was encouraged to attend the inauguration by an American friend, unrelated to Mr. Cohen, and that he had wanted to use the trip as an opportunity to meet with business associates in Washington.

Mr. Vekselberg has invested in Columbus Nova’s private equity funds through his sprawling Russian-based conglomerate, the Renova Group, which operates in the energy sector and elsewhere. Mr. Vekselberg was one of seven Kremlin-linked oligarchs hit with sanctions in April by the Trump administration, which also imposed the penalties on the Renova Group.

Renova has had a financial relationship with VTB, one of the largest state-owned banks in Russia, according to documents that were part of the “Panama Papers” leak of files from an offshore law firm. The documents show that Mr. Vekselberg’s companies received at least $350 million in loans or investments from VTB and a subsidiary, VTB Capital. The current state of the debt is unclear, though one document suggests it was discharged in 2010.

 

But last week, former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani of New York said that Mr. Trump had reimbursed Mr. Cohen through several $35,000 monthly transactions that amounted to more than $400,000 — covering the payment to Ms. Clifford and, he said, other “incidental expenses.”

Reporting was contributed by Matt Apuzzo, Emily Flitter, Adam Goldman, Sharon LaFraniere, William K. Rashbaum and Katie Thomas.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Trail of Money Leading to Cohen.

Trump’s 2026 Tweet – unpacking a loaded message — The Florida Squeeze

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US President Donald Trump waded into the debate over hosting rights for the 2026 FIFA World Cup on Thursday, in a manner than only the current occupant of the White House can. The interpretation of and fallout from this tweet has dominated much of the global (non-US) news cycle the last 48 hours. For example, I was on an Arabic-language TV program based in Doha yesterday for viewers in the Middle East and North Africa where this was basically the sole point of discussion in the half hour program (FYI I don’t speak Arabic- my answers were translated into English).

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FIFA quickly responded – this tweet from Reuters Manchester-based reporter Simon Evans (who was based in Miami for nine years recently) summed up FIFA’s feelings.

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It’s interesting and revealing that FIFA responded so quickly – the governing body for world football which has been mired in corruption scandals over the last decade and has been the subject of an extensive DOJ and FBI investigation rejects any interference of governmental interference in the sport YET regularly wants to see strong government support for its initiatives especially bids for major competitions, such as this. It can be argued Trump is in an aggressive manner stating the support of the US government for the US-led North American bid. However, in classic Trump style he threatens those who don’t fall in line.

The US-led bid which was considered a slam dunk four months ago has run into trouble in competition with Morocco (who have four times previously bid to host the FIFA World Cup and all four times have been denied) in recent weeks. The Moroccans have cultivated support among sub-Saharan African nations, other Arab nations and French-speaking countries, making their bid very viable from a vote-getting perspective. Meanwhile, the US bid has suffered from a lack of creativity or compelling reasons why the world’s biggest team sporting event should return to North America for the first time in three decades. Much like the failed 2022 FIFA World Cup bid by the US which was fronted by former President Bill Clinton, the US’ logic for being selected is almost entirely based on economics.

The excuse of the US’ diminishing global standing thanks to Donald Trump has been frequently given by those around the sport in North America – a set of people whose politics generally lean sharply to the left anyhow. While Trump’s behavior and presence hasn’t helped the US-led bid in any manner it appears, the effort was already in trouble due to arrogance, entitlement and other problems related to the governance of the sport in the United States. Trump’s ill-advised tweet might just now serve as an excuse to allow those who have let the bid fall into danger of failure off the hook.

The main appeal from American-based supporters of the united North American bid is that FIFA and its member nations can make more money playing in large American stadiums than in smaller Moroccan ones. Also an implicit threat that FIFA will be considered forever corrupt if the US-led bid isn’t chosen has been floated frequently. While the US authorities began investigating FIFA aggressively during the Obama Administration, the governing body for the sport in this country which has been unaffected by these investigations has its own legal problems. The US Soccer Federation currently faces multiple lawsuits including one for alleged antitrust violations as well a filling in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) that alleges that the US does not follow FIFA statutes with regards to the organization of its professional league structure.

These issues weight heavily on the minds of those around the game not in North America, and have impacted the viability of the US-led bid. But an effort has been made to blame any and all problems on the presence of Donald Trump, and in classic Trump fashion he just gave those looking to make this case a sword to stab him with.

via Trump’s 2026 Tweet – unpacking a loaded message — The Florida Squeeze

High-Level Judge & Fmr Trump Campaign Chair Sentenced to Prison for Sex Trafficking Children — Truther’s World

News

A top level judge who used his position of authority to prey on young girls has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for dozens of counts of child trafficking and sex abuse.

Newport, KY — Former District Court Judge and school board member Tim Nolan plead guilty to 21 counts of human trafficking in February and this week, he was sentenced to 20 years behind bars.

In court it was revealed that the judge threatened young women and girls under the age of 18 with arrest to force them into sex. On one occasion a victim was living on his property and he forced to evict her if she did not have sex with him. He also gave numerous victims heroin.

During the sentencing, Prosecutor Barbara Whaley read statements from some of the women in court. Whaley noted that seven of the 19 victims were under 16 years old.

“Tim Nolan, I want to say, you ruined my life,” one teenage victim wrote in her letter.“You ruined my childhood teenage years and made me lose hope. I hate you.”

“I was forced to stay in his apartment in Alexandria and was told if I ever left, he would call the police and I would go back to jail because I was on the run,” wrote one victim. “I ended up turning myself in because jail was better than one more second spent with Tim Nolan.”

As TFTP reported at the time of his arrest, Judge Tim Nolan of California, Kentucky represented District 5 on the Campbell County School Board. He served at the chair of the 2016 Donald Trump campaign in Campbell County.

During Trump’s presidential run in 2016, Judge Nolan was serving as the chair of his campaign. The alleged sex trafficking occurred in August of 2016 — while Nolan was working on the Trump campaign.

As RCN reports, Nolan is an outspoken and controversial figure in local politics. In 2016, he sued the creator of GOPfacts.org, which took aim at Nolan and others, and specifically referred to Nolan as a vehement racist and posted a photo that purported to be of Nolan in a Ku Klux Klan robe.

Nolan was appointed by Governor Matt Bevin to the Kentucky Boxing and Wrestling Commission but was removed only days later when the Klu Klux Klan scandal erupted.

Unlike Governor Bevin, however, Trump did not remove the Judge from his campaign.

Among the charges that Nolan pleaded guilty to were human trafficking, attempted human trafficking and giving drugs and alcohol to minors. According to charges read in court, Nolan told one of his victims that he would “call his friends in the FBI and other law enforcement to arrest her.”

After the original guilty plea, Nolan claimed he was innocent and attempted to delay sentencing multiple ways, including firing his attorney in March and trying to withdraw his guilty plea, according to WSMV. 

However, on Friday, he apologized and promised to seek treatment.

“I’m so sorry for my crimes, even though I’m a first-time offender with a low-risk to re-offend,” Nolan said, as if to imply the decades of preying on children somehow made him a “first-time offender.”

“I resolve to fight my demons and addictions and not repeat my immoral behavior,” Nolan said. “Obviously the lack of sound judgment and yielding to physical impulse must never be repeated.”

“The punishment in this case does not undo the trauma inflicted on the victims, but it brings closure and some justice. I want to thank the Campbell County Police Department and our special prosecutions team for working this case,” Attorney General Andy Beshear in a statement.

As TFTP reported, before he fired her in March, Nolan’s attorney, Margo Grubbs, actually tried to downplay the charges that her client pleaded guilty to.

“He took full personal responsibility for these acts that in his potential day and generation would not necessarily be considered to rise to the level of human trafficking,” Grubbs said.

She also accused the victims of lying, despite Nolan’s guilty plea.

“I’m saying the underlying facts as alleged by victims do not necessarily equate to what really happened, because we all know in life there are two sides to every story. The sad part of it is, often times the criminal defendant finds themselves at an insurmountable obstacle in order to prove complete innocence,” Grubbs said.

Her comments are insanely ironic considering the fact that Nolan spent his career presiding over the cases of nonviolent offenders, where they were sent to jail in situations where it was impossible to prove they’re innocent. It is likely that Nolan did not give this a second thought when the shoe was on the other foot.

In February, Grubbs suggested that his position as a government figure should should somehow absolve him of his crimes, despite the fact that he used his position to get away with them.

“Mr. Nolan has been a public servant to the people of Campbell County for a majority of his life, and at some point there has to be a redemption for those who committed offenses but has to be balanced by what they have given,” she said.

Luckily, the prosecution did not see it that way and this predator will be removed from society. Unfortunately, however, he will be eligible for parole in just four years.

Source: https://thefreethoughtproject.com/high-level-judge-fmr-trump-campaign-chair-sentenced-to-prison-for-sex-trafficking-children/

via High-Level Judge & Fmr Trump Campaign Chair Sentenced to Prison for Sex Trafficking Children — Truther’s World

Trump slams Kerry over ‘shadow diplomacy’ to save Iran deal -CNN

News, Politics

President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday to condemn former Secretary of State John Kerry for engaging in “shadow diplomacy” to try to preserve the Iran nuclear deal by holding meetings and speaking with major players, who, like Kerry, do not want Trump to withdraw the US from the agreement.

Image result for Kerry and Zarif, photos

Then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Speaks With Hossein Fereydoun, the brother of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif before Press conference in Vienna, July 14, 2015
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Kerry met with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the United Nations in New York two weeks ago, their second meeting in about two months, to discuss ways of keeping the deal limiting Iran’s nuclear weapons program intact, according to two sources familiar with the interactions.
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The former secretary of state also met last month with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, separately sat down with French President Emmanuel Macron and spoke on the phone with European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, the sources told CNN.
The Boston Globe was first to report Kerry’s meetings with Zarif, Steinmeier and Mogherini.
Trump slammed Kerry’s reported engagement on Monday.
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“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal. He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” Trump tweeted.
But a Kerry spokesman pushed back against Trump’s remarks in a statement on Monday.
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“I think every American would want every voice possible urging Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear agreement that prevented a war. Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous Secretary of State,” said the spokesman in a written statement. “Like America’s closest allies, he believes it is important that the nuclear agreement, which took the world years to negotiate, remain effective as countries focus on stability in the region.”
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Kerry’s interactions with Iranian officials won’t affect the Iran nuclear deal, the White House said on Monday.
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“I don’t think it impacts it at all. The President spoke out about that pretty clearly, and I don’t think that we would take advice from somebody who created what the President sees to be one of the worst deals ever made,” press secretary Sarah Sanders said. “I’m not sure why we would start listening to him now.”
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Kerry has also quietly lobbied members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, placing dozens of phone calls in recent weeks.
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Professor Saikrishna Prakash, who teaches constitutional and foreign relations law at the University of Virginia School of Law, said the 200 year-old Logan act is not something that is prosecuted.
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“Both sides just trot this out whenever the other side has some sort of communication with a foreign government,” he noted. “It’s more a political charge than it is anything serious.”
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Prakash says there are two reasons the Justice Department would be weary of going after Kerry. First, it risks drawing additional attention to alleged violations by members of the Trump administration during the transition, and second, if the charges don’t stick they could have “egg on their faces.”
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Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif and Russian FM Lavrov
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“It’s definitely a political football,” Prakash said.
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During his Friday speech to the National Rifle Association, Trump attacked Kerry for his initial role in negotiating the Iran deal, which Trump called “horrible.”
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“And we have the former administration as represented by John Kerry, not the best negotiator we’ve ever seen,” Trump said. “He never walked away from the table, except to be in that bicycle race where he fell and broke his leg.”
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The Trump administration faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to continue waiving sanctions on Iran that were lifted under the 2015 Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
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Trump tweeted Monday that he “will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00 pm.”
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https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/07/politics/john-kerry-iran-deal-shadow-diplomacy/index.html

via Trump slams Kerry over ‘shadow diplomacy’ to save Iran deal — Peace and Freedom

The Heartbreak of Kanye West By Dream Hampton

Celebrity Gists, Entertainment, News

akaIt seems so long ago, but it has been only a week since Mr. West came out of the closet as the same-dragon-loving, Trump-supporting, slave-shaming, alt-fact fire breather. Last weekend’s “Saturday Night Live,” hosted by the actor and musician Donald Glover, turned Mr. West’s weeklong trolling into the horror film it felt like. But ending the week laughing at Mr. Glover’s sendup of Mr. West hasn’t made watching him unravel any less infuriating or heartbreaking.

Mr. West thought his recent return to Twitter after an almost yearlong hiatus, with relentless contrarian, stream-of consciousness tweets from the minuscule Negro corner of the alt-right world, would read like a takeover of Twitter. But that’s not how the platform works. Black Twitter runs Twitter, and Black Twitter swiftly handed Mr. West his lunch. Mr. West was reading the blowback and did exactly what a person does when he or she is losing — he dug in.

Black Twitter had seen that show before when Mr. West posed for cameras in the lobby of Trump Tower in December 2016 after being hospitalized. The anger at the rapper was because he has allowed himself to be a useful idiot for a useful idiot.

Like Mr. Trump, who also brags about not reading books, Mr. West is parroting the racist right-wing talking points he has learned from watching YouTube videos. The same white power wing nuts who trolled him for years as a way of defending Taylor Swift’s honor are now over the moon to hear the rapper blame President Barack Obama for not ameliorating gang violence in Chicago, to see Mr. West at the office of the gossip website TMZ blaming his own enslaved ancestors for their enslavement.

 

Because the trolls won the election, their dangerous drivel sometimes becomes policy, as the musician John Legend tried to tell Mr. West in a series of reasonable texts that Mr. West immediately published. Those talking points from Alex Jones and company perpetuate mass criminalization and incarceration, deportation and worse.

Image
Kanye West and President-elect Trump at Trump Tower in 2016.CreditTimothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When a poll shows 20 percent of Trump supporters would have opposed the freeing of slaves, it’s more than a fun punctuation ending the night on cable news. Those talking points run in tandem with textbooks used in Texas schools that describe slaves as “workers” and their journey to America as “immigration.” The denial of the sadism and brutality of slavery is perpetuated when there’s “another side” arguing to keep statues and symbols of the Confederacy in public places, and when plantation tours explain the generosity with which slave owners cared for their chattel. 

When Mr. Legend and Mr. West later demonstrated their lasting friendship by publishing pictures of themselves at a baby shower “despite their differences,” they advanced the fiction that theirs are two equal but divergent viewpoints. They are not. There is the same old white supremacy that denies black humanity, and there are people who struggle mightily against white supremacy and for black life.

It would be unfair to call Mr. West’s public outbursts mere stunts. He was right about the MTV Video Music Awards best female video of 2009. Beyoncé should have won. Mr. West was at his most profound in 2005 when he said George Bush doesn’t care about black people after that president did a flyby of the poor and black victims of New Orleans’s levee failure.

akim-kardashian-west-superJumbo-v4When Hurricane Katrina happened, Mr. West was a new artist and his “College Dropout” was an album that helped give millennials a clear sense of identity. He wrote about being insecure, about not being comfortable managing his new money and visibility. That honesty was refreshing. His self-reflection and self-diagnosis felt familiar to a generation that drafted dozens of confessionals a day on social media.

Kids who were in high school and younger when Mr. West made his debut connected with him more than they did with M.C.s like Jay-Z or even Tupac Shakur or Biggie Smalls, who deserve respect but belonged to another era. 50 Cent seemed a Neanderthal compared with the nerdy, backpack-wearing Mr. West.

Mr. West rose as the economy collapsed, and his open insecurity spoke to a generation whose struggle was the housing market collapse, not a crack epidemic. He is the son of a single mother, a professor who raised him abroad for a semester or two in China. His story was more like President Obama’s than 50 Cent’s.

This new generation didn’t necessarily believe in crowns, but Mr. West was their guy, and almost immediately after being chosen, he began to collapse from the pressure.

We’ve seen Mr. West melt down before. His 2013 radio interview with the journalist Sway was as unhinged as Mr. Trump’s recent call-in to “Fox & Friends.” Mr. Trump and Mr. West both seemed to want the same thing in those tirades — to be recognized as gods. Mr. Trump roared into the phone about the Breitbart calculator he uses to argue voter fraud cost him the popular vote. The rapper screamed at Sway, who seemed unwilling to concede that Mr. West is the greatest artist of his generation. Or maybe Mr. West was arguing he was the greatest artist of any generation. It’s hard to remember. We got a harmless new pop culture refrain from the interview — “How, Sway?” — and mostly moved on.

But unlike Mr. Trump’s call, Mr. West’s interview with Sway was videotaped. We were witnessing something more than his outsize ego doing battle with his mammoth insecurity. His refusal to make eye contact with Sway was particularly off-putting. He spent the hour talking to the heavens — not to the interviewer, not even to the audience. Absent was the wink and nod embedded in Muhammad Ali’s news conference performances, where he talked about himself in the third person and invented the kind of braggadocio that would become hip-hop’s bedrock. Watching Mr. West during that interview, some of us began to worry about his mental health.

Like most of his fans, I’m not qualified or interested in actually attempting to diagnose an illness in Mr. West. He has shared with us that he has been medicated and hospitalized. He has also told us that his recent Twitter rant is unconnected to his mental health, that he is fine. His performance at TMZ was similar to his interview with Sway. It wasn’t until Van Lathan, on the staff there, interrupted to take him on about slavery that Mr. West even seemed present in the room, and that was truly heartbreaking to watch.

But what was dangerous was the way Mr. West included Candace Owens, an alt-right darling, a black woman and puppet, on his broadcast from the TMZ office. Her participation was most likely arranged by alt-right operatives. A Black Lives Matter strategist hypothesized as much on his Facebook page when he noticed white power operatives taking credit for connecting the two.

With uncharacteristic generosity, Mr. West ceded the mic to Ms. Owens, who allows a racist, misogynist movement to hold her up as evidence that it is neither. Mr. Trump’s speechwriters made sure to include Mr. West in his recent speech to the National Rifle Association, thanking the rapper for “doubling” his approval numbers among black people. He was referring to a real poll, but he got it wrong. The doubling was only among black men, from 11 percent to 22 percent (with a margin of error of nine points).

Mr. West barely owned the entire week. R. Kelly had some karma delivered to his front door, and the fascist, feeble Rudy Giuliani had his moments, embarrassing himself. But Mr. West’s shrill missives from the monochromatic sunken place that is his mansion may be consequential in ways he can’t fathom.

Dream Hampton (@dreamhampton) is a filmmaker and writer.

The New York Times Opinion

After Banning Trump from Attending, McCain Now Wants Barack Obama To Give Eulogy at His Funeral

Politics, relationship

Politics Security After Banning Trump from Attending, McCain Now Wants Barack Obama To Give Eulogy at His Funeral A beloved Democrat Republican U.S. Senator is making additional plans to his funeral, asking Barack Obama to deliver a eulogy, while forbidding President Trump from attending. John McCain is busy now planning his funeral. He hasn’t been […]

https://wp.me/p4G21n-6NsY

Kim Kardashian West has talked to the White House about pardoning a nonviolent drug offender 

Celebrity Gists, Entertainment, News

 

Kim Kardashian West and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner have spoken over the phone about a possible presidential pardon for Alice Marie Johnson, a 62-year-old great-grandmother serving a life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense.
The telephone calls, according to a source with knowledge of the conversations, have taken place over the course of the past several months and have picked up in intensity over the last several days. A representative for Kardashian West confirmed to Mic that she has been in communication with the White House and is working to bring Johnson’s case to the president’s desk.
Johnson, who has been in federal prison since October 1996, has captured international attention from criminal reform activists — and Kardashian West.
Kardashian West first learned about Johnson’s case from a Mic video published in October. Kardashian West shared it on Twitter, and the video has since been viewed more than 8 million times.
Still, it appears the only clear path for Johnson’s release would be a presidential pardon or clemency — which could come at odds with Trump’s recent proposal to impose the death penalty for certain drug dealers.
By Jake Horowitz and Kendall Ciesemier

Journalist Blocked from Asking Questions at Buhari-Trump Briefing in Washington

Africa, News, PMB, Politics

 

A Nigerian freelance Journalsit based in Washington, D.C, has revealed the staged public appearance of the Nigerian President at the Rose Garden with his host, President Trump to meet the world media. He maintained that he tried severally to ask president Muhammadu Buhari question during his state briefing with U.S president, Donal Trump at the White House yesterday.
According to the reporter, Simon Ateba who was among other journalists present at the briefing , he was prevented by a lady from asking a question as he realized that the president had already been given questions which were meant to be  asked.

He shared his experience  on Facebook.

“I did not ask a question today to President Trump or President Buhari because the White House has a protocol. It asks every President to choose 2 journalists who will ask them questions. Nigerian questions went through the Nigerian Embassy.
The President was told what they will ask him. I felt sad. I raised my hand and President Trump came close to making me ask my question. One Nigerian lady in New York was hitting me in the back not to ask a question. It was not my day here in the Rose Garden inside the White House in Washington DC. But after the questions were asked, I realized that I may be playing on a different league. I thank God.  Being independent in journalism is crucial. But sustaining it is hard without enough ads. When the government flies you to DC, lodges you and promises you money, it’s hard to do serious journalism work. But I thank God for blessing”.

US President says killing of Christians in Nigeria is unacceptable

2019 Elections, Africa, Herdsmen, News, PMB, Politics, Power, Terrorism

The meeting in the Rose Garden between Presidents Buhari and Trump was very coordial and filled with good tidings for Nigerians and American interests. While all were smooth the American president sounded a note of serious warning on ending the herdsmen violence in Nigeria. President Buhari said his administration is working to address the herdsmen killings across Nigeria.

Trump says killing of Christians in Nigeria is unacceptableplayUS President Donald Trump asked Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari to support the US bid for the 2026 World Cup

 

United States President, Donald Trump has condemned the killing of Christians in Nigeria, saying it is unacceptable. Trump stated this while hosting Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari at the White House on Monday, April 30.

“We have had very serious problems with Christians who are being murdered in Nigeria, we are going to be working on that problem very, very hard because we cannot allow that to happen,” he said.

Speaking earlier, Buhari said his administration is working to address the farmers and herdsmen killings and to checkmate illegal cross-border activities.

President Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The Nigerian leader thanked the US government for approving the sale of military hardware to Nigeria as part of its support for the anti-Boko Haram war.

The Renegade Fulani and Nigeria Homeland Security:

Boko Haram, News, Nigeria, Terrorism

We all grew up to seeing the Fulani Herdsmen in our communities; armed with sticks, Knives in Scabbards and Long machetes hanging from their shoulders. The picture should have scared another group of kids but we all rarely get into altercation with the cow herders as they always stayed out of the city and mind their businesses.

Years later, when as a graduate of Economics from the Great University of Lagos  I was posted to serve the country in Yobe State, Northeast Nigeria in October 1995, I was a bit reluctant to traverse one of the longest distance in Nigeria and clearly at a loss. I really didn’t know anything about the culture and ways of the Kanuri people leaving in those areas. My father of blessed memory and few Yoruba elders around bolstered my courage and within two weeks of graduation, I was in Portiskum for NYSC orientation. The experience was educational, I became part of the Kanuri culture and went on to spend 3 years in Mangawa lands of Yusufari, Gasha and Damaturu as a young single man.

My first experience of the marauding herdsmen that changed my understanding of the violent nature of the Fulanis happened in Yusufari. Farmers were attacked in their farms and a whole village was burnt down by herdsmen. The casualties and few survivors from the Kumagana attack were brought to the Yusufari Health Center, which was just behind my house. The sight was horrendous, devastating, and completely horrifying. My first sight of effects of bullets and arrows on human anatomy, were so bad that I had to run to the toilet to empty my bowel. I was so shaken that I was tempted to pack my bags and leave my new lodge barely three months into the one year national service.

By 1997, the herdsmen attacks were reported to have degenerated from robbing and killing farmers into full scale armed robbery on major highways in the area. Several cases of robberies were reported on the Kano-Portiskum and Jos – Portiskum roads. The new name for these marauders was the ‘Konta-Konta’. They were deadly, unforgiving and easy to the trigger. Many travelers lost their lives to these attacks warranting the government to create a joint patrol ‘Operation Kura’ to dislodge the criminal elements.

Gradually, the herdsmen attacks and cow rustling had continued over the years, one major factor contributing to its growth has been economical, and truth be told newer social orientation. The Fulani are sendatory, they rarely live in social groups. They are known to exist in family groups and ownership of cattle has been their status symbol for decades. My experience with the Fulani were peaceful. The people are never influenced by their surrounding as they rarely venture into the mainstream of societies around them. They are different and remained enigma to their hosts.

The Fulani like most tribes in Africa have continued to be affected by globalization and socio-economic environmental challenges of the 21st century. Apparent desertification, expansion of the Sahara Desert and the receding Chad Basin have conspired to challenge their main trade and the need for survival has brought the Fulani more into the hinterland. Increased need to adapt to newer realities in an ever-changing society would have been a huge challenge to the herders. Impervious to societal legal restraints and political authority, the Fulani in our towns and villages are possibly challenged, feel too bugged down by rules and completely oppressed.

Increased access to health and social resource have also contributed to a burgeoning youth population in Nigeria and many states in Africa leading to more pressure on an economic that stopped growing since the seventies. Increased population in the Fulani community not paired with substantial expansion in cattle stocks must have created a new Fulani youth without cattle. Imagine a Fulani living without a herd, what else is this new group qualified for?

Before we started running out to Libya to assuage meaning to the ongoing daily killings by the herdsmen in our midst, I think we should join the president in sorting out the wheat from the shaft. Will somebody up there in the corridor of power please whisper to the president, the fact that there have been an emergence of a new class of lawless Fulani without any cattle and source of income that have become menace to our society. Accessing the issue from this angle will allow us to understand the issue from a criminal point of view. These renegades are criminals and should be treated in like manner. It shouldn’t be an issue if they are Fulani or Yoruba. Any groups that come all out to destabilize the peace of the Nigerian homeland should be with all state’s law enforcement apparatus at our disposal.

 

Probably, the predominance of men of Fulani extraction in the inner security circle of the president could be a contributive factor for the perennial denial of the president and its team anytime the word Fulani herdsmen come into play. Many analyst are of the opinion that the President and his security chiefs defends the Fulani herdsmen even when the Miyeti Allah group openly admits culpability in several killings. The Miyeti Allah have through several fora sent messages to Benue and Taraba states government to stop anti-grazing laws as a condition for peace in their areas.

 

While Benue and Taraba Governors have stubbornly refused to accede to this honorable request to allow cow to take over their streets and offices like we have in Abuja currently, the killing have equally refused to abate. Instead of bowing to the Miyeti Allah’s demand and save thousands from gun wielding degenerates, Ortom went ahead and set up a vigilante to secure his state from further attacks. Unfortunately, Ortom never did thorough diligence on his security adviser’s background. Facts coming out showed that he had employed a terrorist to reduce killings in his state. Some schools of thought even concluded that Ortom was merely using “a thief to catch a thief”. But all in all, the army investigative team after months of non-preventive patrols have discovered that the Benue State Vigilante team are responsible for the herdsmen killings in Benue state.

 

I am sure by now the Tiv and Idoma people of Benue state would have been on the street dancing their traditional sexy contraction moves to honour the announcement of the arrest of these killers. Should we just dismantle all IDP camps and send the people back to their villages, now that we have arrested the issue? Maybe Trump should even be told that the issue of the herdsmen are on its way out as the major group responsible are now in custody and pray that we got it right this time.

 

I am never a pessimist, yet I am bothered by the attention we are giving to the continual death from these herdsmen killings. From actual denial of the existence of a systematic killing campaign in northern Nigeria and allowing the problem to degenerate and spread to every areas of the country; to a systematic allusion to its existence and caused by economic pressures, to blaming the death of thousands of our brothers on Libyan Civil war that ended years ago and now to the point that we are all out saying politicians caused it.

Having attended training and workshops with several of our security leaders, I am sure we have highly intelligent officers in all our security organisation. Current security appraisal and operations have continued to amaze most security professionals. The apparent lack of academic inputs in Nigerian security policy formulation have been blamed for the disjointed policy infrastructure we have in place today. There exists need for a proper reevaluation of our security mix, a proper redesign of our processes, and an introduction of an efficient system for monitoring and evaluating security operation in Nigeria.

 

The office of the NSA is an aberration that needed to be looked at, the NSA cannot at the same time be a security policy maker, security agencies supervisor and an active security agency. We cannot pursue a robust security operations when the system is in a flux. Proper use of resources can only be assured when tasks are tied to measurable and evaluable timelines. We cannot manage our security efficiently without putting the system in the right. Someone should please tell the President.

 

Kanye West goes on wild Twitter rant, praises Trump and abruptly fires Scooter Braun — INKLING LEAGUE

Celebrity Gists, Entertainment

View image on Twitter

Kanye West can’t stop tweeting.

The rapper has been ranting wildly on Twitter — including several pro-Trump tweets — following reports that he abruptly fired his manager Scooter Braun.

Beginning Tuesday and extending into Wednesday afternoon, the rapper tweeted nearly constantly about everything from his Yeezy fashion line to Coachella and his daughter, North. In the afternoon, he took the time to send some love to his “brother” Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.

The love seems mutual as Trump tweeted back at the rapper, “Thank you Kanye, very cool!”

But it didn’t take long for West’s wife, Kim Kardashian, to chime in and require her husband to clairfy a few things about his political tweets.

She also went on a rant of her own defending her husband’s tweets.

Many of West’s tweets seemed disconnected or nonsensical and some focused on slamming recent media coverage that claims those close to West are concerned for his health.

kanye west tweets

Kanye West’s Twitter tirade.  (Twitter)

The news of Braun’s firing comes a few days after Ebro Darden, of Hot 97’s “Ebro in the Morning,” claimed West told him during a wide-ranging interview, “Nobody really showed love for me when I was addicted to opioids and in the hospital.”

He wrote Wednesday: “there’s been a lot of fake news so I just wanted to give you the facts. Yeezy will become the biggest apparel company in human history by working with the most genius level talents and creating product at an affordable price. I hired the head of supply chain from the Gap.”

He also tweeted about his rumored presidential ambitions.

“Harvey Levin of TMZ your hearing from your future president. Let’s be friends. Please never use the word erratic to describe a person who is economically and psychologically empowered.”

He also acknowleged that he fired Braun writing, “I can’t be managed.”

He added: “yes I got rid of my last lawyer why? Because he wouldn’t come to work full time. I also asked my last manager to come work full time for Yeezy of course the last lawyer and manager said no. So now I hired a CEO and a CFO and i have two full time lawyers as of now.”

West abruptly fired A-list manager Braun, who also reps Ariana Grande and Justin Beiber. According to Page Six, West has recently also fired other members of his “inner circle” following his big announcement of five new albums, a philosophy book and hinting a possible presidential run with a tweet that simply read, “2024.”

Sources in the industry told Page Six they are “very worried for Yeezy’s mental health” and worry that he could be on the verge of “another episode.”

In the midst of West’s bizarre Twitter rant, it was also reported that the “Famous” rapper has had “explosive fights” with his mother-in-law, Kim Kardashian’s mom Kris Jenner. But the momager quickly shot down the rumors and did some tweeting of her own.

On Tuesday, Jenner retweeted a People magazine article that claimed she and Kanye were in the middle of spat and said, “Lies, Lies, Lies.”

She further defended her son-in-law and retweeted another article, which alleged the Kanye has been “on edge” and “difficult to deal with” and said, “Nope…not true!”

The rapper also tweeted at People and warned them about tweeting his name and said, “People magazine. Watch how you speak my name. You would love a pair of Yeezys.  Don’t play yourself.”

West’s current actions on Twitter are reminiscent of his behavior back in November 2016 when the performer was forced to cancel 21 tour dates after suffering a “nervous breakdown.” During the time of his break down, the singer was said to be hospitalized for exhaustion which was triggered by the anniversary of his mother’s death on top of stress from trying to balance a tour, an album and his fashion line.

The claim from Darden that the hospitalization stemmed from a drug addiction is new.

But one source told People that Kanye’s current mood wasn’t anything to worry about and blamed his “genius” personality for his controversial behavior.

“I think a lot of that stuff is Kanye,” the source said. “He’s always been like that. Kanye’s definitely the most genius and eccentric and erratic person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing.”

Kanye West can’t stop tweeting. The rapper has been ranting wildly on Twitter — including several pro-Trump tweets — following reports that he abruptly fired his manager Scooter Braun. Beginning Tuesday and extending into Wednesday afternoon, the rapper tweeted nearly constantly about everything from his Yeezy fashion line to Coachella and his daughter, North. In the afternoon, […]

via Kanye West goes on wild Twitter rant, praises Trump and abruptly fires Scooter Braun — INKLING LEAGUE

50Cent disses Kanye West and Donald Trump on IG

Celebrity Gists, News

50Cent disses Kanye West and Donald Trump on IG

In a recent post on Instagram, American rapper- 50Cent disses Kanye West and President Donald Trump with a controversial picture he captioned #theoath.

50Cent disses Kanye West and Donald Trump on IG Lailasnews 2

50cent is one of many American celebrities who has publicly called out Kanye for openly endorsing controversial American president, Donald Trump.

In the picture Kanye is hugging Donald Trump from behind romantically.

The president is wearing a wedding dress and Kanye is in a black suit.

It is a photo shopped picture of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian Vogue’s article cover before their wedding.

However, Kim’s face, arms, hair and shoulders had been replaced with the 71 year old president of the United States of America

Kanye has been tweeting controversial tweets for days now.

The controversial rapper is known for publicly speaking out his most often unpopular views.

Here are some excerpts from Kanye West’s tweets recently:

“…I really appreciate this dialogue with John Legend because I’m actually very empathetic. I’m still the kid from the telethon. I feel when people think of MAGA they don’t think of empathy…”

“…It’s really cool to say I hate you. But it’s not cool to say I love you. Love has a stigma…”

The Grammy winner has also taken to sharing screenshots of his chats with other celebrities including John Legend.

Here is the screenshot between Kanye and John Legend:

 

Ronny Jackson Withdraws As VA Secretary Nominee

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WASHINGTON (CNN) – Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson has withdrawn as President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, he said in a statement Thursday morning.

His nomination was hampered by a flurry of allegations about Jackson’s professional conduct.

In a statement announcing his withdrawal, Jackson slammed allegations of improper behavior leveled against him as “completely false and fabricated.”

“If they had any merit, I would not have been selected, promoted and entrusted to serve in such a sensitive and important role as physician to three presidents over the past 12 years,” Jackson said. “Going into this process, I expected tough questions about how to best care for our veterans, but I did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.”

Jackson said he was motivated to withdraw from consideration because the allegations against him “have become a distraction” for Trump and his agenda.

“Unfortunately, because of how Washington works, these false allegations have become a distraction for this President and the important issue we must be addressing — how we give the best care to our nation’s heroes,” Jackson said. “While I will forever be grateful for the trust and confidence President Trump has placed in me by giving me this opportunity, I am regretfully withdrawing my nomination to be Secretary for the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Speaking on “Fox & Friends” Thursday morning, Trump said Jackson’s withdrawal was not unexpected.

“I even told him a day or two ago I saw where this was going,” Trump said.

Allegations mounted

On Wednesday evening, the release of a two-page document written by Democratic staff on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee that included a list of allegations from the committee’s conversations with nearly two dozen of Jackson’s former and current colleagues made Jackson’s chances at survival more uncertain.

According to the summary released by Senate Democrats — the contents of which remain under investigation by lawmakers and have not yet been substantiated — Jackson was allegedly “abusive” to his colleagues, loosely handled prescription pain medications and was periodically intoxicated, even once wrecking a government vehicle while drunk.

Jackson has not responded to the allegations in their totality, but told reporters on Wednesday that he did not wreck the government car and had indicated at the time that he planned to continue in the nominating process.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee had raised concerns this week about allegations involving Jackson, the White House physician, and had started to review the allegations in an effort to determine whether they were sufficient to upend his nomination.

Jackson had been expected to appear on Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a confirmation hearing, but that hearing was postponed indefinitely as members were assessing allegations about the White House physician’s behavior.

Whistleblowers who spoke to the panel described a “toxic” work environment under Jackson’s leadership and questionable behavior, including excessive drinking, CNN has reported.

On Wednesday, before the allegations from the Democratic staff of the veterans’ panel became public, the White House mounted a robust defense of Jackson, with White House press secretary Sarah Sanders telling reporters he had an “impeccable” record. Sanders suggested that Jackson’s current position as the White House physician meant that he had been more thoroughly vetted than other Cabinet nominees.

At one point on Wednesday, Trump raised the prospect of going into the briefing room himself to stick up for Jackson, to say that he is a good guy and had his support. But several senior administration officials, including Sanders, advised against that move.

But later Wednesday, after the allegations included in that Democratic document were released, Trump himself began to wonder out loud whether Jackson should step aside “before things get worse” and White House aides were preparing for that possibility, officials told CNN.

More upheaval for Trump’s Cabinet

Jackson’s withdrawal marks the most recent setback for Trump’s Cabinet, which has had a high rate of turnover. A number of Cabinet officials have faced criticism and scrutiny over their spending habits and ethical judgement, including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson. Jackson also isn’t the first nominee to withdraw. Andrew Puzder pulled his name from consideration last year to become labor secretary after facing intense opposition to his nomination.

Trump had defended Jackson even after the allegations against him surfaced.

On Tuesday, the President called Jackson “one of the finest people I have ever met.” Trump said he was not aware of the specifics of the allegations and added that it was up to Jackson to decide whether to press forward. “It’s totally his decision,” the President said, adding, “I don’t want to put a man through a process like this. It’s too ugly and disgusting.”

But Trump also acknowledged that Jackson lacks a background in running a government agency.

“There’s a lack of experience,” he said.

A surprise nominee

When Trump announced his intent to nominate Jackson in March, the decision came as a surprise on Capitol Hill, where members on both sides of the aisle raised questions about whether Jackson was qualified to lead the sprawling Department of Veterans Affairs. While Jackson served as White House physician under three presidents, his policy views were relatively unknown and some lawmakers expressed concern over whether he had the managerial experience necessary to steer the department.

Trump announced his intention to nominate Jackson as a replacement for David Shulkin, in a presidential tweet last month. Shulkin became embroiled in controversy of his own after the VA inspector general released a damaging report accusing him and other department personnel of “serious derelictions,” but was also locked in a policy-based power struggle with members of his staff and political appointees. Trump later said he was dissatisfied with the “speed with which our veterans were taken care of” under Shulkin’s leadership.

A graduate of Texas A&M University, Jackson started active-duty naval service in 1995, according to his official US Navy biography. He was chosen to serve as White House physician in 2006 during the administration of George W. Bush, and later served as the physician for then-President Barack Obama.

In January, Jackson made headlines after declaring he had “no concerns” about Trump’s cognitive ability after the President underwent a neurological screening. Jackson’s performance during that extended news conference played a part in Trump’s decision to nominate him to lead the VA, a White House official told CNN.

Tuesday, the Senate committee’s top Democrat, Montana’s Jon Tester, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that around 20 people had raised concerns to the committee about Jackson, and according to those people, Jackson would hand out prescriptions “like candy.”

Tester described reports to the committee that alleged that on overseas trips, Jackson would “go down the aisle way of the airplane and say, ‘All right, who wants to go to sleep?’ And hand out the prescription drugs like they were candy … and put them to sleep and then give them the drugs to wake them back up again.”

“These are called controlled substances for a reason,” Tester said on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

The White House doctor also faced allegations of being drunk while overseas with then-President Barack Obama.

“If you are drunk and something happens with the President, it’s very difficult to go in and treat the President,” Tester said. “That’s what multiple people told us, this was the case on several different trips.”

Other concerns about Jackson included allegations of a toxic work environment, the senator confirmed.

“We were told time and time again the people above him he treated like gold, the people below him, he belittled, screamed at them, really created a very toxic environment to the point where the people who worked around him felt like they had to walk on eggshells because of his lack of respect for his job,” Tester said.

In a letter to Trump sent Tuesday, the senators requested information “regarding allegations or incidents” involving Jackson dating to 2006, the year he was tapped to become White House physician.

One source on the committee told CNN prior to Jackson’s withdrawal that lawmakers were also requesting information from the FBI, including Jackson’s background check. Tester later said the FBI background investigation into Jackson was “clean.”

Congressional sources also told CNN that committee aides had been in touch with individuals associated with additional allegations about prescriptions handled by the White House Medical Unit, which oversees the medical care of the president and administration aides.

While campaigning for the presidency, Trump pledged to make improvements at the Veterans Affairs Department, including reducing wait times for care, upgrading technology and taking steps to facilitate access to private care.

Since his dismissal, Shulkin has warned against privatizing veterans’ health care. In a statement released in early April, the VA shot down the idea, saying “there is no effort underway to privatize” veterans’ care and that “to suggest otherwise is completely false.”

The-CNN-Wire ™ & © 2018 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Here’s one thing North Korea can do to show it’s serious about de-nuking

international News, News, Politics

Here’s one thing North Korea can do to show it’s serious about de-nuking – By Jamie Tarabay, CNN 

People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year's speech, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.© Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018.

North Korea is “livening up the mood” with regards to its talk on denuclearization, but doing very little beyond that, say experts who’ve long watched the isolated regime wrestle with its nuclear ambitions and international censure.

And further, they say, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is positioning himself as an amenable leader open to negotiation as he readies for Friday’s summit with South Korea and a forthcoming historic meeting with US President Donald Trump.

On Saturday Kim Jong Un asserted that his regime no longer needed to test its weapons capabilities and that it would be abandoning a test site in the north that had been the location of several nuclear tests.

“It’s just propaganda, the statements have ambiguous meanings,” said Chang-Hoon Shin, senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for Maritime Strategy. He said the test site at Punggye-ri in North Hamyong province would more likely be shut down because of the environmental impact sustained to the mountains there. When North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test last September deep underground, the explosion created a magnitude 6.3 tremor.

“We can say the Punggye-ri site was of no use anymore, so I think North Korea can make use of that situation by declaring they will shut down past sites, but it doesn’t have any meaning,” Shin told CNN.

“It can liven up the mood and make it favorable for the talks, but I don’t think it’s enough because it’s not technically a move towards denuclearization at all.”

If North Korea was really serious, Shin said, it would re-apply to the Non-Proliferation Treaty or accede to international norms under the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. And there’s been no indication it wants to do that.

No ‘popping champagne bottles’ yet

The announcement has done little more than solidify prospects the Trump-Kim summit will go ahead, said Catherine Dill, a research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“I think that this certainly improves the odds for a Trump-Kim summit actually occurring, but it may complicate the longer term picture,” Dill told CNN.

“A careful reading of the announcement shows that North Korea is walking a fine line in exactly what they are conceding at this point: an end to testing does not automatically result in the verifiable dismantlement of the nuclear and missile programs. Verification of testing alone would be quite complex, and the verification of dismantlement would take years of careful negotiation and implementation,” she said.

“I think that while this particular concession by North Korea appeals to Trump’s vanity, it has improved dramatically the prospects for the summit,” she added.

Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Wilson Center, agreed.

“This is posturing, it’s still not committing North Korea to anything. They actually committed to no testing before — as recently as 2012 — and that lasted about a week. So it’s a good thing, but I’m not popping any champagne bottles at this point,” he told CNN.

In 2012, the North Korean regime agreed to halt its nuclear testing in exchange for food aid from the United States, the so-called Leap Day agreement. But the deal fell apart after North Korea launched a rocket into orbit several months after the deal was signed. The North Koreans said the rocket was sending a satellite into orbit, but the US, South Korea and Japan claimed that was a cover for a long-range ballistic missile test.

Lack of concrete measures

If North Korea is so confident in its weapons capacity and wants to join the nuclear club, then it should abide by conventions adhered to by other nuclear states, Shin notes.

“In order not to be deceived by North Korea again, concrete measures and gestures must be shown by Pyongyang,” he told CNN. “Talking of denuclearization gives a certain illusion, but there must be certain measures like returning to the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. I argue that returning to those organizations are the minimum standard for verifying their real intention or will of denuclearizing.”

North Korea pulled out of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in January 2003, declaring at the time that it pledged to limit its nuclear activities to “peaceful purposes.” It had announced in 1993 that it would withdraw from the treaty then, but suspended decision to enter into talks with the US.

By choosing to focus on direct talks with the US, Shin says North Korea is bypassing the scrutiny and verification process it would have to accept under UN auspices.

“If you look at the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, the resolutions always ask North Korea to return to the IAEA and the NPT, so North Korea knows very well, it’s trying to avoid such situations, it wants to discuss denuclearization directly with the US rather than in the context of international norms,” Shin said.

“If North Korea can lift US sanctions first, then the UN sanctions aren’t as significant.”

A deal for a deal’s sake

The announcement follows diplomatic outreach including a visit by Kim to Beijing, his first foreign visit as leader, to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. China has yet to comment on Saturday’s events.

Meanwhile, President Trump responded positively to the news out of Pyongyang, tweeting about it twice on Friday night. The news that North Korea was suspending its tests and closing down a site, he said, was “very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress! Look forward to our Summit.”

But at least one American ally in the region was circumspect.

“The only thing that is important is whether or not it will lead to the completely verified and irreversible abolition of nuclear and missiles,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. “We would like to keep a close eye on it.”

His defense minister was even more direct, calling the announcement “insufficient.”

Speaking in Washington, DC, Itsunori Onodera told reporters that the move was “not satisfactory” for Japan “as the disposal of middle and short-range missile and of nuclear weapons was not mentioned.”

He added that Japan will continue its policy of “maximum pressure” until “North Korea gives up WMDs [weapons of mass destruction] and nuclear missiles completely.”

Japan’s fear is that in a bid to get a win, Trump will be satisfied with a commitment from North Korea that would abandon nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, but not press to include short and medium-range weapons that are able to target Japan.

“So far, White House officials have been saying that the US is not going to give anything until North Korea completely denuclearizes, it’s setting a very hard line on negotiations,” said Denmark.

“But as we’ve seen in the past the President doesn’t necessarily follow through on the advice of his people and so it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen when he gets in a room and sits down with Kim. Even if they come to an agreement, the president has demonstrated a penchant in his life of pulling out of agreements so sticking to an agreement is going to be very difficult,” he said.

MSN 

In Comey memos, Trump talks of jailed journalists, ‘hookers’

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WGN-TV

WASHINGTON — In a series of startlingly candid conversations, President Donald Trump told former FBI Director James Comey that he had serious concerns about the judgment of a top adviser, asked about the possibility of jailing journalists and described a boast from Vladimir Putin about Russian prostitutes, according to Comey’s notes of the talks obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday night.

The 15 pages of documents contain new details about a series of interactions with Trump that Comey found so unnerving that he chose to document them in writing. Those seven encounters in the weeks and months before Comey’s May 2017 firing include a Trump Tower discussion about allegations involving Trump and prostitutes in Moscow; a White House dinner at which Comey says Trump asked him for his loyalty; and a private Oval Office discussion where the ex-FBI head says the president asked him to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the former White House national security adviser.

The documents had been eagerly anticipated since their existence was first revealed last year, especially since Comey’s interactions with Trump are a critical part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether the president sought to obstruct justice. Late Thursday night, Trump tweeted that the memos “show clearly that there was NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.”

In a Friday morning tweet, Trump lamented that Flynn’s life has been “totally destroyed” after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, “while Shadey (sic) James Comey can Leak and Lie and make lots of money from a third rate book (that should never have been written).”

He added: “Is that really the way life in America is supposed to work? I don’t think so!”

The president also has accused Comey of leaking classified information. The memos obtained by the AP were unclassified, though some portions were blacked out as classified. Details from Comey’s memos reported in news stories last year appear to come from the unclassified portions.

In explaining the purpose of creating the memos, which have been provided to Mueller, Comey has said he “knew there might come a day when I would need a record of what had happened” to defend not only himself but the FBI as well.

The memos cover the first three months of the Trump administration, a period of upheaval marked by staff turnover, a cascade of damaging headlines and revelations of an FBI investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. The documents reflect Trump’s uneasiness about that investigation, though not always in ways that Comey seemed to anticipate.

In a February 2017 conversation, for instance, Trump told Comey how Putin told him, “we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world” even as the president adamantly, and repeatedly, distanced himself from a salacious allegation concerning him and prostitutes in Moscow, according to one memo.

In another memo, Comey recounts how Trump at a private White House dinner pointed his fingers at his head and complained that Flynn, his embattled national security adviser, “has serious judgment issues.” The president blamed Flynn for failing to alert him promptly to a congratulatory call from a world leader, causing a delay for Trump in returning a message to an official whose name is redacted in the documents.

“I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgment of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn,” Comey wrote.

By that point, the FBI had already interviewed Flynn about his contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, and the Justice Department had already warned White House officials that they were concerned Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail.

Flynn was fired Feb. 13, 2017, after White House officials said he had misled them about his Russian contacts during the transition period by saying that he had not discussed sanctions. The following day, according to a separate memo, Comey says Trump cleared the Oval Office of other officials, encouraged him to let go of the investigation into Flynn and called him a good guy. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

The memos reveal that days before Flynn’s firing, then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus asked Comey if Flynn’s communications were being monitored under a secret surveillance warrant.

“Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?” Priebus asked Comey, according to the memos, referring to an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Comey said he “paused for a few seconds and then said that I would answer here, but that this illustrated the kind of question that had to be asked and answered through established channels.”

Comey’s response is redacted on the unclassified memos.

The memos also show Trump’s continued distress at a dossier of allegations — compiled by a former British spy whose work was funded by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign — examining potential ties between him and his aides and the Kremlin. Comey writes how Trump repeatedly denied to him having been involved in an encounter with Russian prostitutes in a Moscow hotel.

“The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense,” Comey writes, noting that Trump then related the conversation with Putin about the “most beautiful hookers.” Comey says Trump did not say when Putin had made the comment.

The documents also include the president’s musings about pursuing leakers and imprisoning journalists. They also provide insight into Comey’s personal and professional opinions. He judges the administration’s travel ban to be legally valid, and he takes a swipe at former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, calling her predecessor, Eric Holder, “smarter and more sophisticated and smoother.”

The memos were provided to Congress earlier Thursday as House Republicans escalated criticism of the Justice Department, threatening to subpoena the documents and questioning officials.

In a letter sent to three Republican House committee chairmen Thursday evening, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd wrote that the department was sending a classified version of the memos and an unclassified version. The department released Boyd’s letter publicly but did not release the memos. The chairmen issued a statement late Thursday saying the memos show that Comey clearly never felt threatened, and Trump didn’t obstruct justice.

Justice officials had allowed some lawmakers to view the memos but had never provided copies to Congress. Boyd wrote that the department had also provided the memos to several Senate committees.

Boyd wrote in the letter that the department “consulted the relevant parties” and concluded that releasing the memos would not adversely affect any ongoing investigations. Mueller is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign as well as possible obstruction of justice by the president.

Comey is on a publicity tour to promote his new book, “A Higher Loyalty.” He revealed last year that he had written the memos after conversations with Trump.

He said in an interview Thursday with CNN that he’s “fine” with the Justice Department turning his memos over to Congress.

“I think what folks will see if they get to see the memos is I’ve been consistent since the very beginning, right after my encounters with President Trump, and I’m consistent in the book and tried to be transparent in the book as well,” he said.

The gaping hole in Sean Hannity’s story about being Michael Cohen’s client

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shane

© AP Photo/Craig Ruttle Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, arrives for a hearing at federal court Monday, April 16, 2018, in New York.

It’s not what it looks like. That’s the refrain from Sean Hannity, after lawyers for President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, revealed in court on Monday that the Fox News host is one of only three clients that Cohen represented this year and last.

Cohen’s previous work included arranging a $130,000 payment to prevent porn star Stormy Daniels from talking publicly about her alleged affair with Trump. And Cohen’s work for the other client on his short list, Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, included negotiating a $1.6 million settlement with a former Playboy model who got pregnant when she and Broidy had an affair.

So what it looks like, of course, is that Cohen could have similarly helped Hannity silence a woman who might have told an embarrassing story. That is not the case, Hannity insisted on his radio show.

“I tell you why they’re going nuts,” Hannity said of the media. “They’re assuming — because I guess he did some type of work for some Republican guy — they’re figuring, ‘Oh, he must’ve done a big settlement case for Hannity.’ That’s not — no, that’s not what happened. Ever.”

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“Not one of any issue I ever dealt with Michael Cohen on ever — ever — involved a matter between me and any third party,” Hannity added.

Hannity’s denial is a bit confusing. Hannity sought Cohen’s legal counsel only on matters involving Hannity and himself?

It is also unclear why, if Cohen’s work for Hannity was innocuous, the two men sought to keep their relationship secret. In a letter to the court Monday morning, Cohen’s lawyers said his third recent client, besides Trump and Broidy, wished to remain anonymous.

“As to the one unnamed legal client, we do not believe that Mr. Cohen should be asked to reveal the name or can permissibly do so,” the letter said. A federal judge disagreed.

But there is an even bigger hole in Hannity’s explanation: Why, as he railed against FBI raids of Cohen’s office, home and hotel room last week, did Hannity not disclose to viewers and listeners that his communications with Cohen could have been among the materials seized?

“We have now entered a dangerous phase,” Hannity said on TV on the day of the raids, without mentioning any potential danger to himself.

A Fox News spokeswoman did not respond to a Fix inquiry on this point. Instead, the network issued the following statement, attributed to Hannity: “Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective. I assumed those conversations were confidential but, to be absolutely clear, they never involved any matter between me and a third party.”

On the radio, Hannity did not directly address his lack of disclosure but hinted at a possible defense — that he did not consider himself a formal client of Cohen’s.

That Cohen’s attorneys included Hannity’s name on a list of clients presented in court “just shows that Michael was doing his due diligence and being totally thorough about anybody that he might have had attorney-client privilege with,” Hannity told listeners.

Hannity made further comments that appear to be somewhat inconsistent with the statement he issued through Fox News. He said that he might have paid Cohen a small fee, after all, and said he did not merely assume that their conversations were privileged but rather sought assurances.

“I might have handed him 10 bucks [and said,] ‘I definitely want your attorney-client privilege on this,’ ” Hannity said on the radio. “Something like that. I requested that privilege with him when I would ask him: ‘Well, this just came up. What do you think about this? What do you think about that?’ ”

As a commentator, Hannity need not be neutral. But as a self-described “opinion journalist,” he could reasonably be expected to divulge a conflict of interest such as the one involving Cohen.

France’s Macron says he persuaded Trump to keep troops in Syria

Politics, Power, SYRIA
A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018.© REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki A Syrian firefighter is seen inside the destroyed Scientific Research Centre in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018.PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday said he had convinced U.S. President Donald Trump to keep troops in Syria, as he defended joint air strikes he said were legitimate and allowed France and allies to regain credibility.

Early on Saturday, the United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what they said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for a suspected poison gas attack in Douma on April 7.

“Ten days ago, President Trump was saying ‘the United States should withdraw from Syria’. We convinced him it was necessary to stay,” Macron said in an interview broadcast by BFM TV, RMC radio and Mediapart online news.

“We convinced him it was necessary to stay for the long term.”

The United States, Britain and France said they only hit Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities and that the strikes were not aimed at toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or intervening in the civil war.

Macron said limiting the strikes to these specific targets was not necessarily Trump’s initial plan.

“We also persuaded him that we needed to limit the strikes to chemical weapons (sites), after things got a little carried away over tweets,” he said.

Saturday’s strikes on Syria were the first major military operation since Macron’s election in May last year.

He reaffirmed that there was proof of chemical attacks, adding: “We had reached a point where these strikes were necessary to give back the (international) community some credibility.”

Macron said he wanted to engage in dialogue with all parties involved, including Russia, which backs Assad politically and militarily, in order to find a political solution for Syria.

There are no changes to his planned trip to Russia next month, he said.

However, he said that Russia had made itself complicit in the Syrian government’s actions.

“Of course they are complicit. They have not used chlorine themselves but they have methodically built the international community’s inability to act through diplomatic channels to stop the use of chemical weapons,” he said of Russia.

Macron had warmer words for Turkey. “With those strikes we have separated the Russians and the Turks on this. The Turks condemned the chemical weapons.”

Macron added that the strikes on Syria had been “perfectly carried out”.

“All of our missiles reached their target,” he said. (Reporting by Laurence Frost, Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier Writing by Ingrid Melander Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Putin declares US-led Syria strike an ‘act of aggression’

Politics, Power, War

Putin declares US-led Syria strike an ‘act of aggression’

Russian officials warned of “consequences” after President Donald Trump announced his approval of U.S.-led military strikes in Syria against the Russian-backed regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Early Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement saying the Western coalition’s “act of aggression” would only exacerbate the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria.

Putin called the strike a “destructive influence on the entire system of international relations” and said Moscow would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria December 11, 2017. Picture taken December 11, 2017. To match Special Report RUSSIA-FLIGHTS/ Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/ via REUTERS/File Photo  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1DE7734AA0

Russian President Vladimir Putin alongside Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a visit the Hmeymim air base in Latakia Province, Syria on Dec. 11, 2017.  (Reuters)

Immediately following Trump’s televised address Friday night, announcing the U.S.-led strikes, loud explosions and thick smoke were reported in the Syrian capital city, Damascus.

Syrian air defense units shot down 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the U.S., Britain and France, the Russian military claimed Saturday.

Russia’s Defense Ministry had earlier asserted that none of the missiles launched by the U.S. and its allies entered areas protected by Russia’s missile defense.

Chief of the Main Operational Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Lieutenant-General Sergei Rudskoi attends a news briefing in Moscow, Russia, September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin - D1BEUCEWLEAA

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff.  (Reuters)

Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff said Saturday that the Syrian military used a Soviet-made missile defense system to shoot down all the missiles targeting four key Syrian air bases. He added that there were no casualties from the strike and its targets suffered only minor damage.

Rudskoi said Russian air defense assets in Syria monitored the strike, but didn’t engage. He also noted that while Russia had refrained from supplying Syria with its state-of-the-art S-300 air defense missile systems, that could be reconsidered now.

Prior to Putin’s statement, other Russian officials issued grim reactions to the Western military effort.

“The worst apprehensions have come true,” Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., tweeted Friday. “Our warnings have been left unheard.

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Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.  (Reuters)

“A pre-designed scenario is being implemented,” Antonov said. “Again, we are being threatened. We warned that such actions will not be left without consequences. All responsibility for them rests with Washington, London and Paris.

“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible,” he said. “The U.S.—the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons—has no moral right to blame other countries.”

“Insulting the President of Russia is unacceptable and inadmissible. The U.S. — the possessor of the biggest arsenal of chemical weapons — has no moral right to blame other countries.”

– Anatoly Antonov, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, denounced the U.S. in a Facebook post Friday for the strikes on Syria — a country that, she wrote, “for many years has been trying to survive terrorist aggression.”

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Maria Zakharov, spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry.  (Reuters)

“The White House stated that its assuredness of the chemical attack from Damascus was based on ‘mass media, reports of symptoms, video, photos as well as credible information,’” she wrote. “After this statement the American and other Western mass media should understand their responsibility in what is happening.”

Russia and the U.S. had disagreed over a proper response in Syria after a suspected chemical attack by the regime last weekend in rebel-held Douma, a town about 10 miles east of Damascus, killed at least 40 people and injured more than 500, mostly women and children. The attack occurred amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

Earlier Friday, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, told reporters in Moscow that the claims of the suspected gas attack were a fabrication.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov listens for a question during a shared news conference with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini following their talks n Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 24, 2017. Lavrov has vowed to use Moscow's influence to get Ukraine's separatist rebels to comply with a cease-fire deal. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov  (Associated Press)

“Intelligence agencies of a state that is now striving to spearhead a Russo-phobic campaign were involved in that fabrication,” Lavrov said, without elaborating or naming the state.

A Russian lawmaker claimed the strikes were aimed at disrupting the work of international investigators looking into whether Syria used chemical weapons in the town of Douma.

“The airstrikes were carried out by the U.S.-led coalition consciously to spoil the investigation,” Russian parliament member Dmitry Sablin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The United States, France and the United Kingdom hit the Syrian capital in response to the use of chemical weapons; Jennifer Griffin shares latest details.

Alexander Sherin, deputy head of the State Duma’s defense committee, likened Trump to Adolf Hitler, and considered the strikes to be a move against Russia.

Trump “can be called Adolf Hitler No. 2 of our time — because, you see, he even chose the time that Hitler attacked the Soviet Union,” state news agency RIA-Novosti quoted Sherin as saying.

The strike came hours after Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, told an emergency meeting of the Security Council that “the United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times.”

U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says she is proud of President Trump's response to the chemical attack in Syria.

“Did a chemical weapons attack happen? Yes,” Haley told reporters before the meeting. “The U.S. has analyzed, yes, it has happened. The U.K. has analyzed, yes, it has happened. France analyzed, yes, it has happened. Three separate analysis all coming back with same thing. There is proof that this happened.”

Haley said during the meeting that should the U.S. and its allies decide to act in Syria, it would in the defense of “a bedrock international norm that benefits all nations” from the use of chemical weapons.

Russia’s military on Friday again refuted the claim that chemical weapons had been used in Douma, citing a lack of evidence.

En esta imagen cortesía de los Cascos Blancos de la Defensa Civil Siria, cuyos contenidos han sido autenticados por AP, se muestran las columna de humo después de un ataque aéreo de las fuerzas del gobierno sirio en la localidad de Duma, en la región de Ghouta oriental, al este de Damasco, Siria el sábado 7 de abril de 2018. (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

Smoke rising after Syrian government airstrikes hit in the town of Douma, in eastern Ghouta region east of Damascus, Syria, on Saturday, April 7, 2018.  (Associated Press)

“According to the results of a survey of witnesses, studying samples and investigating locations undertaken by Russian specialists and medical personnel in the city of Douma, where chemical weapons purportedly were used, the use of poisonous substances was not shown,” said Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, head of the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria.

Yevtushenko also said the Russian military would supply security for investigators from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons as they worked to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier Thursday that Douma was under the control of Syrian forces and that some 1,500 fighters of the Army of Islam group had left the city.

Yevtushenko said that the action was to “prevent provocations, guarantee security, for the support of law and order and organize aid for the local population.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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