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Rep. Matt Gaetz, Florida Republican, has hired a speechwriter who previously worked for President Trump until the White House was questioned about his ties to white nationalists.
"Very proud to have the talented Dr. Darren Beattie helping our team as a Special Advisor for Speechwriting," Mr. Gaetz announced Friday on ...
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The Wisconsin Supreme Court will take over the appeal in a second lawsuit challenging Republican-backed laws passed in a lame-duck session to restrict the powers of the newly elected Democratic governor and attorney general.
The decision Friday bypasses the state Appeals Court in the case involving ...
British politician Diane Abbott apologized Friday after a photograph emerged of her illegally drinking alcohol on a London train car.
"A photo of me drinking from a can of M&S mojito on the Overground has been circulated. I'm sincerely sorry for drinking on TFL," said Ms. Abbott, a member of ...
MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin has seen a steep decline in net migration of families with children and this could be problematic for efforts to replace the state's aging workforce, according to a new report.
The Wisconsin Counties Association's nonpartisan research arm, Forward Analytics, recently released a study that raises ...
Robert de Niro furthered the actor's feud with President Trump by labeling him a "total loser," "dumbbell" and "wannabe gangster" in an interview Friday evening.
Appearing on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" on CBS, Mr. De Niro repeatedly took swipes at the president while discussing his reoccurring role depicting ...
Police in Northern Ireland blamed terrorists Saturday for the murder of journalist Lyra McKee and pleaded for the public's help in prosecuting those responsible.
Authorities announced the arrest of two men in connection with the killing of McKee, 29, and asked during a press conference for witnesses to share any ...
BOSTON (AP) - Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he's including money in his budget proposal for a legal defense fund for immigrants.
The Democratic mayor said Saturday his proposal includes $50,000 in city funding for the Greater Boston Immigrant Defense Fund.
The fund is a public-private partnership that works to ...
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - A memoir called "I Am a Dirty Immigrant" is the story of one man's journey from the West Indies to West Virginia. Anderson Charles grew up in a tightly knit community in Grenada, and in 1986, moved to Kentucky to play basketball and attend college.
GREENWOOD, Miss. (AP) - A mobile app is being developed to explain places and events connected to a killing that galvanized the civil rights movement.
Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old from Chicago, was killed in 1955 while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Photos from his open-casket funeral showed his mutilated body, ...
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Months after the removal of a plaque in the Texas Capitol that rejected slavery's role in the Civil War, a push to abolish a state holiday honoring Confederate soldiers has returned with the backing of high-powered lobbyists. But it still faces long odds.
Texas is one ...
Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, said Friday that he was "sickened" by President Trump's behavior as detailed in special counsel Robert Mueller's newly released report.
The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 GOP presidential nominee shared his reaction on social media after reviewing the sprawling report summarizing the special counsel's investigation ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - First they cooperated. Then they stonewalled. Their television interviews were scattershot and ridiculed, their client mercurial and unreliable.
But President Donald Trump's legal team, through a combination of bluster, legal precedent and shifting tactics, managed to protect their client from a potentially perilous in-person interview during special ...
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Trump on Saturday said the Russian probe should be considered dead and buried, venting his frustration with lingering questions about his behavior as he headed into the second full day of his Easter jaunt in Florida.
"The Russia Hoax is dead!" Mr. Trump tweeted ...
What was a Chinese woman doing at Mar-a-Lago with her pockets full of passports and cell phones? The March 30 arrest of Chinese national Yujing Zhang at President Donald Trump’s vacation home certainly reads like a juicy spy drama. At the time she was arrested, after changing her story about why she was there, she had on her, in addition to two Chinese passports and four cellphones, a laptop and a USB drive later found to contain some kind of malware. More devices and $8,000 in cash were later found in her room at a nearby hotel.
Is Chinese intelligence attempting to infiltrate Mar-a-Lago? The answer to that is almost certainly yes. And so is every other foreign intelligence service. That’s just business as usual.
But is Zhang part of the Chinese effort?
U.S. law enforcement is still trying to figure that out. Earlier this month, Zhang was charged with lying to a federal officer and entering restricted property, but prosecutors have said more charges might follow. For now, prosecutors are treating Zhang’s case as a national security matter, according to the Miami Herald, adding that a team of FBI counterintelligence officers is on the case. According to the Herald, federal investigators were already looking into Chinese intelligence operations in South Florida before this incident occurred. Zhang’s arrest “has sent the counterintelligence probe into overdrive.”
As a former CIA officer, I am intrigued by Zhang’s role, but wary of jumping to conclusions about it, given the limited facts we know so far. Here are the five questions that might help us determine whether Zhang is a bumbling Chinese spy who got caught trying to infiltrate the president’s vacation lair, or if she is simply an innocent tourist who loves her hi-tech devices.
Why did her cover story fall apart so quickly?
The most basic tradecraft any intelligence officer or asset learns is how to build a decent cover story—an explanation of what you are doing and why, in order to cover what you are really up to—and to be ready to maintain it under questioning. Any cover story will eventually fall apart under enough scrutiny (because it is, in fact, a lie), but people trained in espionage know how to protect their story from collapsing too quickly or too easily.
So how did Zhang do with this? At the first Secret Service security checkpoint at Mar-a-Lago, she said she was there to use the pool. Her story initially worked; the agent waved her in. But she did not have a swimsuit with her, and the Colony Hotel, where she was staying, had its own pool. Then, when questioned again later, Zhang explained she was at the resort for a social event, which was not, in fact, scheduled for that day.
If this was an attempt to present a story to cover nefarious actions, it fell apart incredibly quickly. Maybe she was sloppy or poorly prepared? That seems odd for a professional intelligence officer.
Perhaps Zhang’s pool excuse was a quick and casual line to pass through the first security perimeter without many questions. Did she actually have a better cover story, or maybe a verifiable true story, she was able to present under more intense questioning? Zhang reportedly underwent four-and-a-half hours of questioning by the Secret Service. How did this go? What explanation did she give for her visit to Mar-a-Lago in this high-stakes setting? Did her explanation fit with answers she gave when applying for a visa to enter the country? Zhang reportedly previously traveled to the United States, in 2016 and 2017. Does her explanation for those trips match information she gave when applying for a visa, and how do those trips fit with her current itinerary and actions?
If Zhang isn’t a spy, or up to other nefarious things, why is it that she “lies to everyone,” as the prosecutor said in court? Could she simply be confused or did she communicate poorly because English is not her native language? Investigators, particularly those who questioned her, know better than we do about Zhang’s command of English. The Miami Herald reported that she “appeared to speak English” to a lawyer in court and she took notes during the hearing, but a translator was also present.
How would Zhang have operated inside Mar-a-Lago?
The president’s vacation abode is a target-rich environment. There are the obvious marks: The president and his inner circle. But those people are hard to access. Better targets might be the multitudes of people at Mar-a-Lago who aren’t in the president’s inner circle but who have access to those who are and can influence and glean information from them.
A casual observer could also gather a load of information simply by being present at Mar-a-Lago. Who is there? Who is trying to get access and influence people? Who interacts with whom? What activities do they participate in? What schedule do they follow? This could help a foreign intelligence service target people for recruitment as assets. It could also tell a foreign intelligence service what other countries are running operations there and which individuals they are targeting using what methods. This is important counterintelligence information for any spy agency, a window into other countries’ priorities and how close they are to achieving them.
It’s also possible Zhang wanted to observe the security situation at the resort, laying the groundwork for some future operation. She might have witnessed how Secret Service and resort security worked (or didn’t work) together and how freely Trump and his people move around, to determine what kind of access might be available.
Even without taking some deep cover, clandestine action, simply being present at Mar-a-Lago provides a wealth of information to anyone who is looking.
Or, maybe Zhang just wanted a glimpse of the president?
What’s with all the cash?
In some cases, espionage is a cash business. Spies often pay assets for information, and cold, hard cash is an easy way to pay people while hiding the source of the funds. Perhaps the Chinese government already has assets at Mar-a-Lago—among the staff, for example—and Zhang was there to pay them.
But Zhang’s more than $8,000 worth of cash (in U.S. and Chinese currency) was found in her hotel room at the Colony Hotel about two miles from Mar-a-Lago, not on her person. Unless she planned to enter the resort a second time, it seems very unlikely she was there to pay an asset for information.
Some tourists do indeed travel with loads of cash. Although Zhang has a Wells Fargo account in the United States that she could have accessed. And that account raises new questions. When and why did she set up this account and how has she used it in the past? Is her use of this bank account consistent with the investor and consulting business she claims to run? Or did she set it up years ago in an attempt to build her cover story while laying the groundwork for an intelligence operation? Investigators will try to find answers to those questions.
Is this a spy’s collection of devices?
When she was picked up at Mar-a-Lago, Zhang was carrying four cellphones, a laptop, an external hard drive and a thumb drive later found to carry malware. In her hotel room, investigators found nine USB drives, five SIM cards and a “signal detector” device, which could possibly be used to detect hidden cameras.
OK, that seems a little strange. It’s true that all kinds of professionals (including many in the financial sector) do go to great lengths to keep their activities secure from prying eyes or simply to separate out business activities and personal activities. Some people, for example, have a work phone and a private phone. And if someone travels internationally, they might have multiple SIM cards to allow them to have local phone numbers.
But an intelligence officer might also have multiple phones and SIM cards. Good spies follow the “one phone, one operation” rule. That is, they don’t call different assets using the same phone, because then they become linked, and key in any intelligence operation is to keep information compartmented. Much like you don’t want to send private texts on your work phone, you don’t want communications with multiple assets on a single device.
There is also the question of what kinds of phones these are. Are they burner phones, which are pay-as-you-go and not registered to an individual and therefore not easily traceable back to the purchaser and user? A spy would most likely use a burner phone. Or, maybe she was delivering burner phones to assets inside the resort to make communication easier? Or are these regular phones, registered in Zhang’s name or her company’s name? Investigators will certainly run traces on the phones and SIM cards to see if they link to anyone of interest or if they suggest a strange pattern of behavior, such as communicating with someone in a way that is meant to hide the contact.
Thumb drives are pretty normal in business, but malware isn’t. The fact that the first thumb drive Secret Service looked at had malware on it does not look good for Zhang.
It’s possible that a spy would want to use malware to destroy a network at the resort. But a foreign intelligence service would more likely be interested in using it to gather useful information. There is very little chance (if any) that Zhang could have gotten the malware anywhere near a government computer. But to slip a program into the resort’s network that would allow an intelligence service to see guest lists, schedules and itineraries, room assignments, and who is coming and going? Yes, that would be of interest.
Is Zhang just one part of a larger spy scheme?
What the heck is the “United Nations Chinese Friendship Association”? This is perhaps the most intriguing part of Zhang’s story.
Zhang explained that she was at Mar-a-Lago to attend a “United Nations Friendship Event” and that she had been invited by a Chinese friend named “Charles.” As the Miami Herald reports, a Chinese national named Charles Lee promotes events at Mar-a-Lago through his United Nations Chinese Friendship Association, which has no actual ties to the United Nations. No such event was scheduled at Mar-a-Lago that day, however.
By the way, Li “Cindy” Yang, the owner of a massage parlor that has been caught up in a sex trafficking sting who possibly sold access to Trump, promoted many of the same events as Charles Lee. (A spokeswoman for Yang told the Herald she has done nothing wrong.)
Is Zhang a private individual who, like others, used the association to get into Mar-a-Lago to help her business? Or is Zhang an isolated case of Chinese intelligence using the association for the same purpose? Or worse, is the Chinese government using the “friendship association” and its travel packages to funnel spies into Mar-a-Lago (and perhaps elsewhere)?
This wouldn’t be unheard of: Intelligence agencies often use front companies or “associations” to make their activities look benign and to disguise any involvement by the government.
In that case, it’s likely that Zhang’s arrest (along with scrutiny of Yang and Lee) just blew the association’s cover.
For now, it is impossible to say if Zhang was a confused tourist, who just wanted a glimpse of the president, or a bumbling Chinese intelligence officer whose cover story cracked. But one thing is for sure: Mar-a-Lago is target-rich environment for any real spy.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A congressional agency says staffers to then-U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci (reh-NAY'-see) of Ohio inappropriately used government resources to benefit his 2018 U.S. Senate bid.
Cleveland.com reports the Office of Congressional Ethics released the findings Wednesday. Renacci won't be sanctioned because he's no longer in office.
WASHINGTON (AP) - Special counsel Robert Mueller all but boldfaced this finding in his report on the Russia investigation: No exoneration for President Donald Trump on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice.
But Trump and his aides are stating that Mueller's report did exonerate. No words from the report will throw ...
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Florida lawmakers are entering the final two weeks of their annual 60-day session - the period when bills either start flying, or start dying.
It's when things get unpredictable and hectic as deals are being made on the largest issues facing lawmakers. And even though lawmakers ...
SIOUX CITY, IOWA — Sen. Cory Booker launched a bid for the White House in February on a message of love and unity, painting himself as an inspirational leader who would help a polarized America find common ground.
Just 10 weeks later, Booker is discovering that so far love just isn’t enough.
Polling in the single digits and lagging top-tier competitors in fundraising, Booker this week sought to reboot his campaign, launching a “Justice For All” two-week, national tour heavy on economic policy proposals and social justice messaging. In Iowa, he rolled out an expansive proposal for a new income tax credit and talked about the need for rural infrastructure investment. In Georgia, he unveiled a voting rights plan, vowing to make Election Day a national holiday and talked about restoring voting rights to ex-felons.
The recent steps aim to invigorate a presidential bid that has underwhelmed some Democrats who are questioning whether Booker’s message is one that resonates in the Trump era.
Booker kicked off his presidential bid on Feb. 1 framing his run on the proposition that the nation’s next leader needed to tap into ways to reunite an ever-divided country. Booker, who often references Martin Luther King Jr., is shaping his candidacy as one that seeks to bring back civic grace and discourse, saying that political tribalism in America runs so deep “we can’t even do the things that we agree on.”
“Right now what this country needs is not people having a race to the gutter, not a party that’s going to show the worst of who they are, not when they go low we go lower, not fighting fire with fire,” he said at a recent Iowa campaign stop.
It’s a tricky platform to execute, said Sean Bagniewski, chair of the Polk County Democrats. While he said Booker’s messaging is “compelling,” it comes at a political moment when the party is hungry for candidates to offer up evidence that they can defeat President Donald Trump.
“The Democratic base is angry as hell and we’re fighting for our lives,” Bagniewski said. “That’s how it feels every day. The primary voters are angry and they want to fight.”
At an Iowa town hall this week, one potential caucus-goer commented on Booker’s approach, telling him that “while we love your love message,” tackling issues like climate change “has to be our first priority.”
Even the senator acknowledged he’s been second-guessed on his messaging.
“‘That’s not a strategy to win, Cory. You’re fighting against Donald Trump. How you gonna to win?’” Booker said people will ask him. “And I say, ‘please, I’m the guy who beat this machine in Newark, New Jersey.’”
Booker told that Iowa crowd he believes the election has to be about something more than just ousting Trump from the White House.
“We have a choice in this election. To make it about one guy and one election and just get rid of him? I understand that call, but it’s got to be about something bigger than that,” Booker said. “We Democrats in this room, it can’t just be about beating Republicans, no. This is a moral moment in our country where it’s got to be about uniting Americans.”
A March Focus on Rural America poll in Iowa backs up Booker’s premise: 50 percent of those surveyed said it was “absolutely critical” that a 2020 candidate is “someone who can heal the racial, ethnic and partisan divide in our country.”
Still, as he moves into the second quarter of the most crowded and diverse Democratic presidential primary in history, Booker is finding that the skills he's long tapped as an orator with a mayor’s flair for finding human connection so far hasn’t been enough to break through. On top of a slew of other U.S. senators in the race, fresh faces like former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg are deploying similar retail traits to dazzle prospective voters.
So far, according to polls, O’Rourke and Buttigieg have ranked above Booker, who also trails top tier candidates in the race including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.
Booker’s first-quarter $5 million fundraising haul came in toward the low end of the expansive Democratic field and while his campaign says his polling numbers qualified him for the national debate stage, he’s trailing in the small-dollar fundraising contest that’s reflecting strength in many of his competitors’ campaigns.
With that in mind, Booker has shifted toward a more policy-heavy agenda in his two-week tour across the country that will take him to early presidential states and the South.
In an Iowa event on tax day, Booker unrolled an expansive income tax credit, proposing to raise the Earned Income Tax Credit by 25 percent, aiming to significantly reach more people.
“We should be having the biggest increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit and that’s what I’m proposing, by making sure that anybody who works gets back from the government – if you’re earning more than $50,000 a year, or if you’re a couple, $90,000 a year -- you will get a tax credit in this country,” he said. Then he gently jabbed at the crowd for failing to react. “And by the way, before you even applaud, let me tell you,” he said to laughter.
Even as Booker sought a recharge in Iowa, he was overshadowed by Buttigieg, whose unexpected surge drew among the biggest crowds for Democratic 2020 candidates touring the first-in-the-nation primary state.
“I think part of it is the newness factor. We have a lot of great candidates in the field who are pretty well known. Pete’s bubbled up because he’s new and different. But also his demeanor, he’s very chill, has a great sense of humor but he’s very knowledgeable,” said Vanessa Phelan, chair of Northwest Des Moines Democrats.
Phelan noted that while Buttigieg’s crowd was unexpectedly large, she’s seen many of the same people attending events for 2020 candidates as they’re still shopping around. Asked if Democrats wanted to hear Booker’s message of love and unity, she said they do – but that they want more.
“What we all just really want is for the presidency to change hands,” she said. “I think there is a space for that message but I just don’t know if it’s resonating.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Jeanne Shaheen was facing down Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — and not too pleased about it.
The senator asked Pompeo to push the Afghan government and the Taliban to include Afghan women in peace talks. But he wouldn’t fully commit to doing so.
“Senator, there are lots of issues that we’re working our way through,” Pompeo told her during the exchange in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week.
“I understand that, but this is half of the population in the country,” Shaheen shot back.
“Yes, ma’am, and I hope they will make their voices heard,” Pompeo said.
Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat and the only woman on the committee, was not reassured.
The Trump administration says it cares about the future of women in an Afghanistan where the Taliban — who have a history of repressing women — may again have political power. State Department officials even hint that the country could lose out on aid funds if women’s rights aren’t protected.
But asked this week if she believes President Donald Trump and his top aides are genuinely serious about the issue, Shaheen was quiet for several seconds, then finally said: “We don’t know the answer to that yet.”
As the peace talks move forward, Shaheen is determined to keep pressing the issue of women. She visited the country last weekend, where she assured worried Afghan women that she’s not giving up on them.
In many ways, though, Shaheen cuts a lonely figure in Washington.
Protecting Afghan women once had vocal bipartisan support in D.C. — it was, after all, a cause célèbre among people ranging from former first lady Laura Bush to feminist heroine Gloria Steinem. But such public declarations have been notably sparse in recent months as the ongoing peace talks offer a shot at a U.S. exit from a war many Americans are eager to end after nearly 18 years.
The relative dearth of U.S. politicians speaking out has some activists fearing that Trump will compromise with the Taliban in ways that will threaten the gains Afghan women have made since 2001, including being allowed to attend school and work outside the home.
“The very fact that we have to say ‘Where are the women? Will women’s rights be protected?’ instead of understanding that all of that is integral to the future of Afghanistan highlights the problem,” said Andrea Prasow of Human Rights Watch.
“It’s Afghanistan fatigue,” she added. “Everyone wants to be done in one way or another.”
One telling moment came in late January, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, proposed a measure that warned Trump against a “precipitous withdrawal” from Syria or Afghanistan.
The Republican president, who has an isolationist streak, has made it clear he wants to withdraw U.S. troops from both countries as soon as feasible.
McConnell’s measure passed the Senate, but nearly every Democrat considering running for president in 2020 voted against it. Some accused McConnell of wanting to perpetuate a “forever war.”
The 2020 Democrats’ dissent was a reflection of the exhaustion with the Afghan war even among liberals who see themselves as champions of women’s rights.
Shaheen, who voted in favor of the McConnell measure and is up for re-election in 2020, acknowledged the political realities. On the women’s issue, “I think we need more support. It needs to be bipartisan,” she told POLITICO in a phone interview after her visit to Afghanistan.
As part of her campaign to keep the issue in the spotlight, Shaheen in early February wrote a letter, cosigned by fellow Democratic senators Bob Menendez and Patrick Leahy, that urged Pompeo to include and prioritize Afghan women in the peace talks.
In early April, Shaheen invited Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S. — the first woman in that role — as her guest for NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s speech to Congress.
Shaheen keeps reminding the administration that Trump in 2017 signed a bill, which she spearheaded, that commits the U.S. to bolstering women’s roles in resolving global conflicts. She further points to research that shows peace deals are more likely to succeed when women are involved in crafting them.
Shaheen, 72, told POLITICO that she plans to ask other lawmakers heading to Afghanistan in the coming months to make sure to meet with women while there to understand the progress they’ve made thanks in part to the U.S. presence.
“The culture in Afghanistan has changed in some ways, certainly in the cities,” she said.
Inside Afghanistan, women have mobilized to the extent that they can in a country where men still dominate the power structure. They have held conferences and protests demanding they get a seat at the table.
And there are some signs that their voices are being heard.
On Monday, some news organizations quoted a Taliban spokesman as saying the group’s delegation to “intra-Afghan” peace talks originally planned for this weekend would include women. But soon afterward the Taliban walked that back.
The Taliban representatives had been due to meet in Doha, Qatar, with a delegation of prominent Afghans, many of whom were expected to be women. The talks were scuttled at the last minute over several issues.
Such discussions, while important, nonetheless carry less weight than the direct talks that have taken place between the U.S. and the Taliban. The U.S. delegation is led by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.
In his talks with the Taliban, Khalilzad has focused primarily on security issues, including paving the way for an eventual U.S. troop withdrawal while convincing the Taliban to agree not to shelter terrorist groups.
But Khalilzad has insisted that no peace deal is final until the “intra-Afghan” portion is inked. That potentially could include a power-sharing deal between the Taliban and the current Afghan government, or at least pave the way for the Taliban to formally enter the political realm.
Khalilzad did not respond to a request for comment, but a State Department spokesperson noted that his team includes women, and that his deputy, Ambassador Molly Phee, has “led portions of the talks with the Taliban.”
The spokesperson also alluded to some leverage that the U.S. can wield down the line if the Taliban take political power in impoverished Afghanistan: international aid dollars.
“We have made clear to Afghans that the success of our future bilateral relationship and Afghanistan’s relationship with the international community will rest in part on what it does to maintain civil rights of women,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
Khalilzad himself has assured women’s groups of his sympathies: “While #Afghans alone will decide the composition of their delegation for talks, #women must be at the table during all negotiations about #peace & #Afghanistan’s future,” he tweeted on April 1.
But Khalilzad and other U.S. officials have said little to suggest that Afghan women’s participation in the talks, or the safeguarding of their rights in the long-run, is of such importance that the U.S. would be willing to abandon a deal because of it.
Activists worry that non-committal statements from Khalilzad, Pompeo and others Trump aides will open the door to a deal in which women’s rights are embraced in words but not in reality. That’s all the more likely if Taliban leaders gain substantial political power and interpret Islamic law more severely than the current Afghan leadership.
When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan, before being ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2001, they forbid girls from going to school, barred women from working, and forced women to wear all-encompassing burqas outside the home. Women who disobeyed were severely punished.
In the years since the U.S. invasion, millions of Afghan girls have enrolled in school and many Afghan women have joined the workforce, especially in cities.
The debate over the peace talks today somewhat echoes concerns voiced during President Barack Obama’s tenure as he, too, tried with little success to engage in negotiations with the Taliban and get the U.S. out of Afghanistan.
At the time, Obama aides downplayed the issue of women’s rights, casting America’s primary geostrategic interest in the country as one of security and stability, not human rights.
That’s not unusual for any presidential administration’s view of any conflict. The U.S., after all, didn’t initially invade Afghanistan because of the Taliban’s brutality toward women. It invaded because the Taliban were sheltering 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida followers.
And if a peace deal fails, “we are not going to re-invade Afghanistan because of girls’ education,” said Jarrett Blanc, a former State Department official under Obama now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Despite the lack of Afghan female voices at the negotiating table under Trump so far, many Afghan woman are hopeful about the overall arc of the talks.
They, too, are tired of the war that has threatened every Afghan, regardless of gender, and would rather there be some sort of a peace deal instead of a sudden U.S. withdrawal that could plunge the country into further chaos.
There also are signs that the Taliban are not monolithic in their views toward women. In some Taliban-controlled parts of Afghanistan now, girls are allowed to go to school.
That the Taliban even considered including women in their delegation in Doha may suggest the group, or at least some of its members, realizes how much the country has changed since the 1990s, according to some who track the subject.
“I think that this means the Taliban realize that they have to engage on the women’s issue, and more engagement is better than less engagement,” said Masuda Sultan, an Afghan-American board member of the group Women for Afghan Women.
Shaheen, too, noted that the Taliban, or at least some elements of the group, are more progressive than others.
But she still doesn’t trust them.
“That’s why any negotiation needs to be a conditions-based negotiation, where we don’t take them at their word,” she said.
Shaheen, who also serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, further dismissed the idea of a complete U.S. troop withdrawal, especially if al-Qaida and the Islamic State terrorist groups continue to have a presence in Afghanistan.
“Any suggestion that we’re gonna totally move out without leaving any kind of a counterterrorism mission there from my perspective is not realistic,” she said.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Republican legislators across the country are rallying behind President Donald Trump's efforts to link Democrats with "infanticide," daring Democratic governors to veto "born alive" bills animating the party's base before the 2020 elections.
Bills approved by GOP-run legislatures in Montana and North Carolina this week would penalize health care providers for failing to care for an infant who survives an abortion attempt. The measures, which are also winding through legislatures in Texas and elsewhere, are being pushed by anti-abortion groups that quickly seized on bills in New York and Virginia aimed at loosening restrictions on third-trimester abortions.
"Pro-life activists in the legislature are really making things uncomfortable for the governors," said Mallory Quigley, a spokesperson with Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group allied with the Trump administration. "Now they have a tricky situation politically with these pro-life bills headed to their desk."
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who faces reelection next year in a state Trump won by 3.6 percentage points, on Thursday vetoed the bill state lawmakers passed two days earlier. A spokesperson for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who is mulling a presidential run as a bridge-building moderate, indicated he will likely do the same.
“This needless legislation would criminalize doctors and other healthcare providers for a practice that simply does not exist,” Cooper said in a statement after vetoing the bill.
Democrats and abortion rights activists say the GOP and Trump — who said Democrats "don't mind executing babies AFTER birth" — are using inflammatory language to spread misinformation about third trimester abortions, which are rare and often involve serious health problems for either the pregnant woman or the fetus. Democrats argue the law already prevents doctors from killing babies, and the so-called "born alive" measures would prevent doctors from providing appropriate care and add emotional pain to already tough medical decisions.
Similar bills in Congress have been defeated or stalled, but Republicans plan to press the issue heading into the 2020 election. Trump has won over evangelicals, a key GOP constituency, with his strong anti-abortion position and attempts to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Conservatives, seeking to paint Democrats as so extreme on abortion that they tolerate "baby-killers," believe the issue can motivate their voters and appeal to Hispanics — who are divided on abortion — and suburban women who helped fuel Democrats’ midterm election gains.
Cooper’s veto emerged as an immediate flashpoint in North Carolina, a 2020 battleground for the presidency and control of the Senate — Democrats believe they must topple Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) next year to have a shot at retaking the chamber. The state GOP accused Cooper of aligning with “infanticide and extremist” abortion providers.
Cooper, who in 2016 just narrowly defeated an unpopular Republican incumbent, is betting his veto won’t hurt his reelection effort.
“Two decades ago you’d never have seen a North Carolina politician take this kind of step,” said Mitch Kokai, a senior political analyst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh. “But I’m guessing Cooper is making the political calculation that there are enough supporters of the pro-choice movement concerned about this legislation and its ties to the pro-life cause that he thinks it’s not going to hurt him.”
Texas and six other states are debating similar bills based on model legislation from National Right to Life that would impose fines and prison sentences on physicians and nurses who neglect an infant surviving an abortion. The Texas bill is on the verge of passage — the state House and Senate must reconcile slightly differing versions of the bill before it's sent to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has tweeted his support.
The political firestorm over third trimester abortions was ignited earlier this year by a vote in the New York legislature to ease restrictions on the procedure and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's graphic comments defending a similar bill in his state. Democratic presidential candidates have faced questions about the issue on the campaign trail.
"What happened in New York and Virginia is seen as very extreme," Quigley of SBA List said. "You've got Beto [O'Rourke] and Bernie [Sanders] and people running for president, having to speak on late-term abortion. This is going to be an issue that hurts them."
Democrats are largely united on abortion rights and have tried to highlight Trump administration actions undercutting access to Planned Parenthood and contraception. Still, some Democrats worry about their party's strategy to counteract Republican messaging on these bills.
"[Democrats] should be increasingly concerned, not just about this policy but about ... a model that takes a national message, often a muddled one, and figures out a way to localize and it and weaponize it," said a Democratic Senate aide. "The moment you take a national thing and localize it and it makes Democrat governors uncomfortable, Republicans win."
Senate Democrats earlier this year blocked an attempt to bring up a "born alive" bill from Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), before the measure was defeated largely along party lines in late February. Three Democrats — Sens. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Doug Jones of Alabama and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — voted for it. House Republicans, meanwhile, have been gathering signatures to force a vote on the floor.
The state measures so far have passed largely with GOP votes. However, they got some support from Democratic lawmakers in conservative parts of the country.
"The picture painted by [the bill] is horrific," said Texas state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, one of two Senate Democrats who voted for the bill in a statement. "The idea that a doctor would, in the aftermath of a failed abortion, witness a newborn child struggle for life and do nothing to assist is incomprehensible and abhorrent."
But many Democratic state lawmakers argued the bills were meant to score political points or to discourage doctors from providing abortions. Democrats in North Carolina argued that Republicans never pushed for a vote when they held legislative supermajorities as recently as last year.
"Let me just say that not a single one of us in this room supports infanticide," said Texas state Rep. Donna Howard, a Democrat who organized a boycott of the state's bill on the House floor Tuesday. "The misinformation perpetuated by this bill is dangerous and is the exact type of rhetoric that leads to threats of violence against providers."
Democrats say Republicans are misrepresenting how often and why abortions happen later in pregnancy. In Texas, for example, no infants survived an abortion attempt between 2013 and 2016, the only years that state health department data is available. And if a doctor does harm to a baby, charges can be filed under existing the law — as was the case with abortion provider Kermit Gosnell, who was convicted of murder in 2013.
The "born alive" bills would criminalize negligence, meaning that prosecutors would not necessarily have to prove a premeditated intent to harm to bring a case. Second, they establish harsh penalties — in Montana's bill, for example, physicians and nurses could face up to 20 years in prison.
Anti-abortion groups are confident the measures would withstand legal challenges, unlike other state laws that have sought to ban abortion before fetal viability — the standard set by Roe v. Wade. Some abortion rights groups said they likely wouldn’t try to block these measures in court, decrying the bills as a “scare tactic.”
“Newborns are already protected under existing law, so this legislation is completely unnecessary,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - A comedian who plays the role of Ukraine's president on television is set to take on the job for real, pushing out the man who currently holds the office, according to public opinion surveys ahead of Sunday's election.
Saturday was a so-called "day of quiet," on ...
PATAGONIA, Ariz. (AP) - The U.S. Border Patrol says an Ecuadorian man assaulted an agent on a mountain trail in southern Arizona after the Ecuadorian and two Mexican men apparently crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.
The Border Patrol says neither the agent nor the Ecuadorian required medical attention after being ...
WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. prosecutors say a Russian gun-rights activist who admitted being a secret agent for the Kremlin should serve an 18-month prison sentence.
The request came in a sentencing memo filed late Friday in Maria Butina's case.
Prosecutors say Butina was "not a spy in the traditional sense" ...
For all the deep-dish sleuthing and prosecutorial imagination Robert S. Mueller III threw at his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, the 448-page report that is its capstone ultimately poses bigger questions than it answers.
Not to disparage the industry of Mueller and his team and their encyclopedic findings of Trump’s delinquency, but except for the twin revelations that prosecutors found no evidence of Trump campaign conspiracy with the Russians and the “Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” I feel let down. Maybe I’ll change my mind when the redactions get filled in, but reading today all the base and low things Trump has done in the past three years, I still don’t know the whys behind his behavior. Why did Donald Trump lie so tirelessly about the status of the Trump Tower Moscow project? Why did he attempt to conceal the true purpose of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a gaggle of Russians? Why did he suggest the hackers behind the stolen Democrats emails could have been China or a “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds“ when it was so obviously Russia? Why did he lie about his request to get White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller in June 2017 and then demand that McGahn lie about issuing the directive?
Why did he ask FBI Director James Comey to abort the bureau’s investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had lied to investigators about his talks about sanctions with the Russian ambassador? Why did he switch stories on why he fired Comey? Why did he ask Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to hold a presser about the firing and tell the lie that the sacking was Rosenstein’s idea? Why did he try to throttle the special counsel’s investigation? Why did he tease Paul Manafort with the promise of a pardon? Why did he shout “fake news“ so many times when he was the faker? Why did so many of the players in the Trump orbit—Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Erik Prince, Sarah Sanders, Donald Trump Jr., Michael Cohen and Roger Stone—appear to have told lies in the president’s service?
If Mueller were a seer and his report the oracular readings of entrails, we would be within our rights as news consumers to demand the sacrifice of an additional animal for a new omen. You might say I’m being unfair, and you’d be right. Mueller isn’t a psychiatrist. He was assigned to scour campaign 2016 (and then Trump’s efforts to undermine him) for ringing evidence of crime, and he succeeded, winning his case against Manafort and compelling Flynn, Gates and others to confess. When it came to Trump, Mueller appears to have had the evidentiary goods to charge the president with obstruction but held his fire because of the legal obstacles to indicting a sitting president. Instead, he chose a third path, saying he could not “conclude that the president committed a crime” but he could also “not exonerate him.” If the dots of his obstruction investigation can be connected, the Mueller report seems to imply, Congress and not the courts should do the connecting with articles of impeachment.
Except for pausing to explain that Trump suppressed information that would call into question the legitimacy of his election—and that he feared that incessant probing might uncover criminal activity by him, his campaign or his family—the Mueller report offers no firm theory on what motivated Trump’s constant deceptions. Likewise, Mueller’s assessment that Trump obstructed his investigation on at least 10 occasions lacks a firm explanation for why he would engage in such risky acts. For instance, why did Trump, whose sense of loyalty usually runs one way, put his neck out so far for Flynn by instructing Comey to lay off? Consider a counterfactual in which Trump dumps Flynn at first opportunity and doesn’t interfere with Comey’s Russia investigation. No Comey sacking, no Mueller, hence no pattern of obstruction. Obviously, Comey probably would have uncovered some damaging Trump information, but those revelations would have been limited compared with what Mueller revealed because so much of the damning information in the report is about Trump efforts to undermine Mueller.
When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in May 2017 that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate the Russia business, the report tells us, “the president slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.’” One way to read this lamentation is that Trump understood that he was guilty of great crimes and that the special counsel’s dragnet was going to collect them all and send him and his cronies to jail. Another is that the backstage Trump captured in the “I’m fucked” anecdote is a lot like frontstage Trump: He overdramatizes and overreacts to everything. If you were to stick Trump’s finger with a pin, he would scream that he was being fed into a woodchipper.
Maybe this hysterical bearing, fueled by Trump’s imperfect knowledge of the law, prompted him to regard any legal scrutiny as a potential Armageddon. The idea that confronting controversy by telling the truth—like admitting secret payoffs to your mistresses, for example—makes better political sense than uncoiling a batch of lies to conceal the facts seems beyond Trump. One takeaway from the report is that given his druthers, Trump would rather be maimed by the backlash of one of his lies than suffer the sting of telling a simple truth.
The watchword of the Obama administration, formulated by Obama himself, was “Don’t do stupid shit.” The corresponding watchword in Trumpworld, as observed by White House counsel McGahn, was “do crazy shit.” Trump’s sustained appetite for duplicity, his brinkmanship, and his ceaseless chaos-making, thoroughly documented in the report, appear to have prevented Mueller from formulating a greater theory of the case against him. Having made dishonesty his careerlong policy, Trump encourages us to believe that his lies don’t necessarily point to any definable goals. His lies exist primarily to shield the earlier lies he’s told, making his life’s work an endless weave of fraud and falsehood. That makes anybody who punctures these lies—the “fake news media,” for example, or Democrats on the Hill, investigators like Comey or Mueller, or intelligence agencies—the enemy. And the best way to counteract their critiques is with additional lies and new vitriol, Trump surmises.
Today, with Trump dodging an indictment, it looks like he won. But that victory might be temporary. Dispassionate almost to a fault, the Mueller report punctures with legal precision Trump’s ugly methods. The report’s final use might not be as the legal cornerstone to a Trump impeachment but as a political text to guide voters in the 2020 election.
Send your entrails via email to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts fantasize a counterfactual in which my Twitter feed doesn’t exist and it gets all the great lines I write for my RSS feed.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Over 448 pages, special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report covered a huge amount of ground, from Trump campaign contacts with Russian operatives to President Donald Trump’s efforts to thwart Mueller’s probe.
But while Mueller found that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government, he didn’t resolve every mystery surrounding the Kremlin’s 2016 election interference scheme.
Several lines of inquiry that Mueller and the FBI — not to mention countless journalists and amateur Internet sleuths — had reportedly been pursuing went unaddressed in the copious document. They include mysterious interactions between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank computer servers; the inner workings of the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica; and influence-peddling by Middle Eastern countries targeting Trump’s fledgling administration. Other avenues, like whether compromising tapes exist of the president and what a Russian oligarch did with the internal Trump campaign polling data he was given, were left open-ended.
It’s possible that some or all of these topics are being examined by federal prosecutors independent of Mueller’s office. Mueller revealed in his report that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information was often transferred to FBI headquarters or field offices. Mueller also made 14 criminal referrals to the Justice Department and bureau. Only two of those referrals — involving Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig — are publicly known.
It seems clear that none of those subplots prompted Mueller’s team to consider bringing criminal charges. But while Mueller’s original mandate directed him to pursue both a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal probe, his report contains no classified information, leaving unknown to the public anything he might have discovered in that category.
Here are five of the biggest unresolved subplots of the Russia investigation:
Did a secret computer link exist between the Trump Organization and Moscow’s Alfa Bank?
Even before Mueller was appointed, the FBI was examining why a computer server for Alfa Bank, Russia’s largest commercial bank — led by oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin — had thousands of contacts with a server used by the Trump Organization between May and September of 2016. A Slate report on the contacts based on research by computer scientists caused an online sensation just days before the election, until the New York Times reported that the FBI had concluded there could be what the paper called an “innocuous explanation” for the activity, like a marketing email or spam.
Many independent cybersecurity researchers and experts, many of whom worked at senior levels in the Pentagon, White House, and intelligence community, have continued to insist that the timing and frequency of the server activity was not consistent with an automated process. “The timing of the communication was not random, and it wasn’t regular-periodic,” one researcher told told the New Yorker last October. “It was a better match for human activity.”
Innocuous or not, the server activity is not addressed in the Mueller report at all. The only discussion of Alfa Bank comes within the context of efforts by its CEO, Petr Aven, to connect with the Trump transition team in December 2016. Those efforts were apparently unsuccessful, according to Mueller, which may have led the special counsel’s office to dismiss the computer server activity as inconsequential. But there’s still no conclusive explanation for the pinging, or why the Trump domain that Alfa was contacting abruptly disappeared two days after the New York Times notified Alfa’s representatives in Washington of the server activity.
Did Cambridge Analytica have ties to Russia or WikiLeaks?
One of the biggest subplots of the investigations into Russian election interference is the role the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. But the controversial company didn’t appear once in the report, despite indications that Mueller had questioned and subpoenaed former employees.
The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the summer of 2016, and it played a key role in trying to sway voters using pilfered Facebook data during the election.
Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American who worked at the University of Cambridge, helped the firm harvest the raw data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles beginning in 2014, which the company then used to micro-target political ads. There’s a WikiLeaks connection, too: Alexander Nix, the company’s CEO, has acknowledged reaching out to Assange in the summer of 2016 to offer his help in organizing any Hillary Clinton-related emails WikiLeaks planned to release.
Mueller subpoenaed Brittany Kaiser, the former business development director for the firm, earlier this year. She told The Guardian that she was fully cooperating. Sam Patten, a Washington-based operative who began cooperating with Mueller’s probe last year after pleading guilty to an unrelated charge, worked at the Oregon office of Cambridge Analytica’s parent company, SCL Group, in runup to the 2014 midterm elections. And Mueller quizzed several digital experts who worked on Trump’s campaign about the big-data firm, according to ABC.
Like the NRA, however, Cambridge Analytica is not mentioned at all in Mueller’s report. As such, it is still unclear what, if anything, the company knew about WikiLeaks’ plans or whether its micro-targeting efforts were coordinated with the Russian’s information warfare campaign.
Intriguingly, though, much of the portion of Mueller’s report dealing with Russia’s Internet Research Agency — which tasked internet “trolls” with spreading disinformation and propaganda during the election — was redacted in the final report because of potential harm to ongoing investigations.
What was the NRA’s relationship with the Trump campaign, and with Russia?
Since the election, there have been numerous but vague data points indicating the Russians might be trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association as a way to connect with Republicans and Trump’s campaign.
Mueller’s report, however, failed to shed any light on the subject, despite media reports that the special counsel was poking around on the subject.
The first indication of Mueller’s interest in the potential ties came earlier this year, when former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg told CNN the special counsel’s team had asked him about the campaign’s relationship with the NRA and the circumstances of a Trump speech there in 2015. The investigators continued asking witnesses about the campaign’s ties to the NRA as recently as December 2018, according to CNN.
And last July’s indictment of Maria Butina, a Russian national who sought to infiltrate both the Trump campaign and the NRA during the election, also raised questions about the group’s status as a potential intermediary between Trump and the Russians. Butina was charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Justice Department.
Butina was the first person to ask Trump in public about his position on Russian sanctions during a 2015 event in Las Vegas, and tried to broker a meeting between Trump and her Russian handler, Alexander Torshin, at an NRA convention in May 2016.
McClatchy later reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were investigating whether Torshin laundered money from Russia into the NRA to help fund Trump’s campaign — the NRA spent $30 million to support Trump in 2016, triple what it spent on supporting Mitt Romney in 2012.
Despite the investigators’ interest, however, the gun-rights group was not mentioned a single time in Mueller’s report. And her case was handled by prosecutors in Washington, D.C., not by Mueller’s team.
What did WikiLeaks know about the source of the stolen emails?
Mueller did answer one lingering question about Russian election hacking — how Kremlin agents got their digitally pilfered emails to WikiLeaks.
But he didn’t address the more potentially damning question: Did WikiLeaks know it was getting the material from Russian cutouts?
In his report, Mueller outlines in detail how Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, hacked Democrats during the campaign. Between March and April of 2016, the report says, “the GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks” and disseminated them both through GRU agents posing as independent hackers — including “Guccifer 2.0” and DCLeaks.com — and WikiLeaks.
According to Mueller's report, the GRU used those fake online personas to shuttle some of their stolen cache to WikiLeaks. Through DCLeaks, the GRU initiated a conversation with WikiLeaks about transferring stolen documents on June 16, 2016. Eight days later, WikiLeaks reached out to Guccifer 2.0 via Twitter and asked for “any new material.”
Mueller noted that Assange and WikiLeaks tried to obscure the source of the hacked materials by claiming in public statements that the DNC hack was an "inside job" carried out by Seth Rich, a murdered committee staffer, rather than by Russia.
But the special counsel’s office either wouldn’t or couldn’t explain what WikiLeaks knew about the true identity of the hackers.
“Both the GRU and WikiLeaks sought to hide their communications, which has limited the Office's ability to collect all of the communications between them,” the report says, pointing to their use of encryption.
That information could be relevant to determining whether WikiLeaks acted in a journalistic capacity, as its founder Julian Assange has maintained, or as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” abetted by Russia, as then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo claimed in April 2017.
Assange was arrested in London earlier this month after Ecuador withdrew his asylum. He faces U.S. criminal charges for allegedly trying to help former U.S. intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning crack into a computer storing sensitive government files in 2010.
What about the infamous video tape alleged in the Steeele dossier?
Perhaps no element of the Trump-Russia scandal was as sensational as the claim, contained in an unverified dossier assembled during the campaign by former British spy Christopher Steele, that the Russians had kompromat on Trump in the former of video capturing him cavorting with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room.
Although the alleged tape consumed vast public attention over the past two years, Mueller mentions it only briefly. His report states that Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze texted Michael Cohen on October 30, 2016 and said: "Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know .... " Rtskhiladze told investigators that “tapes” referred to derogatory tapes of Trump rumored to be in the possession of the Agalarovs—a Russian-Azerbaijani family that hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.
Rtskhiladze told Mueller that he believed the tapes were fake. But for whatever reason, he didn’t tell that to Cohen, according to the report. Mueller does not draw a conclusion one way or the other. It remains unclear who might have been creating or disseminating such tapes, what their motive might have been — and whether anyone on Mueller’s team ever saw one or more of them.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig will go on trial Aug. 12 on charges that he lied to and concealed information from the Justice Department about his work for Ukraine, according to a judge’s scheduling order issued Friday.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson set the trial date in Washington, D.C., along with a series of other key dates in the case, which spun out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Federal prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington are now handling the Craig case, which centers around allegations that he should have registered as a foreign lobbyist for legal work he did starting in 2012 to defend Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s jailing of one of his political opponents.
Craig, 74, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His lawyers earlier this week signaled that their defense will center around the argument that there’s no affirmative duty under the law to convey “all relevant facts” to the government. Craig’s case deals with work he did at the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom law firm after his one-year government stint at the start of the Obama administration.
Other key dates in Jackson’s order include a May 10 deadline for Craig’s lawyers to file any motions to dismiss the case, and an Aug. 5 pretrial conference.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
WASHINGTON (AP) - Special counsel Robert Mueller's report focuses on the seminal questions of whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians and whether the president sought to illegally obstruct the investigation.
But tucked into the 448-page document are vivid anecdotes and meaningful revelations about a colorful cast of ...
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday called on Congress to impeach President Donald Trump in the wake of the publication of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, breaking with Democratic leaders deferring the politically risky move despite new evidence that Trump attempted to derail the Russia probe.
“To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways,” Warren said on Twitter.
“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” the Massachusetts Democrat added. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
Mueller’s 448-page report described at least 10 instances in which Trump attempted to interfere with the probe, implying that the president may have escaped an incriminating finding because top aides refused to carry out his most dramatic orders.
Warren, a leading contender in the 2020 field, called for extreme measures in response to the revelations. She joined a smattering of lawmakers — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a high-profile progressive newcomer — in calling for the president’s ousting.
“Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: ‘Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,’” Warren said. “The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.”
A number of Democrats on Thursday, however, said they felt the evidence against Trump — though damaging — was not enough to trigger the consequential act of trying to forcibly eject the president from office. Party leaders fear such a move could cost the party the House.
Most of Warren’s primary rivals have demurred on questions about impeachment, not taking the option off the table but also not calling for it outright.
The special counsel ultimately did not come to a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, but Attorney General William Barr said in a letter to Congress last month he would not pursue charges since it is clear that was not Trump’s “intent.”
Democrats railed against Barr after reading the report, claiming the attorney general’s handling of it was misleading and a clear attempt to protect Trump. Many pushed to continue the investigation by quickly taking matters into their own hands — a process set in motion Friday, when the House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for an unredacted version of Mueller’s report and confirmed it was in talks with the Justice Department about plans for the special counsel to testify before Congress next month.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
The Trump campaign has hired its own in-house attorney for its 2020 reelection bid — shifting future business away from Jones Day, the law firm, that has represented Trump since his first run for president.
Campaign officials and advisers cast the decision to hire Nathan Groth — a former lawyer for the Republican National Committee and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker — as a money-saving move, supported by the businessman-turned-president who loves to cut costs.
But close Trump advisers say the decision also stems from disappointment with the White House’s former top attorney and current Jones Day partner, Don McGahn, whose behavior has irked the president and some of his family members.
Taking business away from Jones Day is payback, these advisers say, for McGahn’s soured relationship with the Trump family and a handful articles in high-profile newspapers that the family blames, unfairly or not, on the former White House counsel.
“Why in the world would you want to put your enemy on the payroll?” said one adviser close to the White House. “They do not want to reward his firm. Trump arrived at that point long ago, but the security clearance memo stories put a fine point on it.”
One February 2019 story, in particular, caught the White House’s attention, when The New York Times reported that the president ordered John Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, to grant a security clearance to Jared Kushner. Kelly had written an internal memo on it, according to the Times. That fact was closely held inside the White House, and few officials other than Kelly and McGahn knew, say two close White House advisers — and the administration blamed McGahn for the leak.
McGahn did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Trump campaign spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Mueller report, released on Thursday, seems only to have fueled Trump’s anger. It portrayed McGahn as one of the key officials who stopped Trump from taking actions that might be deemed to have obstructed justice.
In one especially colorful passage, McGahn is quoted as saying that the president had asked him to do “crazy shit.” In another, Trump berates his White House counsel for taking too many notes, comparing him unfavorably to his longtime consigilere, the late Roy Cohn.
On Friday, Trump seemed to take aim at McGahn on Twitter, writing, “Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed.”
The decision to shift law firms has been in the works for weeks, however, and predates release of the Mueller report.
The loss of Trump campaign business will be a financial blow to the D.C. political law practice of Jones Day, which had raked in $5.5 million in legal fees since the start of the 2016 Trump campaign, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
The campaign still intends to lean on Jones Day for litigation already underway, so it is not severing all ties, and as a global law firm with 43 offices and 2,500 lawyers, its work for Trump campaign is just one small piece of its business.
The current head of the Jones Day political law practice, Ben Ginsberg, did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.
Groth will report to senior lawyers on the campaign, according to a Republican operative familiar with the operation. He will handle all of the compliance work such as conventions, ballot access and run-of-the-mill services like reviewing employment contracts and leases. This was a more typical arrangement for a campaign, the operative added — to have an in-house attorney and then other outside law firms for additional help. In 2016, the Trump campaign leaned entirely on Jones Day and McGahn, a former appointee to the Federal Elections Commission.
The move marks the waning of a symbiotic relationship between the law firm and the sitting president. After McGahn was named White House counsel, he brought with him into the administration 12 Jones Day attorneys who worked in the counsel’s office, and the departments of Commerce, Agriculture and Justice, including the current solicitor general, who is responsible for arguing the administration’s positions before the Supreme Court.
At the time, David Lat of the legal blog Above the Law wrote: “This is very good news for Jones Day and the lawyers remaining at the firm. It’s great for the firm’s prestige, and it also means that JD lawyers will be eagerly sought after by clients with issues pending before their former colleagues.”
McGahn returned to Jones Day as a partner this March, leading the government regulation practice. McGahn, a close ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, continues to advise Senate Republicans on judicial nominations, while focusing his law practice on the nuances of regulation, another of his passions from his White House tenure. Allies say he doesn’t mind losing the Trump campaign work and is quite happy with his new setup.
Prior to joining the White House, McGahn worked as a partner in the election law group at Jones Day from June 2014 to January 2017.
Maggie Severns contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
LIMA, Peru (AP) - A Peruvian judge has ordered that former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski be jailed for up to three years as authorities investigate his alleged involvement in a corruption case.
The order announced Friday against Kuczynski, which is designed to prevent him from trying to flee during the ...
LIMA, Peru (AP) - Peruvian judge orders former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski jailed for up to 3 years as corruption probe continues. .
Sen. Mitt Romney said Friday that he was “sickened” by President Donald Trump’s actions described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
In a statement, the Utah Republican said that while it was “good news” there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges related to conspiring with Russia and that there was no conclusion of obstruction of justice, he blasted the White House and Trump campaign officials for their actions. The report, released Thursday, demonstrated repeated efforts by Trump to interfere with Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” Romney said. “I am also appalled that, among other things fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia.”
Romney blasted members of the Trump campaign for not informing law enforcement about Russia’s actions and went after former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for “actively promoting Russian interests in the Ukraine.”
“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” Romney said.
The Utah Republican broke ranks with much of his party in condemning Trump. A number of Republicans emphasized the first half of Mueller’s findings, which said the special counsel did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia, echoing the president’s “no collusion” mantra.
Like his GOP colleagues, however, Romney called for the government to move on now that the 22-month probe has concluded.
“It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice,” Romney said. “The alternative would have taken us through a wrenching process with the potential for constitutional crisis. The business of government can move on.”
Democrats on Thursday keyed in on Mueller’s decision to not “draw ultimate conclusions” about whether Trump intended to obstruct justice, citing a number of instances in the report that said the president’s conduct satisfied all the legal elements of the crime.
Romney’s statement does not reference ongoing congressional investigations, which Democrats plan to ramp up in the coming weeks. The House Judiciary Committee issued a subpoena for an unredacted version of Mueller’s report Friday and are in talks with the Justice Department about plans for the special counsel to testify before Congress next month.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on congressional reaction to special counsel Robert Mueller's report (all times local):
The Justice Department says the subpoena issued by House Democrats for the full special counsel report is unnecessary.
Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec says Attorney General William Barr released the report ...
MINDEN, Nev. (AP) - The Latest on New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker's visit to rural Nevada (all times local):
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker says it's too soon to talk about impeaching President Donald Trump.
Fellow Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren urged the Democratic-controlled House on Friday to ...
TAMARAC, Fla. (AP) - Authorities say a Florida man left threatening rants about gun control, illegal immigration, homosexuals, black people and Muslims for three Democratic members of Congress.
The U.S. Attorney's Office says 49-year-old John Kless was arrested Friday and charged with making threatening communications.
A federal criminal complaint says ...
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Friday became the first major 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to urge her party to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump in the wake of the special counsel's newly released report.
Ms. Warren took to Twitter to announce her support for impeachment, saying the special counsel's findings ...
Republican of Springfield
It's been a quarter-century since former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld ran a successful campaign. Back then, in 1994, Weld was easily re-elected as the Bay State's chief executive. He was a liberal Republican, libertarian-leaning, in an era when there were still such creatures walking ...
Democrats said Friday they will refuse to look at the "less-redacted" version of the special counsel's report the Justice Department has offered them.
All six Democrats who were to be in the special group with access to less-redacted report said they won't look at it.
They're holding out for their ...
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are rejecting an offer from Attorney General WIlliam Barr to view a significantly less-redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, contending that Barr is too severely limiting the number of lawmakers who can view it.
“Given the comprehensive factual findings presented by the special counsel’s report, some of which will only be fully understood with access to the redacted material, we cannot agree to the conditions you are placing on our access to the full report,” Pelosi, Schumer and other senior House and Senate Democratic committee chairs wrote in a letter to Barr on Friday.
The Democrats say Barr’s offer, which would allow just 12 senior lawmakers and certain staffers to see the fuller version of the report, also fails to guarantee lawmakers access to grand jury material. They say they’re open to “discussing a reasonable accommodation” but that members of investigative committees — such as the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee in each chamber — require access as well.
“While the current proposal is not workable, we are open to discussing a reasonable accommodation with the Department that would protect law enforcement sensitive information while allowing Congress to fulfill its constitutional duties,” they write.
In addition to Pelosi and Schumer, the letter is signed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.).
Their letter comes just a day after the Justice Department invited a select group of lawmakers to view a significantly less-redacted version of Mueller’s report.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd had said the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary committees, in addition to members of the so-called “Gang of Eight” and certain staffers, would be able to view the less-redacted version next week in a secure setting at DOJ headquarters. The Gang of Eight, a group of lawmakers that regularly views the government’s most sensitive secrets, includes Pelosi, Schumer, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
But while that document would include classified information and evidence related to ongoing investigations — which were deleted from the public version of the report — lawmakers would still be blocked from viewing sensitive grand-jury information.
The Democrats’ letter comes on the same day that Nadler issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for the full, unredacted Mueller report and all of the underlying evidence.
Democrats have contended that they have a right to use that information for their own obstruction of justice investigation into the president. They’ve also said that all members of Congress — rather than just a select few members — should be able to view classified portions.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
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