Theresa May triggers Brexit with warning of consequences for UK

The Guardian reports: Theresa May has told parliament that she accepts Brexit will carry consequences for the United Kingdom, as a letter delivered to Brussels began a two-year countdown to Britain’s departure from the European Union.

The prime minister took to her feet minutes after the European council president, Donald Tusk, confirmed that he had received notification, declaring that “the UK has delivered Brexit” nine months after a bruising referendum campaign.

“We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that,” she said. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: Britain will not be given a free trade deal by the EU in the next two years, and a transition arrangement to cushion the UK’s exit after 2019 can last no longer than three years, a European parliament resolution has vowed, in the first official response by the EU institutions to the triggering of article 50 by Theresa May.

A leaked copy of the resolution, on which the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has been a close conspirator, lays bare the tough path ahead for Britain as the historic process of withdrawing from the trade bloc begins.

Across 11 pages of clauses, May is warned that the EU will stridently protect its political, financial and social interests, and that the position for the UK even during the transition period will not be as positive as it is today. [Continue reading…]

Siobhan Fenton writes: While much of Britain’s attention has been on the latest twists, turns and turmoil over Brexit, Northern Ireland has been quietly self-immolating in the corner. The country’s power-sharing parliament collapsed in January after Sinn Féin refused to partner the Democratic Unionists any longer. The deadline for the parties to reach a resolution and save Stormont was Monday – but it came and went without a deal being reached.

Just 48 hours before Theresa May was due to trigger article 50, her Northern Ireland secretary, James Brokenshire, took to the steps at Stormont House to announce that Northern Ireland no longer had a government. Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement was signed, in 1998, the peace process lies in tatters.

The breakdown of power-sharing in Northern Ireland would always have been gravely serious, but the clash with article 50 means the timing could hardly be worse. As of this week, either a new election will have to be called in Northern Ireland (its third in 12 months), or it may have to be ruled directly from London, in what would be a major step back in the peace process.

Regardless of the option taken, the people of Northern Ireland – who, like the Scottish, voted to remain in the EU – will be left without a government for much of the Brexit negotiations. This will cause considerable frustration locally, where many already resent what they see as London’s decision to drag Northern Ireland and Scotland kicking and screaming out of the EU against their will. [Continue reading…]

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Brexit: Article 50 triggered — here’s what happens now

By David Phinnemore, Queen’s University Belfast

Now that Theresa May, the British prime minister, has triggered Article 50, the process of formally negotiating Brexit can begin. Here’s what to expect in the next two years. The Conversation

First, the EU-27 will acknowledge the notification. The EU-27 will then focus on adopting “guidelines” for the negotiations. Determining these will be the responsibility of the European Council, so the leaders of the EU-27 member states, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the European Council president, Donald Tusk.

Preparing the EU 27 for negotiations

To adopt the guidelines, the European Council will meet – minus the UK – in extraordinary session on 29 April 2017.

The guidelines are expected to set out some basic principles, including the need to accept the free movement of goods, services, capital and people for access to the single market. They will also set out the issues that the EU 27 will insist are covered in the withdrawal agreement. That will include: the UK’s financial liabilities, so money it owes, for example, to cover the pensions of EU officials; the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK; transitional funding arrangements; and the nature of the new EU-UK frontiers – particularly the land border in Ireland.

The guidelines will also confirm who will be negotiating on behalf of the EU-27 – which means they will make formal the role of Michel Barnier as the European Commission’s chief negotiator. They will set out where negotiations will take place (Brussels); and the sequence of negotiations.

Once the guidelines have been adopted, attention will shift to the EU-27 in the Council and the adoption of the formal mandate for negotiations. This will provide Barnier and his taskforce with the detailed instructions they need to carry out negotiations with the UK.

[Read more…]

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How the White House and the Republicans blew up the House Russia investigation

Ryan Lizza writes: The evidence is now clear that the White House and Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, have worked together to halt what was previously billed as a sweeping investigation of Russian interference in last year’s election. “We’ve been frozen,” Jim Himes, a Democratic representative from Connecticut who is a member of the Committee, said.

The freeze started after last Monday’s hearing, where James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, revealed that the F.B.I. has been investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia since last July. Comey also said that there was no evidence to support Trump’s tweets about being wiretapped.

Today, the House panel was scheduled to hear from three top officials who had served under the Obama Administration: Sally Yates, the former Deputy Attorney General, who briefly served as acting Attorney General, before being fired by President Trump; John Brennan, the former head of the C.I.A.; and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence. But last week Nunes cancelled today’s hearing.

“The Monday hearing last week was, I’m sure, not to the White House’s liking,” said Himes. “Since Monday, I’m sorry to say, the chairman has ceased to be the chairman of an investigative committee and has been running interference for the Trump White House, cancelling hearings.” [Continue reading…]

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What Cold War intrigue can tell us about the Trump-Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: It began with evidence of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and has now evolved into a sprawling counterintelligence investigation to determine whether there was any coordination between members of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign staff and the Russian government, perhaps even influencing the 2016 election.

When James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, went before Congress on March 20 and confirmed the existence of the Trump-Russia investigation, it echoed of the Cold War investigations in which the bureau and the C.I.A. searched for agents hidden in the government who had spied for Moscow.

A look back at those Cold War cases may reveal lessons for today’s investigators. Above all, those past cases show it could take years before the new investigation uncovers any answers.

Spy hunts usually begin with an unexplained incident. In the Trump-Russia case, there was the hacking of the D.N.C.’s computers. In 1985, there was an arrest on the streets of Moscow.

In June 1985, Burton Gerber, the chief of the Soviet-East European division of the Central Intelligence Agency, was about to sit down to dinner at his home in Washington when he received devastating news. Paul Stombaugh, a C.I.A. case officer, had just been arrested by the K.G.B. in Moscow. Mr. Stombaugh had been caught while he was on a clandestine mission to meet the C.I.A.’s most important Russian spy, Adolf Tolkachev, a scientist at a secret military design facility who had been providing the Americans with top-secret information about Soviet weapons systems. Mr. Gerber knew that Mr. Stombaugh’s arrest meant that Mr. Tolkachev, an agent the C.I.A. had code-named GTVANQUISH, had certainly been arrested as well.

The arrest and subsequent execution of Mr. Tolkachev was the most damaging of a series of mysterious spy losses suffered by the C.I.A. in 1985. In fact, there was so much espionage activity between the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. that burst into public view in 1985 that it became known as the Year of the Spy.

But why?

Debate swirled inside the cloistered world of American counterintelligence. Could all the spy losses be blamed on C.I.A. incompetence? Or had they resulted from something more sinister, like a Russian mole inside the agency?

That 1985 debate has in some ways been mirrored in the public debate about the hacking of the D.N.C. during the 2016 presidential campaign. Did some hacker simply take advantage of the committee’s cyber-incompetence, or was an American political party the specific and premeditated target of Russian intelligence? [Continue reading…]

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Devin Nunes says he will continue to lead Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee rebuffed calls on Tuesday to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, as Democrats accused him of stalling the inquiry by canceling the committee’s meetings.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman, said he would continue to lead the House investigation despite accusations from Democrats — including his committee’s ranking member, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California — that he is too close to President Trump to conduct an impartial inquiry.

“Why would I not?” Mr. Nunes told reporters on Tuesday morning. Pressed about concerns from Democrats, he added, “That sounds like their problem.”

The announcement that the committee would not hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday as expected with James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency — a briefing Mr. Nunes insisted needed to happen before the committee could move forward with its public hearings — startled some Democrats. They added that the cancellations went further, including a regular meeting later in the week.

“Effectively, what has happened is the committee’s oversight, the oversight of our national intelligence apparatus, has come to a halt because of this particular issue,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Manafort-linked accounts in Cyprus raised red flag

NBC News reports: A bank in Cyprus investigated accounts associated with President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for possible money-laundering, two banking sources with direct knowledge of his businesses here told NBC News.

Manafort — whose ties to a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin are under scrutiny — was associated with at least 15 bank accounts and 10 companies on Cyprus, dating back to 2007, the sources said. At least one of those companies was used to receive millions of dollars from a billionaire Putin ally, according to court documents.

Banking sources said some transactions on Manafort-associated accounts raised sufficient concern to trigger an internal investigation at a Cypriot bank into potential money laundering activities. After questions were raised, Manafort closed the accounts, the banking sources said. [Continue reading…]

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The House just voted to wipe away the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections

The Washington Post reports: Congress sent proposed legislation to President Trump on Tuesday that wipes away landmark online privacy protections, the first salvo in what is likely to become a significant reworking of the rules governing Internet access in an era of Republican dominance.

In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast of protections approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.

The Senate has voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year. If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads — making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.

The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signs executive order unwinding Obama climate policies

The New York Times reports: President Trump, flanked by company executives and miners, signed a long-promised executive order on Tuesday to nullify President Barack Obama’s climate change efforts and revive the coal industry, effectively ceding American leadership in the international campaign to curb the dangerous heating of the planet.

Mr. Trump made clear that the United States had no intention of meeting the commitments that his predecessor had made to curb planet-warming carbon dioxide pollution, turning denials of climate change into national policy.

At a ceremony, Mr. Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the complex and lengthy legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, which would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Mr. Trump said to the miners. “You’re going back to work.” [Continue reading…]

The Wall Street Journal reports: While the action may give a reprieve to some coal-fired plants facing extinction, large utilities say they will continue long-term investments to generate more power from gas, wind and solar, which are being driven by economic as well as regulatory forces. The White House official said Monday that the order is part of the president’s promise to restore the coal sector, but the official acknowledged that merely repealing the regulations wouldn’t bring back jobs.

Cheap U.S. natural gas unlocked by hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling has prompted many companies to scrap older coal plants in favor of gas-fired plants, which require fewer workers to operate. Companies are also taking advantage of tax credits for renewable power to build out solar and wind farms, which are becoming more cost-competitive with fossil-fuel generation thanks to economies of scale and advances in technology.

Duke Energy Corp. says it plans to invest $11 billion in natural gas and renewable power generation over the next 10 years, as the company aims by 2026 to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 35% from 2005 levels.

That represents a long-term company strategy and isn’t likely to change, Duke Chief Executive Lynn Good said in a February interview. The utility’s power generating mix is now 34% coal and 28% natural gas, compared with 61% coal and 5% gas in 2005. By 2026, it estimates gas will be the dominant fuel, followed by coal, nuclear and renewable power.

“Because of the competitive price of natural gas and the declining price of renewables, continuing to drive carbon out makes sense for us,” said Ms. Good. “Administrations will change during the life of our business and our assets, and we’ll continue to move forward in a way that makes sense for our investors and our customers.”

Southern Co. plans to invest at least $1 billion a year over the next five years in new wind farms. It now uses natural gas to generate 47% of its power, with coal providing 31%, nuclear 15%, and hydropower, wind, solar and other renewable sources 7%.

“Going forward, we anticipate an increase in renewable generation capacity and declining utilization of coal,” said Terrell McCollum, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based utility.

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Drought and war heighten threat of not just one famine, but four

The New York Times reports: First the trees dried up and cracked apart.

Then the goats keeled over.

Then the water in the village well began to disappear, turning cloudy, then red, then slime-green, but the villagers kept drinking it. That was all they had.

Now on a hot, flat, stony plateau outside Baidoa, thousands of people pack into destitute camps, many clutching their stomachs, some defecating in the open, others already dead from a cholera epidemic.

“Even if you can get food, there is no water,” said one mother, Sangabo Moalin, who held her head with a left hand as thin as a leaf and spoke of her body “burning.”

Another famine is about to tighten its grip on Somalia. And it’s not the only crisis that aid agencies are scrambling to address. For the first time since anyone can remember, there is a very real possibility of four famines — in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen — breaking out at once, endangering more than 20 million lives.

International aid officials say they are facing one of the biggest humanitarian disasters since World War II. And they are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

One powerful lesson from the last famine in Somalia, just six years ago, was that famines were not simply about food. They are about something even more elemental: water.

Once again, a lack of clean water and proper hygiene is setting off an outbreak of killer diseases in displaced persons camps. So the race is on to dig more latrines, get swimming-pool quantities of clean water into the camps, and pass out more soap, more water-treatment tablets and more plastic buckets — decidedly low-tech supplies that could save many lives.

“We underestimated the role of water and its contribution to mortality in the last famine,” said Ann Thomas, a water, sanitation and hygiene specialist for Unicef. “It gets overshadowed by the food.”

The famines are coming as a drought sweeps across Africa and several different wars seal off extremely needy areas. United Nations officials say they need a huge infusion of cash to respond. So far, they are not just millions of dollars short, but billions.

At the same time, President Trump is urging Congress to cut foreign aid and assistance to the United Nations, which aid officials fear could multiply the deaths. The United States traditionally provides more disaster relief than anyone else.

“The international humanitarian system is at its breaking point,” said Dominic MacSorley, chief executive of Concern Worldwide, a large private aid group.

Aid officials say all the needed food and water exist on this planet in abundance — even within these hard-hit countries. But armed conflict that is often created by personal rivalries between a few men turns life upside down for millions, destroying markets and making the price of necessities go berserk. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration sought to block Sally Yates from testifying to Congress on Russia

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration sought to block former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying to Congress in the House investigation of links between Russian officials and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, The Washington Post has learned, a position that is likely to further anger Democrats who have accused Republicans of trying to damage the inquiry.

According to letters The Post reviewed, the Justice Department notified Yates earlier this month that the administration considers a great deal of her possible testimony to be barred from discussion in a congressional hearing because the topics are covered by the presidential communication privilege.

Yates and other former intelligence officials had been asked to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week, a hearing that Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) abruptly canceled. Yates was the deputy attorney general in the final years of the Obama administration, and served as the acting attorney general in the first days of the Trump administration. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s business network reached alleged Russian mobsters

USA Today reports: To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among them:

• A partner in the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.

Trump’s Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall’s election. What’s more, Trump and his companies have had business dealings with Russians that go back decades, raising questions about whether his policies would be influenced by business considerations. [Continue reading…]

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Jared Kushner tempted by Russia’s bank of spies

Michael Weiss writes: Not every bank lists a convicted spy serving 30 months in an Ohio prison as its active deputy representative in New York. But then, not every bank is headed by a former spy, much less one found to have spent time with Jared Kushner during a “roadshow” last year, when Donald Trump’s son-in-law was then just a top campaign advisor and not a likely witness about to testify before a Senate committee on Russia’s meddling in U.S. democracy.

In those charmed days before the director of the FBI raised in an open session of Congress the very real possibility that some of the president’s men might be working on behalf of a hostile foreign power, there was the curious case of a Wall Street analyst who was handcuffed in his Bronx neighborhood in late Jan. 2015 after going out for groceries. His crime wasn’t peddling junk sub-primes to trusting pensioners but working for Moscow Center.

Evgeny Buryakov, a former tax inspector turned officer of the Sluzhba vneshney razvedki, or SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, had arrived in the U.S. just weeks after the feds executed Operation Ghost Stories and brought down ten out of an 11-person spy ring of Russian “illegals,” without whom Anna Chapman’s clothing line and The Americans would now be impossible. [Continue reading…]

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Paul Manafort’s all-cash New York real estate purchases

WNYC reports: Paul J. Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager facing multiple investigations for his political and financial ties to Russia, has engaged in a series of puzzling real estate deals in New York City over the past 11 years.

Real estate and law enforcement experts say some of these transactions fit a pattern used in money laundering; together, they raise questions about Manafort’s activities in the New York City property market while he also was consulting for business and political leaders in the former Soviet Union.

Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three homes in New York City, paying the full amount each time, so there was no mortgage.

Then, between April 2015 and January 2017 – a time span that included his service with the Trump campaign – Manafort borrowed about $12 million against those three New York City homes: one in Trump Tower, one in Soho, and one in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Manafort’s New York City transactions follow a pattern: Using shell companies, he purchased the homes in all-cash deals, then transferred the properties into his own name for no money and then took out hefty mortgages against them, according to property records. [Continue reading…]

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Swalwell on Nunes: ‘This is what a cover-up to a crime looks like’

Politico reports: House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes’ announcement last week that officials from the transition team of President Donald Trump had been inadvertently surveilled by the U.S. intelligence community came at the behest of the White House, Rep. Eric Swalwell said Tuesday morning.

Nunes (R-Calif.) confirmed Monday that he had traveled to the White House to meet with his still-unnamed source on the day before he made his announcement but denied that the public disclosure was coordinated in any way with Trump administration officials. The White House, Nunes said in a CNN interview, simply served as a secure location for reviewing classified information and “I’m quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.”

But Swalwell (D-Calif.), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, disputed the chairman’s argument Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It’s not an internet cafe. You can’t just walk in and receive classified information,” Swalwell said of the White House, adding that when a member of Congress visits, “everyone in the building knows that you’re there in the building.”

“This is done because the White House wanted it to be done,” the California Democrat said. “And this is what a cover-up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.” [Continue reading…]

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White House evasive as House Intelligence Committee grinds to a halt

CNN reports: The Trump administration is refusing to provide details Tuesday to who signed House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes into offices on White House grounds, as the House investigation into Russia’s interference in the US elections is stalled, the victim of a partisan showdown.

All meetings of the House Russia investigators were canceled this week shortly before the top Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff, said Nunes must recuse himself in order for the investigation to continue. Nunes, however, told CNN Tuesday morning he was “moving forward” with the investigation and said he won’t recuse himself.

“It moves forward just like it was before,” Nunes told reporters.

It’s a monumental shift from where House investigators planned to be Tuesday, interrogating a trio of former Obama administration officials in a public hearing. But last week’s hearing — the first and so far only public hearing of the House Russia investigation — sparked a wildfire of partisan fighting after FBI Director James Comey confirmed he is investigating possible coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign aides and Russian officials. [Continue reading…]

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Struggle for the soul of Iran — a conversation with Laura Secor

 

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