Hope Hicks may hold the keys to Mueller’s Russia puzzle

Politico reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks.

She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign.

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself.

Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe. [Continue reading…]

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Ivanka and the fugitive from Panama

Reuters reports: In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side.

The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump’s latest project – a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president’s first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail.

“Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man,” remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira’s company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. “Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time,” she said.

One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump’s daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka “many times” when she was handling the Trump Organization’s involvement in the Panama development. “She would remember me,” he said.

Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country. [Continue reading…]

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Freedom of the Press Foundation on the brink of severing its ties to Wikileaks

The Daily Beast reports: In the heat of the presidential election campaign last year, Xeni Jardin, a journalist and free speech advocate, developed a sickening feeling about WikiLeaks.

Jardin had been a supporter of the radical transparency group since at least 2010, when it published hundreds of thousands of U.S. military and State Department documents leaked by Chelsea Manning. In 2012, Jardin was a founding member of the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit established as a censorship-proof conduit for donations to WikiLeaks after PayPal and U.S. credit card companies imposed a financial blockade on the site.

But during the election season, Jardin noticed WikiLeaks veering violently off its original mission of holding governments and corporations to account. Beginning in July of last year, Julian Assange, WikiLeaks’ driving force, began releasing a cache of stolen email from the Democratic National Committee, and injecting WikiLeaks’ influential Twitter feed with the kind of alt-right rhetoric and conspiracy theories once reserved for Breitbart and InfoWars.

“Suddenly the voice of WikiLeaks seemed to be all about questioning one candidate—Hillary Clinton—and doing so in a way that was designed to benefit the other,” Jardin recalled to The Daily Beast. “The tone also seemed to echo some of the language on the far right. So when the guy in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, who is normally of the extreme left, is echoing Nazi publications, something is wrong.”

Her misgivings eventually led to a tense confrontation with Assange and touched off a year-long debate among the directors at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, which has handled around $500,000 in individual donations for WikiLeaks over the last five years. Now the foundation acknowledges it’s on the brink of ending its assistance to WikiLeaks, on the grounds that the financial censorship Assange faced in 2012 is no longer in place.

“At our last board meeting in October 2017, a consensus arose that we could not find any evidence of an ongoing blockade involving PayPal, Visa, or Mastercard,” wrote Trevor Timm, co-founder and executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, in a statement to The Daily Beast. “We decided we would therefore formally notify WikiLeaks that unless they could demonstrate that a blockade was still in effect, we would no longer provide a mechanism for people to donate to them.” [Continue reading…]

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How Jared Kushner’s newspaper became a favorite outlet for WikiLeaks election hacks

Foreign Policy reports: In the fall of 2014, Julian Assange, the embattled head of WikiLeaks, was meeting with a steady stream of supportive journalists in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Among those seeking an audience with Assange was a freelancer working for the New York Observer, the newspaper owned and published by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and key advisor, Jared Kushner.

Ken Kurson, the newspaper’s editor in chief — along with a freelance writer he’d hired — helped arrange a “no-holds-barred” interview with Assange that October.

“My editor Ken Kurson (kkurson@observer.com) and I are very interested in an interview with Julian Assange. This would be a cover story.… We will be in London the first week of October,” wrote Jacques Hyzagi, a freelance reporter for the Observer, to a press consultant who arranged interviews for WikiLeaks.

Kurson, when contacted by Foreign Policy, said he did not attend that meeting and has never communicated with Assange; he insists that the profile was Hyzagi’s idea. “We ran an interview pitched to us by a freelancer,” he wrote in an email.

“I have never communicated in any way with Julian Assange and this sort of fact-free, evidenceless charge is analogous to pizzagate and other totally ludicrous conspiracies,” he added.

Hyzagi did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Yet a series of exchanges between Hyzagi and the WikiLeaks representative indicated that a meeting involving Kurson and Assange was in the works; at one point Leonardo DiCaprio was invited to tag along, according to emails obtained by FP. (DiCaprio did not end up attending.)

After that, the plan was to travel to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. Snowden’s team declined a request for an interview from Hyzagi, according to Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. [Continue reading…]

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Trump halts Interior’s elephant trophy decision

The Washington Post reports: President Trump abruptly reversed his administration’s Thursday decision to allow elephants shot for sport in Zimbabwe and Zambia to be imported back to the United States as trophies, saying in a tweet Friday night that he was putting the decision “on hold” until further review.

“Put big game trophy decision on hold until such time as I review all conservation facts,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Under study for years. Will update soon with Secretary Zinke. Thank you!”

Trump’s sudden tweet halted a decision by his own administration, announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday, to end a 2014 government ban on big-game trophy hunting in Zimbabwe and Zambia, saying it would help the conservation of the species. Under U.S. law the remains of African elephants, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, can only be imported if federal officials have determined that hunting them benefits the species more broadly.

But the Fish and Wildlife decision almost immediately was met with a fierce backlash and outcry from animal rights activists and environmentalists — as well as prominent conservatives, and a key House committee chairman.

In a tweet, Fox News host Laura Ingraham expressed her dismay, writing, “I don’t understand how this move by @realDonaldTrump Admin will not INCREASE the gruesome poaching of elephants. Stay tuned.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) issued a statement Friday noting that in light of Zimbabwe’s current political turmoil – President Robert Mugabe is now under house arrest after a military coup – it made no sense to ease restrictions on trophy imports. [Continue reading…]

The Washington Post reports: As of 2014 the African elephant population stood at an estimated 374,000, according to the Global Elephant Census, a massive and costly effort to measure the continent’s remaining savanna elephant population. That’s down from an estimated 10 million elephants at the turn of the 20th century, and from 600,000 of the animals as recently as 1989.

The more detailed population trend data from the census showed that populations had been on a rebound from 1995 to about 2007. But since then, elephant populations have been declining by a rate of about 8 percent annually, or 30,000 elephants each year. [Continue reading…]

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Images suggest North Korea ‘aggressive’ work on ballistic missile submarine

Reuters reports: Satellite images taken this month of a North Korean naval shipyard indicate Pyongyang is pursuing an “aggressive schedule” to build its first operational ballistic missile submarine, a U.S. institute reported on Thursday.

Washington-based 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project, cited images taken on Nov. 5 showing activity at North Korea’s Sinpo South Shipyard.

“The presence of what appear to be sections of a submarine’s pressure hull in the yards suggests construction of a new submarine, possibly the SINPO-C ballistic missile submarine – the follow-on to the current SINPO-class experimental ballistic missile submarine,” 38 North said in a report. [Continue reading…]

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Israeli military chief wants closer Saudi ties as Iran tensions rise

The Guardian reports: Israel’s military chief has given an “unprecedented” interview to a Saudi newspaper underlining the ways in which the two countries could unite to counter Iran’s influence in the region.

Speaking to the Saudi newspaper Elaph, Gen Gadi Eisenkot described Iran as the “biggest threat to the region” and said Israel would be prepared to share intelligence with “moderate” Arab states like Saudi Arabia in order to “deal with” Tehran.

The interview, however, is particularly striking in its very public and confrontational messaging: an appeal by Israel to Riyadh for a joint action on Tehran, delivered by Israel’s most senior soldier.

It is the latest dramatic twist in weeks of turmoil in the region, which followed an unexpected purge of Saudi princes and officials by crown prince Mohammad bin Salman, who has also increasingly locked Saudi Arabia on a path to confrontation with Iran. [Continue reading…]

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International law is meant to prevent what’s happening in Yemen

Nathalie Weizmann writes: Every day brings worse news from Yemen. This morning, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced that water and sewage systems in three cities in Yemen – Hodeidah, Sa’ada and Taiz – had stopped operating because imports of fuel were at a standstill. And just yesterday, the heads of the World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF and the World Health Organization described the current situation in Yemen as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

Yemen was already struggling with a humanitarian disaster after two years of war, but the situation grew far worse last week, when the Saudi-led military coalition stopped critical commercial supplies and humanitarian aid deliveries from entering Yemen, and blocked the movement of relief workers into and out of the country. The coalition announced the closure of all Yemeni airports, seaports and land crossings in response to a ballistic missile fired by Ansar Allah (also referred to as Houthi) opposition forces in Yemen and intercepted by the Saudi military over Riyadh’s international airport.

Reacting to the shutdown, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that if it isn’t lifted, “it will be the largest famine the world has seen in many decades, with millions of victims.” According to key members of the humanitarian community in Yemen, “There are over 20 million people in need of humanitarian assistance; 7 million of them are facing famine-like conditions and rely completely on food aid to survive.” [Continue reading…]

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Lebanese prime minister departs from Saudi Arabia and arrives in France

The New York Times reports: Lebanon’s absent prime minister arrived in France on Saturday morning after two weeks in Saudi Arabia, a mysterious stay that touched off intense speculation that he was being held against his will.

The prime minister, Saad Hariri, who has dismissed the speculation but has not publicly explained the nature or length of his stay in Saudi Arabia, later met with France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, at the Élysée Palace.

The office of Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, also said on Saturday on Twitter that the two leaders had spoken and that Mr. Hariri had said he would be in Lebanon for the country’s Independence Day holiday, which is Wednesday.

Mr. Hariri announced on Nov. 4 from Riyadh, the Saudi capital, that he was stepping down as Lebanon’s prime minister, but officials in Lebanon have said that his departure would not take effect until he delivered his resignation in person in Beirut.

Mr. Hariri’s unexpected trip and resignation unsettled the Middle East, sparking a political crisis in Lebanon and even raising fears of war. Saudi Arabia was widely seen as pressuring Mr. Hariri to resign as part of its escalating regional feud with Iran and its effort to isolate Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia and political party that is part of Mr. Hariri’s coalition government.

Mr. Hariri, for his part, said he feared for his safety in Lebanon.

With European diplomats scrambling to defuse the crisis, France seized the role of mediator. France has strong ties to Lebanon, dating from the early 20th century, and to the Hariri family. Mr. Hariri’s father, Rafik, was close to former President Jacques Chirac. The father, also a prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated in 2005. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s sexual assault accusers demand justice in the #MeToo era: ‘We were forgotten’

People magazine reports: The recent accusations of sexual misconduct against a long list of powerful men in Hollywood and other industries have been widely believed — and led to resignations, loss of careers and other fallout.

Meanwhile, some of the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault during the presidential campaign wonder when the president might finally pay a price for what he allegedly did to them.

“Things just seem to fall off of Trump, I’m extremely disappointed,” says Jessica Leeds, 75, who alleges Trump tried to kiss her, fondle her breasts and put his hand up her skirt while on a flight to New York in the early 1980s. [Continue reading…]

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Does cooperating witness have info on Flynn tie to Turkey?

NBC News reports: A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions on Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

But Zarrab is now out of jail and speaking to prosecutors — a move President Erdogan had been desperately hoping to avoid. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller issued subpoena for Russia-related documents from Trump campaign officials

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump’s campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner got emails about WikiLeaks, Russia in 2016, lawmakers say

Politico reports: Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.

Lowell said in a statement that he and Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, had been responsive to the requests.

“We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request,” Lowell said, adding that he and Kushner had also told the committee they would be open to additional requests for information.

In a section of the letter titled “Missing documents,” Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner had handed over some materials but omitted communications that mentioned some of the people connected to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.

Grassley and Feinstein also alluded to documents they received from other witnesses on which Kushner was copied. [Continue reading…]

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Homeland Security official resigns after comments linking blacks to ‘laziness’ and ‘promiscuity’ come to light

The Washington Post reports: A political appointee in the Department of Homeland Security abruptly resigned after the disclosure Thursday he previously made derogatory remarks about black people and Muslims on conservative talk radio.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed the head of the DHS’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in April, appeared on the program in 2008. The comments resurfaced Thursday after CNN published a report about them with audio snippets.

Johnson’s incendiary comments about black people came on the show “The Right Balance,” on Accent Radio Network, CNN reported. An unidentified speaker on the show said “a lot of blacks are anti-Semitic” and asked Johnson why.

Johnson extolled the economic successes of American Jews and said “it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity,” according to a recording posted by CNN. [Continue reading…]

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Fox News poll: Obama is more popular than Trump in Alabama

The Hill reports: A new Fox News poll shows former President Barack Obama is more popular in Alabama than Donald Trump.

The poll, conducted from Monday to Wednesday and released Thursday, shows Obama with a 52 percent favorability rating in the state, compared to Trump’s 49 percent.

Trump won Alabama by 28 points in the 2016 presidential election, while Obama lost the state by about 22 points in 2008 and 2012.

Obama had a 45 percent unfavorable rating in the poll, while Trump had a 48 percent unfavorable rating. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.

Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.

Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.

Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice. [Continue reading…]

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Burma: Widespread rape of Rohingya women, girls

Human Rights Watch reports: Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 37-page report, “‘All of My Body Was Pain’: Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma,” documents the Burmese military’s gang rape of Rohingya women and girls and further acts of violence, cruelty, and humiliation. Many women described witnessing the murders of their young children, spouses, and parents. Rape survivors reported days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals while fleeing to Bangladesh.

“Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Burmese military’s barbaric acts of violence have left countless women and girls brutally harmed and traumatized.”

Since August 25, 2017, the Burmese military has committed killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson of homes in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State, forcing more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch has found that these abuses amount to crimes against humanity under international law. The military operations were sparked by attacks by the armed group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 30 security force outposts and an army base that killed 11 Burmese security personnel. [Continue reading…]

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