Internal Review Cleared Trump’s CIA Pick in Videotape Destruction

A internal CIA review in 2011 cleared U.S. President Donald Trump’s choice to head the agency, Gina Haspel, of wrongdoing in the destruction of videotapes depicting the harsh interrogation of an al Qaeda suspect, according to a memorandum that the CIA declassified and released on Friday.

The spy agency released the memo in response to demands by U.S. lawmakers for more details on Haspel’s career and as part of its effort to bolster her nomination. Haspel’s bid to be the first woman CIA director faces scrutiny on Capitol Hill due to her involvement in a discontinued interrogation program that many regarded as using torture.

“I have found no fault with the performance of Ms. Haspel,” Michael Morell, then the CIA’s deputy director, wrote in the December 2011 memo

“I have concluded that she acted appropriately in her role” as chief of staff to Jose Rodriguez, the head of CIA spy operations, Morell wrote.

At issue was a decision Rodriguez has said he made in November 2005 to destroy videotapes showing the waterboarding of CIA detainee Abu Zubaydeh who U.S. officials believed at the time — incorrectly — was a top-level al Qaeda operative.

Waterboarding is a form of simulated drowning. Zubaydeh’s role in al Qaeda was later found to have been overstated.

CIA officials have long said that Haspel drafted a cable from Rodriguez ordering agency officers in the field to destroy the tapes, and that she believed Rodriguez was going to clear it first with the agency’s director at the time, Porter Goss.

At the time the cable was sent, Haspel worked in CIA headquarters outside Washington, D.C. Published accounts have said she was chief in 2002 of a base in Thailand where detainees were interrogated but arrived there after Zubaydah’s waterboarding.

The memo appears to support the CIA version of events.

Haspel “drafted the cable on the direct orders of Mr. Rodriguez; she did not release that cable. It was not her decision to destroy the tapes; it was Mr. Rodriguez’s,” Morell wrote.

Rodriguez has said he ordered the tapes destroyed out of fear that, if leaked, they could put CIA officers at risk.

Haspel, who is now the agency’s No. 2 official, is due to appear at a May 9 hearing on her confirmation before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Haspel has the backing of the committee’s Republican chairman, Senator Richard Burr. At least two committee Democrats have expressed concern about her nomination.

Democratic Senator Ron Wyden said in a statement on Friday that he remained troubled by Haspel’s nomination and called on the Trump administration to release “much more information about this episode.”

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DOJ Investigates: Did AT&T, Verizon Make it Hard to Switch?

The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into whether AT&T, Verizon and a standards-setting group worked together to stop consumers from easily switching wireless carriers.

 

The companies confirmed the inquiry in separate statements late Friday in response to a report in The New York Times. 

 

The U.S. government is looking into whether AT&T, Verizon and telecommunications standards organization GSMA worked together to suppress a technology that lets people remotely switch wireless companies without having to insert a new SIM card into their phones. 

 

The Times, citing six anonymous people familiar with the inquiry, reported that the investigation was opened after at least one device maker and one other wireless company filed complaints.

Verizon, AT&T respond 

Verizon, which is based in New York, derided the accusations on the issue as “much ado about nothing” in its statement. It framed its efforts as part of attempt to “provide a better experience for the consumer.” 

 

Dallas-based AT&T also depicted its activity as part of a push to improve wireless service for consumers and said it had already responded to the government’s request for information. The company said it “will continue to work proactively within GSMA, including with those who might disagree with the proposed standards, to move this issue forward.”

 

GMSA and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Merger trial

 

News of the probe emerge during a trial of the Justice Department’s case seeking to block AT&T’s proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner over antitrust concerns. That battle centers mostly on the future of cable TV and digital video streaming.

 

Verizon and AT&T are the two leading wireless carriers, with a combined market share of about 70 percent.

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DOJ Investigates: Did AT&T, Verizon Make it Hard to Switch?

The Justice Department has opened an antitrust investigation into whether AT&T, Verizon and a standards-setting group worked together to stop consumers from easily switching wireless carriers.

 

The companies confirmed the inquiry in separate statements late Friday in response to a report in The New York Times. 

 

The U.S. government is looking into whether AT&T, Verizon and telecommunications standards organization GSMA worked together to suppress a technology that lets people remotely switch wireless companies without having to insert a new SIM card into their phones. 

 

The Times, citing six anonymous people familiar with the inquiry, reported that the investigation was opened after at least one device maker and one other wireless company filed complaints.

Verizon, AT&T respond 

Verizon, which is based in New York, derided the accusations on the issue as “much ado about nothing” in its statement. It framed its efforts as part of attempt to “provide a better experience for the consumer.” 

 

Dallas-based AT&T also depicted its activity as part of a push to improve wireless service for consumers and said it had already responded to the government’s request for information. The company said it “will continue to work proactively within GSMA, including with those who might disagree with the proposed standards, to move this issue forward.”

 

GMSA and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Merger trial

 

News of the probe emerge during a trial of the Justice Department’s case seeking to block AT&T’s proposed $85 billion merger with Time Warner over antitrust concerns. That battle centers mostly on the future of cable TV and digital video streaming.

 

Verizon and AT&T are the two leading wireless carriers, with a combined market share of about 70 percent.

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Report: Sanctions-Hit Russian Firms Seek $1.6B in Liquidity

Russian companies hit by U.S. sanctions, including aluminum giant Rusal, have asked for 100 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) in liquidity support from the government, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Friday.

The United States on April 6 imposed sanctions against several Russian entities and individuals, including Rusal and its major shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, to punish Moscow for its suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other alleged “malign activity.”

Rusal, the world’s second-biggest aluminum producer, has been particularly hard hit as the sanctions have caused concern among some customers, suppliers and creditors that they could be blacklisted, too, through association with the company.

“Temporary nationalization” is an option for some sanctions-hit companies, but not Rusal, Siluanov was quoted as saying. He did not name the companies he was referring to.

A Kremlin spokesman had said Thursday that temporary nationalization was an option for helping Rusal.

According to another news agency, RIA, Rusal has requested only government support with liquidity and with demand for aluminum so far, Siluanov said.

RIA quoted the minister as saying the government was not considering state purchases of aluminum for now.

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Report: Sanctions-Hit Russian Firms Seek $1.6B in Liquidity

Russian companies hit by U.S. sanctions, including aluminum giant Rusal, have asked for 100 billion rubles ($1.6 billion) in liquidity support from the government, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Friday.

The United States on April 6 imposed sanctions against several Russian entities and individuals, including Rusal and its major shareholder, Oleg Deripaska, to punish Moscow for its suspected meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other alleged “malign activity.”

Rusal, the world’s second-biggest aluminum producer, has been particularly hard hit as the sanctions have caused concern among some customers, suppliers and creditors that they could be blacklisted, too, through association with the company.

“Temporary nationalization” is an option for some sanctions-hit companies, but not Rusal, Siluanov was quoted as saying. He did not name the companies he was referring to.

A Kremlin spokesman had said Thursday that temporary nationalization was an option for helping Rusal.

According to another news agency, RIA, Rusal has requested only government support with liquidity and with demand for aluminum so far, Siluanov said.

RIA quoted the minister as saying the government was not considering state purchases of aluminum for now.

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Scientists Coax Plastic-Munching Enzyme to Eat Faster

Recently, the world was stunned to learn that an island of mostly plastic trash, floating in the Pacific Ocean, grew to the size of France, Germany and Spain combined. Because plastics take centuries to decompose, could civilization someday choke in it? Scientists at Britain’s University of Portsmouth say they may have found a way to speed up the decomposition of plastics. VOA’s George Putic reports.

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US Students Plan Mass Walkout on Anniversary of Columbine Massacre

Students across the United States will march Friday to honor the memory of the victims of 1999’s Columbine shooting. Energized by the momentum for stricter gun control since February’s mass shooting at a Florida high school, young people have led the charge for change. Friday will mark the latest salvo in their nationwide calls for change. Arash Arabasadi and Jill Craig contributed to this report.

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Trump’s Chaotic Week: North Korea, Comey and Stormy

It may seem like just another week at the Trump White House. Word of a potentially historic breakthrough on North Korea is forced to compete with a scathing assessment of the president by his former FBI director and court appearances by his personal lawyer and an adult film actress who claims she had an affair with the president. Is this the new normal? Or is it the political phenomenon of Donald Trump breaking the mold again? VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Reports: $1B Fine for Wells Fargo for Illegal Sales

U.S. news reports say Wells Fargo will be fined as much as $1 billion for illegally selling customers car insurance policies they did not want or need, and for charging unnecessary fees in connection with mortgages.

This would be the largest fine ever imposed by federal bank regulators and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

The fine is part of a settlement regulators negotiated with the bank.

Wells Fargo and federal officials have not commented on the reports.

The San Francisco-based lender admitted selling the unwanted insurance policies to hundreds of thousands of car loan customers. In many cases, the borrowers could not afford both the insurance and car payments and their cars were repossessed.

Many U.S. banks have enjoyed looser federal regulations under President Donald Trump’s pro-business administration.

But Trump denied reports that Wells Fargo would not be punished, tweeting in December that fines and penalties against the bank would, if anything, be substantially increased.

“I will cut regs but make penalties severe when caught cheating,” he wrote.

Wells Fargo previously paid a $185 million fine for opening bank and credit card accounts in its customers’ names without telling them.

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