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Trump Lawyers Nearing Decision He Won’t Sit for Russia Probe Interview

U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney said Sunday the president’s legal team is “close to determining” that he won’t sit for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller in his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign aimed at helping Trump win.

Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump’s lead attorney, told ABC News and CNN that Trump’s lawyers want evidence from Mueller’s investigators that Trump engaged in wrongdoing before agreeing to let him be questioned.

Trump has often said he is ready for an interview in Mueller’s 14-month probe, but Giuliani told CNN, “We’d like to know if there’s any factual basis for the investigation originally or the developed one, because we can’t find one. Nor can anyone else.” He said the prosecutors “don’t have to prove a crime. They have to give us factual basis leading to some suspicion of a crime.”

Giuliani told ABC, “We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction. We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation.”

Mueller has been investigating Russian links to the Trump campaign and whether the president obstructed justice by firing James Comey, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed to take it over. There is no indication when the Mueller probe might end and his team has not publicly responded to Trump’s frequent attacks on it, claiming it is biased against him.

Giuliani said, “If the president says, ‘I fired him for the good of the United States,'” it was justification enough. Trump, however, told NBC anchor Lester Holt days after he ousted Comey in May 2017 that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired him. Trump has long contended that the investigation is an excuse by Democrats to explain his upset win over Democrat Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. secretary of state.

Giuliani contended that Mueller would not be pressing to interview Trump “if they had anything” against the president, although it is not known what evidence he may have collected.

Mueller could subpoena Trump to testify before a grand jury if he does not agree to an interview, but Giuliani said, “If he does, we could have it quashed.” Any attempt to force Trump to testify could lead to a protracted legal fight that could eventually land before the Supreme Court for a decision.

Giuliani also said he had “zero” concern that Michael Cohen, a former Trump attorney who represented him for a decade while he was a New York real estate mogul and into the first year of his presidency, might provide prosecutors damaging information about Trump. Cohen, who has described himself as “the guy who would take a bullet” for Trump, is under investigation for making a $130,000 hush money payment shortly before the 2016 election to adult film actress Stormy Daniels, who alleges that she had a one-night affair in 2006 with Trump shortly after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son.

Cohen has scrubbed a reference of his long-time representation of Trump from professional credentials, saying recently, “My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” not the president.

Trump has said he does not see Cohen turning against him. Giuliani said Sunday, “I don’t know what he has to flip. I do not expect Michael Cohen is going to lie.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Feds Freeze ‘Obamacare’ Payments; Premiums Likely to Rise

The Trump administration said Saturday it’s freezing payments under an “Obamacare” program that protects insurers with sicker patients from financial losses, a move expected to add to premium increases next year.

At stake are billions in payments to insurers with sicker customers.

In a weekend announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration is acting because of conflicting court ruling in lawsuits filed by some smaller insurers who question whether they are being fairly treated under the program.

Risk adjustment

The so-called risk adjustment program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. Payments for 2017 are $10.4 billion. No taxpayer subsidies are involved.

The idea behind the program is to remove the financial incentive for insurers to cherry pick healthier customers. The government uses a similar approach with Medicare private insurance plans and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Major insurer groups said Saturday the administration’s action interferes with a program that’s working well.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of Affordable Care Act coverage said it was “extremely disappointed” with the administration’s action.

The Trump administration’s move “will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices,” association president Scott Serota said in a statement. “It will undermine Americans’ access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most.”

Serota noted that the payments are required by law, and said he believes the administration has the legal authority to continue making them despite the court cases. He warned of turmoil as insurers finalize their rates for 2019.

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance industry trade group, said in a statement that it is “very discouraged” by the Trump administration’s decision to freeze payments.

“Costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies,” the group said.

Conflicting rulings

Rumors that the Trump administration would freeze payments were circulating late last week. But the Saturday announcement via email was unusual for such a major step.

The administration argued in its announcement that its hands were tied by conflicting court rulings in New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma said the Trump administration was disappointed by a New Mexico court ruling that questioned the workings of the risk program for insurers.

The administration “has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and hopes for a prompt resolution that allows (the government) to prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets,” she said.

More than 10 million people currently buy individual health insurance plans through HealthCare.gov and state insurance marketplaces. The vast majority of those customers receive taxpayer subsidies under the Obama-era health law and would be shielded from premium increases next year.

The brunt of higher prices would fall on solid middle-class consumers who are not eligible for the income-based subsidies. Many of those are self-employed people and small business owners, generally seen as a Republican constituency.

The latest “Obamacare” flare-up does not affect most people with employer coverage.

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Mother Homeschools 14 Children, Builds Multimillion-Dollar Business

What started as a simple desire to be able to provide for her children has turned into a multimillion-dollar business for Tammie Umbel of Dulles, Virginia. She not only runs a cosmetics company but home-schools her 14 children — and says she still finds time for herself. Leysa Bakalets has her story.

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Researchers: Smart Toilet Will Analyze Urine for Medical Data

Nano technology researchers at the University of Cambridge are developing an intelligent toilet that might change the nature of medicine. It automatically analyzes a user’s urine to capture valuable medical data. VOA Correspondent Mariama Diallo reports.

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Comey Called ‘Machiavellian’ in Trump Lawyers’ Memo to Mueller

Lawyers for President Donald Trump unleashed a blistering attack on former FBI Director James Comey in a confidential memo last year to the special counsel, casting him as “Machiavellian,” dishonest and “unbounded by law and regulation” as they sought to undermine the credibility of a law enforcement leader they see as a critical witness against the president.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press, underscores the intense effort by Trump’s legal team over the last year to tarnish Comey’s reputation and pit the president’s word against that of the former FBI director. Comey’s firing in May 2017 helped set in motion the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, and one-on-one conversations with Trump that Comey documented in a series of memos helped form the basis of Mueller’s inquiry into whether the president obstructed justice.

The June 27, 2017, letter was written by Marc Kasowitz, then the president’s lead lawyer, as Mueller and his team were in the early stages of their investigation into Trump associates and as they had begun examining whether the president, by firing Comey, had sought to stymie an FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. The White House initially pointed as justification for the firing to a Justice Department memo that faulted Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, though Trump later said that “this Russia thing” was on his mind when he made the move.

Trump legal strategy

It’s not clear to what extent, if any, the attacks on Comey have resonated with Mueller’s team, which is broadly investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and continues to seek an interview with the president to assess whether he had a corrupt intent when he fired the FBI director. And even in the face of withering criticism, Comey has been largely consistent in his telling of his interactions with Trump in his memos, his book and numerous press interviews he’s given in recent months.

The 13-page document provides a window into the formation of a legal strategy that remains in use today by Trump’s lawyers — to discredit Comey’s value as a witness. It could have new relevance in the aftermath of a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized Comey for departing from established protocol in the Clinton investigation.

The letter aims to identify for Mueller what the lawyers believe are grievous errors both in how Comey handled the Clinton investigation and in his early, and limited, encounters with the president. In it, Kasowitz argues that Comey cannot be trusted as a witness because he repeatedly embellished his testimony before Congress, put his “own personal interests and emotions” above FBI protocol and left a cloud of undue suspicion above the president’s head.

“Over the last year, Mr. Comey has engaged in a pattern of calculated unilateral action unbounded by governing law, regulation and practice, and plainly motivated by personal and political self-interest,” wrote Kasowitz, who has since stepped aside as lead lawyer.

Lawyers for Comey declined to comment Saturday, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. Kasowitz and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did not immediately return messages, and former Trump attorney John Dowd declined to comment.

Lines of attack

The document, unlike other correspondence between Trump lawyers and Mueller’s team, does not dwell on questions of Trump’s guilt or innocence. Instead, it casts in a negative light actions that Comey has said he carefully reasoned and that he has vigorously defended in his book and interviews. Those include the decision to announce without Justice Department consultation the conclusion of the Clinton investigation, and the decision months later to brief Trump — then the president-elect — on salacious allegations about him in a dossier.

“Mr. Comey continued his Machiavellian behavior after President Trump was elected,” Kasowitz wrote.

Among the principal lines of attack are Comey’s acknowledgment that he provided his lawyers with contemporaneous memos about his interactions with Trump and authorized one of them to share details with the news media. In one such encounter, Comey said the president asked him at a private dinner for his loyalty and that Comey offered him “honest loyalty” instead.

“There is no ‘honest loyalty’ in an FBI director surreptitiously leaking to civilians his privileged and confidential conversations with the president, or misappropriating and disseminating his confidential FBI memos or their contents about those meetings,” Kasowitz wrote. “There is no ‘honest loyalty’ in using those civilians as surrogates to feed stolen information and memos to the press to achieve a personal, political, and retributive objective of harming a sitting president.”

Like Trump, the lawyer also complains about Comey’s refusal to state publicly to Congress that the president was not under investigation even though he said so privately.

“Despite his repeated assurances to the president over the prior three months that he was not under investigation, the president’s repeated pleas to make that fact public, and Mr. Comey’s testimony that he had DOJ (Department of Justice) approval to make this ‘extraordinary’ announcement, Mr. Comey not only declined to clarify that there was no investigation of the president, but he used broad language that only reinforced the inaccurate perception that the president was under investigation,” Kasowitz wrote.

​Two letters to Mueller

The New York Times earlier reported that Kasowitz had written two letters to Mueller in June 2017, and published one in which he rejected the idea that Comey’s firing could constitute obstruction of justice. The AP obtained a copy of the other document, along with a two-page memo from September in which Trump lawyers lament to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller was “inexplicably” not investigating Comey’s “misconduct” they had earlier raised.

In the Kasowitz letter, he says Comey stonewalled the president’s request to clear his name in order to “sustain an investigative cloud” over his head that would make it hard for Trump to fire him. Comey has said he had already told congressional leaders who was and was not under investigation, and that he was reluctant to make public statements in case something changed and he needed to correct the record.

The letter also castigates Comey for usurping the authority of his Justice Department bosses by announcing the conclusion of the Clinton investigation without seeking their approval, a criticism echoed by the inspector general last month. Comey has said he made the announcement alone because of concern that Justice Department leadership was seen as politically compromised.

The letter says Comey “confronted” the president-elect in a January 2017 Trump Tower meeting “with phony but highly embarrassing allegations concerning his personal life” from a dossier compiled by a former British spy. It was the first in a series of conversations Comey documented in writing, something Trump lawyers say he did with the ultimate goal of undermining the president. Comey has said he told Trump about the dossier allegations because they were widely known in Washington, including by the media, and that he kept his memos because he was concerned that Trump might lie about their conversations.

In the September memo obtained by AP, Dowd, who left the legal team in March, expressed dismay to Rosenstein that there was no grand jury investigation into “the obviously corrupt conclusion” of the Clinton investigation, suggesting it was improper that Comey had begun drafting a statement closing the probe even before Clinton was interviewed.

“Today, you are faced with a terrible blight on our Department of Justice which must be addressed to restore and inspire confidence in the Department,” Dowd said in calling for the grand jury investigation.

Though the inspector general’s office faulted Comey for some of his decisions, it did not find that FBI or Justice Department actions in the case were tainted by political bias.

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Mexico’s Next President Aims to End Fuel Imports

Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will seek to end the country’s massive fuel imports, nearly all from the United States, during

the first three years of his term while also boosting refining at home.

The landslide winner of last Sunday’s election told reporters Saturday morning before attending private meetings with members of his future cabinet that he would also prioritize increasing domestic production of crude oil, which has fallen sharply for years.

“The objective is that we stop buying foreign gasoline by the halfway point of my six-year term,” said Lopez Obrador, repeating a position he and his senior energy adviser staked out during the campaign.

“We are going to immediately revive our oil activity, exploration and the drilling of wells so we have crude oil,” he said.

On the campaign trail, the leftist former mayor of Mexico City pitched his plan to wean the country off foreign gasoline as a means to increasing domestic production of crude and value-added fuels, not as a trade issue with the United States.

Lopez Obrador also reiterated on Saturday his goal to build either one large or two medium-sized oil refineries during his term, which begins December 1.

While he said the facilities would be built in the Gulf coast states of Tabasco and possibly Campeche, he has been less clear about how the multibillion-dollar refineries would be paid for.

So far this year, Mexico has imported an average of about 590,000 barrels per day (bpd) of gasoline and another 232,000 bpd of diesel.

Foreign gasoline imports have grown by nearly two-thirds, while diesel imports have more than doubled since 2013, the first year of outgoing President Enrique Pena Nieto’s term, according to data from national oil company Pemex.

Far below capacity

Meanwhile, the six oil refineries in Mexico owned and operated by Pemex are producing at far below their capacity, or an average of 220,000 bpd of gasoline so far this year.

Gasoline production at the facilities is down 50 percent compared with 2013, and domestic gasoline output accounts for only slightly more than a quarter of national demand from the country’s motorists.

During the campaign, the two-time presidential runner-up also promised to strengthen Pemex. He also was sharply critical of a 2013 constitutional energy overhaul that ended the company’s monopoly and allowed international oil majors to operate fields on their own for the first time in decades.

The overhaul was designed to reverse a 14-year-long oil output slide and has already resulted in competitive auctions that have awarded more than 100 exploration and production contracts to the likes of Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil.

“What’s most important is to resolve the problem of falling crude oil production. We’re extracting very little oil,” said Lopez Obrador.

During the first five months of this year, Mexican crude oil production averaged about 1.9 million bpd, a dramatic drop compared with peak output of nearly 3.4 million bpd in 2004, or 2.5 million bpd in 2013.

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Shipping Giant Exits Iran, Fears US Sanctions

One of the world’s biggest cargo shippers announced Saturday that it was

pulling out of Iran for fear of becoming entangled in U.S. sanctions, and President Hassan Rouhani demanded that European countries to do more to offset the U.S. measures.

The announcement by France’s CMA CGM that it was quitting Iran dealt a blow to Tehran’s efforts to persuade European countries to keep their companies operating in Iran despite the threat of new American sanctions.

Iran says it needs more help from Europe to keep alive an agreement with world powers to curb its nuclear program. U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the agreement in May and has announced new sanctions on Tehran. Washington has ordered all countries to stop buying Iranian oil by November and foreign firms to stop doing business there or face U.S. blacklists.

European powers that still support the nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, say they will do more to encourage their businesses to remain engaged with Iran. But the prospect of being banned in the United States appears to be enough to persuade European companies to keep out.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatory countries to the nuclear deal — Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia — offered a package of economic measures to Iran on Friday, but Tehran said they did not go far enough.

“European countries have the political will to maintain economic ties with Iran based on the JCPOA, but they need to take practical measures within the time limit,” Rouhani said Saturday on his official website.

‘We apply the rules’

CMA CGM, which according to the United Nations operates the world’s third-largest container shipping fleet with more than 11 percent of global capacity, said it would halt service for Iran because it did not want to fall afoul of the rules, given its large presence in the United States.

“Due to the Trump administration, we have decided to end our service for Iran,” CMA CGM chief Rodolphe Saade said during an economic conference in the southern French city of Aix-en-Provence. “Our Chinese competitors are hesitating a little, so maybe they have a different relationship with Trump, but we apply the rules.”

The shipping market leader, A.P. Moller-Maersk of Denmark, already announced in May it was pulling out of Iran.

In June, French carmaker PSA Group suspended its joint ventures in Iran, and French oil major Total said it held little hope of receiving a U.S. waiver to

continue with a multibillion-dollar gas project in the country.

Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne said Saturday that the company had been left with little choice. “If we continued to work in Iran, Total would not be able to

access the U.S. financial world,” he told RTL radio. “Our duty

is to protect the company. So we have to leave Iran.”

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh called the tension between Tehran and Washington a “trade war.” He said it had not led to changes in Iranian oil production and exports.

He also echoed Rouhani’s remarks that the European package did not meet all economic demands of Iran.

“I have not seen the package personally, but our colleagues in the Foreign Ministry who have seen it were not happy with its details,” Zanganeh was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency.

Some Iranian officials have threatened to block oil exports from the Gulf in retaliation for U.S. efforts to reduce Iranian oil sales to zero. Rouhani himself made a veiled threat along those lines in recent days, saying there could be no oil exports from the region if Iran’s were shut.

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Trump Unveils Court Pick on Monday

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday will announce his nominee for the Supreme Court to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. The announcement is likely to set off a major confirmation battle in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and opposition Democrats say they are ready for a fight over Trump’s court pick.

In his weekly presidential address, Trump said his “greatest responsibility is to select a justice who will faithfully interpret the Constitution as written.” The president vowed to select someone with “impeccable credentials, great intellect, unbiased judgment and deep reverence for the laws and Constitution.”

During a campaign rally in Montana Thursday, Trump sought to build expectations among supporters for his nominee.

“As you know there is now a vacancy on the Supreme Court. And if you tune in Monday at 9 o’clock I think you are going to be extremely happy with the selection. Right? And they are all great. They are all great,” Trump said to cheers at a rally in Great Falls, Montana.

 

WATCH: Trump to Unveil Court Pick Monday

Democrats mobilize

Anthony Kennedy was a critical swing vote in a number of high-profile cases, including same-sex marriage and upholding a woman’s right to an abortion.

Democrats have vowed to resist a nominee who could swing the high court further to the right.

“So it makes it all the more important that we get someone who is going to be a person of integrity and someone who is going to make a decision based on precedent, based on the rule of law, and not someone who is ideological,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

The Kennedy void

Legal analysts noted that Kennedy’s departure leaves a critical void on the high court.

“He leaves the court in a calcified state of a hardened left and right with nobody in that middle position,” said George Washington University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley. 

Trump said he has narrowed his choice to three or four contenders. Among those believed to be on the short list are federal appeals court judges Brett Kavanaugh, Amy Coney Barrett, Raymond Kethledge and Amul Thapar.

Kennedy was often a member of five-to-four majority decisions on the high court, and now conservatives see a chance to solidify their majority on the Supreme Court for years to come.

“I think many on the right feel in particular that Anthony Kennedy, while broadly on the conservative side, was not as consistent as he might have been, and that the nominee of Donald Trump will have the court be much more consistently five votes in the conservative direction,” said John Fortier with the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Rightward shift

Analysts also predict that a firmly conservative nominee will spark a high stakes political battle in the Senate.

“I think that we probably have never seen an appointment process that will be as contentious as this one given the importance of Kennedy’s position on the court and the increasingly polarized state of the nation,” said George Washington University legal analyst Paul Schiff Berman via Skype.

A recent Quinnipiac Poll found that 31 percent of voters believe Trump’s nominee should make the high court more conservative. Twenty-nine percent want the pick to make the court more liberal and 35 percent said the appointment should keep the current balance on the court.

The survey also found that by a margin of 50 percent to 42 percent, Americans believe the Supreme Court is more motivated by politics than the law.

Trump’s nominee must be confirmed by the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow 51- to 49-seat majority. A handful of Senate Democrats running for re-election in states that Trump won handily in 2016 could face a difficult vote on the court nominee. They could provide Republicans with an additional buffer if they decide to support the president.

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Trump to Unveil Court Pick Monday

President Donald Trump will announce his nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court on Monday. The announcement is likely to set off a major confirmation battle in the Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority and where opposition Democrats are planning to wage a fight over Trump’s court pick. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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