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Late-2018 Start Seen for Trial of Ex-Trump Campaign Chairman

A mid-May date proposed by prosecutors for the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate is too soon, a federal judge said Tuesday, signaling that the politically charged proceeding could be pushed back to later in the year.

Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the Russia investigation, had indicated in court papers filed last week that they would seek a trial date of May 14 for Manafort and former business partner Rick Gates. They told U.S. District Court Judge Amy Jackson on Tuesday that they needed about three weeks to try the case. 

But defense attorneys for Manafort and Gates argued that Mueller’s office had not presented them with all the evidence it possessed against their clients and that the proposed date would not give them enough time to go through everything.

“We need the time and are the least prepared of anyone here,” an attorney for Gates said. 

Judge concurs

Jackson agreed, saying the trial could be pushed back to as late as September or October.

“The discovery needs to get done and motions have to be filed,” Jackson said during a pre-trial hearing — known as a status conference — meeting with prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

In October, a federal grand jury indicted Manafort and Gates on 12 counts of conspiracy, money laundering, making false statements and other charges in connection with their lobbying for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russia political party. They’ve pleaded not guilty. 

The charges are unrelated to the Mueller investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and allegations of collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Manafort remains under house confinement. But Jackson later issued an order releasing Gates from home confinement, saying he had complied with her bond requirements.

Manafort’s attorneys filed a civil lawsuit this month against Mueller and the Justice Department, challenging the special counsel’s appointment and seeking the dismissal of the indictment. A prosecutor told Jackson that the special counsel intended to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the “proper procedure” to challenge the charges is through her court. Jackson gave the two sides until Friday to decide whether they want that case transferred and reassigned to her. 

The parties agreed to hold their next status conference with Jackson on February 14. 

Guilty pleas

In addition to bringing charges against Manafort and Gates, Mueller’s team has secured guilty pleas from two other former Trump associates.

In early October, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy consultant for the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty of lying to federal agents about his secret efforts to secure a meeting between Trump and Russian officials.

In December, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the FBI about a series of phone conversations he had with Russia’s former ambassador to Washington during Trump’s transition.

Both are cooperating with Mueller’s team.

The special counsel has interviewed several current and former White House officials in connection with the Russia investigation. The New York Times reported Tuesday that former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon had been subpoenaed to appear before the federal grand jury investigating the Russian election meddling.

Bannon on Tuesday met behind closed doors with members of the House Intelligence Committee as part of the panel’s own investigation of the Russian election meddling.

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Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Questioned in Russia Probe

Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former chief White House strategist, is being questioned Tuesday by lawmakers in their probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Bannon, who was a key Trump campaign aide and for seven months a top White House adviser before he was ousted, is appearing behind closed doors at the House Intelligence Committee, one of several ongoing investigations in Washington about the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that special counsel Robert Mueller subpoenaed Bannon last week to testify before a grand jury investigating Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

Bannon has continued to avow his support for Trump. But his relations with the president frayed badly after he was quoted extensively with critical remarks about the campaign and the first months of White House operations in author Michael Wolff’s new book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.”

The former Trump adviser was quoted as calling it “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” that Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, now a White House adviser, and then campaign manager Paul Manafort met with a Russian lawyer in the midst of the campaign in an effort to get “incriminating” evidence against Democratic Party Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

After the book was published, Trump started calling Bannon “Sloppy Steve,” and said, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency.  When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind.”  Bannon also was removed last week as the top executive at Breitbart News, the alt-right news site that has championed Trump’s brand of populism.

The House Intelligence panel is likely to question Bannon about the June 2016 meeting set up by the younger Trump, who has told investigators the Russian lawyer produced no damaging information about Clinton.  Investigators are also looking into then candidate Trump’s role in writing a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, an explanation that quickly fell apart.

Bannon is also likely to be asked about his contention in Wolff’s book that special counsel Robert Mueller, head of the criminal investigation of Trump campaign links to Russia, is focusing on alleged money-laundering by campaign officials.  Bannon could also be asked about his knowledge of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s talks with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the weeks before Trump assumed power a year ago and whether Trump, despite his denials, has any intention of firing Mueller.

Trump has repeatedly said there was “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, although none of the months-long congressional investigations or Mueller has reached any conclusions yet.

“Do you notice the Fake News Mainstream Media never likes covering the great and record setting economic news,” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday, “but rather talks about anything negative or that can be turned into the negative.  The Russian Collusion Hoax is dead, except as it pertains to the Dems.  Public gets it!”

Mueller has secured guilty pleas from Flynn and former foreign affairs adviser George Papadopoulos for lying to federal agents about their contacts with Russia and has charged Manafort and another campaign aide, Rick Gates, with money laundering in connection with their lobbying efforts for Ukraine that predated the 2016 presidential election campaign.

Mueller is also investigating whether President Trump obstructed justice when he fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was heading the agency’s Russia probe before Mueller was appointed, over Trump’s objections, to take over the investigation.

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MLK Day Marked by Trump Criticism, Pledges to Fight Racism

Martin Luther King Jr.’s children and the pastor of an Atlanta church where he preached decried disparaging remarks President Donald Trump is said to have made about African countries, while protests between Haitian immigrants and Trump supporters broke out near the president’s Florida resort Monday, the official federal holiday honoring King.

At gatherings across the nation, activists, residents and teachers honored the late civil rights leader on what would have been his 89th birthday and ahead of the 50th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with events aimed at coming to terms with its own history of slavery and by welcoming descendants of former slaves into the tribe.

Trump marked his first King holiday as president buffeted by claims that during a meeting with senators on immigration last week, he used a vulgarity to describe African countries and questioned the need to allow more Haitians into the U.S. He also is said to have asked why the country couldn’t have more immigrants from nations like Norway.

In Washington, King’s eldest son, Martin Luther King III, criticized Trump, saying, “When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don’t even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is.”

He added, “We got to find a way to work on this man’s heart.”

In Atlanta, King’s daughter, the Rev. Bernice King, told hundreds of people who packed the pews of the Ebenezer Baptist Church that they “cannot allow the nations of the world to embrace the words that come from our president as a reflection of the true spirit of America.”

“We are one people, one nation, one blood, one destiny. … All of civilization and humanity originated from the soils of Africa,” Bernice King said. “Our collective voice in this hour must always be louder than the one who sometimes does not reflect the legacy of my father.”

Church pastor the Rev. Raphael Warnock also took issue with Trump’s campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again.”

Warnock said he thinks America “is already great … in large measure because of Africa and African people.”

Trump protesters, supporters

Down the street from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago retreat in Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday, Trump protesters and supporters yelled at each other from opposing corners. Trump was staying at the resort for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Video posted by WPEC-TV showed several hundred pro-Haiti demonstrators yelling from one side of the street Monday while waving Haitian flags. The Haitians and their supporters shouted “Our country is not a s—hole,” referring to comments the president reportedly made. Trump has said that is not the language he used.

The smaller pro-Trump contingent waved American flags and campaign posters and yelled “Trump is making America great again.” One man could be seen telling the Haitians to leave the country. Police kept the sides apart.

Cherokee Nation

The Cherokee Nation tribe — one of the country’s largest — marked the King holiday on Monday with calls to service and by confronting its slave-owning past. A federal court ruled last year that the descendants of former slaves, known as Freedmen, had the same rights to tribal citizenship, voting, health care and housing as blood-line Cherokees.

“The time is now to deal with it and talk about it,” said Cherokee Secretary of State Chuck Hoskin Jr. “It’s been a positive thing for our country to reconcile that during Dr. King’s era, and it’s going to be a positive thing for Cherokees to talk about that history as part of reconciling our history with slavery.”

One descendant of Freedmen, Rodslen Brown-King, said her mother was able to vote as a Cherokee for the first and only time recently. Other relatives died before getting the benefits that come with tribal citizenship, including a 34-year-old nephew with stomach cancer, she said.

“He was waiting on this decision,” said Brown-King, of Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. “It’s just a lot of struggle, a lot of up and down trauma in our lives. It’s exciting to know we are coming together and moving forward in this.”

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Republican Senator Set to Compare Trump’s Treatment of Media to Stalin

A Republican U.S. senator, who is one of President Donald Trump’s biggest critics, will this week deliver a speech comparing Trump’s treatment of the media to the behavior of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

According to excerpts of the speech obtained by media outlets, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona will say in the Wednesday speech that President Trump’s “assault” on the media is “unprecedented” and “unwarranted.”

“It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies,” Flake will reportedly say.

That is a reference to Trump’s February 2017 tweet, in which he declared major U.S. news outlets to be the “enemy of the American People.”

“It bears noting that so fraught with malice was that phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even [Stalin’s successor] Nikita Khruschev forbade its use,” Flake will say in the speech.

Senator Flake will speak Wednesday, just before Trump, a former reality television entertainer, announces what he calls the “Fake News Awards.”

According to Trump, award categories will include “dishonesty and bad reporting in various categories.”

Trump regularly lashes out against individual journalists and media outlets he thinks treat him unfairly, while praising those that give him positive media coverage.

“When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press,” Flake will say.

Flake has said he is not running for reelection in the Senate but he has refused to rule out the possibility that he will challenge Trump in 2020.

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Trump’s Reported Slur Complicates Immigration Push in Congress

Fallout from U.S. President Donald Trump’s reported slur against impoverished, predominantly black nations further complicates a push for bipartisan immigration legislation that has eluded U.S. lawmakers for more than a decade. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington, a failure to reach a deal on thorny immigration topics could make a partial U.S. government shutdown more likely by the end of this week, when federal funding expires.

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Trump: ‘I am Not a Racist’

President Donald Trump denied he is a racist Sunday, three days after he reportedly referred to immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as coming from “s—hole” countries.”

“I am the least racist person you will ever interview,” Trump responded to a reporter’s question at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort.

According to some in the room during a White House meeting on immigration, Trump asked why the U.S. is letting in immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa and said he wanted more from countries such as Norway. He also apparently said he wants to exclude Haiti from an immigration reform deal.

While the White House never denied Trump used an obscenity to talk about immigrants of color, the president denied it.

“Never said anything derogatory about Haiti,” he later tweeted. “Made up by Dems. I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately no trust.”

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who was at the Oval Office meeting, claimed the president made the derogatory term.

Trump’s denial was supported in separate appearances on Sunday news programs by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.

“I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was,” Cotton said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Perdue was on ABC television and flatly denied Trump said it.

Trump also told reporters in Florida late Sunday he is still going to try to make a deal on DACA, the program that protects young immigrants illegally brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

The president tweeted earlier Sunday that DACA is “probably dead”

“Honestly, I don’t think Democrats want to make a deal,” he told reporters.

DACA is at the center of the debate between the White House and Congress on a bill to fund the government and avoid a shutdown at the end of this week.

Trump is tying an extension of DACA to funding for a wall along the U.S. – Mexican border.

Many Democrats want extending DACA to be a separate issue from building a wall — something they oppose anyway.

The president’s reportedly harsh comments about Africa and Haiti angered Democrats and were also condemned by a number of Republicans — throwing some doubt on Congress’ willingness to make an immigration deal with the White House at this time.

Trump signed an executive order ending DACA, but gave Congress until March 5 to come up with a solution for the 800,000 young immigrants affected by the program.

Many came to the U.S. as babies and toddlers illegally with their families, but this is the only country they know. They work, go to school, pay taxes, and have served in the U.S. military.

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French Dairy Recalls Infant Milk from 83 Countries

More than 12 million boxes of French baby milk products are being recalled from 83 countries for suspected salmonella contamination.

The recall includes Lactalis’ Picot, Milumel and Taranis brands.

The head of the French dairy Lactalis on Sunday confirmed that its products are being recalled from countries across Europe, Africa, Latin America and Asia after salmonella was discovered at one of its plants last month. The United States, Britain and Australia were not affected.

Emmanuel Besnier told weekly newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that his family company, one of the world’s biggest dairies, would pay damages to “every family which has suffered a prejudice.”

The paper said 35 babies were diagnosed with salmonella in France, one in Spain and a possible case in Greece.

Salmonella can cause severe diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting and severe dehydration. It can be life-threatening, especially in young children.

Lactalis officials have said they believe the contamination was caused by renovation work at their Celia factory in Craon, in northwest France.

France’s agriculture minister said products from the factory will be banned indefinitely during the investigation.


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Trump: Deportation Protection Program ‘Probably Dead’

U.S. President Donald Trump contended Sunday that a U.S. program to protect young immigrants from deportation is “probably dead,” saying that opposition Democrats “don’t really want it,” but just want to be able to talk about the issue.

The fate of the program protecting nearly 800,000 immigrants from deportation who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents years ago when they were children is at the forefront of the Washington political debate this week. It is part of discussions between the White House and Congress over new funding for the government to avert a partial government shutdown when U.S. agencies run out of money at midnight Friday.

Trump last week rejected a bipartisan proposal offered him by three Republican and three Democratic senators to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect the young immigrants from deportation. The lawmakers also called for other immigration policy changes, including increased funding for security along the southern U.S. border with Mexico, where Trump is demanding that a wall be built to thwart more illegal immigration.

But in the course of the White House meeting, Trump sparked an international uproar by reportedly describing Haiti, El Salvador and African nations as “s—hole countries,” questioning why more immigrants from those countries should be allowed into the United States.

Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois who was at the Oval Office meeting claimed the president made the derogatory term. Trump admtted to using “tough” language but has denied making the statement.

Trump’s denial was supported in separate appearances on Sunday news programs by Republican senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia.

In an appearance on the CBS news program “Face the Nation” Cotton said,  “I didn’t hear it, and I was sitting no further away from Donald Trump than Dick Durbin was.” Cotton added that people shouldn’t be surprised by Durbin’s comments because the Illinois senator “has a history of “misrepresenting what happens in White House meetings.”  On ABC’s “This Week” Republican Senator Perdue flatly denied Trump made the comment.

In a pair of Twitter comments Sunday, Trump accused Democrats of trying to “take desperately needed money away from our Military” as part of the immigration and funding discussions.

He said that as president he wants “people coming into our Country who are going to help us become strong and great again, people coming in through a system based on MERIT. No more Lotteries! #AMERICA FIRST.”

Trump is calling for the end of of an immigration lottery program under which some foreigners have through a yearly drawing been able to legally emigrate to the U.S. Trump claims that other countries have sent potential terrorists and their most poorly educated citizens to America.

Trump last year ended the DACA program that was created by his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, but delayed deportations to give Congress until March 5 to weigh in on the issue. Trump, at an unusual televised meeting with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers last week, told them he would sign whatever immigration legislation they could agree on, but then rebuffed the first compromise offered him by the six senators, with more conservative Republican lawmakers calling for tougher immigration restrictions.

Meantime, a U.S. district court judge in California last week, over protests from Trump, ruled that for the moment at least he cannot end the DACA program.

On Saturday, the government said it has resumed accepting requests to renew grants from the young immigrants to protect them from deportation. Many of the immigrants, called Dreamers by their advocates, have only known the U.S. as their home.  

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a statement on its website, “Until further notice . . . the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded” by Trump last September 5.

The statement said that people who were previously granted deferred action under DACA may request renewal, but added that the agency is not accepting requests from individuals who were never granted deferred action under DACA.

A DACA deferment gives prosecutors discretion on enforcing immigration laws, effectively allowing the undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. 


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Chelsea Manning to Run for US Senate

Transgender whistleblower Chelsea Manning is seeking to become a U.S. senator representing the state of Maryland, according to federal election filings.

She would run as a Democrat, challenging two-term Senator Ben Cardin in Maryland’s June primary. Manning would have to file with the state election board by February 27 to get her name on the ballot.

Cardin is the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was first elected to the Senate in 2006.

Cardin spokeswoman Sue Walitsky, without speaking about Manning directly, said Cardin “is looking forward to a vigorous debate of the issues and a robust conversation with Maryland voters.”

Manning, a former army intelligence analyst, originally known as Bradley Manning, is the U.S. soldier who released more than 700,000 secret military documents and battlefield videos to WikiLeaks. She said she released the information to raise public awareness about the impact of war on civilians. Prosecutors said Manning was a traitor who put the U.S. and its armed forces at risk.

In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for releasing the classified documents. U.S. President Barack Obama granted Manning clemency before leaving office last year.

After her conviction, Manning said she identified as a woman. During her imprisonment, she battled for and won the right to start hormone treatment.

U.S. President Donald Trump says Manning is a traitor.

Trump has attempted to bar transgender people from the military, but federal courts have ruled against that ban.

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