Missouri Governor Greitens to Resign Amid Scandals Investigation

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, a sometimes brash outsider whose unconventional resume as a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL officer made him a rising star in Republican politics, abruptly announced his resignation Tuesday after a scandal involving an affair with his former hairdresser led to a broader investigation by prosecutors and state legislators.

The 44-year-old governor made the announcement nearly 17 months after taking the oath as Missouri’s chief executive with a pledge to root out “corrupt career politicians.” The investigations of him widened to include questions about whether he had violated the law in financing the campaign.

Greitens said his resignation would take effect Friday.

A St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on Feb. 22 on one felony count of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a photo of the woman without her consent at his home in 2015, before he was elected governor. The charge was dismissed during jury selection, but a special prosecutor was considering whether to refile charges.

In April, the local St. Louis prosecutor’s office charged Greitens with another felony, alleging that he improperly used the donor list for a charity that he’d founded to raise money for his 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks ago, the Missouri Legislature began meeting in special session to consider whether to pursue impeachment proceedings to try to oust Greitens from office.

A special House investigatory committee had subpoenaed Greitens to testify next Monday.

Greitens’ brashness alienated some GOP legislators even before his affair became public in January.

The woman’s then-husband released a secretly recorded conversation in which she described the alleged incident. The woman later told a Missouri House investigative committee that Greitens restrained, slapped, shoved and threatened her during a series of sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid.

Greitens said the allegations amounted to a “political witch hunt,” and vowed to stay in office. But the report’s release created a firestorm, with both Republicans and Democrats calling for his resignation.

His departure elevates fellow Republican Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson to the governor’s office.

Greitens’ administration was thrown into chaos the night of Jan. 10, when a St. Louis TV station aired a report about Greitens allegedly taking the compromising photo and threatening to blackmail the woman if she ever spoke of their encounter. The report aired shortly after Greitens delivered his State of the State address to lawmakers.

Greitens admitted to having an affair but denied any criminal wrongdoing. He said the criminal case was politically motivated and called St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”

Lawmakers from both parties immediately began questioning whether Greitens could continue to lead the state in the wake of the scandal. The House authorized the legislative investigation a week after the indictment.

Charity questions

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also launched an inquiry into a veterans charity Greitens founded. Federal law bars 501(c)(3) charities such as The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates.

The Associated Press first reported in October 2016 that Greitens’ campaign had obtained a list of individuals, corporations and other nonprofits that had given at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues. The AP reported that Greitens raised about $2 million from those who had previously given significant amounts to the charity.

Hawley, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, turned evidence over to Gardner, saying April 17 that he believed Greitens had broken the law. Her office charged him with tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing the donor list without the charity’s permission.

A May 2 report from a special House investigatory committee indicated that Greitens himself received the donor list and later directed aides to work off it to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign. A former campaign aide testified that he was duped into taking the fall when the campaign tried to explain how it had gotten the list.

Invasion-of-privacy indictment

The invasion-of-privacy indictment stated that on March 21, 2015, Greitens photographed the woman and transmitted the photo “in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”

During her testimony to the House investigative committee, the woman said Greitens invited her to his home and offered to show her “how to do a proper pull-up.” The woman said she initially thought “this is going to be some sort of sexy workout.” But once in his basement, Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, and started kissing and disrobing her without her consent, according to her testimony.

Then she saw a flash and heard a click, like a cellphone picture, she said. The woman testified that Greitens told her: “Don’t even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to put them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.”

Greitens, a married father of two young boys, repeatedly denied blackmailing the woman. He declined to say whether he took a photo.

Greitens, who had also served as a White House fellow and written a best-selling book, entered the 2016 gubernatorial race as a brash outsider. He won an expensive Republican primary, then defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the general election to give Republicans control of the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years. Some considered him a potential future presidential contender.

Republicans also controlled the Missouri House and Senate, but there were frequent clashes between lawmakers and Greitens, who compared them to third-graders and labeled them “career politicians.”

He confronted criticism from some educators and lawmakers for working to pack the State Board of Education with members who would fire the education commissioner. Greitens’ use of a secretive app that deletes messages after they’re read also sparked a review by Hawley.

Missouri Governor Greitens to Resign Amid Scandals Investigation

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, a sometimes brash outsider whose unconventional resume as a Rhodes Scholar and Navy SEAL officer made him a rising star in Republican politics, abruptly announced his resignation Tuesday after a scandal involving an affair with his former hairdresser led to a broader investigation by prosecutors and state legislators.

The 44-year-old governor made the announcement nearly 17 months after taking the oath as Missouri’s chief executive with a pledge to root out “corrupt career politicians.” The investigations of him widened to include questions about whether he had violated the law in financing the campaign.

Greitens said his resignation would take effect Friday.

A St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on Feb. 22 on one felony count of invasion of privacy for allegedly taking a photo of the woman without her consent at his home in 2015, before he was elected governor. The charge was dismissed during jury selection, but a special prosecutor was considering whether to refile charges.

In April, the local St. Louis prosecutor’s office charged Greitens with another felony, alleging that he improperly used the donor list for a charity that he’d founded to raise money for his 2016 campaign.

Less than two weeks ago, the Missouri Legislature began meeting in special session to consider whether to pursue impeachment proceedings to try to oust Greitens from office.

A special House investigatory committee had subpoenaed Greitens to testify next Monday.

Greitens’ brashness alienated some GOP legislators even before his affair became public in January.

The woman’s then-husband released a secretly recorded conversation in which she described the alleged incident. The woman later told a Missouri House investigative committee that Greitens restrained, slapped, shoved and threatened her during a series of sexual encounters that at times left her crying and afraid.

Greitens said the allegations amounted to a “political witch hunt,” and vowed to stay in office. But the report’s release created a firestorm, with both Republicans and Democrats calling for his resignation.

His departure elevates fellow Republican Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson to the governor’s office.

Greitens’ administration was thrown into chaos the night of Jan. 10, when a St. Louis TV station aired a report about Greitens allegedly taking the compromising photo and threatening to blackmail the woman if she ever spoke of their encounter. The report aired shortly after Greitens delivered his State of the State address to lawmakers.

Greitens admitted to having an affair but denied any criminal wrongdoing. He said the criminal case was politically motivated and called St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, a “reckless liberal prosecutor.”

Lawmakers from both parties immediately began questioning whether Greitens could continue to lead the state in the wake of the scandal. The House authorized the legislative investigation a week after the indictment.

Charity questions

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley also launched an inquiry into a veterans charity Greitens founded. Federal law bars 501(c)(3) charities such as The Mission Continues from intervening in political campaigns on behalf of candidates.

The Associated Press first reported in October 2016 that Greitens’ campaign had obtained a list of individuals, corporations and other nonprofits that had given at least $1,000 to The Mission Continues. The AP reported that Greitens raised about $2 million from those who had previously given significant amounts to the charity.

Hawley, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, turned evidence over to Gardner, saying April 17 that he believed Greitens had broken the law. Her office charged him with tampering with computer data for allegedly disclosing the donor list without the charity’s permission.

A May 2 report from a special House investigatory committee indicated that Greitens himself received the donor list and later directed aides to work off it to raise money for his gubernatorial campaign. A former campaign aide testified that he was duped into taking the fall when the campaign tried to explain how it had gotten the list.

Invasion-of-privacy indictment

The invasion-of-privacy indictment stated that on March 21, 2015, Greitens photographed the woman and transmitted the photo “in a manner that allowed access to that image via a computer.”

During her testimony to the House investigative committee, the woman said Greitens invited her to his home and offered to show her “how to do a proper pull-up.” The woman said she initially thought “this is going to be some sort of sexy workout.” But once in his basement, Greitens taped her hands to pull-up rings, blindfolded her, and started kissing and disrobing her without her consent, according to her testimony.

Then she saw a flash and heard a click, like a cellphone picture, she said. The woman testified that Greitens told her: “Don’t even mention my name to anybody at all, because if you do, I’m going to take these pictures, and I’m going to put them everywhere I can. They are going to be everywhere, and then everyone will know what a little whore you are.”

Greitens, a married father of two young boys, repeatedly denied blackmailing the woman. He declined to say whether he took a photo.

Greitens, who had also served as a White House fellow and written a best-selling book, entered the 2016 gubernatorial race as a brash outsider. He won an expensive Republican primary, then defeated Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in the general election to give Republicans control of the governor’s mansion for the first time in eight years. Some considered him a potential future presidential contender.

Republicans also controlled the Missouri House and Senate, but there were frequent clashes between lawmakers and Greitens, who compared them to third-graders and labeled them “career politicians.”

He confronted criticism from some educators and lawmakers for working to pack the State Board of Education with members who would fire the education commissioner. Greitens’ use of a secretive app that deletes messages after they’re read also sparked a review by Hawley.

Misleading Tweets by Liberal Activists Fuel Trump

President Donald Trump on Tuesday seized on an error by liberal activists who tweeted photos of young-looking immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in steel cages and blamed the current administration for separating immigrant children from their parents.

The photos were taken by The Associated Press in 2014, when President Barack Obama was in office. The photo captions reference children who crossed the border as unaccompanied minors.

 

Early Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages. They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires. Dems must agree to Wall and new Border Protection for good of country…Bipartisan Bill!”

 

The immigration debate has reached a fever pitch in recent months following reports that since October about 700 children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have been separated from their parents.

 

The number of separated minors is expected to jump once Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy is enacted. That policy, embraced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would enforce criminal charges against people crossing the border illegally with few or no previous offenses. Under U.S. protocol, if parents are jailed, their children would be separated from them.

 

“The parents are subject to prosecution while children may not be,” Sessions said earlier this month. “So, if we do our duty and prosecute those cases, then children inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions.”

 

Enter a June 2014 online story by The Arizona Republic titled “First peek: Immigrant children flood detention center.”

 

The story linked to photos taken by AP’s Ross D. Franklin at a center run by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in Nogales, Arizona. One photo shows two unidentified female detainees sleeping in a holding cell. The caption references U.S. efforts to process 47,000 unaccompanied children at the Nogales center and another one in Brownsville, Texas.

 

How or why the story resurfaced on social media four years after it was published is unclear. But among those who took notice was Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speechwriter.

 

In a now-deleted tweet, Favreau wrote: “This is happening right now, and the only debate that matters is how we force our government to get these kids back to their families as fast as humanly possible.”

 

Other liberal activists also linked to the Arizona Republic story using the hashtag “WhereAreOurChildren,” which grew out of testimony in April by a federal official that the U.S. government had lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minor children it placed with adult sponsors in the U.S.

 

Favreau did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment. But he later issued a corrected tweet: “These awful pictures are from 2014 when the government’s challenge was reconnecting unaccompanied minors.”

 

He added: “Today, in 2018, the government is CREATING unaccompanied minors by tearing them away from family at the border.”

 

As the immigration debate lit up social media over the weekend, Trump on Saturday falsely claimed that there was a “horrible law” that separates children from their parents after they cross the border. He has said previously that “we have to break up families” at the border because “the Democrats gave us that law.”

 

That’s not true. There’s no law mandating that parents must be separated from their children. But if an administration opts to impose harsh criminal charges against an adult for crossing the border illegally, their children would be separated from them as a result.

 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has defended the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from parents when the family is being prosecuted for entering the U.S. illegally, telling a Senate committee earlier this month that removing children from parents facing criminal charges happens “in the United States every day.”

 

A 2008 law, passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, says children traveling alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada must be released in the “least restrictive setting” – often to family or a government-run shelter – while their cases slowly wind through immigration court. It was designed to accommodate an influx of children fleeing to the United States from Central America.

Misleading Tweets by Liberal Activists Fuel Trump

President Donald Trump on Tuesday seized on an error by liberal activists who tweeted photos of young-looking immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in steel cages and blamed the current administration for separating immigrant children from their parents.

The photos were taken by The Associated Press in 2014, when President Barack Obama was in office. The photo captions reference children who crossed the border as unaccompanied minors.

 

Early Tuesday, Trump tweeted: “Democrats mistakenly tweet 2014 pictures from Obama’s term showing children from the Border in steel cages. They thought it was recent pictures in order to make us look bad, but backfires. Dems must agree to Wall and new Border Protection for good of country…Bipartisan Bill!”

 

The immigration debate has reached a fever pitch in recent months following reports that since October about 700 children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have been separated from their parents.

 

The number of separated minors is expected to jump once Trump’s new “zero tolerance” policy is enacted. That policy, embraced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, would enforce criminal charges against people crossing the border illegally with few or no previous offenses. Under U.S. protocol, if parents are jailed, their children would be separated from them.

 

“The parents are subject to prosecution while children may not be,” Sessions said earlier this month. “So, if we do our duty and prosecute those cases, then children inevitably for a period of time might be in different conditions.”

 

Enter a June 2014 online story by The Arizona Republic titled “First peek: Immigrant children flood detention center.”

 

The story linked to photos taken by AP’s Ross D. Franklin at a center run by the Customs and Border Protection Agency in Nogales, Arizona. One photo shows two unidentified female detainees sleeping in a holding cell. The caption references U.S. efforts to process 47,000 unaccompanied children at the Nogales center and another one in Brownsville, Texas.

 

How or why the story resurfaced on social media four years after it was published is unclear. But among those who took notice was Jon Favreau, Obama’s former speechwriter.

 

In a now-deleted tweet, Favreau wrote: “This is happening right now, and the only debate that matters is how we force our government to get these kids back to their families as fast as humanly possible.”

 

Other liberal activists also linked to the Arizona Republic story using the hashtag “WhereAreOurChildren,” which grew out of testimony in April by a federal official that the U.S. government had lost track of nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minor children it placed with adult sponsors in the U.S.

 

Favreau did not immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment. But he later issued a corrected tweet: “These awful pictures are from 2014 when the government’s challenge was reconnecting unaccompanied minors.”

 

He added: “Today, in 2018, the government is CREATING unaccompanied minors by tearing them away from family at the border.”

 

As the immigration debate lit up social media over the weekend, Trump on Saturday falsely claimed that there was a “horrible law” that separates children from their parents after they cross the border. He has said previously that “we have to break up families” at the border because “the Democrats gave us that law.”

 

That’s not true. There’s no law mandating that parents must be separated from their children. But if an administration opts to impose harsh criminal charges against an adult for crossing the border illegally, their children would be separated from them as a result.

 

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen has defended the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from parents when the family is being prosecuted for entering the U.S. illegally, telling a Senate committee earlier this month that removing children from parents facing criminal charges happens “in the United States every day.”

 

A 2008 law, passed unanimously by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush, says children traveling alone from countries other than Mexico or Canada must be released in the “least restrictive setting” – often to family or a government-run shelter – while their cases slowly wind through immigration court. It was designed to accommodate an influx of children fleeing to the United States from Central America.

Trump to Campaign in Tennessee to Thwart Dems’ US Senate Bid

Diving into the midterm elections, President Donald Trump is seeking to build a stable of Republicans who will help promote his agenda and serve as a check on Democrats aiming to win majorities in Congress.

Trump is traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday to raise campaign cash for Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the party’s leading U.S. Senate hopeful in Tennessee, and headline a rally with his most loyal supporters.

 

Blackburn is expected to face Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen to replace Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who is retiring. The Tennessee campaign is among several races crucial to Trump’s plans to maintain control of the Senate, where Republicans are defending a narrow two-seat majority.

 

Trump is planning a series of political rallies and events in the coming months to boost Republicans and brand Democrats as obstructionists to his agenda. The president held a similar rally in Indiana earlier this month, appearing with Republican businessman Mike Braun and ripping Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly as a “swamp person” who refused to aid the GOP agenda.

 

“We’re not getting complacent. We can’t,” Trump said in Elkhart, Indiana. “If we elect more Republicans we can truly deliver for all of our citizens.”

 

Earlier Tuesday, Trump raised the prospect of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe affecting the November elections and blamed Democrats for “Collusion.” On Twitter, he said the “13 Angry Democrats” on Mueller’s team “will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans [stay tough!] are taking the lead in Polls.” Mueller is a Republican.

 

Beyond Indiana, Trump has used his Twitter page to boost California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, hoping to strengthen the party’s chances of securing a spot on the ballot in November. He has also set his sights on Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is seeking re-election in a state Trump carried in a landslide. The two states have primaries on June 5.

 

The president is raising money later in the week in Texas to benefit Senate Republicans and his 2020 campaign.

 

Tennessee has a history of electing centrist senators and the race could be complicated by Corker’s up-and-down relationship with Trump. Corker once said Trump had turned the White House into an “adult day care center” and the president tweeted that Corker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”

 

Yet Corker was in the Oval Office on Saturday, receiving praise from the president for his help in securing the release of a man imprisoned in Venezuela. The breakthrough happened after Corker held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

 

In his final year in the Senate, Corker has called Bredesen a friend and said he won’t actively campaign against him.

 

Trump, meanwhile, offered an early endorsement of Blackburn in April, calling her on Twitter “a wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her. Great on the Military, Border Security and Crime.”

 

Blackburn, who served on Trump’s transition team, has embraced the president and called herself a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative.”

 

Bredesen, who is attempting to become the first Democrat to win a Senate campaign in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990, has aired TV ads in which he says that he’s “not running against Donald Trump” and that he learned long ago to “separate the message from the messenger.”

 

 

Trump to Campaign in Tennessee to Thwart Dems’ US Senate Bid

Diving into the midterm elections, President Donald Trump is seeking to build a stable of Republicans who will help promote his agenda and serve as a check on Democrats aiming to win majorities in Congress.

Trump is traveling to Nashville, Tennessee, on Tuesday to raise campaign cash for Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, the party’s leading U.S. Senate hopeful in Tennessee, and headline a rally with his most loyal supporters.

 

Blackburn is expected to face Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen to replace Republican Sen. Bob Corker, who is retiring. The Tennessee campaign is among several races crucial to Trump’s plans to maintain control of the Senate, where Republicans are defending a narrow two-seat majority.

 

Trump is planning a series of political rallies and events in the coming months to boost Republicans and brand Democrats as obstructionists to his agenda. The president held a similar rally in Indiana earlier this month, appearing with Republican businessman Mike Braun and ripping Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly as a “swamp person” who refused to aid the GOP agenda.

 

“We’re not getting complacent. We can’t,” Trump said in Elkhart, Indiana. “If we elect more Republicans we can truly deliver for all of our citizens.”

 

Earlier Tuesday, Trump raised the prospect of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe affecting the November elections and blamed Democrats for “Collusion.” On Twitter, he said the “13 Angry Democrats” on Mueller’s team “will be MEDDLING with the mid-term elections, especially now that Republicans [stay tough!] are taking the lead in Polls.” Mueller is a Republican.

 

Beyond Indiana, Trump has used his Twitter page to boost California Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox, hoping to strengthen the party’s chances of securing a spot on the ballot in November. He has also set his sights on Montana, where Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is seeking re-election in a state Trump carried in a landslide. The two states have primaries on June 5.

 

The president is raising money later in the week in Texas to benefit Senate Republicans and his 2020 campaign.

 

Tennessee has a history of electing centrist senators and the race could be complicated by Corker’s up-and-down relationship with Trump. Corker once said Trump had turned the White House into an “adult day care center” and the president tweeted that Corker “couldn’t get elected dog catcher in Tennessee.”

 

Yet Corker was in the Oval Office on Saturday, receiving praise from the president for his help in securing the release of a man imprisoned in Venezuela. The breakthrough happened after Corker held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

 

In his final year in the Senate, Corker has called Bredesen a friend and said he won’t actively campaign against him.

 

Trump, meanwhile, offered an early endorsement of Blackburn in April, calling her on Twitter “a wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her. Great on the Military, Border Security and Crime.”

 

Blackburn, who served on Trump’s transition team, has embraced the president and called herself a “hardcore, card-carrying Tennessee conservative.”

 

Bredesen, who is attempting to become the first Democrat to win a Senate campaign in Tennessee since Al Gore in 1990, has aired TV ads in which he says that he’s “not running against Donald Trump” and that he learned long ago to “separate the message from the messenger.”

 

 

Trump Lawyer Wary of Prosecutors’ Obstruction Questions in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump “adamantly’ wants to answer questions in the criminal investigation of his 2016 campaign’s links with Russia, but one of his lawyers says he remains skeptical about allowing Trump to face prosecutors’ queries about whether he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Trump lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told CNN on Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to question the president about two key topics: possible collusion with Russia in the months before the election and whether he sought as president to block the investigation by firing FBI director James Comey while he was heading the Russia probe before Mueller was appointed to take over.

“The collusion part we’re pretty comfortable about because there has been none,” Giuliani said. “The obstruction part I’m not as comfortable with. I’m not. The president’s fine with it. He’s innocent. I’m not comfortable because it’s a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast, true and not true.”

Giuliani added that “if you interpret his comment about firing Comey … if you interpret that as obstructing the investigation, as opposed to removing a guy who’s doing a bad job …. if you see it as obstructing the investigation, then you can say it’s obstruction.”

Giuliani said the president’s legal team is worried that Trump could be trapped into perjury — the criminal offense of lying under oath — in answering prosecutors’ questions about his reasoning for firing Comey. Initially, the White House said Trump ousted Comey because he allegedly mishandled the FBI’s investigation into the use of a private email server by Trump’s 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, while she was the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Within days, however, Trump told NBC that he was going to fire Comey in any event and was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he ousted him because he thought it was a phony investigation used by Democrats to explain Clinton’s upset loss.

Whatever the misgivings of Trump’s lawyers about letting him face prosecutors’ questions, Giuliani said, “He’s adamantly wanting to do it.”

But Giuliani said that ultimately the decision of whether Trump meets with Mueller’s team depends on “how comfortable we are in them being open-minded” and believing that prosecutors had not decided in advance that Trump was complicit in wrong-doing.

Asked how he was “so sure” there had not been any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, Giuliani, a one-time prosecutor, said, “Fifty years of investigative experience tells me they don’t have a darn thing.”

Giuliani said that when he was part of the campaign, “No one knew about Russia, nobody talked about Russia.”

Trump has often assailed the investigation and did so again Sunday, calling it a “phony Russia Collusion Wiitch Hunt,” and a “Rigged Investigation!”

Giuliani has said in recent days that ultimately there won’t be any criminal charges brought against Trump, in keeping with long-standing Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be charged. But Giuliani said, based on what Mueller concludes about Trump’s actions, Congress could eventually face a decision whether to impeach Trump, leading to a Senate trial on whether he should be removed from office.

The Trump lawyer said that any sit-down with Mueller’s prosecutors would not occur until after the still-possible June 12 summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

 

 

Trump Lawyer Wary of Prosecutors’ Obstruction Questions in Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump “adamantly’ wants to answer questions in the criminal investigation of his 2016 campaign’s links with Russia, but one of his lawyers says he remains skeptical about allowing Trump to face prosecutors’ queries about whether he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

Trump lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, told CNN on Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to question the president about two key topics: possible collusion with Russia in the months before the election and whether he sought as president to block the investigation by firing FBI director James Comey while he was heading the Russia probe before Mueller was appointed to take over.

“The collusion part we’re pretty comfortable about because there has been none,” Giuliani said. “The obstruction part I’m not as comfortable with. I’m not. The president’s fine with it. He’s innocent. I’m not comfortable because it’s a matter of interpretation, not just hard and fast, true and not true.”

Giuliani added that “if you interpret his comment about firing Comey … if you interpret that as obstructing the investigation, as opposed to removing a guy who’s doing a bad job …. if you see it as obstructing the investigation, then you can say it’s obstruction.”

Giuliani said the president’s legal team is worried that Trump could be trapped into perjury — the criminal offense of lying under oath — in answering prosecutors’ questions about his reasoning for firing Comey. Initially, the White House said Trump ousted Comey because he allegedly mishandled the FBI’s investigation into the use of a private email server by Trump’s 2016 opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, while she was the U.S. secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Within days, however, Trump told NBC that he was going to fire Comey in any event and was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he ousted him because he thought it was a phony investigation used by Democrats to explain Clinton’s upset loss.

Whatever the misgivings of Trump’s lawyers about letting him face prosecutors’ questions, Giuliani said, “He’s adamantly wanting to do it.”

But Giuliani said that ultimately the decision of whether Trump meets with Mueller’s team depends on “how comfortable we are in them being open-minded” and believing that prosecutors had not decided in advance that Trump was complicit in wrong-doing.

Asked how he was “so sure” there had not been any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian interests, Giuliani, a one-time prosecutor, said, “Fifty years of investigative experience tells me they don’t have a darn thing.”

Giuliani said that when he was part of the campaign, “No one knew about Russia, nobody talked about Russia.”

Trump has often assailed the investigation and did so again Sunday, calling it a “phony Russia Collusion Wiitch Hunt,” and a “Rigged Investigation!”

Giuliani has said in recent days that ultimately there won’t be any criminal charges brought against Trump, in keeping with long-standing Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be charged. But Giuliani said, based on what Mueller concludes about Trump’s actions, Congress could eventually face a decision whether to impeach Trump, leading to a Senate trial on whether he should be removed from office.

The Trump lawyer said that any sit-down with Mueller’s prosecutors would not occur until after the still-possible June 12 summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

 

 

Trump’s ‘Phony’ Source a White House Official

President Donald Trump accused The New York Times on Saturday of inventing a source for a story who, in fact, was a White House official conducting a briefing for reporters under the condition that the official not be named.

Trump tweeted that the Times quoted an official “who doesn’t exist” and referenced a line in the story about a possible summit with North Korea, which read: “a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

Said Trump: “WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.”

The Times reported in a story about the tweet that it had cited “a senior White House official speaking to a large group of reporters in the White House briefing room.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the use of unnamed sources and labeled information related by unnamed officials “fake news.” Still, his White House regularly arranges briefings with officials who demand anonymity before relaying information, a practice also used by previous administrations.

At the briefing, which was attended by The Associated Press, the official cast doubt on the feasibility of a June 12 summit.

“I think that the main point, I suppose, is that the ball is in North Korea’s court right now. There’s really not a lot of time,” the official said. “There’s a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually meet and talk and negotiate and hopefully make a deal. And June 12 is in 10 minutes.”

The White House press office invited reporters to the background briefing, both to attend in person or to call-in and insisted that the official not be named. The AP reporter in attendance questioned why the briefing was not on the record, meaning that the official’s name could be used. The official said the president had been talking publicly during the day, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and that the briefing was intended to provide “background context.”

Trump’s ‘Phony’ Source a White House Official

President Donald Trump accused The New York Times on Saturday of inventing a source for a story who, in fact, was a White House official conducting a briefing for reporters under the condition that the official not be named.

Trump tweeted that the Times quoted an official “who doesn’t exist” and referenced a line in the story about a possible summit with North Korea, which read: “a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.”

Said Trump: “WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.”

The Times reported in a story about the tweet that it had cited “a senior White House official speaking to a large group of reporters in the White House briefing room.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the use of unnamed sources and labeled information related by unnamed officials “fake news.” Still, his White House regularly arranges briefings with officials who demand anonymity before relaying information, a practice also used by previous administrations.

At the briefing, which was attended by The Associated Press, the official cast doubt on the feasibility of a June 12 summit.

“I think that the main point, I suppose, is that the ball is in North Korea’s court right now. There’s really not a lot of time,” the official said. “There’s a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down to actually meet and talk and negotiate and hopefully make a deal. And June 12 is in 10 minutes.”

The White House press office invited reporters to the background briefing, both to attend in person or to call-in and insisted that the official not be named. The AP reporter in attendance questioned why the briefing was not on the record, meaning that the official’s name could be used. The official said the president had been talking publicly during the day, as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and that the briefing was intended to provide “background context.”

Beyond Wedding Cake: LGBT Cases for Supreme Court

A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.

Courts are engaged in two broad types of cases on this issue, weighing whether sex discrimination laws apply to LGBT people and also whether businesses can assert religious objections to avoid complying with anti-discrimination measures in serving customers, hiring and firing employees, providing health care and placing children with foster or adoptive parents.

The outcome of baker Jack Phillips’ fight at the Supreme Court could indicate how willing the justices are to carve out exceptions to anti-discrimination laws; that’s something the court has refused to do in the areas of race and sex.

The result was hard to predict based on arguments in December. But however the justices rule, it won’t be their last word on the topic.

Boost from Trump

Religious conservatives have gotten a big boost from the Trump administration, which has taken a more restrictive view of LGBT rights and intervened on their side in several cases, including Phillips’.

“There is a constellation of hugely significant cases that are likely to be heard by the court in the near future and those are going to significantly shape the legal landscape going forward,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Several legal disputes are pending over wedding services, similar to the Phillips case. Video producers, graphic artists and florists are among business owners who say they oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds and don’t want to participate in same-sex weddings. They live in the 21 states that have anti-discrimination laws that specifically include gay and lesbian people.

In California and Texas, courts are dealing with lawsuits over the refusal of hospitals, citing religious beliefs, to perform hysterectomies on people transitioning from female to male. In Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the state’s practice of allowing faith-based child placement agencies to reject same-sex couples.

Stark differences

Advocates of both sides see the essence of these cases in starkly different terms.

“What the religious right is asking for is a new rule specific to same-sex couples that would not only affect same-sex couples but also carve a hole in nondiscrimination laws that could affect all communities,” said Camilla Taylor, director of constitutional litigation at Lambda Legal, which supports civil rights for LGBT people.

Jim Campbell of the Christian public interest law firm Alliance Defending Freedom said the cases will determine whether “people like Jack Phillips who believe marriage is the union of a man and a woman, that they too have a legitimate place in public life. Or does he have to hide or ignore those beliefs when he’s participating in the public square?” ADF represents Phillips at the Supreme Court.

Civil rights complaints

The other category of cases concerns protections for LGBT people under civil rights law. One case expected to reach the court this summer involves a Michigan funeral home that fired an employee who disclosed that she was transitioning from male to female and dressed as a woman.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal civil rights law. That court is one of several that have applied anti-sex discrimination provisions to transgender people, but the Supreme Court has yet to take up a case.

The funeral home argues in part that Congress was not thinking about transgender people when it included sex discrimination in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. A trial judge had ruled for the funeral home, saying it was entitled to a religious exemption from the civil rights law.

“Congress has not weighed in to say sex includes gender identity. We should certainly make sure that’s a conscious choice of Congress and not just the overexpansion of the law by courts,” Campbell said. ADF also represents the funeral home.

In just the past week, two federal courts ruled in favor of transgender students who want to use school facilities that correspond to their sexual identity. Those cases turn on whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in education applies to transgender people. Appeals in both cases are possible.

In the past 13 months, federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York also have ruled that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination under Title VII. Those courts overruled earlier decisions. Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation, but the courts said it was covered under the ban on sex bias.

Trump changes course

The Obama administration had supported treating LGBT discrimination claims as sex discrimination, but the Trump administration has changed course. In the New York case, for instance, the Trump administration filed a legal brief arguing that Title VII was not intended to provide protections to gay workers. It also withdrew Obama-era guidance to educators to treat claims of transgender students as sex discrimination.

There is no appeal pending or expected on the sexual orientation issue, and there is no guarantee that the court will take up the funeral home’s appeal over transgender discrimination.

Changes on the court

The trend in the lower courts has been in favor of extending civil rights protections to LGBT employees and students. Their prospects at the Supreme Court may be harder to discern, not least because it’s unclear whether the court’s composition will change soon.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, 81, has been the subject of retirement speculation, though he has not indicated he is planning to retire. When Justice Stephen Breyer turns 80 in August, he will join Kennedy and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 85, as octogenarians on the bench.

If President Donald Trump were to replace any of those justices, the court probably would be much less receptive to LGBT rights. Even the landmark gay marriage ruling in 2015 that Kennedy wrote was a 5-4 decision.

“We’re very concerned about the composition of the federal bench. Under the Trump administration, we’ve seen a number of federal nominees who have been ideologues, who have taken positions about the very right to exist of LGBT people that is simply inconsistent with fitness to serve as a federal judge,” Taylor of Lambda Legal said.

The ADF’s Campbell said even with the current justices, he holds out some hope that the court would not extend anti-discrimination protections. 

“Justice Kennedy has undoubtedly been the person who has decided the major LGBT cases, but to my knowledge he hasn’t weighed in some of these other issues,” he said.

VOA Persian Interviews Secretary Pompeo on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the Trump administration’s efforts to end Iran’s nuclear program in an exclusive interview with VOA’s Persian service. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports, Thursday’s conversation also covered recent protests in Iran and the administration’s efforts to free Americans detained by Iran.

VOA Persian Interviews Secretary Pompeo on Iran

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined the Trump administration’s efforts to end Iran’s nuclear program in an exclusive interview with VOA’s Persian service. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports, Thursday’s conversation also covered recent protests in Iran and the administration’s efforts to free Americans detained by Iran.

For Trump, There’s Always a ‘New Deal’ on the Horizon

Though U.S. President Donald Trump decided Thursday to not hold direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump has suggested he’s open to talks down the road, if relations improve. That offer of new talks, on his terms, is part of a pattern for Trump when it comes to negotiations. And it’s something that has had mixed results, as VOA’s Bill Gallo reports.

For Trump, There’s Always a ‘New Deal’ on the Horizon

Though U.S. President Donald Trump decided Thursday to not hold direct talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump has suggested he’s open to talks down the road, if relations improve. That offer of new talks, on his terms, is part of a pattern for Trump when it comes to negotiations. And it’s something that has had mixed results, as VOA’s Bill Gallo reports.

US Sen. Corker Meets with Venezuela’s President Maduro

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, less than a week after the embattled socialist leader was re-elected in a vote the U.S. condemned and he kicked out the top American diplomat in the country.

The visit appeared to be an attempt by Sen. Bob Corker to push for the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who has been held for two years in a Caracas jail without a trial on what he has called trumped-up weapons charges.

Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, was seen live on state TV shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. He left an hour later, and neither the senator nor the president made any statements.

Maduro easily won a second, six-year term in Sunday’s election, which was criticized by the U.S. and other nations as a “sham” after several of his key rivals were barred from running. After his victory, Maduro expelled U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote by pressuring opposition parties to boycott the election, which had the lowest voter turnout in decades.

Corker was accompanied by an aide, Caleb McCarry, who led backchannel talks earlier this year with a close associate of Maduro aimed at securing the release of Holt.

Speculation on social media

Holt, a 26-year-old from Utah, traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry a woman he had met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. He was arrested after police said they found an assault rifle and grenades during a raid on the public housing complex where the couple lived. He has denied the charge.

Shortly after Corker’s meeting with Maduro, social media in Venezuela lit up with speculation that Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, would be released as a good will gesture to improve relations, much as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did by freeing three American detainees.

In a previous visit to Caracas in 2015, Corker was shunned by Maduro after having been promised a meeting with the president. Upon his return to Washington, Corker blasted Maduro’s government, saying its “flawed economic policies and political system” had put Venezuela on a “destructive path.”

There was no immediate comment from Corker’s office about the nature of his latest visit.

​Other senators 

Last month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, also met with Maduro to press for Holt’s release.

The Maduro government has been seeking contacts in the U.S. to stave off the threat of crippling oil sanctions that could further damage an economy already staggering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of Maduro who has President Donald Trump’s ear on Venezuela, played down Corker’s visit.

“Any U.S. Senator can meet with whoever they want,” Rubio tweeted. “But no matter how many senators dictator (at)NicolasMaduro gets to meet with him, U.S. sanctions will go away when Maduro leaves & democracy returns.”

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez described Maduro’s conversation with Corker as “very good meeting, good news for the Venezuelan people” but gave no details of what the two discussed.

A close Maduro ally, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, accused Holt of being the CIA’s spy chief in Latin America after the prisoner appeared in a video last week pleading for help, saying his life had been threatened during a riot by inmates in the Caracas jail where he and dozens of Maduro’s opponents are being held.

Before he left Venezuela on Thursday on Maduro’s orders, Robinson had been pushing unsuccessfully to see Holt.

However, on Friday, U.S. officials were allowed entry to the prison, according to a message posted by Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, on her Facebook page. She said her son “was in good spirits,” except for discomfort from dozens of mosquito bites. She said his visitors gave him bug repellant.

US Sen. Corker Meets with Venezuela’s President Maduro

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee met with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro on Friday, less than a week after the embattled socialist leader was re-elected in a vote the U.S. condemned and he kicked out the top American diplomat in the country.

The visit appeared to be an attempt by Sen. Bob Corker to push for the release of Joshua Holt, a U.S. citizen who has been held for two years in a Caracas jail without a trial on what he has called trumped-up weapons charges.

Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, was seen live on state TV shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. He left an hour later, and neither the senator nor the president made any statements.

Maduro easily won a second, six-year term in Sunday’s election, which was criticized by the U.S. and other nations as a “sham” after several of his key rivals were barred from running. After his victory, Maduro expelled U.S. charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and his deputy for allegedly conspiring to sabotage the vote by pressuring opposition parties to boycott the election, which had the lowest voter turnout in decades.

Corker was accompanied by an aide, Caleb McCarry, who led backchannel talks earlier this year with a close associate of Maduro aimed at securing the release of Holt.

Speculation on social media

Holt, a 26-year-old from Utah, traveled to Venezuela in June 2016 to marry a woman he had met online while looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons to help him improve his Spanish. He was arrested after police said they found an assault rifle and grenades during a raid on the public housing complex where the couple lived. He has denied the charge.

Shortly after Corker’s meeting with Maduro, social media in Venezuela lit up with speculation that Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, would be released as a good will gesture to improve relations, much as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did by freeing three American detainees.

In a previous visit to Caracas in 2015, Corker was shunned by Maduro after having been promised a meeting with the president. Upon his return to Washington, Corker blasted Maduro’s government, saying its “flawed economic policies and political system” had put Venezuela on a “destructive path.”

There was no immediate comment from Corker’s office about the nature of his latest visit.

​Other senators 

Last month, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, also met with Maduro to press for Holt’s release.

The Maduro government has been seeking contacts in the U.S. to stave off the threat of crippling oil sanctions that could further damage an economy already staggering from hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of Maduro who has President Donald Trump’s ear on Venezuela, played down Corker’s visit.

“Any U.S. Senator can meet with whoever they want,” Rubio tweeted. “But no matter how many senators dictator (at)NicolasMaduro gets to meet with him, U.S. sanctions will go away when Maduro leaves & democracy returns.”

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez described Maduro’s conversation with Corker as “very good meeting, good news for the Venezuelan people” but gave no details of what the two discussed.

A close Maduro ally, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, accused Holt of being the CIA’s spy chief in Latin America after the prisoner appeared in a video last week pleading for help, saying his life had been threatened during a riot by inmates in the Caracas jail where he and dozens of Maduro’s opponents are being held.

Before he left Venezuela on Thursday on Maduro’s orders, Robinson had been pushing unsuccessfully to see Holt.

However, on Friday, U.S. officials were allowed entry to the prison, according to a message posted by Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, on her Facebook page. She said her son “was in good spirits,” except for discomfort from dozens of mosquito bites. She said his visitors gave him bug repellant.

US Conservationists Sue Trump Administration Over Migratory Bird Policy

A coalition of conservation groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing the government of slashing protections for migratory birds.

At issue is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which the National Audubon Society and other plaintiffs say has been undermined. In the past, the act helped hold parties responsible for actions that killed or injured migratory birds.

But in December, the Trump administration said energy companies and other businesses that accidentally kill migratory birds will no longer be criminally prosecuted.

“As you can imagine, many causes of bird fatalities — including oil spills — could fall into this ‘unintentional’ category, so we’re taking the administration to court,” David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Plaintiffs also include the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Defendants are the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, representing the government in the lawsuit, declined to comment. Representatives for the Fish and Wildlife Service, interior and justice departments also declined comment.

The Trump administration’s December move, in a legal memo from the Interior Department, reversed a longstanding practice at the agency and a last-minute rule implemented by the outgoing Obama administration. It came after several appeals courts ruled that the government was interpreting a century-old law aimed at protecting birds too broadly.

In the legal opinion, Jorjani said that a 1918 law that officials have used to prosecute those who kill birds “incidentally” as part of doing business was really aimed at preventing poaching and hunting without a license.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act “applies only to direct and affirmative purposeful actions that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control,” Jorjani wrote.

The memo is already being followed, the lawsuit said, and one or more companies constructing natural gas pipelines were told they may cut down trees with nesting birds during the breeding season.

The conservation groups request that the court vacate the memo and declare the defendants “revert to their prior, correct longstanding interpretation and policy,” the lawsuit said.

US Conservationists Sue Trump Administration Over Migratory Bird Policy

A coalition of conservation groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday, accusing the government of slashing protections for migratory birds.

At issue is the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which the National Audubon Society and other plaintiffs say has been undermined. In the past, the act helped hold parties responsible for actions that killed or injured migratory birds.

But in December, the Trump administration said energy companies and other businesses that accidentally kill migratory birds will no longer be criminally prosecuted.

“As you can imagine, many causes of bird fatalities — including oil spills — could fall into this ‘unintentional’ category, so we’re taking the administration to court,” David Yarnold, president and CEO of the National Audubon Society, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement.

Plaintiffs also include the American Bird Conservancy, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Defenders of Wildlife. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Defendants are the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, representing the government in the lawsuit, declined to comment. Representatives for the Fish and Wildlife Service, interior and justice departments also declined comment.

The Trump administration’s December move, in a legal memo from the Interior Department, reversed a longstanding practice at the agency and a last-minute rule implemented by the outgoing Obama administration. It came after several appeals courts ruled that the government was interpreting a century-old law aimed at protecting birds too broadly.

In the legal opinion, Jorjani said that a 1918 law that officials have used to prosecute those who kill birds “incidentally” as part of doing business was really aimed at preventing poaching and hunting without a license.

The Migratory Bird Treaty Act “applies only to direct and affirmative purposeful actions that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control,” Jorjani wrote.

The memo is already being followed, the lawsuit said, and one or more companies constructing natural gas pipelines were told they may cut down trees with nesting birds during the breeding season.

The conservation groups request that the court vacate the memo and declare the defendants “revert to their prior, correct longstanding interpretation and policy,” the lawsuit said.

Former FBI Director Comey: Agency Cannot Fight Foreign Propaganda

Former U.S. FBI Director James Comey said that social media companies needed to “worry” about foreign political propaganda on their networks, but he had few ideas on how to counter it.

In an interview with Reuters, Comey also said he would be leery of the Federal Bureau of Investigation trying to track propaganda in the United States, let alone take action against it, while acknowledging that it was a major problem for the U.S. political system.

“I don’t have a great answer for them,” Comey said of social media companies including Facebook and Twitter, which were major venues for what U.S. intelligence agencies have said was a Russian-sponsored effort to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. election.

Comey’s comments on Wednesday follow former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s conclusion in a new book that the Russian election meddling, which allegedly included illegal hacking and leaking of stolen information as well as propaganda, had a decisive influence in electing Trump.

Trump fired Comey as the FBI investigated the Russian election interference, setting the stage for the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his wide-ranging inquiries.

Comey has been criticized for the FBI’s failure to counter Russia’s election meddling while it was happening.

But Comey said the FBI should not get involved in fighting propaganda because it is a “rule-bound institution,” with strict policies that serve as an appropriate check on its power.

“You’d want to be very thoughtful about having the FBI, without having a predicated investigation, be monitoring speech in the U.S., because it’s often very difficult to tell, is it coming from a nation state?” Comey said. “So, in theory, that might involve collecting more broadly on speech in the United States.”

He said those same concerns had kept the FBI from tracking an influence campaign that included Russian-driven Facebook posts that reached more than 100 million people on that social network alone ahead of the 2016 election.

Spy claims

Comey avoided answering questions about the ongoing Mueller probe and his own role in the earlier version of the investigation, but he scoffed at Trump’s accusation this week that the FBI had planted a spy inside his 2016 campaign.

Comey said he could not comment directly on the claim, floated this week by Trump and Republican supporters in Congress.

More generally, Comey said, “The word ‘spy’ is not an accurate characterization in any case of the FBI’s use of confidential human sources, which are a critical tool in all of our investigations — people telling us things that they know.”

Asked whether he could deny that the FBI sent someone to get a job working full-time inside Trump’s presidential campaign, Comey laughed and said: “I’m tempted, but I’ve got to leave it to the Bureau to comment.”

Uncrackable encryption

Comey is best known in Silicon Valley for leading an Obama administration charge against end-to-end encryption uncrackable by law enforcement.

In the interview, he conceded that one of the technology companies’ major objections to giving U.S. authorities special access — that it would then have to do the same for governments in Russia, China and elsewhere — was “reasonable.”

But he said some companies were already aiding such regimes by storing data in those countries and allowing access to source code. If they were sufficiently worried, he said, they could stop doing business in those places.

Comey said his goal was a process under which companies would grant access to authorities only according to strict standards of due process, such as relying on independent judges.

If the companies refused backdoor access until the other countries changed their legal system, “it would be good for the people of China and Russia.”

Former FBI Director Comey: Agency Cannot Fight Foreign Propaganda

Former U.S. FBI Director James Comey said that social media companies needed to “worry” about foreign political propaganda on their networks, but he had few ideas on how to counter it.

In an interview with Reuters, Comey also said he would be leery of the Federal Bureau of Investigation trying to track propaganda in the United States, let alone take action against it, while acknowledging that it was a major problem for the U.S. political system.

“I don’t have a great answer for them,” Comey said of social media companies including Facebook and Twitter, which were major venues for what U.S. intelligence agencies have said was a Russian-sponsored effort to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 U.S. election.

Comey’s comments on Wednesday follow former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper’s conclusion in a new book that the Russian election meddling, which allegedly included illegal hacking and leaking of stolen information as well as propaganda, had a decisive influence in electing Trump.

Trump fired Comey as the FBI investigated the Russian election interference, setting the stage for the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his wide-ranging inquiries.

Comey has been criticized for the FBI’s failure to counter Russia’s election meddling while it was happening.

But Comey said the FBI should not get involved in fighting propaganda because it is a “rule-bound institution,” with strict policies that serve as an appropriate check on its power.

“You’d want to be very thoughtful about having the FBI, without having a predicated investigation, be monitoring speech in the U.S., because it’s often very difficult to tell, is it coming from a nation state?” Comey said. “So, in theory, that might involve collecting more broadly on speech in the United States.”

He said those same concerns had kept the FBI from tracking an influence campaign that included Russian-driven Facebook posts that reached more than 100 million people on that social network alone ahead of the 2016 election.

Spy claims

Comey avoided answering questions about the ongoing Mueller probe and his own role in the earlier version of the investigation, but he scoffed at Trump’s accusation this week that the FBI had planted a spy inside his 2016 campaign.

Comey said he could not comment directly on the claim, floated this week by Trump and Republican supporters in Congress.

More generally, Comey said, “The word ‘spy’ is not an accurate characterization in any case of the FBI’s use of confidential human sources, which are a critical tool in all of our investigations — people telling us things that they know.”

Asked whether he could deny that the FBI sent someone to get a job working full-time inside Trump’s presidential campaign, Comey laughed and said: “I’m tempted, but I’ve got to leave it to the Bureau to comment.”

Uncrackable encryption

Comey is best known in Silicon Valley for leading an Obama administration charge against end-to-end encryption uncrackable by law enforcement.

In the interview, he conceded that one of the technology companies’ major objections to giving U.S. authorities special access — that it would then have to do the same for governments in Russia, China and elsewhere — was “reasonable.”

But he said some companies were already aiding such regimes by storing data in those countries and allowing access to source code. If they were sufficiently worried, he said, they could stop doing business in those places.

Comey said his goal was a process under which companies would grant access to authorities only according to strict standards of due process, such as relying on independent judges.

If the companies refused backdoor access until the other countries changed their legal system, “it would be good for the people of China and Russia.”

US Program That Aids Immigrants, Courts Under Review

Imer still has fragments from a bullet in his back. The 43-year-old Mexican immigrant, who asked to be identified only by his first name, fled the Mexican state of Guerrero more than 20 years ago after he was shot in the back by a Mexican drug gang.

He entered the U.S. illegally in 1998 and settled in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he made a living working in construction. Two months ago he was arrested and put in detention in the York County Prison in south-central Pennsylvania.

“I’ve never committed a crime, not even a traffic ticket,” he said, as he choked up with tears. “Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to my family if I am deported,” he said. Imer has two American-born children.

Recently, he was among a dozen detained undocumented immigrants, all from Latin America and dressed in orange prison overalls, sitting at a long table in a small room inside the detention center listening to a presentation in Spanish about their legal options. Fernanda Castillo, a staffer from the Pennsylvania Immigration Resources, or PIRC, explained the legal remedies they might pursue.

“Our main goal is to let them know what are their rights, what to expect in immigration court,” Castillo later told VOA. “We’ll talk about a couple of defenses to see if they are eligible for something and we talk about bond and voluntary departure as well.”

PIRC’s orientation class is indirectly funded by the U.S. Justice Department under the Legal Orientation Program, or LOP. Created in 2003 under the Bush administration, the LOP is aimed at giving detained immigrants some understanding of their rights and possible relief under U.S. immigration law. Administered by the Vera Institute of Justice, the $8 million-a-year program is carried out by PIRC and 17 other nonprofits in more than 30 detention centers from California to Virginia.

​Legal orientation program

The orientation class lasts about an hour, as Castillo explained what the detainees could expect when they appear before a U.S. immigration judge. Most wanted to know about getting bail.

“Am I eligible for bond? How low is the bond, how high is the bond,” Castillo said. “We get a lot of voluntary departure questions as well, a lot of people will not know the difference between a voluntary departure and a removal order, which can be an excruciating decision.”

Voluntary departure means someone may be able to return legally someday, though usually years later. With removal, there’s no chance, as Castillo explained to the class.

PIRC gets $200,000 a year for the information sessions and one-on-one workshops it conducts at the York County Prison.

PIRC Executive Director Mary Studzinski says the sessions have a direct impact on the immigration court process, now laboring under a backlog of more than 700,000 cases.

“It allows someone when they’re done with that class to have a better sense of whether they have any hope of staying, and if they do, what might be an avenue that they could pursue,” Studzinski told VOA in her office less than 2 kilometers from the prison. 

“If you know you have no remedy under law and there’s no way you can stay, then probably your best answer is that, ‘No, your honor, I would like to leave.’ (LOP) has an impact on the courts; it makes the courts more efficient,” she said.

This kind of impact saves the U.S. Treasury almost $18-million-a-year, according to a 2012 Vera Institute study of the LOP. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo last year endorsed the LOP, saying informed detainees complete their cases faster.

Yet U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed concerns about the program. Earlier this year, he suspended funding pending a review. But responding to congressional pressure, Sessions later told a Senate panel last month that funding would continue as the LOP is evaluated.

The judge’s job

A Justice Department spokesperson later told VOA that it is time for a new review.

“We believe the reviews should be done on a more frequent basis,” the spokesperson said. “There’s a question about the (Vera Institute) methodology, and also we maintain that there’s a large overlap between what the LOP does and what the immigration judges do. They (the LOP) explain the rights to the detainees but this is also done by the immigration judges.”

But PIRC’s Studzinski says there’s no comparison. While some judges are more thorough than others, “I’ve seen it done in less than five minutes and they certainly don’t take an hour. … So if you ask me if a judge’s advisal is the same thing as a legal orientation, I would say no. Do I think advisals are important, yes they absolutely should remain in place but they are in no way a substitute for the Legal Orientation Program.”

Studzinski adds that PIRC this year is on track to orient 2,600 detainees, a figure much higher than two years ago.

“The increase we’re seeing is people being swept in from the community who in the previous administration would never have been picked up,” Studzinski said. “These are people who have been in the community for 10, 15, 20 years, who have not violated any laws.”

Like Imer, who is hoping to apply for asylum. During the recent PIRC orientation class Imer said he had paid a lawyer $3,000 but had not heard from him in the two months he has been in jail. PIRC later found out the “lawyer” was simply a notary. The organization is now working to help Imer find legal representation.

US Program That Aids Immigrants, Courts Under Review

Imer still has fragments from a bullet in his back. The 43-year-old Mexican immigrant, who asked to be identified only by his first name, fled the Mexican state of Guerrero more than 20 years ago after he was shot in the back by a Mexican drug gang.

He entered the U.S. illegally in 1998 and settled in Norristown, Pennsylvania, where he made a living working in construction. Two months ago he was arrested and put in detention in the York County Prison in south-central Pennsylvania.

“I’ve never committed a crime, not even a traffic ticket,” he said, as he choked up with tears. “Now, I don’t know what’s going to happen to my family if I am deported,” he said. Imer has two American-born children.

Recently, he was among a dozen detained undocumented immigrants, all from Latin America and dressed in orange prison overalls, sitting at a long table in a small room inside the detention center listening to a presentation in Spanish about their legal options. Fernanda Castillo, a staffer from the Pennsylvania Immigration Resources, or PIRC, explained the legal remedies they might pursue.

“Our main goal is to let them know what are their rights, what to expect in immigration court,” Castillo later told VOA. “We’ll talk about a couple of defenses to see if they are eligible for something and we talk about bond and voluntary departure as well.”

PIRC’s orientation class is indirectly funded by the U.S. Justice Department under the Legal Orientation Program, or LOP. Created in 2003 under the Bush administration, the LOP is aimed at giving detained immigrants some understanding of their rights and possible relief under U.S. immigration law. Administered by the Vera Institute of Justice, the $8 million-a-year program is carried out by PIRC and 17 other nonprofits in more than 30 detention centers from California to Virginia.

​Legal orientation program

The orientation class lasts about an hour, as Castillo explained what the detainees could expect when they appear before a U.S. immigration judge. Most wanted to know about getting bail.

“Am I eligible for bond? How low is the bond, how high is the bond,” Castillo said. “We get a lot of voluntary departure questions as well, a lot of people will not know the difference between a voluntary departure and a removal order, which can be an excruciating decision.”

Voluntary departure means someone may be able to return legally someday, though usually years later. With removal, there’s no chance, as Castillo explained to the class.

PIRC gets $200,000 a year for the information sessions and one-on-one workshops it conducts at the York County Prison.

PIRC Executive Director Mary Studzinski says the sessions have a direct impact on the immigration court process, now laboring under a backlog of more than 700,000 cases.

“It allows someone when they’re done with that class to have a better sense of whether they have any hope of staying, and if they do, what might be an avenue that they could pursue,” Studzinski told VOA in her office less than 2 kilometers from the prison. 

“If you know you have no remedy under law and there’s no way you can stay, then probably your best answer is that, ‘No, your honor, I would like to leave.’ (LOP) has an impact on the courts; it makes the courts more efficient,” she said.

This kind of impact saves the U.S. Treasury almost $18-million-a-year, according to a 2012 Vera Institute study of the LOP. A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) memo last year endorsed the LOP, saying informed detainees complete their cases faster.

Yet U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has expressed concerns about the program. Earlier this year, he suspended funding pending a review. But responding to congressional pressure, Sessions later told a Senate panel last month that funding would continue as the LOP is evaluated.

The judge’s job

A Justice Department spokesperson later told VOA that it is time for a new review.

“We believe the reviews should be done on a more frequent basis,” the spokesperson said. “There’s a question about the (Vera Institute) methodology, and also we maintain that there’s a large overlap between what the LOP does and what the immigration judges do. They (the LOP) explain the rights to the detainees but this is also done by the immigration judges.”

But PIRC’s Studzinski says there’s no comparison. While some judges are more thorough than others, “I’ve seen it done in less than five minutes and they certainly don’t take an hour. … So if you ask me if a judge’s advisal is the same thing as a legal orientation, I would say no. Do I think advisals are important, yes they absolutely should remain in place but they are in no way a substitute for the Legal Orientation Program.”

Studzinski adds that PIRC this year is on track to orient 2,600 detainees, a figure much higher than two years ago.

“The increase we’re seeing is people being swept in from the community who in the previous administration would never have been picked up,” Studzinski said. “These are people who have been in the community for 10, 15, 20 years, who have not violated any laws.”

Like Imer, who is hoping to apply for asylum. During the recent PIRC orientation class Imer said he had paid a lawyer $3,000 but had not heard from him in the two months he has been in jail. PIRC later found out the “lawyer” was simply a notary. The organization is now working to help Imer find legal representation.

US Bill Would Force Tech Companies to Disclose Foreign Software Probes

U.S. tech companies would be forced to disclose if they allowed American adversaries, like Russia and China, to examine the inner workings of software sold to the U.S. military under proposed legislation, Senate staff told Reuters on Thursday.

The bill, approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, comes after a year-long Reuters investigation found software makers allowed a Russian defense agency to hunt for vulnerabilities in software that was already deeply embedded in some of the most sensitive parts of the U.S. government, including the Pentagon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and intelligence agencies.

Security experts say allowing Russian authorities to conduct the reviews of internal software instructions — known as source code — could help Russia find vulnerabilities and more easily attack key systems that protect the United States. 

The new source code disclosure rules were included in Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act, the Pentagon’s spending bill, according to staffers of Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

​Details of bill, which passed the committee 25-2, are not yet public. And the legislation still needs to be voted on by the full Senate and reconciled with a House version of the legislation before it can be signed into law by President Donald Trump.

If passed into law, the legislation would require companies that do business with the U.S. military to disclose any source code review of the software done by adversaries, staffers for Shaheen told Reuters. If the Pentagon deems a source code review a risk, military officials and the software company would need to agree on how to contain the threat. It could, for example, involve limiting the software’s use to non-classified settings.

The details of the foreign source code reviews, and any steps the company agreed to take to reduce the risks, would be stored in a database accessible to military officials, Shaheen’s staffers said. For most products, the military notification will only apply to countries determined to be cybersecurity threats, such as Russia and China.

Shaheen has been a key voice on cybersecurity in Congress. The New Hampshire senator last year led successful efforts in Congress to ban all government use of software provided by Moscow-based antivirus firm Kaspersky Lab, amid allegations the company is linked to Russian intelligence. Kaspersky denies such links.

In order to sell in the Russian market, tech companies including Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co, SAP and McAfee have allowed a Russian defense agency to scour software source code for vulnerabilities, Reuters found. In many cases, Reuters found that the software companies had not previously informed U.S. agencies that Russian authorities had been allowed to conduct the source code reviews. In most cases, the U.S. military does not require comparable source code reviews before it buys software, procurement experts have told Reuters. 

The companies have said the source code reviews were conducted by the Russians in company-controlled facilities, where the reviewer could not copy or alter the software. McAfee announced last year that it no longer allows government source code reviews. Hewlett Packard Enterprise has said none of its current software offerings have gone through the process.