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Monthly Archives: January 2018

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Breaking News: FBI has second dossier on possible Trump-Russia collusion

(PhatzNewsRoom / The Guardian)  —   The FBI inquiry into alleged Russian collusion in the 2016 US presidential election has been given a second memo that independently set out many of the same allegations made in a dossier by Christopher Steele, the British former spy.

The second memo was written by Cody Shearer, a controversial political activist and former journalist who was close to the Clinton White House in the 1990s.

Unlike Steele, Shearer does not have a background in espionage, and his memo was initially viewed with scepticism, not least because he had shared it with select media organisations before the election.

However, the Guardian has been told the FBI investigation is still assessing details in the ‘Shearer memo’ and is pursuing intriguing leads.

One source with knowledge of the inquiry said the fact the FBI was still working on it suggested investigators had taken an aspect of it seriously.

It raises the possibility that parts of the Steele dossier, which has been derided by Trump’s supporters, may have been corroborated by Shearer’s research, or could still be.

The revelation comes at a moment when Donald Trump and some Republican lawmakers have been seeking to cast doubt on the credibility of the Mueller inquiry and the motivation of the FBI in examining Russian collusion, including unproven allegations that investigators had a bias in favour of Hillary Clinton when the investigation was initially launched before November.

Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted on Monday night to release a highly contentious memo, commissioned by the Republican chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes. The memo reportedly claims the FBI had an anti-Trump bias when it sought a warrant from the US foreign intelligence surveillance court to collect intelligence on Carter Page, an adviser to the Trump campaign. The Fisa court is a secret court that examines law enforcement requests to surveil Americans suspected of acting as foreign agents.

The Republican memo reportedly alleges that the FBI relied on the Steele dossier, which was partly paid for using Democratic funds, in seeking the Carter Page warrant, according to the New York Times.

Democrats have said that the Republican allegations are misleading and based on selective use of classified materials. Justice department officials have said the release of the document, because of the classified elements, would be “extraordinarily reckless”.

Trump now has five days to decide whether the Nunes document should become public.

The Shearer memo was provided to the FBI in October 2016.

It was handed to them by Steele – who had been given it by an American contact after the FBI requested the former MI6 agent provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation, according to multiple sources.

The Guardian was told Steele warned the FBI he could not vouch for the veracity of the Shearer memo, but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.

Among other things, both documents allege Donald Trump was compromised during a 2013 trip to Moscow that involved lewd acts in a five-star hotel.

The Shearer memo cites an unnamed source within Russia’s FSB, the state security service. The Guardian cannot verify any of the claims.

Shearer is a controversial figure in Washington. Conservative outlets have accused him of being part of a “hatchet man” and member of a “secret spy ring” and within Clinton’s orbit. There is no evidence that the Clinton campaign was aware of the Shearer memo.

But other people who know Shearer say he is not just a Democratic party hack and there is no evidence that his memo was ever sought by Clinton campaign officials.

Sources say that while he lacks the precision and polish of a seasoned former spy like Steele, Shearer has also been described as having a large network of sources around the world and the independent financial means to pursue leads.

The White House has vigorously denied allegations that the US president was ever compromised and has rejected claims that campaign officials ever conspired with the Kremlin before the 2016 election.

Steele’s dossier, his motives for writing it and his decision to share it remain controversial among Republicans.

He says he approached the FBI about concerns he had about links between Russia and the Trump campaign after he was commissioned to investigate the matter by a private investigative firm called Fusion GPS on behalf of the firm’s clients.

Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, told congressional investigators that Steele approached the FBI out of a sense of duty and concern for US national security.

Republican supporters of Trump have derided it as “fake news”. Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa and ally of Trump, has called for an investigation into Steele amid unspecified allegations about the former spy’s conduct.

Democrats have said the campaign against Steele is part of an effort to seek to discredit him in order to shift attention away from allegations about Trump and Russia.

A spokesman for the US special counsel leading the criminal investigation into the Trump campaign declined to comment. Shearer did not return emails and calls for comment.

A federal criminal investigation into the Trump campaign has so far resulted in four indictments. Two former Trump campaign officials, including Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, have pleaded guilty to perjury and are cooperating with Robert Mueller, the special counsel who is leading the ongoing investigation.

Analysis: Trump speech puts emotion ahead of problem-solving

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WASHINGTON (AP) — In vivid detail, President Donald Trump told stories of American heroism, heartbreak and tragedy in his emotionally charged first State of the Union. What he didn’t detail were solutions to the crises ahead.

Trump’s 80-minute speech surveyed familiar territory for a president drawn to drama. He warned of gangs, nuclear threats, the drug epidemic and unlawful immigrants. He highlighted guests in the crowd, a group representing a mix of valor and victimhood, which he used to illustrate his calls for patriotism and perseverance.

“No people on Earth are so fearless, or daring, or determined as Americans,” Trump said. “If there is a mountain, we climb it. If there is a frontier, we cross it. If there is a challenge, we tame it. If there is an opportunity, we seize it.”

But his vision for a way out of what he once described as “American carnage” was not nearly as clear. Although he said lowering prescription drug prices would be “one of my greatest priorities,” he did not suggest a strategy for getting it done. He hinted at hopes for reforming prisons, supporting family leave and improving job training, with little meat on the bone. He raised hopes for an infrastructure plan but provided little guidance as to how the plan should be funded.

In his first State of the Union address, President Donald Trump sounded an optimistic tone about America’s future and pushed for bipartisan unity. But as AP’s Jonathan Lemire explains, what he didn’t detail were solutions to the crises ahead. (Jan. 31)

Trump’s most detailed proposal was, perhaps, the most contentious.

When Trump outlined his four-part immigration plan Tuesday, a grim-faced House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi held up her hands to try to silence the booing Democrats. Republicans, too, have deep reservations about his hopes for cutting legal immigration. The debate has left the fate of hundreds of thousands “Dreamer” immigrants uncertain, as they wait for a Trump-imposed expiration date for the program that protects them from deportation. Trump did not acknowledge that hurdle Tuesday, or the government shutdown looming if Democrats hold to their demands that a Dreamer deal must be tied to a budget plan.

He did advocate for compromise — an unusual role for the often strident president.

The deal is a “down-the-middle compromise,” he said. “One where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.”

Democrats are likely to remain deeply skeptical about Trump’s ability to play the role of bipartisan broker. He has often shifted positions without notice and, at times, seemed unfamiliar with details.

“We need more than talk. We need a president who will bring the country together rather than foster further division,” said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. “We need a president who understands and engages in important issues rather than spending hours on Twitter.”

Freshman Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said he was happy to hear Trump bring up infrastructure, controlling prescription drug prices and boosting vocational education but said he was short on detail. “It sounds like, ‘I’m for world peace.’ Fine, how do you get there?” Krishnamoorthi said.

He also contrasted Trump’s words with what he’s done as president: “If you don’t govern in a way that’s consistent with your rhetoric, people are left wondering if these are just empty words.”

Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia, who has been working closely with the White House, said he believes Trump offered guidance on finding a solution to the impasse on immigration.

“He’s given a lot to both sides to make that happen,” Perdue said. “We’re working on legislative action, this needs to be fixed in Congress. He’s laid down the roadmap.”

Trump did not address his outsized role in fostering the party rancor.

Ever the salesman, Trump spent much of his speech highlighting the accomplishments of the last 12 months while taking credit for the nation’s roaring economy and booming stock market. Suppressing his penchant for making the moment about himself, Trump repeatedly highlighted the guests sitting in the Capitol, each of whom possessed a powerful story.

There was a North Korean defector who defiantly waved the crutches he used to make his escape after losing a leg. There were the New Mexico police officers who adopted the baby of a heroin addict. And the tearful black family who lost their child at the hands of an immigrant who had entered the United States illegally.

His Twitter largely silent for a day, Trump holstered his usual partisan weaponry in favor of “an open hand to work with members of both parties, Democrats and Republicans, to protect our citizens, of every background, color and creed.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Jonathan Lemire has covered the White House and politics for The Associated Press since 2013.

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Associated Press writers Tom LoBianco and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Charles Arbogast in Chicago contributed to this report.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s claims in his State of Union address

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The AP is fact-checking remarks from President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech. Here’s a look at some of the claims we’ve examined (quotations from the speech as delivered or as released by the White House before delivery):

WAGE GAINS

President Donald Trump on rising wages

TRUMP: “After years and years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.”

THE FACTS: Actually, they are not rising any faster than they have before. Average hourly pay rose 2.5 percent in 2017, slightly slower than the 2.9 percent increase recorded in 2016.

Most economists say wages should increase at a faster rate as the unemployment rate drops. The unemployment rate stands at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, but that has done little so far to spark rising wages.

The last time unemployment was this low, in the late 1990s, average hourly pay was rising at a 4 percent pace.

DIVERSITY VISAS

TRUMP: “The third pillar (of my immigration plan) ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard to skill, merit or the safety of our people.”

THE FACTS: That’s a highly misleading characterization. The program is not nearly that random and it does address skills, merit and safety.

President Donald Trump talked about business moving to the U.S., chain migration, energy exports and the Islamic State group. We break down the facts. (Jan. 30)

The diversity visa program awards up to 50,000 green cards a year to people from underrepresented countries, largely in Africa. It requires applicants to have completed a high school education or have at least two years of experience in the last five years in a selection of fields identified by the Labor Department.

Winners are then randomly selected by computer, from that pool of applicants who met the pre-conditions. Winners must submit to extensive background checks, just like any other immigrant.

COAL

President Donald Trump on energy

TRUMP: “We have ended the war on beautiful clean coal.”

THE FACTS: Coal is not clean. According to the Energy Department, more than 83 percent of all major air pollutants — sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, toxic mercury and dangerous soot particles — from power plants are from coal, even though coal makes up only 43 percent of the power generation. Power plants are the No. 1 source of those pollutants.

Coal produces nearly twice as much heat-trapping carbon dioxide per energy created as natural gas, the department says.

In 2011, coal burning emitted more than 6 million tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides versus 430,000 tons from other energy sources combined.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

FILE - In this Sept. 5, 2017 file photo, a protester holds a sign at a rally at Metropolitan State University after President Donald Trump’s decision to repeal a program protecting young immigrants from deportation in Denver. Colleges and universities nationwide are stepping up efforts to help the students who are often called “Dreamers,” after the Trump administration announced plans last week to end that federal program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. (AP Photo/Tatiana Flowers, File)

FILE – In this Sept. 5, 2017 file photo, a protester holds a sign at a rally at Metropolitan State University after President Donald Trump’s decision to repeal a program protecting young immigrants from deportation in Denver. Colleges and universities nationwide are stepping up efforts to help the students who are often called “Dreamers,” after the Trump administration announced plans last week to end that federal program protecting immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. (AP Photo/Tatiana Flowers, File)

TRUMP: “The first pillar of our framework generously offers a path to citizenship for 1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age — that covers almost three times more people than the previous administration.”

THE FACTS: Not so. The Obama administration pushed legal status for many more immigrants and was prevented by Congress and the courts from offering it. A 2013 bill that passed the Senate but died in the House would have bestowed legal status on about 8 million people, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate.

In 2014, the Obama administration announced an expanded program that included parents of young immigrants who were shielded from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, the measure would have given legal status to up to 4 million people. The Supreme Court deadlocked on the plan, letting a lower court ruling stand that blocked it.

TERRORISTS

TRUMP: “In the past, we have foolishly released hundreds and hundreds of dangerous terrorists only to meet them again on the battlefield, including the ISIS leader, (Abu Bakr) al-Baghdadi, who we captured, who we had, who we released.”

THE FACTS: Trump is correct that al-Baghdadi had been released after being detained at Abu Ghraib and Camp Bucca, U.S. detention facilities in Iraq. But Trump made his comment while announcing that he had signed an executive order to keep open the controversial U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If he meant that “hundreds and hundreds” of Guantanamo detainees had been released only to return to the battlefield, his math is off.

The office of the Director of National Intelligence said this summer in its most recent report on the subject that of the 728 detainees who have been released from Guantanamo, 122 are “confirmed” and 90 are “suspected” of re-engaging in hostile activities.

MS-13

TRUMP: “We have sent thousands and thousands and thousands of MS-13 horrible people out of this country or into our prisons.”

THE FACTS: That’s an exaggeration and goes beyond how even how Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Trump administration’s most aggressive anti-gang enforcer, characterizes the scope of the effort.

Sessions said in a speech this week that federal authorities had secured the convictions of nearly 500 human traffickers and 1,200 gang members, “and worked with our international allies to arrest or charge more than 4,000 MS-13 members.” On other occasions, the attorney general has specifically said the 4,000 number reflects work done with “our partners in Central America.”

That suggests that at least some of the MS-13 members Trump is referring to weren’t actually in the U.S when they were arrested, and aren’t now in U.S. prisons.

OPIOIDS

TRUMP: Changes in immigration policies, including more border security, “will also support our response to the terrible crisis of opioid and drug addiction.”

THE FACTS: Drugs being brought across borders are only part of the problem contributing to the nation’s opioid crisis.

According to the U.S. Centers on Disease Control and Prevention, about 40 percent of the opioid deaths in 2016 involved prescription painkillers. Those drugs are made by pharmaceutical companies. Some are abused by the people who have prescriptions; others are stolen and sold on the black market.

The flow of heroin into the U.S. from Mexico is a major problem, but drugs that are brought from other countries don’t all come over land borders. Illicit versions of powerful synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which are a major factor in rising overdose numbers, are being shipped directly to the U.S. from China.

TRUMP: “My administration is committed to fighting the drug epidemic and helping get treatment for those in need.”

THE FACTS: The bipartisan National Governors Association doesn’t think he’s lived up to that commitment. Earlier this month, the governors called on Trump and Congress to do more to pay for and coordinate a response to the opioid epidemic.

The Trump administration has allowed states to begin allowing states to seek permission to use Medicaid to cover addiction treatment in larger facilities — a measure advocates say is needed.

VETERANS

TRUMP: “Last year, the Congress passed, and I signed, the landmark VA Accountability Act. Since its passage, my administration has already removed more than 1,500 VA employees who failed to give our veterans the care they deserve.”

THE FACTS: This statement is inaccurate. It’s true that more than 1,500 firings at the VA have occurred so far during the Trump administration. But more than 500 of those firings occurred from Jan. 20, when Trump took office, to late June, when the new accountability law began to take effect. That means roughly one-third of the 1,500 firings cannot be attributed to the new law.

Congress passed the legislation last June making it easier to fire VA employees and shortening the time employees have to challenge disciplinary actions. But the law’s impact on improving accountability at the department remains unclear: More VA employees were fired in former President Barack Obama’s last budget year, for instance, than in Trump’s first.

BORDER SECURITY

TRUMP: “For decades, open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities.”

THE FACTS: “Open borders” is an exaggeration. Border arrests, a useful if imperfect gauge of illegal crossings, have dropped sharply over the last decade.

Imm Map

The government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama roughly doubled the ranks of the Border Patrol, and Bush extended fencing to cover nearly one-third of the border during his final years in office. The Obama administration deported more than 2 million immigrants during the eight years he was in office, more than in previous administrations.

Studies over several years have found immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States.

FAMILY IMMIGRATION

TRUMP: “Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”

THE FACTS: It’s not happening because the waiting list is so long.

There is currently no wait for U.S. citizens to bring spouses, children under 21 and parents. But citizens must petition for siblings and adult children, and green-card card holders must do the same for spouses and children.

On Nov. 1, there were 4 million people in line for family-based visas, according to the State Department. The waits are longest for China, India, Mexico and the Philippines. In January, Mexican siblings of U.S. children who applied in November 1997 were getting called, a wait of more than 20 years.

An immigrant could theoretically bring an uncle by bringing a parent who then brings his sibling, but the wait would be interminable for most.

OBAMA’S HEALTH LAW

TRUMP: “We repealed the core of the disastrous Obamacare — the individual mandate is now gone.”

THE FACTS: No, it’s not gone. It’s going, in 2019. People who go without insurance this year are still subject to fines.

Congress did repeal the unpopular requirement that most Americans carry insurance or risk a tax penalty but that takes effect next year.

It’s a far cry from what Trump and the GOP-led Congress set out to do last year, which was to scrap most of the sweeping Obama-era health law and replace it with a Republican alternative. The GOP blueprint would have left millions more Americans uninsured, making it even more unpopular than “Obamacare.”

Other major parts of the overhaul remain in place, including its Medicaid expansion, protections for people with pre-existing conditions, guaranteed “essential” health benefits, and subsidized private health insurance for people with modest incomes.

AUTOS

TRUMP: “Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades.”

THE FACTS: He’s wrong about recent decades. The auto industry has regularly been opening and expanding factories since before became president. Toyota opened its Mississippi factory in 2011. Hyundai’s plant in Alabama dates to 2005. In 2010, Tesla fully acquired and updated an old factory to produce its electric vehicles.

Trump also declared that “Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan.” That’s not exactly the case, either. Chrysler announced it will move production of heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan, but the plant is not closing in Mexico. It will start producing other vehicles for global sales and no change in its workforce is anticipated.

ISLAMIC STATE

TRUMP: “Last year I pledged that we would work with our allies to extinguish ISIS from the face of the earth. One year later, I’m proud to report that the coalition to defeat ISIS has liberated almost 100 percent of the territory once held by these killers in Iraq and Syria. But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated.”

THE FACTS: Although it’s true that the Islamic State has lost nearly 100 percent of the territory it held in Syria and Iraq when the U.S. began airstrikes in both countries in 2014, Syria remains wracked by civil war, with much of that country controlled by the government of Russian ally Syrian President Bashar Assad and not by U.S.-allied groups. The Iraqi government has declared itself fully liberated from IS.

The progress cited by Trump did not start with his presidency. The U.S.-led coalition recaptured much land, including several key cities in Iraq, before he took office. And the assault on Mosul, which was the extremists’ main stronghold in northern Iraq, was begun during the Obama administration. But in the past year the counter-ISIS campaign has accelerated, based largely on the approach Trump inherited.

He’s right that more remains to be done to eliminate IS as an extremist threat, even after it has been defeated militarily. The group is still able to inspire attacks in the West based on its ideology, and it is trying to make inroads in places like Afghanistan and Libya.

MIDDLE-CLASS TAXES

TRUMP: “Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.”

THE FACTS: That depends on how you define “tremendous.” The biggest beneficiaries from the tax law are wealthy Americans and corporations.

Most Americans will pay less in taxes this year. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that about 80 percent of U.S. households will get a tax cut, with about 15 percent seeing little change and 5 percent paying more.

Middle-class households — defined as those making between roughly $49,000 and $86,000 a year — will see their tax bills drop by about $930, the Tax Policy Center calculates. That will lift their after-tax incomes by 1.6 percent.

The richest 1 percent, meanwhile, will save $51,140, lifting their after-tax incomes by 3.4 percent, or more than twice as much as the middle class.

ENERGY EXPORTS

TRUMP: “We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”

THE FACTS: There’s nothing new in that: The U.S. has long exported all sorts of energy, while importing even more. If Trump meant that the U.S. has become a net exporter of energy, he’s rushing things along. The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that the U.S. will become a net energy exporter in the next decade, primarily because of a boom in oil and gas production that began before Trump’s presidency. The Trump White House has predicted that could happen sooner, by 2020. But that’s not “now.”

TAX CUTS

TRUMP: “We enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.”

THE FACTS: No truer now than in the countless other times he has said the same. The December tax overhaul ranks behind Ronald Reagan’s in the early 1980s, post-World War II tax cuts and at least several more.

An analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget in the fall put Trump’s package as the eighth biggest since 1918. As a percentage of the total economy, Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.

Valued at $1.5 trillion over 10 years, the plan is indeed large and expensive. But it’s much smaller than originally intended. Back in the spring, it was shaping up as a $5.5 trillion package. Even then it would have only been the third largest since 1940 as a share of gross domestic product.

WORKER BONUSES

TRUMP: “Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.”

THE FACTS: This appears to be true, but may not be as impressive as it sounds. According to a tally of public announcements by Americans for Tax Reform, a conservative group that supported the tax law, about 3 million workers have gotten bonuses, raises or larger payments to their retirement accounts since the tax law was signed.

That’s about 2 percent of the more than 154 million Americans with jobs. The Labor Department said before the tax package was signed into law that 38 percent of workers would likely get some form of bonus in 2017.

Few companies have granted across-the-board pay raises, which Trump and GOP leaders promised would result from the cut in corporate tax rates included in the overhaul. Many, such as Walmart and BB&T Bank, said they will raise their minimum wages. Walmart made similar announcements in 2015 and 2016.

ENERGY PRODUCTION

US Energy

TRUMP: “We have ended the war on American energy – and we have ended the war on clean coal.”

THE FACTS: Energy production was unleashed in past administrations, particularly Barack Obama’s, making accusations of a “war on energy” hard to sustain. Advances in hydraulic fracturing before Trump became president made it economical to tap vast reserves of natural gas. Oil production also greatly increased, reducing imports.

Before the 2016 presidential election, the U.S. for the first time in decades was getting more energy domestically than it imports. Before Obama, George W. Bush was no adversary of the energy industry.

One of Trump’s consequential actions as president on this front was to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a source of foreign oil, from Canada.

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Contributed by Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Seth Borenstein, Eric Tucker, Geoff Mulvihill, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Elliott Spagat, Robert Burns, Josh Lederman, Calvin Woodward, Christopher Rugaber and Hope Yen.

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Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd

Follow @APFactCheck on Twitter: https://twitter.com/APFactCheck

In response to Trump, Democrats argue for middle class

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Soaring stock prices under President Donald Trump have boosted investor portfolios and corporate profits but have not eased the economic anxieties of middle-class families, Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III said Tuesday night in the Democratic response to Trump’s first State of the Union address.

In calling on Americans to reject the “chaos” of the Trump era, Kennedy also outlined a Democratic vision that promises a “better deal for all who call this country home.”

Democrats support a higher minimum wage, paid leave for employees and affordable child care, among other priorities, Kennedy said.

“We choose pensions that are solvent, trade pacts that are fair, roads and bridges that won’t rust away, and good education you can afford,” he said in a speech from a vocational high school in Fall River, Massachusetts, a onetime manufacturing hub now struggling with high unemployment and other problems.

Kennedy, 37, a three-term congressman and grandson of former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, has argued that Democrats should focus on the economic concerns of working-class voters who bolted the party in the 2016 elections.

Fall River, home to many blue-collar workers, “has faced its share of storms,” Kennedy said. “But people here are tough. They fight for each other. They pull for their city.”

In an apparent reference to Trump, Kennedy said that “bullies may land a punch” and leave a mark but that they have “never managed to match the strength and spirit of a people united in defense of their future.”

In a hard-hitting speech for a political newcomer, Kennedy decried a rollback of civil rights protections, noting proposals that target Muslims, transgender people and others.

The Trump administration “isn’t just targeting the laws that protect us — they are targeting the very idea that we are all worthy of protection,” Kennedy said.

Trump’s record is “a rebuke of our highest American ideal: the belief that we are all worthy, we are all equal and we all count — in the eyes of our law and our leaders, our God and our government,” Kennedy said.

The red-haired Kennedy was elected to the House in 2012, returning the family to Congress two years after the retirement of Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, the son of Joe Kennedy III’s great-uncle Ted.

Known mostly for his famous last name, Kennedy’s selection has been criticized by some as tone-deaf at a time when sexual harassment of women and the Black Lives Matter movement are at the forefront of American politics. Speaking without a suit coat in front of a rebuilt car and an enthusiastic audience, Kennedy tried to defuse that Tuesday by citing the #MeToo movement and declaring, “Black lives matter.”

In a nod to “Dreamers,” the 700,000 young immigrants brought here as children and now here illegally, Kennedy spoke in Spanish as he said Dreamers are a part of America’s story and promised that Democrats will not walk away from them.

Kennedy said Trump and his administration were breaking a core promise of America — that everyone will be treated equally under the law. He accused the administration of “callously” appraising Americans’ worth and deciding “who makes the cut and who can be bargained away.”

Under the leadership of Trump and congressional Republicans, Americans are “bombarded with one false choice after another,” Kennedy said. “Coal miners or single moms. Rural communities or inner cities. The coast or the heartland.”

Democrats “choose both,” Kennedy said.

A former Peace Corps volunteer, Kennedy was an assistant district attorney in two Massachusetts districts before being elected to Congress. He has focused on economic and social justice in Congress and has advocated on behalf of vocational schools and community colleges and championed issues such as transgender rights and marriage equality.

To illustrate that message, Kennedy invited U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Patricia King, a transgender woman, as his guest to the State of the Union. King, an infantry squad leader at Fort Lewis, Washington, was the first person to have gender reassignment surgery paid for by the military.

Kennedy’s speech was one of several Democratic responses. Elizabeth Guzman, one of the first Latinas elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, delivered a Spanish-language response, while former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke on Facebook Live and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., spoke on BET.

On China visit, Britain’s May focused on post-Brexit future

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BEIJING (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday called for expanding the “global strategic partnership” between the United Kingdom and China, at the start of a visit to the world’s second-largest economy focused on hashing out new trade arrangements once the U.K. leaves the European Union.

Meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, May referred to “a golden era” in relations between the two countries that London hopes will bring vast amounts of new job-creating investment from China’s fast-growing global firms.

“This is an auspicious time of the year to … think about and consider how we can build further on that golden era and on the global strategic partnership that we have been working on between the U.K. and China,” May said.

May first visited the central industrial city of Wuhan before traveling to Beijing for talks with Li and later with President Xi Jinping, whose 2015 state visit to Britain initiated what China frequently refers to as the golden era in ties.

May is being accompanied on her visit by 50 British business leaders, including the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover and drug firm AstraZeneca. She will also visit the financial hub of Shanghai before heading home Friday.

In Li’s opening comments, he said he believed May’s visit would “bring new fruits, which will further elevate the golden era in China-Britain relations.”

Bolstering ties with China became more urgent after Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, compelling it to forge new trade agreements outside of the 28-nation bloc.

British exports to China are up 60 percent since 2010, and China is expected to be one of the U.K.’s biggest foreign investors by 2020.

British finance minister Philip Hammond visited in December, pledging to promote London as a center for transactions in China’s yuan currency and announcing up to 25 billion pounds ($35 billion) in support for British businesses involved in the “Belt and Road” initiative, China’s mega-plan for trade and infrastructure links across Asia.

But May appears more cautious about embracing Chinese investment than her predecessor David Cameron. She annoyed Beijing in 2016 by temporarily delaying approval for a Chinese-backed nuclear power plant in southwestern England.

Puerto Rico: FEMA to end food and water shipments Wednesday, official says

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(PhatzNewsRoom / CNN)   —-    More than four months after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is halting new shipments of food and water to the island, an agency official with direct knowledge of the plan told CNN on Tuesday.

The island government appeared blindsided by the decision, saying it was still in talks with FEMA on a timetable for assuming control of food and water distribution.

FEMA has called the island’s emergency operation the longest sustained distribution of food, fuel and water in agency history, including more than $1.6 billion worth of food and more than $361 million worth of water.

New shipments of food and water will officially stop Wednesday to the US territory in the Caribbean, though FEMA said it has more than 46 million liters of water, 2 million Meals Ready to Eat and 2 million snack packs on the ground for distribution if needed.

“The commercial supply chain for food and water is re-established and private suppliers are sufficiently available that FEMA-provided commodities are no longer needed for emergency operations,” the agency said in a statement.

Héctor M. Pesquera, the government’s public safety secretary and state coordinating officer, said the transition period for local authorities to take over distribution should last at least two weeks.

“The Government … is waiting for critical data provided by FEMA in order to determine when the responsibilities should be transferred from FEMA to the Government of Puerto Rico,” Pesquera said in a statement.

“This has not happened yet and we were not informed that supplies would stop arriving, nor did the Government of Puerto Rico authorize this action.”

Pesquera acknowledged that conditions “in most areas have improved and many economic indicators are showing that recovery is underway.”

FEMA spokesman William Booher said the agency “will continue to support any documented needs and will provide supplies to volunteer agencies and other private nonprofit organizations … working with households in rural, outlying areas to address ongoing disaster-related needs as power and water is gradually restored.”

The agency, which still has about 5,000 personnel on the island, is prepared to restart food and water shipments should the need arise, according to the official with knowledge of the plan.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, a frequent critic of the federal response to the devastating September hurricane, reacted to the decision on Twitter, asking in Spanish, “Seriously, are they leaving?”

“This is the kind of indifference that must be stopped. Enough,” wrote Cruz, who will attend Tuesday’s State of the Union address as a guest of US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

Speaking Tuesday at a Washington event sponsored by the Latino Victory Fund political action committee, the mayor said some schools outside San Juan still have no water, power or even supplies of milk.

Nearly half a million power utility customers remained without electricity as of last week, according to the power authority.

In December, representatives of the island’s Emergency Management Agency and FEMA consulted mayors across the island to determine the need of food and water to their communities, according to FEMA.

The agency said nine regional staging areas established to distribute food and water to the island’s 78 mayors will remain open.

Domingo Marqués, a clinical psychologist who lives in San Juan, said many outlying towns still have serious problems with food and water.

“For some municipalities, it is wise to stop,” Marqués said of food distribution efforts.

“Some have all roads open, and most of their barrios have power. The mountains are still without power, potable water, and some areas have lost the main roads. This means that some residents have to drive … 30 to 40 minutes to get to a store when it usually takes five to 10 minutes. The elderly have it worse since they depend on others for transportation.”

___

CNN’s Spencer Feingold contrinuted to this report.

Business: Global stocks mixed after Wall Street’s sharp decline

BEIJING (AP) — Global stocks were mixed Wednesday after Wall Street recorded its biggest decline since August.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent to 13,237.02 points and France’s CAC 40 gained 0.3 percent to 5,488.78. London’s FTSE 100 added 1 point to 7,586.98. On Tuesday, the FTSE 100 gave up 1.1 percent, the DAX lost 1 percent and the CAC 40 fell 0.9 percent. On Wall Street, futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.35 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.2 percent to 3,480.83 and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 fell 0.8 percent to 23,098.29. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.9 percent to 32,887.27 and Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 added 0.25 percent to 6,037.70. Seoul’s Kospi shed 1.3 points to 2,566.46 and India’s Sensex lost 0.5 percent to 35,863.61. Benchmarks in New Zealand, Taiwan and Bangkok rose while Singapore and Manila declined.

WALL STREET: Losses in health care and technology companies led U.S. stocks sharply lower. The slide erased some of the gains the market had racked up since the beginning of the year, though the market was still on track to close out January with a gain. The S&P fell 1.1 percent — its steepest one-day drop since Aug. 17. The Dow had its biggest decline since May, losing 1.4 percent. The Nasdaq slumped 0.9 percent.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Markets are battening down the hatches ahead of a number of events that could influence thinking on bond yields and stock market valuations,” said Ric Spooner of CMC Markets in a report. “In these circumstances, the gravitational pull of a steep departure from trend growth has produced the most significant decline in U.S. markets for some time.”

CHINESE MANUFACTURING: A monthly survey showed January factory activity was lower than expected. The purchasing managers’ index of the official China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing declined to 51.3 from December’s 51.6 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity expanding.

JAPANESE MANUFACTURING: Official data showed factory output rose to a nine-year high in December, suggesting economic growth stayed strong. Industrial output rose 2.7 percent over November — the third consecutive gain.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 30 cents to $64.20 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract plunged $1.06 on Tuesday to $64.50. Brent crude, used to price international oils, declined 42 cents to $68.10 in London. It lost 68 cents in the previous session to $68.52.

CURRENCY: The dollar slipped to 108.72 yen from 108.78 yen. The euro advanced to $1.2438 from $1.2403.

___

NEW YORK (AP) — Three guys walk into a bar. They’re Warren Buffett, Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase’s Jamie Dimon. They decide to transform the American health care system.

That’s probably not how these three men decided to form a new company to address health care costs for their U.S. employees, and possibly for many more Americans. The three companies, with a combined market cap of $1.62 trillion, did not provide details of how the collaboration between their CEOs came about. And while their announcement Tuesday didn’t include many specifics, based on their very different business backgrounds it’s possible to see what each might bring to the table.

Bezos, 54, runs one of the world’s biggest retail operations and by some measurement he’s now the wealthiest person on the planet. Amazon grew from a book retailer into one of the world’s most valuable companies in part because it’s extremely skilled in distributing products. It’s long been willing to lose money in order to offer customers lower prices than its competitors can bear — and in the process gain a loyal customer base. That’s what millions of Prime members love about it.

Amazon has never been consistent at turning profits because of its focus on sales growth. That’s what many investors fear about it. Investors in health care have long thought Amazon was going to get into that field and force companies that make and distribute medications or medical devices to drastically lower their prices.

When the three companies said they want to create a partnership “free from profit-making incentives and constrains,” Amazon would seem to be the blueprint.

By contrast, few associate fear with Buffett, the 87-year-old “Oracle of Omaha.” He’s respected for his 70 years of successful investing, beloved by many for giving billions to charity — he has said he plans to give away at least half his fortune — and appreciated for a common touch that includes a prodigious Coca-Cola habit and a love of junk food, along with his personal frugality. But most significant in this context is that his company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns a number of insurers including GEICO. That means he brings a lot of experience in evaluating and insuring risks.

And he’s a longtime critic of the health care system. Tuesday was not the first time Buffett had talked about growing health care costs as a “tapeworm” that harms the growth of the American economy.

Dimon, 61, is the head of the largest U.S. bank in terms of both assets and deposits. If that weren’t enough to get him entry into the conversation, JPMorgan Chase just received a big tax cut. Dimon himself earned a lot of respect for his handling of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Unlike many of its competitors, JPMorgan Chase didn’t have to be bailed out by taxpayers as a result of its bad bets on mortgage-backed securities.

That doesn’t mean he’s exactly beloved: Like its rivals, the bank did pay billions to settle allegations surrounding its sales of mortgage-backed securities prior to the crisis. He’s also known for speaking his mind in blunt terms. In July, he complained about politicians arguing about “stupid (expletive)” instead of solving problems.

The companies said their project will focus on technology that provides simplified and transparent care. Based on the executives who have been named to top roles at the new company, Jefferies & Co. analyst Brian Tanquilut said there is a good chance it will eventually try to negotiate prices directly with health care providers like hospitals, bypassing companies that act as middlemen. That could reduce costs in the medical and pharmaceutical supply chains.

“The initial plan for the new entity will be on partnering with and/or acquiring various consumer-orientated health care technology capabilities (i.e. a venture capital strategy) and eventually using them to influence and incentivize health care cost-reducing behavior,” he said, basing his speculation on the executives picked to shepherd the new company along.

Whatever the new company’s scope, investors in health care companies were deeply concerned: On Tuesday health insurer Cigna dropped 7.2 percent, biotech drugmaker AbbVie fell 5.3 percent, and drugstore chain-pharmacy benefits manager CVS Health lost 4.1 percent as the sector took broad losses.

Analysis: Trump’s war on Russia probe reaches new peak

(PhatzNewsRoom / CNN)    —   The escalating campaign by President Donald Trump and his allies against the Russia investigation hit a new peak of intensity Monday.

First came news of the resignation of Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the FBI, after weeks of attacks by Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill and in conservative media that he was a symptom of a “deep state” conspiracy against the President.

Then the House Intelligence Committee voted to release a memo alleging abuses by the FBI of surveillance law when it used a dossier about Trump and Russia to obtain a warrant to eavesdrop on Trump campaign foreign policy aide Carter Page.

The revelations, following a flurry of developments last week that suggested special counsel Robert Mueller was nearing the end of part of his probe, sent shockwaves through Washington, underscoring the gravity of a building political crisis.

The White House insisted it had nothing to do with the sudden departure of McCabe.

But given the political heat being cranked up by Trump, GOP aides on Capitol Hill and in the pro-Trump media, it would not surprise anyone if special counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is next to go.

Though such a step would trigger political mayhem and a potential constitutional showdown that could imperil Trump’s presidency, such steps, if they happened, could be seen as the logical outcome of a pressure campaign that has raised concerns about Trump’s tendency to rage against legal norms constraining his office.

The swirl of events also comes as speculation mounts over whether Trump will testify in person to the Mueller probe, as some of his friends warn him he could be walking into a trap set by the special counsel’s team.

And in a new sign of the President’s fixation with the Russia probe, his anger boiled over as he flew to Davos, Switzerland, on Air Force One last week, after he found out that Associate Attorney General Stephen Boyd had said the release of the GOP memo about the dossier would be “extraordinarily reckless,” Bloomberg News reported Monday, citing four sources with knowledge of the matter.

Clear and consistent pattern

Events of the last year show a clear and consistent pattern by the President of demanding loyalty from law enforcement officials — including recently forced out McCabe and fired FBI chief James Comey. Trump has also publicly vented at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, saying he wouldn’t have picked him had he known he would recuse himself from the Russian investigation — another variation on the loyalty theme.

At the same time, the President has shown himself willing to blur the traditional firewalls between the White House and the Justice Department and the FBI, either misunderstanding, or showing disdain for, protocols observed to avoid any impression of political interference in the neutral administration of justice.

The administration has spent weeks cranking up scrutiny on career FBI and Justice Department officials, claiming the Mueller probe is biased against Trump, apparently seeking to discredit its eventual findings and perhaps to shape the political terrain ahead of any calls for impeachment proceedings.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Monday admitted that the President had put pressure on those in the investigation “to get it resolved” so he can go back to work she said Americans care about.

But she denied the White House had ordered McCabe’s exit.

“I can say the President wasn’t part of this decision-making process,” Sanders said.

Another building block in the apparent efforts of the administration and its allies to cast doubt on the probity of the Mueller probe could come later Monday.

Nunes memo

Democrats have claimed the House Intelligence Committee memo misrepresents the facts and intelligence officials worry that its release could compromise classified information, though Trump is minded to approve its publication, an official familiar with the matter told CNN last week.

Republicans are adamant that the memo suggests serious problems with the use of the dossier, drawn up by former British spy Christopher Steele, which they claim was the spur for the FBI probe into alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign.

“I have read the four-page memo. What I read was very concerning. I support making it public and getting this done as soon as possible,” Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a member of the House GOP leadership, told Fox News on Monday.

The memo cites the role of McCabe and Rosenstein for their roles in overseeing aspects of the investigation, according to a source briefed on the matter.

The cresting intrigue Monday follows a flurry of sensational developments in recent days that suggest that Mueller is approaching a critical point of his investigation and that the President’s personal jeopardy could be deepening.

On Thursday, The New York Times reported that Trump ordered the firing of the special counsel in June. CNN reported that pressure to dismiss Mueller prompted the White House Counsel Donald McGahn to tell colleagues he would resign.

The firing never happened, but it could be relevant to Mueller’s inquiries into whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, since it could serve as evidence of the President’s state of mind and intent in his apparent attempts to end the Russia investigation.

Trump now has Rosenstein in his crosshairs, CNN reported Friday, and has repeatedly suggested removing him, prompting advisers to warn the President off.

In McCabe’s case, Trump’s advisers highlighted the fact that the former deputy FBI director’s wife mounted a Democratic state Senate campaign in Virginia, before he took his final post with the bureau.

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump had directly asked McCabe who he voted for in the 2016 election in a highly unusual move for a president toward a civil servant. CNN established that McCabe voted in the Republican primary in 2016 but did not vote in the general election.

Pressure on key officials

For some of Trump’s critics, the pattern of pressure on key officials is already sufficient to raise strong suspicions that the President, in the Comey firing and subsequent actions, is guilty of obstruction of justice, a potentially impeachable offense.

“On perhaps the most important question of all — whether the President of the United States committed the crime of obstruction of justice — the answer now seems clear,” Jeffrey Toobin, New Yorker staff writer and CNN senior legal analyst, wrote on Friday.

Should he go a step further and seek to fire Mueller, as he apparently recommended in June, Trump could trigger a constitutional crisis.

“I think if the President had gone through with this or tries to go through with it on a going forward basis, we’re into uncharted territory, we’re into the real question of the fundamentals of our democracy,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Friday.

“Are we still going to be a country where the rule of law prevails and that no one, even the President, is above the law?” Warner said.

Still, though it is clear the President is furious about the Russia investigation, and has demonstrably created political pressure on multiple officials linked to it, it does not follow that Mueller is destined to conclude he obstructed justice.

Former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who led the investigation against President Bill Clinton, said that he did not believe Trump’s actions had demonstrated corrupt intent that would be needed to back up an obstruction finding.

“I don’t think that those who have been saying this is obstruction of justice have come forward with pervasive authority and have not addressed what I view as a fundamental question, the power of the presidency,” Starr said on ABC News “This Week” on Sunday.

Though he maintained that the President has broad jurisdiction over law enforcement officials in his administration, he did allow that any move by the President to fire Mueller would cause “Armageddon.”

Still, a case against the President that fell short of the criminal standards for an obstruction inquiry could still be forwarded to Congress for consideration of whether his conduct amounted to a high crime and misdemeanor required to trigger the political process of impeachment.

Yet given the intense skepticism of the Mueller probe and the orchestrated campaign against it that was again in evidence Monday, there must be significant doubt whether the GOP-led House would decide to move ahead.

Analysis: How a classified four-page Russia memo triggered a political firestorm

(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)    —   Early this month, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein trekked to Capitol Hill in a last-ditch effort to avoid giving Republican lawmakers access to intelligence they considered so sensitive that it could not leave their control.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) had been agitating for information — which included investigative documents, interviews with top FBI officials and texts between FBI employees — for months as part of his investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of the Russia investigation. Now, he was threatening to hold Justice officials in contempt. The two law enforcement leaders hoped House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) might be more sympathetic to their concerns.

Rosenstein did most of the talking as the two men pressed their case in a closed-door meeting, urging the speaker to let the Justice Department withhold at least some documents, according to people familiar with the exchange. Ryan, however, was unmoved. Nunes’s committee, he argued, routinely deals in sensitive, raw intelligence, and this case was no different, the people said.

The episode would prove a revealing skirmish between the Hill and the Justice Department in an increasingly acrimonious war over the Russia investigation. Current and former law enforcement officials say the feuding — which they say seems driven in some measure by a GOP effort to discredit the Russian investigation — threatens to expose sensitive sources and methods that could be exploited by foreign adversaries, and curtail intelligence-sharing with some of our closest allies, including Britain.

Nunes ultimately used the information he obtained to create a four-page memo critical of the Justice Department and FBI. And to the dismay of Democrats and various intelligence and law enforcement officials, he and his Republican colleagues are taking steps to release it.

On Monday, Nunes’s committee voted on party lines to authorize its release, which gives the White House up to five days to intervene before it becomes public.

What exactly the memo says — and how significant it is in showing any alleged wrongdoing at the Justice Department and FBI — is a matter of intense debate.

Republicans who have seen the document say it draws on Justice Department and FBI documents and information shared by informants and whistleblowers, and it looks at who made decisions on surveillance during the campaign and what shaped those decisions, they said. It raises particular questions about an October 19, 2016, application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to conduct surveillance on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

It is unclear to what extent information in a controversial dossier — which mentioned Page — played a role in that application, though some of its author’s work was incorporated. The dossier was produced by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who had been hired by Fusion GPS, a Washington opposition research firm. Fusion had been hired by political actors to research Donald Trump — first, the conservative media outlet Washington Free Beacon, and then, before Steele was brought on board, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The court was apparently not told of the dossier’s Democratic Party funding, according to a person familiar with the memo.

That assertion could provide conservatives ammunition to criticize the Russia investigation and lay the groundwork to possibly discredit whatever conclusions those working on it reach.

“Day after day, each individual dot on the wall reinforces a pattern that is not helpful to the left,” said former House speaker Newt Gingrich, rattling off a list of alleged wrongdoings by the Justice Department and FBI.

The court process to obtain such a surveillance warrant is robust, and Page had been on the FBI’s radar for years — long before agents were in possession of the dossier. The application cited, among other things, contacts that Page had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, which had surfaced in an earlier case, U.S. officials said. In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, according to the officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to maintain that mistakes were made in that process, but the party has divisions over how meaningful they are.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested the memo would be explosive: “We get this memo out there, and people will see, the fix was in.” Another Republican who has seen it said it might not be the smoking gun conservatives have described. Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) said that while he has gotten more phone calls from constituents on the document than he did on the government shutdown, he largely attributed that uproar to cable news coverage of it.

“I will let people draw their own conclusions,” he said. “There is certainly damaging information.”

Though public fighting over the memo has intensified in recent weeks, its gen­esis can be traced back to last summer, when the House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas to the FBI and Justice Department for documents related to the dossier.

Nunes and other Republicans were at the time keenly interested in the role the dossier played in fostering what is now special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.

Nunes and other key Republicans on the Hill sent aides or went themselves to review documents at the Justice Department, and Nunes’s senior committee staffers compiled a comprehensive review of points of concern. They focused on the information the agencies used to prompt applications for warrants, Republicans familiar with their work said. Those analyses eventually became the memo.

The Justice Department has suggested publicly that Nunes himself did not review the materials that formed the basis for the memo — apparently instead relying on staff to brief him. One key player is a Justice Department alum: Kashyap Patel, who had worked as a prosecutor in the Justice Department’s National Security Division and was famously berated by a federal judge in Texas over his failure to wear a suit and tie.

Patel has reviewed materials from the Justice Department and was one of two staffers who made a trip to London to try to talk to Steele, according to people familiar with the matter.

Jack Langer, spokesman for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) said many committee members and staff members worked on it.

“The memo was the result of many hours of work by committee members and numerous staff members, and for The Washington Post to publish a hit piece singling out one staffer is a real low in journalism,” Langer said.

Nunes’s probe seemed to intensify in December, as the House Ethics Committee dropped its investigation into him and The Washington Post and the New York Times reported on anti-Trump texts exchanged between members of Mueller’s team. In late December, Nunes excoriated the Justice Department for failing to give him access to all the documents he needed, and the next month, Wray and Rosenstein made their appeal to Ryan.

On Jan. 18, Nunes’s committee — on a motion from Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) — voted to make the memo available to all House members to read in a secure facility in the basement of the Capitol. Members were initially split on whether it should be publicized. That would soon change.

That afternoon, the House Freedom Caucus — a GOP group that counts a few dozen hard-line conservatives as members — spoke by phone with President Trump about the impending government shutdown. As they discussed possible spending deals, the group’s chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), brought up the memo with the president as members called for its release, according to people familiar with the call.

The caucus that night publicly launched a campaign to have the document revealed, and the hashtag “ReleaseTheMemo” would soon spread widely on Twitter.

Democrats and the Justice Department pushed back. Last week, the department sent a letter to Nunes, saying officials there had yet to see the document and it “would be extraordinarily reckless for the Committee to disclose such information publicly without giving the Department and the FBI the opportunity to review the memorandum and to advise the HPSCI of the risk of harm to national security and to ongoing investigations that could come from public release.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment Monday.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview last week that the release could “compromise sources and methods” of the intelligence community and damage U.S. relations with its intelligence partners around the world. He said Democrats would have to consider releasing their own document dispelling any myths or confusion their Republican counterparts’ memo might create — though the committee voted Monday on party lines against releasing a second Democratic memo on the issue.

Wray, the FBI director, has since seen the memo, but it was unclear whether the Justice Department remained opposed to its release. Schiff said that Wray “raised concerns” about the memo after viewing it and had asked the committee to allow him to brief the members before voting on its release. They did not do so, he said.

On Wednesday, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly relayed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he supported the document’s release. Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said on CNN Monday that if Nunes’s committee voted to make the memo public, the White House would conduct a national security review, but he suggested the Justice Department would not be weighing in.

“The Department of Justice doesn’t have a role in this process,” he said.

William Kristol, editor at large of the Weekly Standard and a conservative Trump critic, said: “It’s pretty astonishing to have members of Congress and fairly serious commentators clamoring for the release even as Trump’s Justice Department says they should wait for a full review. It’s a distressing sign that the irresponsibility and conspiracy theorizing on the right is not just on the far right but among top people.”

The president has not yet seen the memo, but has a “bare-bones understanding” based primarily on press coverage, a White House aide said. He has told advisers he supports the release of the memo and he believes it could help show the public how biased the FBI and the special counsel investigation have been against him, two people familiar with his thinking said. Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway said Monday that Trump “would err on the side of transparency.”

“That is his predilection: to release it,” one senior White House adviser said. “But he won’t decide it until he sees it.”

That could happen by week’s end.

Trump’s gripes against McCabe included wife’s politics, Comey’s ride home

(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)    —    WASHINGTON — The day after President Donald Trump fired James Comey, he became so furious watching television footage of the ousted FBI director boarding a government-funded plane from Los Angeles back to Washington, D.C. that he called the bureau’s acting director, Andrew McCabe, to vent, according to multiple people familiar with the phone call.

Trump demanded to know why Comey was allowed to fly on an FBI plane after he had been fired, these people said. McCabe told the president he hadn’t been asked to authorize Comey’s flight, but if anyone had asked, he would have approved it, three people familiar with the call recounted to NBC News.

The president was silent for a moment and then turned on McCabe, suggesting he ask his wife how it feels to be a loser — an apparent reference to a failed campaign for state office in Virginia that McCabe’s wife made in 2015.

McCabe replied: “OK, sir.” Trump then hung up the phone.

Both the White House and the FBI declined to comment on the call.

The previously unreported exchange was one of a series of attacks Trump has aimed at McCabe that fueled tensions between the White House and the Justice Department and culminated Monday with McCabe stepping down as the FBI’s deputy director.

In the past, Trump had also reportedly asked McCabe how he voted in the 2016 election and repeatedly made public references to campaign donations his wife had received from an ally of Hillary and Bill Clinton.

In an impromptu exchange last week with reporters who had been speaking with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Trump said he did not recall asking McCabe who he voted for in 2016. “I don’t think I did,” he said. “I don’t know what’s the big deal with that because I would ask you … who did you vote for?”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday that the White House was not part of McCabe’s decision-making process about stepping down.

In recent weeks the White House has agitated for McCabe’s exit, saying he is part of a broader pattern of bias against the president in the highest levels of federal law enforcement. Defenders of the Justice Department’s leadership say the charges of bias are part of the president’s effort to try to undermine the federal probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Trump’s repeated criticism of McCabe, both in public and private, made the FBI’s deputy director the leading example of concerns Republicans have increasingly raised about potential impartiality at the Justice Department.

The phone call between Trump and McCabe after Comey’s firing last May underscores the president’s continued fixation on where the loyalties of people around him may lie and his frustration with autonomous arms of the government — particularly ones involved in the Russia investigation. It’s also emblematic of his early and persistent distrust of top Justice Department officials.

The combination of those sentiments whipped the president into such a fury over Comey last year that he wanted his firing to abruptly strip him of any trappings that come with the office and leave him across the country scrambling to find his own way home.

McCabe detailed his conversation with Trump after Comey’s firing to several people at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter said.

In 2015 McCabe’s wife had run for state office in Virginia. She accepted nearly $500,000 in donations to her campaign from the super PAC of Clinton ally and former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. She lost her race by fewer than 1,000 votes.

McCabe was not involved in the FBI’s investigation into Clinton while his wife was running for office. He became involved in the probe in February 2016.

Comey was criticized by many Democrats for his handling of the Clinton investigation. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating how the investigation was handled.

Trump has publicly suggested McCabe should not remain in FBI leadership at different times over the past year. Last July, the president questioned why Attorney General Jeff Sessions didn’t replace McCabe, whom the president described as “a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation.”

Last month the president also wrote on Twitter: “How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin’ James Comey, of the Phony Hillary Clinton investigation (including her 33,000 illegally deleted emails) be given $700,000 for wife’s campaign by Clinton Puppets during investigation?” The amount the president said McCabe’s wife received was incorrect.

After he fired Comey, Trump met with McCabe in the Oval Office, and, according to the Washington Post, asked McCabe whom he voted for in the 2016 election. McCabe said he did not vote, the Post reported.

More recently, when reports surfaced last month that McCabe planned to retire in March after he’s eligible for full benefits, Trump seized on the news. “FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits. 90 days to go?!!!” the president wrote on Twitter.

McCabe’s exit comes in the middle of an investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into whether the president has tried to obstruct justice in Russia investigation. Given his position at the FBI and his interactions with the president, McCabe is likely to be of use to Mueller in the obstruction inquiry.

Mueller was named to oversee the Russia investigation after Comey’s firing, which became a catalyst for the obstruction investigation.

His firing sent shock waves across Washington, including within the Trump administration.

Comey’a dismissal on May 9, 2017 was hastily executed and even took many senior White House officials by surprise. As it was unfolding, some of them quietly discussed how Comey would get back to Washington, a senior White House official who was there at the time said.

“I don’t think anybody had thought about how he’d get home,” the official said.

Trump thought Comey should not have been allowed to take the FBI plane he had taken to California, according to people familiar with the matter. The president’s longtime bodyguard and aide, Keith Schiller, delivered the news of Comey’s firing in envelope he brought to FBI headquarters while Comey was in California. Trump believed any privileges Comey had received as FBI director should have ceased at that moment, the people familiar with the matter said.

Comey learned of his termination from news reports broadcast on a TV in the room where he was addressing FBI agents in the bureau’s Los Angeles office. He had been in Los Angeles to speak at a recruiting event later that evening. But after learning he was fired, Comey skipped the event.

Instead he went to Los Angeles International Airport. Images of Comey on the tarmac boarding the government plane for the flight back to Washington were among the first the public saw of him after he was fired.

Republicans vote to release classified memo on Russia probe

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Brushing aside opposition from the Justice Department, Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted to release a classified memo that purports to show improper use of surveillance by the FBI and the Justice Department in the Russia investigation.

The four-page memo has become a political flashpoint, with President Donald Trump and many Republicans pushing for its release and suggesting that some in the Justice Department and FBI have conspired against the president.

The memo was written by Republicans on the committee, led by chairman Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a close Trump ally who has become a fierce critic of the FBI and the Justice Department. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign was involved.

Republicans have said the memo reveals grave concerns about abuses of the government surveillance powers in the Russia investigation. Democrats have called it a selectively edited group of GOP talking points that attempt to distract from the committee’s own investigation into Russian meddling.

The vote on Monday to release the memo is an unprecedented move by the committee, which typically goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The memo was delivered by courier to the White House on Monday evening. Trump now has five days to object to its release by the committee.

The White House said late Monday that the president will meet with his national security team and White House counsel to discuss the memo in the coming days.

Republicans said they are confident that the release won’t harm national security. They also said they would not release the underlying intelligence that informed the memo.

“You’ll see for yourself that it’s not necessary,” said Texas Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who’s leading the House’s Russia investigation.

But Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the panel had “crossed a deeply regrettable line.”

“Today this committee voted to put the president’s personal interests, perhaps their own political interest, above the national interest,” he said, noting that the memo’s release could compromise intelligence sources and methods.

While Trump’s White House signaled he would likely support the Republican memo’s release, his Justice Department has voiced concerns.

In a letter to Nunes last week, Justice officials said releasing the classified memo could be “extraordinarily reckless” and asked to review it. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd suggested that releasing classified information could damage the United States’ relationship with other countries with which it shares intelligence.

After those complaints, FBI Director Christopher Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who was with Wray when he reviewed the memo, said the FBI director did not raise any national security concerns with him. Gowdy said the memo doesn’t reveal any intelligence methods but it does reveal “one source.”

But Schiff said that Wray told him Monday that the review didn’t satisfy his concerns about the release of the memo. Wray wanted to brief the committee about FBI and Justice Department concerns ahead of any release, a request committee Republicans blocked, Schiff said.

The FBI did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

Privately, Trump has been fuming over the Justice Department’s opposition to releasing the memo, according to an administration official not authorized to discuss private conversations and speaking on condition of anonymity.

At the behest of Trump, White House chief of staff John Kelly and other White House officials contacted Justice Department officials in the past week to convey the president’s displeasure with the department’s leadership on the issue specifically, the official said. In a series of calls, Kelly urged the Justice officials to do more within the bounds of the law to get the memo out, the official said.

It is still unclear exactly when or how the memo will be released.

Conaway said the memo could be released within the five-day window if Trump signals his approval for releasing it. But committee rules don’t address how that approval must be given — or what happens if it comes in the form of a tweet.

Some Republican senators have said they don’t want to release the memo, and Democrats have pushed back on Republican criticism of the FBI, saying it is an attempt to discredit Mueller’s investigation. The probe has already resulted in charges against four of Trump’s former campaign advisers and has recently moved closer to Trump’s inner circle.

“They will trample on anything to protect the White House at this point in time,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., of the Republican move to release the memo.

Late Monday, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi blamed House Speaker Paul Ryan, who oversees the intelligence panel and has deferred to Nunes, whom she called a “stooge.” She said on CNN that Ryan is allowing the release of a “false memo based on a false premise.”

In response, Democrats on the panel have put together their own memo. On Monday, the committee voted to make the Democratic memo available to all House members — but not the public. Conaway said he was open to making it public after House members have a chance to review it.

The fate of the Nunes memo is only the latest flashpoint in the contentious relationship between Trump and the Justice Department.

Trump has frequently raged at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia probe, a move the president believes was disloyal and led to the appointment of Mueller.

Separately Monday, Schiff and Conaway said former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon will appear for a closed-door interview Wednesday.

Bannon was interviewed by the committee earlier this month but refused to answer questions about his time in the Trump administration at the direction of the White House counsel’s office. Bannon served on Trump’s campaign and was the chief strategist in the White House until he left in August.

Bannon’s refusal drew a subpoena from Nunes seeking to compel him to answer the committee’s questions.

On Monday, Conaway said, “I expect our subpoena will be complied with.”

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Associated Press writer Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

On Flight to Davos, Trump Erupted Over DOJ Role in Russia Probe

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(Bloomberg) — President Donald Trump’s frustrations with the Russia investigation boiled over on Air Force One last week when he learned that a top Justice Department official had warned against releasing a memo that could undercut the probe, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

Trump erupted in anger while traveling to Davos after learning that Associate Attorney General Stephen Boyd warned that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release a classified memo written by House Republican staffers. The memo outlines alleged misdeeds at the FBI and Justice Department related to the Russia investigation.

For Trump, the letter was yet another example of the Justice Department undermining him and stymieing Republican efforts to expose what the president sees as the politically motivated agenda behind Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

Trump’s outburst capped a week where Trump and senior White House officials personally reproached Attorney General Jeff Sessions and asked White House Chief of Staff John Kelly to speak to others — episodes that illustrate Trump’s preoccupation with the Justice Department, according to two of the people.

Trump warned Sessions and others they need to excel at their jobs or go down as the worst in history, the two people said.

The incidents — and the extraordinary level of Trump’s personal involvement with Justice Department officials on the matter — are the latest signs of the growing pressure on Trump as a federal investigation into him, his campaign and his administration stretches into its second year.

Text Messages

Trump met with Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray at the White House last Monday to discuss missing text messages sent between two FBI agents who had expressed anti-Trump views. One of the agents later left his investigation and Mueller removed the other after learning of the texts.

Kelly held separate meetings or phone calls with senior Justice Department officials last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to convey Trump’s displeasure and lecture them on the White House’s expectations, according to the people. Kelly has taken to ending such conversations with a disclaimer that the White House isn’t expecting officials to do anything illegal or unethical.

After Trump’s strong reaction on Air Force One over the Boyd letter, White House officials, including Kelly, sprang into action again, lashing Justice Department officials Thursday over the decision to send the letter, according to the people. Sarah Isgur Flores, director of public affairs at the Department of Justice, declined to comment.

Despite the president’s frustrations over the probe, Trump’s lawyers have been cooperating with Mueller and plan to continue working with him, but they are starting to push for him to wrap things up, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mueller is getting close to wrapping up a portion of his probe that is focusing on whether the president or his associates obstructed justice, although other parts of the investigation are expected to last at least several months longer, according to current and former U.S. officials.

McCabe Resignation

Several people close to Trump insist he isn’t preparing to fire Wray, Sessions or other senior officials. But the Justice Department’s decision to send the Boyd letter to the House Intelligence Committee last week has intensified Trump’s concern that his own department is undercutting him, several people familiar with the matter said.

The president is frustrated that Justice Department officials keep getting involved in issues related to the probe when they don’t need to, leading him to wonder if anyone was trying to protect people implicated in the Nunes memo, according to one person familiar with the matter.

Kelly called Sessions directly to complain about the letter, and several other White House officials chided officials at Justice as well. Sessions was also at the White House Monday for an immigration meeting and for a discussion Tuesday of the department’s goals for the coming months.

On Monday, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who has been blasted by Trump and other Republicans, stepped down and will be on leave until he retires sometime in the spring, a person familiar with the matter said. Republicans had criticized McCabe’s involvement in aspects of the Trump probe and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices, even though his wife had accepted donations from Democratic political organizations for an unsuccessful election bid in 2015.

Trump’s anger was exacerbated by reports last week that the president had wanted to fire Mueller last June. The New York Times reported Thursday that the pressure to fire Mueller was averted after White House counsel Don McGahn made clear he would resign before carrying out such an order.

Business Dispute

Two people familiar with the matter said the actual events were more complicated and that Trump never issued a formal order to fire Mueller. Trump was surprised by Mueller’s appointment, saying that he had previously had a business dispute with the special counsel, and reacted angrily until McGahn calmed him down.

The emergence of the Mueller firing story troubled White House aides, who said Trump had been showing more restraint in recent months at not making pronouncements or threats that would cross dangerous political lines in dealing with Mueller’s probe.

It also comes at a time when conservative media and Fox News have been doing blanket coverage of a Republican push to question the motives of FBI and Justice officials as part of a campaign to undermine the Mueller probe.

The House Intelligence Committee plans to vote Monday evening on whether to release its classified memo, which contains allegations of counterintelligence surveillance abuses against at least one Trump campaign aide. If the panel votes to release it, it would fall to the White House, perhaps with the advice of intelligence agencies, to decide whether some of the contents are too sensitive and need to be redacted.

Three House lawmakers who have read it said the memo claims FBI officials didn’t provide a complete set of facts in requests made to a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain a warrant or warrants on Carter Page, a Trump campaign associate.

The memo claims important details were left out that might have kept a judge from issuing a surveillance warrant, or possibly two, targeting Page, according to the lawmakers, who asked for anonymity to describe the sensitive document. Those include its claims that investigators were relying partly on an unverified dossier put together by an opposition research firm that hired a former British spy, Christopher Steele — work that was funded by Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, and Democrats.

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes and other Republicans have also blasted the FBI over thousands of text messages sent between the two anti-Trump FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who criticized Trump in their exchanges. Some Republicans were angered when the bureau said it had lost some of the texts before the Justice Department’s inspector general announced Thursday that the missing texts had been recovered with forensic tools.

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–With assistance from Shannon Pettypiece Chris Strohm and Billy House

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Joshua Gallu

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

US issues ‘Putin list’ of Russian politicians, oligarchs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration late Monday released a long-awaited list of 114 Russian politicians and 96 “oligarchs” who have flourished under President Vladimir Putin, fulfilling a demand by Congress that the U.S. punish Moscow for interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.

The political list is the entire presidential administration, as listed on the Kremlin website, and the Russian Cabinet, while the oligarchs list is a carbon copy of the top of the Forbes magazine’s Russian billionaires’ list. The publication of the so-called “Putin list” angered and dismayed many in Moscow.

Yet the administration paired that move with a surprising announcement that it had decided not to punish anybody — for now — under new sanctions retaliating for the election-meddling. Some U.S. lawmakers accused President Donald Trump of giving Russia a free pass, fueling further questions about whether the president is unwilling to confront Moscow.

The idea of the seven-page unclassified document, as envisioned by Congress, is to name-and-shame those believed to be benefiting from Putin’s tenure, just as the United States works to isolate his government diplomatically and economically.

Being on the list doesn’t trigger any U.S. sanctions on the individuals, although more than a dozen are already targeted under earlier sanctions.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is among the 114 senior political figures in Russia’s government who made the list, along with 42 of Putin’s aides, Cabinet ministers such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and top officials in Russia’s leading spy agencies, the FSB and GRU. The CEOs of major state-owned companies, including energy giant Rosneft and Sberbank, are also on the list.

So are 96 wealthy Russians deemed “oligarchs” by the Treasury Department, which said each is believed to have assets totaling $1 billion or more. Some are the most famous of wealthy Russians, among them tycoons Roman Abramovich and Mikhail Prokhorov, who challenged Putin in the 2012 election. Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a figure in the Russia investigation over his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, is included.

There are also odd ones out on the list, however, such as Sergei Galitsky, founder of retail chain Magnit, and Arkady Volozh, founder and CEO of the search engine Yandex. Both have been lauded as self-made men who built their successful businesses without any government support.

Even more names, including those of less-senior politicians or businesspeople worth less than $1 billion, are on a classified version of the list being provided to Congress, officials said. Drawing on U.S. intelligence, Treasury also finalized a list of at least partially state-owned companies in Russia, but that list, too, was classified and sent only to Congress.

Russian politicians have expressed dismay at finding that the list included the entire Russian government.

Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that he was not surprised to find his name on the list, too, saying that it “looks like a ‘who’s who’ book.” Dvorkovich stopped short of saying how Russia would react to it, saying that the government would “monitor the situation.”

In a Facebook post Tuesday, Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the Federation Council’s foreign affairs committee, said U.S. intelligence failed to find compromising material on Russian politicians and “ended up copying the Kremlin phone book.”

Kosachev criticized the U.S. government for harming Russia-U.S. relations, saying that “the consequences will be toxic and undermine prospects for cooperation for years ahead,” adding that the list displays “political paranoia” of the U.S. establishment.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who came to prominence thanks to his investigations into official corruption, tweeted on Tuesday that he was “glad that these (people) have been officially recognized on the international level as crooks and thieves.” Navalny in his investigations has exposed what he described as close ties between government officials and some of the billionaires on the list.

In the works for months, the list has induced fear among rich Russians who are concerned that it could lead to U.S. sanctions or to being informally blacklisted in the global financial system. It triggered a fierce lobbying campaign, with Russia hawks in Congress pushing the administration to include certain names and lobbyists hired by Russian businessmen urging the administration to keep their clients off.

The list’s release was likely to at least partially defuse the disappointment from some lawmakers that Trump’s administration opted against targeting anyone with new Russia sanctions that took effect Monday.

Under the same law that authorized the “Putin list,” the government was required to slap sanctions on anyone doing “significant” business with people linked to Russia’s defense and intelligence agencies, using a blacklist the U.S. released in October. But the administration decided it didn’t need to penalize anyone, even though several countries have had multibillion-dollar arms deals with Russia in the works.

State Department officials said the threat of sanctions had been deterrent enough, and that “sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed.”

“We estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions,” said State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert. She did not provide evidence or cite any examples.

Companies or foreign governments that had been doing business with blacklisted Russian entities had been given a three-month grace period to extricate themselves from transactions, starting in October when the blacklist was published and ending Monday. But only those engaged in “significant transactions” are to be punished, and the United States has never defined that term or given a dollar figure. That ambiguity has made it impossible for the public to know exactly what is and isn’t permissible.

New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, lambasted the move to punish no one, saying he was “fed up” and that Trump’s administration had chosen to “let Russia off the hook yet again.” He dismissed the State Department’s claim that “the mere threat of sanctions” would stop Moscow from further meddling in America’s elections.

“How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that’s already underway?” Engel said. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

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Vasilyeva reported from Moscow; Jill Colvin in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Business: Global shares sink after pullback on Wall Street

TOKYO (AP) — World shares skidded Tuesday following Wall Street’s biggest loss in more than four months.

KEEPING SCORE: The DAX in Germany lost 0.4 percent to 13,271.33 and the CAC 40 in France shed 0.3 percent to 5,506.27. Britain’s FTSE 100 gave up 0.4 percent to 7,642.05. S&P 500 futures fell 0.4 percent to 2,843.60 and Dow futures lost 0.6 percent to 26,280.00, auguring a downbeat start on Wall Street.

THE DAY IN ASIA: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1.4 percent to 23,291.97 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.1 percent to 32,607.29. South Korea’s Kospi sank 1.2 percent to 2,567.74. The Shanghai Composite index fell 0.8 percent to 3,488.01 and Australia’s S&P ASX 200 gave up 0.9 percent to 6,022.80. India’s Sensex lost 0.7 percent to 36,033.55. Shares also were lower in Taiwan, Singapore and Indonesia.

WALL STREET: The sell-off Monday was led by technology stocks, the biggest gainers in 2017, which accounted for much of the slide. Energy companies also fell as crude oil prices finished lower. Utilities and other rate-sensitive sectors declined as bond yields hit their highest level in almost four years. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.7 percent to 2,853.53 and the Dow Jones industrial average also dropped 0.7 percent, to 26,439.48. The Nasdaq composite lost 0.5 percent, to 7,466.51. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 0.6 percent to 1,598.11. Losers outnumbered gainers almost five-to-one on the New York Stock Exchange.

TRUMP: Also on investors’ radar: Tuesday night’s State of the Union address by President Donald Trump, and a two-day meeting of the Federal Reserve’s policymaking committee that wraps up Wednesday. “This is one of the few prepared speeches that the president will give, so the progress on NAFTA and trade with China is something the market is going to watch carefully,” said Mike Baele, senior portfolio manager at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.

JAPAN: Data for December released Tuesday showed the jobless rate rising to a still low 2.8 percent and retail sales coming in stronger than expected. But household spending and willingness to spend fell, underscoring the need for wage increases during the annual spring labor negotiations that are underway.

ANALYST’S VIEWPOINT: “There was always a worry that sentiment had got a little crazy, with a number of red flags around market euphoria being highlighted by traders and strategists,” Chris Weston of IG said in a commentary.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 64 cents to $64.92 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 58 cents, or about 1 percent, to settle at $65.56 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 40 cents to $68.80 a barrel. It fell $1.06, or 1.5 percent, to close at $69.46 per barrel on Monday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar, which fell sharply last week, declined to 108.64 yen from 108.96 yen late Monday. The euro rose to $1.2386 from $1.2383.

BITCOIN: The price of bitcoin fell 2.5 percent to $10,883.78 as of 0925 GMT, according to the tracking site CoinDesk. Bitcoin futures on the Cboe Futures Exchange fell 1.5 percent to $11,040.

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BEIJING (AP) — The head of an American business group said Tuesday that Chinese officials warned him “there will be retaliation” if President Donald Trump launches trade remedies in disputes over technology, steel and other issues.

The officials gave no details of what might trigger a response or what Beijing might do, said William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. Speaking at a news conference, he didn’t identify the officials and said they were talking about possible U.S. action broadly, not individual trade cases.

Trump has approved higher tariffs on Chinese aluminum, washing machines and other goods Washington says are dumped abroad at improperly low prices. U.S. authorities are investigating whether Beijing is harming American companies by pressuring them to hand over technology.

Zarit mentioned possible U.S. action on technology, steel and aluminum and said, “If that does go forward, I have been told by certain officials that yes, definitely, there will be retaliation.”

The Chinese commerce ministry said previously that Beijing will “resolutely defend” its interests if Trump authorizes penalties.

Another chamber official, Lester Ross, said the group was told Washington is preparing to announce results of its technology investigation after Trump delivers his “State of the Union” speech to Congress this week.

Chinese officials have accused Trump of jeopardizing the global trading system by taking action under U.S. law instead of through the World Trade Organization.

Potential Chinese retaliation might target areas such as U.S. exports of farm goods and aircraft, said Ross. He said Beijing also could launch anti-dumping or other investigations of American goods.

Automakers and other foreign companies in China usually are required to operate through local partners. That requires them to share technology and other business secrets with potential Chinese competitors.

Despite that, the Chinese technology minister, speaking at a Cabinet news conference on Tuesday, rejected suggestions companies are forced to give up technology.

“Today in China, it is absolutely impossible to demand forced transfer of technology by a foreign enterprise,” said Miao Wei. “Technology transfer follows the principle of voluntariness and market direction and is an independent choice made by the enterprise.”

American companies want to avoid a trade war but believe dialogue with Beijing has done little to produce a “fairer relationship based on reciprocal treatment,” said Zarit, the AmCham chairman.

“There is a sense that strictly just dialogue has not really brought much in terms of progress, so perhaps some pressure will help get us more progress to a more balanced economic commercial relationship,” said Zarit.

“The membership does understand that there needs to be some changes made here,” he said. “And to the extent that the changes will be the result of some pressure, then that’s what will happen.”

GOP senators call on Trump to show restraint in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Republican senators said Sunday that President Donald Trump would be wise to keep a public silence on an independent investigation into his 2016 campaign’s contacts with Russia in the wake of news reports that he sought to fire the special counsel.

The senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, also urged special counsel Robert Mueller to review whether Trump tried to fire him last June, an accusation the president has labeled “fake news.”

“Mueller is the best person to look at it,” said Graham, describing the allegation as grave if proved true. “I’m sure that there will be an investigation around whether or not President Trump did try to fire Mr. Mueller.”

Graham, co-sponsor of legislation that would protect Mueller from being fired without a legal basis, said he would be “glad to pass it tomorrow.” But he insisted that Mueller’s job appeared to be in no immediate danger, pointing to the political costs if Trump did remove him.

“It’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller,” he said.

Collins said it would certainly “not hurt” for Congress to approve added protections for Mueller given the recent media reports. But she didn’t offer a timeline.

“I think the president would be best served by never discussing the investigation, ever, whether in tweets, except in private conversations with his attorney,” she said.

The New York Times and other outlets reported that Trump backed off his attempt to fire Mueller last June only after White House lawyer Don McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Trump pressed the issue.

According to the reports, Trump argued that Mueller could not be fair because of a dispute over golf club fees that he said Mueller owed at a Trump golf club in Sterling, Virginia. The president also believed Mueller had a conflict of interest because he worked for the same law firm that was representing Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.

On Sunday, lawmakers praised Mueller’s impartiality and expressed confidence that he would be able to conduct a full, wide-ranging investigation.

“I have complete confidence in Mr. Mueller,” Graham said. “I haven’t yet seen any evidence of collusion between President Trump and the Russians, but the investigation needs to go forward without political interference, and I’m sure it will.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer indicated that Democrats would try to add legislation to protect Mueller as part of an upcoming spending bill.

“The most important thing Congress can do right now is to ensure that special counsel Mueller’s investigation continues uninterrupted and unimpeded,” the New York senator said in a statement Sunday. “No one – whether it be Administration officials, Republicans or the president himself – should get in the way and undermine the investigation, and so Democrats will seek to add protections for Mueller in the ongoing budget negotiations.”

Defending the president, White House legislative director Marc Short said he didn’t know if Trump would sign legislation that would make it harder to fire Mueller. But Short stressed that despite media reports, he was not aware of any conversation in which Trump expressed a desire to fire Mueller.

“I know that the president has been frustrated by this investigation,” Short said. “He feels like there’s been millions of dollars of taxpayers’ dollars spent and no evidence yet of collusion. …The White House continues to cooperate in every manner providing any document the special counsel has asked for.”

Short added that Trump favors releasing a classified memo produced by the House Intelligence Committee that Republicans say alleges FBI misconduct. Trump’s position is in contrast to that of the Justice Department, which has warned that the memo’s public release could be “extraordinarily reckless” and has asked to review it.

Some lawmakers said the memo’s review instead should be done by impartial third parties “outside of the Republican-led Congress.”

“I want somebody who is without a political bias to come in and look at the allegations that I have seen,” Graham said.

Graham spoke on ABC’s “This Week,” Collins appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” and Short was on “Fox News Sunday” and CBS.

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Associated Press writer Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

Many Puerto Ricans adrift in US hotels after Hurricane Maria

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NEW YORK (AP) — After they lost their home in Puerto Rico to flooding during Hurricane Maria, Enghie Melendez fled with her family to the U.S. mainland with three suitcases and the hope it wouldn’t take long to rebuild their lives. It hasn’t worked out that way.

More than four months later, the family of five is squeezed into two rooms in a hotel in Brooklyn. While her husband looks for work, they are stuck in limbo, eating off paper plates and stepping over clothes in cramped quarters as they try to get settled in an unfamiliar city.

“After the hurricane hit we told the kids that every day was going to be an adventure, but not like this,” said the 43-year-old Melendez. “This is turning out to be really hard.”

Around the U.S., many Puerto Ricans are similarly adrift in hotels because of the Sept. 20 hurricane. The move north spared them from the misery of the storm’s aftermath on the island. But the transition has often proved to be difficult, disruptive and expensive as people try to find housing, jobs, schools and even furniture and clothes to start fresh on the mainland.

Melendez and her family shuffled between staying with relatives to a homeless shelter to a small hotel in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, forcing her to change schools for her three daughters in the middle of the semester.

More than four months after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, many Puerto Ricans continue to stay in FEMA-funded hotel rooms across the U.S. mainland. Many are struggling to find work, and cope with life in a new culture. (Jan. 29)

“The instability is terrible,” she said as her husband, who worked as a cook at an Army base near San Juan, used a glass bottle to mash plantains to make a traditional Puerto Rican dish.

Adding to the worries for large numbers of Puerto Ricans is that hotel reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have started to run out and many say they can’t afford temporary housing without assistance.

“It’s stressful,” said Yalitza Rodriguez, a 35-year-old from the southern Puerto Rico town of Yauco who has been staying at a hotel in Queens with her elderly mother and husband while he looks for work. “If we don’t get an extension we will have nowhere to live.”

Maria destroyed between 70,000 and 75,000 homes and damaged an additional 300,000, said Leticia Jover, a spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s Housing Department. The effects of the storm included the widespread loss of power, which is still not restored in some places. Many businesses closed. The result has been an exodus to the mainland.

The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College estimated in an October study that between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Ricans would move to the U.S. mainland over the next 12 months. Most were expected to settle in Florida, followed by Pennsylvania, Texas and New York.

FEMA says there are nearly 4,000 families, more than 10,000 people, receiving hotel assistance from the agency in 42 states because their homes in Puerto Rico are too damaged to occupy. The agency has set March 20 as a deadline for the program to end overall but all cases are reviewed for eligibility every 30 days. It’s impossible to know how many are in temporary housing without any aid or staying with families.

Leslie Rivera, from the central town of Caguas, has been shuffling among hotels in Tampa, Florida, since December with her three kids, ages 13, 10 and 2. She was approved for subsidized housing and expects to be settled soon but it has been difficult.

“I feel like I am on the streets because I have no clothes. I have nothing for my kids,” the 35-year-old said with tears in her eyes.

Marytza Sanz, president of Latino Leadership Orlando, which has been helping displaced families, said many don’t know where they will go after FEMA stops paying for their rooms.

“There are people with five dollars in their pockets,” she said. “They can’t buy detergent, deodorant, medicine.”

In Kissimmee, in central Florida, Desiree Torres feels nervous. She has spent more than two months in a hotel with her three children. She says she can’t find a job and several local shelters have told her there is no space for her and her children.

“I can’t sleep at night,” said the 30-year-old Torres, who lost her home in Las Piedras, a southeastern town near where the eye of the storm first crossed the island. “I’m worried about my kids.”

After the hurricane, Melendez and her family were forced to sleep for more than three weeks in their garage because of flooding and sewage that entered the home. They left their four dogs with a friend and managed to get on a humanitarian flight. They spent 10 days at Melendez’s father-in-law’s Manhattan apartment and a month and a half in a Brooklyn shelter. A Puerto Rican activist helped them enter the hotel.

“My kids were in a Manhattan school. We would wake up before 5 a.m. at the shelter to take them there. Now they are in a Brooklyn school,” she said. “Where will they be tomorrow?”

For now, they survive on a $1,700 monthly disability payment that Melendez receives along with about $300 a month in food stamps.

Her 16-year-old daughter, Enghiemar, does her homework on the floor of the hotel room and tries to keep in touch with friends back home by text.

“I always wanted to come and live here,” she said. “But not like this.”

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Associated Press writers Gisela Salomon in Miami and Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida, contributed to this report.

Secret Memo Hints at a New Republican Target: Rod Rosenstein

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —   WASHINGTON — A secret, highly contentious Republican memo reveals that Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein approved an application to extend surveillance of a former Trump campaign associate shortly after taking office last spring, according to three people familiar with it.

The renewal shows that the Justice Department under President Trump saw reason to believe that the associate, Carter Page, was acting as a Russian agent. But the reference to Mr. Rosenstein’s actions in the memo — a much-disputed document that paints the investigation into Russian election meddling as tainted from the start — indicates that Republicans may be moving to seize on his role as they seek to undermine the inquiry.

The memo’s primary contention is that F.B.I. and Justice Department officials failed to adequately explain to an intelligence court judge in initially seeking a warrant for surveillance of Mr. Page that they were relying in part on research by an investigator, Christopher Steele, that had been financed by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Democrats who have read the document say Republicans have cherry-picked facts to create a misleading and dangerous narrative. But in their efforts to discredit the inquiry, Republicans could potentially use Mr. Rosenstein’s decision to approve the renewal to suggest that he failed to properly vet a highly sensitive application for a warrant to spy on Mr. Page, who served as a Trump foreign policy adviser until September 2016.

A handful of senior Justice Department officials can approve an application to the secret surveillance court, but in practice that responsibility often falls to the deputy attorney general. No information has publicly emerged that the Justice Department or the F.B.I. did anything improper while seeking the surveillance warrant involving Mr. Page.

Mr. Trump has long been mistrustful of Mr. Rosenstein, the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, who appointed the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and now oversees his investigation into Mr. Trump’s campaign and possible obstruction of justice by the president. Mr. Trump considered firing Mr. Rosenstein last summer. Instead, he ordered Mr. Mueller to be fired, then backed down after the White House counsel refused to carry out the order, The New York Times reported last week.

Mr. Trump is now again telling associates that he is frustrated with Mr. Rosenstein, according to one official familiar with the conversations.

It is difficult to judge whether Republicans’ criticism of the surveillance has merit. Although House members have been allowed to view the Republican memo in a secure setting, both that memo and a Democratic one in rebuttal remain shrouded in secrecy. And the applications to obtain and renew the warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are even more closely held. Only a small handful of members of Congress and staff members have reviewed them.

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, whose staff wrote the memo, could vote as early as Monday, using an obscure House rule, to declassify its contents and make it available to the public. Mr. Trump would have five days to try to block their effort, potentially setting up a high-stakes standoff between the president and his Justice Department, which opposes its immediate release.

The White House has made clear to the Justice Department in recent days that it wants the Republican memo to be made public. Asked about the issue on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Marc Short, the White House’s head of legislative affairs, said that if the memo outlined serious concerns, “the American people should know that.”

But Stephen E. Boyd, an assistant attorney general, warned in a letter last week to the committee’s chairman, Representative Devin Nunes of California, that it would be “extraordinarily reckless” to release a memo drawing on classified information without official review and pleaded with the committee to consult the Justice Department. He said the department was “unaware of any wrongdoing related to the FISA process.”

To obtain the warrant involving Mr. Page, the government needed to show probable cause that he was acting as an agent of Russia. Once investigators get approval from the Justice Department for a warrant, prosecutors take it to a surveillance court judge, who decides whether to approve it.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment, and a spokesman for Mr. Nunes did not reply to requests for comment. The people familiar with the contents of the memo spoke on the condition of anonymity because the details remained secret.

A White House spokesman, Hogan Gidley, said in a statement: “The president has been clear publicly and privately that he wants absolute transparency throughout this process. Based on numerous news reports, top officials at the F.B.I. have engaged in conduct that shows bias against President Trump and bias for Hillary Clinton. While President Trump has the utmost respect and support for the rank-and-file members of the F.B.I., the anti-Trump bias at the top levels that appear to have existed is troubling.”

Mr. Page, a former Moscow-based investment banker who later founded an investment company in New York, had been on the F.B.I.’s radar for years. In 2013, an investigation revealed that a Russian spy had tried to recruit him. Mr. Page was never charged with any wrongdoing, and he denied that he would ever have cooperated with Russian intelligence officials.

But a trip Mr. Page took to Russia in July 2016 while working on Mr. Trump’s campaign caught the bureau’s attention again, and American law enforcement officials began conducting surveillance on him in the fall of 2016, shortly after he left the campaign. It is unclear what they learned about Mr. Page between then and when they sought the order’s renewal roughly six months later. It is also unknown whether the surveillance court granted the extension.

The renewal effort came in the late spring, sometime after the Senate confirmed Mr. Rosenstein as the Justice Department’s No. 2 official in late April. Around that time, following Mr. Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as F.B.I. director in May, Mr. Rosenstein appointed Mr. Mueller, a former head of the bureau, to take over the department’s Russia investigation. Mr. Rosenstein is overseeing the inquiry because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself.

Sean Hannity, the Fox News host, who is close to Mr. Trump and House Republicans, signaled interest in Mr. Rosenstein this month as news of the memo’s existence first circulated, asking on air if Mr. Rosenstein had played a role in extending the surveillance. “I’m very interested about Rod Rosenstein in all of this,” he said.

In a speech on Friday in Norfolk, Va., Mr. Sessions appeared to wade into the debate. Without mentioning the Republican memo, he said that federal investigations must be free of bias, and that he would not condone “a culture of defensiveness.” While unfair criticism should be rebutted, he added, “it can never be that this department conceals errors when they occur.”

11 Afghan troops die in IS attack on Kabul military academy

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Islamic State militants attacked Afghan soldiers guarding a military academy in the capital of Kabul on Monday, killing at least 11 troops and wounding 16.

The attack was the latest in a wave of relentless violence in Kabul this month unleashed by the Taliban and the rival Islamic State group that has killed scores and left hundreds wounded.

Monday’s attack started around 4 a.m., witnesses said, and fighting continued long after daybreak.

A suicide bomber first struck the military unit responsible for providing security for the academy, followed by a gunbattle with the troops, said Dawlat Waziri, spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry.

At least five insurgents were involved in the morning assault, according to Waziri. Two of the attackers were killed in the gunbattle, two detonated their suicide vests and one was arrested by the troops, he said.

All roads leading to the military academy were blocked by police, which only allowed ambulances access to the site to transfer the wounded to hospitals.

After the gunbattle ended, the security forces resumed control of the area. They also confiscated one suicide vest, an AK-47 and some ammunition, Waziri said.

Waziri earlier said that five soldiers were killed but later raised the death toll to 11. He insisted, however that “the attack was against an army unit providing security for the academy and not the academy itself.”

Afzal Aman, commander of the city’s military garrison, confirmed the attack in the area of the Marshal Fahim academy. Hashmat Faqeri, a resident near the site, told The Associated Press he heard sounds of explosions and a gunbattle.

Hours later, the Islamic State group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, known as Khorasan Province, posted its claim of responsibility on the website of its media arm, the Aamaq news agency, saying its fighters targeted the “military academy in Kabul.”

Neighboring Pakistan condemned Monday’s attack. Islamabad said it “reiterates its strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, especially the series of heinous attacks within the last week in Afghanistan.”

The academy, known as Marshal Fahim National Defense University located on the edge of Kabul at the Camp Qargha military base, is sometimes also called “Sandhurst in the Sand” — a reference to the British academy. Named after Mohammed Fahim, the country’s late vice-president and a military commander of the Northern Alliance that fought the Taliban, the academy was inaugurated in 2013 after British forces oversaw building the officers’ school and its training program.

The academy was also the site where the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be lost in the Afghan and Iraqi wars was killed in August 2014. Army Maj Gen. Harold J. Greene, then deputy commander of the transition force in the country, was shot and killed by an Afghan soldiers in a so-called “insider attack” that was later claimed by the Taliban.

The same academy was also attacked in October last year by a suicide bomber who killed 15 officers. The attacker was on foot and detonated his suicide vest as the on-duty officers were leaving the facility, heading home in the evening. That attack was also claimed by the Taliban.

President Ashraf Ghani denounced the attack, saying the “Taliban must choose between Islam and terrorism.”

“We appreciate the sympathies extended to us by our international partner nations,” Ghani said, speaking a press conference in Kabul alongside visiting Indonesian president, Joko “Jokowi” Widodo. “Thank you for standing with us.”

Both the Taliban and IS have stepped up attacks in recent months in Kabul and elsewhere across Afghanistan, including massive bombings staged by militants determined to inflict maximum casualties, instill terror in the population and undermine confidence in Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government and the country’s security forces.

On Saturday, a Taliban attacker drove an ambulance filled with explosives into the heart of the city, killing at least 103 people and wounding as many as 235.

Interior Minister Wais Ahmad Barmak said Sunday that the investigation into the attack indicated that a second ambulance was also involved but had left the area, indicating some would-be attackers may have escaped.

The Taliban claimed the ambulance attack, as well as an attack a week earlier in which militants stormed a hilltop hotel in Kabul, the Intercontinental, killing 22 people, including 14 foreigners, and setting off a 13-hour battle with security forces.

Masoom Stanekzai, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence service, said five suspects have been arrested for their involvement in the hotel attack. A sixth suspect had fled the country, he said.

He also said that four people have been arrested in connection with Saturday’s ambulance attack.

The recent brutal attacks have underscored the weaknesses of Afghan security forces, more than 16 years after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban, and raise questions about President Donald Trump’s strategy for winning America’s longest war.

The Taliban have been waging an insurgency since they were driven from power by U.S. and Afghan forces after the Sept. 11 attacks. In recent years, they have seized districts across the country and carried out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting Afghan security forces and the U.S.-backed government.

The Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan emerged in 2014, as the U.S. and NATO were winding down their combat mission and around the time that IS declared its self-styled Islamic caliphate, headquartered in Syria and Iraq. Its followers have clashed with both Afghan forces and the Taliban.

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Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo and Patrick Quinn in Beirut contributed to this report.

Entertainment: Bruno Mars crashes rap’s big party at the Grammys

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Grammy Awards seemed poised to make this a triumphant year for rap at music’s showcase event — until Bruno Mars crashed the party.

The song-and-dance man from Hawaii won all six awards he was nominated for on Sunday night, including the three most prestigious Grammys for song (“That’s What I Like”), record (“24K Magic”) and album of the year. His music also dominated the rhythm and blues categories.

The Grammys on Sunday also saw Kendrick Lamar win five awards, Jay-Z go home empty-handed, some memorable performances by the likes of Lamar, Kesha, Mars and Logic, an odd oversight of singer Lorde and a surprise cameo from Hillary Clinton.

In accepting a trophy for the album “24K Magic,” Mars recalled when he was 15 years old and singing shows for tourists. He’d perform hits written by Babyface, Teddy Riley and Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and loved looking down from the stage to see people from all over the world who had never met dancing together and toasting one another.

“All I ever wanted to do with this album was that,” he said. “These songs were written with nothing but joy.”

Mars has won 11 Grammys in his career.

Bruno Mars owned the Grammys with his R&B-inspired album “24K Magic,” winning all six awards he was nominated for at a show where hip-hop was expected to have a historical night. (Jan. 28)

His success, however, instantly became a target for second-guessers, similar to people befuddled last year when Adele won album of the year over Beyonce. Social media filled with commentary about whether Lamar’s hard-hitting disc “DAMN” was more deserving. One meme that spread on Twitter showed Houston Rocket James Harden rolling his eyes in supposed “reaction” to the news.

Beyond being a critical favorite, Lamar seemed primed to be the evening’s star. He opened the Grammys with a hard-hitting medley that depicted black dancers falling to the floor to symbolize being shot, and won the night’s first televised award. His work swept the rap categories, the prime factor in the night’s most-nominated artist, Jay-Z, winning nothing.

Lamar paid tribute to Jay-Z (“Jay-Z for president,” he said with a smile) and other forebears in accepting a Grammy.

“I thought it was about the accolades and the cars and the clothes,” he said. “But it really is about expressing yourself and putting that paint on the canvas for the world to evolve for the next listener, the next generation after that. Hip-hop has done that for me.”

Clinton’s appearance was the punch line for a skit where host James Corden pretended to cast celebrities for what he thought would be a sure-fire Grammy contender for spoken world performance next year, reading from Michael Wolff’s best-seller about the Trump admininistration, “Fire and Fury.” Cher, John Legend and Snoop Dogg left him frustrated, but then Clinton lowered a copy of the opened book in front of her face to reveal herself.

The attempt at humor wasn’t a hit with everyone: President Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tweeted that the skit ruined the show for her.

Most of the show’s political references — to topics like gun violence, immigration reform and women’s rights — were carefully scripted.

Kesha was joined by Cyndi Lauper, Camila Cabello, Julia Michaels, Andra Day and others in a performance of her Grammy-nominated song “Praying,” which is about fighting back from abuse. Singer Janelle Monae introduced Kesha and tied the appearance to the current flood of women speaking up about sexual misconduct. Dozens of artists and music industry players also sported white roses in support of the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements against sexual abuse and harassment.

“We come in peace but we mean business. To those who would dare try to silence us, we offer two words: Time’s Up,” Monae said. “It’s not just going on in Hollywood. It’s not just going on in Washington. It’s here in our industry, too.”

The show also featured a somber performance of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” by country artists Maren, Eric Church and the Osborne Brothers. All were on the bill for the Las Vegas show in October that was torn apart by a mass shooter.

Social media was curious about the seeming snub of album of the year nominee Lorde. She wasn’t among the night’s performers, even as classic rockers Sting and U2 made multiple appearances.

“It’s hard to have a balanced show and have everybody involved,” producer Ken Ehrlich said backstage. “Every year’s different. We can’t have a performance from every nominee.”

The Grammys were also a clear example of rock ‘n’ roll’s decline as a creative force. No rock awards were given during the televised portion of the Grammys. Sting sang a 30-year-old hit and the majority of rock’s references were about artists who had died like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Tom Petty.

The Rolling Stones, once judged rock’s kingpins, won the third Grammy of their career — for best traditional blues recording.

Alessia Cara won the Grammy for best new artist, and remembered the time when she would “win” Grammys in her dreams while singing in the shower.

Chris Stapleton won three Grammys in country categories. Other multiple winners included Ed Sheeran, CeCe Winans, Justin Hurwitz and Jason Isbell.

The late Leonard Cohen won a Grammy for his performance of “You Want it Darker.” Actress Carrie Fisher and sound engineer Tom Coyne were other posthumous winners.

As it has in recent years, the Grammys downplayed the awards for performances by the industry’s biggest stars. Highlights included Mars and Cardi B dueting on “Finesse”; Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller on “Wild Thoughts”; and Patti Lupone’s Broadway classic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.”

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Associated Press correspondents Mesfin Fekadu and Jake Coyle contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.grammy.com

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For full coverage of awards season, visit: https://apnews.com/tag/AwardsSeason

Business: European shares rise, Asian stocks mixed after upbeat open

TOKYO (AP) — European indexes were mostly higher in early Monday trading although some Asian markets ceded initial gains from upbeat openings that tracked Friday’s rally on Wall Street.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 was higher in early trading at 5,534.64, up 0.1 percent. Germany’s DAX was up 0.1 percent to 13,358.49. Britain’s FTSE 100 added nearly 0.1 percent to 7,671.82. U.S. shares appeared set to be mixed, with Dow futures up 0.1 percent at 26,630, while S&P 500 futures inched down less than 0.1 percent at 2,873.10.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 finished flat at 23,629.34 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index lost 0.6 percent to 32,966.89. The Shanghai Composite index lost nearly 1.0 percent to 3,523.00. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.9 percent to 2,598.19 and the S&P ASX/200 in Australia added 0.4 percent to 6,075.40. Shares rose in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand but fell in Indonesia.

ANALYST’S VIEWPOINT: The Wall Street rally last week helped give markets some momentum, but “a data packed week and stock reporting seasons around the globe should see market focus turn to the numbers. A weakening U.S. dollar may prove a brake on any investor exuberance,” Michael McCarthy of CMC Markets said in a commentary.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 108.96 yen from 109.26 late Friday in Asia. The euro fell to $1.2397 from $1.2443.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 17 cents to $66.31 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It rose 63 cents, or 1 percent, to $66.14 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, dropped 57 cents to $69.95 per barrel.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

Trump’s flirtation with firing Mueller inspires new demands from Democrats to protect the special counsel

(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)    —   Congressional Democrats on Friday demanded that lawmakers act to protect special counsel Robert S. Mueller III after revelations President Trump sought to oust him last summer from overseeing the probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Several Democrats and one moderate Republican called for votes on Senate legislation that would prevent presidents from firing special counsels unless a panel of three federal judges agreed with the move, citing the revelations that Trump came close to pushing out Mueller last June. The president backed off only after White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to quit, according to two people familiar with the episode.

Republican leaders show no new urgency to address the matter, saying that the president’s threats are isolated and in the past.

“If these latest reports are true, it seems to me that they show the president listened to good advice from his advisers,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who chairs the Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over any special-counsel bill, said Friday. “Based on his statements from the last couple weeks, he and his lawyers appear to be cooperating with Mueller.”

Sens. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), responding to rumors in the summer that Trump might fire Mueller, each advanced legislation that would involve a panel of federal judges in any decision to end a special counsel’s tenure. Graham’s bill, co-written by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and other Democrats, would require a three-judge panel to approve a presidential order to fire a special counsel. Tillis’s bill, written with Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), would allow a fired special counsel to appeal the president’s decision to a panel of judges, to avoid trampling the president’s executive authority.

Lawmakers have thus far not been able to reconcile the two bills and satisfy Grassley, who says he has “constitutional concerns” with the legislation and will address only one bill in committee.

Moderate Republican Rep. Charlie Dent (Pa.) predicted that the news that McGahn “prevented an Archibald Cox moment” — a reference to the prosecutor whose firing President Richard Nixon ordered during the Watergate scandal — would increase pressure to “protect Mueller.” But Republicans remain unruffled even as the president is expected to be interviewed by Mueller’s team.

“The timeline is critical here,” Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said Friday, noting that Trump sought to fire Mueller in June and the bills were introduced in August. Since their introduction, Keylin said, “the chatter that the administration is considering removing special counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt.”

Democrats, frustrated by what they see as Republican recalcitrance, openly accuse the GOP of abetting an all-out assault on the special counsel and the federal law enforcement agencies assisting him.

“Republicans in Congress have been co-opted into participating and amplifying these attacks” against the Justice Department and the FBI, said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The GOP, he added, is complicit in “sham investigations” of Trump’s former political opponent Hillary Clinton to distract from the inquiries into the president’s alleged ties to Russia.

Republican lawmakers are examining how the FBI and Justice Department handled their investigations of Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. They also question the veracity of a now-famous dossier — financed in part by the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee — that suggested Trump had personal and financial ties to the Kremlin. Late Friday, Grassley and Graham released letters to both Democratic organizations and their top officials demanding information and documents about how the dossier was compiled.

Republicans say their scrutiny is appropriate and does not undermine Mueller’s probe.

This week’s revelations about Trump’s attempt to oust Mueller, first reported by the New York Times, came as the special counsel has been deepening his investigation into potential obstruction of justice, according to people who have interacted with his team. Asked about the report Friday at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump declared it “fake news.”

It would be natural for Mueller to investigate an effort to oust him as special counsel, said Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the criminal justice think tank the R Street Institute, who was a member of the team led by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Obstruction-of-justice cases turn on motive, he said. To prove a criminal case, a prosecutor must demonstrate that a defendant took action to disrupt a criminal probe with a corrupt motive, generally to hide criminal activity. Rosenzweig said that Mueller could use Trump’s attempt to remove the special counsel as part of an obstruction case, particularly if it appeared that the reasons Trump tried to cite were a pretext for disrupting the investigation.

“A way of analyzing it is to assess the strength or weakness of the professed reasons to fire him. If they, on reflection, seem moderately legitimate, well, the president should fire someone who has a conflict of interest.” On the other hand, Rosenzweig said, if the reasons were “pretextual,” an obstruction case would have more merit. “It would appear more in the nature of a conscious . . . effort to frustrate an investigation of [the president’s] own misconduct,” he said.

Rosenzweig said the whole issue could be moot, however, given that Mueller is likely to feel bound by Justice Department legal findings that the president cannot be criminally indicted. Instead, Mueller could file a full accounting of Trump’s actions in a report to Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who would have to decide whether to make the report public or transmit it to Congress. It would be for Congress to decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings and what legal standards would govern whether the president had committed impeachable offenses.

Democratic leaders in Congress have shied from discussing whether they should try to impeach Trump, which would first require Democrats to assume the majority in the House. Those involved in negotiations over bills to protect the special counsel, including Coons and Booker, say they just want a vote.

The bill’s authors agree that getting around separation-of-powers concerns requires a 10-day delay before any presidential order to fire the special counsel would take effect. In that time, a fired special counsel could fight the decision before a panel of judges. But senators remained concerned that a court could act unilaterally to extend that timeline, preventing a president with legitimate complaints from acting swiftly.

Democrats, for now, seem less concerned with future presidents’ autonomy than with checking Trump vis-à-vis Mueller.

“If he fires Bob Mueller,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, “I expect Congress won’t stand for it and will take action.”

Trump turns Russia frustration to Rosenstein

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(PhatzNewsRoom / CNN)   —    Months after his reported effort to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, President Donald Trump is still fuming over the Russia investigation and has Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in his crosshairs.

The President has been venting about Rosenstein — who oversees Mueller and the special counsel investigation — in recent weeks, according to four sources familiar with the situation. At times, Trump even gripes about wanting Rosenstein removed, two of those sources said. One source said the President makes comments like “let’s fire him, let’s get rid of him” before his advisers convince him it’s an ill-fated idea.

Trump’s first year in office has been marked by his preoccupation with an investigation he has dubbed a “witch hunt” and his reported efforts to bring it to a swift conclusion.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, Trump took the dramatic step of firing FBI Director James Comey — but only after asking him for a pledge of loyalty and to back off the FBI investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey.

The move led to the appointment of a special counsel in May 2017, a development that continues to infuriate the President. While Trump often directed that anger at Sessions, by June he turned his ire to Mueller and wanted the special counsel fired, a source confirmed to CNN after it was first reported in The New York Times. White House counsel Don McGahn refused to order the Justice Department to fire Mueller, the source said, because he disagreed with the President’s reasoning.

Trump appeared in good spirits Friday morning as he prepared to deliver remarks in Davos, a source who spent time with Trump behind the scenes said. There was no sign that he was perturbed by reports about his move to fire Mueller, this person said, and Trump didn’t bring up the topic.

But ever since a special counsel was named, the President’s frustrations have continued to simmer. Trump has come to view Rosenstein as one-in-the-same as Mueller — another government official who is out to get the President, one source said.

Sources described Trump’s frustration with Rosenstein as largely bluster.

“When this comes up — everyone says, ‘That’s the death march. That’s not going to accomplish anything,'” said one source familiar with the situation.

Asked for comment, White House special counsel Ty Cobb said in a statement, “We do not find it to be a coincidence that there is an onslaught of false stories circulating in what appears to be a coordinated effort to distract and deflect from new revelations about already reported bias and corruption. We continue to cooperate with the Special counsel and out of respect for that process will not weigh in further.”

The Department of Justice declined to comment.

Mueller’s office has zeroed in on decisions that seemed to dominate so much of the President’s thinking in his first year in office: the firings of Flynn and Comey, as well as any pressure he may have exerted on Sessions.

The President’s motives in these situations aren’t always entirely transparent.

One source said that, back in June, the President and his attorneys had multiple discussions about whether they should make an issue of Mueller’s conflicts. The source disputed that Trump had ordered Mueller to be fired.

In explaining his urge to fire Mueller, The Times, citing two people, said the President said there was a conflict of interest based on Mueller’s dispute with one of his golf clubs over fees, the fact that Mueller worked at the same law firm that was representing Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and that Mueller interviewed for the FBI director position the day before he was named special counsel. A source tells CNN another reason Trump wanted to fire Mueller was his perception that Mueller was close friends with Comey. The two men are professional acquaintances.

As for McGahn, he was already prone to becoming frustrated with the President and had threatened to quit over different issues, including Trump’s choice of lawyers to defend the President and White House, according to a source familiar with the situation. But the pressure in June to fire Mueller caused McGahn to tell others he would resign, and this time he packed up some of his belongings in boxes, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Before the news broke Thursday, those who have worked closely with McGahn in recent weeks said they believe he’s committed to staying at the White House. But his fate could depend on how Trump reacts upon his return to Washington.

Next week, the special counsel’s team is set to question former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon about the Flynn and Comey firings, people familiar with the investigation said.

It was a topic that several White House officials have been asked about. The questions “covered the waterfront” ranging from the campaign, connections to Russians, and the meeting at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club where the decision to fire Comey was made, one person familiar with one witness’ testimony said.

“They’re really digging into the Comey obstruction piece,” this person said.

Sources familiar with the matter told CNN that Mueller had provided Trump’s lawyers with possible interview topics including Trump allegedly asking Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn and Trump’s outreach to leaders of the intelligence community about the Russia investigation.

The new information about Trump’s desire to fire Mueller — which the President deemed “fake news” on Friday — puts his team on a collision course with the special counsel as the two are in talks about the President being interviewed.

Trump told reporters Wednesday he was “looking forward” to an interview with Mueller and would do it under oath. “There has been no collusion whatsoever. There’s no obstruction whatsoever,” he said. He mockingly told reporters, “You fight back, oh, it’s obstruction.”

White House lawyers quickly walked that back with one attorney, Cobb, saying the President “spoke hurriedly and intended only to say that he was willing to meet.”

John Dowd, the President’s personal lawyer, struck a stronger note Thursday, saying, “I will make the decision on whether the President talks to the special counsel. I have not made any decision yet.”

It’s unclear how the latest revelations will play out politically and legally. If Trump’s legal team decides to not agree to an interview, Mueller’s team could subpoena his testimony before a grand jury, which could set up a court battle.

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CNN’s Gloria Borger, Katelyn Polantz and Ariane de Vogue contributed to this story.

Sessions: Justice Department may be fair game for criticism

(PhatzNewsRoom / HuffPost)  — ― With his Justice Department and FBI facing broad attacks from some of his former colleagues on Capitol Hill, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said on Friday that he’ll stand up to any “unfair” attacks on the men and women of the Justice Department he now oversees.

Sessions, in a speech in Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday, mentioned the “sharp criticisms” of DOJ coming from Congress. He said the Justice Department demands “the highest level of integrity, ethics, and professionalism from every person” in it, and that all employees are expected to “advance the mission of the Department honorably” in the service of the American people.

“If anyone falls short of these high standards, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action, and we will do so in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Department,” Sessions said. “And, while we are open to fair criticism, we will of course defend our investigators and prosecutors from criticism that is unfair.”

Such criticism has recently been coming from within Sessions’ own party. As they’ve sought to protect President Donald Trump from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, some Republicans on Capitol Hill have made broad attacks on the FBI’s integrity. They’ve suggested there’s a “deep state” operation against Trump, and that there was a “secret society” working within the FBI to stop him from ever taking office. After reading a secret memo authored by Republican staffers, members of Congress claimed to know about “absolutely shocking,” “sickening” and “jaw-dropping” information that was “worse than Watergate” and comparable to the actions of the KGB.

The comments from members of his party ― and from his own boss ― have put Sessions in a tricky spot. He has a delicate relationship with the president, who blames him for the existence of the probe threatening his administration and members of his family.

“He has his own detractor, and that detractor is the president of the United States,” Ron Hosko, a former FBI official, told HuffPost before Sessions’ speech. “He probably senses that he’s at risk, because of the recusal [from the Russia probe] and because of the deference to [Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein and the subsequent appointment of Bob Mueller. That’s stuck in Donald Trump’s craw, period.”

Hosko, now part of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, praised Sessions’ work on law enforcement issues. But he said he wished the attorney general would step out in the bureau’s defense.

“Sessions is at risk. How quickly does he step up to back the men and women of the FBI while this scandal ― which is what it is ― kind of plays itself out?” Hosko said, prior to Sessions’ remarks on Friday. “I would certainly love it if the attorney general steps up and says, ‘Hey, look, let’s keep in mind there are 30-some thousand FBI employees who are out there defending our freedom and protecting Americans every day. We’ve got to keep that in mind as we work our way through this.’”

In his speech, Sessions said he loves the Justice Department and the “great people” who work there. “The vast majority are dedicated, hardworking, patriotic Americans. It’s an honor to serve with them,” he said.

A Justice Department official told HuffPost that Sessions’ comments on the criticism DOJ has been facing were added to his speech in recent days.

Sessions said his goal was “absolutely eliminating political bias or favoritism ― in either direction ― from our investigations and prosecutions,” saying that is the “antithesis of what the Department stands for, and I won’t tolerate it.”

Sessions said the best way to respond to criticism is for DOJ to “hear the concerns, and act on them professionally, fairly and completely, in order to maintain the public’s trust in their government.”

He also said the department should work on “identifying mistakes of the past, and correcting them for the future,” and should address problems “head on” instead of “sweeping them under the rug.”

Criticism from Congress, Sessions said, isn’t a bad thing.

“We welcome Congress as a partner in this effort,” he said. “When they learn of a problem and start asking questions, that is a good thing. Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant. Truth produces confidence.”

Sessions has not confirmed that he offered his resignation to Trump. His Justice Department has refused to confirm or deny the existence of his reported resignation letter, claiming that disclosing the existence of such a letter would violate Sessions’ personal privacy.

What if Trump did try to fire Mueller? Why does it matter?

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pushed back against reports that he ordered White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June.

“Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake stories,” Trump retorted dismissively when asked about it by reporters at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The reports, first by the Times and then others, said Trump backed off on his attempt to fire the man who is investigating him, his election campaign’s Russian contacts and his firings of FBI Director James Comey and national security adviser Michael Flynn — but only after lawyer McGahn refused to relay his directive to the Justice Department and threatened to quit if Trump pressed the issue.

In Washington, Mueller’s team was still on the job Friday, investigating the president and his 2016 election campaign.

So. …

___

WHAT IF THE ALLEGATION IS TRUE?

After the news came out Thursday night, Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia quickly accused Trump of crossing “a red line” that should be met forcibly by lawmakers to protect the Constitution. Warner is the ranking Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee. But Republicans were quick to dismiss the report, pointing out that Mueller had not actually been fired.

According to The New York Times, President Donald Trump ordered White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire special counsel Robert Mueller last June. Trump pushed back Friday against the report calling it “Fake news.” (Jan. 26)

Some legal experts noted that presidents, like anyone else, can say things they don’t mean when angry. At the same time, others saw the alleged Trump order as part of a pattern of obstruction that could be pressed by Mueller, disrupting or even dooming Trump’s presidency.

___

WOULD SUCH A PRESIDENTIAL ORDER BE ILLEGAL?

Jacob Frenkel, a defense lawyer and former prosecutor, said defense lawyers would argue that the conversation with McGahn “was an expression of frustration and irritation, not an intended personnel action.”

A statement alone, without follow-up action, can be subject to different explanations and allow for reasonable doubt as to the intent, he indicated.

“It may not be the conclusion that people want to reach, but sitting back and looking at it objectively, the fact that there was no firing means there was no obstruction,” Frenkel said.

Andrew Leipold, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, concurred.

“People say all sorts of things that they’re going to do, and then they calm down and they think better of it and they get talked out of it,” he said. “Some of this may just be no more than the president — as all presidents have done — racing their engines about things.”

That said, this latest revelation isn’t the only example of presidential action that could be seen as an attempt to interfere with an investigation of Trump and his campaign. Another is the firing Comey as FBI director last May. Mueller was appointed special counsel by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions stepped aside because of his own close involvement with the Trump campaign.

“It is easy to see where this would be an element or component to consider as part of an obstruction mosaic,” Frenkel said.

___

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MUELLER’S INVESTIGATION?

It could have no bearing on the investigation at all.

Or it could be part of an obstruction case against Trump or others.

But that raises a perennial constitutional question: Can the president be charged in criminal court? Some in the legal field say yes. More say no, the only recourse is impeachment by Congress.

Meanwhile, despite the sensational nature of the Times report, there is likely little that Mueller doesn’t already know about events in the White House. More than 20 White House employees have given interviews to the special counsel’s team investigating possible obstruction and Trump campaign ties to Russian election interference.

John Dowd, one of Trump’s attorneys, said the White House, in what he called an “unprecedented” display of cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, has turned over more than 20,000 pages of records. The president’s 2016 campaign has turned over more than 1.4 million pages.

The number of voluntary interviews includes eight people from the White House counsel’s office.

An additional 28 people affiliated with the Trump campaign have been interviewed by either the special counsel or congressional committees probing Russian election meddling. Dowd did not name the people nor provide a breakdown of how many were interviewed only by Mueller’s team.

___

LEGAL JEOPARDY ASIDE, WHAT ABOUT POLITICAL FALLOUT?

Trump’s national approval numbers are low, but his conservative base has kept up its solid support through all the criticism he has come under in his first year as president. Why would this be any different?

In Congress, Democrats have been quick to exploit the report. Warner called Trump’s actions “a gross abuse of power.” However, Republicans noted that the purported order came long ago and before Trump surrounded himself with new lawyers. Since then, his public demeanor toward Mueller has changed.

Nonetheless, Senate Republicans were worried last summer, and GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis introduced legislation that would protect the special counsel. But that hasn’t gone anywhere.

Trump has softened his public criticism of Mueller, White House officials say over and over that he has nothing to hide, and his lawyers have signaled they are cooperating, too.

Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin says that since the legislation was introduced, “the chatter that the administration is considering removing special counsel Mueller has completely come to a halt.”

___

WHAT NOW?

Mueller’s investigators hope to interview Trump soon.

This week, the president declared he was eager to do it — and under oath.

“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Trump said when asked by reporters. As for timing, he said, “I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks, but I’d love to do it.”

His lawyers walked that back a bit. No interview has been agreed to, all sides agreed.

The story of Trump’s alleged effort to sack Mueller added just one more question.

___

AP writers Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Officials say 63 killed, 151 wounded in Afghan car bombing

This gallery contains 1 photo.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bomber driving an ambulance killed at least 63 people and wounded 151 more in an attack claimed by the Taliban in the Afghan capital Kabul, authorities said. The bombing Saturday came just a week after Taliban militants killed 22 at an international hotel in the city.

The attacker used the ambulance to get through a security checkpoint in central Kabul, telling police he was taking a patient to a nearby hospital, said Nasrat Rahimi, deputy spokesperson for the Interior Ministry. He then detonated his explosives at a second checkpoint, Rahimi said.

The Health Ministry said 63 were killed and 151 wounded.

“The majority of the dead in the attack are civilians, but of course we have military casualties as well,” Rahimi said. He said four suspects had been arrested and were being questioned but he didn’t elaborate.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the bombing, which sent thick, black smoke into the sky from the site near the government’s former Interior Ministry building. Also nearby are the European Union and Indian consulates.

The powerful explosion was felt throughout the capital and covered the blast area in smoke and dust. At the scene, dozens of vehicles were damaged or destroyed. Several shops, including some selling antiques and photography equipment, were also destroyed.

Windows at nearby Jamhuriat government hospital were shattered and its walls damaged. People ran out to help and ambulances arrived to transport dozens of wounded to area hospitals.

The International Committee of the Red Cross condemned the attack in a tweet, saying: “The use of an ambulance in today’s attack in #Kabul is harrowing. This could amount to perfidy under IHL. Unacceptable and unjustifiable.”

It was the second successful Taliban attack in a week on high security targets in the city.

Last Saturday, six Taliban militants attacked the Intercontinental Hotel, leaving 22 people dead, including 14 foreigners. Some 150 guests fled the gun battle and fire sparked by the assault by shimmying down bedsheets from the upper floors. The U.S. State Department said multiple American citizens were killed and injured in the attack.

Afghan security forces have struggled to fight the Taliban since the U.S. and NATO formally ended their combat mission in 2014.

President Donald Trump has pursued a plan that involves sending thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan and envisions shifting away from a “time-based” approach to one that more explicitly links U.S. assistance to concrete results from the Afghan government. Trump’s U.N. envoy, Nikki Haley, said after a recent visit to Afghanistan that Trump’s policy was working and that peace talks between the government and the Taliban are closer than ever before.

On Dec. 28 a suicide bomber and other explosions at a Shiite cultural center in Kabul killed at least 41 people in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group that may have been aimed at a pro-Iran news outlet based in the building.

On Wednesday, IS militants stormed the offices of Save the Children in eastern Afghanistan killing four and triggering a standoff with police that lasted almost 10 hours. The Islamic State group was involved in at least 10 fatal attacks in Afghanistan last year.

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