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Monthly Archives: July 2018

Breaking News: Death toll from Missouri duck boat accident climbs to 17

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BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — Divers found four more bodies Friday in a Missouri lake where a duck boat packed with tourists capsized and sank in high winds, bringing the death toll to 17 in the country-and-western town of Branson, authorities said.

Investigators blamed stormy weather for the accident Thursday evening on Table Rock Lake. Winds at the time were blowing as hard as 65 mph (105 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

The boat was carrying 29 passengers and two crew members on a pleasure cruise, and authorities said everyone aboard had been accounted for. Seven of the 14 survivors were hurt when the vessel went down. At least two were hospitalized in critical condition, officials said.

The crew member who was operating the boat died, but the captain survived, authorities said.

Named for their ability to travel on land and in water, duck boats have been involved in other serious accidents in the past, including the deaths of more than 40 people since 1999.

Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus. Thirteen people died in 1999 when a boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Amateur video captured at least one struggling duck boat amid severe storm conditions on Table Rock Lake Thursday. Officials have blamed the weather for a duck boat accident on the lake that killed at least 17 people. (July 20)

“Duck boats are death traps,” said Andrew Duffy, an attorney whose Philadelphia law firm handled litigation related to two fatal duck boat accidents there. “They’re not fit for water or land because they are half car and half boat.”

Safety advocates have sought improvements and complained that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

The boats were originally designed for the military, specifically to transport troops and supplies in World War II. They were later modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

Passengers on a nearby boat described the chaos as the winds picked up and the water turned rough.

“Debris was flying everywhere,” Allison Lester said in an interview Friday with ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

A severe thunderstorm warning had been issued for Branson at 6:32 p.m. Thursday, about 40 minutes before the boat tipped over.

Lester’s boyfriend, Trent Behr, said they saw a woman in the water and helped to pull her into the boat. He said he was about to start CPR when an EMT arrived and took over.

Investigators from the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board were to investigate. Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader urged anyone with video or photos of the accident to contact authorities.

Divers located the vessel, which came to rest on its wheels on the lakebed, and authorities planned to recover it later Friday.

The boat sank in 40 feet (12 meters) of water and then rolled on its wheels into a deeper area with 80 feet (25 meters) of water. Investigators had no information about whether passengers were wearing life jackets or whether they were stowed onboard, the sheriff said.

Source: Maps4News.com/HERE

The names of the dead were not immediately released.

An off-duty deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the boat turned over, the sheriff said. Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies assisted in the effort.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities. She said this was the ride’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Weather can change rapidly in this part of the country, moving from sunshine and calm to dangerous storms within minutes, weather service meteorologist Jason Schaumann said.

“Tornado warnings get a lot of publicity, and severe thunderstorm warnings should be taken very seriously too, particularly if you are in a vulnerable area like a lake or campground,” he said.

President Donald Trump tweeted his condolences, extending his “deepest sympathies” to the families and friends of those involved.

Branson, about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City, is a country-themed tourist mecca built on a reputation for patriotic and religious-themed shows in numerous theaters.

Table Rock Lake, east of Branson, was created in the late 1950s when the Corps of Army Engineers built a dam across the White River to provide hydroelectric power to the Ozarks.

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Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis; Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Missouri; and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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For the latest updates on this story: https://bit.ly/2NwoQVz .

Trump-Putin II: Planning fall event in aftermath of Helsinki

WASHINGTON (AP) — Unbowed by swirling criticism of his summit encounter with Vladimir Putin, President Donald Trump swiftly invited the Russian leader to the White House this fall for a second get-together. Putin’s ambassador to the U.S. said Moscow is open to discussing such a meeting, even as confusion abounds over exactly what they discussed the first time.

Cleanup has continued from Monday’s two-hour private meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with Trump belatedly saying Putin’s “incredible offer” of shared U.S.-Russia investigations was no good after all.

A White House meeting would be a dramatic extension of legitimacy to the Russian leader, who has long been isolated by the West for activities in Ukraine, Syria and beyond and is believed to have interfered in the 2016 presidential election that sent Trump to the presidency. No Russian leader has visited the White House in nearly a decade.

Trump asked National Security Adviser John Bolton to invite Putin, and “those discussions are already underway,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday. Trump earlier had tweeted that he looked forward to “our second meeting” as he defended his performance at Monday’s summit, in which the two leaders conferred on a range of issues including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea.

President Donald Trump says he now wants a second meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. AP’s Ken Thomas reports the White House has been repeatedly forced to clarify presidential statements after the criticism over their Helsinki meeting. (July 19)

“There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems … but they can ALL be solved!” Trump tweeted.

In Moscow, Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the U.S., said it is important to “deal with the results” of their first summit before jumping too fast into a new one. But he said, “Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject.”

The Kremlin has the final say, but hasn’t responded yet to Trump’s invitation.

News of Trump’s invitation to Putin appeared to catch even the president’s top intelligence official by surprise.

“Say that again,” National Intelligence Director Dan Coats responded, when informed of the invitation during an appearance at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

“OK,” he continued, pausing for a deep breath. “That’s going to be special.”

The announcement came as the White House sought to clean up days of confounding post-summit Trump statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s responsibility in a joint news conference with Putin on Monday provoked withering criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats and forced the president to make a rare public admission of error.

Then on Thursday, the White House said Trump “disagrees” with Putin’s offer to allow U.S. questioning of 12 Russians who have been indicted for election interference in exchange for Russian interviews with the former U.S. ambassador to Russia and other Americans the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes. Trump initially had described the idea as an “incredible offer.”

The White House backtrack came just before the Senate voted overwhelmingly against the proposal. It was Congress’ first formal rebuke of Trump’s actions from the summit and its aftermath.

Asked about the Putin invitation, Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said “I wouldn’t do it, that’s for damn sure.”

“If the Russians want a better relationship, trips to the White House aren’t going to help,” he added. “They should stop invading their neighbors.”

Mixed messages from Trump have increased worries in Congress that the White House is not taking seriously the threat that senior officials say Russia now poses to the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Democrats in the House sought Thursday to extend a state grant program for election security but were blocked by Republicans. There is $380 million approved in the current budget for the program, which is intended to help states strengthen election systems from hacking and other cyberattacks.

Democratic lawmakers erupted into chants of “USA! USA!” during the debate,

As for Putin’s offer on investigations, Sanders it was “made in sincerity” and the U.S. hopes he will have the indicted Russians “come to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt.”

Just a day earlier, the White House had said the offer was under consideration, even though the State Department called Russia’s allegations against the Americans, including former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, “absurd.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday of the proposed Russian questioning, “That’s not going to happen.”

“The administration is not going to send, force Americans to travel to Russia to be interrogated by Vladimir Putin and his team,” Pompeo said in an interview with The Christian Broadcasting Network.

Senate Republicans joined Democrats in swiftly passing a resolution, 98-0, that put the Senate on record against the questioning of American officials by a foreign government.

Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell hastily arranged the vote as lawmakers unleashed an avalanche of resolutions and other proposed actions expressing alarm over Trump’s meeting with Putin and the White House’s shifting response.

Coats said Thursday he wished the president hadn’t undermined the conclusions of American intelligence agencies while standing next to Putin and felt it was his duty to correct the record. He restated the U.S. intelligence assessment about Russian meddling and Moscow’s “ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”

While they had met privately on three occasions in 2017, Trump opened the door to a potential White House meeting with Putin earlier this year. The Kremlin had said in April that the president had invited the Russian leader to the White House when they spoke by telephone in March. At the time, White House officials worked to convince a skeptical president that the Nordic capital would serve as a more effective backdrop — and warned of a firestorm should a West Wing meeting go through.

Still, Trump has expressed a preference for the White House setting for major meetings, including floating an invitation to Washington for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un after their meeting in Singapore last month.

Putin would be setting foot inside the building for the first time in more than a decade.

He last visited the White House in 2005, when he met President George W. Bush, who welcomed the Russian leader in the East Room as “my friend.”

President Barack Obama welcomed then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to the White House in 2010, and took him on a burger run at a joint just outside the capital.

Putin, in his first public comments about the summit, told Russian diplomats that U.S.-Russian relations are “in some ways worse than during the Cold War,” but that the meeting with Trump allowed a start on “the path to positive change.”

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she still has not seen evidence that Moscow tried to help elect Trump. She said at the Aspen Forum that Russia is attempting to “cause chaos on both sides.”

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Aspen, Colorado, and Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Tami Abdollah, Darlene Superville and Susannah George in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Miller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@ZekeJMiller , Thomas at http://twitter.com/@KThomasDC , and Mascaro at http://twitter.com/@LisaMascaro

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This story has been corrected to show vote now underway, not canceled.

Democrats wrestle with election-year message on health care

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cheered on by a handful of activists, liberal House Democrats announced outside the Capitol that they were forming a caucus to push for “Medicare for All” — shorthand for government-financed health care.

At the same time Thursday, Democratic senators were introducing a resolution aimed at putting Republicans on the defensive about Trump administration efforts to undermine former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Neither proposal has much chance of going anywhere in the Republican-run House or Senate. But the bigger problem for Democrats is that the two messages — fundamentally reshaping the nation’s health care system versus defending Obama’s popular law — divide the party as it tries grabbing control of Congress in this fall’s elections.

All Democrats oppose President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to scuttle Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and many have backed expanding government-paid health care, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. But many also think drawing campaign-season attention to Democratic efforts to reinvent the country’s $3 trillion-a-year health care system, a costly and complex undertaking, is a mistake.

Promoting “Medicare for All” opens the door for Republicans to accuse Democrats of plotting tax increases, unaffordable federal costs and the loss of employer-provided coverage, these Democrats argue. They say it’s better to play offense by focusing on controlling medical costs and opposing GOP efforts to demolish the 2010 health care law.

“Every Democrat is being asked, ‘Do you support this or do you not?’ and it’s becoming a political wedge in an election year,” Rep. Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., said of the “Medicare for All” drive. “And I think we should be focusing on the terrible things that are happening under this administration right now.”

The new caucus has more than 60 members, nearly 1-in-3 House Democrats, including many from safely blue districts where liberal voters prevail. Backing “Medicare for All” lets them tap into activists’ fervor for universal health care that helped propel Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to an unexpectedly strong challenge to Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

“If you live in America, you’ve got a right to affordable quality health care, period,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., a caucus founder, prompting applause from supporters watching her group’s news conference Thursday.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., another leader, later said she backs a 2017 House bill providing free health care financed partly by boosting taxes on wealthy Americans. That bill has more than 120 Democratic co-sponsors. But she said her group’s goal is to build consensus for legislation it may introduce next year, with decisions remaining about costs, financing and other questions.

A similar bill by Sanders last year drew 16 Democratic co-sponsors, including at least four potential 2020 presidential contenders. Sponsors haven’t released price tags, but Sanders said a version he promoted during his 2016 campaign would have cost $1.4 trillion annually — a figure some analysts said was far too low.

“The only proposal here is a ‘Medicare for All’ caucus to figure out what the right proposal is,” Jayapal said.

That’s not stopping the GOP from getting ready to jump on the issue. By combing through candidate and newspaper websites, social media and other sources, Republicans have compiled quotes from around two dozen Democratic House challengers embracing “Medicare for All.” A Republican provided the information on condition of anonymity to disclose internal preparations.

“It would break Medicare,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “And it would end any private insurance as we know it.”

Trump and congressional Republicans tried repealing the ACA last year and failed. But they’ve taken incremental whacks at it, including cutting federal subsidies to many insurers, erasing the penalty for people who don’t buy insurance and opening the door to low-cost plans providing less coverage.

That’s exactly where many Democrats running in swing districts are concentrating their messages.

Democrat Clarke Tucker, challenging Arkansas GOP Rep. French Hill, said in an early TV ad, “I’ll stand up to anyone who tries to take your health care.” And Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., said in an interview, “I’d say we ought to focus on Republican efforts to undermine the ACA right now and the impact that’s had on costs going up.”

That was also the focus for Democratic senators in their resolution Thursday authorizing the Senate’s legal counsel to intervene in a lawsuit in which 20 GOP-led states allege the health care law is no longer constitutional.

The Trump administration said last month it will stop defending key parts of the law in court, including provisions protecting patients with pre-existing medical conditions. Polls show large majorities favor helping those consumers.

Democrats want the Senate counsel to defend the protections for people with pre-existing problems. There’s little chance Republicans controlling the Senate will allow such a vote, which Democrats hope would put GOP senators in an uncomfortable position.

“This is a test of the Republican Party, whether or not they are going to do the right thing,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

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Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.

Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the U.S., Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the U.S. and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.

The officials said planning for the evacuation has been underway for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.

“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”

The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.

Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.

Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.

Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by an Islamic State-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.

The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.

They have continued to receive U.S. support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.

In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.

In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.

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El Deeb reported from Beirut.

Russia says Putin, Trump discussed referendum in Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump discussed a possible referendum in separatist-leaning eastern Ukraine during their Helsinki summit earlier this week, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. said Friday.

Ambassador Anatoly Antonov revealed the discussions amid confusion and concern in the U.S. about what the two presidents agreed behind closed doors.

“This issue (of a referendum) was discussed,” he said, adding without elaborating that Putin made “concrete proposals” to Trump on solutions for the four-year Ukraine conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 people.

The move may be seen as an effort to sidestep European peace efforts for Ukraine and increase pressure on the Ukrainian government in its protracted conflict with pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass region.

Trump tweeted that the two men discussed Ukraine, but has not mentioned a referendum or revealed specifics. The U.S. and Russia have been on opposing sides of the conflict in Ukraine, unleashed after a popular uprising against a pro-Russian president and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Ukraine and European powers did not immediately comment Friday, but are not expected to support a referendum in the Donbass, where pro-Russian separatists hold sway. They have been committed to a 2015 peace deal signed in the Belarusian capital of Minsk that has helped reduce the fighting but failed to find a lasting political solution.

Putin has sought to ally with Trump at a time when U.S. ties to Europe are fraying, and both presidents are critical of the EU and NATO. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back Friday at Trump’s questioning of NATO’s central tenet of collective defense.

Ambassador Antonov called Monday’s summit in Helsinki a “key event” in international politics and laughed off suggestions that the two men made any “secret deals.”

Antonov insisted that diplomatic discussions should remain discreet in order to be effective, but gave a few details of their discussions on arms control and said the summit notably made progress on U.S.-Russian cooperation on Syria’s future.

He also said Moscow is ready to discuss a possible visit by Putin to Washington after a surprise invitation from Trump.

Antonov said it’s important to “deal with the results” of their first summit before jumping too fast into a new one, but that “Russia was always open to such proposals. We are ready for discussions on this subject.”

The Kremlin has the final say, but hasn’t responded yet to the proposal Trump made Thursday.

The Russian ambassador to Washington also denounced “anti-Russian anger” in the United States and the “severity” of the U.S. criticism of Trump’s performance at the summit.

He reiterated denials of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election — interrupting a questioner to say “We didn’t interfere!” He also reiterated denials of Russian involvement in the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Britain.

Meanwhile, Antonov also pushed for the release of a gun rights activist accused of being a covert agent in the U.S., calling her arrest a “farce.”

U.S. federal prosecutors accused Maria Butina this week of being a covert Russian agent and working to infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association, before and after Donald Trump’s election as president.

Butina, 29, denies wrongdoing, and the Russian Foreign Ministry started an online campaign for her release.

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— After a week of erraticism by President Donald Trump about what really went on in his private meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, history could use a fly on the wall.

There were two — their interpreters. And some Democrats want Trump’s to talk.

One translator’s reaction: What’s Russian for fuhgeddaboudit?

Diplomatic interpreters speak when they’re spoken at, and that’s about it. They are innermost witnesses to international history, but ultradiscreet ones, tasked with reflecting as accurately as possible and in nearly real time the words and context of conversations crossing the language barrier. They otherwise do their best to blend into the drapes.

Diplomatic experts know of no modern precedent for making interpreters come forward. The man who translated for President Ronald Reagan in his historic first meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 — alone in the room with them and his Soviet counterpart — thinks it’s a bad idea.

“I have never heard of such a thing and am appalled,” Dimitry Zarechnak, long retired from the State Department, said of the push by Democrats to subpoena the Trump interpreter. “If that were possible, then no foreign leaders would want to meet with any of our leaders.

“It’s either just a gimmick or the animosity has gone up to such a level that they’re not thinking straight about what they’re saying.”

Unconventional ideas are being floated these days, though, to deal with a norms-busting president who is known to describe things the way he wants them to be even when that’s not how they were.

“It is utterly amazing, utterly amazing, that no one knows what was said,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday as Republicans in the House blocked one effort to bring the interpreter to a closed hearing.

After days of Trump’s varied if not contradictory statements about the meeting, the public is no closer to knowing whether Trump called Putin to account for Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or anything else.

The interpreters know, as does Putin.

It’s possible the circle is wider. It’s unclear whether either side recorded the conversation or whether detailed notes are circulating in the Kremlin or across the Trump administration. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she was not aware of a recording of the meeting.

With their eye on the historical record, and the value of having the best thinkers and subject experts at a president’s side, diplomats get the jitters when a president meets one on one with another leader, with only interpreters in the room. Their concern heightens when the leader is an adversary like Putin or North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, both of whom met Trump with interpreters only. Absent corroborating witnesses and a detailed account, misunderstandings and malign interpretations can emerge.

When interpreters are the only extras, they are sometimes called on to help establish a record.

So it was for Zarechnak. He provided what’s known as consecutive translation at the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, alternating with another U.S. interpreter in the series of one-on-one leader meetings.

That means he took notes on Reagan’s remarks and, during a pause, read them to Gorbachev in Russian. The Soviet leader in turn had his remarks translated by his interpreter and read to Reagan in English. This differs from the protocols for simultaneous translation used at bilateral news conferences, U.N. speeches and the like.

It leaves a record — a notebook — and Zarechnak’s became the basis for the official U.S. “memorandum of conversation” that eventually emerged from the meetings. But he wasn’t compelled to disclose it under subpoena and didn’t go around talking about it.

As anyone who has used online language tools knows, word-for-word translation doesn’t cut it. Context, nuances and the rules of languages call for a broader understanding — or interpretation — for smooth communication. And the interpreters used in diplomacy need to know the subject matter to pull it off.

The hazards of inept translation were apparent in President Jimmy Carter’s trip to Soviet-dominated Poland in 1977. Carter spoke of Poland’s aspirations, and the U.S. interpreter rendered the remark as a wish by Carter to have some sort of carnal relations with that country.

The comments were made and translated in public and were later clarified.

For Trump and Putin, it may be that what happened in Helsinki stays in Helsinki.

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

At least 11 die when duck boat capsizes in Missouri lake

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BRANSON, Mo. (AP) — At least 11 people, including children, died after a boat carrying tourists capsized and sank on a lake during a thunderstorm in a country music mecca in southwest Missouri, the sheriff said.

The Stone County Sheriff’s office said early Friday that six people remain missing after the Ride the Ducks boat sank on Table Rock Lake in Branson Thursday night, updating the number from five. Missouri State Patrol divers will resume the search for them Friday.

Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said seven other people have been hospitalized.

A spokeswoman for the Cox Medical Center Branson said four adults and three children arrived at the hospital shortly after the incident. Two adults are in critical condition and the others were treated for minor injuries, Brandei Clifton said.

Rader said stormy weather likely made the boat capsize. Another duck boat on the lake made it safely back to shore.

Steve Lindenberg, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Springfield, Missouri, said the agency issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the Branson area Thursday evening. Lindenberg said winds reached speeds of more than 60 mph (100 kph).

At least 11 people, including children, died after a boat carrying tourists on a Branson, Missouri lake capsized and sank, the local sheriff said. 5 people remained missing overnight. Divers plan to resume searching on Friday morning. (July 20)

“It’s a warning telling people to take shelter,” he said.

Rader said an off-duty sheriff’s deputy working security for the boat company helped rescue people after the boat capsized. Dive teams from several law enforcement agencies assisted in the effort.

The National Transportation Safety Board said investigators will arrive on the scene Friday morning.

Suzanne Smagala with Ripley Entertainment, which owns Ride the Ducks in Branson, said the company was assisting authorities with the rescue effort. Smagala added this was the Branson tour’s only accident in more than 40 years of operation.

Branson is about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Kansas City and is a popular vacation spot for families and other tourists looking for entertainment ranging from theme parks to live music. An EF2 tornado that bounced through downtown Branson in 2012 destroyed dozens of buildings and injured about three dozen people, but killed no one.

Duck boats, which can travel on land and in water, have been involved in other deadly incidents in the past. Five college students were killed in 2015 in Seattle when a duck boat collided with a bus, and 13 people died in 1999 when a duck boat sank near Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Safety advocates have sought improvements since the Arkansas deaths. Critics argued that part of the problem is that too many agencies regulate the boats with varying safety requirements.

Duck boats were originally used by the U.S. military in World War II to transport troops and supplies, and later were modified for use as sightseeing vehicles.

Trump Threatens China with $500 Billion in Tariffs; Shrugs Off Impact on Stocks

(PhatzNewsRoom / AP / Investing.com)    —   President Donald Trump has indicated that he’s willing to hit every product imported from China with tariffs, sending U.S. markets sliding before the opening bell Friday.

In a taped interview with the business channel CNBC, Trump said “I’m willing to go to 500,” referring roughly to the $505.5 billion in goods imported last year from China.

The administration to date has slapped tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods in a trade dispute over what it calls the nation’s predatory practices.

Dow futures which had already been pointing modestly lower slid sharply after the comments were aired by CNBC early Friday, indicating triple-digit losses when the market opens.

The yuan dipped to a 12-month low of 6.8 to the dollar, off by 7.6 percent since mid-February.

There is already pushback in the U.S. from businesses that will take a hit in an escalating trade war.

Trump has ordered Commerce to investigate whether auto imports pose a threat to U.S. national security that would justify tariffs or other trade restrictions. Earlier this year, he used national security as a justification for taxing imported steel and aluminum.

Auto tariffs would escalate global trade tension dramatically: The U.S. last year imported $192 billion in vehicles and $143 billion in auto parts — figures that dwarf last year’s $29 billion in steel and $23 billion in aluminum imports.

In the same interview, taped Thursday at the White House, Trump broke with a long-standing tradition at the White House and voiced displeasure about recent actions at the U.S. Federal Reserve. Both political and economic officials believe that the central bank needs to operate free of political pressure from the White House or elsewhere to properly manage interest rate policy.

Last month, the Fed raised its benchmark rate for a second time this year and projected two more increases in 2018. Its rate hikes are meant to prevent the economy from overheating and igniting high inflation. But rate increases also make borrowing costlier for households and companies and can weaken the pace of growth. In particular, the Fed’s most recent rate hikes could dilute some of the benefit of the tax cuts Trump signed into law last year.

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– U.S. President Donald Trump indicated that he is ready to impose tariffs on $500 billion worth of Chinese goods to the U.S. if China does not back down on its trade policies and shrugged off the impact on the stock market, sending waves through U.S. equities.

“I’m ready to go to 500,” the president said in the full interview with CNBC that was released on Friday after previous parts regarding the Federal Reserve and the Chinese yuan had been pre-aired a day earlier.

 

In the interview, Trump claimed that America is being “taken advantage of” by China, the EU, Mexico, and Japan, because they all run trade surpluses with the US.

Specifically on China, Trump says America is “down a tremendous amount”, referring to a trade deficit of at least $375 billion and promised that he would fix it.

“I’m not doing this for politics, I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country. We have been ripped off by China for a long time,” Trump explained.

The U.S. has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods, with another $200 billion being looked at. China has already retaliated with $34 billion of its own tariffs.

The strategy behind Trump’s move appeared to be to outstrip any possible retaliation as U.S. Census Bureau data showed that the U.S. only exported $129.9 billion to China in 2017.

“I raised ($50 billion), and they matched us. I said: ‘you don’t match us, you can’t match us because otherwise we’re always gonna be behind the A ball’,” Trump explained.

Trump dismisses negative impact on stocks

Trump also shrugged off worries about the negative impact on stock markets from escalating trade tensions.

CNBC pointed out that the mid-term elections were on the horizon and asked, “What if the stock market were to go down?”

“If it does, it does,” Trump responded, insisting that he was doing what was right for the American economy.

Indeed, U.S. stock futures took a dive in reaction to the news. Nasdaq 100 futures had been trading about 0.4% higher prior to the release as tech shares were supported by positive earnings from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). After briefly turning negative, they were last up 0.13% as of 7:00AM ET (11:00 GMT). Dow futures and S&P 500 futures extended earlier losses and were last trading down 0.36% and 0.22%, respectively.

Business: World stocks mixed under pressure of more US tariffs

SINGAPORE (AP) — World markets were mixed Friday as deliberations over more U.S. tariffs on European countries and China weighed on sentiment.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX added 0.1 percent to 12,693.80 while France’s CAC 40 dropped 0.1 percent at 5,409.22 on Friday. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent to 7,700.71. U.S. indexes were poised to open slightly lower. S&P 500 futures dipped less than 0.1 percent to 2804.50 and Dow futures shed 0.1 percent to 25,030.00.

ASIA’S DAY: Despite a muted start, most Asian markets finished higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 bucked the regional trend, losing 0.3 percent to 22,697.88. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.3 percent to 2,289.19. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.8 percent to 28,224.48. The Shanghai Composite Index rebounded 2.1 percent to 2,829.27. Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 increased 0.4 percent to 6,285.90.

AUTO TARIFFS UNDER FIRE: The U.S. Commerce Department sought feedback on President Donald Trump’s plans to consider taxing auto imports on Thursday. Critics lined up to urge the administration to reject auto tariffs. They argued that the taxes would raise car prices, squeeze automakers by increasing the cost of imported components and invite retaliation from U.S. trading partners — and allies — like the European Union and Canada. The Alliance of Auto Manufacturers rejected the levies on cars, trucks and auto parts imports, saying its view was shared by over 2,200 comments it had received.

YUAN DECLINES: The People’s Bank of China set the Chinese currency’s central parity rate to 0.9 percent weaker against the dollar on Friday. If the yuan continues to depreciate, goods exported to China will become more expensive to consumers there. Chinese exports would also be relatively cheaper, possibly balancing out suggested increases in tariffs by the Trump Administration.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “One theory is that the PBOC is depreciating the yuan because it has not enough ammunition to fight a dollar-for-dollar increase in tariffs. The markets are very risk-off. There is a loss in confidence right now,” said Francis Tan, an economist at UOB Bank.

INTEREST RATES: In an interview with CNBC on Thursday, President Trump said that he was “not happy” about Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate increases. The Fed has raised its benchmark rate for a second time this year and projected two more increases in 2018. Its rate hikes are meant to prevent the economy from overheating but they make borrowing costlier for households and businesses and can weaken the pace of growth.

CURRENCIES: Trump’s comments caused the greenback to decline slightly. On Friday, the U.S. dollar was trading at 112.43 yen down from 112.46 yen late Thursday. The euro rose to $1.1654 from $1.1644.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude added 1 cent to $68.25 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Thursday, the contract settled at $68.24 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 45 cents to at $73.03.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, July 20:

1. Trump takes aim at Fed

U.S. President Donald Trump broke a long-held presidential tradition of not weighing in on Federal Reserve’s monetary policy when he criticized the central bank’s plans for gradual interest rate hikes.

The Fed raised has rates twice so far this year and Trump expressed his disappointment in a CNBC interview late Thursday.

“I’m not thrilled,” Trump said. “Because we go up and every time you go up they want to raise rates again. I don’t really — I am not happy about it. But at the same time I’m letting them do what they feel is best.”

Markets are forecasting that the Fed will hike rates again in September and put the probability for an additional increase in December at around 60%.

The dollar, which is has been buoyed by expectations of further rate increase, was trading lower against major rivals after three straight days of gains.

2. Microsoft jumps on earnings with GE and Honeywell on tap

Corporate earnings will continue to weigh heavily on market direction amid a lack of top-tier economic data on the calendar for Friday.

Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) stock jumped 3.9% in pre-market trade after reporting better-than-expected quarterly numbers that were boosted by cloud services revenue. The Dow component reported earnings of $1.13 cents per share on $30.09 billion in revenue. That was above Wall Street estimates of $1.08 per share on revenue of $29.21 billion.

Quarterly earnings from both General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) and Honeywell International Inc (NYSE:HON), due before the open on Friday, will likely garner the most attention amid a slew of earnings from several companies including Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, State Street, SunTrust Banks and others.

3. Yuan undergoes volatility after Trump attack, China fixing

Market participants kept a close eye on volatility in USD/CNY on Friday as Trump commented on the Chinese currency but China’s central bank also weakened its daily reference rate.

In the CNBC interview Trump commented that a strong dollar puts the U.S. at a disadvantage and emphasized that the Chinese yuan “was dropping like a rock”.

However, that didn’t stop the the People’s Bank of China from dropping the midpoint for a seventh straight trading day to 6.7671 per dollar on Friday, 605 pips or 0.9% weaker than the previous fix of 6.7066.

Friday’s fixing was the lowest since July 14, 2017, and represented the biggest one-day weakening in percentage terms since June 27, 2016.

The yuan treaded water after tumbling to a one-year low earlier, with some observers suggesting that Chinese banks began buying the yuan and selling dollar in an apparent attempt to prop the currency up.

4. U.S. stock futures point to mixed open despite Microsoft support

U.S. futures pointed to a mixed open on Friday as Microsoft’s positive earnings supported tech stocks but investors generally remained cautious. At 6:01 AM ET (10:01 GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures slipped 17 points, or 0.07%, S&P 500 futures dropped less than a point, or 0.01%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded up 28 points, or 0.38%.

European stocks were mostly higher nearing their midday trade as investors concentrated on earnings news and digested Trump’s comments about the Fed and the strong dollar.

Earlier, Asian shares underwent volatile trade as investors kept their focus on the yuan.

5. Oil prices head higher, despite weekly decline

Oil prices headed higher on Friday, recovering some of its weekly decline, as traders focused on comments that Saudi Arabia would reduce exports in August and waited for the latest weekly data on U.S. drilling activity.

Saudi Arabia’s OPEC governor Adeeb Al Aama said that exports in July from the cartel’s top producer would be roughly in line with the 7.2 billion barrels per day that were exported in June, according to a Dow Jones report.

He further noted that the kingdom plans to cut exports by roughly 100,000 barrels per day in August as it works to ensure it does not push oil into the market beyond customers’ needs, avoiding worries that oversupply would curtail prices.

Al Aama indicated that concerns that Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s largest producer and the cartel’s de facto leader, and its partners would oversupply markets are “without basis”.

U.S. crude oil futures gained 0.66% to $68.69 at 6:03 AM ET (10:03 GMT), while Brent oil traded up 0.80% to $73.16.

Still, oil is on track for weekly losses of about 3% and has declined nearly 8% this month as supply concerns weighed on crude prices.

U.S. production will also be in focus later on Friday when Baker Hughes releases its weekly report on drilling activity. The U.S. oil rig count remained unchanged at 863 last week, as drillers appeared to hold output steady given the decline in prices.

Analysis: Trump Sheds All Notions of How a President Should Conduct Himself Abroad.

(PhatzNewsRoom / NYT)   —   WASHINGTON — President Trump made one thing clear after his meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday: He is willing to take Mr. Putin’s word over those of his own intelligence agencies about whether the Russians tried to fix the 2016 election.

Such an admission by a president sworn to be the principal defender of the Constitution and America’s sovereignty in the world is extraordinary enough. But it was only one of several statements made by Mr. Trump, the likes of which no other American president has ever uttered on foreign soil.

He condemned the Justice Department’s investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia as a “disaster for our country.” He suggested that the F.B.I. deliberately mishandled its investigation of Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee. And he labeled an F.B.I. agent who testified about that investigation before Congress as a “disgrace to our country.”

In the fiery, disruptive, rules-breaking arc of Mr. Trump’s statecraft, the president’s remarks in Helsinki on Monday marked an entirely new milestone, the foreign policy equivalent of Charlottesville.

Just as Mr. Trump flouted the most deeply held traditions of the American presidency in equating the torch-wielding marchers and the leftist activists who fought them in Virginia last summer, he shredded all conventional notions of how a president should conduct himself abroad. Rather than defend America against those who would threaten it, he attacked his own citizens and institutions while hailing the leader of a hostile power.

Mr. Trump’s goal, it seemed, was to fight, tooth and claw, for the legitimacy of his election victory. In the process, he impugned the nation’s law enforcement agencies and publicly undermined the consensus view of its intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the campaign.

When asked whether he would use this moment to denounce Russia for its behavior, Mr. Trump acknowledged that his own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and other senior officials had told him that Russia was culpable.

But, the president declared, “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia.” He added, “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then he unleashed a fusillade of accusations about Hillary Clinton and her missing emails, the F.B.I. and the D.N.C.’s missing computer server, and the testimony of the F.B.I. agent, Peter Strzok. He also offered a defiant defense of his “brilliant” campaign victory, reminding reporters in Helsinki of the electoral-college margin, 306 to 232.

a man holding a glass of wine: President Trump speaks during a press conference with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday. © Doug Mills/The New York Times  To a domestic audience, many of Mr. Trump’s assertions were familiar — the grist for countless early-morning tweets or stream-of-consciousness outbursts during political rallies. But to hear Mr. Trump utter them while standing next to the leader of the very country accused of carrying out those actions was a spectacle of an entirely different order.

The president’s performance provoked an immediate reaction.

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant,” Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican, said in a statement.

John O. Brennan, who served as C.I.A. director under President Barack Obama, said, “Donald Trump’s news conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous.”

[Read more on former CIA spymaster John Brennan and his thoughts on the president]

As he did after white supremacists beat their opponents in Charlottesville, Mr. Trump reached in Helsinki for a kind of moral equivalence.

“I hold both countries responsible,” he said, when asked whether he held Russia responsible for anything. “I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago — a long time, frankly, before I got to office.”

While the president lashed out at all manner of domestic enemies, he said nothing about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, its predatory behavior toward Ukraine, its bloody intervention in Syria, or the alleged poisoning of a former Russian spy on British soil.

So disorienting was Mr. Trump’s performance that at times, it fell to Mr. Putin to try to cushion the blow.

When a reporter asked whether Mr. Trump had raised objections to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Mr. Putin answered that of course the American president had objected. Mr. Trump was silent.

John F. Kelly et al. standing in front of a crowd: Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asks President Trump a question during the joint news conference with President Putin. © Doug Mills/The New York Times Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire asks President Trump a question during the joint news…

When Mr. Trump was asked whether he had pressed Mr. Putin on the issue of Russian interference, Mr. Putin replied, “Where do you get this idea that I trust President Trump or that he trusts me? He defends the interests of the United States of America, and I do defend the interests of the Russian Federation.”

Yet on perhaps the most unsettling question of all — whether Russia had compromising material on the president — Mr. Putin offered Mr. Trump no comfort. Instead of simply saying no, he observed that Mr. Trump was one of hundreds of American business people who had visited Russia.

“Do you think we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them?” Mr. Putin asked.

Amid harsh criticism, Trump tries a tougher tone on Russia

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump spent a second day managing the political fallout from his widely criticized meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, shifting stances and mopping up what the White House said were misstatements.

His toughness with the longtime American foe in question, Trump said Wednesday he told the Russian president face-to-face during Monday’s summit to stay out of America’s elections “and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

That rhetoric marked a turnabout from Trump’s first, upbeat description of his sit-down with Putin. Still, Trump backtracked on whether Russia is currently targeting U.S. elections. When asked the question Wednesday, he answered “no,” a reply that put him sharply at odds with recent public warnings from his own intelligence chief.

Hours later, the White House stepped in to say Trump’s answer wasn’t what it appeared.

The zigzagging laid bare the White House’s search for a path out of trouble that has dogged the administration’s discussions of Russia from the start, but spiraled after Trump’s trip to Helsinki. After days of criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, Trump — a politician who celebrates his brash political incorrectness — has appeared more sensitive than usual to outside opprobrium.

The White House says President Donald Trump believes Russia would target U.S. elections again, saying the “threat still exists.” That comes hours after Trump appeared to deny Russia was still targeting the United States. (July 18)

The scale of the bipartisan outcry at Trump’s stance toward Putin has only been rivaled by his 2017 waffling over condemning white supremacist demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I let him know we can’t have this,” Trump told CBS News of his conversations with Putin. “We’re not going to have it, and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Would he hold Putin personally responsible for further election interference? “I would, because he’s in charge of the country.”

The CBS interview came at the end of two days of shifting statements.

On Monday, Trump appeared to question the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

His reservations, expressed 18 months into his presidency and as he stood standing next to Putin on foreign soil, prompted blistering criticism at home, even from prominent fellow Republicans.

On Tuesday, he delivered a scripted statement to “clarify” — his word — his remarks Monday. He said he misspoke by one word when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

On Wednesday, he was asked during a Cabinet meeting if Russia was still targeting the U.S., and he answered “no” without elaborating. That came just days after National Intelligence Director Dan Coats sounded an alarm, comparing the cyberthreat today to the way U.S. officials said before 9/11 that intelligence channels were “blinking red” with warning signs that a terror attack was imminent.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later Wednesday that Trump actually was saying “no” to answering additional questions — even though he subsequently went on to address Russia.

“The president is wrong,” GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said of Trump’s one-word response. Told that Sanders had since clarified, she responded: “There’s a walk-back of the walk-back of the walk-back of the walk-back? This is dizzying.”

Trump has refined and sharpened his presentation in the two days since Helsinki.

At the news conference with Putin, he was asked if he would denounce what happened in 2016 and warn Putin never to do it again, and he did not directly answer. Instead, he went into a rambling response, including demands for investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server and his description of Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of meddling.

Trump asserted Wednesday at the White House that no other American president has been as tough on Russia. He cited U.S. sanctions and the expulsion of alleged Russian spies from the U.S., telling reporters that Putin “understands it, and he’s not happy about it.”

The muddied waters have deepened critics’ concerns that Trump is not taking threats to the U.S. electoral system seriously enough. Pressed on why Trump has repeatedly passed on opportunities to publicly condemn Putin’s actions, Sanders suggested Trump was working to make the most of an “opportunity” for the two leaders to work together on shared interests.

One such opportunity is what Trump termed an “incredible offer” from Putin to allow the U.S. access to Russians accused of election hacking and other interference. In exchange, Putin wants Russian interviews of Americans accused by the Kremlin of unspecified crimes.

Sanders said Trump was still weighing the offer with his team, adding, “We’ve committed to nothing.” Russian officials have said they want to interview Kremlin critics Bill Browder and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

McFaul tweeted Wednesday that he hoped the White House would denounce “this ridiculous request from Putin.”

Lawmakers have urged Trump to reject the deal.

“We’re going to make sure that Congress does everything it can to protect this country,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who heads up the GOP’s campaign arm.

A number of senators are swiftly signing on to a bipartisan bill from Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., that would slap new sanctions on Russia or any other country caught posting ads, running fake news or otherwise interfering with election infrastructure.

Sanders called the legislation “hypothetical” and declined to say whether the president would back it.

Van Hollen said Trump “isn’t willing to protect the integrity of our democracy in the United States, so Congress has to act.”

Two other lawmakers, Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Chris Coons, D-Del., will try to force a vote Thursday on a resolution backing the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and must be held accountable. A similar House vote Tuesday failed on a party-line vote.

The Republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Richard Burr of South Carolina, said if Trump doubts that Russia would again try to intervene, “He needs to read the intelligence.”

At the Hudson Institute think tank in Washington last Friday, Coats said, “We are not yet seeing the kind of electoral interference in specific states and voter data bases that we experienced in 2016; however, we fully realize that we are just one click on a keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.”

His comments came the same day the Justice Department unveiled an indictment against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for their role in hacking Democratic groups during the 2016 campaign.

“The president was flat out wrong,” Michael Morell, former deputy and acting director of the CIA said about Trump’s remarks after the Cabinet meeting. “The Russians continue to interfere in our democracy. In fact, they never stopped.”

Contrary to the U.S. government’s fears leading up to the 2016 president election, hacking the nation’s election infrastructure appeared to take a back seat to stealing and leaking salacious documents from the Democratic National Committee and House Democrats’ campaign arm.

The success of the apparent dress rehearsal does not bode well for the upcoming election cycles in 2018 and 2020, as intelligence leaders have noted the ongoing and increasing threat by Russian hackers.

Federal officials ultimately determined that at least 18 states had their election systems targeted in some fashion, and possibly up to 21 found scanning of their networks for possible vulnerabilities, according to a report issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in May.

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Aspen, Colorado, and Tami Abdollah and Susannah George in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Miller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@ZekeJMiller , Thomas at http://twitter.com/@KThomasDC , and Mascaro at http://twitter.com/@LisaMascaro

US intelligence chief is tough on Russia, at odds with Trump

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ASPEN, Colo. (AP) — National Intelligence Director Dan Coats’ drumbeat of criticism against Russia is clashing loudly with President Donald Trump’s pro-Kremlin remarks, leaving the soft-spoken spy chief in an uncomfortable — and perhaps perilous — place in the administration.

Trump’s remarks after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting, where he appeared to deny the longtime U.S. foe was still targeting American elections, are just the latest in a growing list of statements that conflict with Coats’. His job is to share the work of the 17 intelligence agencies he oversees with the president.

Coats, who will be speaking Thursday at a national security conference in Aspen, Colorado, is a former Republican lawmaker. He was banned from traveling to Russia in 2014 for calling out its annexation of Crimea, and he has continued to raise the alarm on Russia since his appointment by Trump as intelligence chief in March 2017.

That’s left Coats in a tight spot. Trump has been determined to forge closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, culminating in this week’s extraordinary summit in Helsinki. The disconnect with Coats was laid bare after Trump sparked outrage back home by giving credence to Russia’s denial of interference in the 2016 U.S. election as he stood alongside Putin.

Back in Washington, Coats was quick to issue a statement Monday to rebut that position. He restated the U.S. intelligence assessment about Russian meddling and “their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”

Former intelligence officials say Coats is just speaking truth to power, a mantra often used in describing the intelligence agencies’ historical relationship with any president. But in the Trump administration, Coats could be walking into a minefield, given the president’s track record of firing officials who don’t toe his line.

Michael Morell, former deputy and acting director of the CIA, said Coats and other national security officials in the Trump administration are just doing their jobs, and the president undermines them and the institutions they lead when he makes “inaccurate statements.”

“By doing this, the president is undermining our national security,” Morell said.

Trump did walk back his post-Putin summit comments on Tuesday, saying he’d misspoken when he said he saw no reason why it was Russia that had interfered in the 2016 election. He also said he accepted the intelligence agencies’ conclusion of Russian meddling. But he added, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

The president’s mixed messaging grew even more confusing Wednesday. He was asked if Russia was still targeting the U.S. and answered “no” — a statement that Morell contended was “flat-out wrong” because the Russians never stopped trying to interfere in the U.S. democracy.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said later that Trump does believe that Russia may try to target U.S. elections again and the “threat still exists.”

When asked Wednesday in a CBS News interview whether Trump agrees with Coats that the Russian threat is ongoing, the president said he did.

“Well, I accept. I mean, he’s an expert. This is what he does. He’s been doing a very good job. I have tremendous faith in Dan Coats, and if he says that, I would accept that. I will tell you though, it better not be. It better not be,” Trump said.

Trump has had a tense relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies since before he was elected, largely because of their conclusion that Putin ordered “an influence campaign” in 2016 aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Earlier in the administration, Coats’ voice was drowned out by the more outspoken Mike Pompeo, who was CIA director before Trump tapped him as secretary of state. Now with Pompeo heading the State Department, Coats has been thrust into the limelight as the voice of the intelligence community. In Aspen on Thursday, he’s expected to outline the cyberthreats the U.S. faces from Russia as well as other countries, such as China, North Korea and Iran.

Coats, 75, has been immersed in Washington politics for years. He served in the House in the 1980s and the Senate in the 1990s and 2010s and was the U.S. ambassador to Germany from 2001 to 2005. In 2014, Coats, who was a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, denounced Russia’s interference in eastern Ukraine and was banned from Russia.

Coats blew it off: “Our summer vacation in Siberia is a no-go,” he joked.

Still, Coats is not known as being flippant. He’s prided himself as being a steady voice, but it’s clear he is no fan of Russia.

In comments at a Washington think tank last week, he said, “The Russian bear … is out of the cave, hungry and clawing for more territory, more influence and using the same tactics we saw in the Cold War and more.”

He said the “more” is cyberthreats that are targeting U.S. government and businesses in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation and critical-manufacturing sectors. He said that while there had not been the scale of electoral interference detected in 2016, “we fully realize that we are just one click on a keyboard away from a similar situation repeating itself.”

Those tough remarks came just days before the Trump-Putin summit — and that was not the first time Coats has made statements starkly at odds with his boss.

On June 8, when Trump suggested at a summit in Canada that Russia should be asked to rejoin the G-7 organization of industrialized nations, Coats was making a speech in Normandy, France. There, Coats offered a laundry list of what he said were recent malign activities by Moscow. Those included political hacking in France, Germany and Norway, a damaging cyberassault on Ukraine, and Russian agents’ alleged attempt to kill two people in Britain with a nerve agent.

“These Russian actions are purposeful and premeditated and they represent an all-out assault, by (Russian President) Vladimir Putin, on the rule of law, Western ideals and democratic norms,” he said.

US deporting crime victims while they wait for special visa

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   For victims of crime on U.S. soil who are living here illegally, a special visa program encourages them to help solve their cases and catch criminals, and often provides their only clear path to citizenship.

But as Republican President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a harder line on immigration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement appears to be stepping up the detention and deportation of people who have applied for the so-called “U visa.”

“These cases come up on the regular,” said Cecelia Friedman Levin, senior policy counsel at ASISTA, a group that works with advocates and attorneys helping immigrant survivors of violence. “What that does, to my mind, is undermines the spirit of the protection to begin with.”

Through the program, petitioners are able to get a visa, and then a green card, before eventually applying for citizenship. But because of a long process and apparent policy shifts — something ICE denies but for which advocates have provided evidence — immigrants are now being swept up before they have a chance to legalize.

Their applications are still active even after they’re deported, but they can be separated from their families for years while they wait. And advocates argue some applicants came to the U.S. after fleeing violence or threats in their home countries and face danger if they return home, even temporarily.

Most important, they say, an undermined U visa program discourages the reporting of crimes committed here because immigrants are less likely to come forward as victims. That, they say, leaves perpetrators on the street to offend again.

Some of those fingered for deportation have also committed crimes of their own — often minor ones — while living in the country illegally and came to authorities’ attention that way. But the program’s guidelines are clear: Even commission of some serious crimes doesn’t always disqualify an applicant. Only extreme charges such as genocide and Nazi persecution completely bar a candidate. People with a criminal history have to file an additional waiver with their petitions but aren’t automatically banned.

Bernardo Reyes Rodriguez, who lived in Ohio until recently, came to the United States because of death threats from what he believes were members of drug cartels looking for money. He said he came to U.S. authorities’ attention for deportation because of a misdemeanor driving conviction. Now he is in Mexico, separated from his pregnant wife and his 8-year-old stepson, while he waits what could be years in a place where he feels unsafe.

“What I know is in Cincinnati,” he said. “I make my whole life there. I have my family there.”

Another U visa applicant who came to the U.S. illegally and was shot during a mugging in Kansas was deported to Honduras; he told The Associated Press gang members recently climbed onto his bus and shot the driver in the back of the head.

Recently retired ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan, in a late April interview with the AP, denied any changes to U visa protocol. On June 21, the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees both ICE and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, wrote “there have been no changes to … policies or procedures regarding the detention of victims or witnesses of crimes.”

Homan could not say for certain whether someone with a pending U visa petition could be deported.

“It’s case by case, right?” he said. “Is the person a national security threat, a public safety threat? Do they have criminal convictions? How strong is the U visa case? I could not possibly answer that question.”

ICE did not respond to questions from the AP in July about why misdemeanors would result in deportation or about the apparent uptick in such removals.

There is no official count of how many immigrants are being affected, but the AP interviewed several attorneys nationwide who see a pattern.

Cincinnati-based lawyer Deifilia Diaz said five clients were forced to leave. Alicia Kinsman, managing attorney at the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants, had one in removal proceedings, and another attorney in Wisconsin reported her client was facing deportation. Los Angeles-based lawyer Alma Rosa Nieto said that as a legal analyst for Telemundo, she now fields questions she never received before about relatives who have been removed despite pending U visa petitions.

It’s also taking longer these days for U visas to get approved, meaning there is that much more time for authorities to deport people while they wait.

U visas are limited to 10,000 per year to crime victims themselves, in addition to some for qualifying family members. The program has grown in popularity since its inception in 2000, and USCIS recently has been giving out around 18,000 visas total per year. By the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2018, there were over 200,000 petitions pending.

USCIS tells petitioners not to inquire about applications unless they date back further than mid-2014, and immigration enforcement no longer seems to always take a pending petition into account when choosing whether to deport someone, advocates say. That would break from past practice, and a court ruling.

A 2011 memo from John Morton, then the ICE director, said that in most cases concerning an immigrant who is a crime victim and does not pose security concerns, have a serious criminal history or threaten public safety, “exercising favorable discretion, such as release from detention and deferral or a stay of removal generally, will be appropriate.”

And a decision by the Department of Justice’s Board of Immigration Appeals in 2012, prompted by a related ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010, established that most U visa petitioners in removal proceedings should be able to remain stateside while they wait for their visa to be approved.

But now, the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is discouraging or altogether nixing the discretion judges once had, said Sarah Pierce, a policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute.

“This is part of a larger trend in this administration,” she said, “of not respecting the individuals who are qualified to apply for immigration benefits while they’re also in removal proceedings.”

Meanwhile, if a petitioner has a final order of removal, ICE will now give USCIS only five days to respond saying a U visa application is credible before moving forward with deportation, according to minutes from a teleconference between USCIS and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. That time frame was the minimum allowed back in 2009, before the 9th Circuit decision and 2011 memo, and when the number of pending petitions was around 20,000, not 200,000.

Today, that window, Pierce said, is an “insane turnaround in the immigration world.”

Gustavo Mendoza, the Honduran who was shot in the leg by two men trying to rob him, came to authorities’ attention after he was arrested for violating a domestic violence protection order his ex-girlfriend later dropped. He remains in Honduras.

Reyes Rodriguez, 25, came to the United States from Michoacan, Mexico, when he was 18. The area where he grew up was rife with corruption, kidnapping and violent threats toward people who appeared to have money.

His mother and sister, he said, received such threats, and his family insisted he move to the United States for his safety. He came to the U.S. illegally in 2010, met Jeniffer Reyes in 2012 and married her in 2015.

His wife, who moved here as a child and whose family overstayed a U.S. visa, had been abused by the father of her first child. After cooperating with police, she filed a U visa petition for herself and Reyes. In spring 2017, ICE agents showed up at the couple’s home after Reyes Rodriguez was convicted of reckless driving a year before. He told them about the pending visa but was arrested anyway.

Then, after a judge said he could wait for the visa in Mexico and it became clear he would be deported, he and Jeniffer left voluntarily.

The couple would sometimes speak in English after their return to Michoacan, Jeniffer said, which made them targets because locals assumed they were wealthy. Reyes Rodriguez’s mother started getting text messages with threats her son would be killed unless she paid up.

In March this year, after the couple felt Mexican police had trivialized the threats and Jeniffer discovered she was pregnant, they decided to return to the U.S.

Jeniffer traveled to Texas first; smugglers were supposed to bring Reyes Rodriguez to join her. After five days, Reyes Rodriguez called to tell her he had been caught while crossing and would serve jail time before being deported. He was sent back to Mexico at the end of June.

Now, Jeniffer is five months pregnant. Every day, she said, her 8-year-old son asks where Reyes Rodriguez, the man he considers his father, went.

“I know eventually we have to tell him what’s going on,” she said. “But it’s not right now.”

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Associated Press reporter Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.

LGBT advocates fear Kavanaugh’s votes on gay-rights issues

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Gay-rights supporters who thronged the Supreme Court plaza after justices declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right expect to have little to celebrate if Brett Kavanaugh replaces Justice Anthony Kennedy, the author of all the court’s major gay-rights rulings.

None of Kavanaugh’s roughly 300 opinions as an appellate judge deals directly with LGBT issues, but his approach to judging leads some scholars and activists to believe he is unlikely to echo Kennedy’s votes.

Still, they said Kavanaugh might be reluctant to overrule the landmark 2015 same-sex marriage decision, even if he might have voted against it in the first instance.

While LGBT advocates sound alarms about Kavanaugh, opponents of same-sex marriage are applauding his nomination, though not necessarily focusing on its potential impact on gay rights.

The Family Research Council, a major Christian conservative advocacy group, lauded Kavanaugh’s rulings on religious freedom and “long and praiseworthy history of judging as an originalist,” a term that means interpreting the Constitution as it was understood when written. The council describes homosexuality as “unnatural” and “harmful.”

The high court is likely to confront a range of LGBT issues, perhaps as early as the coming term. These could include President Donald Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military and whether federal civil rights laws banning discrimination in the workplace and education cover sexual orientation and gender identity. The justices also might be asked to decide an issue they passed over last term: whether businesses can invoke religious objections to refuse service to gay people.

At Kavanaugh’s 2006 confirmation hearing for his current post as an appellate judge — before the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide — he was asked whether he had a view on the definition of marriage and whether courts or legislatures should establish it. Kavanaugh didn’t say, instead responding to a part of the question about judicial restraint.

“Throughout our history, we’ve seen that some of the worst moments in the Supreme Court history have been moments of judicial activism, where courts have imposed their own policy preferences” instead of interpreting the law, he said.

With sparse evidence about Kavanaugh’s views on LGBT matters, observers are parsing his record for clues to how he might vote.

“I think there’s very little mystery here about how he is likely to view those issues,” said Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “He has an extremely conservative judicial record, and it’s highly likely he would be a consistently negative vote on any issue affecting LGBT people.”

Dale Carpenter, an expert on LGBT issues at Southern Methodist University, said he considers Kavanaugh a careful and thoughtful judge. “I don’t think he is going to be a knee-jerk judge in any direction, and I don’t think he is anti-LGBT,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Kavanaugh also is “a judicial conservative and he’s a textualist” who probably would be hesitant to expand the reach of civil rights laws, including protections barring workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, that do not specifically mention sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have recently ruled that bias against gay people is sex discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“He might see it as a very aggressive judicial decision to expand what have been seen to be the limits of Title VII protection, absent congressional action. But it’s not unthinkable,” Carpenter said.

Similarly, Kavanaugh’s opinions and writings in favor of presidential authority suggest he could uphold Trump’s ban on transgender people in the military, which has been blocked by lower courts, Carpenter said.

LGBT advocates point to two recent opinions Kavanaugh wrote on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to highlight other concerns.

Last year, Kavanaugh dissented from a ruling that ultimately allowed a 17-year-old immigrant in federal custody to obtain an abortion.

If Kavanaugh were to form a court majority for overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion and the right to privacy, “that would have implications including on LGBTQ cases that were built upon that legal theory,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign.

Sharon McGowan, legal director of Lambda Legal, noted that Kavanaugh’s dissent said his colleagues were creating “a new right” for the teen. “That is a move that has historically been used whenever LGBT people are trying to access a right that has been accessed for other people,” McGowan said.

Gay-rights advocates believe another Kavanaugh dissent — from a 2015 ruling against a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for contraceptive coverage — could signal how he might view arguments for religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws. He said that requiring religious organizations to submit a form objecting to paying for the coverage “substantially burdened” the free exercise of religion.

“One of the primary battlegrounds for both LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights will be around religious exemptions, an area where we have already seen Judge Kavanaugh favor those seeking exceptions over those who are being denied services,” GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis wrote in an email.

Kavanaugh subscribes to the view that courts should find in the Constitution rights that are not expressly mentioned only if they are rooted in history and tradition. This helps explain why Carpenter and other legal scholars believe Kavanaugh probably would not have been a vote for same-sex marriage on the Supreme Court.

But now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, it probably is safe, said Douglas Kmiec, a Pepperdine University professor of constitutional law, who served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. “It would be extremely surprising if Judge Kavanaugh were to see the judiciary as capable of disavowing” Kennedy’s opinion that is anchored in human dignity, Kmiec said.

Carpenter held out the prospect that Kavanaugh could surprise LGBT advocates.

“Judges are capable of surprising us. There was nothing in Kennedy’s history to suggest he’d be anything like he was,” he said.

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Peltz reported from New York.

Russian officials to meet suspected spy jailed in US

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Embassy officials were to meet Thursday with a Siberian gun rights activist jailed in Washington on charges of spying on the United States, as Moscow blasted the arrest as “anti-Russian hysteria.”

The embassy said in a Facebook post that consular officials will meet with Maria Butina for the first time since her Sunday arrest, and will provide her “all necessary help.”

Butina, 29, denies wrongdoing, and the Russian government claims the arrest was driven by U.S. domestic politics and an overall anti-Russian mood.

U.S. federal prosecutors accuse Butina of being a covert Russian agent, having contacts with the KGB successor agency FSB, and using sex and deception to forge influential U.S. connections.

Court documents released at her hearing Wednesday outlined ways Butina allegedly worked covertly to establish back-channel lines of communication to the Kremlin and infiltrate U.S. political organizations, including the National Rifle Association.

Her father, Valery Butin, said the family has been unable to speak to Butina since her arrest, according to the TASS news agency.

Butina grew up in a modest apartment building in the Siberian city of Barnaul, closer to the Mongolian and Kazakh borders than Moscow.

One of her former teachers told The Associated Press that Butina initially thought she would follow her father’s footsteps as an entrepreneur, and opened a string of furniture stores.

But she developed an appetite for high-level politics after going to a special camp for young political hopefuls run by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, said Konstantin Emeshin, founder of the School of Real Politics in Barnaul, where Butina got her first degree.

“She came back inspired, having met lots of people,” he said.

Butina later moved to Moscow, started a gun-rights group, and then moved to the United States where she got a graduate degree in May from American University. U.S. prosecutors say her studies were a cover for her covert activities.

Emeshin said that Butina was considering a job in Silicon Valley after graduation, and told him she felt herself “at a crossroads.”

A week before her arrest, Emeshin said, she contacted him on Facebook and asked for the contacts of specialists who defend “victims of political repression.” She didn’t elaborate. Butina had already been questioned by the U.S. Senate and had her apartment searched by the FBI in recent months.

Butina awaits trial on charges of conspiracy and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia. She pleaded not guilty Wednesday, but was ordered held in jail as the case moves forward because of fears she would flee the country.

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The Justice Department on Monday charged a Russian national, Mariia Butina, also known as Maria, with conspiring against the US as a secret agent.

Here are six takeaways from the court documents:

Russians sought back channels into the US government

Butina and her mentor, Alexander Torshin, “took steps to develop relationships with American politicians in order to establish private, or as she called them, ‘back channel’ lines of communication,” an FBI affidavit filed in court says.

“These lines could be used by the Russian Federation to penetrate the US national decision-making apparatus to advance the agenda of the Russian Federation.”

Leading up to the 2016 election, Butina sought to introduce Russians to Americans. She discussed posing as a go-between herself between powerful Americans and the Russian government.

She also suggested in September 2016 to two Americans that they should work to build “an advisers team on Russia for a new president.”

Following Donald Trump’s election in 2016, she and Torshin discussed their predictions for secretary of state, and whether that was good for “our people,” the affidavit said.

She made connections with GOP, National Rifle Association

One of the Americans she worked with said one month before the 2016 presidential election they were working on a “VERY” private line of communication between the Kremlin and one political party through a gun rights organization, believed to be the National Rifle Association, according to court documents. Butina was involved with a Russian gun group that the National Rifle Association was supportive of and has met several Republican politicians, as evidenced in photos she took with them.

Butina and Torshin spent three years coaxing the Republican Party to be Russia’s ally. They were preparing for when Obama and Putin would no longer be presidents.

“American society is broken in relation to Russia,” she said in a Twitter direct message to Torshin in 2016. “This is now the dividing line of opinions, the crucial one in the election race. [The Republican Party] are for us, [the Democratic Party] against — 50/50. Our move here is very important.”

The American person she was in touch with in 2015 told Butina she could help guide Russian-American relations after Obama and Putin left their offices.

The person applauded her meeting Americans and attending conferences in America.

Butina was set up to influence both American politicians and corporate leaders

In 2015, Butina met privately with a political candidate. She also discussed a plan for Torshin to buy a plane ticket for a US congressman to visit Moscow.

Butina met leaders of one political party while being called “a representative of informal diplomacy” for Russia, the affidavit says.

At one point in 2015, she and an American discussed a $125,000 budget for her “special project,” to participate in major Republican conferences. The American told her she would have unlimited ability to meet American companies if she could be a potential intermediary to the Russian government, the complaint stated.

Later, following the 2016 presidential election, Butina and the Russian official discussed a possible pro-Russian converence that US members of Congress could attend, according to the documents.

She tried to get Putin into the National Prayer Breakfast

Some of Butina’s work in the US revolved around the National Prayer Breakfasts in 2016 and 2017.

Instagram/butina_maria © Instagram/butina_maria Instagram/butina_maria

Butina allegedly raised the possibility that Russian President Vladimir Putin would attend the event in 2017. The demands: 15 world leaders at the breakfast, and a personal invitation from the President. The Prayer Breakfast organizer responded that he would provide 10 seats at the event. Putin did not attend.

There may be more to come

The case against a Russian agent infiltrating the Republican Party may be larger than just the one arrest.

Newly unsealed court documents show that prosecutors indicated in a court filing on Saturday their investigation into the Russian foreign agent had more than one subject.

“The government will continue its investigation after execution of the arrest warrant,” the prosecutors wrote to the judge. “And disclosure of the arrest warrant would jeopardize the investigation by providing the subjects of the investigation an opportunity to destroy evidence or flee and jeopardize the investigation by disclosing the details of facts known to investigators, the identities of witnesses, and the investigative strategy.”

Court records indicate that a two-minute discussion during her appearance in court Monday was still sealed.

The judge initially agreed to seal the case so as not to give Butina a chance to flee or destroy documents, according to the court filing.

She was directed to have ‘patience and cold blood’

This court filing has an overview of Russian influence efforts similar to that which Trump denied on Monday in Helsinki.

“Moscow seeks to create wedges that reduce trust and confidence in democratic processes, degrade democratization efforts, weaken US partnerships with European allies, undermine Western sanctions, encourage anti-US political views, and counter efforts to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet states into European institutions,” the FBI wrote.

Torshin also reflected on their spycraft in a private Twitter exchange with Butina in 2016, according to the FBI. “It is not about winning today’s fight (although we are striving for it) but to win the entire battle. This is the battle for the future, it cannot be lost!” he wrote, according to private messages published in court documents.

She responded that “harsh and impetuous moves will ruin everything early.”

“Patience and cold blood + faith in yourself. And everything will definitely turn out,” he wrote.

Business: Global stocks drift lower as investors await news on trade

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global stock markets were drifting lower Thursday as investors awaited further moves in global trade disputes with the U.S. mulling whether to impose new tariffs on autos and auto parts. Its trading partners in Europe and Asia could retaliate in kind, denting one of the key drivers of global growth.

KEEPING SCORE: European markets traded mostly lower early Thursday with France’s CAC 40 down 0.4 percent at 5,426.28. Germany’s DAX fell 0.3 percent to 12,726.68. But Britain’s FTSE 100 added 0.2 percent to 7,689.51. Futures augured a lukewarm start on Wall Street with S&P futures down 0.2 percent and Dow futures down 0.1 percent.

AUTO TARIFFS: The next big event on the global trade front may be the U.S. Commerce Department’s decision whether to label imported vehicles and auto parts a threat to America’s national security and whether to recommend tariffs to the president. Before the decision is made, manufacturers, suppliers, car dealers and foreign diplomats will line up Thursday to testify at a Washington hearing, seeking to head off new auto tariffs.

ASIA’S DAY: Asian markets finished mostly lower with Japan’s Nikkei 225 losing 0.1 percent to 22,764.68 while South Korea’s Kospi shed 0.3 percent to 2,282.29. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.4 percent to 28,010.86 while the Shanghai Composite Index slipped 0.5 percent to 2,772.55. But Australia’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.3 percent to 6,262.70.

ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK OUTLOOK: The Manila, Philippines-based Asian Development Bank issued a revised economic forecast for the region and for major industrial economies that kept mostly unchanged the estimates for growth it made in April, though it warned that trade tensions pose “a clear downside risk to the outlook for developing Asia.” It forecast growth for the region at 6.0 percent in 2018 and 5.9 percent for 2019.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “The tone is little changed from yesterday with earnings and the Fed relief carrying markets higher and providing positive leads for us here in Asia. That said, markets lack real conviction amid the waffling sentiment,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 70 cents to $68.06 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Wednesday, the contract rose 1 percent to finish at $68.76 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 73 cents to $72.17 per barrel in London. It added 1 percent to settle at $72.90 a barrel on Wednesday.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 113.04 yen from 112.85 yen. The euro weakened to $1.1601 from $1.1638.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Thursday, July 19:

1. Trade War Fears Return To The Forefront

Trade war jitters returned to the forefront after China said comments made by a senior White House official blaming Chinese President Xi Jinping for blocking progress on a deal to avert a trade war were “shocking” and “bogus” accusations.

On Wednesday, Larry Kudlow, who heads the White House Economic Council, said that he believed lower-ranking Chinese officials want a deal, including Xi’s senior economic adviser Liu He, but that Xi has refused to make changes to China’s technology transfer and other trade policies.

Asked about Kudlow’s comments, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said earlier: “That the relevant United States official unexpectedly distorted the facts and made bogus accusations is shocking and beyond imagination.”

The U.S. and China this month slapped tariffs on $34 billion of each other’s imports in an escalating trade tussle that has roiled financial markets.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened further tariffs unless Beijing agrees to change its intellectual property practices and high-technology industrial subsidy plans.

At the same time, the European Union is preparing a list of counter-measures to potential U.S. tariffs on European cars, European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said today, adding she hoped an EU visit to Washington could help ease tensions.

2. U.S. Stock Futures Point To Lower Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a lower open, as investors continued to keep a wary eye on recent trade disputes between the U.S. and several of its trading partners.

At 5:30AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were down 38 points, or about 0.1%. The S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures also indicated a downbeat start to their respective trading sessions.

Elsewhere, in Europe, most of the region’s major bourses traded lower, with the different sectors mostly in negative territory. Basic resources fell 1.5%, among the worst-performers in mid-morning trade.

Earlier, Asian stocks closed mixed, with major markets fading after initially trading higher. China’s Shanghai composite shed 0.5%, marking a fifth straight session of declines, while the yuan sank to fresh one-year lows (USD/CNH).

The move lower has prompted speculation that Chinese policymakers are allowing their currency to weaken in order to offset the impact of U.S. trade tariffs, by making their exports more competitive.

3. Microsoft Is Next Up In String Of Tech Results

Following earnings from Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) at the start of the week, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) is the next big name from the technology sector to report quarterly results after the markets close on Thursday.

Analysts are forecasting earnings per share EPS of $1.08 on revenue of $29.21 billion. In the prior-year quarter, the company earned $0.98 on revenue of $24.7 billion.

Microsoft has beat earnings estimates in each of the past 8 quarters.

The stock is up about 22% year to date, slightly below its recent all-time high of $106.50 on July 17.

Results in the morning are also expected from Dow member Travelers (NYSE:TRV). Philip Morris (NYSE:PM), Blackstone (NYSE:BX), Domino’s Pizza (NYSE:DPZ), Bank of New York Mellon (NYSE:BK), Fifth Third Bancorp (NASDAQ:FITB), Danaher (NYSE:DHR), Union Pacific (NYSE:UNP) and Nucor (NYSE:NUE) are also on the docket.

After the closing bell, earnings from Capital One (NYSE:COF), E-Trade (NASDAQ:ETFC), Skechers (NYSE:SKX) and Intuitive Surgical (NASDAQ:ISRG) will all be in the spotlight.

Investors will also be focused on IBM (NYSE:IBM) shares after the company beat second-quarter earnings expectations laid out by analysts after Wednesday’s closing bell.

4. Dollar Rallies To 1-Year High On Fed Rate Hike Bets

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar extended its rally to trade at a one-year high after hawkish comments by the chairman of the Federal Reserve underlined expectations for two additional rate hikes by the central bank this year.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was up 0.4% to 95.26, the strongest level since July 14, 2017.

Demand for the dollar continued to be underpinned after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell gave an upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy during congressional testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday, and downplayed the impact of uncertainty over U.S. trade policy on the outlook for additional rate hikes.

Elsewhere, in the bond market, U.S. Treasury prices edged lower, pushing yields higher across the curve, with the benchmark 10-year yield rising to around 2.89%, while the Fed-sensitive 2-year note was near 2.63%.

On the data front, the economic calendar brings investors the weekly report on initial jobless claims and the Philadelphia Fed’s July reading on manufacturing activity both due at 8:30AM ET.

5. Copper, Gold Prices Crash As Metals Sell Off

Copper and gold prices fell to their lowest levels in a about a year, amid fears that an escalating trade spat between Washington and Beijing could hit demand for metals, particularly if Chinese growth is affected.

 

Copper futures were down almost 3% to $2.679 a pound, a level not seen since July 14, 2017.

Nickel, zinc and lead also suffered steep selloffs.

Meanwhile, among precious metals, gold tumbled roughly 1% to $1,217.30 an ounce, reaching the weakest in about a year on its fifth consecutive decline.

Silver, platinum and palladium futures were also all down at least 1%.

Metals prices have also been hit by the stronger dollar, which makes commodities priced in the U.S. currency more expensive for overseas buyers.

Trump backs off siding with Russia over US intelligence

WASHINGTON (AP) — Blistered by bipartisan condemnation of his embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump backed away from his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Rebuked as never before by his own party, including a stern pushback from usually reserved Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the U.S. president sought to end 27 hours of recrimination by delivering a rare admission of error.

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia’” instead of “why it would,” Trump said Tuesday of the comments he had made standing alongside Vladimir Putin on the summit stage in Helsinki.

That didn’t explain why Trump, who had tweeted a half-dozen times and sat for two television interviews since the Putin news conference, waited so long to correct his remarks. And the scripted cleanup pertained only to the least defensible of his comments.

He didn’t reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.

A day after U.S. President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, President Trump is going back on comments he made during their joint press conference. (July 17)

He also accused past American leaders, rather than Russia’s destabilizing actions in the U.S. and around the world, for the souring of relations between two countries. And he did not address his other problematic statements during a week-long Europe tour, in which he sent the NATO alliance into emergency session and assailed British Prime Minister Theresa May as she was hosting him for an official visit.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump conceded Tuesday. But even then he made a point of adding, “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all.”

Moments earlier, McConnell felt the need to reassure America’s allies in Europe with whom Trump clashed during his frenzied trip last week.

With no if’s or but’s, the GOP leader declared, “The European countries are our friends, and the Russians are not.”

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump was trying to “squirm away” from his comments alongside Putin. “It’s 24 hours too late and in the wrong place,” he said.

By dusk, hundreds of activists, led by attorney Michael Avenatti and actress Alyssa Milano, staged a protest near the White House, with chants of “traitor!” echoing along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump still maintained that his meetings with NATO allies went well and his summit with Putin “even better.” But this reference to diplomatic success carried an edge, too, since the barrage of criticism and insults he delivered in Brussels and London was hardly well-received.

Later Tuesday, Trump tweeted, “The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!”

On Capitol Hill, top Republican leaders said they were open to slapping fresh sanctions on Russia, but they showed no sign of acting any time soon.

“Let’s be very clear, just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, another steady Trump political ally. “What we intend to do is make sure they don’t get away with it again and also to help our allies.”

In the Senate, McConnell said “there’s a possibility” his chamber would act, pointing to a bipartisan measure from Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., to deter future Russian interference by ordering sanctions against countries if they do.

Both parties called for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials to appear before Congress and tell exactly what happened during Trump’s two-hour private session with Putin. Pompeo is to publicly testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 25.

Schumer also urged the Senate to take up legislation to boost security for U.S. elections and to revive a measure passed earlier by the Judiciary Committee to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference.

But minority Democrats have few tools to enforce anything.

In the House, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi staged a vote Tuesday in support of the intelligence committee’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But even that largely symbolic measure was blocked party-line by Republicans.

Senators had floated a similar idea earlier, and Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona said he was preparing a bipartisan bill. But The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said sanctions may be preferable to a nonbinding resolution that amounts to “just some messaging exercise.”

Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said. That’s the part he corrected on Tuesday.

White House officials did not elaborate on how Trump came to issue the clarification, but administration aides described being stunned by his initial remarks Monday. GOP leaders, outraged by Trump’s comments in Helsinki, found out about his attempts to quell the outrage the same way everyone else did, as one aide put it, by watching and learning.

After his walkback, Trump said his administration would “move aggressively” to repel efforts to interfere in American elections.

“We are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” he said. “And we have a lot of power.”

Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul emerged as one of the president’s few defenders. He cited Trump’s experience on the receiving end of “partisan investigations.”

Back at the White House, Paul’s comments drew a presidential tweet of gratitude: “Thank you @RandPaul, you really get it!”

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Follow Miller on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@ZekeJMiller and Mascaro at http://twitter.com/@LisaMascaro.

Intense government bombing of south Syria opposition holdout

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BEIRUT (AP) — Talks to cede the largest opposition holdout in southwestern Syria to the government have failed, triggering an intense overnight bombing campaign on the densely populated town that killed a dozen people and injured over a hundred, activists and rescuers said Wednesday.

Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an overnight ‘frenzied’ bombing campaign continued into Wednesday, with at least 350 missiles lobbed into Nawa and its surrounding areas. The Observatory said at least 12 were killed as rescuers struggled to get to the casualties.

Khaled Solh, head of the local Syrian civil defense known as White Helmets, said only one ambulance was able to access the town and civilians relied on their cars to bring out at least 150 injured. He said the only hospital in the town was struck in the overnight campaign, rendering it non-operational. He said one of the last orthopedists in the town was killed in the strikes.

In less than a month, Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power have been able to seize control of most of Daraa province, including the eponymous provincial capital that was the cradle of the uprising against President Bashar Assad more than seven years ago.

They have stepped up their military offensive on the remaining opposition pockets in the southwestern region that includes Daraa and Quneitra provinces that straddle the border with Jordan and the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Alongside the military offensive, the government has resorted to “reconciliation” agreements whereby it negotiated capitulation deals in a number of villages to restore government control in the localities that have been in rebel hands for years.

Talks to hand over Nawa, one of the most densely populated towns in Daraa province, have been ongoing for a couple of days. This has encouraged displaced civilians to return in droves to Nawa, said a local activist who goes by the name Selma Mohammed. But the talks faltered, triggering the overnight onslaught.

Mohammed said the bombing triggered a new wave of displacement, with hundreds leaving the town again. On Wednesday, the bombing focused on towns and villages surrounding Nawa, making the road in and out of town deadly, Mohammed said.

The Observatory said warplanes and ground forces have also targeted with a barrage of missiles the southern tip of the region, which is held by a militant group affiliated with the Islamic State group.

With most of Daraa under control, government forces have turned their focus to the area near the frontier with Israel, to clear the last pockets of the opposition.

The offensive has displaced more than 230,000 people, many of them on the run in the open from the onslaught. Jordan said it will not take in new refugees and Israeli soldiers have shooed away dozens of protesters demanding protection who approached the frontier Tuesday.

Curious path of Siberian gun lover accused of spying on US

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MOSCOW (AP) — By her early 20s, Maria Butina appeared to have a budding political career and a mini furniture empire in her remote Siberian hometown. Then she abandoned both to pursue her passion for gun rights — and, prosecutors say, to spy on the United States.

Butina, 29, faces a hearing Wednesday in Washington on accusations she worked as a foreign agent, representing a new generation of Russian operatives seeking a long-term U.S. foothold. Her lawyer says she did nothing wrong.

“It’s psychosis. A witch hunt,” her father, Valery Butin, was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Altapress website in her hometown of Barnaul.

U.S. prosecutors suggest Butina used her gun-lobbying efforts to infiltrate the NRA and the Republican Party, both during the 2016 presidential campaign and after Donald Trump’s election.

U.S. federal prosecutors detailed extensive private Twitter conversations and other discussions between Butina and a senior Russian official about her activities in the United States.

The Russian official is believed to be Alexander Torshin, deputy head of the Russian Central Bank and a target of U.S. sanctions since April. He and the Central Bank didn’t respond to requests for comment about Butina’s arrest.

Kremlin-backed Russian television calls her the “ideal victim” of anti-Russian hysteria in the U.S. The Russian Embassy in Washington says Butina hasn’t been able to meet with consular representatives since her Sunday arrest.

From her provincial beginnings, Russian media accounts say, Butina displayed remarkable ambition, political savvy and an overt love of weapons.

That carried her out of the Siberian steppe to Moscow, where she befriended a well-placed senator and founded a gun-rights group.

Her ambitions didn’t stop at Russia’s borders. She traveled to gun shows and right-wing events from the Freedomfest in Las Vegas to a National Rifle Association meeting in Indianapolis, according to her own social media posts. In Wisconsin, she met the governor; in South Dakota, she gave speeches at a high school and university.

“There is nothing new in this case,” the Russian ambassador to the U.S., Anatoly Antonov, said Wednesday, according to Russian news agencies. “The U.S. intelligence services are hunting for Russia’s citizens not only in the U.S. but in other countries too.”

Before her move to the U.S., Butina studied politics at Altai State University and the School of Real Politics in Barnaul, and opened a furniture store that she grew into a network, according to Altapress and other local news sites.

Butina was elected to the local Public Chamber, an advisory body that acts as a go-between between local officials and the public.

She ran for a spot on the nationwide Public Chamber; she didn’t get it but she did make contacts in Moscow and moved to the capital, where she founded gun-rights group Right to Bear Arms.

Among those she met in Moscow was political expert Andrei Kolyadin, who used her as an interpreter when he attended a National Prayer Breakfast in the U.S. and said he spoke with her just before her arrest about the World Cup, held in Russia.

“She is an extremely energetic person with plenty of ideas,” he said in an interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency. He insisted she wasn’t working in intelligence.

Butina is charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government, suspected of gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin.

Her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, called the allegations “overblown” and said prosecutors had criminalized mundane networking opportunities. Driscoll said Butina is not an agent of the Russian Federation but is instead in the U.S. on a student visa, graduating from American University with a master’s degree in international relations.

The former head of the School of Real Politics in Barnaul questioned the accusations against her — and especially the timing of her arrest, announced just after Trump held a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“What’s the interest in Maria? She has been studying there two or three years. Why didn’t they suspect her a year ago? Why exactly on the day of the visit with Trump is this needed?” Konstantin Emeshin asked on state-run Rossiya 1 television.

Answering his own question, he continued: “So that there is a reason for information to spread, so it can be twisted around.”

Ex-FBI chief Comey urges voters to support Democrats in fall

WASHINGTON (AP) — James Comey, the FBI director who was fired last year by President Donald Trump, is urging voters to support Democrats in November’s midterm elections.

Comey says on Twitter that the “Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the Founders’ design that ‘Ambition must … counteract ambition.’” That refers to the need for Congress to provide checks and balances to presidential power.

Comey writes: “All who believe in this country’s values must vote for Democrats this fall. … History has its eyes on us.”

The former FBI director recently said he no longer considers himself a Republican.

On Monday, after Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Comey tweeted, “This was the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on President Donald Trump and his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin (all times local):

10:30 p.m.

James Comey, the FBI director who was fired last year by President Donald Trump, is urging voters to support Democrats in November’s midterm elections.

Comey says on Twitter that the “Republican Congress has proven incapable of fulfilling the Founders’ design that ‘Ambition must … counteract ambition.’” That refers to the need for Congress to provide checks and balances to presidential power.

Comey writes: “All who believe in this country’s values must vote for Democrats this fall. … History has its eyes on us.”

The former FBI director recently said he no longer considers himself a Republican.

On Monday, after Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Comey tweeted, “This was the day an American president stood on foreign soil next to a murderous lying thug and refused to back his own country.”

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8 p.m.

President Donald Trump is straining to “clarify” his public undermining of American intelligence agencies, saying he simply misspoke when he said he saw no reason to believe Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump says, “The sentence should have been, ’I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia” instead of “why it would.”

Trump had made the comment Monday while standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

On Tuesday, Trump didn’t reverse other statements in which he gave clear credence to Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of Russian involvement, raised doubts about his own intelligence agencies’ conclusions and advanced discredited conspiracy theories about election meddling.

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3:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he entered negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin “from a position of tremendous strength” because of a “booming” U.S. economy and strong military.

Trump says he and Putin discussed a number of issues, including the civil war in Syria, efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions and Israel.

The president says the two leaders also discussed North Korea. He says, “Russia has assured us of its support” and discussions are ongoing.

He says Putin “will be involved” in efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons from North Korea and sanctions will remain in place on the North.

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3:25 p.m.

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady is telling President Donald Trump that the House will soon pursue legislation to make permanent the 2017 tax cuts for individuals.

Brady says during a meeting with Trump and other lawmakers that the House plans to vote in September on making the tax cuts permanent. The cuts are currently expected to expire at the end of 2025.

Brady is predicting that the tax package could add 1.5 million jobs to the U.S. economy.

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3:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump says his administration will “move aggressively to repel any efforts” to interfere in the upcoming midterm elections.

Trump says the White House is doing “everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.”

The president told reporters he accepts the American intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. But he is continuing to deny that his campaign colluded in the effort.

The president spoke a day after he returned from his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Trump has faced an avalanche of criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike for declining to condemn Russia’s interference in the 2016 election or declining to say he believes U.S. intelligence agencies instead of Russia’s denials of interference.

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2:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he meant the opposite when he said in Helsinki that he doesn’t see why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Back at the White House on Tuesday, the president told reporters that he said he meant he doesn’t see why Russia “wouldn’t” be responsible.

He also said he accepts the American intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the election, but he denied that his campaign had colluded in the effort.

Trump spoke a day after returning to the U.S. to nearly universal condemnation of his performance at Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side in Helsinki. Putin said he wanted Trump to win the race against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In Helsinki, Trump delivered no condemnation of Russia’s interference and refused to say he believes American intelligence agencies over Russia’s denials of meddling.

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2:15 p.m.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is calling NATO the “most significant military alliance in history.” In remarks to reporters Tuesday, McConnell said “the European countries are our friends and the Russians are not.”

McConnell says there is “indisputable evidence” Russia tried to affect the 2016 presidential election. He says the Senate understands the “Russia threat” and that is the “widespread view here in the United States Senate among members of both parties.”

McConnell’s words came just minutes before President Donald Trump was expected to speak about the Helsinki summit on Monday. They seemed aimed at sending a clear message both to Trump and the Europeans.

At the summit, Trump appeared to favor Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denial of Russian meddling over the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia did try to interfere.

Trump also at varying times in his European trip disparaged the NATO alliance, which was formed to counter the former Soviet Union.

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1:50 p.m.

House Republicans have used a party-line vote to block a Democratic measure aimed at condemning President Donald Trump’s stunning comments in Helsinki, Finland, about Russia. It was the first vote testing how Congress will react to Trump’s remarks.

On Monday, Trump stood beside Russian President Vladimir Putin and challenged American intelligence agencies’ findings that Moscow had interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections. He seemed to accept Putin’s insistence that his government had done nothing.

By 230-183, the House rejected a Democratic measure endorsing Speaker Paul Ryan’s remarks criticizing Russia. The Wisconsin Republican said “there is no question” Russia interfered in the elections and said there is “no moral equivalence” between the two countries.

The two-page Democratic proposal summarized Ryan’s points and said the House “expresses its agreement” with them.

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1:15 p.m.

The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee wants Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to brief Capitol Hill about President Donald Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sen. Bob Corker told reporters that Pompeo will “hopefully” come before the panel next week.

The Tennessee Republican sees it as a “first step” as lawmakers consider responding to the Trump-Putin summit.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said senators want Pompeo to come up “to tell us, was there any deal struck in that two hour meeting?”

Lawmakers were floating various responses after Trump publicly doubted the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and suggested he believed Putin’s denials.

Corker said: “We want to think through what we do so it benefits our country.”

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12:31 p.m.

President Donald Trump will make remarks Tuesday afternoon about his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as he faces mounting criticism from allies and foes alike about his failure to publicly condemn Russian election meddling.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders says Trump will speak about Monday’s summit with Putin in Helsinki before a scheduled 2 p.m. meeting with Republican members of Congress at the White House.

The White House says Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady of Texas and five other lawmakers are to be in attendance. The meeting had been set to be about tax policy.

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12:00 p.m.

The No. 2 Senate Republican says there may be additional sanctions on Russia in the upheaval following President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters that sanctions might draw bipartisan support because Democrats have also backed the idea. “We could find common ground to turn the screws on Russia,” Cornyn said.

Cornyn suggested sanctions legislation as an alternative to plans for a resolution supporting the intelligence community’s findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

A resolution —as some in the House are suggesting— is “just some messaging exercise,” said Cornyn.

No votes are scheduled yet as lawmakers are consider various ways to respond after Trump, at the summit, suggested he believed the Russian president’s denials of election interference, rather than the findings of the U.S. intelligence agencies.

11:40 a.m.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is calling for immediate hearings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top officials to learn more about President Donald Trump’s private meeting on Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin (POO’-tihn).

Schumer says the American people deserve to know what, if anything, Trump promised Putin during the two-hour sitdown in Helsinki that included just the two leaders and their interpreters. Additional meetings later included senior aides to both men.

Schumer said Trump showed “abject weakness and sycophancy” in failing to condemn Russian interference in the 2016 election. He said Trump’s public remarks make it even more important to learn what happened behind closed doors, calling it a matter of national security.

Schumer also urged the Senate to take up bipartisan bills boosting security of U.S. elections.

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11:30 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan says he’s willing to consider additional sanctions on Russia, but there’s no rush to act.

Ryan had pointedly reminded President Donald Trump on Monday “that Russia is not our ally,” after Trump cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings of election meddling by Vladimir Putin’s operatives.

On Tuesday, Ryan underscored that Russia did interfere in the 2016 elections and is a “menacing government” that does not share U.S. values. He said Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation.

But the Republican leader did not suggest the House will be responding legislatively any time soon.

“Let’s be very clear just so everybody knows: Russia did meddle with our elections,” Ryan said. “What we intend to do is make sure they don’t get away with it again, and also to help our allies.”

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11:00 a.m.

House Democrats say they will try to force a vote affirming the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. elections, and endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement rebuking President Donald Trump.

Trump on Monday questioned the intelligence agencies’ findings at a press conference in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ryan issued a statement afterward saying there’s “no question” that Russia interfered and “the president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.”

In a letter to colleagues, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats will use a procedural move to try and force votes on the issue Tuesday. Pelosi said that Trump’s “total weakness in the presence of Putin proves that the Russians have something on the president, personally, financially or politically.”

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10:34 a.m.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says it’s ready to boost cooperation with the U.S. military in Syria, following talks between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The ministry said in a statement Tuesday that it’s ready for “practical implementation” of agreements reached by Trump and Putin.

It said Russia’s military leadership is ready to augment contacts with U.S. counterparts on “cooperation in Syria” and extending the START arms control treaty, but gave no details.

Putin said Russia and the U.S. reached common ground on Syria at Monday’s talks but gave few details.

The U.S. and Russia have backed opposite sides of Syria’s war, but U.S. and Russian officials are working toward an eventual deal on the balance of regional power in post-war Syria.

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10:30 a.m.

President Donald Trump is unbowed by bipartisan criticism of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In a Tuesday tweet the President calls the Monday summit in Helsinki “even better” than his meeting with NATO allies last week in Brussels.

Trump is facing bipartisan criticism for his refusal to publicly challenge Putin over Russia’s election hacking and for doubting U.S. intelligence agency conclusions about Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign. Trump backers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have criticized his performance.

Trump is taking aim at a familiar target — the media — saying his NATO meeting was “great” but that he “had an even better meeting with Vladimir Putin of Russia. Sadly, it is not being reported that way – the Fake News is going Crazy!”

Even hosts on the Trump-preferred Fox News have been critical of his handling of the summit.

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9:25 a.m.

Some lawmakers are talking about passing a resolution in support of U.S. intelligence agencies after President Donald Trump appeared to cast doubt on their findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, tells CNN the talk picked up following Trump’s Helsinki press conference. “Is that going to change anything?” he asked. “Probably not.” Congressional resolutions don’t carry the force of law.

Other Republican lawmakers have joined the criticism.

Sen. Ben Sasse-R-Neb., told CBS “This Morning” that “the president isn’t leading. We negotiated from a position of weakness yesterday. Vladimir Putin walked away with a win.”

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., told CNN that Trump’s performance was “very embarrassing.”

But at least one Republican, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, dismissed the president’s critics as those who hate the president.

Trump tweeted his thanks.

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8:35 a.m.

Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci says President Donald Trump must waste no time in disavowing his Helsinki press conference comments, where Trump appeared to doubt U.S. intelligence and accepted Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian election meddling.

Trump made a “strategic mistake” Monday that will drive his supporters into an alliance with opposition Democrats, Scaramucci warned on CNN. “He’s got to reverse course.”

“I’d be issuing a statement,” Scaramucci added. He said Trump must quickly say that he misspoke and that “the evidence is obviously irrefutable.”

Scaramucci added, “The optics of the situation are a disaster.”

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12:14 a.m.

Swift and sweeping condemnation from Republicans as well as Democrats met President Donald Trump’s defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin and continued doubt over Russian election meddling.

Lawmakers and former intelligence officials appeared shocked, dismayed and uneasy with Trump’s suggestion Monday that he believes Putin’s denial over the assessment of U.S. intelligence officials and the Justice Department.

One of the sharpest reactions came from Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who called Trump’s remarks in Helsinki “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Other Republicans have been scathing, too. Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called it “bizarre,” Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona called it “shameful,” and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina tweeted that it was a “bad day for the US.”

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The Trump-Putin meeting news hub is active on the AP News site and the mobile app. It showcases AP’s overall coverage of the event. It can be found at https://www.apnews.com/tag/Trump-PutinSummit

Smoke clogs Yosemite Valley as firefighters battle blaze

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MARIPOSA, Calif. (AP) — Hot and dry weather on Tuesday hindered efforts to slow the growth of a forest fire near Yosemite National Park that killed a California firefighter last weekend, leading some tourists to cut short their visits although all park trails remained open.

The blaze roaring through dry brush and timber between the town of Mariposa and Yosemite National Park has scorched more than 19 square miles (49 square kilometers) in steep terrain on the park’s western edge, the U.S. Forest Service said.

More than 1,400 firefighters were battling the flames threatening more than 100 homes and businesses, the Forest Service said. It’s just 5 percent contained.

An inversion layer trapped smoke in the area, limiting air attacks and leading officials to issue a hazardous air alert, saying people with health conditions should stay indoors.

“Use common sense. If it looks smoky outside it’s probably not a good time to go for a run. And it’s probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors,” Mariposa County officials said.

Alyssa Sandoval of Pollock Pines, California, planned to leave the park Tuesday. But she left a day early after spending a couple hours in a smoke-filled valley.

Hot and dry weather on Tuesday hindered efforts to slow the growth of a forest fire near Yosemite National Park. The fire has burned more than 19 square miles. Officials issued a hazardous air alert due to the smoke. (July 18)

“The smoke was horrible, it was horrible. My mother got sick, my husband’s eyes were stinging, burning,” she said. “I’ve never seen the valley like that. It was smoked out. You didn’t even know you were in Yosemite.”

All amenities and trails remained opened Tuesday, and park rangers tending the entrances and the visitor center were informing tourists of the poor air quality, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. Information was also posted on the park’s social media accounts.

“Our primary goal is get the information out to them so they can decide how best to go about their visit,” Gediman said.

Air quality monitors showed particulate levels in the park at “very unhealthy” levels, meaning everyone should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion or risk serious health effects such as respiratory problems.

Yet tourists plan their visit to Yosemite months or even years in advance. So far, there have been few cancellations, Gediman said.

Images posted to social media showed billowing smoke completely obscuring Half Dome, an iconic rock formation. Park webcams showed other landmarks, such the El Capitan rock formation, at times concealed by thick plumes of smoke.

Graduate student Paul Schlesinger, 28, said the smoke-choked air and raining ash forced him and a group of friends to change their plans to hike up to Glacier Point, which normally offers sweeping views.

But after driving for 90 minutes from Fresno and waiting in a 5-mile long line of cars to enter the park on Sunday, they decided to instead hike in Mariposa Grove.

“We didn’t think it was worth exposing our lungs to that air when you couldn’t see anything but also wanted to take advantage of our day there,” he said.

A high pressure system was trapping the smoke that is polluting the air, and the same weather phenomenon is expected Wednesday, National Weather Service forecaster Cindy Bean said.

There is a possibility of thunderstorms Thursday, which could bring erratic winds and create containment problems for fire crews, Bean said.

A big concern is thousands of dead trees that were killed by an epic drought that has gripped California for several years.

On Monday, crews retrieved the body of heavy fire equipment operator Braden Varney, 36, after he died in steep terrain on Saturday. Firefighters took turns keeping vigil near Varney’s body and saluted as it was taken to a coroner’s office.

The blaze that started Friday prompted officials over the weekend to order the evacuation of the Yosemite Cedar Lodge, which is outside the park, and of several nearby communities as flames crept up slopes.

Business: Asian stocks ease after rallying on solid US performance

SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian markets have eased after early gains as a sweep of positive news from Wall Street and beyond boosted confidence in the U.S. economy.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.4 percent to 22,794.19. The index had rallied 1 percent in early Wednesday trading. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.4 percent to 2,288.67, after the country’s government dramatically cut its outlook on the job market and slightly lowered its growth forecast. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.3 percent to 28,093.95 and the Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.2 percent to 2,792.28. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 climbed 0.6 percent to 6,241.20. Shares rose in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

WALL STREET: U.S indexes rebounded after a weak start on solid gains for retailers, technology and household goods companies. Prescription drug business Johnson & Johnson and financial services company Charles Schwab posted bullish earnings, adding to the largely positive corporate earnings season. The S&P 500 index rose 0.4 percent to 2,809.55. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.2 percent to 25,119.89. The Nasdaq composite jumped 0.6 percent to 7,855.12, surpassing the record high it set last week. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks climbed 0.5 percent to 1,687.26.

UPBEAT FED COMMENT: Delivering his twice-a-year report on monetary policy to Congress, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said he expects the job market to remain robust and inflation to hover around the Fed’s 2 percent target for the next few years. Stocks have fallen after Powell’s previous major addresses, but not on Tuesday.

U.S. INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION: The Fed said U.S. industrial production, including output at factories, mines and utilities, climbed 0.6 percent in June. It fell 0.5 percent in May after a fire disrupted production of Ford Motor’s F-series pickup trucks, America’s bestselling vehicle. U.S. manufacturing still looks healthy despite trade conflicts with China, Europe and Canada and a rising dollar that makes U.S. products more expensive abroad.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “While earnings and the highly-watched testimony to Senate by Fed chair Powell played a part, movements remained largely muted with the likes of the Dow and the S&P 500 index clocking only moderate gains overnight,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 52 cents to $67.56 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract was relatively unchanged at $68.08 in New York on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 42 cents to $71.74 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 113.03 yen from 112.83 yen late Tuesday. The euro eased to $1.1631 from $1.1664.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, July 18:

1. Powell Back On Capitol Hill

Investors looked ahead to a second appearance from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, after comments he made Tuesday reinforced views the central bank is on track to steadily hike interest rates.

He is due to testify in front of the House Financial Services Committee at 10:00AM ET.

In his first day of testimony to the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday, Powell stuck with an upbeat assessment on the U.S. economy, while downplaying the impact of global trade risks on the outlook for rate rises.

Those comments underlined expectations in financial markets that two more rate hikes are coming from the Fed this year.

Besides Powell, the economic calendar will bring investors the June data on housing starts and building permits, due at 8:30AM ET. The Fed also releases its beige book on the economy at 2PM ET.

2. Morgan Stanley , IBM In The Earnings Spotlight

Among the slew of earnings to be reported on Wednesday, market participants will focus on second-quarter numbers from Morgan Stanley (NYSE:MS) slated to be released at 7:00AM ET. Analysts are forecasting earnings per share (EPS) of $1.11 on revenue of $10.05 billion. The same period of last year had $0.87 in EPS and $9.5 billion in revenue.

Results in the morning are also expected from US Bancorp (NYSE:USB), M&T Bank (NYSE:MTB), Northern Trust (NASDAQ:NTRS), Textron (NYSE:TXT), and Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT).

After the closing bell, earnings from IBM (NYSE:IBM) and American Express (NYSE:AXP) will both be in the spotlight, along with eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY).

Investors will also be focused on Brussels and on Google parent Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) shares. Media reports suggest the U.S. tech giant will be hit with a $5 billion regulatory fine as the European Commission presents the findings of an eight-year probe into the company’s Android operating system for mobile phones.

3. U.S. Stock Futures Point To Slightly Higher Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a slightly higher open, as investors looked ahead to the latest batch of corporate results and more remarks by Fed Chair Jerome Powell.

At 5:30AM ET, the blue-chip Dow futures were up 23 points, or about 0.1%, while the S&P 500 futures and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures were both set to open little changed from the previous session.

U.S. stocks closed higher on Tuesday, with the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite notching a record high thanks to strong gains for Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) and a rebound in Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) shares.

Elsewhere, in Europe, most of the region’s major bourses traded higher in mid-morning trade, with almost every sector in positive territory.

Earlier, Asian shares closed mixed, after firmer gains seen earlier slightly faded.

4. Powell’s Optimism Fuels Dollar Rally

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar extended its rally following Powell’s bullish comments about the strength of the U.S. economy and the outlook for future interest rate hikes.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was 0.3% higher at 95.00, just below its 12-month high of 95.25 hit in late June.

Against the yen, the dollar climbed to as high as 113.14 (USD/JPY), its strongest since January 9.

The euro dropped to a more than two-week low of 1.1608 (EUR/USD).

The British pound sank to a 10-month low of 1.3011 (GBP/USD), as unexpectedly weak inflation data diminished chances for an August rate hike by the Bank of England.

Meanwhile, in the bond market, U.S. Treasury prices were little changed, with the benchmark 10-year yield holding steady at 2.97%, while the Fed-sensitive 2-year note was at 2.61%.

The rising U.S. dollar coupled with higher U.S. interest rates spelled trouble for gold, which crashed through major chart support to hit a one-year low.

5. Oil Prices Under Pressure Ahead of U.S. Inventory Data

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) will release its official weekly oil supplies report for the week ended July 13 at 10:30AM ET, amid forecasts for an oil-stock drop of 3.6 million barrels.

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. oil inventories rose by 629,000 barrels last week.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate WTI crude was down 50 cents, or 0.7%, at a nearly one-month low of $66.67 a barrel.

Brent crude futures were down 60 cents, or 0.8%, at $71.57 a barrel, after earlier touching a three-month low of $71.23.

Analysis: Trump’s ‘America First’ morphs into ‘Me First’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s “America First” slogan morphed into “Me First” as the president unloaded on the U.S. intelligence community and Justice Department to portray himself as the victim of a conspiracy to deny him legitimacy. Trump also blamed American “foolishness and stupidity” for the poor state of U.S.-Russia relations, returning to themes he has repeated at political rallies around the United States.

This time, though, he was on foreign soil, standing next to Vladimir Putin, the very man whose government is accused of interfering in the 2016 election to favor Trump. As such, his extraordinary performance on Monday fueled criticism of his presidency from both the right and left. And it will likely embolden Putin, who faced no pushback from Trump over the election allegations or a long list of other Kremlin actions, ranging from Syria to Ukraine.

Sure enough, critics and even some usually reliable defenders were quick to pounce.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”

Speaking at a joint news conference with US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin said: “I had to repeat that the Russian state never interfered, and does not plan to interfere in internal American electoral process.” (July 16)

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., a cautious Trump supporter, said, “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally.” And Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who has been critical of the Russia probe, said that “Russia is not our friend” and expressed hope that Trump’s national security aides could convince him that “it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success.”

But after his two-hour, one-on-one meeting with Putin in Helsinki, Trump cast doubt on U.S. intelligence findings that Russia interfered in the election, and he dismissed special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into the meddling, suggesting there is no reason to doubt Putin’s denials of malfeasance.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said.

Current and former Trump White House and campaign officials describe the president as obsessed by any suggestion that his elevation to the White House came as anything other than the product of his own hard work. They say the former reality star and relentless tabloid self-promoter believes that any suggestion of Russian interference undermines his victory — and his brand.

It’s for that reason that since the 2016 campaign Trump has forcefully rejected any suggestion of Russian support for his candidacy. After his electoral victory, which caught even Trump by surprise, the president reluctantly acknowledged Russian meddling in the election — the unanimous consensus of the intelligence community — while in the same breath suggesting other countries could be responsible.

Months later, Trump said he fired FBI Director James Comey because of the lingering investigation into Russian meddling and possible collusion with elements of Trump’s campaign. And Trump continues to reject Mueller’s probe as a “witch hunt,” despite the indictments of Russian hackers and intelligence officials.

On Monday, Trump also resurrected several debunked conspiracy theories about his opponent Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, called out an FBI agent involved in the meddling probe by name and complained about media coverage.

All the while, Trump praised his electoral success and again denied any collusion with Russia, something Putin was happy to agree with, though the Russian leader did admit to a preference for Trump, who campaigned for better ties with Moscow.

“We ran a brilliant campaign, and that’s why I’m president,” Trump said at one point.

“That was a clean campaign, I beat Hillary Clinton easily,” he said at another. “It’s a shame that there could even be a little bit of a cloud over it.”

Trump couched the summit as a triumph of diplomacy, saying he was demonstrating statesmanship by agreeing to the meeting with Putin and savaging those who have expressed concern over its timing and what might have been on the table.

Yet, despite vague vows of better ties to come and new cooperation in Syria and on nuclear nonproliferation, neither Trump nor Putin was able to offer details of progress or specific improvements in relations as they spoke to reporters at a news conference in Helsinki after their long-awaited summit.

The only tangible sign of progress was Putin’s gift of a World Cup soccer ball to Trump. The only points of disagreement came when Putin gently chided Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and when the Russian leader, not Trump himself, explained the U.S. position on Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“He continued to maintain that it was illegal to annex it,” Putin said of Trump’s stance.

Putin, for his part, played the role of statesman, serving as a kind of emcee and parrying questions from the press by professing incredulity at the allegations of meddling, before making an astonishing offer of a “deal” with the president. His proposal to trade access to Russians accused of hacking in return for Russian investigators engaging in investigations of Kremlin critics was “an incredible offer,” according to Trump.

Trump’s openness to the symbolic offer appeared to cede the high ground to Putin. To Russia hawks, even consideration of the proposal pointed to the success of Putin’s efforts to shake the foundations of American democracy.

After all, that was the ultimate goal of Russia’s election meddling, U.S. officials have assessed.

Putin appeared to poke at the sensitive subject when he responded to a question about meddling by asking, “Do you believe United States is a democracy?”

___

— For Vladimir Putin, holding a summit with Donald Trump was a victory in itself.

While the U.S. leader went home to widespread criticism after their Monday meeting, the Russian president came home to universal praise in Moscow — even though there were no major breakthroughs.

Yet most Russians aren’t saying Putin vanquished Trump. Instead they’re sympathizing with the U.S. president, portraying Trump as a victim of irrational domestic critics and aggressive journalists, because they are pinning hopes on him for improving relations over the long haul.

With U.S.-Russia tensions exceptionally high, the Kremlin set low expectations for the summit.

“Nobody in Moscow who is realistic had any illusions that this one meeting can produce any breakthroughs,” said Alexander Gabuev of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “The hope was at least we can start talking to each other.”

And in that, Putin got what he went for. Gabuev said Putin ably won over his domestic audiences, notably by pushing back at accusations of Russian election meddling with his own accusations against the U.S.

Russians welcomed Putin’s offer to allow the FBI to interrogate Russian military intelligence officials accused of hacking the 2016 U.S. election campaign. And they especially welcomed Putin’s insistence on a tit-for-tat deal aimed at discrediting U.S. sanctions against rich and powerful Russians.

And unsurprisingly, Russians welcomed Trump’s suggestion that he trusts Putin more than U.S. intelligence agencies.

Russian officialdom “will be super-cautious in order not to damage Donald Trump any more than he did himself,” Gabuev said.

Instead of being portrayed as a duel on the world stage, the summit was viewed in Russia as a meeting of two powerful men who discussed global problems and then had to face down a crowd of pesky journalists.

“Those who opposed the meeting will try to devalue the agreements made,” said Vladimir Olenchenko of Russia’s Institute of Global Economics and International Relations. “We hope that Trump will have enough political will and patience to overcome the resistance and continue dialogue with Russia.”

Putin sought to emphasize areas where Moscow and Washington could find some common ground, such as the Syrian crisis.

“What makes you think that President Trump trusts me and I fully trust him?” Putin said. “He defends the interests of the United States, and I defend the interests of the Russian Federation. We are looking for ways how to narrow our differences and make our work constructive.”

Observers in Moscow remain cautious about what all this means for the long term.

But the Kremlin didn’t expect one meeting to bring an end to Western sanctions and a pullback of NATO forces deployed near Russia’s borders. Putin is hoping the summit took a first step toward normalizing relations — and most importantly, persuading the U.S. to recognize Russia as a global player whose interests must be taken into account.

The main result of the summit “is that it happened, despite the collapse that Russian-American relations are in,” Valery Garbuzov, head of the USA and Canada Institute in Moscow, told Komsomoskaya Pravda newspaper. “You can say it’s not much, but neither Putin nor Trump could do more.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee has been covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs since 1999. Zeke Miller has reported on government and politics in Washington since 2011.

___

The Trump-Putin meeting news hub is active on the AP News site and the mobile app. It showcases AP’s overall coverage of the event. It can be found at https://www.apnews.com/tag/Trump-PutinSummit

EDITOR’S NOTE — AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee has been covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs since 1999. Zeke Miller has reported on government and politics in Washington since 2011.

___

 

Trump returns from summit with Putin to forceful criticism

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HELSINKI (AP) — In an extraordinary embrace of a longtime U.S. enemy, President Donald Trump openly questioned his own intelligence agencies’ firm finding that Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election to his benefit, seeming to accept Russian President Vladimir Putin’s insistence that Moscow’s hands were clean.

The reaction back home was immediate and visceral, among fellow Republicans as well as usual Trump critics. “Shameful,” ″disgraceful,” ″weak,” were a few of the comments. Makes the U.S. “look like a pushover,” said GOP Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee.

Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki was his first time sharing the international stage with a man he has described as an important U.S. competitor — but whom he has also praised a strong, effective leader.

His remarks, siding with a foe on foreign soil over his own government, was a stark illustration of Trump’s willingness to upend decades of U.S. foreign policy and rattle Western allies in service of his political concerns. A wary and robust stance toward Russia has been a bedrock of his party’s world view. But Trump made clear he feels that any firm acknowledgement of Russia’s involvement would undermine the legitimacy of his election.

President Donald Trump says he sees no reason why Russia would interfere in the 2016 election. His comments came during joint press conference with Russain President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. (July 16)

Standing alongside Putin, Trump steered clear of any confrontation with the Russian, going so far as to question American intelligence and last week’s federal indictments that accused 12 Russians of hacking into Democratic email accounts to hurt Hillary Clinton in 2016.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

“He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be,” Trump said.

His skepticism drew a quick formal statement — almost a rebuttal — from Trump’s director of national Intelligence, Dan Coats.

“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security,” Coats said.

Fellow GOP politicians have generally stuck with Trump during a year and a half of turmoil, but he was assailed as seldom before as he returned home Monday night from what he had hoped would be a proud summit with Putin.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona was most outspoken, declaring that Trump made a “conscious choice to defend a tyrant” and achieved “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, who rarely criticizes Trump, stressed there was “no question” that Russia had interfered.

Even staunch Trump backer Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, called Trump’s comments “the most serious mistake of his presidency” and said they “must be corrected — immediately.”

Former CIA Director John Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama, called Trump’s words “nothing short of treasonous.” Brennan tweeted: “Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

In a Fox News Channel interview after the summit, Putin pronounced the meetings “the beginning of the path” back from the West’s past efforts to isolate Russia. “I think you see for yourself that these efforts failed, and they were never bound to succeed,” he said.

As he flew home to Washington aboard Air Force One, Trump tried to clarify his position via tweet, saying: “As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.’ However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity that aired later Monday, Trump said “it’s a shame” that he and Putin were being asked questions about the Russia probe while they were trying to discuss issues like Syria and nuclear proliferation. “We’ve had a phony witch hunt deal drive us apart,” he said.

In their totality, Trump’s remarks amounted to an unprecedented embrace of a man who for years has been isolated by the U.S. and Western allies for actions in Ukraine, Syria and beyond. And it came at the end of an extraordinary trip to Europe in which Trump had already berated allies, questioned the value of the NATO alliance and demeaned leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel and Britain’s Theresa May.

The two leaders’ long-awaited summit began with a private face-to-face sitdown — just the leaders and their interpreters — that lasted more than two hours, before additional meetings joined by senior aides.

The pair had held lengthy talks before — on the sidelines of world leader meetings in Germany and Vietnam last year — but this was their first official summit and was being watched closely, especially following the announcement Friday of new indictments against 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of hacking Democratic emails to help Trump’s campaign.

Asked about the indictments, Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington could jointly conduct the investigation, inviting special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators to come to Russia to interview the 12 people — an idea Trump hailed as an “incredible offer.”

Putin said he’d expect the U.S. to return the favor and cooperate in the Russian probe against William Browder, a British investor charged with financial crimes in Russia. Browder, an outspoken Putin critic, was a driving force behind a U.S. law targeting Russian officials over human rights abuses.

The summit began just hours after Trump blamed the United States — and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea — for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse,” Trump tweeted Monday morning, blaming “many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”

The Russian foreign ministry responded by liking Trump’s tweet and then replying, “We agree.”

Asked whether Russia was responsible at all, Trump said “we’re all to blame” for the soured relations.

However, “that changed,” he said, “as of about four hours ago.”

Putin ridiculed as “sheer nonsense” allegations that Russian intelligence agencies had collected compromising information on Trump during his visit to Moscow years before the election, saying that he had no idea Trump was even visiting.

Trump also dismissed the idea in his interview with Hannity, adding, “If they had it, it would have been out.”

Still, Putin said he had indeed wanted Trump to win the election — a revelation that might have made more headlines if not for Trump’s performance — but had taken no action to make it happen.

“Yes, I wanted him to win because he spoke of normalization of Russian-U.S. ties,” Putin said. “Isn’t it natural to feel sympathy to a person who wanted to develop relations with our country? It’s normal.”

At the closing press conference, Putin, riding high after hosting a successful World Cup, unveiled a gift he’d brought for Trump: a red and white soccer ball, which he tossed to Trump at the neighboring lectern. Trump passed it over to his wife, and said they’d give it to their soccer-loving 12-year-old son, Barron.

Out on the streets, the summit attracted a grab-bag of protesters, with abortion-rights activists wearing artificially bulging bellies and Trump masks, anti-fascist protesters bearing signs with expletive-laden insults, and free traders, anti-war Ukrainians and gay rights supporters making their voices heard.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Colvin at http://twitter.com/@colvinj and Isachenkov at http://twitter.com/@visachenkov

__

The Trump-Putin summit news hub is active on the AP News site and the mobile app. It showcases AP’s overall coverage of the event. It can be found at https://www.apnews.com/tag/Trump-PutinSummit

US arrests, accuses woman of acting as Russian agent

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A 29-year-old gun-rights activist served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged Monday.

The announcement of the arrest of Maria Butina came just hours after President Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and just days after special counsel Robert Mueller charged 12 Russian intelligence officials with directing a sprawling hacking effort aimed at swaying the 2016 election.

Mueller didn’t file the charge against Butina, but court papers show her activities revolved around American politics during the 2016 campaign and included efforts to use contacts with the National Rifle Association to develop relationships with U.S. politicians and gather intelligence for Russia.

Court papers also reveal that an unnamed American who worked with Butina claimed to have been involved in setting up a “private line of communication” ahead of the 2016 election between the Kremlin and “key” officials in an American political party through the NRA.

The court papers do not name the political party mentioned in the October 2016 message, but they contain details that appear to refer to the Republican Party. The documents don’t say whether the back channel was ever established.

The NRA, which has previously been connected to Butina in public reporting and information released by members of Congress, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Butina, a Russian national who has been living in the U.S., was charged with conspiracy to act as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. A federal judge in Washington ordered her jailed until a hearing set for Wednesday, according to a statement from the Justice Department and Jessie Liu, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

In a statement, Butina’s attorney, Robert Driscoll, called the allegations “overblown” and said prosecutors had criminalized mundane networking opportunities. Driscoll said Butina was not an agent of the Russian Federation but was instead in the U.S. on a student visa, graduating from American University with a master’s degree in international relations.

“There is simply no indication of Ms. Butina seeking to influence or undermine any specific policy or law or the United States — only at most to promote a better relationship between the two nations,” Driscoll said in a statement. “The complaint is simply a misuse of the Foreign Agent statute, which is designed to punish covert propaganda, not open and public networking by foreign students.”

He said Butina’s Washington apartment was raided by the FBI in April, and said she had offered to answer questions from the Justice Department and Mueller’s team but the special counsel’s office “has not expressed interest.”

Court papers filed in support of Butina’s arrest accuse her of participating in a conspiracy that began in 2015 in which an unnamed senior Russian official “tasked” her with working to infiltrate American political organizations with the goal of “reporting back to Moscow” what she had learned.

The charging documents include several emails and Twitter direct message conversations in which she refers to the need to keep her work secret or, in one case, “incognito.”

Authorities did not name the Kremlin official accused of directing Butina’s efforts, but details in the court papers match the description of Alexander Torshin, a Russian official who has been publicly connected to her.

Torshin, who became an NRA life member in 2012, was among a group of Russian oligarchs and officials targeted in April with Treasury Department sanctions for their associations with Putin and their roles in “advancing Russia’s malign activities.” Torshin, who was listed as “State Secretary-deputy Governor of the Central Bank of the Russian Federation,” was designated under the sanctions as a Russian official.

The sanctions affect the targeted Russians by freezing all of their assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction and banning Americans and U.S. businesses from conducting transactions with them.

Prosecutors say Butina, at the official’s direction, met with U.S. politicians and candidates, attended events sponsored by special interest groups — including two National Prayer Breakfast events — and organized Russian-American “friendship and dialogue” dinners in Washington as part of her work.

Court papers also show that after the 2016 election, Butina worked to set up a Russian delegation’s visit to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast, describing it in an email as an effort to “establish a back channel of communication.” After the visit, Butina emailed the organizer of the breakfast thanking him for a gift and “for the very private meeting” that followed the breakfast.

“A new relationship between two countries always begins better when it begins in faith,” Butina wrote, saying she had “important information” that would further the new relationship.

Two days later, she emailed another American who had been involved in some of the email communication surrounding the prayer breakfast and her efforts to arrange several dinners between Russians and people involved in U.S. politics.

“Our delegation cannot stop chatting about your wonderful dinner,” Butina wrote. “My dearest President has received ‘the message’ about your group initiatives and your constructive and kind attention to the Russians.”

Butina has previously surfaced in U.S. media reports related to her gun-rights advocacy.

In 2011, she founded a pro-gun organization in Russia, the Right to Bear Arms, and she has been involved in coordinating between American gun rights activists and their Russian counterparts, according to reports in The New York Times, Time and the Daily Beast.

Butina hosted several leading NRA executives and pro-gun conservatives at her group’s annual meeting in 2015, according to those reports. Among those who attended were former NRA President David Keene, conservative political operative Paul Erickson and former Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, later a strong Trump supporter.

Butina also says she met with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker at his presidential campaign launch event in 2015, according to a report by Mother Jones magazine earlier this year.

___

Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Stephen Braun, Scott Bauer and Desmond Butler contributed to this report.

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Read the criminal complaint: http://apne.ws/fqKOKjU

Israel places new limitations on cargo crossing into Gaza

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel placed new restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in response to continued Hamas hostilities, even after it agreed to a cease-fire ending 24 hours of intense fighting.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel will cease transferring gas and fuel through the Kerem Shalom crossing until Sunday but will allow food and essential medication to cross. Commercial cargo was suspended last week.

Lieberman also said Israel was tightening its naval blockade to limit Palestinians from sailing beyond three nautical miles off Gaza’s coast. Israel previously allowed sailing up to six nautical miles.

Even after Hamas, Gaza’s militant rulers, agreed to a cease-fire late Saturday, incendiary kites and balloons have continued to float from Gaza into Israel setting off damaging fires to farmlands. Israel has stepped up it strikes since then to signal its new threshold for engagement after months of largely refraining to act.

Israel pounded Hamas targets on Saturday in its most massive bombardment since the 2014 war, while militants fired dozens of rockets toward Israel that halted daily life in the area. Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, while four Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home in Sderot.

Israel says it has no interest is engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the Gaza militant campaign of flying incendiary kites and balloons across the border that have ignited fires damaging Israeli farms and nature reserves. Israel says some 2,500 acres of nature reserves and parks close to Gaza have been burnt thus far and it is reported to have delivered messages to Hamas that if the fires continue it risks sparking a full-fledged war, like the three they have waged over the past decade.

“The Israeli army is prepared and ready for any mission we give it,” Lieberman said during a visit to the border area Tuesday. “If we are required to launch a campaign we can overcome any enemy. The army knows what to do, how to do it and when to do it. We will dictate the rules of the game and no one else.”

On Sunday, Israel said it discovered a falcon to which Gaza militants tied an incendiary device meant to set fires. Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority said it found the common kestrel hanging in a tree with its legs tied to a wire that had flammable material. It appeared to be the first case of Gaza militants using birds to attack Israel and authorities said they were considering filing a complaint — under the appropriate international treaties — about the use of animals for militant activities.

Israel and Egypt have maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade in an attempt to weaken Hamas. The blockade has caused widespread economic hardship. Israel says the naval blockade is necessary to protect its citizens from weapon smuggling.

The weekend’s violence came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations organized by Hamas aimed in part at protesting the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Over 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30.

Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli civilians and soldiers.

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