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National Govt & Politics
White House struggles with growing Russia investigation
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White House struggles with growing Russia investigation

White House struggles with growing Russia investigation
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

White House struggles with growing Russia investigation

The growing controversy over Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections continued to envelop the Trump Administration on Friday, as the White House refused to say if it tried to secretly give intelligence reports to the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, while a Senate panel delved into the Russian campaign of fake news and disinformation that officials say is now aimed squarely at American allies in Europe as well.

Here some snapshots of where things stand:

1. Lawyer for Michael Flynn says his client wants to talk. It wasn't a direct request for immunity, but it sure read like one, as the lawyer for former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn said his client, "has a story to tell." But attorney Robert Kelner made clear there would have to be something in return: "No reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution." Many were quick to point out a quote from Flynn during the heat of the 2016 campaign, as he argued that staffers linked to Hillary Clinton who were given immunity from prosecution in the probe of her email server indicated wrongdoing. "When you are given immunity that means you probably committed a crime," Flynn said on NBC's "Meet the Press." Here is the letter from his lawyer:

2. White House may have provided documents to Nunes. A week ago, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer scoffed at reporters who suggested that the White House had secretly provided intelligence documents to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, saying, "it doesn't pass the smell test." Well, news reports that broke on Thursday directly pointed the finger at Trump appointees to the National Security Council as the ones who gave Nunes documents that supposedly indicated "incidental collection" by U.S. Intelligence on the Trump Transition or Trump associates - though reports now indicate it may have only been wiretaps of foreigners talking about the Trump Transition, and not actually a wiretap of foreign targets speaking to anyone from Trump World.

3. Nunes whistleblower story takes on water. Originally, Rep. Nunes had indicated that a whistleblower was involved in providing him with secret intelligence reports, which might indicate that Obama Administration officials were wrongly circulating information about the Trump team. Last week, Nunes said that's why he went to get the information on incidental collection on White House grounds, from someone he described as an "intelligence official." But news reports don't seem to bear that out, with at least two people possibly involved from the National Security Council. Without admitting anything like that had happened, the White House said it was making available documents uncovered by the NSC for top lawmakers in the Congress to review - which seemed like they might just be the documents that Nunes had secretly reviewed last week. Asked about the revelations, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) - the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee - said he didn't understand the "cloak and dagger" that Nunes might have engaged in. It still wasn't clear whether names of Trump officials had been "unmasked" in those documents or not - but that's something to watch, no matter what Nunes may or may have not said.

4. Evelyn Farkas. Evelyn Farkas. Evelyn Farkas. If you don't listen to talk radio, you might have no idea who Evelyn Farkas is, or why she might be important. Farkas was a Pentagon official during the Obama Administration, who left in October of 2015. Almost a month ago, she was on MSNBC talking about the issue of Russian meddling, and whether there were ties to the Trump campaign, or associates of the President. For supporters of the President, Farkas is admitting that there was rampant spying on Trump associates, and the U.S. Intelligence was doing all it could to find any evidence of collusion with Russia. "SMOKING GUN" said some like talk show host Mark Levin. But when you listen to the tape, it's more of an outsider - who had been out of her post for more than a year - urging her former colleagues to make sure any evidence - if there was any - wasn't lost. "I didn't give anybody anything except advice," Farkas said Thursday. That didn't stop supporters of Trump from trumpeting her words.

5. White House wants press to focus on leaks, unmasking. Still trying to steer the conversation away from the Russia investigation, the White House has continued this week to make the case that the Obama Administration, and U.S. Intelligence, were wrongly spreading intelligence gathered before and after the 2016 elections about Donald Trump and his aides. Information discovered in "the ordinary course of business" about unmasking of names of Americans and more is now what's being offered for review by top lawmakers in the Congress - many think this is the same information that was viewed last week by Rep. Nunes. "I’ve commented on this both yesterday and today, that your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer here," said spokesman Sean Spicer, when asked who gave material to Nunes. "It should be the substance." Also note in this White House letter, a reference to Evelyn Farkas, as noted above.

6. Senate Intelligence > House Intelligence. It wasn't too hard to figure out that the probe into Russian meddling was working better in the Senate than in the House this week. While the House investigation was stalled this week, Senators on Thursday convened an open hearing and heard from a variety of experts about Russian efforts to interfere in elections not only in the U.S., but in Europe as well. The words of one counter-terrorism expert stood out from the rest at this hearing, as Clint Watts (ex-FBI) gave a rather direct answer about why Moscow succeeded in using social media and the internet to push fake news and disinformation, what's referred to as "active measures." "Part of the reason that active measures have worked in this U.S. election is because the Commander-in-Chief (Trump) has used active measures at times against his opponents." It made a lot of people sit up and take notice.

7. Rubio says Russia still after his Presidential staff. During the hearing, Watts said it was his judgment that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) - and other candidates for President - were all targeted by the Russians at various times. Rubio downplayed that, but did acknowledge a broad hacking effort directed at his former staff members for his Presidential bid. The Florida Republican said one attack happened last July as he announced he would run for re-election to the Senate, and it happened again on Wednesday of this week. "Aren't we in the midst of a blitzkrieg, for lack of a better term, of informational warfare, conducted by Russian trolls, under the command of Vladimir Putin, designed to sow instability, pit us against each other as Americans?"

8. Yes, that is the FBI Director's Twitter account. Earlier this month, FBI Director James Comey indicated that he paid attention to things on Twitter, but no one really knew of an account that he had. Well, some sleuthing seemingly tracked him down. You don't have to root for either party to enjoy this story.

Read More

News

  • In addition to computers, phones, software and other tech products, Apple has announced it will soon offer its own credit card: the Apple Card. >> Read more trending news  The tech giant introduced Apple Card, created in partnership with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs, at its “show time” services event Monday, in Cupertino, California, The Verge reported. Apple CEO Tim Cook touted Apple Card as, “the most significant change in the credit card experience in 50 years.' Apple Card will be available on all iOS devices in the Wallet app and is set for release this summer. Customers who want a physical card can get an optional “laser-etched titanium rectangle,” CNN reported. Unlike traditional credit cards, Apple Card comes with no card number, CVV security code or expiration date. Purchases are instead authenticated with a fingerprint or face-identification. The new card will also offer a rewards system known as Daily Cash, in which 2 percent of any Apple Pay purchase goes directly back to the Apple wallet as cash. The deposits are made daily, and the reward goes up to 3 percent for purchases of Apple products and down to 1 percent for purchases made with the physical card, according to CNN. Apple said the card has no late fees or increased interest rates for late payments, but The Verge noted, “We’ll read the fine details to see if there are limits.” Some speculate Apple Card is meant to encourage use of Apple Pay, which Cook said Monday is only accepted by 70 percent of U.S. retailers, as opposed to 99 percent of retailers in Australia. “They’re really nudging consumers toward using Apple Pay on a regular basis and not just as an occasional thing when a retailer allows,” Sara Rathner, a credit card expert at personal finance company NerdWallet, told The Verge. More information on Apple Card can be found here.
  • The price of vaping in Washington could soon skyrocket if a proposed 60 percent tax is passed by lawmakers. >> Read more trending news  'It's like being told, ‘We're going to put a new tax on your favorite pizza.’ No! Don't do that!” said Jim Music. Washington lawmakers introduced HB 1873. It would add a 60 percent tax to vapor products, which is similar to tobacco, KIRO-TV reported. Currently vape isn’t taxed. Vapor store owner Joshua Baba said vape is different than tobacco and the price hike would force many shops to close their doors. 'Sixty percent, we owe that to the state just all of a sudden? That's crazy. That does put me out of business,” he said. Standing in the rain, Monday afternoon a small group held signs and gathered to protest. “Those kind of numbers are scary to somebody. I go through a couple bottles of vapor juice a week and that's going to double my cost,” said Music. A new Washington State Health Youth survey shows e-cigarettes and vaping are on the rise. Thirty percent of high school seniors said they use vapor products, which is up from 20 percent in 2016. State Rep. Gerry Pollet proposed the House bill. He wants to see the numbers drop and believes a tax is the ticket. “E-cigarettes and vaping products are dirt cheap, you won't believe how cheap they are,' he said. “A pack of cigarettes in the state of Washington, on average, costs about a little more than $8. Vaping the same amount of nicotine will cost you about $2.' Lawmakers believe the tax will drop youth vaping by 25 percent. Others find that hard to believe.  “This tax isn't going to change where the kids are getting it or how they're getting it, but it is going to change, in a negative way, the lives of a lot of shop owners and a lot of product users that are fully in compliance with the law,” said Music. Pollet said the 60 percent tax would eventually raise as much $30 million per year. The money would be used to fund programs that work to prevent teens from vaping.
  • A Monday morning British Airways flight scheduled to fly from London, England, to Dusseldorf, Germany, accidentally went to Edinburgh, Scotland, instead. >> Read more trending news  The error has been attributed to an incorrect flight plan filed by WDL Aviation, which operated the flight on behalf of British Airways, USA Today reported. This led the pilot and cabin crew to believe the flight was bound for Edinburgh. Air traffic controllers followed the same flight plan and saw nothing amiss, British Airways officials told The Associated Press. Zsófia Szabó, a passenger on the flight, told CNN she noticed something may have been amiss when she saw mountains outside the cabin window instead of the “usual German landscape.” A coworker brought up Google Maps on their phone, she said, and noted the plane was in Scotland. 'When we landed there was a bit of a hilarious moment when the flight attendant asked for a show of hands for the people going to Dusseldorf, which turned out to be everyone,' Szabó said. The pilot apologized to passengers, then announced the plane would refuel and head to Dusseldorf. Most passengers didn’t seem mad about the situation and instead found it funny, Szabó said. Why an incorrect flight path was filed remains unclear. 'We are working with WDL Aviation, who operated this flight on behalf of British Airways, to establish why the incorrect flight plan was filed. We have apologized to customers for this interruption to their journey and will deal with them all individually. Customers are on route to Dusseldorf currently,” British Airways spokesman Chip Garner said in a statement. WDL Aviation said they’re also investigating the incident: “We are working closely with the authorities to investigate how the obviously unfortunate mix-up of flight schedules could occur,' said WDL spokesperson Joachim Schöttes. “At no time has the safety of passengers been compromised. We flew the passengers on the flight with number BA3271 to Dusseldorf after the involuntary stopover in Edinburgh.” The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • In a move that has surprised some, mixed martial arts fighter Conor “The Notorious” McGregor has announced his retirement from the sport via Twitter. >> Read more trending news  “Hey guys quick announcement,” McGregor tweeted late Monday. “I’ve decided to retire from the sport formally known as ‘Mixed Martial Art’ today. I wish all my old colleagues well going forward in competition. I now join my former partners on this venture, already in retirement. Proper Pina Coladas on me fellas!” The 30-year-old fighter, originally from Dublin, Ireland, is a two division UFC world champion and two division Cage Warriors World Champion. He’s ranked No. 2 lightweight champion and No. 9 pound for pound champion in the UFC, according to Fox Sports. Yahoo Sports reported the announcement came as a surprise, and that McGregor may “just be trying to get an upper hand in a negotiation.” McGregor appeared Monday on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and made no mention of retiring, MMA Fighting reported. He talked of fighting this summer. “We’re in talks for July,” McGregor told Fallon. “So we’ll see what happens. A lot of politics going on. The fight game is a mad game. But again, like I said, and to my fans, I am in shape and I am ready.” Some fans on Twitter seemed unconvinced of the news. “Last time he said this he fought twice in the next 6 months,” tweeted @BishopSportsNet. UFC hasn’t yet commented on McGregor’s announcement.
  • Now that the Gronk's officially hanging up his cleats -- fans are left wondering what he'll do next. >> Read more trending news  Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski announced on Instagram that he is retiring from football following the team's Super Bowl LIII win, ending his historic nine-year NFL career, Boston 25 News reported. What he'll do after is up in the air, though some say he might go down the wrestling road. In fact, he has dabbled in it before with an appearance at WrestleMania 33 -- stepping in the ring to help his real-life friend Mojo Rawley during the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal. And many fans were hoping to see Gronk at TD Garden on Monday night, where WWE Raw was taking place. He did not make an appearance, but fans in Boston are excited to see what he'll take on next regardless a cameo at the Garden.  'Oh yeah he’s an entertainer,' said Patriots fan, Josh Lima. 'He’s funny, you know he’s either gonna be an actor or wrestler.' Public relations executive and Emerson professor, David Gerzof Richard, thinks Gronk sure has the personality and brand for it in his post-NFL career. 'He has his own brand of being the happy-go-lucky tight end, it's really leveraging that and with various people he is interacting with on both Instagram and Twitter and leveraging into what comes next,' said Richard.  Richard says sports stars in previous decades didn't have the social media star power -- or social media at all -- to build off of like Gronk. 'The worst thing he could do is go silent... and that is something I don't think we are going to see from Rob Gronkowski,' adds Richard. And his fans certainly hope he'll find a way to stay successful in the public eye. 'I think he should go into movies because he's a pretty funny guy and people look up to him,' said Patriots fan, Donte Tyler from Stoughton. Another fan thinks so too, and she thinks comedy would be the only way to go.  'I don't know about a serious ... maybe in a comedy or something,' another fan said. 'What would it be called? Maybe Adam Sandler and Gronk go on vacation.' As for the wresting, a WWE spokesperson gave no comment on any potential deals or announcements.
  • A metro Atlanta family said an airline crew told their two sons they’d have to get off a plane after a dispute over one of the boys’ severe peanut allergies, WSB-TV reported. >> Read more trending news  The boys were traveling from Atlanta to Manila, where their father is based on a temporary job, according to the news station. Rakesh Patel said his 15-year-old and 16-year-old sons were traveling by themselves after visiting their sick grandfather. The family told WSB-TV they let Delta Air Lines know ahead of time that the teen had a peanut allergy. Delta made sure that on the first leg of the flight, from Atlanta to Seoul, no peanuts were served, WSB reported.  However, things were different on the second leg of their flight. When the boys went to board their flight from Seoul to Manila on Delta’s skyteam partner Korean Air, the boys were told there would be peanuts served on board, the news station reported.  According to the family, the crew said they were not going to deprive other guests of peanuts and presented the teens with two options: deal with the peanuts or get off the flight.  When the son with allergies asked for another option, the boys were forcibly removed from the plane and stranded in Seoul, their father confirmed. They took a return flight to Atlanta, the family told WSB. Patel said he filed a complaint with the airline and asked for a refund.  In a statement, Delta apologized to the Patel family for the ordeal, “particularly during what is already a difficult time for them.”  “Delta and our partner Korean Air are communicating with the family and examining the processes surrounding this incident; we will use our findings in our work to create a consistent experience for customers flying Delta and our partner airlines,” the statement said. >> Trending: Giant alligator sneaks up on golfers, lumbers across links, plops down near 17th hole  A statement from Korean Air read, in part: “Korean Air is aware that peanut and food allergies are an industry issue and no airline can guarantee a food allergy-free environment. But we are reviewing ways to deal with this issue in a safe and feasible way. We totally understand the risks faced by passengers with nut and food allergies and will certainly try to accommodate them better in the future.”