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Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to FBI, promised “full cooperation” and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump



In a startling breakthrough for prosecutors investigating potential collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump presidential campaign, former national security adviser Michael Flynn announced on Friday that he was cooperating with prosecutors and ready to testify about Russian contacts.

After months of silence and invisibility, Flynn walked into a federal courthouse in Washington DC on Friday morning and pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. The plea was part of a larger deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, and strikes at the heart of the Trump White House.

The US president was uncharacteristically mute as the spectacle played out. The White House canceled a planned photoshoot in the Oval Office with the prime minister of Libya.

Flynn admitted that he lied in interviews with FBI agents shortly after the inauguration about conversations he had held with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak concerning US sanctions on Russia and other matters.

Flynn further described a chain of communication within Trump’s presidential transition team in which he received direction in December 2016 from a “very senior transition official” – unnamed in court documents – and consulted “senior members” of the team on what to say to Kislyak.

Because Trump was not in power at the time, that plotting could expose those involved to charges of working with foreign governments to undermine US policy. But the extent of Flynn’s potential testimony in the Russia matter was unknown and could carry other legal hazards for the White House.

Flynn acknowledged wrongdoing for the first time in a statement on Friday.

“It has been extraordinarily painful to endure these many months of false accusations of treason,” Flynn said. “But I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right.”

He added: “My guilty plea and agreement to cooperate with the special counsel’s office reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country.”

Trump’s lead personal lawyer on the case, Ty Cobb, sought to distance the president from his former ally, a key adviser during the 2016 presidential election whose name Trump floated briefly as a possible vice-presidential pick.

“Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr Flynn,” Cobb said in a statement, which stated that Flynn served in the Trump administration for only 25 days and called Flynn a “former Obama administration official”.

Obama fired Flynn as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014 and warned Trump against hiring him.

A report from CNN quoting unnamed White House officials as claiming that the Flynn-Kislyak contacts had been authorized by the Obama administration drew derision from former staffers.

Ned Price, the former National Security Council spokesman told the Guardian in an email: “There is no world in which the Obama administration would have authorized anyone to attempt to subvert the principle of ‘one President—and one foreign policy—at a time.’”

“Any suggestion otherwise by this White House is laughable, as are their other attempts to distance themselves from Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first and handpicked National Security Advisor,” Price said.

Attempts by the Trump camp to distance themselves from Flynn represented a hard reversal of the president’s previous embrace, and belied Flynn’s status as a member of the innermost circle of the Trump campaign, which he joined in February 2016. Just nine months ago, Trump intervened personally with then FBI director James Comey in an effort to deflect an investigation of Flynn, according to Comey.

Now it is knives out on both sides. As part of his plea deal, Flynn has agreed to be interviewed at any time by government agents and to submit to lie detector tests upon request. He faces a possible sentence of up to six months in prison in his guilty plea to the false statements charge.

Flynn falsely denied to investigators that he had asked Kislyak in a meeting during the presidential transition to refrain from escalating the situation after the United States imposed new sanctions on Russia, and falsely denied that he had asked the ambassador in a separate meeting to delay a vote on a UN resolution, according to court documents.

Flynn further failed to recall being told by Kislyak that Russia had decided to moderate its response to the new sanctions at Flynn’s request, the documents said.

Flynn was filmed walking into FBI headquarters on Friday morning. He ignored shouted questions from the media asking whether he had reached a deal with special counsel.

The retired three-star general, who had failed to declare payments from Turkish and Russian sources and who was reportedly under investigation for an alleged role in a kidnapping plot, had appeared vulnerable to much more serious charges than making false statements.

Anne Milgram, who has worked closely in the past with Mueller and his team as a former attorney general for the state of New Jersey and former federal prosecutor, said that prosecutors’ decision to charge Flynn with a relatively minor offense indicated that a deal for Flynn to cooperate with prosecutors had been struck.

“And that was very quick,” Milgram said in an email.

The Trump campaign has denied coordinating with Russia during and after the presidential campaign, even as evidence of at least 19 in-person meetings between the two sides has emerged and Mueller’s team has uncovered high-level conversations inside the campaign about the contacts.

Previously the special counsel has charged former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and aide Richard Gates, and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements, a similar charge to Flynn.

But Trump had until now seemed especially protective of Flynn, who unlike the others was part of his inner circle during the campaign, frequently introducing Trump at campaign events and working closely with members of Trump’s family, including son Donald Trump Jr and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

Three news reports on Friday, from Bloomberg, NBC News and BuzzFeed, identified Kushner as the transition team member who had directed Flynn to act on the UN resolution denouncing Israeli settlements.

Flynn’s cooperation with prosecutors seemed potentially ominous for Kushner, who US intelligences sources said tried in one meeting with Kislyak to set up back-channel communications with Russians. Kushner has denied the accusation. The other person in the meeting was Flynn.

In one of Flynn’s most public outings during the campaign, he appeared at the Republican national convention in Cleveland and led the crowd in a chant of “Lock her up!” referring to Hillary Clinton and her handling of classified information on a private email account.

But it would be Flynn, and not Clinton, who would face criminal charges, and on Friday protesters outside the courthouse chanted “Lock him up!” as he left.

Comey, whom Trump fired in May, said that the president had asked him in February to drop an investigation into Flynn’s activities – the very investigation in which Flynn had, according to the charges, lied about a month earlier.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Comey quoted Trump as saying. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Flynn resigned after 24 days as national security adviser when US surveillance records came to light indicating that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak, despite a public denial at the time by Vice-President Mike Pence that such a discussion had taken place.

Trump was not yet in office when Flynn made the request for Russia to block the UN resolution, a possible violation of Logan Act proscriptions against communicating with foreign governments and undermining US policy.

The resolution to denounce the Israeli settlements passed 14-0 on 23 December, with the United States abstaining.

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Trump fires Tillerson, names Pompeo as successor at State



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President Trump has removed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and replaced him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo in a move that stunned Washington with its timing.

Trump is nominating Gina Haspel, Pompeo’s current deputy, to lead the CIA.

Trump told reporters Tuesday morning that he made the decision “by myself,” signaling he did not speak with Tillerson before firing him.

“I actually got along great with Rex, but really, it was a different mindset,” Trump said from the White House.

Those comments belied the fact that Trump and Tillerson had repeatedly clashed, most famously when the secretary of State reportedly referred to Trump in private as a “moron.” The report clearly got under Trump’s skin, and the president responded by challenging Tillerson to an IQ test.

Trump tweeted the news of the staff changes shortly after Tillerson’s firing was first reported by The Washington Post.

“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State,” Trump tweeted.

“He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!”

A White House official told The Hill that White House chief of staff John Kelly called Tillerson on Friday night to tell him that Trump had decided to let him go. The official said the call was short and not testy, and that it was not focused on policy issues or differences.

Tillerson asked and Kelly agreed that an announcement would be held back until Tillerson’s return. Tillerson returned to the United States early Tuesday morning — hours before the Post story broke.

State Department officials did not immediately respond to The Hill’s requests for comment on Tillerson’s abrupt ouster, though a State Department official released a statement that said Tillerson was unaware of the reason for his removal.

“The Secretary had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues,” said the statement from Steve Goldstein, under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

“The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted.”

Tillerson and Trump have had a tempestuous relationship, so it was not shocking that Tillerson would be removed.

However, the timing of Tillerson’s firing was a surprise, given the diplomatic workload at the moment.

On Thursday, Trump shocked the world by accepting an invitation to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which would make him the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean leader. It’s possible that Tillerson’s removal was made with that meeting in mind, if Trump wanted Pompeo by his side for the historic occasion.

He’s also moving forward with a Middle East peace plan after angering the Arab world by announcing the U.S. would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

And the administration continues to deal with Russia and its entanglement in the 2016 presidential election — with critics charging that Trump has not taken a tough enough approach with the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

There were differences in rhetoric between Tillerson and the White House on foreign policy, including on Monday, when Tillerson pointed the finger at Moscow over the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in London. The White House earlier in the day had notably not blamed Russia for the incident, despite claims from Great Britain’s prime minister.

Late last year, speculation mounted in Washington that Tillerson would be replaced, and reports circulated that Pompeo could be his successor.

Tillerson was one of the first Cabinet secretaries to be confirmed in the Trump administration, but his brief tenure has been rocked by criticism and continuing signs of low morale at the State Department, where he has often been perceived as an absent leader.

Tillerson, a low-key Texan, never felt comfortable in Washington and did his best to work in private and avoid the media. He faced scrutiny in Washington, even from Republican lawmakers, as he has overseen a controversial redesign of the State Department that has been unpopular among officials there.

Many career diplomats have exited under his leadership, and Tillerson has reportedly clashed with White House officials on key appointments.

Pompeo, meanwhile, is viewed as one of Trump’s most trusted Cabinet members. He reportedly meets nearly daily with Trump to brief him on national security, which requires him to travel from CIA headquarters in Virginia to the White House.

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, has taken a decidedly more hawkish stance than Tillerson on matters such as North Korea and the Iran nuclear deal.

In a statement, Pompeo said he was “deeply grateful” to Trump for allowing him to serve as CIA chief and now secretary of State. He will now need to be confirmed by the full Senate to lead the State Department.

“If confirmed, I look forward to guiding the world’s finest diplomatic corps in formulating and executing the President’s foreign policy,” Pompeo said. “In my time as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, I have worked alongside many remarkable Foreign Service officers and Department of State leaders serving here in the United States and on the very edge of freedom.”

Tillerson’s removal comes days before he was slated to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the department’s fiscal year 2019 budget request. The State Department, like other agencies, has been dealt deep cuts in the Trump administration’s funding proposals, while the departments of Defense and Homeland Security have seen their budgets increased.

The decision to replace Tillerson, a former CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp., throws into further uncertainty the State Department’s most senior ranks. The agency has seen an exodus of longtime career officials under Tillerson, which has been highlighted in recent months by the departures of some of the department’s most experienced diplomats.

Despite Tillerson’s rocky tenure at the State Department, he has indicated in more recent months that he planned to remain at the agency for the foreseeable future. He told CNN in an interview in January that he intended to stay on at least through 2018.

“I intend to be here for the whole year,” he said at the time.

Rebecca Savransky and Jonathan Easley contributed to this report, which was updated at 12:19 p.m.

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Adviser to Emirates With Ties to Trump Aides Is Cooperating With Special Counsel



WASHINGTON — An adviser to the United Arab Emirates with ties to current and former aides to President Trump is cooperating with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and gave testimony last week to a grand jury, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump’s political activities and has asked witnesses about the possibility that the adviser, George Nader, funneled money from the Emirates to the president’s political efforts. It is illegal for foreign entities to contribute to campaigns or for Americans to knowingly accept foreign money for political races.
Mr. Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who advises Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the effective ruler of the Emirates, also attended a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles that Mr. Mueller’s investigators have examined. The meeting, convened by the crown prince, brought together a Russian investor close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and an informal adviser to Mr. Trump’s team during the presidential transition, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

Mr. Nader’s cooperation in the special counsel’s investigation could prompt new legal risks for the Trump administration, and Mr. Nader’s presence at the Seychelles meeting appears to connect him to the primary focus of Mr. Mueller’s investigation: examining Russian interference during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Mr. Nader represented the crown prince in the three-way conversation in the Seychelles, at a hotel overlooking in the Indian Ocean, in the days before Mr. Trump took office. At the meeting, Emirati officials believed Mr. Prince was speaking for the Trump transition team, and a Russian fund manager, Kirill Dmitriev, represented Mr. Putin, according to several people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Nader, who grew close later to several advisers in the Trump White House, had once worked as a consultant to Blackwater, a private security firm now known as Academi. Mr. Nader introduced his former employer to the Russian.
The significance of the meeting in the Seychelles has been a puzzle to American officials ever since intelligence agencies first picked up on it in the final days of the Obama administration, and the purpose of the discussion is in dispute. During congressional testimony in November, Mr. Prince denied representing the Trump transition team during the meeting and dismissed his encounter with Mr. Dmitriev as nothing more than a friendly conversation over a drink.

A lawyer for Mr. Nader did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for Mr. Dmitriev has repeatedly declined to comment about the Seychelles meeting, as has Yousef al-Otaiba, the Emirati ambassador in Washington.

Mr. Dmitriev, a former Goldman Sachs banker with an M.B.A. from Harvard, was tapped by Mr. Putin in 2011 to manage an unusual state-run investment fund. Where other such funds seek to earn returns on sovereign wealth, Mr. Dmitriev’s Russian Direct Investment Fund seeks outside investments, often from foreign governments, for unglamorous infrastructure projects inside of Russia.
The Obama administration imposed sanctions on the fund as part of a raft of economic penalties after the Russian government sent military forces into Ukraine in 2014.

The United Arab Emirates, which Washington considers one of its closest Arab allies, has invested heavily in Mr. Dmitriev’s fund as part of an effort to build close relations to Russia as well. After Crown Prince Mohammed met with Mr. Putin in 2013 in Moscow on a state visit, two investment arms of the government in Abu Dhabi committed to invest $6 billion in the Russian Direct Investment Fund, eventually paying to build projects like roads, an airport and cancer treatment centers in Russia.
Mr. Dmitriev became a frequent visitor to Abu Dhabi, and Emirati officials came to see him as a key conduit to the Russian government. In a 2015 email, the Emirati ambassador to Moscow at the time described Mr. Dmitriev as a “messenger” to get information directly to Mr. Putin. The email was among a large number hacked from the account of the ambassador to Washington and published online. The now former ambassador to Moscow, Omar Saif Ghobash, did not respond to an email about the leak.

Mr. Nader was first served with search warrants and a grand jury subpoena on Jan. 17, shortly after landing at Washington Dulles International Airport, according to two people familiar with the episode. He had intended to travel on to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s Florida estate, to celebrate the president’s first year in office, but the F.B.I. had other plans, questioning him for more than two hours and seizing his electronics.

Since then, Mr. Nader has been questioned numerous times about meetings in New York during the transition, the Seychelles meeting and meetings in the White House with two of Mr. Trump’s senior advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, who has since left the administration.

The meeting in the Seychelles also took place against the backdrop of a larger pattern of secretive contacts between the Trump team and both the Russians and the Emiratis. In the weeks after the 2016 presidential election, Crown Prince Mohammed aroused the suspicions of American national security officials when they learned that he had breached protocol by visiting Trump Tower in Manhattan without notifying the Obama administration of his visit to the United States.

Mr. Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a senior transition adviser, met at Trump Tower with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington at the time, and discussed setting up a back channel to communicate with Moscow during the transition — circumventing American diplomatic channels normally used during a presidential transition. Mr. Kushner met a few days later with a Russian banker close to Putin, Sergey N. Gorkov — whose bank was also under sanctions — in what Mr. Kushner has said was an attempt to establish a direct line of communication to Mr. Putin during the transition.

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Ilhan Omar: No debate on ‘whether Trump is a racist’ | UpFront



Hers is a remarkable journey: from a refugee camp in Kenya to a state legislature in the United States. In 2016, Ilhan Omar became the first elected Somali-American Muslim lawmaker in the US, the same night that Donald Trump was elected president.

When asked about Trump’s role in the rise of anti-Muslim, far right, white nationalist hate groups in the country, Omar says she would come very short of holding him “exclusively responsible”.

“I think when you … demonise and dehumanise, it is easy for people to commit acts of violence against those individuals because they no longer see them as a person, as someone who has feelings, who’s worthy of respect,” says Omar.

“We are moving away from this idea that we are supposed to be a welcoming nation.”

In this special interview, we speak with Minnesota State Representative Ilhan Omar about Trump and the rise of Islamophobia in the US.

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