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Trump Jr. Was Told in Email of Russian Effort to Aid Campaign

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MATT APUZZO, JO BECKER, ADAM GOLDMAN and MAGGIE HABERMAN

WASHINGTON — Before arranging a meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer he believed would offer him compromising information about Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump Jr. was informed in an email that the material was part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s candidacy, according to three people with knowledge of the email.

The email to the younger Mr. Trump was sent by Rob Goldstone, a publicist and former British tabloid reporter who helped broker the June 2016 meeting. In a statement on Sunday, Mr. Trump acknowledged that he was interested in receiving damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, but gave no indication that he thought the lawyer might have been a Kremlin proxy.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign.

There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails. The meeting took place less than a week before it was widely reported that Russian hackers had infiltrated the committee’s servers.

But the email is likely to be of keen interest to the Justice Department and congressional investigators, who are examining whether any of President Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government to disrupt last year’s election. American intelligence agencies have determined that the Russian government tried to sway the election in favor of Mr. Trump.

The Times first reported on the existence of the meeting on Saturday, and a fuller picture has emerged in subsequent days.

Alan Futerfas, the lawyer for the younger Mr. Trump, said his client had done nothing wrong but pledged to work with investigators if contacted.

“In my view, this is much ado about nothing. During this busy period, Robert Goldstone contacted Don Jr. in an email and suggested that people had information concerning alleged wrongdoing by Democratic Party front-runner, Hillary Clinton, in her dealings with Russia,” he told The Times in an email on Monday. “Don Jr.’s takeaway from this communication was that someone had information potentially helpful to the campaign and it was coming from someone he knew. Don Jr. had no knowledge as to what specific information, if any, would be discussed.”

It is unclear whether Mr. Goldstone had direct knowledge of the origin of the damaging material. One person who was briefed on the emails said it appeared that he was passing along information that had been passed through several others.

Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, the campaign chairman at the time, also attended the June 2016 meeting in New York. Representatives for Mr. Kushner referred requests for comments back to an earlier statement, which said he had voluntarily disclosed the meeting to the federal government. He has deferred questions on the content of the meeting to Donald Trump Jr.

A spokesman for Mr. Manafort declined to comment.

But at the White House, the deputy press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was adamant from the briefing room lectern that “the president’s campaign did not collude in any way. Don Jr. did not collude with anybody to influence the election. No one within the Trump campaign colluded in order to influence the election.”

The president, a prolific Twitter user, did not address his son’s controversy on Monday, and instead sought to highlight other issues throughout the morning.

In a series of tweets, the president’s son insisted he had done what anyone connected to a political campaign would have done — hear out potentially damaging information about an opponent. He maintained that his various statements about the meeting were not in conflict.

“Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent… went nowhere but had to listen,” he wrote in one tweet. In another, he added, “No inconsistency in statements, meeting ended up being primarily about adoptions. In response to further Q’s I simply provided more details.”

The younger Mr. Trump, who had a reputation during the campaign for having meetings with a wide range of people eager to speak to him, did not join his father’s administration. He runs the family business, the Trump Organization, with his brother Eric.

On Monday, after news reports that he had hired a lawyer, he indicated in a tweet that he would be open to speaking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, one of the congressional panels investigating Russian meddling in the election. “Happy to work with the committee to pass on what I know,” the younger Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Goldstone represents the Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, whose father was President Trump’s business partner in bringing the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013. In an interview Monday, Mr. Goldstone said he was asked by Mr. Agalarov to set up the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

“He said, ‘I’m told she has information about illegal campaign contributions to the D.N.C.,’” Mr. Goldstone recalled, referring to the Democratic National Committee. He said he then emailed Donald Trump Jr., outlining what the lawyer purported to have.

But Mr. Goldstone, who wrote the email over a year ago, denied any knowledge of involvement by the Russian government in the matter, saying that never dawned on him. “Never, never ever,” he said. Later, after the email was described to The Times, efforts to reach him for further comment were unsuccessful.

In the interview, he said it was his understanding that Ms. Veselnitskaya was simply a “private citizen” for whom Mr. Agalarov wanted to do a favor. He also said he did not know whether Mr. Agalarov’s father, Aras Agalarov, a Moscow real estate tycoon known to be close to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, was involved. The elder Mr. Agalarov and the younger Mr. Trump worked together to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow, but the project never got off the ground.

Mr. Goldstone also said his recollection of the meeting largely tracked with the account given by the president’s son, as outlined in the Sunday statement Mr. Trump issued in response to a Times article on the June 2016 meeting. Mr. Goldstone said the last time he had communicated with the younger Mr. Trump was to send him a congratulatory text after the November election, but he added that he did speak to the Trump Organization over the past weekend, before giving his account to the news media.

Donald Trump Jr., who initially told The Times that Ms. Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the resumption of adoption of Russian children by American families, acknowledged in the Sunday statement that one subject of the meeting was possibly compromising information about Mrs. Clinton. His decision to move ahead with such a meeting was unusual for a political campaign, but it was consistent with the haphazard approach the Trump operation, and the White House, have taken in vetting people they deal with ahead of time.

But he said that the Russian lawyer produced nothing of consequence, and that the meeting ended after she began talking about the Magnitsky Act — an American law that blacklists Russians suspected of human rights abuses. The 2012 law so enraged Mr. Putin that he halted American adoptions of Russian children.

Mr. Goldstone said Ms. Veselnitskaya offered “just a vague, generic statement about the campaign’s funding and how people, including Russian people, living all over the world donate when they shouldn’t donate” before turning to her anti-Magnitsky Act arguments.

“It was the most inane nonsense I’ve ever heard,” he said. “And I was actually feeling agitated by it. Had I, you know, actually taken up what is a huge amount of their busy time with this nonsense?”

Ms. Veselnitskaya, for her part, denied that the campaign or compromising material about Mrs. Clinton ever came up. She said she had never acted on behalf of the Russian government. A spokesperson for Mr. Putin said on Monday that he did not know Ms. Veselnitskaya, and that he had no knowledge of the June 2016 meeting.

Ms. Sanders said at a news briefing that the American president had learned of the meeting recently, but she declined to discuss details.

The White House press office, however, accused Mrs. Clinton’s team of hypocrisy. The office circulated a January 2017 article published in Politico, detailing how officials from the Ukranian government tried to help the Democratic candidate conduct opposition research on Mr. Trump and some of his aides.

News of the meeting involving the younger Mr. Trump, Mr. Kushner and Mr. Manafort blunted whatever good feeling the president’s team had after his trip to Europe for the Group of 20 economic summit meeting.

The president learned from his aides about the 2016 meeting at the end of the trip, according to a White House official. But some people in the White House had known for several days that it had occurred, because Mr. Kushner had revised his foreign contact disclosure document to include it.

The president was frustrated by the news of the meeting, according to a person close to him — less over the fact that it had happened, and more because it was yet another story about Russia that had swamped the news cycle.

US News

Trump’s travel ban is finally getting its Supreme Court showdown

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Donald Trump’s travel ban is officially headed to the Supreme Court for what’s likely to be its final showdown.

The High Court announced that its justices would hear Trump v. Hawaii on Friday afternoon after vacating a lower court’s decision to stay the current version of Trump’s travel ban. Most recently, the famously liberal 9th Circuit court had struck down the ban entirely and set the stage for a Supreme Court showdown.

Trump’s travel ban, which prohibits people from certain Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the U.S., is now in its third version. In September, the administration added Venezuela, Chad, and North Korea to the existing list of Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and Iran. While multiple lower courts had blocked the two earlier versions of the policy, those were eventually replaced, making a Supreme Court hearing unnecessary.

In early December, the Supreme Court allowed the third version to go into effect — but only until the 9th Circuit completed its ruling on a pending appeal. After that, the justices would decide whether to hear the case again. Previously, in June, the High Court had ruled that travelers from countries named in the ban with ties to the United States would remain unaffected.

When the first ban was officially introduced in an executive order on Jan. 27 of last year, critics and advocacy groups immediately began characterizing it as an unconstitutional Muslim ban, meant to target immigrants and travelers by their place of origin, ethnicity, and religion rather than any security threat they might pose. Throughout all the ban’s iterations and court battles, that fundamental argument has remained the same.

“Every version of the ban has been found unconstitutional, illegal, or both by federal trial and appellate courts,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a press release on Friday. “The Supreme Court can and should put a definitive end to President Trump’s attempt to undermine the constitutional guarantee of religious equality and the basic principles of our immigration laws, including their prohibition of national origin discrimination.”

And Neil Katyal, a lawyer for those appealing the ban, tweeted:

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Briefing Room

“America is home”: How Trump’s immigration policies are upending Somali lives in the US

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Maruf Sharif was shackled in the plane, which was flying him over the Atlantic Ocean to a country he hadn’t seen for almost three decades.

But before the flight’s final destination at the Somali capital Mogadishu, it stopped for a layover in Dakar, Senegal. There, a disturbing narrative was revealed about the ordeal endured by Sharif and the 91 other Somali deportees who were being returned to Somalia.

During the flight, a lawsuit filed by some of the detainees notes that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents forced them to stay seated, denied them access to a bathroom, and “kicked, struck, choked, and dragged” them. This “inhumane” treatment lasted for 48 hours—23 of which the plane sat on the runway in Senegal.

Citing logistical problems, immigration officials eventually decided to turn the plane and head back to the United States. It’s not completely clear why this happened. ICE told the New York Times that a relief flight crew had been unable to get sufficient rest.

The aircraft and its detainees spent their time in Dakar parked at the airport. Observers say the episode gives insight into the poorly planned and hasty nature of the deportation agenda under the Trump’s immigration policy.

However, the return to the US was a relief for Sharif and his family, who were fighting his deportation and who had tried everything to keep him in the US. The trip back also saved Sharif from taking the reverse journey back to Somalia where he left when he was just eight years old.

In the mid-1990s, after fleeing Somalia’s civil war and living in Kenya as a refugee, Sharif and his family were granted resettlement and moved to the United States. As a teenager navigating the streets of Columbus, Ohio, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and in 2002, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After a decade, Sharif was released on parole in 2012 and went about rebuilding his life. Despite his criminal record, he started working the system to get his driver’s license, got engaged, and got a stable job working at a restaurant where he worked himself from dishwasher to second chef. Members of his family who spoke to Quartz said that he was really determined to change his life and start a family.

“He was really improving,” Ahmed Aden, a relative of Sharif’s who lives in Nairobi, told Quartz. “He was very passionate and working hard.”

But all that changed in early 2017 after president Donald Trump was elected into office. On Jan. 2017, Trump barred the citizens of seven majority Muslim nations including Somalia from entering the United States. While the ban was challenged in courts and Iraq removed from the list, the Supreme Court allowed it to take full effect in December. As Trump pushed for tougher immigration enforcement, federal immigration officials also stepped up their arrests of undocumented immigrants and refugees.

This was bad news for Sharif, who wasn’t an American citizen yet. After being summoned by his parole officer in early 2017, Sharif was detained by ICE officials and informed that he will be deported back to Somalia. Despite his unfortunate circumstances, the 35-year-old was hardly the only one facing deportation. In the last year, forced removals by ICE officials of Somali citizens have more than doubled, jumping from 198 in 2016 to 521 in 2017.

Kim Hunter, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, said that up until last year, the civil strife and insecurity in Somalia deterred officials from deporting immigrants. Only those with “the most serious criminal records” were being expelled, while those working and living lawfully were even assured by officials that they weren’t priorities.

“The Trump Administration put a great deal of pressure on Somalia to start accepting deportees,” Hunter, who has two clients who were due for deportation, said. “And as with so many actions by the current government, this has generated a lot of confusion and fear.”

Trump’s reversal of long-standing immigration policies was bound to impact the Somalis, one of the largest African immigrant communities in the US. Over the last few years, Somalis in the US have become the microcosm of the debate surrounding immigration, refugee resettlement, and national security.

In 2016, a federal jury found three men guilty of plotting to join the terror group ISIL overseas. This made the community vulnerable to surveillance; at one point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed its agents to use a community outreach program for spying.

During the presidential elections, Trump also singled out Somalis multiple times, accusing them of coming from “dangerous territories,” fraying social nets, and blamed faulty vetting processes for allowing a large number of Somalis to come to states like Minnesota, Maine, and Ohio.

Kali Mohamed, a community activist in Minneapolis, says this is “unfair” given that members of the community own businesses, pay taxes, and annually send more than $200 million in remittances back home. In 2016, voters of the District 60B in southeast Minneapolis also elected Ilhan Omar, who became the first Somali-American Muslim female legislator in the US.

Kali says the increased scrutiny, travel bans, and subsequent deportations now threaten to instill fear and suspicion and break up families. “It’s really hard trying to navigate through all this,” he said.

State of limbo

After almost a year in detention, Sharif was slated for deportation back to Somalia in mid-December. That’s when he landed in Senegal, shackled along with the others. Afterwards, a federal judge in Florida granted them a temporary reprieve and they were taken to various detention centers in Florida.

At the Glades county detention facility where Sharif is, several Somali detainees have since complained of alleged maltreatment and abuse. In a sworn affidavit seen by Quartz by immigration lawyer John Bruning from Kim Hunter’s law firm, detainees complained of being verbally abused and being subjected to excessive physical force.

Sharif’s family, however, confirmed to Quartz that he has suffered no physical injuries while at Glades but was put in solitary confinement for about a week for refusing to remove his kufi cap.

Lawyers like Hunter now hope that this period of stay would allow them to reopen appeal cases for their clients. And families like Sharif’s hope he would be allowed to stay, and not return to a dangerous country that recently experienced its deadliest terror attack ever.

Aden says that before he was arrested, Sharif called to convey how his life was turning positively. “He is very expressive and frank and he would tell you how he was happy,” Aden said. “He would say ‘America is home.’”

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Africa

Trump criticised over ‘shithole countries’ remark

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AL JAZEERA — A small group of US senators say they reached a compromise on immigration reform, but it has yet to win the support of President Donald Trump.

According to several reports, Trump made vulgar remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during the discussions, calling them “shithole countries” and objecting to immigrants coming from there.

He suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway.

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