Senior White House Official Said to Figure in FBI Probe

The Washington Post is quoting unidentified sources that report the FBI investigation into possible ties between President Donald Trump’s political organization and Russia has identified a current senior White House official as “a significant person of interest” in the case.

The senior official now under scrutiny is said to be someone close to the president, the newspaper said, attributing its report to “people familiar with the matter.” The senior official was not identified further, but the Post said the FBI probe was expected to intensify in the coming weeks.

FBI agents assigned to the investigation are said to remain “keenly interested” in Trump aides who were influential during last year’s political campaign but either did not join the new administration or have already left the government, such as former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Who’s the subject?

Current administration officials who have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials include Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and two of his Cabinet members, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The latest development in the Trump investigation was published Friday while the president was traveling to Saudi Arabia on the first leg of his first trip abroad as president — a series of diplomatic visits that the White House hopes will shift attention away from the political firestorm triggered by the dismissal last week of former FBI Director James Comey.

Despite reports of a “significant person of interest” and an intensifying investigation, those watching developments closely in Washington say there is no indication yet that the filing of any criminal charges is imminent, or even likely. But the Post report does signal that the probe of the Trump team’s involvement with Russia has reached the highest levels of the U.S. government.

Mueller could shift focus

Earlier this week, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to lead the government’s investigation of Russian meddling in U.S. politics.

The case began last July as an effort to determine whether any Trump associates coordinated their campaign activities with Russian operatives, but it has since broadened to consider whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president. It is unclear whether Mueller’s leadership will affect the direction of the probe, but the Post said he is already bringing in new people to work on the team.

A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing Wednesday evening, the newspaper reported, again attributing its information to “people familiar with the matter.”

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Mattis: Pro-Syrian Government Forces in Deconfliction Zone Were ‘Iranian-directed’

Pro-Syrian government forces hit by U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in an established deconfliction zone inside Syria were directed by Iran, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday.

Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon the strikes were conducted in “self-defense” and were “necessitated by offensive movement with offensive capability of what we believe were Iranian-directed forces.” He added that it was unclear whether Iranians were on the ground with the forces.

U.S. Central Command spokesman Major Josh Jacques said in an interview with VOA on Thursday that pro-Syrian government forces set up a convoy northwest of the al-Tanf army base — where U.S.-led coalition forces are training Syrian militias fighting Islamic State — with Syrian tanks, bulldozers, armored vehicles, artillery vehicles and technical vehicles, and began creating fighting positions for their tanks.

Coalition strikes destroyed one of the tanks, two front-end loaders, another piece of construction equipment and a tactical vehicle, according to a U.S. Central Command strike release.

Officials say some of the pro-Syrian government forces are still violating the deconfliction zone set up around the al-Tanf base. The zone has been established as the area within a 55-kilometer radius from the base.

“We’re calling on them to withdraw from the deconfliction zone,” Jacques told VOA.

‘Every opportunity to leave’

Over several hours, the coalition flew aircraft through the airspace and fired missiles into the ground as “warning shots” near the pro-Syrian forces, but they continued building their positions, Jacques said.

The coalition also used a deconfliction hotline established between the U.S. and Russia to see if the Russians could get them to leave the area, but several apparent Russian attempts led to no change from the forces.

“It looks like the Russians tried to dissuade them,” Mattis said Friday.

“After that, we couldn’t do much else,” Jacques said. “They had every opportunity to leave the area.”

Syria has condemned the deadly coalition attack and said airstrikes near the border with Jordan are hampering efforts by the Syrian army and its allies to fight Islamic State.

Russia — a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government — called the airstrikes “unacceptable.”

Syrian rebels hailed the coalition raids and encouraged further actions against the pro-Syrian government forces and Shi’ite militias who also are trying to gain control of the strategic border point.

“What happened today demonstrates that they cannot reach our territories,” Al-Baraa Fares, a spokesman for the rebel group Maghaweer Al Thawra, told VOA. “When they tried, we informed the collation airplanes, which destroyed their convoys.”

Force protection

A U.S. official estimated that “possibly dozens of fighters” convoyed into the restricted area ahead of the airstrike. Another official put the number of pro-government fighters inside the deconfliction zone at a “couple hundred.”

“The strike was not a change in policy,” but rather an instance of the commander on the ground calling for force protection, according to a third official.

A statement from the coalition Thursday confirmed the deconfliction zone agreement remains in effect.

Jacques also said that Russia had agreed to call the United States to deconflict whenever they planned to operate in the area within 55 kilometers of the base. The Russians had used the hotline less than 24 hours before the Syrians violated the space.

“The line’s been up and running,” he noted.

The U.S. military says it does not communicate with pro-Syrian government forces and speaks with Russian forces only when needed to prevent miscalculations, since U.S. and Russian aircraft both conduct bombing missions in Syrian skies.

“We will never work with the Assad regime,” Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the counter-IS coalition, told Pentagon reporters Friday.

Anti-Islamic State initiative

Anti-IS coalition forces have been operating in the al-Tanf area for many months. Their focus has been to train and advise Syrian rebel groups on how best to capture key terrorist-controlled territories on the Syrian southern border with Jordan and Iraq.

The pro-Syrian government forces were 25 kilometers away from al-Tanf base when they were targeted by coalition planes, according to Fares.

Fares said the pro-Syrian government forces tried but failed to receive reinforcement from nearby Shi’ite militias.

Ahed Al Hendi from the VOA Extremism Watch Desk contributed to this report.

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‘My Brain is Crying,’ NY Haitians Face Possible Loss of Legal Status

“Turmoil for all of us,” is how Myriam describes her situation and that of other Haitians who stand to lose their Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in July.

Myriam, who did not want her last name used, works with children with disabilities in New York City. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago from St. Martin’s on a long-since-expired tourist visa. In recent years, TPS has allowed her, as a person of Haitian descent, to study and work legally. About 20,000 Haitians in New York have TPS.

The United States granted TPS to Haitian nationals living in the country in 2010 after Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake and has extended it every 18 months. But now, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has recommended that TPS be ended for Haiti in July on the grounds that the country has adequately recovered. The secretary of Homeland Security has until Tuesday to decide.

Watch: Haitian Diaspora Fears Possible End to Temporary Protected Status

Without TPS, Myriam says she would no longer be able to work or drive. 

“Our drivers’ licenses, there is a temporary visitor stamp on it,” she said. “It has an expiration date.”

Earlier this month, internal emails obtained by the Associated Press revealed an intent by USCIS to seek those with criminal offenses or who have misused public services specifically among the Haitian community. The report deepened the gloom.

“It hurt to hear that,” said Myriam, adding that it’s a “smack in the face” because “you cannot apply for TPS if you have a criminal record.”

Cry, pray, get back up

In the days since USCIS’ emails surfaced, Herold Dasque, former director at Haitian-Americans United for Progress says his organization has begun to prepare the community psychologically.

“We tell them, ‘don’t let your blood pressure affect you,’ because people are getting sick, your emotion can get you sick,” Dasque said.

But the advice is easier given than followed.

Johanne came to the U.S. on a temporary visa nearly 20 years ago to attend her mother’s funeral and never left. She was a teenager at the time, and only her dad, who has since died, remained in Haiti. So she paid her way through early childhood education and social work studies, and became eligible for TPS in 2010.

Now that she has spent more than half of her life in the country, Johanne says the idea of being forced to go back has put her in turmoil. She often finds herself in need of the same support she provides to others.

“Knowing that you are in that same situation as the people who are coming to you and asking for information, you don’t have a choice but to give them the right information,” Johanne said, eyes widening. “But at the same time in my heart, my brain is crying, ‘What about me?’ Because I have my own issues, I’m thinking about my future just like they are.”

To cope, Johanne goes home, closes her door, cries, prays, and gets back up. She, like many Catholics, turns to her faith for support when no other answer seems suffice.

“God has never forsaken us before,” added Rolddy, another TPS beneficiary and history student at York College. “Whenever something happens, there’s always a reason.”

Rolddy, like Johanne, feels he has no choice but to live in the shadows if his status is revoked. Going back, unless forcibly removed, is not an option.

“I don’t think I have any place to go,” Rolddy said. “After this earthquake, things have changed. People are not who they used to be anymore.”

Haiti has not recovered

TPS beneficiaries are not the only Haitians asking for an extension. 

In an interview with VOA, Paul G. Altidor, the Haitian Ambassador to the U.S., insists the island has not recovered and is not ready for a sudden influx. There are more than 50,000 Haitian TPS holders.

“The day after the earthquake … many friends and countries around the world got together to pledge and commit support to Haiti,” Altidor said. “Unfortunately, many of those pledges never came to fruition, so the resources that Haiti had relied on to actually rebuild itself, some of them didn’t come through, and some of them quite frankly got wasted,” he added.

Haiti suffered from a cholera epidemic in the earthquake’s wake, and the country was hit last year by its strongest hurricane since 1964, causing widespread housing and food shortages and more than $2 billion in damage.

“Haiti might be ready to open for business,” Dasque said, “but not ready to accept its citizens that left.”

Thirteen countries have TPS status. The fate of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which were most heavily affected by the 2013-2015 Ebola epidemic, has been decided. Their beneficiary status expires May 21.

 

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Washington Roundup: ‘Witch Hunt’ Tweet, Senate Hearing With Deputy AG

Developments Thursday concerning President Donald Trump include his early morning tweets disparaging the naming of a special counsel in the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election; Democrats slamming Trump’s criticisms; and ousted adviser Michael Flynn refuses to honor a Senate subpoena, his lawyer says:

Trump Says He Respects Decision to Appoint Special Counsel — President Donald Trump said Thursday that he respected the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s alleged links to Russian interests in last year’s presidential election. However, Trump, speaking at a White House news conference, said investigations thus far had been nothing but a “witch hunt.”

Democrats Slam Trump’s Criticism of Stepped-up Russia Probe — Trump’s criticism of a stepped-up Russia probe as a “witch hunt” prompted a sharp reaction from Democrats on Capitol Hill. The president took to Twitter to disparage the appointment of a special counsel with enhanced powers to investigate Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign, writing, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

Comey Testimony Before Lawmakers in Doubt After Special Counsel Named — U.S. senators of both political parties said Thursday that the public’s window into federal probes involving Russia and related matters could be constrained now that a special counsel has been appointed to lead the probe. Senators spoke after meeting Thursday behind closed doors with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to head the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign.

Ousted Trump National Security Adviser at Center of Russia Probe — Retired Army General Michael Flynn, a staunch political surrogate for Trump’s election as president and for 24 days his first national security adviser, now is certain to be at the center of a new special prosecutor’s investigation of Trump campaign links to Russian interests.

Senate Panel Chairman: Flynn Won’t Honor Subpoena — Ousted National Security Adviser Flynn will not honor a subpoena issued by a Senate committee looking into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, the panel’s chairman said Thursday. Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told reporters that Flynn’s lawyer has informed the panel he will not abide by a subpoena for private documents.

Trump Administration Begins NAFTA Renegotiation Process — Trump’s administration says it has notified Congress it intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Mnuchin: Cut Taxes, Regulations to Boost Growth to 3 Percent — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the nation’s economic growth can rise to 3 percent annually if taxes and regulations are cut.

Report: Trump Aides Had at Least 18 Exchanges With Russians —  Flynn and other advisers to Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

Controversy Aside, Republican Party Sticking With Trump — It’s striking how many congressional Republicans are concerned about President Trump’s behavior of late. It’s even more striking how many are not. Despite recent controversies, some Republican lawmakers, especially those in conservative districts, are in full support of the president.

Ryan: Special Counsel Will Not Interfere with US Congress Russia Probes — U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday he did not believe the appointment of Mueller as special counsel will interfere with congressional probes of Russia and the 2016 U.S. election.

Trump Interviews 4 Candidates for FBI Director — Four potential candidates to lead the FBI, including former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, met with Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday.

Kochs Unveil Campaign to ‘Jolt’ Stalled Tax Debate — The Koch Brothers’ political network is preparing to spend millions of dollars to ensure their vision for tax reform isn’t lost in the increasing chaos consuming President Trump’s administration.

US Treasury Pledges No Special Treatment for Trump in Investment Reviews — U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin on Thursday pledged to treat “very seriously” any business dealings Trump or his family might have with foreign companies flagged by officials as national security risks.

Donald Trump Jr., Dubai Business Partner Discuss ‘New Ideas’ — Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Dubai and met a billionaire business partner in the city-state, discussing “new ideas” as the Emirati’s real estate firm still lists possible plans for future joint projects while Trump’s father is in the White House.

Trump Visit Draws Country Singer Toby Keith to Saudi Arabia — American country singer Toby Keith, known for songs such as “Whiskey Girl” and “Beer For My Horses,” is scheduled to perform in the Saudi capital, Riyadh, this weekend in an event that coincides with Trump’s first overseas visit.

Saudi Arabia Working to Dazzle Trump in Busy Overseas Visit — Saudi Arabia is making every effort to dazzle and impress Trump on his first overseas trip, seizing on the visit to cement itself as a major player on the world stage and shove aside rival Iran.

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Trump Says He’s Victim of Witch Hunt, Denies Pressuring FBI Chief

A defiant President Donald Trump flatly denied Thursday that he had pressured the FBI to close its investigation of a former close aide, and he questioned the need for a special counsel to probe possible collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russians trying to influence the presidential election.

“No, no. Next question,” he replied when a reporter asked whether he had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to back down on the bureau’s probe into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At his first news conference since April 12, standing alongside visiting Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Trump denied there had been any collusion between himself, his campaign and Russian agents of influence. “Even my enemies say there was no collusion,” he said.

But he added a qualifier that seemed to leave open the question of others’ involvement. “I can only speak for myself and the Russians. Zero.”

Controversies

Trump lamented that the controversies swirling around the White House were damaging national unity. “I think it divides the country,” he said. “I think we have a very divided country because of that and many other things.”

Those comments followed a pair of early-morning Twitter posts questioning the need for the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to look into the collusion allegations.

“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!” the president tweeted.

WATCH: Trump comments on appointment of special counsel  

Later, at a luncheon with prominent TV network news anchors, Trump said the appointment of a special prosecutor “hurts our country.”

Trump’s comments came as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller as special counsel, went to Capitol Hill to brief the entire Senate behind closed doors.

The president was the only administration figure speaking publicly Thursday, furthering speculation that he has effectively muzzled White House surrogates who often speak for him. News reports have characterized the president as dissatisfied with his communications team’s inability to control the tenor of the coverage of recent negative stories.

 

 

Communications team

The usually forthcoming White House spokesman Sean Spicer, meeting reporters Wednesday, dodged questions about Comey and the Russian connection, referring reporters to a terse White House statement issued the day before. News reports over the past few days have said Spicer and other communications team members may soon be replaced in a White House shake-up.

The news website Politico quoted a White House adviser as saying there was a struggle to get any surrogates on TV because no one knew what to say or how to defend the story.

When news broke this week of the Comey memo on Trump’s alleged interference in the Flynn investigation, Fox News commentator Charles Krauthammer said he found it “really stunning that nobody, not even from the White House, has come out under their own name in defense of the president here.”

WATCH: Trump to help stop drug violence in US, Colombia

Presidential historian Dan Mahaffee of the Center for the Study of Congress and the Presidency sees parallels between what is happening in the Trump White House and similar moments in other beleaguered administrations.

“We see the common theme that in any presidential scandal, the attempt to either cover it up, hide it, obfuscate, is what drives the narrative,” Mahaffee said.

“So whether it is the famous Saturday Night Massacre with [Richard] Nixon that led to attention on Watergate, [Ronald] Reagan’s Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal, or then with [Bill] Clinton, it was the attempt to obfuscate,” he said. “In this administration, we see that the agenda seems to be completely derailed by the desire to fight this and push back on the story.”

Instability roils markets

Financial markets recovered somewhat Thursday following a sharp downturn a day earlier after news broke of the special counsel’s appointment.

Emily Stewart, a political reporter for the financial website TheStreet.com, said investors are frightened by the prospect of prolonged political instability.

“It does make people nervous that a tax cut may not come to boost earnings this year,” Stewart said. “What if it doesn’t come in 2018, especially since midterm elections are approaching? And if Congress is going to spend so much time and energy looking into the Trump administration, how much time do they have for taxes and health care”?

Trump is clearly hoping to change the negative news flow when he heads off this weekend for a nine-day foreign trip where he will meet with dozens of Muslim heads of state, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians, Pope Francis, and leaders of NATO countries and the Group of Seven industrialized nations.

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Trump Disparages Special Prosecutor Appointment as ‘Single Greatest Witch Hunt’ Ever

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday disparaged the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate his campaign’s links to Russian interests in last year’s presidential election, calling it “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

In a pair of early morning comments on his Twitter account, Trump complained that a special prosecutor had never been named to investigate “all of the illegal acts that took place” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the administration of his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Trump was reacting to Wednesday’s appointment of Robert Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to lead the probe into whether any of Trump’s aides criminally colluded with Russian officials in an effort to boost Trump’s chances of winning.

The U.S. intelligence community has already concluded that Moscow meddled in the election to help Trump claim the White House by hacking into the computer files of Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. The anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks subsequently released thousands of his emails that cast an embarrassing look on behind-the-scenes efforts of Democratic operatives to help Clinton win her party’s presidential nomination.

Mueller assumes his new role as the FBI and the intelligence committees in both the Senate and House of Representatives are already probing Trump campaign links to Russia.

Trump, not wanting to give credence to anything that diminishes his presidential victory, has been dismissive of the Russia investigations. He has said the claims of Russia’s involvement in the election are excuses made by Democrats as an explanation for Clinton’s stunning upset loss. Trump said last week that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” as he fired the most recent FBI director, James Comey.

Associates of Comey say notes he kept of a February meeting at the White House with Trump showed the president asking Comey to end his probe of Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Army General Michael Flynn, whom Trump had ousted after it was learned he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to Washington.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the Mueller appointment, to the surprise of Trump and his aides.

Rosenstein said Mueller’s appointment as special counsel – also known as a special prosecutor – does not mean “a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted.”

But he added, “What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”

Before his Thursday Twitter comments, Trump said in a statement, “A thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”

 

After his new assignment was announced, Mueller said, “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.”

Mueller held the top position at the FBI for 12 years until 2013. He was succeeded by Comey, whose firing by Trump set off a political firestorm in Washington, magnified when news of Comey’s notes from his February meeting with Trump came to light earlier this week.

A Republican political analyst, Evan Siegfried, told VOA that until Mueller’s appointment, “there was zero integrity in this investigation.”

 

Mueller, he explained, will be “completely siloed off from the Department of Justice and the FBI. He has his own budget; he can hire his own staff; he can kick all the FBI to the curb for all he wants” and can take the investigation wherever it leads.

The special prosecutor also would seek indictments and lead court action against anyone charged with criminal acts as a result of discoveries during the probe.

The move came after a small but growing number of Trump’s Republican colleagues in Congress, along with Democrats, began calling for a special prosecutor or commission to examine ties between Trump and his campaign aides to Russia.

Numerous top lawmakers praised Mueller’s appointment, saying that it gave them confidence that there will be a fair and thorough investigation.

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Donald Trump Jr., Dubai Business Partner Discuss ‘New Ideas’

Donald Trump Jr. traveled to Dubai and met a billionaire business partner in the city-state, discussing “new ideas” as the Emirati’s real estate firm still lists possible plans for future joint projects while Trump’s father is in the White House.

The Trump Organization has said it won’t make new foreign deals while Donald Trump serves as America’s 45th president. That didn’t affect the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai’s opening in February , while a previously planned Trump-branded golf course designed by Tiger Woods is still being built nearby.

 

Both projects are being built by Dubai’s DAMAC Properties, owned by Emirati billionaire Hussain Sajwani. His company has paid the Trump Organization’s subsidiaries between $1 million to $5 million for the projects, according to a U.S. Federal Election Committee report submitted in May 2016.

 

Sajwani’s Instagram account posted a picture Tuesday night showing him with Trump, who now runs the Trump Organization with his brother Eric, at a table covered in a spread of Middle Eastern food and a plate of French fries.

 

 “It was great having my dear friend and business partner Donald Trump Jr. over for lunch,” a caption with the photo read. “Discussing new ideas and innovation always make our meetings even more interesting.”

 

DAMAC did not respond to a request for comment about the meeting. However, recent regulatory filings made by the company suggest possible future plans with the Trump Organization.

DAMAC mentioned the Trump Organization in a prospectus for a sukuk, a type of Islamic bond, launched in April on the NASDAQ Dubai exchange. That filing noted DAMAC’s “product expansion also includes branding arrangements with … the Trump Organization.” It also listed plans for a “luxury boutique hotel to be operated by the Trump Organization” at DAMAC Hills, a massive development of villas and apartment buildings in Dubai’s desert that surrounds the newly opened Trump golf course.

 

Similar language had been included in previous regulatory filings by DAMAC, but its presence in documents after Trump’s election suggests the real estate company is keeping its options open. Days before becoming president, Trump had told journalists that DAMAC had offered the Trump Organization $2 billion in deals after his election, something DAMAC also confirmed.

 

Meanwhile, a quarterly earnings filing Monday made by DAMAC’s holding company listed a newly created subsidiary called Trump International Golf Club LLC, in which it described as holding a 100 percent legal and economic interest. The UAE-based entity lists its principal activity as being the “golf club,” without elaborating.

 

The Trump Organization has no new deals in the works in Dubai, company spokeswoman Amanda Miller said Wednesday. The company declined to answer other questions.

 

DAMAC’s first-quarter net profits of $240 million were down 16 percent compared to last year’s $285 million. The lower profits come as weak global oil prices squeeze Mideast countries, whose citizens form about half of DAMAC’s clientele.

 

DAMAC’s managing director also resigned Thursday, the company said in a regulatory filing. It offered no reason for his departure.  

 

Experts have raised concerns that existing Trump business abroad could run afoul of the so-called “emoluments clause” of the U.S. Constitution. That clause bars public officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments and companies controlled by them without the consent of Congress. Already, a liberal-funded watchdog group has filed a lawsuit citing the clause.

 

Others criticize Trump family members for traveling with Secret Service details while on private business trips, something afforded to them as direct relatives of the president.

 

While in Dubai, Trump also gave a commencement speech Sunday at the American University in Dubai, a private university founded in 1995 that has some 2,700 students. The university did not announce Trump would be making a commencement speech on its website ahead of time.

 

“When I look back on what my father did in this past election, and the risk he took, to me I’m far more impressed with the fact that he tried than by the fact he actually won,” Trump said in the 14-minute speech.”For a billionaire to step away from an amazing life and spend $75 million to go up against an incredible Republican field and then go up against one of the great political machines ever assembled… to do that was amazing.”

 

“We believed in his message and not necessarily the contrived message that was put out there in the media,” he added.

 

The university did not answer repeated emails and telephone calls asking if Trump received any payment for his speech. Security guards turned away an Associated Press journalist at the university’s gate Wednesday.

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Report: Trump Aides Had at Least 18 Exchanges With Russians

Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

No evidence of wrongdoing so far

Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.

In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.

The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment. In Moscow, a Russian foreign ministry official declined to comment on the contacts and referred Reuters to the Trump administration.

Separately, a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Washington said: “We do not comment on our daily contacts with the local interlocutors.”

18 phone calls, emails

The 18 calls and electronic messages took place between April and November 2016 as hackers engaged in what U.S. intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favor of Trump over his Democratic challenger, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

Those discussions focused on mending U.S.-Russian economic relations strained by sanctions imposed on Moscow, cooperating in fighting Islamic State in Syria and containing a more assertive China, the sources said.

Members of the Senate and House intelligence committees have gone to the CIA and the National Security Agency to review transcripts and other documents related to contacts between Trump campaign advisers and associates and Russian officials and others with links to Putin, people with knowledge of those investigations told Reuters.

The U.S. Justice Department said Wednesday it had appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential campaign and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Mueller will now take charge of the FBI investigation that began last July. Trump and his aides have repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia.

Pragmatic approach

In addition to the six phone calls involving Kislyak, the communications described to Reuters involved another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.

One of those contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, according to one person with detailed knowledge of the exchange and two others familiar with the issue.

It was not clear with whom Medvedchuk was in contact within the Trump campaign, but the themes included U.S.-Russia cooperation, the sources said. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.

Medvedchuk denied having any contact with anyone in the Trump campaign.

“I am not acquainted with any of Donald Trump’s close associates, therefore no such conversation could have taken place,” he said in an email to Reuters.

In the conversations during the campaign, Russian officials emphasized a pragmatic, business-style approach and stressed to Trump associates that they could make deals by focusing on common economic and other interests and leaving contentious issues aside, the sources said.

Rare amount of contact

Veterans of previous election campaigns said some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual, but the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others with links to Putin was exceptional.

“It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power,” Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters. 

Beyond Medvedchuk and Kislyak, the identities of the other Putin-linked participants in the contacts remain classified and the names of Trump advisers other than Flynn have been masked in intelligence reports on the contacts because of legal protections on their privacy as American citizens.

However, officials can request that they be revealed for intelligence purposes. U.S. and allied intelligence and law enforcement agencies routinely monitor communications and movements of Russian officials.

After Vice President Mike Pence and others had denied in January that Trump campaign representatives had any contact with Russian officials, the White House later confirmed that Kislyak had met twice with then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who later became attorney general.

Kislyak also attended an event in April where Trump said he would seek better relations with Russia. Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, also attended that event in Washington. In addition, Kislyak met with two other Trump campaign advisers in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention.

Trump fired Flynn in February after it became clear that he had falsely characterized the nature of phone conversations with Kislyak in late December, after the Nov. 8 election and just after the Obama administration announced new sanctions on Russia. Flynn offered to testify to Congress in return for immunity from prosecution, but his offer was turned down by the House intelligence committee.

 

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This Day in History: Landmark Ruling Ends Lawful School Segregation  

On May 17, 1954, 63 years ago today, the social construct of the United States forever changed when the U.S. Supreme Court delivered its ruling in the case of Brown versus the Board of Education.

“…we unanimously hold that separate but equal has no place in the U.S. Constitution.”  

Then chief Justice Earl Warren said that was a violation of the 14th Amendment.

And with that, lawful segregation of the public education system in America was over — and the civil rights era began in earnest.

Linda Brown

Before that day, state education was governed by the “separate but equal” principle, which allowed states to bar black children from attending white schools.

Schools for black children were far below the average public schools for whites, without basic resources such as up to date textbooks and bathroom facilities.

A few years before, the parents of nine-year-old Linda Brown, who traveled an hour to get her to an all black school in Topeka, Kansas, tried to register their daughter in a much closer nearby white school. 

The principal refused.

Brown’s parents turned to the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which recruited 12 other African-American children for a class-action suit against the Topeka school board. Several other states joined the suit, argued at the Supreme Court by the NAACP’s Thurgood Marshall.

 

Civil rights movement

Despite the landmark court ruling, some states — particularly in the southern U.S. — balked, refusing to comply. The resistance energized civil rights activists, who ramped up their movement to improve equality for black Americans.

Three years after the High Court ruling, nine black students enrolled in the all-white Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

In September, the governor brought out the National Guard to prevent the students from attending classes.

Then President Dwight Eisenhower sent in federal troops, announcing his decision to protect the Brown ruling in a televised address to the nation.​

Under federal escort, the so-called “Little Rock nine” finally made it inside Little Rock High on September 25, 1957, for their first day of school.

The soldiers remained to protect the black students for the entire school year.

By 1961, only three southern states — South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi — maintained a completely segregated school system. 

Of the three, South Carolina resisted until a court case filed by the parents of black students finally forced the state to desegregate in 1963.

 

 

 

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Trump’s Woes Trigger More Alarms on Capitol Hill

For weeks, most Republican lawmakers limited their comments about the crisis-plagued Trump administration to vague expressions of concern — if they commented at all. That common stance began to shift late Tuesday after media reports surfaced that former FBI director James Comey had written memos alleging President Donald Trump pressured him to halt an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia.

Hours later, one of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen, Senator John McCain, raised eyebrows by comparing Trump’s woes to those of former President Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974.

“I think it’s reaching the point where it [Trump controversies] is of Watergate size and scale,” McCain said. “Every couple of days there is a new aspect of this really unhappy situation.”

Democrats, meanwhile, are making an increasingly lengthy list of demands for a full accounting of Comey’s firing, Trump’s alleged meddling in the Russia probe, the intelligence the president shared last week with Russian officials, and any ties between Moscow and the president’s inner circle.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is urging the White House to release any written or recorded records of Trump’s conversations with Comey.

“The president says what Comey said was wrong. Prove it,” Schumer said.

Democrats also want the White House to provide a transcript of the president’s meeting with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador. Above all, they are demanding a special prosecutor to lead the investigation of Russia’s meddling in last year’s presidential election.

“We have learned, if the reporting is accurate, that the president is willing to directly interfere with an active investigation,” Schumer said. “The only way out [solution] is a special prosecutor. It’s the right thing to do.”

A panel in the House of Representatives has demanded the FBI turn over Comey’s memos. House Speaker Paul Ryan, on whose shoulders much of the burden of advancing an ambitious Republican agenda rests, is taking pains to remain above the fray.

“We need the facts,” he said. “It is obvious there are some people out there who want to harm the president. Now is the time to gather all the pertinent information. Our job is to be responsible, sober and focused only on gathering the facts.”

Representative Elijah Cummings is among Democrats who question Ryan’s resolve — and that of Republicans more broadly — to unflinchingly uncover the truth.

“Speaker Ryan has shown he has zero, zero, zero appetite for any investigation of President Trump,” Cummings said.

The man who could appoint a special prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, will brief the entire Senate behind closed doors Thursday. 

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