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Trump Praises New, Berates Former CIA Director

Former CIA officer Gina Haspel has become the first woman to head the U.S. spy agency after a swearing-in ceremony Monday. Haspel has overcome the criticism by lawmakers of both parties for her involvement in the torture of terror suspects after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump praised her ability to overcome what he called “a lot of very negative politics” and said no one was more qualified the job. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Commemorative Coin Struck for Trump-Kim Summit

A commemorative coin featuring U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has been struck by the White House Communications Agency ahead of their planned summit next month.

In a statement, deputy spokesman Raj Shah insisted that “the White House did not have any input into the design and manufacture of the coin.”

The coin depicts Trump and Kim, described as North Korea’s “Supreme Leader,” in profile facing each other in front of a background of U.S. and North Korean flags.

At the top of the front, the words “Peace Talks” are emblazoned, with the date “2018” beneath.

The back of the coin features a picture of the White House, Air Force One and the presidential seal.

Trump is scheduled to hold a landmark summit with the North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12, but Pyongyang has recently threatened to pull out over U.S. demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The White House Communications Agency regularly issues commemorative or challenge coins to present to foreign guests, diplomats and members of the military.

A number of the coins are available for sale through the White House Gift Office.

“Since 2003, White House Communications Agency members have ordered a limited number of commercially designed and manufactured souvenir travel coins for purchase,” Shah explained.

“These coins are designed, manufactured and made by an American coin manufacturer. These souvenir coins are only ordered after a trip has been publicly announced.”

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Watchdog Report to Fault FBI for Clinton Probe Delay

An upcoming report from the Justice Department’s internal watchdog is expected to criticize senior FBI leaders for not moving quickly enough to review a trove of Hillary Clinton emails discovered late in the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the findings.

The FBI’s timing has been a sore point for Clinton supporters, who say then-director James Comey’s announcement of the new review less than two weeks before the Nov. 8, 2016, election contributed to her loss. The agency’s findings affirming its decision not to pursue criminal charges against Clinton were disclosed two days before the vote — too late, her supporters say, to undo the damage.

Some FBI officials knew in September 2016 of the emails on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop but the bureau did not obtain a warrant to review them until the following month. Clinton allies say the candidate’s name could have been cleared much faster if the FBI acted on the emails as soon as they knew of their existence.

An inspector general report examining a broad range of FBI actions during the Clinton email investigation will criticize officials, including Comey, for not moving fast enough to examine the email trove and for a weekslong delay in getting a warrant, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press.

A lawyer for Comey and spokespeople for the inspector general and the FBI all declined to comment Monday.

The report will likely revive scrutiny of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton case and the extent to which it helped shape the outcome of the presidential election. Its conclusions may cut against President Donald Trump’s repeated assertions that the FBI was working against him during the campaign and instead revive allegations that the bureau broke from protocol in ways that ultimately harmed Clinton.

The nonpolitical watchdog has been repeatedly pulled into the partisan arena amid demands to investigate FBI actions in the early stages of its probe of possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

On Sunday, the Justice Department asked the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, to expand his existing investigation to look into whether Trump associates were improperly monitored during the campaign for political reasons.

The report dealing with the Clinton emails arises from a wide-ranging investigation launched in January 2017. It has been examining actions including Comey’s decision to announce his recommendation against criminal charges at an FBI headquarters news conference and his decision months later to alert Congress that the probe had been reopened because of the discovery of email messages on Weiner’s laptop.

The report is also expected to criticize two FBI officials who exchanged derogatory text messages about Trump during the course of the Clinton investigation.

A draft of the report has been completed, and officials whose actions are scrutinized in it have been permitted with their lawyers to review it and respond to the findings. The final version is expected out next month.

A separate inspector general report from last month faulted former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe for misleading investigators about his role in a 2016 news media disclosure about an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. 

McCabe, who has denied wrongdoing, was fired because of those findings, and the inspector general has referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington for possible criminal prosecution.

Weiner is the former husband of top Clinton aide Huma Abedin. His laptop was being analyzed by FBI investigators as part of a separate sexting investigation involving a teenage girl. Weiner, a former Democratic congressman from New York, is serving a 21-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to sending obscene material to a 15-year-old girl.

In his book released last month, “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey writes that he learned in early October — probably from McCabe — that Weiner’s laptop might hold a connection to the Clinton email investigation. He said he did not recall the conversation clearly and that it seemed like a “passing comment and the notion that Anthony Weiner’s computer might connect to … Hillary Clinton made no sense to me.”

Comey said it wasn’t until the morning of Oct. 27 when FBI officials asked his permission to seek a warrant for the Clinton emails, having determined that “hundreds of thousands of emails” from Clinton’s personal email domain existed on the computer and that there was no way Weiner would consent to a search of his entire laptop given the legal trouble he was in.

Some of the emails on the laptop had been forwarded by Abedin to Weiner to be printed out while others had been stored there after being backed up from personal electronic devices.

The FBI subsequently obtained a warrant, and though Comey said he was told there was no chance the email review would be done before the election, he announced on Nov. 6 that, “Based on our review, we have not changed our conclusions that we expressed in July with respect to Secretary Clinton.”

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US, South Korea Presidents to Discuss Threat to Scrap Trump-Kim Summit

Amid increasing skepticism of the chances for success for a summit between the leaders of the United States and North Korea and doubts the meeting will take place as planned, President Donald Trump on Tuesday is to meet South Korea’s leader at the White House.

Moon Jae-in, during Tuesday’s scheduled two hours of talks, is to try to reassure Trump that next month’s encounter with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can lead to a historic breakthrough. 

“I suspect President Trump has some tough questions for President Moon that he’d prefer to ask privately, given the lack of clarity on what the North Koreans will agree to — and the latest chess move by the North Koreans to threaten to cancel the June 12 summit,” said Jean Lee, the Korea Center program director at the Wilson Center. 

Trump, according to officials in the U.S. and abroad, has been questioning his aides and foreign leaders about whether he should proceed with going to Singapore to meet Kim.

Some officials in Washington, speaking on condition of not being named, also blame South Korean officials for initially overselling to Trump the willingness of the North Korean leader to denuclearize. 

It is a view shared by some outsiders, as well. 

“Moon likely exaggerated this to tie Trump to a diplomatic track to prevent him from backsliding into last year’s war threats, which scared the daylights out of South Koreans,” said Robert Kelly, a political science professor at Pusan National University.

Lee, a former Pyongyang bureau chief for the Associated Press, sees Moon as desiring to “jump in again to play the role of mediator, and to show that Seoul and Washington are in close coordination at the highest level, at least outwardly. But it will be a difficult conversation, I suspect.”

Eager for U.S. involvement

In the view of some analysts, such as Institute for Corean-American Studies Fellow Tara O, Moon appears anxious to persuade Trump to go ahead with the Kim summit and to get the U.S. president to grant sanctions relief so planned joint South-North projects would be able to proceed. 

As a result of last month’s Panmunjom meeting between Moon and Kim, the two Koreas “provided a deadline for the signing of the peace treaty by this year, so Moon would also discuss that with Trump,” O, the author of a book “The Collapse of North Korea:  Challenges, Planning, and Geopolitics of Unification,” tells VOA.  

In her view, however, some in Washington may take a dim view of that, seeing the requests as premature “rewards for North Korea, which has not done anything to reduce the threat on the Korean Peninsula.”

Lee, of the Wilson Center, contends “the North Koreans have skillfully played the situation by manufacturing an awkward moment between Moon and Trump just before their May 22 meeting. It’s all part of the classic North Korean strategy of divide and conquer.”

Another key geopolitical player is China, whom Trump recently surmised influenced the statements coming out of Pyongyang casting doubt on the Singapore summit.

The president, on Twitter on Monday morning, called on China to keep its border tight with North Korea amid sanctions until he is able to reach an agreement with Kim.

The North Koreans have threatened to pull out of the talks with Trump, blaming what they term are demands by the United States for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.” 

Since that threat, Trump and others in the White House have denied they are demanding a so-called “Libya model” for disarmament, while still insisting North Korea must give up its nuclear weapons for which it would be richly rewarded.

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16-Year-Olds in Washington, DC, Fight for the Right to Vote

The voting age in the United States is 18. But teenagers in Washington, D.C. want local authorities to lower it to 16. More than half of the city council members have already agreed to support a bill that, if approved, would make Washington the first U.S. city to allow 16-year-olds to vote in both local and federal elections. Anna Rice narrates Lesya Bakalets’ report.

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Trump Rails Against Russia Probe

President Donald Trump unleashed a torrent of complaints Sunday about the year-long investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia and if he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump complained in one of six Twitter remarks, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt.”

 

 

He contended that investigators have “found no Collussion [sic] with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The U.S. leader said the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller “has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the world” and its connections to the Trump campaign.

Trump said Mueller, who was authorized to investigate related matters he uncovered as he probed Russia’s meddling in the election aimed at helping Trump win, “should easily be able” to extend the inquiries into the congressional elections in November where he and his team “can put some hurt on the Republican Party.”

He added, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.”

 

Mueller’s investigation shows no hint of ending any time soon. He has indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election through the creation of fake news stories commenting on contentious American issues and secured guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are now cooperating with prosecutors in the ongoing investigation.

Trump on Sunday also claimed that the the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the country’s top law enforcement agency, has been “hard charging (except in the case of Democrats)” and ignored a string of accusations against Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and a Washington lobbyist linked to Democrats.

Trump’s Sunday tweets followed one on Saturday about the FBI and its parent agency, the Department of Justice, infiltrating his campaign through the use of an informant who made contact with three Trump associates before passing on information to the FBI.

Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge who worked decades ago in three Republican administrations in the U.S.

“If the FBI or DOJ was infiltrating a campaign for the benefit of another campaign, that is a really big deal,” Trump said. Before Halper’s name surfaced, Trump had called the use of the informant the “all time biggest political scandal.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Trump Says He’ll Order DOJ Probe of Alleged Campaign Surveillance

President Donald Trump says he will order an investigation Monday into claims an FBI informant infiltrated his 2016 election campaign – setting up a potential showdown with the Justice Department.

“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!,” Trump tweeted Sunday.

Later Sunday, the Justice Department announced it has asked the inspector general to expand its current review of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance ACT (FISA) “application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said in a statement.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.

Within minutes of the president’s tweets, former members of the Obama administration and others reacted with alarm. They believe the Trump threat is potentially the most serious intervention into the U.S. judicial system since the president fired FBI Director James Comey while he was investigating Trump’s campaign.

Trump on Saturday complained that the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department infiltrated his campaign by using an informant who made contact with three campaign associates before passing on information to the FBI.

Several news agencies have identified the informant as Stefan Halper, a 73-year-old American-born professor at Britain’s University of Cambridge who had worked in three other Republican administrations.

‘Crossing a massive red line’

Ned Price, who served on the National Security Council under President Barack Obama tells VOA that Trump’s charge is dangerous to American democracy. Price says the president is “officially knocking down the firewall between policy and law enforcement – an indispensable element of the rule of law. And he’s doing so for his own personal ends.”

Former NSC spokesman Tommy Vietor tweeted, “This is crossing a massive red line. Trump is forcing DOJ to conduct a politicized investigation – something he himself conceded he shouldn’t do.”  

It is not clear whether Trump will ask for a general investigation or specifically call on the Justice Department to make public certain materials about the FBI’s counterintelligence process or the identity of sources.

There is “no doubt” Trump has the authority to make the demand, said Benjamin Wittes, a Brookings Institution senior fellow who specializes in U.S. national security law.  

Wittes also predicts Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and FBI Director Christopher Wray will not comply with Trump’s order.

“This is a nakedly corrupt attempt on the part of the President to derail an investigation of himself at the expense of a human source to whose protection the FBI and DOJ are committed,” tweeted Wittes.

‘Getting ridiculous’

Trump further complained Sunday about the yearlong investigation into whether his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia and if he obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe.

“Things are really getting ridiculous,” Trump complained in one the Twitter remarks, asking at what point the investigation will end, calling it a “soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt.”

He contended investigators have “found no Collussion (sic) with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption” in the campaign of his Democratic challenger two years ago, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Trump said the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller “has given up on Russia and is looking at the rest of the world” and its connections to the Trump campaign.

Trump said Mueller, “should easily be able” to extend the inquiries into the congressional elections in November where he and his team “can put some hurt on the Republican Party.”

He added, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.”

One of Trump’s attorneys, Rudy Giuliani, told several news organizations Sunday that Mueller told him the probe will end by September 1.

He echoed Trump’s concerns that an extended investigation could hurt Republicans in the November congressional elections.

There has been no comment from Mueller’s office.

Giuliani also said the two sides were still negotiating whether Trump will be interviewed as part of the investigation.

Mueller has already indicted numerous Russian individuals and entities for interference in the U.S. election through the creation of fake news stories commenting on contentious American issues. He has also secured guilty pleas from three Trump campaign associates who are cooperating with prosecutors in the investigation.

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Wild Animals in the Halls of the US Capitol

Wild animal sounds were heard recently in the halls of the U.S. Capitol. But these were not the calls of escaped animals. They were the sounds of endangered animals serving as the animal world’s ambassadors to commemorate “Endangered Species Day.” Their presence in the Capitol was intended to encourage legislators to support efforts to protect endangered and rare animals. But as Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports, conservation and animal welfare appears to be a touchy subject on Capitol Hill.

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For GOP, Immigration a Fraught Issue as Midterms Approach

The chaos among House Republicans this past week on immigration shows how problematic and risky the issue can be for a party that needs unity heading into the elections in November that will decide control of Congress.

GOP leaders thought they had found a way by Friday morning to make the party’s warring conservative and moderate wings happy on an issue that has bedeviled them for years.

Conservatives would get a vote by late June on an immigration bill that parrots many of President Donald Trump’s hard-right immigration views, including reductions in legal immigration and opening the door to his proposed wall with Mexico. Centrists would have a chance to craft a more moderate alternative with the White House and Democrats and get a vote on that, too.

​Farm bill hostage

But it all blew up as conservatives decided they didn’t like that offer and rebelled. By lunchtime Friday, many were among the 30 Republicans who joined Democrats and scuttled a sweeping farm and food bill, a humiliating setback for the House’s GOP leaders, particularly for lame-duck Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

The conservatives essentially took the agriculture bill hostage.

They said they were unwilling to let the farm measure pass unless they first got assurances that when the House addresses immigration in coming weeks, leaders would not help an overly permissive version pass.

Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., a leader of the moderates, said his group would try to write a bill that would let young “Dreamer” immigrants in the U.S. illegally stay permanently — a position anathema to conservatives — and toughen border security.

A moderate immigration package “disavows what the last election was about and what the majority of the American people want, and the people in this body know it,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa. He’s a member of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, many of whose members opposed the farm bill.

“It’s all about timing unfortunately and leverage, and the farm bill was just a casualty, unfortunately,” Perry said.

Denham and his allies were also unwilling to back down. He told reporters that the conservatives “broke that agreement,” and his group would pursue bipartisan legislation.

“I’m disappointed in some colleagues who asked for a concession, got the concession and then took down a bill anyway,” Denham said in a slap at the Freedom Caucus. Denham said the concession was a promised vote on the conservative immigration bill by June, though conservatives said they never agreed to that.

Such internal bickering is the opposite of what the GOP needs as the party struggles to fend off Democratic efforts to capture House control in November. Democrats need to gain 23 seats to win a majority, and a spate of Democratic special election victories and polling data suggests they have a solid chance of achieving that.

Republican leaders and strategists think their winning formula is to focus on an economy that has been gaining strength and tax cuts the GOP says is putting more money in people’s wallets.

Immigration is a distraction from that message — and worse.

On one side are conservatives from Republican strongholds, where many voters consider helping immigrants stay in the U.S. to be amnesty. On the other are GOP moderates, often representing districts with many constituents who are Hispanic, moderate suburbanites or are tied to the agriculture industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers.

20 Republicans

A look at the 20 Republicans who have signed a petition by GOP moderates aimed at forcing House votes on four immigration bills is instructive.

Of the 20, nine are from districts whose Hispanic populations exceed 18 percent, the proportion of the entire U.S. that is Hispanic. Denham’s Central California district is 40 percent Hispanic, while five others’ constituencies are at least two-thirds Hispanic.

In addition, 11 of the 20 represent districts that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried over Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

The petition drive, led by Denham and GOP Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose South Florida district is 70 percent Hispanic, is opposed by party leaders because the winning bill probably would be a compromise backed by all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans. That would enrage conservatives, perhaps prompting a rebellion that could cost House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., his goal of succeeding Ryan as speaker.

Long odds to become law

All that trouble would be for legislation that still faces long odds of becoming law.

Even if a formula is discovered that could pass the House, it could run aground in the Senate, where four immigration bills died in February and Democrats can use the filibuster to scuttle any bill they dislike. Those defeats led Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to say he wouldn’t revisit immigration unless a bill arose that could actually pass this chamber.

Trump’s willingness to sign immigration legislation also remains in question after a year that has seen his stance on the issue veer unpredictably.

Audience members hold signs reading “DISAGREE” as U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., speaks during a town hall meeting, March 18, 2017, in Red Lion, Pa. Perry’s event turned contentious in his conservative south-central Pennsylvania district over questions about his support for President Donald Trump’s budget proposal and immigration plans and for undoing former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

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Trump Jr., Gulf Princes’ Emissary Met in 2016

Donald Trump Jr., the U.S. president’s eldest son, met in August 2016 with an envoy representing the crown princes of United Arab Emirates and Saudi

Arabia. The meeting, first reported by The New York Times on Saturday and confirmed by an attorney representing Trump Jr., was a chance for the envoy to offer help to the Trump presidential campaign, according to the Times.

The newspaper said the meeting, held Aug. 3, was arranged by Erik Prince, the founder and former head of private military contractor Blackwater, who attended the meeting. Joel Zamel, a co-founder of an Israeli consulting firm, was also in attendance.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s attorney, said Saturday that nothing came of the meeting.

“Prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump Jr. recalls a meeting with Erik Prince, George Nader and another individual who may be Joel Zamel,” Futerfas said in an emailed statement.

“They pitched Mr. Trump Jr. on a social media platform or marketing strategy. He was not interested and that was the end of it.”

A company connected to Zamel also worked on a proposal for a “covert multimillion-dollar online manipulation campaign” to help Trump, utilizing thousands of fake social media accounts, the Times report said.

The envoy, Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, told Trump Jr. that the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help his father win the 2016 presidential election, the paper said.

Since 1974, the United States has barred foreign nationals from giving money to political campaigns, and it later barred them from donating to political parties. The campaign financing laws also prohibit foreign nationals from coordinating with a campaign and from buying ads that explicitly call for the election or defeat of a candidate.

The Saudi and UAE embassies in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mueller team met Zamel

The Wall Street Journal last month reported that investigators working for U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller had met with Zamel, and that Mueller’s team was looking into his firm’s work and his relationship with Nader.

Mueller is investigating whether Russia meddled in the presidential election and whether Moscow colluded with the Trump campaign, as well as whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by trying to thwart the U.S. Department of Justice probe.

Trump has denied any collusion with Russia and has called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt.”

The Times report said the meetings were an indication that other countries besides Russia might have offered help to Trump’s presidential campaign. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses in Washington, New York, Atlanta, Tel Aviv and elsewhere regarding possible foreign help to the campaign, the report said.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s team, declined to comment on the report.

Zamel’s attorney, Marc Mukasey, said in a statement to Reuters that his client “offered nothing to the Trump campaign, received nothing from the Trump campaign, delivered nothing to the Trump campaign and was not solicited by, or asked to do anything for, the Trump campaign.”

“Media reports about Mr. Zamel’s engaging in ‘social media manipulation’ are uninformed,” Mukasey added. “Mr. Zamel’s companies harvest publicly available information for lawful use.” 

Kathryn Ruemmler, Nader’s lawyer, told the paper that her client “has fully cooperated with the U.S. special counsel’s investigation and will continue to do so.”

Erik Prince, who is the brother of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, could not be immediately reached for comment.

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