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Trump Lawyer Won’t Allow Questioning of President on Firing of FBI Chief

U.S. President Donald Trump’s attorney said Sunday that his legal team will not allow special counsel Robert Mueller to question Trump about his firing last year of former FBI director James Comey.

Comey, at the time Trump ousted him in May 2017, was chief of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and heading the agency’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, leading to conjecture whether Trump obstructed justice in trying to thwart the Russia probe. Days after ousting Comey, Trump said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to dismiss him. Mueller was soon appointed to take over the Russia probe.

“We’re not going to take any questions on Comey,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN in an interview.

Giuliani, a former New York mayor, said that Trump, who often misstates facts, runs of the risk of being accused by Mueller’s investigators of committing perjury, a criminal offense for lying. He contended that “the purpose” of Mueller’s interview of Trump “is to create a perjury trap.”

Comey, in numerous interviews since his dismissal and in a best-selling book, contends that Trump, months before the president fired him, asked him in a White House meeting to “go easy” on investigating Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser. Trump had fired Flynn in the early days of his presidency for lying about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, with Flynn subsequently pleading guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts.

But Giuliani contended in the CNN interview that Trump and Comey “never discussed Michael Flynn,” and that if they had, the “go easy” comment “is hardly obstruction.”

Giuliani and other Trump lawyers have been negotiating for months with Mueller over terms of a possible interview of Trump, but no agreement has been reached.

There is no announced end to Mueller’s 15-month investigation, but Giuliani said he believes Mueller wants to conclude it in the next three weeks, roughly two months ahead of the nationwide November 6 congressional elections, so as to not influence voting.

Trump, in Sunday tweets from his golf resort in New Jersey, quoted supporters’ comments on his favorite Fox News shows deriding the Mueller investigation.

In one of the remarks, Trump cited Republican Congressman Darrell Issa of California as saying, “Seems like the Department of Justice [and FBI] had a program to keep Donald Trump from becoming President.”

Trump claimed, “If this had happened to the other side, everybody involved would be in jail. This is a Media coverup of the biggest story of our time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tense Confrontation Amid Peaceful Vigils in Charlottesville

The city of Charlottesville marked the anniversary of last summer’s white supremacist violence that sent ripples through the country with largely peaceful vigils and other events, but police had a brief, tense confrontation with students angry over the heavy security presence there this weekend.

“Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here,” activists chanted Saturday evening.

Shortly before a planned evening rally to mark the anniversary of a campus confrontation between torch-carrying white nationalists and counterprotesters, activists unfurled a banner that said, “Last year they came w/ torches. This year they come w/ badges.”

A group of more than 200 protesters then marched to another part of the University of Virginia’s campus, where many in the crowd shouted at officers in riot gear who had formed a line.

Kibiriti Majuto, a coordinator for UVA Students United, said the students moved to the other part of campus because they didn’t want to be “caged” in the area where the rally had been planned.

“How does that create a sense of community? How are we going to be safe in that situation?” he asked.

Majuto said police “were not on our side” last year when white supremacists surrounded counterprotesters on the rotunda.

“Cops and Klan go hand in hand,” he said.

Charlottesville city councilman Wes Bellamy said he tried to diffuse the situation and told the police commander that the students were upset by the officers’ tactics, calling the officers’ riot gear “over the top.”

After a few minutes, most of the demonstrators began to walk away. There were no immediate reports of arrests on campus.

​Quiet rest of the day

In the popular downtown shopping district Saturday morning, law enforcement officers outnumbered visitors. Concrete barriers and metal fences had been erected, and police were searching bags at two checkpoints where people could enter or leave.

“It’s nice that they’re here to protect us,” said Lara Mitchell, 66, a sales associate at a shop that sells artwork, jewelry, and other items. “It feels good that they’re here in front of our store. Last year was a whole different story. It looked like a war zone last year compared to what it is today.”

​Unite the Right anniversary

Saturday marked the anniversary of a nighttime march by torch-toting white supremacists through the University of Virginia’s campus a day ahead of a larger rally in Charlottesville’s downtown.

On Aug. 12, hundreds of white nationalists, including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members, descended on Charlottesville in part to protest the city’s decision to remove a monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a park.

Violent fighting broke out between attendees and counterprotesters that day. Authorities eventually forced the crowd to disperse, but a car later barreled into a crowd of peaceful counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

The day’s death toll rose to three when a state police helicopter that had been monitoring the event and assisting with the governor’s motorcade crashed, killing two troopers.

Remembrance events

Among the remembrance events that occurred Saturday was a “morning of reflection and renewal” at UVA that featured musical performances, a poetry reading and an address from University President James Ryan.

Ryan recalled how a group of students and community members faced off against the white supremacist marchers near a statue of Thomas Jefferson on campus, calling it a “remarkable moment of courage and bravery.”

Clara Carlson was one of those counterprotesters. Carlson, 22, said she feared for her life when she and a group of her friends were surrounded by the phalanx of young white men at the statue.

Carlson’s group locked arms and chanted slogans of their own, including “Black Lives Matter!” and “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA!”

“We don’t want to be painted as victims,” Carlson said Saturday, several hours before students and activists gathered for a rally near the statue on the anniversary of the campus confrontation.

Carlson said police didn’t intervene to help her or her friends that night last year.

“I remember the police just standing around. They weren’t there to protect us,” she recalled. “I was grateful that I was able to come out of that alive.”

​Heavy security

On Saturday, however, campus security personnel used metal detectors to screen rally participants and journalists before they entered the university’s famed Rotunda. A helicopter buzzed overhead. Large trucks blocked off the nearby roads.

By midafternoon, the city said hundreds of people had passed through the downtown checkpoints. Police arrested three men in or near the secured perimeter for trespassing, possessing prohibited items and being drunk in public, the city said in a news release.

Some community activists were concerned that this year’s heavy police presence could be a counterproductive overreaction.

Rally investigation

An independent investigation of the rally violence, led by a former federal prosecutor, found the chaos last year stemmed from a passive response by law enforcement and poor preparation and coordination between state and city police.

Lisa Woolfork, a University of Virginia professor and Black Lives Matter Charlottesville organizer, said police are mounting a “huge, overwhelming show of force to compensate for last year’s inaction.”

“Last year, I was afraid of the Nazis. This year, I’m afraid of the police,” Woolfork said. “This is not making anyone that I know feel safe.”

But others said Saturday they were comforted by the security measures.

Kyle Rodland, who took his young sons to get ice cream downtown, said he felt much safer than last year, when he left town with his family and stayed with his parents after seeing people armed with long rifles walking around outside his home.

Events marking the anniversary were also expected Sunday in both Charlottesville and Washington, where Jason Kessler, the primary organizer of last summer’s rally, has obtained a permit for a “white civil rights” rally.

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Facing Indictment, US Congressman Ends Re-Election Bid

U.S. Rep. Chris Collins ended his re-election bid Saturday, days after his indictment on insider trading charges, a move that raised questions about how the Republican Party might replace him with another nominee in one of New York’s most conservative districts.

The move came after Collins had defiantly said he would forge ahead with his campaign, even after he was indicted on charges he had passed inside information about a biotechnology company to family members so they could profit from illicit trades. 

But Collins reversed himself Saturday. 

“I have decided that it is in the best interests of the constituents of NY-27, the Republican Party and President Donald Trump’s agenda for me to suspend my campaign for re-election to Congress,” his statement said.

He went on to say he would finish out his term and “continue to fight the meritless charges brought against me.” He has denied any wrongdoing.

Democrats’ chances improve

Collins’ decision to end his re-election bid appeared to boost Democrats’ chances of taking in a solidly Republican district, but the announcement left unanswered questions including how Collins’ name could be removed from the ballot. Attempts for answers from Republican Party officials went unanswered even as the Democratic nominee, Nate McMurray, called for his opponent’s resignation.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” McMurray told The Associated Press when asked about the fallout Saturday. “The whole situation is bizarre, but I welcome it.”

McMurray, a supervisor for the town of Grand Island in western New York, said he was ecstatic over a sudden interest in his campaign from a Democratic establishment looking to regain a majority in Congress that he felt “should have been there all along.”

In an earlier statement, McMurray had said it is “a continuing disgrace that both parties have not said, with one clear voice, ‘Resign, Mr. Collins, and do it today.’”

Family also indicted

Wednesday’s indictment charges Collins and two others, including his son, with conspiracy, wire fraud and other counts.

Prosecutors say the charges relate to a scheme to gain insider information about a biotechnology company headquartered in Sydney, Australia, with offices in Auckland, New Zealand.

It is unclear whether Collins’ name can be removed from the November ballot at this point and whether Republican Party officials will be able to nominate another candidate for the seat.

Under New York state election law, Collins’ name could be taken off the ballot under certain narrowly defined circumstances that include death or being nominated for a different office.

Republicans weigh options

Jessica Proud, a spokeswoman for the New York state Republican Party, said party officials are weighing their options. She said no decision has been made about a possible replacement for Collins on the ballot – if they are able to replace him.

The district spans an area between the Rochester and Buffalo suburbs and is considering the most Republican-leaning district in New York. The race had not been considered competitive by many observers, including those predicting a “blue wave” that gives Democrats control of the House.

The area backed President Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by nearly 25 percentage points in 2016, when Collins beat his Democratic challenger by more than 2-1.

Collins was an early supporter of Trump’s presidential campaign and has been one of Trump’s most ardent defenders. In his statement Saturday, Collins warned that of Democrats winning the House in the midterm elections “and then launching impeachment proceedings against President Trump.”

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Group Calls on Trump to Unblock Twitter Users After Court Ruling

A free speech group says President Donald Trump continues to block dozens of people from his Twitter account although a court ruled his actions violate free speech enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University in New York sent a letter to the Justice Department Friday saying the president is still blocking 41 people from his @realDonaldTrump account.

The group contends almost all of the people in question were blocked after they posted unfavorable tweets about Trump or his policies.

“The First Amendment prohibits the president from blocking Twitter users simply because they’ve criticized him,” said Knight Institute attorney Katie Fallow.

U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald in New York ordered Trump on May 23 to restore to his account to a group of seven people who had filed a lawsuit. The plaintiffs were unblocked in June. Buchwald did not directly order Trump to unblock the 41 users referred to in Friday’s letter.

Buchwald’s order to unblock the plaintiffs came after she ruled that comments posted on Trump’s account, or those of other government officials, were public and that blocking their viewpoints violates their constitutional right to free speech.

Trump has used his Twitter account, which has nearly 54 million followers, to promote his agenda, announce policy decisions and to denounce his critics. Blocking his critics prevents them from directly responding to his tweets.

The White House has not commented on the letter but the Justice Department said in an appeal Tuesday Buchwald’s ruling was “fundamentally misconceived.”

Trump’s account “belongs to Donald Trump in his personal capacity and is subject to his personal control, not the control of the government,” the appeal said.

 

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‘ALT-RIGHT: Age of Rage’ Portends Clash of Political Extremes

In the documentary ALT-RIGHT: Age of Rage, filmmaker Adam Lough looks at the rise of the alternative right movement in America and its ideological components.

The “alt-right” movement, as it is often called, is a political grouping that combines racism, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and populism. The term has been embraced by white supremacists and white nationalist groups when referring to themselves and their ideology, an ideology that emphasizes the preservation and protection of the white race in the United States.

WATCH: ‘ALT-RIGHT: Age of Rage’ Documentary on the Political Polarization in America

“You can’t define the ideology of the ‘alt-right’ without mentioning white identity,” said filmmaker Adam Lough, who documents the rise of the movement and its leaders before, during and after the violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, August 12, 2018.

The alternative right organized the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville to show its support for preserving Confederate monuments, memorials to the Confederate side of the American Civil War. The rally turned violent when white nationalists chanting racist slogans clashed with counter demonstrators. Many of the counter-demonstrators identified themselves as Antifa, an abbreviation for anti-fascists.

ALT-RIGHT: Age of Rage documents the rally and the violence culminating in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer, who was run down by a car. The driver, a neo-Nazi supporter, has been charged with murder and other counts. His trial is scheduled for November.

What’s fueling the movement?

Lough says various factors, including the economy, immigration and even feminism, have fueled much of the anger in the “alt-right” movement. 

“The idea of white Identity and there being a crisis in the country that white people are being pushed to the back of the line, so to say, by people of color, by immigrants, by Muslims, and in a big way, by women. They would prefer that women play the role they had back in America of the ’50s, where they were in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, they feel that women were happier back then when life was better.”

Lough also points out that this extreme fringe conservative movement rejects mainstream conservatism. 

“They consider mainstream Republicans to … have sold out their party, so they reject the mainstream Republican line of the party,” the filmmaker said.

 

WATCH: Trump Blames Both Sides for Racial Violence at Virginia Rally

In his film, Lough shows how white nationalist social media has bolstered the “alt-right” and how the movement was emboldened by President Trump’s controversial comments regarding “alt-right” violence in Charlottesville, saying responsibility lay “on many sides.” 

“One can see that Donald Trump has been dog-whistling at the ‘alt-right’ since the very beginning, going as far back as the birther movement,” Lough said. “The birther movement is basically about Barack Obama not being a American U.S. citizen. Being a citizen of Kenya, being a Muslim. So, if you want to go back into Donald Trump’s legacy with the ‘alt-right,’ I think that’s where it starts. I think it ratcheted up during the election and kind [of] came [to] a head with Charlottesville when he at first refused to even condemn the violence that had happened on that particular side by the ‘alt-right,’ and claimed that both sides were evenly guilty.”

Lough also looks at the leadership of the “alt-right” and its role in the growth of the movement.

Among them is Richard Spencer who coined the phrase “alt-right” in 2008. Another white nationalist, Jared Taylor, wrote the book “Racial Consciousness in the 21st Century” and advocates for the creation of an ethno-racial state. 

“Jared Taylor is very much the godfather of the ‘Alt-Right’ and of modern white nationalism. He has an incredible influence amongst that group of people. He has “The American Renaissance.” It used to be a magazine, now it’s a website that is viewed on a daily basis by all those in the white nationalist, white pride community.”

The documentary also looks at the antifa, a combustible mix of activists who have become the nemesis of the “alt-right.”

“Antifa is on the polar opposite of the spectrum from the ‘alt-right.’ They are far left, hard left. Antifa runs the gamut from your garden variety socialist, to a more extreme communist to almost a militarily guerrilla warfare style communist, who are advocating violence against the ‘alt-right,’” Lough said.

Lough says long simmering socio-economic forces have given rise to extreme ideological differences, spelling the end for the moderate middle. Sooner or later he says, proponents of the “alt-right” on one hand, and the antifa on the other are set on a collision course. 

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Economy Doing Well, But Not All Americans See It That Way

By most indicators, the U.S. economy is doing well. An achievement that President Donald Trump has boasted about on many occasions. But whether Americans see it that way, may depend on which side of the political aisle they’re on. This report by White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara explores partisanship and the American economy.

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Confirmation Hearings for Supreme Court Nominee Kavanaugh Open Sept. 4

Confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh will begin on Sept. 4, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced in a statement on Friday.

Opening statements by committee members will take place on Sept. 4, and the questioning of Kavanaugh will start the following day, the committee statement said. The hearings are expected to last three or four days.

Republican President Donald Trump nominated Kavanaugh, 53, on July 9 to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy. Before he can assume the lifetime job on the nine-member court, the Republican-controlled Senate must vote to confirm him.

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Charlottesville White Supremacist Protest Recalled One Year Later

Sunday marks the one year anniversary of the violent “Unite The Right” protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Last year’s protest, organized by white supremacists upset over the removal of a statue of a Confederate hero, left one person dead and 19 injured. White nationalists are planning a protest to mark the occasion in Washington. Meanwhile, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and the city of Charlottesville declared a state of emergency ahead of the anniversary. Anush Avetisyan reports.

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Wildlife Official Who Stirred Fears on Species Law Will Leave Post

The head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is stepping down after a 14-month tenure in which the agency proposed broad changes to rules governing protections for thousands of species and pushed for more hunting and fishing on federal lands, officials said Thursday.

Greg Sheehan will leave the agency next week to return to his family and home in Utah, spokesman Gavin Shire said. He has led the wildlife service since last June as the senior political official appointed under President Donald Trump in a newly created deputy director position.

Under his tenure, the wildlife service moved recently to end a long-standing practice that automatically gave the same protections to threatened species as it gives more critically endangered species. The proposal also limits habitat safeguards meant to shield recovering species from harm and would require consideration of the economic impacts of protecting a species.

That’s alarmed wildlife advocates who fear a weakening of the Endangered Species Act, which has been used to save species as diverse as the bald eagle and the American alligator. The proposed changes were cheered by Republican lawmakers and others who say the endangered species law has been abused to block economic development and needs reform.

A request to interview Sheehan was declined.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had sought to make Sheehan acting director of the 9,000-employee wildlife service, which would have given him certain legal authorities. However, Sheehan was barred from that role because he did not have the science degree required for the position under federal law, Shire said.

Vacancies at Interior

His departure comes amid a spate of vacancies at the Interior Department more than a year and a half after Trump took office. Those include the heads of the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.

Before coming to the federal government, Sheehan worked for 25 years in Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources, including five years as its director.

National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara — who considers Sheehan a friend — said during his watch the service had done good work collaborating with state officials and conservation groups. But O’Mara said there needed to be less emphasis on removing regulations and more on making sure wildlife issues are considered, such as during decisions on energy development.

“Given the magnitude of the wildlife crisis, there’s always more that can be done,” O’Mara said.

Another conservation group, the Center for Biological Diversity, had a more critical response, saying Sheehan’s departure was “welcome news for America’s wildlife.”

“In just one year in office, he inflicted incredible harm on imperiled animals by consistently putting special interests ahead of science and the environment,” said Brett Hartl, the group’s government affairs director.

The Interior Department issued a statement saying Sheehan was “an incredible asset to the Interior team and was tremendous in helping Secretary Zinke expand access for hunting and fishing on over a quarter-million acres of public lands across the country.”

Deputy Operations Director Jim Kurth will lead the agency pending another appointment, Shire said.

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Trump Meets with Governors to Address Prison Reform, Recidivism   

President Donald Trump discussed prison reform with governors and state attorneys general at his New Jersey golf club Thursday, part of an effort to increase education, vocational training and other opportunities to make it less likely that inmates will commit new offenses. 

The United States has the largest prison population and the highest per-capita incarceration rate in the world. The majority of inmates are held in state facilities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

White House officals said the group represents states that have implemented reforms similar to those backed by Trump. The mostly Republican group included governors from Kentucky, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Dakota, as well as attorneys general from Florida and Texas. 

Trump is pushing a bill that has passed the House of Representatives that would provide $250 million over five years to fund education, vocational training and rehabilitation programs within the federal prison system. Participating inmates get credits toward early release or serving the rest of their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. 

The prison reform bill, “Formerly Incarcerated Re-enter Society Transformed Safely Transitioning Every Person Act,” is also known by its acronym the First Step Act. 

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, has been working with congressional allies to move the First Step program forward. 

First Step Act

Ryan Streeter, director of domestic policy studies with the American Enterprise Institute, said First Step uses “evidence-based interventions to help people get the kind of training they need, the attachment to the community they need, and the things that we’ve seen actually work in a research-based environment.”

He says there is growing congressional consensus on the need for sentencing reform, but initiatives have faced roadblocks. Streeter sees the legislation as an effort to ensure that when inmates reach the end of their sentences, they don’t end up back behind bars within five years, which is what happens with more than 75 percent of the prison population. 

The First Step Act is a “back end” type of prison reform, meaning it focuses on cutting prison time once people are incarcerated. A “front end” initiative focuses on reducing the amount of people sent to prison and the amount of time they spend there by making changes in the process of arrest, prosecution and sentencing.

The bill focuses solely on the federal prison system, which is only a small part of the overall U.S. prison system. Critics say the bill does not address the main causes of mass incarceration: prison sentences that are too long, and too many incarcerated people. For example, the bill would not reduce or limit mandatory minimum sentences for minor drugs offenses. 

A separate piece of legislation — a broader criminal justice reform bill co-written by senators Chuck Grassley and Richard J. Durbin — is also moving though the Senate and has received bipartisan support.

​The Washington Post is reporting that administration officials are pushing for a deal that would combine the Senate bill and the First Step Act, including provisions that would allow judges to issue sentences shorter than mandatory minimums for low-level crimes. 

The deal may face opposition from within Trump’s own administration, particularly from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has come out in strong opposition to any measures that would change mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines. 

Support from minorities

Racial disparity is a huge problem in the U.S. criminal justice system. African-Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.

 According to the Sentencing Project, 1 in every 10 black men in his 30s is in prison or jail on any given day.

Last week at the White House, Trump met with a group of urban pastors to discuss prison reform. Attendees said the president essentially came out in support of broad-based reforms to the criminal justice system.

Criminal justice reform

A number of polls, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union Campaign for Smart Justice, have shown that the majority of Americans support criminal justice reforms and believe the country’s criminal justice system needs significant improvements. 

The U.S. makes up about 5 percent of the world’s population but has 21 percent of the world’s prisoners.  According to the World Prison Brief, an online database providing information on prison systems around the world, 655 people were incarcerated in the U.S. per 100,000 population in 2016.

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