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Gun-Control Initiative Brings Protesters on Both Sides to Seattle

Right-wing demonstrators gathered Saturday in Seattle for a “Liberty or Death” rally that drew counter-protesters from the left while dozens of police kept the two sides apart.

The right-wing groups Washington 3 Percenters and Patriot Prayer were holding the rally outside Seattle City Hall to protest an effort to launch a gun-control initiative that would raise the age in Washington state for people buying semi-automatic rifles.

The left-wing groups Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party were rallying at the same site.

​Protesters on each side

Hundreds of protesters on each side of the street were separated Saturday afternoon by metal barriers and police officers as the left-wing protesters yelled and used cow bells and sirens to try to drown out speeches from the right-wing side.

Three men were arrested, all for misdemeanor assault, Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle police spokesman, told the Seattle Times.

One person on the right-wing group side was treated for an injury at the scene.

Additional police also arrived, including police in riot gear with batons who took up positions in the street. Bicycle officers lined up their bikes as a type of moving barrier to keep protesters from entering the street, which remained open to traffic.

Gun-control initiative

The gun-control initiative would boost the age for the purchase of semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21 and would expand the background checks for those purchases. The measure would also require people to complete a firearm safety training course and create standards for safely storing firearms.

A judge on Friday, however, threw out 300,000 signatures needed to put the initiative on the November ballot, saying the petition’s format did not follow election law. The Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the group behind the initiative, has filed a notice of appeal with the Washington Supreme Court.

The protest came two weeks after police in riot gear in Portland, Oregon, tried to keep right-wing and left-wing groups apart. The effort mostly succeeded, but police were accused of being heavy-handed, prompting the city’s new police chief to order a review of officers’ use of force

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Report: White House Counsel Is Cooperating With Russia Investigation

The White House’s top lawyer has cooperated extensively with the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, sharing detailed accounts about the episodes at the heart of the inquiry into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing a dozen current and former White House officials and others briefed on the matter, the newspaper said White House Counsel Donald McGahn had shared information, some of which the investigators would not have known about.

McGahn voluntarily cooperated with Mueller’s team as a regular witness, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters, as the White House asked many staffers to do. He was not subpoenaed nor did he speak to them under any kind of proffer or cooperation agreement.

The person also said he did not believe McGahn provided Mueller with incriminating information about Trump. McGahn provided the facts but nothing he saw or heard amounts to obstruction of justice by Trump, the person told Reuters.

According to the New York Times, McGahn in at least three voluntary interviews with investigators that totaled 30 hours over the past nine months, described Trump’s furor toward the Russia investigation and the ways in which the president urged McGahn to respond to it.

The newspaper reported McGahn’s motivation to speak with the special counsel as an unusual move that was in response to a decision by Trump’s first team of lawyers to cooperate fully.

But it said another motivation was McGahn’s fear he could be placed in legal jeopardy because of decisions made in the White House that could be construed as obstruction of justice.

McGahn, the newspaper said, shared information on Trump’s comments and actions during the firing of the F.B.I. director, James Comey, and the president’s obsession with putting a loyalist in charge of the inquiry, including his repeated urging of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to claim oversight of it.

The newspaper said McGahn was also centrally involved in Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, which investigators might not have discovered without him.

McGahn cautioned to investigators he never saw Trump go beyond his legal authorities.

A source close to the president told Reuters on Saturday the extent of McGahn’s cooperation was “a tactical or strategic mistake” instigated by Trump’s first legal team and it should not have been allowed to happen because McGahn should have been covered by executive privilege. The person also said Trump is not worried because he does not feel he did anything wrong.

One lawyer familiar with the matter said McGahn could have been subpoenaed to testify to the grand jury if he did not cooperate with Mueller voluntarily and might have lost legal battles if he tried to invoke executive privilege.

William Burck, McGahn’s personal lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s former personal lawyer, John Dowd, told Reuters on Saturday he was aware McGahn had spoken extensively with Mueller’s team.

“Lot to cover,” Dowd said in text message. “Did a great job. McGahn was a strong witness for the President according to Burck and debriefs of DM (Donald McGahn). Not aware of any of the alleged apprehensions manufactured by the NYT.”

Dowd said a decision was made by the president’s legal team for McGahn to cooperate with the investigation.

Rudy Giuliani, who joined the president’s outside legal team after Dowd resigned, told Reuters on Saturday that Trump’s lawyers had been in contact with McGahn’s counsel after he was interviewed and possessed “emails that say he provided nothing that was damaging or incriminating to the president.”

Giuliani said McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller was part of a legal strategy. As an officer of the court, he added, McGahn would have had to resign if he thought the president did anything illegal.

Giuliani said he did not believe McGahn was cooperating against the president, noting Trump’s lawyers and McGahn’s have a joint defense agreement that would have otherwise ended.

Former White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who resigned in May after joining the administration last summer to assist the president with the Russia probe, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment. Trump has repeatedly denounced the investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow as a “witch hunt.”

“The president and Don have a great relationship,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement. “He appreciates all the hard work he’s done, particularly his help and expertise with the judges, and the Supreme Court” nominees.

Others in the White House have described the relationship as strained. 

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Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

Twitter users are blocking companies like Pepsi, Nike and Uber on Twitter to pressure the social media firm to permanently ban American broadcaster Alex Jones for what they say are his abusive tweets.

Meanwhile, Twitter reportedly is facing a shutdown in Pakistan because of a government request to block what it deems objectionable content.

The moves come as U.S. internet companies take a harder look at their policies that have promoted free expression around the world. The companies have a mostly hands-off policy when it comes to curtailing speech, except when it comes to inciting violence and pornography. But that largely permissive approach is getting a new look.

​Twitter and Alex Jones

Twitter recently slapped a seven-day ban on conservative American radio host Jones for violating its policy on abusive speech, when he appeared to call for violence against the media, something he denies.

On his show this week, Jones noted that Twitter had removed his videos.

“They took me down,” he said. “Because they will not let me have a voice.”

Earlier this month, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, YouTube and other social media limited Jones and his InfoWars media company from their sites. But InfoWars’ live-streaming app can still be found at Google and Apple’s app stores. The on-air personality has put forth conspiracy theories calling some U.S. mass shootings hoaxes.

WATCH: Tech Companies Struggle With How to Curtail Offensive Speech

No more hands off

Internet firms are moving away from the long-held position that they didn’t want to monitor expression on their sites too closely, Irina Raicu, director of the Internet Ethics Program at Santa Clara University, said.

“The companies are stuck in the middle and no longer trying to avoid responsibility in a way that I think they were even a few years ago when they were saying we are just neutral platforms,” Raicu said. “They are increasingly taking a more open role in determining what content moderation looks like.”

It’s not just in the U.S. where the internet companies are having to make hard decisions about speech. The firms are also grappling with extreme speech in other languages.

Comments on Facebook have been linked to violence in places like Myanmar and India. A recent article by the Reuters news agency reports that negative messages about Myanmar’s Rohingya minority group were throughout its site.

Some call on social media companies to do more to target and take down hate messages before they lead to violence.

“If Facebook is bent on removing abusive words and nudity, they should be focused on removing these words as well,” said Abhinay Korukonda, a student from Mumbai, India, who is studying at the University of California, Berkeley. “This comes under special kinds of abusive terms. They should take an action. They should definitely remove these.”

Objective standards

Ming Hsu studies decision-making at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. He is researching how to come up with objective standards for determining whether certain speech could lead to real-world dangers against people both in the U.S. and across the globe.

“We don’t have actionable standards for policymakers or for companies or even lay people to say, ‘This is crossing the boundaries, this is way past the boundaries and this is sort of OK,’” Hsu said.

Those calls are even harder when looking at speech in other languages and cultures, he added.

“We don’t really have any intuition for who’s right, who is wrong and who is being discriminated against,” Hsu said. “And that gets back to relying on common sense and how fragile that is.”

Tech companies are known for constantly tweaking their products and software. Now it seems they are taking the same approach with speech as they draw the line between free expression and reducing harm.

VOA’s Deana Mitchell contributed to this report.

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Report: US Made, Sold Bomb That Killed Yemeni Children 

According to a CNN report, munitions experts say a U.S.-made bomb was used by the Saudi-led coalition in a recent airstrike in Yemen that hit a busload of children in a marketplace, killing 51 people, including 40 children.

CNN said Friday that the experts identified the bomb used in the attack from images taken of a piece of shrapnel shortly after the deadly strike.

According to CNN, the numbers on the shrapnel indicated the explosive was a 227-kilogram, laser-guided MK 82 bomb manufactured by top U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin.

Seventy-nine people were also wounded in the strike, including 56 children.

A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition said earlier this month the airstrike targeted Houthi rebels in the market and conformed with international and humanitarian law.

U.S. President Barack Obama banned the sale of precision-guided weaponry to Saudi Arabia in 2016 after Saudi Arabia used a similar bomb in another deadly attack.

The Trump administration, however, overturned the ban last year.

Liz Throssel, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said after the August 9 airstrike that hit the bus that “any attack which directly targets civilians not directly taking part in hostilities or civilian objects amounts to a war crime.”

She said the perpetrators must be identified, brought to justice and held accountable no matter where, when, or by whom the violations or abuses were committed.

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Mueller Recommends Short Sentence for Trump Campaign Aide

A former Trump campaign adviser should spend at least some time in prison for lying to the FBI during the Russia probe, prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller said in a court filing Friday that also revealed several new details about the early days of the investigation.

The prosecutors disclosed that George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign during the 2016 presidential race, caused irreparable damage to the investigation because he lied repeatedly during a January 2017 interview.

Those lies, they said, resulted in the FBI missing an opportunity to properly question a professor Papadopoulos was in contact with during the campaign who told him that the Russians possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

Professor slipped away

The filing by the special counsel’s office strongly suggests the FBI had contact with Professor Joseph Mifsud while he was in the U.S. during the early part of the investigation into Russian election interference and possible coordination with Trump associates.

According to prosecutors, the FBI located the professor in Washington about two weeks after Papadopoulos’ interview and Papadopoulos’ lies “substantially hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question” him. But it doesn’t specifically relate any details of an interview with the professor as it recounts what prosecutors say was a missed opportunity caused by Papadopoulos.

“The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States,” Mueller’s team wrote, noting that the professor left the U.S. in February 2017 and has not returned since.

“Had the defendant told the FBI the truth when he was interviewed in January 2017, the FBI could have quickly taken numerous investigative steps to help determine, for example, how and where the professor obtained the information, why the professor provided the information to the defendant, and what the defendant did with the information after receiving it,” according to the court filing.

Difficult interviews

Prosecutors also detail a series of difficult interviews with Papadopoulos after he was arrested in July 2017, saying he didn’t provide “substantial assistance” to the investigation. Papadopoulos later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of a plea deal.

The filing recommends that Papadopoulos spend at least some time incarcerated and pay a nearly $10,000 fine. His recommended sentence under federal guidelines is zero to six months, but prosecutors note another defendant in the case spent 30 days in jail for lying to the FBI.

Papadopoulos has played a central role in the Russia investigation since its beginning as an FBI counterintelligence probe in July 2016. In fact, information the U.S. government received about Papadopoulos was what triggered the counterintelligence investigation in the first place. That probe was later take over by Mueller.

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Omarosa Claims White House Tried to Buy Her Silence

Omarosa Manigault Newman, a former adviser to President Trump, has been in the public’s eye this week with secret recordings of conversations she had with White House officials, including with the President himself. The scandal has brought to light new revelations that the Trump administration requires its staff to sign non-disclosure agreements, something almost unheard of in previous administrations. Here’s more from VOA’s White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara.

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Trump Attends Hamptons Fundraiser Hosted by Hot Dog Magnate

President Donald Trump headlined a closed-door fundraiser Friday at the Hamptons, New York, home of one of his closest friends, the chairman of the iconic Nathan’s Famous hot dog business.

Trump participated in a roundtable with high-dollar donors before delivering remarks at a luncheon in Southampton hosted by Howard Lorber, a New York real estate executive who is Chairman of Douglas Elliman Realty and Nathan’s Famous, the hot dog chain familiar to many New Yorkers.

Reporters were not allowed inside to hear the president’s remarks, which benefited Trump Victory, a joint fundraising committee between Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee.

Trump’s visit made the notoriously bad weekend summertime traffic in the Hamptons even worse. As his motorcade sped back to the airport on a highway cleared of traffic, the cars headed in the opposite direction stood at a total standstill, with some motorists getting out of their cars to take pictures.

He later headed to New Jersey to spend another weekend at his private golf club. As he left the White House on Friday, Trump told reporters that his weekend in Bedminster was “going to be all work.”

Trump spent last week at the club, enjoying a working vacation that aides said was necessary because of renovations being done at the White House. 

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Trump Threatens to Pull Security Clearance of Justice Official

Tensions between the U.S. intelligence community and the White House are ratcheting up, with President Donald Trump and former, high-ranking intelligence official locked in a heated war of words over security clearances.

Trump on Friday threw another punch in the ongoing battle, threatening to revoke the security clearance of a current Justice Department official and adding his decision to strip former CIA Director John Brennan of his security clearance has gotten a “tremendous response.”

Later in the day, former CIA officers punched back, with more than 60 signing a statement condemning what they described as a “political litmus test” for intelligence and security experts.

The subject of Trump’s ire Friday was the Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr, named earlier this week by the White House as one of nine former and current officials in danger of having their security clearances yanked.

Ohr has been under intense scrutiny for his contacts with Glenn Simpson, whose opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, was involved in producing the so-called Steele Dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia. For a time, Fusion GPS also employed Ohr’s wife.

“I suspect I’ll be taking it away very quickly,” Trump told reporters outside the White House regarding Ohr’s security clearance. “For him to be in the Justice Department and to be doing what he did, that is a disgrace.”

Trump also linked Ohr to special counsel Robert Mueller, calling the link “disqualifying” for Mueller. Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, which Trump on Friday called “a rigged witch hunt.”

“You know that,” Trump told reporters. “Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted.”

Growing outrage over revocation

Trump’s comments, along with the threat of stripping security clearances from other former and current officials, have sparked a growing outrage.

By early Friday, at least 15 former senior intelligence officials had also signed onto a statement criticizing what they call “the ill-considered and unprecedented remarks and actions by the White House regarding the removal of John Brennan’s security clearances.”

The officials, including former CIA directors Robert Gates, George Tenet and retired Gen. David Petraeus, said, “We have never before seen the approval or removal of security clearances used as a political tool as was done in this case. Beyond that, this action is quite clearly a signal to the former and current officials.”

They were joined late Friday by a group of 60 former CIA officers and analysts, some of whom said they did not agree with the opinions of former Director Brennan or how he expressed them, issued a statement of their own.

“[It] is our firm belief that the country will be weakened if there is a political litmus test applied before seasoned experts are allowed to share their views,” the statement said.

“All of us believe it is critical to protect classified information from unauthorized disclosure,” it continued. “But we believe equally strongly that former government officials have the right to express their unclassified views on what they see as critical national security issues without fear of being punished for doing so.”

Others have also taken a stand against the president’s actions.

Retired admiral’s challenge

On Friday night, Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on social media, “I will be introducing an amendment next week to block the president from punishing and intimidating his critics by arbitrarily revoking security clearances.”

Retired Admiral William McRaven, who oversaw the operation to kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, on Thursday challenged Trump to revoke his security clearance, saying it would be an “honor.”

“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote in a letter published by The Washington Post.

No comment from Haspel, Coats

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who was part of Trump’s transition team before resigning, released his own statement Friday on the issue of security clearances.

While Woolsey did not mention either the president or Brennan by name, he called it “imperative” that those involved “use reasonable discourse in discussing and making their decisions.”

A source close to Woolsey told VOA that while the statement was carefully worded, it should be interpreted as a criticism of the president.

Neither current CIA Director Gina Haspel nor Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats have commented publicly on the security clearances.

But when asked about the decision to strip Brennan of his clearance, an official with knowledge of the process told VOA that senior intelligence officials “had no hand in this, no role in this,” despite reports from the White House to the contrary.

Fears of abuse of power

Since the White House announced the decision to strip former CIA Director Brennan of his security clearance, the number of former intelligence officials willing to publicly express concern has grown.

Some have called the president’s actions an abuse of power, while others say they fear the politicization of the security clearance process will serve to silence anyone in intelligence who has information the president might not like to hear.

“What we’re concerned about is the message and the precedent that it sets,” Mark Zaid, an attorney who specializes in national security matters, told VOA. “What this action shows is that anyone who has a politically different viewpoint to a sitting president of the United States is vulnerable.”

Those concerns were amplified Wednesday when Trump told The Wall Street Journal the reason he pulled Brennan’s security clearance was because of the role he believed Brennan played in prompting the Mueller investigation.

Despite the growing criticism, President Trump Friday rejected allegations he was using the issue of security clearances to intimidate or silence his critics.

“There’s no silencing (of critics). If anything, I’m giving them a bigger voice,” he said. “That’s OK with me, because I like taking on voices like that.”

VOA’s Patsy Widakuswara contributed to this report.

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Grassroots Movements Now Built With Digital Tools

Grassroots organizing is the key to building a movement, and much of it today is done online. Connections made through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter bring supporters to rallies, and dozens of online sites help politicians and activists manage vast amounts of data, disseminate their message and connect with supporters.

Several candidates in last year’s French presidential election turned to a U.S.-based company called NationBuilder for digital tools to manage their outreach. The election’s surprise winner, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, did not, but he later turned to the company to build a legislative majority in the National Assembly.

His field of candidates in the legislative election in June 2017 included many political novices, but Macron gained a majority of the assembly’s 577 seats, securing 350 seats for his La Republique En Marche! party with coalition partner Mouvement Democrate.

“Macron ended up using us to field an entire government, to run his legislative elections,” said NationBuilder CEO Lea Endres at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles. “There are people all over the world in 112 countries” who do the same, she said, “political parties and political candidates, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, large businesses.”

Causes across the spectrum

The company is one of dozens of sources for the digital tools that activists use. Others include the open-source CiviCRM for nonprofit management and the petition-writing site Change.org.

NationBuilder says it attracts people across the political spectrum, from Republicans in Maryland and several southern U.S. states to Jagmeet Singh, the newly elected leader of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party. A Sikh, Singh is the first member of an ethnic minority group to serve as permanent leader of a major Canadian party.

Brexit

The debate surrounding Brexit, the 2016 vote to withdraw Britain from the European Union, spurred activists on the “remain” side. They used NationBuilder to target supporters, sending targeted emails to supporters in specific parts of the country “to set up a campaign group or support one that’s already there, or promote an action that’s happening locally,” said James MacCleary, campaign director for the European Movement UK.

“It gives an ability to be very flexible with our data and get away from global email blasts,” he said. The group is pressing for a national referendum on the final Brexit agreement.

For any organization or cause, supporters receive targeted emails that help to build relationships, according to Ryan Vaillancourt, director of sales enablement at NationBuilder.

For environmental groups, an email might say “you told us six months ago that you want to get involved in this organization and the reason that you cared about this campaign is that you’re passionate about the environment,” Vaillancourt explained. “We’ve got an event coming up, it’s down the street from you, and we’d love to see you there.”

Adapts to technology

With a presence in more than 100 countries, the company adapts to local needs in places like Africa, where “they’re not about long email lists and long newsletters,” said Toni Cowan-Brown, NationBuilder’s vice president for European Business Development. “They want to be able to communicate with people on their smartphones because that’s the biggest and richest technology source that they have right now,” she said.

From political parties to nonprofits, promoting a cause or building a movement are all about people, and the tools to connect and motivate them, these tech developers say, are found today online.

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John Brennan Accuses Trump of Trying to Silence Those Who Challenge Him

Former CIA Director John Brennan is accusing President Donald Trump of trying to silence him over his allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The White House revoked Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday, arguing that the former spy chief’s remarks exhibited what it called “erratic conduct.” White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.

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