Russian lawyer in Trump probe denies US charges against her
Wednesday, January 9
MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian lawyer at the heart of the investigation into possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia has rejected the U.S. charges leveled against her.
Natalya Veselnitskaya, who attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting that is a focus of the U.S. investigation, was charged Tuesday in the U.S. with obstruction in an unrelated tax-fraud case. U.S. prosecutors said she teamed up with a senior Russian prosecutor and submitted deceptive declarations in the civil case involving a Russian tax refund fraud scheme.
Veselnitskaya, who is in Russia, told Russian state television Wednesday the charges against her aim to hinder her “professional activities” including her lobbying efforts in the United States.
Donald Trump Jr. says he met with Veselnitskaya because he had been told she could offer damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Manafort accused of sharing 2016 election data with Russians
By MICHAEL BALSAMO, ERIC TUCKER and CHAD DAY
Wednesday, January 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data during the 2016 presidential campaign with a business associate accused of having ties to Russian intelligence, and prosecutors say he lied to them about it, according to a court filing.
The allegation marks the first time prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office have accused Trump’s chief campaign aide of sharing election-related information with his Russian contacts. Although the filing does not say whether the polling information was public or what was done with it, it raises the possibility that Russia might have used inside information from the campaign as part of its effort to interfere with the election on Trump’s behalf.
The accusation could be important evidence in Mueller’s ongoing probe into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
The information was accidentally revealed in a defense filing Tuesday and was meant to be redacted. The Associated Press was able to review the material because it wasn’t properly blacked out.
Manafort was among the first Americans charged in Mueller’s investigation and has been among the central characters in the case, having led the campaign during the Republican convention and as, U.S intelligence officials say, Russia was working to sway the election in Trump’s favor. Manafort has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in Washington and faces sentencing in a separate case in Virginia.
The defense filing was aimed at rebutting allegations that Manafort intentionally lied to Mueller’s team after agreeing to plead guilty last September. Prosecutors say Manafort breached their plea agreement by lying, but defense lawyers argued that any misstatements were simple mistakes made by a man coping with illness, exhaustion and extensive questioning from investigators.
The defense lawyers said Manafort suffers from depression and anxiety, has had little contact with his family and, on days when he met with investigators, was awakened before dawn to have hourslong interviews with little time to prepare for the questioning.
“These circumstances weighed heavily on Mr. Manafort’s state of mind and on his memory as he was questioned at length,” the lawyers wrote.
Tuesday’s filing revealed the first extensive details of what he is accused of having lied about. A spokesman for Manafort’s defense team declined to comment on the incomplete redactions or on Mueller’s allegations, but lawyers later filed a corrected version of the document.
The filing contains new information about Manafort’s connections to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian business associate who was indicted last year on charges he tampered with potential witnesses. The U.S. believes he is connected to Russian intelligence, but Kilimnik, who is not in U.S. custody, has denied those ties.
The latest allegations further detail how Manafort’s work on the campaign intersected with his past international work with Kilimnik.
Emails previously reported by the AP and other news outlets show that in July 2016, Manafort told Kilimnik he was willing to provide “private briefings” about the Trump campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Manafort dangled the briefings as he was mired in a dispute with Deripaska over a multimillion-dollar deal involving a Ukrainian cable company.
Through his spokesman, Manafort has acknowledged discussing the briefings but said they never occurred.
In addition, the defense document discloses a meeting in Madrid between Manafort and Kilimnik. Prosecutors say Manafort acknowledged the meeting only after being told that they were in the same city on the same day. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said Tuesday the Madrid trip mentioned in the filing occurred in January or February 2017— months after Manafort was ousted from the campaign and as Trump was taking office.
Manafort also did not initially disclose having earlier discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Kilimnik on more than one occasion during the campaign, according to the filing. Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a conflict since 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The U.S. and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over that move as well as the country’s support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Manafort’s attorneys don’t specify the details of the peace plan but they write that Manafort told prosecutors in September that “he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign.
“Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the time forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed,” they said.
They say the same about his recollection of sharing polling data with Kilimnik related to the campaign.
Prosecutors have also accused Manafort of lying about his contacts with Trump administration officials, which defense lawyers deny.
The filing says that a May 26, 2018, text message exchange with Manafort involved an unidentified “third-party” who was asking permission to name-drop Manafort if the person met with Trump. The request to use Manafort as an introduction to Trump came while Manafort was under indictment in two federal cases.
The defense lawyers say Mueller’s team has indicated they will not pursue additional charges against Manafort. The lawyers say they don’t want a separate hearing before a judge on the lying allegations but will address them instead during the sentencing process.
Read the filing here: http://apne.ws/0tKWu9A
Countering Russian disinformation the Baltic nations’ way
January 9, 2019
Author: Terry Thompson, Adjunct Instructor in Cybersecurity, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Disclosure statement: Terry Thompson does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Maryland, Baltimore County provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
As the new Congress begins, it will soon discuss the comprehensive reports to the U.S. Senate on the disinformation campaign of half-truths, outright fabrications and misleading posts made by agents of the Russian government on social media in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.
After years of anemic responses to Russian influence efforts, official U.S. government policy now includes taking action to combat disinformation campaigns sponsored by Russia or other countries. In May 2018, the Senate Intelligence Committee endorsed the concept of treating attacks on the nation’s election infrastructure as hostile acts to which the U.S. “will respond accordingly.” In June, the Pentagon unleashed U.S. Cyber Command to respond to cyber-attacks more aggressively, and the National Cyber Strategy published in September 2018 clarified that “all instruments of national power are available to prevent, respond to, and deter malicious cyber activity against the United States.”
There are already indications that Cyber Command conducted operations against Russian disinformation on social media, including warning specific Russians not to interfere with the 2018 elections. However, low-level cyber-warfare is not necessarily the best way. European countries, especially the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, have confronted Russian disinformation campaigns for decades. Their experience may offer useful lessons as the U.S. joins the battle.
The Baltic experience
Beginning in 1940 and continuing until they declared independence in the early 1990s, the Baltic countries were subjected to systematic Russian gas-lighting designed to make people doubt their national history, culture and economic development.
The Soviets rewrote history books to falsely emphasize Russian protection of the Baltic people from invading hordes in the Middle Ages, and to convey the impression that the cultural evolution of the three countries was enabled by their allegiance and close ties to Russia. Even their national anthems were rewritten to pay homage to Soviet influence.
Soviet leaders devalued Baltic currencies and manipulated economic data to falsely suggest that Soviet occupation was boosting the Baltic economies. Further, Soviet authorities settled ethnic Russians in the Baltic countries, and made Russian the primary language used in schools.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the independence of the Baltic countries, the Russian Federation has continued to deliver disinformation to the region, making extensive use of Russian-language social media. Some themes characterize the Baltic people as ungrateful for Soviet investment and aid after World War II. Another common message criticizes Baltic historians for “falsification of history” when really they are describing the real nature of the Soviet occupation.
A massive Russian attack
After independence, and as the internet grew, Estonia led the way in applying technology to accelerate economic development. The country created systems for a wide range of government and commercial services, including voting, banking and filing tax returns electronically. Today, Estonia’s innovative e-residency system is being adopted in many other countries.
These advances made the Baltics a prime target for cyber-attacks. In the spring of 2007, the Russians struck. When Estonia moved a monument memorializing Soviet soldiers from downtown Tallinn, the country’s capital, to a military cemetery a couple of miles away, it provoked the ire of ethnic Russians living in Estonia as well as the Russian government.
For three weeks, Estonian government, financial and media computer systems were bombarded with enormous amounts of internet traffic in a “distributed denial of service” attack. In these situations, an attacker sends overwhelming amounts of data to the targeted internet servers, clogging them up with traffic and either slowing them down or knocking them offline entirely. Despite concerns about the first “cyber war,” however, these attacks resulted in little damage. Although Estonia was cut off from the global internet temporarily, the country’s economy suffered no lasting harm.
These attacks could have severely damaged the country’s financial system or power grid. But Estonia was prepared. The country’s history with Russian disinformation had led Estonia to expect Russian attacks on computer and information systems. In anticipation, the government spearheaded partnerships with banks, internet service providers and other organizations to coordinate responses to cyber-attacks. In 2006, Estonia was one of the first countries to create a Computer Emergency Response Team to manage security incidents.
The Baltic response
After the 2007 attack, the Baltic countries upped their game even more. For example, Estonia created the Cyber Defense League, an army of volunteer specialists in information technology. These experts focus on sharing threat information, preparing society for responding to cyber incidents and participating in international cyber defense activities.
Internationally, Estonia gained approval in 2008 to establish NATO’s Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence in Tallinn. Its comprehensive research into global cyber activities helps identify best practices in cyber defense and training for NATO members.
In 2014, Riga, the capital of neighboring Latvia, became home to another NATO organization combating Russian influence, the Strategic Communications Center of Excellence. It publishes reports on Russian disinformation activities, such as the May 2018 study of the “Virtual Russian World in the Baltics.” That report analyzes Russian social media activities targeting Baltic nations with a “toxic mix of disinformation and propaganda.” It also provides insight into identifying and detecting Russian disinformation campaigns.
“Baltic elves” – volunteers who monitor the internet for Russian disinformation – became active in 2015 after the Maidan Square events in the Ukraine. And the Baltic nations have fined or suspended media channels that display bias.
The Baltic countries also rely on a European Union agency formed in 2015 to combat Russian disinformation campaigns directed against the EU. The agency identifies disinformation efforts and publicizes accurate information that the Russians are seeking to undermine. A new effort will issue rapid alerts to the public when potential disinformation is directed against the 2019 European Parliament elections.
Will the ‘Baltic model’ work in the US?
Because of their political acknowledgment of threats and actions taken by their governments to fight disinformation, a 2018 study rated Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania the three European Union members best at responding to Russian disinformation.
Some former U.S. officials have suggested adopting similar practices, including publicizing disinformation efforts and evidence tying them to Russia. The Senate Intelligence Committee has called for that too, as has the Atlantic Council, an independent think tank that focuses on international affairs.
The U.S. could also mobilize volunteers to boost citizens’ and businesses’ cyberdefenses and teach people to identify and combat disinformation.
Disinformation is a key part of Russia’s overall effort to undermine Western governments. As a result, the battle is ever-changing, with Russians constantly trying new angles of attack and target countries like the Baltic nations identifying and thwarting those efforts. The most effective responses will involve coordination between governments, commercial technology companies and the news industry and social media platforms to identify and address disinformation.
A similar approach may work in the U.S., though it would require far more collaboration than has existed so far. But backed by the new government motivation to strike back when provoked, the methods used in the Baltic states and across Europe could provide a powerful new deterrent against Russian influence in the West.
Rosenstein, a frequent Trump target, will leave Justice Dept
By ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO
Wednesday, January 9
WASHINGTON (AP) — Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed special counsel Robert Mueller and remains his most visible Justice Department protector, is expected to leave his position soon after William Barr is confirmed as attorney general, a person familiar with the plans said Wednesday.
Barr, who served in the position in the early 1990s and is President Donald Trump’s pick to do the job again, has a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week and could be in place at the Justice Department as soon as February.
Rosenstein plans to leave at some point after that, though no date has been set and there is no formal plan for the departure, according to the person, who was not authorized to discuss internal conversations publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. Rosenstein, a former United States attorney in Maryland, will have served as deputy for roughly two years.
There is no indication that Rosenstein was forced out. It is common for new attorneys general to select their own deputies and Barr has told people close to him that he wanted his own No. 2.
Still, Rosenstein’s departure is noteworthy given his high-profile role overseeing the Mueller probe and the tenuous relationship he had with Trump, who has repeatedly decried Rosenstein’s decision to appoint the special counsel.
In September, Rosenstein went to the White House expecting to be fired after news reports surfaced that he had discussed secretly recording Trump and invoking a constitutional amendment to remove Trump as unfit for office. He was ultimately allowed to stay on after private conversations with Trump and John Kelly, then chief of staff.
Trump also shared a photo on Twitter in November showing Rosenstein and others criticized by the president behind bars, calling for them to be tried for “treason.”
Mueller is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and contacts with the Trump campaign. Rosenstein and his chief deputy have continued to maintain day-to-day oversight over the probe, a senior Justice Department official told reporters last month.
Barr would take over control of the investigation, assuming the same final say over major investigative steps that acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker has had since former Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted in November.
The White House cast Rosenstein’s departure as his choice. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Rosenstein had always planned to stay around two years and wants to help with the transition to a new attorney general.
“I don’t think there’s any willingness by the president or the White House to push him out,” Sanders told Fox News. “My guess is he is making room for the new attorney general to build a team that he wants around him.”
Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election. The appointment followed the recusal of Sessions because of his work on the Trump campaign and Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey.
The transition to Barr would come with critical steps in the Mueller investigation expected to unfold in the weeks and months ahead, when the special counsel’s office is expected to report its findings to the Justice Department.
Barr has criticized the Mueller investigation in the past, including an unsolicited memo he sent the Justice Department last year critiquing Mueller’s investigation into whether the president had sought to obstruct justice by firing Comey. Barr is expected to face questioning from Democrats about his views of the Mueller investigation at next week’s hearing.
At a news conference in December, Rosenstein said that Mueller’s investigation would be “handled appropriately” no matter who is overseeing it. He said Barr would be an “excellent attorney general when he is confirmed.”
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
Witness alleging ballot fraud in congressional race arrested
Wednesday, January 9
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — One of more than a dozen witnesses alleging ballot misconduct in the nation’s last undecided congressional election now faces drug and weapons charges.
Bladen County Sheriff’s officials said Wednesday 48-year-old Christopher Eason was arrested Friday at his Bladenboro home.
Maj. Larry Guyton said it was part of a sweep targeting nearly three dozen suspected drug dealers involving several agencies including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and State Bureau of Investigation. State records show Eason has felony convictions for armed robbery and car theft.
Eason signed a sworn affidavit last month saying he handed a blank ballot to McCrae Dowless, a political operative working for Republican U.S. House candidate Mark Harris. State records show Eason’s vote was recorded.
Other voters signed sworn statements saying they handed incomplete or unsealed absentee ballots to Dowless or people he hired.
Harris’ race against Democrat Dan McCready remains unsettled after complaints of serious elections irregularities in Bladen County.
Sears gets another reprieve from liquidation
By ANNE D’INNOCENZIO
AP Retail Writer
Wednesday, January 9
NEW YORK (AP) — Sears received another possible lifeline Tuesday when the company’s chairman and largest shareholder promised to line up the necessary financing to keep the struggling department store chain afloat.
The reprieve came after what Sears lawyers described to a bankruptcy judge in New York as “round-the-clock” negotiations following the company board’s initial rejection of Eddie Lampert’s proposal, which sought to preserve 425 stores and 50,000 workers.
According to lawyers close to the matter, one of the main sticking points was that the bid didn’t include cash. The revised version now requires Lampert to deposit $120 million by 4 p.m. Wednesday through his ESL hedge fund.
The fate of Sears remains to be determined. Lampert’s bid will go to an auction set for Jan. 14 and will compete with other bids from liquidators looking to shut down the company. A committee of unsecured creditors has been pushing for straight liquidation and believes there are litigation claims against ESL for prior transactions.
In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, ESL said it “appreciates the encouragement from the court and the constructive engagement of the debtors as we work to formalize our going concern proposal so that it can be evaluated at the upcoming auction.”
“We believe in Sears and will continue to do everything we can to ensure that it has a profitable future,” ESL added.
It’s unclear who will be the winner of the auction process, which could take a few days. A bankruptcy judge will then weigh different scenarios including the value of retaining 50,000 jobs, according to David Wander, an attorney at Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, which represents two of Sears vendors.
“You always want a competitive bidding process. You never get the best value if you have only one party,” Wander said.
The 11th hour negotiation is yet another twist in the rocky journey of Sears whose fate has been hanging in the wind, particularly since it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Oct. 15. As of the filing, the company had just under 700 stores and 68,000 workers.
Sears, which began as mail order watch business 132 years ago and grew to be the largest retailer in the world, has been in a slow death spiral, hobbled by the Great Recession and outmatched by competitors like Amazon and Walmart
Under Lampert, Sears has bought time over the years by spinning off stores and putting on the block the brands that had grown synonymous with the company, such as Craftsman. Lampert loaned out his own money and put together deals to keep the company going, turning whatever profit he could for his hedge fund.
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Former Colts punter hopes to find his voice on television
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
Tuesday, January 8
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Pat McAfee watched those two agonizing bounces in Chicago on Sunday and immediately tried to put Cody Parkey’s missed field goal in perspective.
He thought about the 27 death threats he received after missing a couple of costly kicks during one game in college. He felt horribly for the friend who sometimes slept on his floor when they were training camp teammates in 2014 with Indianapolis. And then McAfee, the Colts’ former punter, contemplated how he would have described the situation to a television audience.
“It (the kick) was literally 4 inches away from him having a completely different night and the Chicago Bears having a completely different season,” McAfee said Monday. “I would like to think I would have noticed it got blocked before the internet did, but I think we have to remember that is a human being out there.”
The descriptions are something McAfee has thought about a lot lately as he embarks on the next chapter of his post-NFL life — and perhaps his most daring venture yet.
In a world full of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, record-breaking running backs and receivers and popular pass rushers rife with star power and brand-name recognition, McAfee hopes to become the first ex-punter to do on-air work for Fox Sports.
The list of specialists on network television is short. Former punter Dave Jennings, former kicker Morten Andersen and former long snapper Dale Hellestrae all did broadcast work for NFL Europe. Hellestrae even did some work for Fox in 2006. Jay Feely, a longtime kicker, currently works for CBS and Fox employed center and long snapper Trevor Matich in 1997 and 1998. Matich now works for ESPN.
But McAfee offers a different perspective.
He promises to bring the wisecracking personality that has turned him into one of Indy’s popular and prominent former players with intimate knowledge of all facets of the kicking game.
Plus, his experiences as a punter, placekicker, kickoff specialist and emergency quarterback help him understand the high stakes and emotions involved when players such as Parkey step onto the field with the game on the line.
“I think the game of football, from a commentating standpoint, is missing something,” he said. “I think it should be a celebration and I think it should be enjoyable and I’m trying to make it that way.”
McAfee’s experiences could help in the transition.
After successfully taking his comedy routine from the locker room to the stage and hosting his own radio show on Barstool Sports, a gig he left in August, he’s taping six podcasts per week and running his own small business, Pat McAfee Inc. Yet he wants to add color commentating to the mix.
In November, he made his debut at the Texas Tech-Baylor game and made his pro debut during Green Bay’s regular-season finale against Detroit — a game that played into McAfee’s strengths when kicker Matt Prater threw a touchdown pass. McAfee responded by immediately changing the inflection of his voice and describing in detail, what Prater saw, and why he reacted the way he did.
“That was a gift from the football gods,” McAfee said. “I’ve spent the last two years waiting for a big special teams play so I could do a voiceover on my phone. I was doing a lot of cool stuff with the football (when I played) and the color commentator had no idea what was going on because it’s usually a star quarterback or something. I got lucky with a magical play.”
So far, Fox is the only network to give McAfee an audition.
But those who have seen McAfee’s work believe he provides a quality others don’t — football with a twist of comic relief — and rare insight into some of the biggest moments of games.
“I’ve been watching games a lot differently lately and with a little more understanding than I’ve had of what it takes (in the booth),” McAfee said.
“But that moment with Cody Parkey was pretty big and I think I would have gotten a little emotional about it. I look forward to watching the Cody Parkey vengeance story next year.”
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