Trump’s ex-lawyer admits lies about Russian real estate deal
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, confessed in a surprise guilty plea Thursday that he lied to Congress about a Moscow real estate deal he pursued on Trump’s behalf during the heat of the 2016 Republican campaign. He said he lied to be consistent with Trump’s “political messaging.”
The plea agreement made clear that prosecutors believe that while Trump insisted repeatedly throughout the campaign that he had no business dealings in Russia, his lawyer was continuing to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow project weeks after his boss had clinched the Republican nomination for president and well after the point that Cohen has publicly acknowledged.
Cohen said he discussed the proposal with Trump on multiple occasions and with members of the president’s family, according to court papers filed by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the presidential election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Cohen acknowledged considering traveling to Moscow to discuss the project.
There is no clear link in the court filings between Cohen’s lies and Mueller’s central question of whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And nothing said in court, or in associated court filings, addressed whether Trump or his aides had directed Cohen to mislead Congress.
Still, the case underscores how Trump’s business entity, the Trump Organization, was negotiating business in Moscow at the same time investigators believe that Russians were meddling on his behalf in the 2016 election, and that associates of the president were mining Russian connections during the race.
Behind Cohen plea: Trump’s longtime dream of a Moscow tower
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump for decades dreamed of building a Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, a plan that flared and fizzled several times over the years, most recently when his presidential campaign was gaining momentum.
That last plan led Trump’s longtime lawyer Michael Cohen to plead guilty Thursday to a charge brought by the special prosecutor looking into possible Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about key details in the negotiations for the Moscow tower, most notably that those talks stretched much deeper into the presidential campaign than previously thought, to June of 2016.
Trump, speaking to reporters Thursday, disputed Cohen’s timeline and suggested his former fixer was telling prosecutors what they wanted to hear to save his own skin. As for why the most recent deal failed, Trump said he made the decision himself for one main reason.
“It was very simple,” he said. “I was very focused on running for president.”
Trump’s plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow went back as far as 1996 when the future president paid a visit to the Russian capital to check out building sites on land being developed by a U.S. company.
Side issues loom over G-20 summit as world leaders arrive
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — World leaders arrived Thursday in the Argentine capital for the Group of 20 summit of the globe’s largest economies as issues such as a trade war between the United States and China, the killing of a Saudi journalist in the country’s Istanbul Consulate and the conflict over Ukraine threatened to overshadow the gathering.
The two-day summit beginning Friday is supposed to focus on development, infrastructure and food security, but those seemed largely an afterthought amid soured U.S.-European relations and as the United States, Mexico and Canada hammered out the final language of a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement expected to be signed Friday.
Michael Shifter, head of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think tank, said that this G-20 summit was once considered an opportunity for Latin American members Argentina, Brazil and Mexico “to project a regional bloc to shape a global agenda.”
But, he said, “that turned out to be a fleeting aspiration.”
“The fact that the G-20 is taking place in South America for the first time is almost beside the point,” Shifter said. “Argentine President Mauricio Macri, the summit’s host, has lowered expectations. … Now a success would be a summit meeting that goes smoothly, without any major disruption.”
Uninvited guests keep watch for China inside Uighur homes
ISTANBUL (AP) — The two women in the photograph were smiling, but Halmurat Idris knew something was terribly wrong.
One was his 39-year-old sister; standing at her side was an elderly woman Idris did not know. Their grins were tight-lipped, mirthless. Her sister had posted the picture on a social media account along with a caption punctuated by a smiley-face.
“Look, I have a Han Chinese mother now!” his sister wrote.
Idris knew instantly: The old woman was a spy, sent by the Chinese government to infiltrate his family.
There are many like her. According to the ruling Communist Party’s official newspaper, as of the end of September, 1.1 million local government workers have been deployed to ethnic minorities’ living rooms, dining areas and Muslim prayer spaces, not to mention at weddings, funerals and other occasions once considered intimate and private.
Trump, Pelosi spark a new power relationship in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — They haven’t spoken in days, not since President Donald Trump called to congratulate Nancy Pelosi on Democrats’ election night win.
But they don’t really need to. Trump and Pelosi go way back, from the time she first showed up at Trump Tower fundraising for the Democrats long before he would become president or she the House speaker. Two big-name heirs to big-city honchos — Trump and Pelosi each had fathers who were political power players in their home towns — they’ve rubbed elbows on the Manhattan social scene for years.
And despite daily barbs in Washington, he’s always “Mr. President” to her, and she’s one prominent politician he has not labeled with a derisive nickname.
Not quite friends, nor enemies, theirs is now perhaps the most important relationship in Washington. If anything is to come of the new era of divided government, with a Republican president and Democratic control of the House, it will happen in the deal-making space between two of the country’s most polarizing politicians.
The day after their election night phone call, Trump and Pelosi did speak again, indirectly, across Pennsylvania Avenue.
‘Stop this chaos:’ Weinstein lawyer urges sex case dismissal
NEW YORK (AP) — In the latest push to have Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault case thrown out, the movie producer’s lawyer said Thursday that a woman accusing him of a 2013 rape pressured a friend to corroborate her account, but that the friend wouldn’t “make up a story.”
The friend told defense investigators that Weinstein and the rape accuser had been “hooking up” consensually for a long time and that she never heard the accuser say anything bad about him until last year, lawyer Benjamin Brafman said in a court filing. The friend was not identified in court papers.
Weinstein’s side also believes police set up a phone call between the film producer and one of his accusers shortly before his arrest, but the operation failed to produce incriminating evidence.
“The only reasonably prudent decision would be to stop this chaos now,” Brafman wrote, urging Judge James Burke to dismiss the case at a Dec. 20 court hearing.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined to comment.
Lawmakers press for fingerprinting of detention camp staff
As lawmakers called Thursday for stricter background checks and a public hearing to further investigate problems at a massive detention camp for migrant teens, the agency responsible for the shelter said it could take as long as a month to complete FBI fingerprint scans for the 2,100 staffers working there.
More than 2,300 teens are being held at the remote tent city in Tornillo, Texas, which opened in June as a temporary, emergency shelter. It now appears to be becoming more permanent, with ongoing construction at costs that can reach $1,200 per child per day, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Inspector General on Tuesday raised concerns that the private contractor running Tornillo has not put its staff through FBI background checks, and that they’re allowed to have just one mental health clinician for every 100 children.
HHS spokesman Mark Weber told AP Thursday it was working to complete the FBI fingerprint scans within a month.
“These issues must be addressed and remedied without delay,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. It was co-signed by other Democratic House members. They asked for a briefing before Dec. 11 and a hearing in the new Congress early next year.
Arkansas’ capital city could elect its first black mayor
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Six decades after nine black students were escorted past an angry white mob into Little Rock Central High School, the city at the center of the desegregation crisis may be on the verge of electing its first African-American mayor.
But Frank Scott, the 35-year-old banking executive who may break that barrier, says it’s not his motivation for running to lead his hometown.
“I’m not running to be the black mayor of Little Rock,” Scott said.
Scott could win by bridging some of the biggest rifts in Arkansas’ capital: race, income and geography. He’s a native of one of Little Rock’s poorer areas who has risen in its more affluent part in professions — politics and finance — dominated by white men.
Race is hard to escape in the campaign for mayor in Arkansas’ capital, where divisions linger long after the school’s 1957 desegregation . The city’s police department has faced questions about its tactics, including the department’s use of no-knock warrants. The predominantly black Little Rock School District has been under state control for the past three years, and community leaders have compared the takeover to Gov. Orval Faubus’ efforts to block integration.
Repeat outbreaks pressure produce industry to step up safety
NEW YORK (AP) — After repeated food poisoning outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce, the produce industry is confronting the failure of its own safety measures in preventing contaminations.
The E. coli outbreak announced just before Thanksgiving follows one in the spring that sickened more than 200 people and killed five, and another last year that sickened 25 and killed one. No deaths have been reported in the latest outbreak, but the dozens of illnesses highlight the challenge of eliminating risk for vegetables grown in open fields and eaten raw, the role of nearby cattle operations that produce huge volumes of manure and the delay of stricter federal food safety regulations.
A contested aspect of the regulation, for example, would require testing irrigation water for E. coli. The Food and Drug Administration put the measure on hold when the produce industry said such tests wouldn’t necessarily help prevent outbreaks. Additional regulations on sanitation for workers and equipment — other potential sources of contamination — only recently started being implemented.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said he thinks the combination of rules, once fully in place, will make vegetables safer to eat.
“I don’t think any one element of this is going to be the magic bullet,” Gottlieb said.
Next US moon landing will be by private companies, not NASA
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — America’s next moon landing will be made by private companies — not NASA.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday that nine U.S. companies will compete to deliver experiments to the lunar surface. The space agency will buy the service and let private industry work out the details on getting there, he said.
The goal is to get small science and technology experiments to the surface of the moon as soon as possible. The first flight could be next year; 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the first manned moon landing.
“We’re going at high speed,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s science mission directorate, which will lead the effort.
NASA officials said the research will help get astronauts back to the moon more quickly and keep them safer once they’re there. The initial deliveries likely will include radiation monitors, as well as laser reflectors for gravity and other types of measurements, according to Zurbuchen.
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