Trump faces fallout over Comey appeal, intelligence sharing

US President Donald Trump. (Reuters)
Updated 17 May 2017
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Trump faces fallout over Comey appeal, intelligence sharing

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump faced fallout on Wednesday over revelations that he personally appealed to now-fired FBI Director James Comey to abandon the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, allegations based on notes Comey wrote after the meeting.
The White House has denied the report, which came amid a furor over the president’s discussions with Russian diplomats in which Trump is said to have disclosed classified information.
In a bizarre twist on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to turn over to Congress records of Trump’s discussions.
The White House has played down the importance and secrecy of the information Trump gave to the Russians, which had been supplied by Israel under an intelligence-sharing agreement. Trump himself said he had “an absolute right” as president to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” and airline safety with Russia. Yet US allies and some members of Congress expressed concern bordering on alarm.
Putin told a news conference that he would be willing to turn over notes of Trump’s meeting with the Russian diplomats if the White House agreed. He dismissed outrage over Trump’s disclosures as US politicians whipping up “anti-Russian sentiment.”
Asked what he thinks of the Trump presidency, Putin said it is up to the American people to judge but his performance can only be rated “only when he’s allowed to work at full capacity,” implying that someone is hampering Trump’s efforts.
Trump left the White House on Wednesday morning to head to Connecticut where he was scheduled to give the commencement address at the US Coast Guard Academy.
As for Comey, whom Trump fired last week, the FBI director wrote in a memo after a February meeting at the White House that the new president had asked him to shut down the FBI’s investigation of Flynn and his Russian contacts, said a person who had read the memo. The Flynn investigation was part of a broader probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.
Comey’s memo, an apparent effort to create a paper trail of his contacts with the White House, would be the clearest evidence to date that the president has tried to influence the investigation.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Republican chairman of the House oversight committee, sent a letter to the FBI on Tuesday requesting that it turn over all documents and recordings that detail communications between Comey and Trump. He said he would give the FBI a week and then “if we need a subpoena, we’ll do it.”
The panel’s top Democrat, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, a constant Trump critic, called the allegation of Trump pressure on Comey “explosive” and said “it appears like a textbook case of criminal obstruction of justice.”
John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said late Tuesday that the developments had reached “Watergate size and scale.”
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate, said simply, “It would be helpful to have less drama emanating from the White House.”
The person who described the Comey memo to the AP was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. The existence of the memo was first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.
The White House vigorously denied it all. “While the president has repeatedly expressed his view that General Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn,” a White House statement said.
Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13, on grounds that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russians.
The intensifying drama comes as Trump is set to embark on Friday on his first foreign trip, which had been optimistically viewed by some aides as an opportunity to reset an administration floundering under an inexperienced president.
When Trump fired Comey, he said he did so based on Comey’s very public handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and how it affected his leadership of the FBI. But the White House has provided differing accounts of the firing. And lawmakers have alleged that the sudden ouster was an attempt to stifle the bureau’s investigation into Trump associates’ ties to Russia’s meddling in the campaign.
Mark Warner of Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, said he would ask Comey for additional material as part of that panel’s investigation. “Memos, transcripts, tapes — the list keeps getting longer,” he said.
According to the Times, Comey wrote in the February memo that Trump told him Flynn had done nothing wrong. Comey said he replied that “I agree he is a good guy” but said nothing to Trump about limiting the investigation.
The newspaper said Comey was in the Oval Office that day with other national security officials for a terrorism threat briefing. When that ended, Trump asked everyone to leave except Comey, and he eventually turned the conversation to Flynn.
The administration spent the first half of Tuesday defending Trump’s disclosure of classified information to senior Russian officials. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said the president’s comments were “wholly appropriate.” He used that phrase nine times in his briefing to reporters.
The highly classified information about a Daesh plot was collected by Israel, a crucial source of intelligence and close partner in the fight against some of the America’s fiercest threats in the Middle East. Trump’s disclosure of the information threatened to fray that partnership and piled pressure on the White House to explain the apparently on-the-spot decision to reveal the information to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.
A US official who confirmed the disclosure to The Associated Press said the revelation potentially put the source at risk.


Widespread blackout hits Venezuela, government blames ‘electromagnetic attack’

People pour to the streets in Caracas on July 22, 2019 as the capital and other parts of Venezuela are being hit by a massive power cut. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2019
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Widespread blackout hits Venezuela, government blames ‘electromagnetic attack’

  • Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the outage on Monday was caused by an “electromagnetic attack,” without providing evidence

CARACAS: More than half of Venezuela’s 23 states lost power on Monday, according to Reuters witnesses and reports on social media, a blackout the government blamed on an “electromagnetic attack.”
It was the first blackout to include the capital, Caracas, since March, when the government blamed the opposition and United States for a series of power outages that left millions of people without running water and telecommunications.
The blackouts exacerbated an economic crisis that has halved the size of the economy.
Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the outage on Monday was caused by an “electromagnetic attack,” without providing evidence. He added that authorities were in the process of re-establishing service.
Power returned for about 10 minutes to parts of southeastern Bolivar state, site of the Guri hydroelectric dam — the source of most of Venezuela’s generation — but went out again, according to a Reuters witness. Electricity was still out throughout Caracas.
“It terrifies me to think we are facing a national blackout again,” said Maria Luisa Rivero, a 45-year-old business owner from the city of Valencia, in the central state of Carabobo.
“The first thing I did was run to freeze my food so that it does not go bad like it did like the last time in March. It costs a lot to buy food just to lose it,” she said.
The oil-rich country’s hyperinflationary economic crisis has led to widespread shortages in food and medicine, prompting over 4 million Venezuelans to leave the country.
Venezuela’s national power grid has fallen into disrepair after years of inadequate investment and maintenance, according to the opposition and power experts.
“These blackouts are catastrophic,” said 51-year-old janitor Bernardina Guerra, who lives in Caracas. “I live in the eastern part of the city and there the lights go out every day. Each day things are worse.”