Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

Philippine troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate. (AFP)
Updated 16 October 2017
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Army says battle for Philippine city to end soon, 1,000 dead

MARAWI: Philippine troops Sunday bombed militants loyal to the Daesh group who have held out for over four months in a southern city and the military said the conflict would be over “very soon.”
The army previously set a target of Sunday to end the fighting in Marawi, which it said has killed more than 1,000 people. Troops have missed previous deadlines to flush out the militants whom authorities said intended to establish a local Daesh caliphate.
On Sunday FA-50 fighter jets flew over Marawi as soldiers fought the militants house-to-house in an area which has now shrunk to about five acres (two hectares), a military spokesman said.
“We are hoping that we will end this Marawi siege very soon,” Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of the task force battling the militants, told reporters.
Pro-Daesh gunmen occupied parts of Marawi, the Islamic capital of the mainly Catholic Philippines, on May 23.
Since then 822 militants, 162 government forces and 47 civilians have been killed, Brawner said.
The insurgents have withstood a relentless US-backed bombing campaign and intense ground battles with troops that have left large parts of Marawi resembling devastated cities in war-torn Syria and Iraq.
Military commanders last week set a target of October 15 to end the fighting and President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the battle was “almost over.”
Twenty soldiers were wounded on Saturday in a sign troops were pushing hard to end the battle, Brawner said.
He said 40 militants remained in the conflict area including leaders Isnilon Hapilon, who is on America’s list of most wanted terrorists with a $5 million bounty, and Omarkhayam Maute, whose group had pledged allegiance to Daesh.
There were also 100 civilians in the zone including hostages and families of the militants, he added.
“Women and children are now forced to fight together with the Maute-ISIS fighters. These are desperate measures the Maute-ISIS are doing. This is their last defensive stand,” Brawner said.
Duterte on Thursday warned against celebrating the eventual liberation of Marawi, citing the deaths and devastation there.
“When we leave Marawi, we go quietly. We do not want to show any kind of celebration or happiness,” he said.


FBI documents point to Trump role in hush money for porn star Daniels

Updated 42 min 48 sec ago
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FBI documents point to Trump role in hush money for porn star Daniels

NEW YORK: FBI documents unsealed on Thursday suggest that Donald Trump was actively involved in engineering a hush-money payment shortly before the 2016 election to a porn actress who said she had a sexual encounter with him, as his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, campaign team and others scrambled to head off a scandal.
The documents, released on the orders of US District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan, were used by law enforcement officials to obtain a 2018 search warrant that led to FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office.
The documents provided the most extensive account to date of what appears to be then-candidate Trump’s personal involvement in the scheme to pay $130,000 to porn star Stormy Daniels to avert a controversy for a campaign already reeling from the release of 2005 audio from the TV program “Access Hollywood” in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by the genitals.
The documents detailed repeated communications between Trump and Cohen and Hope Hicks, Trump’s presidential campaign press secretary who later became a senior White House official.
The White House and a lawyer for Hicks did not respond to a request for comment on the documents.
Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty in August 2018 to violating campaign finance law by directing the payment to Daniels as well as another payment of $150,000 to Playboy model Karen McDougal shortly before the election.
Both women have said they had sexual encounters with Trump more than a decade ago and that the money was meant to buy their silence. Trump has denied the encounters and in 2018 told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Daniels.
The newly unredacted material includes a 19-page section of the FBI’s search warrant application with the heading: “The Illegal Campaign Contribution Scheme.” It shows Cohen having multiple interactions with Trump and Trump’s campaign staff as Cohen was negotiating the payoff with Daniels’ lawyer and executives of American Media Inc, publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper.
A lawyer for AMI did not respond to a request for comment on the documents.
The National Enquirer’s publisher had offered to help Trump by buying rights to unflattering stories and never publishing them.
Before the payoff negotiations began, Cohen spoke on the phone with Trump approximately once a month and rarely had phone contact with Trump’s presidential campaign staff, the search warrant application said. The FBI documents do not provide the content of the calls.
Beginning on Oct. 8, there was a sharp uptick in calls with Trump and his campaign staff. That evening — a month before the election and in the immediate aftermath of the “Access Hollywood” tape that caused a political firestorm and prompted a rare apology from Trump — Hicks, Cohen and Trump held a three-way phone call lasting more than four minutes, the FBI document said.
Over the course of the evening, Cohen had several calls with Hicks, AMI President David Pecker, a friend of Trump, and Dylan Howard, AMI’s chief content officer, before calling Trump back for eight minutes. The FBI documents do not provide the content of the calls.
Later that evening, Howard then sent Cohen a text message: “Keith will do it,” the message said, in an apparent reference to Keith Davidson, a lawyer for Daniels who would end up receiving the $130,000 payment for Daniels from Cohen later that month. “Let’s reconvene tomorrow.”
The next day, Howard connected Cohen and Davidson in a text message to begin the payoff negotiations, the document stated.
Hicks testified before the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee earlier this year that she was never present for any discussion during the campaign between Trump and Cohen about Daniels.
The chairman of the House judiciary panel, Jerrold Nadler, in a letter to Hicks released publicly on Thursday, demanded that she return to Capitol Hill before Aug. 15 to explain the inconsistencies in her testimony.

‘Inescapable conclusion’
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the documents demonstrate Trump was “intimately involved in devising and executing a corrupt scheme” to keep the Daniels matter secret.
“The inescapable conclusion from all of the public materials available now,” Schiff added, “is that there was ample evidence to charge Donald Trump with the same criminal election law violations for which Michael Cohen pled guilty and is now serving time in prison.”
The documents show that Hicks spoke with Cohen several times about the importance of keeping the Daniels and McDougal stories from “gaining national traction.”
Not long after the Wall Street Journal published an article online four days before the Nov. 8 election, the documents showed Cohen sent a text message to Hicks saying the article was getting “little to no traction,” prompting her to respond: “Same. Keep praying!! It’s working!“
On the same day as that text, Howard texted Cohen about the Wall Street Journal story, saying, “I think it’ll be ok pal. I think it’ll fade into the distance,” the documents showed. Cohen responded, “He’s pissed,” an apparent reference to Trump, according to the documents.
Cohen, who was once Trump’s self-described “fixer,” began serving a three-year prison sentence in May for his campaign finance violations and other crimes, including making false statements to a bank and tax evasion.
In a statement released from prison on Thursday, Cohen reiterated his previous comments about Trump’s central role in the hush money scheme, referring to the president’s company in saying, “I and members of The Trump Organization were directed by Mr. Trump to handle the Stormy Daniels matter; including making the hush money payment.”
Cohen pleaded guilty last November to separate charges brought by the office of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was investigating contacts between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. Cohen admitted he lied to Congress about the extent of contacts between Trump and Russians during the campaign.
The judge on Wednesday said there was no reason to keep the documents secret after prosecutors told him that their investigation into the payments had ended.