Speculation rife as first arrest in US Russia probe said near

Former FBI chief Robert Mueller. (AFP / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA )
Updated 29 October 2017
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Speculation rife as first arrest in US Russia probe said near

WASHINGTON: Official Washington was abuzz this weekend over reports that a grand jury has charged at least one person stemming from the US probe of Russia’s attempts to tilt the 2016 presidential elections in Donald Trump’s favor.
There was no indication, in reporting by CNN that other media later confirmed, of who might be charged or what crimes might be alleged in the ongoing inquiry led by former FBI chief Robert Mueller.
But Trump, in a rapid burst of tweets Sunday, again denounced the investigation as a “witch hunt” and repeated his denials of any collusion with Russia.
Mueller’s team has remained mum about reports that a first arrest could be made as early as Monday. He is empowered to pursue not only Russian interference but any other crimes his large team of prosecutors should uncover.
But Chris Christie, a Republican governor close to Trump, said Sunday on ABC that “the important thing about today for the American people to know is the president is not under investigation. And no one has told him that he is.”
Typically, such an inquiry would first target lower-level people while building a case against those higher up.
Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, demurred Sunday when asked whether Trump was under investigation. “I can’t answer that one way or the other,” he told ABC.
But he mentioned two possible targets on whom much speculation has focused: former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign director Paul Manafort, both of them once involved in undeclared lobbying for foreign interests.
It was not clear that Christie would know whether Trump is in fact being investigated. He may have been referring to a remark in May by former FBI chief James Comey, who told a Senate panel in May that Trump was not a target of the inquiry.
As the Mueller investigation nears a dramatic new phase, Republican officials and right-leaning media have stepped up their attacks on Democrats, above all on Trump’s rival in last year’s election, Hillary Clinton — attacks that Democrats dismiss as blatant attempts to divert attention.
Trump, in his tweets Sunday, again complained of Clinton’s handling of emails while secretary of state, of Democratic Party funding of what he said was a “fake” dossier on Trump’s background, and of a US sale during the Obama administration of uranium rights to Russia.
“There is so much GUILT by Democrats/Clinton, and now the facts are pouring out. DO SOMETHING!” Trump tweeted.
In the uranium case, Russian energy company Rosatom sought in 2010 to buy a share in Toronto-based UraniumOne. A panel of nine US government agencies, including the State Department, approved the sale, though Clinton says she was “not personally involved.”
As Mueller’s inquiry advances, there have been calls from some Republicans — and from the conservative editorial board of the Wall Street Journal — for him to resign. Christie cautioned on Sunday that the former FBI chief should be “very, very careful.”
Democrats meantime have warned that if Trump were to fire Mueller — or issue preemptive pardons to anyone caught in his net — it would be crossing a line.


French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

Updated 14 min 20 sec ago
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French envoy returns to Italy as friendship rekindles

  • Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government
  • The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.

PARIS: France’s ambassador to Italy returned to Rome on Friday, eight days after his recall by President Emmanuel Macron, as the European neighbors defused their worst diplomatic crisis since World War Two.
A senior French diplomat described the recall as “electro-shock therapy” necessary to end to “repeated, baseless” attacks by Italian political leaders against France.
Some commentators saw the recall as over-reaction, but French officials said it had persuaded Italian politicians to reaffirm publicly their friendship with Paris and halt their verbal onslaught — at least for now.
“We blew the whistle loud enough to make everybody stop,” the diplomat said.
The ambassador was received on his return by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said a source at Macron’s office. He also delivered a letter from Macron inviting Mattarella to France for a state visit in the coming months.
Ties between the traditionally close allies have grown increasingly tense since mid-2018, with Italy’s Deputy Prime Ministers Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini firing verbal pot-shots at Macron and his government, mostly over migration.
The recall came after di Maio met members of France’s “yellow vest” movement, which has mounted sometimes violent protests against Macron’s liberal economic reform program.
Salvini initially wanted to meet Macron directly but later wrote what French diplomats described as a “polite” letter to his counterpart, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, inviting him to Italy, French officials said.
Italy’s president also spoke with Macron by telephone “and they expressed the extent to which (their) ... friendship ... was important and how the two countries needed one another,” French European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau told private radio station RTL.
But French diplomats do not rule out tensions resurfacing ahead of European elections in May, with Macron and Salvini framing the campaign as a clash between pro-European “progressives” and Euroskeptic nationalists.
Migration policy and French initiatives to bring peace to Libya, a former Italian colony, without consulting Rome have both been sources of tension in recent months.
A split in the Italian coalition government over the fate of an under-construction Alpine rail tunnel linking France and Italy, could also test relations going forward.
There was no immediate comment on the French ambassador’s return from the Italian government.