Mueller probing alleged Flynn plan to deliver cleric to Turkey, says WSJ

Former White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. (REUTERS File Photo)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Mueller probing alleged Flynn plan to deliver cleric to Turkey, says WSJ

WASHINGTON: Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether US President Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was involved in an alleged plan to seize a Muslim cleric and deliver him to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Under the plan, Flynn, who was fired by Trump after just 24 days in the job, and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., were to receive up to $15 million for forcibly removing Fethullah Gulen from his US home and delivering him to the Turkish government, people familiar with the investigation told the Journal.
The alleged plan emerged during Mueller’s wider investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion by the Trump campaign.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses Gulen of instigating a failed coup in July 2016 and wants him extradited to Turkey to face trial. Gulen has denied any role in the coup.
A spokesman for Mueller’s team declined to comment on the report on Friday.
Flynn is a central figure in Mueller’s investigation because of conversations he had with then-Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak last year and because he waited until March to retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he did for a Turkish businessman.
The Journal reported that FBI agents asked at least four people about a December meeting in New York where Flynn and Turkish government representatives discussed removing Gulen, according to people with knowledge of the FBI’s inquiries.
The December meeting about Gulen was also reported Friday by NBC, which cited people familiar with the probe. The group also discussed how to set free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab. Zarrab is in prison in the United States on federal charges that he helped Iran skirt US sanctions, NBC said.
A Reuters report on Oct. 26 said one of Flynn’s business associates, former CIA Director James Woolsey, pitched a $10 million contract to two Turkish businessmen to help discredit Gulen while Woolsey was an adviser to Trump’s election campaign.
Woolsey was a member of Flynn’s firm, the Flynn Intel Group, according to a Justice Department filing by the firm and an archive of the company’s website.
Mueller’s team has also interviewed White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, the highest-level Trump aide known to have spoken with investigators, CNN reported on Thursday. (Reporting by Doina Chiacu)


Near Irish border, the Brexit drama is followed with alarm

Updated 16 November 2018
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Near Irish border, the Brexit drama is followed with alarm

  • The border between the UK’s Northern Ireland the European Union’s Republic of Ireland is currently unpoliced and invisible thanks to an EU rule that allows people and goods to travel freely
  • The big fear in the region is that PM Theresa May’s Brexit plan, which aims to safeguard an open border, will fall apart and the UK will leave the EU with no deal on future relations

DUNDALK, Ireland: Families and business owners near the Irish border that separates the United Kingdom from the rest of the EU are watching in apprehension as political chaos in London threatens to torpedo a Brexit deal that aims to avoid a return of customs checks and possible sectarian violence to the region.
The border between the UK’s Northern Ireland the European Union’s Republic of Ireland is currently unpoliced and invisible thanks to an EU rule that allows people and goods to travel freely. The main difficulty in the Brexit talks has been how to not disturb that liberty, which has helped to ensure peace since 1998.
The big fear in this region is that Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan, which aims to safeguard an open border, will fall apart and the UK will leave the EU with no deal on future relations. Overnight, that could bring back customs checks and police watch-points.
“I’d be horrified — absolutely horrified — if there was some sort of border,” said Jim Deary, who lives in Dundalk in the Republic of Ireland and, at the age of 95, can recall the violence that plagued the region for decades.
Just across the invisible border, which is now physically represented by nothing more than a placid river, the sentiment is much the same.
“If this falls, Britain is facing, and Northern Ireland is facing, absolute chaos,” says Conor Patterson, the CEO of an agency that promotes economic growth in Northern Irish border regions of Newry and Mourne. “This is not a theoretical risk, these are real risks.”
In Northern Ireland, Catholic and Protestant communities remain divided decades after 30 years of conflict claimed around 3,700 lives. The peace agreement signed in 1998 provides people with the freedom to identify as Irish or British, or both. Having a border could rekindle identity politics and, potentially, violence.
May’s deal involves a common customs arrangement for the UK and the EU, eliminating the need for border checks, with some provisions that are specific to Northern Ireland. Pro-Brexiteers say that would leave the UK too close to the EU, taking its rules for years, and some are trying to get rid of May — as well as her deal, which is due to be voted on in Parliament.
Economically, this region has a lot to lose from a return of tariffs and customs checks.
In the days of hard borders, trade between the north and south was a fraction of what it is today. It took truck drivers hours to get cleared and across the other side.
On average, commercial vehicles cross the border 13,000 times each day. Some go back and forth several times in a single day. So do ships carrying goods to and from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. An estimated 30,000 people cross the border every day.
The dividing line stretches for 500 kilometers (312 miles) and is dotted with over 250 official road crossings, more than on Europe’s entire eastern flank.
For entrepreneurs who founded and grew their businesses here, taking advantage of the highway connecting Dublin to Belfast, the return of border checks is unthinkable.
Paddy Hughes has a company selling horse supplements and his factory is smack on the border, on the north side. If you walk out left from his gate you’re on the south side.
He has already felt an impact from Brexit, with sales down 35 percent as buyers in the UK, where the pound has fallen sharply since the 2016 Brexit vote, worry about the future.
“People are unsure how to spend their money, whether to spend their money, where their next money is coming from, how much their money is going to be worth, how much things are going to cost in the future, whether they will have a job,” he says.
Some vestiges of the old borders are visible outside Newry, where weeds grow tall around an abandoned customs clearance post where goods used to be checked. Graffiti now covers the metal gates of the inspection booths.
Looking back into the past, Deary recalls when as a child he would go swimming at a spot across the border and had to face border guards.
“It was difficult. Cars were searched and you were asked for identity,” he says. “Since the borders (are open) it is terrific.”