Sex, money, spying: The Mueller probe has it all

In this June 21, 2017, photo, special counsel Robert Mueller departs after a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Updated 16 March 2018
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Sex, money, spying: The Mueller probe has it all

WASHINGTON: Sex. Money laundering. Espionage. The investigation of Washington special prosecutor Robert Mueller is bursting its seams, going far beyond Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
After indicting 19 people so far, Mueller’s team has put on edge many people in President Donald Trump’s orbit, not least Trump himself. But the investigators appear to still have a long way to go before wrapping up their probe.
Here are the various directions of Mueller’s investigation:
The investigation’s main focus is possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia. Moscow allegedly offered the campaign compromising materials on Trump rival Hillary Clinton several times — some of which was published by WikiLeaks.
According to reports and court filings, separate offers were made to campaign advisers George Papadopoulos and Carter Page. Another was allegedly made to top campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, in a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer.
A key question: What did Trump know about that offer?
Mueller is also reportedly eyeing Republican political consultant Roger Stone over his contacts with WikiLeaks during the campaign.
There was a spider-web of contacts between campaign officials and Russians, but it is unclear what they add up to. Page, formerly a Moscow-based investment banker, visited Russia during the campaign, and was already the target of an FBI espionage investigation. Papadopoulos admitted to numerous contacts with Russians in England, as he sought to arrange a trip by Trump to Moscow.
Kushner has admitted discussing a private communications channel with the Russians after the election, for unclear purposes. At that time Trump’s national security aide Michael Flynn was also having secretive conversations with Russia’s ambassador. Campaign chair Paul Manafort, according to The Washington Post, offered to share campaign information with Oleg Deripaska, a Russian tycoon with Kremlin links.
The Post also reported that Mueller is probing a meeting that an associate of Trump, Erik Prince, held with a senior Russian in the Seychelles in January 2017 as another “back channel” effort.
Surprisingly, the Mueller probe has also dug deeply into the Russian meddling itself, and not only to fill out the picture of what happened in 2016. In February Mueller indicted 13 Russians linked to the Internet Research Agency for their efforts to manipulate US public opinion. That group included Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin. Mueller is also expected to indict people involved in the hacking theft of Clinton materials.
Mueller has already charged former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and campaign deputy Rick Gates over laundering $75 million tied to work they did for pro-Moscow Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
On Thursday The New York Times reported that Mueller has subpoenaed records from the billionaire president’s umbrella company, the Trump Organization, related to Russia and other matters under investigation.
That could cut a broad swath: Russians figured large as customers in the business, with many buying condominiums in his New York and Florida projects.
In 2013 Trump partnered with a Moscow developer with Putin links to hold his Miss Universe contest in Moscow.
Trump’s 2008 sale of a Palm Beach mansion to Russian oligarch Dmitry Ryobolev for $95 million, which Trump paid only $41 million for, has also raised eyebrows.
There are also questions about Kushner’s seeking international financing for a heavily indebted New York property owned by his family business, and how that may have intersected with the Trump campaign.
Mueller could also be looking into the possible existence of a lurid videotape in Russian hands involving Trump and prostitutes dating back to the Miss Universe. That was reported in the dossier on links between the campaign and Russia produced by British ex-spy Christopher Steele. Steele, much of whose report has proven to be accurate, was interviewed by Mueller’s team last year. Steele’s sources said the video could provide the Kremlin with leverage over Trump.
The weightiest charge Mueller is exploring is Trump’s possible obstruction of his investigation. Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, his constant comments on the investigation, possibly covering up the June 2016 Trump tower meeting, and other actions could support the charge. But Mueller will need powerful evidence to prove it, as it could set up a hearing on impeaching the president in Congress.


Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

Updated 52 sec ago
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Emotional Muslims return to Christchurch mosque as New Zealand works to move on

  • Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday
  • “We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor

CHRISTCHURCH: Muslims held emotional prayers inside Christchurch’s main mosque on Saturday for the first time since a white supremacist massacred worshippers there, as New Zealand sought to return to normality after the tragedy.
The Al Noor mosque had been taken over by police for investigations and security reasons after alleged gunman Brenton Tarrant gunned down Muslims gathered there and at a smaller mosque for Friday prayers on March 15, killing 50 people.
Al Noor was handed back to the local Muslim community on Saturday and began allowing small groups onto its grounds around midday.
“We are allowing 15 people at a time, just to get some normality,” said Saiyad Hassen, a volunteer at Al Noor, adding that there were no plans yet to fully reopen.
Among the first to enter was massacre survivor Vohra Mohammad Huzef, who said two of his roommates were killed and that he managed to live only by hiding under bodies.
“I could feel the bullets hitting the people and I could feel the blood coming down on me from the people who were shot,” said Huzef, a Christchurch civil engineer originally from India.
“Everyone wants to get back in again to give praise and to catch up. This is the central point of our community.”
The attacks shocked a country of 4.5 million that is known for its tolerance and prompted global horror, heightened by Tarrant’s cold-blooded livestreaming of the massacre.
New Zealand came to a standstill on Friday to mark one week since the bloodshed, with the Muslim call to prayer broadcast across the country followed by two minutes of silence.
The ceremonies saw poignant scenes of Maoris performing the traditional haka war dance, and non-Muslim New Zealand women donning makeshift Islamic headscarves in solidarity.
A day earlier, the country outlawed the military-style rifles used in the assault with immediate effect.
But one of four concert sites at a music festival in the capital Wellington was evacuated on Saturday night just before a planned minute of silence for Christchurch, underlining lingering apprehensions.
Police cited unspecified “concerns about a person,” but later called it an “innocent misunderstanding” and the concert was slated to proceed.
In Christchurch, police also handed back Linwood Mosque, the second killing zone several kilometers away from Al Noor, but no plans to allow visitors were announced.
An armed police presence will remain at both mosques, as well as others around New Zealand.
Workers have rushed to repair the mosques’ bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors.
At Al Noor, visitors knelt at a garden tap to wash their feet and faces in ritual pre-prayer ablutions.
Some wept quietly inside the mosque, where bright sunlight streamed through windows and the air smelled of fresh paint. No bullet holes were seen.
Men and women then knelt and prayed on a padded carpet underlay taped to the floor, still awaiting replacements for the mosque’s blood-stained rugs.
Several members of Christchurch semi-professional football club Western A.F.C. arrived in team colors to honor three victims who were known to the team due to their interest in the sport. The players left a bouquet of flowers outside the entrance to the mosque’s grounds.
The victims included 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, who dreamed of playing in goal for Manchester United, according to his father.
“We all love playing football and the best thing we can do is just to go out and enjoy it really, and obviously play for those guys that have been lost and think about them while we are doing it,” said team member Aaron McDonald, 20.
The mosque’s imam Gamal Fouda arrived draped in a New Zealand flag.
The day before, Fouda delivered an impassioned memorial service at a park next to the mosque that was watched globally and in which he praised “unbreakable” New Zealand for uniting in the tragedy’s wake.
Around 2,000 people gathered Saturday at the same park to join a “March for Love” procession through Christchurch.
Officials and police said two relatives of victims had died, with New Zealand identifying one as 65-year-old Suad Adwan, who had arrived from Jordan for the burial of her son Kamel Darwish, 38.
The grief-stricken mother was found Saturday morning having apparently died in her sleep, just hours after her son’s burial, of what police called a “medical event.”
No other details on the deaths were given.
But normality slowly returned to Christchurch as children played cricket near Al Noor and a previously scheduled 100-kilometer (62-mile) cycling race went ahead as planned.
New Zealand, which has already charged two people for distributing the gruesome livestreamed video of the attack, has now also made it a crime to share the alleged killer’s “manifesto,” local media reported.
In the document, Tarrant says the killings were in response to what he termed a Muslim “invasion” of Western countries.
“Others have referred to this publication as a ‘manifesto’, but I consider it a crude booklet that promotes murder and terrorism,” Chief Censor David Shanks was quoted as saying.