Monthly Archives: March 2019

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CIA boss John Brennan rips into Donald Trump over Twitter, Russia

NEW YORK – The outgoing CIA director charged on Sunday that Donald Trump lacks a full understanding of the threat Moscow poses to the United States, delivering a public lecture to the president-elect that further highlighted the bitter state of Trump’s relations with American intelligence agencies.

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John Brennan’s pointed message on national television came just five days before Trump becomes the nation’s 45th president amid lingering questions about Russia’s role in the 2016 election even as the focus shifts to the challenges of governing.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says he could bin Russia sanctions if Moscow proves a helpful ally

“Now that he’s going to have an opportunity to do something for our national security as opposed to talking and tweeting, he’s going to have tremendous responsibility to make sure that U.S. and national security interests are protected,” Brennan said on “Fox News Sunday,” warning that the president-elect’s impulsivity could be dangerous.

“Spontaneity is not something that protects national security interests,” Brennan declared.

Trump, who has unleashed a series of aggressive tweets against the U.S. intelligence community and his political rivals in recent weeks, responded aggressively on 桑拿会所 several hours later.

“Was this the leaker of Fake News?” Trump tweeted Sunday evening, referring to a recent document that contains unverified financial and personal information that could be damaging to the president-elect. The Associated Press has not been able to verify the contents of the document.

WATCH: Donald Trump still not on same page as U.S. intelligence community

The president-elect remained behind closed doors in his Manhattan high rise Sunday. His team worked to answer questions about his plans at home and abroad once he’s sworn into office on Friday.

Among Trump’s immediate challenges: the United States’ complicated relationship with Russia, crafting an affordable health care alternative that doesn’t strip coverage from millions of Americans, and growing questions about the legitimacy of his presidency.

Without providing details, Trump promised his plan to replace the nation’s health care law would provide universal coverage, according to a Washington Post interview published late Sunday.

WATCH: VP-elect Pence says Trump advisers didn’t have contact with Russia during election

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” he said. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

Meanwhile, civil rights legend Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is among several Democrats in Congress who vowed to skip Trump’s inauguration, charging that Russian interference in the 2016 election delegitimizes his presidency.

“There will be many more members who join us in this decision,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., wrote Saturday on his Facebook page.

Trump’s lieutenants pushed back hard Sunday in a round of television interviews.

“I think it’s incredibly disappointing and I think it’s irresponsible for people like himself to question the legitimacy of the next United States president,” incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said of Lewis on ABC’s “This Week,” insisting that Republicans did not question the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s victory eight years ago. Vice-President-elect Mike Pence said on “Fox News Sunday” that he hopes Lewis will change his mind and attend.

Priebus later acknowledged that conservatives – led by Trump himself – spent years questioning Obama’s eligibility to serve as president, suggesting he was not born in the United States.

Trump has done little to encourage unity in recent days, instead inflaming tensions with his critics through a series of tweets. The incoming president tweeted Saturday that Lewis should pay more attention to his “crime ridden” Atlanta-area district, adding that the civil rights leader was “all talk.”

READ MORE: 桑拿会所 has discussed the idea of banning Donald Trump: report

Lewis suffered a fractured skull when he led a march in Selma, Alabama, more than a half century ago and has devoted his life to civil rights.

The current White House chief of staff, Denis McDonough, said “Lewis has literally fought, bled and gone to jail” during what he called his “remarkable life.” He encouraged the incoming president to move past Lewis’ criticism.

“That would be the kind of thing that would not only send a message to the American people that we’re prepared to work together, but would also send a message to the Russians that we are united,” McDonough said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Questions about Trump’s relationship with Russia have dominated the days leading up to his inauguration.

Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn, who is set to become Trump’s national security adviser, has been in frequent contact with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in recent weeks, including on the day the Obama administration hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for the alleged election hacking, a senior U.S. official said.

After initially denying the contact took place, Trump’s team publicly acknowledged the conversations on Sunday.

“The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new U.S. sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats,” said Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, also in an appearance on “Fox News Sunday.”

Repeated contacts just as Obama imposed sanctions would raise questions about whether Trump’s team discussed – or even helped shape – Russia’s response. Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly did not retaliate against the U.S. for the sanctions or the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, a decision Trump quickly praised.

Trump has repeatedly called for a better relationship between the U.S. and Putin’s government. He suggested in an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Friday that he’d consider easing the latest sanctions on Russia.

“I think he has to be mindful that he does not have a full appreciation and understanding of what the implications are of going down that road,” Brennan said.

Kellman reported from Washington.

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Russia counts days until Donald Trump’s inauguration, blasts Barack Obama

MOSCOW – Exulted by Donald Trump‘s victory in the U.S., the Kremlin is counting the days to his inauguration and venting its anger at Barack Obama‘s outgoing administration, no holds barred.

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Careful not to hurt chances for a thaw in U.S.-Russia relations, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have deferred questions about their plans for future contacts with Trump and any agenda for those talks until he takes office on Friday.

Trump’s open admiration of Putin has brought wide expectations of improved Moscow-Washington relations, but Trump has not articulated a clear Russia policy. His Cabinet nominees include both a retired general with a hawkish stance on Russia and an oil executive who has done extensive business in Russia.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says he could bin Russia sanctions if Moscow proves a helpful ally

At the same time, Russian officials are blasting the outgoing U.S. administration in distinctly undiplomatic language, dropping all decorum after Obama hit Moscow with more sanctions in his final weeks in office.

Moscow calls Obama’s team a “bunch of geopolitical losers” engaged in a last-ditch effort to inflict the maximum possible damage to U.S.-Russia ties to make it more difficult for Trump to mend the rift.

In a clear effort to avoid risking a rapprochement with Trump, Putin showed a remarkable restraint when the U.S. expelled 35 Russian diplomats over accusations of meddling in the U.S. election campaign. Instead of a usual tit-for-tat response, Putin invited U.S. diplomats’ children to a New Year’s party at the Kremlin.

Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. were in frequent contact in recent weeks, including on Dec. 29, the day Obama hit Moscow with sanctions in retaliation for election-related hacking, according to a senior U.S. official. That call and others suggest that the incoming administration is already laying the groundwork for a possible thaw with Moscow.

Moscow similarly refrained from retaliation when the White House last week added five Russians, including the chief of Russia’s top state investigative agency, to the U.S. sanctions list.

WATCH: Unverified Russian dossier part of larger propaganda plot: expert

While Putin and his lieutenants hope Trump will open up to Russia, they know any attempt to fix ties will face massive obstacles, including possible strong resistance in the U.S. Congress.

“Any future contacts will have to be prepared quite accurately and thoroughly, as they would follow a tense period,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Fyodor Lukyanov, chair of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policies, a group of Russian foreign policy experts, said Syria is one area where a U.S.-Russian rapport is likely.

During the call with Flynn, the Russian ambassador invited U.S. officials to a conference on Syria to be held in Kazakhstan later this month, according to a transition official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.

In an interview Friday with The Wall Street Journal, Trump said he might do away with Obama’s sanctions if Russia works with the U.S. on battling terrorists and achieving other goals.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says his team will have a ‘full report’ on dossier hacking within 90 days

The Kremlin would be eager to embrace a U.S. offer of co-operation on Syria. Obama’s administration had refused to co-ordinate action against the IS with Russia, saying Moscow was bent on shoring up Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The complexity of the conflict in Syria – where opposition groups backed by regional players are pitted against Assad’s troops and often fight each other – makes hopes for quick progress elusive.

“Russia and the United States are important players (in Syria) but not the only ones,” Lukyanov said.

He noted that nuclear arms control is another possible area where Moscow and Washington could try to find common ground. While new arms control treaties are unlikely, the two countries may try to find ways to increase global stability, Lukyanov said.

Putin has pushed for the U.S. to recognize Moscow as an equal global heavyweight and to acknowledge that Russia’s ex-Soviet neighbours are in its sphere of “vital interests” – demands rejected by the West. Many in Russia hope that Trump could be more inclined to strike a “grand bargain” with Putin, carving up spheres of influence and helping cement Russia’s role as a global power.

Alexander Lebedev, a multimillionaire Russian owner of Britain’s Evening Standard and Independent newspapers, believes that Putin wants a “big deal” that would envisage co-operation in Syria and possible co-operation in other spheres, including the fight against international financial crime.

“$1 trillion a year is stolen by global banks and companies and moved offshore,” Lebedev said, adding that Russia and the U.S. could launch a worldwide crackdown on corrupt business practices.

READ MORE: U.S. intelligence officials told Joe Biden, Barack Obama Russian report on Donald Trump might leak

U.S.-Russian relations have sunk to a post-Cold War low over Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and support for a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine. A 2015 peace deal helped end large-scale battles in eastern Ukraine, but clashes have continued and attempts at a political settlement have stalled. The U.S. and the European Union have slapped Russia with economic sanctions and made their lifting contingent on the peace deal’s progress.

While the Kremlin counts on Trump to roll the sanctions back, many observers are skeptical.

“In the current atmosphere, it’s very difficult to imagine how Trump could start cancelling the sanctions,” Lukyanov said.

U.S. allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. election top the list of irritants.

U.S. intelligence officials’ accusations that Russian hackers – acting on Putin’s orders – interfered into the vote to help Trump win have put the U.S. president-elect in a difficult position. Trump has grudgingly conceded that Russia was likely responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee, but emphasized there was no evidence that hacking affected the U.S. election results.

READ MORE: Donald Trump says U.S. intelligence chief James Clapper denounced Russia report

The Kremlin has rejected the hacking accusations and also hotly denied reports that it has collected compromising information about Trump.

Aware that an open show of support for Trump would only make it more difficult for him to restore ties, Russian officials have mostly focused on blasting Obama’s administration.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of foreign affairs committee in the upper house of parliament, described the White House’s decision to expel Russian diplomats as an “agony of not even lame ducks, but political corpses.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went further.

“If ‘Russian hackers’ hacked anything in America, there were two things: Obama’s brain, and, of course, the report about ‘Russian hackers,”‘ she wrote on Facebook.

Zakharova charged that “Obama and his illiterate foreign policy team have dealt a crushing blow to America’s prestige and leadership” and described his administration as “a bunch of geopolitical losers, enraged and shortsighted.”

Obama’s administration still has a few days left to “destroy the world,” Zakharova wrote.

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Tina Fey reappears on SNL to take jab at Donald Trump’s Twitter reviews of the show

Felicity Jones hosted Saturday Night Live this week and was nervous until an old pro stopped by to help assuage her fears.

Jones began her monologue by discussing some of her work including a recently released art film she was involved with.

“I’ve been in several films this year but I am here tonight because of an indie movie I am in called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” Jones said.

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READ MORE: Alec Baldwin returns as SNL ‘rebroadcasts’ Donald Trump’s press conference

Jones, who played the lead character Jyn Erso in the film, said she was nervous about her hosting duties when she was interrupted by Rogue One’s Saw Guerrera (played by Keenan Thompson).

“I heard you needed help with your SNL hosting mission, I have a message from an old friend,” Guerrera said before placing a disc on the ground and exiting.

Seconds later a hologram popped up of Tina Fey, dressed like Princess Leah.

“Tina Fey… you’re in a headscarf? Are you a Star Wars princess?,” Jones asked.

“No I just bought this at Eileen Fisher – they have amazing deals after the holidays,” Fey responded. “I hear you are hosting SNL.”

FULL COVERAGE: SNL on Donald Trump

“I’m a bit nervous,” Jones said.

“Don’t be. If Steven Seagal can do it, so can you,” Fey reassures her. “All you need to do is go out there and do your best. Don’t worry about what the reviews say.”

“Does this show get reviewed?” Jones asked.

READ MORE: John Goodman helps Alec Baldwin mock Donald Trump on SNL (Dec. 2016)

“Yes. Way too much,” Fey warned.

“Also, no matter how it goes. The president of the United States will say that it is ‘sad and overrated’.”

“The president?” Jones questioned.

“Yeah the president!” Fey said while laughing. “It’s fine. No one cares.”

WATCH: ‘SNL’ takes golden opportunity to mock Trump defending against ‘pee-pee party’ allegations

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Samsung’s boss to sweat it out a bit longer while waiting for legal decisions

South Korea’s special prosecutor said on Sunday it will take into account the economic impact of whether to arrest Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee in connection with an influence-peddling investigation involving the president.

The office also delayed by one day, until Monday, its decision on whether to seek the arrest of Lee, the third-generation leader of South Korea’s largest conglomerate, or chaebol, citing the gravity of the case.

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READ MORE: South Korean president impeached amid scandal

The special prosecution had said it would make a decision on Lee by Sunday. But spokesman Lee Kyu-chul told reporters on Sunday investigators were deliberating all factors including the potential economic impact of the arrest of Jay Y. Lee.

Prosecutors have been investigating whether Samsung provided 30 billion won ($25.46 million USD) to a business and foundations backed by President Park Geun-hye’s friend, Choi Soon-sil, in exchange for the national pension fund’s support for a 2015 merger of two Samsung affiliates.

The Samsung chief denied bribery accusations during a parliamentary hearing in December.

READ MORE: South Koreans in mass protest over president 

Taking into account the economic impact could prove beneficial to the 48-year-old Lee. The imposition of less severe punishment on erring business leaders to avoid negative economic consequences has precedent in South Korea.

“Law and principle are the most important metric, and after also considering various factors mentioned previously, we will decide by law and principle,” the prosecution spokesman Lee said, referring to economic impact, without elaborating.

A Samsung Group spokeswoman declined to comment.

Samsung’s Lee was questioned for 22 hours before leaving the special prosecutors’ office in Seoul on Friday morning as part of the investigation into a corruption scandal that has led to President Park’s impeachment by parliament.

Establishing a money-for-favor exchange between Samsung and Park or her surrogate is critical for the special prosecutor’s investigation, analysts say.

Court Deliberating

Park, the daughter of a military ruler, has denied wrongdoing, although she has apologized for exercising poor judgment. Her friend, Choi, who is in detention and facing her own trial, has also denied wrongdoing.

The Constitutional Court is deciding whether to uphold or overturn the impeachment vote.

If Park is forced to leave office, a presidential election would be held in 60 days. Among the expected contenders is former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

The chiefs of South Korean chaebol have over the years had prison sentences shortened or forgiven, or received pardons, with the economic impact of imprisonment cited as a factor.

Jay Y. Lee’s father Lee Kun-hee, who has been incapacitated since a 2014 heart attack, was handed a three-year suspended jail sentence in 2009 for tax evasion. He was later pardoned.

Samsung has acknowledged making contributions to the two foundations as well as a consulting firm controlled by Choi but has repeatedly denied accusations of lobbying to push through the merger of Samsung C&T and Cheil Industries Inc.

The world’s biggest maker of smartphones, memory chips and flat-screen televisions has delayed its annual executive promotions, which typically take place in early December, amid the scandal.

The special prosecution also said it plans to indict early next week National Pension Service chief Moon Hyung-pyo, who was arrested in December after acknowledging he pressured the fund to approve the merger while he was health minister.