CIA: Top Russian Officials Discussed How to Influence Trump Aides Last Summer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Paul Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Whether the Russians worked directly with any Trump advisers is one of the central questions that federal investigators, now led by Robert S. Mueller III, the newly appointed special counsel, are seeking to answer. President Trump, for his part, has dismissed talk of Russian interference in the election as “fake news,” insisting there was no contact between his campaign and Russian officials.

“If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement. “I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections.”

The White House, F.B.I. and C.I.A. declined to comment. Mr. Flynn’s lawyer did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it.

Last week, CNN reported about intercepted phone calls during which Russian officials were bragging about ties to Mr. Flynn and discussing ways to wield influence over him.

In his congressional testimony, Mr. Brennan discussed the broad outlines of the intelligence, and his disclosures backed up the accounts of the information provided by the current and former officials.

“I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive,” Mr. Brennan said. Still, he said, even at the end of the Obama administration he had “unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf again either in a witting or unwitting fashion.”

Mr. Brennan’s testimony offered the fullest public account to date of how American intelligence agencies first came to fear that Mr. Trump’s campaign might be aiding Russia’s attack on the election.

By early summer, American intelligence officials already were fairly certain that it was Russian hackers who had stolen tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That in itself was not viewed as particularly extraordinary by the Americans — foreign spies had hacked previous campaigns, and the United States does the same in elections around the world, officials said. The view on the inside was that collecting information, even through hacking, is what spies do.

But the concerns began to grow when intelligence began trickling in about Russian officials weighing whether they should release stolen emails and other information to shape American opinion — to, in essence, weaponize the materials stolen by hackers.

An unclassified report by American intelligence agencies released in January stated that Mr. Putin “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election.”

Before taking the helm of the Trump campaign last May, Mr. Manafort worked for more than a decade for Russian-leaning political organizations and people in Ukraine, including Mr. Yanukovych, the former president. Mr. Yanukovych was a close ally of Mr. Putin.

Mr. Manafort’s links to Ukraine led to his departure from the Trump campaign in August, after his name surfaced in secret ledgers showing millions in undisclosed payments from Mr. Yanukovych’s political party.

Russia views Ukraine as a buffer against the eastward expansion of NATO, and has supported separatists in their years long fight against the struggling democratic government in Kiev.

Mr. Flynn’s ties to Russian officials stretch back to his time at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which he led from 2012 to 2014. There, he began pressing for the United States to cultivate Russia as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, and even spent a day in Moscow at the headquarters of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, in 2013.

He continued to insist that Russia could be an ally even after Moscow’s seizure of Crimea the following year, and Obama administration officials have said that contributed to their decision to push him out of the D.I.A.

But in private life, Mr. Flynn cultivated even closer ties to Russia. In 2015, he earned more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia, including a cargo airline implicated in a bribery scheme involving Russian officials at the United Nations, and an American branch of a cybersecurity firm believed to have ties to Russia’s intelligence services.

The biggest payment, though, came from RT, the Kremlin-financed news network. It paid Mr. Flynn $45,000 to give a speech in Moscow, where he also attended the network’s lavish anniversary dinner. There, he was photographed sitting next to Mr. Putin.

A senior lawmaker said on Monday that Mr. Flynn misled Pentagon investigators about how he was paid for the Moscow trip. He also failed to disclose the source of that income on a security form he was required to complete before joining the White House, according to congressional investigators.

American officials have also said there were multiple telephone calls between Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, on Dec. 29, beginning shortly after Mr. Kislyak was summoned to the State Department and informed that, in retaliation for Russian election meddling, the United States was expelling 35 people suspected of being Russian intelligence operatives and imposing other sanctions.

American intelligence agencies routinely tap the phones of Russian diplomats, and transcripts of the calls showed that Mr. Flynn urged the Russians not to respond, saying relations would improve once Mr. Trump was in office, officials have said.

But after misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of the calls, Mr. Flynn was fired as national security adviser after a tumultuous 25 days in office.

Polls Show That Most Americans Believe Trump Is A Liar Concerning Firing Of FBI Director Comey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) A majority of Americans believe that President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey to deter that agency from investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, according to a new poll released Wednesday.

Fifty-five percent of those polled by Quinnipiac University say Comey was removed “to disrupt the FBI investigation into potential coordination,” a reasoning that Trump has denied. Trump says Comey was fired because he no longer had confidence in him to lead the agency, a claim that only 36% of Americans say they believe.
More than half of those polled, 54%, also say Trump is more generally abusing the powers of his office and Trump’s approval rating continues to sag. Thirty-seven percent of Americans told Quinnipiac that they approve of Trump’s job performance; 55% say they do not — largely in line with daily tracking polls.
Americans also generally do not seem to believe the narrative Trump has told about the Comey firing: 54% say they do not believe that Comey told Trump three times that he was not under investigation, which Trump claimed in his letter firing Comey.
And 55% say they believe Comey when he claims that Trump asked him to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, which Comey said in memos happened during private conversations with the President.
The survey was conducted from May 17 to May 23, meaning that all interviews happened after the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. The poll surveyed 1,404 voters and has a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Trump’s Budget Scam

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO MAGAZINE)

I have a plan to dunk a basketball. First, I’ll grow a foot taller. Next, I’ll recapture the athleticism of my youth, so I can jump a lot higher. I didn’t say I had a serious plan—just a plan.

Today, the Trump administration released a plan to balance the federal budget over the next decade, and it’s no more plausible than my plan to become LeBron James. It does reveal the administration’s fiscal priorities, like deep cuts in spending on the less fortunate and the environment, no cuts to Medicare or Social Security retirement benefits, steady increases in spending on the military and the border, and an abiding faith in the restorative miracles of tax cuts for corporations and well-off families. But its claim to a balanced bottom line is based on a variety of heroic assumptions and hide-the-ball evasions, obscuring trillions of dollars’ worth of debt that it could pile onto America’s credit card.

Budget proposals always involve some guesswork into the unknowable, and administrations routinely massage numbers to their political advantage. But this proposal is unusually brazen in its defiance of basic math, and in its accounting discrepancies amounting to trillions-with-a-t rather than mere millions or billions. One maneuver in President Donald Trump’s budget arguably waves away an estimated $5.5 trillion in additions to the national debt from tax cuts, nearly $20,000 for every American alive today, enough to fund the Environmental Protection Agency at current spending levels for nearly 700 years. Trump critics in the budget-wonk world are pointing to another $2 trillion of red ink as a blatant math error—or, less charitably, as an Enron-style accounting fraud.

Numbers that huge tend to melt into abstraction. And the media will help downplay them by declaring the Trump budget dead on arrival in Congress, as if the fact that it won’t be rubber-stamped into law means that nothing in it matters. But a presidential budget is a detailed blueprint for governing—and in this case, the blueprint has a fair amount in common with blueprints offered by the Republicans who still control Congress. It matters for policy and it matters for politics.

It also matters that Trump’s numbers don’t add up. Whether or not you agree with the Tea Party philosophy behind the numbers, Trump and his hard-driving budget director, Mick Mulvaney, deserve credit for backing up their limited-government rhetoric by proposing $3.6 trillion in spending cuts, including politically courageous cuts in farm subsidies, rural development programs and other benefits geared toward Trump’s base. But they do not deserve credit for their aspirations to balance the budget, any more than I deserve credit for my aspirations to dunk. Budgets hinge on assumptions about taxes, spending and economic growth, and the Trump budget plays fast and loose with all three to try to achieve the illusion of balance, relying heavily on spectacular growth assumptions as well as vague and unrealistic promises to eliminate tax breaks and additional spending programs that go conveniently unnamed in the text. It proclaims that “we have borrowed from our children and their future for far too long,” but it is a blueprint for far more borrowing and far more debt.

Ultimately, the Trump budget reads like a corporate prospectus for a shady widget manufacturer who claims that cutting widget prices will spark a massive surge in widget sales, while also promising major cutbacks in ineffective widget salesmen and unnecessary widget costs. It doesn’t pencil out. And it’s worth understanding the main reasons it doesn’t pencil out, because soon Republicans in Congress will get to use their own pencils.

***

The Growth Spurt: Economic growth is as vital to balancing budgets as physical growth is to dunking basketballs. A booming economy means more tax revenue flowing into Washington, because workers have more income and corporations have more profits; and less federal spending flowing out of Washington, because fewer unemployed workers and poor families need the government safety net. “Economic growth,” Mulvaney recently said, “solves all our problems.”

So the Trump budget simply stipulates terrific economic growth. Specifically, it assumes the U.S. economy will expand an average of 3 percent per year over the next decade, more than 1 percentage point higher than the Congressional Budget Office assumes. And it uses that assumption to chop about $3 trillion off the 10-year deficit. “Everything is keyed to getting us back to 3 percent,” Mulvaney said Monday.

Terrific economic growth would be a terrific thing, and we should all hope for a recession-free decade of nonstop boom. But in the budgeting world, diverging that dramatically from the official forecasts is essentially cheating. President Barack Obama’s growth forecasts sometimes slightly overshot the CBO’s, but Trump’s gap with the CBO is nearly three times as large as Obama ever had in eight years. The U.S. economy hasn’t grown at a 3 percent rate for two consecutive years since 2000, which, not coincidentally, was when President Bill Clinton’s last budget balanced.

Trump aides say it makes sense to assume 3 percent growth, since it’s at the heart of the president’s promises to make America great again. Mulvaney calls it the guiding principle of Trumponomics, a rejection of the pessimistic notion that 2 percent is as good as it gets; he suggested yesterday that he probably should have assumed a more aggressive baseline of 3.5 percent or 4 percent growth, because 3 percent should merely be seen as normal. “Honestly, we have aspirations to do better,” one senior OMB official told me.

But 3 percent isn’t just something that will happen automatically, especially at a time when the population is aging, immigration is slowing and productivity is lagging. The Trump budget does not go into great detail justifying its growth assumptions, other than to suggest that rolling back onerous regulations and promoting domestic energy development will help the good times roll. It also suggests that one of the keys to the Trump boom will be tax reform, which happens to be the next area where its math gets fuzzy.

The Tax Dodge: So far, Trump has unveiled only a one-page summary of his tax reform principles, not tax reform legislation. Nevertheless, his budget “assumes deficit-neutral tax reform,” which is a bit like the old joke about the economist on a desert island who assumes a can opener. Trump’s tax reform principles, which he repeats on Page 13 of his budget, do not look deficit-neutral at all. Groups like the Tax Foundation, the Tax Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget have estimated that they would add between $4 trillion and $6 trillion to the debt.

That’s because Trump’s principles look like they’re more about tax cuts than real tax reform. His budget proposes lower individual tax rates, lower corporate tax rates, lower investment tax rates, an end to the alternative minimum tax, an end to the estate tax and other tax relief. Its only proposal to offset the cost of those tax cuts is a vague pledge to “eliminate most special interest tax breaks,” but it specifies that tax breaks for mortgage interest, charitable gifts and retirement savings wouldn’t be included, while failing to specify the tax breaks that would be included.

The implication is that the tax cuts would stimulate so much additional economic growth that they would pay for themselves, a supply-side economic theory that has not worked out in practice. President George W. Bush’s tax cuts helped turn Clinton’s surpluses into gaping deficits; the state of Kansas recently had a similar experience of sizable tax cuts creating sizable budget shortfalls. Even the conservative Tax Foundation calculated that the growth effects from Trump’s proposed tax cuts would recoup less than one-third of the lost revenues.

The senior OMB official told me those nonpartisan analysts are all jumping the gun, because the administration really does intend to propose tax increases large enough to offset the tax cuts it has already proposed. It just hasn’t decided which loopholes and deductions it wants to close, so it didn’t mention them in its budget. “What the budget is saying is that tax reform will be paid for,” the official said. “There’s a large conversation to be had about how we’re going to do it.”

But the Trump budget doesn’t just assume that tax reform will pay for itself; it also predicts that the economic growth produced by tax reform will help pay for the rest of his budget, an additional $2.1 trillion windfall.

Budget wonks have seized on this as a classic case of double-counting, presuming that the administration was already relying on that growth to make tax reform deficit-neutral in the first place. That would be like proposing to deposit a $20 bill that you’re not even sure is yours in two separate bank accounts, except with 11 extra zeroes at the end of the bill. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers called it “the most egregious accounting error in a presidential budget in the nearly 40 years I have been tracking them.”

Mulvaney ducked the issue Monday, suggesting that the administration doesn’t yet have enough details in its tax plans to provide more accurate accounting. But the other senior OMB official told me the double-counting accusations are wrong, because the budget assumes tax reform will be deficit-neutral without taking growth into account.

In that case, though, a Republican administration is counting on unspecified tax increases to convert a plan that independent analysts believe will cost about $5.5 trillion in its current form into a plan that will cost nothing at all, and would somehow end up producing $2 trillion worth of deficit reduction through growth. It’s conceivable, but it would be more plausible if the budget had disclosed even one of those potential tax increases. It would back up Mulvaney’s rhetoric about “how important it was and is to this president to try and bring some fiscal discipline.”

The Two-Penny Opera: The Trump budget isn’t really about fiscal discipline, but it does have real elements of spending discipline. It includes more than $600 billion worth of Medicaid cuts on top of the more than $800 billion of cuts in the Republican health care bill that just passed the House. It would eliminate rural housing loans, home heating aid for the poor, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and dozens of other line items. It would slash funding for climate science, foreign aid, medical research, Social Security disability and food stamps. It would boost spending for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Veterans Affairs for 2018, but it would cut the budget of every other Cabinet department.

Congress probably won’t embrace most of those cuts, but they’re specific proposals for cuts that would move the federal budget toward balance. That said, the largest chunk of Trump’s proposed spending reductions come from a non-specific and even less realistic “two-penny plan,” which would reduce nondefense discretionary spending by an additional 2 percent every year. That’s hard to fathom, because nondefense discretionary spending—which includes the FBI, the EPA, NASA and almost every other federal dollar that doesn’t go to the Pentagon or entitlements—is already at its lowest level as a share of the economy since the Eisenhower years. Trump is proposing to cut it by about one-third over a decade, a total of $182 billion by 2027, while continuing to boost the parts of it (like border security) that he likes. He wants to start in 2018 by eliminating agencies like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as programs like 21st Century Community Learning Centers, but he wouldn’t be able to re-eliminate them in the out years; he’d have to find new targets for cuts.

The OMB official told me that his agency has already begun a review of the entire federal bureaucracy with an eye to eliminating inefficiencies, and that it expects to have a streamlining strategy in place by next year to follow through with the two-penny plan. But even many Republicans who hold the purse strings in Congress are unenthusiastic about slicing billions of dollars out of the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control or the State Department.

“Give me a break,” one congressional Republican appropriator told me. “A lot of the discretionary spending is already squeezed. You can’t get blood from a stone.”

***

It is tempting to dismiss the Trump budget because so much of it seems unlikely to become law, but it’s still a revealing window into the administration’s priorities. And just because a budget is declared “dead on arrival” does not mean it won’t influence the budget that eventually emerges on Capitol Hill; Trump’s budget may envision larger cuts than Republican leaders want, but it reflects many of the priorities that House Speaker Paul Ryan has included in his budgets in the past. It ought to be taken seriously if not quite literally, to borrow the cliché about Trump.

It just shouldn’t be taken as evidence of fiscal rectitude or a deep aversion to debt, which isn’t really what Trump is about. It looks more like a plan to cut taxes for the rich and spending on the poor, while covering up the effect on the debt by flagrantly violating Washington norms. And that’s exactly what Trump is about.

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Hillary Clinton’s ’email’ problem was bigger than anyone realized

Clinton: I was on way to winning until Comey, Wikileaks

(CNN) Hillary Clinton’s ongoing struggle to deal with the revelation that she used a private email server during her time as secretary of state dominated the conversation about her presidential candidacy, and research suggests it might have doomed her campaign, according to a new study by a consortium of pollsters released over the weekend.
In the paper, presented at the American Association for Public Opinion Research’s annual conference in New Orleans, pollsters and political scientists from Gallup, Georgetown University and the University of Michigan studied the daily Gallup tracking poll from July 10 to November 7, 2016. In particular, they zeroed in on one question: “Have you read, seen or heard anything about (Hillary Clinton/Donald Trump) in the last day or two?” They then zeroed in on the “yes” responses and categorized what, exactly, people said they had read, seen or heard.
Here’s what people had read, seen or heard about Clinton looks like in a word cloud (the bigger the word, the more often it was mentioned):

As you can see, “email” drowns out every other term mentioned about Clinton. It was, without question, the dominant narrative of the election for her — at least in the five months that this paper documents. And, according to the study, the mentions of email correlate directly to negative views of Clinton.
Now, check out Trump’s word cloud:

There’s nothing to match the Clinton “email” mentions. And although some of the most commonly mentioned words are negative storylines for Trump — “women,” most notably — there’s a lot of more neutral mentions: “debate,” “people” and “president.” This speaks to the theory that by throwing so many balls up in the air every day — via his stump speeches, Twitter, etc. — Trump made it impossible for anyone to follow all of them. Everything seemed like a molehill. Even the mountains.

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss

Clinton blames Comey, Russia for election loss
What’s more, the word “email” came up more and more in the final weeks of the election — particularly in the wake of then-FBI Director James Comey’s announcement in late October that he was re-starting an investigation into Clinton’s server.
Here’s the word clouds broken into a week-by-week timeline of the last month of the campaign. Again, the larger the word appears, the more it was mentioned as something people had seen, read or heard about Clinton or Trump.

Not only did “email” dominate the conversation around Clinton, it dominated the entire conversation in the race. From October 23 on, Trump is barely talked about — an amazing feat for someone so willing to make news.
This study will be used by liberals as evidence that the media’s unnecessary focus on Clinton’s email server cost her the election.
I’d agree that Clinton’s email server played a decisive role in deciding the election. But I wouldn’t agree with the idea that the media is responsible for it.
After all, it was Clinton who never seemed to grasp the seriousness of the issue and how it eroded the public’s already shaky confidence in her. Her inability to do those things meant she was never able to put the story behind her. And then the Comey announcement came, which undoubtedly surged the issue back to the top of many voters’ minds.
Whatever the reasons, when people thought of Clinton in the final weeks of the race, they thought of her emails. And that was a very bad thing for her.

Manchester England: Police Identify The Coward Who Set Off Bomb At Children’s Concert

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Police identified 22-year-old Salman Abedi as the suspected suicide bomber who detonated bombs as throngs of teenagers poured out of an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester that killed 22 people.

The suspect carrying explosives acted as a lone attacker and died in the blast Monday night, which left the wounded and the dead scattered across the arena’s bloodied entrance and sent screaming girls running for cover, according to police.
Greater Manchester Chief Constable Ian Hopkins named the suspect Tuesday but said that the man’s identity had not been yet confirmed by a coroner.
The blast marked the deadliest terror attack on British soil since the 2005 London bombings. Hundreds of residents remembered the newest victims during a Tuesday evening vigil.
A powerful explosion shook part of the cavernous Manchester Arena late Monday as concertgoers streamed out following the American pop star’s last song.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but offered no evidence.
An 8-year-old girl and an 18-year-old woman have been named as the first victims of the attack, which has drawn condemnation and horror from around the world as a heinous assault targeting children.

Key developments

  • Ariana Grande suspends her world tour.
  • Police have carried out two raids in Manchester.
  • Queen Elizabeth II described bombing as “act of barbarity.”
  • 59 people injured, some in life-threatening situations.
  • US President Donald Trump slams attackers as “losers.”
  • British Prime Minister says police have identified the suspect.

People tend to the injured inside the Manchester Arena after the attack Monday night.

ISIS said on its Telegram channel Tuesday that a “soldier of the caliphate” was able to “plant explosive devices” at the arena, a US counter-terrorism source told CNN. ISIS routinely claims attacks it has no proven links with.
But authorities have discovered no evidence of a link between the attacker and an established terror group, a British counterterrorism official told CNN.
No determination has been on the sophistication of the explosive device or what chemicals were involved, the official said.
A US counterterrorism official said bombing “looks much like” an ISIS attack but that American intelligence officials were working with British counterparts to determine more.
On Tuesday evening, hundreds attended a vigil outside Manchester City Hall in honor of the victims.
“We will stand together to say that this city is greater than the force that aligns itself against it,” David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, told the crowd. “We are sending a signal not just to Manchester, but across the world that you can not defeat us because love in the end is always stronger than hate.”

Girls scramble over seats and barriers to flee the arena.

Girls scramble over seats and barriers to flee the arena. 00:41
Video from inside the arena showed girls screaming as they scrambled over chairs and railings to escape the 21,000-seat venue, while photographs showed bodies laying bloodied on the floor.
After an emergency Cabinet meeting, British Prime Minister Theresa May condemned the attack as “callous” and “cowardly.”
“We struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not a scene to cherish but as an opportunity for carnage,” May said in London before leaving for Manchester.

Young victims named

Saffie Rose Roussos, 8, was among those killed in the Manchester Arena attack.

Eight-year-old Saffie Rose Roussos from Leyland has been named as one of the fatalities, the Lancashire County Council confirmed.
Chris Upton, the head teacher at the Tarleton Community Primary School, described her as “simply a beautiful little girl” who was “quiet and unassuming with a creative flair.”

Victim Georgina Callander, left, pictured with Ariana Grande.

Georgina Callander, 18, was also killed, according to her school, the Bishop Rawstorne Church of England Academy.
“All of our students will gather together today for a time of prayer and reflection and to give thanks for the life of Georgina,” the school said.
At least 12 victims aged 16 or under were being treated at a children’s hospital for serious injuries, some of them fighting for their lives, a Manchester health official said.
Grande, who had just finished the first of three scheduled UK performances, tweeted about her devastation several hours later: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so so sorry. i don’t have words.”
The pop star has suspended her “Dangerous Woman” tour following the attack, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN. Grande was scheduled to perform in London and across Europe through mid-June.
Queen Elizabeth II said Tuesday that “the whole nation has been shocked.”

‘Darkest of nights’ in Manchester

Britain has been under a “severe” terror threat alert for three years and there has been an uptick in terror-related arrests in recent months.
Police have warned that another attack was likely after a man plowed his car into a crowd on London’s Westminister Bridge in March and stabbed a policeman, in an attack that left six dead.
Monday’s bombing has raised concerns that a more sophisticated network may exist in the country.

Emergency crews evacuated victims at the Manchester Arena Monday night.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham described the attack as “our darkest of nights.”
“These were children, young people and their families that those responsible chose to terrorize and kill. This was an evil act,” he said.
Around 400 police were deployed overnight following the attack, and on Tuesday, large groups of armed police were seen in several parts of the city. Security was boosted in London.
People began paying their respects to the victims on Tuesday afternoon. A family of four arrived at St. Ann’s Square in the city center with a bouquet of flowers and balloons.
“I’m just feeling really down for all the families that lost their children and family members,” said Michael Heveril.
“It’s quite close to home — I never thought anything like this would ever happen in Manchester.”

Chaotic scenes

The explosion rocked the arena at around 10:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. ET). The sound of wailing sirens cut through the smoky aftermath.
Crying children and parents desperately tried to find each other as cell phone signals faltered, witnesses said.

Mom: I don't know if daughter is dead or alive

Mom: I don’t know if daughter is dead or alive 01:22
Manchester resident Charlotte Campbell told CNN she waited for news on her 15-year-old daughter, Olivia. “We’ve tried everything we can. They’re telling us to wait by the phones,” she said.
Olivia had gone to the concert with a friend and neither have been in contact. Her father was looking for the girls.
“I want her home and I want her safe,” Charlotte Campbell said. “I just want her to walk through the door.”

Trump calls attackers ‘losers’

president trump israel manchester explosion attack losers sot es_00003411

Pres. Trump: Manchester attacked by losers 02:05
US President Donald Trump slammed the attack, saying that terrorists were “losers.”
“So many young beautiful innocent people living and enjoying their lives murdered by evil losers in life. I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them from now on losers because that’s what they are,” he said. “This wicked ideology must be obliterated.”
The US Department of Homeland Security said it was “closely monitoring” the situation.

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

President Trump discussed how to fight terrorism and improve international relations during a speech alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem. (The Washington Post)
May 23 at 9:40 AM
President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.”In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.”

“This trip is focused on that goal,” he said.

Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him.

Trump on Middle East peace deal: ‘We’re going to get there eventually, I hope’
Speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, President Trump lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “commitment to pursuing the peace process.” (The Washington Post)

In some respects, his effusive praise for Israel during his two days here — which also included a Tuesday morning visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — appeared to endorse Israeli claims to a united capital in Jerusalem.

Noting that Jerusalem is a “sacred city,” and that “the ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal,” Trump recalled his Monday visits to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sites sacred to Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank, and claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their envisioned state.

To sustained applause, Trump cited the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, a place he called “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He spoke of “a future where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children can grow up together in peace.”

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever,” he said. “Under my administration, you see the difference. Big, big beautiful difference, including the Iron Dome missile defense program . . . [and] David’s Sling,” an aircraft interception system. The former was established here under the Obama administration, the latter under President George W. Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, who introduced him and praised “the leadership that you bring,” condemned Monday night’s terrorist attack in Britain, claimed by the Islamic State.

But in describing the authors of global terrorism, Trump focused nearly all his attention on Iran and the anti-Israel organizations it supports, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s leaders, he said, “routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said. “Believe me.”

Key moments from Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu
Here is President Trump’s May 22 joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in less than two minutes. (The Washington Post)

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorism and militias,” Trump said to sustained applause as Netanyahu stood and pumped his fist.

The audience included U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as prominent citizens from both. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated millions of dollars to support Trump’s campaign and then his inauguration, were seated just behind the stage, near first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to [their] unbreakable spirit.”

Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation.

In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.

But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.

“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved, at least temporarily.

Abbas said he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who have been on a hunger strike for over a month, led by Marwan Barghouti, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from the families of the strikers, who have demanded more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study and cessation of isolation as a punishment.

Israel and some U.S. lawmakers have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners, who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.

Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.

Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s barrier and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on construction sites.

Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.

Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace.

“My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

There was no applause from the audience.

Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ex-CIA chief John Brennan: ‘Russia brazenly interfered’ in US elections

Story highlights

  • House investigators are interest in diving into Russian meddling in the US election
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan’s testimony isn’t the only high profile hearing Tuesday

Washington (CNN) Former CIA Director John Brennan told House Russia investigators Tuesday that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the US elections, including actively contacting members of President Donald Trump’s campaign — but he stopped shy of dubbing it “collusion.”

“I saw interaction that in my mind raised questions of whether it was collusion,” Brennan told Rep. Trey Gowdy, saying that he supported the FBI digging further. “It was necessary to pull threads.”
Brennan was speaking to the House intelligence committee on the extent of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections and possible ties to the Trump campaign, where he was asked about how Moscow recruits sources “wittingly and unwittingly.”
“Frequently, people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late,” Brennan said.
Brennan said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling last summer and, in an August 4, 2016, phone call with Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, warned him against further interference. Bortnikov, Brennan said, denied any active efforts in the election.
Brennan cautioned lawmakers that although he could not definitively say if those contacts amounted to “collusion,” he knew that Russians were actively cutivating US contacts and, very likely, did not present themselves as Russian spies.
Brennan also said Trump might have broken protocol if he revealed highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and Russian ambassador to the US in a White House meeting earlier this month.
The panel will get two cracks at Brennan — the first in public at 10 a.m. ET and the second behind closed doors — almost two months after his first appearance was dramatically canceled amid the chaos sparked by House intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes’ clandestine White House trip.
House investigators are particularly interested in finding out more about how Russia conducted its election attacks inside the US and who Russian spies attempted to recruit to their side, said a House intelligence committee source. Intelligence sources have previously told CNN that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page was being cultivating as a source for a Russian spy — whether he knew it or not. Page has flatly and continually denied that charge.
But Brennan’s isn’t the only high-profile hearing Tuesday. The latest news most likely to hold the Capitol captive is word that Trump asked his own intelligence chiefs — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers — to rebut Comey’s then-public statement that the FBI had opened a criminal probe into Russia’s meddling in July of last year.
Coats is testifying in the Senate and Rogers is expected to testify in the House on budget issues, but the blockbuster news of Trump’s attempt to curtail a federal probe, first reported by The Washington Post, has already come up.
Meanwhile, Brennan is also likely to face questions about a split among intelligence leaders last summer over the purpose of Russia’s meddling in the US election — whether it was designed to support Trump or merely spur chaos and confusion in the election. Brennan told senior lawmakers as early as last summer that the Russian operation was squarely designed to support Trump.
Brennan’s appearance comes as the Russia probes have escalated greatly since Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and subsequently the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Trump and Russia.
On Monday, Mark Warner, the ranking Democratic member of the Senate intelligence committee left open the threat of holding former national security adviser Michael Flynn in contempt if he continues to withhold documents in response to a congressional subpoena.

Ivanka Trump makes ‘deeply meaningful’ visit to Western Wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Ivanka Trump makes ‘deeply meaningful’ visit to Western Wall

Ivanka Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit the Western Wall.

Story highlights

  • Ivanka Trump visited the Western Wall on Monday
  • She is traveling with the President

(CNN) President Donald Trump made history on Monday when he became the first sitting president to visit Jerusalem’s Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism. But the trip was also “deeply meaningful” for daughter Ivanka, who appeared to cry as she visited the wall.

The Western Wall sits in Jerusalem’s Old City, which was captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. There are separate areas for men and women’s prayer.
Accompanied by first lady Melania Trump and the Rabbi of the Western Wall’s wife, Yael Rabinovich, Ivanka Trump solemnly placed her hand on the women’s area of the Western Wall for a full minute. She smiled as she walked back toward the women and appeared to wipe away a tear, looking visibly touched by the experience.
“I am grateful to have experienced a deeply meaningful visit to the holiest site of my faith and to leave a private note of prayer,” she posted on social media shortly after the visit.
The President’s eldest daughter converted to Judaism ahead of her 2009 wedding to Jared Kushner, and previously visited Jerusalem in 2010. She and her husband are practicing Modern Orthodox Jews.
She has spoken about her faith very rarely.
“We’re pretty observant, more than some, less than others. I just feel like it’s such an intimate thing for us,” she told Vogue in 2015. “It’s been such a great life decision for me. I am very modern, but I’m also a very traditional person, and I think that’s an interesting juxtaposition in how I was raised as well. I really find that with Judaism, it creates an amazing blueprint for family connectivity.”
She also wrote about observing Sabbath from sundown Friday to Saturday night in her book, “Women Who Work.”
“During this time, we disconnect completely — no emails, no TV, no phone calls, no Internet. We enjoy uninterrupted time together and it’s wonderful. In addition to being a sacred part of our religion, we live in such a fast-paced world that it’s enormously important to unplug and devote that time to each other,” she said.
Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia with her father, stepmother, and key advisers. She will also travel with the group to Rome, Italy, later this week.

ISRAEL: Trump makes historic visit to Western Wall

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Trump makes historic visit to Western Wall

(CNN) President Donald Trump on Monday became the first sitting US president to visit the Western Wall, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

Trump, wearing a yarmulke, placed his right hand on the wall and swayed slightly back and forth with his eyes closed. He was flanked by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, and Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.
He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a white folded up note, and placed it into a crack in the wall.
Despite requests from Israeli officials, Trump visited the Western Wall without any Israeli government officials by his side.
The United States does not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

President Trump Says Goodbye To Saudi Arabia: Next Stop, Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

NBC’s Bill Neely Trump Trip Notebook: So Long, Saudi Arabia

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Donald Trump’s remarkable visit to Saudi Arabia ended as it began: with warm applause from Saudi leaders who displayed real pride in the fact that an American president chose the religious center of the Muslim world as the first stop on his first trip abroad.

Political leaders proclaimed a new era, Saudis gushed at the “elegantly respectful” look of first lady Melania Trump, analysts hailed the biggest arms deal in American history while Sunday newspapers praised the renewal of “this natural American-Muslim alliance” that in the 1980s had fought “successfully against atheism and communism.”

Play
Highlights From Trump’s Address to the Muslim World

There is something remarkable too about the leader of the Western world speaking in the city where Osama bin Laden was born. A New Yorker, Trump, addressing Muslims in the country where 11 of the 19 terrorists of the September 11th attacks were born.

Yet here he was urging more than 40 Muslim leaders to unite to “drive out the terrorists and drive out the extremists … drive them out of this earth.”

This, he said, is a battle between good and evil and urged Muslim countries had to “fulfill their part of the burden” — not just wait for American intervention.

But there was none of the inflammatory language typical of domestic Trump. He did not use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” which he has specifically used several times before and which is considered offensive by many. In fact, he said he was “not here to lecture” the Muslim leaders, or to impose an American way of life.

Image: Trump, King Salman, al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought
President Donald Trump, Melania Trump, King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi open the World Center for Countering Extremist Thought in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

At the final major event of his visit — a conference on social media and countering terrorism — the president’s schedule got squeezed and he had to leave the speaking to his daughter Ivanka.

“This young generation is a generation that can build a future of tolerance, of hope and of peace,” she said. “And that’s what this last day has been around: tolerance and hope and peace.”

Still, there is a definite security threat here and it’s clear it’s being taken seriously: Every major road in Riyadh is lined with troops and police.

But surrounded by huge photographs of himself in a city dripping in gold, while making deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars — Trump may have felt he was in a special but familiar place.

Everywhere you look in Central Riyadh there are giant images of Trump and the Saudi King side by side. “Together,” they proclaim, “we will prevail,” a slogan that boats of a renewed military and economic bond between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. An alliance against rivals in Iran and threats from ISIS.

Here, all is apparently forgiven. They have forgotten Candidate Trump, who railed against Muslims on the campaign trail, and even Early President Trump, who tried to push through a ban on Muslims entering America. Now they have Best Friend Trump, who sees in the Saudis an opportunity to make money and buy peace in the region.

Play
Trump: ‘We Are Not Here to Lecture,’ But to Offer Partnership0:43

There are similarities between the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the United States. The rulers of the Desert Kingdom are a family, the al-Sauds — King Salman and his many Princes. They do business in the billions of dollars but often in a personal, traditionally Arab way.

That’s been Trump’s way too, and he’s done business here in the desert through his family. The arms deal the two countries have signed, worth at least 100 billion dollars, was done with the help of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He amazed a visiting Saudi delegation at the White House earlier this year by picking up the phone to the boss of Lockheed Martin and haggling over the price of weapons the Saudis found too expensive.

There’s even quiet talk here of his next stop, Israel, as well as the common enemy shared by Saudis, Gulf Arabs and Israelis: Iran.

Image: King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia and President Donald Trump take part in a group photo at the opening session of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on May 21, 2017. Saudi Press Agency / EPA

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