1 dead, 4 injured in cliff collapse at Southern California beach

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

1 dead, 4 injured in cliff collapse at Southern California beach

The beaches north of San Diego are known for their unstable bluffs.
Image: Emergency responders attend to a collapse that has trapped people at a beach in Encinitas, California

Emergency responders attended to victims of a cliff collapse Friday at a beach in Encinitas, California.Paul Ecke / Reuters

Scientists are searching for a mirror universe. It could be sitting right in front of you.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

 

Scientists are searching for a mirror universe. It could be sitting right in front of you.

If the “mirrorverse” exists, upcoming experiments involving subatomic particles could reveal it.
Illustration of woman holding hands up to a mirrorverse where her reflection is shining back at her.

A mirrorverse could be just as real as our own universe but almost completely cut off from it. Jackson Gibbs / for NBC News

‘Love has no borders’: Arizona man fulfills Christmas wish list for Mexican girl who sent it by balloon

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

‘Love has no borders’: Arizona man fulfills Christmas wish list for Mexican girl who sent it by balloon

“It really touched my heart to find it,” said Randy Heiss, who spotted a balloon with the note attached.
By Janelle Griffith

It was a Christmas wish that crossed international borders. An Arizona man fulfilled the Christmas list of an 8-year-old girl in Mexico whose letter to Santa reached him by way of balloon.

Earlier this month, Randy Heiss was hiking in Patagonia, Arizona, when he saw the ragged remains of a balloon with a note attached.

One side of the note read: “Dayami.” On the other was a numbered list written in Spanish.

Heiss’ wife translated the list and the pair identified its likely sender as a girl named Dayami. The note was intended for Santa and asked for art supplies, slime, a doll and a dollhouse, among other things. No contact information was left on the note.

“It really touched my heart to find it and I said, ‘Well, how in the heck am I going to be able to figure out how to make contact with this little girl and make her wishes come true?’” Heiss told NBC affiliate KVOA in Tucson.

Heiss believed the winds carried Dayami’s Christmas wish list about 20 miles away from Nogales, Mexico.

He shared the letter on his Facebook account. After a few days with no leads, he enlisted the help of Radio XENY, a station in Nogales. The station posted Heiss’ story to its Facebook page.

Within an hour, they were able to find Dayami, who lives in Nogales.

The radio station told NBC News on Monday that it helped to arrange for Heiss and his wife to meet Dayami and her family at its offices late last week.

Heiss and his wife delivered the toys to Dayami and her sister younger sister, Ximena, during the meeting. It brought him “healing joy” to see the children’s happy faces, Heiss told the “Today” show.

“Love has no borders,” he said. “That wall melted away for the day.”

As it turns out, the experience was a gift for the couple, too.

“We lost our son nine years ago,” Heiss told KVOA. “So we don’t have grandchildren in our future and so really getting to share Christmas with kids was something that’s been missing in our lives.”

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Lindsey Graham: ‘Impossible to believe’ Saudi Crown Prince was unaware of Khashoggi killing

“He is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship, Graham said.
Image: Lindsey Graham

Lindsey Graham speaks with Chuck Todd on Meet The Press on Nov. 18, 2018.NBC News

 / Updated 
By Kailani Koenig

WASHINGTON — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Sunday harshly condemned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over his alleged role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling him “unhinged” and pointedly refusing to work with the prince in the future.

“The fact that he didn’t know about it is impossible for me to believe,” Graham said on Sunday’s “Meet The Press.” The South Carolina senator said he hasn’t been given an official briefing on the matter, but maintained that the conclusion that the crown prince had a role in Khashoggi’s murder should be clear to anyone with knowledge about the country.

“If he is going to be the face of Saudi Arabia going forward, I think the kingdom will have a hard time on the world stage,” Graham added. “They are an important ally, but when it comes to the crown prince, he is irrational, he is unhinged, and I think he has done a lot of damage to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia and I have no intention of working with him ever again.”

The United States announced sanctions this week against 17 Saudi Arabian officials over the killing of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

NBC News reported on Friday that the CIA has concluded that the crown prince himself ordered the assassination.

Graham said he doesn’t want to let the individuals who carried out the killing to become “the fall guy,” but instead, “I am going to do whatever I can to place blame where I believe it lies: I am going to put it at the feet of the crown prince who has been a destructive force in the Mideast.”

The senator noted that he previously had a lot of hope for the prince’s potential as a reformer in the region, but “that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham is concerned.”

Graham’s language on Saudi Arabia stands in stark contrast to President Trump, who repeatedly told “Fox News Sunday” this weekend that the crown prince has continually denied involvement in the incident.

Asked whether the prince was lying, Trump responded, “he told me that he had nothing to do with it. He told me that, I would say, maybe five times at different points.”

The president also asked, “Will anybody really know? He did have certainly people that were reasonably close to him and close to him that were probably involved.”

On Sunday, Graham was asked about the bond between the crown prince, Trump, and Jared Kushner, and he said, “I’ll leave it up to the president to find out how to handle Saudi Arabia from the executive branch side.”

“From the legislative branch side, we’re going to do as much as we can, as hard as we can, to send a signal to the world,” he continued. “This is not how we expect an ally to act. What happened in Turkey violates every norm of civilized society and it will not stand. And if John McCain were alive today, he’d be the first one saying that.”

Graham also maintained that the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., the crown prince’s brother, Prince Khalid Bin Salman, should not be allowed back in to the United States as ambassador.

Also on “Meet The Press,” Graham publicly called on the president to move forward on the issue of criminal justice reform, asking him to “pick up the phone” and lobby Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring their bill on the issue to the floor.

“The Republicans are the problem here, not the Democrats,” Graham said.

Catholic priest abuse in Pennsylvania shows the church is a criminal syndicate

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

 

Anthea Butler: The grand jury report about Catholic priest abuse in Pennsylvania shows the church is a criminal syndicate

The Catholic church hierarchy systematically covered up the abuse of at least 1,000 kids by 300 priests over 70 years.
Image: A man prays at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as he waits for Pope Francis to lead an open-air mass

A man prays at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as he waits for Pope Francis to lead an open-air mass in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sept. 27, 2015.Jewel Samad / AFP – Getty Images

It is time to face the horrible truth: The Catholic church is a pedophile ring.

According to the grand jury report of six dioceses in Pennsylvania, over a period of 70 years, 300 priests abused over 1,000 children in Pennsylvania and Church officials repeatedly covered it up. The release of the report is a searing indictment of the filth that has existed in the Catholic church.

Sexual abuse has been institutionalized, routinized and tolerated by the church hierarchy for decades. If you think this statement is hyperbole, consider that the grand jury report includes, but is by no means limited to, the case of a ring of pedophile priests in the Pittsburgh, who raped their male victims, took pornographic pictures of them and marked them by giving them gold crosses to wear so that they could be easily recognized by other abusers.

At an emotional news conference Tuesday, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro stood before some of the victims of the abuse in the six Pennsylvania dioceses (which includes Pittsburgh and the state capital Harrisburg). Announcing the report, Shapiro said that, for the first time, “we can begin to understand the systematic coverup of church officials”.

The report was written by 23 grand jurors wrote over the course of two years, and is very clear about how the authorities of the church protected the clergy while further abusing victims with payoffs, silencing and attempts to denigrate their character. Two cardinals, Cardinal Wuerl and the now-deceased Cardinal Bevilacqua (who also figured prominently in the Philadelphia grand jury report) are among those who disciplined but moved around clergy who sexually abused children.

While this report covers only six dioceses in Pennsylvania (there are eight in total, but the archdioceses of Philadelphia and the diocese of Altoona-Johnston were the subject of three previous grand jury investigations), it is breathtakingly horrific in documenting the scope of sexual abuse of children. It chronicles in detail how the Catholic hierarchy from the diocese to the Vatican worked not only mitigate the church’s legal exposure, but to maintain strategies to “avoid scandal.”

Sexual abuse has been institutionalized, routinized and tolerated by the church hierarchy for decades.

These strategies used to subvert stories of abuse were so common that the FBI reviewed a significant portion of the evidence collected and received by the grand jury and found a series of practices engaged in by church leaders to conceal the truth. For instance, church authorities who documented the cases for internal use never used the word “rape,” only “inappropriate contact.” Investigations were conducted by other clergy members, rather than trained personnel. Church-run health centers, not lay psychiatric facilities, were used to examine priests accused of pedophilia. Housing and funds were provided for priests, even when it was known they were raping children. Priests were moved from the area only if their communities found out, to other communities where the abusers and abuses were not known. Most importantly, the hierarchy was instructed to not inform law enforcement about abuses reported by parishioners, but to consider any such cases an “internal personnel matter”

These practices sanctioned by the church hierarchy allowed the abuse of children to continue.

The grand jury report is also rife with horror upon horror — anal rape, fondling, oral sex, child pornography, pregnancies, suicides — perpetrated upon children by priests, who were then moved about by church leaders who knew full well the despicable deeds they had done to children, and often did again.

For instance, one woman was raped by a priest at the age of seven in her hospital room after surgery on her tonsils, was raped again by the same priest at age 13, and then again at age 19 while pregnant; she considered suicide. What was the priest’s punishment for her and other rapes and molestations to which he admitted? Bishop Ronald Gainer of Harrisburg, in submitting the case to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, stated: “I believe the scandal caused by his admission of the sexual abuse of minor girls has been sufficiently repaired by acceptance of the penal precept.” In other words, Gainer did not want the priest defrocked and so, as punishment, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith decided, after reviewing his file, that the priest in question should lead a life of prayer and penance.

Prayer, and penance. An inadequate, paltry response for repeatedly raping a child.

What is clear from this report — as well as the previous grand jury reports from Philadelphia in 2005 and 2011 and Altoona-Johnston in 2016 — is that the Catholic church cannot be and never should have been trusted nor expected to root out pedophiles in the midst, let alone punish them appropriately. Mercy was not extended to victims, but to perpetrators.

Rules, it seems, were for the Catholics who continued to sit in the pews, not the ones who stood at the altars. The former were supposed to refrain from premarital sex, same-sex relationships, abortions and masturbation. The sexual prohibitions of the church did not extend to the clergy raping children, and priests in Pennsylvania even got a pass for paying for abortions for young girls they raped and got pregnant.

Adding insult to injury, the Catholic church in Pennsylvania is currently fighting an effort by Rep. Mark Rozzi, himself a victim of clergy sexual abuse, to have the civil statute of limitation in such cases eliminated. Currently, victims can file civil claims until the age of 30 and criminal claims until the age of 50; the church supports the latter but opposes the former. Once again, the desire to protect the church, not the victims of the clergy, continues to be the priority for bishops and cardinals in the Catholic Church.

Rules, it seems, were for the Catholics who continued to sit in the pews, not the ones who stood at the altars.

It is long past time for not only abusive priests, but monsignors, bishops and cardinals to be held accountable by local, state and federal law enforcement for their crimes against children. To date, the only administrator convicted of any crime was Monsignor William Lynn of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, whose conviction was subsequently overturned, and has been scheduled for retrial. But most of those who habitually moved abusers, such as Cardinal Wuerl, enjoy the prestige and perks of being high-ranking clergy, while many abused children must try to manage their physical and psychological pain.

What the now-multiple Pennsylvania grand jury reports show clearly is that the Roman Catholic church has treated the protection of its pedophiles, rapists and sexual abusers as their highest priority. They have been unwilling and unable to police clergy sexual abuse while determined to keep responsibility for doing so within the Church — but they don’t want to be held accountable for mishandling it. Like a criminal syndicate, it is time for the Church to be broken apart and cleaned out.

Anthea Butler is an associate professor of Religious Studies and Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She is the author of “Women in the Church of God in Christ: Making A Sanctified World” (The University of North Carolina Press) and her forthcoming book is tentatively titled “From Palin to Trump: Evangelicals, Race, and Nationalism” (The New Press).

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, says top U.S. official

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

(IT IS SIMPLE REALLY, ALL RUSSIA HAD TO DO WAS TO INFECT A FEW OF THE STATES THAT TRUMP WAS EXPECTED TO BE SOMEWHAT CLOSE IN THE VOTE TOTALS AND FLIP THE TOTALS, GIVING TRUMP THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTE, AND THE WIN THAT THE AMERICAN PEOPLE DID NOT GIVE HIM, TIME IS GOING TO PROVE THIS CORRECT!)

Russians penetrated U.S. voter systems, says top U.S. official

The U.S. official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several U.S. states prior to the 2016 presidential election.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn’t talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, “We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated.”

Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, “2016 was a wake-up call and now it’s incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again.”

Play

 DHS cybersecurity head: ‘No doubt’ Russians penetrated voter registration systems 0:26

Watch Cynthia McFadden on Nightly News tonight for more

“We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government.”

NBC News reported in Sept. 2016 that more than 20 states had been targeted by the Russians.

There is no evidence that any of the registration rolls were altered in any fashion, according to U.S. officials.

In a new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll, 79 percent of the respondents said they were somewhat or very concerned that the country’s voting system might be vulnerable to computer hackers.

Image: Homeland Security Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra testifies

Homeland Security Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra testifies during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee on June 21, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Alex Wong / Getty Images file

In January 2017, just weeks before leaving his post, Johnson declared the nation’s electoral systems part of the nation’s federally protected “critical infrastructure,” a designation that applies to entities like the power grid that could be attacked. It made protecting the electoral systems an official duty of DHS.

But Johnson told NBC News he is now worried that since the 2016 election a lot of states have done little to nothing “to actually harden their cybersecurity.”

Manfra said she didn’t agree with Johnson’s assessment. “I would say they have all taken it seriously.”

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 DHS cybersecurity head: ‘No doubt’ Russians penetrated voter registration systems 0:26

NBC News reached out to the 21 states that were targeted. Five states, including Texas and California, said they were never attacked.

Manfra said she stands by the list, but also called it a “snapshot in time with the visibility that the department had at that time.”

Image: Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson prepares to testify

Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson prepares to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight of the Department of Homeland Security, on June 30, 2016 in Washington. Allison Shelley / Getty Images file

Many of the states complained the federal government did not provide specific threat details, saying that information was classified and state officials did not have proper clearances. Manfra told us those clearances are now being processed

Other states that NBC contacted said they were still waiting for cybersecurity help from the federal government. Manfra said there was no waiting list and that DHS will get to everyone.

Some state officials had opposed Johnson’s designation of electoral systems as critical infrastructure, viewing it a federal intrusion. Johnson said that any state officials who don’t believe the federal government should be providing help are being “naive” and “irresponsible to the people that [they’re] supposed to serve.”

Trump (is the) “least credible person who has ever walked on earth”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC)

 

POLITICS

Fire and Fury’ author Wolff calls Trump least credible person who has ever walked on earth

Michael Wolff, the author of a new book that gives a behind-the-scenes accountof the White House, defended his work Friday, insisting he spoke with President Donald Trump on the record and calling the commander in chief “a man who has less credibility than, perhaps, anyone who has ever walked on earth.”

Wolff, in an exclusive interview on NBC’s “Today,” said that everyone he spoke to for the book, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” described the president the same way.

“I will tell you the one description that everyone gave, everyone has in common: They all say he is like a child,” Wolff explained. “And what they mean by that is, he has a need for immediate gratification. It is all about him.”

Wolff added that “100 percent of the people around” Trump, “senior advisers, family members, every single one of them, questions his intelligence and fitness for office.”

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 ‘Fire and Fury’ author Michael Wolff: ‘I absolutely’ spoke to President Trump 8:12

Wolff also contended that he “absolutely” spoke to the president during his reporting of the book.

“Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. “I spoke to him after the inauguration, yes. And I had spoken to, I mean I spent about three hours with the president over the course of the campaign and in the White House, so my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”

Trump, however, said on Twitter Thursday night that he “authorized Zero access to White House” for the author and “never spoke to him for book.”

Hitting back at Trump, Wolff said Friday that Trump isn’t one to talk when it comes to credibility.

“My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than, perhaps, anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point,” Wolff said.

Wolff added that he has the evidence to back up his work.

“I work like every journalist works so I have recordings, I have notes,” Wolff said. “I am certainly and absolutely in every way comfortable with everything I’ve reported in this book.”

“Fire and Fury” features behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Trump’s White House, including details on how the most powerful men and women in Washington worked to make Trump president — and then turned on one another after he took the oath of office.

Wolff writes in the book, and explained during his “Today” interview, that top aides said at various points Trump that is “a moron, an idiot.”

“Actually there’s a competition to sort of get to the bottom line here of who this man is. Let’s remember, this man does not read, does not listen. So he’s like a pinball, just shooting off the sides,” Wolff said.

Image: President Trump meets with GOP senators in the White House

President Trump meets with GOP senators in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday. Alex Wong / Getty Images

Wolff also revealed how people around the president noticed an apparent decline in his mental stamina.

“In the beginning, it was like every 25 or 30 minutes, you would get the same three stories repeated,” Wolff said about Trump. “Now it’s the same three stories in every 10 minutes.”

Wolff was then asked to elaborate on an anecdote he described in an article in The Hollywood Reporter this week in which he said Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida over the winter holiday break, didn’t recognize old friends.

“I will quote Steve Bannon — he’s lost it,” Wolff said, referring to Trump’s former strategist.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, appearing on Fox News Friday morning, said it was “outrageous to make these types of accusations” about Trump’s mental health.

It’s “sad that people are going and making these desperate attempts to attack the president,” she added.

Widely reported excerpts from the book have roiled Washington, including claims from Bannon that Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 was “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”

The president apparently referred to Bannon as “Sloppy Steve,” on Twitter Thursday night. On Friday afternoon, as he left the White House for a weekend at Camp David, he ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether he had read the book himself yet.

Wolff’s book was released early Friday by Henry Holt, which announced a day earlier that it was pushing up the publication date due to demand. Earlier Thursday, Trump attorney Charles Harder demanded in a letter sent to Wolff and his publisher that the book not be published or disseminated. The book reached No. 1 on the Amazon best-seller list Wednesday.

A copy of the letter obtained by NBC News cites defamation, libel and “actual malice” among the alleged wrongdoings in the book.

NBC News has not confirmed much of the book. Wolff has been accused in the past of suspect reporting, most notably in his 1998 book “Burn Rate.” In its review, the now-defunct media journal Brill’s Content cited 13 people depicted in the book as saying that Wolff invented or changed quotations and that they couldn’t recall his taking any notes or recording their interviews.

Police say hoax 911 call led to fatal shooting of unarmed Kansas man

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Police say hoax 911 call led to fatal shooting of unarmed Kansas man

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Police and the FBI are investigating whether an argument over an online game prompted a hoax call that led to a house where an officer shot and killed a Kansas man who apparently wasn’t involved in the dispute.

Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston on Friday blamed a “prankster” who called 911 and made up a story about a shooting and kidnapping. He did not mention reports that an argument over online gaming was at the heart of the prank, although he said investigators had made good progress tracking online leads.

Police have not disclosed the name of the man who was killed Thursday evening, but relatives identified him as Andrew Finch, 28.

Livingston, speaking at a news conference, said the hoax call was a case of “swatting,” in which a person makes up a false report to get a SWAT team to descend on an address.

“Due to the actions of a prankster we have an innocent victim,” Livingston said. He said no one has been arrested in connection with the hoax.

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 Dangerous ‘swatting’ prank turns deadly in Kansas 1:13

Police played audio of the call to 911. A man said his father had been shot in the head. He said he was holding his mother and a sibling at gunpoint. The caller, speaking with relative calm, said he poured gasoline inside the home “and I might just set it on fire.”

Several officers arrived and surrounded the home, braced for a hostage situation. When Finch went to the door police told him to put his hands up and move slowly.

Image: Andrew Finch

Andrew Finch Courtesy Family

But Livingston said the man moved a hand toward the area of his waistband — a common place where guns are concealed. An officer, fearing the man was reaching for a gun, fired a single shot. Finch died a few minutes later at a hospital. Livingston said Finch was unarmed.

The officer, a seven-year veteran of the department, is on paid leave pending the investigation.

The Finch family on Friday allowed reporters inside their home. Lisa Finch told them her son was not a gamer.

“What gives the cops the right to open fire?” she asked. “That cop murdered my son over a false report in the first place.”

Lisa Finch said the family was forced outside barefoot in freezing cold and handcuffed after the shooting. She said her granddaughter was forced to step over her dying uncle and that no guns were found in the home.

Dexerto, an online news service focused on gaming, reported that the series of events began with an online argument over a $1 or $2 wager in a “Call of Duty” game on UMG Gaming, which operates online tournaments including one involving “Call of Duty.”

“We woke this morning to horrible news about an innocent man losing his life,” Shannon Gerritzen, a UMG vice president, said in an email to The Associated Press. “Our hearts go out to his loved ones. We are doing everything we can to assist the authorities in this matter.” She declined to disclose other details.

Image: Wichita

Wichita police investigate the 911 call near the corner of McCormick and Seneca on Dec. 28, 2017 in Wichita, Kansas. Fernando Salazar / The Wichita Eagle via AP

In addition to the 911 call, police also released a brief video of body camera footage from another officer at the scene. It was difficult to see clearly what happened.

The FBI estimates that roughly 400 cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID spoofing to disguise their number. An FBI supervisor in Kansas City, Missouri, which covers all of Kansas, said the agency joined in the investigation at the request of local police.

In other cases of apparent swatting, three families in Florida in January had to evacuate their homes after a detective received an anonymous email claiming bombs had been placed at the address.

A 20-year-old Maryland man was shot in the face with rubber bullets by police in 2015 after a fake hostage situation was reported at his home.

Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced an anti-swatting bill in 2015 — then was herself the victim of swatting. Armed officers in 2016 responded to an anonymous call claiming an active shooter was at Clark’s home.

Trump Lawyer Cohen Says He Won’t Comply With House, Senate Requests

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 30 2017, 1:00 PM ET

Trump Lawyer Cohen Says He Won’t Comply With House, Senate Requests

President Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, confirmed to NBC News that he has received requests for information from the Senate and House intelligence committees as part of their probes into Russian interference in the U.S. election, but says he won’t comply.

“I declined the invitation to participate,” said Cohen, “as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered.”

A congressional aide said the request letters, first reported by ABC News, were the same ones sent to former Trump aides Carter Page, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn and others. Those letters sought information about Russian contacts, and asked the recipients to turn over any communications with the Trump campaign about Russia.

Cohen is a long-time lawyer for both Trump and his business organization. He has served as executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump.

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Trump’s Personal Lawyer Asked for Info in Russia Probe 3:17

In the dossier on Trump prepared by former British spy Christopher Steele, Cohen was alleged to have attended a secret meeting in Prague to discuss Russia’s hacking of Democratic targets, something Cohen has adamantly denied to NBC News and others in the past.

Related: FBI Made Deal With Ex-Spy For Trump Dossier

In February, Cohen told NBC News he was in Los Angeles when the Prague meeting was supposed to have occurred, taking his son to a meeting with the baseball coach at the University of Southern California.

Trump’s critics, he said, “are looking to malign President Trump, diminish his historic win and to undermine his presidency by claiming he didn’t win — that it was given to him by the Russians.”

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

MAY 27 2017, 6:53 AM ET

Kushner Met With Russian Banker Who Is Putin Crony, Spy School Grad

The Russian banker Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner met with in December is viewed by U.S. intelligence as a “Putin crony” and a graduate of a “finishing school” for spies who was often tasked with sensitive financial operations by Putin, according to multiple U.S. officials and documents viewed by NBC News.

Sergey Gorkov, 48, graduated from the FSB Academy, which was chartered in 1994 to educate Russian Intelligence personnel. He has long served Russian President Vladimir Putin in critical economic roles. Most recently, Putin chose him to head of the state-owned VneshEconomBank (VEB). As the Russian state national development bank, VEB has played a critical role in blunting the impact of U.S. sanctions against Russia by finding other sources of foreign capital.

Before that, Gorkov was the deputy chairman of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, also state-owned, and also under U.S. sanctions since 2014.

Related: Jared Kushner Under Scrutiny in Russia Probe, Say Officials

NBC News reported Thursday that Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and one of his senior advisers, has come under FBI scrutiny in the Russia investigation, according to multiple U.S. officials. Investigators believe Kushner has significant information relevant to the Russia probe, officials said. That does not mean they suspect him of a crime or intend to charge him.

It is not known what has drawn FBI scrutiny, but congressional aides have said they would like to question Kushner about a meeting Kushner had with Gorkov in December 2016. At the time, Kushner was an adviser to President-elect Trump and Gorkov was chairman of VEB.

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Sources: Kushner Under Scrutiny By FBI as Part of Russia Investigation 1:04

Both the White House and VEB confirm that Kushner and Gorkov met at a banking “road show” but haven’t disclosed either the location for the meeting or the specific date in December. Details of what they discussed have not been released, although Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said Kushner is prepared to cooperate with congressional investigators or the FBI if asked.

The White House subsequently characterized the meeting as part of Kushner’s role as a transition adviser and conduit for the State Department. But Gorkov in a written statement to Reuters, said it was a business meeting. According to Reuters, Gorkov met “with a number of representatives of the largest banks and business establishments of the U.S., including Jared Kushner, the head of Kushner Companies.”

Related: Flynn, Manafort Are Key Figures in Russia Probe Mueller Will Lead

Gorkov is close to Putin, “a Putin crony,” as one official put it. Gorkov has also been awarded the “Certificate of Honor of the Government of the Russian Federation” and the “Medal of the Order of Merit for Services to the Fatherland,” both presented by Putin.

Putin has long called on former Soviet and Russian intelligence operatives to play critical roles in Russian political and economic life.

Image: Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump, daughter of President Donald Trump, with her husband Jared Kushner, talk to Attorney General-designate Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., during the inaugural luncheon in honor of President Donald Trump, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP file

“It is the talent pool [Putin] draws from,” said one U.S. official. “Because Gorkov is former FSB doesn’t mean that he still is, but Putin uses the security state — the FSB and military intelligence — as an extension of his rule.”

Sberbank and VEB, Gorkov’s two banks, have been critical to the Russian economy, but have also engaged in high-profile bailouts of Russian companies, including those owned by favored oligarchs. They have also played a major role in attempts to mitigate the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia following its annexation of Crimea.

VEB was sanctioned in July 2014, Sberbank two months later. The U.S. cited the banks’ record of securing medium- and long-term U.S. sources of financing. Sanctions severely limited their ability to raise funds in the U.S. The European Union later joined in the sanctions. The banks have responded by seeking funds from other sources, including China.

The U.S. did not cite any particular transactions when it sanctioned the bank, but said instead that Russia’s failure to meet “basic standards of international conduct” warranted onerous sanctions.

Gorkov was not sanctioned personally.

Image: Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017.
Evgeny Buryakov, a former New York banker who was convicted in federal court of conspiring to act in the United States as an agent of the Russian Federation, is shown in this handout photo sitting on a commercial flight, escorted by deportation officers and turned over to Russian authorities, April 5, 2017. Reuters

Putin authorized a $22 billion of state financing for VEB to cover bad debts built up since the imposition of sanctions.

VEB was also implicated in an espionage case that began before Gorkov took over 2016 but continued after he took over.

One of its New York-based employees, Evgeny Buryakov, was arrested on espionage charges in January 2015. According to court records reviewed by NBC News, Buryakov used his position to spy on unnamed U.S. companies, and sought information on high-frequency trading. Prosecutors said his internet searches included “NYC Homeland Security” and “New York City critical infrastructure.”

Buryakov claimed he had diplomatic immunity in his defense, which was paid by VEB, but after a court ruled he didn’t qualify, he pleaded guilty in March 2016. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison and a $100,000 fine. He returned to Russia last month after being released.

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