President Trump Fires 46 Federal Prosecutors At The ‘Justice’ Department

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter. As of Friday evening, though some of the prosecutors had publicly announced their resignations, Mr. Bharara had not. A spokesman for Mr. Bharara declined to comment.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said in an email that all remaining holdover United States attorneys had been asked to resign, leaving their deputy United States attorneys, who are career officials, in place in an acting capacity.

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The abrupt order came after two weeks of increasing calls from Mr. Trump’s allies outside the government to oust appointees from President Barack Obama’s administration. Mr. Trump has been angered by a series of reports based on leaked information from a sprawling bureaucracy, as well as from his own West Wing.

Several officials said the firings had been planned before Friday.

But the calls from the acting deputy attorney general arose a day after Sean Hannity, the Fox News commentator who is a strong supporter of President Trump, said on his evening show that Mr. Trump needed to “purge” Obama holdovers from the federal government. Mr. Hannity portrayed them as “saboteurs” from the “deep state” who were leaking secrets to hurt Mr. Trump. It also came the same week that government watchdogs wrote to Mr. Bharara and urged him to investigate whether Mr. Trump had violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which bars federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.

In Mr. Hannity’s monologue, he highlighted the fact that the Clinton administration had told all 93 United States attorneys to resign soon after he took office in 1993, and that “nobody blinked an eye,” but he said it became a scandal when the George W. Bush administration fired several top prosecutors midway through his second term.

Several Democratic members of Congress said they only heard that the United States attorneys from their states were being immediately let go shortly before the Friday afternoon statement from the Justice Department. One senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect the identity of the United States attorney in that state, said that an Obama-appointed prosecutor had been instructed to vacate the office by the end of the day.

Although it was not clear whether all were given the same instructions, that United States attorney was not the only one told to clear out by the close of business. The abrupt nature of the dismissals distinguished Mr. Trump’s mass firing from Mr. Clinton’s, because the prosecutors in 1993 were not summarily told to clear out their offices.

Michael D. McKay, who was the United States attorney in Seattle under the George Bush administration, recalled that even though he had already made plans to leave, he nevertheless stayed on for about three weeks beyond a request by then-Attorney General Janet Reno for all of the holdover prosecutors to resign. He also recalled at least one colleague who was in the midst of a major investigation and was kept on to finish it.

“I’m confident it wasn’t on the same day,” he said, adding: “While there was a wholesale ‘Good to see you, thanks for your service, and now please leave,’ people were kept on on a case-by-case basis depending on the situation.”

Two United States attorneys survived the firings: Mr. Boente, the top prosecutor for the Eastern District of Virginia, who is serving as acting deputy attorney general, and Rod Rosenstein, the top prosecutor in Baltimore, whom Mr. Trump has nominated to be deputy attorney general.

“The president called Dana Boente and Rod Rosenstein tonight to inform them that he has declined to accept their resignation, and they will remain in their current positions,” said Peter Carr, a Justice Department spokesman.

It remains possible that Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions could put others on that list later.

It is not unusual for a new president to replace United States attorneys appointed by a predecessor, especially when there has been a change in which party controls the White House.

Still, other presidents have done it gradually in order to minimize disruption, giving those asked to resign more time to make the transition while keeping some inherited prosecutors in place, as it had appeared Mr. Trump would do with Mr. Bharara. Mr. Obama, for example, kept Mr. Rosenstein, who had been appointed by George W. Bush.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

Still, the cases the various federal prosecutors were overseeing will continue, with their career deputies becoming acting United States attorneys in their place for the time being.

Mr. Bharara has been among the highest-profile United States attorneys, with a purview that includes Wall Street and public corruption prosecutions, including of both Democratic and Republican officials and other influential figures.

His office, for example, has prosecuted top police officials in New York and the powerful leader of the city correction officers’ union; they have pleaded not guilty. It is preparing to try a major public corruption case involving former aides and associates of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and is looking into allegations of pay-for-play around Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York.

But Mr. Bharara is also closely associated with the Senate minority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York. Mr. Bharara was formerly a counsel to Mr. Schumer, who pushed Mr. Obama to nominate Mr. Bharara to be the top federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York.

At the time of the November meeting at Trump Tower, Mr. Schumer was saying publicly that Democrats should try to find common ground and work with the president-elect. But relations between Mr. Trump and Mr. Schumer have since soured.

Mr. Trump has called Mr. Schumer the Democrats’ “head clown” and accused him of shedding “fake tears” over the president’s efforts to bar refugees from entering the United States.

For his part, Mr. Schumer has called for an independent investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and demanded that Mr. Sessions resign for having testified that he had no contacts with Russians even though he had met with the Russian ambassador.

The White House officials ascribed the reversal over Mr. Bharara as emblematic of a chaotic transition process. One official said it was tied to Mr. Trump’s belief in November that he and Mr. Schumer would be able to work together.

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Iran’s Top Leader Appears To Rebuke President As Election Nears

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Tajrish Square in Tehran. The Iranian economy did not get the boost many had hoped for after the nuclear deal. Credit  Khamooshi for The New York Times

Iran’s top leader criticized the pace of national economic growth on Thursday in what appeared to be a rebuke of the president, who had forecast prosperous times after the 2015 accord that lifted international sanctions in exchange for nuclear limits.

The critical comments by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came two months before elections in which President Hassan Rouhani is expected to seek a second term. The comments suggested some tension between them as the vote draws nearer.

“We receive complaints from people,” Ayatollah Khamenei said in the remarks reported on state television, as translated by Reuters. “People should feel improvements regarding creation of jobs and manufacturing. It is not the case now.”

It is not yet clear who may run against Mr. Rouhani, a moderate cleric. While he is said to enjoy a longstanding relationship with Ayatollah Khamenei, the president is not well liked by some other hard-line conservative elements of Iran’s political hierarchy.

In the 2013 elections, Mr. Rouhani won against a field of comparatively conservative rivals, partly on his pledge to negotiate an end to the international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities, which had left the country economically weakened and isolated.

An agreement between Iran and major world powers, most notably the United States, ended many of those sanctions in January 2016 in return for Iran’s verifiable commitments to peaceful nuclear work.

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President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is expected to seek a second term in the coming elections.Credit Atta Kenare/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Yet while Mr. Rouhani has received credit for that achievement, Iran’s economy has not flourished as hoped. Moreover, foreign investment in the country remains muted and tenuous, leaving Mr. Rouhani potentially vulnerable to conservative critics who say he compromised Iran’s nuclear autonomy without any clear benefit.

Mr. Rouhani and his associates have countered that Iran has improved economically compared with the era of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They also say many foreign companies remain reluctant to invest in Iran because of non-nuclear related sanctions by the United States, part of the long history of animosity between the two countries.

Economists also have partly attributed Iran’s persistent economic weakness to reliance on sales of oil — its most important export — in a heavily glutted market that has left prices depressed.

Punctuating that point, the benchmark grade of crude oil in the American market dropped below $50 a barrel Thursday to its weakest level since December.

Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to express frustration on Thursday over what he described as the government’s failure to achieve a “resistance economy,” a reference to self-sufficiency and less reliance on imports.

He acknowledged there had been some economic improvements under Mr. Rouhani but also said that “if the resistance economy had been implemented fully and widely, we could witness a tangible difference.”

While Ayatollah Khamenei endorsed the nuclear agreement, he also has expressed wariness about any step toward reconciliation with the United States, describing the Americans as duplicitous and malevolent.

President Trump’s election, his publicly stated contempt for the nuclear agreement and his hostility toward Iran appeared to reinforce the suspicions of Ayatollah Khamenei. Reacting to Mr. Trump’s order last month suspending visas to a group of mostly Muslim countries including Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei sarcastically ridiculed Mr. Trump, thanking him for revealing America’s “true face.”

South Korea Removes President Park Geun-hye

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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Supporters of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea at a protest near the Constitutional Court on Friday, before the court issued a ruling to oust her. Her removal from the presidency capped months of turmoil.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

SEOUL, South Korea — A South Korean court removed the president on Friday, a first in the nation’s history, rattling the delicate balance of relationships across Asia at a particularly tense time.

Her removal capped months of turmoil, as hundreds of thousands of South Koreans took to the streets, week after week, to protest a sprawling corruption scandal that shook the top echelons of business and government.

Park Geun-hye, the nation’s first female president and the daughter of the Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee, had been an icon of the conservative establishment that joined Washington in pressing for a hard line against North Korea’s nuclear provocations.

Now, her downfall is expected to shift South Korean politics to the opposition, whose leaders want more engagement with North Korea and are wary of a major confrontation in the region. They say they will re-examine the country’s joint strategy on North Korea with the United States and defuse tensions with China, which has sounded alarms about the growing American military footprint in Asia.

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Portraits of North Korea’s previous leaders, Kim Il-sung, left, and Kim Jong-il, on display in Pyongyang, the capital. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will be a prominent issue in South Korea’s coming presidential campaign. CreditEd Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Ms. Park’s powers were suspended in December after a legislative impeachment vote, though she continued to live in the presidential Blue House, largely alone and hidden from public view, while awaiting the decision by the Constitutional Court. The house had been her childhood home: She first moved in at the age of 9 and left it nearly two decades later after her mother and father were assassinated in separate episodes.

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Ms. Park’s acts “betrayed the trust of the people and were of the kind that cannot be tolerated for the sake of protecting the Constitution,” Justice Lee said.

As the verdict was announced, crowds watching it on large television screens near the courthouse broke out in cheers. In central Seoul, some people danced to celebrate their victorious revolt against an unpopular leader, with loudspeakers blaring, “All the power of the Republic of Korea comes from the people!”

With the immunity conferred by her office now gone, Ms. Park, 65, faces prosecutors seeking to charge her with bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with a confidante, her childhood friend Choi Soon-sil, to collect tens of millions of dollars in bribes from big businesses like Samsung.

By law, the country must elect a new president within 60 days. The acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, an ally of Ms. Park’s, will remain in office in the interim. The Trump administration is rushing a missile defense system to South Korea so that it can be in place before the election.

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Judges at the impeachment ruling at the Constitutional Court on Friday. The downfall of Ms. Park is expected to shift South Korean politics to leaders who want more engagement with the North.CreditYonhap, via European Pressphoto Agency

The last time a South Korean leader was removed from office under popular pressure was in 1960, when the police fired on crowds calling for President Syngman Rhee to step down. (Mr. Rhee, a dictator, fled into exile in Hawaii and died there.)

In a sign of how far South Korea’s young democracy has evolved, Ms. Park was removed without any violence, after large, peaceful protests in recent months demanding that she step down. In addition to the swell of popular anger, the legislature and the judiciary — two institutions that have been weaker than the presidency historically — were crucial to the outcome.

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A protest last month in Seoul, South Korea, demanding Ms. Park’s resignation. CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

“This is a miracle, a new milestone in the strengthening and institutionalizing of democracy in South Korea,” said Kang Won-taek, a political scientist at Seoul National University.

When crowds took to the streets, they were not just seeking to remove a leader who had one year left in office. They were also rebelling against a political order that had held South Korea together for decades but is now fracturing under pressures both at home and abroad, analysts said.

Ms. Park’s father ruled South Korea from 1961 to 1979. He founded its economic growth model, which transformed the nation into an export powerhouse and allowed the emergence of family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol that benefited from tax cuts, anti-labor policies and other benefits from the government.

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Ms. Park, top center, with her father, Park Chung-hee, left, and her mother, Yuk Young-soo, right, in an undated family photograph. CreditYonhap, via Reuters

Ms. Park was elected in 2012 with the support of older conservative South Koreans who revered her father for the country’s breakneck economic growth.

But the nexus of industry and political power gave rise to collusive ties, highlighted by the scandal that led to Ms. Park’s impeachment.

The scandal also swept up the de facto head of Samsung, Lee Jae-yong, who was indicted on charges of bribing Ms. Park and her confidante, Ms. Choi.

Samsung, the nation’s largest conglomerate, has been tainted by corruption before. But the company has been considered too important to the economy for any of its top leaders to spend time behind bars — until now. The jailing of Mr. Lee, who is facing trial, is another potent sign that the old order is not holding.

In the wake of the Park scandal, all political parties have vowed to curtail presidential power to pardon chaebol tycoons convicted of white-collar crimes. They also promised to stop chaebol chairmen from helping their children amass fortunes through dubious means, like forcing their companies to do exclusive business with the children’s businesses.

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Celebrating after hearing the decision, in front of the Constitutional Court in Seoul, the capital, on Friday.CreditKim Hong-Ji/Reuters

With the conservatives discredited — and no leading conservative candidate to succeed Ms. Park — the left could take power for the first time in a decade.

The dominant campaign issues will probably be North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and South Korea’s relations with the United States and China.

If the opposition takes power, it may try to revive its old “sunshine policy” of building ties with North Korea through aid and exchanges, an approach favored by China. That would complicate Washington’s efforts to isolate the North at a time other Asian nations like the Philippines are gravitating toward Beijing.

Moon Jae-in, the Democratic Party leader who is leading in opinion surveys, has said that a decade of applying sanctions on North Korea had failed to stop its nuclear weapons programs. He has said that sanctions are necessary, but that “their goal should be to draw North Korea back to the negotiating table.”

He believes that Ms. Park’s decision to allow the deployment of the American missile defense system — known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad — has dragged the country into the dangerous and growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing; China has called the system a threat to its own security and taken steps to punish South Korea economically for accepting it.

Conservative South Koreans see the deployment of the antimissile system not only as a guard against the North but also as a symbolic reaffirmation of the all-important alliance with the United States. Mr. Moon’s party demands that the deployment, which began this week, be suspended immediately. If it takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the antimissile system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest.

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Equipment for an American missile defense system arrived at an air base in South Korea on Monday. If the opposition party takes power, it says it will review the deployment of the system to determine if it is in South Korea’s best interest. CreditU.S. Forces Korea, via Associated Press

As South Korea has learned in painful fashion, it cannot always keep Washington and Beijing happy at the same time, as in the case of the country’s decision to accept the American missile defenses.

Yet Ms. Park’s impeachment was also a pushback against “Cold War conservatives” like her father, who seized on Communist threats from North Korea to hide their corruption and silence political opponents, said Kim Dong-choon, a sociologist at Sungkonghoe University in Seoul.

Ms. Park’s father tortured and even executed dissidents, framing them with spying charges. Now, his daughter faces charges that her government blacklisted thousands of unfriendly artists and writers, branding them pro-North Korean, and denied them access to government support programs.

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“Her removal means that the curtain is finally drawing on the authoritarian political and economic order that has dominated South Korea for decades,” said Ahn Byong-jin, rector of the Global Academy for Future Civilizations at Kyung Hee University in Seoul.

Analysts cautioned that political and economic change will come slowly.

As Mr. Moon put it recently: “We need a national cleanup. We need to liquidate the old system and build a new South Korea. Only then can we complete the revolution started by the people who rallied with candlelight.”

Uber Used Secret Greyball Tool To Deceive Authorities Worldwide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Uber’s Greyball tool was developed to weed out riders thought to be using its service improperly.Credit Mark Ralston/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber has for years engaged in a worldwide program to deceive the authorities in markets where its low-cost ride-hailing service was being resisted by law enforcement or, in some instances, had been outright banned.

The program, involving a tool called Greyball, uses data collected from the Uber app and other techniques to identify and circumvent officials. Uber used these methods to evade the authorities in cities such as Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries like Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.

Greyball was part of a broader program called VTOS, short for “violation of terms of service,” which Uber created to root out people it thought were using or targeting its service improperly. The VTOS program, including the Greyball tool, began as early as 2014 and remains in use, predominantly outside the United States. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team.

Greyball and the broader VTOS program were described to The New York Times by four current and former Uber employees, who also provided documents. The four spoke on the condition of anonymity because the tools and their use are confidential and because of fear of retaliation by the company.

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Uber’s use of Greyball was recorded on video in late 2014, when Erich England, a code enforcement inspector in Portland, Ore., tried to hail an Uber car downtown as part of a sting operation against the company.

At the time, Uber had just started its ride-hailing service in Portland without seeking permission from the city, which later declared the service illegal. To build a case against the company, officers like Mr. England posed as riders, opening the Uber app to hail a car and watching as the miniature vehicles on the screen made their way toward the potential fares.

But unknown to Mr. England and other authorities, some of the digital cars they saw in their Uber apps were never there at all. The Uber drivers they were able to hail also quickly canceled. That was because Uber had tagged Mr. England and his colleagues — essentially Greyballing them as city officials — based on data collected from its app and through other techniques. Uber then served up a fake version of its app that was populated with ghost cars, to evade capture.

Portland vs. Uber: City code officers try to ticket drivers 

At a time when Uber is already under scrutiny for its boundary-pushing workplace culture, the Greyball tool underscores the lengths to which the company will go to win in its business. Uber has long flouted laws and regulations to gain an edge against entrenched transportation providers, a modus operandi that has helped propel the company into more than 70 countries and to a valuation close to $70 billion.

Yet using its app to identify and sidestep authorities in places where regulators said the company was breaking the law goes further in skirting ethical lines — and potentially legal ones, too. Inside Uber, some of those who knew about the VTOS program and how the Greyball tool was being used were troubled by it.

In a statement, Uber said, “This program denies ride requests to users who are violating our terms of service — whether that’s people aiming to physically harm drivers, competitors looking to disrupt our operations, or opponents who collude with officials on secret ‘stings’ meant to entrap drivers.”

Dylan Rivera, a spokesman for the Portland Bureau of Transportation, said in a statement: “We’re very concerned to hear that this practice continued at least into 2015 and affected other cities.

“We take any effort to undermine our efforts to protect the public very seriously,” Mr. Rivera said.

Uber, which lets people hail rides from a smartphone app, operates multiple kinds of services, including a luxury Black Car one in which drivers are commercially licensed. But one Uber service that many regulators have had problems with is the company’s lower-cost service, known as UberX in the United States.

UberX essentially lets people who have passed a cursory background check and vehicle inspection to become an Uber driver quickly. In the past, many cities banned the service and declared it illegal.

That’s because the ability to summon a noncommercial driver — which is how UberX drivers who use their private vehicles are typically categorized — often had no regulations around it. When Uber barreled into new markets, it capitalized on the lack of rules to quickly enlist UberX drivers, who were not commercially licensed, and put them to work before local regulators could prohibit them from doing so.

After authorities caught up, the company and officials generally clashed — Uber has run into legal hurdles with UberX in cities including Austin, Tex., Philadelphia and Tampa, Fla., as well as internationally. Eventually, the two sides came to an agreement, and regulators developed a legal framework for the low-cost service.

That approach has been costly. Law enforcement officials in some cities have impounded or ticketed UberX drivers, with Uber generally picking up those costs on behalf of the drivers. Uber has estimated thousands of dollars in lost revenue for every vehicle impounded and ticket dispensed.

This is where the VTOS program and the use of the Greyball tool came in. When Uber moved into a new city, it appointed a general manager to lead the charge. The manager would try to spot enforcement officers using a set of technologies and techniques.

One method involved drawing a digital perimeter, or “geofence,” around authorities’ offices on a digital map of the city that Uber monitored. The company watched which people frequently opened and closed the app — a process internally called “eyeballing” — around that location, which signified that the user might be associated with city agencies.

Other techniques included looking at the user’s credit card information and whether that card was tied directly to an institution like a police credit union.

Enforcement officials involved in large-scale sting operations to catch Uber drivers also sometimes bought dozens of cellphones to create different accounts. To circumvent that tactic, Uber employees went to that city’s local electronics stores to look up device numbers of the cheapest mobile phones on sale, which were often the ones bought by city officials, whose budgets were not sizable.

In all, there were at least a dozen or so signifiers in the VTOS program that Uber employees could use to assess whether users were new riders or very likely city officials.

If those clues were not enough to confirm a user’s identity, Uber employees would search social media profiles and other available information online. Once a user was identified as law enforcement, Uber Greyballed him or her, tagging the user with a small piece of code that read Greyball followed by a string of numbers.

When a tagged officer called a car, Uber could scramble a set of ghost cars inside a fake version of the app for that person, or show no cars available at all. If a driver accidentally picked up an officer, Uber occasionally called the driver with instructions to end the ride.

Uber employees said the practices and tools were partly born out of safety measures for drivers in certain countries. In France, Kenya and India, for instance, taxi companies and workers targeted and attacked new Uber drivers.

“They’re beating the cars with metal bats,” Courtney Love, the singer and celebrity, tweeted from an Uber car at a time of clashes between the company and taxi drivers in Paris in 2015. Ms. Love said protesters had ambushed her Uber ride and held her driver hostage. “This is France? I’m safer in Baghdad.”

Uber has said it was also at risk from tactics used by taxi and limousine companies in certain markets. In Tampa, for instance, Uber referred to collusion between the local transportation authority and taxi companies in fighting ride-hailing services.

In those environments, Greyballing started as a way to scramble the locations of UberX drivers to prevent competitors from finding them. Uber said it remained the primary use of the tool today.

But as Uber moved into new markets, its engineers saw that those same techniques and tools could also be used for evading law enforcement. Once the Greyball tool was put in place and tested, Uber engineers created a playbook with a list of tactics and distributed it to general managers in more than a dozen countries across five continents.

At least 50 to 60 people inside Uber knew about Greyball, and some had qualms about whether it was ethical or legal. Greyball was approved by Uber’s legal team, headed by Salle Yoo, the general counsel. Ryan Graves, an early hire who became senior vice president of global operations and a board member, was also aware of the program.

Ms. Yoo and Mr. Graves did not respond to a request for comment.

Outside scholars said they were unsure of the program’s legality. Greyball could be considered a violation of the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, or possibly intentional obstruction of justice, depending on local laws and jurisdictions, said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University, who also writes for The New York Times.

“With any type of systematic thwarting of the law, you’re flirting with disaster,” Mr. Henning said. “We all take our foot off the gas when we see the police car at the intersection up ahead, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But this goes far beyond avoiding a speed trap.”

To date, Greyballing has been effective. In Portland that day in late 2014, Mr. England, the enforcement officer, did not catch an Uber, according to local reports.

And two weeks after Uber began dispatching drivers in that city, the company reached an agreement with local officials for UberX to be legally available there.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Lied In His Confirmation Hearing About His 2 Meetings With Russia’s Top Spy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian ambassador

  • The diplomat’s interactions with former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing
  • The Justice Department disclosed the meetings

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the top Russian diplomat in Washington whose interactions with President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing, according to the Justice Department.

Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians. A Justice official said Sessions didn’t mislead senators during his confirmation.
The Washington Post first reported on Sessions’ meetings with the official.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Sessions met with Kislyak twice, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Sessions responded swiftly Wednesday, strongly stating that he never discussed campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Key Democratic lawmakers immediately called for Sessions’ resignation after the news broke.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized Sessions’ comments in his confirmation “apparent perjury,” and said the attorney general should resign.
Kislyak’s potential proximity to Russian spying is one reason why Flynn’s interactions with him, and Flynn’s failure to disclose what he discussed with Kislyak, raised concerns among intelligence officials.
In his confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sessions was asked about Russia and he responded at the time that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because the Alabama Republican “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
“Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” Isgur Flores said in the statement.
A Justice Department official confirmed the meetings, but said Sessions met with the ambassadors “in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Serviced Committee.”
A White House official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. (Attorney) General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”
In reaction to the report, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also called for Sessions’ resignation.
“There is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission” to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Cummings said. “It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations for several weeks.”
Cummings called Sessions’ claim during his confirmation hearing that he did not have communications with the Russians “demonstrably false.”
Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at the confirmation hearing, said if the reports of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak were true, then Sessions’ response was “at best misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately,” Franken said.
News of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak came as the New York Times reported Wednesday evening that officials under former President Barack Obama had sent information throughout government about potential Russian contact with Trump’s associates and interference in the 2016 election. The officials did so, the Times reported, in order to preserve the information after Obama left office.
Regarding the Obama administration efforts, Obama’s spokesman Eric Schultz told CNN: “This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response. When the (intelligence community) does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.”
Two days before Trump’s inauguration, the State Department sent Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a batch of documents related to Russian attempts to meddle in elections worldwide, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Cardin spokesman Sean Bartlett told CNN that the senator had received the classified documents on request and that they were shared with both Republican and Democratic committee staffers.

America’s Spoiled Baby President Has Childish Tantrum: Won’t Attend Correspondents’ Dinner

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

President Trump to skip White House correspondents’ dinner

Donald Trump attends the 101st Annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner at the Washington Hilton on April 25, 2015 in Washington, DCImage copyright GETTY IMAGES
Image caption Donald Trump has attended the dinner before, including in 2015

US President Donald Trump has announced he will not attend the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on 29 April.

The glitzy event draws celebrities, journalists and politicians, normally including the US president.

Mr Trump said he would not attend a day after the White House excluded several major broadcasters and newspapers from a press briefing.

He has frequently described negative news coverage as “fake”.

The announcement, made via Twitter, comes as relations between the White House and some media outlets continue to deteriorate.

On Friday, media groups including the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Politico were among those barred from an off-camera informal briefing held by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

Hours before the briefing, Mr Trump had delivered a strong attack on what he called “fake news” in the media, targeting stories with unnamed sources.

He said “fake news” was the “enemy of the people”.

Mr Trump announced his non-attendance at the correspondents dinner via Twitter.

He wrote: “I will not be attending the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner this year. Please wish everyone well and have a great evening!”

Bloomberg News and the New Yorker magazine are among media outlets who have said they will not hold their usual after-parties this year.

There have been some calls for journalists to boycott the event itself.

Every sitting president since 1924 has attended the correspondents’ dinner at least once, according to the New York Times.

They traditionally make a light-hearted speech at the annual event. Former US President Barack Obama attended eight times.

Mr Trump has himself attended the dinner in the past

In 2011, Barack Obama joked that Mr Trump would turn the White House into a casino if he became president and made fun of rumours, then propagated by Mr Trump, that President Obama was not born in the US.

Obama sends up Trump’s ambitions at 2011 dinner

The New York businessman was shown on camera sitting stony-faced through a barrage of jokes at his expense, including some from host Seth Meyers, although he said last year that he “loved that dinner”.

In a statement the White House Correspondents’ Association said it took note of the president’s announcement and said the dinner would “continue to be a celebration of the First Amendment and the important role played by an independent news media in a healthy republic”.

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Wife Of Pulse Nightclub Mass killer Arrested In Rodeo Calafornia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

Wife of Pulse nightclub mass killer arrested

The  wife of Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people in a shooting rampage at a Orlando nightclub last June, was arrested Monday on a charge of obstructing justice, a federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY.

Noor Salman was taken into custody by the FBI at her Northern California home, The New York Times reports.

The law enforcement official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the case, told USA TODAY Salman will likely face her first court appearance Tuesday.

CBS News said Salman also faces a charge of aiding and abetting.

Salman, in interviews with federal investigators after the shooting, allegedly acknowledged driving Mateen to the Pulse nightclub at least once before her husband launched the assault.

Salman told the Times in November that she was unaware of his true intentions until he sent her a 4:00 AM text message the night of the shooting, asking if she had seen what happened on the news.

According to Salman, the last message from her husband was a text message saying, “I love you babe.”

Salman met Mateen online and they married in 2011. The couple has a 3-year-old son. Salman, who has Palestinian roots, grew up in the small suburb of Rodeo, Calif., about 25 miles northeast of San Francisco.

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For Many on Chicago’s South Side, Obama’s Farewell Will Be Personal

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

The chair President Obama used to sit in to get his haircut at the Hyde Park Hair Salon. An Obama cut, at $24, remains popular.Credit David Kasnic for The New York Times

CHICAGO — If the metal barricades, “Do Not Enter” signs and lurking Secret Service agents were a bother the past eight years in the Hyde Park-Kenwood area — the South Side neighborhood where President Obama still owns a house, but rarely has been home — residents are not complaining.

“All that’s been fine, really. You get used to it,” said Adela Cepeda, who like many people on Mr. Obama’s block of Greenwood Avenue met him before he was president, or a senator, or elected to anything at all. “To me, it’s just too bad his time will be over. This has been fabulous for Chicago in a certain way. I think that all things being equal, we came first. But I guess all good things must end.”

As Mr. Obama prepared to give his farewell address on Tuesday from McCormick Place, the cavernous convention center beside Lake Michigan, people in his hometown sounded by turns possessive, proud, anxious and wistful. With his election in 2008, this city — and its heavily African-American South Side in particular — had suddenly been thrust to the forefront of the national political conversation. And so early Saturday, in temperatures barely above zero, thousands waited outside for the chance to receive free tickets to witness the end of that story. By Sunday, tickets were being hawked online for as much as $5,000.

Lining Up for Obama’s Farewell Address

People waited in long lines in sub-zero wind chill temperatures outside McCormick Place to get tickets for President Obama’s farewell speech.

By REUTERS on Publish Date January 10, 2017. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

Near the Obamas’ red brick Georgian, not far from the University of Chicago, some wondered gloomily whether his legacy might now be erased by his successor, Donald J. Trump, who received just 12 percent of the vote in Chicago and only single-digit slivers in the wards near Mr. Obama’s house.

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“I guess I feel sad,” said Antonio Coye, a barber at the Hyde Park Hair Salon, where the plain black chair Mr. Obama used to sit in for his trims is now preserved under glass. Not long ago, a crew of Lycra-clad bicyclists peered at the chair from the foyer of the small shop, where a line of men forms on Saturdays and “the Obama cut,” a professional-looking taper on the side and the back for $24, remains popular.

Photo

Icelia Crouse and her sister Stephanie inside of Valois, a restaurant in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood that President Obama used to frequent. Credit David Kasnic for The New York Times

“This was really something unique that happened,” Mr. Coye said as he worked on a customer with a razor over the weekend. “It was the first time somebody really different became president, and he did a really good job. To me, the person in office after him is going to make his time in office stand out even more than it did already.”

Full-size tour buses, once an oddity, cruise down Hyde Park Boulevard with some frequency now. People can occasionally be seen pulling over with cameras outside a nondescript shopping center along 53rd Street, where an easy-to-overlook plaque notes the Obamas’ first date, during which Barack Obama bought Michelle Robinson ice cream from a Baskin-Robbins shop that has since become a Subway.

For a place that has not forgotten being called the Second City by a New Yorker writer long ago, Chicago had watched its standing, in the eyes of the coasts, rise along with Mr. Obama’s. Chicagoans were entrusted with important posts in Washington, and many of them, along with the first family, had roots on the South Side, rather than on the richer and whiter North Side.

At points during the eight-year term, Chicago voices seemed to be everywhere. Both Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, who is now back in Hyde Park at the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, were senior advisers. Chicago cabinet members included Arne Duncan (education) and Penny Pritzker (commerce). Austan Goolsbee, another Hyde Parker, was an economic adviser, and Desirée Rogers was an early White House social secretary. And Mr. Obama’s first-term chiefs of staff included William M. Daley, the brother of Chicago’s former mayor, and Rahm Emanuel, who was later elected mayor.

But it is not just the shutting of that pipeline that causes concern. In Mr. Obama’s old neighborhood, the notion that Mr. Trump was soon to step in left some speaking of the president’s farewell speech in terms more akin to a funeral than a celebration.

Many recalled watching an ebullient re-election evening here in 2012, when President Obama appeared at McCormick Place — a bookend, it now seems, to Tuesday night. Others recounted how they had felt as they watched his 2008 victory from Grant Park, the city’s downtown front yard along the lake, where he addressed thousands with the gleaming Chicago skyline as a backdrop.

Photo

A plaque noting the Obamas’ first date, at a former Baskin-Robbins on 53rd Street in Chicago.Credit David Kasnic for The New York Times

“It was a magical moment — such a positive buzz all around,” said Kevin Elliott, a manager at 57th Street Books, an underground maze where Mr. Obama had held book signings and often visited before his election.

Even here, though, a few have questioned whether Mr. Obama did as much as he could during his time in office to solve urban problems of gang violence, joblessness and segregation. In Chicago, violence cascaded last year: More people, 762, were murdered in the president’s hometown in 2016 than in New York and Los Angeles combined. Some complained that Mr. Obama had not interceded forcefully enough.

“He was a community organizer here himself, and he should be embarrassed that he came in as president and the problems have actually worsened,” said Ja’Mal Green, a local activist.

But others, like Mr. Coye, the barber, noted that Mr. Obama was president of the United States, not of the South Side: “Who knows what happens now, but you can’t have expected him to solve this city’s violence.”

The Obama’s intend to stay in Washington while their younger daughter finishes high school, but many residents here believe that they might never return to the house on Greenwood Avenue. He is building his presidential library in Chicago, many say, and that is just fine.

“No, he’s not coming back, and he shouldn’t, either — he couldn’t go anywhere without being recognized,” said Stephanie Crouse, 53, a school bus driver eating her lunch from a tray at Valois, a Hyde Park cafeteria Mr. Obama once frequented.

“This is like your kids,” she added. “He’s done his thing. He did what he could. And you’re sending him off now to graduate and move up and go off to better things.”

Police Say Pilot on Canadian Airline Found Passed Out Drunk

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

CALGARY, Alberta — Canadian police have charged a pilot for Sunwing Airlines with impairment after he was allegedly found passed out over his seat before takeoff early Saturday.

Police said the pilot boarded the Boeing 737 with 99 passengers and six crew members in Calgary, Alberta for a flight that was scheduled to make stops in Regina, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba before continuing on to Cancun, Mexico.

But before it took off, police said the gate crew as well as crewmembers on the aircraft indicated he was behaving strangely.

Police allege the co-pilot found the pilot passed out in the cockpit.

“They found him slumped over in the seat. He was the captain,” Calgary Sgt. Paul Stacey told a news conference.

The pilot was escorted from the plane and has been charged with having care and control of an aircraft while being impaired, as well as having a blood-alcohol level exceeding .08 while in care and control of an aircraft.

Stacey said police allege the suspect had three times the legal amount of alcohol in his system.

“Because he has as much alcohol in his system as he does, they’re going to wait for him to sober up somewhat before he goes before a justice of the peace,” Stacey said.

Police said the pilot’s name will be released after he has appeared in court.

Sunwing spokeswoman Janine Massey praised the rest of the crew for handling what she called a “very unfortunate matter.”

“We can confirm that shortly before 7 a.m. local time, the gate agents, first officer and crew of Sunwing flight 595, departing from Calgary and destined for Cancun, determined that the captain was unfit to fly and reported this accordingly,” Massey stated.

Sunwing, a low cost Canadian carrier, said the plane took off a short time later with another captain.

“We are very apologetic for any upset that this has caused and would like to assure our customers that safety remains our utmost priority,” Massey said.

Stacey said Transport Canada has been contacted and he expected the suspect could face additional charges.

“It had all the potential for a disaster but I’ll tell you this much — the likelihood of a pilot on a major airline like this actually being able to take off when they’re impaired like that is pretty slim, because there’s a lot of checks and balances. There’s the other flight crew and there’s gate crew and they’re all about safety,” Stacey said.

“So, I’m not surprised that he got caught before (the plane) left the terminal.”

Transport Canada spokesman Dan Dugas said in an email that it is a criminal offence in Canada for a flight crew to work within eight hours of consuming alcohol or while under the influence.

Dugas said Transport Canada is reviewing the pilot’s records and Sunwing Airlines’ procedures and protocols.

Disgraceful: President Obama Condoned U.N. Security Council Condemning of Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

Construction at an Israeli settlement in the West Bank in 2015. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times

UNITED NATIONS — Defying extraordinary pressure from President-elect Donald J. Trump and furious lobbying by Israel, the Obama administration on Friday allowed the United Nations Security Council to adopt a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement construction.

The administration’s decision not to veto the measure broke a longstanding American tradition of serving as Israel’s sturdiest diplomatic shield.

Applause broke out in the 15-member Security Council’s chambers following the vote on the measure, which passed 14-0, with the United States abstaining.

The vote came a day after Mr. Trump personally intervened to keep the measure, proposed by Egypt, from coming up for a vote on Thursday, as scheduled. Mr. Trump’s aides said he had spoken to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both men also spoke to the Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt postponed the vote.

But in a show of mounting frustration, a group of other countries on the Security Council — all of them relatively powerless temporary members with rotating two-year seats — snatched the resolution away from Egypt and put it up for a vote Friday afternoon.

Document: U.N. Security Council Draft Resolution on the Middle East Peace Process

The departing Obama administration has been highly critical of Israel’s settlement building, describing it as an impediment to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Trump has made clear that he will take a far more sympathetic approach to Israel when his administration assumes office in a month.

Mr. Trump’s comments on the issue amounted to his most direct intervention on United States foreign policy during his transition to power.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, who had urged the American delegation to block the measure, expressed his disappointment in a statement that looked forward to a change in policy under Mr. Trump.

“It was to be expected that Israel’s greatest ally would act in accordance with the values that we share and that they would have vetoed this disgraceful resolution,” he said.

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