Mueller Probes Possible Witness Intimidation by Roger Stone

November 14, 2018

Former Trump adviser angry that radio personality Randy Credico denies being WikiLeaks conduit

Roger Stone and Robert Mueller

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office is exploring whether longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone tried to intimidate and discredit a witness who is contradicting Mr. Stone’s version of events about his contacts with WikiLeaks, according to people who have spoken to Mr. Mueller’s investigators.

In grand jury sessions and interviews, prosecutors have repeatedly asked about emails, text messages and online posts involving Mr. Stone and his former friend, New York radio personality Randy Credico, the people said. Mr. Stone has asserted that Mr. Credico was his backchannel to WikiLeaks, a controversial transparency group, an assertion Mr. Credico denies.

Mr. Mueller’s investigators are probing whether Mr. Stone had direct contact with WikiLeaks and knew ahead of time about its release of stolen Democratic emails, as he claimed during the campaign and now denies. Mr. Stone says he is angry at Mr. Credico because his ex-friend has “refused to tell the truth” about being his conduit to WikiLeaks.

Filmmaker David Lugo, who knows both men, said in an interview he has testified before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury about a blog post Mr. Stone helped him draft that was harshly critical of Mr. Credico. Another witness, businessman Bill Samuels, said he was questioned by Mr. Mueller’s team about Mr. Credico’s reaction to allegedly threatening messages sent by Mr. Stone.

Prosecutors also are examining messages between Messrs. Stone and Credico that involve the radio personality’s decision to assert his Fifth Amendment before Congress, according to a person familiar with the probe.

WikiLeaks released thousands of emails from and to John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, before the 2016 election. Mr. Mueller’s office has alleged that the emails were illegally hacked by Russian intelligence operatives, then released through WikiLeaks and fake online personas to influence the election.

President Trump has repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and Moscow has rejected assertions that it interfered in American politics. WikiLeaks didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In an email to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Stone categorically denied any effort to intimidate Mr. Credico. An attorney for Mr. Stone said he hasn’t been contacted by Mr. Mueller’s office. A spokesman for Mr. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

Radio personality Randy Credico outside federal court in Washington in September.
Radio personality Randy Credico outside federal court in Washington in September. PHOTO:ANDREW HARRER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

For the past few months, Mr. Credico has expressed concern about public attacks from Mr. Stone and his associates. “He’s getting his friends out there to slime me,” Mr. Credico said in a message to the Journal earlier this month. Mr. Credico appeared before the grand jury in September.

Mr. Mueller’s team is examining whether Mr. Stone, along with several other pro-Trump activists, knew in advance about WikiLeaks’ release of Democrats’ emails in the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter. At the heart of Mr. Mueller’s inquiry is the question of whether anyone in Mr. Trump’s orbit participated in Russia’s efforts to hack and release the materials.

During the campaign, Mr. Stone said repeatedly that he was in communication with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and predicted Mr. Assange would release batches of emails damaging to Mrs. Clinton, a prediction that proved accurate.

Since then, he has said his statements were exaggerated and that his knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans came from Mr. Credico, who had interviewed Mr. Assange on his radio program in August 2016. WikiLeaks has said it was not in touch with Mr. Stone at the time he was publicly claiming contact with the group.

Mr. Stone first cited Mr. Credico as a backchannel last fall before the House Intelligence Committee, and since then has attacked Mr. Credico directly and through associates. Mr. Credico has also publicly criticized Mr. Stone.

In emails sent to Mr. Credico and reviewed by the Journal, Mr. Stone threatened to “sue the f—” out of him, called him “a loser a liar and a rat” and told him to “prepare to die c— sucker.”

Mr. Stone was also involved in drafting a May blog post harshly criticizing Mr. Credico, which he gave to Mr. Lugo, the filmmaker.

Mr. Lugo published a version of the article for ArtVoice, a website Mr. Stone writes for, with the headline “Phony Russia Gate, Roger Stone & the lies of Randy Credico.” The piece asserted that Mr. Credico had said on multiple occasions that he was Mr. Stone’s conduit to WikiLeaks.

“They were looking into the intimidation stuff at first,” said Mr. Lugo in a text message to the Journal, referring to his talks with Mr. Mueller’s team. “They were following up on ‘conspiring’ ” to intimidate a witness, he said.

Mr. Lugo said that while it was his idea to write the blog piece, the first draft came from Mr. Stone, and he softened some of the language so it wasn’t “too personal.” “I gave them the entire email chain showing them how it was created, so we will see what happens,” said Mr. Lugo, who said the emails show he didn’t attempt to intimidate a witness.

Mr. Stone said he suggested Mr. Lugo write an op-ed because he and Mr. Lugo were frustrated with Mr. Credico’s “many lies in the press.” A writer who works for Mr. Stone helped with the draft, he said, because Mr. Lugo “is not an experienced writer.”

Mr. Lugo said he stands by his claim in the article that Mr. Credico told him he was Mr. Stone’s back channel to WikiLeaks in May of 2017. He also says he turned over to prosecutors a chain of combative messages that Mr. Credico sent to him after the story was published.

Mr. Credico has said his previous statements to Mr. Lugo and others about being Mr. Stone’s “back channel” were made in jest and at Mr. Stone’s urging.

Separately, Mr. Mueller’s investigators in September questioned Mr. Samuels, a businessman friend of Mr. Credico, about Mr. Credico’s reaction to the allegedly threatening messages from Mr. Stone. In some of those messages, Mr. Stone threatened to sue Mr. Credico and accused him of wearing a wire for Mr. Mueller, the Journal has reported.

Mr. Samuels told the Journal that Mr. Credico was intimidated almost to the point of a nervous breakdown. Mr. Samuels’ involvement in the Mueller probe was reported earlier this month by the New York Times.

Mr. Stone said, the “threatening messages he sent to me are as bad and worse. Our entire exchange is blunt vulgar and vicious but I never urged him to do anything other than tell the truth.”

In March, when Mr. Credico worried he was in the crosshairs of the Intelligence Committee, Mr. Stone assured him Democrats couldn’t act against him and the Republicans would not. “The Minority has no authority,” Mr. Stone wrote, in a message reviewed by the Journal.

Mr. Stone said that while he discussed with Mr. Credico whether to assert his Fifth Amendment rights, “text messages in my possession prove he did so on the advice of his attorney.”

The messages, which were reviewed by the Journal, show Mr. Credico telling Mr. Stone that his lawyers wanted him to take the Fifth.

Write to Aruna Viswanatha at Aruna.Viswanatha@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/mueller-probes-possible-witness-intimidation-by-roger-stone-1542222284

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Brexit: Theresa May secures Cabinet support for draft deal

November 14, 2018

The UK and Brussels are ready for high-stakes meetings to assess Theresa May’s make-or-break Brexit deal. But her government could face the ultimate test as junior coalition partners hint at fresh elections.

    
Theresa May speaks during Prime Minister's Questions

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday secured support for a draft Brexit agreement from her Cabinet after a marathon 5-hour meeting.

The British Cabinet met on Wednesday to discuss May’s Brexit draft agreement, while in Brussels, ambassadors from the other 27 EU countries gathered to examine the proposal.

Key developments:

  • Ahead of the meeting, May told lawmakers that the draft deal delivers the Brexit that Britons voted for.
  • The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, struck a cautious note when he said the deal “wasn’t yet finalized.”
  • Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, a junior coalition partner in May’s government, threatened to withdraw support over the deal.

All updates noted in Central European Time (CET).

19:20 Brexit supporters in May’s party will “likely” call for a vote of no confidence in her as their leader on Thursday, BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said, citing a senior member of the Conservative Party.

Laura Kuenssberg

@bbclaurak

Senior tory tells me Brexiteer anger so high that seems likely there will be a call for no confidence vote tomorrow – letters going in –

4,610 people are talking about this

19:10 A meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels ended without any news from London on whether May had convinced her cabinet to back the draft deal.

“Everything is very fragile. Let’s remember where we were a few weeks ago when we thought we had a deal and we all know what happened,” one diplomat told reporters. “We are still waiting for signals from London. Waiting for the green light. The time schedule is still very tight for EU summit. We need consent from UK on deal,” he said.

16:30 A no-deal Brexit would cost Britain about 6 percent of GDP — roughly four years of economic growth — compared with staying in the bloc, the International Monetary Fund said.

14:40 Pro and anti-Brexit demonstrators assembled in Westminster ahead of the crucial cabinet meeting.

Demonstrators hold banners as they protest in Parliament Square
Demonstrators hold banners as they protest at the entrance to Downing Street

14:38 German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier tweeted, warning about the negative consequences of Brexit for both the EU and Britain.

Peter Altmaier

@peteraltmaier

Whenever an integrated single market will be split again this will lead to an Lose/Lose situatian on both sides. We can soften the impact but will never prevent it completely.

Jeremy Cliffe

@JeremyCliffe

Brexit is a human tragedy. Lost jobs, lost prospects and not a few lives (Brits in the EU, Europeans in the UK) genuinely wrecked. And all for a fantasy vision of an absolute, unlimited, all-or-nothing sovereignty that never existed and never will exist.

52 people are talking about this

Read more: Brexit: What do we know about the deal, and is it all sorted?

14:16 French President Emmanuel Macron considers the draft deal as an “encouraging sign” but remains cautious as the text still needs to be examined in detail, said government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

14:00 Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said EU leaders could meet on November 25 to discuss the Brexit deal if May’s Cabinet approves the draft document.

13:58 Prime Minister Questions is over. The speaker of Britain’s parliament, John Bercow, said May is likely to make a statement on Brexit to MPs on Thursday.

13:18 Conservative MP Peter Bone said if the draft deal reported in media is any sign of the accord May has secured with EU negotiators, then she is “not delivering the Brexit people voted for.”

13:10 While fielding questions at the British parliament, May said she is aware of concerns that the EU would like to keep the UK in its customs union under her draft deal.

“There’s a need to have a backstop as an insurance policy,” May said. “Any backstop has to be temporary.”

12:39 The draft deal effectively delays a decision on the Irish border until July 2020 if EU and British negotiators do not hammer out a deal beforehand, Reuters news agency reported, citing EU sources.

12:21 Margaritis Schinas, the European Commission’s chief spokesman, said EU ambassadors will not be briefed about the draft deal by the bloc’s top negotiators, Michel Barnier. Schinas has declined to comment on details about the draft, but some more updates are likely in the coming hours, if not days.

Read more: EU Customs Union, Single Market, Brexit — What you need to know

12:10 The draft deal looks like it will keep the UK in the EU customs union with special rules for Northern Ireland, according to DW’s correspondent Nicole Ris.

11:31 The view from the EU: “In Brussels, all eyes are on London,” according to DW’s senior European correspondent Bernd Riegert. “There is some optimism that this deal can be done if London agrees.”

11:11 Scottish National Party‘s (SNP) Westminster leader Ian Blackford insisted that Scotland should have the same right to stay in the EU single market if Northern Ireland is allowed to remain in under May’s draft deal.

Read more: Scotland wants to avoid Brexit but doesn’t know how

“If it is permissible for Northern Ireland to stay in the single market as part of the backstop, then of course Scotland should be given the same opportunity,” said Blackford told BBC Radio Scotland.

11:02 Ever wonder what happened to former Prime Minister David Cameron, the architect of the Brexit referendum? DW’s Robert Mudge has the scoop on the politician who started it all.

10:45 Hard Brexiteers — those who back severing all EU responsibilities — have pressured May’s Cabinet and parliament to outright reject her draft deal. Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, who is a member of May’s Conservatives, said her deal would make the UK a “vassal state.”

10:41 May’s draft deal could be the elusive deal Brussels and London have been trying to hammer out for months. What do we know about the deal, and is it all sorted?

10:24 The Irish border has been one of the hardest parts to negotiate for a Brexit deal. Businesses on both sides of the border fear the prospect of barriers blocking goods, services and transit. DW went to the border region to examine the situation. Read the gripping story here: Brexit causing concern for business on both sides of the Irish border

The Irish border is the final sticking point in the EU-UK Brexit negotiation, with the future of the frontier far from certain. That is causing worry for businesses north and south, as Arthur Sullivan found out.

Read more: At Irish border, Brexit evokes history of violence

Map showing border between Ireland and Northern Ireland

10:11 Earlier Wednesday, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a junior coalition partner in May’s government,  threatened to undermine the deal, which could spell fresh elections at a crucial moment for negotiations.

“It’s a question of whether we are separating the union, whether we are dealing with the United Kingdom in a way that leaves us adrift in the future and as the leader of unionism in Northern Ireland, I’m not about to agree to that,” DUP leader Arlene Foster told Sky News.

Read more: Brexit drags up Northern Ireland’s dark past

10:00 Welcome to DW’s rolling coverage of high-stakes Brexit meetings in London and Brussels. The day could spell trouble for British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government as she faces pressure from within and outside of her party to change the terms of her draft deal.

Every evening, DW’s editors send out a selection of the day’s hard news and quality feature journalism. You can sign up to receive it directly here.

ap, ls/rt (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Turkey calls for international investigation into Khashoggi murder

November 14, 2018

An international investigation into the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is essential, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, and reiterated Turkish decisiveness to solve the murder.

“We will do whatever it takes to bring the murder to light. We have shown the evidence to all those who wanted to see,” Mevlut Cavusoglu told the parliament.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to journalists after attending a meeting with US Secretary of State at Esenboga International Airport in Ankara, on October 17, 2018. (File/AFP)

Turkey previously said it would cooperate in an international investigation, and had called for a UN probe.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; editing by John Stonestreet

Reuters

EU lawmakers seek checks on arms exports fuelling Yemen conflict

November 14, 2018

Tougher checks on European Union arms exports are needed and sanctions should be imposed on those countries that flout the bloc’s rules, the European Parliament said on Wednesday.

EU lawmakers said European arms were stoking the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi Arabia-led coalition is battling Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Arms sales to Saudi Arabia by EU states undermined the European arms control effort, they said.

Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue their battle to wrestle control of the city from Houthi rebels, Nov. 8, 2018.

Yemeni pro-government forces gather on the eastern outskirts of Hodeida, as they continue their battle to wrestle control of the city from Houthi rebels, Nov. 8, 2018.

“In Yemen, European weapons are fundamentally responsible for the war taking place,” said German EU lawmaker Sabine Losing, who is leading efforts to hold EU governments to account.

The European Parliament’s call to strengthen checks is non-binding but it is the second time in less than a month that EU lawmakers have passed a resolution urging limits on arms sales following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The EU is the second largest arms supplier in the world — exporting more than a quarter of all global arms — after the United States, according to the EU’s annual report on weapons exports.

That has pitted its values of peace and support for human rights against business interests.

The European Union’s so-called Common Position on arms exports lists eight criteria governments must apply when taking a decision on an arms export license. Sales to Saudi Arabia violated six out of the eight, lawmakers said.

“The Common Position on arms exports must be implemented effectively. That includes, among others, a sanctions mechanism,” Losing said.

French President Emmanuel Macron‘s government has come under fire from rights groups and opposition lawmakers over sales of French arms to Saudi Arabia.

>> Read more: France’s Macron evades questions on halting Saudi arms sales

Paris has sought to increase its diplomatic weight in the Middle East through the sale of naval vessels, tanks, artillery and munitions to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Monday that the government adhered to strict rules that “stop us selling weapons that might impact civilians”.

Image result for Houthi rebels, weapons, pictures

Houthi rebels

Hodeida offensive ‘suspended’

The push for tougher checks on arms exports comes amid reports Yemen’s Saudi-backed loyalist forces have suspended their offensive on the rebel-held port city of Hodeida.

Three military officials reached by telephone told AFP the pro-government forces had been “ordered” to halt their offensive against Houthi rebels in the Red Sea city until further notice, but operations would resume if they came under attack.

This follows diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Hodeida, whose Red Sea port serves as a key lifeline for the impoverished country.

The United Arab Emirates, a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said Wednesday it supports a UN plan for peace talks to be held in Sweden by the year’s end.

After failed peace talks in September, the UN is pushing to host a new round of negotiations between the government, backed by the coalition, and the Iran-linked Houthi rebels by the end of the year.

The United States, Britain and France have also called for an end to nearly four years of conflict in Yemen, particularly in Hodeida.

The Hodeida campaign has sparked fears of a new humanitarian crisis in Yemen, where 14 million people face the risk of starvation.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AFP)

US lawmakers introduce bill hitting China for Uighur repression

November 14, 2018

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers introduced legislation Wednesday seeking to punish China over its “human rights abuses” of the majority-Muslim Uighur population in the country’s west, a move that drew immediate anger from Beijing.

Legislation introduced in both the Senate and House of Representatives seeks to toughen US President Donald Trump’s administration’s response to what the lawmakers say are gross violations of human rights in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

The bill urges US authorities to impose targeted sanctions on members of China’s government, the ruling Communist Party and state security apparatus, as well Xinjiang Party Secretary Chen Quanguo and other officials “credibly alleged to be responsible for human rights abuses in Xinjiang and elsewhere.”

Image result for Uighurs, China, pictures

Two ethnic Uighur women pass Chinese paramilitary policemen standing guard outside the Grand Bazaar in the Uighur district of the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang region on July 14, 2009. A mosque was closed and many businesses were shuttered a day after police shot dead two Muslim Uighurs, as ethnic tensions simmered in restive Urumqi. AFP PHOTO / Peter PARKS (Photo credit should read PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images)

China’s Uighurs have faced unprecedented surveillance in recent years, and the United Nations has determined that up to one million Uighurs have been rounded up in detention camps.

Washington must hold government and Communist Party officials “responsible for gross violations of human rights and possible crimes against humanity, including the internment in ‘political reeducation’ camps of as many as a million Uyghur and other predominantly Muslim minorities,” Senator Marco Rubio, a chief sponsor, said in a statement.

Fifteen senators in total, including Democrats Robert Menendez and Elizabeth Warren, are sponsoring the legislation. A companion bill was introduced in the House by congressman Chris Smith, an ardent critic of China’s human rights policies.

Menendez described China’s treatment of Uighurs as “beyond abhorrent,” and urged Trump to formulate a “clear and consistent approach” to China.

The measure would mandate a US intelligence report on the regional security threat posed by China’s crackdown; a list of Chinese companies involved in building and operating the camps; and an FBI report on efforts to protect Americans from Chinese government harassment.

It would also require a State Department report on the scale of the crackdown and beef up the department’s monitoring of the region, and urge a review of US Commerce Department export controls.

Beijing delivered a scathing response.

“Where do US lawmakers get this inexplicable sense of superiority from, and how can they make irresponsible remarks about the internal affairs of other countries?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a briefing.

“Unfortunately, they always choose to ignore their own domestic issues while over-enthusiastically interfering with other country’s domestic affairs with irresponsible remarks, which are based on incorrect information and strong ideological bias,” she added.

The defense chiefs and top foreign affairs officials of the two countries met in Washington last week for a regular dialogue that had been pushed back amid months of spiraling tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

© 2018 AFP

AFP

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Trump, stung by midterms and nervous about Mueller, retreats from traditional presidential duties

November 14, 2018

For weeks this fall, an ebullient President Trump traveled relentlessly to hold raise-the-rafters campaign rallies — sometimes three a day — in states where his presence was likely to help Republicans on the ballot.

But his mood apparently has changed as he has taken measure of the electoral backlash that voters delivered Nov. 6. With the certainty that the incoming Democratic House majority will go after his tax returns and investigate his actions, and the likelihood of additional indictments by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, Trump has retreated into a cocoon of bitterness and resentment, according to multiple administration sources.

By Eli Stokols
Los Angeles Times

Behind the scenes, they say, the president has lashed out at several aides, from junior press assistants to senior officials. “He’s furious,” said one administration official. “Most staffers are trying to avoid him.”

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, painted a picture of a brooding president “trying to decide who to blame” for Republicans’ election losses, even as he publicly and implausibly continues to claim victory.

Image result for Donald Trump , Suresnes, pictures
President Trump at the Suresnes American Cemetery and memorial outside Paris on Sunday.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and Kirstjen Nielsen, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, who are close allies,“seem to be on their way out,” the official said, noting recent leaks on the subject. The official cautioned, however, that personnel decisions are never final until Trump himself tweets out the news — often just after the former reality TV star who’s famous for saying “You’re fired!” has directed Kelly to so inform the individual.

And, according to a source outside the White House who has spoken recently with the president, last week’s Wall Street Journal report confirming Trump’s central role during the 2016 campaign in quietly arranging payoffs for two women alleging affairs with him seemed to put him in an even worse mood.

Publicly, Trump has been increasingly absent in recent days — except on Twitter. He has canceled travel plans and dispatched Cabinet officials and aides to events in his place — including sending Vice President Mike Pence to Asia for the annual summits there in November that past presidents nearly always attended.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was in Washington on Tuesday and met with Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo, but not the president.

Also Tuesday, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis announced plans to travel on Wednesday near the U.S.-Mexico border to visit with troops Trump ordered there last month in what is ostensibly a mission to defend against a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico and still hundreds of miles from the United States.

Trump had reportedly considered making that trip himself, but has decided against it. Nor has he spoken of the caravan since the midterm elections, after making it a central issue in his last weeks of campaigning.

Unusually early on Monday, the White House called a “lid” at 10:03 a.m. EST, informing reporters that the president would not have any scheduled activities or public appearances for the rest of the day. Although it was Veterans Day, Trump bucked tradition and opted not to make the two-mile trip to Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as presidents since at least John F. Kennedy have done to mark the solemn holiday.

Trump’s only public appearance Tuesday was at a short White House ceremony marking the start of the Hindu holiday Diwali at which he made brief comments and left without responding to shouted questions.

He had just returned Sunday night from a two-day trip to France to attend ceremonies marking the centennial of the armistice that ended World War I. That trip was overshadowed, in part, by Trump’s decision not to attend a wreath-laying at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, the burial place for 2,289 soldiers 60 miles northeast of Paris, due to rain.

Kelly, a former Marine Corps general, and Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, did attend to honor the American service members interred there. Trump stayed in the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Paris, making no public appearances.

Other heads of state also managed to make it to World War I cemeteries in the area for tributes to their nations’ war dead on Saturday.

Trump and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin were the only world leaders to skip a procession of world leaders to another commemoration, on Sunday, at the Arc de Triomphe. About 80 heads of state walked in unison — under umbrellas in the pouring rain — down Paris’ grand Champs-Elysees boulevard. Trump arrived later by motorcade, a decision aides claimed was made for security reasons.

Nicholas Burns, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO under George W. Bush, said the weekend events, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the end of a war in which 120,000 Americans were killed, were ripe for soaring words and symbolic gestures, which Trump failed to provide.

“Not only did he barely show up, he didn’t say anything that would help Americans understand the scale of the loss, or the importance of avoiding another great war,” Burns said. “He seemed physically and emotionally apart. It’s such a striking difference between the enthusiasm he showed during the campaign and then going to Paris and sulking in his hotel room.”

He added, “The country deserves more energy from the president.”

Trump took heavy flak on social media, especially for his no-show at the military cemetery.

“President @realDonaldTrump a no-show because of raindrops?”tweeted former Secretary of State John F. Kerry, a Navy veteran. “Those veterans the president didn’t bother to honor fought in the rain, in the mud, in the snow – & many died in trenches for the cause of freedom. Rain didn’t stop them & it shouldn’t have stopped an American president.”

Nicholas Soames, a member of Britain’s Parliament and grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted, “They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”

Trump, clearly feeling on the defensive days later, tried to explain himself on Tuesday, in a tweet.

“By the way, when the helicopter couldn’t fly to the first cemetery in France because of almost zero visibility, I suggested driving,” he wrote. “Secret Service said NO, too far from airport & big Paris shutdown. Speech next day at American Cemetary [sic] in pouring rain! Little reported-Fake News!”

In that tweet, Trump falsely described the weather at the Sunday visit to another U.S. cemetery. Rather than “pouring rain,” photos showed him standing without a hat or an umbrella under overcast skies when he delivered remarks, though he did grasp an umbrella at one point while paying tribute at one soldier’s grave.

Just as Trump was returning to Washington on Sunday evening, Pence was heading to Asia in the president’s place, and at his first stop greeted Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Trump’s absence, experts said, is notable, and a glaring affront to many Asian leaders.

“It matters more in Asia than other regions because ‘face’ is so important,” said Matthew P. Goodman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House coordinator for Asia-Pacific strategy during the Obama and George W. Bush administrations. “Your willingness to go out there is a sign you’re committed and not going is a sign you’re not.”

Putin is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, looking to expand his country’s influence in Asia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea are also attending regional summits. And China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang are simultaneously attending meetings across the region looking to broaden their country’s influence in the South China Sea and expand multilateral trade agreements.

Although Trump is set to meet with Xi at the Group of 20 summit of wealthy countries this month in Buenos Aires, his absence from the major Indo-Pacific meetings for a second straight year will “have some consequences for our position and our interests in the region,” Goodman continued. “Other countries are going to move ahead without us.”

What makes Trump’s perceived snub to the Asian powers more significant is that it comes on the heels of his brief European trip, which showcased his growing isolation from transatlantic allies. French President Emmanuel Macron rebuked Trump in a speech, stating that “nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism” as the U.S. president looked on sullenly.

Trump’s relations with Latin America, already strained, are little better after the White House last week announced that he was reneging for a second time on a commitment to visit Colombia. He had planned to go there later this month on his way back from the G-20 meetings.

In April, he’d sent Pence in his place to the Summit of the Americas in Peru, citing a need to remain in Washington to monitor the U.S. response to a chemical weapons attack in Syria. He’d planned to visit Bogota on the same trip.

This time around, there appeared to be no extenuating circumstances preventing a visit.

In a statement, the White House simply said, “President Trump’s schedule will not allow him to travel to Colombia later this month.”

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-absent-20181113-story.html

Pakistan injects Rs. 17bn to keep crashing airlines afloat

November 14, 2018

The semi-state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was approved Rs. 17.02 billion by the government in the form of “sovereign guarantees” and other financial aid — a second bailout in the space of six months, the PIA spokesperson confirmed to Arab News on Tuesday.

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PIA, a profitable airline which became a burden on the country’s already stressed exchequer, has been dying a slow death for years.

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“The government did agree to park the interest till we get some respite,” but since the approved document has not been shared with the airline management, Mashood Tajwar, the struggling carrier’s general manager and official spokesman, was unable to provide further details.

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PIA had amassed a colossal debt of $3.33 billion (Rs. 406 billion) up from last year’s $2.92 billion in July, and the fresh bailout from the economic coordination committee headed by Finance Minister Asad Umar is part of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s plan to attempt nursing the airline back to health before considering privatization. Khan also holds the ministerial portfolio for aviation division.

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The outgoing government tried to privatize the airline but met legal hitches and criticism over its attempt to sell what once was a national asset and pride of the country.

In this file photo, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) plane taxies before take-off from Karachi International Airport in Karachi on April 21, 2010. (AFP)

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The national flag carrier has a new chief executive and president appointed by the premier. Umar is optimistic that under the “energetic and enthusiastic” retired air marshal Arshad Malik, PIA will “experience a turnaround.”

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Tajwar clarified that the latest injection or “support” is not necessarily all bailout. He told Arab News that the approval empowers the airline to “borrow from banks” against guarantees from the Ministry of finance.

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Of the Rs.17.02 billion, Rs.10 billion is sovereign guarantee and a further Rs. 40.8 billion has been allocated in the form of cash for PIA by the ministry.

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However, continuous foreign loans taken by the airline have added to its woes and made its situation worse. PIA immediately owes $125.84 million to foreign lenders.The sharp decline of Pakistan’s currency has made debt servicing harder and devaluation further affected the previous financial support package by the government.

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In May, the apex court objected and barred the airline from changing livery on its planes to the country’s national animal, the Markhor (the screw horn goat), part of its rebranding and repositioning strategy. The decision resulted in further loss to PIA.

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The airline has suffered through operating financially unsustainable routes, grounding of aircraft because of technical problems, overstaffing, incompetent employees, union strikes, inadequate fleet, and wrong strategies. The open sky policy of the government allowed foreign airlines to take a large chunk of PIA’s business, further driving the struggling carrier into the ground.

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The airline competition is so fierce that it would take several years before signs of a break even surface, said the spokesperson. PIA is in dire need of strategic planning and quick revenue generation if its management hopes to ward off privatization in the future by the government which is currently optimistic it can help to resurrect it.

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But aviation Industry expert Tahir Imran told Arab News that when the airline witnessed a decline in its losses some years ago, it made the fatal decision to increase its passenger capacity by inducting larger aircrafts instead of enhancing its flight frequency by purchasing smaller more efficient and economical aircrafts. This, he said was the final nail in PIA’s coffin.

http://www.arabnews.com/node/1404731/world

Top Pence aide resurfaces as leading candidate to replace Kelly

November 14, 2018

Nick Ayers, Pence’s chief of staff, was initially seen as a potential Kelly successor this summer.

Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers has reemerged as a leading candidate to succeed White House chief of staff John Kelly, according to several White House officials and others close to the presidential orbit.
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An appointment would continue the rapid rise of the young aide, 36, and install a chief who enjoys warm relations with some of the most important figures in President Donald Trump’s orbit: his eldest son, Don Jr., his eldest daughter, Ivanka, and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
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Ayers also enjoys support among the motley crew of outside advisers — including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who have Trump’s ear but have clashed with Kelly as the former Marine general sought to regulate access to the president.
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Ayers’ name surfaced as a possible replacement for Kelly this summer before the chief of staff announced he would be staying on in his role through 2020 in a bid to quash the persistent rumors of his imminent departure.
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At the time, other leading candidates to succeed Kelly included Mick Mulvaney, who oversees both the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and was lobbying for the job.

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In the wake of the midterms, the administration is expected to go through another round of personnel turnover, and The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal recently reported that Kelly’s departure again may be imminent. A Kelly exit has also been tied to the potential departure of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who the president has been itching to fire for months over what he sees as weak leadership on border security, according to a senior White House official.

Since Ayers was first floated as a possible chief of staff earlier this year, his stature has only grown in Trump’s eyes, according to several White House aides.

Two White House officials who were skeptical this summer of Ayers’ chances of becoming chief of staff both said this week that they think Trump is now serious about wanting to tap him. The officials both cited Ayers’ work on Pence’s midterm campaigning strategy, which they said impressed Trump.

In recent months, Ayers has traveled with Trump at least twice without Pence present, according to a senior White House official. One of those trips was an October swing to Florida and Ayers’ native Georgia to survey hurricane damage.

Trump and Ayers had already discussed the chief of staff job in the early summer, according to a former senior administration official, but at the time it was unclear when Kelly would depart. And Trump spent the summer asking friends, White House advisers and former aides: “What do we think about Nick?” — a tic he often employs when he is privately considering a staff shake-up.

Ayers first impressed Ivanka Trump, Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon as an aide to Pence during the presidential campaign. All three later encouraged Ayers to join the White House as a replacement for Pence’s first chief of staff, Josh Pitcock. If Ayers took over as chief of staff, he would be seen by some Trump allies as an upgrade over Kelly, since he has far greater political chops.

At the White House’s election night gathering last week, Kelly steered clear of the president and his family. Ayers, meanwhile, was seen huddling with the president. The pair discussed the chief of staff job, according to a person briefed on the night’s events. Ayers did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

With a fast-moving and fickle president, few things are certain, and Ayers’ ascension to the post remains far from a sure thing. Ayers, who has three young children, has weighed returning to the private sector in Georgia, where he’s held onto his house. There have also been discussions about moving him to Trump’s reelection campaign.

In Trump’s chaotic West Wing, the chief of staff position is seen as a less desirable post than it has been in previous administrations.

And Ayers, perceived as presumptuous and overly ambitious by some in Washington, has alienated several influential White House advisers.

“The knives aren’t out for Nick — the machetes are,” said one Trump ally. But the president’s ally wondered whether Ayers’ detractors had any hope left of slowing his rise.

“I don’t know what they can do to kill Nick,” the person said.

Eliana Johnson, Nancy Cook and Gabby Orr contributed to this report.

https://www.politico.com/story/2018/11/13/nick-ayers-replace-john-kelly-987654

Government pledges billions aimed at bringing Germany up to speed on AI

November 14, 2018

Germany is often criticized for sluggish levels of digital investment, particularly in AI. The government wants to invest €3 billion before 2025 to try and close the knowledge gap with world leaders in the field.

    
Deutschland Hannover Messe 2017 (Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz)

“Made in Germany” — as manufacturing seals of approval go, those three words are pretty valuable. Over the centuries, Germans have shown themselves to be quite adept at building things, from the diesel engine to the helicopter, the Bunsen burner to the microphone.

But how is that noted prowess holding up in the digital era, particularly in the increasingly prominent area of artificial intelligence (AI)? Many critics say not very well, with the United States, China, Israel, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and France all ahead of Germany in the “race for AI leadership,” according to a 2018 study by online publishing platform, Medium.

According to another study, by the consulting firm McKinsey, if Germany is not quick enough in its implementation of AI across various industries, from medicine to transport, over the next decade, its current GDP target for 2030 may ultimately lag by up to one-third. In other words, German growth depends on how quickly it catches up on AI technology.

That helps to explain why the German cabinet will spend Nov. 14 and 15 holed up in Potsdam, where the primary topic of consideration will not be Brexit, migration or the future of diesel, but rather how Germany will become a global leader in AI.

Artificial ambition?

AI is not new but in the last few years, its future importance has become more immediate, underlined by the volumes of investment being poured into research and development in China, the US and elsewhere.

Germany, perhaps belatedly, wants to get in on the act. A major reason for the Potsdam gathering is that the government will discuss how best to invest a fund of €3 billion ($3.4 billion) into AI research and development between now and 2025.

Back in April, German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the need to compete with China on AI and in an interview with online magazine t-online.de ahead of the Potsdam meeting, she emphasized that Germany is making significant progress in the area and plans on doing much more in the years ahead.

Read more: Humanity disrupted? Berlin conference explores AI possibilities

“We have excellence clusters in the field of artificial intelligence and here we will develop an overall strategy,” she said. “There is a lot going on, but we need to accelerate our efforts once again.”

In July, the German government released details of a strategy paper on artificial intelligence, due to be completed this month and presented at the 2018 Digital Summit in Nuremberg in December.

If the stated policy goals are to be believed, Germany has serious ambitions in the field. The government says it is committed to “achieving and maintaining leading global excellence in the research and development and the application of AI in Germany and Europe” and even says that “‘Artificial Intelligence (AI) made in Germany’ is to become a globally recognized quality mark.”

A good start, but still not enough

But does the rhetoric match reality?

“It is a good start so I don’t want to criticize it, but €3 billion is not very much,” Michael Feindt, founder of Blue Yonder, a German company specializing in AI solutions for retailers, told DW.

Panel-Diskussion zum Thema künstliche Intelligenz (DW/A. Sullivan)Michael Feindt (second from right) believes the €3 billion investment is a good start, but says more needs to be done

“Politicians are trying to find out what they have to do, what is good and what is not good and I think that is the right way to go, even if you may argue that it is a little late,” said Feindt, who is also a professor at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

“But this amount is much less than companies such as Microsoft or Google invest in AI in a single year. So people should not think that Germany will suddenly become a world leader in the field, able to compete with the US and China.”

Read more: Conference debates how AI can shed its ‘black box’ image

When it comes to preeminence in AI, the USA and China feature prominently in every discussion, and with good reason. According to Times Higher Education magazine, academic papers on AI development from China and the US far outweigh those from the rest of the world year after year.

The Chinese government has a wide-ranging national plan aimed at making the country the world leader in AI, with its plans including the building of a €2 billion AI research park in Beijing. The US has no one singular government policy for AI research, but strong academic programs from various US universities, as well as major private investment from business sectors, have made the country a powerhouse of AI innovation.

Cultural misgivings

If Germany is arriving late to the party, it has cultural reasons for doing so, according to Feindt. He believes that a national obsession with privacy has made German citizens particularly wary of AI, which has a strong reliance on data. He also thinks Germany’s manufacturing prowess means it is a country that tends to focus on hardware above software.

“If it is about data in Germany, then you have to explain it and show that it is not dangerous,” he said.

“The other thing is that it has taken a long time for people to realize that value can be in abstract things like software, algorithms and data. It is quite deep in the German mentality that they value hardware more than abstract things like software. In the USA, the top companies are all software companies.”

Dr Aljoscha Burchardt, from the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, tends to agree on the German cultural resistance to AI and other forms of digital technology.

“While all political parties agree that we have to digitalize and that AI is a motor for progress, the population remains skeptical,” he told DW. “That has to do with fears of job losses, fears about data protection. Maybe also with a generally skeptical attitude towards technology.”

Moving with the times

Yet things do appear to be changing. The Potsdam meeting indicates some kind of momentum is building with the government’s digitization drive. Peter Altmaier, the Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, said before the start of the two-day think-in that he believes the government commitment will be backed by that of private and business investors, hitherto sluggish in their willingness to invest in AI start-ups when compared to the world-leading nations.

It is also worth pointing out that while Germany is behind the leading nations when it comes to its AI sector, it is not exactly bottom of the league either.

In the Medium study, Germany ranked eighth in terms of global distribution of AI-focused startups.Then there are initiatives such as that between Amazon and Germany’s Max Planck Society, whereby the US tech giant plans to build an AI research center next to the Max Planck Institute for Intelligence Systems in Tübingen, in the south of Germany.

“When I started, there was virtually nothing,” said Feindt, who founded his company in 2008. “But slowly, it is getting better.”

Energy drives US consumer prices to 9-month high in October

November 14, 2018

US consumer inflation got a bump in October, as prices for gasoline and electricity shot up, rising along with the cost of shelter and medical care, the government reported Wednesday.

Image result for U.S. gas station, photos

The increase in overall consumer prices was the largest in nine months, but one closely-watched measure suggest price pressures remained tame.

Costs for used cars and trucks also jumped, reversing declines in September, but new auto prices fell for the second month in a row, according to the Labor Department report.

Image result for U.S. gas station, photos

The Consumer Price Index rose 0.3 percent for the month, matching analyst expectations and posting the biggest gain since January.

The gasoline index jumped three percent and prices for electricity gained 1.7 percent, offsetting falling prices for food and natural gas services.

Compared to October of last year, the index rose 2.5 percent, up from the 2.3 percent annual gain recorded in September.

But when erratic food and fuel prices are stripped out, the “core” CPI rose by a slower 0.2 percent over September, also matching analyst expectations.

Compared to October of last year, the core index actually slowed to 2.1 percent, down a tenth from September’s reading.

This was despite a record 4.9 percent annual gain in the cost of appliances, spurred higher by a 9.9 percent increase in the cost of washing machines, which are subject to President Donald Trump’s steep import duties.

The slower year-on-year gain in the core CPI could calm Wall Street fears that the Federal Reserve will be more aggressive about raising interest rates.

With unemployment near a 50-year low and job creation continuing unabated, the Fed has projected four more rate increases before the end of 2019.

Prices for used cars and trucks rose 2.6 percent and the cost of shelter also grew, offsetting decreases for clothing and new cars.

Ian Shepherdson of Pantheon Macroeconomics said the data remained “calm, with no real evidence of broad-based pressures in either direction.”

In a separate report on Wednesday, the Labor Department also said worker pay failed to keep pace with inflation in October, rising by a tenth of a percentage point less than CPI — resulting in a net loss employee earnings of 0.1 percent for the month.

AFP