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National Govt & Politics
Говорит Москва: Democrats put focus on Russia, Trump
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Говорит Москва: Democrats put focus on Russia, Trump

Говорит Москва: Democrats put focus on Russia, Trump

Говорит Москва: Democrats put focus on Russia, Trump

Democrats in the U.S. House will try to send an unmistakable message to President Donald Trump on the issue of relations with Russia this week on Capitol Hill, bringing up a series of bills on the House floor dealing with Russia and Vladimir Putin, including a plan which demands the public release of any report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

"This transparency is a fundamental principle necessary to ensure that government remains accountable to the people," a series of key Democrats said about the resolution on the Mueller inquiry.

The Russian legislative blitz comes as Democrats on a series of House committees have stepped up their requests for information from the White House and the Trump Administration on issues related to the Russia investigation and the Mueller probe.

So far, Democrats say they aren't getting much in the way of help from the White House on any of their investigative efforts.

"It's like, zero," said House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD). "We can't get witnesses, they don't want us to talk to witnesses."

Among the Russia-related bills on the schedule this week in the House:

+ The "KREMLIN Act," a bipartisan bill which would require the Director of National Intelligence - already reportedly in hot water with the President for saying that North Korea probably wouldn't give up its nuclear arsenal - to submit to Congress a new round of intelligence assessments on Russia and its leaders. "The Kremlin’s efforts to sabotage our democracy and those of our allies across Europe are undeniable," said Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), who has sponsored this bill with fellow Intelligence Committee member Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT). 

Earlier this year, DNI Dan Coats said of Russia: "We assess that Moscow will continue pursuing a range of objectives to expand its reach, including undermining the US-led liberal international order, dividing Western political and security institutions, demonstrating Russia’s ability to shape global issues, and bolstering Putin’s domestic legitimacy."

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House

+ The Vladimir Putin Transparency Act, a bipartisan bill which again asks the U.S. Intelligence Community to weigh in with evidence about the Russian government, and expressing the sense of Congress 'that the United States should do more to expose the corruption of Vladimir Putin.'

"I am proud to cosponsor this bill which aims to identify Putin and his allies for who they are: nefarious political actors undermining democracies," said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), who teamed up with Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) on this measure.

"Some people HATE the fact that I got along well with President Putin of Russia," President Trump tweeted last July, after his controversial summit with Putin in Finland. "They would rather go to war than see this. It’s called Trump Derangement Syndrome!"

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Russia

+ A bipartisan bill to block any move by the U.S. Government to recognize the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia and Vladimir Putin. This is another measure meant to put public pressure on the President, who has been somewhat uneven in public statements on his feelings about Russia's move to take Crimea, as well as the ongoing proxy war being supported by Moscow in areas of eastern Ukraine, and how the U.S. should respond - even as his administration has leveled new economic sanctions against Moscow.

In November of 2018, the President canceled a scheduled meeting with Putin at the G20 Summit in Argentina, after Russian naval forces seized several Ukrainian ships and their crews.

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Trump

+ A bipartisan resolution calling for 'accountability and justice' surrounding the assassination of Russian activist Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed in Moscow in 2015. Lawmakers in both parties have urged the Trump Administration to sanction those involved in the murder, as the measure also calls for an international investigation into his death. "Boris Nemtsov had a vision for a democratic and free Russia. Sadly, that put him right in Putin’s cross hairs," said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). This not just a House effort, as there is a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

"Putin's media and surrogates called Boris Nemtsov an 'enemy of the people,'" said Michael McFaul, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia under President Obama, and a frequent critic of President Trump.

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Nemtsov

+ Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.  While the four previous legislative measures have bipartisan support, the final piece of this "Russia" week in the U.S. House might create a bit of a tussle on the floor of the House, as Democrats move to put GOP lawmakers on the record about whether they want to make any report from the Special Counsel public. 

Under the Special Counsel law, there is no guarantee that the Mueller report will ever see the light of day - the Special Counsel submits a report to the U.S. Attorney General - in this case, William Barr - who is then authorized to summarize that to Congress. 

That's different than back during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, when independent counsel Ken Starr was able to send Congress volumes and volumes of evidence - knowing that all of it would be made public.

In testimony before the Senate earlier this year, Barr did not expressly commit to releasing any report, saying "my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision."

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • Nearly four decades after an Atlanta man was convicted in connection with one of the most horrific serial murder cases in U.S. history, doubt still lingers about his guilt, even among some investigators and victims’ families. Wayne Bertram Williams has sat in a Georgia prison since January 1984, convicted of two murders, those of Nathaniel Cater, 27, and Jimmy Ray Payne, 21. Cater and Payne were both grown men, but many of the homicide victims Williams is suspected of killing were children. The three youngest victims were just 9 years old when they died. The oldest victim, John Porter, was 28.  All the dead were black.  On Thursday, more than 38 years after the end of the murders, Atlanta Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms and Police Chief Erika Shields announced that they are reopening the case and retesting any evidence that remains to put to bed, once and for all, speculation about Williams’ guilt in the crimes.  “It may be there is nothing left to be tested,” Bottoms said during a news conference. “But I do think history will judge us by our actions, and we will be able to say we tried.” >> Related story: Police to retest evidence in Atlanta child murder cases Bottoms, who said she was 9 years old when the crimes took place, recalled the terror the slayings unleashed on the community. She said she began thinking about taking another look at the case after meeting with Catherine Leach, whose 13-year-old son, Curtis Walker, was killed in March 1981. The mayor said applying modern technology to the testing of evidence will assure victims’ families that city and police officials “have done all that (they) can do do to make sure their memories are not forgotten and, in the truest sense of the word, to let the world know that black lives do matter.” Though Williams was tried for just two killings, the Atlanta Police Department attributed at least 22 of the other 29 known homicides to Williams and closed those cases. He is also a potential suspect in the case of a black child who went missing but was never found.  >> Read more trending news According to CNN, Williams’ convictions rested, in part, on dog hairs and a variety of fibers that prosecutors argued linked Williams’ home and car to both Cater’s and Payne’s bodies.  Williams, now 60, has maintained his innocence throughout the decades since his arrest and conviction.   “The bottom line is nobody ever testified or even claimed that they saw me strike another person, choke another person, stab, beat or kill or hurt anybody, because I didn’t,' Williams told CNN in a 2010 interview.  He said the panic in Atlanta over the serial killings put pressure on authorities to make an arrest. A black man had to be responsible, Williams continued, because arresting a white man would have sparked a race war. “Atlanta would’ve gone up in flames,” Williams told CNN.  Watch part of Thursday’s announcement in the Williams case, courtesy of WSB-TV in Atlanta. Forensic experts that same year found that human hair found on the body of Patrick Balthazar, 11, showed that Williams could not be excluded as the boy’s killer. CNN reported that Williams accused authorities of manipulating evidence against him. Retired FBI scientist Harold Deadman, who once served as the head of the agency’s DNA lab, told the news channel the findings in Balthazar’s case excluded 98 percent of the world’s population as the killer. Williams is in the other 2 percent, he said.  ‘A loud splash’ According to the FBI, the string of child murders that shocked Atlanta, and later the entire country, began July 21, 1979, with the killing of Edward Smith, 14, who was shot in the back. A second boy, 13-year-old Alfred Evans, was strangled to death just four days later. The killings continued, sometimes with multiple killings in a single month and others separated by as many as three months. Some victims were shot, stabbed or beaten, but the majority were strangled or otherwise asphyxiated.  The city of Atlanta asked the FBI for help in August 1980, by which time investigators were looking at six unsolved child murders and four missing persons cases in which foul play was suspected, according to FBI records. A task force had been established in the case, and FBI agents joined those efforts.  “Collectively, they focused on a dozen disappearances with several shared traits,” the FBI website says. “The victims were all young African-American males who vanished in broad daylight in fairly public locations. Their bodies were found in desolate areas. Their murders had no obvious motivation (in contrast, two other homicides from that period appeared to have been gang-related).  “These commonalities suggested a single killer.” As the murders continued unabated through 1980 and into early 1981, the killer began to change where he disposed of the bodies. By May 22, 1981, a total of six bodies had been recovered from the Chattahoochie River.  Another three victims were recovered from the waters or the banks of the South River, according to a 1981 article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Task force investigators decided to begin staking out 14 bridges in the Atlanta metropolitan area in case, hoping to catch the killer in the process of dumping another victim, according to the FBI.  One early morning in May, they stumbled upon Wayne Williams, then a 23-year-old freelance cameraman and wannabe record producer.  Around 2:52 a.m. May 22, an FBI agent, an Atlanta police officer and two police cadets stationed at the South Cobb Drive Bridge heard “a loud splash” in the river and spotted a car on the bridge. “(The) car sped across the bridge, turned around in a parking lot on the other side and sped back across the bridge. The vehicle was pursued and stopped,” the FBI website says. Williams, who was driving the car, told the officers he was searching for the location of an audition he had set up with a woman for the following day. Without probable cause to hold him, the task force agents had to let him go. Two days later, Cater’s naked body was recovered from the river near the bridge. Like so many previous victims, he had been asphyxiated, the Journal-Constitution reported. The task force turned its attention to Williams. “Investigators soon learned that his alibi was poor and that he had been arrested earlier that year for impersonating a police officer,” the FBI website says. “Later, he failed multiple polygraph examinations.” Williams was again questioned for 12 hours over June 3 and 4, the Journal-Constitution said. He later told the media he’d been accused of Cater’s death and called a “prime suspect” in the case. He was again let go, but the task force kept him under constant surveillance. Knowing he was being watched, Williams would sometimes taunt the agents, including having them follow him June 10, 1981, to the home of Lee Brown, who was then Atlanta’s public safety commissioner.  He also took task force agents on a chase the night of June 20, driving to the homes of both Brown and then-Mayor Maynard Jackson, the newspaper reported. Williams was arrested in Cater’s death the next day. He was convicted the following February in the deaths of Cater and Payne. According to the FBI, Williams’ conviction was based on “meticulous hair and fiber analysis and witness testimony.” After the trial, the task force concluded that there was evidence to link Williams to at least 20 additional homicides.  Never far from people’s minds -- or from controversy The case, though nearly 40 years old, has never been far from the minds of those who lost loved ones. It has also sparked public interest through the years. CNN reported that celebrities including Sammy Davis Jr. and the Jacksons performed at benefit concerts for the victims’ families. Williams spoke to CNN in 2010 in conjunction with a documentary hosted by Soledad O’Brien, and more recently, the case was the subject of a podcast, “Atlanta Monster.” Netflix’s second season of its original series “Mindhunter” is anticipated to touch upon the case and Deadline reported last month that producer Will Packer was making a three-part special on the case titled “The Atlanta Child Murders.”  Packer’s documentary is scheduled to begin airing Saturday on cable network Investigation Discovery. The case has continuously sparked controversy over the decades. Louis Graham, who was a member of the original task force that investigated the killings, reopened some of the cases in 2005, a year after he became chief of the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office. “I never believed he did it,” Graham, who died in 2010, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005.  A total of five DeKalb County cases were reopened by Graham and his detectives: those of Balthazar, who was found strangled Feb. 13, 1981, in a wooded area; Walker, who was found asphyxiated March 6, 1981, in the South River; Joseph “Jo-Jo” Bell, 15, who was found asphyxiated April 19, 1981, in the South River; William Barrett, 17, who was found asphyxiated May 12, 1981, on a roadside; and Aaron Darnell Wyche, 10, who was found dead of a broken neck beneath a bridge June 24, 1980.  A sixth boy, Christopher Richardson, 11, vanished from DeKalb County, but his body was recovered June 9, 1980, in Fulton County.  Wyche’s father, Jesse Griffin, told the Journal-Constitution in 2005 that anyone with information about the killings needed to come forward. “It’s time for someone to step forward so the parents can rest a little bit more than they have been,” Griffin told the newspaper. “I’ve slept four hours at most since this incident happened. I’m hoping tonight I can have about two more hours added to that, knowing that this case is opened again and something’s going to be done about it.” The reopened DeKalb County cases were left to languish again a year later when Graham resigned after being caught on tape uttering a profanity-laced tirade, the Journal-Constitution reported.  Griffin is not the only parent of a victim who has doubted Williams’ guilt over the years.  Leach said Thursday that she had been let down over the years, not knowing for sure who killed her teen son.  “It seems like the Atlanta missing and murdered children have been forgotten in this city,” Leach said, according to CNN. “I don’t think it’s right for all these kids to be killed in this city, and nobody was concerned about it. “I want some closure. I want to know who killed Curtis.”
  • Orlando Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani is co-sponsoring a bill to allow illegal immigrants living in Florida to legally obtain a state driver’s license. “We can talk about the need to reform immigration as a whole, but this is one solution to make sure that our roads are safer,” Eskamani said over the phone on Thursday. Illegal immigrants would still have to take a driving test to get a license, and they’d be able to buy car insurance, which Eskamani said would generate additional revenue for the state.  She also believes the bill will encourage people to report accidents and crimes they see on the road. Eskamani agreed with the assessment that the bill (HB 969) does not attempt to change immigration policy but rather change policy dealing with Florida’s current immigrant situation. “On our roads, you have people who are undocumented who are driving their kids to daycare, who are going to work,” Eskamani said.  “They’re doing their best to live life to its fullest potential.” Under current Florida law, residents must prove U.S. citizenship or show a resident alien green card to get a state driver’s license.  This bill would allow people to use documents such as foreign passports, international birth certificates, or tax ID number to get one.   With the 2019 legislative session well underway in Tallahassee, neither the bill nor its Senate companion has seen a committee vote. The bill has gotten notable attention from Fox News, to which Eskamani mused on her Facebook page, “Wow, my first ever mention in Fox News!  This has to come with some sort of award right?”
  • The Florida man accused of sending pipe bombs last year to several high-profile critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty Thursday in a Manhattan federal court. >> Read more trending news Cesar Sayoc appeared Thursday for a change of plea hearing before U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.  Sayoc pleaded not guilty in November to a slew of charges after he was identified as the man suspected of mailing pipe bombs to targets including CNN, former President Barack Obama and actor Robert De Niro. >> Cesar Sayoc Jr.: What we know about the man arrested for sending package bombs Sayoc has been held without bail since his late-October arrest outside a South Florida auto parts store. He had been living in a van covered with stickers of Trump and showing images of some Trump opponents with crosshairs over their faces. Authorities launched an investigation in October after pipe bombs were mailed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and philanthropist George Soros. In the subsequent days, similar devices were mailed to several other prominent Trump critics, including U.S. Rep Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Democratic donor Tom Steyer. >> 2nd mail bomb to Tom Steyer recovered; suspect agrees to remain jailed, face charges in New York Authorities said Sayoc was linked to the packages after investigators found his fingerprints and DNA on some of them. Without a plea deal, Sayoc faced charges carrying a potential penalty of mandatory life in prison. A court filing last Friday didn't indicate which charge or charges the plea would involve. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Federal authorities and Butler Township police are investigating after an explosive device was placed inside a mailbox and detonated, according to police. >> Read more trending news  The explosive device, which police believe was a commercial-grade firework, was detonated and destroyed the mailbox sometime between 7 p.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Wednesday, Butler Township Police Chief John Porter said in a media release. Police did not say what road the incident occurred on but described the area as a rural part of the township.  “Since tampering with a mailbox is covered under federal law, federal authorities have been notified and are participating with us in a joint investigation,” Porter said. “Our initial investigation shows there is no indication of any type of hate or bias crime at this time.”  Authorities continue to investigate.

Washington Insider

  • A man who was charged with sending explosive devices to a series of critics of President Donald Trump pleaded guilty on Thursday to the crimes, as federal prosecutors say Cesar Sayoc could spend the rest of his life in prison for mailing 16 improvised explosive devices to former President Obama, former Vice President Biden, as well as sitting Democratic lawmakers in Congress. 'For five days in October 2018, Cesar Sayoc rained terror across the country,' said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. 'Thankfully no one was hurt by these dangerous devices, but his actions left an air of fear and divisiveness in their wake.  'Sayoc has taken responsibility for his crimes, and will soon be sentenced to significant time in prison,' Berman added in a statement, as prosecutors labeled Sayoc's effort 'domestic terrorism.' 'Sayoc’s crimes were intended to incite fear among his targets and uncertainty among the general public,' said FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney. Sayoc is scheduled for sentencing on September 12. In a statement issued by prosecutors, the feds said Sayoc pleaded guilty to 65 separate felony counts brought against him for his mail bomb flurry, which involved 16 identical looking padded envelopes sent from south Florida. 'Sayoc packed each IED with explosive material and glass shards that would function as shrapnel if the IED exploded,' the feds stated. 'Sayoc also attached to the outside of each IED a picture of the intended victim marked with a red 'X.'' Sayoc’s mail bombs were sent to former Vice President Joseph Biden, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, CNN, actor Robert De Niro, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), former Attorney General Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama, George Soros, Thomas Steyer, and Rep. Maxine Walters (D-CA).   When Sayoc was arrested, authorities found his van, which was plastered in pro-Trump and anti-Democratic Party stickers and placards.