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Jamie Dupree's Washington Insider

    As reporters, politicians, legal experts, and members of both political parties spent the weekend going over the impact of the 448 page redacted version of the Mueller Report, it was obvious from the political and legal reactions that the fight over what Russia did in the 2016 elections - and how the Trump Campaign and President Donald Trump dealt with that - was not going to be ending anytime soon. 'There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN's 'State of the Union' on Sunday, as Republicans continue to press the case that the Mueller Report absolves the President of any and all wrongdoing. 'We need to go back and look at how this fake “Russia Collusion” narrative started,' said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as Republicans looked to move on from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and to focus on investigating the investigators. Meanwhile, Democrats were mulling over their own options, which certainly seem to include more hearings in Congress on what was revealed by the Mueller Report, tugging the story in the exact opposite direction. Democrats pointed to comments from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who said the Mueller Report showed a 'pervasiveness of dishonesty' inside the Trump White House. Here's some things which may get some attention in the weeks and months ahead: 1. GOP still wants answers on the Steele Dossier. If you were looking for the Special Counsel's office to detail how the Steele Dossier had factored into the Russia investigation, there was precious little in the Mueller Report. The dossier was directly mentioned 14 times, but there was no mention of it contributing anything directly to the findings of the report. The Special Counsel report says nothing about the dossier as the reason for starting a counter-intelligence investigation, instead making clear that it was information from Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos which was the genesis. 'On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government rep01ting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,' the report states on page 14. But the Mueller Report does not address one key question - was the Steele Dossier just another effort by Moscow to disrupt the 2016 elections? This is where Republicans say they want answers - they can hold hearings in the U.S. Senate, if they wish. 2. Michael Cohen again demands retraction over Prague story. One item in the Steele Dossier which has often caused a media furor is over the assertion that President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen went to the Czech Republic on some sort of mission for the President during the 2016 campaign. Cohen has always denied it, and repeated that in testimony before Congress earlier this year. 'Have you ever been to Prague?' Cohen was asked. 'I've never been to Prague,' Cohen responded without missing a beat. 'I've never been to the Czech Republic.' The Mueller Report was clear that Cohen was believed over Steele. 'Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false,' the report says on page 351. On Friday, Cohen again said he was still waiting for a retraction by McClatchy Newspapers. 3. Why did Donald Trump Jr. not answer questions from Mueller? While President Trump's son has steadfastly defended his father throughout the Mueller investigation, and testified to the Congress about the Russia probe, the Special Counsel report notes that Trump Jr. did not directly aid the Mueller investigation, specifically on the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 'The Office spoke to every participant except Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer) and Trump, Jr., the latter of whom declined to be interviewed by the Office' - then, the next two sentences are redacted, with the explanation on page 125 that grand jury information is responsible for the redacation. In a later discussion of how President Trump handled publicity about the Trump Tower meeting, there is a redaction which involves Trump Jr. on grand jury grounds - does it indicate again that Trump Jr. did not answer questions? It's not clear because of the blacked out material - but the President's son never seemingly answered questions from Mueller's team or a federal grand jury. 4. A Trump tweet that was redacted in the Mueller Report. This seems sort of crazy, but it's true. On page 363 of the report, Mueller discusses President Trump denouncing Michael Cohen, when his former personal attorney had moved to plead guilty and cooperate with the feds. 'He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion serve a full and complete sentence,' the President tweeted. Then there is a section which is blacked out under, 'Harm to Ongoing Matter.' But if you look at the footnote, it refers to a tweet by Mr. Trump, at 10:48 am on December 3, 2018. It's not hard to figure out which tweet that was, as it was one in which the President talks about Roger Stone not flipping and cooperating with the feds. I'm not a lawyer, so it makes no sense to me that printing that tweet could interfere with an ongoing case, but that's one of the redactions made by the Justice Department. 5. When will Robert Mueller talk in public? Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have already sent a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller asking him to testify before Congress on his report. Last week, the Attorney General said he would have no opposition to Mueller testifying. Mueller operated in a much different way than previous high-profile independent prosecutors - go back to Watergate and you will see news conferences by Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski; Ken Starr spoke to the press during the Whitewater investigation. But Robert Mueller has been totally silent, ignoring questions on his few visits to Capitol Hill, doing no interviews and saying nothing in public. An effort to get some remarks from him on Sunday after church netted only a 'no comment' - which is pretty much the most we have heard from Mueller during his almost 22 months as Special Counsel.
  • The newly released report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections rejected the claims of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange that he received leaked emails from a young employee at the Democratic National Committee, as Special Counsel Robert Mueller said Assange used the murder of DNC worker Seth Rich in an effort to cover up the fact that Russian Intelligence had hacked the DNC emails, and transferred them to WikiLeaks. 'As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,' the Mueller report stated, referring to Assange's claim that Rich was involved. 'The statements about Rich implied falsely that he had been the source of the stolen DNC emails,' the report added on page 56 of the 448 page document released on Thursday by the Justice Department. The redacted version of the Mueller Report reiterated what had been alleged in a previous indictment of a group of Russian Intelligence agents, that they had hacked into a DNC email server starting in May 2016, and posing as 'Guccifer 2.0,' sent an encrypted attachment, 'wk dnc link1.txt.gpg' to WikiLeaks. For the Rich family, it was confirmation that Assange's claim - which had readily been embraced by familiar Republican voices, Fox News, and conservative talk radio - was indeed false, and had created 'unimaginable pain.' The Mueller report said WikiLeaks did not receive the hacked DNC emails and documents from GRU officers until July 14 - four days after Rich had been murdered. 'The file-transfer evidence described above and other information uncovered during the investigation discredit WikiLeaks's claims about the source of material that it posted,' the Mueller report stated. During the campaign, in an August 25, 2016 interview with Fox News cited by Mueller, Assange asserted that Rich - who was murdered on July 10, 2016 - was a 'potential' source of emails from inside the Democratic National Committee. WikiLeaks stuck to that story, even as U.S. investigators began to focus more and more on the ties between Assange and Russian GRU hackers, as WikiLeaks increased the reward for clues to Rich's murder to $130,000 the day before President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January of 2017. Not only did WikiLeaks push the Seth Rich angle - along with Fox News, Infowars, and various conservative talk radio hosts - but so too did the Russians; this tweet was from the Russian Embassy in London in May of 2017. Two days after that tweet from the Russian government, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich used an appearance on 'Fox and Friends' to further spread the theory that Rich had been murdered after giving WikiLeaks thousands of hacked documents from the DNC, as the matter quickly gained the attention of talk radio and conservative commentators. Soon after that Gingrich interview in May of 2017, Fox News retracted the network's original report tying Rich to the leak of materials to WikiLeaks. In the end, investigators concluded all signs pointed to Moscow and Assange, as the Mueller Report said the mentions of Rich were 'designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,' that being the Russians. Like the Pizzagate conspiracy theory - which claimed that a supporter of Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a neighborhood pizza parlor in Washington, D.C. - no evidence was ever offered up by Assange and WikiLeaks to support the Rich claim.
  • Thursday's release of a 448 page redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections certainly did not end the questions about the investigation, as President Donald Trump labeled it, 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' and Democrats demanded even more answers about what was in the report. First, you can find a link to the report on the website of the Department of Justice. The report is divided into two parts. The first deals with questions of collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia - the Special Counsel found evidence of 'numerous' contacts between them, but not enough to merit charges for any illegal activity. The second part of the report deals with questions about obstruction of justice. In that portion, investigators found that top aides, advisers, and friends of the President routinely ignored his orders to fire people like the Special Counsel and more. Here's more from the fine print of the Mueller report: 1. The first part of the collusion statement used by Barr. The release of the Mueller report allowed a full review of a sentence fragment employed by Attorney General William Barr in his late March letter, which (accurately) said, 'the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. Many reporters had wondered what was in the first part of that statement and why it was not included in Barr's letter. And, starting on page nine, it seemed clear. 'The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,' the Mueller report concluded. Then adding the start of the sentence used by Barr: 'Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benfeit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts...' 2. It wasn't just Comey writing memos after talks with Trump. After getting fired as FBI Director, James Comey made public memos which he had written after various talks with President Trump. It's also been reported that former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe did the same thing. Now the Mueller report shows others did, too. Deputy National Security Director K.T. McFarland saved a contemporaneous memo after a discussion with the President in which the Mr. Trump asked McFarland to 'write an internal email denying that the President had directed Flynn to discuss sanctions' with the Russian Ambassador, when McFarland knew the real answer was that Mr. Trump had done exactly that. Then there were top officials at the National Security Agency, who were so alarmed by a phone call with Mr. Trump - they wrote a memo and put it in an NSA safe - with the deputy NSA chief saying it was 'the most unusual thing he had experienced in 40 years of government service.' 3. Aides, advisers, friends, regularly ignore Trump requests. Whether it was on big items like firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, forcing out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or sending messages to top officials, the Mueller report is chock full of examples where the President tells people to do something - and they refuse to do it - worried it's the wrong move. White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to fire Mueller. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus wouldn't tell Sessions he should leave. Corey Lewandowski wouldn't send a message for the President to Sessions, and even tried to get a White House aide to do it - but he also refused. Then there was this tidbit from former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who had lunch with President Trump, and was told to send along a message to James Comey. This was the same day that Mr. Trump told Comey - after clearing the Oval Office of other officials - that he wanted the feds to 'let this go' when it came to legal issues for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. 4. Rosenstein threatened to 'tell the truth' on Comey firing. After using a memo written by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as a pretext to fire FBI Director James Comey - the White House pressed Rosenstein to further explain why Comey had been fired, 'to put out a statement saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey.' Rosenstein said that was a 'false story,' and after President Trump called on the phone to ask the Deputy A.G. to do a press conference about the Comey firing, the report says Rosenstein said he would 'tell the truth that Comey's firing was not his idea.' The Mueller report goes along with testimony released by Republicans in recent weeks which depicted Rosenstein as furious with the White House over the Comey firing, convinced that he was 'used' to get rid of the FBI Director. 5. Sarah Huckabee Sanders comments 'not founded on anything.' After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May of 2017, the White House repeatedly defended the move by saying that ousting Comey was supported by 'countless members of the FBI,' though the White House produced no evidence to reporters back up that assertion. Fast forward a bit over a year to July of 2018, when Sanders was interviewed by investigators, she admitted there was no truth to her assertion from the podium. 'Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue,'' the report stated. Asked about a comment in another press interview about how FBI agents had supposedly lost confidence in Comey, 'Sanders acknowledged to investigators that her comments were not founded on anything.'  6. A series of unknown Mueller cases are still active. While Attorney General William Barr told Congress last month that the Mueller report 'does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public,' the details show a slightly different story. At the end of the report, there are lists of cases transferred to other prosecutors, and information on other matters - uncovered by Mueller - but referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. In those two lists, a series of cases were redacted - two cases transferred by Mueller - and 12 other cases in which referrals were made. All of them were redacted for the reason that publicity could damage ongoing investigations, what was officially known as, 'Harm to Ongoing Matter.' Maybe they are cases which have nothing to do with the Russia investigation or with President Trump. But one of the referrals which was not redacted involved Mr. Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Technically, these aren't Mueller cases - but they're also still secret. 7. Mueller discredits Wikileaks claim of Seth Rich DNC leak. Along with Pizzagate, the claim by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange that a former DNC staffer was the source of leaked Democratic Party emails was one of the biggest conspiracy theories to emerge from the 2016 campaign. In the report, Mueller's team says file transfer evidence linking Wikileaks to Russian Intelligence lays waste to the claim that Seth Rich had leaked materials to Assange - and may have been murdered as a result. Assange has repeatedly denied any ties to Russian agents, but U.S. Intelligence has long regarded Wikileaks as a 'fence' for Russian Intelligence, and that the two tied themselves together to hurt Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. 8. Mueller says witnesses deleted potential evidence. In laying out the evidence put forward in the report, the Special Counsel's office made clear that the Russia probe was hampered because of information which could not be obtained - making it clear that some people under investigation had deleted texts and other electronic communications, 'including some associated with the Trump Campaign.' One example was between former White House aide Steve Bannon and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who were questioned about a secretive meeting in the Seychelles, which involved Russian figures. Bannon and Prince told different stories - but investigators couldn't see their text messages, because they had simply disappeared from their phones, as both men denied deleting the messages. 'Prince's phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages,' the report stated. 9. Mueller Report redactions - 'lightly redacted' or more? The evening before the release of the report, officials told a variety of news organizations that the report was 'lightly redacted.' One group looked at it and found redactions of over 170 pages, as there were examples where entire pages were blacked out. The very first redactions in the document came in the Table of Contents - and had to do wtih the 'Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Materials,' dealing with stolen Democratic Party emails and Wikileaks. Some items were redacted for grand jury information, investigative techniques, harm to ongoing matters, and third person privacy concerns. 10. Trump's answers to Mueller questions. At the end of the Mueller report, you can read the President's answers to a series of written questions posed by the Special Counsel's office, after they were unable to get the President to sit for an interview, in person. Critics of the President noted derisively that there was a theme in many of his answers. 'I don't recall,' or 'I don't remember,' were phrases found. 'I have no recollection,' and 'I do not remember.' 'I do not recall being aware during the campaign' of any contacts with Wikileaks, the President testified. 'I have no recollection' that any foreign government or entity wanted to support the campaign, Mr. Trump said. 'I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that Vladimir Putin' supported my bid for the White House, the President added.
  • In a redacted 448 page report delivered to Congress Thursday by Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller detailed a series of actions by President Donald Trump to rein in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, clearly stating that while Mr. Trump tried to undermine the Russia investigation, his efforts were stymied mainly because top aides and other government officials ignored his demands for action. Prime among them was White House Counsel Don McGahn, who told investigators that the President ordered him to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June of 2017, soon after press reports emerged that the President was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice. 'McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,' referring to the  episode in the Watergate investigation where President Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Later, when press reports emerged stating that the President has ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the report says the President then 'directed White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed.' McGahn again refused to follow the President's order - defying him in an Oval Office meeting. 'McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the President to be testing his mettle,' the report concluded. There were other stories of top aides similarly ignoring the President, such as Corey Lewandowski, who was told by Mr. Trump to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly state that the Russia investigation was 'very unfair' to Mr. Trump. First in June of 2017, then again a month later, Mr. Trump used a private meeting to press Lewandowski - an outside adviser - to get Sessions 'to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference.' But like the White House Counsel, Lewandowski balked, and refused to follow the President's request, going so far as to ask a senior White House official - Rich Dearborn - to do the dirty work for him. 'Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through,' the report stated. The report also details how the President tried to lobby senior leaders of the U.S. Intelligence Community to help him limit the Russia probe, as Mr. Trump complained to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, his daily intelligence briefers, and top officials at the National Security Agency. In late March of 2017, the President complained directly to DNI Coats, who counseled that it would be best to allow the investigations to 'run their course,' and not interfere with the work of FBI Director James Comey. While Coats did not tell investigators that he felt directly pressured to act, his top aides told a different story, that 'Coats was upset because the President has asked him to contact Comey to convince him there was nothing to the Russia investigation.' Mr. Trump also called the head of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, to weigh in on the Russia investigation - a conversation that so alarmed Rogers and a top deputy that they immediately drafted a memo, and placed it in an NSA safe to memorialize the communications with the President, much as Comey had done after his own meetings with Mr. Trump. Intelligence officials also said the President complained about the Russia investigation during his daily briefings, and asking for messages of support in the news media. 'On at least two occasions, the President began Presidential Daily Briefings by stating that there was no collusion with Russia and he hoped a press statement to that effect could be issued,' the report said. NSA chief Rogers recalled a private talk with Mr. Trump where the President vented his frustration, 'and said something like the 'Russia thing has got to go away.'' In another example from July of 2017, President Trump was ready to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but encountered resistance from White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. 'Even though Priebus did not intend to carry out the President's directive, he told the President he would get Sessions to resign,' the report stated. Priebus later told the President that Sessions could not be ousted, because other top officials - including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand would also resign - setting off a Saturday Night Massacre type of situation for President Trump. In the end, the Mueller investigation found that top aides to the President had saved Mr. Trump from possible legal jeopardy, mainly by ignoring his demands on the Russia investigation. 'The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,' the Mueller report concluded. Top Democrats in Congress immediately made clear they want more information about the obstruction matters. 'As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding,' said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer. Not surprisingly, the White House saw things differently, as the redacted version of the Mueller report was issued. On the issue of collusion, the Mueller report stated the investigation 'identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign' - but that there was no evidence that the campaign had 'conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.' Mueller seems likely to be asked directly about his investigation in May, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said he would ask Mueller to testify next month. Attorney General Barr is already scheduled for two days of testimony before the House and Senate on May 1 and May 2.
  • Official Washington is focused primarily today on the release of a redacted version of a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was appointed almost two years ago by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections, a probe which has generated fierce criticism since the outset by President Donald Trump and many of his political allies. First, this is the link to the 448 page Mueller report. There are two parts to the report - Volume 1 covers questions about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.  Volume 2 covers matters related to possible obstruction of justice by the President on the Russia probe. Here's where we stand: + 1:20 pm - The Mueller report raises the specter that associates of the Trump campaign and/or allies of the President may have deleted emails and other electronic evidence, which impeded the Mueller investigation. + 1:10 pm - While the Special Counsel was never able to get an in-person interview with the President, this report does include his written answers to questions submitted by the Mueller legal team. + 1:00 pm - The report goes into a lot of detail about the interactions between President Trump and former FBI Director James Comey, which ultimately resulted in Comey's firing in May of 2017.   + 12:50 pm - While Attorney General Barr talked earlier today of all the cooperation that the White House had provided in the investigation, the Mueller reports paints a different picture, especially when it comes to the question of getting testimony from President Trump.  The Special Counsel's office determined that an effort to subpoena the President would require an enormous amount of legal effort and time, even though simple written responses from President Trump were viewed as insufficient.  “We viewed the written answers to be inadequate,” the report stated. + 12:30 pm - The report details a number of contacts and calls made by the President to top intelligence officials, asking for their help in refuting the Trump-Russia story.  Top officials at the National Security Agency were so alarmed that they immediately wrote out a memo after the conversation, and put it in a safe.   Like White House aides, intelligence officials basically ignored the President's demand for help. + 12:10 pm - The Mueller report basically says that because top aides to the President consistently refused to carry out his orders to rein in - or even terminate - the Russia investigation, they saved the President from committing illegal acts, and obstruction of justice. + 12:00 pm - As mentioned earlier, President Trump had ordered his White House Counsel to fire Robert Mueller.  Don McGahn had refused.  Months later, the issue surfaced in the press, and the Mueller report says the President then demanded that McGahn deny the reports.  McGahn refused. + 11:55 am - The Mueller report says President Trump personally intervened to change a statement from his son, Donald Trump, Jr., about the infamous Trump Tower meeting, deleting a reference to how the meeting was to offer information about Hillary Clinton, and instead saying the meeting was about adoption policies.  + 11:50 am - After telling the White House Counsel to fire Mueller in June of 2017, President Trump kept pressing aides to help limit the Russia probe.  He asked Corey Lewandowski to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare the Russia probe, “very unfair.”  Lewandowski said he would do that, but refused - and tried to get another aide to do the same thing, who also refused. + 11:40 am - As the Mueller report was being released, President Trump was making comments about it during a White House event with wounded warriors.  + 11:35 am - In testimony from White House Counsel Don McGahn, the Mueller report spells out how President Trump ordered his top lawyer to fire the Special Counsel in 2017, once stories emerged that the President was under investigation for possible obstruction of justice in the Russia investigation. + 11:30 am - A reminder in the report from the Special Counsel that a number of people connected to the Trump campaign lied about their contacts during and after the election when questioned by the feds. + 11:25 am - Here is the conclusion of Special Counsel Mueller when it comes to whether President Trump should have been charged with Obstruction of Justice: + 11:20 am - While there were indications the report was 'lightly redacted,' that's not the case in some areas, where entire pages were blacked out. + 11:10 am - The redactions give us little new information on links between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. + 11:06 am - The first redaction is in the table of contents, dealing with materials linked to Wikileaks and the Trump Campaign. + 11:05 am - The Mueller report has been released.  It is 448 pages. + 11:00 am - Don't forget, this report is not just about President Trump.  It also will spill into the race among Democrats to try to replace him. + 10:55 am - My ten year old kid asks me, “Have they released the Mueller report yet?”  Soon, I tell him. + 10:50 am - President Trump's scheduled 10:30 am event with Wounder Warriors at the White House still has not started.  With the Mueller report scheduled to be delivered to Congress at 11 am, it will be interesting to see if the President is speaking at that moment.  A President has the power to dominate the airwaves in a way that no other person can in the United States. + 10:45 am - As we await the exact details of the Mueller report, it is a good time to remember how important actual documents are in any investigation, and how politicians deal with public discussion of that material.  This from one House Democrat from Florida: + 10:40 am - Donald Trump Jr. did not mention his initial reaction to the offer of 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton, which he welcomed.  + 10:35 am - President Trump's son is echoing the declarations of his father as the Mueller report is released. + 10:30 am - Democrats are furious about the news conference of Attorney General Barr, claiming it was nothing more than Barr acting like President Trump's defense lawyer. + 10:25 am - Not long after the Attorney General said he had no opposition to the idea, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are now officially asking for public testimony from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. + 10:20 am - Here is how the Barr news conference ended. + 10:15 am - The Trump White House is ready for today.  This was tweeted out soon after the end of the Barr news conference. + 10:10 am - Even on Fox News, there were not universally good reviews for the Attorney General. + 10:05 am - Here's some of the Attorney General's news conference. + 10:00 am - The news conference ends on a somewhat testy note, as the Attorney General sparred with reporters over how he characterized the impact of the investigation on President Trump, labeling the probe an 'unprecedented situation.' + 9:55 am - Barr says he has no opposition to the idea of Special Counsel Mueller testifying before Congress. + 9:50 am - Barr confirms that the President's legal team was allowed to see the Mueller report before Congress. + 9:45 am - Here is a link to Barr's statement he is giving to reporters. + 9:40 am - In his news conference, the Attorney General keeps repeating a main theme over and over again - that there was no collusion or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.  “The Special Counsel did not find any conspiracy,” Barr says. “So, that's the bottom line.” + 9:35 am - Attorney General William Barr says the redacted report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller will be delivered to Congress at 11 am, and then it will be posted on line for the public to read. + 9:25 am - As we wait for the news conference of Attorney General William Barr, Democrats are denouncing Barr, ridiculing his decision to hold this session with reporters before the report is even released. + 9:20 am - President Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, is making his own noise today, saying he's ready to fill in any of the blanks left by redactions in the Mueller report.  Cohen's lawyer - Lanny Davis - was emphasizing the same as well. + 9:10 am - A quick reminder of what we know so far about the Russia investigation.  We know the basics already from the charges brought - or not brought by the Special Counsel.  Russian intelligence agents hacked Democratic Party emails and documents, and gave them to Wikileaks during the campaign. There were numerous contacts between Russians and people affiliated with the Trump campaign, both before and after the elections. But we also know that no indictments were ever returned for any Trump-Russia conspiracy, or collusion.  + 9:05 am - Congress is not in session this week, but the miracle of social media will make it very easy for lawmakers to weigh in on today's events as they transpire.  Republicans are backing the President, while Democrats are raising questions about the actions of Attorney General William Barr, who is scheduled to hold a news conference at 9:30, before the release of the report. + 9:00 am - It's been a busy morning on Twitter for President Trump, who has been again voicing his displeasure with the Mueller investigation, and re-tweeting items related to Hillary Clinton and the investigation of her emails from her time as Secretary of State.
  • With a political battle ready to boil over at any minute on how much is going to be revealed to the public about the Russia investigation, and both political parties fully ready to press their case to the public on how to digest what's being released by the Trump Administration, the Justice Department on Thursday morning is set to release some of the details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 elections. Here's the basic run down on what to expect on Thursday: 1. Attorney General starts first with a news conference at 9:30 am EDT. Even before the redacted report from the Special Counsel is made public, U.S. Attorney General William Barr will hold a news conference at the Justice Department. News organizations were told that Congress would get the report between 11 am and 12 noon - and around that time, the report will be posted on the website of the Special Counsel. President Trump also suggested that he might hold a news conference before he leaves for his Florida retreat to spend the Easter weekend. 2. Redactions are certain to be a big issue. There were reports Wednesday night that the redactions were not going to black out a significant part of the Mueller report, but no one will know that until we get to read the report with our own eyes. Four specific types of information would be redacted as spelled out by Attorney General William Barr - 1) Materials from grand jury proceedings, 2) Classified information, 3) information related to ongoing prosecutions, and 4) Materials which touch on third parties who are not directly involved in the Russia investigation. Barr says the redactions will be 'color coded,' allowing people to know why certain passages or words were not made public.  You can listen to Barr's explanation from his testimony to a House panel last week: 3. We already know a lot about the Russia investigation. Even before some of the details from the Mueller report are released to the public, the Special Counsel has put a lot on the record. There clearly was an effort by Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections. Russian intelligence agents were indicted for hacking Democratic Party emails and documents, and providing those materials to Wikileaks. A series of people who worked for the campaign, or were foreign policy advisers, have come under scrutiny for contacts with Russians - both during and after the elections. A number of people have plead guilty to lying to the feds about such contacts. But the Special Counsel never tied it all together into any indictments which alleged coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, something the President has trumpeted repeatedly in recent days. 4. President Trump and the question of obstruction of justice. In his March 24 letter to Congress, the Attorney General clearly stated that Special Counsel Mueller did not make a final conclusion about whether President Trump obstructed justice during the Russia investigation. 'The Special Counsel states that 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'' It will be interesting to see how the report deals with this matter, and how much of the Mueller evidence - and his own internal deliberations about obstruction - will be made public by the Attorney General. 5. Is Congress really getting the Mueller report on a CD? According to news organizations on Wednesday, the Justice Department is sending Congress the redacted version of the Mueller report on a CD. Needless to say, many of you reading this probably don't have a CD drive on your laptop or home computer - let alone on your cell phone. Many of you probably forgot that CD's could be used for something other than music. In 1998, Ken Starr's investigation delivered its report in both written form and - wait for it - on a CD. And of course, I still have my copy.
  • As lawmakers wait for the details of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Republicans in the U.S. House are stepping up their efforts to make public dozens of transcripts of interviews conducted when the GOP was in charge of the investigation on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. In a letter sent April 10 to the Director of National Intelligence, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) - who have led Republican efforts to investigate the Russia investigators - asked for quicker action to declassify 53 interview transcripts done by the House Intelligence Committee. 'As the Justice Department prepares the Special Counsel's report for public disclosure, full transparency demands the public disclosure of (the panel's) witness interviews on the same subject matter,' the two Republicans wrote. The GOP pressure to publicly release more interview transcripts comes as the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), has been slowly releasing individual transcripts of interviews done by Congress in 2018. 'I am committed to making sure the American people understand what went on in the investigation of the FBI and the Department of Justice,' Collins said as he released the second part of an interview with the former General Counsel of the FBI. 'Transparency matters. We will continue to release these transcripts,' Collins added, as Republicans have cheered the unilateral moves. So far, Collins has released closed door interview transcripts with a group of very familiar names from the FBI and Justice Department who were involved in the Russia investigation: DOJ official Bruce Ohr, his wife Nellie Ohr, who worked on Russian research for the group Fusion GPS, which was bankrolling the author of the Steele Dossier, FBI lawyer Lisa Page, FBI counterintelligence head Peter Strzok, FBI legal counsel Jim Baker and top FBI counterintelligence official Bill Priestap. What have the details of those interviews shown?  Like a lot of things in Washington, D.C., it depends what side of the ball you're on. 1. The idea of Russian interference alarmed FBI/DOJ officials. One theme which is readily apparent from all of the transcripts released so far is that law enforcement officials felt the possibility of Russian interference in the 2016 elections - and the chance that of possible Russian ties to members of the Trump campaign, or people tied to President Trump - clearly merited investigation. 'Extremely serious,' said ex-FBI General Counsel Jim Baker, as the threat of Russia obviously worried officials. 'It doesn't get much more serious or grave than that,' said Peter Strzok. 'And if there is somebody on his team who wittingly or unwittingly is working with the Russians, that is super serious,' said FBI lawyer Lisa Page. 'I was very concerned,' said Bruce Ohr. 2. Republicans question Steele; FBI stands behind him. For Republicans, there is little in the way of credibility attached to former British Intelligence agent Christopher Steele, as they see him peddling false information to the FBI, which spurred an investigation of President Trump. But it's very clear FBI and DOJ officials are on the other side of that coin. 'I think any attempt by a foreign power to gain influence over a Presidential campaign would be troubling,' said Bruce Ohr, who met with Steele multiple times, and turned materials over to the FBI for him - warning them who Steele was working for. 'I wanted them to be aware of any possible bias,' Ohr testified. Lisa Page testified that the FBI ran the traps immediately on Steele's information. 'And to the best of my knowledge, we were never able to disprove any statement in it,' she said. 3. FBI/DOJ: We didn't leak about the Russia investigation. As Republicans used these interviews to accuse various officials of conducting a biased investigation against President Trump, one counterpoint comes up repeatedly - the feds never leaked the existence of the Trump investigation during the 2016 campaign, knowing full well it could have been lethal for the President's bid for the White House. 'That would have been improper,' said Peter Strzok, who speculated that a leak about the Russia probe would have had an 'adverse impact' on the President's chances. 'That's not how the FBI operates,' said Lisa Page, who said, 'we all had had and still have incredibly damning information which could have been released.' And there was one more point. 'The answer is no, I am not aware of an effort to put a spy in the campaign,' said Jim Baker. 4. GOP lawmakers press repeatedly for info on Steele Dossier. From the transcripts, GOP lawmakers clearly believe that the Steele Dossier was given much too much importance by the FBI. Lisa Page said she first read parts of the dossier in mid-to-late September 2016. Republicans claimed the CIA had the dossier in August. 'Totally surprises me,' Page said when told that by GOP lawmakers. 'As of August of 2016, I don't know who Christopher Steele is,' Page added. Some officials testified about how they were given the Steele Dossier - but not by Steele; Jim Baker received it from reporter David Corn. 'I know that David was anxious to get this into the hands of FBI,' Baker said. 'And being the person at the FBI that he knew the best, he wanted to give it to me.' Bruce Ohr said Steele kept after him to get information to the FBI, because he felt like U.S. officials weren't heeding his warnings about Trump-Russia connections. 'I think he was very alarmed by the information that he had provided to me about contacts between the Russian Government and the Donald Trump campaign,' Ohr said of Steele, who warned that Russia 'had Trump over a barrel.' 5. A growing alarm within the FBI over Trump-Russia ties. The transcripts show that as Election Day neared in 2016, top officials were getting increasingly worried about what they were seeing in terms of the Russia investigation. 'I grew more alarmed over time,' said ex-FBI Counsel Jim Baker. Peter Strzok said, 'the menace that I saw was primarily the interference of the Government of Russia in the Presidential elections.' And the fact that Russia was involved made it more explosive - Lisa Page called Moscow, 'our most treacherous adversary.' But Page also had something very to interesting to say about the investigation and how it related to the candidate himself - 'at the time that we opened the investigation, I don't have any reason to believe that it is Donald Trump himself who was colluding with the Russians.' 6. GOP lawmakers frustrated by refusal to answer questions. The specter of the Mueller investigation hung over most of the proceedings in the transcripts which have been released so far, as various officials - backed by FBI legal counsel in the room - refused to answer questions which might touch on the Russia investigation. 'I'm not at liberty to talk about the topic,' Bill Priestap said. 'I can't answer that question at this time, sir,' said Lisa Page. 'I don't think it's appropriate for him to answer that question,' one lawyer said of a question to Bruce Ohr. 'I can't answer that question,' Peter Strzok said when asked about the Russia probe. 'It's answerable, but I, under advice of agency counsel, I can't answer that.' And then there were instances where the questions got into possible legal problems for the witness, like former FBI counsel Jim Baker. 'You're saying he's under criminal investigation?' asked Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC). 'That's why you're not letting him answer?' At some points, the frustration boiled over. 'So if Mr. Jordan asks the witness, 'Have you ever met Robert Mueller?' are you going to allow him to answer that question?' asked a frustrated Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA). 7. Those working at the FBI really don't like the Russians. One theme from these interviews is a deep-seated belief at the FBI that Russian Intelligence is not sending flowers to the United States. 'I mean, most everybody who works counterintelligence at the FBI has pretty strong feelings about the Russian Federation,' Lisa Page told GOP lawmakers. 'Russia poses the most severe existential threat to Western democracy in the world,' she added. 'I think it is demonstrably true that a foreign nation clandestinely putting themselves into a Presidential election, it doesn't get much more serious or grave than that,' said Peter Strzok. 'If the Russian Government was attempting to influence the Trump campaign in some way, I would think that would be a national security threat,' said Bruce Ohr, whose focus had been on Russian organized crime. 8. Little detail on talk of wire or 25th Amendment.  While Republican lawmakers were obviously alarmed by testimony that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had suggested wearing a wire to talk with the President - and/or invoking the 25th Amendment to move him out of office - top FBI officials made clear it was all talk.  FBI Counsel Jim Baker said, “it was just not something that made any sense to do.”  GOP lawmakers wanted to know what kind of review the FBI did on the ideas.  The answer - nothing.  “To my recollection, we didn't do any legal research or anything of that nature,” said Baker.   “So then what happened?” asked Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). “You just dropped it, like, okay, no big deal?”  Baker's answer was the same - “it just was one of these things that didn't make sense from a commonsense perspective.”  From the transcripts, it seems clear that both Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) clearly didn't believe that it had just been dropped - but no other evidence has surfaced so far to show that it was anything other than something mentioned by Rosenstein. Here are the links to the testimony referred to in this story: + Bill Priestap + Bruce Ohr + Jim Baker, day one + Jim Baker, day two + Nellie Ohr + Peter Strzok + Lisa Page, day one. + Lisa Page, day two.
  • The first year of a divided Congress got off to an inauspicious start on the federal budget, as the House and Senate both failed to approve a budget framework for 2020 before going home for a two week Easter break, continuing a less than stellar bipartisan record of action on spending and deficits on Capitol Hill in recent years. 'Last year was a historically bad year for the Congressional budget process,' said the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, noting it was the first time since 1976 that neither the House nor the Senate voted on a budget resolution. 'Unfortunately, this only adds to a poor budget record,' the group added.  One important point before we get too deep into Legislative Nerd Territory - the term 'budget' does not relate to actual spending, but rather to what's known as the 'budget resolution,' which is a budget outline - a framework - for what Congress will do later in the year, filling in the blanks with the specifics of spending choices. As the CFRB notes, this year is not getting off to a good start on the budget, which is even more troublesome given the divided nature of Congress, with Democrats in charge of the House, and Republicans leading the Senate. And the forecast is for a difficult budget year - which many believe might end up in another government shutdown in October, and a possible across-the-board sequester soon after. Here's just some of what gone on, and what to look for on Capitol Hill. 1. Divided House Democrats punt on 2020 budget. Just like Republicans in the House struggled for years to balance the interests of more conservative members of the Freedom Caucus and more moderate GOP lawmakers, Democrats have the same balancing act. More liberal members want to do big things in the budget. More moderate 'Blue Dog' Democrats want a more middle ground on spending. And so, Democrats had to give up plans last week to vote on a bill to raise the caps on federal spending for the next two years by nearly $350 billion. Progressives didn't like it because it spent too much on defense, at $733 billion. Meanwhile, some more moderate Democrats were talking about a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. The internal Democratic Party dustup was music to ears of Republicans, who chortled about the Democrats running into the Legislative Ditch. 2. Senate Republicans didn't vote on their budget outline either. While Republicans chuckled at the failure of Democrats to force a vote on their budget plan for 2020, GOP Senators didn't even try to act on their budget resolution before the April 15 deadline. The Senate GOP budget resolution would reduce future planned spending increases by over a half billion dollars, but it wouldn't come close to the defense spending levels backed by President Trump - who wants $750 billion for defense. House Democrats have proposed $733 billion, while the Senate Republican budget would have funding for the military set at $643 billion, well below the President's request. And so, for a second straight year, there was no budget vote-a-rama in the Senate on the non-binding budget resolution. 3. The Defense Budget Gimmick used by both parties. With budget caps in place that limit how much you can spend on the military and non-defense items in the budget, Congress is still doing its best to get around those limits, especially for the military, by using an extra fund known as OCO - which stands for Overseas Contingency Operations. For example, President Trump's 2020 budget would put $174 billion in the OCO fund - more money than almost all other federal agencies - in order to get to a $750 billion budget for the Pentagon. Democrats have $69 billion in OCO, with Senate Republicans at $67 billion. If there's no deal on raising the budget caps, then the most money which could be spent on the Pentagon is $576 billion - unless, you get around that with the OCO $174 billion. 'OCO would be the 2nd largest federal agency, if it was an agency,' grumbled the group Taxpayers for Common Sense, as many say it's nothing but a slush fund. 4. McConnell, Pelosi want to negotiate a new budget deal. Even as Democrats were running aground on their effort to pass a bill which increases the spending caps, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to start talks on a budget agreement, as both parties know full well they need to get going now in order to have any chance of an across-the-board budget cut known as the sequester. If you look at graphic just above this bullet point, you will see the figure of $576 billion for the Pentagon, and $542 billion for non-defense spending - those are the 'spending caps' set in law by a 2011 bipartisan budget deal. Current funding is much more than that, at $716 billion for the Pentagon and $605 billion for non-defense spending. The last three deals on the budget caps have raised the amount of spending each time - and the President may not go for that this time around. 5. Looming over all of this is a sequester. The reason lawmakers want to reach a 'spending caps' agreement is that the Budget Act of 2011 is still on the books, and if there is no agreement on the amount of money to spend in 2020, then an across-the-board budget cut known as the 'sequester' will kick in. And that would be a very big deal. If a sequester hits, the military budget would technically have go down from $716 billion to $576 billion - a cut of $140 billion. If the sequester kicks in, domestic spending would be trimmed from $605 billion to $542 billion. Ironically, because of the big increase that the GOP Congress was able to give to the Pentagon in 2017 and 2018, a sequester would hurt the military more than non-defense spending in 2020 and beyond. This is where the OCO funding (look above) comes into play - President Trump could allow the sequester to kick in, but still funnel more money to the Pentagon through that extra fund. One problem with that game plan is the GOP probably would not have 60 votes in the Senate to get that done. This may get pretty messy in the months ahead.
  • Hours after White House officials said the idea was not being considered, and ignoring the legal advice of the Department of Homeland Security, President Donald Trump on Friday afternoon threatened to send illegal immigrants captured at the Mexican border to urban areas known as 'sanctuary cities.' On Twitter, the President first criticized Democrats over stalled efforts on immigration legislation, and then went against officials in his own administration by saying, 'we are indeed, as reported, giving strong considerations to placing Illegal Immigrants in Sanctuary Cities.' Asked by reporters about the plan, Mr. Trump made clear he was ready to do it, especially in California. “They want more people in their sanctuary cities - well, we'll give them more people,” Mr. Trump said.  “We can give them an unlimited supply.” Democrats said the idea smelled of political retribution by a President who is frustrated that he cannot unilaterally impose his will on immigration policy, without first getting approval in Congress. 'Trump’s plan to release migrants into “enemy” cities as if they are some kind of contagion is reprehensible,' said Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). 'It seems there is no limit to how far Trump will go to degrade the office he holds,' said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), who noted in a tweet, 'here in California, we're proud' of sanctuary cities. 'It demonstrates an unimpeded desire to divide Americans against one another and again conveys once more his utter lack of fitness to serve as the leader of our nation,' said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX). Republicans have long chafed at 'sanctuary cities,' jurisdictions which refuse to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
  • It may be a prized goal of President Donald Trump, but the idea of Congress spending extra money to set up a new arm of the Air Force to deal with military operations in space continues to be as inviting to lawmakers as choosing vacuum packed astronaut ice cream as a daily dessert. 'I'm having a real hard time understanding why we need this other agency,' said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV). 'It just doesn't make any sense to me at all, I'm sorry.' 'I guess we need some convincing that there is a need for a sixth branch in our armed services,' said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), as a Senate hearing on the idea turned into a parade of bipartisan skepticism. 'To create a new bureaucracy that's going to cost us half a billion dollars a year, I've got to be convinced there's some incremental value there,' said Sen. Angus King (I-ME).  'All I see is how a new Space Force will create one more organization to ask Congress for money,' said Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). At a Thursday hearing with Senators, a panel of top military leaders tried their best to convince lawmakers that now is the time to start setting up such a plan, which has been repeatedly championed by President Trump. 'We're going to have a Space Force some day,' said Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. 'I think what the committee has to decide when that is going to happen.' It's an idea which certainly has received a lot more attention because of President Trump's support for a Space Force. 'That's the next step, and we have to be prepared,' President Trump said about space in a February event in the Oval Office. 'Our adversaries and, whether we get along with them or not, they're up in space.' But the President's moves to create a Space Command, to sign a Space Force Directive, plug it repeatedly at political rallies, and talk about it with top defense officials has not changed the political dynamic on it for lawmakers in the House and Senate. 'Everybody is excited,' Mr. Trump said of the Space Force in October of 2018 during a visit to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Everybody it seems, except many members of Congress - as all systems are not 'go' at this point. 'You can tell that we're all wrestling with it, we're kind of struggling with it,' said Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) told military leaders.

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  • Nine explosions hit multiple churches, hotels and other locations in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing nearly 300 people and injuring hundreds more, according to The Associated Press and other media outlets. >> Read more trending news  Here are the latest updates: Update 11:20 a.m. EDT April 22: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday mourned the victims of Sunday’s bomb attacks in Sri Lanka and promised the government would provide “all possible assistance” to Americans and Sri Lankans alike. >> Sri Lanka attacks: Who are the National Thowheed Jamath? “We urge that any evil-doers be brought to justice expeditiously and America is prepared to support that,” he Pompeo said. “We also stand with the millions of Sri Lankas who support the freedom of their fellow citizens to worship as they please.” Pompeo confirmed that Americans were among those killed in Sunday’s attack, though he didn’t specify the number of American victims. “It’s heartbreaking that a country which has strived so hard for peace in recent years has been targeted by these terrorists,” he said. >> Sri Lanka attack: Danish billionaire loses three of his four children in bombings Update 9:50 am. EDT April 22: A Denver man has been identified as one of the nearly 300 people killed Sunday in bombings in Sri Lanka, his employer confirmed Monday. Dieter Kowalski worked as senior leader of the operation technical services team for Pearson, an education management company. Though the company is based in England, Kowalski worked in Pearson’s Denver office, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.  “Colleagues who knew Dieter well talk about how much fun he was to be around, how big-hearted and full-spirited he was,” Pearson CEO John Fallon said in a statement shared with company employees and posted Monday on LinkedIn. “They tell of a man to whom we could give our ugliest and most challenging of engineering problems, knowing full well that he would jump straight in and help us figure it out. Dieter, they tell me, was never happier than cheer-leading for our customers and our company and inspiring people in the best way he knew how – by helping them to fix things and doing it with joy, happiness and grace.” Fallon said Kowalski died shortly after arriving at his hotel Sunday for a business trip. Update 7:55 a.m. EDT April 22: Three children of Anders Holch Povlsen, who owns Bestseller clothing, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. The 46-year-old Danish billionaire, who is also the largest shareholder in ASOS, and his family were on vacation in Sri Lanka, the AP reported. Authorities said 39 foreigners were among the 290 people killed in Sunday’s attacks.  Meanwhile, a vehicle parked near St. Anthony’s Shrine, one of the churches that was bombed Sunday, exploded Monday as police tried to defuse three bombs inside, according to the AP. At least 87 bomb detonators have been found in Colombo, officials said. Police have detained at least 24 suspects in connection with Sunday’s bombings. Update 5:15 a.m. EDT April 22:  Government officials said the National Thowheed, a Sri Lankan militant group, was responsible for Sunday’s deadly attacks, the Guardian is reporting. However, a government spokesman said an “international network” helped the attackers. Seven suicide bombers caused six of the nine explosions Sunday, a forensic analyst told The Associated Press. Authorities also said a second Chinese citizen and two Australian citizens were among those killed in Sunday’s attacks. So far, the dead include citizens of the United States, India, Britain, China, Australia, Japan and Portugal, the AP reported. Meanwhile, a Sri Lanka military official said crews defused a homemade pipe bomb discovered late Sunday on a road to the airport outside Colombo, the AP reported. Update 12:10 a.m. EDT April 22: The death toll in the bombings has increased to 290 and more than 500 people have been wounded, according to police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. Among those killed are five Indians, who were identified in tweets from India’s external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka, The AP reported. China and Portugal also said they lost citizens, and the U.S. said “several” Americans were also killed in the bombings. The AP reported Sri Lankan officials said they would examine reports that intelligence failed to heed or detect warnings of a possible suicide attack.  “Some intelligence officers were aware of this incidence,” Telecommunications Minister Harin Fernando said in a tweet, according to The AP. “Therefore there was a delay in action. Serious action needs to be taken as to why this warning was ignored.”  Update 9:50 p.m. EDT April 21: Japan has confirmed at least one citizen death and four injuries from the bombings. The country has issued a safety warning to Japanese people in the country, telling them to avoid mosques, churches and public places like clubs, malls and government offices, The AP reported. Foreign Minister Taro Kono expressed solidarity with Sri Lanka and sent his condolences to victims of the explosions. He also said Japan was committed to “combating terrorism.” Update 5:40 p.m. EDT April 21: The Associated Press reported that, according to internet censorship monitoring group NetBlocks, social media has been blocked across the country after the attacks. Most services, including YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook have been temporarily blacked out to curb false information spread, according to Sri Lankan officials. According to NetBlocks, such blackouts are usually ineffective. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Sri Lanka shuts down social media in wake of Easter attacks “We are aware of the government’s statement regarding the temporary blocking of social media platforms,” Facebook, which owns Instagram and WhatsApp, said in a statement to The AP. “People rely on our services to communicate with their loved ones and we are committed to maintaining our services and helping the community and the country during this tragic time.” Update 3:28 p.m. EDT April 21: Police have 13 suspects in custody, impounded a vehicle they believed was used by suspects and located a safe house used by the attackers.  Related: Photos: Easter Sunday blasts at Sri Lanka churches, hotels kill dozens No one has claimed responsibility for what Sri Lankan officials have described as a terrorist attack by religious extremists. Update 9:28 a.m. EDT April 21: Police have so far arrested three people in connection to the blasts, The Guardian reported. A motive for the bombings is still unclear, investigators said.  Update 8:46 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 207 people were killed and 450 hurt in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Officials said eight blasts targeted three churches, three hotels, a guesthouse and an area near a Dematagoda overpass, the AP reported. Authorities reportedly have arrested seven people in connection with the incidents. Update 8:07 a.m. EDT April 21: Sri Lankan officials say at least 190 people, including at least 27 foreigners and two police officers, were killed in Sunday’s attacks, The Associated Press is reporting. Seven people have been arrested in connection with the eight explosions, which rocked at least three churches and three hotels, as well as a guesthouse, officials said. Update 7:35 a.m. EDT April 21: President Donald Trump tweeted condolences to the Sri Lankan people Sunday morning. “The United States offers heartfelt condolences to the great people of Sri Lanka,” Trump tweeted. “We stand ready to help!” Update 7:19 a.m. EDT April 21: Hours after explosions at Sri Lankan churches and hotels left dozens dead and hundreds more injured, Pope Francis prayed for the victims during his annual Easter message at the Vatican. Related: Sri Lanka explosions: Pope denounces attacks during Easter blessing “I wish to express my heartfelt closeness to the Christian community (of Sri Lanka), wounded as it was gathered in prayer, and to all the victims of such cruel violence,” Francis told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, according to Vatican News. He later added: “I entrust to the Lord all those who have tragically perished, and I pray for the injured and all those who suffer as a result of this tragic event.” Every year after leading Easter Mass, the pope delivers an “Urbi et Orbi” (“to the city and the world”) message, which addresses global issues and conflicts. Update 5:32 a.m. EDT April 21: Two more blasts have been reported in Sri Lanka. A seventh explosion hit a hotel in Dehiwala, and an eighth blast was reported in the capital, Agence France-Presse is reporting. Update 4:20 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 156 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 35 foreigners, officials said. Update 3:34 a.m. EDT April 21: At least 137 people were killed in blasts at three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka, Agence France-Presse is reporting. The dead include 45 people in Colombo, 67 in Negombo and 25 in Batticaloa, officials said. At least nine of the people killed were foreigners, the news agency reported. More than 500 people were hurt in the explosions, according to The Associated Press. Original report: Explosions hit three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, killing dozens of people and injuring nearly 300 more, news outlets are reporting. According to The Associated Press, blasts occurred Sunday morning at St. Anthony’s Shrine in Colombo, St. Sebastian’s Church in Negombo and a church in Batticaloa. Explosions also rocked the Kingsbury, Cinnamon Grand and Shangri La hotels in Colombo, the BBC reported. The Agence France-Presse news agency said 52 people died in the blasts. At least 283 people were taken to the hospital, the AP reported. Suicide bombers may have caused at least two of the church blasts, a security official told the AP.  The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The St. Cloud police department is searching for a young woman with a disability reported missing over the weekend. Faith Kepner, 20, disappeared Friday after leaving her home to visit a nearby grocery store. Investigators say Kepner told her family that she was going to walk to the Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market located at 2025 Nolte Road in St. Cloud.  Surveillance video from the business shows Kepner visited the store but she never returned home. Kepner is white with brown hair and brown eyes.  She’s approximately 5’05” and weighs around 110 lbs.  She was last seen wearing a pink shirt, black shorts and a black hooded sweat shirt with a heart emblem with black and red Sketchers sneakers. Investigators consider Kepner to be endangered because she lacks the mental capacity for her age, due to an illness/disability. If you know where she is, call the St. Cloud Police Department in reference to report number 19-002303.
  • For the second time in less than a year, some residents at a Lake Mary condo complex are without a home due to a fire.  50 residents of Regency Park on Lake Emma Rd. had to be evacuated this morning after the fire started in a building toward the front of the complex, just before 5:00 a.m.   It quickly spread to the roof of the building, and it took over 45 firefighters to eventually knock it down.   There were no injuries reported, although a pet cat and snake had to be rescued.   Four units in the building that caught fire are a total loss, according to firefighters.   There was another fire reported at Regency Park last summer that also caused extensive damage.
  • Another day, another teen internet challenge. This one is called Shell On Challenge. This challenge encourages teens to eat things still in its packaging. For example, eat the banana by biting through the peel. Another example is eating through the packaging of Hostess, Lil Debbie or Tastycakes including chewing AND swallowing the plastic packaging. This means teens are consuming plastic. Teens are videoing themselves and posting to YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat. Doctors are warning teens not to participate in this challenge. Fruit rinds are typically not dangerous. Eating plastic is another story. BPA has been suggested to influence hormones. Chemicals in PVC like vinyl chloride have been linked to cancers. APP USERS CAN SEE VIDEO HERE. APP USERS CAN SEE VIDEO HERE. APP USERS CAN SEE VIDEO HERE.  Actor Kevin Spacey may have been ahead of the trend on this one, as he eats a banana with the skin on in the 2001 movie K-Pax.  APP USERS CAN SEE KPAX SCENE HERE.
  • Authorities in Miami, Florida were surprised to find an 11-foot, 600-pound alligator taking a stroll in a local backyard Friday. Law enforcement checked to see if the alligator had been injured while 'At the same time, keeping a safe distance away,' said Miami Fire Rescue spokesman Ignatius Carroll Jr. 'It broke through a chain-link fence and ended up in their backyard,' said Carroll. Although wet and slimy, Miami PD and a Fish and Wildlife were able to wrangle the large reptile and euthanize it.  APP USERS CAN SEE VIDEO HERE.

Washington Insider

  • As reporters, politicians, legal experts, and members of both political parties spent the weekend going over the impact of the 448 page redacted version of the Mueller Report, it was obvious from the political and legal reactions that the fight over what Russia did in the 2016 elections - and how the Trump Campaign and President Donald Trump dealt with that - was not going to be ending anytime soon. 'There’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians,” President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told CNN's 'State of the Union' on Sunday, as Republicans continue to press the case that the Mueller Report absolves the President of any and all wrongdoing. 'We need to go back and look at how this fake “Russia Collusion” narrative started,' said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), as Republicans looked to move on from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and to focus on investigating the investigators. Meanwhile, Democrats were mulling over their own options, which certainly seem to include more hearings in Congress on what was revealed by the Mueller Report, tugging the story in the exact opposite direction. Democrats pointed to comments from Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), who said the Mueller Report showed a 'pervasiveness of dishonesty' inside the Trump White House. Here's some things which may get some attention in the weeks and months ahead: 1. GOP still wants answers on the Steele Dossier. If you were looking for the Special Counsel's office to detail how the Steele Dossier had factored into the Russia investigation, there was precious little in the Mueller Report. The dossier was directly mentioned 14 times, but there was no mention of it contributing anything directly to the findings of the report. The Special Counsel report says nothing about the dossier as the reason for starting a counter-intelligence investigation, instead making clear that it was information from Trump Campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos which was the genesis. 'On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government rep01ting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign,' the report states on page 14. But the Mueller Report does not address one key question - was the Steele Dossier just another effort by Moscow to disrupt the 2016 elections? This is where Republicans say they want answers - they can hold hearings in the U.S. Senate, if they wish. 2. Michael Cohen again demands retraction over Prague story. One item in the Steele Dossier which has often caused a media furor is over the assertion that President Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen went to the Czech Republic on some sort of mission for the President during the 2016 campaign. Cohen has always denied it, and repeated that in testimony before Congress earlier this year. 'Have you ever been to Prague?' Cohen was asked. 'I've never been to Prague,' Cohen responded without missing a beat. 'I've never been to the Czech Republic.' The Mueller Report was clear that Cohen was believed over Steele. 'Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false,' the report says on page 351. On Friday, Cohen again said he was still waiting for a retraction by McClatchy Newspapers. 3. Why did Donald Trump Jr. not answer questions from Mueller? While President Trump's son has steadfastly defended his father throughout the Mueller investigation, and testified to the Congress about the Russia probe, the Special Counsel report notes that Trump Jr. did not directly aid the Mueller investigation, specifically on the infamous Trump Tower meeting. 'The Office spoke to every participant except Veselnitskaya (a Russian lawyer) and Trump, Jr., the latter of whom declined to be interviewed by the Office' - then, the next two sentences are redacted, with the explanation on page 125 that grand jury information is responsible for the redacation. In a later discussion of how President Trump handled publicity about the Trump Tower meeting, there is a redaction which involves Trump Jr. on grand jury grounds - does it indicate again that Trump Jr. did not answer questions? It's not clear because of the blacked out material - but the President's son never seemingly answered questions from Mueller's team or a federal grand jury. 4. A Trump tweet that was redacted in the Mueller Report. This seems sort of crazy, but it's true. On page 363 of the report, Mueller discusses President Trump denouncing Michael Cohen, when his former personal attorney had moved to plead guilty and cooperate with the feds. 'He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion serve a full and complete sentence,' the President tweeted. Then there is a section which is blacked out under, 'Harm to Ongoing Matter.' But if you look at the footnote, it refers to a tweet by Mr. Trump, at 10:48 am on December 3, 2018. It's not hard to figure out which tweet that was, as it was one in which the President talks about Roger Stone not flipping and cooperating with the feds. I'm not a lawyer, so it makes no sense to me that printing that tweet could interfere with an ongoing case, but that's one of the redactions made by the Justice Department. 5. When will Robert Mueller talk in public? Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have already sent a letter to Special Counsel Robert Mueller asking him to testify before Congress on his report. Last week, the Attorney General said he would have no opposition to Mueller testifying. Mueller operated in a much different way than previous high-profile independent prosecutors - go back to Watergate and you will see news conferences by Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski; Ken Starr spoke to the press during the Whitewater investigation. But Robert Mueller has been totally silent, ignoring questions on his few visits to Capitol Hill, doing no interviews and saying nothing in public. An effort to get some remarks from him on Sunday after church netted only a 'no comment' - which is pretty much the most we have heard from Mueller during his almost 22 months as Special Counsel.