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VA Secretary Shulkin says ‘there is no doubt’ of staying in post

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Campaigning to keep his job, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Tuesday he had no intention of quitting despite blistering findings of travel abuses connected to his 11-day trip to Europe. He issued an extraordinary warning to VA staff rebelling against him: Get back in line or get out.

Speaking after a Tuesday meeting at the White House, Shulkin told The Associated Press that White House chief of staff John Kelly affirmed he still had the trust of President Donald Trump. Reports have swirled in recent days of White House officials looking to oust Shulkin for not hewing more closely to the Trump agenda as well as VA press officials refusing to serve him.

Shulkin, a former VA undersecretary of health in the Obama administration, denied he was straying off course. A VA inspector general report last week found that Shulkin had improperly accepted Wimbledon tennis tickets and his staff lied that he was getting an award in order to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense on an 11-day European trip in July that mixed business and sightseeing.

“There is no doubt I am the secretary,” he said.

Indicating that changes may be in store at the VA, Shulkin added: “Anyone that is not able to get on board with that is not going to be able to remain at VA.”

Trump spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a briefing Tuesday that she had no reason to believe Shulkin’s job was in danger. “If somebody no longer has the confidence of the president you guys will know,” she said.

Their statements come as several major veterans organizations have rallied behind Shulkin, citing concerns over his Europe travel but declaring him the best person to lead the VA at a time of major change. The department is seeking to expand private care options for veterans at government expense, a Trump campaign priority that has raised some concerns among veterans groups of undue “privatization.”

“While we were disappointed to learn of the recent issue with the secretary’s travel, we believe that the current controversy surrounding Shulkin is part of a larger effort to remove him and install others who would take steps to privatize the services provided to our nation’s heroes by the VA,” said American Legion National Commander Denise H. Rohan in a statement.

Addressing the travel controversy, Shulkin said he should have paid closer attention to travel policies rather than rely on staff who he said insisted that his wife would be able to fly commercial airfare for the 11-day trip to Denmark and Britain in July without any problems. The VA inspector general determined that Shulkin’s top aide, Vivieca Wright Simpson, actually had doctored emails to falsely represent that Shulkin was being honored in Denmark to justify the free travel. Wright Simpson retired from her post last Friday in the wake of the IG report.

At least one lawmaker, Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., has called on Shulkin to resign over the improprieties; other lawmakers have suggested he should do more to explain himself and acknowledge fault.

On Tuesday, Shulkin stressed he regretted that the incident had become a distraction to Trump’s agenda and said he would pay more attention to VA’s travel policies in the future.

“I am extraordinarily busy,” Shulkin said. “I wished I asked more questions.” Pledging to put aside the “distractions,” he said he would continue pushing forward with bipartisan legislation in Congress and had called a VA leadership department meeting on Tuesday to reiterate that people who “hijack” the VA agenda won’t be tolerated.

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Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs found after being stolen at gunpoint | Ents & Arts News

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Lady Gaga’s French bulldogs have been found safe and unharmed – two days after being stolen at gunpoint in Los Angeles.

The pop star had been offering $500,000 for the safe return of Koji and Gustav – and had written in a previous Instagram post that her “heart is sick” and she was praying for their return.

Her friend Ryan Fischer, who was shot while walking the pets, is expected to make a full recovery.

“I can confirm that the dogs have been located and are safe,” Captain Jonathan Tippet said.

According to police, Mr Fischer had attempted to fight off the armed robbers – and one of the men was wielding a semi-automatic handgun.

Gaga said: “I continue to love you Ryan Fischer, you risked your life to fight for our family. You’re forever a hero.”

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COVID-19: Man who threatened to blow up NHS hospital unless he was paid £10m convicted of extortion | World News

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A Berlin-born man who threatened to blow up an NHS hospital unless he was paid £10m in cryptocurrency has been convicted of extortion by a German court.

Emil A, an Italian national, sent the first threatening email to the NHS in April 2020 – at the height of the first peak of the coronavirus pandemic – purporting to be a member of the far-right group Combat 18.

Over a six-week period he sent 18 emails, also making threats to blow up BLM protests and murder members of parliament.

The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said their experts worked 24 hours a day analysing leads and electronic communication, eventually tracking Emil A down to a flat in the German capital.

On 15 June, specialist firearms officers from Berlin Police used explosives to force entry to his flat and arrest him.

The 33-year-old – who has been in custody since his arrest – was sentenced to three years in prison, but released on bail by the court before his judgment is ratified.

Tim Court, the NCA’s head of investigations, said Emil A’s actions were “the most significant threat we’ve seen to UK infrastructure” – and that he sought to hijack significant social events like the BLM protests for monetary gain and disrupt the treatment of people suffering with coronavirus.

Mr Court said: “At the height of this we were losing nearly 1,000 people a day and we had to manage someone threatening to plant a bomb. He didn’t have access to it, but if [his threat] had become public, the impact on the confidence of people to go to hospital would have been significant.”

Authorities say Emil A didn’t have any links to the UK or its health service, but that his aim was to exploit the vulnerability of NHS, which was dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients in the first wave of the pandemic.

Nigel Leary, deputy director of the NCA’s National Cyber Crime Unit, said a phone call threatening to detonate a bomb in hospital could have resulted in a loss of life because it would have been difficult to evacuate patients on ventilators.

Detectives were initially unsure whether Emil A operated alone or as part of a group, but concluded that he didn’t have any links to far-right organisations and posed as a member of a neo-Nazi group in order to stoke fear.

An NHS spokesperson said: “The threat made during the extortion demand significantly added to the pressures on the NHS during the COVID pandemic and meant senior leaders and emergency response staff were called on to direct the NHS aspects of the response to this threat.

“The threat and demand was made at a time that hospitals were at their most vulnerable, and could have resulted in significant loss of life.”

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Nigeria: Hundreds of schoolgirls abducted as gunmen attack nearby military site | World News

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More than 300 girls have been abducted from a boarding school in northern Nigeria in the latest in a series of student kidnappings in the country.

Gunmen abducted 317 students from the Girls Science Secondary School in Jangebe town, Zamfara state, on Friday.

Local man Musa Mustapha said the gunmen also attacked a nearby military camp and checkpoint, preventing soldiers from intervening at the school.

The abduction took place at a school in the northern part of the country. Pic: TheCable
Image:
The abduction took place at a school in the northern part of the country. Pic: TheCable

The attackers spent several hours at the camp, but there are no reports of any casualties.

Police and the military have since begun joint operations to rescue the girls, Zamfara state police spokesman Mohammed Shehu said.

Nasiru Abdullahi, who said his daughters, aged 10 and 13, were among the missing, told reporters: “It is disappointing that even though the military have a strong presence near the school, they were unable to protect the girls.

“At this stage, we are only hoping on divine intervention.”

Several large groups of armed men operate in Zamfara state, described by the government as bandits, and are known to kidnap for money and for the release of their members from jail.

Peter Hawkins, Nigeria’s UNICEF representative, called for the immediate release of the schoolgirls, saying: “We are angered and saddened by yet another brutal attack on schoolchildren in Nigeria.

“This is a gross violation of children’s rights and a horrific experience for children to go through.”

Clothing, identified as a hijab, seen outside the school after the abduction. Pic: TheCable
Image:
Clothing, identified as a hijab, seen outside the school after the abduction. Pic: TheCable

Nigeria has seen several such attacks and kidnappings over the years, notably the mass abduction in April 2014 by jihadist group Boko Haram of 276 girls from a secondary school in Chibok in Borno state.

More than a hundred of the girls are still missing.

Friday’s attack came less than two weeks after gunmen abducted 42 people, including 27 students, from the Government Science College Kagara in Niger State.

The students, teachers and family members are still being held.

In December, 344 students were abducted from the Government Science Secondary School Kankara in Katsina State before eventually being released.

And in 2019, a British aid worker, Faye Mooney, was killed by kidnappers in the country.

Lessons were taking place at the time of the attack. Pic: TheCable
Image:
Lessons were taking place at the time of the attack. Pic: TheCable

Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter: “Strong action is required from the authorities to turn the tide & keep schools safe.”

Amnesty International also condemned the latest “appalling attack,” warning in a statement that “the girls abducted are in serious risk of being harmed.”

Teachers have been forced to flee to other states for protection, and many children have had to abandon their education amid frequent violent attacks in communities, Amnesty said.

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