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Alleged Russian operative Mariia Butina negotiating with prosecutors

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By Tom Winter

Lawyers for alleged Russian operative Mariia Butina have entered into negotiations with federal prosecutors, according to a document filed in federal court Friday.

The two sides requested to postpone the next hearing in the case because they are currently “in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter,” indicating that they are working towards a plea agreement.

Butina is accused of acting as an agent of Russia in the D.C. area and faces charges of conspiracy and failing to register as a foreign agent.

She was arrested and charged in July for allegedly conspiring with her ex-boss to infiltrate politically powerful U.S. organizations, including the NRA, and push Moscow’s agenda.

Butina came to the U.S. in August 2016 on a student visa. Previously, she served as a special assistant to a Kremlin crony whose description in court papers matches that of Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Torshin was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department in April 2018 along with several other Russian oligarchs and has been accused of links to organized crime, as NBC News previously reported.

In a statement issued by her lawyer, Robert Driscoll, after her arrest, Butina denied being a Russian agent. Driscoll called her an “A” student at American University who has been “cooperating with various government entities for months regarding public allegations related to her contacts with various American and Russian individuals.”

He said she testified behind closed doors before the Senate Committee on Intelligence and offered to speak to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Butina was charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C., unconnected to Mueller’s investigation.

The Russian Government has strenuously denied that Butina has any ties to official government conduct.

In the court filing, U.S. prosecutors requested that the court extend the current phase of the case, called a status conference, an additional two weeks, to give both sides time to continue the negotiations.



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Buttigieg, a military vet, says Trump pretended to be disabled to dodge the draft

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By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — Pete Buttigieg accused President Trump on Thursday of exploiting his privileged upbringing to “fake a disability” during the Vietnam War so that “somebody could go to war in his place.”

Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan as a Navy intelligence officer, sought to use his own military background to draw a sharp contrast with Trump during a “Washington Post Live” interview. Pressed on whether he believed that Trump, who cited bone spurs in his heel to be exempted from the draft, had a disability, Buttigieg suggested he did not — “at least not that one.”

“If you’re a conscientious objector, I’d admire that,” said Buttigieg, the South Bend, Ind., mayor and Democratic 2020 contender. “But this is somebody who, I think it’s fairly obvious to most of us, took advantage of the fact that he was the child of a multi-millionaire in order to pretend to be disabled so that somebody could go to war in his place.”

Allegations that Trump dodged the draft have been a sore spot for the president dating back to his 2016 presidential campaign, when it was revealed that he had received five deferments from service in the Vietnam War — four for education and one for a diagnosis of bone spurs.

Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, told the House Oversight Committee in February that Trump had told him “there was no surgery” and “You think I’m stupid? I wasn’t going to Vietnam.”

Buttigieg also lambasted the president for reportedly considering pardons for several U.S. service members or contractors convicted or accused of war crimes, calling it “disgusting.”

“If you are convicted by a jury of your military peers of committed a war crime, the idea that the president is going to overrule that is an affront to the idea of good order and discipline and to the idea of the rule of law, the very thing we believe we’re putting our lives on the line to defend,” Buttigieg said.

There was no immediate comment from the White House.

But Buttigieg in recent days has increasingly attracted Trump’s attention as he’s gained traction in the Democratic presidential primary. Trump earlier this month mocked Buttigieg as Alfred E. Neuman, the goofy cartoon mascot of Mad Magazine, and criticized Fox News for hosting Buttigieg on Sunday for a town hall event.

As Buttigieg works to increase his appeal to black voters, he blasted Trump on Thursday for what he described as “the racism that is emanating from this White House.” Asked whether Trump is a racist, Buttigieg said, “I think so.”

“If you do racist things and say racist things, the question of whether that makes you a racist is almost academic,” Buttigieg said. “The problem with the president is that he does and says racist things and gives cover to other racists.”

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Bank CEO Stephen Calk charged with soliciting Manafort for Trump admin job

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By Tom Winter, Joe Valiquette and Adiel Kaplan

Bank CEO Stephen Calk tried to exchange $16 million in loans to Paul Manafort for a top position within the Trump administration, according to an indictment against the banking executive unsealed Thursday.

Calk, the president of the Federal Savings Bank, approved millions in “high-risk loans in an effort to secure a personal benefit, namely to an appointment as Secretary of the Army, or another similar high-level position in the incoming presidential administration,” said Deputy U.S. attorney Audrey Strauss of the Southern District of New York.

Stephen CalkThe Federal Savings Bank

Federal investigators were probing last year whether Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair, promised Calk a job in the White House in return for $16 million in home loans, NBC News first reported in February 2018.

Calk, who surrendered to the FBI Thursday morning, allegedly approved multiple high-risk loans for Manafort, who urgently needed them to avoid foreclosure. While the loans were pending approval, Calk allegedly provided Manafort with a ranked list of positions he desired. At its head were the two top positions at the U.S. Treasury, followed by Secretary of Commerce and Secretary of Defense. The list also included 19 high-level ambassadorships, among them ambassador to the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Italy.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons. The three loans were questioned by other officials at the bank, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter told NBC News last February.

The loans raised red flags at the bank in part because of Manafort’s history of defaulting on prior loans and that the size made Manafort’s debt the single largest lending relationship at the bank, according to prosecutors. Calk was required to authorize an unusual lending scheme to avoid passing the lending cap to a single borrower.

In exchange, Manafort provided Calk with personal benefits, prosecutors said. The bank CEO was appointed to Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016, just days after the bank approved a proposed $9.5 million loan to Manafort.

According to the indictment, Manafort and his son-in-law, Jeffrey Yohai, approached the bank in an effort to refinance loans tied to a construction project in Los Angeles.

During a meeting held on July 27, 2016 — while Manafort was Trump campaign chairman — Calk allegedly broached the idea of him joint the Trump campaign. By the next day, the first loan of $5.7 million was approved. Less than a week later, Manafort offered Calk a position on the economic advisory committee for Donald Trump, according to the indictment.

Calk issued another loan for over $9 million later in the fall of 2016. Then, Calk reached out to Manafort asking him if he was involved in the Trump presidential transition following the election, according to the indictment.

Manafort allegedly responded, “total background but involved directly.”

Shortly after the election, in November or December 2016, Manafort recommended Calk for an administrative position, leading to a formal interview of Calk for Under Secretary of the Army at the transition team headquarters in Trump Tower in 2017. When Manafort made the recommendation, he had more than $6 million in loans pending approval at Calk’s bank.

Calk ultimately was not hired for the position.

Months later, the loans to Manafort were downgraded by the banks regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Calk allegedly lied to regulators, telling them he never desired a position in the presidential administration.

A November 14, 2016 email Calk sent to Manafort that included his resume and list of desired positions in ranked order was as exhibit in the Manafort trial.

Charlie Gile contributed.



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European elections UK results time: What time is the result of EU election due?

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THE EUROPEAN elections kicked off in the UK this morning, with polling stations open from 7am. What time is the result of the EU election due?

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