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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.

The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”

The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.

“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.

McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.

The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.

“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.

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CIA chief to brief House on Khashoggi as pressure mounts on Trump

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By Josh Lederman and Alex Moe

WASHINGTON — CIA Director Gina Haspel will brief House leaders Wednesday about what U.S. intelligence knows about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, three people familiar with the briefing tell NBC News, amid growing questions about the Trump administration’s response to the killing and Jared Kushner’s relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Haspel’s trip to Capitol Hill comes the week after her briefing about the intelligence with key senators, who emerged incensed and accused the Trump administration of downplaying the crown prince’s involvement. Despite Secretary of State Mike Pompeo having told lawmakers there was no “direct evidence” linking Prince Mohammed to the murder, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R.-S.C., said after hearing from Haspel that one would have to be “wilfully blind” to deny that he was “intimately involved.”

But Trump’s aides aren’t the only ones working to influence the view in Congress about the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s murder in October in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Three Senate aides tell NBC News that the head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, came to Washington last week and briefed a group of senators about Turkey’s Khashoggi investigation and other issues. The group included both Democrats and Republicans.

It’s unclear whether the Turkish intelligence chief shared with senators the audiotape from inside the consulate or other raw intelligence. But since the Khashoggi killing, Turkey has strategically released its own information about what occurred in the consulate bit by bit — undercutting public assertions from Saudi Arabia, which claimed for weeks that Khashoggi left the consulate alive before being forced to admit he was killed there by a hit team sent from Riyadh.

Ahead of Haspel’s trip, the House Intelligence Committee was briefed by members of the U.S. intelligence community on the Khashoggi killing, the first such briefing for all members of the committee, a congressional source with knowledge of the briefing said. House members will also hear from Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday about Khashoggi and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Saudi-led war in Yemen, as lawmakers consider various legislation condemning Crown Prince Mohammed or limiting U.S. support for the Yemen war.

Strong bipartisan support for congressional moves to criticize Saudi Arabia comes as the Trump administration faces growing pressure to defend its continuing close relationship with the kingdom. In another indication of continued global outrage over the killing, Khashoggi is now being honored by Time Magazine as one of its People of the Year, the first time the magazine has chosen someone no longer alive.

Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, has faced particular scrutiny for his close ties and frequent contact with Crown Prince Mohammed. Those private interactions have taken place outside the typical, formal channels of communication between the U.S. government and foreign leaders, illustrating Saudi Arabia’s persistent efforts to forge direct lines to President Donald Trump that began even before Trump was inaugurated.

Kushner has maintained contact with Crown Prince Mohammed in the weeks since Khashoggi’s killing, a White House official tells NBC News, though the official declined to say how frequently they communicated or what they discussed. The New York Times has reported that the two communicate via WhatsApp, a messaging app popular in the Middle East.

Kushner hasn’t been panicked or overly concerned about the Khashoggi situation, officials said, and has argued to Trump that while the murder was bad, it would be impractical to let it jeopardize the White House’s broader goals in the region. The U.S. is looking for support for Saudi Arabia for the ambitious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that Kushner has developed and plans to roll out in the coming months. Saudi Arabia is also closely aligned with Trump’s campaign to increase pressure on Iran, a mutual foe.

Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 29, 2011.Virginia Mayo / AP file

Suspicions on Capitol Hill that the White House is concealing Crown Prince Mohammed’s role in the killing stem in part from comments from Trump himself, who has repeatedly said the U.S. has no final conclusion about his involvement. Instead, Trump has emphasized that the prince has personally denied any knowledge or role.

That characterization is at odds with the views of the CIA, who have determined that Crown Prince Mohammed was complicit in the killing, NBC News has reported. But Kushner has argued that all the facts are not yet in, echoing Saudi Arabia’s calls for the international community to wait for the results of its own internal investigation.

“I think that our intelligence agencies are making their assessments and we are hoping to make sure that there is justice brought where that should be,” Kushner said Monday in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Unsatisfied with letting Saudi Arabia’s government investigate itself, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been calling for an independent, international investigation of Khashoggi’s killing. Erdogan and the Saudis are also locked in a dispute over Saudi Arabia’s refusal to extradite the suspects in Khashoggi’s killing to Turkey to face justice.



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EU believes second referendum MORE LIKELY likely than no deal says Hague

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THE European Union believes a second Brexit referendum is more likely to happen than the UK crashing out of the bloc without a deal, former Tory leader William Hague has said as he set out exactly what Theresa May should say to European leaders to get a new deal.

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Trump ally Roger Stone says he still has not been contacted by Mueller’s team

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By Anna Schecter and Michael Cappetta

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office has never contacted former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone during its 19-month investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Stone and his attorney said in interviews Tuesday.

Stone has told reporters in the past that he’s had no contact with Mueller, and that remains true as 2019 approaches.

“Nothing’s changed,” Stone said during an interview with NBC News on Capitol Hill while he was protesting with InfoWars’ Alex Jones outside a hearing where Google CEO Sundar Pichar answered lawmakers’ questions about alleged political bias.

Stone’s ties to President Donald Trump go back four decades. He worked for the Trump campaign as an adviser for a short time in 2015 and continued as an informal adviser after leaving his role. During the summer of 2016, he made several public statements that seemed to indicate he had spoken to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange or could be interpreted to mean he had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks was going to release hacked Democratic emails, which he denies.

More than 10 of his associates have now been called before a grand jury in D.C. to answer questions from Mueller’s prosecutors related to Stone and WikiLeaks.

Stone said several months ago that he expects to be indicted. Even though he says he has not been contacted by Mueller’s team, he wrote in an August email to supporters that “Robert Mueller is coming for me” and that Mueller’s investigators are “examining every aspect of my personal, private, family, social, business and political life.”

Legal analyst Daniel Goldman said based on the number of witnesses interviewed there is no question the special counsel is conducting a serious and intensive investigation into Stone, but that his appears to be a tricky case and it is by no means a certainty he will be charged.

“In order for Stone to be charged with conspiring with others to interfere with the fair and proper administration of the 2016 election, the special counsel must determine that he took specific actions to coordinate with WikiLeaks and assist in the dissemination of the hacked emails… If he merely learned about it and did not take any steps to assist or coordinate, then he did not commit a crime,” said Goldman, an NBC News legal analyst and former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee in September 2017 about Russia and Trump and Tuesday he stood by his testimony saying everything he told the committee “is true and accurate.” He noted he supplemented his testimony with four documents at the request of the committee, which “bolsters my testimony.”

In one of the supplemental documents he provided the committee he named Randy Credico as his backchannel to WikiLeaks. When asked Tuesday why he didn’t initially name Credico, Stone said he “feared professional reprisal against [Credico] in the workplace, yet I was persuaded by the committee and my own attorneys to identify him which I did.” Stone and Credico texted about WikiLeaks during the summer and fall of 2016, with Credico texting at one point he was “best friends” with Assange’s lawyer. Credico has repeatedly denied that he got any inside information from WikiLeaks.

In another supplemental document for the committee Stone acknowledged a brief meeting in Florida with a Russian named Henry Greenberg during the campaign.

“The question before House Intelligence Committee was did I meet with any representatives of the Russian State. [Greenberg] does not qualify,” he said Tuesday.

Stone recently declined to speak with the Senate Judiciary Committee in its Russia probe.

During the heat of the campaign in June 2016, Assange announced he had emails damaging to Clinton. Communications reviewed by NBC News show that Stone and others made efforts to try to learn details about what was coming. The Friday before the Democratic National Convention, Assange released the first batch of DNC emails.

On Aug. 8, 2016, Stone told the Southwest Broward Republican Organization, “I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”

On Aug. 21, 2016, he tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon [sic] the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Two months later Assange began releasing Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. His attorney notes that this tweet followed a series of tweets about Podesta the week before. Podesta was the subject of Republican opposition research during the campaign and some in Stone’s camp have said that it was not out of the blue that Stone would text about Podesta.

Stone has been saying for months that the statements he made in 2016 were political bluster in the heat of a campaign, and his attorney said that media focus on them takes them out of context. Stone maintains he has never spoken to Assange, and while he may have asked people to find out details about the content and timing of WikiLeaks’ publication of Democrats’ emails that would be damaging to Clinton, he in no way colluded with WikiLeaks and did nothing illegal to try to help the campaign of Donald Trump.

In the wide-ranging interview with NBC News Stone said he never spoke to candidate Trump about WikiLeaks during the campaign.

Stone’s friend Jerome Corsi has been questioned by Mueller’s team and was offered a plea deal for lying to investigators, which he rejected. Corsi has sued Mueller and other government agencies for allegedly trying to blackmail him into lying. Asked what he thinks about Corsi’s approach, he said, “I wouldn’t do it the same way.”

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined to comment.

Michael Cappetta reported from Washington, D.C.

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