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Trump admin to ban entry of International Criminal Court investigators

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By Dan De Luce and Abigail Williams

The United States will repeal or deny visas to International Criminal Court staff seeking to investigate Americans in Afghanistan or elsewhere and may take similar action to protect Israelis or other allied forces from prosecution, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday.

“We are determined to protect the American and allied military and civilian personnel from living in fear of unjust prosecution for actions taken to defend our great nation,” Pompeo said.

The unprecedented move came amid a pending request by the ICC prosecutor’s office to open a probe into possible war crimes by Afghan or U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and after national security adviser John Bolton, a vehement critic of the court, threatened punitive action in September.

The visa restrictions are “a part of the continued effort to convince the ICC to change course with its potential investigation and potential prosecution of Americans for their activities and our allies activities in Afghanistan,” Pompeo told a press conference.

The secretary of state said the administration has already begun to carry out the visa restrictions but did not offer any more details.

Referring to court employees, Pompeo said that “you should know if you’re responsible for the proposed ICC investigation of U.S. personnel in connection with the situation in Afghanistan you should not assume that you will still have or will get a visa or that you will be permitted to enter the United States.”

Pompeo added that the administration was prepared to impose visa restrictions in other cases involving allies, including Israel. “These visa restrictions may also be used to deter ICC efforts to pursue allied personnel including Israelis without allies consent,” he said.

The prosecutor for the ICC has a request pending to investigate possible war crimes in Afghanistan linked to Afghan and U.S. military and intelligence personnel, including at detention sites. A U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2014 concluded that interrogations of detainees after the 9/11 attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere were “brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.”

Pompeo also said the U.S. was ready to increase the pressure on the ICC if necessary.

“These visa restrictions will not be the end of our efforts. We are prepared to take additional steps including economic sanctions if the ICC does not change its course,” he said, without elaborating.

The International Criminal Court in The Hague said it was aware of the U.S. announcement.

“The ICC, as a court of law, will continue to do its independent work, undeterred, in accordance with its mandate and the overarching principle of the rule of law,” ICC spokesman Fadi El Abdallah said in an email.

He added that the ICC is a court of last resort that exercises its jurisdiction only when governments do not meet their responsibility to investigate and prosecute atrocities.

Human rights groups denounced the Trump administration’s decision.

The move represents “a thuggish attempt to penalize investigators at the International Criminal Court for doing their job — investigating war crimes,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch.

“The Trump administration is trying an end run around accountability. Taking action against those who work for the ICC sends a clear message to torturers and murderers alike: Their crimes may continue unchecked,” she said.

In September, after Bolton vowed to penalize the ICC if it did not abandon possible plans to investigate U.S. forces, the court said it would not be deterred by Washington’s threat and would carry on its work.

The U.S. for decades promoted the idea of international criminal justice and was instrumental in establishing the Nuremberg trials after World War II, as well as more recent tribunals prosecuting war crimes in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia and elsewhere.

But Washington has never been a member of the ICC. In 2000, the Clinton administration signed the Rome statute that set up the court but never submitted it to the Senate for ratification as there was strong bipartisan opposition to allowing American troops to be prosecuted outside of the U.S.

Under George W. Bush’s administration, Bolton, as a senior State Department official, led the effort to withdraw the United States from the statute for the ICC.

The Obama administration had a less hostile stance toward the court and lent some limited support to the ICC’s investigations, according to legal experts.

The ICC is the only permanent international criminal tribunal with a mandate to investigate and prosecute the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression.

There are currently 123 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute and are members of the ICC.

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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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Trump lashes out at Rex Tillerson for saying Putin out-prepared him

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By Allan Smith

President Donald Trump lashed out at Rex Tillerson on Thursday morning after his former secretary of state reportedly told a House committee that the president was ill-prepared for a 2017 meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Rex Tillerson, a man who is ‘dumb as a rock’ and totally ill prepared and ill equipped to be Secretary of State, made up a story (he got fired) that I was out-prepared by Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Hamburg, Germany,” Trump tweeted. “I don’t think Putin would agree. Look how the U.S. is doing!”

The tweet followed a Washington Post report that Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Putin out-prepared Trump for the meeting at the 2017 G-20 summit. Tillerson said Putin’s higher level of preparation put Trump at a disadvantage during the meeting.

The U.S. had anticipated a shorter meeting between the two leaders, but it instead turned into a two-hour plus discussion of geopolitical issues, committee aides told the Post. Tillerson spoke before the committee for seven hours in a closed-door session on Tuesday.

“We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted,” a committee aide told the Post. “There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing.”

Tillerson spoke with a bipartisan group of lawmakers and staff at the request of the panel’s chairman, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the newspaper reported. Unlike Trump’s solo meeting with Putin in Helsinki last summer, advisers — including Tillerson — were present alongside him at the meeting with the Russian president in Germany.

Tillerson and Trump had sparred for months before the president fired him in March of last year. The former secretary of state nearly resigned in the summer of 2017 amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, NBC News reported, citing senior administration officials. As tensions came to a head, Tillerson called Trump a “moron” following a meeting at the Pentagon with Cabinet officials and members of Trump’s national security team, three officials familiar with the incident said.

In December, Tillerson told CBS News that Trump was “undisciplined,” didn’t read much and tried to do things that would violate the law. In response, Trump said Tillerson “didn’t have the mental capacity needed” to be secretary of state.

“He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough,” Trump tweeted. “He was lazy as hell.”

In hiring Tillerson to run the State Department, Trump pointed to the former Exxon Mobil executive’s “vast experience at dealing successfully with all types of foreign governments” and called him “a world class player and dealmaker.”

“He will be a star,” Trump tweeted after Tillerson was sworn in.



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