New York, July 20 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer secretly recorded Trump discussing payments to a former Playboy model who said she had an affair with him, The New York Times reported Friday.
The president's current personal lawyer confirmed the conversation and said it showed Trump did nothing wrong, according to the Times.
Citing lawyers and others familiar with the recording, The Times said attorney Michael Cohen made the recording two months before Trump's 2016 election. The newspaper said the FBI seized the recording during an April raid on Cohen's office amid an investigation into his business dealings.
People familiar with the investigation have told The Associated Press that the raid sought, among other things, any information on payments made in 2016 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who says she had an affair with Trump in 2006. He denies it.
The Wall Street Journal revealed, days before the election, that the National Enquirer — run by Trump supporter David Pecker — had paid $150,000 to silence McDougal. At the time, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said, "We have no knowledge of any of this."
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the Times the Republican president did discuss the payments to McDougal with Cohen on the less than two-minute-long recording, but that the payment was never made.
Giuliani says Trump told Cohen that if he did make a payment, to do it by check so it could be documented.
"Nothing in that conversation suggests that he had any knowledge of it in advance," Giuliani told the newspaper. "In the big scheme of things, it's powerful exculpatory evidence."
Giuliani and Cohen haven't immediately responded to messages from The Associated Press. Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis declined to comment to the Times.
McDougal's lawyer, Peter Stris, did not immediately respond to a message.
Cohen, a self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, said last year that he "would take a bullet" for Trump. But Cohen told an interviewer earlier this month that he now puts "family and country first" and won't let anyone paint him as "a villain of this story."
Bangkok, Jul 19 (AP/UNB)— A human rights group has documented the Myanmar military's early preparations for its violence against Rohingya Muslims.
The independent Fortify Rights group said Thursday that it found the army systematically confiscated knives and other sharp-edged tools and forced Rohingya families to remove protective fencing from around their homes as early as 2016.
The report says the army also trained and armed non-Muslim civilians living in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state who later participated in attacks on the Rohingya.
It says those preparations preceded Rohingya militant attacks in late August 2017 that were followed by mass atrocities against Rohingya civilians and the widespread violence that followed.
About 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh to escape what the United Nations and U.S. officials have called an "ethnic cleansing" campaign by Myanmar's government.
Karachi, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani police say a trailer truck has hit a parked passenger bus carrying wedding guests on a busy highway near the southern city of Hyderabad, killing at least 15 people.
The accident took place before dawn Monday in the town of Matiarai in southern Sindh province.
Local police official Mohammad Tahir says 17 people were injured in the crash and some were in critical condition.
He said the negligence of the truck's driver appears to have been the cause of the crash.
TV footage showed badly damaged bus and ambulances transporting bodies and injured to hospitals.
Road accidents are common in Pakistan, where highways and many roads are poorly maintained and traffic laws are widely ignored.
Jerusalem, Jul 15 (AP/UNB) — The Israeli military carried out its largest airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war Saturday as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel throughout the day, threatening to trigger an all-out war after weeks of growing tensions along the volatile border.
Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.
Israel said it was focused on hitting militant targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But even before the report of casualties the intense tit-for-tat airstrikes and rocket barrages still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.
"The Israeli army delivered its most painful strike against Hamas since the 2014 war and we will increase the strength of our attacks as much as necessary," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Late Saturday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza announced that they had agreed to a cease-fire brokered by Egypt, but sirens warning of incoming rockets still wailed in southern Israel early Sunday and it was unclear if the cease-fire was holding.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.
"Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed," he said. "What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss ... Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid."
Later, witnesses reported that Israeli warplanes dropped four bombs on an unfinished building near a Hamas police and security compound in Gaza City, reducing the old structure to rubble. The four-story building is adjacent to a public park. Gaza's Health ministry said two teenagers were killed in the strike and ten others injured.
It marked the first casualties of the day. Striking in the heart of Gaza City is typically only seen during full-blown conflicts like the 2014 war and could signal that a further escalation may be in store.
The Israeli military had no immediate reaction to that strike but said it had targeted a separate high-rise building in the northern Gaza Strip that was used as a Hamas urban warfare training facility. It said a tunnel was dug under the building.
Shortly after, Israeli medical officials said three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a house in southern Israel. It said paramedics in the southern city of Sderot were treating a 52-year-old man with a chest wound, a 17-year-old girl with a face wound and a 20-year-old woman with injuries to her limbs.
Sirens wailed overnight and throughout most of the day Saturday in southern Israel as waves of rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza amid the airstrikes. The military said it identified about 60 launches of rockets and mortars from Gaza toward Israeli territory, of which about 10 were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. As a precaution, the military shut down a popular beach in southern Israel and placed limitations on gatherings of large crowds. Israeli police says four of the projectiles caused damage.
Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it will not tolerate Gaza militants' continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.
With Israel focused on rising tension along its northern border in its efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in post-civil war Syria, it has been wary of escalating hostilities in Gaza. But Netanyahu has also come under pressure to act from southern Israeli communities, who have once again found themselves under rocket fire from Gaza in addition to contending with the daily field fires.
"We are ready to operate simultaneously in different theaters," Conricus said, referring to the dual threats from Syria and Gaza. "It will be challenging to fight on more than one border but it is something we can do and are prepared to do."
Israel's military chief visited the border area for briefings and the Security Cabinet, Israel's top decision-making body, is expected to convene Sunday to discuss further actions.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.
Gaza's health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds.
The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The demonstrations have been fueled in large part by pervasive despair caused by the blockade, which has caused widespread economic hardship.
Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.
Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Most recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons floating over the border.
In a statement, the military said Hamas' activities "violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage Israel's humanitarian efforts that aim to help Gazan civilians."
In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an "immediate response" that was meant to "deliver the message."
The military said its jets targeted two Hamas tunnels as well as other military compounds, including those involved in the production of the kites and balloons. It said the Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza was completely destroyed and footage it released showed a series of large explosions that left a gaping hole in the ground.
Quetta, Jul 14 (AP/UNB) — Disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was in custody on Saturday, a day after the deadliest attacks in Pakistan's troubled election campaign killed more than 130 people, including a candidate.
In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a suicide bomber killed 128 people Friday, including a politician running for a provincial legislature. Four others died in a strike in Pakistan's northwest, spreading panic in the country.
The attacks came hours before Sharif returned from London along with his daughter Maryam to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges, anti-corruption officials said. Maryam Sharif faces seven years in jail.
Mushahidullah Khan, a spokesman for Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League, said Saturday that the ex-prime minister and his daughter were being held in Adiala Jail, located outside the capital of Islamabad.
Sharif has been calling for supporters to vote for candidates from his party.
Khan said Sharif will appeal his conviction and apply for bail before the deadline expires on Monday. He still faces two additional corruption trials, both of which will be held inside the jail, said Khan. Security is being cited as the reason.
In the southern town of Mastung, candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 others died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the horrific bombing in southwestern Baluchistan that wounded another 300 people, straining Baluchistan's health care resources.
The group gave no reason for the bombing. Raisani was running for the election on the newly launched Baluchistan Awami Party ticket.
Appeals were made for donations of blood. Bodies overwhelmed the morgue as crying family members arrived to collect their dead.
On Saturday, banners decrying the tragedy fluttered over empty streets as the provincial capital of Quetta shuttered in mourning for the dead. Lawyers wearing black armbands canceled court appearances.
"Stop killing people, stop shedding blood" read one banner, while another read: "Terrorism and terrorist should be curbed with iron hands."
At Quetta's main hospital Dr. Mohammad Waseem said there was an overwhelming response to the appeal for blood mostly from university students.
Student Ali Ahmed, 18, said he turned up to donate blood in response to an appeal he read in a newspaper. "That was a big tragedy in Mastung, I am very sad. If I can save a life with my blood, I am here to bleed for them," he told The Associated Press.
Within hours of the bombing in Mastung, Sharif returned to Pakistan from London where he was visiting his ailing wife to face corruption charges.
Sharif's son-in-law is currently serving a one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally acquired money.
Ahead of Sharif's return, police swept through Lahore, arresting scores of Sharif's Pakistan Muslim League party workers to prevent them from greeting him at the airport.
In a video message Friday reportedly from aboard his aircraft en route to Pakistan, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.
Sharif has been banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is campaigning for re-election on July 25.
In a televised appeal to supporters from London earlier this week, Sharif said he was not afraid of prison and asked people to vote for his party. He also used the opportunity to again criticize Pakistan's powerful military, which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history, saying Pakistan now has a "state above the state."
During his term in office, Sharif criticized the military's involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists.
Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in the country's politics by keeping Sharif out of power. The military has denied the accusation.
The military also said it is only involved in elections at the request of Pakistan's Election Commission. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel to polling stations throughout the country on election day.
Friday's bombings underscored the security threat.
The first one killed four people in the northwest near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party. The explosion targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unhurt, and wounded 20 people, said local police chief Rashid Khan.
Durrani is running in the July 25 vote against popular former lawmaker Imran Khan. He is a candidate of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an election alliance of radical religious groups.
The attacks came days after a suicide bomber dispatched by the Pakistani Taliban killed secular politician Haroon Ahmed Bilour and 20 others at his rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar.