Washington, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — Former FBI Director James Comey moved Thursday to block a subpoena from the Republican-led House of Representatives, saying the closed-door interview demanded by lawmakers would be selectively leaked for political purposes.
Comey was subpoenaed earlier this month by the House Judiciary Committee to discuss FBI actions and decisions in 2016, including the decision to not recommend criminal charges against Hillary Clinton for her use of a private email server. The FBI also opened an investigation that year into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Comey, who has testified multiple times about both investigations on Capitol Hill, said last week that he would be happy to testify in a public hearing but would refuse to appear at a closed-door, private interview.
The interview had been scheduled for Monday, but Comey's lawyers asked a judge Thursday to put off his appearance and also to spike the subpoena.
As set forth in Comey's motion to quash the subpoena, his lawyers wrote, "Mr. Comey's testimony will be subject to selective leaking by members of the Judiciary Committee in furtherance of the Committee's abuse of these proceedings and harassment of witnesses who appear in closed-door depositions."
They said House committees had been leaking to "support a false political narrative, while subjecting the witnesses to a variety of abuse."
They attached a series of news articles about closed-door congressional interviews that they said had been based on leaks.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte, who sent the subpoena, tweeted Thursday evening that Comey "believes he deserves special treatment, as he is the only witness refusing to either appear voluntarily or comply with a subpoena."
Goodlatte added, "What is Director Comey trying to hide from the American people with his baseless motion to quash?"
Argentina, Nov 30 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he headed to the Group of 20 Nations summit Thursday, citing Russia's seizure of Ukrainian vessels as a source of tension in a relationship he has fostered in the face of criticism.
Trump tweeted his decision from Air Force One shortly after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed he had lied to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump's behalf during the Republican presidential primary in 2016.
The news ensured any meeting with Putin would spotlight the special counsel's investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the campaign. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and on Thursday called Cohen a "weak person" looking for a reduced sentence.
The president arrived in Argentina late Thursday for a global economic meeting expected to be dominated by Trump's seat-of-his-pants diplomacy. The Putin meeting — a continuation of a controversial summit between the two in July — was just one of a series of high-stakes items on Trump's agenda, which also includes talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on how to ease a rising trade war.
Although Trump had previously floated canceling the meeting with Putin, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters he did not make the final decision until boarding the plane for Argentina and speaking with national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Kremlin said it had not been formally notified of the decision, which came hours after Moscow said the meeting was on track.
"I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!" Trump tweeted from Air Force One.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised Trump on Twitter, saying, "This is how great leaders act!"
Sanders also said Trump will not hold formal meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and South Korea's Moon Jae-in, but will instead speak informally with those leaders at the conference. She did not offer any explanation for those changes to the schedule.
The stakes for the sit-down between Putin and Trump were raised this week by Russia's stepped-up aggression in the Kerch Strait, stemming from its years long occupation of Eastern Ukraine. Russia recently seized three Ukrainian vessels and crews. Russia said Ukraine didn't have permission to pass between Russia's mainland and the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine insisted its vessels abided by maritime laws.
Tensions had already been high over the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race. Trump has sought to improve the relationship with Putin, but was roundly criticized after the July summit in Helsinki for failing to publicly denounce Russia's interference and appearing to accept Putin's denials of such activity.
While Trump's statement was strongly worded, he has made similarly dramatic moves before only to walk them back. In the spring he canceled a planned summit with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, only to revive the meeting a week later.
The G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires comes amid growing economic uncertainty and global displeasure with Trump's trade policy.
The most pressing issue on Trump's packed schedule of meetings is whether he can reach a detente with Xi over trade after months in which both sides have raised tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other's goods, shaking financial markets and threatening the global economy. Without an agreement, the U.S. is set to increase the tariffs on January 1.
Departing the White House Thursday, Trump said he was "very close" to a deal with China, but added, "I don't know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming in to the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes."
With China, experts said Trump likely wants to see something come out of the meeting.
"I think it's in President Trump's interest to have this meeting be viewed as a success," said David Dollar, a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. "The markets are looking for some kind of dialing down of the rhetoric, and in particular markets are hoping there will not be an escalation of U.S. tariffs on January 1. So there's a foundation for some kind of agreement."
That approach leaves open the possibility for a preliminary or vague deal. Trump's Singapore summit with Kim produced a vague agreement on denuclearization with few, if any, specifics. Since then progress between the two nations appears to have slowed, but Trump continues to hail the meeting as a historic breakthrough.
Trump's advisers have sought to manage expectations heading into the talks, though some have projected optimism.
"If China will come to the table, or in this case the dinner table, with some new ideas and some new attitudes and some new cooperation, as the president said, there is a good possibility they could make a deal," economic adviser Larry Kudlow said this week. "He's open to it. So nothing is written in cement or stone."
On the ground for just two days, Trump is packing every moment with diplomacy, conducting bilateral meetings with numerous world leaders as well as group events.
Trump's visit will also put him in the same room as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The U.S. resident and prominent critic of the Saudi royal family was brutally killed last month upon entering the country's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, a plot that sparked a diplomatic row that cast the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship into doubt.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, must have at least known of the plot. Lawmakers in both parties have called on Trump to, at minimum, avoid the young heir apparent as punishment.
But Trump publicly announced his decision to effectively give the prince a free pass in the name of "America First," citing vastly exaggerated claims of Saudi military contracts and investments in the United States. The president also views Saudi Arabia as a vital counterbalance to Iranian influence in the Middle East.
While no official sit-down is scheduled, Trump has kept the door open to a casual meeting.
"I don't know that he's going to be there," Trump said last week. "But if he is, I would."
The crown prince arrived in Argentina on Wednesday and on Tuesday White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, "I wouldn't say that we've ruled out any interaction."
Taking office on an "America First" platform, Trump has long had an uneasy relationship with his position on the world stage and has largely eschewed taking on a moral leadership role. Instead he has tailored his portfolio to promote American interests and to sow disruption. He has slapped tariffs on the European Union and pulled the U.S. out of the landmark Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal. Trump also has suggested he might be willing to pull the U.S. out of NATO if member counties don't significantly boost their defense spending.
New York, Nov 29 (AP/UNB) — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, made a surprise appearance before a federal judge in New York on Thursday to plead guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia.
Flanked by his lawyers, Cohen admitted making false statements in 2017 to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the project.
Cohen told the judge he lied about the timing of the negotiations and other details to be consistent with Trump's "political message."
Cohen and prosecutors referred to Trump as "individual one" throughout Thursday's proceedings and said he lied "to be loyal to Individual One."
Among other lies, Cohen said he told Congress that all discussions of the Moscow Trump Tower project ended by January 2016, when they had actually continued until June of that year.
One of the prosecutors working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller was present in the courtroom.
Cohen's lawyer, Guy Petrillo, said he would give the court a letter outlining how his client has cooperated with Mueller's investigation.
In August, Cohen pleaded guilty to other federal charges involving his taxi businesses, bank fraud and his campaign work for Trump.
Reacting to the plea to the new charges, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Cohen "should be prosecuted to the extent of the law. That's why we put people under oath."
Cohen gave a statement to congressional committees last year saying the president's company pursued a project in Moscow during the Republican primary but that the plan was abandoned "for a variety of business reasons."
Cohen also said he sent an email to the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of the potential deal.
In his statement, he said that he worked on the real estate proposal with Felix Sater, a Russia-born associate who he said claimed to have deep connections in Moscow.
The discussions about the potential development began after Trump had declared his candidacy. Cohen had said the talks ended when he determined that the project was not feasible.
Cohen had also disclosed that Trump was personally aware of the deal, signing a letter of intent and discussing it with Cohen on two other occasions.
Kansas City, Nov 29 (AP/UNB) — A Kansas man who is fighting deportation to his native Bangladesh for overstaying his visa was given a reprieve until at least 2022 after an immigration judge agreed to consider whether he could legally stay in the U.S.
Syed Jamal, of Lawrence, had the first hearing of his recently reopened case Tuesday in Immigration Court in Kansas City, Missouri. Judge Glen Baker said he would review whether Jamal qualified for certain forms of deportation relief and set the next hearing for April 27, 2022, The Lawrence Journal-World reported .
Jamal and his supporters began fighting his deportation in January when immigration agents arrested him at his Lawrence home for twice overstaying his visa. He was on a plane back to Bangladesh when a court ordered that he be returned to the U.S. He was removed from the plane in Hawaii .
Jamal is applying for two ways to remain in the U.S., one via a cancellation of removal and the other through asylum. Immigrants who have been living in the U.S. for 10 years with no disqualifying convictions can qualify for cancellation of removal. Asylum applies to refugees who can demonstrate they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted in their native land.
Baker said Tuesday he needed to review whether Jamal is eligible for the cancellation of removal. The 2022 hearing will proceed either way, because Jamal can apply for asylum.
Jamal's hearing was combined with that of his wife, Angela Zaynub Chowdhury, who is also from Bangladesh and was seeking the same forms of relief.
One of the Jamals' attorneys, Rekha Sharma-Crawford, said the long delay before the next hearing is caused by recent changes in immigration law that led to a backlog in cases such as Jamal's.
She said a September decision by then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions limiting judges' discretion has meant more cases going through the immigration court process and in some cases being reopened.
"It used to be that the immigration court could terminate cases or continue cases or administratively close cases," Sharma-Crawford said. "But at this point, because all of that discretion has been taken away and they have started to re-calendar a lot of the cases that were previously closed, it's just a logjam at this point."
One factor in Jamal's case is whether a voluntary departure order that an immigration judge previously issued him is valid. If it is found to be valid, Jamal would not be eligible for a cancellation of removal.
Another of Jamal's attorney, Michael Sharma-Crawford, argued the order was not valid because Jamal was not correctly notified by immigration regulations. Attorney Patricia Lacey, representing the Department of Homeland Security, argued Jamal had been properly advised regarding the order, making the notice valid.
Several of Jamal's friends and supporters attended the hearing, as did their three school-age children, all of whom are U.S. citizens.
"I am very optimistic that when it comes, it will be a positive decision," Jamal said. "That's what I'm hoping, and we'll do our best to convince the court."
Jamal, who has worked as an adjunct professor and researcher at Kansas City-area colleges, entered the U.S. legally in 1987 to attend the University of Kansas but twice overstayed his visa. He was ordered deported in 2011 but had been allowed to stay in the U.S. and check in regularly with immigration authorities.
After he was returned to the U.S., Jamal was jailed in Platte County, Missouri, until March, when he was freed to return to Lawrence.
Jamal said that until the 2022 court date, he will stay in Lawrence and continue teaching, doing research and caring for his children.
Kabul, Nov 29 (AP/UNB) — Taliban insurgents staged a coordinated attack targeting a security firm in the Afghan capital on Wednesday, killing at least 10 people and wounding 19 others, as the U.S. said an airstrike hours earlier in Helmand province that reportedly killed civilians was conducted by American aircraft.
Wednesday's attack in eastern Kabul took place when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives and other insurgents started a gun battle with security forces in the area, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said.
The assault came hours after provincial officials said at least 30 civilians were killed along with 16 Taliban fighters during the overnight battle between Afghan government forces and insurgents in southern Helmand province.
A local official, Attahullah Afghan, said most of the civilian casualties — which included men, women and children — came when an airstrike struck a house in the central Helmand River valley, a Taliban heartland. U.S. officials said it happened in Helmand's Garmsir district.
A U.S. military spokesman in Kabul said the airstrike was carried out by American aircraft called in to back Afghan "special security forces" after they came under heavy Taliban fire.
Maj. Bariki Mallya, the spokesman, said in an email exchange that the airstrike was conducted in self-defense after Taliban fighters armed with rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns retreated into a compound and continued firing on Afghan government forces and their American advisers.
"In self-defense, the ground force called an airstrike," Mallya said. "After the strike, there were secondary explosions, we assess from explosives inside the compound. At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban were using the building as a fighting position."
Mallya declined to say what the U.S. knew about civilian casualties or whether the incident was under U.S. investigation. In a prepared statement, he said the U.S. investigates every "credible allegation of error and reviews every mission to learn, adapt and improve."
A statement from the governor's office in Helmand confirmed that 16 Taliban insurgents were killed and said that an investigation was underway to determine the number of civilian casualties.
It said the militants had stockpiled ammunition in the area of the operation, which could have caused civilian casualties. There was also a car packed with explosives that ignited during the strike, the statement added.
Abdul Wadod Popul, a lawmaker from Helmand, also confirmed the civilian casualties. "The area is under Taliban's control and is very difficult to get a precise number of casualties," he said in Kabul.
The resurgent Taliban, who in recent years have taken over nearly half of Afghanistan, claimed the attack Wednesday in Kabul.
Kabul police spokesman Basir Mujahid said the target of the attack was a security company called G4S. He had no details on the company, but the website of a multinational security company named G4S has London contact information.
The attacks were the latest in a series of brutal and near-daily Taliban assaults on military and police forces and government and other installations throughout the country.
The Taliban view the U.S.-backed government in Kabul as a dysfunctional Western puppet and have refused repeated offers to negotiate with it. They carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan security forces.
U.S. and NATO troops formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but still provide close support to Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations. Some 15,000 American forces are currently serving in Afghanistan.
The fighting came as Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was in Geneva, attending a two-day U.N.-backed conference that ends Wednesday and that is focused on development, security and peace efforts in the war-battered country.