Indictment ties Russian government to election hacking
WASHINGTON — Twelve Russian military intelligence officers hacked into the Clinton presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and released tens of thousands of private communications in a sweeping conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 U.S. election, according to an indictment announced days before President Donald Trump’s summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The indictment represents special counsel Robert Mueller’s first charges against Russian government officials for interfering in American politics, an effort U.S. intelligence agencies say was aimed at helping the Trump campaign and harming his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. The case follows a separate indictment that accused Russians of using social media to sow discord among American voters.
The 29-page indictment lays out how, months before Americans went to the polls, Russians schemed to break into key Democratic email accounts, including those belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Stolen emails, many politically damaging for Clinton, appeared on WikiLeaks in the campaign’s final stretch.
The charges say the Russian defendants, using a persona known as Guccifer 2.0, in August 2016 contacted a person in touch with the Trump campaign to offer help. And they say that on the same day Trump, in a speech, urged Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails, Russian hackers tried for the first time to break into email accounts used by her personal office.
Mueller did not allege that Trump campaign associates were involved in the hacking effort, that Americans were knowingly in touch with Russian intelligence officers or that any vote tallies were altered by hacking. The White House seized on those points in a statement that offered no condemnation of Russian election interference.
Trump back in Scotland ahead of Putin talks
TURNBERRY, Scotland — A roving press conference. Reporters piling into golf carts and running along fairways trying to keep up. A protester scattering golf balls marked with swastikas.
The last time Donald Trump traveled to Scotland was in 2016, hours after the Brexit vote and shortly after he became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. He created a media maelstrom as he held court with the press, compared pro-Brexit voters to his own supporters and mixed campaigning with business promotion in a way that was signature Trump.
This time, his trip is likely to be less dramatic, as he spends the weekend out of the spotlight preparing for his high-stakes summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Knowing Trump, there’s likely to be some golf on the schedule as well.
Trump has long professed a special connection to Scotland, the land of his mother’s birth. He owns two championship-level golf resorts in the country, including the seaside Turnberry. But ever since he ventured into Scotland a dozen years ago, Trump has been losing money and waging battles with longtime residents, wind farms and local politicians.
As Supreme Court battle roils DC, suburban voters shrug
OMAHA, Nebraska — It stands to shift the direction of the nation’s highest court for decades, but President Donald Trump’s move to fill a Supreme Court vacancy has barely cracked the consciousness of some voters in the nation’s top political battlegrounds.
Even among this year’s most prized voting bloc — educated suburban women — there’s no evidence that a groundswell of opposition to a conservative transformation of the judicial branch, which could lead to the erosion or reversal of Roe v. Wade, will significantly alter the trajectory of the midterms, particularly in the House.
Many of those on the left who were already energized to punish Trump’s party this fall remain enthusiastic. On the right, voters loyal to Trump often needed no encouragement either, though some Republicans who have soured on the president were heartened by Kavanaugh’s nomination.
And those in the middle? Many said they weren’t following the issue closely enough to have a strong opinion despite the prospect of dramatic changes to America’s customs and culture.
“I’m not going to know much about this, I’m afraid,” said 31-year-old Christian school principal Sara Breetzke, a self-described moderate Republican who lives in Omaha. “I really should know more, but I don’t have anything unique to say.”
Despite detente, sanctions on North Korea fan TB epidemic
PYONGYANG, North Korea — Doctor O Yong Il swings open a glass door with a bright orange biohazard sign and gestures to the machine he hoped would revolutionize his life’s work. It’s called the GeneXpert and it’s about the size of a household microwave oven. As chief of North Korea’s National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory, Dr. O saw it as a godsend.
Tuberculosis is North Korea’s biggest public health problem. With this American-made machine, his lab would be able to complete a TB test in just two hours, instead of two months.
It took years, but Dr. O got the machines, only to discover that GeneXpert needs cartridges he can’t replace. It’s not entirely clear what about the cartridges would violate international sanctions. For a long time, the producer refused to disclose what agents were inside because that was patented information. But it doesn’t really matter. No one, it seems, is willing to help him procure them from abroad and run the risk of angering Washington.
Despite a budding mood of detente on the Korean Peninsula since the summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month in Singapore, ongoing sanctions championed by the U.S. and Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy continue to generate an atmosphere of hesitation and the fear of even unintentional violations. And that is keeping lifesaving medicines and supplies from thousands of North Korean tuberculosis patients.
Dr. O’s laboratory, built with help from Stanford University and Christian Friends of Korea aid group, has essentially been running on empty since April.
State election officials in US meet amid security concerns
PHILADELPHIA — The top state election officials from throughout the U.S. are gathering this weekend in Philadelphia amid fresh revelations of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and just before President Donald Trump holds one-on-one talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The annual gathering has typically been a low-key affair highlighting such things as voter registration and balloting devices. This year’s meetings of the National Association of Secretaries of State and the National Association of State Election Directors are generating far greater interest.
The conference is sandwiched between Friday’s indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence officers alleged to have hacked into Democratic party and campaign accounts, and Trump’s long-awaited meeting with Putin.
Trump has never condemned Russia over its meddling in the 2016 elections despite the findings of all top U.S. intelligence agencies. In the past, Trump has reiterated Putin’s denials, but this week said he would bring up the issue when the two meet Monday in Finland.
“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’” Trump said last week at a news conference in Brussels. “And, ‘Don’t do it again.’ But he may deny it.”
Syria’s uprooted adapt to coexisting on the margins
JARABLUS, Syria — When Hikmat’s mother managed to sneak back into their home city of Aleppo, now controlled by government forces, she found a single word spray-painted in red on their house: “Confiscated.” Same with the family store and another house. Their farm, south of the city, is probably lost to them as well, in territory recently recaptured by Syrian forces.
This is the new reality for displaced Syrians who supported the armed opposition challenging President Bashar Assad or who lived in areas once held by the opposition. Now driven elsewhere, they face the prospect that they may never be able to return.
Around half of Syria’s pre-war population of 23 million has been uprooted — the overwhelming majority of them Sunni Muslims, who were among the first to rise against the government in 2011. Nearly 6 million fled abroad, while 6.6 million are displaced within Syria.
Roughly a third of the displaced are crammed into areas that remain outside government hands in northern Syria: rebel-held Idlib province and a neighboring Turkish-controlled enclave. Thrown together from different parts of the country, they have to adjust to a strange new hybrid society where former city dweller and former village farmer, uneducated and educated, liberal and conservative now live side by side in tent camps or rented homes, with different accents, cuisines and customs.
They all share the realization that this may be their future.
Partisan divide on full display in hearing on Russia probe
WASHINGTON — The long-awaited questioning of the FBI agent at the heart of the 2016 election probe was always expected to be one for the history books. But Congress outdid itself.
After 10 hours of finger-pointing, F-bomb reading and in-your-face testimony between special agent Peter Strzok and a joint panel of 70 lawmakers, the partisan divide over the investigation of Russian interference in the election of President Donald Trump remains precipitously deep, with no political bridge in sight.
On the one side are Democrats who heard in Strzok’s testimony an unflinching, if flawed, G-man trying to stop Russian interference in American democracy. On the other are Republicans who see anti-Trump text messages Strzok sent to his lover as evidence of alarming bias at the highest levels of government.
The aftermath produced one certainty: Congress is hopelessly split in conducting executive branch oversight of the Trump administration. Lawmakers reflect their constituents, and after running on partisan overdrive for years, they staked out defiantly opposing sides. The level of acrimony poses a real-life stress test for the ability of Congress to function.
“Politicians love to grandstand and that was a perfect venue for all of them to do so,” said Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who said the proceedings reminded him of the Bill Clinton impeachment sessions he watched as a young man two decades ago. In fact, some of the same veteran lawmakers were still there playing starring roles, he said. “And I would contend that Mr. Strzok was doing it a little, too.”
Sharif in custody as 132 die in Pakistan election violence
QUETTA, Pakistan — 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.
Eritrea’s leader visits Ethiopia as dramatic thaw continues
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — To dancing and cheers, Eritrea’s longtime president arrived in Ethiopia for his first visit in 22 years on Saturday amid a dramatic diplomatic thaw between the once-bitter rivals.
Thousands turned out in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, under tight security to welcome President Isaias Afwerki, whose three-day visit is the latest step in ending a long state of war. “Welcome home President Isaias!!” the Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff said on Twitter.
Ethiopia’s reformist new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed made a similar visit to Eritrea’s capital last weekend, welcomed by Isaias with hugs and laughter.
The 42-year-old Abiy broke the ice last month by fully embracing a peace deal that ended a 1998-2000 border war that killed tens of thousands and left families separated. A series of diplomatic breakthroughs quickly followed as one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts neared an end.
Some excited Ethiopians have compared the restoration of relations with one of the world’s most closed-off countries to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Telephone links have opened, with some Ethiopians calling complete strangers in Eritrea just to say hello, and the first scheduled Ethiopian Airlines flights to Eritrea begin Wednesday.
Thai soccer players crave food, wait to go home next week
CHIANG RAI, Thailand — The 12 boys and their soccer coach rescued from a flooded cave in northern Thailand are recovering well and are eager to eat their favorite comfort foods after their expected discharge from a hospital next week.
In video messages of the boys shown at a news conference on Saturday, they are seen wearing surgical masks, a safeguard against infection that’s been taken since the last of them were pulled from the Tham Luang cave on Tuesday, ending an 18-day ordeal. Doctors said that Friday, when the videos were recorded, would be the last day they’d have to wear them.
Public Health Minister Dr. Piyasakol Sakolsattayatorn, who led the news conference at Chiang Rai Prachanukroh Hospital, said all 13 — the dozen boys, who range in age from 11 to 16, and their 25-year-old coach — were expected to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday.
“All of the 13 people, their physical bodies are strong, and fit. Regarding infections, through the medical evaluations in the first days there may be some of them that had minor pneumonia, but now all is cleared, no fever,” Piyasakol said. Several were also reported earlier to be recovering from minor lung and middle ear infections.
Most of the boys, who were shown in their hospital beds, looked relaxed, and began their brief statements with a “wai,” the traditional Thai greeting of hands raised to chest level with palms together.
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