Ex-CIA chief Brennan says Trump-Russia inquiry ‘well-founded’

 

Media captionEx-CIA boss suspicious of Trump team ‘contacts’ with Russians

Former CIA Director John Brennan has said an investigation into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Kremlin is “well-founded”.

He told the House Intelligence Committee he was aware of intelligence showing contact between Russian officials and “US persons involved in the Trump campaign”.

Mr Brennan said the Russians “brazenly interfered” in last November’s US elections and were “very aggressive”.

But he said he did not know if the Trump campaign intrigued with Moscow.

Mr Brennan, who stepped down as CIA director in January, testified on Tuesday: “I encountered and am aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals.

“It raised questions in my mind whether or not Russia was able to gain the co-operation of those individuals.”

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His evidence undercuts President Donald Trump’s claim that the investigation is a “taxpayer funded charade”.

The White House said Mr Brennan’s testimony “backs up what we’ve been saying all along”.

“There is still no evidence of any Russia-Trump campaign collusion,” the administration said in a statement.

The House inquiry is one of two congressional investigations into claims that Russian hackers tried to tip the presidential election in Mr Trump’s favour last November, and whether members of his campaign aided the alleged Kremlin conspiracy.

Media captionCIA director John Brennan tells the BBC what global threats Donald Trump will face as US president

The FBI also has its own investigation on the issue.

Mr Brennan added that he left office with many unanswered questions about Russia’s influence over the election, but that the FBI’s probe was “was certainly well-founded and needed to look into these issues”.

Mr Brennan also told lawmakers that he had warned his Russian counterpart, FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, during a phone call last August against meddling.

He told Mr Bortnikov any attempt to interfere would “destroy any near-term prospect” of repairing relations between Washington and Moscow.

Mr Bortnikov twice denied interfering and promised to bring up the matter with Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Mr Brennan.

As CIA Director, Mr Brennan, along with the FBI and the Office of Director of National Intelligence, released an intelligence report in January concluding that Moscow attempted to influence the outcome of the election.

Days afterwards, Mr Trump strained relations with the intelligence community when he accused spy officials of leaking allegations that Russia had compromising information on him, likening it to “Nazi Germany”.

At the time, Mr Brennan called Mr Trump’s accusations “outrageous”.

In a separate congressional hearing on Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats declined to comment on a report that Mr Trump asked him to publicly deny there was any evidence of collusion between his campaign and Moscow.

Senators Burr (L) and Warner say they will release more summons against fired national security advisor Michael FlynnImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionSenators Burr (L) and Warner say they will issue more summonses against fired national security advisor Michael Flynn

According to the Washington Post, Mr Coats and Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, rejected Mr Trump’s alleged request.

Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee announced plans to issue two new subpoenas – legal summons – to businesses owned by Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s fired national security adviser, who left after misleading the White House about his Russian contacts.

Mike Flynn ‘lied’ on security clearance

Also on Tuesday, Democrats on the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee wrote to the Treasury Secretary seeking “all pertinent financial records… that may shed light on President Trump’s financial transactions with and business ties to Russia”.

The letter, which was sent on committee letterhead, required approval from the panel’s ranking Republicans in order to be sent.

Russia steps up North Korea support to constrain US

In spite of international sanctions on North Korea’s communist regime, Russia has been increasing fuel exports to Pyongyang and filling in the supply gap created by China halting trade. Julian Ryall reports.

Russland Militärparade in Moskau (Reuters/S. Karpukhin)

Despite efforts by the United Nations to impose isolating sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, trade between Russia and North Korea soared more than 85 percent in the first four months of the year.

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Citing Russian customs data, the Voice of America broadcaster has reported that bilateral trade climbed to $31.83 million (29 million euros) in the January-March quarter, with the vast majority being energy products going over the border into the North.

This included $22 million worth of coal, lignite with a value of around $4.7 million, and oil estimated at $1.2 million. In return, North Korean exports to Russia were estimated to be worth $420,000. The most significant exports were chemicals and – curiously – wind instruments.

China trade falls

In contrast, North Korea’s trade with China, traditionally its most important economic partner, has plummeted. Pyongyang’s exports of coal to China in March came to 6,342 tons, a fraction of the 1.44 million tons sent to China in January, with an estimated value of $126.39 million. Similarly, Beijing has stopped supplying critically-needed fuel oil to the North, a clear demonstration of China’s displeasure at North Korea’s ongoing weapons tests.

The release of the figures detailing Russia’s increased trade with North Korea coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s statement on Monday that Pyongyang’s latest missile launch was “dangerous” – but, he added, “We must stop intimidating North Korea and find a peaceful solution to this problem.”

Read more: North Korea claims successful test of new rocket able to carry nuclear warhead

James Brown, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo campus of Temple University, believes some of the cross-border trade may be “economic opportunism” but the motivation for the vast majority of it is geopolitical.

“Russia is very worried about the isolation of North Korea and believes that makes the situation dangerous as the US is taking a confrontational approach,” he told DW.

“Moscow’s position is that pressure on the North has not worked and has in fact caused Pyongyang to react because it feels threatened,” he said. “So instead of isolation, which is not working, Russia is proposing engagement.”

Nordkorea Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) Raketentest (Reuters/KCNA)The UN condemned North Korea’s missile test and vowed new sanctions

New ferry route

The most recent example of this support for Pyongyang is the plan to open a ferry route between North Korea and the Russian Far East port of Vladivostok, although the proposal has been delayed by strong protests from Japan.

Read more: North Korea builds closer ties with fellow outcast Russia

In 2014, Russia announced that it was canceling $10 billion of North Korea’s $11 billion in Soviet-era debt and that the remaining $1 billion would be invested back into the country. Russian investors also agreed to sink $25 billion into the North’s dilapidated railway system, while more would go into basic infrastructure. The two governments also announced that Russia would rebuild the North’s power grid, while the two countries would develop the ice-free port of Rason for exports of Russian coal.

In total, Russia planned to increase bilateral trade almost ten-fold to $1 billion by 2020, and that does not appear to have been hampered by more recent UN sanctions.

But Putin is also motivated by security concerns in Russia’s Far East, Brown said.

“Moscow has always been worried that the defensive missile systems that the US is deploying in the region – the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea and now Japan is discussing having Aegis Ashore – are more directed at its interests than North Korea,” he said.

Daniel Pinkston, a professor of international relations at the Seoul campus of Troy University, believes that Putin – who is at odds with the international community over the Ukraine conflict and has been accused of meddling in a number of elections, including those in the US and France – may be forging closer ties with Pyongyang to sow further disarray among his perceived enemies.

Watch video00:33

North Korea launches ballistic missile

‘Slash-and-burn approach’

“Putin seems to have adopted a slash-and-burn approach to the liberal international order, so anything that serves to undermine institutions such as NATO, the European Union or democracy in general is fair game,” Pinkston said. “He is intent on creating instability in a way that serves Russian interests and this sort of multi-front, hybrid war serves to undermine the US and its allies.”

“North Korea fits neatly into that agenda because it causes problems for Washington, keeps the US tied down, drains its resources and causes friction with allies in the region.”

Pinkston points out that playing neighboring nations off one other for their respective favors is not a new North Korean tactic. It has manipulated China and Russia for its own ends in the past.

“That sort of back-and-forth was easier to pull off in the Cold War, but they seem to be trying to capitalize on their relations with Russia now that China has become more distant,” the expert underlined. “And I think it is clear that North Korea will take whatever it can get in terms of political, diplomatic or military support, as well as resources.”

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$35bn hit: Zuckerberg, Gates among those to suffer massive losses amid Trump-Russia claims

Billionaires and millionaires the world over have become poorer to the tune of $35 billion, following the media scandal surrounding allegations of highly classified data being leaked by US President Donald Trump to Russia.

Stock markets suffered a meltdown on Wednesday after the alleged revelations, resulting in huge losses for almost every one of world’s 500 richest people, according to Bloomberg.

Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the biggest hit, estimated at more than $2 billion. Shares in the social media giant fell 3.3 percent, but Zuckerberg still holds fifth position on the global rich list with around $62.3 billion, according to the Bloomberg index.

The richest person on the planet, Bill Gates, lost around $1 billion amid the carnage, as Microsoft’s shares suffered the most significant drop in almost a year – 2.8 percent. Still, Gates’ net worth is $86.8 billion, according to Bloomberg.

Gates was fourth on the list in terms of the amount of reduced capital. Jeff Bezos, the co-founder of Amazon.com, the world’s largest online retailer, is second after Zuckerberg based on the size of losses incurred amid the political uproar.

Before the stock market dive, Bezos was second behind Gates in terms of overall wealth. The turmoil saw Amazon shares recede 2.2 percent, however, and he now stands third with a $81.9 billion – a loss of more than $1.7 billion.

Bezos was overtaken on the list by Amancio Ortega, a Spanish business tycoon and chairman of Inditex, the world’s largest clothing company, best known for its Zara chain. Ortega lost $355 million, five times less than Zuckerberg’s loss, and is now the second wealthiest person on the planet with $83.2 billion.

Wednesday’s market drop followed US media reports on alleged state secret leaks during the meeting between US President Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last week.

The revelations were dismissed by Russia, with President Vladimir Putin calling them “political schizophrenia.” Earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry also dismissed the media claims, saying that reading US newspapers can “not only be harmful, but dangerous.”

The eight richest people on Earth are estimated to possess wealth equal to that of the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity.

According to the latest Bloomberg estimates, the top 500 billionaires and millionaires are valued at around $4.9 trillion. A 2016 report by Boston Consulting Group said only 1 percent of the world’s population owns almost half of its wealth, and that the wealth of the rich is only growing.

READ MORE: 1% of world population owns almost half of its wealth

China’s silky threat to American leadership

John Moody

This weekend, while the Sunday talk shows obsess about Trump, Comey and secret recordings, a top-level gathering in China will kick off the biggest challenge ever to America’s place in the world economy: the creation of a 21st Century version of the ancient Silk Road travelled by Marco Polo.

President Xi Jinping will host the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Summit. If the name sounds like a convention of car parts manufacturers, think again.  The BRI is Xi’s $1 trillion – yes, with a T — plan to build state of the art roads, ports, pipelines and airports that will link China to 110 countries around the world and make Beijing the epicenter of world trade for decades to come.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin thinks the BRI is important enough for him to attend. So do the leaders of Turkey, Pakistan, the Philippines and 25 other countries, most of them with developing economies. The United States, trapped in political navel-gazing, could only ante up an assistant to the president.

For Xi, the initiative is a brazen attempt to seize worldwide economic leadership from the United States. With official Washington bogged down on President Trump’s tweets and his relationship with Russia, Xi sees an opportunity to bind emerging trade partners to him by offering them access to China’s vast consumer market.

“Xi is offering a lot of money and infrastructure to a lot of recipient countries who have a pressing need for their economies to be modernized,” says Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for China-America studies. “There are real political, economic and strategic goals at stake. It is China effectively applying soft power in a very visible way. It wants to become what the United States has been until now – the leader of the world economy.”

There is, of course, a catch: Xi will ask the heads of state that he is wining and dining to sign a joint communique endorsing Beijing’s claims that Taiwan is part of China, and that it has legitimate territorial rights in the South China Sea.

Among the massive infrastructure projects being offered to potential partners, China wants to build a port in Pakistan, complete a China-to-Myanmar pipeline, giving it access to Middle East crude oil, and dredge and deepen the historic Greek port of Piraeus.

The stakes for Xi are high. China’s economic growth has been slowing. Its vassal state, North Korea, is increasingly rebellious, and banks and bond markets are showing signs of stress.

Xi hopes the conference will cement his position as a global leader in advance of the 19th congress of the Communist Party, which he heads. The summit’s slogan is “One Belt, One Road.” For Xi, that means showing that the rest of the world is girded to China, and that all roads lead to Beijing.

John Moody is Executive Vice President, Executive Editor for Fox News. A former Rome bureau chief for Time magazine, he is the author of four books including “Pope John Paul II : Biography.

Trump advisers had ‘sensitive’ contacts with Russian agents for months, Clapper testifies

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Putin-Trump meeting must bring specific results, not just symbolic handshake – Lavrov

Putin-Trump meeting must bring specific results, not just symbolic handshake – Lavrov
The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump must be well prepared in order for the first eye-to-eye talks of the Russian and US presidents to bring concrete results, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

“As far as I understand, both Washington and Moscow need this meeting not for the sake of impressing somebody and saying: ‘Here’s a sensation. It was prepared for such a long time and now it happened,” Lavrov said in an interview with Mir-24 TV.

According to the Russian FM, the meeting between Putin and Trump is needed for something more than a handshake and an exchange of opinions on bilateral relations and international issues. This stance is shared by both Moscow and Washington, he added.

“Russia and the US have such strong impact on international stability and security that such a meeting will undoubtedly be expected to deliver specific results. In order for that to be achieved, it needs to be prepared thoroughly. We are working on that right now,” he said.

The Russian foreign minister stressed that Moscow isn’t paying much attention to contradictory statements on bilateral relations coming from various American officials, which may be explained by members of the new administration “not yet fully adjusting to each other.”

“We usually focus on the main character in the drama – US President Donald Trump, who highly appreciated [US Secretary of State Rex] Tillerson’s visit to Moscow as well as his own telephone conversation with President Putin, in which he expressed his intention to continue developing efforts to promote common interests in our relations,” Lavrov said.

Putin and Trump talked on the phone Tuesday, discussing the prospects of coordinated anti-terrorism activities in Syria and the situation around North Korea, among other issues.

Putin, Trump speak by phone, discuss Syria, N. Korea – Kremlin

The two leaders also spoke in favor of holding their much anticipated first meeting somewhere around the G20 summit, which is scheduled to take place in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7 and 8.

Tillerson visited Russia on April 12 and held talks with both Lavrov and Putin, with Trump saying the secretary of state had done “tremendous work” in Moscow.

In late April, Putin noted that Trump had so far failed to make good on his campaign promises to mend relations with Russia, adding that the level of trust between Moscow and Washington has even “degraded” since Obama left office.

The White House, for its part, recently called “the isolation of Russia in the UN” one of Trump’s main achievements during his first 100 days in office.

In his interview with Mir-24, Lavrov also touched on the issue of the EU sanctions imposed on Russia after it reunited with Crimea and the breakout of the Ukrainian conflict back in 2014.

He stressed that Russia is not in the habit of interfering in the affairs of other nations, and because of that it is not pushing for the removal of restrictions, which put politics above the economic needs of the people and whole countries in Europe.

READ MORE: Trump does opposite to what Obama did, Russia must teach him how to act in Syria – ex-US diplomat

“But the tendency toward giving up on this anomaly (sanctions) is, in my opinion, becoming stronger” within the EU, the top Russian diplomat said.

Lavrov again stressed that Russia is eager to resume dialogue with the US-led NATO military bloc, but it should be done on the basis of equality.

The development strategy of Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which unites Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, “doesn’t mention that any country or state or organization is our adversary. In contrast, NATO members regard Russia as an enemy or even a threat and attempt to downplay the status and the importance of CSTO activities,” he explained.

READ MORE: ‘Wishful thinking’: Kremlin dismisses reports of Putin-Trump meeting in May

The FM said that NATO’s “project of full absorption of Ukraine into its sphere of interest and including Ukraine into the North Atlantic Alliance, the inclusion of Crimea into their plans of encircling Russia – those plans have failed.”

He expressed regret that “because of an offense over an objective historic fact, they froze everything that united us, including the anti-terrorism battle.”

Emmanuel Macron wins French presidential election over rival Marine Le Pen

Emmanuel Macron, the centrist and political newcomer, on Sunday beat the far-right Marine Le Pen to win the French presidential election.

In a contest that put the passionately pro-European Macron against Le Pen, who promised a “Frexit” referendum should she win the election, Macron garnered 65.5 percent of the vote, according to the Kantar exit poll.

The news of Macron’s win was met by cheering crowds waving French flags outside the Louvre museum.

The result, if confirmed, signals a rejection of the “French-first nationalism of Le Pen, who was labeled “France’s Trump” and was hopeful the same populist wave that led Donald Trump to the White House would also carry her to the Elysee Palace.

Macron’s victory will mark the third time in six months — following elections in Austria and the Netherlands — that European voters have shot down far-right populists who want to restore borders across Europe. The victory of a candidate — Macron — who championed European unity could strengthen the EU’s hand in its complex divorce proceedings with Britain, which voted last year to leave the bloc.

Many French voters reluctantly backed Macron; they are not staunch supporters of his politics, but wanted to keep out Le Pen and her far-right National Front party, which is still tainted by its anti-Semitic and racist history.

After the most closely watched and unpredictable French presidential campaign in recent memory, many voters rejected the choice altogether: Pollsters projected that voters cast blank or spoiled ballots in record numbers Sunday — a protest of both candidates.

At 39, Macron would become France’s youngest-ever president — and one of its most unlikely.

Unknown to voters before his turbulent 2014-16 tenure as a pro-business economy minister, Macron took a giant gamble by quitting the government of outgoing Socialist President Francois Hollande to run his first-ever electoral campaign as an independent.

FRANCE ELECTION: MEDIA WARNED NOT TO PUBLISH HACKED MACRON EMAILS

His startup political movement — optimistically named, “En Marche!,” or “Forward!” — caught fire in just one year, harnessing voters’ hunger for new faces and new ideas and steering France into unchartered political territory.

In a first for postwar France, neither of the mainstream parties on the left or the right qualified in the first round of voting on April 23 for Sunday’s winner-takes-all duel between Macron and Le Pen.

Despite her projected loss, Le Pen’s advancement to the runoff for
the first time marked a breakthrough for the 48-year-old. She placed third in 2012, underscoring a growing acceptance for her fierce anti-immigration, France-first nationalism among disgruntled voters.

The candidates’ polar-opposite visions presented the 47 million registered voters with the starkest possible choice. Le Pen’s closed borders faced off against Macron’s open ones; his commitment to free trade ran against her proposals to protect the French from global economic competition and immigration. Her desire to free
France from the EU and the shared euro currency contrasted with his argument that both are essential for the future of Europe’s third-largest economy.

As well as capitalizing on voter rejection of the left-right

monopoly on power, Macron also got lucky.

One of his most dangerous opponents, conservative former Prime Minister Francois Fillon, was hobbled by allegations that his family benefited from cushy taxpayer-funded jobs for years. On the left, the Socialist Party imploded, its candidate abandoned by voters who wanted to punish Hollande, France’s most unpopular president since World War II. Hollande himself realized he was unelectable and decided not to run again.

In power, Macron would take charge of a nation that, when Britain leaves the EU in 2019, will become the EU’s only member with nuclear weapons and a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

He has promised a France that would stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin but that also would seek to work with the Russian leader on what he says will be one of his top priorities: fighting the Islamic State group, whose extremists have claimed or
inspired multiple attacks in France since 2015.

France has been in a state of emergency since then and 50,000 security forces were used to safeguard Sunday’s vote.

The polls opened in mainland France at 8 a.m. local time under the watch of 50,000 security forces guarding against possible extremist attacks. Polling agency projections and initial official results are expected as soon as the final stations close at 8 p.m.

Voter turnout in the runoff election is above 65 percent in late afternoon, a sharp drop of more than 6 percent compared to the last presidential vote. The Interior Ministry announced the turnout had reached 65.3 percent, compared to 71.96 percent in the second round of presidential voting in 2012.

Pre-election polls had suggested Macron was the favorite by a large margin, leading Le Pen by about 60 percent to 40 percent.

Police had to evacuate the Louvre courtyard early Sunday because of a suspicious bag, but later reopened the area. Eric Kadio told the Associated Press he came to the park near the Louvre in hopes of seeing Macron, who’s expected to speak to supporters from the Louvre courtyard after election results come in.

“France has an efficient security operation,” he told the AP. “I am not afraid. Bomb scares are frequent and each time they get things under control.”

Earlier in the day, Macron voted in the seaside resort of Le Touquet in northern France alongside his wife, Brigitte Macron. Le Pen cast her ballot just a hundred kilometers away in Henin-Beaumont, a small town controlled by her National Front party.

Fears of outside meddling hung over the race after France’s election campaign commission said Saturday that “a significant amount of data” — and some fake information — was leaked on social networks following the hacking attack on Macron.

FRENCH ELECTION: COMMISSION PROBES MACRON HACKING AS VOTERS PREPARE TO HAVE THEIR SAY

The leaked documents appeared largely mundane, and the perpetrators remain unknown. It’s unclear whether the document dump will dent the large polling lead Macron held over Le Pen going into the vote.

The commission urged French media and citizens not to relay the leaked documents. French electoral laws impose a weekend news blackout on any campaigning and media coverage seen as swaying the election. Le Pen’s campaign could not formally respond due to the blackout.

The Macron team asked the campaign oversight commission to bring in France’s top cybersecurity agency ANSSI to study the hack, a government official told the AP.

ANSSI can only be called in to investigate cyberattacks that are “massive and sophisticated” — and the Macron hack appears to fit the bill, the official said.

The documents leaked Friday were widely circulated on far-right sites based in the United States. Experts dissecting the data said they spotted a couple of Russian names in the dump.

Read more from SkyNews.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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