Senate panel presses Kushner on ‘Russian backdoor overture’

Jeff Pegues
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CBS News has learned that a Russian national requested a meeting with Donald Trump during the presidential campaign in May 2016, and the request is at the center of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s demand for more information from Jared Kushner.
On Thursday, the committee asked for additional information from Kushner about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” Kushner is Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser who played a key role in the campaign.

A source familiar with the document request says the “dinner invite” referred to an email requesting a meeting with a man named Alexander Torshin and a woman reported to be Torshin’s assistant, Maria Butina. The source says both claimed in the email to be members of an all-Russian organization called “The Right To Bear Arms.”

According to the source, Torshin and Butina were hoping to meet then-candidate Trump and were eager for Mr. Trump to travel to Russia to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The request was made through an intermediary who was attached to a National Rifle Association event in Kentucky.

A source says the intermediary forwarded the five-page request to Trump campaign officials, including Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Eventually it was forwarded to Kushner. The source, who has seen the email, says Kushner declined the request for a meeting, apparently commenting that people claiming to carry messages to the campaign rarely are.

Watch: Senate Judiciary Commitee has more questions for Jared KushnerHowever, Torshin does have ties to the Kremlin. According to published reports, in 2015 he was appointed deputy governor of the Bank of Russia. Reports also suggest he is suspected of having ties to organized crime.

But Kushner’s lawyer is pushing back. In a statement, Kushner’s attorney would not discuss the email request, but offered to respond to the Senate Judiciary Committee demands.

“Mr. Kushner and we have been responsive to all requests. We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request,” attorney Abbe Lowell said.

“We also informed the committee we will be open to responding to any additional requests and that we will continue to work with White House Counsel for any responsive documents from after the inauguration. We have been in a dialogue with the committee and will continue to do so as part of Mr. Kushner’s voluntary cooperation with relevant bipartisan inquiries.”

In December 2016, Kushner discussed with then-Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak the idea of setting up a “back channel” for communications with the Trump transition team and Russian officials. He also met with Sergey Gorkov, the CEO of Russia’s state-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB), which was already sanctioned by the U.S.

Courtesy: CBS News

5 key moments from Jeff Sessions’ testimony before House Judiciary Committee

ADAM KELSEY
Good Morning America

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied suggestions Tuesday that he misled Congress in previous appearances before Senate committees in which he was asked about Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.

Questions about Sessions’ prior answers to Congress came during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Lawmakers asked about the latest developments in the investigations into Russian interference in last year’s U.S. presidential election — including a guilty plea by Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos to a charge of misleading investigators.

The questions focused on Papadopoulos’ attempts to coordinate a meeting between then-candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and Papadopoulos’ presence at a March 2016 gathering also attended by Sessions. The attorney general’s responses to questions about communication with Russia drew scrutiny from Democrats who believed that he may have known more than he previously disclosed.

Sessions authorizes Justice Department to consider investigating Clinton Foundation

Sessions says he has not been interviewed by special counsel in Russia probe

Sessions said that he now recalled the 2016 meeting, after recent news reports on the matter, and that he “always told the truth” in his appearances on Capitol Hill. He added that he “wanted to make clear to [Papadopoulos] that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government.”

“But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago,” he said.

Here’s a look at five key moments from Sessions’ testimony Tuesday:

Sessions claims he has ‘always told the truth’ and now recalls Papadopoulos meeting

In his opening statement, the attorney general told the committee he has “always told the truth,” referring to his criticized appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.

On the subject of meetings attended by Papadopoulos and campaign aide Carter Page, Sessions said he “had no recollection” of the meetings until he saw recent news reports. He previously told the Senate Judiciary Committee he was “not aware” of attempts by the campaign to communicate with Russia.

“I do now recall the March 2016 meeting at the Trump Hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting,” Sessions said. “After reading his account, and to the best of my recollection, I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government, for that matter.”

He continued that he “gladly would have reported it,” had he remembered it. Sessions said he “pushed back” against what he thought was an improper suggestion by Papadopoulos — that Trump meet with Putin.

NEW: AG Jeff Sessions says he now recalls meeting with George Papadopoulos, “but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said.” http://abcn.ws/2htbyes 

Sessions says he has ‘no reason to doubt’ accusers of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore

AG Jeff Sessions on Roy Moore’s accusers: “I have no reason to doubt these young women.” http://abcn.ws/2yZZA77 

Though he said he believes he should not be involved in the race for his former U.S. Senate seat representing Alabama, Sessions said he has “no reason to doubt” the women accusing Republican candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct.

Moore is accused of pursuing relationships with teenage girls in the late 1970s and early 1980s, including attempting to engage in sexual activity with one girl as young as 14.

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Nov. 14, 2017, in Washington, on oversight of the U.S. Justice Department. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing, Nov. 14, 2017, in Washington, on oversight of the U.S. Justice Department. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)
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Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, asked Sessions whether he would push for a Justice Department investigation into the alleged actions should Moore win the election.

Sessions would not comment on the hypothetical situation but pledged of his department, “We will do our duty.”

Sessions says DOJ shouldn’t ‘retaliate politically against opponents’

After the committee’s ranking member, Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., showed Sessions several of Trump’s tweets suggesting the Justice Department investigate former campaign rival Hillary Clinton, the attorney general was asked whether it was “common” for a country’s leader to “retaliate against his political opponents.”

PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives on Capitol Hill for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Nov. 14, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives on Capitol Hill for a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Nov. 14, 2017, in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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“The Department of Justice can never be used to retaliate politically against opponents, and that would be wrong,” Sessions said. He added, after additional questioning, that the president should “take great care” not to influence a pending investigation.

Sessions admitted, however, he could not entirely control Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff remarks.

“The president speaks his mind,” Sessions said.

Rep. Jordan asks about additional special counsel

Rep. Jordan: “What’s it going to take to actually get a special counsel” on FBI/DOJ handling of Clinton probe?

Jeff Sessions: “It would take a factual basis.” http://abcn.ws/2z0fej4 

After Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, ran through a timeline of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server and the related actions of then–FBI Director James Comey and then–Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Sessions explained that the matter did not automatically warrant a special counsel, as Jordan suggested was necessary.

“It would take a factual basis that meets the standards of the appointment of a special counsel,” Sessions said, an answer that did not appear to quell Jordan’s concerns.

In a letter to the committee Monday, Sessions said he authorized Justice Department prosecutors to look into whether the sale of a uranium company during Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state warranted investigation by a special counsel. Republicans have raised alarm over donations to the Clinton Foundation made by people related to the deal.

Sessions cautioned Tuesday that the step outlined in his letter did not guarantee an independent investigator would be appointed.

“You can have your idea, but sometimes we have to study what the facts are and to evaluate whether it … meets the standard required for a special counsel,” he said.

Sessions admits he hasn’t ‘followed through’ on election interference mitigation efforts

Asked what steps he’s taken to protect elections, Attorney General Sessions says, “I have not followed through to see where we are on that.”

After telling the Senate Judiciary Committee in October that the U.S. was not prepared to prevent interference in its elections, Sessions admitted he has “not followed through to see where we are on that.”

“I will personally take action to do so,” he said. “A lot of things have been happening. We are working on a lot of great agenda items. But this one is important, and I acknowledge that.”

“I should be able to give you better information today than I am,” Sessions conceded.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. asked Sessions last month about preparations for upcoming elections. Sessions said it would require a “specific review” but that no such efforts were underway at the time.

ABC News’ Mike Levine, Benjamin Siegel and Trish Truner contributed to this report.

Courtesy: GMA

Trump: Putin told me face-to-face ‘I didn’t meddle’ in elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin is steadfastly denying that his country meddled in the 2016 White House race, President Trump told reporters Saturday.

Trump and Putin briefly spoke several times while in Vietnam for a regional economic summit, as part of the U.S. president’s 12-day trip to Asia.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump afterward told reporters, aboard Air Force One. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

Putin’s words contradict U.S. intelligence community claims that Russia indeed tried to influence the election’s outcome — amid evidence that suggests Russian operatives hacked emails from Democratic Party leaders and tried to sway U.S. voters by purchasing ads of social media.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” also said Trump, who deflected answering a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denial.

Congress and Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller are each conducting investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian in the 2016 campaign.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, slammed Trump for his comments.

“President Trump today stated that he believed Vladimir Putin is being sincere when he denies Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and reiterated that he hopes to cooperate with Russia in Syria,” McCain said Saturday. “There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community.”

McCain also said, “There’s no ‘principled realism’ in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which remains the greatest obstacle to a political solution that would bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.”

Trump and Putin were in together in Danang, Vietnam, for the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. They have no plans to hold a formal meeting during Trump’s five-nation trip the concludes this weekend.

Trump told reporters on the flight from Danang to Hanoi that he and Putin largely discussed Syria in their “two or three very short conversations.”

At about the same time, the Kremlin issued a joint statement for both presidents about the countries’ “successful” and continuing efforts to defeat the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, in Syria, the caliphate’s last stronghold.

In Syria’s years-long civil war, Putin has backed the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, while Western allies have supported his ousters.

“I would rather have him get out of Syria,” Trump told reporters. “If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact, it would be a great thing, not a bad thing.”

Trump declined to comment on the recent allegations about decades-old sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for a U.S Senate seat in Alabama. The president said that he hasn’t been following the news closely enough to offer an opinion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Trump: ‘I really believe’ Putin when he told me face-to-face ‘I didn’t meddle’ in elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin is steadfastly denying that his country meddled in the 2016 White House race, President Trump told reporters Saturday.

Trump and Putin briefly spoke several times while in Vietnam for a regional economic summit, as part of the U.S. president’s 12-day trip to Asia.

“He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump afterward told reporters, aboard Air Force One. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

Putin’s words contradict U.S. intelligence community claims that Russia indeed tried to influence the election’s outcome — amid evidence that suggests Russian operatives hacked emails from Democratic Party leaders and tried to sway U.S. voters by purchasing ads of social media.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country,” also said Trump, who deflected answering a direct question about whether he believed Putin’s denial.

Congress and Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller are each conducting investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian in the 2016 campaign.

Trump and Putin were in together in Danang, Vietnam, for the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. They have no plans to hold a formal meeting during Trump’s five-nation trip the concludes this weekend.

Trump told reporters on the flight from Danang to Hanoi that he and Putin largely discussed Syria in their “two or three very short conversations.”

At about the same time, the Kremlin issued a joint statement for both presidents about the countries’ “successful” and continuing efforts to defeat the Islamic State terror group, or ISIS, in Syria, the caliphate’s last stronghold.

In Syria’s years-long civil war, Putin has backed the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al Assad, while Western allies have supported his ousters.

“I would rather have him get out of Syria,” Trump told reporters. “If we had a relationship with Russia, that would be a good thing. In fact, it would be a great thing, not a bad thing.”

Trump declined to comment on the recent allegations about decades-old sexual misconduct by Roy Moore, the GOP nominee for a U.S Senate seat in Alabama. The president said that he hasn’t been following the news closely enough to offer an opinion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Courtesy: Fox News

Iran suggests Russia help ‘isolate the Americans’ by ditching dollar

Iran suggests Russia help 'isolate the Americans' by ditching dollar
The best way to beat US sanctions against Iran and Russia is joint efforts to dump the American currency in bilateral trade, according to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

“By ignoring the negative propaganda of the enemies, that seek to weaken relations between countries, we can nullify US sanctions, using methods such as eliminating the dollar and replacing it with national currencies in transactions between two or more parties; thus, isolate the Americans,” he said on Wednesday at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tehran.

According to Khamenei, economic relations have vast room for improvement. “In the transportation sector, we can expand cooperation, using the main axis of Chabahar port to the port of Saint Petersburg, as well as in other economic areas,” he said.

During the meeting, which lasted about an hour and a quarter, Putin replied that Russia considers Iran “a strategic partner and a great neighbor, and we will take advantage of every opportunity to expand and consolidate relationships in all dimensions.”

The Russian president said the US wants to interfere in all matters of the world and the region and often ignores interests of its allies to do so.

However, since 2014, despite the sanctions, “we devoted our funds to scientific and technological progress, and we had significant growth in the fields of biotechnology, IT, agriculture and space industries. Now, in spite of the initial concerns, we have realized that we can do whatever we decide to,” said Putin.

Putin is visiting the Iranian capital to attend a trilateral summit with the leaders of Iran and Azerbaijan.

Courtesy: RT

VLADIMIR PUTIN LAUNCHES FOUR BALLISTIC MISSILES IN NUCLEAR FORCES DRILL ACROSS RUSSIA

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Russian President Vladimir Putin personally took part in a late-night military drill of his nuclear-capable forces that launched four missiles across Russia, activating air and naval forces, the Kremlin announced.

The drill launched two ballistic missiles from east to west, landing in Russia’s northwestern Arkhangelsk region and another two missiles were launched from the west of the country, landing in eastern Kamchatka, which is separated from Alaskan territory by the Bering Sea.

Tensions between Moscow and its western neighbors have been at a post-Cold War high since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its neighbor in the far-east, North Korea, is itself currently engaged in a tense nuclear posturing showdown with the U.S. Missiles flew near border regions both eastwards and westwards.

As part of Russia’s drill that took place on Thursday night, Russian forces launched the intercontinental ballistic missile Topol, tested as recently as last month, when troops fired one toward a range in Kazakhstan. Variations of the missile have a range of up to 10,500 kilometers, according to Global Security.

“The commander in chief carried out the launch of the four ballistic rockets,” Putin’s spokesman said, following the drill on Thursday, state news agency Itar-Tassreported. The administration usually does not take part in most military tests, leaving the announcements of it to the Ministry of Defense.

Read More: Russia boasts of how much Syrian land it has liberated. It is three times bigger than Syria.

The drill took place after sundown and included two nuclear submarines, which launched three of the four missiles, while the Topol was launched from a silo on the ground in Plesetsk, around the northwest.

In separate maneuvers that were part of the drill, warplanes Tu-160, Tu-95MS and Tu-22M3 practiced hitting ground targets, state news agency RIA Novosti reported. The practice air raids took place in Russia’s western Saratov and Kaluga regions, as well as in its far-eastern Amur region.

The Ministry of Defense’s statement at the end of the drill announced that all had gone according to plan and “all training targets were successfully hit.” The ministry’s YouTube channel released video snippets of the nighttime drill, showing the missile launches and the jets taking off.

Zapad17-01Russia’s military is divided into four districts in the east, south, center and west, as well as a command for its Northern Fleet in the northwest. The split into four commands was introduced in 2010, with an update in 2014 to include a naval command in Severomorsk for Arctic naval activity.DANIELE PALUMBO/NEWSWEEK MEDIA GROUP

The Russian press is still anticipating a test of Russia’s intercontinental ballistic missile upgrade, known as the Sarmat. Popular daily newspaper Kommersantreported earlier this week that a well-informed source close to the defense ministry said the much-delayed test launch of the Sarmat will take place before the end of the year.

The expected launch, which Russia’s military has neither confirmed nor denied, will reportedly take place on the same cosmodrome where Putin launched the Topol missile from on Thursday—Plesetsk.

Courtesy: Newsweek

Putin signs decree imposing restrictions on N. Korea as Pyongyang delegation is in Russia

Putin signs decree imposing restrictions on N. Korea as Pyongyang delegation is in Russia
Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree imposing restrictions on North Korea in order to comply with a UN Security Council resolution.

The decree specifically refers to the UN Security Council resolution on restrictions imposed against North Korea in November 2016. The document, spanning almost 40 pages, specifies certain punitive measures that were introduced in 2007. It also refers to 11 North Korean individuals, who have been linked with the country’s nuclear program.

The move comes as a North Korean delegation arrived in St. Petersburg for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly.

The decree will also affect cooperation in the area of science and technology, while collaboration in “nuclear science and technology, air-and-space machine engineering or state-of-the-art industrial technology and methods” will still be permitted in cases where it does not contribute to the North’s nuclear- and ballistic-missile program.

President Putin has also ordered that sea vessels linked to the nuclear program be stripped of their Russian registration and banned from entering Russian ports, except in emergencies. The Russian sanctions also cover delivery of new helicopters and ships to North Korea.

Pyongyang has also been slapped with restrictions on ‘luxury’ items, such as carpets and porcelain worth more than $500 and $100 respectively.

Among other things, North Korea won’t be able to use any property in Russia, except diplomatic and consulate facilities.

On Monday, the EU also adopted a new range of sanctions against Pyongyang, which are designed to punish the North for its “continued and accelerated nuclear- and ballistic-missile programs.”

The decision taken on Monday made changes to penalties that were introduced earlier in response to the North Korean ballistic launches. These prohibited the import, sale or transfer of petroleum by the state, as well as transactions involving crude oil to Pyongyang. The fresh range of restrictions also extends to the transfer of funds.

READ MORE: N. Korea threatens Guam with ‘salvo of missiles’ as US gears up for drills with Seoul

In the meantime, the Pyongyang representative called the US sanctions “state terrorism” in a speech at the IPU session. “Sanctions against the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are aimed at a complete halt of our foreign trade, including the areas which affect the survival of our people,” the delegation head said, as cited by Interfax. “It’s state terrorism.”

Courtesy: RT

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