Trump's colorful ex-associate is pushing Russian-sanctions-lifting Ukraine 'peace deal' via Trump's lawyer
On Sunday, The New York Times reported that President Trump's personal legal counsel, Michael Cohen, met last month with a colorful Russian-American former Trump business associate, Felix Sater, and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian lawmaker, then delivered a sealed envelope from them to Michael Flynn, Trump's then-national security adviser, with a "peace plan" for Ukraine. The peace deal, proposed by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko, would lead to formalizing Russia's occupation of Crimea as a lease and lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.
Cohen and Sater confirmed the meeting and the envelope delivery. Then on Monday, Cohen backpedaled, telling The Washington Post and NBC News that "the brief meeting took place," but "emphatically" denying "discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn." He agreed to meet with Sater for coffee, he added, because he's "known Felix for years," and didn't know Sater's friend "would be a guy who wants to run for president of Ukraine." The Times stood by its story, telling The Washington Post that Cohen said "in no uncertain terms that he delivered the Ukraine proposal to Michael Flynn's office at the White House."
The back-channel diplomacy effort is not illegal, though it is unusual and maybe inconvenient amid federal investigations into Trump's business and political ties to Moscow. The reappearance of Sater is interesting, in any case, not least because he has a colorful history that includes arrests for stabbing a man in the face with a broken glass in a bar fight and for a Mafia-linked stock-fixing scheme, and avoiding jail by working for the CIA and FBI.
Sater's long business history with Trump includes working on several Trump-licensed projects, including the Trump SoHo building and — a decade ago and again in 2015 — a proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Sater's name has popped up a couple of times in the campaign, but despite evidence of their close ties, Trump has sworn in depositions that he wouldn't even recognize Sater's face, as shown in this December 2015 report from ABC News.
Here is ABC's report on Felix Sater from Dec 10th 2015. Trump actually walked out of a BBC interview in 2013 after being asked about Sater pic.twitter.com/tbv7PvoiuD
— Dustin (@DustinGiebel) February 20, 2017
The peace proposal did not meet with a positive response in either Kiev or Moscow; Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the plan "absurd," and Ukrainian Ambassador Valeriy Chaly said that Artemenko "is not entitled to present any alternative peace plans on behalf of Ukraine to any foreign government." Peter Weber
Saffie Rose Roussos, 8, thought to be the youngest victim of the suicide bombing at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 people on Monday night, is being remembered as a "simply beautiful little girl in every aspect of the word."
— Eyewitness News (@ABC7NY) May 23, 2017
Chris Upton, head teacher at Tarleton Community Primary School, told The Washington Post in an email that Roussos was "loved by everyone and her warmth and kindness will be remembered fondly. Saffie was quiet and unassuming with a creative flair." Roussos, a resident of Leyland, was at the Ariana Grande concert with her mother, Lisa, and older sister, Ashlee, who were both injured by shrapnel. They were all separated in the chaos following the explosion, and it wasn't until Tuesday morning that Saffie's death was confirmed by police. Catherine Garcia
A controversial quip Stephen Colbert made on the May 1 Late Show was not so obscene that it warranted a fine, the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday.
During his opening monologue, Colbert joked that "the only thing [Trump's] mouth is good for is being Vladimir Putin's cock holster." Colbert's mouth was blurred and his words were bleeped out of the broadcast, but, Variety reports, the FCC was still flooded with thousands of complaints — some saying he was disrespectful of the president, others arguing it was a homophobic remark.
The FCC investigates all complaints, and when asked for an update, the commission said in a statement that "consistent with standard operating procedure, the FCC's Enforcement Bureau has reviewed the complaints and the material that was the subject of these complaints. The bureau has concluded that there was nothing actionable under the FCC's rules." Catherine Garcia
During a phone call in late April, President Trump congratulated Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on doing an "unbelievable job" in his bloody war on drugs, a leaked transcript of the conversation obtained by The Intercept and Rappler shows.
The White House described the April 29 call as a "very friendly conversation," with the leaders discussing the threat posed by North Korea and drugs in the Philippines. The transcript — produced by the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs and later authenticated by top officials in the agency — begins with pleasantries, then Trump launches into his praise of Duterte. "Many countries have the problem" of drugs, he said. "We have a problem, but what a great job you are doing." Duterte thanked him, adding, "This is the scourge of my nation now and I have to do something to preserve the Filipino nation." Trump said that unlike a "previous president," he understood.
Police in the Philippines have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users and vigilante squads have added to the death toll, while Duterte himself has said he'd "be happy to slaughter" his country's drug users. "To endorse Duterte is to endorse a man who advocates mass murder and who has admitted to killing people himself," John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, told The Intercept. "Endorsing his methods is a celebration of the death of the poor and vulnerable."
Trump and Duterte also discussed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with Duterte calling him "not stable" and "a madman." Trump said he hopes "China solves the problem" of North Korea, but if they don't, "we will do it." The call ended with Trump urging Duterte to visit him in the Oval Office "anytime you want to come," and a final word of encouragement: "Keep up [the] good work, you are doing an amazing job." You can read the entire transcript, which has several typographical errors, here. Catherine Garcia
Senate Intelligence Committee leaders are responding to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's refusal to hand over documents related to its Russia investigation by issuing subpoenas to two of his businesses.
Rather than comply with an earlier subpoena from the committee in its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, Flynn on Monday invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. "While we disagree with Gen. Flynn's lawyers' interpretation of taking the Fifth ... it's even more clear that a business does not have a right to take the Fifth," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the panel's vice chairman, told reporters Tuesday.
Flynn, a foreign policy adviser to Trump during the campaign, was only national security adviser for a short amount of time, forced to resign just weeks after the inauguration when it came to light that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. Catherine Garcia
President Trump is expected to retain Marc Kasowitz as his personal attorney to represent him in the investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, people close to Trump and Kasowitz told ABC News on Tuesday.
Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP has represented Trump in the restructuring of his business debt and defamation cases, and the firm's website says Kasowitz has worked with Trump "on a wide range of litigation matters for over 15 years." The firm also employs Joe Lieberman, reportedly Trump's top choice for FBI director, as a senior counsel. The White House has not responded to ABC News' request for comment. Catherine Garcia
Sean Hannity's network has retracted a story about the 2016 death of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, and Rich's parents have written an appeal for people to "stop politicizing" their son's murder, but the Fox News host is refusing to back down.
"I am not Fox.com or FoxNews.com," Hannity said on his radio show Tuesday. "I retracted nothing." The Hannity host made his comments after Fox News retracted its story from May 16, which alleged that Rich had been in contact with WikiLeaks before he was shot and killed; police say he was likely murdered during a botched robbery. There is no evidence that shows Rich's death was related to WikiLeaks releasing stolen DNC material, and following outrage from the public and Rich's family, Fox News said the story "was not initially subjected to the high degree of editorial scrutiny we require for all our reporting. Upon appropriate review, the article was found not to meet those standards and has since been removed."
Hannity, whose executive producer received a letter from the Rich family asking that the show stop peddling a false narrative, said he has an "agenda to get to the truth. I'm not saying I have answers yet, but I'm digging deep, and I have a lot more information than all of you do at this point." He also said that people who are "accusing me of pushing a conspiracy theory, you are the biggest hypocrites in the entire world."
Not long after Hannity's outburst, The Washington Post published an op-ed written by Mary and Joel Rich under the headline: "We're Seth Rich's parents. Stop politicizing our son's murder." The conspiracy theories being pushed regarding their son's death are "baseless" and "unspeakably cruel," they wrote, and "the amount of pain and anguish this has caused us is unbearable. With every conspiratorial flare-up, we are forced to relive Seth's murder and a small piece of us dies as more of Seth's memory is torn away from us." Catherine Garcia
The U.K. has increased its terrorist threat level to the highest possible "critical" for the first time in a decade, British Prime Minister Theresa May announced Tuesday. The designation means a terror attack is considered "imminent" and allows for military personnel to be deployed instead of police officers at public events.
The decision comes after a lone male suicide bomber detonated an explosive Monday night near the Manchester Arena in England, where the singer Ariana Grande was performing. At least 22 people were killed and 59 injured in the blast. "The work undertaken throughout the day has revealed that it is a possibility that we cannot ignore, that there is a wider group of individuals linked to this attack," May said.
Police identified 22-year-old Salman Abedi as the bomber, and the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack over social media. Police on Tuesday also arrested a 23-year-old man in Manchester in connection with the attack. Becca Stanek