President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, might have faced a blackmail attempt from a Ukrainian parliamentarian last summer, Politico reports. The purported evidence comes in the form of hacked communications from Manafort's daughter's iPhone, which includes a text from Ukrainian Serhiy Leshchenko demanding to reach Manafort and threatening the release of damaging information:
Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.
"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" — an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name — and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko. [Politico]
Leshchenko denied that the texts were from him, telling Politico: "I've never written any emails or messages to … Manafort or his family." Manafort denied brokering the meeting beween Trump and Tulub but confirmed the texts to his daughter are real and said that he had also received texts to his own phone from the same address. A White House official raised questions about the timeline, pointing out that Trump had not partnered with Manafort before the 2016 presidential campaign, muddling the allegation that he had brokered a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub.
The hacked text messages were published by a hacktivist collective apparently as an anti-Trump move, although the group "seems like randos, not the nation states we usually track," a cybersecurity analyst noted.
In August, The New York Times published documents from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine that indicated $12.7 million in cash payments was set aside for Manafort, with Leshchenko serving as a key source for bringing the documents to light. Manafort denied the documents are real: "I find it coincidental that I got these texts, and then he released these phony journals," Manafort said. Jeva Lange
President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will not attend the annual Kennedy Center Honors, the White House announced Saturday, to "allow the honorees to celebrate without any political distraction." Also canceled is the White House reception for honorees traditionally held after the ceremony every year since 1978.
Kennedy Center chair David M. Rubenstein and president Deborah F. Rutter received the announcement happily, issuing a statement thanking the administration for "graciously signal[ing] its respect for the Kennedy Center and ensures the Honors gala remains a deservingly special moment for the Honorees," they said, adding, "We are grateful for this gesture."
Before the Trumps' announcement, three of the five artists to be honored — producer Norman Lear, singer Lionel Richie, and dancer Carmen de Lavallade — said they would refuse to attend the ceremony, reception, or both in protest of the president. "In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our current leadership is choosing to engage in," de Lavallade said, "and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House." Bonnie Kristian
Thousands of counter-protesters marched in Boston Saturday to demonstrate against an event billed as a celebration of free speech but slammed by critics for ties to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday.
The original demonstration was organized by a group called Boston Free Speech, and its schedule for the day included two speakers with ties to the alt-right, one of whom marched in Charlottesville. Boston Free Speech has since distanced itself from white nationalism, pruning its speaker list and "denounc[ing] the politics of supremacy and violence."
Those changes did not deter counter-protesters — bearing signs condemning Nazism, the KKK, and all varieties of white supremacy — from turning out in vastly larger numbers. Police have determined to prevent violence among demonstrators; so far, there is one report of a man in a Trump hat being punched in the face.
See scenes from Boston Common below. Bonnie Kristian
— Jeff Ducharme (@hirider750) August 19, 2017
— Jeffrey Guterman (@JeffreyGuterman) August 19, 2017
A full band is bringing music to the counter protest in Boston pic.twitter.com/EhM8VbAyUY
— Zeninjor Enwemeka (@Zeninjor) August 19, 2017
This is a developing story and will be updated as more details become available.
President Trump spent Friday at Camp David meeting with defense and diplomatic advisers to discuss a range of topics centrally including the 16-year war in Afghanistan. Saturday morning, after heading back to his vacation at his golf resort in New Jersey, Trump posted a tweet hinting a decision about the conflict's future had been reached:
Important day spent at Camp David with our very talented Generals and military leaders. Many decisions made, including on Afghanistan.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
What that decision may be remains to be seen. During his campaign, Trump was skeptical that continuing the war would lead to victory or serve American national interests, though he was inconsistent on the question of whether the 2001 invasion was a mistake. He has mulled options, reportedly including everything from withdrawal to sending thousands of additional U.S. troops, for months.
A Friday statement from the White House seemed to indicate that deliberation process was still underway. "The President is studying and considering his options," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, "and will make an announcement to the American people, to our allies and partners, and to the world at the appropriate time."
The ouster of former chief strategist Stephen Bannon may play into whatever decisions were made Friday; Bannon favored a more restrained approach in Afghanistan while Trump's remaining advisers, most notably National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, are believed to prefer a more activist approach including a troop surge. Bonnie Kristian
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for a stabbing attack Saturday morning that wounded eight people in the Siberian city of Surgut, Russia. The attacker reportedly ran down a main street in Surgut, stabbing at random until he was fatally shot by police. The ISIS statement was published several hours later.
Russian authorities have yet to comment on the attacker's identity or motives, though they called for calm and announced four of the injured are in critical condition.
This attack comes close on the heels of multiple other fatal terror attacks elsewhere in Europe this week. ISIS also claimed responsibility for the vehicle rampages in Barcelona and Cambrils, Spain, on Thursday and Friday but has yet to claim Friday's stabbing in Finland. ISIS often claims responsibility for terror attacks with which it has no organizational connection, only ideological affinity. Bonnie Kristian
Police in Finland arrested a man accused of stabbing eight people, killing two and injuring six more, on Friday in the southwest city of Turku. Police reported they shot the 18-year-old Moroccan man in the leg after his alleged attack.
"The act had been investigated as murder, but during the night we received additional information which indicates that the criminal offences are now terrorist killings," authorities said Saturday.
Eyewitness reports of the incident offer conflicting accounts; some say the suspect was heard yelling "Allahu akbar," but others say the screams were people saying "watch out" in Finnish. Bonnie Kristian
Tucker was on a delayed honeymoon to Spain with his wife, Heidi Nunes, celebrating their one-year anniversary. He stepped away from her to go to the bathroom when the vehicle attack began. "Next thing I know there's screaming, yelling," said Nunes. "I got pushed inside the souvenir kiosk and stayed there hiding while everybody kept running by screaming." The next morning, Tucker was identified among the 13 people killed.
— Eyewitness News (@ABC7NY) August 18, 2017
"It's been bitter, but I don't know what my feelings are," said Tucker's father, Dan Tucker. "I'm not angry so much as I just don't understand it. My wife's in shock." A widely circulated photo of Tucker and Nunes, shown in the tweet above, was taken a mere hour before the attack.
Investigations are ongoing Saturday as authorities have linked the Barcelona attack to incidents in Cambrils and Alcanar on Friday and Wednesday, respectively, which bring the total killed by the three acts of terrorism to 15. Bonnie Kristian
Two police officers, Matthew Baxter and Sam Howard, were shot in Kissimmee, Florida, Friday night while responding to a report of suspicious activity. Baxter was killed and Howard remains in "grave critical condition." The suspected shooter is in custody and three other people have been detained; details about their identities or the motives behind the attack have not been released. Kissimmee police are still searching for one more person.
— Kissimmee Police (@kissimmeepolice) August 19, 2017
President Trump promptly tweeted after news of the attack broke:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2017
Four other police officers were also wounded on duty Friday night, two in another part of Florida and two in Pennsylvania. One is in critical condition, while the other injuries are less serious. Bonnie Kristian