Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort earned tens of millions of dollars from 2006 to 2009 secretly working for a billionaire Russian aluminum magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, to promote Putin's interests and undermine anti-Kremlin opposition in former Soviet republics, The Associated Press reported early Wednesday, citing business records and interviews with people familiar with Manafort's dealings. "We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success," Manafort wrote to Oleg Deripaska in 2005, before signing a $10 million annual contract starting in 2006.
Manafort has said he never worked for Russian interests, and he repeated that assertion to AP, saying his work for Deripaska is being mischaracterized as "inappropriate or nefarious" as part of a "smear campaign."
AP says it isn't clear how much work Manafort performed under his contract with Deripaska, or how long past 2009 the business relationship lasted — though it was apparently over by 2014, when Deripaska's representatives alleged in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court that Manafort had taken $19 million to invest on the Russian oligarch's behalf then stopped responding to his calls. Manafort conducted his contract business with Deripaska not through his consulting firm but instead a company called LOAV Ltd., and he apparently did not detail his lobbying work with the Justice Department, a potential felony violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. When asked about Manafort in 2008, three years into his business relationship with Deripaska, a spokesman for the Russian tycoon said Deripaska had never hired his firm.
Manafort is a "leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump's associates and Russia," AP says, citing a U.S. official. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer tried to distance President Trump from Manafort, saying Manafort "played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the campaign. Manafort, who ran Trump's campaign from March into August, has said this year he still speaks with Trump on the phone. You can read more at AP. Peter Weber
The United States announced a new set of sanctions on North Korea on Friday. The sanctions are specifically aimed at 27 entities, 28 vessels, and one lone individual accused of shipping goods illegally to North Korea and helping further leader Kim Jong Un's nuclear weapons program. In a statement, the Treasury Department called the actions "the largest North Korea-related sanctions tranche to date." President Trump's administration has enacted various sets of sanctions against North Korea in ongoing efforts to curb their nuclear ambitions.
Those punished in this new round of sanctions will be prohibited from doing business with people in the U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said: "This will significantly hinder the Kim regime's capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters."
Trump was expected to detail the sanctions during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, but he only referenced them in passing, describing them as "the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before." Kelly O'Meara Morales
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) announced Friday that the age to buy firearms in the Sunshine State will be raised to 21. The minimum age was previously 18.
Scott said active and reserve military members as well as law enforcement officers will be granted an exemption from the new rules. His remarks came during a press conference where he also proposed various other reforms to prevent mass shootings like the one that happened last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 23, 2018
ABC News reports that Scott also wants to put law enforcement officers in every Florida public school, ban the sale and purchase of modified bump stocks that allow semiautomatic rifles to fire faster, and implement a "Violent Threat Restraining Order," which would legally "prohibit a violent or mentally ill person from purchasing or possessing a firearm."
Scott declared: "Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do." Kelly O'Meara Morales
Florida Gov. Scott: "I know there are some who are advocating a mass takeaway of Second Amendment rights for all Americans. That is not the answer. Keeping guns away from dangerous people and people with mental issues is what we need to do." https://t.co/c8WxE0BwjS pic.twitter.com/moB3rZ232U
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 23, 2018
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd Friday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump bashed the "fake news" media, reiterated his support of the Second Amendment, and joked about his "bald spot" during a freewheeling, high-energy address. Calling his speech boring and admitting to going off script, the president was frequently interrupted by chants of "USA," "lock her up," and "build the wall."
— ABC News (@ABC) February 23, 2018
In addition to discussing job growth and the border wall, Trump doubled down on his divisive proposal to arm schoolteachers. Addressing reports that the armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School didn't engage the shooter as the attack was unfolding, Trump claimed that an armed teacher "would have shot the hell out of [the gunman] before he knew it."
The president explained: "I'd rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that … doesn't know the students." While he also called for stricter background checks on gun purchases, Trump warned the audience: "If [Democrats] get in, they'll take away your Second Amendment, which we will never allow that to happen."
President Trump touts armed teacher proposal and claims that armed educators would have “shot the hell out” of the Florida shooter if they had been armed https://t.co/KgdoH3Sfd5 pic.twitter.com/xpB0wcHhNh
— CNN (@CNN) February 23, 2018
Trump wrapped up his address with the recitation of an anti-immigration poem called "The Snake," a staple during his 2016 campaign rallies. "We are going to make America great again," he said just before he walked off the stage. "And I will never, ever, ever let you down." Jeva Lange
The U.S. will reportedly move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem much sooner than previously anticipated.
Last month, Vice President Mike Pence told Israeli lawmakers that the move would occur by the end of 2019, but Israel's Channel 10 News reports that the date has been moved up to May 14, which marks the 70th anniversary of Israel's declaration of independence. The White House has yet to confirm the development, though Axios cited an anonymous U.S. official in its report.
Citing unnamed Israeli officials, Axios explains that the relocated embassy will first operate as an "interim embassy" at the U.S.'s consular annex in Jerusalem until the State Department decides on a new permanent location. Earlier Friday, The Associated Press reported that the State Department was considering paying for "some or all of the [new] embassy costs" via donations from Republican donors, including pro-Israel billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson.
The U.S. announced in December that it would recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move its embassy to the contested city. Israeli lawmakers applauded the decision, but the announcement sparked immediate pushback from Arab states as Palestinians also lay claim to Jerusalem and say it should be their capital in a future state. Kelly O'Meara Morales
CNN's Alisyn Camerota confronts the NRA's Dana Loesch over her claim that reporters 'love mass shootings'
"Who loves mass shootings?"
CNN's Alisyn Camerota posed the improbable question to NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch on Friday, one day after Loesch declared at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "[many] in legacy media love mass shootings." Loesch additionally accused the media of milking "crying white mothers" for TV ratings, just one week after 17 people were killed in a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
After reading Loesch's quote back to her, Camerota asked: "Why would you make a statement like that?" The NRA spokeswoman replied: "Because it's true." Loesch claimed that she was not referring to everyone in the media — "I said 'many,' not 'all'" — and pointed to "wall-to-wall coverage" of the shootings, claiming that TV networks give more air time to the perpetrators of mass shootings than to the survivors.
"It's just malicious, actually, that you would say that," Camerota retorted. "I don't know anybody in the media who likes mass shootings. You're wrong on every single level. We pray that there's never another one." Loesch tried to get a word in, but Camerota continued: "Guess what? [Mass shootings] are not ratings gold because Americans have reached saturation level," she said. "It's so heartbreaking that they actually often turn away, and we still have the conversation trying to find solutions."
"You're saying that it's malicious, but yet on your network, you've allowed [gun owners] to be indicted as child-murderers," Loesch replied. Watch the tense exchange below. Kelly O'Meara Morales
Alisyn Camerota to NRA spokeswoman: "You think we love mass shootings? … It's just malicious, actually, that you would say that. I don't know anybody in the media who likes mass shootings… We pray that there's never another one." https://t.co/qzE1DxoncO https://t.co/a0QY03VTYU
— CNN (@CNN) February 23, 2018
Watch this CPAC live stream, featuring speeches by President Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Nigel Farage, and more
The second day of the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference has begun, with President Trump set to speak at 10:05 a.m. ET. The gathering in National Harbor, Maryland, is one of the biggest events of the year for conservative activists, with attendance known to top 10,000 people.
Following Trump's speech is a panel on "the new Trump Doctrine" at 11:15 a.m.; a conversation between White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and the administrator of the Small Business Administration, Linda McMahon, at 11:55 a.m.; a speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai at 12:30 p.m.; and a talk by British pro-Trump politician Nigel Farage at 3:35 p.m.
See the full schedule here and watch CPAC live below. Jeva Lange
Because tipplers and java fiends need good news, too, a new study from the University of California, Irvine, has found that drinking alcohol and coffee increases your chance of living past 90 by a statistically significant amount. The university's 90+ Study has followed about 1,700 nonagenarians since 2003, and those "who drank moderate amounts of alcohol or coffee lived longer than those who abstained." "Moderate" means two glasses of beer or wine and two cups of coffee, which decrease your chances of premature death by 18 percent (alcohol) and 10 percent (coffee).
"I have no explanation for it, but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity," study lead researcher Dr. Claudia Kawas said at an American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Austin last weekend. But there's good news for more than just beverage aficionados in the study. "People who were overweight in their 70s lived longer than normal or underweight people did," the study found, even if the difference was just 3 percent. People with a hobby were 21 percent less likely to die early, and — sorry — exercising 15-45 minutes a day also reduced premature death chances by 11 percent.
So, pick your poison — in this case, a moderate amount may extend your life. Peter Weber