Report: Blackwater founder secretly met with Putin associate to establish Trump-Moscow backchannel link
Nine days before President Trump's inauguration, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a major Trump supporter, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, in an apparent attempt to establish a backchannel conduit between Putin and Trump, several U.S., European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post.
The Abu Dhabi prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, agreed to broker the meeting because the United Arab Emirates, like the U.S., wants Russia to cool its relationship with Iran, officials said. Prince, who did not have a formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, approached al-Nahyan about setting up the meeting, saying he was an unofficial Trump envoy, The Post reports. The crown prince suggested holding it in the Seychelles for privacy. While the meeting was considered positive by the UAE and Russia, they opted not to arrange any other summits between Putin's friend, who has not been identified, and Prince because of the political risk, officials said.
Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and he regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist. He gave $250,000 to Trump's campaign. Blackwater became famous during the Iraq War, when guards from the firm were convicted of killing Iraqis in a public square in 2007, and Prince later sold the company. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is "not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no role in the transition," while a testy spokesman for Prince told The Post the meeting "had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?" Catherine Garcia
Residents in Puerto Rico were left without power for months after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico, and experts estimate that around 4,640 people died. But the Environmental Protection Agency thinks it did an A-plus job responding to the disaster.
The EPA is creating "challenge coins" to congratulate itself on its "response excellence," CNN reported Friday.
The agency will spend around $8,500 on a set of coins that will be handed out as collectable awards to EPA officials who were involved in responding to the 2017 hurricane season. The coins will feature the EPA Emergency Response logo and will read "HURRICANES HARVEY, IRMA AND MARIA — THE CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES" as well as "PROTECTING HUMAN HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT ALL ACROSS AMERICA."
Officials asked the contractor who is creating the coins to "convey the sentiment that EPA staff from all across the country worked together to respond to the incidents from Puerto Rico to California (and regions in between)," reports CNN. Despite environmental advocates calling the EPA's response to Hurricane Maria "lacking," an EPA spokesperson defended the coins, saying "the dedicated public servants who worked tirelessly throughout the 2017 disaster relief efforts should be commended for their service." Summer Meza
World Cup viewers are hearing "GOAL!" and "GOL!" in almost equal measure.
NBC Universal's Telemundo subsidiary reported Friday that through the first seven days of the World Cup, about 48 percent of viewers are watching the Spanish-language network, while 52 percent are tuning into Fox Sports 1 for the English broadcast. The numbers are comparable to previous World Cups; in 2014, 49 percent of fans watched in Spanish and 51 percent in English, while in 2010, 47 percent opted for Spanish and 53 percent for English.
The 2018 World Cup has drawn an average of 1.75 million Spanish-language viewers and 1.91 million English-language viewers. Telemundo additionally pointed out that in previous tournaments, Mexico had played in multiple matches by this point, but the team has only played one game so far this year. Summer Meza
Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu played audio of children crying in a detention center for 5 straight minutes on the House floor
An audio recording of immigrant children recently separated from their parents circulated the web after it was published by ProPublica, but Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) wanted to be completely sure that his fellow lawmakers heard it, too.
Lieu played the recording on the House floor Friday, despite Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) repeatedly trying to shut it down, footage from CNN shows.
"If the Statue of Liberty could cry, she would be crying today," said Lieu. "As I stand here there are 2,300 babies and kids who are ripped away from their parents by our government and are in detention facilities across America."
After about 40 seconds, a scuffle began. Handel said that Lieu was "in breach of quorum," and told him repeatedly to "suspend" the audio while she banged the gavel. Lieu insisted that there were no House rules that prohibited playing audio, and said that "the American people need to hear this." After about five minutes of play, the tense moment came to an end and Lieu ended the recording — but not before he had demanded that members of the House imagine if it was their own children detained in a faraway facility. Watch the display below, via CNN. Summer Meza
On the House floor, Rep. Ted Lieu played audio of migrant children crying after they were separated from their parents. Here's how it played out. pic.twitter.com/oiuZ9fLQwb
— Meg Wagner (@megwagner) June 22, 2018
President Trump hosted an immigration event Friday with "Angel Families" whose relatives have been killed by undocumented immigrants. While Trump was standing with the "permanently separated" families, as he called them, reporters noticed something strange about the pictures of the victims in parents' hands:
Everything Trump touches turns tacky. Each parent of a kid slain by undocumented immigrant is holding poster of the kids’ face… with a big ol’ Donald Trump autograph. pic.twitter.com/HTKgboORa9
— Andrew Kirell (@AndrewKirell) June 22, 2018
TRUMP HAS AUTOGRAPHED THE PHOTOS OF MURDER VICTIMS pic.twitter.com/59wf455ak7
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 22, 2018
Trump told those in attendance that "we cannot allow our country to be overrun by illegal immigrants as the Democrats tell their phony stories of sadness and grief, hoping it will help them in the elections." He also made several other surprising comments, including remarking that the law enforcement officers in attendance were "good looking people" and holding up the photograph of one victim and observing that he resembles "Tom Selleck, except better looking." Watch below. Jeva Lange
Trump holds up an autographed photo of a murder victim, quips that the man is "Tom Selleck, except better looking." pic.twitter.com/8iOsdCT4xo
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 22, 2018
Sean Hannity reportedly used a burner phone in Singapore because of fears China might try to listen into his conversations with Trump
Fox News host Sean Hannity reportedly used a burner phone while he was in Singapore covering President Trump's summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un out of fear that China might try to bug his personal device, BuzzFeed News reports. "He talks to the president regularly, so I'm sure it's a target," said Ryan Duff, formerly of the U.S. Cyber Command.
Part of the fear stems from the lack of security on Trump's own device — he allegedly finds it "too inconvenient" to use a properly secured phone. Fox News said that it is "standard operating procedure … to secure communications whenever our teams are overseas covering major events," although BuzzFeed News writes that "the paranoia runs so deep that Fox sources say they are also cautious when talking to Hannity himself — because you're never sure who may be listening." Jeva Lange
When Trump advisers Roger Stone and Michael Caputo testified before the House Intelligence Committee on their contacts with Russians, they "lied through their teeth," claims a Democrat on the committee, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). Speaking on Yahoo News' Skullduggery podcast, Swalwell said he and the ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), have been pushing to send transcripts of Stone and Caputo's testimonies to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, but that the pair have been "shielded by Republicans" like the committee's chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
Swalwell's accusation follows the revelation that "at Caputo's instigation, Stone met during the 2016 campaign in Florida with a Russian immigrant and sometime FBI informant named Henry Greenberg who offered 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton," Yahoo News writes. Caputo and Stone both failed to mention the meeting when being interrogated about their contacts with Russians before the House committee. "[T]o say that there was 'failure of memory' by both individuals to recall this meeting, I just don't buy it," said Swalwell.
Stone has since said he rejected the "dirt" on Clinton, which Greenberg allegedly wanted to sell for $2 million. Swalwell, though, argued that Stone "was communicating with individuals associated with the Russian hacks. It would be very hard for me to believe that if he was in contact with Donald Trump regularly throughout the summer of 2016 and the fall, that he would not be passing along to Mr. Trump his efforts to obtain Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails — or efforts that were passed along to him that others were taking to obtain the emails." Listen to the Swalwell's full comments on Yahoo News' podcast Skullduggery here. Jeva Lange
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen found it "offensive" to suggest President Trump's administration intended to split up immigrant families, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders thought it was "absolutely ridiculous" to ask whether Trump would step down, and now United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley is refuting the notion that the U.N. should concern itself with American poverty.
Haley on Thursday said it was "patently ridiculous" that the U.N. was interested in analyzing poverty in the U.S., writing a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) that denounced his suggestion that Trump review a recent U.N. report that blamed poverty on "political will," reports The Hill.
"The Special Rapporteur wasted the U.N.'s time and resources, deflecting attention from the world's worst human rights abusers and focusing instead on the wealthiest and freest country in the world," wrote Haley, who withdrew the U.S. from the U.N.'s Human Rights Council on Tuesday. "It is patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America."
The report, which Haley criticized without evidence as "misleading and politically motivated," concluded that American democracy "is being steadily undermined" by politics that allow poverty and wealth inequality to continue. "With political will, it could readily be eliminated," the report reads. Sanders wanted the Trump administration to work with the U.N. to craft new policies based on the conclusions of the report, but Haley accused the researchers of "purposely [using] misleading facts" to publish a "biased" document. Summer Meza