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Cohen Discusses WikiLeaks and Russian Collusion in Testimony

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  • Michael Cohen claimed in his testimony before Congress that then-candidate Trump was aware of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails before they were released.
  • Cohen said he was in the room when Trump received a call from Roger Stone, who said he had just spoken to Julian Assange.
  • Cohen alleged that Trump “knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.”

Wiki Leaks & DNC Hack

Some of the most highly anticipated moments from Michael Cohen’s congressional hearing came in the discussion regarding Russia and collusion.

However, because of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Cohen was unable to provide much information that was not already known to the public.

One of the biggest claims Cohen did make in his testimony was that then-candidate Trump knew about the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails that were hacked before the DNC convention in the summer of 2016:

“A lot of people have asked me about whether Mr. Trump knew about the release of the hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of time. The answer is yes.”

Cohen also stated that he was present during a phone call Trump received from former Republican strategist Roger Stone, regarding a call Stone had with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange:

“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone. Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump responded by stating to the effect of ‘wouldn’t that be great.’”

Roger Stone

The question of what exactly Stone knew about WikiLeak’s email plan has long been a mystery, and Mueller’s recent indictment of Stone did not provide answers.

In January, Stone was indicted on charges of obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The special counsel cited emails in which Stone was trying to get in touch with Assange, but did not make any definitive claims about what Stone learned.

Cohen’s claims come as new information for two reasons. First, he said that Stone claimed to have gotten information to Assange directly.

Second, Cohen said Stone told Trump himself about Assange and the emails, which many believe is significant because Stone has denied having any communication with Assange before the email dump.

Assange’s lawyer Barry Pollack denied that the phone call Cohen described happened, saying in a statement:

“Roger Stone did not have the telephone call Michael Cohen described Stone claiming to have had with Julian Assange […] It is ironic that while Stone and Cohen have both been charged with lying, and the public tries to untangle those lies, Mr. Assange apparently faces criminal charges in the Eastern District of Virginia for his role in publishing truthful information.”

Russian Collusion

Cohen partially provided an answer to the question of whether or not Trump collided with Russia, stating that he did not have direct evidence, but did have suspicions: “Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear. But, I have my suspicions”

Cohen went on to say that something clicked in his mind after the media reported that there had been a meeting in Trump Tower with Donald Trump Jr., others from the campaign, and Russians, in addition to an email that set up the meeting with the subject line: “Dirt on Hillary Clinton.”

Cohen said he remembered that in early June 2016, Don Jr. came into a room, walked behind his father’s desk, and spoke in a low voice. He recalled that he could clearly hear Don Jr. saying: “The meeting is all set.” To which Trump responded “Ok good…let me know.”

Cohen said that nothing went on in Trump world without Trump’s knowledge and approval, and because of this, he believes that Trump must have known about the meeting.

He also claimed that Trump directed Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the campaign and lied about it:

“To be clear: Mr. Trump knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it. He lied about it because he never expected to win the election. He also lied about it because he stood to make hundreds of millions of dollars on the Moscow real estate project.”

Cohen was asked numerous questions about Russia and WikiLeaks throughout the hearing. While he did provide some new information, he rejected answering many of the questions, citing the ongoing Mueller investigation, and reiterating to the Congress members and the public that they would just have to wait.

Watch the full coverage here:

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McConnell to Propose Raising Tobacco Use Age to 21

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  • Mitch McConnell announced during a press conference Thursday, that he plans to introduce legislation that would raise the age for tobacco use to 21.
  • Currently, 12 states across the country and hundreds of localities have already raised the age from 18 to 21.
  • The use of tobacco products by teens has risen significantly, with many attributing the increase to e-cigarettes.

McConnell Announces New Legislation Proposal

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced Thursday that he will introduce legislation to raise the tobacco use age from 18 to 21 nationwide.

This legislation would include all tobacco products, including cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vaping.

“For some time I’ve been hearing from parents of teenage children seeing an unprecedented spike in…vaping, among teens,” McConnell said in a press conference in his home state of Kentucky. “It is reaching epidemic levels around the country.”

Smoking Rates Among American Teens

The use of tobacco products among teenagers was McConnell’s motivating factor in announcing the legislation. According to the CDC, 90 percent of adult smokers try their first cigarette before the age of 21.

The rise of e-cigarettes has led to an increase in teen smoking. In 2017, 2.1 million high school students reported using e-cigarettes. In 2018, that number jumped to 3.6 million. In the state of Kentucky, in 2018, 45 percent of high schoolers used these devices.

According to a 2018 survey by Truth Initiative, 63 percent of Juul users did not know that these devices contained nicotine.

In 12 states, the legal age for tobacco use is already 21. Over 400 towns, cities, and counties have also followed suit. McConnell said he expects bipartisan support of the bill.

The 12 U.S. states where the legal age to purchase tobacco products is 21.

Juul is also behind this move, saying in a statement, “we must restrict youth usage of vapor products.”

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Mueller Report Includes 10 Possible Instances of Obstruction of Justice, Lacks Evidence, AG Says Ahead of Full Release

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  • Attorney General William Barr held a press briefing Thursday morning in advance of the public release of the Mueller report.
  • Barr stated that the report “found no evidence that any Americans – including anyone associated with the Trump campaign – conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”
  • Barr said that the special counsel looked at 10 instances where Trump acted in a way that could be considered an obstruction of justice, but defended his conclusion to ultimately clear Trump of any attempted obstruction of justice.

Barr Briefing Before Release

Attorney General William Barr gave a press conference Thursday morning as a precursor to the public release of the highly anticipated Mueller report.

During the briefing, Barr stated that while the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller “makes clear” that Russian operatives tried to interfere in the 2016 election, the investigations “found no evidence” that any member of President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Russian efforts to interfere in the election.

“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” said Barr.

“As you will see, the special counsel’s report states that his ‘investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” he continued.

Barr claimed that the White House “fully cooperated” with the investigation and that Trump did not have “corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.” He also said that Trump’s lawyers were given access to the report earlier this week before it was made public and that Trump’s lawyers did not ask for any additional redactions.

10 Instances of Possible Obstruction of Justice

Barr said that the special counsel looked at 10 instances where Trump may have obstructed justice. Despite these 10 instances and the fact that Mueller said he was neither charging nor exonerating Trump of obstruction of justice, Barr defended his own decision to clear the president of any potential charges.

Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein disagreed with “some of the special counsel’s legal theories,” and ultimately concluded the evidence was “not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”

He also defended Trump’s actions, saying that he was “frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”

The WikiLeaks Question

Regarding the question of the Trump campaign’s connection to WikiLeaks’ release of hacked DNC emails in the summer of 2016, Barr said that even if the Trump campaign colluded with WikiLeaks, that is not a crime.

“The special counsel also investigated whether any member or affiliate of the Trump campaign encouraged or otherwise played a role in these dissemination efforts,” said Barr. “Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy.”

This means that because WikiLeaks did not directly participate in the Russian hacking of the emails, WikiLeaks did not itself commit a crime. Meaning any collusion between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks is not an illegal conspiracy.

What Next?

At 11 a.m. EST, Barr sent the Mueller report to Congress and published the “lightly redacted” report on the Justice Department’s website. Now, reporters, legal experts, and lawmakers alike will analyze the findings of the 448-page report.

In the press conference, Barr said that most of the redactions fall into four categories: Content that involves grand jury material, content that involves foreign intelligence, content that implicates ongoing cases and investigations, and content that would violate the privacy of people who are not directly implicated in the report.

Barr said that redactions would be labeled according to their category. He also stated that the redactions were made by Department of Justice attorneys, attorneys from the Special Counsel’s Office, the intelligence community, and prosecutors in ongoing cases.

Democratic lawmakers have demanded to see the unredacted report, arguing that Barr cannot be trusted to provide an accurate portrayal of Mueller’s findings because Barr was appointed by Trump, and has openly argued against the obstruction case against Trump in the past.

Barr addressed this in his briefing, saying that he believed the redacted report “will allow every American to understand the results of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”

“Nevertheless, in an effort to accommodate congressional requests,” continued Barr, “We will make available to a bipartisan group of leaders from several Congressional committees a version of the report with all redactions removed except those relating to grand-jury information.”

Barr’s findings will surely continue to be questioned by legal experts and pundits as more analyses of the report are done on the historic Mueller report.

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Trump Vetoes Resolution to Remove U.S. From Yemen

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  • Trump vetoed a resolution backed with bipartisan support that would remove U.S. troops from Yemen.
  • Trump called the legislation “unnecessary” and “dangerous.”
  • Democratic leaders have condemned Trump for the veto, while Saudi Arabia has given the president praise.

Trump Vetoes the Resolution

President Donald Trump vetoed legislation that would stop the United States’ involvement in the war in Yemen.

Trump used his presidential veto power for the second time on Tuesday when he rejected Senate Joint Resolution 7. The bill directs the president to remove Armed Forces from Yemen within 30 days. Congress, however, did not ask for all military personnel to be removed, and made an exception for operations related to or directed at Al-Queda.

The resolution started in the Senate and was passed 54-46 in March, with all Democrats voting in favor, and seven Republicans voting alongside them. In early April, it made its way to the House where it passed with a vote of 247-175.

In a letter to the Senate, Trump called the bill “unnecessary” and “dangerous.”

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities,” the president wrote, “endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future.

Trump also elaborated, saying that a political decision alone could not stop tensions in Yemen.

“We cannot end the conflict in Yemen through political documents like S.J. Res. 7,” Trump added in his letter. “Peace in Yemen requires a negotiated settlement.”

American Involvement in Yemen

Since 2015, the United States has been aiding Saudi Arabia on the ground in Yemen.  Saudi Arabia is fighting against Houthi Rebels, who are backed by Iran and have seized part of the country. They also ousted Yemen’s president.

Saudi Arabia is fighting against Houthi Rebels, who are backed by Iran and have seized part of the country. They also ousted Yemen’s president.

American involvement in the war has come under scrutiny several times since the conflicts began. One instance, in particular, involved an American-made bomb killing at least 40 children in a school bus when dropped from a warplane.

In his letter, President Trump claimed that the U.S. is not currently engaging in any hostile combat.

“Apart from counterterrorism operations against al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and ISIS, the United States is not engaged in hostilities in or affecting Yemen,” he said. He later cited that our only involvement includes concepts like intelligence sharing and logistics support.

Reactions to the Veto

Politicians have heavily criticized Trump for vetoing the resolution, which was backed with bipartisan support.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sent a thread of tweets after his veto.

“The President has cynically chosen to contravene a bipartisan, bicameral vote of the Congress & perpetuate America’s shameful involvement in this heartbreaking crisis,” she wrote.

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT)  was one of the Senators leading the resolution. Upon learning that Trump rejected it, he said, “I am disappointed, but not surprised.”

President Trump did receive praise from Saudi Arabia. The country’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, called his decision “positive.”

See what others are saying: (New York Magazine) (Al Jazeera) (BBC)

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