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President Trump Asks How Long Ukraine Can Resist Russian Aggression in Newly Surfaced Recording

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(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump inquired how long Ukraine would be able to resist Russian aggression without U.S. assistance during a 2018 meeting with donors that included the indicted associates of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

“How long would they last in a fight with Russia?” Trump is heard asking in the audio portion of a video recording, moments before he calls for the firing of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. She was removed a year later after a campaign to discredit her by Giuliani and others, an action that is part of Democrats’ case arguing for the removal of the president in his Senate impeachment trial.

A video recording of the entire 80-minute dinner at the Trump Hotel in Washington was obtained Saturday by The Associated Press. Excerpts were first published Friday by ABC News. People can be seen in only some portions of the recording.

The recording contradicts the president’s statements that he did not know the Giuliani associates Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman, key figures in the investigation who were indicted last year on campaign finance charges. The recording came to light as Democrats continued to press for witnesses and other evidence to be considered during the impeachment trial.

On the recording, a voice that appears to be Parnas’ can be heard saying, “The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador.” He later can be heard telling Trump: “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached. Just wait.’”

Trump responds: “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”

Ukraine came up during the dinner in the context of a discussion of energy markets, with the voice appearing to be Parnas’ describing his involvement in the purchase of a Ukrainian energy company.

The group then praises Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to which the president says: “Pompeo’s going to be good. He’s doing a good job. Already he’s doing a good job.”

At the beginning of the video, Trump is seen posing for photos before entering the blue-walled dining room. A voice that appears to be Fruman’s is heard saying that “it’s a great room” before a chuckle. “I couldn’t believe myself.”





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No Evidence Russia Helping Trump, Top U.S. Security Aide Says

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(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s top security aide said he’s seen no evidence that Russia is interfering in the 2020 U.S. election in an effort to support the president’s re-election bid.On the other hand, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien told ABC News that it would be “no surprise” if Moscow was trying to help Senator Bernie Sanders win the election, as reported on Friday.“I haven’t seen any intelligence that Russia is doing anything to attempt to get President Trump re-elected,” O’Brien said in an interview set for broadcast Sunday on “This Week.”“So if it’s out there, it hasn’t been shared with me,” he said, according to a transcript of the remarks posted by ABC. “And I get pretty good access.”O’Brien’s comments come after a senior intelligence official briefed House lawmakers recently that Russia is continuing to interfere in the U.S. election and that the Russian government favors Trump’s re-election, according to people familiar with the matter.The president felt blindsided when he learned belatedly that intelligence official Shelby Pierson on Feb. 13, under questioning from Democrats, told lawmakers about Russia’s preference for Trump, the people said.Maguire OutOn Wednesday, the president announced that he was replacing acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, a veteran intelligence official, with Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany and a staunch Trump supporter.O’Brien on ABC denied that the end of Maguire’s service had anything to do with the briefing on Russian interference.“Admiral Maguire had to leave his acting position on March 11. And so that’s why he left,” said O’Brien. “All I know is that the Republicans on the side of the House hearing were unhappy with the hearing, and said that there was no intelligence to back up what was being said.”“I mean, why would the Russians want the president, who’s increased NATO spending $400 billion from non-American NATO member states over through 2024, who has spent $ 2.2 trillion in upgrading our military, which had been in a terrible state of readiness because of sequestration of the prior administration, and who’s moving out of endless wars and moving American troops into Europe and Asia to confront the great powers,” O’Brien said.“Why would they want him re-elected? That doesn’t make any sense to me.”O’Brien said, however, that reports that Russia is trying to help Sanders, the Vermont senator win the election were credible.Read more: Sanders Tells Putin to Stay Out After Briefing on Meddling“Well, there are these reports that they want Bernie Sanders to get elected president. That’s no surprise. He honeymooned in Moscow,” he said.Sanders traveled to the Soviet Union in 1988 shortly after getting married. His long-ago trip has become regular fodder for Trump and his re-election campaign.To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Wasson in Washington at ewasson@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Linus ChuaFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Brazilian Police on Strike Amid Carnival Celebrations

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(RIO DE JANEIRO) — A violent police strike in northeastern Brazil has shed light on dissatisfaction among cops elsewhere in the country, with some forces threatening to protest as rowdy Carnival celebrations start.

The strike by military police demanding higher salaries in the state of Ceara, and which led to a senator being shot, is a headache for President Jair Bolsonaro, a staunch supporter of police forces who has pledged to curb violent crime.

“Of course, police strikes could spread,” said lawmaker Guilherme da Cunha of the state of Minas Gerais, where police obtained a 42 percent salary increase this year after threatening to strike. “From the moment people who have a monopoly on firearms discover the strength it has, there is a risk.”

In Ceara, violent crime has risen sharply during the police strike, with at least 88 people killed over three days, according to online news site G1, citing state officials. Bolsonaro has sent hundreds of national guard forces and 2,500 soldiers to maintain order.

During the strike, Sen. Cid Gomes was shot in the chest as he tried to drive a backhoe through a police protest. He is in stable condition. Earlier that day, masked officers forced businesses to close, occupied barracks and damaged police vehicles.

Mayors in several of the state’s small cities — 30,000 inhabitants or less — canceled Carnival celebrations. In Paracuru, where authorities were expecting 40,000 revelers a day, the mayor said he was no longer able to ensure security in his city’s streets.

Even though police strikes are illegal in Brazil, other states are at risk of seeing similar protests, lawmakers and public security experts told The Associated Press.

In Alagoas state, civil police, in charge of investigating crimes, have been on strike for two weeks.

“The governor has made a lot of empty promises to the military police. At some point, that bomb can explode,” said lawmaker Davi Maia, who has met police in Congress to discuss their demands.

In Paraiba, military police organized a 12-hour strike on Feb. 19. In Santa Catarina, public security agents threatened to slow work to a bare minimum, paralyzing operations to an extent but avoiding illegal strikes.

In Rio, one association of municipal guards, who police city parks and properties, began a strike Saturday, during Carnival.

Police strikes aren’t new, according to Ilona Szabó, co-founder of a security research center, the Igarapé Institute. A study by the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul showed that between 1997 and 2017, Brazil had 715 police strikes, but only 52 by military police.

“More than ever Brazil needs to democratize and professionalize its police forces,” Szabó said.

Many believe police officers are emboldened by the 2018 elections, in which Bolsonaro and other fervent law-and-order supporters were elected. A former army captain, Bolsonaro supported the armed forces during his 30-year legislative career and has said police who kill on duty should be decorated.

Many Brazilians states’ finances are in the red, with public servants often receiving partial or delayed salaries. Carnival celebrations often prove a good opportunity for public servants, including police, to pressure authorities, who fear violence and looting during the festivities.

Tourists and party-goers at Carnival are often targeted by pick-pockets. In the state of Sao Paulo, police have arrested 240 suspects as part of a carnival security operation.

Last year, public security officers in Minas Gerais also chose February to threaten the newly elected administration of Gov. Romeu Zema Neto with strikes if he didn’t readjust their salary.

“The government was pressured to choose between a terrible, and least worst option,” said state lawmaker da Cunha. Police shut down a motorway and armed men attempted to invade the governor’s office, according to witnesses who asked that their names not be used because of safety fears.

As part of the negotiations, the governor obtained an agreement that the increase be postponed one year, meaning the proposal only landed this month in the state’s legislative assembly.

The news of a 42 percent salary increase spread rapidly, boosting similar requests in Ceara and other states, and angering governors who have resisted threats of illegal protests.

“Minas Gerais granted this increase, in a state that is not paying salaries, and is in a situation of bankruptcy,” said Ignacio Cano, coordinator of the Violence Analysis Laboratory at the State University of Rio de Janeiro.

“It says a lot about the moment the country is going through, and the strength that public forces are acquiring,” he said.





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In South Korea, Coronavirus Meets the Second Coming

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SEOUL—A South Korean church whose founder says, rather mysteriously, that he represents the second coming of Christ on Earth and has unique insights into God’s revelations is getting much of the blame for a major surge in the spread of the deadly coronavirus here.Coronavirus Now a ‘Tremendous Public Health Threat’: CDCFear of the disease now known as COVID-19 actually had been on the decline in South Korea until a fresh outbreak was traced to a 61-year-old woman who belonged to the Shincheonji Church in Daegu, a city of 2.4 million about 170 miles southeast of Seoul. Now it appears scores of church members are infected, representing more than half the 433 cases so far reported in the entire country, including three who have died. A former member of the church told South Korea's Yonhap news agency that Shincheonji’s practices during worship may heighten the risk of coronavirus contagion, since participants kneel close together and sing songs with their arms on each others’ shoulders during services. There are also concerns about its presence outside South Korea, possibly including Hubei province in China, the epicenter of the growing epidemic. Lee Man-hee, the 88-year-old founder and leader of the church, has called the disease the “devil's deed” and a test of faith meant to stop the growth of Shincheonji, according to Yonhap.Leaders of more traditional churches have been quick to denounce Shincheonji, which means “New Heaven and Earth.” And the spread of COVID-19 from one of the 74 Shincheonji “sanctuaries” strengthens the view among the mainstream that Shincheonji is a dangerous cult that keeps many of its 200,000 members in secret compounds while pressuring them to absorb its teachings and recruit other followers.Christian critics for years have denounced Lee Man-hee as “a heretic” who has exploited thousands of adherents since opening his first congregation 36 years ago. He calls himself “the promised pastor.”“They are not real Christians,” says a member of Korea’s Presbyterian church, the country’s largest Christian organization. “They are fake.”* * *SEWING UP SEOUL* * *Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, has picked up on the hostile sentiment, warning against the evil the church poses in the metropolitan region of the Korean capital. “Shincheonji sect, also known as ‘Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony’ in Daegu, has become a hotbed of the infections in local communities,” he warned in a lengthy media briefing as the extent of the outbreak became known, calling for measures to stop the disease from spreading.Already, he said, confirmed cases elsewhere were “related to the church in Daegu” and “another confirmed patient in Seoul attended the chapel in that church.” It was “to proactively prevent the further spread of the virus,” he said, that “the Shincheonji churches in Seoul will be closed.”That crackdown was not the only severe measure ordered by Park. He also banned street demonstrations, notably by conservatives hostile to his own municipal government and the national government.Park, a left-leaning politician who has long advocated dialogue with North Korea, insisted he had in mind the health of old people who join in such protests waving American and Korean flags. “The symptoms and prognosis of the confirmed cases could be fatal to people with underlying conditions, and the elderly in particular,” he said, ordering the closure of welfare facilities, senior citizen centers and an historic park in central Seoul where old men frequently gather.Conservatives, hoping to defeat ruling party legislators in national assembly elections in April, denounced the ban as “politics” and promised to turn out in defiance of rows of policemen massed on the main avenue running by city hall.* * *MESSIANIC TENDENCIES* * *The role of Shincheonji in spreading the disease, however, seems far more important than political protests in a country where religious groupings often fight one another. About a third of South Korea’s 51 million people identify as Christians, but there are deep divisions among them, and these movements like Shincheonji draw adherents despite social and cultural barriers to proselytizing and preaching. Cults and cult-like groupings have proliferated, seeming to fill some sort of spiritual void in this fast-moving fast-growing country always under threat from its neighbor to the north. If the COVID-19 epidemic is striking down members of Shincheonji its critics “will say God has struck heretics,” says Michael Breen, author of books on Korean culture and a former member of the Unification Church of the late Rev. Moon Sun-myung. “A lot of people will be thinking, they kind of deserve this.”In fact, in the years since Lee Man-hee first mesmerized young Koreans with his claim to embody Jesus Christ, the Shincheonji Church has proven about as controversial as the “Moonie” Unification Church. Lee may not call himself “the messiah” or “true parent” of mankind as did Moon, but he preaches an extremist view of Christianity whose message is essentially that he came to know the meaning of Christ on Earth through the Bible’s Book of Revelation.“More people are upset with Lee than with Moon,” says Breen. “They will go after him. They are very dogmatic and judgmental.”The secrecy of the church adds to the build-up of emotions against its activities. “Health authorities are having difficulties as they could not reach or contact more than 400 followers of the church,” reported Dong A Ilbo, a leading newspaper in Seoul. It was only through GPS tracking, the paper said, that the church member who was first diagnosed was discovered to have visited Cheongdo, where an outbreak was reported in a hospital and the first person in Korea died of the disease.“Since the entire nation is experiencing a national crisis, Shincheonji religious followers should voluntarily report symptoms and self-quarantine at home while fully cooperating with the authorities in quarantine efforts,” the paper editorialized. At the same time, Dong A called on citizens not to attack patients “even for the sake of ensuring the success of quarantine efforts.”Kukmin Ilbo, a Christian newspaper with strong ties to South Korea’s largest congregation, the evangelical Full Gospel Church in Seoul, suggested Shincheonji members are reluctant to cooperate with authorities tracing the course of the disease.North Korea’s Secret Coronavirus Crisis is Crazy Scary“It seems to be the tendency to act in a closed manner without showing much of its beliefs,” said the paper, describing Shincheonji as “a pseudo-religion or cult.” It claimed that “there were even allegations that Shincheonji sent an internal notice to the congregation telling them to say, ‘I didn’t go to church that day’ and ‘I worshipped somewhere other than there.’”Shincheonji says such claims are concocted by its mortal enemies. “There is no such thing as an internal notice,” a church official responded. More to the point, Mayor Park said, “Anyone who attended the chapels of the Shincheonji Church in Daegu must report to an emergency telephone number.” Seoul will quickly get the list of names, he said. “This is an inevitable measure to ensure and protect the health, safety and life of citizens.” Seoul, he promised, “will exert all its administrative effort.”Michael Lamm, who got his doctorate from the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, attributes the power of the church to high-pressure tactics, discipline and secrecy. “They are well organized,” says Lamm, now based in Washington. “They recruited me. They put a large amount of pressure on me. They were taking my picture and introducing me to people.”Shin Hyun-wook, a pastor who specializes in deprogramming Shincheonji members, says they are told not to let their families know they belong to the church. “They believe in eternal life,” he says, dying only from “lack of faith.”Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. Sign up now!Daily Beast Membership: Beast Inside goes deeper on the stories that matter to you. Learn more.



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