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Trump: I was not told about 'Russian bounties' plot because it was not credible

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Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered cash to Taliban militants for successful attacks on coalition troops in AfghanistanDonald Trump has said intelligence about a Russian plot to offer bounties to Taliban militants in exchange for fatal attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan was not “credible” and was therefore not reported to him.The US president gave the explanation in a tweet on Sunday night, and dismissed the widely reported allegations as “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax”.Trump has come under pressure to explain why he had not heard about the Russia offer even though US security officials have been weighing a response to the plot since at least March.Top administration officials, including members of Trump’s national security council, have been discussing the Russian bounty offer for months, the New York Times first reported.Earlier on Sunday, Trump claimed never to have heard about the Russian offer – and he questioned whether such an offer had been made.“Nobody briefed or told me, [vice president Mike] Pence, or chief of staff Mark Meadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” Trump tweeted in part. “Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us …”Meadows took over as chief of staff at the end of March, after the national security council, which includes top advisers to the president with offices inside the White House, convened an interagency meeting to discuss taking action on the intelligence reports, according to the Times.Joe Biden, Trump’s presidential rival, accused Trump in a virtual town hall on Saturday of betraying US troops by failing to act on the intelligence reports.“Not only has he failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” Biden said.“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way.”> Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden slammed President Trump after the New York Times reported that U.S. intelligence concluded that the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops https://t.co/izhdSre2Le pic.twitter.com/C4w9YgQGJ1> > — Reuters (@Reuters) June 28, 2020A Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered cash to Taliban-linked militants for successful attacks on coalition forces in the fall of 2019, as the US and Taliban engaged in talks to end a decades-long war, according to widely reported US intelligence assessments.While Trump and aides cast doubt on those assessments, further reporting published on Sunday by the Times revealed that US intelligence agencies were tipped off to the Russian program by the discovery by US special forces of a large amount of American cash at a Taliban outpost.Warnings about the suspected Russian plot were sent up the intelligence chain in January, the Times reported.Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019.But the White House press secretary, the director of national intelligence (DNI), and now the president himself all denied at the weekend that news of a secret Russian paid assassinations plot against US troops ever made it to Trump’s inner circle.“I have confirmed that neither the president nor the vice president were ever briefed on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting yesterday,” intelligence director John Ratcliffe said in a statement Saturday. “The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate.”House speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on ABC’s This Week program on Sunday that it was “totally outrageous” that Trump did not act on the intelligence reports to defend American lives.“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score,” Pelosi said.White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement Saturday denying that Trump had been briefed but saying “this does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence”.“Either the DNI is lying (which is a massive problem) or the DNI withheld earthshaking information from President Trump because he is so infantile and irrelevant that they’d rather he not know (which is … well … also a massive problem),” tweeted Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat.The former acting director of national intelligence, Richard Grenell, who served the Trump administration, suggested on Sunday that the reports about the intelligence assessment were wrong. “No one would be fine with this if it were true,” Grenell tweeted.Both the Russian foreign ministry and the Taliban issued statements denying the plot.“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.A Taliban spokesman said the militants “strongly reject this allegation and are not indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country”.Trump has publicly undermined US intelligence assessments about Russia in the past. In a July 2018 appearance in Helsinki, Finland, alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump endorsed Putin’s denial of US findings that Russia had tampered in the 2016 presidential election.“They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”A report by special counsel Robert Mueller delivered in March 2019 documented extensive contacts between Russian intelligence and Trump campaign officials but “did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities”.The report documented 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump personally in investigations directly or indirectly involving his campaign’s Russia ties.



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Downing Street advertises for £135k data science 'skunkworks' chief in latest Cummings shake-up

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Downing Street has placed an advert for £135,000 job to head up "skunkworks" in Number 10, in what appears the latest in Dominic Cummings' shakeup of Whitehall. The new job will be responsible for a new data science unit in Number 10, aimed to “transform” decision-making in government. A skunkworks is a term originating in America during WWII for a project developed by a small and loosely structured group focusing on radical innovation. The civil service advert says the role will involve leading a new "analytical unit known as ‘10ds" – which stands for "10 Data Science". It says: "The vision of 10ds is a skunkworks type organisation that builds innovative software to allow the PM to make data driven decisions and thereby transform government". Mr Cummings, the Prime Minister’s chief aide, is known for his disdain for traditional civil servants. He has said his focus after Brexit will be the establishment of a British version of the US’s Advanced Projects Research Agency (Arpa). He recently instructed government advisers to read a book on Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock, as well as High Output Management by Andrew Grove. While the salary for the new role is advertised as up to £135,000, "outstanding" candidates could get more. The advert says the “newly created role will be responsible for establishing No10's quantitative ability” as well as advising the Prime Minister. It says the job presents an opportunity to work "at the heart' of government. Applications close on July 27. Earlier this year Mr Cummings placed an advert for “data scientists, project managers, policy experts and assorted weirdos” to apply for Downing Street jobs. Mr Cummings used his personal blog to invite applications from “true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole”. In a much-publicised post, he said: “If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news.” Shortly after the blog advert was posted, a new Downing Street adviser Andrew Sabisky quit following reports of his controversial comments on pregnancies, eugenics and race.



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Philippines Lawmakers Vote to Shut Down Country’s Largest TV Network After Attacks From President Duterte

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(MANILA, Philippines) — Philippine lawmakers voted Friday to reject the license renewal of the country’s largest TV network, shutting down a major news provider that had been repeatedly threatened by the president over its critical coverage.

The House of Representatives committee on franchises, dominated by President Rodrigo Duterte’s political allies, voted 70-11 to reject a new 25-year franchise for ABS-CBN Corp. The National Telecommunications Commission had ordered the broadcaster to shut down in May after its old franchise expired. It halted broadcasting then, but the vote takes it off the air permanently.

Duterte and his allies had raised questions about the network’s compliance with the law and the terms of its franchise.

International media watchdogs condemned the closure of ABS-CBN, which was founded in 1953, as a major blow to press freedom.

Human Rights Watch said the lawmakers’ vote was “a grievous assault on press freedom in the country” and the greatest blow to media freedom caused by any government act since then dictator Ferdinand Marcos shut the broadcasting giant and other media outlets after declaring martial law in 1972.

“This move solidifies the tyranny of President Rodrigo Duterte, who accused ABS CBN of slights against him and politically targeted it for refusing to toe the government’s line and criticizing his so-called `war on drugs,’” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of the U.S.-based rights group.

Reflecting the extent of unease over the network’s shutdown, both the opposition and several key Duterte allies questioned efforts to close it. Concerns have also been raised by a diverse range of groups, including top business executives, left-wing activists and Catholic church officials.

ABS-CBN has more than 11,000 news and production personnel nationwide. Aside from reporting on the coronavirus, which has infected more than 50,000 people and killed 1,314 in the Philippines, it has provided food and medical aid to more than 2 million people, company officials said.

The network was last shuttered under the rule of Marcos and reopened after his 1986 ouster by an army-backed “people power” revolt.

Media watchdogs accuse Duterte and his government of muzzling independent media such as ABS-CBN that have reported critically on issues including his anti-drug crackdown, which has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead. Duterte has accused the network of not airing his paid campaign ad and favoring a rival candidate in the 2016 election, allegations the company denied.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque says Duterte took a neutral position on ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal and left it to Congress to decide.

But ahead of the franchise expiration, the government’s solicitor-general, Jose Calida, asked the Supreme Court in February to revoke the franchises of ABS-CBN and a subsidiary in a separate attempt to shut the company for allegedly abusing its franchises and violating a constitutional prohibition on foreign investment in Philippine media. ABS-CBN denied the allegations.





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Nikki Haley positions herself to lead the post-Trump Republican party

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The ex-US ambassador to the UN is one of the few Trump officials to leave on good terms and has diligently built up a national profileNikki Haley has kept busy since leaving her post in the Trump administration as United States ambassador to the United Nations.A former governor of South Carolina, Haley is often mentioned as a potential Republican presidential candidate for either 2024 or 2028 – depending on whether Donald Trump wins re-election in November.There has even been speculation that Trump might switch out Vice-President Mike Pence for Haley as his running mate in the hopes of boosting his lagging approval numbers among the broader electorate, though there has been no strong evidence that that will happen.Either way she has positioned herself as a national leader within the Republican party.A rare woman of color in the party’s senior ranks, she has been fundraising for Republican congressional candidates as well as in the Senate and gubernatorial arena. She has set up a non-profit organization to boost her policy priorities. She has continued to pen editorials on foreign policy. And she has retained a small, tightly knit orbit of advisers.Haley is one of the few high-ranking Republicans to leave the Trump administration on good terms. She has pledged to campaign aggressively for the president and has echoed some of the same arguments Trump has made on national topics such as cancel culture, defunding police forces and statue removal, although the tone and frequency between Trump and Haley vary dramatically. At other times she has kept her distance.After serving in the Trump administration, some top-level officials have receded from public life, taking jobs at thinktanks and other academic institutions or retiring outright. But former and current aides to Haley see her recent moves as a carefully executed plan to stay involved in key Republican policy circles and the national discourse.“When she left the administration she told the president that she wanted to stay engaged and promote good public policy,” said Tim Chapman, the executive director of Haley’s Stand for America non-profit group, the primary vehicle for Haley’s policy-related initiatives. “SFA is partly a platform for her to do that type of voice, to be engaged in public policy.”Stand for America is composed of a small team of about six people, including Chapman. The team has a weekly Zoom call with Haley and Chapman spends much of his time coalition-building and working with outside groups and policymakers.Haley often weighs in on foreign policy or “Democrats’ embrace of socialism” as she did in a February op-ed for the Wall Street Journal’s editorial section. Warning about advancing socialism is a favorite topic for Haley and her organization. A recent mailer sent out to supporters asked them to participate in a “REFERENDUM ON SOCIALISM”. The mailer went on to tick off some liberal policy proposals like free college tuition or the Green New Deal proposed by the Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.“We’re going to stay focused on that because even though [presumptive Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden got the nomination we still think the energy in the party is with the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren wing,” Chapman said.Haley has fundraised for almost a dozen Republican Senate candidates, many of them in tough re-election races, and has been a special guest at Republican Governors Association (RGA) events. Last November, Haley authored a book, With All Due Respect, billed as “a first-hand perspective on major national and international matters”. The book covers the end of her governorship as well as her time as ambassador.All this activity has generated speculation that Haley is taking a textbook approach to running for president. She has foreign policy experience through her time at the United Nations. She has executive and domestic policy experience through almost two terms as governor. “Nikki Haley’s background as a governor and UN ambassador will make her formidable if she chooses to run in 2024,” said Jon Thompson, a top Republican strategist and a former longtime communications director of the RGA.“She has a strong résumé of actual governance and international experience, would likely appeal to female suburban voters who Republicans desperately need to attract to win future elections, and has a solid conservative record from her time as governor. Twenty-twenty-four is still a long way off, but she’s making all the right moves now to be in a good position later.”The knock on Haley is that she has been too calculating in her recent jobs. Democratic foreign policy officials said Haley delegated too much of the job of UN ambassador to her deputies and that all her speeches were political. In his recent book, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton framed Haley as out of her depth and more focused on using her ambassadorship to raise her profile.Haley has surrounded herself with operatives who could lead a presidential campaign. The most commonly mentioned Republican strategist is Jon Lerner, who served as a deputy to Haley at the UN. Chapman previously ran the advocacy arm of the Heritage Foundation giving him strong ties to influential experts and groups within the Republican party.The option of running for president partially depends on whether Trump wins re-election.“If the president’s re-elected I think she’ll keep doing what she’s doing for two years and then start running in earnest,” a former Haley aide said. “If Biden wins it’ll actually make it a bit easier because then she can kind of pound away at Biden from the moment he’s inaugurated and then turn that momentum into a presidential campaign.”Haley has had to stamp out persistent speculation that she could rejoin the Trump administration as vice-president. The rumor is not out of the realms of possibility. In 2012 Barack Obama’s re-election team looked at switching Biden with Hillary Clinton as the then president’s running mate but that idea was ultimately nixed. For Trump, the hope with putting Haley on the ticket is that she could win over key constituencies Trump is losing.Some Republicans in the Trump campaign’s orbit wondered if that was happening when the campaign team serving Pence was gutted. But Haley has repeatedly denied any cooperation or rivalry between her and Pence. In August she tweeted “enough of the false rumors. Vice President Pence has been a dear friend of mine for years. He has been a loyal and trustworthy VP to the President. He has my complete support.”If Trump loses, the Republican primary field for 2024 might get crowded. The secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Senator Ted Cruz, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Pence have all been mentioned as potential presidential candidates.When Haley and Pence were both governors their names were floating around as potential RGA vice-chair, recalled former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker, who was then the sitting vice-chair and poised to take the chairmanship. Walker has strong ties to both Pence and Haley.Walker remembers that in 2016 Haley called him to ask about the vice-chairmanship. This was before it was clear Pence would be vice-president. Walker noted that Pence might also be interested in the vice-chairmanship. A day later Haley called Walker again saying, “I talked to Mike, he’s fine.” Haley ended up becoming vice-chair for a short time before leaving the governorship to become UN ambassador.



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