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Trump asks Comey to drop Flynn probe, White House denies

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Washington, May 17, 2017: US President Donald Trump had asked former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey to end the probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties with the Russian ambassador here, the media reported on Wednesday.

According to sources, the request was documented in a memo written by Comey that quoted Trump as saying: “I hope you can let this go.”

The White House has however rejected the new allegations. According to a White House official, a “conversation of that nature” did not happen.

“While the President has repeatedly expressed his view that Flynn is a decent man who served and protected our country, he has never asked Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any probe involving Flynn,” the official said in a White House statement.

“The President has the utmost respect for our law enforcement agencies, and all investigations. This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the President and Comey.”

The revelation on Tuesday escalated the already raging political crises engulfing the White House triggered by the FBI’s probe into alleged cooperation between Trump aides and Moscow, and reports that the President shared classified information to top Russian officials, CNN reported.

The stunning new developments triggered immediate claims from Democrats that Trump was guilty of obstructing justice and extreme concern from the President’s Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Adam Schiff, the highest ranked Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said this intervention by Trump, if correct, amounted to “interference or obstruction of the investigation”, the BBC reporterd.

Senator John MCain reportedly said at a dinner that the Trump scandals had now reached “Watergate size”.

Trump on May 9 fired Comey, who led the FBI investigation into the ties between Russian officials and Trump’s presidential campaign, an issue that Congress also addresses.

Flynn has been at the centre of that investigation shortly after Trump’s arrival to the White House.

Flynn advised Trump on foreign policy during the campaign and was later appointed NSA, a position he was forced to resign after lying about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador in Washington.

Sources said that Comey was so appalled by the request at an Oval Office meeting on February 14 that he wanted to document it to share his recollections of the encounter with senior FBI officials.

The report has put a new complexion on Trump’s firing of Comey, a move he later confided to NBC News was motivated by anger over the Russia probe.

A source said the encounter between Comey and Trump unfolded after the then FBI Director was in the Oval Office briefing Trump along with Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

After the briefing, Trump “asked Sessions and Pence to leave”, the source told CNN.

According to Comey’s memo, the President said: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

The President told Comey that Flynn, who was fired for lying to Pence about the content of his telephone conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the inauguration, hadn’t done anything wrong.

Tuesday’s developments sent shockwaves up to the Capitol Hill, where there has been increasing disquiet among Republicans due to allegations that the President divulged classified information to Russian officials.

Republican Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, sent a letter from the FBI asking for the handover of “all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President”.

IANS

Europe

Belgian court ends extradition case against Catalan leader Puigdemont

The judge had declared the case to be “without merit” during an in-camera hearing.

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A Belgian court formally closed extradition proceedings against deposed Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont on Thursday.

Puigdemont and four of his deputies fled to Belgium in October to avoid charges of rebellion, sedition and misusing public money in relation to Catalonia’s independence bid. The Spanish Supreme Court withdrew the European arrest warrants last week.

The judge had declared the case to be “without merit” during an in-camera hearing, Paul Bekaert, Puigdemont’s Belgian lawyer, told AFP.

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North Korea: Trump taking dangerous step to nuclear war by seeking naval blockade

Pyongyang also lashed out at the possible US move in a commentary on Sunday in the communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

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US President Donald Trump is taking an “extremely dangerous” and “big step” towards nuclear war by seeking a naval blockade, North Korea has stated, according to the official KCNA news agency.

Pyonyang also said it will take “merciless self-defensive” measures against any blockade, as it would consider such a move an “act of war.” The North Korean government also believes any blockade would be a “wanton violation” of its sovereignty and dignity, KCNA reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson previously mentioned the “right to interdict maritime traffic transporting goods” to and from the North, following Pyongyang’s latest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on November 29.

Pyongyang also lashed out at the possible US move in a commentary on Sunday in the communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Earlier on Thursday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin warned that North Korea now finds itself in a position where it “doesn’t see any other way for self-protection rather than developing weapons of mass destruction and missile technologies.” Having reiterated that Moscow in no way supports Pyongyang’s nuclear program, the Russian leader stressed that the Kremlin calls for steps by all sides towards a peaceful solution.

Both the US and North Korea “should stop fueling tensions,” Putin told international media at his annual press conference, adding that everyone should be “extremely cautious” about the situation on the Korean peninsula. “One launch from North Korea will be enough for catastrophic consequences,” the president warned.

The comments come just one day after State Department spokesperson Heath Nauert appeared to backtrack on statements made by Tillerson, in which the secretary of state said the US was “ready to have the first meeting” with Pyongyang “without preconditions.” Nauert said on Wednesday that North Korea would have to suspend its weapons tests before such talks could take place.

Earlier this month, Moscow said it was ready to help facilitate talks between Washington and Pyongyang, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stating that “North Korea wants to talk to the US about its own security assurances.”

Russia and China have proposed a so-called “double freeze” plan which would see the US suspend joint drills with South Korea in exchange for Pyongyang halting its missile and nuclear tests. However, that plan was swiftly rejected during the summer by the US, which asserted its right to conduct military exercises with its ally South Korea.

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India ready to work with new Nepal government

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New Delhi, Dec 14: Welcoming the parliamentary and provincial election results in Nepal, India on Thursday said it was looking forward to working with the new government in Kathmandu.

“India has age-old unique time-tested ties of friendship with the country,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in his weekly media briefing here.

“We look forward to working with the next democratically elected government in Nepal to advance our close and multi-faceted partnership across all sectors and to support Nepal in its pursuit of peace, stability, economic prosperity for all round development,” he said.

Nepal’s CPN-UML emerged as the largest party in the Himalayan nation. The vote count for Parliament and provincial assembly elections in Nepal ended on Wednesday.

IANS

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