Pro-Russia incumbent wins Czech presidential election
The Czech Republic's pro-Russia president won a second five-year term Saturday after beating a political newcomer viewed as more Western-oriented in a runoff vote.
With ballots from almost 99 percent of polling stations counted, the Czech Statistics Office said President Milos Zeman had received 51.6 percent of the vote during the two-day runoff election.
His opponent, former Czech Academy of Sciences head Jiri Drahos, had 48.4 percent.
Drahos conceded defeat and congratulated Zeman on Saturday afternoon. The career scientist and chemistry professor said he planned to stay in politics, but did not provide details.
"It's not over," Drahos said.
Zeman, 73, a veteran of Czech politics and former left-wing prime minister, won his first term in 2013 during the Czech Republic's first presidential election decided by voters, not lawmakers.
Since then, he has divided the nation with his pro-Russia stance, support for closer ties with China, and strong anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Zeman was one of the few European leaders to endorse Donald Trump's bid for the White House. He also has proposed a referendum on the Czech Republic's membership in the European Union like the one held in Britain.
Drahos, 68, who led the Academy of Sciences from 2009 until last year, campaigned on maintaining the country's ties to the EU and NATO. He ran unaffiliated with a political party.
One of the Czech president's key responsibilities is picking the prime minister after a general election, power that was on display in the days before the runoff election.
The government led by populist billionaire Andrej Babis since his party placed first in an October election resigned Wednesday after failing to win a confidence vote. Zeman immediately asked Babis, his ally, to try again.
The president had said that even if he lost the election, he would swear Babis in again as prime minister before his term expired on March 8.
The president also appoints members of the Central Bank board and selects Constitutional Court judges with the approval of Parliament's upper house.
Otherwise, the president has little direct executive power since the country is run by a government chosen and led by the prime minister.
Zeman is considered a leading pro-Russian voice in EU politics. His views on the conflict in eastern Ukraine, as well as Europe's migrant crisis, diverge sharply from the European mainstream. He called Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula irreversible.
He has linked extremist attacks in Europe to the ongoing influx of newcomers, called the immigration wave an "organized invasion" and repeatedly said that Islam is not compatible with European culture.
Zeman has exploited widespread fe ar of migration among Czechs and worked to portray Drahos as someone who would welcome migrants.
A group of Zeman's supporters commissioned billboards and newspaper ads that called on citizens to "Stop Migrants and Drahos," adding "This is our land! Vote Zeman!"
Zeman is the Czech Republic's third president, after Vaclav Havel and Vaclav Klaus, since the country and Slovakia were created from Czechoslovakia in 1993.Source: Google News Russia | Netizen 24 Russia
The Russia Investigations: Trump Reportedly Wanted To Fire Mueller, DC Dumbstruck
Enlarge this image
Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on June 13, 2013, during the committee's oversight hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. J. Scott Applewhite/AP hide captiontoggle caption J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Then-FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on June 13, 2013, during the committee's oversight hearing on Capitol Hill i n Washington, D.C.J. Scott Applewhite/AP
This week in the Russia investigations: Trump wanted to fire Mueller â" does that matter? Parsing the tea leaves of the palace intrigue. And is this the end of the FBI memo mishegoss?
President Trump reportedly tried to fire Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller last year, not long after firing FBI Director James Comey. But White House counsel Don McGahn wouldn't go along, so the president backed off.
The New York Times exclusive that contained these revelations detonated with such force in Washington, D.C., that it took the breath away, metaphorically, of nearly everyone in town.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., needed some fifteen hours in order to condemn Trump in a press release. Her fellow San Franciscan, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., needed e ven longer. Many members of Congress and others, including the Justice Department, said nothing at all.
Speaking to reporters Friday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump dismissed the report. "Fake news. Fake news," the president said in brief remarks as he entered the conference hall. "Typical New York Times. Fake stories." And prior to leaving for Davos, the president had told reporters "There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever."
Once the shock wore off, however, how much did the story matter?
Attorneys for Trump say they've offered "unprecedented" cooperation to special counsel and congressional investigators in the Russia matter. Trump himself â" in what otherwise would've been the big story of the week â" surprised reporters and his own staff by announcing how eager he is to talk with Mueller under oath.
So if Trump was in a legal jam over alleged obstruction of justice after he fired Comey and considered firing Mueller â" but didn't â" has he made his case better or worse? As usual, no one knows but Mueller.
All the procedural and legal levers that Trump could have pulled before to get rid of Mueller are still available to him. He could still choose one. It's too soon to appreciate whether the Times bombshell will prove to have been the loss of a play that the White House now won't want to run again.
Or whether this is a chance for the president to monitor the reaction in the country, or lack thereof, in case he decides down the line to get rid of Mueller.
The story behind the story
Nearly as significant as the Times story is the fact of the leaks behind it. Correspondents Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Habe rman cited four people who told them about the matter. Who would know such things? Why would they talk about them to the press?
McGahn? His top deputies? Former chief of staff Reince Priebus? Top members of Congress said they were blindsided. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Jake Tapper on CNN he didn't think he could be surprised anymore â" and was.
So why this story and why now?
Hypothesis: If Trump, as president, cannot be indicted if he were charged with obstruction of justice or another transgression, his aides certainly can. Mueller has charged two people and concluded guilty pleas with two others. So if McGahn or others want to put themselves on the right side of any potential criminal activity Mueller might allege went on inside the White House, making the case for themselves in public would be one way to do it.
Hypothesis: McGahn did not threaten directly to Trump that he'd quit if Mueller were fired, the Washington Post reported. But if Trump didn't know that then, he knows now. And, in fact, could the whole situation be the result of people inside the administration trying to warn Trump against firing Mueller without needing to have that conversation inside the family?
Hypothesis: White House officials could be despairing that the wheels have come off this administration. Mueller has a G-Man snooping through every desk and a G-Woman listening outside every door. People on the inside don't want to lie to investigators and as the special counsel's office snakes toward the president â" via the attorney general and others â" they feel they have no choice but to come clean.
Here's how one attorney put it to Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Meyer in Politico: "It's one more brick in the wall," said a Washington lawyer representing another senior Trump aide i n the Russia probe who added that the most interesting aspect of the Trump-Mueller story to him was that "people are leaking this s***."
"That is a sign to me people perceive this ship has sprung a leak and it's time to make themselves look good," the attorney said. "To some extent I think the fact of the leaking is almost the most significant, that we've reached an inflection point where people at the center of things feel the need to redeem themselves at the expense of the president."
Meaning what? If the Times story is an "inflection point" for people inside the administration, it could mean the rest of this Russia imbroglio shifts too.
For one thing, it could mean Mueller is close to the end of his discovery or investigation phase. Trump's attorneys acknowledge they're negotiating with the special counsel's office over an in-person interview with the president. I f he is the final interview they need to conduct, that is significant, although there is no indication when it might take place.
For another, it could mean another daily Florida thunderstorm phase of this saga, like the one in which what D.C. journalists started calling "Scoop O'Clock" arrived nearly every day for a period of weeks last year in the evening digital lead stories of the Post and the Times. If people are trying to get off this ship as it goes down, how much baggage will they throw overboard?
House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., has prepared a memorandum. It documents what he and allies describe as egregious abuses of surveillance authority by the FBI.
Nunes' allies are agitating for the memo to be released. It will shock Americans with its eye-watering description of the abuses of power by the Obama administration, they say. The case must be laid before the public.
But right now, you may not read it. Neither may Nunes' counterpart in the upper chamber, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. Neither, in fact, may the FBI itself, as NPR's Ryan Lucas reported.Enlarge this image
An FBI agent walks inside the Solyndra headquarters building in Fremont, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2011. Paul Sakuma/Associated Press hide captiontoggle caption Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
An FBI agent walks inside the So lyndra headquarters building in Fremont, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2011.Paul Sakuma/Associated Press
The memo may someday become public. Or it may not. Before the Times story about Trump trying to fire Mueller â" and before that, Trump's commitment to give Mueller an interview under oath â" the memo was the hottest thing in Washington this week. It was so hot, in fact, that Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee decided they needed their own classified memo, which no one may see.
Meaning what? For all the talk on TV and online, will any of these documents ever see the light of day? This could be one way to tell:
Next week, President Trump is scheduled to give his first State of the Union address. That will start to consume oxygen starting Monday evening, then all day Tuesday, and then the windstorm will start to fade on We dnesday evening. Trump may take a trip somewhere in the country to start to build support for the proposals he'll unveil.
If memo madness is still taking place after all of that, it could indicate whether peak memo has come or gone.Source: Google News Russia | Netizen 24 Russia
Russian gas defies US sanctions to reach New England
As the Trump administration slaps fresh sanctions on Russian energy companies, a cargo of Russian gas is set to power homes near Boston.
A tanker of liquefied natural gas from a Russian company on the Treasury Departmentâs sanctions list is scheduled to unload the fuel this w eekend, making it the first shipment of gas from the country to ever reach the United States. Itâs arriving just after the U.S. announced increased economic penalties Friday against Moscow-linked people and businesses because of Vladimir Putinâs 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
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Technically, the gas shipment does not appear to violate the prohibitions that the Obama administration imposed four years ago â" itâs owned by a French energy trader and arriving on a French-owned vessel. But it shows the difficulty of enforcing sanctions involving energy cargoes, which can change hands frequently and are often mixed with fuel from multiple locations.
The Treasury Department expanded its sanctions Friday to include 21 people and nine entities in Russia and Ukraine.
The cargo is aboard the French LNG vessel Gaselys, which has been anchored in Massachusetts Bay since Wednesday while it undergoes safety and envir onmental inspections, according to Chief Petty Officer Luke Pinneo at the Coast Guardâs First District in Boston. It is headed to the Everett LNG import terminal a few miles north of Boston.
âThey are expected to be in port sometime this weekend,â Pinneo said.
The circuitous route that the ship took to the U.S. during the past few weeks drew attention from energy traders, and French energy trader Engie confirmed Russian gas was part of the cargo. Gas from other European sources was also included, a spokeswoman said.
The fuel shipment originated at a new $27 billion terminal on Russiaâs Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic Circle operated by Yamal LNG, a joint venture among Russian gas company Novatek, France's Total and China's CNPC. Russian oil and gas shipments are not subject to U.S. sanctions put in place after Moscow's annexation of Crimea, but Yamal LNG and its majority owner Novatek have been on the sanctions list since 2014.
Novatek's designation under Directive 2 of the sanctions prohibits U.S. citizens from dealing in the company's debt instruments that stretch out longer than 90 days.
Engie loaded the Gaselys at the Isle of Grain LNG terminal in the United Kingdom, according to an Engie spokeswoman. That terminal received the first shipment of gas from Yamal, which Putin inaugurated last month.
Engie bought the gas in a one-off deal in response to the winter cold snap that has plunged much of the Northeast into freezing temperatures and sapped the region's fuel supplies. The gas was to be delivered to the Mystic Power Generation plant in Massachusetts and other local utilities, spokeswoman Julie Vitek said.
âWe have communicated the fact that there is a mixture of gas aboard this cargo â" we communicated that to a variety of authorities,â Vitek said. âI donât believe theyâve flagged the Russian gas as a concern.â
The Treasury Department dec lined to comment on shipment, citing departmental policy, and the State Department did not respond to inquiries.Source: Google News Russia | Netizen 24 Russia
Frustrated by Russia investigation, Trump turns ire toward Rosenstein
Trump-Russia inquiry: President denies trying to fire Robert Mueller
]]> US & Canada US & Canada Trump-Russia inquiry: President denies trying to fire Robert Mueller
US President Donald Trump has described as "fake news" a report that he ordered the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller last June, but backed down when his own lawyer threatened to resign.
White House counsel Donald McGahn said the sacking would have a "catastrophic effect" on the presidency, the New York Times reported.
Mr Mueller is leading an inquiry into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia to influence the US election.
Both Moscow and Mr Trump deny this.
"Fake News. Typical New York Times. Fake Stories," Mr Trump said at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos, where he is due to give a speech later.
He has also been speaking about other issues:
- Russian news agency Tass quoted Mr Trump as saying he "hoped" for more dialogue between the US and Russia
- White House officials said Mr Trump was open to rejoining the Paris climate change agreement, if better terms for the US could be agreed
- In a CNBC interview, Mr Trump also said he was willing to look again at joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal "if we were able to do a "substantially better deal"
- Mr Trump will say in his speech that he is in favour of "fair and reciprocal" free trade but will not tolerate trade abuses and intellectual property theft, according to US officials
Mr Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed special counsel last May to look into the collusion allegations.
- Who is Robert Mueller?
- Could Trump be guilty of obstruction of justice?
- Why attacks on Mueller are mounting
His appointment came after Mr Trump had fired FBI director James Comey, saying in an interview it was because of "this Russia thing". Mr Mueller is also looking into whether that represented an obstruction of justice.
Who is White House counsel Donald McGahn?
A lawyer specialising in campaign finance, he has been described by the New York Times as having a "bare knuckle style" and a "personality to match Mr Trump's". He is also a guitarist in a rock band.
Mr McGahn spent years working to loosen restrictions on campaign donations and served on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) before joining Mr Trump's campaign. De mocrats on the body accused him of undermining the FEC's enforcement activities.
During the campaign, Mr McGahn fought a series of legal battles, including defeating a bid to keep Mr Trump off the New Hampshire ballot on procedural grounds.
Special Counsel Mueller learned of his near-dismissal in recent months, while his team interviewed past and present White House officials, the New York Times reports.
As speculation mounted that Mr Mueller could be building an obstruction case against the president, Mr Trump allegedly argued that the special counsel had three conflicts of interest that should stop him heading the inquiry.
These were said to be:
- That Mr Mueller abandoned his membership of the Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia in 2011, over a fee dispute
- That Mr Mueller could not be impartial as he had worked for a law firm that previously acted for Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law
- That the inves tigator had been interviewed to return to his former job as FBI director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May 2017
The White House cited four unnamed sources. A later story in the Washington Post cited two people familiar with the episode.
Hints have continued in US media, including this December, that the president might fire the special counsel. His opponents in the Democratic party would see any such move as a bid to stifle justice, and it could trigger an effort to impeach Mr Trump.
However, Mr Trump in December denied that he was planning to fire Mr Mueller.
- All you need to know about Trump Russia story
In response to the latest report s, Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, warned that "firing the special counsel is a red line that the president cannot cross".
"Any attempt to remove the special counsel, pardon key witnesses or otherwise interfere in the investigation would be a gross abuse of power," he said.
Mr Trump said on Wednesday that he was willing to be questioned under oath by the Mueller inquiry.
He told reporters he was "looking forward" to it, subject to the advice of his lawyers, and that an interview could happen within two to three weeks.
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