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Lawyer charged in probe of Trump-Russia investigation

Lawyer charged in probe

The prosecutor tasked with examining the U.S. government's investigation into Russian election interference charged a prominent cybersecurity lawyer on Thursday with making a false statement to the FBI.

The case against the attorney, Michael Sussmann of the Perkins Coie law firm, is just the second prosecution brought by special counsel John Durham in two-and-a-half years of work. Yet neither case brought by Durham undoes the core finding of an earlier investigation by Robert Mueller that Russia had interfered in sweeping fashion on behalf of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and that the Trump campaign welcomed that aid.

It lays bare the wide-ranging and evolving nature of Durham's investigation. In addition to having scrutinized the activities of FBI and CIA officials during the early days of the Russia probe, it has also looked at the behavior of private individuals like Sussman who provided the U.S. government with information as it scrambled to determine whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russia to tip the election's outcome.

The indictment accuses Sussmann of hiding that he was working with Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign during a September 2016 conversation he had with the FBI’s general counsel, when he relayed concerns from cybersecurity researchers about potentially suspicious contacts between Russia-based Alfa Bank and a Trump organization server. The FBI looked into the matter but found no connections. Sussmann is a former federal prosecutor who specializes in cybersecurity.

Sussmann’s lawyers, Sean Berkowitz and Michael Bosworth, said their client is a highly-respected national security lawyer who had previously worked in the Justice Department under both Republican and Democratic administrations and said they were confident he would prevail at trial and “vindicate his good name.”

“Mr. Sussmann has committed no crime,” they said in a statement. “Any prosecution here would be baseless, unprecedented, and an unwarranted deviation from the apolitical and principled way in which the Department of Justice is supposed to do its work.”

The Alfa Bank matter was not a pivotal element of the Russia probe and was not even mentioned in Mueller’s 448-page report in 2019. Still, the indictment may give fodder to Russia investigation critics who regard it as politically tainted and engineered by Democrats.

Sussmann’s firm, Perkins Coie, has deep Democratic connections. A then-partner at the firm, Marc Elias, brokered a deal with the Fusion GPS research firm to study Trump’s business ties to Russia. That work, by former British spy Christopher Steele, produced a dossier of research that helped form the basis of flawed surveillance applications targeting a former Trump campaign official, Carter Page.

The Durham investigation has already spanned months longer than the earlier special counsel probe into Russian election interference conducted by Mueller, the former FBI director, and his team. The investigation was slowed by the coronavirus pandemic and experienced leadership tumult following the abrupt departure last fall of a top deputy on Durham's team.

Though Trump had eagerly anticipated Durham’s findings in hopes that they’d be a boon to his reelection campaign, any political impact the conclusion may have once had has been dimmed by the fact that Trump is no longer in office.

The Durham appointment by then-Attorney General William Barr in 2019 was designed to examine potential errors or misconduct in the U.S. government’s investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was conspiring with Russia to sway the outcome of the election.

A two-year investigation by Mueller established that the Trump campaign was eager to receive and benefit from Kremlin aid, and documented multiple interactions between Russians and Trump associates. Investigators said they did not find enough evidence to charge any campaign official with having conspired with Russia, though a half-dozen Trump aides were charged with various offenses, including false statements.

Until now, Durham had brought only one criminal case — a false statement charge against an FBI lawyer who altered an email related to the surveillance of Page to obscure the nature of Page’s preexisting relationship with the CIA. That lawyer, Kevin Clinesmith, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation.



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Lawyer surrenders in $10M fraud in which he paid client to kill him for insurance payout

Botched killing, $10M fraud

Lawyer Alex Murdaugh surrendered Thursday to face insurance fraud and other charges after South Carolina police said he arranged to have himself shot in the head so that his son would get a $10 million life insurance payout.

The shooter only grazed him.

Murdaugh’s lawyer blamed his decision to try to die on a lonely highway amid deep depression and a drug addiction worsened by his discovery of the bodies of his wife and son, who were shot multiple times at the family’s home on June 7.

Those killings remain unsolved.

Murdaugh, 53, was charged with insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud and filing a false police report.

TV footage showed him arriving at the jail in a SUV about five hours before his bond hearing.

Murdaugh asked a previous client whom he was buying drugs from to kill him with a shot to the head on Sept. 4 so his surviving son could collect a $10 million life insurance policy, authorities said.

Murdaugh's lawyers said he had been in drug rehab for about 10 days after his law firm fired him over missing money that could total millions of dollars.

The surrender culminates a tumultuous 36 hours which saw an arrest on assisted suicide, insurance fraud and other charges for shooting him in the head, then state police open a sixth investigation into him and his family — this time over the death of a housekeeper and nanny who died in his home.

The woman's death certificate said she died from natural causes and it wasn't reported to the Hampton County coroner. But a wrongful death settlement for $500,000 said she was killed in a slip-and-fall at Murdaugh's home.

Murdaugh’s father, grandfather and great-grandfather all held the office of solicitor in the area for more than 80 years and other family members were prominent civil attorneys in the region.

It all started June 7, when Murdaugh found the bodies of his 52-year-old wife, Maggie, and their 22-year-old son Paul shot multiple times after returning to their Colleton County home after visiting his sick father.

Those killings remain unsolved, and Murdaugh's lawyers have said he is adamant he had nothing to do with their deaths.

On Sept. 3, Murdaugh was fired by the PMPED law firm founded by his grandfather after the firm determined he took money.

Murdaugh's lawyers said he decided to kill himself the next day, but have someone else shoot him. Murdaugh gave Curtis Edward Smith a gun and they headed to lonely Old Salkehatchie Road. Smith fired one shot that only grazed Murdaugh's head, a State Law Enforcement Division agent said in a sworn statement.

Murdaugh was able to call 911 and his initial story was someone passing in a pickup shot at him as he checked a tire that was low on pressure. His lawyers said a week later he told them about the insurance scheme and they told state police.

Smith, 61, was arrested late Tuesday and charged with assisted suicide, assault and battery of a high aggravated nature, pointing and presenting a firearm, insurance fraud, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, distribution of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana. He remains in jail and it wasn't known if he had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.

Along with the killings of Maggie and Paul Murdaugh and the shooting of Alex Murdaugh, the State Law Enforcement Division is also investigating the missing money, whether anyone tried to obstruct an investigation into a 2019 boat crash for which Paul Murdaugh was eventually charged and a July 2015 hit-and-run death in Hampton County.

The agency also announced Wednesday that they are now investigating Gloria Satterfield's death. Hampton County Coroner Angela Topper asked for the state investigation, saying Satterfield's death certificate lists she died of natural causes, which is inconsistent with a trip-and-fall accidental death. She said her office was not informed so it could perform an autopsy.

Satterfield's two sons filed a lawsuit Wednesday saying they haven't seen any of the $500,000 wrongful death settlement that Murdaugh had friends arrange.



Idaho rations health care statewide as COVID surge continues

Idaho rations health care

Idaho public health leaders have expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement Thursday morning.

St. Luke's Health System, Idaho's largest hospital network, asked state health leaders to allow “crisis standards of care” on Wednesday because the increase in COVID-19 patients has exhausted the state's medical resources.

Crisis standards of care means that scarce resources like ICU beds will be allotted to those patients most likely to survive. Other patients will be treated with less effective methods or, in dire cases, given pain relief and other palliative care as they die.

Thursday's move came a week after Idaho officials started allowing health care rationing at hospitals in northern parts of the state.



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Biden announces Indo-Pacific alliance with UK, Australia

Biden: Indo-Pacific alliance

U.S. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the United States is forming a new Indo-Pacific security alliance with Britain and Australia that will allow for greater sharing of defence capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. It's a move that could deepen a growing chasm in U.S.-China relations.

Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison appeared together virtually to detail the new alliance, which will be called AUKUS. The three announced they would quickly turn their attention to developing nuclear-powered submarines for Australia.

"We all recognize the imperative of ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term," said Biden, who said the new alliance reflects a broader trend of key European partners playing a role in the Indo-Pacific. “We need to be able to address both the current strategic environment in the region and how it may evolve.”

The new security alliance is likely to be seen as a provocative move by China, which has repeatedly lashed out at Biden as he’s sought to refocus U.S. foreign policy on the Pacific in the early going of his presidency.

Before the announcement, a senior administration official sought to play down the idea that the alliance was meant to serve as a deterrent against China in the region. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to preview the announcement, said the alliance’s creation was not aimed at any one country, and is about a larger effort to sustain engagement and deterrence in the Indo-Pacific by the three nations.

Johnson said the alliance would allow the three English-speaking maritime democracies to strengthen their bonds and sharpen their focus on an increasingly complicated part of the world.

“We will have a new opportunity to reinforce Britain’s place at the leading edge of science and technology, strengthening our national expertise, and perhaps most significant, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. will be joined even more closely together, " Johnson said.

The three countries have agreed to share information in areas including artificial intelligence, cyber and underwater defense capabilities.

But plans to support Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines are certain to catch Beijing's attention. To date, the only country that the United States has shared nuclear propulsion technology with is Britain. Morrison said Australia is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapons program and information sharing would be limited to helping it develop a submarine fleet.

The Australian prime minister said plans for the nuclear-powered submarines would be developed over the next 18 months and the vessels would be built in Adelaide, Australia.

Australia had announced in 2016 that French company DCNS had beat out bidders from Japan and Germany to build the next generation of submarines in Australia’s largest-ever defense contract.

Top French officials made clear they were unhappy with the deal, which undercuts the DCNS deal.

“The American choice to exclude a European ally and partner such as France from a structuring partnership with Australia, at a time when we are facing unprecedented challenges in the Indo-Pacific region, whether in terms of our values or in terms of respect for multilateralism based on the rule of law, shows a lack of coherence that France can only note and regret,” French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and defense minister Florence Parly said in a joint statement.

Morrison said the three countries had “always seen through a similar lens,” but, as the world becomes more complex, “to meet these new challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level.”

Matt Pottinger, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, said that equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines was a significant step that would help the U.S. and its allies on the military and diplomatic fronts.

Underwater warfare capabilities have been Beijing’s "Achilles' heel,” Pottinger said. A nuclear-powered submarine fleet would allow Australia to conduct longer patrols, giving the new alliance a stronger presence in the region.

“When you have a strong military, it provides a backdrop of deterrence that gives countries the confidence to resist bullying,” said Pottinger, who is now a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Part of the problem right now is that Beijing has gotten rather arrogant and it’s been less willing to engage productively in diplomacy.”

The announcement of the new security alliance comes as the U.S.-China relationship has deteriorated. Beijing has taken exception to Biden administration officials repeatedly calling out China over human rights abuses in Xianjing province, the crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and cybersecurity breaches originating from China, as well as Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and what the White House has labeled as “coercive and unfair” trade practices.



Ex-House Speaker settles child sexual abuse payments suit

Hush money suit settled

Once powerful former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and a man who accused him of child sexual abuse reached a tentative out-of-court settlement in Illinois Wednesday over Hastert’s refusal to pay $1.8 million in exchange for his silence, lawyers for both men said.

The lawyers would not release details of the settlement in the case, which was set to go to trial next week in an Illinois court.

The man has been referred to only as James Doe in court papers since the breach of contract lawsuit was filed in 2016.

He had said Hastert paid him only about half of the promised $3.5 million in hush money.



Southwest China earthquake collapses homes, kills at least 2

Deadly earthquake in China

An earthquake collapsed homes, killed at least two people and injured dozens Thursday in southwest China's Sichuan province, state media reported.

Rescue work was underway following the magnitude-6.0 earthquake.

It struck at 4:33 a.m. in Luxian county at a depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles), the official Xinhua News Agency said. State broadcaster CCTV said that 60 people were injured, three seriously, and 35 houses had collapsed.

The epicenter was about 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Chengdu, the provincial capital.

Western China is regularly hit by earthquakes. A magnitude-7.9 quake in May 2008 left nearly 90,000 people dead in Sichuan, many of them in collapsed schools and other poorly constructed buildings.



ICC judges authorize probe into Philippines' 'war on drugs'

ICC judges authorize probe

International Criminal Court judges on Wednesday authorized an investigation into the Philippines’ deadly “war on drugs” campaign, saying the crackdown “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation.”

The court’s former prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, sought permission from judges earlier this year to investigate the Philippine government’s campaign.

She said that a preliminary probe she began in February 2018 found “a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed” in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, the date the Philippines withdrew from the court.

In a written decision, judges who considered Bensouda’s request found a “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” into killings committed throughout the Philippines as part of the war on drugs, saying they appear to amount to a crime against humanity under the court’s founding statute.

The court said in a statement that the judges ruled that “based on the facts as they emerge at the present stage and subject to proper investigation and further analysis, the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.”

They added that “the available material indicates, to the required standard, that a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a State policy.”

The judges also included in the scope of the investigation killings in the Davao area from Nov. 1, 2011, the date the Philippines joined the ICC, to June 30, 2016. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is the former mayor of Davao.

When Duterte announced he was withdrawing his country from the court he defended the campaign as “lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, specially the youth.”

More than 6,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed, according to government pronouncements, but human rights groups say the death toll is considerably higher and should include many unsolved killings by motorcycle-riding gunmen who may have been deployed by police.

Duterte has denied condoning extrajudicial killings of drug suspects although he has openly threatened suspects with death and has ordered police to shoot suspects who dangerously resist arrest.

When Bensouda announced she had asked for authorization to investigate, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, called the move “legally erroneous,” saying the ICC, as an international court of last resort, could only intervene if a country’s judiciary and prosecutorial system fail to work and investigate domestic crimes. Roque cited many pending murder and other cases involving the government’s campaign against illegal drugs which were being tried by Philippine courts.

Human Rights Watch welcomed Wednesday's announcement.

“The International Criminal Court’s decision to open an investigation into brutal crimes in the Philippines offers a much-needed check on President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly ‘war on drugs,‘” said Carlos Conde, the rights group's senior Philippines researcher. “Victims’ families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice.”

Bensouda has since left the court and been succeeded by British lawyer Karim Khan.



France says head of Islamic State in Sahara has been killed

Islamic State head killed

France's president announced the death of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara's leader late Wednesday, calling Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi's killing “a major success” for the French military after more than eight years fighting extremists in the Sahel.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that al-Sahrawi “was neutralized by French forces” but gave no further details. It was not announced where al-Sahrawi was killed, though the Islamic State group is active along the border between Mali and Niger.

“The nation is thinking tonight of all its heroes who died for France in the Sahel in the Serval and Barkhane operations, of the bereaved families, of all of its wounded," Macron tweeted. “Their sacrifice is not in vain.”

Rumors of the militant leader's death had circulated for weeks in Mali, though authorities in the region had not confirmed it. It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claim or to know how the remains had been identified.

“This is a decisive blow against this terrorist group,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly tweeted. “Our fight continues.”

Al-Sahrawi had claimed responsibility for a 2017 attack in Niger that killed four U.S. military personnel and four people with Niger’s military. His group also has abducted foreigners in the Sahel and is believed to still be holding American Jeffrey Woodke, who was abducted from his home in Niger in 2016.

The extremist leader was born in the disputed territory of Western Sahara and later joined the Polisario Front. After spending time in Algeria, he made his way to northern Mali where he became an important figure in the group known as MUJAO that controlled the major northern town of Gao in 2012.

A French-led military operation the following year ousted Islamic extremists from power in Gao and other northern cities, though those elements later regrouped and again carried out attacks.

The Malian group MUJAO was loyal to the regional al-Qaida affiliate. But in 2015, al-Sahrawi released an audio message pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

The French military has been fighting Islamic extremists in the Sahel region where France was once the colonial power since the 2013 intervention in northern Mali. It recently announced, though, that it would be reducing its military presence in the region, with plans to withdraw 2,000 troops by early next year.

News of al-Sahrawi's death comes as France's global fight against the Islamic State organization is making headlines in Paris. The key defendant in the 2015 Paris attacks trial said Wednesday that those coordinated killings were in retaliation for French airstrikes on the Islamic State group, calling the deaths of 130 innocent people “nothing personal” as he acknowledged his role for the first time.



Milley defends calls to Chinese as effort to avoid conflict

Milley defends calls to China

The top U.S. military officer on Wednesday defended the phone calls he made to his Chinese counterpart in the final months of Donald Trump's presidency, saying the conversations were in keeping with his duties as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In a written statement, Gen. Mark Milley's spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, said Milley acted within his authority as the most senior uniformed adviser to the president and to the secretary of defense.

“His calls with the Chinese and others in October and January were in keeping with these duties and responsibilities conveying reassurance in order to maintain strategic stability,” Butler said. “All calls from the chairman to his counterparts, including those reported, are staffed, coordinated and communicated with the Department of Defense and the interagency.”

The Milley phone calls were described in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The book says Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Joe Biden has full confidence in Milley.

“The president has worked side by side with Chairman Milley for almost eight months," Psaki said. "His experience with him has been that he is a patriot, he is somebody that has fidelity to the constitution and he has confidence in his leadership.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fearful of Donald Trump's actions in his final weeks as president, the United States' top military officer twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations would not suddenly go to war, a senior defense official said after the conversations were described in excerpts from a forthcoming book.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that the United States would not strike. One call took place on Oct. 30, 2020, four days before the election that defeated Trump. The second call was on Jan. 8, 2021, just two days after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of the outgoing chief executive.

Trump said Milley should be tried for treason if the report was true.

Milley went so far as to promise Li that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack, according to the book “Peril,” written by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the book. Details from the book, which is set to be released next week, were first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday.

“General Li, I want to assure you that the American government is stable and everything is going to be okay,” Milley told him in the first call, according to the book. “We are not going to attack or conduct any kinetic operations against you.”

“If we’re going to attack, I’m going to call you ahead of time. It’s not going to be a surprise," Milley reportedly said.

According to the defense official, Milley’s message to Li on both occasions was one of reassurance. The official questioned suggestions that Milley told Li he would call him first, and instead said the chairman made the point that the United States was not going to suddenly attack China without any warning — whether it be through diplomatic, administrative or military channels.

Milley also spoke with a number of other chiefs of defense around the world in the days after the Jan. 6 riot, including military leaders from the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A readout of those calls in January referred to “several” other counterparts that he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the U.S. government was strong and in control.

The second call was meant to placate Chinese fears about the events of Jan. 6. But the book reports that Li wasn’t as easily assuaged, even after Milley promised him: “We are 100 percent steady. Everything’s fine. But democracy can be sloppy sometimes.”

Trump responded Tuesday with a sharply worded statement dismissing Milley as a “Dumbass,” and insisting he never considered attacking China.

Still, he said that if the report was true, “I assume he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the President’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!”

“Actions should be taken immediately against Milley,” Trump said.

Milley believed the president suffered a mental decline after the election, agreeing with a view shared by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a phone call they had Jan. 8, according to officials.

Pelosi had previously said she spoke to Milley that day about “available precautions” to prevent Trump from initiating military action or ordering a nuclear launch, and she told colleagues she was given unspecified assurances that there were longstanding safeguards in place.

Milley, according to the book, called the admiral overseeing the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, the military unit responsible for Asia and the Pacific region, and recommended postponing upcoming military exercises. He also asked senior officers to swear an “oath” that Milley had to be involved if Trump gave an order to launch nuclear weapons, according to the book.

Officials in January and on Tuesday confirmed that Milley spoke with Pelosi, which was made public by the House speaker at the time. The officials said the two talked about the existing, long-held safeguards in the process for a nuclear strike. One official said Tuesday that Milley’s intent in speaking with his staff and commanders about the process was not a move to subvert the president or his power, but to reaffirm the procedures and ensure they were understood by everyone.

It's not clear what, if any, military exercises were actually postponed. But defense officials said it is more likely that the military postponed a planned operation, such as a freedom of navigation transit by a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific region. The defense officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Milley was appointed by Trump in 2018 and later drew the president's wrath when he expressed regret for participating in a June 2020 photo op with Trump after federal law enforcement cleared a park near the White House of peaceful protesters so Trump could stand at a nearby damaged church.

In response to the book, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent President Joe Biden a letter Tuesday urging him to fire Milley, saying the general worked to “actively undermine the sitting Commander in Chief.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called the report “deeply concerning,” telling reporters at the Capitol, “I think the first step is for General Milley to answer the question as to what exactly he said.”

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he had no concerns that Milley might have exceeded his authority, telling reporters that Democratic lawmakers “were circumspect in our language but many of us made it clear that we were counting on him to avoid the disaster which we knew could happen at any moment.”

A spokesperson for the Joint Staff declined to comment.

Milley's second warning to Beijing came after Trump had fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and filled several top positions with interim officeholders loyal to him.

The book also offers new insights into Trump's efforts to hold on to power despite losing the election to Biden.

Trump refused to concede and offered false claims that the election had been stolen. He repeatedly pressed his vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to certify the election results at the Capitol on Jan. 6, the event that was later interrupted by the mob.

Pence, the book writes, called Dan Quayle, a former vice president and fellow Indiana Republican, to see if there was any way he could acquiesce to Trump's request. Quayle said absolutely not.

“Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away,” Quayle said, according to the book.

Pence ultimately agreed. He defied Trump to affirm Joe Biden's victory.

Trump was not pleased.

“I don’t want to be your friend anymore if you don’t do this,” Trump replied, according to the book, later telling his vice president: “You’ve betrayed us. I made you. You were nothing.”

“Peril” describes Trump’s relentless efforts to convince Attorney General William Barr that the election had been stolen. Barr is quoted as telling Trump, “The Justice Department can’t take sides, as you know, between you and the other candidate.” According to the book, Barr had determined that allegations about rigged voting machines “were not panning out.” Barr also expressed disgust with Rudolph Giuliani and others insisting Trump had won, calling them a “clown car.”



Ex-cop's murder verdict reversed in Australian woman's death

Murder verdict reversed

The Minnesota Supreme Court on Wednesday reversed the third-degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an Australian woman in 2017, saying the charge doesn't fit the circumstances in this case.

Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual U.S.-Australian citizen who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home. He was sentenced to 12 1/2 years on the murder count but was not sentenced for manslaughter.

The ruling means his murder conviction is overturned and the case will now go back to the district court, where he will be sentenced on the manslaughter count. He has already served more than 28 months of his murder sentence. If sentenced to the presumptive four years for manslaughter, he could be eligible for supervised release around the end of this year.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court said that for a third-degree murder charge, also known as “depraved-mind murder," the person's mental state must show a “generalized indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant's conduct is directed with particularity at the person who is killed.”

The justices said that the only reasonable inference that can be drawn in Noor's case is that his conduct was directed with particularity at Damond, “and the evidence is therefore insufficient to sustain his conviction ... for depraved-mind murder.”

The Supreme Court ruling could give former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin grounds to contest his own third-degree murder conviction in George Floyd's death in May 2020. But that wouldn't have much impact on Chauvin since he was also convicted of the more serious count of second-degree murder and is serving 22 1/2 years. Experts say it's unlikely Chauvin would be successful in appealing his second-degree murder conviction.

The ruling in Noor's case was also closely watched for its possible impact on three other former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial in Floyd's death. Prosecutors had wanted to add charges of aiding and abetting third-degree murder against them, but that's unlikely to happen now. The trio are due to go on trial in March on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and manslaughter.



Book reveals Joint Chief called China to assure US wouldn't go to war

Trump 'Peril' outlined

Fearful of Donald Trump’s actions in his final weeks as president, the United States’ top military officer twice called his Chinese counterpart to assure him that the two nations would not suddenly go to war.

A senior defence official acknowledged the conversations after they were described in excerpts from the forthcoming book “Peril” by Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

The book says Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley told Gen. Li Zuocheng of the People’s Liberation Army that he would warn his counterpart in the event of a U.S. attack.

Trump said Milley should be tried for treason if the report was true.

According to the defence official, Milley’s message to Li on both occasions was one of reassurance. The official questioned suggestions that Milley told Li he would call him first, and instead said the chairman made the point that the United States was not going to suddenly attack China without any warning — whether it be through diplomatic, administrative or military channels.

Milley also spoke with a number of other chiefs of defence around the world in the days after the Jan. 6 riot, including military leaders from the United Kingdom, Russia and Pakistan. A readout of those calls in January referred to “several” other counterparts that he spoke to with similar messages of reassurance that the U.S. government was strong and in control.

Trump responded with a sharply worded statement insisting he never considered attacking China.

Still, he said that if the report was true, “I assume he would be tried for TREASON in that he would have been dealing with his Chinese counterpart behind the President’s back and telling China that he would be giving them notification ‘of an attack.’ Can’t do that!”



Sale of Missouri pictograph cave disappoints First Nation

Historic art cave sold

A Missouri cave containing Native American artwork from more than 1,000 years ago has been sold at auction, a sale that disappointed leaders of the Osage Nation who had hoped to buy the land to protect and preserve a site that's sacred to them.

A bidder agreed to pay $2.2 million to private owners for what’s known as “Picture Cave,” along with the 17 hilly hectares that surround it near the eastern Missouri town of Warrenton. The winning bidder was not named.

The cave was the site of sacred rituals and burying of the dead. It also has more than 290 prehistoric hieroglyphic symbols used to represent sounds or meanings.

A St. Louis family that's owned the land since 1953 has mainly used it for hunting.

Researcher Carol Diaz-Granados opposed the sale. She and her husband, James Duncan, spent 20 years researching the cave and wrote a book about it. Duncan is a scholar in Osage oral history, and Diaz-Granados is a research associate in the anthropology department at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Auctioning off a sacred American Indian site truly sends the wrong message,” Diaz-Granados said. “It’s like auctioning off the Sistine Chapel."

The Osage Nation, in a statement, called the sale “truly heartbreaking.”

“Our ancestors lived in this area for 1300 years,” the statement read. “This was our land. We have hundreds of thousands of our ancestors buried throughout Missouri and Illinois, including Picture Cave.”

The cave features drawings of people, animals, birds and mythical creatures.



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