Saturday, December 16, 2017

Trump Reasserts No Collusion with Russia

President Donald Trump on Friday again attacked the investigations looking into alleged collusion between his election campaign and Russia. This comes as some of his allies, including Republicans in Congress, would like to see a special counsel appointed to look into what they allege is political bias by federal investigators. VOA White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman reports.

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Whistleblower Groups Fear for Fate of Spy Agency Ombudsman

WASHINGTON — 
A decision to put the man who handles whistleblower complaints at U.S. spy agencies on administrative leave has raised worries on Capitol Hill that it’s part of a plan to hamstring the program that helps intelligence workers report waste, fraud and abuse. A top Republican said he is investigating.
Whistleblower groups were alarmed when they heard that Dan Meyer, director of the Intelligence Community Whistleblowing and Source Protection program, was put on leave late last month and escorted out of his offices.
Intelligence officials won’t say why Meyer was put on leave, but insist they support whistleblower programs. Whistleblower groups fear Meyer is being sidelined and his program is being weakened to reduce its effectiveness.
​Grassley concerned
In a letter to National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Sen.

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Zinke Reacts to Harassment Survey With 4 Dismissals

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has fired four senior staffers at the Department of the Interior for what he called inappropriate behavior, in response to widespread allegations of sexual harassment at the agency.
Zinke spoke to employees in a video posted on the Interior Department website, saying, “The culture of harassment and intimidation, which this administration inherited, has come to an end. I’ve already removed four senior leaders that were guilty of inappropriate behavior, and I will remove 400 more if necessary.”
He did not release the names of those he had fired.
Such behavior, he continued, paired with failure to take action, prevents the department from achieving “mission success.”
The survey he referenced was released Thursday.

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Anger Grows as Puerto Rico Misses Power Restoration Deadline

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — 
Union leaders representing Puerto Rico power company workers slammed local and federal officials on Friday as the U.S. territory missed a deadline to restore 95 percent of power as promised by the island’s governor.
Puerto Rico is currently at 64 percent power generation nearly three months after Hurricane Maria hit, and the situation has sparked a growing number of protests organized by some of the hundreds of neighborhoods that remain in the dark.
UTIER union president Angel Figueroa said one of the biggest problems is that workers with Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority still don’t have the equipment or material to meet the governor’s goal.
“We’ve been forced to recycle materials,” he said, adding that residents in the southern mountain town of Villalba recently bought basic supplies for government workers so power could be restored in their neighborhood.
“They used money out of their own pockets,” he said.

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With Holiday Parties, Trump May Have Broken Public Space Rule

NEW YORK — 
Two holiday parties the Trump Organization held in the atrium of Trump Tower this month may be the latest cases of the first family flouting a rule requiring it to get permission to use what has been designated a public space.
New York City’s planning department told The Associated Press it has no record of President Donald Trump’s company requesting to use the atrium for the parties held Dec. 4 and 12. Such permission is required for private events under a deal Trump struck with the city in the late 1970s. In return for a variance to make the tower bigger, the building’s grand marble lobby must be open to the public every day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
“Tis the Season of the Trump Organization Christmas Party!” the company tweeted this week, with pictures showing well-dressed guests sipping drinks and noshing on sushi under a decorated tree. Donald Trump Jr. and his brother Eric are seen in one photo addressing guests over microphones.

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US Officials Concerned About 2 Reporters Detained in Myanmar

The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar has said it is concerned about two Reuters journalists who were arrested three days ago in the country, which is also known as Burma.
The embassy said in a statement Friday that there has been no word from Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, since their arrest, and authorities have not allowed their families to visit.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters Friday that the U.S. is concerned anytime reporters are arrested for doing their jobs.
Reuters President Stephen Adler released a statement Wednesday saying Reuters is “outraged” by a “blatant attack on press freedom.”
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Thursday that the arrests are a signal that press freedom is shrinking in Myanmar. He said the international community must do all it can to get them released.
Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were working on stories about a military crackdown on Rakhine state, home to the ethnic minority Rohingya.

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US Defense Secretary Optimistic About Improving Somalia Accountability

PENTAGON — 
U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Friday that he was optimistic about improving Somali accountability concerning the distribution of American aid to Somali armed forces, much of which was suspended because of corruption concerns.
“I’m sure we can get this thing under control, even if it’s not for the whole, but for parts of it,” Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon.
The suspension reflected the Somali military’s repeated inability to account for aid items, such as food, fuel and weapons.
‘Pause’ in assistance
The massive “pause” in aid is being made “to ensure that U.S. assistance is being used effectively and for its intended purpose,” a State Department official said.
It will “affect the majority of U.S.

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Judge Sets Conditions for Releasing Manafort From House Arrest

A U.S. District Court judge has ruled that President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, can be released from house arrest after meeting certain conditions, including sizable fines if he fails to show up for court appearances.
Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled Friday that Manafort would be subject to electronic monitoring, a curfew, weekly check-ins with authorities and a limited scope of travel.
The order said Manafort must pay $10 million if he fails to show up for a scheduled court appearance. The order also specified that he may travel back and forth between his residences in Alexandria, Virginia, and Palm Beach, Florida, but any other travel must be approved in advance by the court. He must also stay inside between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Legal documents say Manafort has agreed to put up four residential properties believed to be worth a total of $10 million as collateral to secure his release.

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US House Opens Probe of Nevada Democrat Misconduct Claims

The House Ethics Committee said Friday it had opened an investigation into Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen over allegations of sexual harassment.
A former campaign aide said Kihuen, a freshman congressman, propositioned her for dates and sex despite her repeated rejections during his 2016 campaign. This week, a lobbyist told the Nevada Independent that he touched her thighs and buttocks and made unwanted sexual advances while he was a state senator.
In a statement, the Ethics panel said it was “aware of public allegations that Representative Ruben Kihuen may have engaged in sexual harassment.”
The top House Democrat, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, has called on Kihuen to resign, a request that he has resisted. Kihuen also apologized after the first allegation was made public, but said he didn’t remember the events the way the former campaign aide had described.

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US Adds New Requirements for Visa Waiver Countries

The United States is expanding the requirements for dozens of countries taking part in the Visa Waiver Program, demanding that the countries check traveler information against U.S. counterterrorism information.
Trump administration officials said Friday that the countries will have to use U.S. information to screen travelers crossing their borders from third countries. Many countries in the program already do that, one administration official said.
The changes also affect VWP countries that have higher rates of citizens overstaying their visas to the U.S.
If more than 2 percent of a country’s visitors stay beyond the expiration of their visa, that country will be required to carry out a public information campaign aimed at reducing those overstay violations, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

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