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William Barr denies political interference after ouster of Manhattan U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman

Attorney General William P. Barr denied accusations of political interference Sunday after a tumultuous weekend at the Justice Department that saw the ousting of the U.S. attorney for Manhattan turn into an embarrassing tug of war. “I’m enforcing the law,” Mr. Barr responded when asked by Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo whether he was doing…

William Barr denies political interference after ouster of Manhattan U.S. attorney Geoffrey Berman

Attorney General William P. Barr denied accusations of political interference Sunday after a tumultuous weekend at the Justice Department that saw the ousting of the U.S. attorney for Manhattan turn into an embarrassing tug of war.

“I’m enforcing the law,” Mr. Barr responded when asked by Fox News Channel’s Maria Bartiromo whether he was doing the president’s bidding.

“And as I said when I was confirmed, any — anything within the four walls of the Department of Justice, any matter is going to be handled strictly on the laws, the law and the facts. It’s going to be reflecting our independent judgment of what the law requires,” he said.

Mr. Barr did not directly address the disastrous firing of Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. But the abrupt personnel move late Friday raised questions of whether President Trump was purging those whom he views as disloyal to him. Mr. Berman’s office has investigated Mr. Trump and his associates.

House Democrats on Sunday urged Mr. Berman to testify this week before the Judiciary Committee. On Wednesday, the committee is holding a hearing on corruption claims about Mr. Barr featuring two current Justice Department officials and one former employee.

“I certainly hope that [Mr. Berman] will come and testify before Congress,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, California Democrat,

It’s “the most disastrous management of the Justice Department in modern memory,” Mr. Schiff said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” “And like so much of what we have seen in this administration, it doesn’t come as a surprise any more, but yet it’s completely demoralizing to the people in the department and dangerous to the rule of law.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told CNN he’s launched an investigation into Mr. Berman’s firing. But he dismissed claims it could lead to another impeachment inquiry.

“We’ve seen a pattern of the president opposing, of Barr corruptly impeding all these investigations. This is just more of the same,” the New York Democrat said on CNN. “They are a waste of time at this point because we know that we have a corrupt Republican majority in the Senate which will not consider an impeachment no matter what the evidence.”

Federal prosecutors in Mr. Berman’s office are investigating the business dealings of Mr. Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, including whether he failed to register as a foreign agent, according to media reports.

The office prosecuted Mr. Trump’s former fixer and now foe Michael Cohen, who served a brief prison sentence for lying to Congress and violating campaign-finance laws.

Mr. Berman also oversaw the prosecution of two Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were charged in October with campaign finance violations, including funneling foreign money into U.S. elections.

Mr. Berman’s office is also probing the Turkish financial institution Halkbank for allegedly violating U.S. trade sanctions against Iran in order to free a U.S. pastor imprisoned in Turkey.

In his upcoming tell-all book, former national security advisor John Bolton claims Mr. Trump told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would block the probe in exchange for releasing the American pastor.

It’s unclear whether any of those investigations angered the president enough to ax Mr. Berman. The attorney general has not publicly explained the decision.

Speaking with reporters Saturday, Mr. Trump appeared to distance himself from the decision to terminate Mr. Berman.

“Well, that’s up to the attorney general,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s his department, not my department. But we have a very capable attorney general so that’s really up to him. I’m not involved.”

The firing capped a wild Friday night and Saturday afternoon at the Justice Department in which Mr. Barr said he was replacing Mr. Berman, who fired back late Friday that he had no intention of resigning. The standoff ended Saturday afternoon after Mr. Barr wrote a letter to the powerful federal prosecutor telling him he had been terminated by the president.

“Unfortunately, with your statement of last night, you have chosen public spectacle over public service,” Mr. Barr wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Times.

“Because you have declared that you have no intention of resigning, I have asked the President to remove you as of today, and he has done so,” the letter continued.

Shortly after Mr. Barr’s letter, Mr. Berman announced he would resign.

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Trump denies report he made disparaging remarks about US war dead |NationalTribune.com

US President Donald Trump has denied a report saying he made disparaging remarks about fallen United States military personnel buried in France and declined to visit a cemetery during a trip there in 2018. The Atlantic, citing anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the event, reported on Thursday that Trump had referred to marines buried…

Trump denies report he made disparaging remarks about US war dead |NationalTribune.com

US President Donald Trump has denied a report saying he made disparaging remarks about fallen United States military personnel buried in France and declined to visit a cemetery during a trip there in 2018.
The Atlantic, citing anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the event, reported on Thursday that Trump had referred to marines buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris as “losers” and declined to visit because of concern that the rain that day would mess up his hair.
Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Trump, who is seeking re-election in November and has touted his record helping US veterans, said the story was false.
“To think that I would make statements negative to our military and fallen heroes when nobody has done what I’ve done,” for the US armed forces, the Republican president said. “It’s a total lie … It’s a disgrace.”
The president said he did not go to the cemetery because weather prevented a helicopter flight. The alternative, a long drive, would have meant going through very busy areas of Paris and the Secret Service objected, he said.
“The Secret Service told me, ‘You can’t do it.’ I said, ‘I have to do it. I want to be there.’ They said, ‘You can’t do it’,” Trump said.

New, from @TheAtlantic: Trump skipped a visit to an American military cemetery in France after calling the dead “losers” for getting killed: Full story here: https://t.co/4PUGrR7tCS
— Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) September 3, 2020

According to The Atlantic, in another conversation on the trip, Trump referred to the 1,800 marines who died in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.
The publication said Trump also referred to former President George H W Bush as a “loser” because he was shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is leading Trump in national polls before the November 3 election, emphasised his own commitment to helping members of the military in a response to the report.
“If the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States,” Biden said in a statement released by his campaign.
“And if I have the honour of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honour their sacrifice – always.”
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Russia denies report spy unit paid Taliban to attack NATO forces |NationalTribune.com

Russia and the Taliban have denied a media report saying that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered money to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US troops and other members of the NATO coalition operating in Afghanistan.  The New York Times report says that US intelligence officials concluded several months ago that the Russian unit had…

Russia denies report spy unit paid Taliban to attack NATO forces |NationalTribune.com

Russia and the Taliban have denied a media report saying that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered money to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US troops and other members of the NATO coalition operating in Afghanistan. 
The New York Times report says that US intelligence officials concluded several months ago that the Russian unit had last year secretly offered rewards to the fighters in return for successful attacks. The information was later independently reported by the Washington Post. 
The officials said the Taliban-linked fighters, or elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected at least some reward money from the Russians, although it remains unclear what attacks were connected to the scheme, according to the report.
Russia on Saturday denounced the accusations, with the Russian embassy in Washington, DC calling them “baseless and anonymous”.
The tweet added the claims had “already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington DC and London”.

Baseless and anonymous accusations [published by @nytimes] of Moscow as mastermind behind killing of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan have already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington D.C. and [email protected] https://t.co/oPoFZRvq3W pic.twitter.com/RMDVBXJynW
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) June 27, 2020

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied to the New York Times that the group has “any such relations with any intelligence agency” and called the report an attempt to defame the armed group.
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless – our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” he said. “That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
In 2019, 20 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan but there have been no reported Taliban attacks on the US positions since the two countries reached an agreement in February that paves the way for the US to withdraw from the nearly 20-year long conflict. 
Severe implications 
US officials have previously linked the Russian intelligence unit in question to assassination attempts and operations in Europe meant to destabilise Western powers, according to the report. 
However, the most recent allegations, if true, would be the first time the unit has been proven to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops, the report said.
While the US and Afghan governments have previously accused Russia of supporting the Taliban, the allegation would represent a major escalation in Russia’s involvement during a time the Trump administration has been struggling to end the US presence in the country. 

The report said the determination by intelligence officials is based, at least in part, on interrogations of captured Afghan fighters and individuals accused of crimes in the country.
‘Cozying up’ to Russia
The unnamed officials also told the newspaper that Trump and his National Security Council had been briefed on the intelligence in March, but had not yet authorised any action in response.
“The story says that the Trump administration was told about this, including the president, in march, many many months ago, and that they debated several responses, including a diplomatic complaint up to sanctions, but so far have not acted,” said Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane, reporting from Maryland
“Critics are pointing out that the president did do one thing, he invited Vladimir Putin to the now cancelled G7 summit, and that’s created its own kind of controversy today,” she said, referring to the so-called Group of Seven, an economic organisation composed of world powers from which Russia was expelled in 2014. The group is currently set to meet in the US in September, after delaying due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

President Trump was cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G7 all while his Administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill U.S troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban. https://t.co/C2GYSFFKXv
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) June 27, 2020

One critic is senator and former Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine who tweeted that Trump was “cozying up to Putin and inviting him to the G7 all while his Administration reportedly knew Russia was trying to kill US troops in Afghanistan and derail peace talks with the Taliban”.
Officials told the Times it was not clear at what level in the government the Russian intelligence unit’s plan was authorised or what larger goal the scheme was meant to achieve.
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Trump denies ties to Americans linked to Venezuela ‘coup plot’

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the United States government had nothing to do with an alleged incursion into Venezuela that landed two US citizens behind bars in the crisis-stricken South American country. Trump said he had just learned of the detention of the pair, accused by Venezuela of being mercenaries. Venezuelan President Nicolas…

Trump denies ties to Americans linked to Venezuela ‘coup plot’

President Donald Trump said on Tuesday that the United States government had nothing to do with an alleged incursion into Venezuela that landed two US citizens behind bars in the crisis-stricken South American country.
Trump said he had just learned of the detention of the pair, accused by Venezuela of being mercenaries. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said they were part of an operation to kill him that was backed by neighbouring Colombia and the US.
More:

Venezuela says eight killed in foiled ‘invasion by sea’

US indicts Venezuela’s Maduro on ‘narco-terrorism’ charges

Opposition leader Guaido returns to Venezuela after tour

“Whatever it is, we’ll let you know,” Trump told reporters in Washington, DC, before departing from the White House to Arizona. “But it has nothing to do with our government.”
Maduro said: “The United States government is fully and completely involved in this defeated raid” and praised members of a fishing village for cornering one group and netting the “professional American mercenaries”.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper echoed Trump’s comments later on Tuesday, saying “The United States government had nothing to do with what’s happened in Venezuela in the last few days.”

Authorities in Venezuela identified the two detained men as Luke Denman and Airan Berry, both former US special forces soldiers associated with the Florida-based private security firm Silvercorp USA.
A third US ex-Green Beret and Silvercorp founder, Jordan Goudreau, claimed responsibility for leading “Operation Gideon”, which was launched with an attempted beach landing before dawn on Sunday that left eight suspected attackers dead.
The two former US soldiers were detained on Monday dozens of kilometres from the first attempted beach landing in a fishing village. Authorities say they confiscated equipment and detained dozens of others.
‘Shoestring budget’
Goudreau said the operation was designed to capture – and not kill Maduro. He said he carried it out on a “shoestring budget” after signing an agreement with US-backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who Goudreau accuses of failing to pay him. Guaido denies having any relationship with Goudreau.
Venezuela is gripped by a deepening social, politico and economic crises under Maduro’s rule that has led nearly five million residents to flee crumbling social services, such as unreliable water, electricity and broken hospitals.

Personal documents allegedly owned by what Venezuela termed as ‘terrorist mercenaries’ from Colombia were presented by authorities on Monday [Miraflores Palace via Reuters]

The US is among nearly 60 countries that back Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Guaido invoked the constitution more than a year ago and declared himself interim president. Maduro, who maintains the backing of China, Russia and most of Venezuela’s state institutions, including the military, accused Guaido and the US as staging a coup at the time.
Venezuela and the US broke diplomatic ties a year ago, so there is no US embassy operating in Venezuela’s capital of Caracas.
“It shocks me how insane they were,” said Mike Vigil, the former head of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “They walked right into a coiled rattlesnake without even having minimally studied the capacity of the Venezuelan armed forces. There’s no way the US government would’ve supported an operation like this.”
Guaido – often derided by Maduro as a US puppet – has cast doubt on the government’s version of Sunday’s events.
“They’re trying to create a state of apparent confusion, an effort to hide what’s happening in Venezuela,” Guaido said in a virtual session of Congress on Tuesday, citing gasoline shortages, a deadly prison riot and a violent gang battle in Caracas. The Venezuelan government is also struggling to cope with the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
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