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Mueller finds no Trump collusion, leaves obstruction open

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  • WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or co-ordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. That brought a hearty claim of vindication from Trump but set the stage for new rounds of political and legal fighting.

    The battle began Monday as White House aides and allies blanketed television news broadcasts to trumpet the findings and claim that Trump has been the victim in a probe that never should have started.

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump will let Attorney General William Barr decide whether the special counsel’s Russia report should be publicly released, though she adds that “he’s more than happy for any of this stuff to come out.”

    Trump cheered the Sunday outcome but also laid bare his resentment after two years of investigations that have shadowed his administration. “It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” he said.

    Democrats pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and demanded to see his full report. They insisted that even the summary by the president’s attorney general hardly put him in the clear.

    Mueller’s conclusions, summarized by Barr in a four page letter to Congress, represented a victory for Trump on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start — whether his campaign worked with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    That was further good news for the president on top of the Justice Department’s earlier announcement that Mueller had wrapped his investigation without new indictments. That could deflate the hopes of Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail that incriminating findings from Mueller would hobble the president’s agenda and re-election bid.

    But while Mueller was categorical in ruling out criminal collusion, he was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice. Despite Trump’s claim of total exoneration, Mueller did not draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether he sought to stifle the Russia investigation through his actions including the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

    According to Barr’s summary, Mueller set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and stated that “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

    Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work, went further in Trump’s favour.

    The attorney general said he and Rosenstein had determined that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Barr has previously voiced a broad view of presidential powers, and in an unsolicited memo last June he cast doubt on whether the president could have obstructed justice through acts — like firing his FBI director — that he was legally empowered to take.

    Barr said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not affected by Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

    Mueller’s team examined a series of actions by the president in the last two years to determine if he intended obstruction. Those include his firing of Comey one week before Mueller’s appointment, his public and private haranguing of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation because of his work on the campaign, his request of Comey to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the White House’s first national security adviser, and his drafting of an incomplete explanation about his oldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

    Mueller’s findings absolve Trump on the question of colluding with Russia but don’t entirely remove the legal threats the president and associates are facing. Federal prosecutors in New York, for instance, are investigating hush-money payments made to two women during the campaign who say they had sex with the president. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated Trump in campaign finance violations when he pleaded guilty last year.

    The special counsel’s investigation did not come up empty-handed. It ensnared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them. The probe illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.

    Thirty-four people, including six Trump aides and advisers, were charged in the investigation. Twenty-five are Russians accused of election interference either through hacking into Democratic accounts or orchestrating a social media campaign to spread disinformation on the internet.

    Sunday’s summary — and its suggestion that Mueller may have found evidence in support of obstruction — sets up a fight between Barr and Democrats, who called for the special counsel’s full report to be released and vowed to press on with their own investigations.

    “Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

    “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said. Trump’s own claim of complete exoneration “directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” they added.

    Trump was at his Florida estate when lawmakers received the report. Barr’s chief of staff called Emmet Flood, the lead White House lawyer on the investigation, to brief him on the findings shortly before he sent it to Congress. Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to Congress and the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr in the case of President Bill Clinton, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department.

    Barr did not speak with the president, Mueller was not consulted on the letter, and the White House does not have Mueller’s report, according to a Justice Department official.

    Though Mueller did not find evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign co-ordinated with the Russian government, Barr’s summary notes “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

    That’s a likely reference not only to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Donald Trump. Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer, as well as a conversation in London months earlier at which Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was told Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails.

    Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see “all the underlying evidence.” He said on Twitter, “DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work.”

    Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia’s election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses. Trump answered some questions in writing, but refused to be interviewed in person by the Mueller team.

    Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president’s actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump’s public attacks on investigators and witnesses.

    In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.

    ____

    Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Deb Riechmann in Palm Beach, Florida, and Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

    ___

    Online: Read the letter: http://apne.ws/Am0jB94

    Follow all of AP’s Trump Investigations coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations

    Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Chad Day And Julie Pace, The Associated Press







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    National

    PEI Green party candidate Josh Underhay and son killed in canoeing accident

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  • CHARLOTTETOWN — With only a few days before voters were to go to the polls in Prince Edward Island, the Green party suspended all campaigning Saturday after the sudden death of one of its candidates and his young son.

    The party confirmed Saturday that Josh Underhay and his son died in a canoeing accident on Friday afternoon.

    Voting day is Tuesday.

    Green party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker, whose party has been leading in the polls, issued a statement saying he was bereft when he learned of Underhay’s death.

    “Josh has been a dear friend and colleague of mine for many years, as a volunteer, musician, passionate cycling advocate and Green party supporter,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “He has touched the lives of everyone who knew him, including the students he taught, fellow musicians and members of the party … Josh brought humour, enthusiasm and boundless energy to every situation.”

    Bevan-Baker said the Greens would suspend all election-related activities for the remainder of the campaign.

    The province’s three other major parties suspended all campaign events scheduled for Saturday.

    The RCMP issued a statement saying two canoeists were reported missing Friday after they failed to show up at an agreed pick-up point along the Hillsborough River, which cuts through the middle of the Island and empties into the Northumberland Strait near Charlottetown.

    Firefighters, police and a volunteer ground search team were called in to look for the pair.

    Police would not identify the victims, but a Green party official confirmed Underhay and his son were later found in the water near their capsized canoe.

    Though they were wearing flotation devices, both were declared dead at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown, police said.

    Police asked for the public’s help as they continued their investigation, saying they’d like to hear from anyone who saw a red canoe on the Hillsborough River on Friday afternoon.

    Underhay, a married father of two boys, had been the Greens’ candidate in District 9, Charlottetown-Hillsborough Park.

    According to a profile on the party’s website, he was a teacher at Birchwood Intermediate School in Charlottetown, as well as an experienced musician and a student of languages, speaking English, French, Spanish, Mandarin and Czech.

    “I simply cannot imagine how much (Underhay) will be missed,” Bevan-Baker said.

    “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, and I know we will all join together to provide each other with support and comfort during this terrible time.”

    Progressive Conservative Leader Dennis King issued a statement saying the tragic loss of Underhay and his son marked “a heart-breaking day for all Islanders.”

    “It is a reminder of how fragile life is and how often we take it for granted,” King said. “Josh was a dedicated teacher and community leader who had a love for life and a passion for people. He was an advocate, talented musician and friend to many.”

    The Green party has been leading in opinion polls since August, but the race remains too close to call when the margin of error in recent surveys is factored in.

    Premier Wade MacLauchlan’s Liberals will be seeking a fourth term on Tuesday, which has prompted some critics to suggest the party has overstayed its welcome.

    The close numbers have also raised the possibility of a minority government, which would mark a historic moment for the Island. The last time a minority was elected in P.E.I. was 1890.

    The Conservatives have been plagued by infighting for the past eight years, churning through no fewer than six leaders, including King, who was elected in February.

    However, the party enjoyed a boost in the polls the following month, leaving them in a virtual tie with the Liberals.

    As for the Island’s New Democrats, led by Joe Byrne, their poll numbers have remained at single digits for the past year.

    — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    Flood waters take a life in western Quebec after rising river sweeps away road

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  • MONTREAL — One person has died amid flooding in western Quebec, after rising river levels swept away part of a road in the Outaouais region overnight.

    Police confirmed the death in a tweet Saturday morning, posting a photo of a gaping hole along the road in the Municipality of Pontiac, about 30 km northwest of Ottawa.

    Authorities have released few details about the victim, saying the accident is under investigation.

    Pontiac, which sits along the Ottawa River, is one of at least three municipalities in the Outaouais region to declare states of emergency, along with Saint-Andre-Avellin and Val-des-Monts.

    On Friday, both the Quebec and New Brunswick governments called for federal assistance — including Canadian Forces soldiers on the ground — as the provinces brace for heavy spring flooding this weekend.

    Quebec Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault told a news conference in Quebec City that the risk level hasn’t changed in recent days, but authorities now expect the brunt of flooding will begin on Sunday and last longer than expected.

    While the situation could change depending on the weather, Guilbault said she elected to ask for assistance as citizens scrambled to protect their homes while heavy rain warnings were in effect for much of southern Quebec.

    Water levels are already high and were expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures, snowmelt runoff and the heavy rainfall in the forecast until Saturday.

    “My only priority is the safety of citizens,” Guilbault said, shortly after the request for help was accepted by Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

    “I will spare no effort over the next few days to ensure the safety of citizens.”

    Officials in several communities are worried the flooding could be even worse than the record flooding of 2017 that forced thousands from their homes.

    Guilbault said Canadian Forces brass were discussing with provincial officials where to deploy military resources. She added she’d spoken directly with Brig.-Gen. Jennie Carignan and added the duration of their stay will depend largely on the situation on the ground.

    Across Quebec, municipalities have been preparing sandbags and reinforcing homes as the rain is expected to intensify in the coming hours.

    “Today is an important day, we’re predicting we’ll reach the water levels reached in 2017 in the next 24 hours and even exceed it,” said Ginette Bellemare, the acting mayor of Trois-Rivieres, Que., about halfway between Montreal and Quebec City.

    “For our citizens, it’s a race against time. They must mobilize and protect their property.”

    Guilbault said the province will also allow stores — usually closed on Easter Sunday — to remain open this weekend so residents can stock up on supplies.

    Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province’s public safety department, said residents should be ready for a sharp spike in water levels that could come quickly, and he implored them to follow the instructions of local officials.

    Blanchet said while there are no official evacuation orders in the province, some municipalities have issued preventative orders, such as Rigaud and Pointe-Fortune in southwestern Quebec.

    Rigaud officials reported they expect a rapid rise in water flows on Saturday.

    “The latest data confirms that water levels as high as those observed at the height of the May 2017 flood could be reached, depending on the amount of rain received, by next Monday,” the town said in a release.

    In Laval, just north of Montreal, officials said some 1,500 homes and businesses were under flood watch. In Montreal, Mayor Valerie Plante toured various parts of the city under flood watch.

    Plante said the boroughs were well prepared, having learned lessons from record floods two years ago.

    “We’re putting all our energy, but in the end Mother Nature decides,” Plante said.

    In Saint-Raymond, about 60 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital, 24 seniors in three residences have been moved to higher ground as the Ste-Anne River levels continue to rise.

    Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks and flooded a large part of downtown Beauceville, about 90 kilometres south of Quebec City. Officials there called it the worst flooding since 1971, with 230 homes and businesses flooded. At least 28 people remained unable to return home on Friday.

    “With the forecast that we have, we will have heavy rainfall over the corridor from Outaouais to the Lower St. Lawrence,” Blanchet said. “Those regions have a high risk of flood right now with the precipitation that’s announced and the warm temperatures that will increase the snowmelt.”

    The Canadian Press




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