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Mueller delivers report on Trump-Russia investigation to Attorney General

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, on Friday delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr, bringing to a close an investigation that has consumed the nation and cast a shadow over President Trump for nearly two years.

Mr. Barr told congressional leaders in a letter that he may brief them on the special counsel’s “principal conclusions” as early as this weekend, a surprisingly fast turnaround for a report anticipated for months. The attorney general said he “remained committed to as much transparency as possible.”

In an apparent endorsement of an investigation that Mr. Trump has relentlessly attacked as a “witch hunt,” Mr. Barr said Justice Department officials never had to intervene to keep Mr. Mueller from taking an inappropriate or unwarranted step. The department’s regulations would have required Mr. Barr to inform the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees about any such interventions in his letter.

A senior Justice Department official said that Mr. Mueller would not recommend new indictments, a statement aimed at ending speculation that Mr. Trump or other key figures might be charged down the line. With department officials emphasizing that Mr. Mueller’s inquiry was over and his office closing, the question for both Mr. Trump’s critics and defenders was whether the prosecutors condemned the president’s behavior in their report, exonerated him — or neither. The president’s lawyers were already girding for a possible fight over whether they could assert executive privilege to keep parts of the report secret.

Since Mr. Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, his team has focused on how Russian operatives sought to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone tied to the Trump campaign, wittingly or unwittingly, cooperated with them. While the inquiry, started months earlier by the F.B.I., unearthed a far-ranging Russian influence operation, no public evidence emerged that the president or his aides illegally assisted it.

Nonetheless, the damage to Mr. Trump and those in his circle has been extensive. A half-dozen former Trump aides were indicted or convicted of crimes, mostly for lying to federal investigators or Congress. Others remain under investigation in cases that Mr. Mueller’s office handed off to federal prosecutors in New York and elsewhere. Dozens of Russian intelligence officers or citizens, along with three Russian companies, were charged in cases that are likely to languish in court because the defendants cannot be extradited to the United States.

Republicans immediately seized upon the news that no more indictments are expected as a vindication of Mr. Trump and his campaign. Those reports “confirm what we’ve known all along: There was never any collusion with Russia,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-highest-ranking House Republican, said in a statement.

Democrats, including some of those hoping to supplant Mr. Trump in the White House in the 2020 election, insisted that Mr. Mueller’s full report be made public, including the underlying evidence. In a joint statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the top Senate Democrat, warned Mr. Barr not to allow the White House a “sneak preview” of the document.

“The White House must not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts of those findings or evidence are made public,” they said.

Not since Watergate has a special prosecutor’s inquiry so mesmerized the American public. Polls have shown that most Americans want to know its findings, and the House unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution to publicize the report.

Mr. Barr’s letter said he would decide what to release after consulting with Mr. Mueller and Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who has overseen his investigation. Justice Department officials emphasized that the White House had been kept at a distance.

Only a handful of law enforcement officials have seen the report, said Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman.

Although a White House lawyer was notified that Mr. Mueller had delivered it to Mr. Barr, no White House official has seen the report or been briefed on it, according to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course,” she said.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of the president’s personal lawyers, said he planned to remain in Washington over the weekend in part because Mr. Barr might update Congress on Mr. Mueller’s findings.

He sidestepped a question about whether the president’s lawyers were seeking to review the report before any of it becomes public. White House lawyers have been preparing for the possibility they may need to argue some material is protected by executive privilege, especially if the report discusses whether the president’s interactions with his top aides or legal advisers are evidence of obstruction of justice.

Even though Mr. Mueller’s report is complete, some aspects of his inquiry remain active and may be overseen by the same prosecutors once they are reassigned to their old jobs in the Justice Department. For instance, recently filed court documents suggest that investigators are still examining why the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort turned over campaign polling data in 2016 to a Russian associate who prosecutors said was tied to Russian intelligence.

Mr. Mueller looked extensively at whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice to protect himself or his associates. But despite months of negotiations, prosecutors were unable to personally interview the president.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers insisted that he respond only to written questions from the special counsel. Even though under current Justice Department policy, a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mr. Trump’s lawyers worried that his responses in an oral interview could bring political repercussions, including impeachment, or put him in legal jeopardy once he is out of office.

Mr. Trump has helped make Mr. Mueller a household name, attacking his investigation an average of about twice a day as an unfair, politically motivated attempt to invalidate his election. He never forgave former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia inquiry, an action that cleared the way for his deputy, Mr. Rosenstein, to appoint Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Trump reiterated his attacks on the special counsel this week, saying Mr. Mueller decided “out of the blue” to write a report, ignoring that regulations require him to do so. But the president also said the report should be made public because of “tens of millions” of Americans would want to know what it contains.

“Let people see it,” Mr. Trump said. “There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no nothing.”

In court, the evidence amassed by the Mueller team has held up. Every defendant who is not still awaiting trial either pleaded guilty or was convicted by a jury. Although no American has been charged with illegally plotting with the Russians to tilt the election, Mr. Mueller uncovered a web of lies by former Trump aides.

Five of them were found to have deceived federal investigators or Congress about their interactions with Russians during the campaign or the transition. They includes Mr. Manafort; Michael T. Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser; and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former lawyer and longtime fixer. A sixth former adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr., is to stand trial in November on charges of lying to Congress.

Those who know Mr. Mueller, a former F.B.I. director, had predicted a concise, legalistic report devoid of opinions — nothing like the 445-page treatise that Ken Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton, produced in 1998. Operating under a now-defunct statute that governed independent counsels, Mr. Starr had far more leeway than Mr. Mueller to set his own investigative boundaries and to render judgments.

The regulations that governed Mr. Mueller, who is under the supervision of the Justice Department, only required him to explain his decisions to either seek or decline to seek criminal charges in a confidential report to the attorney general. The attorney general was then required to notify the leadership of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

Despite pledging transparency, Mr. Barr may be reluctant to release the part of Mr. Mueller’s report that may be of most interest: who the special counsel declined to prosecute and why, especially if Mr. Trump is on that list.

The department’s longstanding practice, with rare exceptions, is not to identify people who were merely investigative targets to avoid unfairly tainting their reputations, especially because they would have no chance to defend themselves in a court of law. Mr. Rosenstein, who has overseen Mr. Mueller’s work and may have a say in what is released, is a firm believer in that principle.

In a May 2017 letter that the president seized upon as justification for his decision to fire James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, Mr. Rosenstein severely criticized Mr. Comey for announcing during the previous year that Hillary Clinton, then a presidential candidate, would not be charged with a crime for mishandling classified information as secretary of state. Releasing “derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation,” Mr. Rosenstein wrote, is “a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do.”

Weighing that principle against the public’s right to know is even more fraught in the president’s case. If Mr. Mueller declined to pursue criminal charges against Mr. Trump, he might have been guided not by lack of evidence, but by the Justice Department’s legal opinions that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The department’s Office of Legal Counsel has repeatedly advised that the stigma and burden of being under prosecution would damage the president’s ability to lead.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York and the head of the House Judiciary Committee, has argued that the department’s view that presidents are protected from prosecution makes it all the more important for the public to see Mr. Mueller’s report.

“To maintain that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and then to withhold evidence of wrongdoing from Congress because the president cannot be charged, is to convert D.O.J. policy into the means for a cover-up,” he said before the House approved its nonbinding resolution to disclose the special counsel’s findings.

Some predict that any disclosures from Mr. Mueller’s report will satisfy neither Mr. Trump’s critics nor his defenders, especially given the public’s high expectations for answers. A Washington Post-Schar School poll in February illustrated the sharp divide in public opinion: It found that of those surveyed, most Republicans did not believe evidence of crimes that Mr. Mueller’s team had already proved in court, while most Democrats believed he had proved crimes that he had not even claimed.

Courtesy: (nytimes.com)

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Burj Khalifa lit up with photo of NZ Premier Jacinda Ardern

Monitoring Desk

DUBAI: The World is still mourning on New Zealand gruesome terror attack last week claimed lives of 50 Muslims during Friday prayers at Christchurch.

Yesterday on Friday, the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern visited a mosque and listened to the Friday sermon there. For the first time ever, the Azaan, Muslim call for prayer, was broadcast on national TV and radio in a show of solidarity with the Muslims.

The warmth of NZ premier’s gestures has brought appreciation from the world over. The way she donned Shalwar Kamiz with a dupatta on her head, and the visuals of her embracing Muslim women to condole them won the hearts of many inside and outside New Zealand.

In the same spirit, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, currently the world’s tallest building was lit up with an image of Prime Minister Ardern on Friday with the Islamic greeting of ‘Salaam’, meaning peace.

In his message on Facebook and Twitter, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Prime Minister of United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the ruler of Dubai emirate, lauded Prime Minister Ardern’s gesture.

He wrote that the sincere empathy and support of her and [the people of] New Zealand had won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world.

Burj Khalifa is often used by the UAE government to show its support and solidarity with humans across the world in times of conflict and natural calamities.

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Russia criticizes Trump’s Golan Heights comment

MOSCOW (AA): U.S. President Donald Trump’s call to recognize Israel’s control of the occupied Golan Heights could destabilize the situation in the Middle East, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday.

“In any case, such an idea itself in no way contributes to the goals and objectives of the Middle East settlement, rather on the contrary. So far it is nothing but a call, let’s hope that it will remain a call,” he told reporters in Moscow.

In a separate statement, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the change of status of the occupied Golan Heights is a direct violation of UN resolutions.

The UN Security Council resolution 497 of 1981 reconfirmed the Golan Heights belongs to Syria, she recalled.

“Our assessment of the illegality of Israel’s decision to extend its sovereignty to the Golan Heights, adopted as a basic law in 1981, remains unchanged. Changing the status of the Golan Heights bypassing the Security Council is a direct violation of UN decisions,” she said.

Trump’s tweet on Thursday came following congressional momentum building up on Capitol Hill for the change. The State Department last week changed its terminology for the first time on the contested territory referring to it as “Israeli-controlled” instead of its previous usage of “Israeli-occupied”.

Israel occupies roughly two-thirds of the wider Golan Heights as a de facto result of the conflict. It moved to formally annex the territory in 1981 — an action unanimously rejected at the time by the UN Security Council.

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Swedes form human shield for Muslims in Friday prayer

STOCKHOLM (AA): Dozens of Swedes have formed a human shield for Muslims on Friday in a bid to ensure their security during weekly prayer.

As part of the ongoing protests across the world decrying twin terror attacks by a white supremacist in New Zealand that killed at least 50 and injured dozens, Swedish people demonstrated yet another solidarity with the Muslims.

Sweden’s Culture and Democracy Minister Amanda Lind told Anadolu Agency that she is very happy to see so many people gathered in Stockholm Mosque to offer a peaceful Friday prayer for Muslims. She said that it is not only the terror attacks in New Zealand but the racism and Islamophobia, as well, that brought them all together.

Activist Dror Feiler, a member of the Ship to Gaza foundation that aims to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip in Palestine by delivering humanitarian aid from Scandinavia to Gaza, also expressed his joy to see a big crowd. Activists did not leave until the weekly Friday prayer ended. In return for their support, the mosque officials gave out water and dates to the activists.

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China, Italy looking to strengthen trade ties: Xi

ROME (Reuters): Italy and China want to deepen their trade and investment ties, boosting infrastructure and maritime links, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Friday following talks with Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Xi is set to sign a deal on Saturday that will see Italy become the first Group of Seven major industrialised nations to join China’s giant “Belt and Road” infrastructure project inspired by the ancient Silk Road trade routes.

“We want to strengthen the synergies between our respective development strategies to enhance cooperation in the infrastructure, port, logistics and maritime transport sectors in order to build a series of concrete projects along the Silk Road,” Xi said, speaking through a translator.

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US slaps fresh nuclear sanctions on Iran

WASHINGTON (AA): The U.S. on Friday issued new nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, blacklisting 31 entities and individuals for allegedly supporting Iran’s “nuclear proliferation-sensitive activities.”

All of those blacklisted are tied to the Iranian Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, or SPND, the State Department said in a statement announcing the new penalties.

“The United States strongly condemns Iran’s efforts to maintain its band of former nuclear weapons researchers, preserve their work, and continue sensitive procurement activities,” spokesman Robert Palladino said.

He further warned that additional Iranians who work for the country’s nuclear program risk being sanctioned.

Friday’s actions follow the U.S. decision to exit the historic 2015 nuclear accord world powers, including the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the EU, agreed to with Iran.

President Donald Trump had long criticized the agreement before formally withdrawing in May 2018.

The deal granted Iran with sweeping relief from international sanctions in exchange for unprecedented curbs to and inspections of its nuclear program.

The body intended to verify Iran’s compliance with that pact has repeatedly and categorically stated Iran remains in compliance with the agreement. Washington has called on the other parties to the agreement to follow its lead in abandoning the agreement, but to date none have.

Moreover, close allies in Europe have worked to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, insisting it presents the best way to ensure Iran does not attain a nuclear weapon.

The European Union in February launched a payment mechanism intended to allow European firms to continue to do business allowed under the agreement, vexing the Trump administration.

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Indian troops martyr seven Kashmiris

F.P. Report

HAJIN: In occupied Kashmir, Indian troops in a fresh massacre have martyred seven Kashmiris including a twelve-year-old boy, Atif Mir, in Bandipora, Baramulla and Shopian districts since yesterday.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the troops martyred these Kashmiris during violent cordon and search operations in Hajin, Kalantra and Gadapora areas.

Several people were injured in Ratnipora area of Shopian, today, after Indian forces’ personnel fired bullets, pellets and teargas shells on demonstrations against the killing of the youth.

Meanwhile, the occupation authorities imposed restrictions in downtown Srinagar to prevent people from staging anti-India demonstrations. The Joint Resistance Leadership comprising Syed Ali Gilani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Yasin Malik had called for the demonstrations after Juma prayers against the custodial killing of a school principal, Rizwan Asad. Juma prayers could not be held at Srinagar’s historic Jamia Masjid due to the restrictions.

On the other hand, Hurriyat leaders, Mir Shahid Saleem, Imtiaz Reshi and Khawaja Firdous, in their statements greeted the people and government of Pakistan on the eve of Pakistan Day, the 23rd March, being observed tomorrow. People staged forceful demonstrations in Tral area of Pulwama district against the illegal arrest of more than a dozen youth from various areas by Indian police and troops.

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OIC urges fight against Islamophobia, terrorism

Monitoring Desk

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s foreign minister and the head of an international Muslim bloc on Friday urged the world to wage a battle against Islamophobia, intolerance, racism, and terrorism.

“We call upon the whole world as a country that has built its foreign policy on human values and as president of the OIC summit,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told an emergency Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting in Istanbul. “Let’s take a comprehensive look at hostility towards Islam, intolerance, racism and terrorism, and fight against them together.”

Cavusoglu said Turkey appreciated the attitude of New Zealand’s people and government in the aftermath of the terrorist attack and saying: “We hope that this attitude will set an example for the countries of the world and especially for the politicians in the countries where racism is increasing.”

“We will support New Zealand’s struggle against terrorism, extremism and anti-Islamism.”

Last Friday, at least 50 Muslims were killed and as many injured when a terrorist entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and shot worshippers in cold blood, including four children younger than 18.

Yousef bin Ahmad Al-Othaimeen, the OIC’s secretary general, said that in the wake of last week’s attacks, March 15 should become a day of international solidarity against Islamophobia.

Othaimeen said: “I would like to thank the government of New Zealand for its political, legal and humanitarian attitude after this terrorist attack. All of our member countries agree on this issue.”

He underscored the “hidden danger” of the live broadcast of the massacre which requires an immediate action against it. “We must act in common against hate speech,” he said, and added: “We must be wary of the provocative language in the digital world. We must block negative messages that will mobilize large audiences.”

Othaimeen said the attacks against women wearing headscarves in Europe “are fed by similar sources”, referring to the hate speech in the digital world. (AA)

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Lack of water dwarfs violence as child killer

LAGOS (AA): At least 3.6 million people are in dire need of water and hygiene services in Nigeria’s terror-hit northeast region, with more children dying of poor access to water than of violence, UNICEF said on Friday. In a report published on World Water Day, the global body said the Boko Haram crisis has cut people’s access to water in most parts of the region.

In “Water Under Fire”, UNICEF said the lack of access to water has led to outbreak of various diseases, including cholera, with children being the worst hit. “In north-east Nigeria, 5,365 people were affected by cholera, with 61 dying in 2017, while 12,643 people were affected and 175 died of cholera in 2018,” according to the report. Country Director of UNICEF in Nigeria Mohamed Fall said no less than 1.1 million displaced people were affected by the lack of access to water.

“Many of them are out-of-reach, in remote areas still impacted by conflict. About 800,000 people are in hard-to-reach areas and 79 percent of these are children and women,” the statement quoted Fall as saying. The report said children under the age of 15 living in countries affected by protracted conflict are, on average, almost three times more likely to die from diarrhea and other diseases caused by a lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene than by direct violence. The report examines mortality rates in 16 countries going through prolonged conflicts, concluding that children under the age of five are more than 20 times more likely to die from diarrhea-related causes linked to a lack of access to safe water and sanitation than from direct violence.

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Cyclone Idai deaths could exceed 1,000

BEIRA (AP): As flood waters began to recede in parts of Mozambique on Friday, fears rose that the death toll could soar as bodies are revealed.

The number of deaths could be beyond the 1,000 predicted by the country’s president earlier this week, said Elhadj As Sy, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.