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Former Trump Adviser Michael Flynn Pleads Guilty In Special Counsel’s Russia Investigation

President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser pleaded guilty Friday morning to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian government, an extraordinary development in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Michael Flynn was charged with one count of making a false statement to FBI agents and appeared in federal court in D.C.

In a criminal information filing from Mueller’s team, the government alleges that Flynn “willfully and knowingly made materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements” in an interview with FBI agents on Jan. 24. It alleges he falsely told the FBI that he did not ask the Russian ambassador to refrain from retaliating to sanctions the Obama administration imposed on Russia in late December. Flynn also allegedly lied about asking the Russian ambassador on Dec. 22 to delay or defeat a pending United Nations Security Council resolution.

Considering all of the additional charges Flynn could have faced in connection with his overseas dealings, the fact that he is facing only one charge is an indication that Flynn is offering significant cooperation and information that could further Mueller’s investigation.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn arrives for a plea hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

The Associated Press and Washington Post reported Friday that Flynn admitted in his plea that he spoke to the Russians at the direction of Trump transition team officials.

In response to Friday morning’s charge, Trump lawyer John Dowd told Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca Ballhaus: “I have no reaction. I don’t know enough. I’m not worried about it.”

White House lawyer Ty Cobb said the plea implicates only Flynn.

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said in a statement. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn. The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

The New York Times reported in late November that Flynn’s lawyer, Robert Kelner, was no longer sharing information with Trump’s legal team, further raising the possibility that Flynn was cooperating with Mueller’s probe. Kelner later met with the investigators, according to ABC News.

Flynn’s indictment follows Mueller’s team charging Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former aide Rick Gates with 12 counts, including allegations of conspiracy against the U.S. and money laundering. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to the charges and are scheduled to face a federal trial in May.

In October, the investigators also reached a plea agreement with former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who lied to the FBI about being offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. Papadopoulos also reportedly suggested a meeting between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin last year.

But those indictments involved only Trump campaign officials. Flynn is the first former administration official to be charged, making it more difficult for the White House to distance the president from Mueller’s probe.

After Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey amid his investigation into the campaign, Comey testified that Trump had requested that he end the FBI’s investigation into Flynn.

Flynn, who stepped down as Trump’s national security adviser in February after lying to administration officials about the extent of his communications with Russian officials, had long faced scrutiny from the multiple investigations into Trump’s campaign.

JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
Flynn stepped down as Trump’s national security adviser in February after lying to administration officials about the extent of his communications with Russian officials.

Of particular interest was Flynn’s history of suspicious business dealings and financial ties to Russia, as well as his concealing that he worked as a foreign lobbyist for the Turkish government while advising Trump’s campaign.

In the fall of 2016, a businessman with close ties to Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan paid Flynn more than $500,000 to conduct research aimed at discrediting the exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen. Flynn failed to disclose the work until March, after he had already stepped down as national security adviser.

Mueller’s team has reportedly investigated Flynn’s lobbying firm and its dealings with Turkey.

Flynn also hid multiple contacts with Russia during Trump’s transition, including discussing sanctions with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

He also attended a meeting with Kislyak to discuss creating a backchannel with Putin. Also in attendance was Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is now a senior White House adviser and also reportedly a subject of Mueller’s probe.

White House officials have repeatedly denied any collusion between Trump’s team and Russia, often by downplaying suspected officials’ involvement in the campaign or the administration. In March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer diminished Flynn as just “a volunteer.” 

 

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Mother Of Vegas Survivor Pleads With Lawmaker To Change Gun Laws

More than a month after 58 people died and more than 500 were wounded in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history, the mother of one of the survivors of the Las Vegas massacre is reminding local lawmakers that part of the solution lies with them.

In a gut-wrenching letter to her local representative, Illinois Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria), Anne M. (as she asked to be named) described the harrowing trauma her daughter Hannah suffered following the Las Vegas tragedy. Without stronger gun laws, Anne M. warned, tens of thousands of Americans are set to suffer the same fate.

“As you are gathering with your family during these holidays, I ask that you remember us and all the other families who have suffered losses due to gun violence,” she pleaded. “Reflect on the power and responsibilities that your office entails and be prepared to act for positive change when the new legislative session begins.”

“Anne M.” told HuffPost her story and that of “Hannah” on the condition of anonymity. She lives in a region of Illinois that she describes as anti-gun control and is fearful for her family’s safety following the shooting. Additionally, her daughter is employed by one of the companies involved with the music festival and was not authorized to speak publicly about the incident. We’ve identified them both by the pseudonyms they used in the letter to the state lawmaker.  

STEVE MARCUS/LAS VEGAS SUN VIA REUTERS
Flowers and other tributes to the victims of the Las Vegas massacre pile up at the iconic “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign.

Hannah had been preparing for the Route 91 Harvest Festival, a three-day country music fest that drew tens of thousands to the Las Vegas Strip, for days. On Oct. 1, she was working from a trailer near the stage when gunman Stephen Paddock unloaded hundreds of rounds into an unsuspecting crowd listening to Jason Aldean perform. At first, Hannah thought the popping sounds were the sound system experiencing problems. Then it dawned on her she was hearing rapid gunfire blasting overhead.

Hannah barricaded the doors of her trailer, turned off the lights, computers and audio equipment. She huddled under the tables, fervently texting her colleagues to see if they were safe. Outside she heard crying and screaming as dozens lay dying.

“I am safe. Many dead,” she texted her family from the trailer.

Hannah stayed hidden in the trailer for about an hour, eventually making her way out of the venue with the help of law enforcement. She was later released and escorted to another hotel to rest. As morning broke in Las Vegas, she took a photo of the sunrise from her hotel room and texted her mother.

“I never thought I’d live to see this day.”

ANNE M
The photo Hannah took from her hotel room the morning after the shooting. She told her mother: “I never thought I’d live to see this day.”
 

By the following afternoon, Hannah was on a plane back home. But once back in Illinois, she had trouble picking up her life.  

“In many ways I feel like every bullet that didn’t physically hit me, because none of them did, all hit me mentally and emotionally,” she told HuffPost. “If you could do a fictitious scan of my head, it would look like Swiss cheese, because they all went through me on some level.”

Profoundly haunted by the killings, Hannah would come home from work and collapse in her mother’s arms, recounting the details of the shooting, over and over again. She’d complain of chest pain and had trouble breathing. Being in public became stressful, and being near strangers frightened her. The sounds of dogs barking and children laughing were too much to bear.

One evening shortly after the shooting, as fireworks popped off during the halftime show of a school football game nearby, Hannah burst into tears and became panicked ― she didn’t hear fireworks, she heard gunfire, and she was instantly pulled back to her trailer at the festival hearing instead the bullets flying. Anne had to pull Hannah into the bathroom and turn on the exhaust fan, to drown out the fireworks, and hold her daughter as tight as she could.

Anne, a former therapist, recognized her “bright, happy, spunky girl” was suffering from severe trauma and found her a therapist who specialized in treating post-traumatic stress disorder.

While most often discussed as a disorder that affects members of the military, any person who experiences trauma can suffer from PTSD. About 7 to 8 percent of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lifetimes, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD. In any given year, about 8 million adults have PTSD, and it is common among survivors of mass shootings: About a third of them will experience PTSD.

Watching her daughter suffer the effects of the shooting made Anne keenly aware of the trauma that tens of thousands of Americans ― gun violence survivors and the members of their families ― go through.

The only way to prevent the trauma is to stop the shootings, she argues. “We can no longer deny that mass shootings are a terrifying, nearly daily part of American culture,” Anne wrote in her impassioned letter to Spain. “We have allowed assault rifles to become weapons of mass destruction in our everyday lives.”

“Our schools, hospitals, concert venues and churches are now all battlefields,” Anne wrote.

There are no readily available answers for Anne, Hannah, their family and the thousands of others affected by this national tragedy. Nearly 3,000 people have been shot in the weeks that followed the Las Vegas massacre, according to data collected by the Gun Violence Archive. About 800 of those victims have died. Just two weeks ago, a gunman opened fire at a church in a small town in Texas, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

Despite numerous high-profile massacres involving firearms in recent years, from Aurora to Sandy Hook to Orlando, Congress has not passed meaningful legislation that could prevent another mass shooting. And while lawmakers briefly voiced support for a restriction on bump stocks following the Las Vegas shooting, the devices that facilitate rapid firing are still legal. Any hope for a legislative fix was dashed when the National Rifle Association issued a statement urging the Trump administration to address the matter via existing regulations and not new laws.

Gun rights activists consider gun laws in Illinois to be strict. Gun owners are banned from carrying handguns that are visible to the public, and those with concealed carry permits are banned from bringing their firearms into schools, public parks and government buildings. Still, bump stocks remain legal, and the semi-automatic firearms that Paddock used during his rampage are as well. The state’s legislature has adjourned for the year without passing any new gun control legislation.

Anne is trying to change that. She’s starting locally, with her state representative. “Until and unless stronger gun laws with thorough background checks are in place, our country is not safe,” Anne told Spain. “Not for my Hannah. Not for [Spain’s daughter] Eleanor. Not for any of us.”

Rep. Spain told HuffPost in an email that he received Anne’s letter and found it to be “heartfelt and impactful” and that it gave him an opportunity to take time before the state’s next legislative session to find common ground on gun laws. “Out of strong respect for what her family has been through, I am looking for opportunities to work together toward addressing the scourge of mass-shootings on our society and that is what I told [Anne M.]. She asked me to take time to think about this issue and I am doing so.”

Hannah hopes that, at the very least, making her story public will remind the nation of what she and the thousands of other people ― numbers that are growing ― who have been been hurt by gun violence are living through and to keep remembering it. And in doing so, perhaps Americans will decide they’ve finally had enough and fight for safer gun laws.

“Nobody should have to experience this. Whether you’re 7 years old at Sandy Hook or 55 years old at a country music festival, there’s real action we can take. Somebody’s right to a gun should not be more important than anyone’s piece of mind.”

 

 

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Mick Mulvaney To CFPB Staff: ‘Disregard’ Instructions From Ex-Chief’s Appointed Acting Director

With doughnuts in hand, President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. government consumer watchdog agency turned up for work on Monday, challenging the acting appointee of the outgoing Obama-era head in an unprecedented partisan showdown over how the U.S. financial system should be regulated.

Mick Mulvaney, who already serves as White House budget chief, was named acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) by Trump last week. But Mulvaney, who tried to dismantle the agency when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, faces a challenge from Leandra English, who was named temporary head of the agency by outgoing director Richard Cordray hours beforehand.

Both issued statements on Monday morning indicating they were in charge.

English sent an email in which she welcomed staff back from the Thanksgiving holiday and signed off as “acting director,” according to a source.

But Mulvaney stood his ground, writing in a staff email an hour later:

“Please disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director,” he said in a memo seen by Reuters. “If you receive additional communications from her today ... please inform the General Counsel.”

Mulvaney also signed off as “acting director” and invited staff to pop by his office on the fourth floor to “grab a donut.”

The same source said that as Mulvaney was getting settled in, CFPB general counsel Mary McLeod sent a memo she had prepared on Sunday to the CFPB’s legal division agreeing with an opinion of the U.S. Justice Department that Trump had the power to appoint Mulvaney as temporary leader of the watchdog.