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Robert Mueller investigating payments to Michael Cohen, Swiss drug giant says

Novartis confirms it paid Trump’s lawyer’s company $1.2m – significantly more than was initially disclosed

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Robert Mueller investigating payments to Michael Cohen, Swiss drug giant says” was written by Jon Swaine in New York, for theguardian.com on Thursday 10th May 2018 01.10 UTC

Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has been investigating payments made by corporations to Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen, two of Cohen’s clients said on Wednesday.

AT&T and the Swiss pharmaceuticals company Novartis both said they were contacted by Mueller’s office in November last year, as Novartis confirmed it had paid Cohen .2m – significantly more than was initially disclosed.

“Novartis cooperated fully with the special counsel’s office and provided all the information requested,” the company said in a statement. AT&T said in a statement: “We cooperated fully, providing all information requested.”

Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, declined to comment.

Novartis said it hired Cohen on a 0,000-a-month contract in February last year because it believed he “could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters” such as the Affordable Care Act, which Trump had pledged to scrap.

After only one meeting, however, executives concluded Cohen “would be unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated”, according to the company, and decided “not to engage further”. But the contract could not be terminated so Cohen was paid in full for the year, a spokesman said.

AT&T confirmed earlier on Wednesday that it also paid Cohen. A company spokesperson said it had contracted Trump’s attorney to “provide insights into understanding the new administration”.

Mueller is primarily investigating possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russians who interfered in the election.

Cohen is the subject of a separate criminal investigation by federal authorities in New York. His home and offices were searched in surprise raids by FBI agents last month. Prosecutors have said the inquiry relates to Cohen’s personal finances.

Novartis and AT&T were among companies revealed to have paid Cohen in a document published on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, an attorney for Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actor known as Stormy Daniels, who is engaged in a legal dispute with Cohen and Trump.

Avenatti’s document said a subsidiary of the Swiss company had made at least four payments to Cohen’s company totalling 0,000. Confirming the arrangement, the company said: “The terms were consistent with the market.”

The records also said AT&T paid Cohen ,000 per month for at least four months, meaning the company may have paid him as much as 0,000 for the year. Trump’s administration was at the time considering whether to allow an bn merger of AT&T and Time Warner, which it has since rejected.

Cohen was also paid by Columbus Nova, the US affiliate of a corporate empire belonging to Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch closely linked to Vladimir Putin. Avenatti’s document said the payments totalled about half a million dollars.

Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, hit back at Avenatti in a furious letter filed to Manhattan’s federal court late on Wednesday, in which he confirmed that AT&T, Novartis and Columbus Nova were all Cohen clients.

Ryan said Avenatti appeared to have obtained Cohen’s bank records, and “should be required to explain” how he got them before he is allowed to be officially involved in a dispute the court is considering over records the FBI seized from Cohen’s home and offices.

The inspector general of the US Treasury opened an investigation on Wednesday into whether Cohen’s bank records were improperly leaked. Richard Delmar, a counsel to the inspector general, told the Guardian the inquiry would focus on “compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act and its protections of information”.

Some reports on Wednesday alleged that Cohen had offered his clients access to senior administration officials.

Avenatti sought to connect the payments from Novartis to the company’s incoming chief executive, Vas Narasimhan, being invited to a group dinner with Trump at the World Economic Forum in Davos on 25 January 2018.

But Novartis stressed on Wednesday that the company’s contract with Cohen predated Narasimhan, and said he had “no involvement whatsoever” in the arrangement.

Columbus Nova said Vekselberg had no involvement in its own arrangement with Cohen. Vekselberg, too, was reportedly interviewed by investigators for Mueller’s team. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Cohen used the same Delaware company to pay Daniels 0,000 in October 2016 in return for an agreement that she would not talk publicly about allegedly having had sex with Trump a decade earlier. The arrangement was later disclosed by reporters.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), one of the biggest defence companies in South Korea, also confirmed it had paid Cohen. Avenatti’s document said it had paid Essential Consultants 0,000 in November last year.

A spokesman for the company told Reuters that it had contracted Cohen for “legal consulting concerning accounting standards”. KAI is currently competing for a lucrative contract from the US defense department and hopes to produce about 350 trainer jets in partnership with the US contractor Lockheed Martin.

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ICE Faces Migrant Detention Crunch as Border Chaos Spills Into Interior of the Country

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Migrants were temporarily held by Customs and Border Protection in an enclosed area beneath the Paso del Norte International Bridge in El Paso, Tex., on March 29. (Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times)

Federal immigration authorities faced with overburdened detention centers are scouring the country to find space to house migrants as the crush of asylum seekers that has overwhelmed the Southwest border spreads deep into the nation’s interior.


With mounting federal initiatives to hold more and more migrants in custody, officials at Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which oversees long-term detention centers for migrants, are looking for additional space that can be rented inside existing jails, as well as fast-tracking the deportations of current detainees and releasing as many migrants as possible into the country to make room for newcomers.

In one initiative examined earlier this year, Department of Homeland Security officials looked at housing migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which has a dormitory facility that has been used in the past to hold asylum seekers. The proposal to house migrant children from the Southwest border there has not gained traction, perhaps because of the optics of housing young people adjacent to terrorism suspects, according to one official who had seen the proposal but was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

While there were no “immediate” plans to house migrant children at Guantánamo Bay, the Defense Department is attempting to identify military bases that might be used for that purpose, a department spokesman, Tom Crosson, said on Monday.

Much of the administration’s focus in recent months has been on the Southwest border, where the surge of migrant families seeking asylum has overwhelmed short-term holding facilities and left people languishing there for longer periods of time. But authorities already are confronting the next phase of detention, the long-term facilities in the interior of the country where many of the incoming migrants will eventually be transferred, and these also appear to be bucking under pressure.

Populations in the long-term detention facilities have grown markedly under President Trump, both because of increasing border crossings and his administration’s aggressive moves to arrest more undocumented immigrants in the interior of the country. ICE is currently housing 50,223 migrants, one of the highest numbers on record, and about 5,000 more than the congressionally mandated limit of 45,274.

In 2016, President Obama’s last year in office, the average daily population of immigrants in detention dipped to 34,376.

A detention crunch that homeland security officials described as already dire threatened last week to become worse with the announcement by Attorney General William Barr that the administration would soon begin mandatorily detaining additional asylum seekers, a move that, if implemented, could put thousands more in custody each month.

“It’s clear that all of our resources are being stretched thin. The system is full, and we are beyond capacity,” said Kevin K. McAleenan, the new acting homeland security secretary, speaking to reporters at a news conference on the border.

Despite its potential impact on the already congested detention system, a D.H.S. press officer said the agency supported Mr. Barr’s order on the detention of asylum seekers because it might discourage migrants from crossing the border to begin with.

Immigrant advocates said the detention crunch has been self-imposed by the administration and its policies.

Under President Trump, ICE agents have been encouraged to arrest anyone living in the country without legal status, regardless of their criminal record, whereas the previous administration put a priority on arresting and deporting undocumented migrants who were considered dangerous.

The Trump administration has also expanded collaboration with local sheriff’s departments to gain easier access to anyone in criminal custody who is also suspected of immigration violations. It has once again expanded the use of workplace raids — officials carried out the largest one in a decade earlier this month in Texas. And it has scaled back the use of humanitarian parole, which once allowed many asylum seekers to roam freely and work with temporary permits while they waited for their cases to be resolved.

The result is an increasingly congested system of long-term detention centers around the country, with officials signaling the need for more resources to house more detainees, while immigrant advocates argue that there are humane and effective alternatives to detention.

“We have to remember that it is a choice to jail asylum seekers, and it is a choice that is at odds with international human rights norms,” said Heidi Altman, director of policy at the National Immigrant Justice Center.

Ms. Altman pointed to case management programs that have been used in the past to ensure that immigrants show up for court. Studies have shown that the programs are both cheaper than detention and have a proven track record of near universal court compliance.

To address the current crush of detained migrants, ICE officials are working urgently to both expand the current system and to purge it of anyone possible, according to two officials at the Department of Homeland Security who spoke under the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal operations. That effort involves scanning the records of the detained population to find anyone who is ready to be deported immediately, and to identify anyone who qualifies for humanitarian parole and can be released to make room for others.

Another idea, drafted in a memo from Mr. McAleenan in his new capacity as the acting homeland security secretary, would ask the Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to dedicate most or all of its resources toward processing the cases of detained immigrants — temporarily pausing the court proceedings of anyone who has already been released into the country. The memo has not yet been sent, according to the official who disclosed it.

Officials in Washington have also suggested to ICE field offices around the country that they begin to release immigrants who have been granted bond by judges but have not yet paid them — presumably because they cannot afford to — in order to make more room.

Many of these measures aimed at clearing out space could face opposition from the White House, since they run contrary to the very policies that are creating the problem — President Trump’s often-stated desire to end what he calls “catch and release” of migrants at the border.

Meanwhile, authorities are struggling to identify new locations where migrants can be held in detention. The military awarded a $23 million contract in February to build a “contingency mass migration complex” at Guantánamo, a plan that would expand the existing facility to house 13,000 migrants and 5,000 support staff in tents. That project appears intended primarily to accommodate a crush of migrants that might accompany a new crisis in the Caribbean, though it could theoretically be used to house Central Americans.

In recent months, ICE has also signed or expanded a series of contracts, procuring nearly 3,000 additional beds to house migrants in state and local prisons and jails across the country. Staff have been moved to run the new facilities, but that has further stretched resources at existing detention centers, making it harder to keep cases moving on track.

Medical providers at some ICE facilities have also complained about not having enough resources to maintain minimum requirements, and the officials who spoke on background said that some ICE detention centers had been forced to lower their populations recently because they did not have enough staffing to meet medical standards.

Watchdog groups that favor less immigration detention are warning that slapdash efforts to expand the ICE system could leave detainees at risk.

“You don’t have to take my word for it. Their own inspector general has looked into this and expressed concerns about oversight, conditions, inspections, contracting,” said Mary Small, policy director of the Detention Watch Network, referring to reports that have documented a long history of inadequacies with health care, sanitation, the use of force and legal access inside detention centers. “Whether by systematically overcrowding the existing system or rapidly expanding it, it’s logical to expect to exacerbate all of the underlying problems,” Ms. Small said.

Congress has control over ICE’s budget for detention, and Democrats have often tried to limit funds in order to rein in the agency’s ability to make arrests indiscriminately. Even before the spike in migrant crossings earlier this year, the agency had been on track to require additional emergency funds this fiscal year in order to keep pace with trends at the southern border. Though the majority of those crossing recently are members of migrant families, who are typically being released into the country rather than detained, tens of thousands of individual adults continue to arrive each month, most of whom will end up in long-term detention centers.

Because most migrant families are being released to await the outcome of their asylum cases, ICE’s three family detention centers are largely empty now. Facilities certified to house families only have a capacity of about 2,500 people, in any case. Currently, 675 members of migrant families are being detained in one of those facilities in Dilley, Tex. A second one in Karnes City, Tex., has been converted to house adults, to help with overcrowding elsewhere. And the third in Leesport, Pa., is empty.

(Reporting by New York Times)

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Northern Ireland Police Arrest Woman For Slaying Of Journalist Lyra McKee

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In this undated family photo made available Friday April 19, 2019, issued by Northern Ireland Police, showing journalist Lyra McKee who was shot and killed when guns were fired during clashes with police Thursday night April 18, 2019, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Police are investigating the shooting death of 29-year-old McKee, during street violence Thursday night.(Family photo/PSNI via AP)

LONDON (AP) — The Northern Ireland Police Service said Tuesday they have arrested a woman under the Terrorism Act in connection with the slaying of journalist Lyra McKee.


The arrest of the 57-year-old under the Terrorism Act came as an Irish Republican Army splinter group admitted that one of its “volunteers” killed journalist McKee, who was shot dead while reporting on rioting in Londonderry.

In a statement issued Tuesday to the Irish News, the New IRA offered “full and sincere” apologies to McKee’s family and friends.

The group said the 29-year-old journalist was killed during Thursday night’s unrest “while standing beside enemy forces” — a reference to the police.

The IRA and most other militant groups have disarmed since Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord. The New IRA has been formed from splinter groups opposed to the peace process.

Authorities believe one person pulled the trigger during the chaotic rioting that began Thursday night but had organizational support.

The use of a firearm apparently aimed at police marks a dangerous escalation in sporadic violence that continues to plague Northern Ireland 21 years after the Good Friday peace agreement was signed. The New IRA group rejects the peace agreement.

The riot followed a pattern familiar to those who lived through the worst years of violence in Northern Ireland. Police arrived in the city’s Creggan neighborhood to search for weapons and dissidents. They were barraged with gasoline bombs and other flying objects before someone wearing a black mask appeared, fired some shots and fled.

No police were struck by the bullets, but McKee — who had been trying to film the riot on her phone — was hit. The journalist was rushed to a nearby hospital in a police car but died.

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Terrorism

Wisconsin Woman Charged With Attempting to Provide Material Support to ISIS, Pleads Guilty

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — A Wisconsin mother of seven pleaded guilty Monday to trying to plan terrorist attacks on behalf of the Islamic State group by distributing information online on how to make explosives and biological weapons.


Waheba Issa Dais (dys) initially pleaded not guilty to two counts of providing material support to terrorists but prosecutors dropped one of the charges in exchange for her guilty plea.

Prosecutors say in court documents that Dais, 46, used hacked social media accounts to discuss possible attacks with self-proclaimed members of the IS. She also tried to recruit IS supporters to carry out attacks and provided them with information on making explosives and poisons, according to the documents.

Authorities never connected her to any attack plots, but U.S. Attorney Matthew Krueger noted the seriousness of her actions, saying Dais put a lot of information online with instructions on how to harm people.

“Nobody will ever know what all she could’ve inspired,” said Krueger, who serves in the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

In the hacked social media accounts, the FBI said it found conversations where Dais discussed possible attacks with self-proclaimed IS members. In one case, she suggested using the deadly toxin ricin in a government building or a reservoir somewhere in the U.S., according to the FBI’s report. In another instance, she suggested street festivals and summer celebrations as possible targets, the FBI said.

Dais was born in Jerusalem and was married to a U.S. citizen when she arrived in Chicago in 1992, according to the FBI. They divorced in 2003 and Dais remained in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. She was living in Cudahy, a city just south of Milwaukee.

Dais faces up to 20 years in prison when she is sentenced Sept. 12, although the plea agreement said her punishment could be more lenient because she accepted responsibility for her actions. However, the judge will ultimately decide the sentence.

Also Monday in a separate case, prosecutors announced that a Milwaukee man pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting an attempt to provide material support to the IS. In that case, prosecutors said Yosvany Padilla-Conde, a Cuban national, made videos swearing allegiance to the IS and stating his intent to travel with another Wisconsin man to the Middle East.

Padilla-Conde thought he was sending the videos to an Islamic State recruiter, but it was actually an undercover FBI agent.

Padilla-Conde’s co-conspirator, Jason Ludke, was convicted last year and is already incarcerated. Padilla-Conde faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 7.

“These cases demonstrate the continuing and evolving threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations,” Krueger said.

Read the criminal complaint below:

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