Top News Stories for Today – January 6, 2017
Trump to be briefed on Russian hacking
On Friday, the heads of the CIA and FBI, plus Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, are scheduled to brief President-elect Donald Trump on a 50-page classified report on Russian hacking, a day after President Obama was presented with the same findings from the US intelligence community.
Trump has publicly questioned the intelligence community’s findings that Russia hacked Democrats and leaked their documents in part to help him win the election, though on Thursday he did tweet he is “a big fan” of “Intelligence.” In a Senate hearing on Thursday, Clapper and other intelligence agency leaders said they were confident about Russia’s meddling in the election, and the classified summation reportedly includes pretty solid evidence, including the identifications of those who actually delivered hacked emails from Russia to WikiLeaks. USA Today, The Week
Trump wants Congress pay first for border wall
Donald Trump’s transition team has approached leading House Republicans to let them know the president-elect prefers to have Congress pay for the wall along the US-Mexico border, House GOP officials told CNN Thursday. On Friday morning, Trump tweeted that “any money spent on building the Great Wall (for sake of speed), will be paid back by Mexico later!” — blaming the “dishonest media” for failing to report that.
Throughout his campaign, Trump emphatically promised that he would force Mexico to pay for the border wall, but now the transition team is telling Republicans in private meetings that he wants to fund it through the appropriations process, the officials said. The GOP could add billions of dollars to the spending bill that must be passed by April 28 in order to keep the government open. CNN, The Week
Russia starts drawing forces from Syria
On Friday, Russian Gen. Valery Gerasimov announced that Russia has begun to draw down its forces in Syria, starting with the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and accompanying ships. Moscow has been lending military support, mostly air power, to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since 2015, with the majority of sorties leaving from the Hemeimeem airbase and one in Iran, but Russia has launched airstrikes from the Admiral Kuznetsov since mid-November.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered the drawdown on Dec. 29, a day before a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey took effect. Russia’s air power is credited with turning Syria’s bloody civil war in Assad’s favor. It is unclear how much of a military presence Moscow plans to maintain in Syria. BBC News, The Associated Press, The Week
US officials know who gave emails to WikiLeaks
US officials told CNN that the classified intelligence report delivered to President Obama on Thursday identifies the intermediaries the Russians used to give hacked emails to WikiLeaks. Earlier this week, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said the emails his website published during the 2016 US presidential election that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee were not provided to him by Russia.
Following the election, US intelligence received intercepted conversations of Russian officials expressing their enthusiasm over Donald Trump’s win, which increased their confidence that Russia was behind the hacks and carried them out in order to, at least partially, help Trump win. On Thursday, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said the report will explain Russia’s “multiple motivations” for carrying out cyberattacks ahead of the election. CNN
Trump orders all US ambassadors to quit by Jan 20
Donald Trump has informed all US ambassadors must resign by January 20 “without exceptions,” according to a Dec. 23 State Department cable described to The New York Times. This will leave many key US allies — Britain, Germany, Canada, Japan — without a US ambassador for up to several months, but it also has envoys with school-age children — as Trump does — scrambling to figure out what to do.
“Political” ambassadors, as opposed to career diplomats, often have close ties to a president or donated to their campaigns, and they always leave when a new president from a different party takes office, says Ronald E. Neumann, president of the Washington-based American Academy of Diplomacy. “But I don’t recollect there was ever a guillotine in January where it was just, ‘Everybody out of the pool immediately.'”
The US ambassadors to the Czech Republic, Belgium, and Costa Rica, and America’s U.N. representative in Geneva, all have children in the middle of school years, and the Costa Rica envoy, Stafford Fitzgerald Haney, is scrambling to find an apartment for himself, his wife (who’s fighting breast cancer), and his four school-age children, The New York Times reports. The Week
Japan recalls ambassador over statue
Japan has temporarily recalled its ambassador to South Korea because of a comfort-woman statue installed in front of the Japanese consulate in the South Korean city of Busan. “Comfort women” is the euphemism for women from across Asia who were forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II in frontline brothels.
The foreign ministers from Japan and South Korea reached a breakthrough settlement on the comfort-women issue in 2015 that included a written apology from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a pledge by Tokyo to provide a multi-million-dollar fund to support the surviving women.
Activists against the settlement placed the statue near the Japanese consulate late last month. A similar statue has been located near the Japanese embassy in Seoul for several years. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said it was “very regrettable” that Japan had moved to recall its ambassador. He said the two countries should work together “even when there are difficult problems.” VOA
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