Top News Stories for Today – March 3, 2017
Trump calls criticism of Sessions a ‘witch hunt’
President Donald Trump is praising his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and accusing Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt” in their criticism of Sessions’ testimony about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign.
Sessions on Thursday recused himself from any investigation into Russian meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election. He acted after it was revealed that he twice spoke with the Russian ambassador during the campaign and failed to say so when pressed by Congress. Some Democrats are accusing him of lying and calling for him to step down.
A former foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the United States over the summer. A person with knowledge of the meeting says Carter Page talked with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the same event where now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with the envoy. Associated Press
Pence used personal email as Indiana governor
Vice President Mike Pence routinely used a private email account to conduct public business as governor of Indiana, at times discussing sensitive matters and homeland security issues. Emails released to IndyStar in response to a public records request show Pence communicated via his personal AOL account with top advisers on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe.
In one email, Pence’s top state homeland security adviser relayed an update from the FBI regarding the arrests of several men on federal terror-related charges. Cyber-security experts say the emails raise concerns about whether such sensitive information was adequately protected from hackers, given that personal accounts like Pence’s are typically less secure than government email accounts. In fact, Pence’s personal account was hacked last summer.
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office released 29 pages of emails from Pence’s AOL account, but declined to release an unspecified number of others because the state considers them confidential and too sensitive to release to the public. Indianapolls Star
Syrian forces retake Palmyra from ISIS
Syrian government forces and their Russian backers have completely recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra from so-called Islamic State (IS) militants, the two allies say. The army and other pro-government forces were reported to have entered deep into the city after IS pulled out.
It ends the second occupation of Palmyra by the jihadists. The first time they controlled the area, the militants destroyed some of its most celebrated monuments. IS fighters were driven out in March last year, but managed to retake the city, its world famous ruins and the surrounding area in December. BBC
Investigations underway on Trump-Russia connections
Weeks before Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigations into the matter because of two previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, during the 2016 presidential campaign, law enforcement and lawmakers began looking into the allegations.
The FBI is leading at least three separate investigations into allegations of Russian interference in the election and possible Russia-Trump connections, Reuters reported last month, citing unnamed current and former government officials:
In Congress, meanwhile, at least five standing committees and one subcommittee are in various stages of investigations into Russian interference in the US election and reported contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials. VOA
US airstrikes target Al-Qaida in Yemen
Yemeni officials and witnesses say the US military has launched airstrikes on suspected al-Qaida targets in southern Yemen for a second straight day. Yemeni officials say the home of an al-Qaida leader was one of the targets in the pre-dawn attack Friday in Wadi Yashbam in Shabwe province. Attacks were also carried out in neighboring Abyan province.
Local residents say there are likely civilian casualties. US officials have yet to comment on the latest airstrikes. One resident described the early Friday scene to the French news agency as a “terrifying night.” US officials say al-Qaida members have used unclaimed Yemeni territory to plan and mount terror attacks against the US and its allies. VOA
George Bush explains his fondness for Michelle Obama
Former President George W. Bush and Michelle Obama are surprisingly close considering their political differences, and the 43rd president credits the former first lady’s appreciation for his sense of humor as a key reason. The unlikely pair have often been photographed together during formal events. When Obama embraced Bush at the opening ceremony for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture last September, the photo of their warm interaction went viral.
“When I saw her, it was a genuine expression of affection,” Bush told People magazine as he reflected on the moment. The interview was posted on Wednesday. The former President is back in the public eye to promote his new book, “Portraits of Courage,” a volume of his paintings of military veterans. CNN
Venezuela is down to its last $10 billion
Venezuela only has $10.5 billion in foreign reserves left, according to its most recent central bank data. For rest of the year, Venezuela owes roughly $7.2 billion in outstanding debt payments. In 2011, Venezuela had roughly $30 billion in reserves. In 2015, it had $20 billion. The trend can’t persist much longer, but it’s hard to know exactly when Venezuela will run completely out of cash.
According to the country’s recently released 2016 financial report, about $7.7 billion of its remaining $10.5 billion of reserves is in gold. To make debt payments in the past year, Venezuela shipped gold to Switzerland.
Massive government overspending, a crashing currency, mismanagement of the country’s infrastructure and corruption are all factors that have sparked extremely high inflation in Venezuela. Another key problem is the relatively low price of oil. Venezuela’s oil shipments make up over 90% of the country’s total exports. CNN
Rand Paul demands to see Obamacare repeal bill
Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul marched to the House side of the Capitol Thursday morning, knocked on a locked door and demanded to see a copy of the House’s bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which he believed was being kept under lock and key.
Aides in the room told the senator — before dozens of reporters in a crowded hallway — that there was no bill to see. In fact, it wasn’t the room where GOP members of the Energy and Commerce Committee were told to meet with staff to review the current draft of their bill at all. But that did little to dissuade Paul, openly critical to the House Republican leadership’s preferred path on the process, from making his underlying point.
“This should be an open and transparent process,” Paul said. “This is being presented as if it were a national secret, as if this was a plot to invade another country, as if this were national security. That’s wrong.” CNN
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