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Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation: Who are the key players?

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation into investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.  Mueller delivered his final report to US Attorney General William Barr on Friday.  Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and obstruction, calling the investigation a “witch-hunt”. Russia has denied…

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Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation: Who are the key players?

US Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation into investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and whether President Donald Trump unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe. 

Mueller delivered his final report to US Attorney General William Barr on Friday. 

Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and obstruction, calling the investigation a “witch-hunt”. Russia has denied interfering in the election.

Over the 21-month investigation, Mueller has brought charges against 34 people, including six aides and advisers to the president, and three companies. 

Here are the key players in the probe: 

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman of Trump’s campaign has been convicted in Washington and Virginia of crimes related to years of Ukrainian political consulting work, including allegations he concealed his foreign government work from the United States and failed to pay taxes on it. 

Then-Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Trump’s walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland [File: Rick Wilking/File Photo/Reuters]

Though the charges don’t directly touch Trump, Manafort has nonetheless remained a figure of considerable intrigue and enjoys the continued sympathy of the president, who has left open the door for a pardon.

He is now serving a more than seven-year prison sentence.

Michael Flynn

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI just days after Trump took office by telling agents that he had never discussed sanctions with the-then Russian ambassador to the United States.

The White House said Flynn had misled administration officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about the conversation and ousted him weeks later. He has since become a vital cooperator for Mueller, having met 19 times with investigators. Prosecutors aren’t recommending any prison time when he’s sentenced next week.

Michael Cohen

Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, is at the centre of not only Mueller’s investigation but also a separate, and rapidly mushrooming, investigation into hush-money payments. 

Michael Cohen is sworn in to testify at a hearing on Capitol Hill [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters] 

In Mueller’s investigation, Cohen has admitted lying to Congress about a proposed real estate development in Moscow. He told politicians the negotiations were done in January 2016 when in fact they stretched deep into the campaign. He also pleaded guilty in New York to campaign finance violations stemming from the payments, with prosecutors saying last week that he “acted in coordination and at the direction of Individual 1” – or Trump.

George Papadopoulos

George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser served a 14-day prison sentence after admitting lying to the FBI about a 2016 conversation with a Maltese professor who told him that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of stolen emails. Information about Papadopoulos’s contacts during the campaign started the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Russian intelligence

Twelve Russian military intelligence officers were charged in July with hacking into email accounts of Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic Party and then facilitating the release of tens of thousands of private communications.

It remains perhaps the most direct example of what intelligence officials say was a broad conspiracy by the Kremlin to meddle in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

Russian online trolls

A separate indictment charges 13 Russians with funding a covert social media propaganda campaign to sow discord among Americans in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Prosecutors say the scheme was run by a Russia-based troll farm that used bogus social media postings and advertisements fraudulently purchased in the name of Americans to try to influence the race.

Roger Stone

A longtime Trump confidant, and self-proclaimed “dirty trickster” of Republican politics, Roger Stone is charged with witness tampering and lying to Congress about his efforts to gain advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release damaging information on Clinton during 2016. 

Roger Stone arrives for his arraignment at US District Court in Washington, US [File: Leah Millis/Reuters] 

Though a Stone tweet from 2016 – “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel” – appeared to presage the disclosure of hacked emails, Stone has said he had no inside knowledge about the content, source or timing of WikiLeaks’ disclosure.

He has also pleaded not guilty to the federal charges brought by Mueller.

Julian Assange

WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, who has been under Justice Department scrutiny for years for the group’s role in publishing government secrets, has been an important figure in the Mueller probe as investigators examine how WikiLeaks obtained emails stolen from Clinton’s campaign and Democratic groups.

Prosecutors have also investigated whether any Americans were involved in coordinating that effort.

Separately, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia inadvertently disclosed the existence of a sealed criminal complaint against the WikiLeaks founder, though no details have been publicly announced.

Donald Trump Jr

The president’s eldest son has attracted scrutiny for his role in arranging a Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 – also attended by Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner – at which he expected to receive damaging information on Clinton. He has said the meeting was a waste of time because he didn’t receive anything interesting from the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Both he and his father have suggested that anyone in that position would have taken such a meeting in hopes of getting dirt on a political opponent.

The meeting has been of interest to investigators, who have called multiple participants before the grand jury.

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions. Six hundred members of…

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German far-right holds congress with COVID ‘hotspot potential’

About 600 members of AfD due to meet Saturday at an unused nuclear plant in Kalkar city defying pandemic warnings.Hundreds of AfD delegates will gather Saturday for a congress that authorities have warned could become a coronavirus hotspot, as the German far-right party increasingly aligns itself with activists protesting coronavirus restrictions.
Six hundred members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant party are due to meet at an unused nuclear plant in western Germany’s Kalkar city to draw up their first concept on pensions.
To win approval for the huge gathering at a time when Germans are asked to limit their contacts to just two households at a time, the Alternative for Germany (AfD) had signed up to stringent rules including compulsory mask-wearing and distancing in the huge hall.
The party’s own security officers are due to ensure that the rules are met, alongside officials from Kalkar city.
Hundreds of police officers will also be deployed to ward off any unruly scenes, as anti-AfD protesters have also announced plans to demonstrate outside.

The event can “become a hotspot,” warned Kalkar’s mayor Britta Schulz, adding that, while it was “irresponsible” to hold such a big event, the political gathering could not be prohibited.
Because new appointments are also due to be made to the AfD’s board during the meeting, the congress is exempted from rules banning large gatherings in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
More than 15,000 COVID deaths
In contrast, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU party has twice postponed its congress to elect a new leader because of the risks of coronavirus contagion. The Greens held their meeting online last weekend.
Shrugging off possible risks, the AfD’s health policy spokesman Detlev Spangenberg claimed, “The coronavirus is comparable to the influenza in terms of the course taken by the illness as well as in terms of its lethality. So the serious measures [taken to fight it] are not proportionate.”
Germany has recorded more than a million coronavirus infections. A total of 15,586 people have died from the illness, according to official data.
‘War propaganda’
The AfD has been the focus of repeated controversies since it began life as a eurosceptic outfit seven years ago.

In 2015, as public opinion soured against Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to keep Germany’s borders open to hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war in Iraq and Syria, the AfD morphed into an anti-immigration party.
It was rewarded for its Islamophobic positioning at elections in 2017, when voters sent it into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament.
A year before national elections, the party is once again positioning itself at the side of groups railing against the government – this time over curbs imposed to battle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Party co-chief Alexander Gauland recently accused the government of using “war propaganda” to champion its “corona-dictatorship”.
Anti-coronavirus curbs
AfD politicians are now also regularly marching side by side demonstrators against coronavirus curbs.
During the latest round of protests in central Berlin, when violence reached a level that the capital’s police chief said had been unseen in decades, an AfD politician was charged for using a forged medical certificate to claim he could not wear the required nose and mouth covering.
In a separate incident recently, Gauland was forced to apologise after two of the party’s legislators invited to parliament two far-right YouTubers who went on to harass politicians in the building.
Nevertheless, the AfD’s ratings have held at about 10 percent, compared with highs of 15-16 percent at the height of the refugee crisis.
In 2017, German voters sent AfD into the Bundestag for the first time to become the biggest opposition group in parliament [File: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters]Toxic infighting between ultra-conservatives and others in the party has weakened the AfD. Some voters are also turned off by association with neo-Nazi skinheads, as the AfD’s most radical faction “Fluegel” is now the object of official surveillance by Germany’s intelligence agency.
Instead, approval ratings for Merkel – who is due to retire from politics next year – have soared to new heights, as the vast majority of the population voiced satisfaction at her handling of the pandemic.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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