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Did former FBI Director James Comey's testimony build a case for President Trump's alleged obstruction of justice? | https://goo.gl/52ktUr | Trump declares ‘total vindication’ in tweets on Comey
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Report: Russia Launched Cyberattack On Voting Vendor Ahead Of Election

Russia's military intelligence agency launched an attack before Election Day 2016 on a U.S. company that provides voting services and systems, according to a top secret report posted Monday by The Intercept.

The news site published a report, with redactions, by the National Security Agency that described the Russian spear-phishing scheme, one it described as perpetrated by the same intelligence agency — the GRU — sanctioned by the Obama administration over the 2016 cyber-mischief.

According to the NSA report, Russian hackers sent emails to people who worked at a company that provides election software and hardware, trying to trick them into giving up their user credentials. The goal was to get custom software onto their computers so that Russian spies could find out more about the workings of the network. The Intercept reports, "At least one of the employee accounts was likely compromised, the agency concluded."

The NSA report also says the Russian attackers wanted to know more about voter registration systems. But the American spy agency acknowledges it doesn't know how successful the Russian efforts were in that effort or what information or access the GRU may have gleaned.

A spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment.

VR Systems, a Florida-based election systems provider referenced in the material, said in a statement:

"When a customer alerted us to an obviously fraudulent email purporting to come from VR Systems, we immediately notified all our customers and advised them not to click on the attachment. We are only aware of a handful of our customers who actually received the fraudulent email and of those, we have no indication that any of them clicked on the attachment or were compromised as a result.

"Phishing and spear-phishing are not uncommon in our society. We regularly participate in cyber alliances with state officials and members of the law enforcement community in an effort to address these types of threats. We have policies and procedures in effect to protect our customers and our company.

"It is also important to note that none of our products perform the function of ballot marking, or tabulation of marked ballots."

Separately on Monday, the Justice Department announced that it is charging a 25-year-old Georgia woman who works for an intelligence agency contractor with allegedly sending classified material to a news organization.

Reality Leigh Winner of Augusta was arrested on Saturday; the FBI said in court documents that she had been accused of printing out classified material and sending it by mail to a news outlet.

Two national security officials with knowledge of the matter confirmed to NPR on Monday that the cases are connected.

Winner's arrest follows the promise of a crackdown by the Trump administration on leaks, which have detailed a number of sometimes embarrassing details about the inner workings of the government and some of its national security arrangements.

"Releasing classified material without authorization threatens our nation's security and undermines public faith in government," Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement on Monday. "People who are trusted with classified information and pledge to protect it must be held accountable when they violate that obligation."

The NSA document posted on Monday offers some of the most official detail yet about Russia's cyberactivity, which the U.S. intelligence community has previously discussed in much broader terms. It also confirmed that the Russian attacks continued after the Department of Homeland Security publicly attributed the meddling to Russia's intelligence agencies, confirming that those statements did not deter more cyberattacks — and after Obama's warning to Putin in September "to cut it out, there were going to be serious consequences if he did not."

Intelligence agency leaders say that Russia's attacks did not change any actual votes in the 2016 race, but election technology experts have been concerned for years that hackers could attempt to manipulate not only individual voting machines but other equipment used to run elections, such as those that tabulate votes or keep track of voter registrations.

While the machines that voters use to cast their ballots are not connected to the Internet, the computers used to program these machines, or to run elections, can be connected at some point, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks.

J. Alex Halderman, a computer security expert from the University of Michigan, is among those who have been sounding the alarm for years.

"It's highly significant that these attacks took place, because it confirms that Russia was interested in targeting voting technology, at least to some extent. I hope further investigation can shed more light on what they intended to do and how far they got," he says.

Halderman and others note that local election officials often contract with private vendors, such as VR Systems, to program their voting equipment. He says if those vendors are hacked, then malware could easily be spread to local election offices and ultimately to individual voting machines.

Jeremy Epstein, another voting security expert, said that even though the NSA report describes efforts to hack into voter registration systems, once a hacker has access to a local election office's computers, they can potentially infect other aspects of the election.

"If I was a Russian trying to manipulate an election, this is exactly how I would do it," he says.

Experts say it would be difficult to know if votes had been tampered with unless the equipment had a paper ballot backup. Those paper ballots can be used to verify whether or not the election results reported electronically were correct.

Lawrence Norden, of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, notes that seven of the eight states that use VR Systems services — California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, New York, North Carolina and West Virginia — have paper-based systems. And most of the equipment used in the eighth state — Virginia — also use paper.

Another concern is that even if a hacker did not try to change the actual election results, they could undermine confidence in the voting system by causing enough confusion at the polls to raise doubts about the results. That could happen, for example, if voters showed up at the polls to find that their names were not listed, or listed incorrectly.
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Do You Agree That A Special Prosecutor Is The Right Way To Investigate Contacts Between Russians And Trump Campaign Associates? | https://goo.gl/BHtb0J | Report: Trump Told Russians He Fired 'Nut Job' Comey Because Of Investigation
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Do You Believe That FBI Director James Comey Was Fired To Stop The Investigations into Russian Interference In The 2016 Elections? | https://goo.gl/LzVcwa | President Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey
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How Would You Grade Mr. Trump's First 100 Days As President? | https://goo.gl/SmIF2y | Almost 100 Days In, 'Trumpism' Is Still Not Clearly Defined
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New GOP Health Proposal Could Ditch Protections For People Who Are Sick

House Republicans are mulling over new changes to their health care proposal, hoping to wrangle enough votes to pass a bill that would allow them to keep their campaign pledge to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The latest proposal allows states to make changes to the ACA's rules governing health insurance policies and markets, in an effort to allow some states to offer stripped-down policies with lower premiums.

The proposal represents a deal between Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., who is the head of the moderate Tuesday Group, and Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who leads the far-right Freedom Caucus. The two groups could not agree on details of an earlier health care plan championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, known as the American Health Care Act.

The new proposal, which was reported by Politico and The Huffington Post, is an amendment to that bill. It consists of a summary and bullet points rather than legislative language.

Without the full language it's unclear whether the plan could bring in enough votes to pass, says a senior House Republican aide.

The proposal retains many of the popular consumer protections of the Affordable Care Act, including ensuring that people with pre-existing medical conditions cannot be refused coverage or charged more.

MacArthur, on his Facebook page, said the plan "will make coverage of pre-existing conditions sacrosanct for all Americans."

But the plan also allows states to waive those protections.

If states requested waivers, people with pre-existing conditions would likely be covered through state-run high-risk pools, which can be expensive for patients and for taxpayers. Many states used high-risk pools before Obamacare with limited success because they weren't adequately funded, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The plan "would make coverage unaffordable for many older consumers and would segregate high-cost consumers in coverage that would likely be inadequate," says Timothy Jost, a professor emeritus at Washington and Lee Law School who writes a health policy blog for Health Affairs.

The proposal could also cause premiums to spike for people with medical issues, according to comments posted on Twitter by Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. A person with diabetes could see premiums rise by about $5,600 while someone with metastatic breast cancer could be charged an additional $142,650, he says.

There are some protections against such premium spikes in the proposal, says Rodney Whitlock, vice president of health policy at ML Strategies, who was a Republican Senate staffer when the Affordable Care Act was passed.

He says language that forces states to promise their changes would still protect people with pre-existing conditions, and result in lower premiums, invites people hurt by the changes to sue the state.

The proposal doesn't mention Medicaid at all, so it may do little to bring in support for the Republican bill. That's because the American Health Care Act was killed in part because it rolled back Medicaid coverage for millions of low-income people, something moderate Republicans opposed.

"I have a hard time believing that this will be acceptable to moderates in the House, much less the Senate, and will certainly be opposed by all Democrats," Jost says.
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Alabama's Governor Resigns Amid Scandal Over Alleged Affair And Cover-Up

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has resigned after pleading guilty to abusing his office, allegedly to conceal an affair with a political adviser.

Supernumerary District Attorney Ellen Brooks announced Monday that Bentley "pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges: failing to file a major contribution report, in violation of Code of Alabama §17-5-8.1(c); and knowingly converting campaign contributions to personal use, in violation of Code of Alabama §36-25-6." She added, "He has resigned from office."

The Associated Press describes the scene as the plea agreement was signed:

"Bentley appeared sullen and looked down at the floor during the Monday afternoon session. ...

"The agreement specifies that Bentley must surrender campaign funds totaling $36,912 within a week and perform 100 hours of community service as a physician. He also cannot seek public office again."

The governor, a Republican, was briefly booked into Montgomery jail, according to local media reports, before heading to the state Capitol to announce his resignation.

Republican state Rep. Ed Henry, who had introduced articles of impeachment against Bentley last year, said, "I think we have a great day for Alabama, where justice was done. Corruption was spotted, recognized and dealt with. ... even though it was slower and little more painful than we had anticipated."

Bentley had vowed as recently as Friday not to resign, saying he had done nothing illegal.

But the state Supreme Court decided to allow Alabama legislators to pursue impeachment hearings against Bentley, and calls for his resignation had been growing.

Last week, a panel investigating Bentley's actions released a scathing report, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reported:

"It lays out in sometimes sordid detail an extramarital relationship between the 74-year-old Bentley and political adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason.

"The report accuses him of using state resources, including law enforcement, to hide the affair and protect his reputation, 'in a process characterized by increasing obsession and paranoia.'

" 'Governor Bentley's loyalty shifted from the State of Alabama to himself,' [special counsel Jack] Sharman wrote in an executive summary. He said Bentley 'encouraged an atmosphere of intimidation' to ensure the silence of his staff. ...

"Political pressure for [Bentley] to resign has been growing since tape recordings were released in 2016 of him making sexually suggestive comments to Mason. Both were married at the time.

"Dianne Bentley later filed for divorce. The report says her suspicions of an affair were confirmed when Bentley mistakenly sent his wife a text that read 'I love you Rebekah' with a red-rose emoji."

Also last week, the Alabama Ethics Commission found "probable cause" that Bentley improperly used campaign funds in connection with the alleged affair, among other ethical and legal violations.

NPR's Debbie Elliott notes that Bentley is the third Alabama official to lose his job in a year. Roy Moore was suspended from his post as chief justice of the state Supreme Court when he ordered state judges to disregard the U.S. Supreme Court's decision supporting the legality of same-sex marriage. Mike Hubbard was removed as speaker of the state House after being convicted of ethics charges.
#Alabama # RobertBentley #Sex #Scandal
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Senate GOP invokes the ‘nuclear option,’ clearing the way for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch

WASHINGTON — Republicans invoked the “nuclear option” in the Senate on Thursday, unilaterally rewriting the chamber’s rules to allow President Donald Trump’s nominee to ascend to the Supreme Court.

Furious Democrats objected until the end, but their efforts to block Judge Neil Gorsuch failed as expected. Lawmakers of both parties bemoaned the long-term implications for the Senate, the court and the country.

“We will sadly point to today as a turning point in the history of the Senate and the Supreme Court,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.

The maneuvering played out in an atmosphere of tension in the Senate chamber with most senators in their seats, a rare and theatrical occurrence.

First Democrats mounted a filibuster in an effort to block Gorsuch by denying him the 60 votes needed to advance to a final vote. Then Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky raised a point of order, suggesting that Supreme Court nominees should not be subjected to a 60-vote threshold but instead a simple majority in the 100-member Senate.

McConnell was overruled, but appealed the ruling. And on that he prevailed on a 52-48 party line vote. The 60-vote filibuster requirement on Supreme Court nominees was effectively gone, and with it the last vestige of bipartisanship on presidential nominees in an increasingly polarized Senate.

Supreme Court showdown looms with far-reaching consequences

A final confirmation vote on Gorsuch is expected Friday and he could then be sworn in in time to take his seat on the court later this month and hear the final cases of the term.

The maneuvering played out with much hand-wringing from all sides about the future of the Senate, as well as unusually bitter accusations and counter-accusations as each side blamed the other. The rules change is known as the “nuclear option” because of its far-reaching implications.

McConnell accused Democrats of forcing his hand by trying to filibuster a highly qualified nominee in Gorsuch, 49, a 10-year veteran of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver with a consistently conservative record. McConnell vowed that the rules change would block the Gorsuch filibuster, and all future ones, a change many lawmakers lamented could lead to an even more polarized Senate, court and country.

“This will be the first, and last, partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee,” McConnell declared. “This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet, and it cannot and will not stand.”

Supreme Court filibusters have been nearly unheard of in the Senate, but the confrontation is playing out amid an explosive political atmosphere with liberal Democrats furious over the Trump presidency and Republicans desperate to get a win after months of chaos from Trump.

Democrats also remain livid over McConnell’s decision last year to deny consideration to then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, who was ignored for the better part of a year by Senate Republicans after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Instead, McConnell kept Scalia’s seat open, a calculation that is now paying off hugely for Republicans and Trump, who will be able to claim the biggest victory of his presidency to date if Gorsuch is confirmed as expected.

“We believe that what Republicans did to Merrick Garland was worse than a filibuster,” Schumer said.

Emotions were running high ahead of the votes with raised voices on the floor where proceedings are normally sedate. All involved were keenly aware of the long-term implications of the proceedings, some of them hard to predict for the future of Trump’s presidency and the 2018 midterm elections, when Republicans will be defending their slim 52-48 Senate majority and 10 vulnerable Democrats in states Trump won will be up for re-election.

Senators on both sides of the aisle lamented the trajectory they were on, though they themselves were in position to prevent it from happening and failed to do so.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said roughly 10 senators of both parties worked over the weekend to come up with a deal to stave off the “nuclear option,” but couldn’t come to agreement. In 2005, a bipartisan deal headed off GOP plans to remove the filibuster barrier for lower-court nominees, but in 2013 Democrats took the step, leaving the filibuster in place only for Supreme Court justices.

Now it too is gone. For now the filibuster barrier on legislation will remain, though many fear it could be the next to go.

“I fear that someday we will regret what we are about to do. In fact, I am confident we will,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “It is imperative we have a functioning Senate where the rights of the minority are protected regardless of which party is in power at the time.”

Nonetheless, McCain voted with McConnell on the rules change, saying he felt he had no choice.

With the final vote set for Friday, Gorsuch counts 55 supporters in the Senate: the 52 Republicans, along with three moderate Democrats from states that Trump won last November — Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana. A fourth Senate Democrat, Michael Bennet from Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado, refused to join in the filibuster but announced Thursday he would vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation.
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Do You Believe That Your Privacy Will Be Violated By Trump Overturning President Obama's Internet Privacy Regulation?
Congress Overturns Internet Privacy Regulation | https://goo.gl/h2Z9YE #FCC #internetPrivacy #Congress #Trump
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Attorney General Orders Crackdown On 'Sanctuary Cities,' Threatens Holding Funds
The Justice Department is following through on an executive order to withhold as much as $4.1 billion in federal grants from so-called "sanctuary cities," generally defined as places where local law enforcement limit their cooperation with federal authorities on immigration enforcement.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions' appearance at the daily White House briefing is a signal that President Trump wants to move on to one of the issues he's most comfortable talking about — illegal immigration — and to shift the conversation away from health care, after his failure last week to get the GOP alternative to replace and repeal the Affordable Care Act through Congress.

While there is not a set definition of a "sanctuary" state or city, the Justice Department gives the example of states or cities refusing immigration agents' requests to hold immigrants who came to the country illegally. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has identified 118 such jurisdictions.

"Such policies cannot continue," Sessions said in Monday's briefing. "They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on our streets."

Sessions said that in order to receive federal funds, state and local jurisdictions must certify they are complying with federal immigration laws. In addition, Sessions said that the Justice Department will take steps to "claw back" grants already awarded to noncompliant cities as well.

The announcement is in line with a January executive order that Trump signed shortly after taking office that directed the attorney general and the Homeland Security secretary to withhold such federal funds.

Several major cities could be affected by the Justice Departments' threat, including New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. After Trump's elections, mayors in those cities reaffirmed their status as sanctuary cities. After president's executive order on the issue, San Francisco sued the Trump administration over the orders, saying they violated the city's sovereignty under the 10th Amendment.

Sessions on Monday pointed to crimes allegedly perpetrated by immigrants who came to the U.S. illegally as a prime reason to enforce such policies, and argued that cities who fail to do so are putting their citizens at risk.

"DUIs, assaults, burglaries, drug crimes, gang crimes, rapes, crimes against children and murders," the attorney general said. "Countless Americans would be alive today — and countless loved ones would not be grieving today — if the policies of these sanctuary jurisdictions were ended."

As the New York Times has reported, a number of studies "have concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. And experts say the available evidence does not support the idea that undocumented immigrants commit a disproportionate share of crime."

Trump has campaigned with families whose loved ones were victims of crimes by immigrants, featuring speakers at the Republican National Convention and inviting several to his joint address to Congress last month.

Opponents of such crackdowns on sanctuary cities say the order undermines the ability of localities to build trust with its citizens and protect them appropriately.

"Pressuring local law enforcement to take on immigration responsibilities undercuts the very oath they take to 'serve and protect' the entirety of their community," Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum, told NPR after Trump's January executive order. "Smart law enforcement is built on intelligence gathering and trust, which are dramatically undermined once the cop on the corner is asking victims of crime about their immigration status."
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