U.S. evicts Russians for spying, imposes sanctions after election hacks

admin   •   December 30, 2016   •   4781

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin walk into a photo opportunity before their meeting at the United Nations General Assembly in New York September 28, 2015. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election.

The measures, taken during the last days of Obama’s presidency, mark a new post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties, which have deteriorated over differences about Syria and Ukraine.

Allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed efforts to intervene in the U.S. election process by hacking mostly Democrats have made relations even worse.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” Obama said in a statement from vacation in Hawaii.

“All Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions,” he said.

It was not clear whether President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures once he takes office on Jan. 20.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks but on Thursday he said he would meet with intelligence officials soon.

“It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said in a statement. “Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” he said, without mentioning Russia.

The Kremlin, which denounced the sanctions as unlawful and promised “adequate” retaliation, questioned whether Trump approved of the new sanctions. Moscow denies the hacking allegations.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives ahead of the Nov. 8 presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials also say that the Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Trump, a Republican, defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Should Trump seek to overturn Obama’s measures, he would likely encounter wide bipartisan Congressional opposition.

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, said Russia “has consistently sought to undermine” U.S. interests and the sanctions were overdue.

Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said they intended to lead effort in Congress to “impose stronger sanctions on Russia.”

Opposition from Trump could generate bipartisan discord early in his administration. “This is going to be a key source of tension post-inauguration,” said Eric Lorber, a senior associate at the Financial Integrity Network, which advises banks on sanctions.

SPIES AND SANCTIONS

Obama put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies “that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.

He said the State Department declared as “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives and is closing two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes”. The State Department originally said the 35 were diplomats.

The 45-acre complex in Maryland includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming pool, tennis courts, and cottages for embassy staff.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters the expulsions would come from the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco. The Russian embassy declined to comment.

The Russians have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday.

The State Department has long complained that Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed U.S. diplomats in Moscow, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov.

The U.S. official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled.

Obama said the actions announced on Thursday were just the beginning.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said.

A report detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as well as cyber attacks in previous election cycles would be delivered to Congress in the coming days, he said.

The sanctions were the strongest response yet by the Obama administration to Russia’s cyber activities, however, a senior administration official acknowledged that Trump could reverse them and allow Russian intelligence officials back into the United States once he takes office. He said that would be inadvisable.

Obama amended an executive order originally issued in April 2015 to respond to cyber hacking to include sanctions on those who tamper with information to interfere with an election.

Trump said in October he would “cancel every unconstitutional executive action, memorandum and order issued by President Obama” on his first day in office, without saying who would determine their constitutionality.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, Yeganeh Torbati and Nikolai Pavlov in Washington and Katya Golubkova and Svetlana Reiter in Moscow; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Jeff Mason; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump to give TikTok’s Chinese owner 45 days to reach deal to sell — sources

UNTV News   •   August 3, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to give China’s ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale of popular short-video app TikTok to Microsoft Corp, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday (August 2).

U.S. officials have said TikTok under its Chinese parent poses a national risk because of the personal data it handles. Trump said on Friday (July 31) he was planning to ban TikTok in the United States after dismissing the idea of a sale to Microsoft.

But following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Redwood, Washington-based company said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue negotiations to acquire TikTok from ByteDance, and that it aimed to reach a deal by Sept. 15.

It was not immediately clear what changed Trump’s mind. Banning TikTok would alienate many of its young users ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and would likely trigger a wave of legal challenges. Several prominent Republican lawmakers put out statements in the last two days urging Trump to back a sale of TikTok to Microsoft.

The negotiations between ByteDance and Microsoft will be overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a U.S. government panel that has the right to block any agreement, according to the sources, who requested anonymity ahead of a White House announcement. Microsoft cautioned in its statement that there is no certainty a deal will be reached. (Reuters)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

Trump shifts rhetoric, warns virus is getting worse and urges use of masks

UNTV News   •   July 22, 2020

President Donald Trump warned Americans on Tuesday (July 21) that the toll from the novel coronavirus would get worse before it got better, and encouraged Americans to wear a mask if they cannot maintain social distance from people around them.

In his first briefing in months focused on the pandemic, Trump told reporters at the White House that the virus would probably get worse before it gets better, in one of his first recent acknowledgments of how bad the problem has become.

“Some areas of our country are doing very well. Others are doing less well. It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better – something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is,” he said.

In a shift in rhetoric, Trump encouraged Americans to wear masks, and pulled a mask out of his pocket, saying he carries it around.

“I mean I carry the mask,” he said, before reaching into his pocket and pulling out a blue face mask. “And I will use it gladly, no problem with it, and I’ve said that. And I say, if you can, use the mask. When you can, use the mask. If you’re close to each other, if you’re in a group, I would put it on when I’m in a group.”

Trump, who downplayed the virus in its early stages and has been focused on reopening the economy in recent months despite an increase in cases, has been reluctant to wear a mask himself in public. He wore one for the first time in public during a recent visit to a military hospital but has otherwise eschewed putting one on in front of the press.

Mask-wearing has become a partisan issue, with some Trump supporters saying being required to do infringes on their liberties.

As coronavirus cases skyrocket across the country, including in politically important states such as Florida, Texas and Arizona, the president is shifting his tone to try to get the number of cases under control as he fights for re-election against Democrat Joe Biden, who leads in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election.

He urged young Americans to avoid crowded bars where the virus could spread.

“We are imploring young Americans to avoid packed bars and other crowded indoor gatherings. Be safe and be smart,” he said.

Trump again argued that the virus would disappear at some point, but most of his comments on Tuesday were largely a sober recognition of how bad the problem has become.

Trump sought to leave some optimism about scientific developments in vaccines and treatments even as he acknowledged the grim statistics at present.

When asked if the U.S. would cooperate with China on a vaccine, Trump, who several times called the virus “the China virus” during the news conference, said Washington would.

“Yeah, we’re willing to work with anybody that’s going to get us a good result. We’re very close to the vaccine. I think we’re going to have some very good results,” he said.

Nearly 142,000 Americans have died from COVID-19. (Reuters)

(Production: Arlene Eiras)

Trump replaces campaign manager amid slide in opinion polls

UNTV News   •   July 17, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump demoted his longtime campaign manager on Wednesday (July 15), a move aimed at shoring up his re-election bid as he trails Democratic candidate Joe Biden in opinion polls less than four months before the November 3 vote.

Trump said campaign manager Brad Parscale would be replaced by Bill Stepien, who has been the deputy campaign manager. Parscale will shift to a role focused on digital and data strategy, the president said.

A leadership shakeup had long been rumored. Parscale was blamed internally for a botched Tulsa, Oklahoma, rally last month that drew a much smaller crowd than he predicted. A subsequent coronavirus outbreak forced Parscale and other campaign officials who attended to self-quarantine for two weeks.

A source close to the campaign said Trump has been anxious about the polls “and struck at the most visible target he could,” adding that Parscale has been “a straight-shooter about the president’s challenges.”

Stepien, a longtime Republican strategist, is well known to both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who has been playing a more active role in the campaign. Stepien was political director at the White House before moving to the campaign.

In his statement, Trump credited both Parscale and Stepien for their involvement in his 2016 victory in the U.S. presidential election and predicted that he would glide to a second term in office. (Reuters)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

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