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1. Congress returns but makes no progress to end shutdown

A hallway off the Senate floor is empty during the government shutdown

Congress returned to session on Thursday, but lawmakers made little progress toward ending the partial government shutdown, which enters its seventh day on Friday. Aides to Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike said nobody appeared to be willing to budge in the standoff over President Trump’s demand for $5 billion in any spending deal.

Leaders of both parties are now looking ahead to how the new Congress, with Democrats taking control of the House on Jan. 3, will approach the shutdown that has affected a quarter of the government. Some said the impasse could last weeks. “I don’t see a scenario where the government opens back up until a new Congress is sworn in,” said retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.) on MSNBC Thursday. “The Democratic House is not going to put more money into border security, I don’t think.” [Politico]

2. Critics accuse Trump of politicizing the military in Iraq visit

Democrats on Thursday accused President Trump of politicizing the military during his surprise visit to troops in Iraq and Germany. Trump signed red “Make America Great Again” hats for soldiers during the visit, and called Democratic House leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democrats weak on border security. Mark Hertling, a retired three-star Army lieutenant general, called Trump’s actions a “violation of protocol.” A Pelosi aide said Trump used service members “as political pawns to push his radical right-wing, anti-immigrant agenda.

” Trump defended his actions, tweeting: “If these brave young people ask me to sign their hat, I will sign. Can you imagine my saying NO?”We brought or gave NO hats as the Fake News first reported!”

The White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said administration officials did not distribute any campaign gear to the troops, and noted that “these were their personal belongings.”

On her Twitter feed, Ms. Sanders addressed a CNN.com report that raised questions about whether the red caps displayed for Mr. Trump to sign may have violated a military rule.

“CNN will attack anyone who supports President Trump, including the brave men and women of our military who fight everyday to protect our freedom,” Ms. Sanders wrote. She declined to comment further on the president’s speech.

In his remarks, Mr. Trump also boasted that he had secured “billions and billions of dollars of new equipment” for the military.

“You’re getting such new equipment, your eyes are popping, right?” he asked the troops.

[The New York Times, The Washington Post]

3. Alabama AG vows to look into disinformation that targeted Roy Moore campaign

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall vowed Thursday to look into an alleged disinformation campaign in last year’s state Senate race. Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) narrowly beat Republican Roy Moore in the deep-red state after Moore faced multiple credible allegations of sexual predation. The New York Times recently detailed how “Democratic tech experts” posed as conservative Republicans on Facebook and tried to divide Republicans.

They also used a “false-flag” operation to create the appearance that Moore was receiving support from a Russian botnet. The Times concluded its effect on the race was insignificant, but it’s still “significant for us to explore,” Marshall said Thursday, without committing to a full investigation. Jones called for a federal investigation.The project had a budget of just $100,000, in a race that cost approximately $51 million, including the primaries, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But however modest, the influence effort in Alabama may be a sign of things to come. Campaign veterans in both parties fear the Russian example may set off a race to the bottom, in which candidates choose social media manipulation because they fear their opponents will.

“Some will do whatever it takes to win,” said Dan Bayens, a Kentucky-based Republican consultant. “You’ve got Russia, which showed folks how to do it, you’ve got consultants willing to engage in this type of behavior and political leaders who apparently find it futile to stop it.”

There is no evidence that Mr. Jones sanctioned or was even aware of the social media project. Joe Trippi, a seasoned Democratic operative who served as a top adviser to the Jones campaign, said he had noticed the Russian bot swarm suddenly following Mr. Moore on Twitter. But he said it was impossible that a $100,000 operation had an impact on the race.

Mr. Trippi said he was nonetheless disturbed by the stealth operation. “I think the big danger is somebody in this cycle uses the dark arts of bots and social networks and it works,” he said. “Then we’re in real trouble.”

Despite its small size, the Alabama project brought together some prominent names in the world of political technology. The funding came from Reid Hoffman, the billionaire co-founder of LinkedIn, who has sought to help Democrats catch up with Republicans in their use of online technology.

The money passed through American Engagement Technologies, run by Mikey Dickerson, the founding director of the United States Digital Service, which was created during the Obama administration to try to upgrade the federal government’s use of technology. Sara K. Hudson, a former Justice Department fellow now with Investing in Us, a tech finance company partly funded by Mr. Hoffman, worked on the project, along with Mr. Morgan.

[The Washington Post, The New York Times]

4. Suspect in killing of California police officer was in country illegally

Hasil gambar untuk On emotional day, search continues for suspect in death of Newman corporal

California authorities said Thursday that the suspect being sought in the fatal shooting of a police officer was in the country illegally. President Trump linked the news to the need to build his promised wall on the Mexican border.

“There is right now a full scale manhunt going on in California for an illegal immigrant accused of shooting and killing a police officer during a traffic stop,” Trump tweeted. “Time to get tough on Border Security. Build the Wall!” Police say the man who shot and killed Newman Police Cpl. Ronil “Ron” Singh during a traffic stop is believed to still be in Stanislaus County, where the shooting occurred.

Speaking at a news conference in Newman Thursday morning, Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said he believed the suspect was still in the area, although he would not elaborate. “We will find him, we will arrest him and we will bring him to justice,” he said.

Singh, 33, was shot and killed at 1 a.m. Wednesday after pulling over a suspected drunk driver at Merced Street and Eucalyptus Avenue.

Christianson said investigators have identified the suspect, and that he was in the country illegally. “He doesn’t belong here; he is a criminal,” the sheriff said.

Less than two hours after after the press conference, President Donald Trump Tweeted about the suspect’s illegal immigration status.

[The Modesto Bee]

5. Iraqi critics respond to Trump visit with call for U.S. withdrawal

Hasil gambar untuk Iraqi politicians, lawmakers denounce Trump visit, US troop presence

Several lawmakers and political parties in Iraq on Thursday responded to President Trump’s surprise visit by demanding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country. Trump made his first trip to a war zone as president after Christmas with a visit to U.S. service members in Iraq. He said the U.S. would maintain a presence in Iraq despite his order for a withdrawal from Syria, and a troop reduction in Afghanistan. Iraqi lawmaker Faleh al-Khazali, one of Trump’s critics in the country, said in a statement that “Trump should know that Iraq is not an American state and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi should bear responsibility.” Trump and the prime minister spoke by phone but could not meet due to security issues during Trump’s secretive trip.”We demand all US troops to leave Iraq and Iraqi government should consider them as occupiers.”

Ahmed al-Assadi, another Iraqi lawmaker, said that “the demand for the withdrawal of American forces has become a basic requirement that must be implemented as soon as possible.””The continuation of the US administration in dealing with the presence of its forces in Iraq in this way will push the Iraqis to use all means that ensure the removal of these forces and all foreign forces from Iraqi territory.”

Hasil gambar untuk Iraqi politicians, lawmakers denounce Trump visit, US troop presence

A meeting between Trump and Abdul-Mahdi scheduled to take place in Baghdad on Wednesday was canceled because of a “variation of views,” Iraqi Prime Minister’s media office said in a statement released Wednesday.”There was supposed to be a formal reception and a meeting between Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi and the US President, but a variation of views to organize the meeting led it to be replaced by a telephone conversation on developments in the situation,” the statement read.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that for security reasons, the White House was only able to invite the prime minister two hours before the scheduled time of the meeting and that the prime minister was in a different part of Iraq and unable to attend. Sanders emphasized that President Trump and the prime minister had a good call and that Trump invited the prime minister to visit the White House and the prime minister accepted. Sanders said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is meeting with Iraq’s Prime Minister in Baghdad on January 11.

The Iranian-backed Islamic Dawa Party, Mahdi’s political party, said in a statement released Thursday that President Trump’s visit to one of Iraq’s military bases occurred “in a way that has no respect for the country sovereignty or the norms of diplomacy.””We call on all the great Iraqi people to express their condemnation of the visit of the arrogant Trump and to demand lawmakers in the House of Representatives to issue a firm resolution to remove all foreign forces from the land of Iraq.” Dawa party statement added.

“We express our rejection to the way that US President Donald Trump visited Iraq, which is not commensurate with diplomatic norms and relations with sovereign states,” former prime minister and the current leader of Iraq’s Victory Party, Haider al-Abadi, said in a Thursday statement.”Dealing with Iraq and its sovereignty in this way will harm the Iraqi-US relations, and the countries of the region and the world should know that a strong and sovereign Iraq is in the interests of security and stability in the region and the world.

Another statement released on Thursday by Hakim al-Zamili, a political leader of the movement of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, called for an end the US-led coalition in Iraq and addressed how Iraq’s airspace is currently controlled by the coalition.”We must end the page of the so-called international coalition, which controls the Iraqi airspace, under the pretext of tracking terrorist cells, which made the Iraqi aviation authorities do not know the entry of aircraft into our international airspace and Iraqi air bases, that American soldiers located in some of them,” Zamili said.

[CNN]

6. Indonesia raises volcano alert level, forcing evacuations

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Indonesian authorities raised the alert level for the Anak Krakatau volcano to its second highest level on Thursday, forcing thousands of people to evacuate the islands in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. The alert also forced airlines to reroute numerous flights. The volcano erupted Saturday and caused a tsunami that killed more than 430 people. With further volcanic activity possible, authorities warned people to leave islands that could be affected by further tsunamis. Saturday’s tsunami was triggered when the eruption caused a 158-acre section of Anak Krakatau to slide into the ocean.

Aulia Ariani, a spokeswoman for the Indonesian Red Cross, told CNN that thousands of people had been removed from islands in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra over fears of further tsunamis.

The eruption came at high tide during a full moon, with the Sunda Strait also experiencing a spell of high rainfall, government and rescue agencies said.

Officials said Wednesday that sensors had been placed near Anak Krakatau to better detect activity within the volcano, in hopes of providing a warning of future eruptions. Indonesian authorities have been roundly criticized for the state of the country’s tsunami detection and warning system, which has been largely out of action since at least 2012.

Survivor Bapu Suwarna, 49, told CNN he initially thought the sound of the tsunami was noise from a nearby music concert.

“The sound grew and I even heard crashing sounds,” he said. “Seconds later I saw people running from the tsunami wave shouting ‘Tsunami! Waves! Waves!'”“It took only seconds, not minutes, after hearing the thunderous sounds and then the waves hit us. From the bottom of my heart, I sincerely request that the government set up an early warning system so people can anticipate an incoming tsunami. I didn’t have much time, after the loud sounds were heard.”

On Monday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo ordered the country’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geological Agency to purchase tsunami detectors “that can provide early warnings to community.”

[CNN]

7. Saudi king shakes up Cabinet in wake of Khashoggi crisis

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Saudi King Salman announced Thursday that he was shaking up his Cabinet. The move marked the latest sign of turmoil in three months of intense scrutiny of the country’s day-to-day leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, over his links to the Saudi agents accused of killing dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. The CIA has concluded that the crown prince was complicit in the killing. Saudi Arabia said that Adel al-Jubeir, the government’s public face during the Khashoggi crisis, would become minister of state for foreign affairs, and that former Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf would succeed him as foreign minister.

The king also appointed a new national security advisor and head of the National Guard, and named new ministers for education, media and the sports authority. King Salman also issued a royal decree to restructure the Political and Security Affairs Council helmed by Crown Prince Mohammed.

Thursday’s reshuffling elevates members of Saudi Arabia’s old guard who had been marginalized after King Salman took the throne and consolidated power under Crown Prince Mohammed. The move, which projects an image of stability, was widely expected throughout the rumor mill that constantly buzzes around the Saudi royal family. It is unlikely though to silence critics of the regime or make any real difference in policy.

The reshuffling actually empowers some of Crown Prince Mohammed’s closest allies, who have been appointed to Cabinet positions, according to Ali Shihabi, founder of the Arabia Foundation. Shihabi, who has at times defended the government during the Khashoggi crisis, cautioned against linking the incident with Thursday’s decree.

“The recent restructuring of the intelligence agency was a direct result of the Khashoggi murder but otherwise today’s changes also address structural issues (like the need to increase the senior bandwidth in the foreign policy space) that have been on the table for a while,” he said Thursday on Twitter.Incoming Foreign Minister Al-Assaf is best known for his role as finance minister, a post he held for 20 years under former King Abdullah. At that time it was an extremely powerful position, with oversight of several portfolios, including management of sovereign wealth fund assets that would eventually become the Public Investment Fund, as well as approval for many of the megaprojects championed by the former king.

Soon after King Salman came to power, Crown Prince Mohammed redistributed both the economic and defense portfolios to fall under his direct supervision, and Al-Assaf was made a minister of state.

Al-Assaf was among the princes and businessmen detained last year at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh. The kingdom said the detentions were part of a crackdown on corruption, though analysts have said they also functioned as a political purge that further consolidated power under Crown Prince Mohammed.

A focus of the crackdown was graft connected to the approval process for megaprojects that Al-Assaf previously supervised. He was eventually cleared of wrongdoing and released without being compelled to surrender money or assets, Reuters reported at the time.

While many news outlets cast the shake-up on Thursday as a demotion for Al-Jubeir, Shihabi said the change reflects a division of labor.

“I understand that this is designed to allow Jubair to focus on his role as the key spokesman of the Kingdom while relieving him of the burden of day to day management of the Ministry which needs restructuring and a lot of management attention. He retains his position as a member of the cabinet,” Shihabi said on Twitter, using an alternate spelling of the former foreign minister’s name.

[CNBC]

8. Michelle Obama ousts Hillary Clinton as most admired woman

Hasil gambar untuk Michelle Obama knocks Hillary Clinton from most-admired women perch: Gallup

Former first lady Michelle Obama knocked Hillary Clinton out of the top spot as America’s most admired woman in Gallup’s annual poll. It was the first time in 17 years that Clinton — a former presidential candidate, secretary of state, and first lady — did not lead the list. About 15 percent of Americans surveyed named Obama as their most admired woman.

Media titan Oprah Winfrey came in second with 5 percent, followed by Clinton and current first lady Melania Trump with 4 percent each. Former President Barack Obama was the most admired man for the 11th time. He was picked by 19 percent of those surveyed. Thirteen percent chose President Trump, marking just the 13th time in 72 years that the sitting president didn’t top the list. [The Hill]

9. Judge denies Mueller request for delay in Corsi hearing

Hasil gambar untuk Judge denies special counsel Robert Mueller's request to delay hearing in Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi's lawsuit over government shutdown

A federal judge on Thursday denied a request by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to delay a hearing in a lawsuit filed by conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, who is linked to Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone and accuses Mueller of unfairly targeting him. Government attorneys had argued that they were hampered by the partial government shutdown and needed to wait until it was over.

Government lawyers said in a filing in Washington, D.C., District Court that they were “generally prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis,” during the shutdown. A Corsi lawyer said the request for a delay was a tactical maneuver, and “it is highly doubtful” Justice Department lawyers “are actually prohibited from working.” The judge reaffirmed that the hearing will be held next Thursday.

In his lawsuit, Corsi is now demanding $100 million in “general and compensatory damages” and $250 million in “punitive damages” from Mueller and the other agencies.

Judge Richard Leon had scheduled a Jan. 3 hearing for Corsi’s lawyer, Larry Klayman, to explain why this case against Mueller — and the FBI, the CIA, the DOJ and the National Security Agency — was related to other suits he had filed in recent years, against defendants including former President Barack Obama and former FBI Director James Comey.

Klayman argued in a Wednesday filing that the most recent complaint “is intricately related” to those past cases “as it involves a continuing pattern and practice of illegal and unconstitutional misconduct … that has been ongoing for nearly over half a decade now.”

Other lawsuits have recently seen government lawyers asking for delays in proceedings in light of the partial government shutdown.

On Wednesday, Trump administration attorneys reportedly sought to delay a lawsuit about claims that the president is violating the U.S. Constitution by profiting from his Washington hotel’s business with foreign countries.

Government lawyers made the same request in another case brought in June over the administration’s policy that led to the separation of immigrants parents who crossed the U.S. border illegally from their children.

[CNBC]

10. Cohen denies report that his cellphone was traced to Prague in 2016

Michael Cohen

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney, on Thursday repeated his denial that he went to Prague in 2016, responding to a McClatchy investigative report saying his cellphone had been traced there in the summer of 2016. McClatchy cited four “people with knowledge of the matter” who said Cohen’s phone briefly connected with cell towersnear the Czech city during Trump’s campaign.

The report, if confirmed, would support part of the Steele dossier’s claims that he went to the Eastern European city in 2016 for a secret meeting with Russian officials. Cohen, who has a deal to cooperate with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling, tweeted: “I hear #Prague #CzechRepublic is beautiful in the summertime. I wouldn’t know as I have never been. #Mueller knows everything!” [Politico]

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