NATION & WORLD NEWS SECTION

Former Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen admits via Thursday Twitter post to paying man to rig online polls as reported by Washington Post

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BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE


NEW YORK (VOA) — President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen has admitted that he paid a man in 2015 to rig online opinion polls to favor Trump as he began running for the presidency. Cohen confirmed a Wall Street Journal report that in early 2015 he paid the head of a small technology firm, John Gauger, to write computer script that would place multiple votes for Trump in an online poll of news broadcaster CNBC.


They repeated the effort in an online poll of website Drudge Report, which is popular with conservatives. Cohen, who also paid Gauger to create a social media account to promote himself, confirmed the main elements of the Journal story. "What I did was at the direction of and for the sole benefit of @realDonaldTrump @POTUS. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn't deserve it," Cohen wrote on his Twitter account.


Cohen, who was the real estate billionaire's right-hand-man and fixer at the Trump Organization in New York at the time, pleaded guilty last year to charges that he violated campaign finance laws by arranging hush payments ahead of the 2016 election to women who claimed credibly to have had extramarital affairs with Trump. Cohen implicated Trump in that crime, saying he directed the payments. The New York lawyer, 52, was sentenced to three months in jail for the campaign finance violation and other charges.


But his incarceration has been delayed while he provides support to ongoing investigations into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia and Trump's finances. He is scheduled to testify to the newly Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee on February 7 on his work for Trump.


The Journal report said Gauger, who is chief information officer at Liberty University, an evangelical Christian school in Virginia, was paid over $12,000 in cash for the job, allegedly less than the $50,000 he was promised. Cohen disputed that, insisting that Gauger was paid by check.


Sarah Hucklebee Sanders resumes feud with CNN's Jim Acosta when meeting press for first time in 42 days

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WASHINGTON D.C. (CCN) —  President Donald Trump's White House press secretary hadn't met with reporters in 42 days, and Sarah Hucklebee Sanders returned to resume her feud with CCN's Jim Acosta on Monday. 


She declined to directly answer a question about President Trump's declaration last week that Democrats are "anti-Israel" and "anti-Jewish." 

“Democrats have had a number of opportunities to condemn specific comments and have refused to do that,” Sanders said in referring to the controversy about U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar making what many say were anti-Semitic remarks.


When Sanders eventually called on Acosta to ask a question, CNN's chief White House correspondent opened with a question about whether or not President Trump had tried to block AT&T's merger with Time Warner, but then circled back to Trump's comments about Democrats being anti-Jewish, asking her if she feels the president's rhetoric is “beneath” the American people. Acosta talked over her as the exchange continued between them.


Acosta was banned from White House press briefings  after a heated confrontation with President Trump, but it was lifted after two weeks amidst lawsuit threats.


Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to CNN: Trump campaign may have colluded with Russia, but not Trump

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BY KEN TREDEMEIER


WASHINGTON D.C. (VOA) — Rudy Giuliani, one of U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyers, is acknowledging that some officials with Trump's 2016 campaign may have colluded with Russia to help him win, but says that Trump himself did not. 


"I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign," Giuliani, a former New York mayor, told CNN late Wednesday. "I said the president of the United States," he added. "There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack" the opposition Democratic National Committee.


Giuliani's new concession about Trump campaign involvement with Moscow is sharply at odds with what Trump himself has tweeted at least 13 times, that his successful campaign for the White House did not collude with Russia, more recently last month.  Russia has rejected the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community that Moscow's agents meddled in the election to help Trump win, although President Vladimir Putin acknowledged at last July's Helsinki summit with Trump that he wanted the then-real estate mogul to defeat his Democratic challenger, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. 


 Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors have been investigating Trump campaign links to Russia for 20 months and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe. 


Mueller is believed to be writing a report on his findings, after already securing guilty pleas or convictions of key officials in Trump's orbit, including his personal attorney Michael Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one-time campaign aide Rick Gates and foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, among others.


Giuliani's acknowledgement about Trump campaign ties to Russia came days after news surfaced, inadvertently, that Manafort shared campaign polling data with a former business associate of his in Ukraine alleged by U.S. prosecutors to have ties to Russian intelligence.


Pakistan has intensified efforts on trying to arrange US-Taliban meeting

ISLAMABAD (VOA) — Pakistan has intensified efforts to keep the U.S.-led dialogue with the Afghan Taliban on track by attempting to arrange a meeting between the visiting chief American negotiator and insurgent representatives, highly placed sources told VOA Thursday. These official sources appeared confident about bringing the two sides to the table, but maintained that the responsibility for the "success or failure” of the fledgling Afghan peace process rests “exclusively” with the two negotiating sides. The caution comes as U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, landed in the Pakistani capital Thursday amid expectations a direct meeting could take place between his delegation and Taliban negotiators during his stay in the country.

Yonhap: N. Korean official en route to Washington DC for talks

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (VOA) — North Korea’s top envoy involved in talks with the United States arrived in Beijing Thursday and is thought to be en route to Washington, South Korean news agency Yonhap said. U.S. and South Korean media previously quoted unidentified sources as saying U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean official Kim Yong Chol were expected to meet in the U.S. capital Friday to discuss a second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Kim arrived at Beijing airport Thursday on an Air Koryo flight from Pyongyang and was met by North Korea’s ambassador to China, Yonhap said. He is expected to board a flight to Washington in the evening, the news agency said. Pompeo had planned to meet his North Korean counterpart to discuss a second summit last November, but the meeting was postponed.

At least 9 dead, 20 injured in car bombing in Colombia capital

BOGOTA (VOA) — At least nine people were killed and more than 20 injured in a car bombing at a Colombian police academy in Bogota on Thursday, recalling the high-profile attacks associated with bloodiest chapters of the country's guerrilla and drug conflicts. The scene outside the General Santander police academy in southern Bogota was chaotic in the immediate aftermath of the midmorning explosion, with ambulances and helicopters rushing to the normally tightly controlled facility. Witnesses said they heard a loud blast that destroyed windows in adjacent apartment buildings several blocks away. Pictures on social media showed a charred vehicle surrounded by debris on the academy's leafy campus. The police said at least nine people were killed and 22 injured. Among the dead were a Panamanian and an Ecuadorian national.

For UK's May, quitting not an option

BRITAIN (VOA)  — Yet again an embattled Theresa May has survived to fight another day as Britain’s Prime Minister, seeing off on Wednesday a motion of no confidence in her government tabled by the country’s main opposition Labor party. It was a foregone conclusion that she would — Conservative lawmakers and their allies in the small Northern Irish party that sustains May’s minority government were never going to vote with the opposition parties, political commentators argued beforehand. Bringing down May’s government would have inevitably triggered a general election — one Conservatives couldn’t be sure of winning.

In more normal times, though, May would have resigned before Wednesday’s no-confidence debate on her government.

President Trump unveils space-based missile defense strategy

WASHINGTON D.C.  (VOA) — President Donald Trump unveiled the military’s long-delayed Missile Defense Review (MDR), the first overhaul of U.S. missile defense policy since 2010. Speaking at the Pentagon Thursday, Trump said his plan will allow the United states to detect and destroy missiles “anywhere, anytime, anyplace.” “It is not enough to keep pace with our adversaries, we must outpace them at every turn,” he said. Officials say the doctrine, initially expected in 2017, has been frequently rewritten to keep up with changing missile threats posed by North Korea, China, Russia and Iran. Trump added that the upcoming Pentagon budget “will invest in a space-based missile defense layer.”

Pelosi says Trump's 'State of Union' address could easily be postponed

WASHINGTON D.C.  (CCN) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said President Trump’s State of the Union address can easily be postponed. Her comments came during a press conference Thursday with reporters. The State of the Union is scheduled for Jan. 29 but Pelosi said isn’t a “sacred date” and insisted there are "security concerns"  because of the partial government shutdown caused by a stalemate between Congress and the Trump administration over funding for Trump’s proposed border wall at the Mexican border. Pelosi said "she believes government workers should be paid if they go to work even if Trump doesn't."