BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
NEW YORK (VOA) — President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen admitted Thursday 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.
BY VICTORIA MACCHI & MOLLY MCKITTERICK
WASHINGTON D.C. (VOA) — President Donald Trump began insisting on $5 billion for a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico at the end of November after submitting a budget that contained $1.6 billion for border security, including parts of the wall. "I am firm," Trump said of his $5 billion demand in November.
Twenty-six days into a government shutdown, he is still firm. But what is not clear is why he is holding firm at what he now says is $5.7 billion for a wall to "stop the crime at our southern border."
"He totally changed his own budget," Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen told MSNBC news last week. "They asked for $1.6 billion. And now at the very last minute in December, they came back with this request." Trump first kicked around the $5 billion figure in July when it was buried in a Washington Post story about budget discussions between the administration and Republicans.
"Trump never formally requested $5 billion for the wall, instead communicating the number privately to lawmakers in recent weeks," the Post said.
A few days later, Trump threatened to shut down the government. "What the president wants to do is get a bigger down payment so it (the wall) can be built faster," former House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a speech at the National Press Club in October. "We intend on having a full-fledged discussion about how to complete this mission of securing our border, and we will have a big fight about it."
Locked in a stalemate since Dec. 22, the conflict between lawmakers and the president has shut down parts of the federal government for nearly a month. Newly elected House leader Nancy Pelosi is standing firm on zero dollars for the wall. "The fact is, a wall is an immorality. It's not who we are as a nation," she has said.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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."