U.S. prosecutors and lawyers for accused Russian agent Maria Butina are engaging in negotiations, both sides said in a court filing on Friday, raising the possibility the case could be resolved with a plea deal.
Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who has publicly advocated for gun rights, was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Russia.
She is accused of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and influence American foreign policy toward Russia.
Currently jailed awaiting trial, Butina has pleaded not guilty. She could face years in prison if convicted.
The parties "continue to engage ... in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter," prosecutors and Butina's lawyers wrote in a joint filing on Friday, without elaborating on what resolution might materialize.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan later granted a joint request for a delay in a status hearing in the case that had been set for Dec. 6, scheduling a new hearing for Dec. 19.
After the delay was granted, defense lawyers withdrew motions they had filed on Thursday to dismiss the case.
Such talks sometimes lead to a deal in which a defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges to resolve a case.
Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina and who is under a media gag order imposed by the judge in the case, declined to comment when asked whether his client may plead guilty in order to resolve the case.
The prosecution has made serious missteps in the case, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group. They later backed off the claim and earned scorn from the judge, who said the incorrect allegations were "notorious" and had damaged Butina's reputation.
Butina's lawyers have previously identified the Russian official with whom she was accused of working as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia's central bank who was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.
They identified one of the two Americans mentioned in the criminal complaint as being Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina. Neither Erickson nor Torshin have been accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing.
Questions relating to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump's presidency. Moscow has labeled the case against Butina "fabricated" and called for her release.
Prosecutors have called Butina a flight risk and said she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.
US judge orders White House to restore press pass to CNN's Acosta
A U.S. judge on Friday ordered the White House to temporarily restore CNN correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass, which was revoked after a contentious news conference last week with President Donald Trump.The White House withdrew Acosta's credentials on Nov. 7 in an escalation of the Republican president's attacks on news organizations, who he has called enemies of the people.U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who is hearing CNN's lawsuit challenging the revocation, said Acosta's credentials must be restored while the network's case is pending.White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Acosta's credentials would be temporarily restored."Let's go back to work," Acosta said to reporters after the hearing.But Trump said that "people have to behave" and warned of future court action against reporters who do not."If they don't listen to the rules and regulations, we'll end up back in court and we'll win," Trump said on Friday. "But more importantly, we'll just leave. And then you won't be very happy, because we do get good ratings."CNN said in a statement on Friday that it "looked forward to a full resolution in the coming days."The Justice Department was "disappointed" with the court decision, spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement."The president has broad authority to regulate access to the White House ... We look forward to continuing to defend the White House's lawful actions," Laco said.In its lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, CNN said the White House violated the First Amendment right to free speech, as well as the due process clause of the Constitution providing fair treatment through judicial process. The network asked for a temporary restraining order.Judge Kelly, a Trump appointee, did not address the First Amendment's protections for freedom of speech and the press, focusing instead on the due process provision."Whatever process occurred within the government is still so shrouded in mystery that the government at oral argument could not tell me who made the initial decision to revoke Mr. Acosta's press pass," Kelly said in his verbal ruling.In court, U.S. government lawyers said there was no First Amendment right of access to the White House and that Acosta was penalized for acting rudely at the conference and not for his criticisms of the president.The judge said Sanders' initial statement that Acosta was penalized for touching a White House staffer attempting to remove his microphone was "likely untrue and at least partly based on evidence that was of questionable accuracy."The day after the Nov. 6 congressional elections, Trump erupted into anger during the news conference when Acosta questioned him about the Russia probe and a migrant caravan traveling through Mexico."That's enough, that's enough," Trump told Acosta, as a White House staffer attempted to take the microphone away from the correspondent. "You are a rude, terrible person."Sanders had accused Acosta of "placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern" and of preventing other reporters from asking questions. She called his behavior "absolutely unacceptable."Videos of the encounter show Acosta pulling back as the staffer moved to take the microphone.On Friday, Sanders said the White House "will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum at the White House."
Pence vows no end to tariffs until China bows
The United States will not back down from its trade dispute with China, and might even double its tariffs, unless Beijing bows to U.S. demands, Vice President Mike Pence said on Saturday.In a bluntly worded speech at an Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea, Pence threw down the gauntlet to China on trade and security in the region.“We have taken decisive action to address our imbalance with China,” Pence declared. “We put tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods, and we could more than double that number.”“The United States, though, will not change course until China changes its ways.”The stark warning will likely be unwelcome news to financial markets which had hoped for a thaw in the Sino-U.S. dispute and perhaps even some sort of deal at a G20 meeting later this month in Argentina.U.S. President Donald Trump, who is not attending the APEC meeting, is due to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina.Pence’s warning on Saturday contrasted with remarks made by Trump on Friday, when he said he may not impose more tariffs after China sent the United States a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to force concessions on a list of demands that would change the terms of trade between the two countries. China has responded with import tariffs on U.S. goods.Washington is demanding Beijing improve market access and intellectual property protections for U.S. companies, cut industrial subsidies and slash a $375 billion trade gap.There was no hint of compromise from Pence.Forced out, Bolton aide Ricardel expresses admiration for Trump, Melania“China has taken advantage of the United States for many years. Those days are over,” he told delegates gathered on a cruise liner docked in Port Moresby’s Fairfax Harbour.He also took aim at China’s territorial ambitions in the Pacific and, particularly, Xi’s Belt and Road Initiative to expand land and sea links between Asia, Africa and Europe with billions of dollars in infrastructure investment.“We don’t offer constricting belts or a one-way road,” said Pence.While not referring directly to Chinese claims over various disputed waters in the region, Pence said the United States would work to help protect maritime rights.“We will continue to fly and sail where ever international law allows and our interests demand. Harassment will only strengthen our resolve.”Just minutes earlier, Xi had spoken at length about his initiative and the need for free trade across the region.“It is not an exclusive club closed to non-members, nor is it a trap as some people have labeled it,” Xi said of his brainchild project.He also called protectionism a “shortsighted approach” that was “doomed to fail”.“History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a Cold War, hot war, or trade war will produce no winners,” said Xi.Trump administration seeks ways to kick FETÖ leader Gülen out of USUS sanctions 17 individuals tied to Khashoggi murder
California searches for 1,000 missing in its deadliest fire
Forensic recovery teams pressed their search for more victims in the flame-ravaged northern California town of Paradise on Friday as authorities sought clues to the fate of about 1,000 people reported missing in the state's deadliest wildfire on record.Remains of at least 71 people have been recovered in and around a Sierra foothills hamlet that was home to nearly 27,000 residents before the town, 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, was largely incinerated by the deadly Camp Fire on the night of Nov. 8.More than a week later, firefighters have managed to carve containment lines around 45 percent of the blaze's perimeter, up from 35 percent a day earlier, even as the burned landscape grew slightly to 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares).Besides the toll on human life, property losses from the blaze make it the most destructive in California history, posing the additional challenge of providing long-term shelter for many thousands of displaced residents.With more than 9,800 homes up in smoke, many refugees from the fire have taken up temporary residence with friends and family, while others have pitched tents or were camping out of their vehicles.At least 1,100 evacuees were being housed in 14 emergency shelters set up in churches, schools and community centers around the region, with more than 47,000 people in all remaining under evacuation orders, authorities said.Search teams with cadaver dogs, meanwhile, combed through charred, rubble-strewn expanses of burned-out neighborhoods looking for bodies.On Friday night, Butte County Sheriff Korea Honea said the remains of eight more fire victims were recovered during the day, bringing the death toll to 71. That far surpasses the previous fatality record from a single California wildfire - 29 in the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.Video: California presses search for fire victims, number of missing soars'RAW DATA'Honea said the total roster of people unaccounted for had swelled to 1,011 - up from the 630 names posted Thursday night and well more than triple the number counted as missing on Thursday afternoon."This is a dynamic list," Honea told reporters, saying it was compiled from "raw data" that likely included some duplication of names reported with more than one spelling.Honea said it was too soon to conjecture on the fate of those on the list, noting that as of Friday, 329 individuals previously reported missing had turned up alive."I don't think it's appropriate for any of us to sit and speculate about what the future holds."The names were being compiled from information received from a special hotline, along with email reports and a review of emergency-911 calls that came in on the first night of the fire, Honea said.Some listed have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities, either because they lack phone service or were unaware anyone was looking for them, authorities said. Others may not have been immediately listed because of delays in reporting them.Galeri: Firefighters struggle to contain raging California wildfiresHISTORIC PROPORTIONSThe disaster already ranks among the deadliest U.S. wildfires since the turn of the last century. Eighty-seven people perished in the Big Burn firestorm that swept the Northern Rockies in August of 1910. Minnesota's Cloquet Fire in October of 1918 killed 450 people.Authorities attribute the Camp Fire's high death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town with little advance warning, driven by howling winds and fueled by drought-desiccated scrub and trees.Weather conditions have since turned more to firefighters' favor, though strong, gusty winds and lower humidity were expected to return late Saturday through early Sunday, ahead of rain showers in the forecast for mid-week.The rain is good news for fire crews but will add to the misery of evacuees camping outdoors, including at least 300 people living in a tent village that sprang up in the parking lot of a Walmart store.That spot lies in a flood plain, so occupants are being urging to vacate the parking lot by Sunday afternoon, said Bryan May, a spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services.Outbreak of the Camp Fire coincided with a series of smaller blazes in Southern California, most notably the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles. It was 78 percent contained on Friday night.Scientists have said the growing frequency and intensity of wildfires in California and elsewhere across the West are largely attributable to prolonged drought that is symptomatic of climate change.The precise causes of the Camp and Woolsey Fires were under investigation, but electric utilities have reported equipment problems in the vicinity of both blazes around the time they erupted.U.S. President Donald Trump, who has taken to Twitter to blame the recent spate of fires on forest mismanagement, was due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Governor Jerry Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom planned to join Trump on his tour.Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread broadly. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (150 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes on Friday because of poor air quality.
Trump's attorney general appointment challenged at Supreme Court
The fight over President Donald Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general has reached the U.S. Supreme Court, with lawyers in a pending gun rights case set to ask the justices on Friday to decide if the action was lawful.Critics have said the Republican president's appointment of Whitaker, who now will oversee Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election, on Nov. 7 to replace the ousted Jeff Sessions as the chief U.S. law enforcement official violated the Constitution and federal law.Lawyers for Barry Michaels, who filed a lawsuit in Nevada challenging a U.S. law that bars him from buying a firearm due to prior non-violent criminal convictions, decided to make Whitaker's appointment an issue in their pending appeal before the high court because Sessions was named as a defendant in the case.The lawyers told the justices in a motion set to be filed on Friday that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein should be the acting attorney general.The court is not required to decide one way or another and could simply ignore or reject the motion.Michaels' lawyers argued that Rosenstein, the department's No. 2 official, should have succeeded Sessions under a federal succession law that vests full authority in the deputy attorney general should the office of attorney general become vacant.Some of the same lawyers behind Friday's motion also are involved in a similar effort brought before a federal judge on Tuesday. In that case, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh asked U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander to bar Whitaker from appearing in an official capacity as acting attorney general in the state's ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration over the Affordable Care Act healthcare law.Maryland also argued that the Republican president violated the so-called Appointments Clause of the Constitution because the job of attorney general is a "principal officer" who must be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.The Justice Department on Wednesday defended the legality of Whitaker's appointment, saying Trump was empowered to give him the job under a 1998 law called the Federal Vacancies Reform Act even though he was not a Senate-confirmed official.Trump had repeatedly criticized Sessions for recusing himself in March 2017 from the Russia investigation. Sessions' recusal gave Rosenstein authority over the investigation, and he appointed Mueller two months later. Congressional Democrats have voiced concern that Whitaker, a Trump loyalist who has questioned the scope of Mueller's investigation, could undermine or even fire Mueller.Mueller's investigation has led to criminal charges against a series of former Trump aides and has cast a cloud over Trump's presidency.Forced out, Bolton aide Ricardel expresses admiration for Trump, MelaniaWildfire that destroyed California town leaves 63 dead and 630 missingUK PM May battles to sell Brexit deal amid rumours of no-confidence voteTrump administration seeks ways to kick FETÖ leader Gülen out of USTrump's summit no-show draws Asian nations closer together