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Mueller: Ex-Trump Campaign Chair Manafort Lied to Investigators

U.S. President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort lied to federal investigators about a payment and contacts with Trump administration officials, the U.S. special counsel investigating whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia said in a court filing on Friday.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office submitted the filing to a U.S. District Court judge in Washington who had asked for more details on Mueller’s allegations last month that Manafort had breached a plea agreement by lying.

“In his interviews with the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI, Manafort told multiple discernible lies — these were not instances of mere memory lapses,” Mueller’s office said in the filing.

According to the filing, Manafort lied about his interactions with Russian-Ukranian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik, Kilimnik’s efforts to tamper with witnesses, the circumstances surrounding a $125,000 payment to a firm working for Manafort, and Manafort’s contacts with officials in the Trump administration.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement late Friday, saying, “The government’s filing in Mr. Manafort’s case says absolutely nothing about the President. It says even less about collusion and is devoted almost entirely to lobbying-related issues. Once again the media is trying to create a story where there isn’t one.”

Manafort also provided investigators with shifting accounts about information relevant to another Department of Justice investigation.

The filing also said that Manafort, who maintains he has been truthful to Mueller, appeared before a grand jury twice.

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Storm Smacks Southern California with Floods, Mudslides

The second storm in a week brought record-breaking rainfall to parched Los Angeles on Thursday, jamming traffic on Southern California highways and prompting evacuations in wildfire-scarred areas.

A mudslide shut down Pacific Coast Highway and surrounding roads in and around Malibu neighborhoods charred by last month’s massive fire that destroyed hundreds of homes.

Kirby Kotler and his neighbors spent days before the storm stacking 18,000 sandbags behind their homes along the highway. But when heavy rains arrived, mud, water and rocks blasted through the bags and across their properties.

Kotler, who wielded water hoses to beat back the flames in November, used a tractor to keep the debris from entering his home.

“Saving my house once again,” said Kotler, 57, a lifelong Malibu resident. “I’m more than a little concerned. If we get another blast of heavy rain there’ll be no stopping the hill from coming down.”

Malibu officials reported no injuries and no major property damage.​

Plane slides off runway

At Hollywood Burbank Airport, about 15 miles (33 kilometers) north of downtown Los Angeles, nobody was hurt when a Southwest Airlines plane from Oakland skidded off a wet runway as it landed. The plane came to a stop in a graded area designed to slow aircraft that overshoot the runway, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

“As we landed, you could feel the brakes,” passenger Grant Palmer told KABC-TV. “Then I started noticing the plane going sideways.”

Palmer said he was prepared to tuck into an emergency posture while his unflappable co-worker continued writing emails during the rough landing. 

 

Needed rainfall brings accidents

Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California sorely need rainfall. Virtually the entire region is experiencing drought conditions, with portions of Los Angeles and Ventura counties and areas along the Mexican border in extreme drought.

The storm provided a big boost in and around Los Angeles. The downtown area set a new rainfall record for the day with 1.9 inches (4.8 centimeters) of rain, nearly double the previous record set in 1997, the National Weather Service reported. Normal monthly rainfall for December is only a bit more, 2.33 inches.

While rain caused numerous accidents and backups on LA-area freeways, heavy snow forced the closure of Interstate 5 in the Grapevine area between Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley. The hourslong shutdown along the key north-south route caused backups for miles.

Motorists were urged to use caution on mountain passes, where up to 6 feet (1.8 meters) of snow was predicted at higher elevations. 

​More evacuations 

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for hundreds of homes in Trabuco Canyon in the Santa Ana Mountains south of Los Angeles and Lake Elsinore neighborhoods in Riverside County. Both were burned in another massive wildfire earlier this year. Video showed a churning, muddy torrent full of tree trunks smashing down a bridge guardrail.

In Orange County, flooding closed several schools. Floodwaters also submerged several cars in Costa Mesa and rain partially collapsed the roof of a commercial building in Irvine but no injuries were reported.

In San Diego County, rain partially collapsed the roof of a child care center in Carlsbad.

Nobody was injured and the children, staff and even pets inside were evacuated, including a chinchilla, a snake, a scorpion, a tarantula, a leopard gecko, two toads, a tree frog, a bearded dragon and a lizard, KSWB-TV reported.

A portion of southbound State Route 170 in Los Angeles was shut down after mud flowed onto the roadway. Firefighters rescued motorists from cars stuck in a flooded intersection in the city’s North Hollywood area.

Firefighters also rescued a man from the flood-swollen Los Angeles River in suburban La Habra. Storm waters in the concrete flood-control channel have swept away people in previous years. 

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Both Political Parties Use Ballot Harvesting, But What is It?

An investigation into whether political operatives in North Carolina illegally collected and possibly stole absentee ballots in a still-undecided congressional race has drawn attention to a widespread but little-known political tool called ballot harvesting.

It’s a practice long used by special-interest groups and both major political parties that is viewed either as a voter service that boosts turnout or a nefarious activity that subjects voters to intimidation and makes elections vulnerable to fraud.

The groups rely on data showing which voters requested absentee ballots but have not turned them in. They then go door-to-door and offer to collect and turn in those ballots for the voters — often dozens or hundreds at a time. Some place ballot-collection boxes in high-concentration voter areas, such as college campuses, and then take the ballots to election offices when the boxes are full.

North Carolina

In North Carolina, election officials are investigating whether Republican political operatives in parts of the 9th Congressional District harvested ballots from minority voters and didn’t deliver them to the election offices. In some cases they are accused of harvesting ballots that were not sealed and only partially filled out. Ballot harvesting is illegal under state law, which allows only a family member or legal guardian to drop off absentee ballots for a voter.

Investigators are focusing on areas in the district where an unusually high number of absentee ballots were not returned. They want to know whether some ballots were not turned in as promised to the local elections office, were unsealed or only partially filled out.

Republican Mark Harris leads Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes, but the state elections board has refused to certify the results. The head of the state Republican Party said Thursday that he would be open to holding a new election if there is evidence of fraud.

Sick, elderly and poor

Supporters of ballot harvesting say they worry the North Carolina election may give an important campaign tool an unnecessary black eye. These groups see their mission as helping voters who are busy with work or caring for children, and empowering those who are sick, elderly and poor. Collecting ballots to turn in at a centralized voting hub also has been an important tool for decades on expansive and remote Native American reservations.

“Sometimes we think of voting as this really straightforward process and we often forget that all voters, but for new voters in particular, there’s a lot of confusion when voting about when they actually have to vote by, where they have to take their ballot to,” said Rachel Huff-Doria, executive director of the voter advocacy group Forward Montana.

​Arizona

Several states have tried to limit ballot harvesting by restricting who can turn in another person’s ballot. In Arizona, a video that showed a volunteer dropping off hundreds of ballots at a polling place prompted a debate that led to an anti-ballot harvesting law in 2016.

“I think at any level, Republican, Democrat or anything, it’s wrong. It’s a terrible practice,” said former Arizona Republican Party chairman Robert Graham, who backed the law. “People should be responsible for their own votes.”

The Arizona law making it a felony in most cases to collect an early ballot was challenged in federal court before the 2016 election, and blocked by an appeals court. The U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and allowed the law to be enforced.

Further challenges have so far been unsuccessful, most recently just before the midterm election.

Montana

Montana was the latest state to pass an anti-ballot harvesting law when voters approved a referendum last month. Al Olszewski, a Republican state senator, said he proposed the ban after two of his constituents in northwestern Montana complained of pushy ballot collectors coming to their homes.

“For a woman in her 70s that’s maybe frail and lives alone and feels intimidated, at least now they can say please leave” and have confidence that the law is behind them, he said.

Voting-rights advocates are dismayed that such laws are being passed without evidence of actual ballot fraud happening, at least before questions were raised about the activities in the North Carolina congressional race. They say restricting who can collect ballots punishes certain voters without doing anything to actually detect, deter or punish fraud.

“If you have an honest person who is trying to help voters, then who they are doesn’t matter as long as they return (the ballot),” said Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s democracy program.

​California

California went in the opposite direction when it passed a law in 2016 to allow ballot harvesting.

Republicans felt the new law’s effects during this year’s midterm elections after congressional districts that GOP candidates were leading on Election Day flipped to the Democrats when a flood of last-minute mail-in ballots were counted along with provisional ballots.

The rout included several seats that had been held by Republicans in the former GOP stronghold of Orange County, where more than 250,000 mail-in ballots were turned in on Election Day. And in the agriculture-dominant Central Valley, Republican incumbents Jeff Denham and David Valadao saw their leads disappear after a tally of late-arriving ballots.

Valadao, for example, had an initial lead of more than 7 percentage points, but Democrat T.J. Cox pulled ahead after winning 56 percent of the votes counted after Election Day.

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan described California’s election system as “bizarre” in an interview with The Washington Post.

California’s situation underscored that ballot harvesting is an important tool for political parties. Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker wrote in a newsletter last month that Republicans must “develop a response to this new law that allows us to remain competitive.”

Even Olszewski, the sponsor of Montana’s anti-ballot harvesting measure, acknowledges that laws such as his are unlikely to eliminate ballot harvesting completely. Such “micro-targeting” of voters when used with technology to identify individuals’ political leanings has become too important and effective in get-out-the-vote efforts, he said.

“I think the Democrats, they’re the ones that figured it out and were far more successful in ‘18, in this election, than the Republicans ever were,” he said. “The Republicans, what I’m hearing right now early on is, holy cow, we need to learn how to do this as good or better than the Democrats at harvesting ballots. We have the data.”

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All-Clear After Bomb Threat at CNN Offices

Police have given the all-clear after a phoned in bomb threat forced the evacuation of CNN’s offices in New York.

 

Police said a man with a southern accent called CNN just after 10 p.m. Thursday and said five bombs had been placed throughout the facility inside the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle.

 

Police said the building was evacuated and building security did a preliminary search. Police units then swept the building with the NYPD bomb squad on standby.

 

Outside the building, CNN’s Brian Stelter and Don Lemon continued to broadcast. Lemon said fire alarms rang and a loudspeaker told them they needed to evacuate during his live show. 

In October, the building was partially evacuated after a suspicious package containing a crude pipe bomb was delivered to the company.

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81 Migrant Children Separated From Parents Since June

The Trump administration separated 81 migrant children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border since the June executive order that stopped the general practice amid a crackdown on illegal crossings, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press.

 

Despite the order and a federal judge’s later ruling, immigration officials are allowed to separate a child from a parent in certain cases – serious criminal charges against a parent, concerns over the health and welfare of a child or medical concerns. Those caveats were in place before the zero-tolerance policy that prompted the earlier separations at the border.

 

The government decides whether a child fits into the areas of concern, worrying advocates of the families and immigrant rights groups that are afraid parents are being falsely labeled as criminals.

From June 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s order, through Tuesday, 76 adults were separated from the children, according to the data. Of those, 51 were criminally prosecuted – 31 with criminal histories and 20 for other, unspecified reasons, according to the data. Nine were hospitalized, 10 had gang affiliations and four had extraditable warrants, according to the immigration data. Two were separated because of prior immigration violations and orders of removal, according to the data.

 

“The welfare of children in our custody is paramount,” said Katie Waldman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees U.S. immigration enforcement. “As we have already said _ and the numbers show: Separations are rare. While there was a brief increase during zero tolerance as more adults were prosecuted, the numbers have returned to their prior levels.”

At its height over the summer, more than 2,400 children were separated. The practice sparked global outrage from politicians, humanitarians and religious groups who called it cruel and callous. Images of weeping children and anguished, confused parents were splashed across newspapers and television.

 

A federal judge hearing a lawsuit brought by a mother who had been separated from her child barred further separations and ordered the government to reunite the families.

 

But the judge, Dana Sabraw, left the caveats in place and gave the option to challenge further separations on an individual basis. American Civil Liberties Union attorney Lee Gelernt, who sued on behalf of the mother, said he hoped the judge would order the government to alert them to any new separations, because right now the attorneys don’t know about them and therefore can’t challenge them.  

 

“We are very concerned the government may be separating families based on vague allegations of criminal history,” Gelernt said.

 

According to the government data, from April 19 through Sept. 30, 170 family units were separated because they were not found to be related _ that included 197 adults and 139 minors. That could include grandparents or other relatives if there was no proof of relationship. Other separations were because the child was not a minor, the data showed.   

 

 During the budget year 2017, which began in October 2016 and ended in September 2017, 1,065 family units were separated, which usually means a child and a parent _ 46 due to fraud and 1,019 due to medical or security concerns, according to data.  

 

Waldman said the data showed “unequivocally that smugglers, human traffickers, and nefarious actors are attempting to use hundreds of children to exploit our immigration laws in hopes of gaining entry to the United States.”

 

Thousands of migrants have come up from Central America in recent weeks as part of caravans. Trump, a Republican, used his national security powers to put in place regulations that denied asylum to anyone caught crossing illegally, but a judge has halted that change as a lawsuit progresses.

 

The zero-tolerance policy over the summer was meant in part to deter families from illegally crossing the border. Trump administration officials say the large increase in the number of Central American families coming between ports of entry has vastly strained the system.

But the policy – and what it would mean for parents – caught some federal agencies off guard. There was no system in place to track parents along with their children, in part because after 72 hours children are turned over to a different agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been tasked with caring for them.

 

An October report by Homeland Security’s watchdog found immigration officials were not prepared to manage the consequences of the policy. The resulting confusion along the border led to misinformation among separated parents who did not know why they had been taken from their children or how to reach them, longer detention for children at border facilities meant for short-term stays and difficulty in identifying and reuniting families.

 

 Backlogs at ports of entry may have pushed some into illegally crossing the U.S-Mexico border, the report found.

 

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Virginia Tech Students Unveil the House of the Future

Joseph Wheeler and his team of students and faculty from Virginia Tech University are convinced they are building the house of the future.

Judges at the recent Solar Decathlon Middle East agreed, awarding their future house first place in the December competition held in Dubai.

“We set it up in two days,” Wheeler told VOA. “All the other teams took the full two weeks of construction. Ours was set up in two days, generating power on the third day by the sun.”

The quick assembly time is just one thing that makes this home special. All of, literally all of it, comes in modules that are put together on-site into a fully functioning plug-and-play house.

Quick to assemble

“Our typical cartridge is 3-feet wide and about 12-feet long and no higher than 10-feet tall,” Wheeler said. “That cartridge contains the structure of the house. It’s got the structural walls, the insulation in it. But it’s got all the plumbing and the electrical system pre-installed — even the cabinetry, even the finishes. It is an incredibly high-tech home. In this case, well over a $1 million home but highly sophisticated.”

The home is fully wired, a test bed for everything digital. The home is also energy positive, which means — thanks to solar cells — it produces more energy than it consumes. This while being fully functional in the Dubai desert.

“You had to maintain a certain temperature range in the home. You had to keep all your appliances working and run them nonstop for an entire two weeks,” Wheeler said. “You had to charge an electric car from the excess power you generated in the house. You had to do laundry. You had to do dishes. I mean, you had to do all these things.”

They did it, and won.

​What’s next?

Far from being a one-of-a-kind home, Wheeler and his team say they fully expect this kind of home construction to quickly become the way homes are built in the future.

“We already have our phones, our cars, all of these pieces of technology that we bring with us that come with the expectation that they are smart,” Bobby Vance, a professor of architecture on the Virginia Tech team, told VOA. “But we go home and we kind of shut that all away.”

The team says this home is proof that [shutting it away] doesn’t need to be the case anymore.

“We envision one day in the very near future, you’re going to be able to go onto Amazon, and you’re going to be able to pick out your features — your appliances, the finishes you want in your kitchen and in your bathroom and in your bedroom, and you’ll place those in your shopping cart,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler and Vance said they are in talks with a number of homebuilding companies and are about to begin building a home that will be for sale sometime in the spring. They are also hoping to ramp up their production on a much larger scale to make their dream home a reality in the near future.

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US Bids Farewell to President George HW Bush at State Funeral

The U.S. said farewell Wednesday to former President George H.W. Bush at a state funeral at the Washington National Cathedral attended by dignitaries, family and friends. President Donald Trump, who in the past has had an acrimonious relationship with the Bush family, was in attendance to pay his last respects to the 41st U.S. president. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more on the man who left a legacy at home and abroad.

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Russia Warns Cyprus Against Allowing US Military to Deploy There

Russia on Wednesday warned authorities in Cyprus not to allow the U.S. military to deploy on their territory, saying such a move would draw a Russian reaction and result in “dangerous and destabilizing consequences” for the Mediterranean island.

Maria Zakharova, a spokesman for Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Moscow had become aware of what she called “anti-Russian plans” involving Cyprus and the U.S. military which she said was eyeing setting up forward operating bases for its troops there.

“We’re getting information from various sources that the United States is actively studying options to build up its military presence on Cyprus,” Zakharova told a news briefing in Moscow.

“The aim is not being hidden – to counter growing Russian influence in the region in the light of the successful operation by the Russian military in Syria.”

There was no immediate U.S. response to her comments.

Prodromos Prodromou, a spokesman for the Cypriot government, said the island had no desire to further militarize.

“We want to clarify that it has never been our aim, nor do we seek the militarization of Cyprus,” he said, responding to Zakharova’s remarks.

“The Republic of Cyprus, because of its advantageous geographical position, offers facilities for missions of a humanitarian nature, and then only in cases where countries make a request or have a relevant MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the Republic.”

Zakharova said a U.S. delegation had inspected potential sites for the bases and that Washington was engaged in intensive talks with Nicosia on expanding military cooperation.

Cyprus is a popular destination for Russian tourists and capital and many wealthy Russian business people bank or own property there. The island, a former British colony, hosts two British military bases. The United States has an embassy in Nicosia.

Cyprus was split by a Turkish invasion in 1974 that followed a Greek-inspired coup. Northern Cyprus is now a Turkish Cypriot state of about 300,000 people that is recognized only by Turkey.

Greek Cypriots run the island’s internationally recognized government which represents the whole island in the European Union.

Cypriot media said the island had recently appointed a military attache to Washington.

Zakharova said Russia had repeatedly warned Cypriot authorities against allowing the island to be further militarized.

“It being drawn into U.S. and NATO plans in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East will inevitably lead to dangerous and destabilizing consequences for Cyprus itself,” she said.

“In Moscow we can’t ignore the anti-Russian element in these (U.S.) plans and in the event that they are implemented we will be forced to take counter measures.”

 

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