Along Syria-Jordan Border, Refugees Struggle At A Camp Aid Workers Can't Visit

Jordanian tanks are stationed near a U.N.-funded clinic close to the border with Syria.

Jane Arraf/NPR

hide caption

toggle caption

Jane Arraf/NPR

In the middle of the desert, hundreds of miles from the nearest city, 60,000 Syrians are camped out along the Syrian and Jordanian border in what has become one of the biggest and most desperate refugee settlements in the region. Few outsiders have ever seen it.

NPR visited an area near the camp last week in a trip organized by the Jordanian military.

Aid groups, who have no direct access to the three-year-old camp, track its growth by analyzing satellite images showing thousands of makeshift tents clustered between two berms — earthen embankments in a no-man’s land along Jordan’s far northeastern border.

Jordan says the camp, located in no-man’s land between the two countries, is infiltrated by ISIS and won’t allow any aid workers to go there. With limited food getting through, some children are in danger of starving.

“The United Nations staff doesn’t have access to the no-man’s land, so the assistance has to be provided from this end,” Helene Daubelcour, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, tells NPR at a U.N.-funded clinic on the Jordanian side of the border, more than a mile from the camp. “The area is now a closed military zone, so we are helping as close as we can — but we cannot go on the other side of the berm.”

From the closest point that aid workers are allowed to go, the tents in the camp are visible only as white dots in the distance.

Enshera Mustafa holds her four-year-old granddaughter Nada outside a clinic near the Syrian-Jordanian border. Jordan sealed the border with Syria after a bombing last year and now allows a small number of refugees across for medical treatment before sending them back.

Jane Arraf/NPR

hide caption

toggle caption

Jane Arraf/NPR

Sand swirls around the aid compound, which is protected by Jordanian tanks and edged with barbed wire. Outside a clinic operating from a trailer, refugee women sit in plastic chairs, holding coughing children.

Enshara Mustafa has brought her four-year-old granddaughter, Nada. The little girl with wide brown eyes burned her leg with scalding water two days earlier. But she also suffers from asthma, and they couldn’t move her in a sandstorm the day before.

“It’s like death,” says Mustafa, when I ask her what the camp is like. “They send us aid every two or three months. We can’t even afford to buy an aspirin.”

She and her family left Homs more than a year ago, she says, after their house was destroyed.

“We kept moving from one place to another, and every place we went, there were airstrikes,” she says. Finally, they reached the Jordanian border and could go no further.

Jordan has always restricted access to the refugees at Rukban, but after a suicide car bomb at a checkpoint killed seven Jordanian border guards last June, it sealed the border with Syria entirely.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

“Everything is different after the bombing,” says Sabah Jaradeen, a retired Jordanian army officer who runs a UNICEF-funded feeding center for children. She says before the attack and the restrictions, she and her team used to see more than 100 children a day – assessing them and treating the ones who were malnourished. Now, she says, “The number depends on the military bringing them in the morning and taking them back.”

UNICEF says on a typical day there are fewer than a dozen children brought in. It has seen 16 severely malnourished infants since its clinic opened in December.

In November, the U.N. was allowed to drop food across the border, after months of negotiations with the Jordanian government. To reduce the risk, Jordan required that it be dropped into the no-man’s land from cranes.

The U.N. has set up a center in the neutral zone, where refugee community leaders are responsible for distributing U.N.-provided food. But the last delivery of a month’s supply of food for the refugees ran out more than a month ago. People are relying, when they can, on stockpiled food, are using whatever money they have to buy more — or, as with the malnourished children, they’re not eating at all.

A tribal leader from the Rukban camp tries to get help for children from Raqaa who were separated from their parents, who were allowed into Jordan two years ago after their father became ill.

Jane Arraf/NPR

hide caption

toggle caption

Jane Arraf/NPR

As for water, to minimize risk, UNICEF pumps it into Rukban from Jordanian reservoirs rather than trucking it in. Calculating the rate of water consumption, in addition to analyzing the satellite imagery, is what helps the U.N. estimate the number of people in the camp, the U.N.’s Daubelcour says.

Only refugees who are brought to a checkpoint by Rukban community leaders and are searched by Jordanian border guards are allowed access to the U.N. medical clinic. The border guards transport patients to the clinic and then take them back again to the checkpoint after they are treated.

“We try our best to advocate with the government of Jordan,” says Samir Badran of UNICEF, “and we hope there will be a solution in the long run.”

Jordanian Brig. Gen. Barakat al-Aqeel says his border force is implementing a political decision by the Jordanian government to close the border. While 90 percent of the residents of Rukban are ordinary civilians, he says, another 10 percent are affiliated with ISIS.

“The danger is very high,” he tells us. “We are always expecting the worst regarding the possibility of anyone carrying explosives to blow up our soldiers.”

As we speak, residents of the camp bring an elderly man on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance on the Jordanian side of the border. The man’s family members stop at the nearest point they’re allowed to come – a checkpoint between sand-filled barriers topped with barbed wire.

“It’s far from ideal if you have to operate without full access to the population,” Daubelcour says. “It’s difficult to understand their needs and address them in the way we would like to do.”

And then she and the other U.N. staff leave to return to Amman. The U.N.’s own security rules deem this desert too dangerous for their staff to be out after dark.

For the past two years, aid officials have been reluctant to speak publicly about Rukban, afraid of upsetting the Jordanian government and jeopardizing their chances of access to the camp. Jordan, which has taken in some 650,000 Syrian refugees, has said it is at the breaking point and called for more international aid.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Freak Accident At A Waterfall In Ghana Kills At Least 17

The deadly incident happened at Ghana’s Kintampo Falls, pictured here in 2011.


hide caption

toggle caption


A tree crashed onto a group of people enjoying a swim at the base of a large waterfall in Ghana, and local authorities tell wire services that at least 17 people were killed in the freak accident.

The revelers got caught in a rainstorm on Sunday, according to a statement from the Minister of Tourism. She added that “many” were killed and injured, and that they were mostly student groups visiting the area.

The waterfall, outside the town of Kintampo in central Ghana, is a popular tourist destination. It stands some 70 meters high, according to the Guardian, and is “surrounded by mahogany trees and sunbirds.”

“It was the upper part of one of the biggest trees that came crashing down on them. It was a horrifying scene as the area was engulfed in screams and shouts for help as we arrived,” Kwaku Boateng, a fireman, told Reuters.

“It was a difficult operation because … some untrained members of the public joined in a desperate attempt to help,” he added. “We swung into action immediately with many of our men diving into the water. We used chainsaws and other cutting tools to chop the tree in pieces in order to free the victims.”

Many of the dead were students at the nearby Wenchi secondary school, the Guardian reported.

“Parents were at the hospital to identify their loved ones who passed away in the accident,” Nana Kwadjo Bekoe, a blogger who visited the school, told the newspaper. “The rest of the students who sustained various degrees of injuries were admitted to a different hospital.”

Journalist Sammy Darko told the BBC that the waterfall draws “large numbers of local and foreign visitors.” Here’s more:

“It’s especially busy at the weekend and most popular among students, who come from the five surrounding regions on school trips to the site, which is right in the centre of the country.

“Hundreds visit every weekend to see the triple-step flow of the falls, which are surrounded by lush vegetation and large overhanging trees.”

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has posted a condolence message to the families of the victims on Twitter.

I have learnt with great sadness, the unfortunate incident that occurred at Kintampo Waterfalls yesterday. (1/2)

— Nana Akufo-Addo (@NAkufoAddo) March 20, 2017

My deepest condolences to the families of all those affected by this unfortunate and tragic incident. (2/2)

— Nana Akufo-Addo (@NAkufoAddo) March 20, 2017

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Tomb Of Jesus Is Restored In Jerusalem

The Edicule in Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre is traditionally believed to be the site of Jesus’ tomb. A $4 million restoration project, led by a Greek team, has cleaned and reinforced the structure.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

A restoration team Monday announced the completion of a historic renovation of one of Christianity’s holiest sites — the shrine that, according to tradition, houses the tomb of Jesus.

The ornate shrine, called the Edicule, sits in the center of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the world’s oldest churches, a 12th-century building sitting on 4th-century remains in Jerusalem’s Old City.

According to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian belief, the Edicule encases the ancient cave where Jesus’ body was entombed and resurrected.

The Edicule shrine is built around the original cave; visitors can kneel before a marble niche that covers what is believed to be the bench where Jesus’ body was placed.

The shrine, almost completely destroyed in an 1808 fire and restored in 1810, had not been restored since, and its stone walls were buckling outward. Water, humidity and candle smoke all wore down the structure.

“I would venture to say that if this intervention hadn’t happened now, there was a very great risk that there could have been a collapse,” said Bonnie Burnham of the World Monuments Fund, a nonprofit in New York that helped raise funds for the $4 million project.

Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also know as the Basilica of the Resurrection, is home to the Edicule shrine encasing the ancient cave where, according to Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian belief, Jesus’ body was entombed and resurrected.

Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images

King Abdullah of Jordan and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also donated about 150,000 euros each for the renovation efforts, she said.

Starting last May, a Greek restoration team from Athens spent nearly a year removing parts of the Edicule shrine and putting them back together. Stone slabs were removed from the walls, decades of black candle soot and pigeon droppings were scrubbed off and while the stone slabs of the facade were removed, titanium mesh and grout were inserted to strengthen the building’s core.

Most strikingly, the hulking and unsightly iron cage built around the shrine in 1947 to reinforce it, approximately 30 ft. high, was removed.

“This monument today is free. It is emancipated from the iron grids,” said Antonia Moropolou, who supervised the renovations.

The most dramatic moment of the restoration took place in late October, when Moropolou’s team entered the inner sanctum of the Edicule — which is open to visitors — and slid back layer after marble layer covering the rock-hewn bench where believers say Jesus’ body was placed after he died on the cross.

A Greek priest stands inside the renovated Edicule in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on Monday.

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Sebastian Scheiner/AP

There was a layer from the late-Crusader era of the 14th century, and an earlier layer from the 4th century, when the emperor Constantine built the original church. Underneath that was the exposed rock bench.

“It was really important to see the bench, very flat and almost complete, from the right to the left, almost for the shape of one man [who] can stay on it,” said Fr. Eugenio Alliata, an Italian archaeologist in Jerusalem who is a member of a Franciscan group that looks after Christian sites in the Holy Land. “This was really something very important. And it was the first time it has been documented as it is.”

The marble layers were put back in place, but one change was made in the shrine’s inner sanctum: A small window was cut into one of the shrine’s walls. Now, for the first time, visitors can get a glimpse of what’s behind: the original rock wall of what tradition says is Jesus’ tomb.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

The FBI Is On The Case — And Other Takeaways From The House Intel Hearing

FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers testify during the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

At an hourslong public hearing on Monday, FBI Director James Comey confirmed that his agency is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, and pushed back against President Trump’s allegations that he was wiretapped by former President Obama.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence also heard from Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers about Russia’s general attempts to influence the U.S. presidential election and the controversial, possibly illegal leak of classified information to the press.

The congressional intelligence committees rarely hold public hearings — their work is often done behind closed doors. And you can see why, as Comey and Rogers responded to question after question by saying they weren’t able to comment in an unclassified setting. They frequently limited themselves to confirming the contents of a report issued in January, which said the Kremlin actively attempted to help Trump during the presidential campaign.

But despite the difficulty of discussing classified data in an open hearing, there were a number of revelations. Here are a few highlights:

Yes, Virginia, there is an FBI investigation.

Until Monday, the FBI had not publicly confirmed if it was investigating allegations that officials from the Trump campaign coordinated with the Kremlin as Russia was waging an influence campaign to try to shape the U.S. election.

At the hearing, Comey said:

“I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. And that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.

“As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.”

No Evidence Of Trump’s Wiretapping Allegations — And Not For Lack Of Looking

Earlier this month, Trump tweeted that “Obama had my ‘wires tapped.’ ” His administration has stood by the explosive, unfounded allegation even as lawmaker after lawmaker has stepped forward to say there is absolutely no evidence to support it.

The White House tried to expand the definition of “wiretapping” to include all forms of surveillance, but there has been no evidence to support even the broader claim.

Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI” and the broader Justice Department. No president has the authority to unilaterally order a wiretap anyway, he said.

Over the past few weeks the White House shifted to claiming that a British intelligence agency was surveilling Trump Tower on Obama’s orders — another claim devoid of evidence that has also been strongly rebutted at the highest levels.

Rogers was asked if he had ordered such surveillance. ‘No, sir, nor would I,” Rogers said, noting that would violate a longstanding intelligence-sharing agreement.

Misleading Presidential Tweets Continue, Even Mid-Hearing

Several past tweets, like the ones mentioned above, were occasionally introduced into the hearing for discussion — but a very recent tweet was also raised as an issue.

Jim Himes, D-Conn., read aloud an @POTUS tweet from mid-hearing, about the hearing, claiming that Comey and Rogers had testified that “Russia did not influence [the] electoral process.”

In fact, the two men had testified that there was no evidence Russia directly changed votes, like by hacking voting machines. But as they later noted, they didn’t comment on the question of overall influence — their agencies have not evaluated whether or not Russia had successfully affected the election.

“It certainly wasn’t our intention to say that today,” Comey said, when asked to essentially live fact-check the presidential Twitter account. “We don’t have any information on that subject.”

Another tweet from the presidential Twitter account noted Comey was “refusing to deny” a briefing to Obama. That, too, was misleading; Comey repeatedly told the lawmakers not to read too much into his inability to comment on a question, because there were so many constraints on what he was allowed to discuss.

Lawmakers Divided On Prioritizing Russian Activity Or U.S. Leaks

We should note, as a caveat, that lawmakers from either side of the aisle said it was important both to investigate Russia’s activities and to protect classified data.

But there was an obvious difference in how the committee’s Democratic and Republican lawmakers approached the questioning.

The Democrats, for the most part, emphasized the possibility of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. They acknowledged a lack of hard evidence, but said that is a reason for more investigation, not less.

Ranking member Adam Schiff, D-Calif., exemplified this approach in his lengthy opening remarks. He included a timeline of interactions between the campaign and Russia and questioned whether changes to the GOP platform, among other things, were “coincidences” or signs of collusion. If the latter, Schiff said, that would be a “shocking betrayal of democracy.”

(Trump has long denied such allegations. On Monday Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager who was among the people named by Schiff and other Democrats as having suspicious ties to Russia, issued a statement saying there is “constant scrutiny and innuendo” around his connections to Moscow, but “no facts.”)

The Republicans, in general, focused instead on the leaking of classified information to the media — noting that there may or may not have been crimes committed through collusion with Russia, but have apparently been crimes in the “felonious release of classified material,” as Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) put it.

For example: the Democrats frequently returned to false statements by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, concealing the fact that he had spoken with the Russian ambassador, and the question of other ties between Flynn and Russia.

“Isn’t the American public right to be concerned about Mr. Flynn’s conduct, his failure to disclose that contact with the Russian ambassador, his attempts to cover it up and what looks like the White House’s attempts to sweep this under the rug?” Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., asked.

Republican members of the committee, meanwhile, focused instead on the question of who had “unmasked” Flynn’s identity, in documents revealing those conversations. They asked who would have the ability to reveal Flynn’s name, and what their motivation might be.

If a U.S. person’s name “has been unmasked and disseminated by intelligence community officials, would that leaking to the press hurt or help our ability to conduct national security matters?” Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., asked. Rogers responded, “Hurt.”

More To Come, On Every Front

There are multiple investigations into Russia’s actions during 2016. There’s the House committee investigation, which is continuing — a second hearing is scheduled for March 28.

There’s the parallel investigation by the Senate intelligence committee, as well as by the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees. And, of course, there’s the just-confirmed investigation by the FBI.

Meanwhile, both Comey and Rogers say they expect Russia will continue to attempt to influence elections, both in the U.S. and abroad.

“I think we have to assume they’re coming back,” Comey said.

“I fully expect them to continue this level of activity,” Rogers said.

Both men declined to comment on whether Russia’s attempt to influence the U.S. elections had actually changed the outcome.

But they said it was definitely a “success,” in Russia’s eyes, on at least one front — it “introduced chaos and division and discord, and sowed doubt,” as Comey put it.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Democrats Criticize Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch As Pro-Business

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch hears Senators’ opening statements on Monday for the first day of his confirmation hearings.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

One of the themes that developed on Day 1 of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s hearings is that Democrats plan to make an issue of what they say is the Supreme Court’s pro-business leanings. In their opening statements on Monday, Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee argued that Gorsuch is likely to continue the trend.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island alleged that when the court’s majority is made of Republican appointees, the narrow 5-4 decisions “line up to help corporations against humans.”

Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said that the court under Chief Justice John Roberts is often called “a corporate court,” and said a study by the left-leaning Constitutional Accountability Center found that it ruled for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce 69 percent of the time.

Durbin also cited Gorsuch’s dissent in a case in which a truck driver lost his job after his rig broke down one bitterly cold night. (NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported on the case here.) The driver was instructed to stay with the truck, but he found himself growing numb in the unheated cab and so drove away to find warmth, leaving the trailer behind, and was fired for disobeying orders.

Durbin said it was 14 below that night, adding, “but not as cold as your dissent, Judge Gorsuch.” He added, “Thank goodness that the majority in this case pointed out that common sense and the Oxford dictionary” supported their view that the firing was without merit.

In his own opening statement, Gorsuch spoke of striving for impartiality and the support he has received across the political spectrum.

“In my decade on the bench, I have tried to treat all who come to court fairly and with respect. … My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me — only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case,” the nominee said. “For the truth is, a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is probably a pretty bad judge, stretching for the policy results he prefers rather than those the law compels.”

Gorsuch will begin taking questions from the senators on Tuesday morning.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Global Ranking Of Happiness Has Happy News For Norway And Nicaragua

A girl in a park in Managua, Nicaragua. The country topped the list for gains in happiness.

Nicolas Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Nicolas Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Norway can be frigid. And the winters bring lots of darkness. But it’s the happiest nation in world, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report.

Denmark comes in at #2, followed by Iceland and Switzerland. Finland takes 5th place. And, it turns out, these countries have more in common than a tolerance for cold.

Well-being is shaped by a range of factors. “All of the top countries rank highly on all the main factors found to support happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance,” according to the report.

The second tier of the top ten includes the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden (the last two tied for 9th position).

The developing world has its share of unhappy countries. According to the report, some of the unhappiest nations in the world are Afghanistan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Haiti.

But there are encouraging signs in low- and middle-income countries. Cameroon, Latvia, Nicaragua and Sierra Leone, for example, are all on the list of the 20 countries reporting the highest gains in happiness.

Meanwhile, happiness in the U.S. has slipped a bit, according to the report. “The reasons are declining social support” as well as a decline in trust — and an increased sense of corruption, write the co-editors in a summary report. In 2015, the U.S. ranked 13th. This year, it slipped to 14th.

The report draws on survey data from 155 countries. “We ask people to think of their lives as a whole,” explains report co-editor John Helliwell, an economist at the University of British Columbia who studies well-being and comparative economic growth. Each year, researchers survey 1,000 people in each country.

Some questions are quite simple, such as: In times of trouble, do you have family and/or friends to count on? Other questions measure people’s perceived levels of freedom, generosity and trust — both in each other and in their governments and businesses.

The Nordic countries have among the most generous social safety nets. “Access to higher education, access to high-quality health services are part of it, explains Jon-Åge Øyslebø, minister of communications, cultural affairs and education at the Norwegian Embassy. (We reached out to him before he had heard about the top spot his country had earned in the new report.)

There are also generous social support programs. For instance, new parents in Norway are eligible for nearly a year of leave with pay. “Norway is a relatively egalitarian society with regard to both to income differences and gender,” Øyslebø told us. He says he thinks this is an important part of the happiness equation.

Another factor, of course, is the economy. Overall, Norway is pretty wealthy, in part due to the natural resource of oil. But even though oil prices have declined, Norwegian level of happiness has risen, at least according to the report.

“Absolutely there’s more to it than money,” Øyslebø says. Many studies have shown that after people’s basic needs are met, additional income is not necessarily a path to happiness.

So what’s the value of these global ranking? After all, the survey data that they’re based on are pretty crude measures. And at any given time, in any nation, some people are suffering while others thrive.

“The reason for taking this [report] seriously,” co-editor John Helliwell told us, is that it offers an alternative to thinking of “income as the measure of progress.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Robert Silvers, Longtime Editor Of 'The New York Review Of Books,' Dies At 87

Robert Silvers, co-founder of The New York Review of Books, speaks at the 2006 National Book Awards. Silvers died Monday after a brief illness. He was 87.


hide caption

toggle caption


Robert Silvers, whose long career as an editor included terms at The Paris Review, Harper’s and, most notably, as co-founder of The New York Review of Books, died Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87.

Silvers launched The New York Review of Books in 1963 with Barbara Epstein, intending to raise the standard of book reviewing. In its pages, a given book under consideration could be little more than a jumping-off point for an extended essay that directly engaged the political and cultural moment.

With great sadness we must announce that Robert B. Silvers, founding editor of The New York Review, died this morning after a short illness.

— NY Review of Books (@nybooks) March 20, 2017

He encouraged writers to craft each review as a vigorous intellectual argument, and delighted in pairing reviewers with books that challenged their personal or political worldview.

Silvers was loath to give interviews, and sought no measure of the fame in which his writers often basked, though he was renowned within New York literary circles.

When he had a pacemaker installed in 2011, there was widespread speculation that he might step down as editor of the publication. (His co-editor Epstein had died in 2006.) But he continued to serve, with the energy and enthusiasm he was known for, often working late into the night — or sleeping at the office.

Silver’s longtime companion, Grace, Countess of Dudley, died in December of last year. He is survived by several nieces and nephews.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

4 Unanswered Questions About The FBI's Russia Investigation

FBI Director James Comey takes a break after three hours of testifying on Capitol Hill on Monday.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

FBI Director James Comey lit the fuse Monday on a political time bomb and no one knows — including him — how long it will take to burn or what kind of damage it may cause when it goes off.

Comey confirmed to members of Congress that his investigators are looking into possible collusion between the campaign that elected President Donald Trump and the Russian government. In fact, he said, the FBI has been doing so since last July.

The signs had been there, from press reports to the announcement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Sessions would recuse himself from any such probe. Now, Comey’s disclosure to the House Intelligence Committee removes all doubt that the FBI believes there is sufficient evidence to look into the connections between Trump’s onetime political aides and the Kremlin.

The case that Russia interfered in the presidential campaign has been made — the U.S. intelligence community laid out an unclassified version in December and President Barack Obama responded by expelling a group of Russian spies and sanctioning some of its key officials.

But details about the role Trump’s team might have played in the making of that mischief still are murky, and Monday’s hearing did not include much explosive new information. In fact, the panel’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California — who served on Trump’s transition team — and his fellow Republicans spent as much of their time as they could drawing the focus away from the Russian collusion narrative.

The real outrage, Republicans argue, is the leaking of classified information to the Washington Post and other newspapers, especially the identity of former Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as having been swept up in U.S. government surveillance of Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Flynn resigned after a brief stint as Trump’s national security adviser and has since retroactively registered as a foreign agent for his work representing Turkish interests; Democrats revealed on Friday that Flynn had also taken more than $50,000 in payments from Russian government entities.

Democrats, led by Ranking Member Adam Schiff also of California, used their time on Monday to put Trump and the Russians together as closely as possible, including in an extended opening statement by Schiff that laid out his theory of the case.

Much of Schiff’s statement, however, relied on information that’s already publicly available or which has been called into question. Monday’s session did not include major new details about the alleged ways that the Trump camp may have worked with the Russian intelligence services.

But it did raise new questions about the imbroglio — some of which lawmakers may answer at a second session now scheduled for March 28, and some of which might not be cleared up until the FBI announces the results of its investigation.

1. How much evidence is still to be discovered? And how reliable is what’s now public?

Schiff crafted a narrative about the Russians’ first exploration of the presidential candidates to a critical period from July to August of 2016. If Moscow began by trying simply to learn more about the potential next U.S. president, it shifted to trying to hurt the likely Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and then helping her opponent — or so the argument goes.

Schiff relied on information that has appeared in press reports and some that appears in a controversial dossier passed from a former British intelligence officer to Comey by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. NPR and other news organizations have refrained from reporting such details because of the unknown provenance of the dossier — but does Schiff’s use of it in the public hearing indicate that at least some of the information has been verified?

The Democrats’ case also rests on conversations between Trump advisers and people connected to the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, or other top Russians. But how much more detail exists about what was said in those meetings? How much effort are congressional or FBI investigators making to interview Trump’s campaign advisers?

2. Might Trump aides have colluded with Russia without knowing it?

One new thread that emerged from Monday’s hearing came as part of an exchange between Comey and Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley, who asked whether it’s possible for Americans to help a foreign power and not know about it.

Yes, Comey answered cautiously — an American might give information to someone he legitimately believes is a Chinese researcher and isn’t aware is actually a Chinese intelligence officer. Or an American might fall in love with someone and not realize they’re in a relationship with a foreign agent: “Romance could be a feature,” he said.

That could explain denials by people at the center of the Trump-Russia imbroglio, including former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who resigned after reports about his connections to pro-Kremlin government factions in Ukraine. The New York Times referred to Manafort in a story in February about U.S. intelligence officials documenting many alleged connections between the Trump camp and the Russians.

Manafort called the report “absurd” and told the newspaper: “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.'”

Manafort’s comment caused head-scratching at the time it appeared, but Comey and Quigley’s exchange on Monday created the prospect for a story about Russia not necessarily using Trump campaign aides as agents, but dupes.

3. What did Trump know – and when did he know it?

If Comey’s investigation results in no charges or new information about ties between Trump’s camp and Russia, the White House would get rid of an albatross that has been around its neck for months. But if the FBI charges former Trump campaign officials, or reveals links between the Trump camp that haven’t already been aired publicly that could escalate quickly and land the president or his top campaign aides in hot water.

Trump never retreats and never apologizes and so far has mounted a brash defense. He flits between sometimes acknowledging the Russian mischief during the presidential race and sometimes dismissing it as a fiction created by Democrats to excuse their loss. That strategy has continued to be workable and Republican aides on Capitol Hill have shown continued willingness to carry water for the White House in responding to press reports or handling inquiries like those on Monday.

But charges against Trump aides, or new revelations about collusion between the campaign and Russian agents, would change all that — and fast. Democrats may never forgive Comey for revealing just before Election Day that the FBI had resumed some inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which Clinton and Democrats say threw a close election to Trump. Now the president, the White House and their Republican allies on Capitol Hill are under a similar Sword of Damocles.

4. How will Russia respond to the investigations and their outcome?

Comey, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers and other top U.S. intelligence officials have taken care not to say whether they believe Russia succeeded in influencing the outcome of the 2016 election — only that they’re confident Moscow conducted an influence campaign.

Will Russian President Vladimir Putin turn out to have invested wisely or to have been the dog that caught the car? If Putin wanted the U.S. to relax the Obama-era sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that ship may have sailed — the scrutiny of Trump’s connections to Moscow may have now made even the appearance of any deal impossible.

And American military deployments in Eastern Europe, including of armored units along NATO’s frontier with Russia and of ships and aircraft in the Black Sea, have continued.

None of this means, however, that Putin is finished meddling in American politics, Comey warned. He told members of Congress on Monday that the Russians, for their own purposes, likely are satisfied with their work — having sowed confusion and undercut faith in the U.S. democratic process — and may try it again.

“We have to assume they’re coming back,” he said.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

DHS Publishes List of Jurisdictions That Rejected Immigrant Detainer Requests

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers escort an man who was arrested in a New York City apartment building. New York is a city that won’t detain non-citizens on behalf of the federal government.

Richard Drew/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Richard Drew/AP

The Department of Homeland Security made good Monday on a Trump administration promise to publicly shame cities and counties that don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released its first weekly list of local jails and jurisdictions that haven’t honored so-called immigrant detainer requests.

Such requests on behalf of immigrations officials go to cities and counties asking that local law enforcement hold an inmate who is in the country illegally and has been arrested or charged with a crime. The intent is to have such prisoners detained for up to 48 hours so that federal officials can decide whether to pick them up and deport them.

Such cities and counties, commonly described as “sanctuary jurisdictions,” may not cooperate with the detainer requests for a variety of reasons. Some say that cooperating can undermine local trust in the police if immigrants are afraid that reporting a crime will result in their own deportation. Other jurisdictions cite court rulings that have cast doubt on the constitutionality of the detainers.

The list published today covers the period from Jan. 28 to Feb. 3. It comes during the week following President Trump’s executive order on the interior enforcement of the nation’s immigration laws. The order directed DHS to compile and publicize a list “of criminal actions committed by aliens” and identify any jurisdiction that ignored any federal detainer requests.

The list covers the cases of 206 unnamed individuals who ICE says committed “notable criminal activity,” and the jails from which they were released. The crimes listed include drug possession, DUI, domestic violence, and aggravated assault.

The vast majority of the offenders are from Mexico and Central America. The jurisdictions listed include Los Angeles, Colorado, New York and Travis County, Texas. As NPR’s John Burnett reports, “While 206 of these detainers were ignored, that represents less than 10 percent of the 3,083 detainer requests that were issued nationwide. “

ICE says since local law enforcement agencies don’t notify the feds when a detainer is not honored, the list includes declined detainers ICE personnel learned of during their enforcement activities.

Publication of the list drew fire from immigrant advocates in Congress. Rep. Luis Guitterez, D-Ill., denounced the list as an effort “to paint all immigrants as killers and rapists. Trump and his team incorrectly see Fourth Amendment policies that require warrants to hold prisoners for the Feds as a threat to public safety, but the reality is that in most cities, the police have found that acting as deportation police makes it harder to keep their cities safe.”

But Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said, “When law enforcement agencies fail to honor immigration detainers and release serious criminal offenders, it undermines ICE’s ability to protect the public safety and carry out its mission.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Tom Brady's Stolen Jersey Found With 'Member Of The International Media'

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 in Houston.

Gregory Payan/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Gregory Payan/AP

Quarterback Tom Brady led the New England Patriots to one of the greatest comebacks in football history at the Super Bowl this year. Immediately afterward, his game-winning jersey was stolen from the Patriots’ locker room in Houston.

Now, police say it has been recovered in Mexico. The NFL stated that it was found “in the possession of a credentialed member of the international media.”

Statement on the recovery of @Patriots Tom Brady jerseys

— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) March 20, 2017

That’s not all – with the same person, authorities also recovered another of Brady’s Super Bowl jerseys, this one from his team’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

The NFL said this was a surprise because “it was not previously known that Brady was missing his previous Super Bowl uniform in addition.”

An informant in Houston led the investigators to Mexico, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo told reporters, and the FBI and Mexican authorities also took part in the probe.

The suspect had legitimate access to the event, and wasn’t a ticketholder, he said, adding that he anticipates charges against the alleged perpetrator. Those could include transporting stolen goods across state lines and internationally.

Proud @houstonpolice Major Offenders Divison traced Brady Jersey to Mexico & it has been recovered with help of FBI & Mexican authorities.

— Chief Art Acevedo (@ArtAcevedo) March 20, 2017

“We’re highly confident that these are in fact the jerseys, based on our investigative efforts,” he said. Investigators are still working to be authenticate the items.

Acevedo says that while the investigation was not a top priority for the department, it became a matter of state pride to recover the jersey. “You don’t come to Texas and you don’t steal when the eyes of the world are upon our state,” he said.

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO – #TomBrady‘s jersey goes missing after the @Patriots win in

— Alan Springer (@AlanSpringer) February 6, 2017

Brady has estimated that the jersey is worth $500,000, as NPR has reported. He appears visibly annoyed in locker room video captured by Alan Springer of Yahoo Sports. “I absolutely, 100 percent put it in my bag,” Brady says despairingly as he searches through his possessions for the lost jersey.

“It’s unfortunate because that’s a nice piece of memorabilia, so if it shows up on eBay somewhere, someone let me know and I’ll track that down,” he told reporters at a news conference shortly after the game.

Last month, Brady jokingly waded into investigating the missing jersey – and put together a “Suspect Board” that included Gollum, Lady Gaga and Jaws. As SB Nation noted, “It did not, however, appear to include anyone posing as a member of the international media.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)