Intelligence chief Coats says media twisted his awkward 'say again' response to Trump's Putin invite

US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats has blamed the media for spinning a story about his odd reaction to the news of US President Donald Trump inviting Vladimir Putin to a second summit, saying he meant no disrespect.

In a statement on Saturday, Coats sought to clarify his incredulous reaction to the breaking news that Trump invited the Russian leader to a follow-up meeting in the White House in the wake of their first meetup in Helsinki on Monday.

Coats was busy giving a live interview at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, when the news caught up with him thanks to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, who moderated the event. Coats seemed to be completely oblivious to the announcement, as he asked the anchor to “say that again” before adding “OK. That’s going to be special” with a smirk.

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© Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / Getty Images

The media immediately interpreted Coats’ peculiar and vague reaction as a clear sign of defiance, with reports piling up that Trump is about to fire the intelligence chief for going “rogue.”

“Some press coverage has mischaracterized my intentions in responding to breaking news presented to me during a live interview,” Coats stated in a statement on Saturday, admitting that while his reaction was indeed “awkward,” it “in no way meant to be disrespectful or criticize the actions of the President.”

He went on to highlight the intelligence community’s efforts to “inform and support President Trump’s ongoing efforts to prevent Russian meddling” in the upcoming midterm elections, as well as to help the US President to “build strong relationships internationally in order to maintain peace,”pave the way for the denuclearization of “dangerous regimes” and ensure the security of the US and its allies.

Before his Aspen Security Forum appearance, Coats was already portrayed as a voice of dissent in the Trump administration by the mainstream media for seemingly standing up to Trump in the wake of the Helsinki summit, which Trump’s opponents dubbed “disastrous” and “nothing short of treason.”

Shortly after Trump “misspoke” during a post-summit press conference, saying that he doesn’t see “any reason why it would be” Russia that meddled in the US presidential election, Coats issued a statement, pointing out that the intelligence community has “been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy.”

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Ecuador's president to hand Assange over to UK during London visit – Greenwald

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno is either about to strike or has already struck an agreement with British authorities on withdrawing the asylum protection of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, Glenn Greenwald reports.

Moreno is visiting the UK as part of his European trip between July 22 and 28. His visit is not said to be an official one, so he is not expected to meet with any high-ranking UK officials and would instead participate in the Global Disability Summit on July 24, which is co-hosted by the UK government.

However, the Ecuadorian leader is also expected to use his trip to the British Isles to “finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange,” according to the Intercept’s co-editor, Glenn Greenwald, who is best known for a series of reports detailing the US surveillance programs based on the documents leaked by Edward Snowden. Greenwald also supported and defended Wikileaks, as well as the whistleblowers who provided materials for the website, for many years.

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. © Peter Nicholls

Moreno is “close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized,” the agreement, Greenwald writes, citing an unnamed “source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office.” Under this agreement, the WikiLeaks founder could be ejected from the Ecuadorian Embassy and handed over to the UK authorities “as early as this week,”Greenwald says.

Earlier, RT editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan said, citing her own sources, that Ecuador is ready to hand Assange over to the UK in “coming weeks or even days.” According to Greenwald, such a development could lead to Assange being sent to jail for at least one more year “under his best-case scenario,” which would mean that he would have spent nearly a decade imprisoned “despite never having been charged with, let alone convicted of, any crime.”

As Sweden dropped its sexual assault investigation against Assange back in May 2017, the only criminal proceeding he is now facing in the UK is a pending 2012 arrest warrant for “failure to surrender.” It goes back to Assange obtaining asylum from Ecuador and finding refuge in the Ecuadorian Embassy instead of complying with bail conditions in the UK.

Such an offense carries a prison term of three months, Greenwald says, warning, however, that the UK authorities could potentially elevate charges against Assange to “contempt of court,” which carries a prison term of up to two years. Besides, UK authorities are unlikely to provide a guarantee that the WikiLeaks founder would not be extradited to the US, which is apparently bent on imprisoning him for releasing classified documents.

Publication of classified materials is technically a crime for anyone in the US, but US Department of Justice officials have been reluctant to prosecute anyone on such charges so far, due to concerns that such a case could lead to them being accused of violating press freedom rights and, thus, the First Amendment.

However, the Trump administration has seemingly made clear that they have no such concerns. While he was still in charge of the CIA, Mike Pompeo once said that while WikiLeaks “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice . . . they may have believed that, but they are wrong.”

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China must speed up development of nukes to deter US aggression – state media

China should reconsider the “sufficient” size of their nuclear weapons stockpile to scare off potential attackers, China’s Global Times said, pointing at the US’ “aggressive attitude” in the South China Sea and the Taiwan issue.

One of the lessons China has to learn from the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin summit is that Washington respects military power in the first place and vast stockpile of nuclear weapons, in particular, the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated paper said in an editorial on Friday. The article suggests that Russia’s nuclear arsenal is behind the US leader’s “respect for the country and probably the only reason that had earlier deterred NATO from engaging “in open conflict in Ukraine and Syria with Russia.” 

“Just by looking at the US’ aggressive attitude in the South China Sea and the Taiwan question, we know that China’s nuclear strength is ‘far from sufficient.’ Part of the US’ strategic arrogance may come from its absolute nuclear advantage,” the editorial warned. It added that one day Washington may “turn this arrogance into military provocation” involving China.

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FILE PHOTO: Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin (DDG 89) with a formation of Japanese ships during training in South China Sea © David Flewellyn/U.S. Navy

Thus, boosting nuclear weapons development to show determination to defend its core national interests must be a “top priority” for the country, the article stressed.

While Moscow and Washington are global nuclear hegemons by the number of warheads, Beijing lags behind the two powers in the nuclear club. Chinese forces possess approximately 270 warheads compared to the several thousand-strong US and Russian arsenals, according to a Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) 2017 report

Beijing is “slowly increasing” the number of warheads and is currently developing the Dongfeng-41 (DF-41) – a long-range ballistic missile possibly capable of striking any potential target worldwide. However, it is unclear when the new weapon will enter into service.

Apart from the recently sparked trade war between the two powers, Chinese and American forces have long flexed their muscles in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, which Beijing claims as its national territory. Despite the fact that the US is not among the claimant states, it insists that the area should remain international waters. Washington routinely sends “freedom of navigation” missions, which include warships and bombers, to the region, drawing ire from Beijing.

READ MORE: China hits out at US for authorizing submarine technology sales to Taiwan

Taiwan is another sore point in US-Chinese relations, as the island is seeking wider autonomy and even independence from mainland China. Washington recognizes Chinese authorities’ “One China” policy, stipulating the country’s integrity, but that has not stopped it from conducting rather provocative maneuvers in the region. In another instance of turning deaf ear to China’s vocal protests, the US State Department greenlighted submarine technology sales to Taiwan. 

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Ukraine's Usyk beats Russian Gassiev to win WBSS final & Muhammad Ali trophy in Moscow

Ukraine’s Alexander Usyk is the new undisputed cruiserweight champion of the world after recording a unanimous decision victory over Russia’s Murat Gassiev in Moscow in the WBSS tournament to claim the Muhammad Ali trophy.

Usyk now holds all four WBO, WBC, IBF and WBA world titles as well as clinching a top rank in the 200 pound division as he improved his undefeated streak to 15-0 with the win over Usyk at Moscow’s Olimpiyskiy Sports Complex.

Usyk won comfortably by wide scores of 120-108, 119-109, 119-109 by bamboozling a game and tough Gassiev who found no answer to the lightning hand speed and head movement in the Urkainian, who hands Gassiev the first defeat of his career.


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Lavrov to Pompeo: Free Maria Butina arrested on fabricated spy charges

The US should immediately release Russian gun activist Maria Butina, who is being held in the US on espionage charges, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told his US counterpart over the phone, calling the case “fabricated.”

“Lavrov stressed that the actions of the US authorities that arrested Russian citizen [Maria] Butina on fabricated charges are unacceptable,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement, adding that the minister also called for her “immediate release” in his conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday.

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The Foreign minister raised the issue during phone conversations that were made at the request of the US and aimed at “further normalization of the US-Russian relations” following the summit between the US President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Lavrov and Pompeo also discussed the process of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, as well as the situation in Syria.

The 29-year-old Russian student and a gun activist was arrested in the US about a week ago and charged with acting as a foreign agent without registering her activities with the authorities. Butina has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

On July 16, a DC Federal Court rejected Butina’s bail plea and ordered her to be placed in custody pending trial over fears that she could flee or contact Russian intelligence officials. Her lawyer says the trial is being politicized and Russian embassy staff were only allowed to visit her in jail on Thursday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has called Butina’s arrest politically motivated, adding that it could have been aimed at disrupting the Helsinki summit between Putin and Trump. On Thursday, the ministry also launched a campaign hashtagged #FreeMariaButina on Twitter to raise awareness of her case.

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Usyk v Gassiev – WBSS cruiserweight final from Moscow

WBO & WBC champ Usyk, from Ukraine, takes on Russia’s IBF & WBA champion Gassiev for the right to become the undisputed world champion and first ever holder of the coveted Muhammad Ali trophy.

The matchup is already being tipped for fight of the year honours between two undefeated fighters, with many struggling to pick a winner from the bout at the Russian capital’s Olympiyskiy Sports Complex. 

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Florida cops won’t charge man in shocking parking lot shooting over state’s ‘stand your ground’ law

A Florida man who shot and killed another man in front of his children during an argument over a handicapped parking space will not face charges after the sheriff said the incident falls under the state’s “stand your ground” law.

Michael Drejka, 47, escaped a murder charge after shooting father-of-three Markeis McGlockton, 28, in the chest following a row outside a convenience store in Pinellas County near Tampa on Thursday afternoon.

READ MORE: Florida issued 1000s of concealed carry permits without background checks for more than a year

CCTV footage of the incident shows Drejka confronting the victim’s girlfriend about their car being parked in a handicapped parking spot without a permit. Witnessing the argument, McGlockton rushed to the scene and pushed Drejka to the ground. Drejka then pulled out his handgun and shot his assailant, who then wheeled away, clutching his chest.

Two of McGlockton’s children, a four-month-old and a three-year-old, were in the car at the time of the shooting. His five-year-old was in the store, according to the Tampa Bay Times

Drejka, who reportedly owns the gun legally and had a concealed carry permit, told deputies who interviewed him that he was afraid of being attacked. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the state would not bring charges against Drejka, as the shooting “is within the bookends of ‘stand your ground’ and within the bookends of force being justified.”

Florida’s “stand your ground” law was enacted in 2005 and allows residents of the state to use deadly force if they “reasonably believe” they are at risk of death or great bodily harm. The law states that people have “no duty to retreat” from their homes or vehicles if they feel threatened.

READ MORE: Florida strengthens ‘stand your ground’ rule used in Trayvon Martin case

The law was most controversially cited in the case of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer who shot dead 17-year-old African American boy Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, in 2012. Zimmerman claimed he shot the boy in self-defence following an altercation between the pair. He was not charged at the time, but national media attention meant that he was eventually charged and tried in Martin’s death. He was acquitted of second-degree murder and manslaughter in July 2013.

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1 year of liberation: Mosul people living among rubble & dead bodies while ISIS still around

Dead bodies, ruined houses and the risk of Islamists coming back are only a few perils people in Mosul have to cope with. Life in the liberated city is still full of fears, hopelessness and grief, RT’s Ruptly agency revealed.

It’s been a year since the US-backed Iraqi forces defeated Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) in the city of Mosul that had become their de-facto capital. Baghdad has declared a major victory in the war that gripped the country for several years in a row. On the back of the liberation, disturbing reports began emerging, telling of all-out destruction, extrajudicial killings and a looming humanitarian crisis. A new report from the ground now reveals that, since then, things haven’t improved a lot. 

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The ruins of al-Nuri Mosque are seen in Mosul, Iraq, on January 4, 2018. © Khalil Dawood

A Ruptly crew went to the city to talk to local people who went through enormous hardships while living in war-torn Mosul. A man named Mohammed Qadir told the crew a harrowing story of his small daughter being killed in the bombings in April last year. The girl was hiding in the toilet with her little sister when a bomb struck the man’s house.

“You know when a mortar falls you hear the sound, it’s loud. When this [projectile] fell we didn’t hear it even though it was right here. This is where it happened.” Shrapnel severely mutilated the girl, but the nearby doctors refused to save her.

“They said: ‘We are not going to treat her. Our priority is the fighters. We can give her an injection so she dies immediately. Better for her to die at home.’”

As locals struggle to get their lives back to normal, decomposing corpses continue to lie under the rubble. “Yes, there are two bodies still down there. And there are four more bodies in that house behind us,” Qadir said before adding: “The stench coming from them is very strong. Our children are getting sick because of this.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi commanders warn that IS fighters may still be holing up around Mosul and the rest of the country. “No, we cannot say for sure that it is 100 percent [that IS has been eliminated]. … Still, there are few IS sleeper cells hiding in places such as the desert, the jungles, in islands of the Tigris River, and some hiding amongst civilians,” Major General Najmi Al-Juhuri told Ruptly. “We receive tens of phone calls on a daily basis, with people leading us to sleeper cells or guiding us to IS elements appearing anywhere,” he added.

Aid agencies, for their part, are sounding the alarm about the dire state of affairs in Mosul. “It is unfair to say nothing has changed there, but what call for is that the chance should go quicker,” Benoit de Gryse, operations manager with Medecines Sans Frontieres (MSF), told RT.

“We see that the level of destruction that happened a year ago is still visible, even infrastructure hasn’t been repaired yet, hospitals haven’t been reopened yet, there’s a lack of water,” he warned.

At least 2,521 civilians were killed and 1,673 wounded during the nine month Mosul operation, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in November 2017, said last year, adding that the figures should be considered an “absolute minimum.”

However, National Public Radio (NPR) said that its investigation revealed that the Mosul morgue had issued 4,865 death certificates during the battle, while AP estimated the civilian death toll between 9,000 and 11,000 people.

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‘Out for season/no pay!’ Trump calls on tougher NFL suspension for protesting players

US president Donald Trump has called on National Football League (NFL) bosses to suspend players involved in kneeling demonstrations for an entire season without pay.

Trump has repeatedly admonished players who partake in kneeling protests since the problem emerged in 2016. In a Twitter post on Friday, the president called for a one-game ban for kneeling and a season-long ban for a repeat offence.

READ MORE: Leading US sports clubs cut ties with Papa John’s in wake of n-word scandal

“The NFL National Anthem Debate is alive and well again – can’t believe it! Isn’t it in contract that players must stand at attention, hand on heart?,” Trump tweeted. “The $ 40,000,000 Commissioner must now make a stand. First time kneeling, out for game. Second time kneeling, out for season/no pay!

The anthem protest issue flared up again after Associated Press reported Thursday that the Miami Dolphins planned to suspend protesting players for up to four games under a new team policy.

In the wake of the news, the NFL and NFL Players Association made a joint statement on Thursday saying that no anthem-related team policies will be enforced for the next several weeks as part of a standstill agreement between the two sides.

Anthem protests have been one of the highly debated issues in sport for almost two years after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during pre-game ceremonies in protest of what he viewed as police brutality and racial discrimination in the USA.

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‘Fake revolution’: Kiev summons Italy envoy after Salvini rips into ‘foreign-funded’ Ukraine unrest

Ukraine is expecting the Italian ambassador for a chat at its Foreign Ministry after Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Interior Minister, slammed the 2014 Euromaidan protests and coup in Kiev as “pseudo-revolution” sponsored from abroad.

“On Monday, we’ll be meeting with the Italian ambassador [Davide La Cecilia]. He’s a nice person and we understand that he can’t be held responsible for the words of the politicians in his home county,” Olena Zerkal, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister, told the local Channel 5 on Friday.

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FILE PHOTO: Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini © Tony Gentile

Salvini made the comments that infuriated the Ukrainian authorities during his interview with the Washington Post, which was published earlier this week. US journalist, Lally Weymouth, tried to grill the minister over his support for Crimea’s return to Russia. The journalist called the referendum that took place in the region “fake.”

“Compare it to the fake revolution in Ukraine, which was a pseudo-revolution funded by foreign powers – similar to the Arab Spring revolutions,” Salvini shot back, pointing out that 90 percent of Crimeans voted for the return of the peninsula to the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry responded with a statement, saying that Salvini words were “not grounded in real facts and in contradiction of recognized principles and norms of international law.”

Zerkal also attempted to downplay Salvini’s words on Friday by saying that “it was hard to expect any different rhetoric from him,” following Salvini’s previous visit to Crimea while being an Italian lawmaker.

Despite the Crimean people overwhelmingly voting to reunite with Russia in March 2014, Ukraine still considers the peninsula its own territory and bans politicians, public figures and artists who travel to Crimea.

Thousands of anti-government protesters occupied Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan) in late 2013 and early 2014, with deadly clashes eventually leading to the ousting of then-Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych.

During the unrest, US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, who made numerous trips to Kiev and was even spotted handing treats to the demonstrators, boasted that Washington had invested $ 5 billion into the promotion of democracy in Ukraine.

The new pro-Western government sent tanks to eastern Ukraine in spring 2014 where the population refused to recognize the coup. The US and the EU cited Russia’s reunion with Crimea and the conflict in Donbass as they slapped Moscow with several waves of sanctions targeting individuals, companies and whole sectors of economy.

READ MORE: Italy may become 1st EU nation to support lifting of anti-Russia sanctions

Salvini told the Washington Post that it was high time to lift those sanctions “because they didn’t prove to be useful, and according to the data, they hurt Italian exports.”

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