The Qatar bribery allegations featuring Trump, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, and the Steele dossier, explained
On Sunday, lawyer Michael Avenatti got the ball rolling on a strange and convoluted story involving Qatari diplomats, President Trump, Michael Cohen, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Ice Cube, Stephen Bannon, and the Trump-Russia collusion dossier compiled by ex-spy Christopher Steele. Avenatti, who represents porn star Stormy Daniels, released photos showing Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a top official at Qatar's state investment fund, getting in a Trump Tower elevator on Dec. 12, 2016, with Cohen and Qatar's foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al Thani.
Al-Rumaihi's company, Sport Trinity, confirmed to CNN that he was at the Trump Tower meetings, and Qatar's press attaché told Britain's Daily Mail on Tuesday that al Thani was there, too, to meet with Trump transition officials. Also known: The Qatari wealth fund division al-Rumaihi ran from May 2016 to March 2017 bought a 19.5 percent stake in Russian oil giant Rosneft five days before the December 2016 meeting.
Then things get murky. An unidentified Kuwaiti official told the Daily Mail that in the last week, al-Rumaihi told him that in a December 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Flynn and Cohen, "Cohen told him to send millions to various members of the Trump family." Al-Rumaihi apparently refused, but Jeff Kwatinetz, a former business partner of al-Rumaihi's in a basketball league co-owned with Ice Cube, said in a sworn deposition last week that al-Rumaihi asked him to offer a bribe from Qatar to Bannon, a friend, in January, and when Kwatinetz said no, al-Rumaihi laughed and asked, "Do you think Flynn turned down our money?" (Al-Rumaihi denies saying this.)
Also publicly unsubstantiated is a claim in the Steele dossier that in summer 2016, a Rosneft official offered the Trump campaign, via adviser Carter Page, a stake in Rosneft if future President Trump scrapped Russia sanctions, as Slate explains. Helpfully, MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell tried to tie all these strands together with Slate's Jeremy Stahl on Tuesday night, while The Atlantic's David Frum issued a note of caution. Watch below. Peter Weber
He steals your heart, then he steals your car.
On Saturday, Faith Pugh was ready for a night out in Memphis with one of her old high school classmates, Kelton Griffin, who contacted her out of the blue. When he showed up at her house, he didn't have a car, and asked if they could take her Volvo. "I don't know who dropped him off," she told WREG. "He just got dropped off." Griffin said he was still trying to decide where to take her, and asked if she'd run inside a convenience store to get him a cigar. She did, and when Pugh came back outside, Griffin — and her car — were gone.
Now without a ride, she called her mom, and after getting picked up, Pugh received a text from her godsister, who told her she was on a date — with Griffin. Pugh told WREG they used GPS on her godsister's phone in order to track them, and they wound up at a drive-in movie theater, where Pugh confronted Griffin on his second date of the night. She called police, and Griffin was arrested at the scene.
While Griffin was willing to steal a car to go on this date, that's as far as he would go. "He let her drive, so she drove him to the drive-in," Pugh said. "He didn't even have any money. She actually paid their way to get in the drive-in just so I could get my car back." Catherine Garcia
Prosecutors say alleged secret agent Maria Butina offered sex for a job, was in touch with Russian intelligence
Alleged Kremlin agent Maria Butina lied to obtain a student visa in 2016 and offered to have sex with an American in order to get a job at an unidentified special interest organization, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.
Butina, who was arrested Sunday, is charged with conspiracy and illegally acting as an agent of the Russian government, with prosecutors saying she was part of a campaign to influence high-level politicians to go along with Russian objectives. She allegedly started by infiltrating conservative circles, including the National Rifle Association, in order to gain access to politicians, all while staying in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and an oligarch with close ties to the Kremlin.
Prosecutors said she lived with a Republican political operative that she referred to as her boyfriend, but she had "disdain" for him and made him do her homework for classes at the American University, The New York Times reports. It's believed that Butina worked under the direction of Alexander Torshin, the deputy head of the Russian central bank with ties to Russian security services. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson denied Butina bail, after prosecutors argued she was a flight risk. If convicted, Butina could face up to 15 years in prison. She has not been charged with espionage, and this case is not part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling. Catherine Garcia
Columbo is now living the dream, enjoying life on a horse ranch in Maine just days after being found on the side of the road, injured after being hit by a car.
Mountain biker Jarrett Little was on a ride near Columbus, Georgia, when he found the stray dog near a sewage plant. His leg was broken, his ribs were showing, and there was no way he could walk. Little hoisted him up on his back, and rode seven miles into downtown Columbus, where he stopped at a bike shop so Columbo could get some food and water. There, Little met Andrea Shaw, in town on business.
Columbo immediately sidled up next to her, and Shaw, an animal lover, was smitten, too, and decided she would take care of his medical treatment and take him home to Maine. She gave him the name Columbo in honor of the town, then took him to the vet. He's healing now, with staples and pins in his back leg and a full cast on his front leg due to a broken toe, and Shaw said he's loving getting to know his new family, including Shaw's young son, husband, and other dogs. "I already can't imagine what it would be like without him, and it's only been a week," she told Inside Edition Catherine Garcia
Teacher on plane receives donations from fellow passengers who overhear her gushing about her students
When Kimberly Bermudez got off her Southwest Airlines flight to Jacksonville, she was $530 richer, but the money isn't for her — it's for the first-graders she teaches at a low-income elementary school in Chicago.
While chatting with the passenger next to her last week, Bermudez shared the challenges of being a teacher at a school where some kids come to school hungry and others are homeless, but also the joy they bring her. She told him she often uses her own money to buy kids clothes and hygiene products, and her fellow passenger said his company donates to schools like hers.
Bermudez said her school would welcome any and all donations, and soon felt a tap on her shoulder. The man sitting behind her said he'd been listening to their conversation, and he wanted to help. He handed Bermudez a stack of cash and told her, "Do something amazing." Not long after, the man across the aisle said he didn't have much cash on him, but wanted to give her something, and slipped Bermudez $20. Before the plane landed, the man in front of Bermudez also joined in, giving her $10.
Bermudez told The Washington Post she started to cry, and explained she wasn't trying to fundraise. One of the men told her "that's why we're giving it to you. Use your voice. Use your gift of talking." Bermudez received $530, and said she plans on using the money to buy books, backpacks, and school supplies for her kids. Catherine Garcia
Enraged diplomat at 'a loss' over White House even considering letting Russia question former ambassador
A livid diplomat told The Daily Beast's Spencer Ackerman that he's at "a f—king loss" over the White House refusing to rule out letting Russian officials question a former U.S. ambassador.
Russian prosecutors said on Wednesday that they wanted to interview Michael McFaul about a case against Russian President Vladimir Putin's foe, Bill Browder; McFaul said he was not in Russia during the pertinent time frame. When asked about Russia's request, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders would only say there had been "some conversation" about it between President Trump and Putin Monday in Helsinki; State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later called the idea "absolutely absurd."
Ackerman spoke to several current and former State Department officials, who can't believe the White House isn't squashing the request. "It's beyond disgraceful," a current diplomat said. "It's fundamentally ignorant with regard to how we conduct diplomacy or what that means. It really puts in jeopardy the professional independence of diplomats anywhere in the world, if the consequence of their actions is going to be potentially being turned over to a foreign government."
Trump, the diplomat declared, has been "[defecating] on our NATO allies and kissing Putin's ass," because he "cares more about himself than the nation and any of us who serve it." In a callback to Trump's Access Hollywood tape, the diplomat added, "Either he's compromised by Putin or he's a pussy, in which case he should grab himself." Catherine Garcia
During a meeting in Trump Tower on Jan. 6, 2017, Donald Trump, just weeks from being inaugurated as president of the United States, was shown highly classified intelligence that indicated Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered cyberattacks to influence the 2016 U.S. election, The New York Times reports.
Trump was briefed by former CIA Director John Brennan; former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper; and Adm. Michael Rogers, former director of the National Security Agency, with the evidence including texts and emails from Russian military officers and information from a source close to Putin who covertly told the CIA how Russia executed its disinformation and hacking campaign.
Several people at the briefing told the Times Trump sounded "grudgingly convinced," but since the inauguration, has been reticent to publicly call Putin out, as seen in Helsinki on Monday, yet quick to ridicule Brennan and Clapper. One of Trump's closest aides told the Times Trump is afraid if he ever admits the campaign was successful, it will delegitimize his presidency. For more about the meeting, and the lengths Brennan went to protect the human sources who funneled information to the CIA, visit The New York Times. Catherine Garcia
FBI Director Christopher Wray affirmed on Wednesday that he is confident in the assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and said Moscow is still working to sow discord in the United States.
Russia is using propaganda and fake news items to "spin up" Americans, Wray said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado, and he brushed off Russian President Vladimir Putin's idea of having his country help U.S. authorities investigate 12 Russian military intelligence officials indicted last week on hacking charges. The offer is "not high on our list of investigative techniques," Wray said. Catherine Garcia