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May 17, 2018

President Trump's attorney Michael Cohen worked behind the scenes to negotiate a business venture in Moscow long after Trump denied financial involvement with Russia, BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, citing internal emails, text messages, and other documents. Cohen's machinations apparently included trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cohen and Felix Sater, a developer who often worked with the Trump Organization, wanted to license the Trump name to a building that would be called Trump World Tower Moscow, which would have netted at least $100 million for both the Trump Organization and Cohen and Sater.

After several months of back-and-forth negotiations with Russian officials tied to the Kremlin, Sater, and Cohen thought they could pull off a lucrative deal, and wanted to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin to finalize things. Sater, who was born in the Soviet Union and became a federal informant after escaping stock fraud charges, tried to secure funding and approval from Russian officials. In early 2016, Sater said that he had made plans to meet "with Putin's top administration people ... [t]o discuss goals, meeting agenda, and meeting time between Putin and Trump."

Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in September that the project had been scrapped back in January 2016, but BuzzFeed News reports that he and Sater continued communicating via encrypted messages to work on Trump Tower Moscow. In June 2016, Cohen accepted an invitation to Russia, where he was told he would meet Putin or other top officials, but he reportedly eventually abandoned the plan. Soon afterward, Trump tweeted that he had "ZERO investments in Russia." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Summer Meza

1:07p.m.

Members of Congress were out in force Sunday weighing in on Saudi Arabia's "fist fight" explanation of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's death inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. And while they were united in varying degrees of skepticism about Riyadh's story, lawmakers did not put forward a unified theory of how to respond.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) labeled the Saudi account "insulting," arguing no one "analyzing this with any type of intelligent background" would believe "a fist fight led to a dismemberment with a bone saw."

He argued for a broad rethinking of U.S.-Saudi relations, including arms sales, over Khashoggi, the war in Yemen, and Riyadh's record on religious liberty.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, on CNN explicitly accused Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of involvement.

Corker argued there "has to be a punishment" if MBS is implicated; on Friday, he mentioned sanctions as a possibility.

On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said on NBC the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be expelled until the matter is settled.

And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, on ABC called for an inquiry into whether President Trump's financial ties to Saudi Arabia could be influencing his changeable response to Khashoggi's death.

Schiff said he expects Trump "to accept the crown prince's denials much as he has accepted [Russian President Vladimir] Putin's denials and [North Korean leader] Kim's denials." Bonnie Kristian

12:13p.m.

Moscow on Sunday pushed back against President Trump's Saturday night announcement that he intends to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an arms control agreement with Russia that dates to the Reagan era.

"This would be a very dangerous step," said Russia Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, as quoted in Russian state media. He argued the announcement is like "blackmail" ahead of National Security Adviser John Bolton's planned trip to Russia this coming week.

"Unlike our American colleagues, we understand all the seriousness of the issue and its significance for security and strategic stability," Ryabkov continued. "If the Americans continue to act as crudely  ... and unilaterally withdraw from all sorts of agreements and mechanisms, from the Iran deal to the International Postal treaty, then we'll be reduced to taking action in response, including of a military nature. But we don't want to go that far."

Trump has argued with NATO support that Russian missile tests conducted in the last decade violate the terms of the treaty. "And we're not going to let them violate a nuclear agreement and go out and do weapons and we're not allowed to," he said. Bonnie Kristian

11:55a.m.

A coalition of human rights and journalism groups including Amnesty International, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders on Sunday called for Turkey to instigate a United Nations investigation into the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

"U.N. involvement is the best guarantee against a Saudi whitewash or attempts by other governments to sweep the issue under the carpet to preserve lucrative business ties with Riyadh," said Robert Mahoney of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The business ties Mahoney has in mind are likely a major U.S.-Saudi arms deal President Trump has refused to cancel regardless of what happened to Khashoggi.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already stressed the "need for a prompt, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi's death and full accountability for those responsible."

After denying knowledge of Khashoggi's whereabouts for two weeks, Saudi Arabia on Saturday said he died in "a brawl and a fist fight" inside the consulate. However, an unnamed senior Saudi official on Sunday told Reuters a 15-man team "overstepped their orders and quickly employed violence," in Reuters' paraphrase, accidentally killing him with a chokehold intended to smother his shouts. Bonnie Kristian

11:35a.m.

At least 18 people were killed and about 160 injured when a passenger train derailed in Taiwan on Sunday evening local time. The train was carrying 366 people, and rescue efforts continue as several dozen were trapped on board. The line runs in a coastal area and is popular with tourists; an American woman was among those hurt.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen pledged "all our strength and efforts for the rescue" in a Facebook post offering condolences for the families of the victims and cautioning against speculation as to the cause of the crash while the investigation is underway. Bonnie Kristian

10:16a.m.

Afghanistan's parliamentary election was extended for a second day Sunday after Saturday's voting was marred by violence, technical difficulties, and, in some places, polling stations that did not open at all.

This is the first such election since 2010, and it employs a biometric tracking system to avoid fraud that has not been widely tested. "More than 25 percent of the [voting] centers we observed were not opened," reported Naeem Ayubzada of Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan. "We also observed technical challenges with 32 percent of the biometric systems not working in 22 percent of the polling centers. Also, 9 percent of the centers were not equipped with the biometric system."

The Taliban, which remains powerful particularly in rural regions, has told Afghanistan's 8.8 million eligible voters to stay away from the polls, but despite these obstacles, more than 3 million voted Saturday. Bonnie Kristian

10:09a.m.

President Trump said Saturday he is reviewing a list of five candidates to replace outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, and he expects to announce a decision soon. "We'll have somebody great," the president pledged. "We're going to pick somebody very quickly."

Two of the candidates are men, and three are women, Trump said, telling reporters he "might prefer" to have a woman in the role. "I think it's become maybe a more glamorous position than it was two years ago," he said. "Maybe, I wonder why, but it is. [Haley has] made it a very glamorous position."

Haley's next step remains unknown, as she has insisted she will not run for the presidency in 2020. Bonnie Kristian

10:02a.m.

President Trump said at a campaign rally in Nevada Saturday his administration is working on new tax cuts for the middle class and expects to reveal the plan before the midterms.

"We are going to be putting in and are studying very deeply right now, around the clock, a major tax cut for middle-income people," he said. "Not for business at all. For middle-income people." He described the timeline for the new cuts, as promised in May, as "sometime just prior, I would say, to November."

Congress is in recess until after the midterm elections and cannot pass any new tax law before November begins. Last December, Trump signed into law the largest tax reform bill since the 1980s. Bonnie Kristian

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