July 12, 2017

U.S. intelligence overheard Russian government officials discussing President Trump even before he'd declared he was running for office, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Such conversations were intercepted in spring 2015 and apparently referred to "meetings held outside the U.S. involving Russian government officials and Trump business associates or advisers." Trump has sold properties in Russia and produced the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013. The Journal noted it's unclear whether the conversations were at all tied to Trump's plans to run for president.

The conversations were intercepted during routine intelligence monitoring that was not specifically targeted at Trump. However, intelligence agencies are now returning to the transcripts since Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday released emails confirming he'd set up a meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who claimed she had compromising information about Hillary Clinton. In the emails, Trump Jr. is offered "very high-level and sensitive information" that's "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

Back in 2015, intelligence agencies weren't sure what to make of the conversations. One former official said they were wondering, "What's going on?"

Read more on the story at The Wall Street Journal. Becca Stanek

July 11, 2017

At a Tuesday press conference to discuss the latest developments in the Russia investigation, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) deemed Donald Trump Jr.'s recently released emails "very significant" and "deeply disturbing."

The emails between Trump Jr. and publicist Rob Goldstone about a potential meeting with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer offer "new public information about direct contacts" between the Trump campaign and Russia, Schiff said. Goldstone reached out to Trump Jr. about a Russian source who could potentially provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton, to which Trump Jr. responded that he'd "love it" if that were the case. Schiff contended "all the campaign denials" about contacts with Russia "obviously now have to be viewed in a completely different context."

Schiff said he now wants to investigate whether the meeting "was just the beginning" or "a testing of the waters by the Russians to see whether the campaign would be receptive to their engagement and involvement in the presidential election." He also made clear the Trump campaign did not disclose the emails to the FBI, which he called a "breach of civic responsibility" and "of norms."

Goldstone claimed in the email exchange that the information "would be very useful" to President Trump and was "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Trump Jr. himself publicized the emails in a tweet Tuesday.

Schiff said the House Intelligence Committee "will certainly want" Trump Jr. to testify in a hearing. Becca Stanek

July 10, 2017
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On Monday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced "total victory for Iraq and all Iraqis" over the Islamic State in Mosul. Some areas of the city must still be "back-cleared of explosive devices and possible ISIS fighters in hiding," al-Abadi said, but Mosul is "now firmly under" Iraq's control.

ISIS has occupied Iraq's largest city for three years, forcing 1 million of the city's 2.5 million people to flee. Iraqi forces began battling to retake the city last October, a fight that's resulted in a high number of civilian and military casualties and the destruction of several landmarks.

On Sunday, al-Abadi had indicated it was "a matter of time" before Iraq would declare victory in Mosul. Becca Stanek

June 27, 2017
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Just a month after releasing a budget proposing drastic cuts to AIDS treatment programs, President Trump delivered a heartfelt statement on National HIV Testing Day.

Trump in the statement encouraged people to "take the first step — discovery — in fighting" HIV and expressed gratitude for the "concerted efforts to diagnose and treat more and more people," which have allowed Americans with HIV to live "longer, healthier lives than ever before." He vowed his administration would "build upon those improvements and continue supporting domestic and global health programs that prioritize testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS."

However, The New York Times reported in May that the Trump administration has proposed slashing funding for "programs that buy antiretroviral drugs for about 11.5 million people worldwide who are infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, by "at least $1.1 billion — nearly a fifth of current funding." The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR) estimated that the proposed budget cuts to AIDS programs could "cost more than 1 million lives and orphan more than 300,000 children."

BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month that six members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS resigned because they felt Trump "simply does not care" about combating the disease. On Tuesday, Trump said AIDS "has been one of the world's most significant health challenges." Becca Stanek

June 15, 2017

A week after reports surfaced that an Uber executive obtained the medical records of a woman raped by one of Uber's drivers, the woman filed a lawsuit against the ride-sharing company and three of its current and former top executives:

The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, a resident of Texas, is suing Uber and its chief executive, Travis Kalanick, as well as two former senior executives, Emil Michael and Eric Alexander, for intrusion into private affairs, public disclosure of private facts, and defamation. She said in her suit that the three executives believed her rape, in 2014, may have been part of a conspiracy hatched by a competing ride-hailing company or a taxi company. [The New York Times]

The Uber executive, Eric Alexander, reportedly traveled to India, where the woman was raped in 2014 during an Uber ride, to get ahold of the woman's medical records. It's not entirely clear how he did so or if the files were obtained "legally," Recode reported.

Alexander then shared those documents with Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and senior executive Emil Michael, who are both also named in the lawsuit. His intent was apparently to question whether the woman's account was true. The accused Uber driver has been convicted of kidnapping and sexual assault and sentenced to life in prison.

“Rape denial is just another form of the toxic gender discrimination that is endemic at Uber and ingrained in its culture," said lawyer Douglas Wigdor, who is representing the woman.

The lawsuit comes days after Uber announced that it had fired more than 20 employees following an investigation into company culture. Kalanick announced Tuesday that he would be taking a leave of absence to "work on Travis 2.0 to become the leader that this company needs." Becca Stanek

June 12, 2017
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Senate Republicans do not plan to publicly release their draft health-care bill, two senior Senate GOP aides tell Axios. The draft is expected to be completed Monday evening. One of the aides explained that Senate Republicans are "still in discussions about what will be in the final product, so it is premature to release any draft absent further member conversations and consensus."

By not releasing a draft of the GOP-backed American Health Care Act, Republicans will likely further enrage Democrats already irked about the lack of transparency surrounding the writing of the plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Last week, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) erupted on the Senate floor after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) confirmed there would not be any hearings on the bill. "We have no idea what's being proposed," McCaskill said. "There's a group of guys in a back room somewhere that are making these decisions."

Senate Republicans are eyeing a vote on the bill before the July 4 recess. Becca Stanek

June 9, 2017
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If the "tapes" of President Trump's conversations with former FBI Director James Comey actually exist, the House Intelligence Committee wants them handed over in two weeks. On Friday, Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) sent a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn, asking him to let the committee know if the "tapes" Trump once threatened Comey with on Twitter "now exist or have in the past."

"To the extent they exist now, the committee's letter asks that copies of such materials be produced to the committee by June 23," a statement from the House Intelligence Committee said.

The committee announced its request shortly after Trump, while speaking at a joint press conference with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis at the White House, refused to answer questions about the "tapes." He said he'd respond "in the near future," adding that everyone was "going to be very disappointed" by his answer.

Also Friday, the House Intelligence Committee requested that Comey turn over "any notes or memoranda in his possession memorializing discussions" that he had with Trump. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Comey associate Daniel Richman, who leaked Comey's memos to the press, to hand over anything that Comey had shared with him. Becca Stanek

June 6, 2017
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Russian attacks on the U.S. voting system are even "broader than has been reported so far," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told USA Today on Tuesday. On Monday, The Intercept reported that it had obtained a highly classified National Security Agency report that revealed Russian military intelligence tried to hack a major U.S. voting software supplier and also sent "spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials" just before the 2016 elections.

Warner maintained that he does not believe Russia "got into changing actual voting outcomes," but he seemed to further corroborate reports that Russia did indeed breach aspects of the U.S. voting system, such as U.S. voter registration.

Warner warned that "none of these actions from the Russians stopped on Election Day." He said he is now working to get intelligence agencies to make public the states affected in the 2016 elections to "put electoral systems on notice" before the midterm elections in 2018, USA Today reported. Becca Stanek

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