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By Katy Tur

Senate intelligence committee investigators are interviewing former members of President Donald Trump’s campaign as they hunt for evidence of possible collusion with Russia, asking one witness Friday fresh questions about the president’s business dealings and how he formulated his policies toward Moscow.

Sam Nunberg, who worked for Trump and his campaign in 2015, said he was questioned in a closed-door session on Capitol Hill about Trump’s trip to Moscow in 2013, his company’s interest in building a tower there and specific relationships between past members of the campaign and foreign actors who may have worked with Russia.

“They are doing an exhaustive investigation,” Nunberg told NBC News after his interview, which he said appeared to be “narrowly focused on collusion.”

Nunberg’s recollection of the day’s events provided a firsthand account of the workings of committee investigators as Trump’s presidency enters its third year.

Trump has strongly denied there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is separately investigating the possibility of collusion.

Staff on the Senate committee, which is chaired by Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, continued Friday in a closed door interview to press that line of inquiry.

Investigators went through a “check list” of questions, Nunberg said, including whether he had been aware of any conversations or relationships during his time with Trump regarding Russian banks, Russian oligarchs or business dealings with Russia.

Nunberg, who sat with committee staff for four and half hours, said he was asked repeatedly about how Trump formulated his policy positions regarding Russia. Trump has voiced support for numerous foreign policy positions beneficial to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Nunberg said he told the committee that Trump, as a candidate, said “he would take the position that he was happy Russia was in Syria.”

At the time, Nunberg said that position raised no red flags because he saw it as consistent with Trump’s generally held view that the United States should not be involved in the Middle East. Nunberg said the campaign was getting questions at that time about how he saw U.S. involvement in Syria.

Also of interest to investigators, Nunberg said, was the campaign’s relationship with the National Rifle Association and efforts by a Russian national to get a meeting with Trump through the NRA. Nunberg says he told investigators Friday that he was aware of efforts by Maria Butina, who pleaded guilty last month to conspiring with a Russian official to interfere in American politics, to seek a meeting with Trump, using the NRA as a conduit.

Investigators also peppered Nunberg with questions which suggested to him that they were trying to pin down specific relationships among members of Trump’s campaign and organization and outside actors, including Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Last year, Nunberg went on a whirlwind media tour declaring that he wouldn’t comply with a subpoena from the special counsel’s office. But he ultimately reversed course and sat for interviews with Mueller’s investigators. He also testified before a federal grand jury.

In the interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee, Nunberg said he was asked about numerous former campaign staff members, the president’s children and other associates including: Roger Stone, Jerome Corsi, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Tom Barrack, Michael Cohen, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump. He was also asked about Trump’s relationship with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch, and his pop-singer son, Emin, who helped set up the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

Nunberg said he was not asked about the president’s son-in-law and current White House adviser, Jared Kushner.

Sam Nunberg, former campaign aide for Donald Trump, exits federal court in Washington on March 9, 2018.Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Among the other topics raised Friday, Nunberg said, were the 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in New York with Trump Jr, Manafort, Kushner and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer offering them the promise of “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton; Trump’s travel to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant; the company’s interest in building a tower in the Russian capital.

Nunberg said he was surprised by the interest in a Moscow tower since the campaign’s official position was that it would not seek new foreign deals. Nunberg said he was asked to review public statements, emails, tweets and text messages obtained by investigators related to potential Russian interference.

Nunberg described the committee’s investigation as professional and bipartisan. “If I were the White House, I would be concerned,” said Nunberg, who joined the campaign early but was fired in August 2015 after racially charged Facebook posts were uncovered. He later apologized.

Unlike the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation, which was shuttered by Republicans last spring over the protest of Democrats, the Senate committee’s probe has proceeded deliberately and in a largely non-partisan manner. Led by Burr and Ranking Democrat Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the panel has broken its probe into five parts and began releasing preliminary findings and recommendations last fall.

Those separate reports include: an analysis of the Intelligence Community’s assessment of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election; Russia’s use of social media and how social media firms addressed the abuse of their platforms; how the FBI and Obama administration addressed Russia’s activities and informed the public; an assessment of federal and state election security readiness; and whether Trump campaign officials colluded with the Russians.

The final question is potentially the most difficult for lawmakers on the committee to reach consensus on, and may not be fully answered until after the special counsel issues its final report.

Burr said Thursday he still hopes to hear additional testimony from Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and fixer, who is set to appear publicly before the House Oversight Committee next month.

Cohen pleaded guilty last month to lying to Congress about interest in building a Trump tower in Moscow.

Flynn, who served as Trump’s first national security adviser, separately pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian ambassador and is cooperating with the special counsel. Manafort, who served as Trump’s campaign chairman in 2016, pleaded guilty last year to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction of justice related to witness tampering.

Mike Memoli and Marianna Sotomayor contributed.

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Trump abruptly reverses Treasury’s North Korea-related sanctions on Chinese shippers

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that he would lift sanctions his Treasury Department had just announced it would impose on two Chinese shipping companies for allegedly violating existing prohibitions on providing goods and transportation services to North Korea.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The sanctions — which the White House did not immediately confirm that the president’s tweet was in reference to — were actually announced Thursday by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is an agency under the Treasury Department.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained the president’s decision as a courtesy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump broke off denuclearization talks in Hanoi last month.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sanders said.

Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and an MSNBC contributor, said that Trump’s decision had undercut law enforcement and sent a message to Kim that he won’t ramp up sanctions. While it’s good that Trump wants to continue diplomatic discussions with Kim, Cha said, the tweet had also sent the wrong signal to other countries about U.S. policy.

For years, the U.S. has used the threat and imposition of sanctions to deter individuals, companies and foreign governments from doing business with the North Korean regime to squeeze that nation’s economy and pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

At a time when Trump is eager to strike a trade deal with China, the relief from sanctions that Treasury officials imposed may also go over well in Beijing.

In announcing the sanctions Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. government wanted to make clear to shipping companies that they could not do business with North Korea.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mnuchin said. “Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk.”

However, senior Trump administration officials also said Thursday that “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea, telling reporters that President Trump remains “personally engaged” and also wants contacts to occur on the working level, although they wouldn’t disclose whether any such contacts have occurred since the summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Josh Lederman contributed.

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Gun rights groups try last-ditch move to stop Trump ban on rapid-fire bump stocks

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Owners of bump stocks — attachments that allow rifles to be fired rapidly — are hoping a federal appeals court will relieve them of the legal duty to destroy the devices by Monday.

The Trump administration ordered a ban on bump stocks after they figured prominently in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded 500 others. A police investigation revealed that Stephen Paddock, who carried out the massacre, had 22 semi-automatic rifles with him in his hotel room overlooking an outdoor concert that he attacked, and 14 of the weapons were equipped with bump stocks.

Under a federal rule that took effect in December, owners must destroy their bump stocks, which are usually made of plastic, by Monday or risk prosecution for a felony. The rule suggests smashing them with a hammer, cutting them apart with a saw, or turning them over to a local ATF office. It applies to individual owners, dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

Federal authorities estimate that half a million of them have been sold in the U.S.

The devices are attached to a rifle in place of the normal stock, the end piece that sit next to a user’s shoulder. Once in place, the bump stock absorbs the weapon’s recoil and alters the relationship between the trigger finger and the weapon.

Without a bump stock, the rifle remains stationary, and the trigger finger must be moved to fire each round. With a bump stock, after the trigger is pulled once, the recoil begins moving the trigger against the finger, which remains stationary, resulting in rapid firing like a fully automatic rifle.

For that reason, the Trump administration concluded that bump stocks violate a federal law that bans machineguns, defined as weapons that automatically fire more than one shot “with a single function of the trigger.”

Gun rights groups sued, arguing that bump stocks are intended to be used with AR-15 style rifles which are mechanically incapable of firing more than once with a single function of the trigger, because it must be released and moved again to allow the weapon to fire. They say the words of the statute — single function of the trigger — refer to the movement of the trigger itself, not whether the trigger is pulled by a finger or actuated by a bump stock.

“The government is just wrong to focus to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the function of the trigger,” said Erik Jaffee, representing the gun owners. “Function of the trigger means the trigger, not the shooter.”

The Justice Department told the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Friday that the courts have interpreted the phrase “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger.” A bump stock, government lawyers argued, allows a rifle to fire automatically once the trigger is pulled once, and that qualifies it as a machinegun.

An ATF spokeswoman said some owners have already turned in their bump stocks. But gun owner groups said others were waiting to see whether the appeals court agrees to put the rule on hold.

The court did not indicate when it might rule.



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‘I will TELEPATHICALLY stop you!’ Uri Geller sends Theresa May BIZARRE Brexit warning

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PARANORMAL spoon bender Uri Geller has written a bizarre open letter to Theresa May, telling the Prime Minister he “loves” her but “will stop you telepathically” from carrying out Brexit.

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