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By Josh Lederman
WASHINGTON — Senior Trump administration officials Thursday said “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea after last month’s high-level talks in Hanoi failed to reach a nuclear agreement.
The officials told 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.
Officials said the U.S. is working to tighten pressure on North Korea to “unprecedented” levels by better enforcing sanctions and other economic measures against the North.
“This is a new approach,” one senior official said. “You’ve had piecemeal sanctions over the years.”
Tougher pressure, combined with Trump’s willingness to sit down with Kim to discuss North Korea’s future, will hopefully lead North Korea to decide to denuclearize, the officials say.
“We’ll give it some time,” said one official.
The officials said there’s no been change to Trump’s diplomatic approach and that any suggestion that the U.S. was open to a phased approach in which some sanctions would be lifted before denuclearization was a “misinterpretation.” But asked about Trump’s own comments in Hanoi that he didn’t want to box himself in on that issue, the officials said that they, too, didn’t want to box the president in.
The U.S. sees an increasing problem with illicit shipping by North Korea in violation of U.S. and U.N. sanction, including ship-to-ship transfers at sea, the disabling of automated ship identification systems, falsification of cargo documentation, and North Korean coal exports that have resumed in the Gulf of Tonkin.
On Thursday, the Treasury Department slapped sanctions on two shipping company for trying to evade North Korea sanctions. These are the first sanctions since Hanoi.
The Treasury today also issued a new advisory warning about these practices.
Additional companies are “at risk” and will be punished if caught, the officials said.
Everything you need to know
Four months after he sent his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign to Attorney General William Barr, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify publicly Wednesday about what his investigators did — and didn’t — find.
Here’s a look at how and when to watch, and what to expect:
Mueller hearing time
His hearings won’t start that early, but they are early for Congress — he is set to begin his testimony promptly at 8:30 am before the House Judiciary Committee.
He’s expected to testify between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. to Judiciary, and then go before a second committee, House Intelligence, at noon for approximately two hours.
Who will be doing the questioning?
The Judiciary Committee has 41 members and the Intelligence Committee has 22. While all of the Intelligence committee members are expected to get five minutes to ask questions, it is likely that some members of the larger Judiciary panel will get less time for questioning.
Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., is expected to make a brief opening statement, as is the panel’s ranking Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and that committee’s ranking Republican, Schiff’s fellow Californian Rep. Devin Nunes, will each make five-minute opening statements at the Intel hearing.
Will Mueller make an opening statement?
A spokesman for Mueller said Monday he will make a brief opening statement before both committees before giving them a lengthy official statement — his 448-page report on Russian interference.
Will Congress get the unredacted report?
Not on Wednesday. The version of the report Mueller is submitting for the official record will have the same number of redactions that were made by the Attorney General before the document became public — over 900 of them.
What is Mueller expected to say?
He has said his report “speaks for itself” and that he won’t provide any information “beyond what is already public.”
Democrats say they aren’t expecting any new bombshells, but they believe Mueller’s testimony will be an eye-opener for the American public. Nadler told “Fox News Sunday” the report “presents very substantial evidence” that President Donald Trump “is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Schiff said he wants Mueller to bring his report “to life.”
At the Aspen Security Conference on Saturday, Schiff told NBC’s Kristen Welker that it could be worthwhile to have Mueller read some portions of the report out loud.
“I do think there’s value in particular passages in the report to have the special counsel literally speak it in his own words,” Schiff said.
Republicans are expected to press Mueller on the political affiliations of some of his prosecutors, who Trump has repeatedly derided as “angry Democrats.” They’re also expected to focus on the report’s bottom line — that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its interference in the 2016 election.
Trump has said the report concluded there was “no collusion” and ” no obstruction,” but Democratic lawmakers plan to highlight at least five instances of what they say is obstruction of justice from the report, staffers told NBC News.
“What’s important is there is truly shocking evidence of criminal misconduct by the president — not once but again and again and again — that would result in any other American being criminally charged in a multiple count indictment,” one Democrat staffer said last week.
Where can I watch the hearings?
NBC News will air a special report beginning at 8:15 a.m. ET that will continue into the afternoon through both sessions. On MSNBC, live coverage will start at 6 a.m. ET. The testimony will also stream live on NBC News NOW, NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, YouTube, and other streaming platforms beginning at 8:30 a.m. ET.
Will Trump watch?
He said on Friday he would not, but acknowledged to reporters at the White House on Monday he would “probably” watch a little.
Boris, sign him up! Jacob Rees-Mogg offers to join new Cabinet – ‘I will do anything’
JACOB REES-MOGG has vowed to “do anything” to help incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson after the former London Mayor secured a landslide victory over Jeremy Hunt in the Tory leadership contest.
Search warrants issued for phones in Puerto Rico chat scandal
A day after more than half a million Puerto Ricans participated in a protest demanding the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, the island’s Justice Department confirmed to NBC News that it had issued search warrants to confiscate the cellphones of several people who participated in leaked private message chats with the governor.
The contents of the chats have triggered unprecedented mass protests and calls for Rosselló’s ouster.
The warrants come a week after only a handful of members in the chat voluntarily surrendered their cellphones to Justice officials as part of an investigation into possible conflicts of interest and law violations stemming from the leaked messages.
Telemundo Puerto Rico reported on Tuesday that authorities had confiscated the phones of Luis Rivera Marín, Rosselló’s secretary of state; Christian Sobrino, who held a series of economic posts; Raúl Maldonado, former chief financial officer; one-time communications aides Carlos Bermúdez and Rafael Cerame; Edwin Miranda, a communications consultant; Public Affairs Secretary Anthony Maceira; and Elías Sánchez, a lobbyist and Rosselló’s former campaign director.
Mariana Cobián, a Justice Department spokesperson, could only confirm to NBC News that warrants were taking place, but stated that they could not provide more details because of it’s an ongoing investigation.
The chats had 12 members, including Rosselló, who was one of the chat’s administrators.
No warrants were reportedly issued to seize Rosselló’s phone, who according to multiple local reports, had not complied with Justice Department requests last week.
Alfonso Orona, Rosselló’s former chief legal officer; Ramón Rosario, former public affairs secretary; and Interior Secretary Ricardo Llerandi complied last week with the Justice Department’s orders, according to Telemundo.
Justice officials launched the investigation shortly after the island’s Center for Investigative Journalism published 889 pages of the chats showing public officials, lobbyists and others discussing public policy issues and party politics.
Days later, Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez announced plans to recuse herself from participating in the investigation since she was a subject of conversation in the leaked chats.
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