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  • In a long awaited report on the origins of the Russia investigation, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice concluded on Monday that the 2016 investigation of possible Russian election interference was properly undertaken by the FBI, saying there was no evidence the Trump Campaign had been spied upon by investigators. The 476 page report found that 'Crossfire Hurricane' - the code name for the original Russia investigation - 'was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.' Pushing back against claims that the FBI had illegally spied on the Trump campaign, the IG report found 'no evidence that the FBI placed any' confidential human sources 'to report on the Trump campaign.' The IG report confirmed that the decision to start the investigation had been spurred by revelations from an Australian diplomat, who had been told early in 2016 by Trump foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton. The report also indicated that even before the formal investigation was undertaken, the FBI was already looking carefully at Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Both men had known ties to people suspected of being involved with Russian Intelligence. The report also rejected claims of political bias from inside the FBI - even as it raised questions about bias from both sides of the aisle. The report addressed the previously known text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and top counterintelligence official Peter Strzok - but found they did not play any role in the decision to launch the investigation into possible Russian interference or ties to the Trump campaign in 2016. On the other side, the report also found evidence from some FBI investigators that they favored Mr. Trump - also leaving an electronic paper trail - and in this case, indicating their desire to investigate the Clinton Foundation. In an odd twist to the public release of the report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found his conclusions under public attack from the Attorney General of the United States. 'The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,' Barr said in his own statement, which was at odds with the IG's conclusion. The skepticism also included a statement from U.S. Attorney John Durham, Barr's handpicked investigator who is doing his own review of the same situation. For Republicans the report's criticism of possible problems with the FISA process dealing with former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was the target of most GOP criticism. In the report, the IG found that there were a number of 'factual misstatements and omissions' in terms of information, which might have undermined what officials thought was an easy decision to sign off on a FISA application for surveillance of Page, who was no stranger to the FBI when it came to Russian intelligence investigations. 'Our review found that FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are 'scrupulously accurate,' the IG summary stated. 'We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,' the report continued. But the IG did not take any stance on whether the Page FISA requests were improper.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un opened a new mountain spa and ski resort that’s intended for people to enjoy “high civilization under socialism” in another example of the country using tourism exemptions in sanctions to build revenue for its broken economy. Kim cut the ribbon during the ceremonial opening of the Yangdok Hot Spring Cultural Recreation Center and praised his soldiers for creating a “miracle and prefect edifice” that serves the ruling party’s efforts to guide people to modern civilization, a state media report said. North Korea’s state TV showed aerial footage of the resort, including its red-roofed hotels, hot spring spas, ski slope and horse-riding park. The broadcast showed thousands of soldiers and flag-waving civilians and children welcoming Kim at the site, which he visited at least four times this year, according to state media. He smiled as he toured the facilities, which included a solo chairlift ride above the ski slope. “(Kim) hardly repressed his happiness, saying that it has become possible to provide people with new culture, and one more plan of the Party to make our people enjoy high civilization under socialism as early as possible has come true,” Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said. The Yangdok resort, which the North began building last year, has been one of Kim’s major development projects along with another mountain resort recently completed in the northern town of Samjiyon and a summer resort being built in the coastal town of Wonsan.
  • Millions of US veterans and their family members leave benefits on the table, according to the Veterans Administration. In a recent visit to Tulsa, Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Benefits, told KRMG the agency's “greatest frustration” is that so many people don't know they qualify for the benefits. [CLICK HERE for an in-depth report on “Project Veteran Assistance”] With some fairly major changes going into effect January 1st, even those who think they're receiving all the benefits earned through service are urged to look into how those changes could affect them. In Tulsa, there's an organization called “Project Veteran Assistance” which helps veterans and family members negotiate the complicated process of determining and receiving benefits. Recently, KRMG sat down with the group's founder, Steve Juett, whose own family's experiences led him to get actively involved in helping others. You'll find the entire interview HERE, or use the audio player below.
  • Slimer is back and has an afterlife again. The first full trailer of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” has been dropped and it shows what happened after the original series ended. The story follows the family of one of the original Ghostbusters, but it hasn’t been confirmed which Ghostbuster yet. Some are speculating that it is Harold Ramis, who played Egon Spangler and who died in real life in 2014, Entertainment Weekly reported. >> Read more trending news  The family, who moves to a small town in Oklahoma, discovers their connection to the Ghostbusters, finding a proton pack, a ghost containment device, a PKE meter and even the iconic Ecto-1 car. Paul Rudd stars as the children’s teacher who was a kid himself in Manhattan during in 1984 when the original Ghostbusters battled the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Gozer, The Destructor, Entertainment Weekly reported. That event is referred to as the Manhattan Crossrip of 1984. Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver also appear in the movie, Entertainment Weekly reported. They are joined by Carrie Coon, the daughter of one of the former Ghostbusters, and Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard, star as her children, Vanity Fair reported. The film is directed and co-written by Jason Reitman, the son of original director Ivan Reitman. It will be released on July 10.
  • At least five people are dead after a volcano erupted Monday on New Zealand’s White Island, officials said. >> Read more trending news  According to New Zealand police, 50 or fewer people, including more than 30 passengers on Royal Caribbean International’s Ovation of the Seas cruise ship, were in the area when the volcano erupted just after 2 p.m. local time Monday, CNN reported. Of the 23 people evacuated, five have died, and many of the 18 survivors were being treated for burn wounds, The Associated Press reported. In a Monday night news conference, New Zealand police Deputy Commissioner John Tims said he was not sure how many people remain on the island but estimated that it was a double-digit number, the AP reported. Rescuers are not yet able to search the island because “the physical environment is unsafe,” Tims said. Police have not released the nationalities or identities of the victims and the missing; however, the Guardian reported that at least 20 are Australian. Officials also believe that “overseas tourists” and New Zealand residents were affected, according to the AP. Royal Caribbean issued a statement saying it is “devastated” by the eruption and offering sympathy to “those affected by this tragedy,” CNN reported. “We are working together with local authorities, and we are providing all the help and care we can to our guests and their families, including offering medical resources and counseling,” the statement read. “We are also sending staff members from both our ship and our Sydney and Auckland offices to assist family members however possible.” The cruise line added that the “Ovation of the Seas will remain in port as long as needed to assist with the situation,” according to CNN. – The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Washington Insider

  • In a long awaited report on the origins of the Russia investigation, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice concluded on Monday that the 2016 investigation of possible Russian election interference was properly undertaken by the FBI, saying there was no evidence the Trump Campaign had been spied upon by investigators. The 476 page report found that 'Crossfire Hurricane' - the code name for the original Russia investigation - 'was opened for an authorized investigative purpose and with sufficient factual predication.' Pushing back against claims that the FBI had illegally spied on the Trump campaign, the IG report found 'no evidence that the FBI placed any' confidential human sources 'to report on the Trump campaign.' The IG report confirmed that the decision to start the investigation had been spurred by revelations from an Australian diplomat, who had been told early in 2016 by Trump foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton. The report also indicated that even before the formal investigation was undertaken, the FBI was already looking carefully at Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, and Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Both men had known ties to people suspected of being involved with Russian Intelligence. The report also rejected claims of political bias from inside the FBI - even as it raised questions about bias from both sides of the aisle. The report addressed the previously known text messages between FBI lawyer Lisa Page and top counterintelligence official Peter Strzok - but found they did not play any role in the decision to launch the investigation into possible Russian interference or ties to the Trump campaign in 2016. On the other side, the report also found evidence from some FBI investigators that they favored Mr. Trump - also leaving an electronic paper trail - and in this case, indicating their desire to investigate the Clinton Foundation. In an odd twist to the public release of the report, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found his conclusions under public attack from the Attorney General of the United States. 'The Inspector General’s report now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken,' Barr said in his own statement, which was at odds with the IG's conclusion. The skepticism also included a statement from U.S. Attorney John Durham, Barr's handpicked investigator who is doing his own review of the same situation. For Republicans the report's criticism of possible problems with the FISA process dealing with former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was the target of most GOP criticism. In the report, the IG found that there were a number of 'factual misstatements and omissions' in terms of information, which might have undermined what officials thought was an easy decision to sign off on a FISA application for surveillance of Page, who was no stranger to the FBI when it came to Russian intelligence investigations. 'Our review found that FBI personnel fell far short of the requirement in FBI policy that they ensure that all factual statements in a FISA application are 'scrupulously accurate,' the IG summary stated. 'We identified multiple instances in which factual assertions relied upon in the first FISA application were inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation, based upon information the FBI had in its possession at the time the application was filed,' the report continued. But the IG did not take any stance on whether the Page FISA requests were improper.
  • Even as Democrats press ahead with a historic effort to impeach President Donald Trump in the House, lawmakers in both parties are on the cusp of possibly producing series of major, bipartisan legislative deals, covering everything from a crackdown on surprise medical bills to a compromise establishing the President's plan for a 'Space Force' at the Pentagon in exchange for a big benefits change for federal workers. The calendar doesn't offer much time for action in either the House or Senate, as lawmakers hope to leave town by the weekend before Christmas - which would give the House and Senate until around December 20-23. Here are some of the big issues which might get resolved in Congress at the same time as Democrats force a vote on impeachment. 1. Lawmakers cut deal on surprise medical bills. Sunday brought news that a group of key lawmakers - in both parties from the House and Senate - had reached agreement on a plan to rein surprise bills which consumers often face, especially after emergency care. Backers stressed the bipartisan nature of the agreement. 'The legislation includes proposals from 80 Senators, 46 Democrats and 34 Republicans,' said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) in a Sunday statement. That does not necessarily mean this deal gets voted on in the next two weeks. 2. New minimum age to buy tobacco products. The deal on the issue of surprise medical bills also has some other items involved in it, including a provision which would raise the minimum age to buy tobacco products to 21 years. The idea of raising the legal age for buying cigarettes and tobacco has been supported in recent months by the Senate's top Republican - Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - but it's not clear if McConnell would rush such a bill to the Senate floor over the next two weeks. 3. 'Space Force' might be ready for launch. Lawmakers in both parties were trying to finalize a major defense policy bill early this week, and the details are expected to finally give President Trump his plan to set up a 'Space Force' inside the Pentagon. The plan - which has been resisted by lawmakers in both parties - would not set up a brand new branch of the military, as sought by President Trump. Instead, the Space Force would operate out of the Air Force, sort of like the Marines are considered part of the Navy. Critics argued a plan to set up a separate new branch of the military would have been too expensive, and would create an unnecessary new bureaucracy. 4. Paid family leave benefit for federal workers? The President won't get his Space Force for nothing in this major defense policy bill, as reportedly the deal with the White House will give around 2.7 million federal workers a new benefit - paid family leave. The plan would reportedly include up to 12 weeks of such leave for federal civilian workers. While no final bill language has been released, a tweet from over the weekend by President Trump's daughter shows this exchange could well be part of the defense bill. Stay tuned. 5. USMCA trade deal still a late year possibility. With a flurry of late negotiations involving U.S., Mexican, and Canadian trade officials, it's still possible that the final touches could be put on a new trade deal among the three nations, and have it voted on by the House and Senate. The White House has been quietly working with Mexico and Canada in recent weeks to work out tweaks to the agreement, mainly dealing with labor and environmental enforcement, trade dispute resolution, and issues dealing with some medical drugs. While the President and his allies keep saying the plan has been sent to Congress already for a vote - that is simply not true. 6. Government funding plan remains in limbo. While there were seemingly agreement on surprise medical billing, the Space Force, and more, lawmakers still have not finalized a giant package of bills to fund the operations of the federal government for 2020. The current temporary funding bill runs out on December 20. While there is obviously the threat of a government shutdown, lawmakers in both parties hope they can either reach a deal now - or extend that temporary spending plan into the New Year. So, this could also be part of a late rush of big legislation.
  • The U.S. economy was humming last month, as the Labor Department reported Friday that 266,000 jobs were created in the month of November, with the nation's unemployment rate ticking down again to the historically low level of 3.5 percent, as job growth in 2018 is now almost equal to last year's levels. Not only were 266 thousand jobs added in November, but the latest jobs report also revised growth upwards in both September and October, adding another 41,000 jobs. Monthly average job growth in 2019 stands at just under 180,000 jobs per month, compared to 182,000 in 2018, and 195,000 in 2017. While some of the November job gains were attributed to workers ending a strike against General Motors, the November job gains were the second largest of 2019, trailing only the 312,000 jobs created in January. GOP lawmakers in Congress hailed the new numbers. While the jobs report indicated stronger than expected growth, the overall numbers in terms of U.S. economic output have shown a slower pace of growth in recent months than earlier in 2019. The U.S. Gross Domestic Product was at 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2019, but dropped to 2.0 percent in the second quarter. The current estimate is for a 2.1 percent growth rate in the third quarter of 2019. President Trump has repeatedly blamed slowing growth on the head of the Federal Reserve - whom he nominated for the post - arguing the Fed should have cut interest rates more to spur economic activity in the U.S.
  • Invoking the concerns of the Founding Fathers about foreign interference in U.S. elections, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Thursday that she was authorizing the House Judiciary Committee to draw up impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, possibly paving the way for a full House vote on impeachment by Christmas. 'In America, no one is above the law,' the Speaker said in a statement to reporters outside her office in the U.S. Capitol. A day after a closed door meeting with fellow Democrats, the Speaker said Congress could not close its eyes to the evidence gathered so far about the President's actions related to Ukraine. 'The facts are uncontested. The President abused his power for his own personal political benefit,' Pelosi said, as Democrats charge Mr. Trump withheld military aid for Ukraine in an effort to force the government to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, as well as a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats in the 2016 campaign. At the White House, the reaction was one of condemnation. 'They have no Impeachment case and are demeaning our Country,' President Trump tweeted about Democrats shortly before the Speaker's announcement.  'But nothing matters to them, they have gone crazy. Therefore I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,' Mr. Trump added. The White House Press Secretary echoed the President's sentiments on Twitter. Democrats quickly showed their support for the Speaker's decision. “The president abused his power,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-FL).  “The president jeopardized our national security.    The president on multiple occasions obstructed justice.” While Pelosi did not set out a timeline for action, top Democrats have talked about action in the next week by the House Judiciary Committee, followed by a vote in the full House later this month. 21 years ago, Republicans faced a similar time crunch before the holidays, and ended up voting to impeach President Clinton on the Saturday before Christmas. It could be this Congress is heading for an impeachment vote holiday repeat.
  • As the focus of work in Congress on the impeachment of President Donald Trump shifted to the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, a panel of constitutional experts became the proxies for both parties in this impeachment fight, with the two sides using the testimony to buttress their points for and against the impeachment effort. 'President Trump has committed impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors,' said Harvard law professor Noah Feldman. 'If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account,' said Stanford law professor Pamela Karlan. 'If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable,' added University of North Carolina law professor Michael Gerhardt. While Democrats focused their questions on their three witnesses, Republicans gravitated to their sole invitee, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley. 'If you rush this impeachment, you're going to leave half the country behind,' Turley warned, comparing the Trump impeachment to that of President Andrew Johnson after the Civil War. 'This is the narrowest impeachment in history,' Turley added, urging Democrats to take extra time to bolster the investigative record related to President Trump. At one point, Turley questions about possible impeachment charges centering on abuse of power by President Trump on Democrats. 'It is an abuse power,' Turley said. 'It's your abuse of power.' While Turley said he was no supporter of President Trump, his testimony against impeachment drew interest - because he had testified 21 years ago for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. 'In my view, President Clinton's conduct demands an open and deliberative review under the conditions created for that purpose by the Framers,' Turley testified in November of 1998. 'Allegations of criminal acts in office by a president are perhaps the greatest threat to the perceived legitimacy of government,' Turley told the same House Judiciary Committee twenty one years ago before the Clinton impeachment. In the hearing, GOP lawmakers belittled today's proceedings. 'What a waste,' said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH). 'This is not an impeachment, this is a simple railroad job,' argued Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). At the start of the hearing, Republicans forced a series of procedural votes which slowed proceedings, as they demanded testimony from the original Intelligence Community whistleblower who raised questions about the President's actions regarding Ukraine, and demanded the right to question Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the head of the House Intelligence Committee. With Christmas just three weeks away, it was not immediately clear when the Judiciary Committee would move to draw up actual articles of impeachment against the President, or when those votes would take place. 'What are we doing for the next two weeks?' asked Rep. Collins with an aggravated tone. 'I have no idea!' It was a similar situation in December of 1998, when there was talk from GOP leaders - exactly 21 years ago - of not voting on impeachment until the next year. Ultimately, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House, worked through two weekends, holding an impeachment vote in the full House on the Saturday before Christmas.