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Analysis: This may be the oddest twist yet in the Russian probe

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How else to explain a staggering, reality TV-style meltdown of short-lived Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg[1] on Monday, played out in a batch of cable news interviews, marking the oddest twist of the Russia saga yet?
In a stunning blast of accusations, insults and non-sequiturs, Nunberg vowed to defy a grand jury subpoena, dared Mueller to arrest him and claimed the relentless prosecutor believed that Donald Trump was a Manchurian candidate.
Former Trump aide says he's refusing Mueller subpoena: 'Screw that'

It all unfolded in hour upon hour of car-crash television, in a compelling self-immolation that it was impossible to look away from and provided a reminder of the cast of erratic, oddball characters who drift in and out of the President’s employ — some of whom staffed his campaign and his administration. Trump on Tuesday downplayed suggestions that his White House was in “chaos” but instead had “great energy.”
At times, Nunberg appeared close to the end of his rope, saying he had already spoken to Mueller’s team and did not wish to spend another “80 hours” digging through his communications with Trump aides that had been subpoenaed by the special counsel.
“Screw that,” Nunberg told CNN’s Gloria Borger[2] when asked if he would testify to the grand jury on Friday. “Why do I have to go? Why? For what?”
His defiance risked landing him in jail on contempt charges and threatened to create a sideshow for the straight-laced special counsel while his outbursts were sure to trigger days of news coverage and will therefore likely infuriate Trump.
But though Nunberg’s emotional outpouring might be seen as the ramblings of someone under intense duress, it had enough hints of where the Russia investigation may be heading to worry the President.
“This guy is all over the map,” former FBI special agent Josh Campbell said, dubbing the Nunberg show “the Great Unravelling.”
“Up until this point Mueller’s team has been so tight, we haven’t seen the leaks so it has been very difficult to see what he’s looking for,” Campbell said. “I think it’s incredible, seeing today this episode unfold before our eyes because it gives us that insight into where the investigation is ultimately headed.”

What he said

Sam Nunberg: 'I'm not going to get sent to prison'

Nunberg, apparently interpreting questions already put to him by Mueller’s investigators, said for instance that he believes that the special counsel has something on Trump related to the Russian meddling effort on the 2016 election: “I suspect they suspect something about him,” he told Borger.
He also claimed the special counsel is trying to prove that Trump associate Roger Stone colluded with Julian Assange, founder of the WikiLeaks site which is reputed to have links with Russian intelligence.
In another claim that would be highly significant if it turns out to be true, Nunberg claimed Trump knew about a meeting between his son Donald Trump Jr., campaign officials and a Russia delegation offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
“He talked about it a week before and I don’t know why he did this,” said Nunberg, in his second CNN interview, this time with Jake Tapper.
“I don’t know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn’t have,” Nunberg said.
The President has denied he knew anything about the meeting.
Nunberg also said he suspected that former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page had colluded with the Russians, and said he was a “moron” — though argued that he was too low-level to have much influence with Trump.
While much of what Nunberg said was insulting toward Trump and his staff, he also insisted that the President did not conspire with the Russians during the election, offering a rather backhanded defense of his former boss.
“Vladimir Putin is too smart to collude with Donald Trump,” Nunberg told CNN. “Donald Trump couldn’t keep his mouth shut if Putin colluded with him.”

White House reaction

In the middle of his cable spree, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders delivered her daily briefing and suggested Nunberg was woefully misguided in his allegation that Trump may have committed wrongdoing during the campaign.
“I think he definitely doesn’t know that for sure because he’s incorrect,” Sanders said. “There was no collusion.”
But the manner of Nunberg’s unburdening on cable television and the eye-popping nature of his claims cannot have helped but attract the notice of Trump, an avid cable news viewer, and are unlikely to improve his festering mood over Russia.
In his interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Nunberg slammed the White House, saying the Trump team was doing a terrible job, given the President’s low approval ratings. “They can say whatever they want about me,” he said.
At least part of Nunberg’s motivation appeared to lie in his anger about how he and Stone were treated by Trump — a provocation that may be all but impossible for the President’s twitchy Twitter finger to ignore.
At the White House, Trump’s aides watched the Nunberg interviews in shock, calling them “nuts” and “bizarre,” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins reported[3].
The outlandish nature of Nunberg’s charges are bound to raise questions about his credibility as a witness and will give the White House an opening as it seeks to discount his claims about the scope of the Mueller investigation.
At one point, Burnett said that she smelled alcohol on Nunberg’s breath. Though he said he had not been drinking, there must be some question about the state of his mind.
But there’s no doubt his appearances also present Trump’s team with a problem, since the President has been prone to his own emotional outbursts about the Russia probe, and any inflammatory reaction on his part will only prolong the story.
Even before the Nunberg meltdown, Trump appeared fixated and angry about the Russia investigation Monday, going further than before in accusing his predecessor Barack Obama of intervening in the 2016 election[4] against him.
“Why did the Obama Administration start an investigation into the Trump Campaign (with zero proof of wrongdoing) long before the Election in November? Wanted to discredit so Crooked H would win. Unprecedented. Bigger than Watergate! Plus, Obama did NOTHING about Russian meddling,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
The tweet was wrong on a number of counts, but it may offer some insight into Trump’s own current state of mind.

More alleged scandals

WSJ: Cohen complained about lack of reimbursement for porn star payment

Trump’s feelings can hardly have been tempered by two other prominent news stories about alleged scandals on Monday related to the bizarre eco-system of scandals and accusations surrounding his campaign and personal conduct.
The Wall Street Journal reported[5] that Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen complained to friends he had not been reimbursed for a six-figure payment to a porn star alleged to have had an affair with the billionaire-turned-politician.
Cohen previously said he had facilitated a payment to Stephanie Clifford, better known as the porn star Stormy Daniels, but has denied that Trump and Clifford had an affair in 2006, as the paper reported.
For a while Monday, the scene of the Russia election intrigue shifted to Bangkok and a sweltering Thai detention center where a self-styled “sex coach” who claims[6] to have detailed insider knowledge of Russian meddling in the US election told CNN she wants to cooperate with US investigators.
Belarus-born Anastasia Vashukevich claims she has an hour of audio recordings and photos of meetings. She also claims to be the former mistress of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, and says she witnessed several meetings in 2016 and 2017 between the oligarch and and at least three unnamed Americans.
Back in Washington, what passed for normality in the Trump era went on in the shadow of the Russia storm. Trump met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is himself under a legal cloud[7], fighting several cases of alleged corruption. America’s allies piled desperate pressure on the White House to try to head of steel and aluminum tariffs promised by Trump that could spark a trade war. And the White House announced that the President will appear alongside Swedish Prime Minister Löfven in the East Room on Tuesday, where he will take questions from reporters.
But March 5, 2018, will forever be remembered as the day of Nunberg TV.

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster

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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

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Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”

References

  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (www.nytimes.com)
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (www.nytimes.com)
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (www.nytimes.com)
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (www.nytimes.com)

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake

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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.

References

  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (akleg.gov)

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes

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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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