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Scott Mann, a parliamentary private secretary as the Treasury, said elements of the Chequers agreement meant he would have to “compromise” on the wishes of his constituents.
It came as Sir Bernard Jenkin said the prime minister’s blueprint is “neither beloved by Remainers or Leavers” and claimed was “quite likely” to rejected by the European Union.
Justine Greening, a former cabinet minister, also suggested the proposals for the UK’s future relationship with the bloc offered to “worst of both worlds” as she became the most high-profile Conservative MP to back a fresh referendum.
Later on Monday, MPs are expected to vote on the remaining stages of the customs bill.
While a number of amendments have been put down – from both the Eurosceptic and pro-EU wings of the Conservative party – the crucial vote will be at the bill’s third reading with ministers being uncertain they have the votes to pass the legislation.
Donald Trump went into his Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin looking to change the relationship between Moscow and Washington. But instead he sparked outrage at home by accepting the Russian leader’s denial that the Kremlin meddled in the US presidential election despite reports to the contrary from his own nation’s intelligence services.
Mr Trump said that Mr Putin had issued a “strong, impressive denial.” and he saw “no reason” why Russia should be involved. The president appeared aware it would not sit well – having been asked directly at a press conference to warn Mr Putin against interfering in US elections – but said he would risk anything to go his own way. “Nothing would be easier than to refuse to meet,” he said.
Mr Putin, too, came clean. Yes, he had willed Mr Trump to the presidency in 2016 — it was, he said, the “best hope for a normalisation of relations”.
In Washington, the condemnation came thick and fast. Former CIA director John Brennan called Mr Trump’s actions “treasonous”, while Republican Senator John McCain called it “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
The Arizona Republican said the summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was “a tragic mistake.”
The senator said Mr Trump proved not only unable, “but unwilling to stand up to Putin.” He added that the two men “seemed to be speaking from the same script” as Mr Trump made a “conscious choice to defend a tyrant.”
While the reaction from Trump critics like Mr McCain and House and Senate Democrats are to be expected – words like “weak” and “disgraceful” were used – the disapproval also came from unexpected places, like Republican House leader Paul Ryan.
“There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world… The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy,” Mr Ryan said.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats added: “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy”.
Mr Trump sought to defend himself, tweeting that he has “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people”. However, the president made clear he would continue to push for Washington and Moscow to “get along”.
“I also recognise that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past,” Mr Trump wrote. “As the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
The summit in Finland was the long-awaited joining of two of the world’s most powerful men; men frequently mentioned in the same breath — as allies and as competitors as Mr Trump has said. Their two years in power have defied the usual rules. While relations between their countries soured, they have continued to talk about each other fondly.
It was the chance to put meat on that relationship, with Mr Trump claiming that contact between the two nations had “never been worse”. It did not take long for the games to begin.
Mr Putin had arrived late, perhaps half an hour behind the unofficial schedules. But that, by his normal standards, was almost a show of respect. He was met on the tarmac by the new Russian presidential limousine, the Kortezh, the Kremlin’s answer to the American “Beast,” and travelled by extended convoy to the Finnish presidential palace, the venue of the talks. Here, Donald Trump managed to have the last say. He arrived at the palace a full fifteen minutes after Mr Putin. Call it a draw, but who was counting?
The meeting started awkwardly. With President Trump staring blankly into the camera, he congratulated President Putin on organising “one of the best World Cups in history.” He said he wanted the United States “get along with Russia.” But he barely offered eye contact to anyone but the cameraman.
Mr Putin nodded back, while appearing somewhat bored, somewhat irritated.
Things improved. There was an unusual, unstructured one-to-one meeting, which was initially scheduled for 90 minutes. The meeting overran by 40 minutes — allowing for “chemistry” to develop between the leaders, Kremlin official Yuri Ushakov told journalists. Mr Trump described it as a “very good start.” Then, the meeting was extended to include advisors.
Ahead of the meeting both sides emphasised low expectations. Russian state media held a line that the very of the fact summit was an achievement — no doubt true, given the Kremlin’s post-Crimean isolation. On the American side, Ambassador to Russia John Huntsman even tried to rename the talks. This was not a summit, he insisted, but a “meeting.” There would be “no state dinner, no deliverables, no joint statement,” he told US television.
When the two men emerged at press conference, both said they were satisfied with the results. The relationship had never been worse before they met, said Donald Trump — “but that changed four hours ago.” Vladimir Putin was never quite as effusive. There could never be total trust, he said, cryptically: “As for who to believe, who you can’t believe, can you believe at all — you can’t believe anyone. It isn’t that Trump believes me or I believe Trump. We have coinciding interests.”
The press-conference was dominated by Mr Putin, with Mr Trump apparently sticking close to a script. And it was the Russian leader who offered the main glimpses of what was discussed. There was “agreement” on the importance of Israeli security, he said, suggesting a serious discussion about Iranian troops in southern Syria. There was talk of a new “dialogue” on nuclear proliferation, with a list of Kremlin proposals passed to the White House.
Other than that — predictably — there was no breakthrough on the contentious issues. There was no mention of sanctions and only passing mention of Ukraine. The Kremlin’s advisor on Ukraine, Vladislav Surkov, does not even appear to have even taken part in the talks.
Mr Trump, who had initiated the talks, needed a big announcement and a strong performance. It was debatable whether he got it.
“This was not the assertive Trump we saw with Nato or Britain,” said Fyodor Lukyanov, a foreign policy expert considered close to the Kremlin, referring to Mr Trump’s previous stops on his European visit.
“Putin led, Trump followed. And that revelation is likely to cause a tsunami in the United States”
New England Patriots linebacker Elandon Roberts is taking better health to heart.
Roberts hosted his second annual heart walk on Sunday at Memorial High School in Port Arthur, Texas. The event is held in the memory of Roberts’ aunt, Felicia Carrier-Christian, who passed away from heart disease. She was 42.
“When it creeps up on someone [so young], you’re like, ‘Man,'” the 24-year-old Roberts said, per the Boston Herald. “A lot of people had reached out to me and were like, ‘Yeah, my cousin passed away at 37 from it and my aunt passed away at 47.’ I was like, ‘Wow, this is really a lot of people.’
“I started doing a lot of research on it, and basically started seeing that it was the No. 1 silent killer in the United States.”
A total of 546 participants pre-registered for the event.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver and Houston native Brandon LaFell, Bengals cornerback William Jackson III, Chicago Bears wideout Demarcus Ayers and Los Angeles Chargers linebacker D’Juan Hines were in attendance.
“It’s humbling because you know you’re doing it for a cause,” the 6-foot, 235-pound Roberts said. “You’re not doing it for popularity or just to say I did something. You’re actually doing it to really help people, and to help in your community.”
Roberts recorded 67 tackles and two sacks in 15 games last season.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro led the league with a career-high 321 carries in 15 games last season for the Steelers. He also had 1,291 yards and nine scores on the ground. Bell also had 655 yards and two scores on a career-best 85 catches.
“His intention was to retire as a Steeler,” Bell’s agent Adisa Bakari told ESPN and NFL Network. “But now that there’s no deal, the practical reality is, this now likely will be Le’Veon’s last season as a Steeler.”
Bell and the Steelers were not able to reach an agreement for a long term contract by Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline. That means he will play on the franchise tag for the second consecutive year. Bell made $12.1 million on the tag in 2017 and will cash in for $14.5 million this season.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert issued a statement on the status of the negotiations with Bell on Monday.
“Even though we could not reach a long-term contract agreement with Le’Veon Bell, we are excited he will be with the team in 2018,” Colbert said. “We worked very hard to find common ground, but we were unable to accomplish that prior to today’s deadline. Le’Veon will play this season under the exclusive franchise tag designation.”
“After the 2018 season is completed, we again will attempt to work out a long-term contract with Le’Veon in the hope that he will continue his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Despite rumors of a long holdout, Bell said 2018 will be the best season of his career, hinting that he would not miss regular season games.
“To all my Steeler fans, my desire always has been to retire a Steeler … both sides worked extremely hard today to make that happen, but the NFL is a hard business at times,” Bell tweeted. “To the fans that had hope, I’m sorry we let you down, but trust me, 2018 will be my best season to date.”
July 16 (UPI) — A Russian woman living in Washington, D.C., was charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent, the Justice Department announced Monday.
Federal authorities arrested Maria Butina, 29, on Sunday for allegedly working under the direction of a high-level official in the Russian government to develop relationships in the United States and infiltrate organizations with influence on U.S. politics, the Department of Justice said.
“The filings also describe certain actions taken by Butina to further this effort during multiple visits from Russia and, later, when she entered and resided in the United States on a student visa,” a news release from the department said. “The filings allege that she undertook her activities without officially disclosing the fact that she was acting as an agent of Russian government, as required by law.”
The affidavit alleges Butina worked at the discretion of the Russian official — who was previously a member of the legislature of the Russian Federation and later became a top official at the Russian Central Bank — from as early as 2015 and continuing through at least February 2017.
The Department of Justice also noted the Russian official was sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control in April 2018.
Butina was named in a report by Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee, citing documents suggesting Russia used the National Rifle Association to secretly fund President Donald Trump‘s 2016 presidential campaign.
The report states Butina and Alexander Torshin — the deputy governor of the Central Bank of Russia — and their intermediaries “repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President [Vladimir] Putin to meet with Mr. Trump.”
It added Butina also founded Right to Bear Arms, the Russian equivalent of the NRA, and started a business with former Trump adviser Paul Erickson.
The charges come after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced new indictments Friday against 12 Russian intelligence officials, accused in the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.
Trump also said he didn’t “see any reason” why Russia would interfere in the election at a joint news conference Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Donald Trump has been condemned as “treasonous” for siding with the Kremlin over his own government agencies after a stunning joint appearance with Vladimir Putin in which he seemingly accepted the Russian leader’s denial of election meddling.
At a joint press conference after one-on-one talks lasting more than two hours in the Finnish capital, the US president offered no criticism of Putin or the cyber-attacks that the US intelligence community says he coordinated to help Trump’s 2016 election campaign.
“They said they think it’s Russia; I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
The comments set off a new firestorm in Washington and critics suggested it was a historically weak performance by a US president against a foreign adversary. It also fuelled the intrigue of why Trump’s refusal to speak ill of Putin remains one of the few constants of his White House tenure.
Asked directly if he took Putin’s word over his own law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Trump veered off in a rambling attempt to change the subject, raising the Democratic National Committee’s server and Hillary Clinton’s missing emails – a move seen by critics as a crude attempt to deflect and distract.
“Where are those servers?” Trump demanded. “Where are Hillary Clinton’s emails?”
And bridling at the suggestion that his election victory might be discredited, Trump added: “I beat Hillary Clinton easily … We won that race. And it’s a shame that there can even be a little bit of a cloud over it … We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president.”
There was swift condemnation from some of Trump’s opponents in Washington. John Brennan, a former director of the CIA, tweeted: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
John McCain, chairman of the Senate armed services committee and a former Republican presidential nominee, said: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory. The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivety, egotism, false equivalence, and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate. But it is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake.”
There was even a rebuke from the most senior elected Republican, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who said both the US intelligence community and the House intelligence committee concluded that Russia interfered in the election.
“The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals,” he said. “The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy.”
Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate, said: “In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin.
“For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defence officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.”
And Jeff Flake, a Republican senator from Arizona, tweeted: “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”
For his part, Putin acknowledged that he had wanted Trump to win the 2016 election but reiterated his denial of meddling. Speaking through an interpreter, he said: “We should be guided by facts. Can you name a single fact that would definitively prove collusion? This is utter nonsense. Just like the president recently mentioned.”
In the wake of last week’s indictment of 12 Russian military officers for hacking and leaking Democratic emails, Putin offered to allow the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to visit Russia and witness the accused being interrogated – but only if the US made a reciprocal arrangement that would allow Russian agents to operate in the US.
The 45-minute news conference followed a dialogue between Trump and Putin, with only interpreters present, at the Finnish presidential palace, followed by a working lunch – the first such event between a US and Russian president since 2010.
Journalists gathered in a baroque ballroom decorated with columns, golf leaf and crystal chandeliers and, behind the podium, five American and five Russian flags. Before the press conference started, a man, said to be holding a sign protesting against nuclear weapons, was bundled out of the room by three security guards.
The two leaders were an unlikely match at the podium. Trump, bigger and taller, had held political office for just 18 months; Putin has been at the top of government for 18 years.
Trump shook his counterpart’s hand and whispered, “Thank you very much”, before congratulating him on the successful hosting of the World Cup. Eager to take credit, he claimed: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago.”
Later, questioned why relations had deteriorated so badly, he said: “I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish … I think we’ve all been foolish. We’re all to blame. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago … We have both made some mistakes. I think the probe is a disaster for our country.”
The comments prompted consternation in Washington. Republican senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said: “This is bizarre and flat-out wrong. The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
There was some relief for western diplomats in that the press conference offered few clues as to whether Trump had made major concessions that would undermine Nato or Ukrainian sovereignty. Asked about Crimea, Putin said Trump “continues to maintain that it was illegal to annex it. Our viewpoint is different.”
The Russian leader was also asked about claims that he holds compromising material on Trump; there have long been rumours of a video tape in which Trump was caught in a Russian hotel with sex workers. He quipped: “I was an intelligence officer and I know how dossiers are made up.”
Putin added: “Now to the compromising material, I did hear this rumour. When Trump visited Moscow back then, I didn’t even know he was in Moscow.”
Trump interjected: “If they had it, it would have been out long ago.”
But once again Trump seemed utterly resistant to saying anything negative about the Russian president. Having branded the European Union a “foe” over the weekend, he said of Putin: “I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. The word competitor is a compliment.”
Putin, basking in the afterglow of Russia’s hosting of the World Cup, presented Trump with a football and said: “Now the ball is in your court.” Trump, smiling, replied: “That will go to my son Barron, no question.” He threw it to his wife, Melania, sitting on the front row along with secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and other senior officials.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina, tweeted: “ … if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”
A Russian woman has been charged with spying for Moscow in the US by infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an attempt to influence the Republican party and American politics.
Maria Butina, who purported to be a pro-gun activist, met American politicians and candidates to establish “back channels” and secretly reported back to the Kremlin through a high-level Russian official, according to the US justice department.
Prosecutors said in a statement that Butina, 29, had been “developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organisations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian federation.”
Butina, 29, was charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent within the US without notifying the attorney general. She was arrested on Sunday and appeared before a magistrate in Washington on Monday, officials said. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said investigators had searched Butina’s laptop computer and mobile phone.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment.
The charges were unveiled hours after Donald Trump, on a stage with Russian president Vladimir Putin, cast further doubt over the US intelligence establishment’s conclusion that Russia attacked the 2016 US election. “I don’t see any reason why it would,” Trump said at a joint press conference in Helsinki.
Butina has come under increasing scrutiny amid the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. Footage emerged of her asking Trump a question in front of an audience at a conservative event in July 2015.
She is known as a protege of Alexander Torshin, a senior official at the Russian central bank, who is also a longtime associate of the NRA. Torshin, who met Donald Trump Jr at an NRA event in 2016, was placed under sanction by the US in April.
Charging documents unsealed on Monday say Butina was directed by a “high-level official in the Russian government”. The unnamed official’s biography matched that of Torshin, but he was not identified by name.
Two unidentified Americans, one of them described as a “political operative”, were said in the charging documents to have assisted Butina in her efforts to make political contacts in the US. Neither was charged with a crime.
Butina has a longstanding working relationship with Paul Erickson, an NRA member and conservative operative based in South Dakota. Erickson did not respond to a voicemail left on Monday afternoon.
Prosecutors said Butina emailed the first American associate in March 2015, suggesting a specific political party “would likely obtain control over the US government after the 2016 elections” and noting the powerful role in this party played by a certain gun rights organisation.
While neither organisation was identified by prosecutors, their descriptions matched those of the Republican party and the NRA.
The filings said the first American associate emailed an acquaintance on October 4 2016, about a month before the election, and said he had been “involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin” and leaders of the political party.
Butina attended national prayer breakfasts and other events in an attempt to make influential contacts, according to officials, and emailed the second US associate in March 2016, while trying to setup a series of dinners with Americans in Washington and New York.
According to prosecutors, she reported that a Kremlin official had given approval for the back channel she was building, and she told the American: “All we needed is “yes” from Putin’s side. The rest is easier.”
Officials said the investigation into Butina was conducted by the FBI’s Washington office and was being prosecuted by the national security sections of the US attorney’s office in Washington and justice department headquarters. The office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, played no immediately apparent role.
Theresa May caved in to hardline Tory Brexiters on Monday by accepting their amendments to the customs bill to try and head off a leadership challenge before the summer break only to provoke a rebellion from remainers in her own party.
The government majority was reduced to just three votes on the most controversial amendment after leading Tory remainer Anna Soubry complained that the prime minister had lost control of events by making concessions to the rightwing European Research Group of MPs.
The most important of the four amendments from the ERG, chaired by Jacob Rees-Mogg, had been designed to frustrate May’s compromise proposals over customs arrangements agreed at Chequers and had been initially been opposed by the government until Downing Street made a sudden U-turn in the afternoon.
No 10 concluded that all four amendments were “consistent with the Brexit white paper”, a decision that so incensed Tory remainers that they vowed to vote against the amendments in Monday night’s Commons debate.
The customs union amendment passed by 305 to 302.
A frustrated Soubry had told the Commons: “The only reason that the government has accepted these amendments is because it is frightened of somewhere in the region of 40 members of parliament – the hard, no deal Brexiteers, who should have been seen off a long time ago and should be seen off.”
She asked: “Who is in charge?…is it the prime minister or is it the member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg]”. Her remainer colleague Dominic Grieve said of the amendments: “The only intention behind their tabling was malevolent.”
May’s decision improving her prospects of making through to the summer break without a leadership challenge. Last night, it emerged that Downing Street had proposed bringing forward the summer recess to Thursday, to reduce the time for Conservative MPs to hold a confidence vote if one were called, although Labour and some Tory MPs indicated they were considering voting against any attempt to impose an early holiday.
A total of 48 MPs have to write letters to the party’s backbench 1922 committee calling for a confidence vote, which is normally organised a couple of days after it is called . May would need to win the support of more than half of the party’s 316 MPs to win it.
The critical amendment adopted by the government on Monday said that HM Revenue & Customs could not collect duties or VAT on goods on behalf of the European Union unless there was a reciprocal arrangement. The Brexiters believed that would kill off the customs plan because they expect Brussels would reject such a measure.
On Monday morning, Downing Street indicated that it had concerns about this amendment and its impact on the customs plan. But there was a change of mind after Rees-Mogg held talks with the party’s chief whip, Julian Smith.
No 10 then argued that that EU had only ruled out collecting UK duties and tariffs at its border, and it would be necessary to have other reciprocal financial systems with the EU to refund businesses in the event that there were differing customs arrangements between Britain and the 27-country bloc.
The ERG believes May’s “facilitated customs arrangement”, which would see the UK collect EU tariffs on some imports, and plans for a “common rulebook” for goods and agriculture, would allow for too close a future relationship with the EU27.
The other three ERG amendments, including one making it illegal to establish a customs border in the Irish Sea, would harden stated government policy into law and were not deemed by No 10 to be controversial.
David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, making his first Commons speech since he resigned from the government a week ago, said he disagreed with Soubry, who supports remaining in the EU customs union.
Speaking in favour of the UK having its own customs and trade arrangements, Davis said: “The European Union is a slow and not very effective negotiator of free trade agreements, we keep hearing about their negotiating power, their size. Actually the fact that they represent 28 different countries means they come up with sub-optimal outcomes all the time and actually we’re the country that does least well out of the EU free trade agreements.”
A separate soft Brexit amendment, calling for the UK to remain in the EU customs union, was withdrawn on Monday. It had not been expected to be carried because, while it had the support of Labour, the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats, only a couple of Tory MPs – Anna Soubry and Ken Clarke – had put their names to it.
Earlier in the day, before May’s concession became public, Scott Mann, the MP for North Cornwall,became the latest Conservative MP to resign a junior government post over the Chequers deal in a rolling protest from concerned backbenchers. Mann, a parliamentary private secretary at the Treasury, said in his resignation letter: “Elements of the Brexit white paper will inevitably put me in direct conflict with the views expressed by a large section of my constituents.”
Labour sought to exploit the open Tory divisions. Peter Dowd, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “It took two years for the prime minister to reach her Chequers deal, but only two days for it to fall apart. The government can’t get agreement with their own MPs, let alone with the European Union.”
Fears are growing at Westminster that there is now no Brexit deal – not the Chequers plan, nor David Davis’s Canada-style trade deal, nor a no-deal scenario – that could command the backing of a majority of MPs.