FREE AT LAST: Pompeo returns to US with American detainees after negotiating release from North Korea

Washington, D.C. (AP) — Three Americans detained in North Korea for more than a year are on their way back to the U.S. with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, President Donald Trump announced Wednesday in the latest sign of improving relations between the two longtime adversary nations.

Trump said on Twitter that Pompeo was returning with “the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting.” The president, who had been hinting about an imminent release, said he would greet them at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington at 2 a.m. Thursday.

“I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this and allowing them to go,” Trump said Wednesday before a meeting of his Cabinet.

The release of the detainees came as Pompeo visited North Korea on Wednesday to finalize plans for a historic summit between Trump and Kim, the North’s leader. Trump told reporters that the summit would not take place at the inter-Korean demilitarized zone, and that the venue would be announced within the next three days. Singapore has emerged as the most likely place for the meeting late this month or in early June, officials have indicated.

North Korea had accused Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, all Korean-Americans, of anti-state activities but their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

The family of Tony Kim thanked “all those” who worked for his return and also credited Trump for engaging directly with North Korea. “Mostly we thank God for Tony’s safe return,” the family said in a statement, and they urged people to “continue to pray for the people of North Korea and for the release of all who are still being held.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement that Trump viewed the release “as a positive gesture of goodwill.”

The release capped a dramatic day of diplomacy in Pyongyang for Pompeo. After his 90-minute meeting with Kim Jong Un, he gave reporters a fingers-crossed sign when asked about the prisoners as he returned to his hotel. But it was only after a North Korean emissary arrived a bit later to inform him that the release was confirmed.

The three had been held for periods ranging between one and two years. They were the latest in a series of Americans who have been detained by North Korea in recent years for seemingly small offenses and typically freed when senior U.S. officials or statesmen personally visited to bail them out.

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage.

Warmbier was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016. He was accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer celebrated the detainees’ return but warned that “we’ll see many more hostages” if the administration provides an incentive for imprisoning Americans.

“We are happy they’ve returned, but North Korea shouldn’t gain by taking Americans and then releasing them,” he said.

Of the newly released detainees, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, had been held the longest. The former Virginia resident was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea’s border with Russia.

The other two detainees hadn’t been tried.

Kim Hak Song worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST. The university is the only privately funded college in North Korea and was founded in 2010 with donations from Christian groups. He was detained last May for alleged anti-state activities.

Tony Kim, who also uses the name Kim Sang-duk, was detained in April 2017 at the Pyongyang airport. He taught accounting at PUST. He was accused of committing unspecified criminal acts intended to overthrow the government.

Pompeo, in his visit, discussed the agenda for a potential Trump-Kim Jong Un summit in his meeting with Kim Yong Chul, the vice chairman of the central committee of North Korea’s ruling party.

Kim Yong Chul noted improved relations between North and South Korea and pushed back against the idea that U.S. pressure led to the likely summit.

“This is not a result of sanctions that have been imposed from outside,” he said. That contradicted Trump, who has said repeatedly that his pressure tactics brought North Korea to the negotiating table.

Pompeo’s trip, his second to North Korea this year, had not been publicly disclosed when he flew out of Washington late Monday aboard an Air Force jetliner. Trump announced the mission Tuesday afternoon as he laid out his case for withdrawing from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran, another bitter U.S. adversary.

Accompanying Pompeo were a few senior aides, a security detail and two journalists — one from The Associated Press and one from The Washington Post.

Pompeo, who first traveled to North Korea as CIA chief in early April, is only the second sitting secretary of state to visit the reclusive nation with which the U.S. is still technically at war. The first was Madeleine Albright, who went in 2000 as part of an unsuccessful bid to arrange a meeting between then-President Bill Clinton and Kim Jong Un’s father, Kim Jong Il.

A Trump-Kim meeting seemed a remote possibility just a few months ago when the two leaders were trading threats and insults over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests. But momentum for diplomacy built this year as North and South Korea moved to ease tensions, including the North sending a contingent to the Winter Olympics in the South. The Koreas’ leaders’ held their own summit last month.

In March, Trump unexpectedly accepted an offer of talks from Kim after the North Korean dictator agreed to suspend nuclear and missile tests and discuss “denuclearization.” According to South Korea, Kim says he’s willing to give up his nukes if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and pledges not to attack the North.

Kim was quoted by China’s official news agency Xinhua as saying on Monday, “I hope to build mutual trust with the U.S. through dialogue.” He added that a political resolution of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and denuclearization should proceed in stages, with all sides moving in concert.

But his exact demands for relinquishing weapons that his nation spent decades building remain unclear. Previous U.S. efforts to negotiate an end to the North’s nuclear weapons program failed under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush.

Pompeo and officials traveling with him said the Trump administration would not repeat mistakes of the past, which they described as accepting gradual, incremental and long-term disarmament in exchange for immediate benefits.

Trump has said that withdrawing U.S. forces from South Korea is “not on the table.” Some 28,500 U.S. forces are based in the allied nation, a military presence that has been preserved to deter North Korea since the war ended in 1953 without a peace treaty.

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Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Zeke Miller, and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.

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Sanders on Pompeo: Democrats must decide ‘if they love this country more than they hate Trump’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday came out swinging against Democrats who are actively opposing President Trump’s secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, whose confirmation will be debated on Monday, faces a wealth of opposition from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

“Look, at some point, Democrats have to decide whether they love this country more than they hate this president,” Sanders said during an early morning appearance on Fox News’ “Fox and Friends”.

Democrats are not alone in their quest to block Pompeo’s approval.

In addition to the 10 Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who say they will vote against Pompeo’s confirmation, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky says he, too, will oppose Pompeo.

During a Senate confirmation hearing on April 12, the 21 members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, including Paul, had the opportunity to question Pompeo.

During Paul’s questioning of Pompeo, issues involving President Trump’s interventionist policies in the Middle East were a topic of near-constant scrutiny.

“[Trump] says the Iraq war was the single worst decision ever made. So, once again, I’m concerned that you won’t be supporting the president,” Paul told Pompeo. “That you will be influencing him in a way that I think his inclinations are actually better than many of his advisors. That the Iraq war was a mistake that we need to come home from Afghanistan.”

“He was against being involved in Syria at many times in his career,” Paul continued, referencing Trump’s past statements which suggest he opposes “another Iraq war, bombing Syria without permission.”

Paul went on to grill the secretary of state nominee over an exchange between Pompeo and another member of the committee, Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.), in which Paul noted that as the two discussed whether or not Trump has the authority to bomb President Bashar al Assad’s forces or installations in Syria, Pompeo had replied that America has done so in the past.

“My question would be do you think it’s constitutional?,” Paul demanded. “Does the President have the constitutional authority to bomb Assad’s forces? Does he have the authority absent congressional action to bomb Assad’s forces or installations?”

“Senator, … I think I said this to Senator Kaine, I’m happy to repeat my view on this,” Pompeo replied. “Those decisions are weighted. Every place we can, we should work alongside Congress to get that but yes I believe the President has the domestic authority to do that…. I don’t think that has been disputed by Republicans or Democrats throughout an extended period of time.”

While not mentioning Paul directly, Sanders said that anyone who votes against Pompeo’s confirmation would be doing a disservice to the country.

“[Pompeo] has been one of the leading people when it comes to the negotiations and the conversations with North Korea,” Sanders said. “To stop that would be incredibly dangerous and damaging for our country and the world.”

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‘GET OUT’: Trump closes Russian consulate in Seattle; Orders expulsion of 60 officials as tensions mount between East and West

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Monday ordered the expulsion of 60 Russian officials from the U.S. and the closure of a Seattle based Russian consulate in retaliation for Moscow’s March 4 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian spy, through use of chemical weapons.

In a released statement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee- Sanders said the Seattle consulate is being closed due to its proximity to American submarine bases and a Washington State-based Boeing facility.

“Today President Donald J. Trump ordered the expulsion of dozens of Russian intelligence officers from the United States and the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle due to its proximity to one of our submarine bases and Boeing,” the statement reads.

“The United States takes this action in conjunction with our NATO allies and partners around the world in response to Russia’s use of a military-grade chemical weapon on the soil of the United Kingdom, the latest in its ongoing pattern of destabilizing activities around the world. Today’s actions make the United States safer by reducing Russia’s ability to spy on Americans and to conduct covert operations that threaten America’s national security,” the statement continues.

“With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” the press release concludes.

Shortly after Huckabee’s announcement, State Department Spokesperson Heather Nauert said via released statement that “The United States calls on Russia to accept responsibility for its actions and to demonstrate to the world that it is capable of living up to its international commitments and responsibilities as a member of the UN Security Council to uphold international peace and security.”

The expelled Russians will have seven days to leave the U.S, say officials.

Britain has already expelled 23 Russian diplomats, accusing them of being undeclared intelligence agents. The move by Trump represents the president’s most significant action thus far toward retaliating against Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who recently won re-election.

Russia, who has denied any involvement in the attack on Skripal, responded to threats of the expected expulsion through the use of social media. Russia’s Embassy in the United States tweeted late Sunday night, “Strategic stability of the entire world depends on Russia-US relations. They should not be taken hostage by clearly staged stories.”

The embassy then issued a follow-up tweet after Trump’s declaration, suggesting that a retaliatory closure of a U.S. consulate in Russia may soon occur.

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‘SMEAR CAMPAIGN’: Trump aid Rob Porter resigns amid allegations of domestic violence

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senior White House official Rob Porter resigned Wednesday after two ex-wives came forward to claim he had abused them during the course of their marriage.

“These outrageous allegations are simply false,” Porter said in a statement prior to announcing his resignation. “I have been transparent and truthful about these vile claims, but I will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign.”

According to a White House spokesperson, Porter’s resignation comes despite objections from White House chief-of-staff John Kelly.

“Rob Porter is a man of true integrity and honor and I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a friend, a confidante and a trusted professional. I am proud to serve alongside him,” Kelly said in a statement following Porter’s announcement.

Porter’s decision to step down follows a report published by The Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5359731/Ex-wife-Rob-Porter-Trumps-secretary-tells-marriage.html), in which his first wife, Colbie Holderness, claimed her ex-husband punched in her the face during a trip to Florence in the early 2000s.

“He was verbally, emotionally and physically abusive, and that is why I left,” Holderness, who also provided the publication with photos of her with a swollen, black eye, said of Porter.

Porter denied his ex-wife’s claims, saying the photos Holderness had provided were taken out of context.

“I took the photos given to the media nearly 15 years ago and the reality behind them is nowhere close to what is being described,” he said.

Another of Porter’s ex-wives, Jennifer Willoughby, claimed in an application for a restraining order that Porter “punched in the glass” of her home and refused to leave until she called police. “I called the police, afraid he would break in . . . When he heard me give my name and address to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, he drove off,” she wrote.

In his statement, Porter said he believes his reputation speaks for itself.

“My commitment to public service speaks for itself. I have always put duty to country first and treated others with respect,” the press release reads. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to have served in the Trump Administration and will seek to ensure a smooth transition when I leave the White House.”

It remains unclear when Porter will officially vacate his role.

Asked Wednesday if the president will be addressing the allegations against Porter, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied: “I don’t know.”

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BANNON BOWS: President’s embattled former top advisor apologizes for anti-Trump comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the battle between Donald Trump and former advisor Steve Bannon rages on, the Breitbart chair seems to be having second thoughts on firing the next shot.

In a statement issued to Axios on Sunday (https://www.axios.com/scoop-bannon-sends-regret-to-trump-1515329924-dbfe9439-59e0-4773-8d3d-079e5ee2b493.html), Bannon issued a sweeping apology for negative comments he made about his former boss, Donald Trump, and Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., regarding Trump Jr’s meeting with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign. A new book, “Fire and Fury,” quoted Bannon as calling Trump Jr “unpatriotic” for agreeing to the meeting.

“Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around,” said Bannon. “My support is also unwavering for the president and his agenda — as I have shown daily in my national radio broadcasts, on the pages of Breitbart News and in speeches and appearances from Tokyo and Hong Kong to Arizona and Alabama.”

“President Trump was the only candidate that could have taken on and defeated the Clinton apparatus. I am the only person to date to conduct a global effort to preach the message of Trump and Trumpism; and remain ready to stand in the breach for this president’s efforts to make America great again,” Bannon’s statement continued.

“My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them,” the apology went on. My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”

“Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian ‘collusion’ investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt,” Bannon concluded. “I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

Bannon’s apology comes after days of backlash from Trump supporters, and the president himself, who called his former right-hand man “inconsequential” to his winning campaign and eventual administration.

The book, which also quoted Bannon as saying that many people surrounding the president questioned his mental health and suitability for office, caused a stir last week when snippets of Bannon’s alleged comments were previewed to the media.

During a White House press briefing last week, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders addressed the allegations, calling them “laughable”.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders this past week called such suggestions “disgraceful and laughable.”

“If he was unfit, he probably wouldn’t be sitting there and wouldn’t have defeated the most qualified group of candidates the Republican Party has ever seen,” she said The president, said Sanders is “an incredibly strong and good leader.”

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Fire and Fury: White House tell-all rushes to hit bookshelves as Trump fights to prevent release

WASHINGTON, D.C.– A tell-all book which promises to blow the lid off of Trump’s White House secrets is battling to make it to the bookshelves before being stopped by the Commander-in-Chief.

The forthcoming book, ‘Fire and Fury,’ by Michael Wolff, which has caused a sensation since snippets from the tattler was released on Wednesday, is now scheduled to hit bookstores on Friday.

“Due to unprecedented demand, we are moving the on-sale date for all formats of ‘Fire and Fury,’ by Michael Wolff, to Friday, January 5, at 9 a.m. ET, from the current on-sale date of Tuesday, January 9,” a spokesman for publisher Henry Holt and Company announced on Thursday.

Contained in the tell-all are alleged comments by one of the president’s former key advisors, Steve Bannon, who criticised the president and his son, Donald Trump, Jr., as being “treasonous” and “unpatriotic ” over their communications with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The snippets caused an explosion of interest in the book on social media Wednesday, causing the president to respond to the book’s claims.

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve was a staffer who worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates, often described as the most talented field ever assembled in the Republican party,” Trump said in a written statement following the book preview’s release.

“Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look. Steve had very little to do with our historic victory, which was delivered by the forgotten men and women of this country. Yet Steve had everything to do with the loss of a Senate seat in Alabama held for more than thirty years by Republicans. Steve doesn’t represent my base—he’s only in it for himself,” the president continued.

“Steve pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped write phony books,” Trump claimed.

“We have many great Republican members of Congress and candidates who are very supportive of the Make America Great Again agenda. Like me, they love the United States of America and are helping to finally take our country back and build it up, rather than simply seeking to burn it all down,” the statement concluded.

Seemingly taking a swipe at the president by flaunting the interest in the, Wolff tweeted: “Here we go. You can buy it (and read it) tomorrow. Thank you, Mr. President.”

During a White House press briefing on Thursday, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders slammed the book, calling it a “fantasy”.

The book is mistake after mistake after mistake,” Sanders said, calling it tabloid gossip” laced with “false and fraudulent claims.”

“I’m not going to waste my time or the country’s time going page by page correcting [the book],” Sanders added.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the president sent a letter to Wolff and the book’s publisher on Thursday demanding the book’s publication be halted and that Wolff issue “a full and complete retraction and apology.”

“Mr. Trump hereby demands that you immediately cease and desist from any further publication, release or dissemination of the book,” the demand reads.

A spokesperson for Henry Holt and Company said that, despite the president’s threats, their company has no plans to hold back the book’s publication.

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‘FAKE NEWS’: White House says reports of Ryan’s stepping down are false

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Reports which surfaced Thursday claiming Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was stepping down after the 2018 mid-term are untrue, says White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.

“The president did speak to the speaker not too long ago and made sure that the speaker knew very clearly — and in no uncertain terms — that if that news was true, he was very unhappy with it,” Sanders said during Thursday’s White House press briefing. “The speaker assured the president that those were not accurate reports and that they look forward to working together for a long time to come.”

Reports of Ryan’s departure also seemed to catch the Speaker himself by surprise when he was asked about it during a press conference on Thursday.

“No,” Ryan replied with a smirk when asked if the claims were true.

The denials from Ryan and the White House come after a report surfaced from Politico (https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/12/14/paul-ryan-retire-speaker-ready-leave-washington-216103) which claimed Ryan told confidantes he planned on stepping down while “on top” if a proposed tax cut bill being pushed for by Republicans is passed.

“Despite several landmark legislative wins this year, and a better-than-expected relationship with President Donald Trump, Ryan has made it known to some of his closest confidants that this will be his final term as speaker,” the Politico report claimed. “He consults a small crew of family, friends and staff for career advice, and is always cautious not to telegraph his political maneuvers. But the expectation of his impending departure has escaped the hushed confines of Ryan’s inner circle and permeated the upper-most echelons of the GOP.”

“This is pure speculation. As the speaker himself said today, he’s not going anywhere any time soon,” spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in response to the Politico report .

Asked whether President Trump was caught off guard by reports of Ryan’s rumored departure, Sanders said that Trump and Ryan were both surprised “because I don’t think it was very accurate reporting.”

Calls for additional comment from Ryan’s spokesperson were not immediately returned.

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TERRORISM CONFIRMED: Port Authority bombing suspect ‘acted in the name of ISIS’

NEW YORK, N.Y. — An explosion near New York City’s Port Authority bus terminal Monday morning has been confirmed as an act of terror.

Speaking to the media shortly after the event, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said the Port Authority bomb suspect “acted in the name of ISIS”.

“Preliminary information indicates the attack was committed in the name of ISIS,” Bratton said Monday, adding that the suspect, believed to be an immigrant from Bangladesh, has been in the U.S. for approximately seven years.

The suspect, a 27-year-old resident of Brooklyn, was injured during the attack and was shortly thereafter taken into custody. According to police sources, the man, who has not yet been officially identified, was armed with a five-inch metal pipe bomb and battery pack as he walked through the Manhattan transit hub.

Police say the suspect, who they believe was on a suicide mission, managed to only partially detonate the device. Three others were injured in the attack, but officials say those numbers would have been much higher had the suspect been successful in his mission.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that President Donald Trump has been briefed on the incident and is receiving frequent updates from FBI officials.

The incident marks the second ISIS-inspired attack on New York City in less than two months. On Oct. 30 a man drove a rented truck into a crowd of people on a bike path in Lower Manhattan. Eight people were killed and 11 others were injured in that attack.

Although ISIS has yet to formally claim responsibility for the Monday morning attack, the Islamic terror group released propaganda last week ordering their followers to strike Times Square.

An image released by the group shows a crowded Times Square scene with the words, “We meet at Christmas in New York…soon.”

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TRUMP RESPONDS TO NORTH KOREA; President on whether or not US will attack: ‘We’ll see’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump on Sunday responded to news of the latest nuclear test by North Korea, calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s actions “hostile and dangerous to the United States”.

“North Korea has conducted a major Nuclear Test. Their words and actions continue to be very hostile and dangerous to the United States,” the president said in a series of tweets. “North Korea is a rogue nation which has become a great threat and embarrassment to China, which is trying to help but with little success. South Korea is finding, as I have told them, that their talk of appeasement with North Korea will not work, they only understand one thing!”

The president’s comments came hours after North Korea tested what experts have estimated to be a 120 kiloton hydrogen bomb, its most powerful nuclear weapon to date.

The president refused to give North Korea any hint as to when or how the United States will respond to their latest round of tests. Later Sunday morning, after issuing statement on social media, the president was asked by waiting reporters whether the US would launch a preemptive attack.

“Will you attack North Korea?” the president was asked by a sea of waiting reporters.
“We’ll see,” he responded.

The president is scheduled to meet with his national security team Sunday to discuss the latest developments in North Korea, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Sunday morning.

“The National security team is monitoring this closely,” Sanders said. “The President and his national security team will have a meeting to discuss further later today. We will provide updates as necessary,” said Sanders.

Meanwhile, Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, said on Sunday that he plans to draft a new sanctions package that would cut economic ties with anyone who did business with North Korea, including China, the country’s only major ally.

“There’s a lot we can do to cut them off economically, much more than we’ve done,” Mr. Mnuchin said, speaking on “Fox News Sunday”. Mnuchin called Pyongyang’s actions “unacceptable” and stressed the need for stronger steps.

Last month, the president warned that if the threats from North Korea continued, they will be met with “fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

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COINCIDENCE? PHOTO SUGGESTS LINK BETWEEN WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ AID IMRAN AWAN AND DNC STAFFER’S MURDER

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A newly surfaced photograph suggests a potential link between disgraced Debbie Wasserman Schultz aide Imran Awan and murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich, according to Trump administration insider Roger Stone.

Stone, a political consultant, lobbyist, and strategist for the Republican party, has been vocal in his belief that Rich, who was found murdered in July of 2016, was victim of a hit by the DNC.

Rich, who many suspect to be the source behind thousands of emails that were leaked to WikiLeaks, worked as the Voter Expansion Data Director for the Democratic National Committee and had access to DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s iPad when the DNC emails were leaked to Wikileaks.

Shortly after the emails were obtained by the anti-secrecy group, Rich’s lifeless body was found lying face down in a suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood, the victim of multiple gunshot wounds. Although his death was ruled by police the probable result of a robbery gone bad, the fact that his cell phone, wallet and credit cards were left untouched on his person left many to question law enforcement’s official story.

Friends of Rich have claimed there around 90 minutes of of “unaccounted for” time between the time Rich is known to have left the bar he had visited just before his death and the time his body was discovered. Now, a photo released to social media on Tuesday, appears to show Awan with Rich at the bar just moments before he left.

“FACT – Wasserman-Schulz “IT consultant” Awan was partying with Seth Rich the night of his murder ! Eat it @TheAtlantic !” Stone tweeted of the discovery (https://twitter.com/RogerJStoneJr/status/892265715780026368?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.infowars.com%2Froger-stone-seth-rich-was-partying-with-imran-awan-on-the-night-of-his-murder%2F).

According to Stone, Awan also had access to Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s iPad and hard drives later recovered from Awan’s home were found to be smashed up with a hammer.

Awan, who records show received more than twice the average Congressional I.T. employee salary (http://congressional-staff.insidegov.com/l/22830/Imran-Awan), was arrested at Dulles airport last week after wiring $300,000 to Pakistan and attempting to flee the country.

In light of Awan’s arrest, Wasserman Schultz terminated his “part-time” employment last week and is now coming under mounting pressure to explain why she kept the IT worker on the payroll despite a months long criminal investigation. The Florida congresswoman who led the Democratic National Committee until she was removed from her position after it was alleged that she “fixed” votes within the DNC to ensure Hillary Clinton’s nomination is facing increasing calls from Republicans to testify as to what she knows.

“I think she should testify,” Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel told conservative radio host Dana Loesch on Monday. “If I had a staff member, an IT staff member, who had access to all of our data and all of our infrastructure and he had come under investigation … you better believe I would be cooperating.”

Meanwhile, in a related development, a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the Fox News network by Rod Wheeler claims the cable news giant worked with the Trump administration and wealthy Republican Trump supporter to concoct a false story about the death of Rich, an allegation that both the network and the president has vehemently denied.

“The president had no knowledge of the story,” White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a White House briefing on Tuesday, “it’s completely untrue” that he or anyone at the White House was involved with the story.”

In a separate statement the Fox News network called the allegations “completely erroneous.”

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