Washington, Dec 5 (AP/UNB)— President Donald Trump's former national security adviser provided so much information to the special counsel's Russia investigation that prosecutors say he shouldn't do any prison time, according to a court filing Tuesday that describes Michael Flynn's cooperation as "substantial."
The filing by special counsel Robert Mueller provides the first details of Flynn's assistance in the Russia investigation, including that he participated in 19 interviews with prosecutors and cooperated extensively in a separate and undisclosed criminal probe. But the filing's lengthy redactions also underscore how much Mueller has yet to reveal.
It was filed two weeks ahead of Flynn's sentencing and just over a year after he became one of five Trump associates to plead guilty in the Russia probe, in his case admitting to lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.
Though prosecutors withheld specific details of Flynn's cooperation because of ongoing investigations, their filing nonetheless illustrates the breadth of information Mueller has obtained from people close to Trump as the president increasingly vents his anger at the probe — and those who cooperate with it.
This week, Trump accused his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, of making up "stories" to get a reduced prison sentence after pleading guilty to lying to Congress and also praised longtime confidant Roger Stone for saying he wouldn't testify against Trump.
It's unclear if Trump will now turn his fury on Flynn, whom Trump bonded with during the 2016 campaign.
Trump has repeatedly lamented how Flynn's life has been destroyed by the special counsel's probe. At one point, he tried to protect Flynn by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into his alleged false statements, according to a memo Comey wrote after the February 2017 encounter.
That episode, which Trump has denied, is being scrutinized by Mueller as he probes whether the president attempted to obstruct the Russia investigation.
Federal sentencing guidelines recommend between zero and six months in prison, and Mueller's office said Flynn's cooperation merits no prison time.
Prosecutors said Flynn's early cooperation was "particularly valuable" because he was "one of the few people with long-term and firsthand insight" into the events under investigation. They noted his cooperation likely inspired other crucial witnesses to cooperate.
Mueller's team credited Flynn with serving 33 years in the U.S. Army, including five years in combat. But prosecutors also said the long military and government service that sets him apart from all other defendants in the investigation made his deception more troublesome.
"The defendant's extensive government service should have made him particularly aware of the harm caused by providing false information to the government, as well as the rules governing work performed on behalf of a foreign government," they wrote.
Flynn's case has stood apart from those of other Trump associates, who have aggressively criticized the investigation, sought to undermine it and, in some cases, been accused of lying even after agreeing to cooperate.
Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is accused of repeatedly lying to investigators since his guilty plea. Another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, is serving a 14-day prison sentence and, though he pleaded guilty to the same crime as Flynn, was denied probation because prosecutors said his cooperation was lacking.
But Flynn has largely remained out of the public eye, appearing only sporadically in media interviews or campaign events, and avoided criticizing the Mueller probe despite widespread encouragement from his supporters to go on the offensive. He has instead spent considerable time with his family and worked to position himself for a post-conviction career.
Another highly anticipated filing is expected Friday from Mueller's office, detailing the lies that prosecutors say Manafort told them after his guilty plea.
In Tuesday's filing, prosecutors emphasized that the conduct Flynn lied about cuts to the core of the investigation into any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
Flynn's false statements stemmed from a Jan. 24, 2017, interview with the FBI about his interactions with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's then-ambassador to the U.S., as the Obama administration was levying sanctions on the Kremlin in response to election interference.
Mueller's office blamed Flynn for other senior Trump transition officials making misleading public statements about his contacts with Russia, an assertion that matches the White House's explanation of Flynn's firing.
"Several senior members of the transition team publicly repeated false information conveyed to them by the defendant about communications between him and the Russian ambassador regarding the sanctions," the filing said.
As part of his plea deal, Flynn said members of Trump's inner circle, including his son-in-law and White House aide Jared Kushner, were involved in — and at times directing — his actions in the weeks before Trump took office.
According to court papers, in mid-December 2016, Kushner directed Flynn to reach out to several countries, including Russia, about a U.N. Security Council resolution regarding Israeli settlements. During those conversations with Kislyak, Flynn asked Russia to delay or vote against the resolution, a request the Kremlin ultimately rejected.
Flynn also admitted that later in December 2016 he asked Kislyak not to retaliate in response to the Obama administration sanctions, something he initially told FBI agents he didn't do. Flynn made the request after discussing it with deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, who was at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and being told that Trump's transition team did not want Russia to escalate the situation.
Flynn was forced to resign his post on Feb. 13, 2017, after news reports revealed that Obama administration officials had warned the Trump White House about Flynn's false statements. The White House has said Flynn misled officials— including Vice President Mike Pence — about the content of his conversations.
Flynn also admitted to making false statements about unregistered foreign agent work he performed for the benefit of the Turkish government, a matter Mueller's team cited in Tuesday's filing. Flynn was under investigation by the Justice Department for the work when he became national security adviser.
Wellington, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — A powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake has struck in the southern Pacific Ocean near New Caledonia, prompting authorities to warn of a tsunami threat to nearby islands.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck about 168 kilometers (104 miles) east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Earthquakes are generally more destructive when the epicenter is near the surface.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says there's a tsunami threat for parts of the Pacific located close to the quake but there is no threat to Hawaii.
New Caledonia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.
Islamabad, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — The U.S. special envoy tasked with finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan's bloody 17-year-old war met Tuesday with Pakistani officials, and a Taliban official said four members from the group's political office in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar were also in the Pakistani capital.
But the visit by the Taliban leaders, which included a former Taliban ambassador and a former governor who is also on a United Nations sanctions list, is "private," the official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
Pakistan routinely tells a grumbling Washington that its influence over the Taliban is exaggerated, yet in the past has exhibited sufficient sway over the insurgent movement to summon its leaders to Pakistan for quiet talks.
On this occasion, the Taliban official told the AP, the group's Qatar office sent Shaha-ud-din Dilawar, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia; Zia-ur-Rahman Madani, former governor of Logar province who is on the U.N. sanctions list for providing funding for the Taliban; Suhail Shaheen, a former diplomat, and Sala Hanafi.
There was no indication who the four might meet or how long they would stay in Pakistan, but it was expected their visit would be a prelude to further discussions in Qatar when U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad visits later this month.
The resurgent Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan before U.S. forces invaded in October 2001, carry out near-daily attacks on Afghan army and police forces. They view the U.S.-backed government in Kabul as a dysfunctional Western puppet and have refused repeated offers to negotiate with it.
U.S. and NATO troops formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan in 2014, but still provide close support to Afghan forces and carry out counterterrorism operations. Some 15,000 American forces are currently serving in Afghanistan.
Since his appointment in September, Khalilzad has accelerated efforts to find an Afghan peace pact that would allow for the eventual withdrawal of the United States from its longest war, which has already cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.
Khalilzad will also travel to Afghanistan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Belgium, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in stepped-up efforts to find a peaceful end to the war.
In November, Khalilzad held three days of talks with the Taliban in Qatar, according to the Taliban. The United States has neither confirmed nor denied direct talks with the Taliban, a longstanding demand of the radical religious movement. Khalilzad, however, has said he has held talks with all Afghans, a sideways reference to include the Taliban.
On the eve of Khalilzad's visit to Pakistan, President Donald Trump a wrote a letter seeking Pakistani Prime Minister Imrah Khan's cooperation, even though he has been a harsh and often belligerent critic of Pakistan and even engaged in a Twitter battle with Khan. Khan told reporters Monday that his government will do whatever was possible to ensure peace in Afghanistan.
The U.S. soldiers still in Afghanistan are mostly in support and advisory roles, yet their mission continues to be deadly. Last week in eastern Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device killed four U.S. troops, the deadliest attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan since June 2017. The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Washington's own Congress-appointed watchdog says the Taliban control or hold sway in nearly 50 percent of the country.
Still, Khalilzad said earlier this month in Kabul that he held out hope that a peace agreement, which he referred to as a "roadmap for the future," was possible between the Taliban and an Afghan government appointed team. Khalilzad even suggested it could be in place ahead of Afghanistan's scheduled presidential elections on April 20.
The spokesman for Pakistan's powerful military, Gen. Asif Ghafoor, told a briefing of foreign journalists Tuesday that Pakistan's influence over the Taliban is overstated, yet he said Pakistan has repeatedly told the insurgent group to join the peace process.
He said the release of senior Taliban officials from Pakistani prisons, including a co-founder of the movement, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, was part of the peace process. Prisoner releases were also long standing demands of the Taliban.
Ghafoor also cautioned against a hurried U.S. retreat from Afghanistan that leaves behind a vacuum, warning it would result in chaos. He said a peaceful Afghanistan was in the interest of Pakistan, saying Afghanistan is one of the few countries with which Pakistan has a trade surplus.
Ghafoor also said that until 2014 the Pakistan military, which has lost more soldiers than NATO and the United States combined fighting the anti-terror war, was focused on battling its own insurgents, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and ignored demands to widen the war to include Afghan insurgents, including the Haqqani network.
But after 2014, he said the Pakistan army launched its operation in the North Waziristan tribal area to rid the area of foreign insurgents, including Afghan Taliban and Uzbek insurgents, but when they fled across the border into Afghanistan the U.S. and Afghan forces failed to corral them.
Pakistan has begun construction on a 2,611-kilometer (1,622-mile) fence along its border with Afghanistan, a move that has infuriated Afghans, who still dispute the border known as the Durand line that separates Pakistan and Afghanistan.
But Ghafoor said the fence is the only answer to stop the relentless undocumented cross border movement.
Dhaka, Dec 4 (UNB) - A Chicago woman is suing hotel operator Hilton Worldwide for $100 million, claiming an employee took nude footage of her without her consent and used it in an extortion attempt.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said an employee at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Albany, New York, used a hidden camera to record her in the shower during the summer of 2015 and tried to blackmail her with the footage earlier this year, YAHOO NEWS.
"It was like I had been hit by a truck. It just knocked the wind out of me," the woman told "Good Morning America" in an exclusive interview. "I had no idea who took the video. I had no idea who this guy was, and all I could think is my life is over."
She said the footage was taken in July 2015 but she didn't find out until September, when someone uploaded the video to a pornographic website and emailed her the link.
"I click on it and I see my face and profile in a bathroom and I start screaming," the woman told "GMA." "I just immediately started screaming. It was devastating on kind of a cellular level because I didn't know. ... I had no clue, I had no context for this.
"My initial reaction was, 'Your life is absolutely ruined, people are going to see this, they are going to see you naked and they are going to assume things."
She received another email from the same address later that night, promising to expose the video -- as well as her full name, school and place of employment -- unless she sent nude footage of herself, according to the lawsuit.
"I'm a perv. I don't hurt anyone. I like to watch," the suspect wrote to her in a subsequent email, according to the lawsuit. "No need to worry about me. I just like to watch and then I move on to the next. Promise me my own show. That's the hottest. No need to show your face. Then I disappear and remove the videos forever before they get copied on every website."
Another email said: "Are you here still? I know it's you. I don't want to embarrass you. Please reply before it's too late to stop it."
Things got even worse when the alleged extortionist began distributing the video to the woman's colleagues and threatened to send it wider when she refused to pay him $2,000 up front and $1,000 per month for the next year, according to the lawsuit.
"It was just absolutely traumatizing because these are people I went to law school with," she said. "They're friends, they're coworkers. And they were sent a link to what looks like an email I sent."
The video of her was posted on at least a dozen pornography sites by the end of the ordeal, she told "GMA," adding that she's been forced to continually look online for additional postings of the recording so she can petition for their removal.
"Every time this person posts this video, he posts my full name," the woman said. "It's sadistic, and it's designed to terrorize me and force me into a place where I feel like I have to give into his demands and give him more photos or give him money. He did this so that whenever someone googles me, they're going to see this."
Now, she's suing Hilton Worldwide, including its various franchise partners, for emotional distress, and she's accusing the company of negligence.
Her attorney has not identified the suspect's "precise identity" yet, but they're holding the hotel responsible because the suspect ended up with the woman's name and other personal info that she provided to the hotel, according to the suit.
Her attorney, Roland Christiansen, claims there's footage from another guest from the same room.
"We have seen evidence that there is at least one other video," Christiansen said. "We have evidence, we haven't seen all of the other videos, but we have reason to believe there is a significant amount of others and that this room that my client stayed in was used repeatedly to film people over an extended period."
A spokesperson for Hampton Inn and Suites Albany-Downtown said the hotel plans to work with authorities to investigate the matter.
"The safety and security of our guests is our highest priority," the spokesperson said in a statement. "We will continue to work with the authorities to discover the perpetrator and see that s/he is held accountable."
Hilton Worldwide, the parent company of Hampton Inn, also responded in a statement to ABC News.
“On Monday, December 3rd we were alerted by ABC News to details of an alleged incident at the Hampton Inn and Suites Albany-Downtown in 2015," the statement said. "We take the safety and wellbeing of our guests incredibly seriously, and find the details included in the civil filing distressing. We commit to supporting the independent ownership and management of the property as they investigate, respond, and cooperate with any law enforcement investigations.”
As for the victim, she said she's still working to restore her image and clear her name.
"I think the hardest conversation I had to have was with my dad in explaining that there's videos of me up on multiple porn sites. It was probably the hardest conversation I've ever had to have in my life," she told "GMA." "I don't know if that's something you ever truly recover from."
Paris, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — The French government's decision to suspend fuel tax and utility hikes Tuesday did little to appease protesters, who called it a "first step" and vowed to fight on after large-scale rioting in Paris last weekend.
In a major U-turn for the government, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in a live televised address that the planned increases, which were set to be introduced in January, were now being postponed until the summer.
The backpedaling appeared to be designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.
"No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," said Philippe, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn't change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.
Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests kept blocking several fuel depots Tuesday and many insisted their fight wasn't over.
"It's a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb," Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend in Paris, with dozens of cars torched. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
The Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was visited by world leaders last month to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graffiti and vandalized inside.
"This violence must end," Philippe said.
Philippe also announced that electricity and natural gas prices will be frozen until May 2019 in a move aimed at improving spending power.
Philippe's announcement is unlikely to put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, though, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris.
A soccer game between Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier which was scheduled for Saturday in Paris was postponed after police said they couldn't guarantee security amid expected protests in the capital.
"If another day of protests takes place on Saturday, it should be authorized and should take place in calm," Philippe said. "The interior minister will use all means to ensure order is respected."
Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe's decision but said it came too late.
"This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged," she said. "We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from retirees. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede."
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was "obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precariousness."
After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met with Macron and other ministers in order to find a quick solution to the crisis.
Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron has canceled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike but have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.