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Kavanaugh Gets A Green Card From Senate; FBI Granted Permission to Investigate

When asked if he would consider replacing Kavanaugh, Trump said, "Not even a little bit." He said the Senate has to do what it thinks is right.

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Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Sept. 28, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington.VOA
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President Donald Trump on Friday directed the FBI to launch a new investigation of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at the request of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In a statement, Trump said the updated investigation, which follows sexual misconduct allegations, “must be limited in scope” and “completed in less than one week.”

The decision is a reversal for the administration, which had argued that Kavanaugh had already been vetted.

The Judiciary Committee voted to send the nomination to the full Senate after securing a vote in favor of the nod from Republican Jeff Flake of Arizona, who had requested the delay and additional background investigation of Kavanaugh. Before voting, Flake consulted with Democrats, who repeatedly had demanded that the FBI investigate the allegations.

Ultimately, the vote by the committee of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats was along party lines.

“I’m not expecting them [Democrats] to vote ‘yes’ but not to complain that an FBI investigation has not occurred,” Flake said. “This country is being ripped apart here and we’ve got to make sure that we do due diligence. I think this committee has done a good job, but I do think that we can have a short pause and make sure that the FBI can investigate.”

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Republican Senator Jeff Flake reacts during a confrontation with a protester in an elevator in Washington, Sept. 28, 2018 in this still image obtained from a social media video. VOA

The committee vote followed a day of dramatic testimony by the Kavanaugh, an appellate judge, and Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who has accused him of sexual assault when they were teenagers in 1982. Both told their stories to the Judiciary Committee separately in lengthy hearings.

Kavanaugh has angrily denied the allegation that he sexually assaulted Ford at a gathering at a home in suburban Washington.

Kavanaugh needs at least 50 votes to be confirmed by the 100-member Senate. Vice President Mike Pence would cast the deciding vote if the Senate is evenly split. If all Democrats vote against Kavanaugh, two Republicans would also have to do the same to block his confirmation.

Shortly after Flake announced his support of moving the Kavanaugh nomination to the full Senate, Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana said he would vote against the appellate court judge. Donnelly said Ford’s sexual assault accusation against Kavanaugh was “disturbing and credible,” and he repeated the Democrats’ call for the FBI investigation.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota, a state that voted heavily for Trump, backed Flake’s call for additional FBI investigation. “We need to get politics out of this process and allow an independent law enforcement agency to do its job,” she said.

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Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 27, 2018.. VOA

Senator Doug Jones, a first-term Democrat from Alabama, also a state Trump won by a wide margin, said Thursday he was voting “no” on Kavanaugh’s bid for the Supreme Court. “The Kavanaugh nomination process has been flawed from the beginning,” he said, adding that Ford was credible and courageous.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of swing state Florida also said Thursday he would vote against Kavanaugh. Republicans are trying to gain the vote of Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, another state that Trump won comfortably, along with Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Bar Association calls for full background check

The American Bar Association late Thursday called on the Judiciary committee and the full Senate to delay the vote until the FBI has time to do a full background check on the claims made by Ford and other women.

“We make this request because of the ABA’s respect for the rule of law and due process under law,” the ABA letter to committee leadership said. “Each appointment to our nation’s highest court [as with all others] is simply too important to rush to a vote.”

Earlier Friday, committee Chairman Charles Grassley flatly dismissed the ABA’s request, saying, “I’ve explained many times an FBI investigation is not necessary. The ABA is an outside organization like any other that can send us letters and share their advice, but we’re not going to let them dictate our committee’s business.”

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Christine Blasey Ford testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sept. 27, 2018, in Washington. VOA

Shortly after the committee convened Friday, it voted 11 to 10 along party lines to reject a motion by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut to subpoena Mark Judge, who Ford said witnessed the alleged sexual assault.

“We have a responsibility to subpoena at the very least Mark Judge before we move to vote,” Blumenthal said. “It is our constitutional duty to do everything we can to uncover the truth after hearing yesterday that compelling testimony from Dr. Blasey Ford and we cannot vote in good conscience without hearing at least from Mark Judge.”

Before the motion was voted down, Grassley read from a letter that he received Thursday night from Judge in lieu of testimony.

“When I told the committee that I do not want to comment about these events publicly as a recovering alcoholic and a cancer survivor, I have struggled with depression and anxiety. As a result I avoid public speaking.” Judge’s letter went onto to say, “I do not recall the events described by Dr. Ford in her testimony.”

“That letter is no substitute for an FBI interview,” Blumenthal said.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also called for an FBI probe and said Friday that Kavanaugh had the opportunity to do the same at Thursday’s hearing to clear his name.

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From left, Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa, and Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., gather before a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept 28. 2018.. VOA

“Judge Kavanaugh could have easily said, ‘Mr. President, for this to move forward, I want to at least clear my name but mostly I want to have the American people know whether this is true or not.’ He could have done that. Why didn’t he do it? Because they are afraid of what they will find out.”

Kavanaugh’s testimony

“I have never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever,” Kavanaugh told the senators. “I have never done this to her or to anyone.”

Kavanaugh cried as he spoke of how the ordeal has affected his family. He presented the senators with what he said were handwritten calendars from 1982 showing his activities and whereabouts. He said they did not include the party. He said he welcomes whatever investigation the committee wants but would not directly answer whether he would seek an FBI probe.

Kavanaugh acknowledged a love for drinking beer, but he also pointed to what he said were his outstanding academic record and dedication to high school sports and church.

Ford’s testimony

Ford told the panel she was “100 percent certain” a drunken Kavanaugh pinned her down on a bed, groped her, tried to take off her clothes, and put his hand over her mouth to muffle her screams for help.

Rachel Mitchell, a prosecutor chosen by Republican members of the committee to question Ford on their behalf, asked her about timelines and peripheral issues and did not challenge her basic account of sexual assault. But Ford’s account lacked firm corroboration of her claims by others at the party.

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news conference in New York. VOA

Trump stands by nominee

Trump nominated Kavanaugh to replace the retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Following Friday’s development, Trump told reporters at the White House that he thought Ford’s testimony was very compelling, adding, “She looks like a very fine woman to me.” He also said that Kavanaugh’s testimony, likewise, was “really something that I haven’t seen before,” describing it as “an incredible moment” in the history of the country.

When asked if he would consider replacing Kavanaugh, Trump said, “Not even a little bit.” He said the Senate has to do what it thinks is right.

Earlier, Trump tweeted that Kavanaugh’s testimony showed America why the judge was nominated.

“His testimony was powerful, honest, and riveting. Democrats’ search and destroy strategy is, disgraceful and this process has been a total sham and effort to delay, obstruct, and resist. The Senate must vote!” Trump’s tweet did not mention Ford.

Also Read: Christine Ford Testifies Against Brett Kavanaugh; Decision Pending

A senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, Ilya Shapiro, says it is not clear if anyone came out ahead after Thursday’s testimony.

“We’re at a dangerous point because if we have no more evidence and Kavanaugh’s rejected, that sets the precedent that accusations are enough to derail…and if he’s approved, then still there will be people who think that he’s a sexual assaulter or rapist and there he is sitting at the Supreme Court.” (VOA)

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Russia Declines Allegation Reports Alleging Its Meddling in The U.S. Elections

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin in Moscow. VOA

The size and scope of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election was far more extensive and thorough than previously understood, according to two newly released reports.

The reports that emerged this week support conclusions by the U.S. intelligence community — and published in an unclassified January 2017 report — that the goal of all of Russia’s meddling in the months leading up to the 2016 elections was to get their preferred candidate elected president of the United States.

“What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party and specifically Donald Trump,” according to the report by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and network analysis firm Graphika.

Russia on Tuesday rejected the allegations in the two reports. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the accusations baseless.

The findings, as first reported by The Washington Post, said Russians working for a group called the Internet Research Agency (IRA) began experimenting with social media to influence local elections in 2009 and expanded its operations to U.S. elections in 2013 using Twitter.

 

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A view of a business center Internet Research Agency, known as the so-called troll factory’s new office, in St. Petersburg, Russia. VOA

It gradually added other popular social media sites to its campaign, including YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, using race and social issues such as gun rights, immigration and police brutality, to sow division and discontent.

 

“Conservative and right-wing voters were actively encouraged to get behind Trump’s campaign,” according to the report by Oxford and Graphika. “Other voters were encouraged to boycott the election, abstain from voting for Clinton, or to spread cynicism about participating in the election in general.”

Russia’s IRA activity also sought out African-American voters in particular with advertising on Facebook and Instagram and with video content on YouTube.

“Most of the interest-based targeting focused on African-American communities and interests,” the second report by the cybersecurity firm New Knowledge showed.

“Messaging to African-Americans sought to divert their political energy away from established political institutions by preying on anger with structural inequalities faced by African-Americans, including police violence, poverty and disproportionate levels of incarceration,” the Oxford University-Graphika report added. “These campaigns pushed a message that the best way to advance the cause of the African-American community was to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead.”

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Former Donald Trump presidential campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, center, who triggered the Russia investigation, leaves federal court with wife Simona Mangiante, on Sept. 7, 2018, in Washington. VOA

 

Other groups such as liberals, women, Muslims, Latinos and veterans were also targeted with similar messages either appealing to their politics or trying to discourage them from voting.

This newly released data demonstrates how aggressively Russia sought to divide Americans by race, religion and ideology, and how the IRA actively worked to erode trust in our democratic institutions,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican, said in a statement Monday. “Most troublingly, it shows that these activities have not stopped.”

“This should stand as a wake-up call,” added Senate Intelligence Committee vice chair, Democrat Mark Warner, who has been critical of social media companies and the way they have handled Russia’s online influence campaigns.

“It is time to get serious in addressing this challenge,” Warner said. “That is going to require some much-needed and long-overdue guardrails when it comes to social media.”

The Oxford-Graphika report said it is clear the response by social media companies has been lacking.

Michael Cohen, Trump, Russia
Michael Cohen walks out of federal court, Nov. 29, 2018, in New York, after pleading guilty to lying to Congress about work he did on an aborted project to build a Trump Tower in Russia. VOA

“We clearly observe a belated and uncoordinated response from the platforms that provided the data,” the report said. “In some cases, activity on one platform was detected and suspended months before similar action was taken against related activity on another platform.”

In a statement Monday, Facebook said it continues to “fully cooperate with officials investigating the IRA’s activity on Facebook and Instagram around the 2016 election.”

“We’ve made progress in helping prevent interference on our platforms during elections, strengthened our policies against voter suppression ahead of the 2018 midterms, and funded independent research on the impact of social media on democracy,” the statement said, adding the company believes Congress and intelligence officials “are best placed to use the information we and others provide.”

“Our singular focus is to improve the health of the public conversation on our platform,” Twitter said in a statement of its own. “We’ve made significant strides since 2016 to counter manipulation of our service, including our release of additional data in October related to previously disclosed activities to enable further independent academic research and investigation.”

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Former FBI Director James Comey, with his attorney, David Kelley, right, speaks to reporters after a day of testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Google reactions

The reports, though, indicate the measures that have been taken may not be enough, as Russia and others continue to make use of social media platforms.

The Oxford-Graphika report said Russia’s use of social media did not peak until after the election, with the IRA buying the most ad volume on Facebook in April 2017, shortly after the U.S. airstrikes against chemical weapon sites in Syria.

And U.S. intelligence and military officials have told VOA that Russia continued to target segments of U.S. society, including ongoing effo