Voice of America

  • Cyclone Idai Victims Appeal to Zimbabwean Government for Relief
    The Zimbabwean government says it is appealing to the international community for help with medicine, food and infrastructure, as victims of Cyclone Idai push for expedited aid. Better Mungana's father died and his cousin went missing when the cyclone hit Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique last week. Mungana, of the hard-hit city of Chimanimani, wants President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government to assist him and his family. WATCH: Cyclone Idai Victims Appeal for Quick Relief "Since Cyclone Idai, we are struggling to have food, our clothes were washed away, so we are wondering what to do," he said. "The government promised to assist us with shelter, but it seems that help will come even to those who never lost anything. I lost my father, we are still looking for my cousin. It is painful. We have no shelter and no food." The body was recovered and buried late Friday, but food and shelter remain scarce. It is the same for the Dube-Magoso family about 500 meters away. Their 83-year-old father died when their house collapsed during the cyclone; their mother escaped, but suffered several injuries. Their son, Musavengana Dube Magoso, says they want the Zimbabwe government chip in. "The government must look for a better place to resettle us so that we can get some income to ensure the remaining get some source of livelihood," he said. "So far, we have no food — all we have planted to get food was washed away by the rains. We have been reduced to zero." Emergency workers have described the flooding after Cyclone Idai as the region's most destructive in 20 years. Zimbabwe's government says it is having trouble keeping track of the death toll; it says the number is now "over 100." It also cannot meet the demand for medicine, food and other essentials. Visiting the area, July Moyo, Zimbabwe's minister of local government, says the international community can assist in the areas of need. "The commanders are telling me that they are retrieving people being buried everywhere," July said. "We understand that some of them were swept away into Mozambique. We will be checking to see what we can do to retrieve those. We are dropping medicines so that we do not have more [people] dying. We have moved food that is in Mutare [the region's biggest city] to forward places so that we can start moving along roads that are now passable." Mnangagwa has declared Saturday and Sunday days of mourning for the victims of Cyclone Idai.

  • Cyclone Idai Victims Appeal to Zimbabwean Government for Fast Relief
    Victims of Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe are calling on the government to expedite relief aid. As Columbus Mavhunga reports from the hard-hit city of Chimanimani, the government is appealing to the international community for help with medicine, food and infrastructure.

  • After Months of Anticipation, Mueller Probe Concludes
    After months of anticipation, special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report on the Russia investigation involving President Donald Trump to Attorney General William Barr. Mueller was investigating possible collusion between Russia and the 2016 Trump campaign and whether as president Trump took any action to impede the investigation. It will now be up to the attorney general to decide how much of the report will be released. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

  • Trump to Nominate Stephen Moore for Fed Board
    President Donald Trump said Friday that he will nominate Stephen Moore, a conservative economic analyst, to fill a vacancy on the Federal Reserve’s seven-member board. Moore, a well-known and often polarizing figure in Washington political circles, served as an economic adviser to Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that role, he helped draft Trump’s tax cut plan. Trump has been harshly critical of the Fed’s rate increases last year even after the central bank this week announced that it foresees no hikes this year. Moore, who has served as chief economist for the conservative Heritage Foundation, has also been critical of policy moves made by Chairman Jerome Powell, who was hand-picked by Trump to be Fed chairman. An ardent defender of tax cuts, Moore is close to Larry Kudlow, head of the White House National Economic Council. The two collaborated in shaping the tax overhaul that Trump signed into law at the end of 2017, leading to changes that largely favored tax cuts for corporations and wealthier Americans with the idea of spurring investment and faster growth. Reshaping Central Bank Trump in his first two years in office has been able to reshape the central bank. He nominated four of the current five members. And he tapped Powell, a Republican who had been chosen for the Fed board by President Barack Obama, to succeed Janet Yellen as chairman. If confirmed by the Senate, Moore would fill one of two vacancies on the Fed’s board. The selection of Moore marks a deviation from Trump’s previous selections for the Fed’s board to a highly visible public figure who has long pushed conservative economic ideology. In a March editorial in The Wall Street Journal, Moore estimated that Fed rate policies had reduced inflation-adjusted economic growth by as much as 1.5 percentage points in the past six months. Moore proposed that the Fed set short-term rates with an eye toward stabilizing commodity prices, rather than solely on overall inflation. This approach, Moore has argued, would have prevented the Fed from raising rates as much as it has. And he contended that the approach, if adopted, would help accelerate economic growth above 3 percent, compared with the longer-run average of 1.9 percent that Fed officials have forecast. Moore has frequently praised the administration on television, and he co-wrote the 2018 book “Trumponomics.” His partner on that book was Art Laffer, who pioneered the Republican doctrine that lower tax rates would accelerate economic growth in ways that could minimize debt. Federal debt has jumped since Trump’s overhaul to the tax code, surging nearly 77 percent through the first four months of fiscal 2019 compared with the previous year.

  • How US States Are Richer Than Some Foreign Nations
    The United States is an economic powerhouse. As the largest economy in the world, the U.S. produced $20.5 trillion worth of goods and services — known as its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) — in 2018. That's impressive when you consider that the total GDP for the entire world was about $80 trillion in 2017. In fact, every U.S. state has a GDP that makes it as powerful, economically, as a foreign nation. California is the state with the highest GDP in the country. Its $2.97 trillion economy is on par with Britain, which has a GDP of $2.81 trillion. The UK needed 14.5 million workers — 75 percent more than California used — to produce the same economic output. On its own, California is the fifth-largest economy in the world. The GDP of Texas ($1.78 trillion) is equivalent to the economy of Canada ($1.73 trillion), while New York's GDP ($1.70 trillion) matches up to South Korea ($1.66 trillion). Even the smaller U.S. states can hold their own. Wyoming, the smallest U.S. state population-wise, with fewer than 600,000 residents, has a GDP of $41 billion, which is about the same as Jordan's, a country of 9 million people. Mark J. Perry, an economics and finance professor at the University of Michigan, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, used data from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Monetary Fund for his analysis comparing the GDP's of U.S. states to entire countries. He says those numbers are a testament to the "world-class productivity of the American workforce," and a reminder of "how much wealth, output and prosperity is being created every day in the largest economic engine there has ever been in human history."

  • Student Held in Professor's Death, Claims Blasphemy
    A student in Pakistan stabbed his professor to death earlier this week after accusing him of committing blasphemy and promoting un-Islamic culture at a college in southern Punjab’s Bahawalpur city, according to law enforcement officials. The student, Khateeb Hussain, attacked his English professor, Khalid Hameed, with a knife Wednesday at Government Sadiq Egerton College. The attacker was apparently unhappy about plans for an upcoming farewell party the professor was arranging that would include both male and female students of the college. The attacker allegedly viewed the party as vulgar and against the teachings of Islam. In a video recorded of the attacker after the incident, which went viral on the internet in Pakistan, Hussain can be heard bragging about his crime and saying he has no remorse whatsoever for his action. “He (the professor) used to bark a lot against Islam. He would say a lot of things against Islam every day. It is good that he is now dead. I’m content and thanks to Allah that the professor is dead now,” Hussain says on the video. Law enforcement officials say the student has been taken into custody and charged with murder. Officials say their initial inquiries found no evidence that the suspect has affiliation with any religious or militant group. ​Growing radicalization The case has generated widespread condemnation across the South Asian country, where growing radicalization among youth and intolerance toward people of other religions has many concerned about the long-term consequences of the trend. Some rights activists say that extremism among youth has become so prevalent that many don’t hesitate to take matters into their own hands and to kill anyone over unproven allegations of blasphemy or acts deemed anti-Islamic. “It is about the mindset. How can a student gather the courage to come and stab a teacher in the college premises and have no remorse of the act?” Mehdi Hassan, a Lahore-based human rights activist, told VOA. “This is not the first incident of this kind and yet another proof of educated youths’ inclination towards extremism. The government must take strict actions against such elements so that no one else would have the courage to do it ever again,” Hassan added. Rasul Baksh Raees, an analyst and education activist, echoes Hassan’s concerns and charges that strict enforcement of the law and engagement of youth in crucial conversations about issues considered taboo in the country is an absolute necessity. “Outdated teaching methods, ignorance and lack of dialogue on the matter is promoting radicalization among youth,” Raees told VOA. “The nation needs to develop a system where the youth is allowed to ask questions in mind regarding Islam. That might help these educated youth to stay away from acts that are totally against the religion, such as murdering someone in the name of religion,” he added. ​Blasphemy Blasphemy remains a sensitive topic in predominantly Sunni Muslim Pakistan, where insulting Islam’s prophet or the religion is punishable by death. Mere accusations in the past have resulted in mob violence and lynchings of alleged blasphemers. Rights activists have long complained about the misuse of blasphemy laws in the country, where many people have been murdered over unproven allegations of committing blasphemy or anti-Islam acts in recent years. Last year, a student shot and killed his college principal on campus after accusing him of blasphemy in Charsadda city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The principal had scolded the student for missing classes to attend a protest organized by a right-wing Islamist group in Islamabad. In April 2017, Mashal Khan, a student, was beaten to death by his fellow students at his university campus in the Mardan region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Khan was accused of posting blasphemous materials on social media.

  • Families Bury Dead After New Zealand Mosque Attacks
    Thousands of people gathered Friday for a mass funeral in a cemetery in New Zealand where 26 of the 50 victims of a mass shooting at two mosques last Friday were buried. The youngest victim buried was 3 years old. Family members used shovels and wheelbarrows to bury their loved ones. Earlier Friday, thousands of New Zealanders gathered in a park across from the Al Noor Mosque, where one of the attacks took place, to observe the Muslim call to prayer, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who wore a black headscarf. Thousands more watched or listened on television or radio as the event was broadcast live. “New Zealand mourns with you. We are one,” Ardern said in a short speech, followed by two minutes of silence. Imam Gamil Fouda told the crowd, “We are broken-hearted, but we are not broken.” He thanked “the neighbors who opened their doors to save us from the killer” and “those who pulled over their cars to help us.” Reuters reported that female police officers at the outdoor service donned headscarves and wore red roses on their uniforms. ​Promise to Muslims Also Friday, New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters traveled to Istanbul for an emergency session of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s executive committee. The meeting was called by Turkey to fight prejudice against Muslims in the wake of the New Zealand attack. Peters told the assembly that the gunman accused of the killings would spend the rest of his life in isolation in prison and promised that the families of the victims would “have justice.” The OIC, in a statement, urged all countries to refrain from statements that associate Islam with terror and extremism. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the world must fight against rising Islamophobia “in the same determined fashion” as humanity fought against anti-Semitism after the Holocaust. Erdogan plays attacker’s video During his campaign rallies, Turkey’s president has been showing video clips of the mosque attacks, which were livestreamed by the shooter, drawing condemnation from New Zealand and Australia. Peters told reporters that he did not ask Erdogan on Friday to stop showing the videos, because “I felt that I did not have to ask it, because they are not doing that anymore.” However, several hours after the meeting, Erdogan again showed video footage of the shootings during an election rally. ​Weapons ban New Zealand authorities have charged Australian Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, with murder in connection with the March 15 attacks on the Al Noor and Linwood mosques. The self-proclaimed white nationalist did not enter a plea in his initial court appearance the day after the attack. His next court appearance is April 5. On Thursday, Ardern imposed an immediate ban on all military-style semiautomatic and automatic assault rifles. The ban, which the prime minister announced in Wellington, includes high-capacity magazines, which can hold multiple rounds of ammunition, and accessories that can convert ordinary rifles into fast-acting assault rifles. Ardern said she imposed the sales ban to prevent stockpiling and that a complete ban on the weapons would be implemented after new laws take effect. Ardern also announced a large-scale buyback scheme to encourage owners of such weapons to surrender them to authorities. She said the government could spend up to $140 million to buy back guns from owners who turn them in. The military and police would be exempt, as would pest control businesses. New Zealand police said on their website a “transitional period” would allow people to turn in their guns without penalty. Parliament is expected to approve the proposed laws when it reconvenes in mid-April.

  • Program Reunites S. Sudanese Separated During War
    Tens of thousands of civilians who fled the South Sudanese city of Malakal during fighting that broke out in 2013 are slowly returning home. The town still bears scars from South Sudan's five years of conflict. Bullet holes litter the walls of the buildings that remain standing. People are starting new businesses in the wrecked shells of shops. Besides restoring the town, residents are trying to rebuild their families and locate people who disappeared during the war. The International Committee of the Red Cross is helping them out with its tracing program.  Relatives eager to find news about lost loved ones often stand in line at the ICRC snapshot centers to have their photos taken, or to identify relatives from the photos snapped at U.N. protection-of-civilian sites across the country. Search for a brother Last year, the ICRC, with help from the South Sudan Red Cross, reunited 68 people who had been separated from their families during the conflict.   Nyadel Udong Jak, 36, was separated from her brother in 2014 in Luakat village and returned to Malakal from Khartoum last month. "Until now, I don't know his whereabouts, only to hear recently that he is in Akob and he is fishing at the riverbank. That is why I have come to look for him," Jak told VOA's South Sudan in Focus. Nyachangjwok Unak, 30, returned to Malakal about two months ago to find her two children, Sarah and Bullish. Unak said she lost track of them when the fighting erupted in 2013, when the kids were just 4 and 7 years old. Unak said she could not contain her joy when she learned her children had made it out of Malakal alive. "When the war started in Malakal at around 7 a.m., there was bombing and shelling and everybody was frightened. While I was collecting some belongings to flee with, I found that my children had fled with other people to the unknown location. I was sad and thought I would never find them, but I was praying to God to reunite me with them. And when I got them back, I was very happy and excited," Unak told VOA. Snapshots help reunite families The snapshot centers in Malakal give family members the option of either calling or sending messages to lost family members in hopes of tracking them down at other camps across the country. Lisa Pattioon, the ICRC field coordinator in Malakal, said the snapshot program focuses on searching for relatives of minors separated from parents during the conflict. "We see the snapshot as one of the complementary tools to these beneficiaries' individual actions. Many beneficiaries will have challenges in the search, such as economic factors. If they don't have the money to take transport to their former community, perhaps go to Ethiopia, to Sudan, to where they last heard their family member was living, the snapshot is another way of facilitating that search," Pattioon told South Sudan in Focus. There are rewards Despite witnessing all the agony and pain that the South Sudanese people have endured during the war, Pattioon said it was enormously rewarding to see some finding lost loved ones. "They may have lost their home, may have lost their livelihood ... but more often the primary concern is what happened to their family members. Are they well? Are they OK?  And being able to have answers to those questions is an enormous relief to the beneficiaries, to know the fate of their loved ones," Pattioon told VOA.

  • Watchdog: US Agency Error Exposes 2.3 Million Disaster Survivors to Fraud
    The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) exposed 2.3 million disaster survivors to possible identity theft and fraud by sharing sensitive personal information with an outside company, according to an internal government watchdog. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General (OIG) said FEMA had shared financial records and other sensitive information of people who had participated in an emergency shelter program after being displaced by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and the California wildfires in 2017. The Inspector General's office said FEMA had shared participants' home addresses and bank account information with the contractor, along with necessary information like their names and birthdates. That "has placed approximately 2.3 million disaster survivors at increased risk of identity theft and fraud," the Inspector General's office said in a report. The name of the contactor was redacted. In a statement released on Friday, FEMA spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said the agency had found no indication to suggest survivor data had been "compromised." She said the agency has removed unnecessary information from the contractor's computer systems. But FEMA's review only found that the contractor's computer systems had not been breached within the past 30 days because it did not keep records beyond that point, OIG said. FEMA told the watchdog it will not be able to completely resolve the problem until June 30. It is not the first time OIG has found that FEMA has mishandled personal information. A 2015 review revealed that agency personnel at a disaster-response center in California stored disaster survivor records in open, unsecured cardboard boxes. Investigators also found the agency mishandled data in 2013. FEMA awarded contracts to 1,660 different entities in the last fiscal year, according to federal contracting data, covering everything from food to construction equipment. The privacy breach is likely to prompt further criticism of an agency that was stretched to its limit in the second half of 2017 as it responded to a string of record-breaking hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. In particular, FEMA struggled to deliver food and water in a timely fashion to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria killed nearly 3,000 people and left the island's 3.7 million residents without electricity for several months. FEMA director Brock Long faced criticism last fall when DHS determined that he had inappropriately used government vehicles to commute between Washington and North Carolina. He resigned in February, capping an 18-month tenure during which the agency responded to more than 220 declared disasters. 

  • Lawmakers Call for Release of Full Report on Russia Investigation
    Special counsel Robert Mueller has completed a long-awaited report on his investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election and any potential wrongdoing by President Donald Trump, drawing calls from lawmakers for the report to be released. Mueller handed the report Friday to the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General William Barr, who is now reviewing it.   WATCH: After Months of Anticipation, Mueller Probe Concludes The results of the report are still confidential, but the Justice Department confirmed that it includes no new indictments. Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, said he could update Congress as early as this weekend about the findings in the report, which concluded Mueller’s nearly two-year-long investigation. It is not clear how much of the report will be provided to Congress or how much will become public. ​Congressional Democrats Top congressional Democrats said it was “imperative” to make the full report public. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement, “The American people have a right to the truth.” They also said that Barr must not give Trump any “sneak preview” of the findings or evidence. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that the White House had not received or been briefed on the report and that “we look forward to the process taking its course.’’ She said the next steps were “up to Attorney General Barr.” The Associated Press reported that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani had requested an early look at the findings before they are made public, but had not received any assurances that the Trump legal team would get a preview. ​Congressional Republicans Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hoped that Barr would “provide as much information as possible” on the findings, “with as much openness and transparency as possible.” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he expected the Justice Department to release the report to the committee without delay “and to the maximum extent permitted by law.” Another top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said the findings must be made public to end the “speculation and innuendo” that hangs over Trump’s administration. ​34 people have been charged It is not known whether Mueller found what he deemed to be criminal conduct by Trump or any of his staff, beyond the charges already brought against several aides. So far, Mueller has brought charges against 34 people, including Russian intelligence officers, and three Russian companies. Charges have also been filed against Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The Democratic heads of five House committees wrote a joint letter Friday to Barr, saying, “If the special counsel has reason to believe that the president has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the Justice Department has an obligation not to conceal such information. The president must be subject to accountability.” In a letter to Congress, Barr said that the Justice Department did not block Mueller from taking any action during the investigation. Barr is required to report to Congress any instance in which the Justice Department overruled a requested action by Mueller. Trump’s lawyers, Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, issued joint statements Friday saying they were “pleased” that Mueller had delivered his report on the Russia investigation. A spokesman for Mueller said he would be concluding his services as special counsel in the coming days and that a small number of staff would remain to assist in closing the office’s operations. The central questions that Mueller, a former FBI director, has been examining are whether Trump or his aides colluded with the Russians to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 and whether the president attempted to obstruct the subsequent investigation to protect himself and his political advisers and aides. Trump has denied any collusion and obstruction, and has called the investigation a “witch hunt.” Russia has denied interfering in the election.

  • Sources: EU Expert to Urge Monitoring 5G Risks, Not Huawei Ban
    The European Commission will next week urge EU countries to share more data to tackle cybersecurity risks related to 5G networks but will ignore U.S. calls to ban Huawei Technologies, four people familiar with the matter said Friday. European digital chief Andrus Ansip will present the recommendation Tuesday. While the guidance does not have legal force, it will carry political weight, which can eventually lead to national legislation in European Union countries. The United States has lobbied Europe to shut out Huawei, saying its equipment could be used by the Chinese government for espionage. Huawei has strongly rejected the allegations and earlier this month sued the U.S. government over the issue. ​Use cybersecurity tools Ansip will tell EU countries to use tools set out under the EU directive on security of network and information systems, or NIS directive, adopted in 2016 and the recently approved Cybersecurity Act, the people said. For example, member states should exchange information and coordinate on impact assessment studies on security risks and on certification for internet-connected devices and 5G equipment. The Commission will not call for a European ban on global market leader Huawei, leaving it to EU countries to decide on national security grounds. “It is a recommendation to enhance exchanges on the security assessment of digital critical infrastructure,” one of the sources said. The Commission said the recommendation would stress a common EU approach to security risks to 5G networks. ​Tougher on telecoms equipment The EU executive’s guidance marks a tougher stance on Chinese investment after years of almost unfettered European openness to China, which controls 70 percent of the global supply of the critical raw materials needed to make high-tech goods. The measures, if taken on board, will be part of what French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday was a “European awakening” about potential Chinese dominance, after EU leaders held a first-ever discussion about China policy at a summit. Germany this month set tougher criteria for all telecoms equipment vendors, without singling out Huawei and ignoring U.S. pressure. Big telecoms operators oppose a Huawei ban, saying such a move could set back 5G deployment in the bloc by years. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand have stopped operators using Huawei equipment in their networks. The industry sees 5G as the next money spinner, with its promise to link up everything from vehicles to household devices. Alongside the Huawei issue, the bloc also plans to discuss Chinese subsidies, state involvement in the Chinese economy and more access to the Chinese market at an EU-China summit April 9.

  • Pakistani PM Receives National Day Greetings from Indian Counterpart
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said Friday that his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, sent him "greetings and best wishes" on the eve of Pakistan's national day. The message came several weeks after the two nuclear-armed rival nations nearly went to another war over the Kashmir territorial dispute. Khan tweeted that the Indian prime minister told him it was time for people of the "subcontinent [to] work together for a democratic, peaceful, progressive and prosperous region, in an atmosphere free of terror and violence." The Pakistani leader said he welcomed Modi's message. "I believe it is time to begin a comprehensive dialogue with India to address and resolve all issues, especially the central issue of Kashmir," Khan said. He added that the two countries "need to forge a new relationship based on peace and prosperity for all our people." Military tensions have been running high in the region since Feb. 14 when a suicide car bomber in Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian security forces. A Pakistan-based outlawed militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), reportedly claimed responsibility for plotting the attack. Islamabad denied its involvement and offered full cooperation to India in investigating and bringing any Pakistani to justice if found guilty. Instead, New Delhi on Feb. 26 carried out what it described as "non-military, pre-emptive" airstrikes on an alleged JeM-linked terror training camp in Pakistan's Balakot region. Pakistan denied any camps existed at the site and dismissed as baseless Indian claims of killing militants. The following day, Pakistan launched a counterattack before the two countries engaged in aerial combat for the first time in 50 years. Pakistani fighter planes shot down an Indian aircraft and captured its pilot, raising fears of a full-fledged war. Two days later, however, Pakistan freed the Indian pilot, easing fears of a wider conflict. Both countries reportedly had mobilized missiles to target each other's cities, prompting the U.S., China, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to intervene and persuade India and Pakistan to step back from the brink of war. Islamabad has since intensified its crackdown against JeM and other militant groups outlawed by the United Nations and the United States. Authorities have seized hundreds of facilities, including education institutions and health care units run by JeM and other Pakistan-based militant groups that India blames for plotting cross-border attacks. More than three weeks after India carried out cross-border airstrikes, Pakistan's airspace remains blocked for flights to and from India. Pakistani officials cite the possibility of another "aggression" from the neighboring country for not opening the airspace.

  • Could Venezuela Crisis End Hezbollah's Presence There?
    As the political and humanitarian tumult in Venezuela unfolds, analysts say illicit activities by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the South American country could be disrupted. Since the beginning of the crisis in January, many observers have been wondering about the future of the Lebanese militant group and its activities in Venezuela, particularly with growing U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan government. For years, the government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro has maintained a close relationship with Hezbollah and its benefactor, Iran, which has empowered Hezbollah financially, analysts say. U.S. officials have been warning about Hezbollah's growing presence in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. "People don't recognize that Hezbollah has active cells — the Iranians are impacting the people of Venezuela and throughout South America," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a recent interview with Fox Business Network. "We have an obligation to take down that risk for America," he said. ​U.S. sanctions Hezbollah, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, has been increasingly targeted by U.S. sanctions in the past few months. In October 2018, the Department of Justice named Hezbollah as one of the top five transnational criminal organizations in Latin America. In an attempt to step up efforts to prevent Hezbollah's illicit activities in the Western Hemisphere, the U.S. hosted a conference last December. It was attended by senior officials of 13 U.S. partners across the Americas who discussed threats posed by transnational terrorist groups. Analysts charge that recent U.S. sanctions against several key Hezbollah figures could ultimately harm the group's financial operations in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin America. Hezbollah's financiers "have integrated themselves into [the Venezuelan] government in a variety of different ways," said Phillip Smyth, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "Everyone is kind of getting a cut from the apparatus. "So, it wouldn't shock me if there are reverberations down to Hezbollah's finance network. The way [the U.S.] Treasury has done this is they've targeted certain individuals that are kind of key brokers of the Hezbollah money, so it will have its effect," he told VOA. Analysts say the relationship between the Venezuelan government and Hezbollah is largely centered on a strategic partnership between Venezuela and Iran, which provides Hezbollah members, facilitators, financiers and fixers with the ability to covertly move people, money and material.  Iran's "proxy Lebanese Hezbollah maintains facilitation networks throughout the region that cache weapons and raise funds, often via drug trafficking and money laundering," U.S. Southern Command's Adm. Craig Faller told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing last month. The convergence of Hezbollah's networks in Venezuela has created an environment that enables the Shiite group to move large amounts of money in illicit revenue, using gold refineries in the Middle East and financial hubs in Central and South America and the Caribbean, according to the Center for a Secure Free Society, a Washington-based research organization that has extensively researched Hezbollah's activities in Latin America. ​Vast network Some experts believe that Hezbollah has built a vast network that is made up of mostly underground Syrian-Venezuelans who facilitate movement for the group's members in the Middle East and Latin America. "Hezbollah is already helping Maduro through an established transregional network between Lebanon, Syria and Venezuela," said Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society. "The main reason for Hezbollah supporting the Maduro regime is the same reason it protects the Bashar al-Assad government in Syria — to protect the logistical network Iran needs to export its revolution," he told VOA. Since the outbreak of Syria's civil war in 2011, Iran and Hezbollah have been playing a major role defending the Syrian president against the rebel forces. "In the case of Syria, it's for the land bridge to Lebanon, and in the case of Venezuela, it's the air bridge to Latin America," Humire added. Smyth of the Washington Institute echoed a similar analysis of the entangling relationship between Venezuela and Hezbollah. "If you look at certain representatives that Venezuela has put in the Middle East as diplomatic staff, a lot of them are full-fledged Hezbollah supporters and are linked in a variety of ways to Hezbollah networks," Smith said. ​The role of Hugo Chavez Hezbollah's activities in Venezuela flourished during the term of former President Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013 and was succeeded by Maduro. "The presence of Hezbollah expanded during the time of [former Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, who opened the doors for Iranian and Lebanese businesses [and] facilitated trade for them in Venezuela through a cemented friendship he developed with Chavez," a Tehran-based journalist, who worked in Latin America for years, told VOA. He requested anonymity for security reasons. He added that many multimillion-dollar business ventures were established in those years. "Lebanese businessmen work with Hezbollah because it's a lucrative business, but some of them do it because their business interests in Lebanon could be under threat if they refuse to cooperate with Hezbollah in Venezuela," the Iranian journalist added. With growing pressures on Maduro's government, some analysts say it is unlikely that he would sever ties with Hezbollah. "Ideologically speaking, [Maduro] has thrown his lot in with groups like Hezbollah and with the Iranians. They have the same motivations, which are anti-American," analyst Smyth said. "These are the allies [Venezuelan government officials] have. I seriously doubt that they would cut [these allies off] as a signal to the U.S. ... I think they're in this for good," he added. 

  • Leader of Community Blocking Road to Peru Copper Mine Arrested
    Peruvian police said on Friday that they have arrested the leader and two lawyers of an indigenous community, accusing them of trying to extort Chinese miner MMG Ltd by blocking a road it uses to transport copper for the past month. Gregorio Rojas, president of the community Fuerabamba, was arrested in Lima late on Thursday, along with the community's attorneys, brothers Frank and Jorge Chavez, the police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear who the legal representatives were for Rojas and the Chavez brothers. Frank Chavez and Rojas have previously denied allegations by representatives of the mining industry that the road blockade aimed to illegally or unfairly secure money from MMG. Fuerabamba has said MMG built the road on its farmland without its permission, and that the government illegally made it a national highway last year to help MMG, which is controlled by state-owned China Minmetals Corp Ltd. The government and MMG deny the allegations. Rojas told Reuters this month that Fuerabamba asked MMG for 40 million soles ($12 million) for the rights to use the road. The arrests came as talks between the three parties reached a stalemate. The government had demanded an end to the blockade before discussing the community's demands any further. MMG said it respects decisions by Peru's judicial system and was open to dialogue. It reiterated that the road blockade had halted its exports of copper but that production has not yet stopped. Las Bambas is one of Peru's biggest copper mines, with about 385,000 tonnes in output last year. Fuerabamba, a Quechua-speaking community that once farmed and herded animals in Peru's southern Andes, was relocated to a new town near Las Bambas earlier this decade so that the mine could be built. Fuerabamba has repeatedly accused MMG of failing to fulfill its commitments in the relocation agreement. In early February, community members camped out along a stretch of the road on its farmland to block MMG's trucks carrying copper concentrates to the port of Matarani on Peru's Pacific coast. Former Fuerabamba President Alfonso Vargas said by telephone on Friday that the blockade would continue despite the arrests. As part of the same operation, police said they had arrested two others and seized dynamite, guns and bullets from 12 properties in Lima and the region of Apurimac, where Las Bambas is located. The police statement did not specify whose property the weapons were seized from or how they related to the alleged extortion.    

  • Mozambique's Nyusi Travels to Cyclone-ravaged Coast
    The president of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, has visited the country's coastal Buzi district, one of the areas most damaged by Cyclone Idai. Nyusi flew over the Buzi district Friday afternoon to get a bird's-eye view of what is considered the country's worst natural disaster in the last 50 years.  The district is almost entirely under water after Mozambique's coast was slammed last week. Winds of 160  kilometers per hour (100 mph) and floodwaters six meters (10 feet) deep swamped Mozambique's coast, killing hundreds of people and leaving tens of thousands stranded on high ground and rooftops. Nyusi told residents in the area the government was doing everything it could to rescue those trapped and assist those who lost their homes.  He said the major concern of the government was to rescue people surrounded by water and to provide food, clean water and shelter. Nyusi said he spoke to Angola's president, João Lourenço, who promised to send about 100 doctors to provide medical aid and help avoid the risk of disease outbreaks such as cholera and malaria. Government buildings in the area have been transformed into shelters for Mozambique's flood victims. Nyusi visited some of the evacuation centers to assess conditions, offer condolences and promise more help. The leader called for unity, and urged all Mozambicans to send support.  Nyusi offered thanks for the compassion shown by countless countries that have sent support. These  include members of the Southern African Development Community and the European Union, as well as Brazil, Britain, China and India, among others. Nyusi thanked those who have saved lives and given food and clothing to cyclone victims.  He is scheduled to visit other areas of the country affected by the devastating floods.   The death toll from the storm stood at 293 but was expected to increase.

  • Ex-Chinese Construction Exec Found Guilty in US of Forced Labor Charges
    A former executive for a Chinese construction company was found guilty on Friday of U.S. charges that he forced Chinese laborers to work in the New York area under a form of debt bondage. Dan Zhong, 49, was convicted by a jury in Brooklyn federal court after a nearly three-week trial. Zhong had served as the president of U.S. Rilin Corp, a unit of privately held Chinese construction conglomerate China Rilin Construction Group, which is headed by Zhong's billionaire uncle Wang Wenliang. Zhong appeared impassive as the jury foreperson read the verdict, which found him guilty on five counts. Robert Cleary, a lawyer for Zhong, declined to comment. Zhong, who was previously an accredited Chinese diplomat, was arrested in November 2016 and has been jailed since then. Prosecutors said that he played a leading role in a scheme in which Rilin offered workers in China jobs in the United States, but required them to pledge large sums of cash and even their family's homes as security, which they would lose if they were found to violate their contracts. Once in the United States, prosecutors said, workers were told where they could live and kept away from New York's Chinese communities where they might speak to others. Their passports were kept in a safe Zhong controlled, and workers who tried to escape were violently recaptured, prosecutors said. Although the workers came to the United States on visas that allowed them to work only on Chinese diplomatic facilities, they were also forced to work on private properties including Zhong's own New Jersey home, according to prosecutors. Cleary told jurors at the beginning of the trial the workers came voluntarily to the United States, where they could make up to five times as much money as they could in China, and that Zhong was never involved in violence. Zhong was one of several Chinese nationals caught up in interconnected probes by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Others include Macau billionaire developer Ng Lap Seng, who was sentenced to four years in prison last year for bribing United Nations officials. One of the properties where prosecutors said Rilin employees were forced to work was a $10 million Long Island mansion owned by Qin Fei, an associate of Ng. Investigators once questioned Ng about whether Qin had ties to Chinese intelligence, according to court records.

  • Israeli PM Netanyahu Says He Will Sue Political Rivals for Libel
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday he would sue two of his main political rivals for libel, claiming that they labelled him a traitor over a graft scandal involving a German submarine deal. In a video published on his Facebook page, Netanyahu said he instructed his attorneys to take legal action against former armed forces chief Benny Gantz and ex-defense minister Moshe "Bogie" Yaalon. Both are from the centrist Blue and White party which is seeking to unseat the veteran prime minister in an April 9 election. Opinion polls put Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s new party neck-and-neck. In the video, Netanyahu said that through their "labeling of me as a traitor" Gantz, Yaalon and their party colleague Yair Lapid — who cannot be sued because he is a legislator — had committed "a blood libel that must not be ignored.” Netanyahu's lawyer and other suspects have been the focus of a long-running police investigation into the sale of German submarines to Israel, amid concerns about a conflict of interest. Netanyahu was questioned by police in the investigation but investigators said last year that the prime minister was not a suspect. He issued the video in apparent response to comments Yaalon made on Israel Radio about the submarines case two days ago. Gantz, who has promised to pursue clean government, has sought to undermine Netanyahu by focusing public attention on the state's decision not to deem the prime minister a suspect in the submarine case. In a video statement in response, Lapid said Netanyahu's video was full of lies and that neither he nor his colleagues had called the prime minister a traitor. He said he was willing to forgo his parliamentary immunity to prove it, adding: "Sue me." Officials in the Blue and White party said Gantz was unavailable for comment on Friday because he was on his way to the United States. Asked about Yaalon's response, the party referred to Lapid's video statement. Iran hacking allegation For his part, Netanyahu has put Iran's alleged hacking of Gantz's cellphone at the forefront of his election campaign, repeating in his video on Friday — without presenting any evidence — an allegation that it contained information Tehran could use to blackmail the former general. Iran has denied targeting Gantz. Gantz has said he had been informed by Israel's domestic security service of a breach but there was no sensitive information on the device. Last month Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said he intends to indict Netanyahu in three cases on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending the outcome of a pre-trial hearing that will take place after the election. Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing, and has consistently accused his opponents of carrying out a politically motivated "witch-hunt.” The prime minister's broadside against his strongest election opponents came a day after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his support for Israel's claim of sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in what was widely seen in Israel as a boost for Netanyahu. The prime minister will fly to Washington next week to meet Trump at the White House and address the pro-Israeli lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. Gantz is also due to address AIPAC.  

  • Returning to London, Britain's May Faces Mammoth Task to Change Minds on Brexit
    British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday began the mammoth struggle of persuading a deeply divided parliament to back her Brexit deal after an EU summit granted her more time but little to help change minds at home. After a bruising day in Brussels, May secured a two-week reprieve to try to get the deal she negotiated in November through parliament at a third attempt or face a potentially chaotic departure from the European Union as soon as April 12. EU leaders were clear that it was now up to the British parliament to decide the fate of Brexit — to leave with a deal in a couple of months, depart without an agreement, come up with a new plan or possibly remain in the bloc. While the Brexit deadline may have moved from March 29, however, parliament shows no sign of budging. In fact, incensed by comments from May on Wednesday night that pinned the blame for the Brexit chaos on them, many British lawmakers have now hardened their resistance to the deal she is due to bring back before them next week. In an appeal to lawmakers, May said in Brussels: "Last night I expressed my frustration. I know that MPs [members of parliament] are frustrated too. They have difficult jobs to do. I hope we can all agree, we are now at the moment of decision." She needs to change the minds of 75 more lawmakers to get her deal through after it was overwhelmingly rejected twice before. In a letter to British lawmakers on Friday, May hinted she might not hold a third vote on the deal at all if it was clear it would not be passed. "If it appears there is not sufficient support to bring the deal back next week, or the House rejects it again, we can ask for another extension before April 12," she wrote in the letter published on Twitter by a BBC reporter. While EU leaders were keen to heap pressure on the British parliament, some — with the notable exception of France — suggested Britain could still win more time to prepare for a no-deal Brexit if lawmakers fail to approve the divorce deal by April 12. 'Hope dies last' Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar summed up the mood in Brussels when he spoke of overwhelming Brexit fatigue. European Council President Donald Tusk said: "The fate of Brexit is in the hands of our British friends. We are, as the EU, prepared for the worst but hope for the best. As you know, hope dies last." French President Emmanuel Macron took a potshot at Brexit advocates. "Brexiteer leaders told people leaving would be easy. Bravo." Leaders doubted whether May could get her deal through parliament, which like the country itself is deeply split over how, or even if, Britain should leave the EU after a 2016 referendum when 52 percent backed Brexit against 48 percent. One senior EU official said a no-deal Brexit was more likely. "We are in general well prepared. But we can use these few weeks to prepare more for the rather likely no deal scenario," the official said on condition of anonymity. New votes Parliament will start next week with another vote on Brexit, which business minister Greg Clark said would open the way "for parliament to express a majority of what it would approve." Those May must win over — euroskeptic lawmakers in her Conservative Party and the DUP, the Northern Irish party that props up her minority government, plus wavering members of the opposition Labor Party — did not seem to be softening. The DUP's Nigel Dodds said May had missed an opportunity to put forward proposals to EU leaders to improve the prospects of an acceptable deal, describing it as a "disappointing and inexcusable" failure. Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said it was time for parliament to take over Brexit and for lawmakers to make their own decisions about Britain's future. His deputy Tom Watson said he was prepared to back May's deal, however — but only if she agreed to holding a second referendum, something she has repeatedly ruled out. With parliament deadlocked, the lack of certainty is encouraging some Britons to try to influence politicians. Hundreds of thousands are expected to march through central London on Saturday calling for a second Brexit referendum, while an online petition demanding May revoke the EU leave notice and stop Brexit has got more than 3.5 million signatures. Seven hours of summit brainstorming Thursday kept a host of options open for the EU leaders, who say they regret Britain's decision to leave but are eager to move on from what they increasingly see as a distraction. Now a May 22 departure date will apply if parliament rallies behind the British prime minister next week. If it does not, Britain will have until April 12 to offer a new plan or decide to leave the European Union without a treaty. In the case of a longer extension, the main idea is for one year, EU officials said. That would give Britain time to hold an election, and possibly a second referendum, and avoid an even longer delay that would complicate negotiations for a new long-term EU budget.

  • Mueller Concludes Russia Probe, Submits Report
    The wait is over. But the political parlor game has just begun.    Robert Mueller, the special counsel for the Russian investigation, on Friday afternoon delivered his final report to Attorney General William Barr, concluding a wide-ranging probe that has sharply divided Americans and cast a long shadow over President Donald Trump's first two years in office. Barr informed congressional leaders by letter that he had received Mueller’s confidential report and that “I may be in a position to advise you of the Special Counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.” The central question that Mueller, a former FBI director, set out to answer: Did Trump or his aides collude with the Russians to undermine Democrat Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016 with embarrassing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton's campaign chairman? Or was Trump merely the fortunate beneficiary of Russia's malicious tactics? And did the president attempt to torpedo the subsequent investigation to protect himself and his political advisers and aides?  The probe has led to the indictments of 37 individuals and entities, mostly Russian operatives who remain at large. Seven people, including five former Trump associates, have pleaded guilty and five have been sentenced to prison.    Among high-profile cases, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty of lying to the FBI about conversations with the Russian ambassador, and Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, was recently sentenced for a host of crimes.    Ahead of the report's delivery, speculation was rife that the special counsel would bring additional indictments, but there was no additional legal action before the report was released to the Justice Department.    With the report's delivery, the Mueller investigation is effectively over, but not the president's legal troubles. In recent months, Mueller has farmed out parts of his investigation to U.S. attorney's offices, including the Southern District of New York, where prosecutors have opened separate investigations into the Trump Organization and other Trump entities.   WATCH: After Months of Anticipation, Mueller Probe Concludes  ​Where the case stands    Whether Mueller's report will lead to vindication for the president, his impeachment, or some sort of messy, in-between alternative is unknowable for now.    By law, Barr decides what parts — if any — of the document to disclose to Congress and the public.    Trump has repeatedly called the special counsel investigation a "witch hunt" and insists there is no evidence of his collusion with the Russians. While the president has said  "I don't mind" if the report is made public, there is likely to be considerable legal wrangling between the White House, the Justice Department, Trump's personal lawyer and Congress before portions or all of the report are released.     Justice Department regulations require Mueller to submit a "confidential report" of his findings to the attorney general, and the attorney general  to "notify" Congress about it. There are no requirements for Mueller to make his findings public.    White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Friday, "The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course. The White House has not received or been briefed on the special counsel's report."    Wherever the report takes the United States as a country, understanding where it began and the route it followed will be every bit as important as recognizing the final destination.   ​The beginning    The special counsel investigation began on May 17, 2017, with Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein's announcement that he had appointed Mueller to take over an ongoing FBI investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference.    At the time, Rosenstein stressed that the appointment should not be seen as confirmation that there had actually been any illegal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and said that transferring day-to-day control of the investigation to Mueller was meant to assure the public that the inquiry was free of political bias.    Mueller was not starting from scratch. The investigation he inherited had begun nearly a year before, on July 31, 2016, after the FBI learned of possible collusion between a Trump campaign adviser and Russia.    'Dirt' on Clinton    The tip that initially led investigators to open the case came from Australia's top diplomat in the United Kingdom, who had encountered Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos at a bar in London months earlier.     The diplomat revealed Papadopoulos, while drinking, said he had reason to believe Russian officials were in possession of "dirt" that could damage the candidacy of Clinton, the former secretary of state and front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.    On July 22, 2016, when the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks published about 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, the Australian government reached out to the FBI and took the highly unusual step of allowing the official who encountered Papadopoulos — High Commissioner to the United Kingdom Alexander Downer — to be interviewed by investigators.  U.S. intelligence officials were already convinced that Russia was behind the DNC hacking and other efforts to influence the presidential election. But the Downer interview added a new and possibly explosive angle.   The diplomat presented the FBI with credible evidence that a Trump campaign official had specific information about Russian interference in the U.S. elections months before that interference was made public. That forced the agency to open an urgent counterintelligence investigation examining whether the Trump campaign was colluding with Russia.    An investigation in the public eye    By September 2016, intelligence officials had briefed members of Congress on Russian election interference, but it wasn't until after Nov. 8, when Trump unexpectedly captured the Oval Office, that some of the most important details about Russian intentions became public.    By that time, further leaks of emails stolen from the account of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and posted online by WikiLeaks reinforced suspicions that the hacking efforts weren't just meant to sow chaos by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government  but were aimed at aiding the Trump campaign. The intelligence community confirmed as much in a closed-door meeting with select lawmakers in November, and would make that conclusion public in early January 2017.    Meanwhile, FBI investigators working on the probe were monitoring a large number of interactions between members of the Trump transition team and Russian officials.   Within a few weeks of Trump's inauguration, those interactions would cost a prominent member of the Trump administration his job. National security adviser Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, was forced to resign after it was revealed he had lied to the FBI about his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.    Flynn's fate led, albeit indirectly, to the Russia investigation being handed over to Mueller in spring 2017.    Trump's choice for attorney general, former Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, recused himself from supervising the Russian investigation because he had served as a senior adviser to the Trump campaign, which posed a conflict of interest. That decision angered Trump, and left the Justice Department's second-in-command, Rosenstein, in charge of the investigation. FBI Director James Comey disclosed the existence of the investigation during a testimony before Congress in March.    In private meetings with Comey, Trump demanded "loyalty" from the career law enforcement officer, and pressed him to drop the investigation into Flynn, Comey later testified. Comey refused the president's request.    By May, Trump fired Comey, saying later in a TV interview that he did so largely because of the Russia investigation, to which he strongly objected.      To insulate the investigation from political interference, Rosenstein on May 17 appointed Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation.    In his letter appointing Mueller, Rosenstein authorized the special counsel to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."     Mueller's mandate was later expanded to include whether Trump had obstructed justice.    Following Comey's firing, Andrew McCabe, then the bureau's acting director, quietly ordered two separate investigations to examine whether Trump had obstructed justice and whether he was acting as an agent of Russia.   ​Stream of indictments, guilty pleas    In the months after Mueller took over, the public began to see the fruits of an investigation that had, at that point, been ongoing for nearly a year.    In July, Papadopoulos was arrested and charged with lying to the FBI. He later pleaded guilty and received a two-week prison sentence.    In October, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, were both indicted on conspiracy and money laundering charges dating back to work they had done for Russian-supported politicians in Ukraine years earlier.     The indictments had nothing to do with the Trump campaign specifically, but were widely seen as providing prosecutors with leverage over Manafort and Gates, who would likely have been privy to any collusion that might have occurred during the election.    The next month, Flynn entered a guilty plea to a charge of lying to the FBI, and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in multiple investigations.    In February 2018, Mueller's office unsealed an indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies, charging them with conspiracy to interfere with U.S. elections. Months later, 12 other Russians were indicted and charged with hacking the email system of the Democratic National Committee and others.     The following months marked a series of major events in the investigation.    In late February, Gates pleaded guilty and promised to assist in further investigations. In April, FBI agents raided the home and office of Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen.    In June, Mueller expanded the charges against Manafort to include witness tampering and obstruction of justice, and also named suspected Russian intelligence officer and Manafort business partner Konstantin Kilimnik in an indictment.    By August, Manafort was convicted in the first of two trials for his illicit business practices, and Cohen pleaded guilty of campaign finance violations — implicating Trump in at least one crime — in a case handed off by Mueller to the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Notably, though, neither of the convictions touched on Russian election interference.    Manafort later pleaded guilty of additional crimes and  agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for leniency. He would lose that consideration after Mueller and a federal judge determined that he had continued lying to investigators after striking his plea deal.   Cohen pleaded guilty to a further charge of lying to Congress and was sentenced to three years in prison.     An agreement and another arrest    After more than a year of sparring over whether Trump would consent to be interviewed by the special counsel's office, an agreement was reached in late November 2018 in which the president instead submitted written answers to a series of questions from investigators.    In January 2019, Trump associate Roger Stone was arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness tampering. Investigators had been interested in his potential communication with Russian hackers and their associates during the 2016 election.    'Racist, cheat, con man'     During three days of testimony on Capitol Hill in late February, Cohen lashed out at Trump, his former boss.     During his opening statement to lawmakers, Cohen called Trump, among other things, a "racist," "cheat" and "con man." He also produced documentary evidence that allegedly proved the president's participation in a criminal conspiracy to conceal illicit campaign contributions in the form of payment of hush money to prevent adult-film star Stormy Daniels from going public with her allegation that she and Trump had a sexual liaison years earlier.    Cohen also said, "Questions have been raised about whether I know of direct evidence that Mr. Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia. I do not. I want to be clear."     He did say, though, that he had "suspicions" about connections between the Trump family and Russians who worked to influence the election.   ​Changing cast members    Today, as the investigation concludes, it is operating under the direction of a different set of presidential appointees.    Trump's frustration with Sessions finally boiled over in late 2018, resulting in Sessions' forced resignation. He was replaced on a temporary basis by his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker. After a delay, Trump appointed William Barr to fill the role.    Barr, in his confirmation hearing, told senators he would commit to allowing the Mueller probe to run its course. He was less forthcoming when asked to guarantee that the results would be made public.    "My goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law," he said.  Masood Farivar contributed to this report.

  • US Government Posts $234 Billion Deficit in February
    The U.S. federal government posted a $234 billion budget deficit in February, according to data released Friday by the Treasury Department. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected a $227 billion deficit for the month. The Treasury said federal spending in February was $401 billion, up 8 percent from the same month in 2018, while receipts were $167 billion, up 7 percent compared to February 2018. The deficit for the fiscal year to date was $544 billion, compared with $391 billion in the comparable period the year earlier. When adjusted for calendar effects, the deficit was $547 billion for the fiscal year to date versus $439 billion in the comparable prior period.