Monday, February 20, 2017

Nigerian President Disdains His Country's Best Hospital For Medical Care In Britain. But What Ails Him?

Nigeria's public hospitals are crowded and decrepit. Here, victims of a bomb attack in Maiduguri in 2015 await treatment in a public hospital. (Jossy Ola / Associated Press)


An extended medical trip for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, the latest in a long line of leaders in Africa to travel overseas for medical treatment, has prompted a rash of online fake news stories proclaiming “Buhari is dead.”

Buhari, 74, who is in London for medical tests, posted photographs of himself meeting Nigerian officials in London to prove he was alive. He looked much thinner, but wasn’t bedridden and was able to stand. He tweeted that he was “grateful to Nigerians, Christians and Muslims alike, for their prayers and kind wishes for my health.”

But what was wrong with him, if anything? He didn’t say.

Nor did any Nigerian officials, as critics clamored that Nigerians had a right to know his condition. The president is awaiting results of tests, according to officials

His month-long trip continues a controversial tradition in Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent: presidents disdaining their own health services in favor of overseas medical trips often shrouded in secrecy.

Officials originally announced the trip was a short vacation that would include “routine medical tests.” The trip has been extended by almost two weeks, but no details on Buhari’s health or the nature of the tests have been released.

It is Buhari’s second extended trip to London for medical treatment, after he spent two weeks there last June. The June trip was to treat an ear infection, according to officials. At the time, critics questioned why Buhari couldn’t have been treated for such a simple ailment at the special presidential hospital State House Clinic Abuja, reputed to be the best hospital in the country.


The government upgraded the hospital in 2016 at a cost of $16 million, more than the total capital budget for Nigeria's 16 federal teaching hospitals. The hospital provides care for the president, vice president, their families and staff.

Buhari’s absence comes as the nation faces a dire economic crisis and soaring inflation, a looming famine in parts of northeastern Nigeria and continuing attacks from the Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Eleven people died in a suicide attack on a convoy of vehicles preparing to depart Maiduguri, the capital of Borno state, late Thursday.

His decision to consult doctors in London instead of Nigeria has angered many Nigerians, particularly after he promised last year to crack down on “medical tourism” – or foreign medical trips by Nigerian officials. The Nigerian Medical Assn. has estimated wealthy Nigerians spend around $1 billion a year on trips abroad for medical treatment.

After Buhari’s London trip for treatment for the ear infection, the association said local specialists would have been capable of treating the problem.

”The best-funded clinic in Nigeria does not suffice to treat the president’s ear infection. Nor does the president have enough confidence in the same clinic to do his ‘routine checkups’ there. Imagine, then, the fate of Nigerians who have no choice, but must seek treatment at the ill-equipped, wretchedly funded hospitals in our country. Are these Nigerians not simply woebegone, bereft of hope?” wrote novelist and political columnist Okey Ndibe on the news website Sahara Reporters.

In Madagascar, mothers weep and send their children to bed without water to drink

Those who travel overseas for health treatment are often wealthy government officials. Several former officials on trial over a series of multi-million dollar fraud cases have sought court permission in recent months to travel abroad for medical treatment.

Last September, Nigeria’s former first lady, Patience Jonathan, wrote to the nation’s corruption investigation unit, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to say she needed $15 million to pay foreign medical bills. Her money is in accounts owned by associates, frozen by the commission in a corruption investigation.

Nigeria’s public health facilities are run-down and overcrowded. The country spends just 3.7% of its gross domestic product on health, compared with more than 17% in the U.S., according to the World Health Organization, while vast amounts are siphoned off by corrupt government officials. Nigeria has only four doctors per 10,000 people.


Nigerians are particularly sensitive about presidential overseas visits for medical care, after a former president, Umaru Yar’Adua, disappeared for months for medical treatment in Saudi Arabia in 2009 and 2010, leaving a power vacuum before dying suddenly in office. Officials close to Yar’Adua had persistently denied to the public – and other members of the government – that his health was failing.

Many other African leaders have died suddenly in foreign hospitals, while government officials back home insisted they were healthy. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, died in a Belgian hospital in 2012 and the president of Guinea Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanha, died in a Paris military hospital the same year. Zambia’s President Michael Sata died in a British hospital in 2010, while his predecessor, Levy Mwanawasa, died in a Paris hospital in 2008. Gabonese President Omar Bongo Ondimba died in a Spanish hospital in 2009, after more than four decades in power.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, 92, frequently flies to Singapore for visits described by officials as “routine eye checks.” Hospitals in Zimbabwe have been in a prolonged downward spiral, lacking medicines and basic supplies because of Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.


Nigerian Senate leader Bukola Saraki, one of three officials who met Buhari in London, tweeted Thursday that Buhari was “healthy, witty & himself,” adding there was no power vacuum and “no cause for alarm.”

But the lack of detailed information about Buhari’s health tests and possible ailment fueled concerns in Nigeria.

During his absence in London, Buhari spoke by phone to President Trump, who offered to sell military aircraft to Nigeria to assist in the country’s struggle with Boko Haram.

Nigerian officials said Trump had invited Buhari to Washington, D.C., and that the American president told his counterpart to “keep up the great work.” The White House made no mention of any invitation.

Some Nigerians argue that if Buhari could speak to Trump by phone, he should be able to address Nigerians.

Buhari’s spokesman, Femi Adesina, on Thursday brushed off questions as to why officials hadn’t posted videos of Buhari to prove that he was in good health, instead of still photographs.

“The fact that the president is receiving visitors, the fact that he has spoken with the American president and the fact that he has asked us to tell the world that he’s fine, I think that’s just enough,” Adesina said in a Nigerian television interview. He said the president would return soon, but gave no date.

“I wish I could give you a definite date, I really wish, but then we just have to hang on to what the president has told us.”

Aging, Depression And Disease In South Africa

By Manoj K. Pandey, Vani S. Kulkarni And Raghav Gaiha
Inter Press Service News Agency February 20, 2017




The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS


CANBERRA, PHILADELPHIA AND MANCHESTER, FEBRUARYcccc 20 2017 (IPS) - Old age is often characterised by poor health due to isolation, morbidities and disabilities in carrying out activities of daily living (DADLs) leading to depression.

Mental disorders—in different forms and intensities— affect most of the population in their lifetime. In most cases, people experiencing mild episodes of depression or anxiety deal with them without disrupting their productive activities. A substantial minority of the population, however, experiences more disabling conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder type I, severe recurrent depression, and severe personality disorders. While common mild disorders are amenable to self-management and relatively simple educational or support measures, severe mental illness demands complex, multi-level care that involves a longer-term engagement with the individual, and with the family. Yet, despite the considerable burden and its associated adverse human, economic, and social effects, governments and donors have failed to prioritise treatment and care of people with mental illness. Indeed, pervasive stigma and discrimination contributes to the imbalance between the burden of disease due to mental disorders, and the attention these conditions receive.

The percentage of the population aged 60 years and above in South Africa rose from 7.1% in 1996 to 8 % in 2011, an increase from 2.8 million to 4.1 million individuals. The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 because of (i) a marked decline in fertility in the past few decades; (ii) the HIV and AIDS pandemic contributing to this change in the population structure, with a higher mortality of young adults, especially women of reproductive age; and (iii) a rise in life expectancy to 62 years in 2013-– a staggering increase of 8.5 years since the low in 2005.

Four in ten elderly persons in South Africa are poor. More than a third make an average living, and the rich constitute about 27%. Provincial variations show that rural provinces have higher proportions of poor elderly persons compared to those residing in the urban provinces. Racial differences show that elderly Whites and Indians/Asians occupied a higher socio-economic status than black Africans and Coloureds.

Ours is the first study that offers a comprehensive analysis of depression among the old (60+ years) in South Africa, using the four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).

A self-reported measure of depression is used. SA-NIDS gives data on not depressed in a week, depressed for 1-2 days, 3-4 days and 5-7 days. We focus on those depressed for ≥ 3 days in a week. Referring to this as a measure of severe depression, its prevalence reduced from 15.3 % among the old in 2008 to 14.5 % in 2014, with a dip to 12.6 % in 2012.

Aging is a major factor in depression. Those in early 60s are generally more depressed than older persons in their 70s and 80s.

Old women were consistently more depressed than old men, as they are subject to violence. It is associated with conflicts over the man’s drinking, the woman having more than one partner, and her not having post-school education. Another factor is that women are typically much more likely to be overweight and obese, leading to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and subsequently higher depression . A challenging aspect of obesity prevention among black South Africans is the positive perception that both women and men attach to a large body size.

Married men and women are less depressed than others. Marriage thus serves as a barrier to loneliness and a source of support during periods of stress for old persons. However, old persons in larger households without any other old person are more prone to depression. It is not clear whether larger households result in neglect of old persons or their abuse.

Ethnicity matters. The Africans are more prone to depression than the reference group of the Whites and Coloureds. There is limited evidence suggesting that Asians/Indians/Others are less likely to be depressed.

Pensioners are less likely to be depressed despite some evidence in the literature on pooling of pensions with other household resources and denying the pensioner any financial autonomy. Although this can’t be ruled out, it is evident that the favourable effect of pensions in preventing depression is robust.

Of particular significance are the results on multimorbidity (more than one disease at a time). Two combinations of NCDs (diabetes and high BP, and cancer and heart disease) are positively associated with depression. Equally important are the associations between disabilities in activities of daily living or DADLs (e.g. difficulties in dressing,bathing, eating, walking, climbing stairs) and depression. In many cases, both sets of DADLs are positively associated with depression. The relationship between depression and body mass index or BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) is not so robust except that in some cases overweight were less likely to be depressed than the reference category of obese.

Shock of a family member’s death (in the last 24 months) was robustly linked to higher incidence of depression. There is some evidence suggesting that this shock had stronger effects on women relative to men.

As loneliness and lack of support during a difficult situation can precipitate stress leading to depression, we experimented with measures of social capital and trust as barriers to depression, and the mediating role of preference for the same neighbourhood.

Although social capital doesn’t have a significant negative effect on depression, social trust does. Besides, the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood is confirmed in most cases. An exceptional case is that of the Africans for whom neither social capital nor social trust is of any consequence except the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood.

The burden of depression in terms of shares of depressed in total depressed has risen in the more affluent wealth quartiles-especially that of the most affluent. However, likelihood of depression remained lower among the third and fourth quartiles, implying that the likelihood of depression was higher in the poorest (or the least wealthy). It is somewhat surprising that despite marked inequalities even among the Africans, there is no wealth effect on depression.

Although older people are in worse health than those younger, older people use health services much less frequently. These patterns of utilization arise from barriers to access, a lack of appropriate services and the prioritization of services towards the acute needs of younger people.

A larger ethical issue is rationing of health care to older people on the notion that health services are scarce and must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. WHO 2015 rejects this view on two counter-arguments: older people have made the greatest contribution to socioeconomic development that created these services; and they are entitled to live a dignified and healthy life.

Mental health care continues to be under-funded and under-resourced compared to other health priorities in the country; despite the fact that neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the burden of disease in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In fact, mental health care is usually confined to management of medication for those with severe mental disorders, and does not include detection and treatment of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

From this perspective, the proposed National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is a bold and comprehensive initiative.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Iraqi Forces Launch Offensive To Drive IS From Western Mosul

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FEBRUARY 19, 2017



Iraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Baghdad, Iraq. Iraqi forces have launched an operation to retake the western half of Mosul from the Islamic State group. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the operation early Sunday morning, Feb. 19, 2017, on state television, saying government forces were moving to "liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression forever", using the Arabic acronym for IS.



HAMAM AL-ALIL, IRAQ (AP) — U.S.-backed Iraqi forces launched a major air-and-ground offensive Sunday to retake western Mosul from Islamic State militants and drive the extremist group from its last major urban bastion in Iraq.

Ground units pushed into a belt of villages outside the country's second-largest city, and plumes of smoke rose into the sky early in the morning as U.S.-led coalition jets struck militant positions southwest of Mosul and militarized Iraqi police fired artillery.

"This is zero hour and we are going to end this war, God willing," said Mahmoud Mansour, a police officer, as he prepared to move out. The United Nations warned that hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped inside their homes in Mosul "are at extreme risk," with dwindling fuel, food and water and scarce electricity.

Iraq declared eastern Mosul "fully liberated" last month after three months of fierce fighting, but the militants have continued to stage attacks there, including two suicide bombings against government forces on Sunday.

The battle for western Mosul promises to be even more daunting, as the half of the city west of the Tigris River has older, narrower streets and is still heavily populated. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced the start of the latest operation on state TV. Using the Arabic acronym for IS, he said government forces were moving to "liberate the people of Mosul from Daesh oppression and terrorism forever."

Police units quickly entered the village of Athba, about 3 miles (5 kilometers) southwest of Mosul's international airport, encountering only light resistance. Separately, the Iraqi Army's 9th Division moved into the village of Bakhira, also southwest of the city, the Ministry of Defense said.

The U.S.-led coalition has been providing close air support throughout the 4-month-old Mosul offensive and carried out nine airstrikes against IS near Mosul on Saturday, Central Command said. U.S. special operations forces are embedded with some Iraqi units, and thousands of American soldiers are in Iraq to provide logistical and other support.

"We are very close to it, if not already engaged in that fight," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters in Abu Dhabi. He declined to go into further detail, saying he owed "confidentiality" to the troops.

Citing witnesses in western Mosul, the United Nations said nearly half of all food shops were closed and bakeries had shut down for lack of fuel and an inability to purchase costly flour. Prices of kerosene and cooking gas have skyrocketed, and many of the most destitute families are burning wood, furniture, plastic or garbage for cooking and heating.

"The situation is distressing. People, right now, are in trouble," Lise Grande, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq, said in a statement. "We are hearing reports of parents struggling to feed their children and to heat their homes."

Peter Hawkins, of the U.N. agency for children, said: "Three out of five people now depend on untreated water from wells for cooking and drinking as water systems and treatment plants have been damaged by fighting or run out of chlorine."

The humanitarian agencies were gearing up to aid 250,000 to 400,000 civilians who may flee because of the fighting, the statement said. The U.N. estimates 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, a top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the Iraqi forces are an "increasingly capable, formidable and professional force." "Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge," he said in a statement.

Iraqi forces drove IS from eastern Mosul last month, but the militants appear to have left behind sleeper cells to carry out attacks. Brig. Gen. Yahya Rasool, an Iraqi military spokesman, said a suicide bomber struck a patrol of government-allied Sunni tribal fighters in the Zihoor neighborhood, while another targeted Iraqi troops in Nabi Younis. IS claimed responsibility for both attacks.

Rasool declined to provide casualty figures. Two policemen said one Sunni fighter was killed and nine were wounded in the first attack, while the second attack wounded five soldiers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information.

Iraqi special operations forces, regular army and federal police units are taking part in the offensive along with government-approved paramilitary forces, mainly consisting of Shiite militias, which are operating on the city's outskirts.

Mosul fell to IS in the summer of 2014, along with large swaths of northern and western Iraq.

Associated Press writers Sinan Salaheddin and Qassim Abdul-Zahra in Baghdad, and Maamoun Youssef and Joseph Krauss in Cairo contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Problem Or partner? Why Nigeria Matters To The U.S.

BY OLUBUKOLA ADEMOLA-ADELEHIN AND KATIE SMITH,
THE HILL, FEBRUARY 18, 2017







President Trump’s phone call to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday signified the critical importance of the open and supportive relationship between our two countries. Nigeria is an important political and economic partner for the United States: it is the world’s fourth largest democracy, with a population of almost 200 million people; it runs a trade surplus and imports over $5.5 billion U.S.-originated goods per year; and is home to the Nollywood film industry, which has cultural and social influence across Africa. To forge a strong, new partnership, leaders from both countries should look holistically at how to improve Nigeria’s economic and security resiliency as well as maximize its enormous potential as a regional leader and long-term partner for the U.S.

In the call, the two presidents reportedly emphasized the importance of collaboration and partnership on security, governance and regional leadership. These three priorities are interrelated and are of critical importance to increased partnership between the two countries. Despite significant strides to address Boko Haram as a fighting force, violent extremism remains a major challenge in addition to other growing tensions between and among communities along social, ethnic, religious and economic lines.

However, the core Nigerian government policies and practices have been reactive rather than proactive in addressing vulnerability and violence. Weakness in the criminal justice system, poorly funded local government structures, corruption, and detached federal policies have eroded trust between communities and government, further diminishing the ability of government to mitigate tensions within and between communities. Dropping commodity prices and unprecedented and unpredictable inflation (18.55 percent in December 2016, up from 9.6 percent in January 2016) have underscored the shortcoming of social and economic policies, resulting in reactive responses to crises only as they explode or long after they have exploded.

The current failure by both the U.S. and Nigeria to prioritize the causes rather than the consequences of crises is bad for Nigerian and U.S. interests. Because of the urgent needs once crises have exploded, we have seen over reliance on the deployment of security forces, leading to tensions and potential flashpoints that undermine security.

In pockets of the country, large-scale violence has erupted. Decades-long agitations for resource control, development, and environmental maintenance continue to fuel militant attacks on oil and gas facilities in the Niger Delta region, which slashed oil production from 2.2 million to 1 million barrels per day in 2016, leading to lost billions of dollars in oil revenue for the country. Militancy in the Niger Delta gives rise to criminality and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, where attacks on vessels and abduction of crew members disrupt interconnected shipping supply networks, not just for oil, but also for cocoa, metals, and other commodities destined for world markets. The recent rise in food insecurity, fueled by the inability to locally meet food demand, scarcity of foreign exchange, and double-digit inflation, has potential to stimulate protests and social unrest that the government has yet to prove they can handle.

A destabilized and crisis-ridden Nigeria has negative impacts for American businesses, international security, and the stability of the entire region. These crises already are expanding across Nigeria’s borders and into neighboring countries, demonstrating the ease with which Nigeria can export criminality and violence, as well as import it from its neighbors in crisis. As the U.S. pushes to eradicate ISIS and its affiliates, preventing violence from groups such as Boko Haram in Nigeria as well as the Lake Chad Basin are critical to this effort.

Yet the United States should not view Nigeria as a set of problems to be eradicated, but as an opportunity to invest and strengthen the ability of Nigeria to handle national and regional crises on its own. The U.S. must engage Nigeria as a partner and resource in the region through political, economic, development, and security cooperation. It should support Nigeria in strengthening detection and response to early warning signs, practical security reforms to improve response and community-trust, and respect and tolerance to religious freedom and ethnic diversity. Security cooperation between our two nations should focus on preventing violence at all levels, including through community-led security initiatives and investments in crisis management.

Nigeria is the trendsetter in West Africa and an important partner for the U.S. government and American businesses. Security, governance, and regional leadership are three areas where the U.S. and Nigeria must work together to address Nigeria as more than the sum of its parts. Together, our two countries need to progress our partnership beyond the reactive response to segmented crises to forge a holistic partnership that promotes the long-term growth and stability that is in our mutual interests.

Olubukola Ademola-Adelehin is a Conflict Analyst at Search for Common Ground, the world's largest dedicated peacebuilding organization. He is based in Abuja, Nigeria. Katie Smith is a Research Associate at Search for Common Ground, based in Washington, D.C.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Did Trump’s White House Use The Associated Press To Invent A “Fake News” Story?

BY ANDY CUSH
ASSOCIATED PRESS, FEBRUARY 17, 2017



Credit: Alex Wong/Getty



On Friday morning, the Associated Press published a story with frightening implications: Based on a draft of a Department of Homeland Security memo, it alleged that the Donald Trump administration was considering mobilizing 100,000 National Guard troops in 11 states to round up illegal immigrants for deportation. But almost as soon as the story went to press, White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied its accuracy, claiming there is no such plan to activate the Guard. If it sounds to you like the AP made a rare flub despite its reputation for sober and solid news reporting–well, that’s all the better for Spicer and the White House.

Trump and his cronies, of course, have been going to war with the press since day one, when the president accused reporters of lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration. Looked at a certain way, the flareup over the National Guard memo this morning takes on a sinister glow. The White House scored a perfect “fake news” moment with which to further undermine the media–and it’s not ludicrous to wonder whether they knew exactly what they were doing.

Spicer admonished the AP for the story while aboard Air Force One this morning. “It is false. It is irresponsible to be saying this,” Spicer told reporters. “There is no effort to utilize the National Guard to round up immigrants. I wish you’d asked before you tweeted.” An AP reporter responded by saying that the newswire had asked the White House for comment several times before the story ran, and that the White House never responded.

In an ordinary administration, if the AP were to bring bad information to the press secretary and ask for comment, the press secretary would simply inform them that their story was wrong before it went to press. Depending on the circumstances, the AP would either kill the story or include the White House’s denial in their reporting. There are only two reasons why the White House would have avoided commenting in this case. Either they thought that a no-comment would be sufficient enough for the AP to not to run with the item, or they saw a strategic opportunity in letting them publish something untrue.

The former option seems unlikely, considering the provenance of the documents: a DHS spokesman admitted that the draft memo was genuine, but said that it was a “very early pre-decisional draft” that “was never seriously considered” for implementation. But without a denial or comment of any kind from the relevant parties, there was no way for the AP to know how seriously the National Guard policy was being considered. The document was authentic, and it was all they had to go on–publishing a story was a reasonable course of action, and the White House would have known this.

The latter option–letting the AP publish a bad story, then slapping them around a bit for being irresponsible after the fact–sounds like just the kind of thing Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller could have cooked up in their little demon brains. Whatever draconian policies they do end up writing to supplement Trump’s immigration executive order will now look reasonable next to the prospect of 100,000 soldiers banging on doors from Texas to Oregon. And any opportunity to make a respected news organization look dumb is a win for Trump. As if on cue, a few hours after the fracas, the president tweeted this:

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Michael Flynn Left The Trump White House This Week. Here's How That Happened

NPR FEBRUARY 14, 2017




Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has resigned as national security adviser after a convoluted series of events.


February 14, 2017 --- The events leading to Michael Flynn's resignation as national security adviser accelerated this week, with constant new updates about what he said, to whom and when. But the path to that step has been unfolding since at least last summer. Here's a timeline of key events that eventually led to the resignation of a top presidential adviser less than one month into the Trump administration.

June through November 2016

Early in the summer, the Washington Post reports that hackers in the Russian government have breached the Democratic National Committee. Sources from the DNC and security experts tell the Post that the hackers had access to opposition research on Trump, as well as internal emails and chats.

In late July, WikiLeaks posts a searchable database of more than 19,000 emails stolen from the DNC computer servers. Compromising information in the emails leads to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as DNC chair.

Donald Trump, meanwhile, eggs the Russians on.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," he says.

Trump repeatedly downplays the hacks in the coming months, saying in a debate that China or "somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds" could have been behind the breaches. Days after the U.S. intelligence community says it's "confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails," Trump dismisses concerns about the breach.

"You ever notice anything that goes wrong, they blame Russia? 'Russia did it.' They have no idea," he says in a speech.

Nov. 8, 2016

Donald Trump wins the presidential election.

Nov. 18, 2016

President-elect Trump announces that Flynn will be his national security adviser. Flynn, it is later reported, had been in contact with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the election.

Dec. 9, 2016

Then-President Obama orders a "full review" of digital attacks aimed at influencing U.S. elections, going back to 2008.

The Washington Post reports that the CIA has determined that the Russian government was seeking to help Trump win the election.

The Trump transition office issues a statement:

"These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," the statement says. "The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. [Note: This is incorrect.] It's now time to move on and 'Make America Great Again.' "

Dec. 12, 2016

Trump tweets: "Unless you catch 'hackers' in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn't this brought up before election?"

Dec. 15, 2016

Trump tweets, "If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?"

Secretary of State John Kerry says on CNN that then-President Obama did issue a warning about Russian hacking, but he also "had to be obviously sensitive to not being viewed as interfering on behalf of a candidate or against a candidate or in a way that promoted unrealistic assessments about what was happening."

Obama tells NPR's Steve Inskeep that the U.S. will strike back against Russia, one way or another, in response to that country's attempts to influence the U.S. election.

"I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our elections, that we need to take action," he says. "And we will — at a time and place of our own choosing. Some of it may be explicit and publicized; some of it may not be."

He added, "But Mr. Putin is well aware of my feelings about this, because I spoke to him directly about it."

Dec. 25, 2016

Flynn and Kislyak exchange text messages wishing each other happy holidays (per remarks later made by Sean Spicer on Jan. 13, 2017).

Dec. 29, 2016

Obama ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and introduces new sanctions against Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB; the country's main foreign intelligence agency, known as the GRU; along with four GRU officers and three companies that did business with GRU.

In addition, the Obama administration announces it will be closing down two compounds in the U.S. it says were "used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes."

Dec. 29 is also when the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak regarding sanctions took place (this story would break on Jan. 12, 2017). According to a Washington Post story from Feb. 9, two officials "said that Flynn urged Russia not to overreact to the penalties being imposed by President Barack Obama, making clear that the two sides would be in position to review the matter after Trump was sworn in as president."

Jan. 6, 2017

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence releases a declassified report finding that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election and that a major part of that was the hacking of emails at the Democratic National Committee.

"Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him," the report says. The authors added that "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process."

Trump meets with intelligence officials for a briefing on the report's contents. Afterward, he releases a statement lumping Russia in with China and "other countries" and insisting that the hacking had "absolutely no effect" on the election's outcome:






"While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines."





However, as then-Intelligence Director James Clapper had told John McCain just one day earlier, it's impossible to know the impact: "Certainly the intelligence community can't gauge the impact that it had on choices that the electorate made. There is no way for us to gauge that."

Jan. 10, 2017

Then-Attorney General nominee (and Alabama Sen.) Jeff Sessions says in his confirmation hearing that he "has no reason to doubt" the report's conclusions tying Putin to the DNC hack.

Jan. 11, 2017

In his confirmation hearing, then-Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson acknowledges that he thinks it's "a fair assumption" that Putin had knowledge of the plot to influence the U.S. election. He also adds that the intelligence report on Russian hacking "clearly is troubling."

Jan. 12, 2017

The Washington Post's David Ignatius reports that "a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29," the same day that the Obama administration announced the new sanctions and removal of Russian diplomats.

Jan. 13, 2017

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says that a conversation took place between Flynn and Kislyak, but that the conversation was on Dec. 28, and that it wasn't about sanctions.

He says that Kislyak texted Flynn on the 28th, asking if he could give Flynn a call. Kislyak then called that day, and according to Spicer, "the call centered around the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and the president-elect after he was sworn in, and they exchanged logistical information on how to initiate and schedule that call. That was it, plain and simple."

This later proves to be untrue, as two Trump transition officials confirm to NPR that a call took place on Dec. 29.

Jan. 15, 2017

Officials from the Justice Department and intelligence agencies discuss "whether the incoming Trump White House should be notified about the contents of the Flynn-Kislyak communications," as the Washington Post has reported.

Later that day, on CBS's Face the Nation, Vice President Pence says the conversations between Flynn and Kislyak had nothing to do with sanctions.

"What I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions," Pence said.

Upon further questioning from John Dickerson, Pence added, "I don't believe there were more conversations" as well as "I can confirm those elements were not a part of that discussion."

After the Pence interview, the Post reports, the Justice and intelligence officials thought the issue was "more urgent ... because U.S. intelligence agencies had reason to believe that Russia was aware that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions in their December call, contrary to public statements."

Jan. 19, 2017

According to the Washington Post, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, DNI James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan discuss whom in the administration should be briefed on the Flynn-Kislyak communications.

Jan. 26, 2017

The Justice Department notifies the White House counsel of discrepancies between what Flynn and Pence had claimed about the phone call between Flynn and Kislyak, as Spicer later reports at a Feb. 14 White House press briefing.

Feb. 8, 2017

In an interview, Flynn twice denies having discussed sanctions with Kislyak, according to the Washington Post.

Feb. 9, 2017

A Flynn spokesman says that the retired lieutenant general "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up," according to the Post.

This is also the day Pence "became aware of the incomplete information he'd received ... based on media accounts," according to Pence press secretary Marc Lotter, who spoke to reporters on Feb. 14.

Feb. 13, 2017

Kellyanne Conway tells MSNBC that Flynn "does enjoy the full confidence of the president."

Later in the day, Spicer says that Trump is "evaluating the situation" regarding Flynn.

That night, Flynn resigns as national security adviser. In a statement, he admits accidental wrongdoing:






"Unfortunately, because of the fast pace of events, I inadvertently briefed the Vice President Elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian Ambassador. I have sincerely apologized to the President and the Vice President, and they have accepted my apology."





The White House announces that retired Lt. Gen. Joseph Keith Kellogg Jr. will be acting national security adviser.

Feb. 14, 2017

Spicer says that 17 days prior, White House Counsel Donald McGahn had told the president that Flynn had been wrong when he told Pence he hadn't discussed sanctions with Kislyak, as reported by the New York Times.

At a press briefing, Spicer says of the resignation, "We got to a point not based on a legal issue, but based on a trust issue," adding that Trump was "concerned that Gen. Flynn had misled the vice president and others."

Politico reports that there's still more to come on the Flynn story, according to the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee:






"Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told House Democrats Tuesday that the recent revelations about former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn's conversations with the Russians are only the beginning, and more information will surface in the coming days, according to multiple sources in a closed party meeting."





Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicates that the Senate Intelligence Committee will investigate Flynn's contacts with Russian officials, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a member of the intelligence committee, says Flynn should meet with the committee "very soon."

With reporting from Barbara Van Woerkom

Malaysia Official: N.Korea Leader's Brother Slain At Airport

The Associated Press
February 14, 2017



A TV screen shows a picture of Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2017. Malaysian officials say a North Korean man has died after suddenly becoming ill at Kuala Lumpur's airport. The district police chief said Tuesday Feb. 14, 2017 he could not confirm South Korean media reports that the man was Kim Jong Nam, the older brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. .


KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (AP) — The half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was assassinated at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, telling medical workers before he died that he had been attacked with a chemical spray, a Malaysian official said Tuesday.

Kim Jong Nam, 46, was targeted Monday in the shopping concourse at the airport and had not gone through immigration yet for his flight to Macau, said the senior government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the case involves sensitive diplomacy.

He was taken to the airport clinic and then died on the way to the hospital, the official said. Kim Jong Nam was estranged from his younger brother, the North Korean leader. He had been tipped by outsiders to succeed their dictator father, but reportedly fell out of favor when he was caught trying to enter Japan on a false passport in 2001, saying he wanted to visit Tokyo Disneyland. He was believed to have been living recently in Macau, Singapore and Malaysia.

Multiple South Korean media reports, citing unidentified sources, said Kim Jong Nam was killed at the airport by two women believed to be North Korean agents. They fled in a taxi and were being sought by Malaysian police, the reports said.

A Malaysian police statement confirmed the death of a 46-year-old North Korean man whom it identified from his travel document as Kim Chol, born in Pyongyang on June 10, 1970. "Investigation is in progress and a post mortem examination request has been made to ascertain the cause of death," the statement said.

Ken Gause, at the CNA think tank in Washington who has studied North Korea's leadership for 30 years, said Kim Chol was a name that Kim Jong Nam has traveled under. He is believed to have been born May 10, 1971, although birthdays are always unclear for senior North Koreans, Gause said.

Mark Tokola, vice president of the Korea Economic Institute in Washington and a former deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said it would be surprising if Kim Jong Nam was not killed on the orders of his brother, given that North Korean agents have reportedly tried to assassinate Kim Jong Nam in the past.

"It seems probable that the motivation for the murder was a continuing sense of paranoia on the part of Kim Jong Un," Tokola wrote in a commentary Tuesday. Although there was scant evidence that Kim Jong Nam was plotting against the North Korean leader, he provided an alternative for North Koreans who would want to depose his brother.

In Washington, the State Department said it was aware of reports of Kim Jong Nam's death but declined to comment, referring questions to Malaysian authorities. The reported killing came as North Korea celebrated its latest missile launch, which foreign experts were analyzing for evidence of advancement in the country's missile capabilities. For the next several days, North Korea will be marking the birthday of its late leader Kim Jong Il, the brothers' father, though they have different mothers. The major holiday this Thursday is called the "Day of the Shining Star" and will be feted with figure skating and synchronized swimming exhibitions, fireworks and mass rallies.

Since taking power in late 2011, Kim Jong Un has executed or purged a slew of high-level government officials in what the South Korean government has described as a "reign of terror." The most spectacular was the 2013 execution by anti-aircraft fire of his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, once considered the country's second-most-powerful man, for what the North alleged was treason.

Gause said Kim Jong Nam had been forthright that he did not have political ambitions, although he was publicly critical of the North Korean regime and his brother's legitimacy in the past. Kim Jong Nam had been less outspoken since 2011, when North Korean assassins reportedly tried to shoot him in Macau, Gause said, though the details of the attempted killing are murky. South Korea also reportedly jailed a North Korean spy in 2012 who admitted to trying to organize a hit-and-run accident targeting Kim Jong Nam in China in 2010.

Despite the attempts on his life, Kim Jong Nam had reportedly traveled to North Korea since then, so it was assumed he was no longer under threat. Kim Jong Nam may have become more vulnerable as his defender in the North Korean hierarchy, Kim Kyong Hui — Kim Jong Un's aunt and the husband of his executed uncle, Jang Song Thaek — appears to have fallen from favor or died. She has not been seen in public for more than three years, Gause said.

Kim Jong Il had at least three sons with two women, as well as a daughter by a third. Kim Jong Nam was the eldest, followed by Kim Jong Chul, who is a few years older than Kim Jong Un and is known as a playboy who reportedly attended Eric Clapton concerts in London in 2015. It's unclear what positon he has in the North Korean government. A younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was named a member of the Workers' Party of Korea's Central Committee during a North Korean party congress last May. She has a position in a propaganda and agitation department and is known as Kim Jong Un's gatekeeper, Gause said.

While the most likely explanation for the killing was that Kim Jong Un was removing a potential challenger to North Korean leadership within his own family, he could also be sending a warning to North Korean officials to demonstrate the reach of the regime. It follows the defection last year of a senior diplomat from the North Korean Embassy in London who has spoken of his despair at Kim's purges.

Evans Revere, a former U.S. diplomat and specialist on East Asia, said the killing did not mean the North Korean regime was unstable. He said it showed Kim Jong Un's brutal control and ability to eliminate opponents or perceived opponents.

Victor Cha, a former White House director for Asian affairs, disagreed. "He sacks the minister of state security last month and now kills the elder brother. Doesn't look so stable to me," Cha said.

Pennington reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Ekwueme, Ogene Make Case For Igbo Presidency

BY ANIETIE AKPAN, LAWRENCE NJOKU, SEYE OLUMIDE & ISA ABDULSALAMI AHOVI
THE GUARDIAN, NIGERIA, FEBRUARY 13, 2017




ALEX EKWUEME



Former Vice President of Nigeria, Dr Alex Ekwueme, President of Ohaneze in Anambra State, Chief Damian Okeke Ogene and other Igbo leaders have called for Igbo presidency, saying, it was long overdue.

Ekwueme who did not specify if the Igbos should take their shot come 2019, said: “I pray that the other people (Igbos) can take it up from there and make progress.

The former vice president, who spoke yesterday at St Bernard Catholic Church, Caliber during the child dedication ceremony of Chief and Lolo Chukwuemeka Egwuonwu (KSM), added: “I would have contested for the number one position in 1987 but the military intervened in 1983 and the civilian regime was cut short.”

On President Muhammadu Buhari’s health, Ekweme who was accompanied by the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, Professor Ivara Esu, said: “We have conflicting reports about the President’s health. The Minister of Information says he is hale and hearty, but his wife says we should pray for him. So if he is hale and hearty, I don’t know why she said we should pray for him. Whatever it is, we ask God to look after him. We want Nigeria to be at peace and to make progress and see how we can get out of our present difficulties”.

To Ogene, who was also at the event, “an Igbo presidency is overdue but as far as I am concerned it is not something that is coming out now. Our President General, Chief Nnia Nwodo, is going to make the stand of Ohaneze known as regards to the presidency. Igbo presidency is long over due whether it is 2019 or 2023, our own President General will make our stand known.”

However, the leaderships of the Yoruba and Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere and Ohanaeze have resolved to work together in protecting the interest of the two nationalities and seeing to the progress of nation.

In a resolution after the first meeting Nwodo would hold with any group outside Igbo land, the two organisations resolved that the paramount interest of Nigeria and the development of all ethnic nationalities that made up the country should be made paramount.
Received by Chief Ayo Adebanjo, who stood in for the leader, Chief Reuben Fasoranti, the apex Igbo group said the decision to make the Yoruba socio-cultural group its first place of touching base arose from the fact that it was the first organisation that openly congratulated him and followed with phone calls from its prominent leaders.

Meanwhile, former Vice President General of Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, Chief Enechi Onyia (SAN) has warned of the consequences of allowing the organisation to be infiltrated by politicians who parade themselves as leaders of the people.

Onyia told reporters in Enugu at the weekend that it would be dangerous for the Igbo apex socio-cultural grouping to drift from the aspirations of its founding fathers.

He blamed the crisis in the organisation on past leaders who enthroned a reign of impunity by acting independent of its constitution.

Also, Governor Simon Lalong said the Plateau State government had resumed partnership with the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF).

He made the disclosure while receiving leaders of the group led by its vice chairman, Liman Kwande, in Jos at the weekend.

North Korea Test-Fires Missile, Apparently Challenging Trump

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FEBRUARY 12, 2017




North Korea's town Kaepoong is seen from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. North Korea reportedly fired a ballistic missile early Sunday in what would be its first such test of the year and an implicit challenge to President Donald Trump, who stood with the Japanese leader as Shinzo Abe called the move "absolutely intolerable."



PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA (AP) — In an implicit challenge to President Donald Trump, North Korea appeared to fire a ballistic missile early Sunday in what would be its first such test of the year. After receiving word of the launch, Trump stood at his south Florida estate with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who called the move "intolerable."

There was no immediate confirmation on the launch from the North, which had warned recently that it was ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile. The U.S. Strategic Command, however, said it detected and tracked what it assessed to be a medium- or intermediate-range missile.

North Korean media are often slow to announce such launches, if they announce them at all. As of Sunday evening, there had been no official announcement and most North Koreans went about their day with no inkling that the launch was major international news.

The reports of the launch came as Trump was hosting Abe and just days before the North is to mark the birthday of leader Kim Jong Un's late father, Kim Jong Il. Appearing with Trump at a news conference at Trump's estate, Abe condemned the missile launch as "absolutely intolerable."

Abe read a brief statement in which he called on the North to comply fully with relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. He said Trump had assured him of U.S. support and that Trump's presence showed the president's determination and commitment.

Trump followed Abe with even fewer words, saying in part: "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent." Stephen Miller, Trump's chief policy adviser, said Trump and Abe had displayed "an important show of solidarity" between their nations.

"The message we're sending to the world right now is a message of strength and solidarity; we stand with Japan and we stand with our allies in the region to address the North Korean menace," Miller said during an interview Sunday with ABC's "This Week."

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from around Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, which is where South Korean officials have said the North test-launched its powerful midrange Musudan missile on Oct. 15 and 20.

The military in Seoul said that the missile flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles). South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reported that while determinations were still being made, it was not believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The missile splashed down into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to the U.S. Strategic Command. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the missile did not hit Japanese territorial seas.

The North conducted two nuclear tests and a slew of rocket launches last year in continued efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs. Kim Jong Un said in his New Year's address that the country had reached the final stages of readiness to test an ICBM, which would be a major step forward in its efforts to build a credible nuclear threat to the United States.

Though Pyongyang has been relatively quiet about the transfer of power to the Trump administration, its state media has repeatedly called for Washington to abandon its "hostile policy" and vowed to continue its nuclear and missile development programs until the U.S. changes its diplomatic approach.

Just days ago, it also reaffirmed its plan to conduct more space launches, which it staunchly defends but which have been criticized because they involve dual-use technology that can be transferred to improve missiles.

"Our country has clearly expressed its standpoint, that we will continue to build up our capacity for self-defense, with nuclear forces and a pre-emptive strike capability as the main points, as long as our enemies continue sanctions to suppress us," Pyongyang student Kim Guk Bom said Sunday. "We will defend the peace and security of our country at any cost, with our own effort, and we will contribute to global peace and stability."

Kim Dong-yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the missile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the U.S. mainland. Analysts are divided, however, over how close the North is to having a reliable long-range rocket that could be coupled with a nuclear warhead capable of striking U.S. targets.

South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is also the acting president, said his country would punish North Korea for the missile launch. The Foreign Ministry said South Korea would continue to work with allies, including the United States, Japan and the European Union, to ensure a thorough implementation of sanctions against the North and make the country realize that it will "never be able to survive" without discarding all of its nuclear and missile programs.

Associated Press writers Kim Tong-Hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Jill Colvin in Palm Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Lawyer: Pro-Trump Mindset Behind 8-year Voter Fraud Sentence

BY PAUL J. WEBER
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FEBRUARY 11, 2017



Rosa Maria Ortega. Ortega, 37, was convicted in Fort Worth this week on two felony counts of illegal voting over allegations that she improperly cast a ballot five times between 2005 and 2014. Her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said Friday, Feb. 10, 2017, that Ortega was a U.S. permanent resident who mistakenly thought she was eligible to vote. He said she voted Republican, including for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office helped prosecute her. (Tarrant County, Texas via AP)


AUSTIN, TEXAS (AP) — A lawyer for a Mexican national sentenced to eight years in prison for voter fraud in Texas said that President Donald Trump's widely debunked claims of election rigging was "the 800-pound gorilla" in the jury box.

Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, was convicted in Fort Worth this week on two felony counts of illegal voting over allegations that she improperly cast a ballot five times between 2005 and 2014. Her attorney, Clark Birdsall, said Friday that Ortega was a permanent resident who was brought to the U.S. as a baby and mistakenly thought she was eligible to vote. He said she voted Republican, including for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office helped prosecute her.

The sentence was stark — voter fraud convictions, which are rare, many times result in probation. And as a convicted felon, Ortega will very likely be deported after serving her sentence. Tarrant County prosecutors say jurors made clear they value voting rights, but Birdsall said he believes Ortega would have fared better in a county with fewer "pro-Trump" attitudes.

Trump carried North Texas' Tarrant County with 52 percent of the vote in November. Birdsall said he wanted to steer the jury of 10 women and two men from any lingering thoughts about Trump's unproven claims that 3 million people illegally voted in 2016 but the judge wouldn't allow him.

"It was the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the jury box," Birdsall said. "I would have said, 'You cannot hold this woman accountable for Donald Trump's fictitious 3 million votes.'" Birdsall said the Texas attorney general's office had agreed to leniency in exchange for Ortega testifying to lawmakers about illegal voting, but said Tarrant County District Attorney Sharon Wilson quashed those talks. A Wilson spokeswoman acknowledged plea negotiations but would not divulge details. A spokesman for the attorney general did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Birdsall said Ortega has lived in the U.S. since she was a baby and has four teenage children. He said Ortega had learning disabilities and only a sixth-grade education. Sam Jordan, a spokeswoman for Wilson, said the decision to prosecute had "absolutely nothing" to do with immigration.

"This is a voter rights case. Does she consider voter rights important? Yes she does," Jordan said of the district attorney. "And she thought it was important enough to go forward to a jury and let the jury of citizens decide, and they decided pretty clearly how important they think voting rights are."

Texas is one of many Republican-led states that have pushed for tighter requirements on voters to show identification at the polls. Supporters say such measures are necessary to combat voter fraud and increase public confidence in elections. But research has shown that in-person fraud at the polls is extremely rare, and critics of these restrictions warn that they will hurt mostly poor people, minorities and students — all of whom tend to vote Democratic — as well as the elderly.

Associated Press writer Will Weissert contributed to this report.

Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pauljweber

Trump Attacks On Judiciary Raise Safety Concerns For Judges

BY MARTHA BELLISLE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, FEBRUARY 11, 2017




Judge James Robart listening to a case at Seattle Courthouse in Seattle. Online abuse of Robart, who temporarily derailed President Donald Trump's travel ban, has raised safety concerns, according to experts who are worried that the president's attacks on the judiciary could make judges a more inviting target. (United States Courts via AP,File)



SEATTLE (AP) — When a judge who helped derail President Donald Trump's travel ban was hit with online threats, the abuse raised safety concerns among jurists across the country, and experts are worried that the president's own attacks on the judiciary could make judges a more inviting target.

U.S. District Judge James Robart imposed the temporary restraining order that halted enforcement of Trump's ban last week. The president soon sent a tweet saying the opinion of "this so-called judge" was "ridiculous and would be overturned." He also tweeted that the judge was "a known liberal sympathizer" and had "just opened the door to terrorists!"

Robart quickly became a target on social media. Someone on Twitter called him a "DEAD MAN WALKING" and another on Facebook suggested that he be imprisoned at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, "where other enemies of the US are held."

"I know there's a fear among the judiciary with what's being said," said John Muffler, a former U.S. marshal who teaches security at the Reno, Nevada-based National Judicial College. He cited professional contacts and email exchanges with judges.

The president's critical comments have consequences, he added, because "people on the edge can easily be pushed over the edge once the rhetoric gets going." Trump blasted the federal court system again Wednesday after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether Robart's temporary restraining order should stand. During a speech to law enforcement officials, the president said the "courts seem to be so political" and called the hearing "disgraceful."

The next day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump had "no regrets" about his criticism of judges. Threats against judges are nothing new. They often come in the form of emails, phone calls, letters and social media posts, according to court records and the U.S. Marshal Service, which is responsible for protecting the federal judiciary.

Judges are well guarded at their courthouse offices, but most do not receive protection when at home or out in the community. The Marshal Service offers extra protection if judges are threatened or handling especially sensitive or high-profile cases. All judges are also entitled to a home security system, Muffler said.

Over the past few years, marshals have responded to thousands of threats against court officials. Many are not serious, but some are more dangerous. A Minnesota man used Twitter to threaten a federal judge overseeing a case against ISIS supporters. In Seattle, a defendant left phone messages and sent letters to two judges saying he would kill, stab, poison and bomb them because of their rulings. A white supremacist in Virginia sent electronic messages threatening to kidnap, torture, rape and kill a judge, his spouse, children and grandchildren.

Chad Schmucker, president of the Judicial College, said "assaults on judges don't occur every day, but threats do." He said they are usually made by "disturbed people or people who are very angry." "Inflammatory language," he said, "doesn't help the situation and can make judges very nervous."

The marshals conducted hundreds of investigations and some prosecutions last year, according to the agency's 2016 annual report. They declined to release data on 2017 threats. Threatening to kill a federal judge is a Class C felony that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said Trump's comments about Robart were "irresponsible." "It's demeaning and it's dangerous," she said, and "an attack on the rule of law."

The remarks could also inspire violence, she said. "The last thing you want to do is give a green light to someone who is misguided and thinks they're doing a public service in attacking judges, physically or otherwise," Levenson said.

Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, has described the president's criticism of the judiciary as "demoralizing and disheartening." Personal attacks and threats against Robart abound on social media.

On a Facebook page about the judge, some people wrote thank-you notes to him, but others called him a disgrace, a traitor and a "bow tie wearing freak." One man directed his note at Robart, saying he couldn't wait "to read about the bad karma that is going to land on your weak slumping shoulders."

One woman wrote: "Open ur home to them if anything happens to anyone in this country like 911 there (sic) blood is on your head, and I will remember to rip u one." Another said, "who in your family is expendable Robart?"

Drew Wade, spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, declined to discuss the judge's situation. The FBI also declined to comment.

Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle .