Militants from jihadist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) have executed dozens of captured Iraqi security forces members, according to photos posted online. The authenticity of the photos, which were shared on Twitter and elsewhere…
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Russia freed WNBA star Brittney Griner on Thursday in a dramatic high-level prisoner exchange, with the U.S. releasing notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, American officials said. The swap, at a time of heightened tensions over Ukraine, achieved a top goal for President Joe Biden, but carried a heavy price - and left behind an American jailed for nearly four years in Russia.
The deal, the second such exchange in eight months with Russia, procured the release of the most prominent American detained abroad. Griner is a two-time Olympic gold medalist whose monthslong imprisonment on drug charges brought unprecedented attention to the population of wrongful detainees.
Biden's authorization to release a Russian felon once nicknamed “the Merchant of Death" underscored the escalating pressure that his administration faced to get Griner home, particularly after the recent resolution of her criminal case and her subsequent transfer to a penal colony.
The swap was confirmed by U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations who were not authorized to publicly discuss the deal before a White House announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity. Biden spoke with Griner on the phone Thursday while her wife, Cherelle, was in the Oval Office. The president was to address reporters later in the morning.
Russian and U.S. officials had conveyed cautious optimism in recent weeks after months of strained negotiations, with Biden saying in November that he was hopeful that Russia would engage in a deal now that the midterm elections were completed. A top Russian official said last week that a deal was possible before year's end.
Even so, the fact that the deal was a one-for-one swap was a surprise given that U.S. officials had for months expressed their their determination to bring home both Griner and Paul Whelan, a Michigan corporate security executive jailed in Russia since December 2018 on espionage charges that his family and the U.S. government has said are baseless.
'The Merchant of Death'
In releasing Bout, the U.S. freed a a former Soviet Army lieutenant colonel whom the Justice Department once described as one of the world's most prolific arms dealers. Bout, whose exploits inspired a Hollywood movie, was serving a 25-year sentence on charges that he conspired to sell tens of millions of dollars in weapons that U.S officials said were to be used against Americans.
The Biden administration was ultimately willing to exchange Bout if it meant Griner's freedom. The detention of one of the greatest players in WNBA history contributed to a swirl of unprecedented public attention for an individual detainee case - not to mention intense pressure on the White House.
Griner’s arrest in February made her the most high-profile American jailed abroad. Her status as an openly gay Black woman, locked up in a country where authorities have been hostile to the LBGTQ community, infused racial, gender and social dynamics into her legal saga and made each development a matter of international importance.
Her case not only brought unprecedented publicity to the dozens of Americans wrongfully detained by foreign governments, but it also emerged as a major inflection point in U.S.-Russia diplomacy at a time of deteriorating relations prompted by Moscow’s war against Ukraine.
The exchange was carried out despite deteriorating relations between the powers. But the imprisonment of Americans produced a rare diplomatic opening, yielding the highest-level known contact between Washington and Moscow - a phone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov - in more than five months.
In an extraordinary move during otherwise secret negotiations, Blinken revealed publicly in July that the U.S. had made a “substantial proposal” to Russia for Griner and Whelan. Though he did not specify the terms, people familiar with it said the U.S. had offered Bout.
Such a public overture drew a chiding rebuke from the Russians, who said they preferred to resolve such cases in private, and carried the risk of weakening the U.S. government's negotiating hand for this and future deals by making the administration appear too desperate. But the announcement was also meant to communicate to the public that Biden was doing what he could and to ensure pressure on the Russians.
Besides the efforts of U.S. officials, the release also followed months of backchannel negotiations involving Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a frequent emissary in hostage talks, and his top deputy Mickey Bergman. The men had made multiple trips abroad in the last year to discuss swap scenarios with Russian contacts.
Griner was arrested at the Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport in February when customs officials said they found vape canisters with cannabis oil in her luggage. She pleaded guilty in July, though still faced trial because admitting guilt in Russia's judicial system does not automatically end a case.
She acknowledged in court that she possessed the canisters, but said she had no criminal intent and said their presence in her luggage was due to hasty packing.
Before being sentenced on Aug. 4 and receiving a punishment her lawyers said was out of line for the offense, an emotional Griner apologized "for my mistake that I made and the embarrassment that I brought on them.” She added: “I hope in your ruling it does not end my life.”
Her supporters had largely stayed quiet for weeks after her arrest, but that approach changed in May once the State Department designated her as unlawfully detained. A separate trade, Marine veteran Trevor Reed for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian pilot convicted in the U.S. in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy, spurred hope that additional such exchanges could be in the works.
Whelan has been held in Russia since December 2018. The U.S. government also classified him as wrongfully detained. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.
Whelan was not included in the Reed prisoner swap, escalating pressure on the Biden administration to ensure that any deal that brought home Griner also included him.
Alex Jones suffered a massive legal defeat in a series of lawsuits brought by parents of Sandy Hook Elementary shooting victims who had been targets of his harassment campaign after he claimed their murdered children were government-sponsored crisis actors. The legal bill is now past $1.5 billion — and his InfoWars company, which runs his conspiracy theory webcasts and his product lines of survival gear and nutritional supplements, filed for bankruptcy last week.
But despite all of this, InfoWars is still fully operational — even hosting an interview with far-right rapper Kanye West in which he professed admiration for Adolf Hitler — and a new report by The Guardian looks into what's going on behind the scenes.
"If Alex Jones owes the Sandy Hook family over $1bn, how is he able to still broadcast? Why – for example – have his assets not been seized?" wrote Wilfred Chan. "On the Infowars website, promotions run between programs that promise Jones won’t be silenced despite the judgment, with clips of Jones shouting that globalist elites want to shut him not because of Sandy Hook but because he exposes the truth. Jones also claims he has no money to hand over. In an Infowars segment in October, he claimed to be worth less than $2m and called the judgment against him 'hilarious'. 'Do these people really think they’re getting their money?' he questioned."
"While nothing about declaring bankruptcy prevents Jones from going on TV, the declaration won’t get him off the hook from the court judgments – and could even backfire," said the report. "Brian Davidoff, a bankruptcy attorney at Greenberg Glusker who is not advising Jones, said he was 'befuddled' by Jones’ decision: 'I’m not quite sure how it’s going to help him.' In the short term, Jones is 'obviously looking for the benefit of the automatic stay', said Davidoff, referring to a powerful provision under US law that pauses any legal actions being taken against someone who files for bankruptcy (and, for now, means Jones can retain control of Infowars)."
According to the report, Jones may be hoping he can use these tactics to persuade a judge to discharge most of his debts, effectively nullifying the legal judgments against him — but that is not likely to work because his debts are classified as non-dischargeable. In fact, the legal proceedings he would have to go through to try to wipe out his debts could make things even worse for him.
"Jones’ bankruptcy filing will also expose him to potentially painful scrutiny, said Bradley McCormack, a Sader Law Firm bankruptcy attorney who is not advising Jones," said the report. "Filing for chapter 11 bankruptcy requires Jones to turn over detailed financial information to the US Trustee’s Office, the federal office that oversees bankruptcy cases. In addition to disclosing the businesses he owns and how his money flows between them, Jones will have to report past and future monetary transactions. And he’ll have to let the US Trustee’s Office and Sandy Hook families question him about his finances under oath. If Jones is found lying or hiding information in any these disclosures, he could be found guilty of a crime punishable by up to five years in prison."
During an appearance on "CNN This Morning" on Tuesday, former GOP House member and Donald Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney left no doubt that Donald Trump would suffer a crushing defeat if he is the Republican Party's presidential nominee in 2024.
Getting right to the point, he told CNN's Don Lemon that the former president would be the GOP's "weakest candidate" to put forward.
Lemon kicked of the interview by asking about Trump squirreling away stolen government documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort -- and new revelations about more documents recovered from a Florida storage facility -- and whether he should be charged by the DOJ.
"Should he face consequences for failing to turn over documents when the National Archives asked him the first time or holding classified documents now that he is not president?" Lemon asked, adding, "Most citizens cannot claim ignorance of the law, why should he be different?"
"He shouldn't be different," Mulvaney shot back. "He shouldn't be treated any different. Everyone should be treated the same and the penalty should be commensurate with the type of documents. We heard a rumor early on these were nuclear codes, clearly that's not the case. We need to make sure the penalty is commensurate with the actual offense."
"You and I both know it's the cover-up and not the crime that gets people in trouble," he elaborated. "It's not necessarily the taking of documents but perhaps the certifying to the court or FBI that all the documents had been returned. That could be more problematic going forward."
That, in turn, led to Lemon asking about Trump running in 2024.
"You make a distinction between primary voters and general election voters and swing voters," Lemon prompted. "That's a problem for the GOP if you have a candidate that's not viable. Is he the right person to be at the top of the ticket going forward for the GOP nationwide?"
"I think there's a growing group of Republicans, myself included -- there's always been a group of Republicans who can't stand Donald Trump, so the fact is they don't like him now or think he's the best candidate in 2024 doesn't change anything, doesn't move the needle," Mulvaney explained. "But there's a growing group of Republicans that supported Donald Trump in '16 and 2020, like myself, worked with him in the administration, who think he's our weakest candidate in 2024."
"He's the one most likely to lose, because if he runs in 2024 as the Republican nominee, that election becomes a referendum on Donald Trump," he continued. "Either vote for Donald Trump or against Donald Trump. He lost that election under that sort of structure in 2020 and has shown no ability to change that dynamic going into 2024"
"I believe if he is the Republican nominee he stands just as much chance of losing two years from now as he did two years ago," he added.
Watch below or at this link.
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