• Three US diplomats held near Russian test site where mystery blast killed five

    * Russian foreign ministry says trio ‘obviously got lost’ * August explosion caused radiation levels to surgeA Russian navy official works on the Akula nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine at the Severodvinsk site in July. The August explosion there killed at least five people. Photograph: Sergei Bobylev/TassThree American diplomats were briefly detained in Russia near the military test site where a mysterious explosion released radiation in August, several Russia state news agencies have reported.The US embassy has confirmed the incident, the Interfax news service reported, but said the three diplomats had filed the proper paperwork to travel in the area.The Russian foreign ministry said the diplomats had named a different city as their destination and had “obviously got lost”.The report comes just days after the United States said the accident was caused by a nuclear reaction when Russia tried to retrieve a nuclear-powered cruise missile from the Barents Sea.The diplomats were detained on Monday on a train in the city of Severodvinsk, near where Russian authorities said they had been testing a rocket engine with a nuclear component before the accident took place.The diplomats, who have been identified by Interfax as military attaches, were later released, but could face administrative charges for traveling in a restricted military area, agencies reported.In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry confirmed that the diplomats were on an official trip and had informed the Russian defence ministry of their plans.“Only, they said their intention was to visit Arkhangelsk and they ended up en route to Severodvinsk,” the ministry said.“They obviously got lost. We are ready to give the US embassy a map of Russia,” the ministry added.The blast at the military test site in August killed at least five people and caused panic after radiation levels jumped to 16 times their normal levels in nearby Severodvinsk.Russian authorities have given little information about the accident. But a US diplomat this week said that the accident took place when Russia attempted to retrieve a nuclear-powered cruise missile called Burevestnik from the Barents Sea.“The United States has determined that the explosion near Nyonoksa was the result of a nuclear reaction that occurred during the recovery of a Russian nuclear-powered cruise missile,” Thomas DiNanno, the diplomat, said during a speech at the UN.Russia’s plans for a nuclear-powered cruise missile that could in theory fly indefinitely were first revealed by Vladimir Putin during a speech last year. The missile is still undergoing testing, and some weapons experts doubt if it can ever be made operable.Russia’s military was attempting to retrieve the missile from another failed 2017 test when the accident took place.It was not immediately clear whether the diplomats were traveling to or from Nyonoksa, the village near the military testing site, when they were detained. But train timetables would indicate they were returning from the village when they were arrested close to 6pm in Severodvinsk.Russia has maintained a shroud of secrecy around the incident, closing off waters in the White Sea to foreign ships to prevent them from collecting information about the explosion.

  • Atatiana Jefferson had gun in her hand before being shot by cop, nephew tells investigators: Warrant

    An 8-year-old boy who witnessed his aunt being fatally shot by a Fort Worth, Texas, police officer who fired through a window of their house told investigators she had retrieved a handgun from her purse and pointed it toward a window when she was killed, according to an arrest warrant issued for the officer. The arrest warrant for now-former Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean, 34, was released on Tuesday, a day after he abruptly resigned from the police force and was charged with murder, stemming from the shooting of Jefferson.

  • Trump-Erdogan Call Led to Lengthy Quest to Avoid Halkbank Trial

    (Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump assigned his attorney general and Treasury secretary to deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s repeated pleas to avoid charges against one of Turkey’s largest banks, according to two people familiar with the matter.In an April phone call, Trump told Erdogan that William Barr and Steven Mnuchin would handle the issue, the people said. In the months that followed, no action was taken against Halkbank for its alleged involvement in a massive scheme to evade sanctions on Iran. That changed when an undated indictment was unveiled Tuesday -- a day after Trump imposed sanctions over Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria.It marked an unusual intervention by a president to get his top Cabinet officials involved in an active federal investigation. It’s not clear whether Trump instructed Barr and Mnuchin to satisfy Erdogan’s pleas or whether the president was simply tired of being asked about.But according to a third person who’s familiar with Turkey’s position, discussions over a deal that would resolve the issue out of court made little headway before Barr took over as attorney general in February and then became involved in the discussions.Over the summer, the White House sought to stop Erdogan and his aides from pestering Trump on the matter, according to a person who was briefed on a number of phone calls that took place and asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. In June, the person said, then-National Security Advisor John Bolton told a Turkish official, Ibrahim Kalin, that Trump wouldn’t engage on the issue directly after delegating it and that Turkish officials should stop raising it with the president.In a call at about the same time, Barr told his Turkish counterpart, Abdulhamit Gul, that he needed to reach a deal with the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where the case was under consideration, or it would go to trial. He said Turkey’s best option would be to accept a deferred prosecution agreement under which Halkbank would pay a fine and take steps to avoid further wrongdoing.After months of negotiations, Turkish officials ultimately refused because they believed doing so would constitute an admission of guilt, according to the person. A second person familiar with the discussions confirmed that Turkey refused to accept the deal but said there had been progress toward a resolution.President’s PriorityTrump’s involvement and his decision to assign Barr and Mnuchin to address the sensitive issue, working with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, reflected the degree to which the Halkbank case became a priority for the president.In the end, U.S. prosecutors filed criminal charges against Halkbank, accusing it of fraud, money laundering and violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. It’s unclear exactly when the Halkbank indictment was filed, raising questions about whether it was set aside until it became politically expedient for the Trump administration to unseal it.Justice Department officials declined to comment when asked about Barr’s efforts, and the Treasury Department declined to comment on Mnuchin’s role. The White House declined to comment, and the State Department declined to discuss the part Pompeo played. Bolton declined to comment.The politically explosive indictment came as Turkish-U.S. tensions are soaring over Turkey’s military offensive in Syria after Trump’s withdrawal of American forces from key border posts last week. On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo were due to travel to Ankara for talks with Erdogan over the conflict in Syria.The charges against Halkbank also come after years of public and private lobbying by Erdogan and other top Turkish officials -- starting in the Obama administration -- to get the investigations into violations of Iran sanctions dropped.The matter is the latest instance linked to Turkey in which Trump has pressed for a solution beyond the bounds of the courtroom. In multiple meetings in 2017, Trump urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to persuade the Justice Department to drop the case against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader at the center of the scheme to violate the sanctions.Rudy Giuliani, who later became Trump’s personal attorney, represented Zarrab and pressed Trump to intervene on his client’s behalf.Zarrab, a Turkish gold trader, ultimately pleaded guilty and became the star witness against a bank executive, Mehmet Hakan Atilla. Zarrab recounted how he’d helped Iran tap funds from overseas oil sales that were frozen in foreign accounts. Atilla was convicted in early 2018.Together, the episodes demonstrate Trump’s receptiveness to Erdogan’s desire to avoid criminal proceedings that could shed an unflattering light on his government.Mnuchin and the Treasury Department were also involved because they had a role in determining the size of a regulatory penalty against Halkbank after Atilla was convicted in January of last year of helping violate the Iran sanctions.Critics said they grew alarmed that the fine hadn’t been issued more than a year after the executive’s conviction in January 2018. Some suspected that Erdogan’s persistent lobbying about the Halkbank case -- he brought it up during the Obama administration, including twice in meetings with Vice President Joe Biden, only to be rebuffed -- successfully persuaded Trump administration officials to hold back.Evidence ‘Overwhelming’“The evidence against Halkbank and, by extension, the Turkish government was overwhelming in this case,” said Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “But the Turks went full-force lobbying the Trump administration on this to avoid accountability. Frankly, some in the Trump administration were all too receptive to arguments that the mess was the result of Obama rather than a deliberate scheme on the part of the Turks.”Halkbank did hire powerful lobbyists to advocate on its behalf before the Trump administration, according to Justice Department filings. One such lobbying firm was Ballard Partners, which was paid almost $780,000 from November 2018 through March of this year to work on Halkbank’s behalf. It renewed its contract for $40,000 a month in late July.“What we had been doing was making the case to relevant administration officials about the importance of this bank to the financial system of Turkey and Turkey’s economy and that, in taking into account that Turkey is a NATO ally and the potential implications, the steps against the bank would have profound repercussions,” Ballard partner Jamie Rubin, a State Department spokesman in the Clinton administration, said in an interview.Rubin said Ballard ended its contract with Halkbank as of Wednesday.“Since the matter is now in the judicial system this is a natural endpoint for our representation,” Rubin said in an interview.Turkey Decision-MakingCritics of Trump’s decision-making on Turkey also point to his refusal so far to sanction the country over its decision to purchase the S-400 missile defense system from Russia, as U.S. law requires. When Turkey started receiving parts for the system this summer, the State Department forwarded a list of recommended sanctions to the White House, only to have Trump ignore them, Bloomberg News reported at the time.While Trump has been silent on the Halkbank case, public evidence suggests that he’s talked to others beyond his top staff about it. In an August phone call with a pair of Russian pranksters who presented themselves as Turkey’s defense minister, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said Trump was “very sensitive” to the “case involving the Turkish bank,” according to Politico.“The president wants to be helpful, within the limits of his power,” said Graham, a close Trump ally.\--With assistance from Chris Strohm.To contact the reporters on this story: Nick Wadhams in Washington at nwadhams@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;Saleha Mohsin in Washington at smohsin2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, ;Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Larry LiebertFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

  • WRAPUP 5-Brexit deal within reach in last-ditch talks, but doubts remain

    LUXEMBOURG/DUBLIN, Oct 16 (Reuters) - Last-ditch talks between Britain and the European Union to get a Brexit deal ahead of a summit of the bloc's leaders this week went on past midnight to Wednesday, but it was still unclear if London could avoid postponing its departure due on Oct. 31. Officials and diplomats involved in negotiations over the acrimonious divorce between the world's fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading bloc said that differences over the terms of the split had narrowed significantly.

  • DC sniper asks Supreme Court to invalidate juvenile life sentences for murders

    Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the two "D.C. snipers" whose murderous seven-week rampage terrorized the nation's capital region in 2002, wants a chance at getting his life back. Malvo, who is serving life without parole in a Virginia prison, is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to order that he be re-sentenced in light of the court's 2012 decision prohibiting mandatory life sentences for juveniles. Malvo was 17 years old at the time of the rampage, orchestrated with co-conspirator John Allen Muhammad, that killed 10 and wounded three others.

  • British family claim US officials 'kidnapped' them for accidentally straying across border from Canada

    A British family-of-seven claim they were thrown into a US prison as illegal migrants for straying into American territory after taking a wrong turn during a visit to Canada. David Connors, 30, and Eileen Connors, 24, claim their three-month-old son has been subjected to 'disgusting' conditions in the Pennsylvania detention centre where they are being held. The couple and their baby were arrested along with David's cousin Michael Connors, his wife Grace and their two-year-old twin girls. Bridget Cambria, an attorney with Aldea - The People's Justice Center, in Reading, PA, has now filed a complaint on the family’s behalf with the inspector general of the US Department of Homeland Security.  The family, from Maidstone, in Kent, claim they were visiting Vancouver on October 3 when Michael Connors swerved to avoid hitting an animal, accidentally resulting in them driving along a country road out of Canada into the United States. Here they were stopped by border police somewhere in northern Washington state.  One of the border agents told the family: “You crossed an international border”, before arresting the two men. A US Border Patrol waits a few meters away from the United States-Canada border Credit: Adam Nadel The Connors were taken into custody near the US-Canadian border for the first night and were told they would be released to family in the US, though they said all they wanted to do was go home.  But according to Eileen Connors' statement, immigration officials said there was a change in plans and instead of being released to family, they were put in a van and driven to the airport.   Mrs Connors wrote in a statement obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer that when they got to Seattle airport she thought they were finally going home, but were instead flown to Pennsylvania and arrived at the Berks center on October 5.  Mrs Connors said: “It was like an abduction or kidnapping. We will be traumatized for the rest of our lives by what the United States government has done to us.” A relative of Mrs Connor told The Telegraph: "This is the first I've heard of them being arrested. It must be terrifying for her and the others. They've never been in trouble before. They are as good as gold. "Someone from over here is likely to be flying out there to help them as soon as they can make arrangements. In the meantime we'll be getting straight in touch with their solicitor over there." Berks is one of three detention centers for migrant families in the US, while the other two are in Texas near the Mexico border.  It has for years been the target of activist groups who have targeted what they claim are poor conditions which they say harm to children and families. A marker for the United States-Canada border Credit: Adam Nadel Once there the men were separated in a different part of the center, while Eileen opted to keep her son with her instead of separated with other children.  She said her son was stripped naked and his blankets taken for washing.   “When I ask how am I supposed to keep my baby warm in this horrible cold, all they tell me is to put a hat on him… They even took away one of his formula containers, which I had to beg for three days for them to return it to me,” she wrote.  Mrs Connors claimed that the blankets and sheets they were given “smelled like a dead dog”.   She said she won't use them to cover her son “for fear they haven't been washed and my baby will become sick.” She added that the bathrooms are dirty and broken and at night a staff shines a flashlight into their cell every 15 minutes.  She added: “I feel like someone is going to take my baby. We have been treated like criminals here, stripped of our rights, and lied to. It is not right. “We have been traumatized. This would never happen in the United Kingdom to U.S. citizens, or anyone else, because people there are treated with dignity.” Ms Cambria added: “They had no idea they had crossed any boundary. They had no idea they were even in the United States. They were just trying to get back to their hotel.” The attorney said that although no paperwork has been shared with the family or their lawyers it was likely the family will be formally deported. A family source told The Daily Mail that Mrs Connors had been trying to conceive for more than five years before their son was born. The family said it is heartbreaking for them.  US officials have denied the family’s version of events.  ICE Official said: “Eileen Connors and David Connors are currently in ICE custody at the Berks Family Residential Center (BFRC). “BFRC provides a safe and humane environment for families as they go through the immigration process. “BFRC supports all sanctioned local, state, and federal investigations into the safety and welfare of our residents. Reporters of abuse or inhumane conditions at BFRC are unequivocally false.”