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AP news in brief 11-03-17

Updated: 
November 3, 2017 - 12:05am

Russia hackers pursued Putin foes

WASHINGTON — It wasn’t just Hillary Clinton’s emails they went after.

The hackers who disrupted the U.S. presidential election last year had ambitions that stretched across the globe, targeting the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin, according to a previously unpublished digital hit list obtained by The Associated Press.

The list provides the most detailed forensic evidence yet of the close alignment between the hackers and the Russian government, exposing an operation that went back years and tried to break into the inboxes of 4,700 Gmail users — from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. The targets were spread among 116 countries.

“It’s a wish list of who you’d want to target to further Russian interests,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, and one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings. He said the data was “a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence.”

The AP findings draw on a database of 19,000 malicious links collected by cybersecurity firm Secureworks, dozens of rogue emails, and interviews with more than 100 hacking targets.

Trump’s tweets and New York terror case

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump’s tweets calling for the death penalty for the man charged in the New York truck rampage could give defense attorneys grounds to argue that Trump has poisoned the minds of potential jurors. But some legal experts doubt that argument will slow the case.

In a highly unusual instance of a president weighing in on the fate of a defendant awaiting trial, Trump said on Twitter that 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov “SHOULD GET DEATH PENALTY!” in the attack that left eight people dead. In another tweet, Trump said prosecutors “Should move fast. DEATH PENALTY!”

Some legal experts Thursday said judges in Manhattan’s federal courts will not let the president’s remarks slow the case or throw it off track, especially in a courthouse with a quarter-century record of swift terrorism prosecutions with mostly airtight outcomes.

From wire sources

“Nothing slows down the train,” said James Cohen, a professor at Fordham Law School. He said the yet-to-be-assigned judge will question prospective jurors to ensure they can be fair despite anything they might have heard or read.

Lawyers differed over whether Trump was out of bounds.

Mueller grand jury investigating top DC lobbyists

WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

At the center of the widening probe are Tony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman and leader of his own high-powered lobbying firm, Mercury LLC. The two men were hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates.

With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller’s criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department. More witnesses are expected before the grand jury in coming weeks.

Representatives for Weber’s firm and Podesta said they are cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation. Podesta, whose brother was the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, has resigned from his firm.

FBI agents working for Mueller are asking witnesses about meetings between Gates, Podesta and Weber to discuss the lobbying work in detail and any communication with representatives of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, according to two people familiar with the interviews who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation.

Manafort attacks special counsel’s case as ‘embellished’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Accused of multiple financial crimes, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman on Thursday attacked the strength of the evidence against him, saying the case brought by special counsel Robert Mueller is “embellished.”

In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for Paul Manafort defended him as a “successful, international political consultant” who, by nature of his work on behalf of foreign political parties, was necessarily involved in international financial transactions. They say Manafort, who led Trump’s campaign for several months last year, has done nothing wrong and doesn’t pose a risk of fleeing the country.

The filing was the first volley from Manafort’s defense team, which seeks to undermine a 12-count indictment against him and longtime business associate Rick Gates. Mueller announced the indictment Monday, charging the men with money laundering and other financial crimes related to their political consulting work for Ukraine’s former ruling party.

They were placed on house arrest during a court appearance earlier this week, released on multimillion-dollar bonds. And on Thursday, both men appeared in federal court in Washington, where a judge ruled that they would remain on home confinement and electronic monitoring at least through the weekend.

Attorneys for Manafort, 68, and Gates, 45, are asking U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson to release them while they await trial, saying the bonds are enough to ensure they show up for court. The judge said she would take up the matter again at a hearing Monday.

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Bin Laden’s thoughts unearthed in a hand-written journal

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A journal made public by the CIA and apparently handwritten by one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters offers a glimpse into how the late al-Qaida leader viewed the world around him and reveals his deep interest in the 2011 Arab Spring revolutions that were unfolding in the months before a U.S. raid killed him.

He talks about Libya becoming a pathway for jihadis to Europe; of his time as a young teen visiting William Shakespeare’s home in Britain; of how quickly turmoil had gripped the Middle East.

The 228-page journal meanders between discussions, thoughts and reflections bin Laden shared with his family about how to exploit the uprisings, what to make of the rapid changes unfolding in the Arab world and when al-Qaida should speak out.

“This chaos and the absence of leadership in the revolutions is the best environment to spread al-Qaida’s thoughts and ideas,” bin Laden is quoted as telling his family in the document.

Bin Laden’s wife, referred to as Um Hamza, assures him that a tape he released seven years earlier calling out the rulers of the region as unfit could be one of the major forces behind the Arab Spring protests roiling the region.

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