In the wake of a “soul-crushing” report on Russia’s meddling in the presidential election, Sen. Harry Reid has called for FBI Director James Comey to resign for allegedly withholding information on President-elect Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Reid, who was a fierce opponent of Comey’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, which many believe cost her the election, told MSNBC on Saturday that he believes the FBI knew all along that Russia was helping Trump and deliberately did nothing about it. “This is not fake news. Intelligence officials are hiding connections to the Russian government. There is no question,” Reid said. “Comey knew and deliberately kept this info a secret,” he said. Asked whether he believes Comey should step down over the matter, Reid replied, “Of course, yes.” A report released late Friday concluded that Russia interfered with the election to help Trump win, a fact which staffers for Hillary Clinton said was “soul-crushing.” The report has triggered calls for further investigation, with incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Saturday calling for a congressional probe.
As the CIA concludes that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the presidential election, intelligence officials have released one more intriguing detail: Russian hackers had dirt on the Republican National Committee but never released it, according to a new report. A senior administration official said, “We now have high confidence that they hacked the D.N.C. and the R.N.C., and conspicuously released no documents” from the Republicans, according to the New York Times. Officials said the hacks into the Republican committee took place in the spring, at the same time emails from the Democratic National Committee were stolen by hackers thought to be connected to Russian intelligence. It’s unclear what kind of information was stolen from the RNC, and how much of it, just as the motive is unknown.
Investigators are divided on whether the hackers’ original goal was to support Trump or simply hedge their bets and go from there. President-elect Donald Trump, who has repeatedly shrugged off revelations of Russian interference, doesn’t seem fazed by the conclusion of the RNC hack, despite the fact that any intel gathered by the hackers could be used later. On Friday, Trump’s transition team released a statement dismissing the CIA’s conclusion. “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction," the statement said. “The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said about 200 more U.S. troops are being sent to Syria to help battle Islamic State fighters. The troops, to help Kurdish and Arab fighters retake the ISIL stronghold of Raqqa, will include special operations forces, Carter said Saturday. “These uniquely skilled operators will join the 300 U.S. special operations forces already in Syria, to continue organizing, training, equipping, and otherwise enabling capable, motivated, local forces to take the fight to ISIL,” he said in Bahrain on Saturday. “By combining our capabilities with those of our local partners, we've been squeezing ISIL by applying simultaneous pressure from all sides and across domains, through a series of deliberate actions to continue to build momentum,” he said. Carter also threw some thinly veiled criticism at Middle Eastern nations that he says aren’t doing enough to stop IS, urging “the ones complaining” about the U.S. camaign against IS to “get in the game.”
President-elect Donald Trump on Saturday threw a Twitter hissy fit over reports that he’d continue work with Celebrity Apprentice even while in the White House. Lashing out at CNN for what he described as “FAKE NEWS,” he said the reports that he’d be “working on The Apprentice during my Presidency, even part time, are ridiculous & untrue.” “I have NOTHING to do with The Apprentice except for fact that I conceived it with Mark B & have a big stake in it. Will devote ZERO TIME!” It’s unclear why Trump blamed CNN for what he described as a fake news report, when readily available video clearly shows Trump's adviser Kellyanne Conway confirm that he is meeting with ethics experts to determine how to continue to serve as executive producer on the show. In addition to CNN, Variety also reported last Thursday that Trump would retain his executive producer credit on Celebrity Apprentice. Oddly, while Trump was focusing on the show, most other politicians were discussing what to do about Friday's damning report that Russia interfered in the U.S. presidential election to help Trump win.
Senate Democrats said on Friday night that they never in fact wanted to shut down the federal government over a dispute about benefits for coal miners. There was a looming threat because Democrats had taken a hard line against a Republican proposal because it only gave extended health insurance for retired miners for four months. But Democrats relented and did not want to force a shutdown over it. "We're not going to shut down the government. We're going to keep it open," said incoming Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. "We're going to provide the votes so we don't shut down."
Staffers at the Department of Energy say President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team is seeking a list of employees who have worked to cut carbon emissions, a move many fear means an impending purge of those fighting climate change. A report by ABC News late Friday said staffers had received a 74-point memo on Tuesday asking for information on several of the department’s programs, as well as a list of names of staffers who worked on certain projects. One question specifically asks for the names of those who attended international conferences on climate change. “It looks like Trump and his administration are planning a political witch hunt which has no place in American government: purging or marginalizing anyone who has worked on the issue of climate change,” John Coequyt, climate policy director at the Sierra Club, said in a statement on Friday. Trump has repeatedly described climate change as a hoax created by the Chinese. His choice of Scott Pruitt, a climate change denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency has further fueled fears that the Trump administration will undo all progress made fighting global warming by the Obama administration.
A California judge on Friday tossed out pimping charges against the operators of an international classifieds website offering escort services that the state’s attorney dubbed the “world’s largest online brothel.” Backpage.com CEO Carl Ferrer and former owners Michael Lacey and James Larkin were hit with pimping charges for their role in maintaining the controversial site, which many have accused of inadvertently helping sex traffickers. Ferrer was arrested in a dramatic raid in Dallas in early October and hit with the charge of pimping a minor. All three men were charged with conspiracy to commit pimping. But Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Bowman on Friday sided with the defendants and ruled that the website was protected from liability for third-party content. Bowman said “the whiff of illegality” on the website was limited to the escorts’ ads themselves. Robert Corn-Revere, the defense for Backpage.com, hailed Bowman’s decision. “Judge Bowman's ruling made clear that the protections of the First Amendment exist for a reason. I suppose that reason is to prevent this kind of abuse of power,” he said.
Islamic State fighters have re-entered the ancient city of Palmyra nine months after losing it to Russian and Syrian forces, a monitoring group said. The terrorist group launched an offensive to regain the territory earlier this week, and fighting was reportedly still underway between the group and regime forces on Saturday. “IS entered Palmyra on Saturday and now occupies its north-west,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told BBC. The Islamic State controlled the Unesco World Heritage site for ten months before it was re-captured by Syrian forces with the help of Russian air support in March. The victory was touted by Moscow as proof that its campaign in Syria is effective, with Russian authorities even flying an orchestra out to play in the city’s ancient ruins in celebration of the military success.
In his weekly White House address on Saturday, President Barack Obama warned of an “unacceptable” outcome if Republicans repeal Obamacare. Noting that the Affordable Care Act was passed “to make sure more people have better coverage,” Obama said the Republican campaign to repeal the program would erase all progress made for the American people. “Now Republicans in Congress want to repeal the whole thing and start from scratch – but trying to undo some of it could undo all of it. All those consumer protections – whether you get your health insurance from ObamaCare, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or on the job – could go right out the window,” he said. The effort to repeal the healthcare program should be “judged by whether they keep all those improvements that benefit you and your family right now,” he said. “One new study shows that if Congress repeals Obamacare as they’ve proposed, nearly 30 million Americans would lose their coverage. Four in five of them would come from working families. More than 9 million Americans who would receive tax credits to keep insurance affordable would no longer receive that help. That is unacceptable,” he warned. Obama’s comments came as the Republican Congress vowed to scrap the healthcare law and replace it with their own as President-elect Donald Trump takes over.
Russia’s Defense Ministry on Saturday was cited as saying Syrian government forces now control 93 percent of Aleppo, having retaken many areas from rebel forces in a recent offensive. The Defense Ministry also claimed civilians were fleeing rebel-held areas into government-controlled territory. “People are leaving through humanitarian corridors in a continuous flow into the part of the city that is controlled by the Syrian government,” spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in comments carried by Russia’s Interfax news agency. He said Syrian regime forces would continue to “liberate” the rest of the city.