Putin: Social Media Needs More ‘Positivity’

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Tweet that. Russian President Vladimir Putin praised members of a youth forum Wednesday for producing “positivity” he says is sorely needed on social media.

“It’s that positivity that’s missing on social networks,” state media quoted him as saying.

Activists in Russia are currently pressuring the government to ease up on laws that criminalize the posting of religiously offensive or “hateful” content.

VKontakte, Russia’s answer to Facebook, has faced criticism for cooperating with authorities by handing over user data. Meanwhile, American authorities continue to probe Kremlin efforts to troll American voters.

Learn More:      Time      The Moscow Times      Meduza

After Child Deaths in Yemen, Democrats Write 3 Letters

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Three letters over the last three days. That’s how many messages House and Senate Democrats have penned this week demanding the US be forthcoming with information on its involvement in Yemen after an airstrike there last week killed at least 40 kids. Critics say there could be thousands of civilian deaths that the US could be tied to, spurring the Dems’ notes to officials at the DOD and State Department and in US intelligence, the Washington Post reports. The letters, including one written Tuesday by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, request details on US involvement in the conflict that has pitted Shiite Houthi rebels against a Saudi-led coalition that’s in support of the Yemeni government. In her letter, Warren pressed Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of US Central Command, on whether the US has been lending a hand in any airstrikes that have resulted in civilian deaths.

A second letter by 30 House Democrats has also demanded a briefing of the war from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and DNI chief Dan Coats, while a third letter by Rep. Ted Lieu wonders whether the US has violated any US or international laws. New data cited by the Guardian says there have been more than 50 strikes against civilian vehicles in Yemen so far in 2018. The New York Times calls the latest airstrike that resulted in “44 small graves” “particularly shocking,“ and frames US military leaders as “exasperated” by the civilian toll and insistent that “the United States is not a party to the war”; critics counter that the US has sold the coalition weapons and given it intel. The Times notes that both Mattis and Pompeo took action to press Saudi officials on the attack, including a call from Mattis to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Pentagon Claims China Training For U.S. Strikes

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Even as Chinese and American negotiators prepare for trade talks meant to calm escalating tariff battles, a new Pentagon report claims that China’s recent military expansion includes “likely training for strikes” against the United States.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is anxious to modernize the People’s Liberation Army, and recent disputes, particularly in the South and East China Seas, have heightened fears of conflict in the region.

The country’s air force has also reportedly “been re-assigned a nuclear mission,” suggesting the development of nuclear capabilities for long-range bombers. 

Learn More:  Reuters  CNN    Bloomberg

10 Most Influential Women in History

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BBC History Magazine recently tapped experts in 10 different fields to winnow down the world’s greatest female contributors over the centuries into a favorites list. The magazine then took those results and asked its readers to send in their votes for the most influential women throughout history. Writers, aviators, princesses, and even Mary, the mother of Jesus, all got a nod. Here, the 10 leading ladies, as well as what they’re best known for:

  1. Marie Curie, physicist and chemist
  2. Rosa Parks, activist
  3. Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of UK suffragette movement
  4. Ada Lovelace, mathematician
  5. Rosalind Franklin, chemist
  6. Margaret Thatcher, UK’s first female prime minister
  7. Angela Burdett-Coutts, philanthropist
  8. Mary Wollstonecraft, writer and philosopher
  9. Florence Nightingale, nurse
  10. Marie Stopes, women’s right activist
Check the list for other notable women over the years.

Nutella Dream Job Requires Zero Experience

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If you love Nutella, its Italian manufacturer may have just the job for you. Per the Local, Ferrero is hiring dozens of “non-professional” testers to help them test ingredients at their Italy headquarters in Alba, Piedmont. Officially dubbed “sensory judges,“ the 60 new employees will work a couple of days a week starting in late September with three months of courses designed to help them refine their tasting and smelling skills to the company’s satisfaction. So what are the requirements other than a love for the vaunted hazelnut spread? There really aren’t any.

Ferrero has long had these sensory judges, but the recent job posting on Openjobmetis was advertised specifically for regular folks outside the company after being exclusively held by company insiders for years. Ferrero asks only that applicants suffer from no food allergies and feel comfortable using a computer. Not everyone who’s initially chosen will make the final cut, though. Per USA Today, the company plans to whittle down applicants to a final group of 40 following the training process.

Turkey Escalates War of Words With US

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In an impassioned news conference yesterday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blamed American sanctions for his country’s ballooning economic crisis, accusing the U.S. of shooting “bullets into the foot of your strategic partner.”

While the new sanctions have played a part, other policies contributed: An economic plan to contain the damage didn’t raise interest rates, which could have contained inflation, and instead focused on loosening banks’ liquidity. Erdogan also announced a boycott on U.S.-made electronics.

Meanwhile, investors have been selling off emerging market currencies, fearing the damage may spread past Turkey.

Learn More:    Bloomberg  BBC  Al Jazeera

An Aussie State Is 100% in Drought. Kangaroos Are in Trouble

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Australia’s most populous state was declared entirely in drought on Wednesday, and struggling farmers were given new authority to shoot kangaroos that compete with livestock for sparse pasture during the most intense dry spell in more than 50 years. Much of Australia’s southeast is struggling with drought. But the drought conditions in New South Wales state this year have been the driest and most widespread since 1965. The state government said Wednesday that 100% of New South Wales’ land area of more than 309,000 square miles, an area bigger than Texas, is now in drought, the AP reports.

Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair says farmers are enduring one of the driest winters on record. Farm reservoirs have dried up and crops are failing.The state government has lifted the number of kangaroos that farmers are allowed to shoot and reduced bureaucratic red tape facing landholders applying for permission to shoot. “Many farmers are taking livestock off their paddocks, only to then see kangaroos move in and take whatever is left,“ Blair says. “If we don’t manage this situation, we will start to see tens of thousands of kangaroos starving and suffering, ultimately leading to a major animal welfare crisis.“ Wildlife groups, however, warn that farmers will end up killing off the “genetically superior kangaroos that can survive the drought.“

Man Who Smuggled Gold in Rectum Wins Economic Argument

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A Canadian man who smuggled six figures’ worth of gold out of the country’s mint in his rectum and ended up in prison as a result scored a final court win—one centered around market forces and gold prices. As previously reported, Leston Lawrence was found guilty in November 2016 of smuggling out the 22 gold “pucks” and received a 30-month sentence, with the judge deciding three months later that if the then-35-year-old couldn’t repay the gold’s value—$190,000 in Canadian dollars at the time—in a three-year post-prison period, he’d go back behind bars for another 30 months. The Ottawa Citizen reports that in July, Lawrence’s lawyers argued the replacement value should be less than $190,000; when he stole the gold, it was worth $165,000, and what he got for it on the street was the lesser amount of $130,206.19.

A three-judge appeals panel ruled for Lawrence. They didn’t base their decision on market prices, but rather the “proceeds of the crime,“ writing “the purpose of a fine in lieu of forfeiture is to deprive an offender” of those proceeds, which “is not necessarily the value of the property.“ In Lawrence’s case, the proceeds were the $130,206.19, and the judge should have set his fine at that amount. Lawrence also asked for more time to make the repayment, but that request was not granted. The judges noted in their ruling Lawrence had yet to sell his home—one he reportedly bought using those gold proceeds—because, appropriately, he is waiting for it to go up in value.

Berlin Airport Terminal Shut for Deeply Personal Reason

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Around 11am on Tuesday, the D terminal at Berlin’s Schönefeld Airport was shut down and an announcement was made seeking the owner of a piece of luggage. Airport personnel had flagged “suspicious content” during the X-ray screening, but when the bag’s owner presented himself, CNN describes him as “reluctant” to talk about what was inside, describing it only as “technical stuff.“

The bomb squad spent an hour investigating and came to a conclusion that might describe the man’s reticence: the item in question was a sex toy, with the Independent specifying it was an Ann Summers-brand vibrator that had been mistaken for a hand grenade. Should you be wondering, the TSA notes such items are permissible in both checked and carry-on baggage.

China Warns US Navy Plane: ‘Leave Immediately’

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The last time a CNN crew got to fly over the South China Sea with the US Navy was in 2015, when a stern warning was issued by China’s military to keep away from what it says is China’s territory. On Friday, CNN got another “rare look” at this region, staring down from a US Navy reconnaissance plane onto four contested artificial islands built by China (there’s some video HERE). They also got another warning. “Leave immediately and keep out to avoid any misunderstanding,“ a voice reprimanded the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon, with five more warnings following in short order. The US Navy’s response, however, didn’t waver.

“I am a sovereign immune United States naval aircraft conducting lawful military activities beyond the national airspace of any coastal state,“ was the US retort. “In exercising these rights guaranteed by international law, I am operating with due regard for the rights and duties of all states.“ The plane had been flying over Subi Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson Reef, and Mischief Reef, where CNN spied multi-story buildings, “large radar installations, power plants, and runways sturdy enough to carry large military aircraft.“ Many different countries say parts of the South China Sea are their own, including Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, but China’s claims have been the most “far-reaching,“ per CNN. China’s sovereignty claims in the region aren’t widely accepted, per the Council on Foreign Relations.

Steven Seagal Named as Russian Diplomat to US

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Actor Steven Seagal has taken on a new role, though it’s not likely the kind you’d expect. Per the AP, the Under Siege star has been appointed as a special envoy to the United States on humanitarian issues. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the news on its Facebook page Saturday. The ministry said the unpaid role will “facilitate relations between Russia and the United States in the humanitarian field, including cooperation in culture, arts, public and youth exchanges.“ According to CNN, the role will be akin to the United Nations’ goodwill ambassador positions.

While not a typical role for an actor known more for his martial arts skills than his diplomatic chops, the announcement is no big surprise for those who’ve followed Seagal at all in the last few years. A close friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s, the 66-year-old was made a Russian citizen in late 2016 and has publicly defended the leader from critics who question the legality of his most recent election. Seagal was a guest at Putin’s swearing in last May after he won the election. Seagal has also vocally defended the Russian leader’s most controversial policies, including Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

India lawmaker dresses as Hitler to criticize prime minister

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An Indian lawmaker has appeared in Parliament dressed like Adolf Hitler with a toothbrush moustache and wearing a khaki coat with swastika symbols on his pocket and arm. His demand: More funds for the development of his state in southern India.

Naramalli Sivaprasad also raised his hand in a Nazi salute for the media on Thursday. His appearance did not trigger any protests from legislators.

He said he wanted to send a message to Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to follow Hitler. He complained that Modi had gone back on a promise to provide extra funds for his Andhra Pradesh state.

“He does not get the pulse of what people want and I want to urge him to not be like him (Hitler),” he said.

Modi’s government denies the charge.

In protest, Sivaprasad’s powerful regional group, the Telugu Desam Party, broke its alliance with the Modi government in March. It also unsuccessfully tried to bring down the government through a no-confidence motion last month in Parliament.

Sivaprasad, a 67-year-old former film actor, has previously dressed as a farmer, a cattle herder, a Muslim cleric and a woman to press different issues.

Hitler remains a figure of fascination in India, where the Holocaust is not well known, and is widely seen more as a strong leader than a genocidal dictator. His book, “Mein Kampf,” can be found in many bookstores, and bootleg copies are regularly sold in the streets of New Delhi and other large cities.

FACT CHECK: Trump’s imagined steel mills, Russian ‘hoax’

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Donald Trump is imagining steel mill openings that aren’t happening and in denial about Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election.

He points broadly to a “Russian hoax,” even as his own top national security and intelligence officials decry a real threat of Russian interference in future U.S. elections, and suggests that Russia didn’t want him to win the presidency. On jobs, he isn’t providing the full picture regarding U.S. employment growth.

The statements came in a week of puzzling disconnects and untruths, including assertions of cleaner air than his government recorded and a claim that people need photo IDs to make purchases in stores that any average shopper with cash or a credit card would know is not accurate.

A sampling of comments by Trump and his officials:


TRUMP: “Here’s one of the best statistics ever. More Americans are now employed than ever recorded before in our nation’s history. Think of that. So we now have more people employed working today than the United States has ever had.” — Ohio rally Saturday.

THE FACTS: He’s painting an incomplete picture of U.S. job growth. Due largely to population increase, the number of people with jobs is, in fact, at a record high of 156 million. But a more relevant measure — the proportion of Americans with jobs — isn’t even close to a record.

Last month, 60.5 percent of Americans 16 and older had jobs. That is up from the recession and its aftermath, when many Americans stopped looking for work. It bottomed out at 58.2 percent in July 2011. Both figures are far below the record high of 64.7 percent, which was briefly reached in 2000. At the beginning of the 2008-2009 recession, 62.7 percent of Americans had jobs.


TRUMP: “U.S. Steel is opening up seven plants.” — remarks Thursday at the Pennsylvania rally. On Tuesday: “Thanks to our tariffs, our steel workers are back on the job, American steel mills are back open for business ... U.S. Steel just announced that they’re building six new steel mills.” — Florida rally.

THE FACTS: No, U.S. Steel has not announced six, or seven, new steel mills. A spokeswoman for the Pittsburgh-based company, Meghan Cox, declined to comment on Trump’s claim, only making clear that any “operational changes” such as the opening of new mills would be “publicly announced” and “made available on our website” if it occurred.



TRUMP: “I’ll tell you what, Russia’s very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you.” — Pennsylvania rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: That’s not what Russian President Vladimir Putin says. Asked at a news conference with Trump last month whether he wanted Trump to win the 2016 election, Putin responded, “Yes, I did.” Putin said he favored Trump “because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”

The Republican-led Senate intelligence committee in May said it agreed with the U.S. intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to hurt the candidacy of Democrat Hillary Clinton and help Trump.


TRUMP: “In Helsinki, I had a great meeting with Putin. We discussed everything — I had a great meeting. We got along really well. By the way, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. That’s a really good thing. Now we’re being hindered by the Russian hoax. It’s a hoax, OK?” — Pennsylvania rally.

THE FACTS: Trump’s effort to play down the idea of Russian election interference belies the statements of his own top national security and intelligence officials, who have concluded that Russia meddled in 2016 and pointed to a threat of future attacks on U.S. democracy. Just hours before Trump’s claim, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats joined other top aides at the White House to stress the Russia threat to U.S. elections “is real, it is continuing.”

National security adviser John Bolton said stemming the threat of Russian election interference is a priority for Trump, adding that the president had opened his private meeting with Putin by raising the issue. “I think the president has made it abundantly clear to everybody who has responsibility in this area that he cares deeply about it and that he expects them to do their jobs to their fullest ability and that he supports them fully,” he said.

On Sunday, White House officials sought to deny a disconnect between their message of a Russian meddling threat and Trump’s claims of a “hoax,” saying Trump was referring to federal investigations into possible collaboration between the Trump campaign and Russia.

But in recent weeks, special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has led to indictments against 12 Russian military intelligence officers who allegedly sought to influence the U.S. election, the first time Moscow had been directly implicated in 2016 meddling. Congressional committees also have been investigating the matter, with the Senate intelligence committee making clear that a key goal is to improve security in future U.S. elections.


TRUMP: “Collusion is not a crime, but that doesn’t matter because there was No Collusion (except by Crooked Hillary and the Democrats)!” — tweet Tuesday.

TRUMP LAWYER RUDY GIULIANI: “I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime. ... Collusion is not a crime.” — remarks July 30 on Fox News.

THE FACTS: It is correct to say election collusion isn’t a precise legal term. The U.S. code mostly uses the term “collusion” in antitrust laws to address crimes like price fixing. As it relates to Russia and U.S. elections, the term can be seen as shorthand for plenty of violations of specific laws on the books.

For instance, there could be legal violations if Trump’s presidential campaign is found to have collaborated with Moscow, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States. There are also laws against election fraud, computer hacking, wire fraud and falsifying records, if those apply.

So far, Mueller has accused the Russians of hacking into Democrats’ computers and stealing emails, as well as trying to stoke U.S. tensions before the 2016 election using social media.

Mueller might decide, for example, that a crime was committed if he finds evidence that an American was involved in the hack of Democrats, either by soliciting it or paying someone to do it.

As well, a conspiracy to defraud the United States can be used to refer to any two people using “deceit, craft, or trickery” to interfere with governmental functions, such as an election.



TRUMP, on air quality in the U.S.: “It’s the best it’s ever been.” — Pennsylvania rally Thursday.

THE FACTS: Not true, going by the key measure of air quality. The EPA’s air quality index shows a worsening since 2014, the best year as measured by the number of days with bad air.

For that index, 35 cities reported unhealthy air for a total of 599 days in 2014. That went up to 729 days in 2017, the worst year since 2012 (1,297 days). The index measures ozone and soot.



EPA, citing potential benefits from freezing Obama-era mileage standards: “Increased vehicle affordability leading to increased driving of newer, safer, more efficient and cleaner vehicles. ... Over 12,000 fewer crash fatalities over the lifetimes of all vehicles built through model year 2029. Up to 1,000 lives saved annually.” — information sheet released Thursday.

THE FACTS: The claimed safety benefits are unverifiable and probably overstated.

While newer vehicles are safer due to better engineering and safety features such as more air bags, automatic emergency braking and blind spot detection, auto safety experts say the difference between vehicles made 10 years ago and now isn’t that big and the number of lives saved can’t really be calculated.

Decade-old vehicles have anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control that stop drivers from losing control, two major safety advances.


EPA assistant administrator Bill Wehrum: “We’ll leave the standards at a place where we’re not imposing undue costs on manufacturers.” — news briefing Thursday.

THE FACTS: Insulating U.S. manufacturers is not easy to do. Even if the U.S. freezes its mileage requirements, the European Union, China, Japan and other nations will continue to increase theirs, which already are more stringent. Because most automakers sell vehicles worldwide, they’ll have to develop new technology such as electric cars anyway to satisfy other markets. The U.S. may not get the new technology as quickly as elsewhere.



TRUMP: “We believe that only American citizens should vote in American elections, which is why the time has come for voter ID like everything else. If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID. You go out, you want to buy anything, you need ID, you need your picture.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: As shoppers know, no photo is required to purchase items at retail stores with cash or to make routine purchases with credit or debit cards.

Identifications are required to purchase limited items such as alcohol, cigarettes or cold medicine and in rapidly declining situations in which a customer opts to pay with a personal check.

According to the National Grocers Association’s most recent data, the use of checks as a percentage of total transactions dropped from 33 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2015, due in part to the popularity of debit cards, which use PIN codes. The group’s members are independent food retailers, family-owned or privately held, both large and small.


WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: “He’s not saying every time he went in; he said when you go to the grocery store.” — press briefing Wednesday.

THE FACTS: Actually, Trump did claim, erroneously, that photo IDs are required whenever “you want to buy anything,” not only in limited cases.

Asked when Trump last bought groceries, Sanders responded, “I’m not sure. I’m not sure why that matters, either.”



TRUMP: “I went to NATO. And NATO was essentially going out of business ’cause people weren’t paying and it was going down, down, down.” On NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: “He said we couldn’t collect money until President Trump came along. And he said last year we collected $44 billion. And this year the money is pouring in. ... So the bottom line is the NATO countries are now paying a lot more money.” — news conference July 30 with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

THE FACTS: Countries don’t pay to be in NATO and don’t owe the organization anything other than contributions to a largely administrative fund that Trump is not talking about. Member countries are not in debt to NATO. Money is “not pouring in” now. Collections have not increased, as he asserted.

Trump’s actual beef is with how much NATO countries spend on their own military budgets.

The Trump administration is not the first to push countries in NATO to spend more on their own armed forces to lessen their dependence on the U.S. In fact, it was in 2014, during the Obama administration, that NATO members agreed to move “toward” spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own defense by 2024.

The somewhat-vague commitment was made as a response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea. No one expected all allies would immediately move to 2 percent; the increases were to be gradual.



TRUMP: “We passed the biggest VA reform in half a century, Veteran’s Choice. If our veterans can’t get the care they need from the VA, they will have the right to go see a private doctor.” — remarks Tuesday in Tampa.

THE FACTS: Trump’s suggestion that veterans can get care immediately under the private-sector Veterans Choice program and without restriction is misleading.

Before veterans have the right to see a private doctor, they must meet certain criteria first, such as whether they face an “excessive burden” in receiving care at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. Under the current Choice guidelines, veterans also must wait at least 30 days for an appointment at a VA facility before they are eligible to receive care from a private doctor.

TRUMP: “And I used to say before I really was well-versed on the veteran situation in health care, I used to say all the time, ‘Why don’t they just let the folks go to a doctor?’ They’d wait in line for 7 days, 9 days, 14 days, 21 days ... I said, ‘Why don’t they just let them go see a local private doctor, pay the bill and take care of it?’ And it’s turned out to be something that the veterans love. And it’s passed. It’s passed.” — remarks Tuesday.

THE FACTS: It’s not clear if veterans love the current Choice program, judging by the wait times. Despite the Choice program’s guarantee of providing appointments within 30 days, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that veterans actually waited an average of 51 to 64 days to receive care. A newly expanded Choice program will take at least a year to be implemented.

Europe’s Heat Is Too Much for Nuclear Plants

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The heat wave currently sweeping the continent has fueled wildfires in Greece and Sweden, caused droughts and scorched wide swaths of British pasture land — and now it’s switching off nuclear power.

A shortage of water, vital for cooling superheated atomic cores, has shuttered reactors in France, Sweden, Germany, Finland and Switzerland.

It’s the fourth time in 15 years that heat’s forced the closure of Europe’s nuclear power plants, which rely on steam to propel turbines and cool water to condense that vapor, and experts expect conditions to deteriorate.

Read More:  Quartz

Russian Spy Likely Worked at US Embassy Over 10 Years

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Reports have emerged that a Russian spy worked at the US embassy in Russia for over a decade before her regular meetings with the country’s intelligence agency were uncovered during a security sweep. Per the Guardian, the woman had access to the Secret Service’s files and emails and was even able to see Barack Obama’s schedule, as well as those of former presidents and their spouses, including Hillary Clinton. However, in a statement to the Guardian, the US Secret Service said that no Foreign Service Nationals like the unidentified woman in the report have “been provided or placed in a position to obtain national security information.“

Per CNN, the woman was dismissed months after she was found out in January 2017. According to US officials, that was because she was being fed information in order for investigators to see for themselves that she was passing it along to Russian intelligence. However, a Guardian source reportedly said her dismissal was timed by the Secret Service to occur just after the Kremlin’s expulsion of US diplomatic personnel in order to shield the agency from embarrassment.

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