Photo of Mustafa Ali at the Launch Party of “The Secret Life of Muslims”, Velveteen Dream’s WWE Network Pick Of The Week

Photo of Mustafa Ali at the Launch Party of “The Secret Life of Muslims”, Velveteen Dream’s WWE Network Pick Of The Week

On Friday night, injured WWE Superstar Mustafa Ali attended the launch party for the second season of the digital series “The Secret Life of Muslims”. You can check out a photo of that below:

Wrestling brings people of different backgrounds together. It brings this young lady to a screening party to learn about @muslimsecrets and their fight against stereotypes. “There is no difference between him and her, us and them. We are the same. We are just souls. We are one.” pic.twitter.com/gzDfY2yKh9

— Mustafa Ali / Adeel Alam (@MustafaAliWWE) February 21, 2019

If the photo doesn’t load above, you can click here to view it. The link will pop up in a new window.

You can check out the latest “WWE Network Pick” below, featuring NXT Superstar Velveteen Dream:

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3 reasons why we will get a Shield triple threat at a future WrestleMania

3 reasons why we will get a Shield triple threat at a future WrestleMania

A sure shot future WrestleMania headliner!

Ever since the Hounds of Justice debuted on the main roster at Survivor Series 2012, they have wreaked havoc on both brands and claimed the main event scene for themselves.

In less than four years since their debut, every single member of The Shield has become a world champion. In fact, the WWE Universe witnessed an incredibly rare moment at the Money In The Bank 2016 PPV, when all three members of the faction held the title at some point of time in a span of an hour!

It was as clear as day from the very beginning that WWE was prepping the trio for bigger and better things. The fact that they spent a considerable amount of time in NXT, honing their mat skills, helped matters even more.

It’s safe to say that all three members of the Shield are destined to become future Hall of Famers, with every single one of them forging their own path towards in-ring glory.

Back in 2016, in a desperate attempt to move the ratings meter and earn subscribers on the WWE Network, the WWE scheduled a Shield triple threat match for the Universal title at the Battleground PPV. The match was a top contender to become a WrestleMania main event in the near future, but unfortunately, it was wasted on a B-level PPV.

But that doesn’t mean that this future WrestleMania main event has gone down the drain! Here are three reasons why we’ll eventually get to see the Shield trio battle it out on the grandest stage of them all, somewhere down the line.

#3 The Money Match

It’s all about the buyrate money!

Even though the fans have already witnessed the Shield members take on each other, it has been almost three years since that match happened. A LOT has changed since then. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have maintained their main event status and have even reunited once to one of the biggest ovations of the modern era.

There is a possibility that Ambrose is leaving WWE after The Show of Shows this year, but that doesn’t mean that he is never coming back. And when he does come back, WWE won’t wait long to pull the plug on the heavily anticipated match, that’s guaranteed to sell out the biggest night in sports entertainment in record time.

#2 The big payoff

The match with a decade long history behind it!

If you’ve been watching pro wrestling for quite a while, you must be aware of the fact that WrestleMania is the show that’s always reserved for big blowoffs to feuds that have been going on for a long time.

Be it Stone Cold vs The Rock, Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart or Hogan vs Savage, WWE has always made sure to finish off these legendary rivalries at the Grandest Stage of Them All. All the above-mentioned wrestlers were the absolute best and the most popular Superstars of their respective eras, just like how Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose are the biggest Superstars of the present era. Unlike the multiple failed attempts at pushing stars like Del Rio in the past, WWE has succeeded in building the Shield members as forces to be reckoned with.

History will repeat itself eventually, and the blowoff match featuring three of the greatest Superstars of this generation will one day headline WrestleMania.

#1 A storyline for the ages

The debut, the implosion, and the reunion!

When you think of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time, one thing that always stands out is the storyline that goes on for months before the eventual match.

With Austin vs The Rock III at WrestleMania XIX, WWE had 4 years of history between the two Superstars to showcase and promote the match. With “The End of an Era” Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 28, The Undertaker’s decade long rivalry with Triple H was highlighted.

Imagine what could the WWE do with the Shield, heading into their WrestleMania match! There’ll be almost a decade worth of footage to promote the triple threat. The trio’s destructive debut, the Shield’s implosion, and their separate paths as main event players- there would be tons of material to cover. This could possibly result in the greatest buildup a match has ever had in the history of the business.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will divorce each other, say experts

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry will divorce each other, say experts

If Prince Harry and Meghan Markle get divorced then that will make Americans happy.

As per former showbiz reporter and commentator AJ Benza, the Duke and Duchess’s marriage is doomed. With almost three decades of experience, he feels that the relationship will not last much longer, adding that Americans doesn’t care about the Duchess and that they would be pleased if the couple gets divorced. “I don’t think many Americans care,” Benza told OK!

Benza confessed that he couldn’t care less about the royal family matters apart from the fact that he is happy that she is living a fairy tale life. Also adding another pointer that he would be very happy if the royal marriage turns out to be disastrous.

“I’d be lying if I said nobody would be happy if their union ended in divorce or some type of scandal,” he said, adding that this is what Americans want.

Benza has described the nature of Americans, he reveals how Americans love to make a person reach that point in life that he or she always desires to be. It is once they reach that point, do they love to “point and laugh when they teeter off that ledge.”

Professor Nicholas Wolfinger has done extensive research on the link between age and likelihood of divorce. The date from the National Survey of Family growth has revealed that people who get married between the ages of 28 and 32 have the lowest risk of divorce, compared to people who get married in their mid-30s.

This whole debate started with Princess Diana’s friend Simone Simmons who claimed that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will stick to their marriage for not more than two-three years. She believes that Markle is not the ideal woman for Prince Harry.

But there are still some people who are optimistic that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s marriage will last. Like body language expert Elizabeth Kuhnke believes Meghan Markle is freer near Prince Harry. She has pointed out how happy Meghan Markle feels happier around the Prince.

Prince Harry who used to be “flirty” and “funny” reflects Markle, and this proves that they are very comfortable in each other’s company. The expert also pointed out the “look of love” the couple has for each other.

Nigeria election violence killed ‘at least 39’: monitors

Nigeria election violence killed 'at least 39': monitors

Electoral officials compile voting results at a collation center in Kano, northern Nigeria Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019. (Photo | AP)

ABUJA: Civil society groups monitoring Nigeria’s presidential and parliamentary election said on Monday that 39 people have been killed in violence linked to the vote.

The Situation Room, an umbrella group of more than 70 organisations, said “election-related violence led to the death of at least 39 Nigerians” in the last two days.

The body, which previously gave a death toll of 16, had more than 8,000 observers on the ground for Saturday’s vote, at which President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking a second term.

“Situation Room reiterates that no election in Nigeria should cost the life of any citizen and condemns in the strongest terms the lack of empathy, concern and sensitivity by the police class regarding these events,” it said in a statement.

A total of 16 people were killed in the southern state of Rivers, which has long been a flashpoint for political violence.

ALSO READ | Blasts heard in Nigerian city of Maiduguri before polls

Bayelsa, which neighbours Rivers to the west, saw four deaths, and Delta, the next state along, had two fatalities.

Eight other states around the country saw people killed.

Clement Nwankwo, the executive director of the Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, who is also convenor of the Situation Room, said the violence should be “thoroughly investigated”.

The group highlighted reports that just over a quarter of the nearly 120,000 polling units were under-policed, and there were “shortfalls and gaps” in security elsewhere.

At least six states saw disruption in polling.

In the Okoto area of the country’s biggest city, Lagos, voters were chased away and ballot boxes were destroyed, Nwankwo said.

In Osun state, also in the southwest, ballot papers and boxes were destroyed at the local office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), he added.

There were also reports of some “partisan” security officials, “compromised” INEC staff and incidents involving the military, including blocking some voters.

Senegal Awaits Election Results

Senegal Awaits Election Results

Vote counting has begun in Senegal after a peaceful day of voting in Sunday’s presidential election.

Polls closed at 6 p.m. local time and preliminary results are expected as soon as Monday or Tuesday, according to CENA.

After three weeks of campaigning, long lines of voters formed early Sunday to either support incumbent Macky Sall’s bid for re-election or replace him with one of his four challengers – Idrissa Seck, Ousmane Sonko, Madické Niang or Issa Sall.

The election process was smooth and there were no major disruptions in the election process, Doudou Ndir, president of Senegal’s electoral commission (CENA) told a press conference.

“Our observations show everything is proceeding in good conditions, peacefully, calmly,” Ndir said.

President Sall, 56, cast his ballot in his hometown of Fatick early Sunday. “I hope that at the end of this day, the Senegalese people will be the sole winner,” he said after voting.

“What we all have in common is our country, and we want a candidate who will work for it, for our Senegal,” Mbéne, an 18-year-old student who voted for the first time Sunday, told VOA Afrique after casting her ballot for Sall.

Though some will renew their support for Sall, some young voters are pledging their support to the youngest of the candidates, Ousmane Sanko, 44, who is promising drastic changes from the current system.

“The system has been in place for 60 years with the same men, the same heads, and we need to break from this,” Pape Amadou Diop, a student in Dakar, said after voting for Sonko, whom he calls the “perfect representation of hope in Senegal.”

Approximately 15,000 voting stations were expected to be open Sunday. CENA chief Ndir said that by noon, about 30 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.

A candidate must win more than 50 percent of Sunday’s vote to be declared Senegal’s president. If no one wins an outright majority, then the top two contenders will face off in a run-off vote in March.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Schiff Vows Lawsuit for Mueller Report if It’s not Released

Schiff Vows Lawsuit for Mueller Report if It’s not Released

A top House Democrat threatened Sunday to call special counsel Robert Mueller to Capitol Hill, subpoena documents and take the Trump administration to court if necessary if the full report on the Russia investigation is not made public.

Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff told ABC’s “This Week” that his committee will be watching Attorney General William Barr to see if he were “to try to bury any part of this report.” He warns there will be intense scrutiny and pressure on Barr to fully release the report.

“We will take it to court if necessary,” Schiff said. “If he were to try to withhold, to try to bury any part of this report, that will be his legacy and it will be a tarnished legacy. So I think there’ll be immense pressure not only on the department, but on the attorney general to be forthcoming.”

Mueller is showing signs of wrapping up his nearly 2-year-old investigation into possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election. Barr, who oversees the investigation, has said he wants to release as much information as he can about the inquiry. But during his confirmation hearing last month, Barr also made clear that he ultimately will decide what the public sees, and that any report will be in his words, not Mueller’s.

On Sunday, Schiff suggested that anything short of Mueller’s full report will not be enough to satisfy Democrats. He pointed to a public interest in seeing some of the underlying evidence, such as information gathered from searches conducted on longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone and Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign chairman. Schiff has said his committee planned to expand its own investigations by examining, for instance, whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates.

Stone was charged with lying to Congress about his efforts to coordinate with WikiLeaks to aid Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, while Manafort has been accused of repeatedly lying to investigators, including about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate who the U.S. says has ties to Russian intelligence.

“Bill Barr has committed in his testimony to making as much of the report public as he can. And the regulations allow him to make it all. We’re going to insist on it becoming public,” Schiff said. “There’s no other way to get the information that was seized except through the department, and we can’t tell the country fully what happened without it.”

Democrats could use Mueller’s findings as the basis of impeachment proceedings. In a letter Friday, the Democrats warned against withholding information on Trump because of Justice Department opinions that the president can’t be indicted.

“We are going to get to the bottom of this,” Schiff said. “If the president is serious about all of his claims of exoneration, then he should welcome the publication of this report.”

Speculation has swirled that Mueller would be submitting his report to the Justice Department soon, although the department has indicated it’s not expected to happen this week.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Somalia’s Oldest Federal Lawmaker Fatally Shot in Mogadishu

Somalia’s Oldest Federal Lawmaker Fatally Shot in Mogadishu

A Somali federal parliamentary lawmaker was fatally shot Saturday in Mogadishu, security officials said.

Al-Shabab militants armed with pistols shot the lawmaker, Osman Ilmi Boqorre, as he was visiting his new house that is under construction in the Karan neighborhood north of Mogadishu, according to witnesses.

A statement released by Radio Andalus, the terror group’s official mouthpiece, said “Members of our Mujahidiin shot and killed the longest-serving member of the parliament of the apostate government.” Al-Shabab is allied with al-Qaida.

Boqorre died before the first responders arrived, police say.

Boqorre, was the oldest member of the current Somali Parliament. He was a lieutenant colonel in the army and became the deputy speaker of the Parliament of the then Somali Transitional Government (TFG) in 2007, but he resigned for health-related reasons in 2010.

One of his colleagues in the Parliament, Dahir Amin Jessow, was among those who first received news of the killing, and told VOA that Boqorre was known as a peacemaker and negotiator.

“He was a peace-loving person, the oldest, and one of the very active members of the Parliament,” Jessow said.

Boqorre is the first lawmaker to be killed in Mogadishu this year.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for the killing, but al-Shabab militants typically take credit for the assassinations of lawmakers, civil servants, other government workers and selective civil society activists.

In 2005, the group claimed responsibility for killing the late lawmaker’s son, Khadar Osman, in Mogadishu.

It’s the second high-profile assassination this week. On Wednesday, al-Shabab militants killed Deputy Attorney General Mohamed Abdirahman Mursal in Mogadishu.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Trump Postpones New Trade Tariffs on China

Trump Postpones New Trade Tariffs on China

President Donald Trump is postponing new tariffs on China because of what he says is “substantial progress” in trade talks.

“A very good weekend for U.S. and China,” Trump tweeted Sunday, saying both sides made substantial progress on “important structural issues, including intellectual property protection, technology transfer, agriculture, services, currency, and many other issues.”

The president had set a March 1 deadline to hike tariffs on $200 million in Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent if there was no deal.

While there is still no final agreement, Trump had said he would postpone those tariffs if a deal were close.

The president did not say how close both sides are to a deal. But he said he will hold a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort to “conclude an agreement.”

Senior U.S. and Chinese officials have been holding a series of trade talks in Beijing and Washington since Trump and Xi declared a 90 day truce in their trade war in December so a deal can be worked out.

The U.S. has long accused China of numerous unfair trade practices. They include the alleged theft of intellectual property and demands U.S. firms turn over trade secrets if they want to do business in China.

The Chinese have denied the accusations and say it is the U.S. that is guilty of trade violations meant to stifle China’s economic development.

Credit : Voice of America (VOA)

Court records reveal a Mueller report right in plain view

Court records reveal a Mueller report right in plain view

Donald Trump was in full deflection mode.

The Democrats had blamed Russia for the hacking and release of damaging material on his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton. Trump wasn’t buying it. But on July 27, 2016, midway through a news conference in Florida, Trump decided to entertain the thought for a moment.

“Russia, if you’re listening,” said Trump, looking directly into a television camera, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” — messages Clinton was reported to have deleted from her private email server.

Actually, Russia was doing more than listening: It had been trying to help Republican Trump for months. That very day, hackers working with Russia’s military intelligence tried to break into email accounts associated with Clinton’s personal office.

It was just one small part of a sophisticated election interference operation carried out by the Kremlin — and meticulously chronicled by special counsel Robert Mueller.

We know this, though Mueller has made not a single public comment since his appointment in May 2017. We know this, though the full, final report on the investigation, believed to be in its final stages, may never be made public. It’s up to Attorney General William Barr.

We know this because Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin’s help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed.

Woven through thousands of court papers, the special counsel has made his public report. This is what it says.

RUSSIA, LOOKING TO INTERFERE

The plot began before Bernie Bros and “Lock Her Up,” before MAGA hats and “Lyin’ Ted,” before there was even a thought of Trump versus Clinton in 2016. It started in 2014, in a drab, concrete building in St. Petersburg, Russia.

There, a group of tech-savvy Russian nationals, working at an organization called the Internet Research Agency, prepared “information warfare against the United States of America.” The battleground would be the internet, and the target was the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

It would use deception, disinformation and the expansive reach of the electronically connected world to spread “distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” Ultimately, it would carry a budget in the millions, bankrolled, according to an indictment, by Yevgeny Prighozin, a man so close to the Russian president that he is known as Putin’s chef. (Prighozin’s company has denied the charges).

It was a long game. Starting in mid-2014, employees began studying American political groups to see which messages fell flat and which spread like wildfire across the internet. The organization surreptitiously dispatched employees to the U.S. — traveling through states such as Nevada, California and Colorado— to collect on-the-ground intelligence about an America that had become deeply divided on gun control, race and politics.

As they gathered the research, the trolls began planning an elaborate deception.

They bought server space and other computer infrastructure in the U.S. to conceal the true origin of the disinformation they planned to pump into America’s social media blood stream. They began preparing networks of fake accounts they would use like sock puppets to masquerade as U.S. citizens.

The Russian trolls set up accounts that appeared to be associated with Black Lives Matter, the Tennessee GOP, Muslim and Christian groups and the American South. By late 2015, as Clinton sparred with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, her rival for the Democratic nomination, and as American media still saw Trump as a longshot to emerge from a crowded Republican field, the Internet Research Agency began secretly buying online ads to promote its social media groups.

By February 2016, they were ready. A memo circulated internally. Post content about “politics in the USA,” they wrote, according to court papers, and “use any opportunity to criticize Hillary and the rest (except Sanders and Trump— we support them).”

As disinformation scrolled across American computer screens, an entirely different Russian operation readied its own volley.

In March 2016, as Clinton and Trump began to emerge as the leaders of their respective parties, Russian military intelligence officers began setting a trap.

Hackers in Russia’s military intelligence, known as the GRU, started sending dozens of malicious emails to people affiliated with Clinton’s campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

Like Watergate, it was a break-in. But this time, the burglary tools were emails disguised to fool people into sharing their passwords and in turn provide hackers unfettered access to their emails. The goal was to collect as many damaging documents as possible that could be released online and damage Clinton’s candidacy.

In a few short weeks, the hackers had penetrated their targets and hit the motherlode: the private Gmail account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

A RECEPTIVE CAMPAIGN

While the Russians were hacking, a young Trump campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos received some startling news in London.

It was April 26, 2016. While traveling through Europe, he had connected with a Maltese academic. The professor, a middle-aged man with thinning gray hair named Joseph Mifsud, had taken a keen interest in Papadopoulos upon learning that he had joined the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. To dazzle his young friend, Mifsud boasted of his high-level Russian connections and introduced him to a woman named Olga — a relative, he claimed, of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Mifsud and Olga wanted Papadopoulos to arrange a meeting between Trump aides and Russian officials. Eager to ingratiate himself with the campaign, Papadopoulos brought up his newfound connections in a meeting with Trump and several high-ranking campaign officials, saying he could broker a Trump-Putin summit. When he raised the idea, his lawyers later said, Trump nodded with approval and deferred to another aide in the room, future Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who said the campaign should look into it. Sessions would later say he remembered telling Papadopoulos that he wasn’t authorized to speak for the campaign.

When he walked into a London hotel for breakfast with Mifsud, Papadopoulos expected to discuss Russia’s “open invitation” to meet with Trump. But the conversation quickly turned to another subject. Mifsud confided in Papadopoulos that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton. What kind of dirt? “Thousands of emails.”

What happened next remains a mystery. Prosecutors haven’t revealed exactly where Mifsud got his information or what Papadopoulos might have done with it. The encounter, the first known instance of a Trump aide hearing of stolen emails, would later help kick-start the Russia investigation. But at the time, it was just one of many connections already established between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Unbeknownst to the public, Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen had been trying to broker a business deal in Russia for the Republican candidate. The proposal was for a Trump Tower Moscow. A letter of intent was signed. Cohen had discussed it with Trump and his children. Cohen had even gone so far as to reach out to the Kremlin directly for help, speaking with an official about ways to secure land and financing for the project.

While Cohen pursued the deal, another person with Russia ties joined the Trump campaign. Paul Manafort, a longtime Washington insider, had made millions as a political consultant for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Over that time, Manafort developed a close relationship with a man named Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI says has ties to Russian military intelligence. Manafort also had worked for a Russian billionaire named Oleg Deripaska who is close with Putin.

But in March 2016, Manafort was looking for a comeback. His business had dried up after Yanukovych was ousted and fled to Russia. The millions that Manafort had hidden from the IRS while enjoying a lavish lifestyle were largely gone. With the Trump campaign, Manafort saw an opportunity to get back on his feet. He and his protege, Rick Gates, quickly worked their way into the highest levels of the campaign, and they began trying to make sure old clients had heard about their new positions.

As Trump clinched the Republican nomination, Manafort and those around him began preparing for a general election battle against Clinton.

The Russians did, too. The Internet Research Agency boosted its support of Trump — and disparagement of Clinton. Using stolen identities and bank account information, the troll farm also began buying political ads on social media services, according to Mueller.

“Donald wants to defeat terrorism … Hillary wants to sponsor it,” read one. “Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” read another.

Meanwhile, hackers with the GRU secretly implanted malicious software — called X-Agent — on the computer networks of the DNC and the DCCC. It allowed them to surreptitiously search through the political operatives’ computers and steal what they wanted. As the hackers roamed the Democratic networks, a separate group of Russian intelligence officers established the means to release their ill-gotten gains, registering a website, DCLeaks.com.

By May, the Democratic groups realized they had been hacked. The DNC quickly hired a private cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike, to identify the extent of the breach and to try to clear their networks of malware. But they kept it quiet until they knew more.

On the Trump campaign, Papadopoulos continued to push for a Trump-Putin meeting, unsuccessfully.

At the same time, another Russian outreach found a willing audience in Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

In early June, Trump Jr. exchanged a series of emails with a British publicist representing Emin Agalarov, a pop singer in Russia, whose father had partnered with the Trumps on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. Emin Agalarov and Trump Jr. had become friendly, and the publicist, Rob Goldstone, had become a common intermediary between the two wealthy sons.

Over email, Goldstone brokered a meeting between Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer. He said the lawyer had documents that could “incriminate” Clinton and they were being shared as part of the Russian government’s support of the Trump campaign. “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. wrote back.

The meeting was held at Trump Tower in Manhattan on June 9. Trump Jr. attended along with Manafort and Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. Participants in the room would later say the meeting was a bust, consumed by a lengthy discussion of Russian adoption and U.S. sanctions. To Trump Jr., the information wasn’t useful ammunition against Clinton. He was less concerned that it came from Russia.

Days later, on June 14, the DNC publicly announced it had been hacked, and pointed the finger at Russia.

By then, the Russian hackers had launched DCLeaks.com. According to Mueller , the DNC announcement accelerated their plans.

They created a fake online persona called Guccifer 2.0, which quickly took credit for the hack. Through Guccifer, the hackers masqueraded as a “lone Romanian hacker” and released caches of stolen material.

The efforts attracted the attention of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group led by Julian Assange from his exile within Ecuador’s embassy in London.

On June 22, 2016, the group sent a private message to Guccifer: “Send any new material here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.”

Over the next several weeks, WikiLeaks requested any documents related to Clinton, saying they wanted to release them before the Democratic National Convention when they worried she would successfully recruit Sanders supporters.

We “think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary … so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting,” WikiLeaks wrote.

Using Guccifer, the Russian intelligence officers transferred the files to WikiLeaks, hoping for a big online splash.

They wouldn’t have to wait long.

LEAKS AND CIGARS

July 22 was supposed to be a big Friday for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The former secretary of state was planning to announce Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate. The party’s convention was just days away.

But at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time, WikiLeaks stole the limelight, releasing more than 20,000 stolen DNC emails.

The cascade of stolen material was almost immediately picked up by American news outlets, conservative pundits and Trump supporters, who in the wake of Clinton’s FBI investigation for using a private email server, were happy to blast out anything with “Clinton” and “emails” in the same sentence.

So was Trump. After publicly questioning that Russia was behind the hack of Democratic groups, he took to the stage in Florida to make his famous call to Russia, “if you’re listening.” He would later begin praising WikiLeaks.

Smelling a possible political advantage, the Trump campaign reached out to Roger Stone, a close confidant of Trump’s who is known for his bare-knuckles brand of political mischief. Stone had been claiming to have connections to WikiLeaks, and campaign officials were looking to find out when Wikileaks would drop its next batch of documents.

According to an indictment against Stone, after the first release of DNC documents, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information” WikiLeaks had regarding Clinton’s campaign.

In August, Stone began claiming he had inside information into Assange’s plans. At the same time, he was privately sending messages to a radio host and a conservative conspiracy theorist — both of whom had claimed to have connections to WikiLeaks — seeking anything they knew. (No evidence has emerged that these messages made it to Assange).

That same month there was a meeting that went to the “heart” of the Russia investigation, according to a Mueller prosecutor. It involved Manafort, and it remains an enigma, at least to the public.

Court papers indicate Manafort had previously shared polling information related to the Trump campaign with Kilimnik, his old Russian pal. According to emails and court papers, Manafort — looking to make money from his Trump access — had also been in touch with Kilimnik about providing private briefings for the billionaire Deripaska. (There’s no evidence such briefings ever occurred).

Meeting with Manafort and Gates at New York’s Grand Havana Room cigar bar on Aug. 2, 2016, Kilimnik brought up a possible peace plan for Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. What happened at that meeting is in dispute and much of it remains redacted in court papers.

But the Mueller prosecutor would note: The men left separately to avoid unwanted attention.

By early October, Stone was looking for more. On Oct. 3, 2016, ahead of an expected news conference by Assange, Stone exchanged messages with Matthew Boyle, a writer at Breitbart who was close to Trump campaign strategist Steve Bannon.

“Assange — what’s he got? Hope it’s good,” Boyle wrote to Stone.

“It is,” Stone wrote back. “I’d tell Bannon but he doesn’t call me back.”

Hours later, Assange held a news conference in which he appeared to waffle on whether he would release additional documents about Clinton.

Bannon reached out to Stone: “What was that this morning???” Stone chalked it up to a “security concern” and said WikiLeaks would be releasing “a load every week going forward.”

By Oct. 7, the Trump campaign was embroiled in its own scandal. The Washington Post released audio of Trump bragging about sexually harassing and groping women. But within hours, WikiLeaks gave Trump’s team a break.

The first set of emails stolen from Podesta’s accounts popped onto WikiLeaks’ website. Stone’s phone lit up. It was a text message from a Bannon associate.

“well done,” it read.

A SERIES OF LIES

The first documented lie in the Russia investigation happened on Jan. 24, 2017, in the White House office of freshly appointed national security adviser Michael Flynn.

It was the Tuesday after Trump’s inauguration, and Flynn was settling in after a whirlwind presidential transition.

Since Trump’s victory in November, Flynn had become part of Trump’s inner circle — and the preferred contact between the Trump team and Russia. In late December, Flynn had asked Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., to reject or delay a U.N. vote condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Days later, as the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia for election-meddling, Flynn implored Kislyak not to escalate a “tit-for-tat” fight over punishment imposed on Moscow for election interference.

But on that Tuesday, when FBI agents asked Flynn about those conversations, he lied. No, he said, he hadn’t made those requests of Kislyak.

Days later in Chicago, other FBI agents confronted Papadopoulos as he had just stepped out of the shower at his mother’s home. Though his mother would later say she knew it was a terrible idea, he agreed to go to their office for questioning, where he misled them about his conversations with Mifsud, the Maltese professor.

Months later — after Mueller’s May 2017 appointment — Cohen lied to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project, saying it ended much sooner than June 2016. Cohen would later say he was trying to be loyal to Trump and match the public messaging of a president who had adamantly denied any business dealings with Russia.

Even when Trump aides tried to come clean and cooperate with Mueller’s team, they couldn’t keep their stories straight.

As he was working out a plea agreement with Mueller, Gates lied to investigators about his and Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying work. Manafort pleaded guilty and agree to cooperate but a judge later determined he had also misled Mueller’s team about several matters, including about his interactions with Kilimnik. Those lies voided the plea deal.

The deceptions played out as Mueller methodically brought criminal cases. He indicted the Russian hackers. He did the same to the troll farm. He exposed Manafort’s tax cheating and his illicit foreign lobbying, winning at trial and putting the 69-year-old political operative at risk of spending the rest of his life in prison. And one by one, his team got guilty pleas from Flynn, Papadopoulos and others .

Most recently, he indicted Stone, accusing him of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his efforts to glean information about the WikiLeaks disclosures. Despite emails showing him repeatedly discussing WikiLeaks with Trump advisers and others, Stone told lawmakers he had no records of that sort. (Stone has pleaded not guilty.)

In the backdrop of all this is Trump and his family.

Mueller’s grand jury heard testimony from several participants of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting arranged by Trump Jr., but no charges have been filed.

The mercurial president himself has made no secret of his disdain for the Mueller investigation and his efforts to undermine it. Mueller has investigated whether any of Trump’s actions constituted obstruction of justice, but the special counsel hasn’t gone public with what he found.

And it’s unclear if he ever will.

Baring Vostok asks Putin to intervene after U.S. investor detained

Baring Vostok asks Putin to intervene after U.S. investor detained

Founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group Michael Calvey, who was detained on suspicion of fraud, reacts inside a defendants’ cage as he attends a court hearing in Moscow, Russia February 15, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia-based private equity group Baring Vostok appealed on Monday for President Vladimir Putin to intervene in a criminal investigation into its U.S. founder Michael Calvey and other executives.

Prosecutors last week formally charged Calvey, the founder of Baring Vostok, and several other of its executives, with fraud after detaining them earlier this month.

Calvey and the others deny wrongdoing and say the case is being used to exert pressure in a business dispute.

In an open letter posted on its website, Baring Vostok said it was appealing to Putin to take the case under his personal control to ensure it was investigated objectively.

“I don’t know if the President has seen the letter and how it was sent, but we will report to him about the letter based on the media reports,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call.

A Baring Vostok executive and another man held in the case are due to appeal their arrest later on Monday. Calvey is due to appeal on Thursday.

Reporting by Elena Fabrichnaya, Andrey Ostroukh, Maria Vasilyeva; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Louise Heavens