Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, pleads guilty to lying to Congress about Moscow project
Article by the Washington Post
President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that Trump and his company pursued at the same time he was running for president. In a nine-page filing, prosecutors laid out a litany of lies that Cohen admitted he told to congressional lawmakers about the Moscow project — an attempt, Cohen said, to minimize links between the proposed development and Trump as his presidential bid was well underway. Cohen’s guilty plea — his second in four months — is the latest development in a wide-ranging investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Activity in that probe has intensified this week, as one planned guilty plea was derailed and separately, prosecutors accused Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, of lying to them since he pleaded guilty. As part of Cohen’s plea, he admitted falsely claiming efforts to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when in fact discussions continued through June of that year, the filing said. Among the people Cohen briefed on the status of the project was Trump himself, on more than three occasions, according to the document. Trump has repeatedly said that he had no business dealings in Russia, tweeting in July 2016, “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia” and telling reporters in January 2017 that he had no deals there because he had “stayed away.” On Thursday, Trump denounced Cohen when reporters asked about the case as he left the White House. “Michael Cohen is lying and he’s trying to get a reduced sentence for things that have nothing to do with me,” the president said. “This was a project that we didn’t do, I didn’t do… There would be nothing wrong if I did do it.” Trump added: “He’s a weak person.” During the campaign, Cohen acted as Trump’s point person in an attempt to build the Trump development in Moscow. He has said the project was in its early stages in the fall of 2015, as Trump’s presidential campaign heated up. Cohen previously said the project stalled in January 2016, prompting him to email a top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin seeking help. Cohen previously said he never received a response and the project was halted that month. In fact, according to the filing, the Russians did respond and Cohen discussed the project for 20 minutes on the phone with an assistant to Dmitry Peskov, a senior aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin. At the time, Cohen was seeking help with both securing land and financing. Peskov didn’t immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment. Prosecutors seemed to make a point in the document of emphasizing how Cohen had talked with Trump himself – who they didn’t name – about the project. The document said Cohen lied because he hoped his testimony would limit the ongoing Russia investigations. Prosecutors also said that Cohen continued to have contact into the summer of 2016 with Felix Sater, the Russian-born developer who was assisting on the project. Some of those contacts were first reported by The Washington Post. In June 2016, Sater invited Cohen to attend an economic conference in St. Petersburg, assuring Cohen he could be introduced to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, top financial leaders and perhaps Putin, The Post reported. A lawyer for Sater did not immediately comment. According to the criminal information filed by prosecutors, Cohen sent a two-page letter to the committee in which he “knowingly and deliberately” made false statements, including that the Moscow project “ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others in the company”; that Cohen “never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow project and ‘never considered’ asking Individual 1 to travel for the project”; and that Cohen “did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.” The document does not identify “Individual 1,” but according to people familiar with the case, that person is President Trump. “Cohen discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions Cohen claimed to the committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project,” according to the information. The document also says that Cohen discussed in May of 2016 the possibility that he might travel to Russia before the Republican National Convention and that Individual 1 might travel there after the convention, but a month later, told “Individual 2” that he would not be making such a trip. The document does not identify Individual 2, but people familiar with the investigation said it is Sater. Federal sentencing guidelines would call for Cohen to face a prison sentence of only six months at the high end, and no time in prison at the low end, according to his plea agreement for false statements. Both sides agreed they would not ask for a sentence outside of that range, provided Cohen continues to cooperate. Outside the courthouse Thursday, Guy Petrillo, a lawyer for Cohen said, “Mr. Cohen has cooperated. Mr. Cohen will continue to cooperate.” He said sentencing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 12. Cohen said nothing as a gaggle of reporters shouted questions at him. In August, Cohen, 52, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to payments before the election to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump years prior. He told the court he had arranged those payments, designed to keep the women quiet before the presidential vote, at Trump’s direction. He had also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of tax evasion, as well as bank fraud, related to his personal finances and management of taxi medallions. Cohen worked as a top lawyer to Trump and his real estate company for a decade. After Trump took office, Cohen left the company and became a personal attorney to the president, while taking on consulting clients, including AT&T, Novartis and a New York firm that manages assets for a Russian billionaire. Once one of Trump’s most loyal aides, he has taken a swift and thorough turn against the president in recent months. Cohen used to describe himself as Trump’s pit bull and delighted in jousting with the celebrity businessman’s enemies, once asserting that he would “take a bullet” for his longtime boss. But after pleading guilty, he said his conscience required him to tell the truth about Trump. Before the midterm elections, he urged the public to vote for Democrats, writing on Twitter that the election “might be the most important vote in our lifetime.” In recent months, he has been spending hours meeting with prosecutors, including Mueller’s team and was spotted recently arriving in Washington for additional meetings with his legal team.
California Wildfires – What Happened?
-The 2018 wildfire season is the most destructive wildfire season on record in California, with a total of 7,579 fires burning an area of 1,667,855 acres, the largest amount of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of November 11
-In mid-July to August 2018, a series of large wildfires erupted across California, mostly in the northern part of the state, including the destructive Carr Fire and the Mendocino Complex Fire. On August 4, 2018, a national disaster was declared in Northern California, due to the extensive wildfires burning there
-In November 2018, strong winds caused another round of large, destructive fires to erupt across the state. This new batch of wildfires includes the Woolsey Fire and the Camp Fire, the latter of which killed at least 85 people and almost 150 still unaccounted for. It destroyed more than 18,000 structures, becoming both California’s deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record.
Article provided by the Washington Post
The horrific Camp Fire — which killed at least 85 people, destroyed 14,000 residences and charred an area the size of Chicago as it raged across Northern California — has finally been fully contained, authorities announced Sunday. Cal Fire, the state’s forestry and fire protection agency, made the announcement after spending 17 days beating back a blaze that has burned through 153,000 acres of Butte County, north of Sacramento. Three straight days of rain helped more than 1,000 firefighters get a foothold. But the rejoicing was muted: Authorities expect the death toll to continue to rise: 296 people are unaccounted for, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said late Sunday, and crews are still sifting through the ash of what used to be buildings, searching for human remains. Thousands of displaced people in shelters and hotels or camping outdoors in freezing weather face an uncertain future following the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in California history. The fire began Nov. 8 in the Sierra Nevada foothills. High temperatures, gusty winds and parched vegetation contributed to its rapid spread. As crews made incremental gains and Walmart parking lots became impromptu tent cities, the fire became the center of a debate about global warming. President Trump argued that the fire spread so rapidly because of poor forest management by the state of California. He threatened — again — to remove federal funding from the state. But state officials shot back, saying Butte County had endured its hottest years on record in the past decade. Those high temperatures had made the vegetation especially parched, officials argued, and turned Butte County into a tinderbox. A spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said more federal forest land has burned than state land, adding that the state has expanded its forestry budget while the Trump administration has cut its budget for forest services. Even though the fire is contained, the nightmare is far from over for displaced residents, who face dangers as some prepare to see their homes for the first time in weeks. Crews are working to repair power lines and clear debris from roads. Partially burned or hollowed-out trees are an ever-present threat, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Debris and ash could be toxic, full of heavy metals or carcinogens. Just sleeping at a home surrounded by ash and debris could be hazardous. “You look up, and you see these things hanging in the trees, and now they’re blowing around real hard and fall down,” Craig Covey of the Orange County Fire Authority told NBC affiliate KCRA. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency in the state, according to ABC News. Two hospitals and eight health facilities had to be evacuated because of wildfires. “Temporary accommodations are being overwhelmed by overcrowding and disease,” Frances Stead Sellers, Scott Wilson and Tim Craig wrote on Monday in The Washington Post. More than 120 people have been sickened by what appears to be the highly contagious infection norovirus Even the rain that knocked back the fire opened up the area to new threats. “Areas experiencing significant rainfall following a wildfire are at risk for debris flows and flash flooding,” the Butte County Sheriff’s Office warned.
Information thanks to The LA Times – Article published Nov 14
Rachel Bailey stepped out of her Volvo SUV, walked up to the smoldering strip of rubble and stared at what little was left. Blackened mattress springs. The husk of a couch. The tile that once graced her foyer. Home after home in her pocket of a canyon in Westlake Village was leveled by what officials say is one of the largest fires to strike Los Angeles County in more than 100 years. “This street just got annihilated,” Bailey said, surveying what was left of their Oak Forest Mobile Estates neighborhood. “Well, the yard’s bigger now,” quipped her partner, David Carr, standing above the exposed steel beams of the soot-covered foundation. As fire crews boosted containment lines around the massive Woolsey fire Tuesday, the breadth of the destruction it left began to set in for many families who were allowed to return home. The inferno tore through a 97,114-acre swath of Ventura and Los Angeles counties from Bell Canyon to the Pacific Ocean, obliterating roughly 435 homes and businesses and devastating neighborhoods. The fire has burned about 150 square miles, including about 83% of national park land in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, a stunning loss of a cherished open space for Southern California. “To put that in perspective, that is the size of Denver,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Chief Deputy David Richardson said of the fire’s footprint. At Malibu Creek State Park, the landscape was charred black beyond the parking lot, where the burned-out shell of a security vehicle sat. Although the campground remained largely untouched, the buildings in the back of the park are gone, as is much of the area that formed the backdrop for shows such as “MASH.” The blaze also has destroyed power poles, toppled trees and damaged sewage and water lines, officials said. Firefighters were warned to watch out for trees and buildings that have been damaged by the fire over the last six days, some of which are beginning to weaken. An apartment building along Pacific Coast Highway collapsed early Tuesday. Several of the Las Virgenes Municipal Water District’s facilities were damaged, including a composting facility and a filtration plant in Westlake. Power outages affected the entire service area, but water district staff called on backup power and portable emergency generators to keep critical pumps running for customers and firefighters, water district spokesman Mike McNutt said. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to proclaim an emergency, citing the loss of lives, destruction of property and widespread evacuations. They also declared a health emergency and ordered that no debris be removed without a hazardous materials investigation. The ordinarily humdrum government proceedings were punctuated by the appearance of celebrity residents who asked for food, water, gas and shelter in the aftermath of the fire, as well as assistance rebuilding. “I have witnessed many fires in my community and experienced the devastation … but none as catastrophic as the events that have taken place in our community these last five days and nights,” said actor Pierce Brosnan. “We beseech you to do everything in your power to save our community.” Amid the devastation, firefighters were busy Tuesday grappling with a second consecutive day of red flag conditions, which signify a powerful mix of heat, dry air and winds that could stoke a small fire into a deadly inferno. “We are not out of the woods yet,” Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen said. “We still have some incredibly tough conditions ahead of us.” A flare-up Tuesday morning prompted a massive response by firefighters as flames scorched a hillside in the Santa Monica Mountains. The spot fire was fanned by strong winds that pushed the flames upward toward a peak called Boney Mountain and away from communities. “It looks scary but it’s not an imminent threat,” said Ventura County Fire Capt. Stan Ziegler. The flare-up was burning into the scar of the 2013 Springs fire and hitting patches of rocks in the mountains above Lake Sherwood and Hidden Valley. A caravan of helicopters dropped water from Lake Sherwood onto the blaze and tankers were painting the mountain ridges with retardant. Still, the flames were seizing on dry fuel that had not burned in 50 to 60 years, Ziegler said. The blaze sent periodic columns of smoke skyward that were visible for miles around. Such flare-ups are expected within the wider Woolsey fire burn area, because there are untouched pockets of brush scattered inside the fire’s boundary.
[End of article not read]
NASA’s Radar Expertise Is Helping California’s Woolsey Fire Recovery
The Woolsey Fire that ravaged Southern California this month is mostly contained — but that doesn’t mean the crisis is over. And to help emergency personnel in the wake of the blaze, NASA has sent an airplane-based radar system to the region to help map damage and look out for ongoing threats, particularly from landslides, which can be devastating in the wake of a burn. A new video released by NASA shows how the process works. The instrument, called an Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar, studies the surface of the Earth by bouncing beams of light off that surface and timing how long photons take to return. And NASA is used to flying the instrument over Southern California to look for earthquake damage, so the team has data from previous flights, which occurred before the fire broke out, and has well-established flight paths for the instrument to travel. So, as the fire burned, NASA personnel realized the potential of the radar program to map the blaze’s damage. They reshuffled the instrument’s schedule and had it ready for a flight over Southern California on Nov. 15, gathering data over 150 square miles (240 square kilometers). Now, emergency personnel can use that data to identify areas particularly affected by the blaze. One of the most concerning threats in a fire’s aftermath comes from landslides, because a fire burns away the vegetation anchoring soil in place. With winter rains due to start soon, responders are targeting steeper slopes where the radar data shows signs that vegetation has burned. And while fires themselves are a terrifying sight, landslides can actually be more deadly. Landslides after last year’s Thomas Fire, located just a bit west of the Woolsey blaze, killed more people than the initial burn did.
California officials call for changes in wake of deadly, destructive fires
Article by the VC Star
In the wake of the Woolsey and Camp fires, California lawmakers Tuesday asked local and state officials what they can do in the face of repeated deadly and destructive wildfires. They didn’t hear about any foolproof plan to get people out of harm’s way but that there was a lot of work that could lead to better warning systems. For some of those changes, local officials said, they need cell phone companies’ help. That’s not only to make cell phone towers, which have become critically important to alert residents, resilient in fires but also to look at ways to fix problems and improve notification systems. “We have asked questions about why certain things aren’t happening, why there were certain failures,” Santa Barbara County’s Robert Lewin said of wireless emergency alerts issued ahead of January’s deadly mud flows in Montecito. “Unfortunately, we don’t get those responses.” Tuesday’s informational meeting held at Carpinteria City Hall included Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Henry Stern and Assembly members Monique Limon and Marc Levine. They asked about what comes next but also heard about how new laws are being implemented. Guidelines on how agencies should warn people in the path of a fire or mudslides are still in the works but are expected soon, said Cal OES Deputy Director Mitch Medigovich. Counties are also are working on ways to work with public power, water and sanitation companies to get contact information for residents to enroll them in opt-out emergency alert systems, instead of the current opt-in ones. Both of those practices came out of bills signed into law in September, part of a flurry of legislative fixes proposed after the state was hit with the worst fire season in California’s history. In December 2017, the Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties broke a record for the largest in California’s modern history. Other fires in Northern California had become the deadliest and some of the most destructive. But that was last year. Since, fires have set new records for the largest, most destructive and deadliest. Most recently, the Woolsey Fire broke out in Ventura County and the Camp Fire in Butte County. By Tuesday, the death toll in the Camp Fire had grown to 88. Nearly 14,000 homes were destroyed. The Woolsey Fire burned 97,000 acres in Ventura and Los Angeles counties. Three people died and more than 1,500 structures were destroyed. “The climate is changing. The fire environment is changing and we are watching that in real time with what’s happening with wildfires,” said Thom Porter, strategic planning chief with Cal Fire. “We are watching a climate that has fire moving in miles per hour,” he said. Heavy brush is caught up in a column of fire and dropped miles ahead of a blaze, sparking more fires, he said. Those fires then trap the people trying to escape communities. One of the biggest challenges, he said, is to better plan for the things that no one expected to happen. When it comes to alerts and evacuations, that means figuring out how to warn people earlier and sometimes how to help people shelter in place closer to home. Stern, who lost his own rented home in the Woolsey Fire, said there will be a lot more discussions like Tuesday’s in coming weeks and months. He wants to make sure authorities don’t lose the public’s trust. It will be key to make sure messages, evacuation maps and real-time information is accurate. During Woolsey, he heard from residents who got a lot of messages and sometimes conflicting information from different agencies. At the same time, Stern said, wireless emergency alerts need to be refined. The FCC governs those rules, but local officials asked for state legislators’ help in advocating for the changes. Some are already in the works but not expected until spring 2019. Proposed changes included: Increasing the number of characters in the emergency alerts and refining the area where they are sent. Now, they can go a much wider area than intended. Trying to get local residents’ contact information from cell phone companies to enroll people in opt-out alert systems. See cell phone facilities become more resilient in the face of fire, such as adding backup generators or clearing brush around towers. “They have been noticeably silent in their participation,” Jackson said about wireless companies. “It’s my hope that they will step up before the Legislature requires that they do so.” Even with the Camp and Woolsey fires now contained, authorities have warned that the fire season isn’t over. Also, with rain on the way, communities up and down the state face the potential of debris flows in recently burned areas. The impact of the fires can seem never-ending, Jackson said Tuesday. Focusing on the issues of public alerts won’t fix the problem, she said. “We must try to fix the problem, but in the interim, we are here working on ways that we can protect our communities.”
How to Help California Fire Victims
Article by the New York Times
-Research before you donate
-Remember to do your research on a charity’s reputation for using donations effectively. Charity Navigator is a good source to consult.
-Also, remember that sending money is almost always the most efficient way to help in a disaster, according to the Center for International Disaster Information, part of the United States Agency for International Development. If volunteers on the ground end up with a mountain of donated goods, they’ll have to spend time sorting through them rather than buying exactly what’s needed.
Nonprofits that are seeking donations
American Red Cross: This nonprofit has opened shelters across the state to help evacuees. They also have an online tool that people can use to register themselves as safe so loved ones can find them.
California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund: For 15 years, the foundation has offered aid to those affected by wildfires. Grants have gone to rebuilding homes, providing financial and mental health assistance and helping those affected to get medical treatment.
California Fire Foundation: This organization is on the ground distributing financial assistance to people who have lost everything in the fires. Through its emergency assistance program, firefighters distribute pre-paid gift cards to help those who need to purchase necessities like food, medicine and clothing.
Caring Choices: This nonprofit, which is in Chico, Calif., has turned into a hub for organizing volunteers to help those affected by the Camp Fire. Volunteers are assigned a variety of duties, including caring for displaced animals and, for those who are certified doctors or nurses, offering medical care. The organization has paused taking on new volunteers for the next few days but still encourages applications. It said it will need extra hands in the coming weeks. Caring Choices is also seeking monetary donations for its operations.
Enloe Medical Center: This 298-bed hospital is in Chico, the site of multiple evacuation centers for the Camp Fire. It is accepting donations for patients and families who have been displaced.
Entertainment Industry Foundation: This nonprofit, started by Hollywood stars, has a fund that helps firefighters and other emergency workers battling California wildfires. One of its beneficiaries is the Los Angeles Fire Department Foundation, which provides hydration backpacks and night vision goggles for helicopter pilots.
Humane Society of Ventura County: This nonprofit is accepting donations to help animals displaced by the Woolsey and Hill Fires. It is taking in domestic animals, such as dogs, cats and birds, as well as livestock.
North Valley Community Foundation: This nonprofit in Chico is raising money to support organizations that are sheltering evacuees of the Camp Fire. These could include churches, fairgrounds and community centers, said Logan Todd, a foundation spokesman.
United Way of Greater Los Angeles: This local branch of the national organization is raising money for those affected by the Woolsey and Hill Fires, specifically to help low-income residents.
United Way of Northern California: This local chapter of the national nonprofit has established a disaster relief fund to offer emergency cash and help to people who have lost their homes, according to a news release.
Crowdfunding as a way to help: There are multiple crowdfunding efforts for victims of the California fires. GoFundMe has organized a page that catalogs the relief efforts in Northern and Southern California. It includes links to donate to families who have lost their homes. Google is collecting donations to help those affected by the wildfires in Southern California. It will funnel the donations to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, which will distribute the money to local nonprofits. Additionally, Airbnb has launched a program that asks people to open their homes to those affected by the fires. Until Nov. 29, the company is allowing residents to mark their homes as a place for evacuees and aid workers to stay for free.