TRUMP TO PROPOSE $54 BILLION IN CUTS TO ‘MOST FEDERAL AGENCIES’

President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal will look to increase defense and security spending by $54 billion and cut roughly the same amount from non-defense programs, the White House said Monday.

“This budget will be a public safety and national security budget,” Trump said at a bipartisan gathering of US governors at the White House Monday, vowing substantial increases in defense, law enforcement and infrastructure spending.

The majority of “lower priority programs and most federal agencies” will see a reduction in their budget as a result of the proposal, according to an official at the Office of Management and Budget speaking with reporters on background.

The official said those cuts will come through “unauthorized programs” and places “where there is duplication, where consolidation needs to occur.”

Few details were provided on how the cuts will be made, but a Trump administration official told CNN that all $54 billion will be cut in fiscal year 2018. Multiple officials have also made clear over the last 48 hours that the Environmental Protection Agency and foreign aid will be cut significantly under the new plan.

The budget, one OMB official said, expects “the rest of the world to step up in some of the programs this country has been so generous in funding” over the years.

Foreign aid makes up roughly 1% of the federal budget and includes a host of programs meant to help implement national security policy. While foreign aid has long been a target for conservatives, cuts to these programs are unlikely to get the Trump administration close to the $54 billion in proposed overall cuts.

The budget blueprint, which will outline in the clearest terms to date what Trump’s policy priorities will be as president, fits with Trump’s pledges to increase defense spending and cut government waste as a candidate.

Congress is not mandated to follow Trump’s budget plan and in the coming weeks Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to call administration officials to Congress to explain their proposal. The administration will also work with agencies to figure out how they will focus on cuts to their funding.

Trump said throughout the 2016 campaign that he would focus on spending cuts and tax reform, rhetoric that helped woo Republicans who questioned his commitment to other conservative principals.

“I want the American people to know that our budget will reflect their priorities,” Trump said in a budget meeting earlier this month. “We’ll be directing all of our departments and agencies to protect every last American and every last tax dollar. No more wasted money.”

Trump’s closest advisers have also previewed dramatic changes to the federal government budget. At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, Steve Bannon, a top Trump aide, said that new administration’s aim was “deconstruction of the administrative state,” a comment many federal workers saw as a pledge to weaken regulatory agencies.

Monday, Trump vowed “a budget of great rationality” that would be unveiled in “great detail” during his address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday evening.

He wasn’t specific about where he planned to cut spending, saying only he aimed for a more streamlined federal government without listing any specific agency or program that might see its budget slashed.

“We’re going to do more with less,” Trump said, promising a government that’s “lean and accountable to the people.”

“With 20 trillion dollars in debt, the government must learn to tighten its belt,” Trump said.

Trump’s proposed cuts have already been met with concern inside the federal government’s bureaucracy. EPA employees have told CNN that many inside the agency are still in denial about the incoming cuts to their budget, despite the fact that Trump and Scott Pruitt, the newly approved EPA administrator, pledged to trim the agency.

“It is clear to me, and will be to most agency employees very soon, that Mr. Scott Pruitt has been nominated and confirmed as administrator of the US EPA in order to make significant and substantial changes to the agency,” John O’Grady, the president of the union that represents EPA employees, said in response to the proposed cuts.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com

SACKED LEICESTER CITY BOSS CLAUDIO RANIERI: ‘MY DREAM HAS DIED’

Claudio Ranieri has admitted his “dream died” when he was sacked by Leicester City Football club nine months after winning the English Premier League title.

In one of the most unlikely success stories in sports history the Italian guided the club to its first league title, despite starting the season as 5000-1 outsider.

But the Foxes’ fairytale did not continue into this season, and with Leicester a point away from the drop zone – they could become the first defending champions since 1938 to be relegated – the club parted company with Ranieri Thursday.

In a statement issued through the League Managers’ Association, Ranieri said: “After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamt of was staying with Leicester City, the club I love, for always. Sadly this was not to be.”

The 65-year-old thanked Leicester’s fans for last season’s “amazing adventure” and his wife, agents and the club’s backroom staff.

He added: “No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.”

“It was a time of wonderfulness and happiness that I will never forget. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to be a champion with all of you.”

Ranieri was awarded The Best FIFA Men’s Coach award last month for leading the Foxes to a first league title since its 1884 formation.

Three weeks before his sacking, the club released a statement declaring its “unwavering support” for the former Chelsea manager.

But less than 24 hours after Wednesday’s 2-1 first leg Champions League defeat by Sevilla – the crucial away goal still gives the Foxes hope of reaching the quarterfinals – Ranieri was relieved of his duties.

In a statement, Leicester’s Thai owners said the club’s “long-term interests” had been put above “personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.”

The Foxes have won just five league games this season and were knocked out of the FA Cup on February 18.

They are the only side in the top four English divisions without a league goal in 2017.

“This has been the most difficult decision we have had to make in nearly seven years since (Thailand-based) King Power took ownership of Leicester City,” the club’s vice chairman, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, said Thursday.

“But we are duty-bound to put the Club’s long-term interests above all sense of personal sentiment, no matter how strong that might be.”

Ranieri’s sacking sent reverberations through the football world, drawing strong condemnation across the board from fans to rival managers.

Ex-Manchester United and England defender turned TV pundit Rio Ferdinand expressed shock, while former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker Michael Owen called it a “total and utter disgrace.”

“I’ve lost a lot of love for the beautiful game today. The players and fans of Leicester have been massively let down,” Owen tweeted.

Gary Lineker, a former England national team captain and Leicester’s most prominent ex-player, called the move “inexplicable, unforgivable and gut-wrenchingly sad.”

Leicester City said its board will now start looking for a replacement and will make no further comment until that process is complete.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com

NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: TERM ‘RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM’ IS NOT HELPFUL

New national security adviser H.R. McMaster is already setting a strikingly different tone than his ousted predecessor, Michael Flynn, and President Donald Trump, saying the term “radical Islamic terrorism” isn’t helpful for US goals.

At an all-hands meeting of the National Security Council on Thursday, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster said jihadist terrorists aren’t true to their religion and that the use of the term “radical Islamic terrorism” doesn’t help the US in working with allies to defeat terrorist groups, an official present at the session confirmed to CNN.

McMaster also spoke in starkly different terms about Russia, saying the talk about Moscow being a friend of Washington is over, the source said.

The national security adviser’s comments Thursday, which were first reported by The New York Times, and a separate email to all staff on Wednesday have buoyed the low morale at the agency, which has been largely sidelined in recent weeks because of the questions surrounding Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kilsyak. The retired lieutenant general resigned last week after admitting he misled Vice President Mike Pence over conversations with the Russian ambassador about US sanctions. Career staff have described the NSC as a dead zone, with little activity while Flynn was in the throes of the controversy.

Flynn’s deputy, K.T. McFarland, was present Thursday when McMaster spoke to NSC staff, the source said.

On Friday, during his remarks to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the President again used the term “radical Islamic terrorists,” as he often did on the campaign trail when criticizing President Barack Obama for not saying it.

“So let me state this as clearly as I can, we are going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country,” Trump said. “We will not be deterred from this course, and in a matter of days we will be taking brand new action to protect our people and keep America safe. You will see the action.”

Source: http://edition.cnn.com

DONALD TRUMP PRESS BAN: BBC, CNN AND GUARDIAN DENIED ACCESS TO BRIEFING

The Guardian, New York Times, CNN and more were barred from ‘gaggle’ hours after Trump once again called much of the media an ‘enemy of American people’.

The White House barred several news organizations from an off-camera press briefing on friday, handpicking a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly toward Donald Trump.

The “gaggle” with Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, took place in lieu of his daily briefing and was originally scheduled as an on-camera event.

But the White House press office announced later in the day that the Q&A session would take place off camera before only an “expanded pool” of journalists, and in Spicer’s West Wing office as opposed to the James S Brady press briefing room where it is typically held.

Outlets seeking to gain entry whose requests were denied included the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, the Daily Mail and others. Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. The Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing.

The decision to limit access to Spicer, hours after Trump once again declared that much of the media was “the enemy of the American people” while speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, marked a dramatic shift.

While prior administrations have occasionally held background briefings with smaller groups of reporters, it is highly unusual for the White House to cherry-pick which media outlets can participate in what would have otherwise been the press secretary’s televised daily briefing. The briefing has become indispensable viewing for journalists trying to interpret the often contradictory statements coming out of the Trump administration, and Spicer’s aggressive handling of the press and delivery of false or misleading statements have already been memorably mocked on NBC’s Saturday Night Live.

“Gaggles” – more informal briefings – with the press secretary are traditionally only limited to the pool when they conflict with the president’s travel, in which case they often take place aboard Air Force One. At times, impromptu gaggles form with reporters who spend their days in the White House, but denying outlets wishing to participate is extremely uncommon.

Lee Glendinning, editor of Guardian US, said in a statement: “This is a deeply troubling and divisive act. Holding power to account is an essential part of the democratic process, and that’s exactly what the Guardian will continue to do.”

The White House Correspondents Association president, Jeff Mason, said the organization’s board was “protesting strongly” against the Trump administration’s action.

“We encourage the organizations that were allowed in to share the material with others in the press corps who were not,” Mason said. “The board will be discussing this further with White House staff.”

The executive editor of the New York Times, Dean Baquet, said “nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties”.

The BBC has sought clarification from the White House on why its representative was denied access. Its Americas bureaux editor, Paul Danahar, added: “Our reporting will remain fair and impartial regardless.”

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the White House, said: “Claims that outlets were excluded are not factual.”

In a statement, she added: “The pool was there, so various media mediums were represented.” The pool is a system by which a small group of reporters take turns covering the president and share their reports of his activities with a larger group.

Contrary to Grisham’s statement, outlets who made requests to attend were told this would not be permitted.

When the Guardian asked to participate, pointing to its possession of a “hard pass” that grants daily entry to the White House, an official declined.

“No, unfortunately a hard pass does not necessarily guarantee entry into the gaggle,” Catherine Hicks, a junior White House press aide, emailed in response.

“The gaggle today is just today’s pool with the addition of a few others here at the White House.”

Some outlets lingered in the West Wing hallway out of frustration but were asked by a Secret Service agent, upon instructions from the White House press office, to leave the area.

Earlier on Friday, Trump continued his assault on the press in a speech before the nation’s largest gathering of conservative activists.

He said the press should not be allowed to use anonymous sources, a restriction on free speech he has not suggested before. “You will see stories dry up like you have never seen before,” Trump predicted.

“As you saw throughout the entire campaign, and even now, the fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Trump said at CPAC.

“I say it doesn’t represent the people, it never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”

Trump’s comments came on the heels of revelations that his chief of staff spoke with top officials at the FBI about the bureau’s investigation into potential links between the president’s associates and Russia. The White House lambasted the reports, which appeared in CNN and the Associated Press, but in doing so confirmed the conversations between Reince Priebus, the FBI director, James Comey, and his deputy, Andrew McCabe.

Source: https://www.theguardian.com

UK WEATHER LATEST UPDATE: STORM DORIS SET TO BRING GALE-FORCE WINDS AND BLIZZARD-LIKE CONDITIONS

Damage to buildings, power cuts and travel disruption likely, warns Met office.

The worst storm of winter is set to bear down on the UK, bringing with it gales and blizzard-like conditions.

Winds of up to 80 mph and heavy snow were likely to disrupt travel, damage buildings and send debris flying, forecasters warn.

Severe weather warnings have been put in place for much of the UK, and amber alerts – telling people to “be prepared” – stretched across the much of the North and the Midlands.

More snow than initially expected is forecast for Scotland and northern England, with accumulations of up to 15 cm predicted in many areas.

Northern Scotland was set to be hit by winds of up to 80 mph on Wednesday before Doris arrives from the Atlantic on Thursday, the Met Office said.

Further south, blustery gales overnight will subside over the course of the day, before picking up again in the evening.

Amber warnings predicted gales and heavy rain in parts of North Wales, the Midlands, and east and north-west England, while winds as fast as 60 mph were also expected to batter southern England.

“We have got a fairly active area of low pressure coming in from the Atlantic,” said Met Office forecaster Emma Sharples.

“It is strengthening as it moves eastwards to the UK.”

The Met Office’s amber weather warning alerts people that “whilst the strongest winds look to be only short-lived, damage to structures, interruptions to power supplies and widespread disruption to travel networks are likely, with a danger of injury from flying debris”.

A weather warning for snow is also in place for Scotland, which could see treacherous blizzard-like conditions.

Storm Doris is expected to move on quickly, with the worst of the weather gone by Thursday evening.

While further Atlantic gusts will bring more rain and wind through the weekend and into next week, they are not expected to reach the heights of Doris.

Storms with the potential to cause substantial impact are named by the Met Office and Met Eireann, moving through the alphabet.

The first was named Abigail in November 2015, after members of the public suggested monikers for the “name our storms” project.

Storm Doris contrasts with Monday’s temperatures, where visitors to Kew Gardens, west London, enjoyed the warmest day of the winter so far, at 18.3 C.

Parts of London and the south of England had temperatures warmer than Ibiza, southern Spain and Menorca.

Source: http://www.independent.co.uk

 

CLAUDIO RANIERI SACKED: TIME TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH ABOUT LEICESTER

With Claudio Ranieri now gone it is time for Leicester’s players to put up or shut up, writes Adam Bate.

Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan. So it would seem. For while Leicester’s extraordinary title triumph made heroes of the most unlikely figures, the responsibility for their hapless defence of the trophy has fallen squarely on the shoulders of Claudio Ranieri.

Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez picked up their individual awards, N’Golo Kante and the recruitment staff got their lucrative moves. Danny Drinkwater played for England and just about everyone from Danny Simpson to Marcin Wasilewski was rewarded with a new contract.

The problem was that somewhere along the way Leicester City forgot how to win football matches. Their last Premier League win away from the King Power came in the heady days of last spring. Their last Premier League win anywhere came on New Year’s Eve.

Sometimes a change is as good as a strategy and so, reluctantly, Leicester’s owners have acted out of fear in the hope of sparking the upturn in fortunes that their recent statement in support of Ranieri failed to produce. The dream is done but they have 13 games to stay up.

For Ranieri himself, the adventure is over and having lost his job there is nothing left to lose. If Leicester stay up then the legacy of his amazing title win is strengthened. If they go down, well, he left them outside of the relegation zone and still in the Champions League.

But for these players, their excuse has left the building. The noises from the dressing room – it would be too generous to call them whispers – suggested that the mistakes lay elsewhere. That the manager was making bad decisions. That their own hopes were being hamstrung.

Now is the chance to find out. Ranieri, for what it is worth, can point to a long career and a compelling case for being entitled to feel at home at the top level. Aside from the miracle in which they all shared, the credentials of Leicester’s playing staff are somewhat flimsier.

Eight of the Leicester line-up in Seville featured in the run that left the Foxes seven points from safety at the foot of the table as recently as March 2015. That season, the bookies had them to finish 17th – and nobody felt that would be the mark of a team underachieving.

Two years on and the only wonder is why anyone would be surprised by Mahrez’s fragility or Marc Albrighton’s limitations. While there is talk that some players would welcome Nigel Pearson back, Vardy has already matched the five-goal haul he got under him in 2014/15.

Ranieri’s tactics can be questioned in failing to come up with a structure to provide enough protection for his back four following Kante’s departure. But he cannot be held responsible for Robert Huth’s inability to head a ball away or Wes Morgan’s penchant for lunging in.

Ranieri’s team selections can be debated but few would have anticipated the dependable Drinkwater making the sort of horrendous error that allowed West Brom’s winner at the King Power in November. Regression to the mean can rarely have been so dramatic.

Of course, there is still time for these players to turn things around. Time to pick up the points needed to preserve their Premier League status. Maybe even time to conjure up one of their trademark 1-0 wins of last year’s run-in to see off Sevilla in the Champions League.

But to do that, those apparently disgruntled by goings on at the training ground and in the dressing room, must first deliver on the pitch. Become part of the solution not the problem. Put up or shut up. Prove again that it was they who were the true architects of the miracle.

Ranieri’s fate is sealed, his statue inevitable. The future of the rest of last year’s champions can still be shaped by what happens between now and May. The Leicester tale has been tarnished. The challenge now is to ensure the next chapter is not set in the Championship.

Source: http://www.skysports.com

CHINA HITS BACK AT DONALD TRUMP’S ‘CHAMPION OF CURRENCY MANIPULATION’ JIBE

US president risks ratcheting up tensions with latest currency claims and repetition of desire for nuclear supremacy.

Beijing has hit back at Donald Trump after the US president risked reigniting a simmering feud with China by accusing it of being the “grand champion” of currency manipulation.

After months of turbulence and uncertainty between the world’s two biggest economies, relations appeared to settle two weeks ago after the US president and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, held their first phone conversation since the billionaire’s inauguration.

However, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that also saw Trump reiterate his desire for American nuclear supremacy, the US president, who has attacked China over trade, Taiwan, North Korea and the South China Sea, threatened to undermine the tentative rapprochement with a fresh verbal assault.

“I think they’re grand champions at manipulation of currency. So I haven’t held back. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said.

The president’s comments were reported just hours after the incoming treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, made apparently contradictory remarks signalling that the White House had no immediate plans to label China a currency manipulator – something Trump had pledged to do on his first day in office.

Beijing rejected Trump’s claims on Friday, with a foreign ministry spokesperson, Geng Shuang, claiming his country had “no intention of deliberately devaluing its currency to gain a trade advantage”.

Asked by the Guardian about Trump’s claims of currency manipulation, Geng said: “If you must pin the label of ‘grand champion’ … on China, then we are a grand champion of economic development. We’ve made great achievements since the start of economic reform and opening-up, making us the undisputed grand champion.”

Chinese scholars expressed frustration at the president’s allegation. “He has such a big mouth. What can we do about it? Let him talk,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University.

Economists in and outside China reject Trump’s claim – repeatedly aired during his campaign – that China is guilty of purposefully forcing down the value of its currency, the yuan, in order to boost its own exporters and hamstring US manufacturers.

“The logic of Trump’s claim is that he believes other countries keep their currencies artificially cheap to increase their exports to the US. But as a matter of fact, the Chinese yuan has seen a 13% devaluation since last year,” Zhu said, pointing out that Trump had previously also accused South Korea and Japan of manipulating their currencies.

Christopher Balding, a Peking University finance professor, said: “China is clearly manipulating its currency, there’s no two ways about it. But at this point they are essentially propping up the value of their currency rather than manipulating it lower to gain an unfair trade advantage.”

“To some degree Trump is correct, that of any major economy they probably are the grand champions of currency manipulation,” he added.

“But we need to very clearly distinguish between manipulating a currency to gain an unfair trade advantage – which they were pretty clearly doing maybe a decade to five years ago but they are clearly not doing that these days – and propping up the currency.”

Over the past year, China’s central bank has spent billions of dollars in foreign exchange reserves shoring up the yuan to counter capital outflows, Reuters reported.

Trump told Reuters that he wants the US to expand its nuclear arsenal, in his first comments on the issue since taking office.

He said: “We’re never going to fall behind any country even if it’s a friendly country. We’re never going to fall behind on nuclear power. It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

In statement, the Arms Control Association said Trump’s position was misguided: “Mr Trump’s comments suggest, once again, that he is ill-informed about nuclear weapons and has a poor understanding of the unique dangers of nuclear weapons.”

“The history of the cold war shows us that no one comes out on ‘top of the pack’ of an arms race and nuclear brinksmanship.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com

 

EVERTON LOSE WINGER YANNICK BOLASIE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR: HE IS HAVING SECOND OPERATION

Yannick Bolasie is unlikely to play for Everton again until the end of the year, with the £25m winger due to undergo a second operation on his injured knee.

The 27-year-old has been sidelined since 4th of december when he sustained a serious knee injury against Manchester United. Bolasie had surgery to repair damaged cartilage a fortnight after the game but needed to make a full recovery from that procedure before his ruptured anterior cruciate ligament could be addressed.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo international is scheduled to have an operation on the ACL next month and Ronald Koeman, the Everton manager, admits it could be another eight months before his main summer signing is in contention for a first-team return.

Koeman said: “Yannick will have a second surgery at the beginning of march. The surgery was expected because his first surgery was about the meniscus, and now what will happen at the beginning of March is about his cruciate.”

“It is difficult to put a timescale because normally a cruciate can be six, seven or eight months. We had to repair the meniscus and then wait until his knee was ready to have the second operation.”

The Everton manager said Bolasie is confident of making a full recovery in time but has endured difficulties during his prolonged spell on the sidelines.

“He is in several times during the week,” Koeman said. “He was OK, really positive, and working hard to come back but like every player in that situation you get difficult moments in a day, difficult moments in the week. He is positive about coming back as strong as possible.”

Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and James McCarthy, by contrast, have provided the Everton manager with better injury news by returning to training ahead of Saturday’s Premier League game against Sunderland. Lukaku missed the team’s warm-weather training camp in Dubai last week due to a calf problem and had treatment back home in Belgium, but resumed full training on Tuesday.

Mirallas and McCarthy have also recovered from minor knocks in time for David Moyes’ return to Goodison Park and the midfielder Mo Besic, who has been sidelined with a knee problem since pre-season, is also close to resuming full training.

KEVIN DE BRUYNE: MANCHESTER CITY ‘GETTING BETTER AND BETTER’

The Etihad Stadium’s first truly great European night? A Champions League match for the ages?

“This was one of the crazy ones, definitely,” says Kevin De Bruyne, among the chief architects of Manchester City’s 5-3 comeback against Monaco tuesday.

The 25-year-old might have starred in comparable matches during his time in Belgium and Germany, but admits the game was “nerve-racking with a lot of emotion.”

“Luckily we won the game,” he says, as City take part in warm-weather training on the grounds of Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace.

“It’s not done yet but obviously a nice feeling to win in the end. Hopefully we can go through against Monaco and see what we can do after that.”

Since Sheikh Mansour and the Abu Dhabi United Group began transforming the English club in 2008, success at this stage of Europe’s premier club competition has rarely come easily.

“We’ve only been in the Champions League for four, five years,” De Bruyne reflects.

“Obviously it’s something new in the beginning but the team is establishing itself more and more in Europe and last year to reach the semifinal was already good,” added the Belgium international, referring to City’s loss to Real Madrid last season.

“I think it’s getting better and better with the team every year.”

Source: http://edition.cnn.com

TRUMP LAWYER PUSHED PRO-RUSSIA DEAL FOR UKRAINE, POLITICIAN CLAIMS

The setting was a Manhattan restaurant, and after 25 minutes what allegedly emerged was a pro-Russian peace plan for Ukraine that its author believes may have ended up in the White House.

In a CNN interview, Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko said that he discussed his left-field proposal for Ukraine in January with US President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who offered to deliver the plan to the Trump administration.

The exact details of the plan are unclear, yet reports have suggested it revolves around leasing Crimea – annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 – to Moscow for 50 to 100 years. In exchange, Russia would withdraw its troops from the separatist regions in Ukraine’s war-torn east.

Artemenko declined to discuss the plan’s details, yet hinted that a lease might be part of the idea.

The lawmaker says Cohen, who has long advised Trump, wanted to take the plan to Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.

Any suggestion that the White House might consider a plan that formalizes Russia’s control of Crimea would cause consternation in Kiev and among its allies in Europe. The White House has flatly denied any knowledge of the proposal.

In his interview with CNN, Artemenko shines a light on how a key Trump associate was allegedly prepared to push a controversial peace plan that might benefit Russia at a time when questions were being raised about the Trump’s ties to that country.

The Ukrainian member of parliament told CNN he met Cohen through a mutual acquaintance, businessman Felix Sater, and that the three had dinner in a Manhattan hotel in January.

Cohen told CNN in a text message that although he had dinner with Artemenko, they never discussed peace in Ukraine. Other media organizations reported that he offered them a different account. The White House has denied that Cohen delivered any peace plan to Flynn.

Russia and Ukraine have since rejected the plan, and Artemenko has now become the subject of investigation for treason for suggesting it to Cohen.

In a hurried interview in a Kiev hotel, Artemenko said Cohen told him that Flynn – who resigned in mid-february due to a controversy over calls with the Russian ambassador to the US – was his best connection at the White House.

“Michael Flynn is the best person, the best of my connections in the Trump administration, who if he likes [it], it’s going to [get] huge support, huge support,” Cohen said, according to Artemenko.

Flynn did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on this story.

Artemenko knew the proposal would be controversial as it undercuts both the US and Ukrainian diplomatic corps, and he says he knows it angered Kiev, who will have seen it as a pro-Russian proposal.

“That’s why I feel pressure, and for sure today I can see people accusing me, and I see the prosecutor of Ukraine is trying to do something, to open a new case, to do an investigation about me,” he told CNN.

He said of the january meeting that Sater invited Cohen to “a dinner in the hotel in Manhattan, and we probably spoke around 20-25 minutes, where I presented my intentions, my peace plan for the Ukraine, how we can stop the war, how we can stop the killing.”

Artemenko said he had never dreamed that his proposal would be seen by the White House, but he claims Cohen said the plan had “great potential” and wanted to deliver it to the Trump administration.

“It was Michael Cohen’s idea,” he said. “He mentioned his name first in my meetings. And he said ‘listen, Michael Flynn’ – from his personal opinion – ‘is most powerful man who can really support this idea, who can support, who can help you, who can provide this information to President Trump.'”

Flynn resigned 24 days into the job after misleading administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the US before Trump took office.

Flynn made several calls to the ambassador in December, including some on the same day that the outgoing Obama administration placed fresh sanctions on Russia over alleged election meddling.

The Justice Department also warned the Trump administration in January that Flynn could be subject to Russin blackmail, a person familiar with the matter told CNN last month.

In a text message to CNN, Cohen denied delivering any documents to Flynn, and refuted Artemenko’s recollection of their January conversation.

“If this continued fake news narrative wasn’t so ridiculous, I would be angered. Despite the multitude of statements issued denying any nexus between Presidents Trump and [Russian President Vladimir Putin], the main stream media just keeps on trying to perpetuate this lie.”

“I acknowledge that the brief meeting took place, but emphatically deny discussing this topic or delivering any documents to the White House and/or General Flynn; something I stated to the New York Times.”

According to the Times, Cohen said that he left a sealed envelope with the proposed peace plan in Flynn’s office. Later, Cohen denied delivering a peace plan to Flynn.

Artemenko insists, however, that it was Cohen’s idea to show the peace proposal to the senior White House official. “It was his idea, absolutely his idea,” he said.

After Russia seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, it sent military help to separatists in the country’s east, where violent conflict over disputed territory drags on to this day.

Kiev has refused to discuss the official transfer of the peninsula to Russia, and dismissed Artemenko’s plan as a result.

Moscow considers the peninsula already its territory, after its residents – under a substantial Russian military presence – voted in a 2014 referendum to join the Russian Federation.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov says Russia refuses to discuss the lease of a region it already controls: “How can Russia rent its own region? This question itself is absurd.”

Sater, who attended the dinner with Artemenko, did not respond to emailed questions, yet he emphatically denied any links between the Trump camp and Russia in an interview with Fox News: “What could be wrong in helping stop a war and trying to achieve peace? I have done so much for my country and thought that promoting peace was a good thing. People are getting killed, it’s a war.”

A White House spokesman offered this statement in response to CNN’s request for comment: “No one in the White House – including the President, Vice President and senior members of the NSC — has spoken to Mr. Cohen about any Russia-Ukraine peace proposal, and no one has spoken to Andrii Artemenko at all about any matter.

“In addition, the NSC keeps comprehensive records of documents received, and we have no record of receiving any proposal from Mr. Cohen. This is another absurd, misleading attempt to distract from the real reform taking place under President Trump.”

Artemenko left the interview with CNN to attend what he said was a meeting with the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, although the presidential administration denied such a meeting took place.

Yet moments after leaving the interview, Ukrainian prosecutors announced he would be investigated for “treason” over the deal.

Source: http://edition.cnn.com