Watergate ‘pales’ compared to Trump claims

The controversies surrounding Donald Trump are worse than Watergate, which was one of the biggest scandals in modern political history, America’s former top spy says.

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In a scathing assessment of the US president, James Clapper on Wednesday laid bare his anxieties about Mr Trump.

The retired director of national intelligence reiterated his concern about Mr Trump’s “assault” on the United States and its institutions – from the firing of FBI director James Comey to being “trusting buds” with Russia.

“Watergate pales really, in my view, compared to what we’re confronting now,” he told Australia’s National Press Club in Canberra.

Mr Trump’s sharing of sensitive intelligence with the Russians and compromising its source reflected either ignorance or disrespect.

Either is very problematic, Mr Clapper said.

“Certainly, the whole episode with the firing of Jim Comey … apart from the egregious inexcusable manner in which it was conducted, reflects complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

He also took a swipe at Mr Trump for comparing the US intelligence community to Nazi Germany, believing he and his team were extremely paranoid about their probe into Russian interference casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election.

“Which, if course, our assessment did.”

Mr Clapper was at a loss to explain the Trump administration’s “solicitousness” of the Russians, saying it was crucial for both the US and the world to get to the bottom of the relationship.

Russia was not a friend and it, and its leader Vladimir Putin, were diametrically opposed to Western democracies.

He revealed Mr Trump asked him directly to publicly refute the infamous dossier into his Russian ties, but “I couldn’t and wouldn’t do”.

“Is there a smoking gun with all the smoke? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Mr Clapper could not say how long the “assaults” could continue without doing irrevocable damage.

There was already a fairly high-level of angst and exasperation internationally.

But he urged Australia to “keep on keeping on” and make decisions based on its national interest.

“I think Prime Minister Turnbull has found the balance between being very tactful with our president but at the same time not compromising Australia’s interests and its sovereignty,” he said.

The long-serving intelligence chief said America’s issues with Russia were similar to Australia’s with China, and urged careful engagement.

“Australia should engage China but with both caution and confidence – eyes wide open, weighing its strategic and economic interests, never forgetting the importance of its democratic institutions and values.”

Man arrested at Heathrow over Manchester

A man has been arrested on suspicion of terror offences at Heathrow Airport in connection with the Manchester Arena bombing.

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The 38-year-old was held as part of a planned operation and there was no direct threat to the airport, Greater Manchester Police said on Tuesday

A total of seven men are in custody over last month’s atrocity that left 22 people dead, including seven children, and scores injured.

On Tuesday, police said suicide bomber Salman Abedi may have stored items used to assemble his improvised explosive device in a Nissan Micra.

Police said “significant evidence” was found in the white car, which has an “R” registration plate and was seized from Devell House in Rusholme on Friday.

Detective Chief Superintendent Russ Jackson said police were continuing to track the movements Abedi made in the days leading up to the May 22 attack.

“Our investigation has also revealed that Abedi made repeated trips to and from this car between May 18 and 22 and we believe he was taking items from the car to help assemble the device,” he said.

“The car was sold by a previous keeper on April 13, 2017.

”Abedi left the country on April 15 and it is vital that we understand what happened to this car during these few days between April 13 and 15.”

Abedi, whose family are of Libyan origin, died after detonating an improvised explosive device as people began leaving a show by US singer Ariana Grande.

A total of 19 people have been arrested during the massive operation that followed, although 12 have since been released without charge.

On Tuesday an 18-year-old man – understood to be Abedi’s cousin – and two other men were freed.

Abedi’s brother Ismail, 23, was released on Monday, while his other cousins, Isaac Forjani, 24, and Abz Forjani, 21, both from Fallowfield, were among those released last week.

The attacker’s father, Ramadan Abedi, was arrested in Tripoli on May 24, along with Salman’s younger brother Hashim, 20, who Libyan security forces said were “aware of all the details” of the attack.

Watergate pales in comparision to Trump scandals: Clapper

Clapper, who has worked in intelligence under every US leader from John F.

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Kennedy to Barack Obama, said his professional instincts had always been loyalty to the president, regardless of which party they come from. 

But for Trump he is making an exception.

“Now as a private citizen, I am very concerned about the assault on our institutions coming from both an external source — read Russia — and an internal source, the president himself,” he said in Australia.

Asked at the National Press Club in Canberra what he thought the critical differences were between Watergate, which brought down Richard Nixon, and Trump’s troubles, he replied: “Watergate pales really in my view compared to what we’re confronting now.”

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The US administration is at the centre of an ever-widening probe into Moscow’s meddling in last year’s election and possible collusion by the Trump team.

Clapper said he was at a loss to know why Trump’s team appeared so keen to court Moscow.

“I characterise it as inexplicable. I don’t understand that,” said the director of national intelligence under Obama.

“It is absolutely crucial for the United States, and for that matter for the world, for this presidency, for the Republicans, for the Democrats and for our nation at large, that we get to the bottom of this. 

“Is there a smoking gun with all the smoke? I don’t know the answer to that.”

Sacked FBI chief James Comey is set to testify Thursday as the star witness in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of alleged interference and whether Trump pressured him to halt a probe into an advisor’s links to Russia.

He is expected to dispute the president’s claim that he told the former reality television star multiple times that he was not under investigation by the FBI.

“I think it will be very significant to see both what he says and what he is asked about and doesn’t respond to,” Clapper said of Comey, who he described as “a distinguished public servant”.

Clapper warns Australia to be ‘very wary’ of China’s power

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Clapper said the “inexcusable manner” in which Comey was dismissed by Trump reflected “complete disregard for the independence and autonomy of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, our premiere law enforcement organisation”.

“I worry about these assaults on our institutions.”

He characterised Moscow’s campaign to interfere with the US election as “unprecedented in its directness and aggressiveness”.

“Social media trolls planting false information, orchestrated fake news which many other news outlets picked up and amplified either wittingly or unwittingly,” he said.

“And a very sophisticated campaign by the regime-funded propaganda arm, the RT broadcasting arm, against Hillary Clinton and for Donald Trump.

“Their first objective, though, was to sow doubt, discontent and discord about our political system. They achieved, I’m sure, beyond their wildest expectations.”

Aust, Asia boost cybercrime co-operation

Australia is intensifying co-operation with Asia on cyber-crime amid growing criminal threats and the need to boost regional commercial security.

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The agreement signed in Bangkok this week means Australia is now working in tandem with Thailand, Singapore and China on issues of cybercrime and security. Australia’s Ambassador for Cybercrime Tobias Feakin, in Bangkok on an official visit, told AAP co-operation was vital in the face of growing challenges posed by cyber-criminal networks in Asia. “Criminals and nefarious actors can adapt and absorb all (this information) so much quicker than governments. “So if we’re not talking about it, sharing best practice and keeping on the move as well then we will soon find ourselves behind by quite a margin,” he said. Mr Feakin held talks with senior leadership of the Thai Royal Police, national security and foreign affairs officials with Australia to provide support in “cyber-crime digital forensic development”. Australia already co-operates with Thailand through the Royal Thai Police and Office of Narcotics Control Board, based on threats by transnational criminals, including Australian biker gangs linked to drug trafficking of amphetamine type stimulants into Australia. Thailand is also a base for securities fraud operators, known as boiler room share scam, where foreign expatriates, including British and American, target Australia and New Zealand investors scamming off thousands of dollars in fake online investments. Mr Feakin said co-operation was directed to “upskilling the digital forensics capability of the Royal Thai Police” to ensure evidence was credible when presented at court. “To get the evidence, how you secure it, to a degree that it is admissible in a court and then, what is your investigative processes to actually try and fine the individual or group who may be responsible,” he said. Officials told AAP support to Thai police was a “cornerstone of digital forensics about capturing electronic evidence on various devices, how to process and extract data”. They said increasingly transnational crime investigations centred on the use of digital media for communications, storing of information by organised crime gangs. The agreement with Thailand comes after the recent signing of a pact between Australia and Singapore on cyber security including information sharing, training and joint exercises in safeguarding critical information infrastructure. In April, an agreement with China was to enhance cyber security co-operation, after Australia pressed China on issues of cyber enabled intellectual property theft. “What you saw through the agreement that we signed with China was an acknowledgement that it needs to be a key part of discussions together,” Mr Feakin said. “China is a huge economic partner. There are some areas, there are some differences. “That we got to a point of signing an agreement which said we agree to not conduct cyber enabled intellectual property theft – I think it’s a good point.”

‘Unquestionable’ willingness to help: Tributes for London attack victim Kirsty Boden

South Australian nurse Kirsty Boden, 28, one of two Australians killed in the London terror attack on Saturday night, is being remembered as an “outstanding young person”.

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Her former school, Immanuel College, said Ms Boden had “a bubbly personality that quickly earned her the respect and admiration of both staff and students”.

“Kirsty’s sense of community and willingness to give her time and energy for the benefits of others was unquestionable,” the school said in a statement.

“Kirsty was a lovely caring young woman. She always had a smile on her face and was warm and welcoming to all she met.

“She will be greatly missed by all who knew her.”

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Prim Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also spoken with the family of Brisbane woman Sara Zelenak, who had been missing since Saturday night’s terror attack, but was on Wednesday confirmed as the second Australian fatality.

“I am a father…Kirsty or Sara could be one of my kids, it could be one of your kids,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on Wednesday.

“This is heart-rending, this is the last thing anybody expects to happen to their children when they are in London.”

Prince Harry has also sent his condolences to those affected by the deadly London Bridge attack during a visit to Australia.

“Australians form an important and vibrant part of the fabric of life in London, and we are reminded of that in good times and bad,” the prince said in Sydney on Wednesday.

“Our hearts go out to the victims, their friends and families.”

Prince Harry pays tribute to Australian victims 

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The Boden family, in a statement released on Tuesday night, said Kirsty was running to help victims of the stabbing and van attack when she was fatally injured.

“As she ran towards danger, in an effort to help people on the bridge, Kirsty sadly lost her life,” they said.

“We are so proud of Kirsty’s brave actions which demonstrate how selfless, caring and heroic she was, not only on that night, but throughout all of her life. Kirsty – we love you and we will miss you dearly.”

Brisbane woman Sara Zelenak had been missing since Saturday night’s terror attack. (AAP)AAP

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It was unclear if Ms Boden was hurt when three men used a van to run down pedestrians on the bridge or when they went on a stabbing rampage in a nearby market.

The three terrorists were quickly shot dead by police.

“Kirsty was loved and adored by her family, friends and boyfriend,” the family statement read.

“She was the most outgoing, kind and generous person who loved to help people.

Helping people was what she loved to do in her job as a nurse and in her daily life.”

The family, from Loxton in SA’s Riverland region, asked for “the privacy we need to grieve away from the public eye”.

SA Premier offers condolences to victims 

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Ms Boden worked in the theatre recovery ward at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital which said she was a “one in a million” nurse who “always went the extra mile for the patients in her care”.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill offered his condolences saying “Kirsty’s death brings the horror of terrorism closer to home for all of us”.

“It’s the random nature of this heinous crime which makes it so hard to fathom,” he said.

The Mayor of Loxton, Ms Boden’s home town, Leon Stasinowsky, told SBS World News his heart sunk when he heard the news.

“It’s just one of those things, for a senseless, gutless act, to have someone who was just there doing everyday things, and to be taken that way,” he said.

“Especially under the circumstances, that she was helping somebody else who had been caught up in this, just takes me as being a real, true hero and that’s the sort of person that she was.

“It was somebody who was so well liked in the community, excelled in the community, sport and also her job as a nurse.”

Mr Stasinowsky said he was open to speaking with the community and the Boden family about a permanent memorial to Ms Boden.

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Reality Winner accused of classified leak

Before she was charged with leaking US government secrets to a reporter, Reality Leigh Winner shared sometimes scathing opinions on President Donald Trump and his policies for the whole world to see.

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The 25-year-old US government contractor has worked since February in Augusta, Georgia, for an unnamed federal agency where she had access to sensitive documents.

But the secretive nature of her job didn’t stop Winner from speaking freely on politics and other topics on social media accounts accessible to anyone.

She posted on Facebook three months ago that climate change is a more important issue than health care “since not poisoning an entire population seems to be more in line with ‘health’ care, and not the disease care system that people voted for a soulless ginger orangutan to ‘fix.’ “

Winner remains locked up on federal charges that she made copies of classified documents containing top-secret material and mailed them to an online news organisation. She is scheduled to appear before a federal judge on Thursday.

Winner’s mother Billie Winner-Davis said she was stunned when her daughter called over the weekend, saying the FBI had come to her home and she was being arrested. Winner asked if her mother and stepfather, who live in Texas, would travel to Georgia to help feed her cat.

“Mainly she was concerned about her cat,” Winner-Davis said.

Court documents accuse Winner of mailing a classified report written on or about May 5 to an unnamed news organisation. The website The Intercept reported on Monday it had obtained a classified National Security Agency report dated May 5 suggesting Russian hackers attacked at least one US voting software supplier days before last year’s presidential election.

Winner’s lawyer would not confirm whether she was being charged with leaking the NSA report cited by The Intercept.

Kmart, Target downplay threat from Amazon

Amazon’s arrival in Australia will not be the Armageddon for established retailers some are portraying, says the man in charge of Kmart and Target.

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The two discount retailers are owned by Wesfarmers, which on Wednesday defended the competitiveness of its department stores during a company strategy day for investors and analysts.

A recent Morgan Stanley report warned Wesfarmers could lose $400 million in annual earnings to Amazon by the 2026 financial year, due to the vulnerability of Kmart and Target to competition from the online retail giant.

Wesfarmers’ department store chief Guy Russo told investors on Wednesday he was confident in the current strategies for Kmart and Target, although he conceded turning around the performance of Target, which made a loss in 2015/16, remains a challenge.

“It feels like Amargeddon is coming the way we talk about Amazon,” he joked.

Outgoing Wesfarmers chief executive Richard Goyder said the company was experienced in handling new competition, as seen with its Coles business growing its market share despite the expansion of Aldi since 2001.

“Sometimes it’s easy to look at new competition and say the world is coming to an end,” Mr Goyder said.

Kmart managing director Ian Bailey said Kmart will incrementally improve its online offering and click and collect service, but he does not expect to beat Amazon on what it does best: deliveries.

“Price will continue to be our lead strategy and in terms of Amazon, we want to be the same price or lower,” he said.

Mr Russo added that the group’s online click and collect customers often spend three times more than a typical in-store customer, as they pick up extra items when they come into the store to collect their item.

Britain braces for election in wake of terror attacks

Prime Minister, Theresa May was riding high when she called a snap election on April 18, having kicked off Brexit proceedings and boasting a double-digit lead over the rival Labour party.

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But in recent weeks, the Conservative leader has seen her popularity wane as the political debate shifted from EU membership to domestic policy and her own record on security.

“Give me your backing to lead Britain, give me the authority to speak for Britain, strengthen my hand as I fight for Britain,” May urged voters on Tuesday in Stoke-on-Trent, the city that registered the highest vote for leaving the European Union.

With formal Brexit talks due to start on June 19, May is hoping to sweep up supporters from the UK Independence Party as well as taking seats from Labour.

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The Conservatives have run a presidential-style campaign, promoting May as the “strong and stable” leader to fight Britain’s corner in Brussels and warning that Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn is not up to the task.

Despite being seen as an unlikely leader – one who has faced off a rebellion by his own MPs – Corbyn has gained momentum during the election campaign and regularly attracts big crowds to his rallies.

Labour gained a boost following the May 18 release of the Conservatives’ manifesto, outlining elderly care costs which the tabloids dubbed the “dementia tax”.

The pledge hit the party’s core supporters and May was forced to backtrack on capping the costs, prompting further criticism that she was unreliable.

A “Liar, Liar GE2017” election protest song which targeted May and the Conservatives has made waves, reaching number four in the weekly charts on Friday.

Watch: London attack as it happened

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Terror attacks

But even though the prime minister has faced a tougher campaign than expected, the Conservatives are still ahead in the polls. According to a poll published Tuesday by the group Survation, May’s one-time 20-point lead over Labour has shrivelled to just over a single point — 41.6 percent to 40.4 percent.

Bookmakers, meanwhile, forecast May will win an increased majority.

Ladbrokes predict the Conservatives’ present majority will rise from 17 to 70 seats, while William Hill suggests a more modest increase to between 40 and 50.

Since failing to predict the outcome of the last general election and the Brexit referendum, pollsters have adjusted their methodologies and broadly show the Conservatives ahead despite their lead narrowing.

The final day of campaigning comes under the shadow of security concerns, following three terrorist attacks since March all involving assailants who were known to the authorities.

In the most recent attack, seven people were killed on Saturday when three men drove into pedestrians and went on a stabbing spree in central London before being shot by police.

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Attacker, Khuram Shazad Butt was known to British intelligence services, while an Italian prosecutor said Britain was notified that one of his accomplices, Youssef Zaghba, was a “possible suspect” back in March 2016.

Their rampage followed a similar attack next to British parliament in March, in which assailant Khalid Masood was shot after killing five people.

In the most deadly attack, Salman Abedi killed 22 people at a Manchester concert venue on May 22 when he detonated a suicide bomb.

The electorate usually favours the Conservatives on security issues, but May has come under fire for her record during the six years she served as interior minister.

The devastating terror attacks have also heightened public admiration for the emergency services, which have faced government cuts in recent years.

Watch: Witnesses describe Manchester Arena blast

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Paris attacker ‘pledged allegiance to IS’

Counter-terrorism agents searching the home of the man who attacked a police officer in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral have found a video recording of the assailant pledging allegiance to Islamic State, France’s LCI television says.

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The video shows the suspect, identified as Algerian-born doctoral student Farid Ikken, claiming responsibility for his “future actions,” LCI reported, citing unnamed sources in the security services.

Ikken, who was renting a studio apartment in a student residence in the Parisian suburb of Cergy-Pontoise, had no criminal record, the sources told the news network.

The dozen agents who searched the apartment did not find any weapons or explosives.

Ikken, 40, used a hammer to attack the police officer, who suffered slight injuries, and was found to be carrying kitchen knives.

A second officer shot and wounded Ikken after the initial blow.

The university professor who was Ikken’s dissertation adviser, Arnaud Mercier, told LCI that he never noticed anything to indicate his student posed a threat.

“From what I know of his personality, though we haven’t been in contact for a while, this leaves me completely stupefied,” Mercier said of Ikken, who had worked as a journalist in Algeria and Sweden.

“He was someone very committed, who acknowledged the values of democracy, he believed very much in journalistic ideals,” the professor said. “He didn’t have a beard, or observe the Ramadan (fast). The only thing I noticed is that he didn’t drink alcohol, but there are many Muslims who don’t drink and they’re not dangerous jihadists.”

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said earlier that the attacker shouted “This is for Syria!” as he struck the police officer.

Around 1,000 visitors were kept inside Notre Dame for more than an hour until police determined the threat had passed.

MPs urged to provide energy certainty

Australia’s treasurer has urged MPs to put aside ideological differences and embrace an energy policy in the interests of giving investors certainty.

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Scott Morrison, who earlier in the year waved a lump of coal around during question time, said on Wednesday for far too long parliament has not come together to resolve energy issues.

Policy uncertainty had turned into a big risk for investors.

“There’s a very big national interest here and it’s for all parliamentarians I think to focus on that regardless of which party they’re in or what ideological perspective they have on this issue,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“Until we can get to that certain place on energy policy, then we really are putting a lot at risk.”

Renewables attracted record levels of investment in 2016 but that came off the back of several sluggish years while the Abbott government reviewed and cut the renewable energy target.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel will brief the prime minister and state leaders on his review of the national energy sector at a meeting in Hobart on Friday.

He’s widely expected to recommend a low emissions target – similar to the existing renewable energy target but taking a technology-neutral approach by mandating a percentage of power each year be generated from sources below a certain emissions level.

The approach is firming as the new focus of federal climate policy with the Nationals flagging support and Labor not ruling it out.

Energy experts say the LET would be a “third-best solution”.

“This mechanism is well behind an emissions intensity scheme and an economy-wide price on carbon, and won’t discriminate against really dirty coal over more efficient coal,” ANU Energy Change Institute director Ken Baldwin said.

However, his colleague Paul Burke said it was a smart alternative given the government had already ruled out any mechanisms that price carbon pollution.

“Solar and wind power are increasingly cheap, and an LET would help to ensure that the required investment takes place to replace retiring fossil-fuel generators,” he said.

Greens energy spokesman Adam Bandt said reports Dr Finkel could recommend rule changes to mandate new renewable projects have storage attached were troubling and could lock storage companies out of participating in the market in their own right.

It would be better to create a new energy storage target or have other non-market incentives to integrate storage, he said.

A Lowy Institute poll, released on Wednesday, found four in five Australians thought the government should focus on renewables, even if they needed more investment to make the system more reliable.

Nearly three in five ranked climate change as a “critical threat” to Australia over the next decade.