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Sean Spicer Seeks to Clarify Trump's Wiretapping Comments

The White House sought to clarify on Monday President Donald Trump's wiretapping allegations against former President Barack Obama — an attempt at course correction that comes roughly after a week of media headlines about the claims.

"He doesn't really think that president went up and tapped his phones personally," White House press Sean Spicer told reporters during the daily press briefing. 

"The president used the word wiretap in quotes, to mean broadly, surveillance, and other activities." Spicer said.  

Spicer's comments mark the first time the White House has sought to broaden the definition of the unsubstantiated surveillance that Trump alleged over a week ago on Twitter. President Trump posited that Obama wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower in the weeks before the November election, using quotation marks around the words "wire tapping" and likening the situation to "Nixon/Watergate."

Prior to Monday, the White House did not directly answer reporters' questions on what informed the president's tweets.

"The president was very clear in his Tweet, that it was you know 'wiretapping.' That spans a whole host of surveillance types of options," Spicer said.

Asked if when the president says something Americans and the media can trust it to be real, Spicer shot back: "If he’s not joking, of course."

The comments come on the same day as a House intelligence committee deadline requesting information regarding the president's wiretapping allegations. President Trump ignored questions Monday about if the Department of Justice would comply with intelligence committees' requests to provide relevant wiretap claim evidence.

 

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Russian Pleads Guilty to Botnet Scheme That Snared Americans

A Russian man accused of attacking computers around the world, including thousands in the United States, pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday.

Maxim Senakh, 41, was arrested last year in Finland as he was returning to Russia from vacation — a move that authorities in Moscow denounced as "an abuse of the law." Russia tried to persuade Finland not to hand over Senakh to American authorities, but he was ultimately extradited.

Prosecutors said Senakh admits he and his co-conspirators used malware to take over a globe-spanning web of computers, creating a botnet that directed users to Internet scams that generated millions of dollars.

He'll be sentenced Aug. 3 in Minneapolis federal court on one count of conspiracy to commit computer fraud and wire fraud.

Giuliani to Help Defend Accused Iran Money Launderer

President Trump’s "cyber czar," ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, has joined the defense team of a gold trader who is under federal indictment for fraud, money laundering and evading sanctions on Iran, and who has ties to Turkish President Recep  Erdogan.

Reza Zarrab, 33, was arrested March 19 in Florida. He‘s accused of ducking sanctions by moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

Prosecutor Joon Kim sent a letter notifying the judge in Zarrab’s case that Giuliani had joined the defense, and that Zarrab had also hired ex-U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Kim said he was "advis[ing] the Court of potential conflicts of interest," since Giuliani and Mukasey’s firms also represent some banks Zarrab used in transactions.

Erdogan defended Zarrab when the dual Turkish-Iranian citizen was fingered in a 2013 Turkish corruption scandal that also implicated Erdogan associates. The Turkish leader called Zarrab, who had given his wife’s charity $4.5 million, a philanthropist. All charges against Zarrab and Erdogan’s pals were dropped.

Zarrab’s lead attorney, Ben Brafman, told NBC News he would remain as lead counsel, and that neither Giuliani, Mukasey nor their firms would appear in court.

Ex-Prosecutor Charged With Wiretapping Love Interest

A former New York City prosecutor accused of forging judges' signatures to wiretap a colleague and a detective for personal reasons has been hit with federal charges.

Tara Lenich, 41, was indicted in federal court on Monday, four months after she was arrested and fired by the Brooklyn District Attorney's office, where she was a deputy bureau chief.

Authorities say that after Lenich forged the orders, she misappropriated equipment to eavesdrop on her targets' cellphones and also created bogus search warrants to obtain their text messages.

The scheme came to light when it was noticed that the wiretap orders were renewed again and again. A law-enforcement source said Lenich's motive was jealousy; she had a romantic interest in the detective and viewed a female prosecutor as a rival.

"Unfortunately, sometimes those close to the law stray far from the truth," FBI Assistant Director in Charge William Sweeney said. "As demonstrated today, however, everyone is expected to play by the rules; for this we'll make no exceptions."

Lenich's attorney did not immediately return a call for comment.

Coalition Airstrikes Up 122 Percent in Raqqa, Say Activists

The anti-Assad, anti-ISIS group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered tweeted out a graphic today that said coalition airstrikes on Raqqa, Syria, the ISIS capital, have increased by more than 100 percent since Jan. 1. Kurdish forces and U.S.-backed Syrian fighters are now massing north of Raqqa for a ground assault. 

Hezbollah Financier Arrested

A top financial supporter of Hezbollah was arrested overseas earlier this month on an 11-count indictment unsealed Friday in federal court.

Kassim Tajideen of Beirut, Lebanon is charged with evading U.S. sanctions placed on his because of his financial support for Hezbollah, officially designated as a terror group by the U.S. government.

The arrest came after a two-year investigation let by the Drug Enforcement Administration, and is part of Project Cassandra, which targets Hezbollah's global support network. Tajideen is accused of operating front companies for Hezbollah, and was named a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in 2009.

The indictment says that over the past three years, Tajideen transferred more than $27 million via at least 47 wire transfers to individuals in the U.S., who helped Tajideen continue to do business with U.S. companies and ship U.S. goods out of the U.S.

Top Senate Democrat Won't Go As Far As House Counterpart On Trump-Russia Collusion

Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined Thursday to endorse his House counterpart's assertion that lawmakers have been briefed on "more than circumstantial evidence," that Trump associates colluded with the Russian operation to interfere in the presidential election.

Leaving a closed-door briefing, the Virginia senator was asked by NBC News whether he agreed with Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.  

Schiff told Chuck Todd on MTP Daily Wednesday, "I can't go into the particulars, but there is more than circumstantial evidence now."

Warned responded, "There are ever increasing amounts of smoke."

How Many Nukes Does North Korea Have and Who Can It Hit With Them?

Senior U.S. officials believe, based on the latest intelligence, that North Korea is not an immediate threat to the U.S. or Japan.

But South Korea is another story. The threat to South Korea, said one official, is "grave and current."

A senior intelligence official said that the U.S. assessment is that North Korea has eight to 10 nuclear weapons, with the number more likely to be eight than 10. That number is in line with estimates by outside experts. The Federation of American Scientists, for example, estimates 10-to-20, but as Hans Kristensen, director of the FAS Nuclear Information Project, says, "it is unclear if they are operational yet."

Miniaturizing warheads to put them on long-range missiles might be a challenge for the North Koreans. But Seoul is less than 40 miles from the DMZ that separates South and North. Korea has many shorter range missiles that could theoretically deliver nuclear payloads inside South Korea, as well as to border regions of China and Russia. 

Image: Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip in this undated photo. ballistic missile
Kim Jong Un looks at a rocket warhead tip in this undated photo. (C) KCNA KCNA / Reuters / Reuters

Drone Strike Kills Taliban Leader Who Trained Suicide Bombers

The Pakistani Taliban said a U.S. drone strike over the weekend in Afghanistan killed a senior military commander who was known for his skill in training suicide bombers.

Qari Mohammad Yasin, also known as Ustad Aslam, died in a drone strike in Afghanistan's Paktika province. He was linked to an attack ‎on the Pakistani military headquarters in Rawalpindi and an attack on a bus carrying Sri Lanka's national cricket team.

"We lost a brave man and the trainer of trainers in a U.S drone attack," said Asad Mansoor, the spokesman of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaatul Ahrar ( TTP-JA), a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, presently based in Afghanistan. 

Yasin was given the title "Ustad," or teacher, because he trained suicide bombers.

Family of Missing Ex-FBI Agent Levinson Files Suit Against Iran

The family of a former FBI agent turned CIA consultant who vanished in Iran ten years ago filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the government of Iran, saying it had lied to cover up its role in his detention.

The suit seeks damages from Iran for allegedly inflicting emotional distress on the wife and seven children of Robert A. Levinson, a private investigator who was last seen in 2007 on the Iranian island of Kish. He was apparently on an unauthorized CIA mission at the time.

The Iranian government says it does not know what happened to Levinson. The family received a proof of life photo in 2011 showing Levinson in an orange jumpsuit holding a sign saying, "HELP ME." Levinson, whose 69th birthday was on March 10, was apparently kidnapped on March 9, 2007. The suit alleges that the Iranian government is using photographs and video of Levinson in captivity to create the false impression that someone other than the government is holding him.

Image: Robert Levinson
This undated handout photo provided by the family of Robert Levinson after they received it in April 2011, shows retired-FBI agent Robert Levinson.\ Levinson family via AP

The FBI Doesn't Call You Up and Ask for Money

The FBI is warning the public to beware of calls from the FBI.

According to the FBI’s Denver field office, scammers are calling victims from what appears to be an FBI number and telling them they are being investigated by the bureau for violations and owe money. If the victims don’t pay up immediately, the scammers claim, they will be arrested.

The scheme has targeted victims throughout the region. "FBI" scammers who have called victims in northern Colorado have been able to "spoof" an actual phone number from an FBI office in the western part of the state, meaning the FBI number is fraudulently displayed by caller ID.

The FBI strongly suggests that given the rushed and threatening nature of the calls, victims should hang up on the scammer right away and contact their local FBI field office.