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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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Adm. Stavridis Compares North Korea Threat to Ghostbusters

Ret. Adm. James Stavridis made an evocative comparison to an American comedy classic on MSNBC Monday to explain the danger of North Korea's weapons program. 

"I think the real danger is probably 18 months, two years from now, two streams coming together," said Stavridis, the former head of NATO and an NBC News analyst. "One is miniaturizing nuclear weapons, the other is long-range ballistic missiles. It's like in Ghostbusters, you don't want those streams to cross."

In the movie, "crossing the streams" may create a "total protonic reversal" that ends life on earth.

The streams are going to cross, said Stavridis, "not in the next week, but probably in the next 18 to 24 months. That will be when we'll be forced to take some level of action. What's happening now, I think we can manage with, more or less, traditional diplomatic tools without getting into a shooting war."

Taliban Attacks Camp Where Al Qaeda Mole Killed CIA Agents

The Taliban has claimed credit for a Monday suicide attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan that was once the site of one of the deadliest attacks on CIA personnel in the agency's history.

The bomber blew up an explosive-packed vehicle at Camp Chapman in Khost Province. There are no reports of U.S. casualties, but there were casualties amond the Afghan troops guarding the base. The attack came as U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis was visiting the Afghan capital of Kabul.

In 2009, when the facility was known as Forward Operating Base Chapman, a Jordanian doctor was brought to the camp to deliver valuable information about  al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawhari. He was not searched on arrival, and detonated a suicide vest in the middle of the CIA personnel gathered to greet him. He killed seven CIA officers and contractors, a Jordanian intelligence agent and an Afghan CIA employee. Six other CIA officers and contractors were injured.

The camp is in territory dominated by a Taliban faction known as the Haqqani Network. It has been attacked by suicide bombers several times since 2009, including in 2012 and 2015. The 2015 attack, at a checkpoint near the main gate, killed 33 people.

 

Former Acting AG Sally Yates to Testify Publicly in House Russia Probe

Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who is said to have told the White House that then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail, has been invited to testify publicly before Congress.

The Republican and Democrat leading the House Intelligence Committee probe of Russian election interference announced Friday they are seeking to schedule public testimony sometime after May 2 by Yates, as well as former CIA Director John Brennan and James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence.

All three former officials have insights into what the U.S. intelligence community knows about alleged contacts between Trump associates and Russians. Whether they can discuss any of that in public is another matter.

Shortly after Trump took office in January, Yates informed the White House she believed Flynn had misled senior administration officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., and warned that Flynn was potentially vulnerable to Russian blackmail, current and former U.S. officials told the Washington Post.

Yates was later fired by Trump after she refused to enforce his travel ban directed at Muslim majority countries.

Flynn was ousted after it became clear he had misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.

U.S. Raid Kills ISIS Terror Plotter in Syria, Says Pentagon

One of the ISIS leaders who helped plot the New Year's attack on an Istanbul nightlcub was killed earlier this month in a U.S. ground raid in Syria, the Pentagon announced Friday.

Abdul Rahman Uzbeki was a "close associate" of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to CENTCOM spokesperson Colonel John Thomas. Uzbeki was killed in a U.S. military "ground operation" in Syria on April 6. Thomas would not elaborate on the raid or not, saying only that the operation was intended to "eliminate him."

ISIS took credit for the mass shooting at the Reina nightclub on Jan. 1, 2017, which killed at least 39 people. The alleged gunman, an Uzbek national, was captured in Istanbul a week later.

Image: Gun attack at a night club in Istanbul
Ambulances transport wounded people after a gun attack on Reina, a popular night club in Istanbul near by the Bosphorus, early morning in Istanbul, Turkey on Jan. 1, 2017. STR / EPA

Pentagon Quietly Corrects Mattis Statement About the USS Vinson

Last week the White House said sending the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson into the waters around Korea would let the North Korean regime know the U.S. was serious. "We are sending an armada," said President Trump.

Then reporters noticed the Vinson's strike force was sailing away from Korea instead, toward a preplanned joint exercise with the Royal Australian Navy, apparently garbling the intended message to the Kim Jong Un regime.

The confusion started with a minor slip by Defense Secretary James Mattis during an April 11 press briefing. Mattis was asked if the U.S. was sending a signal to North Korea by very publicly redirecting the ship north. Mattis said the ship's change in itinerary had been made public because "she was originally headed in one direction for an exercise, and we canceled our role in that exercise ... We had to explain why she wasn't in that exercise."

In fact, the planned exercise was never canceled, and went forward as scheduled. It was a trip down to Fremantle, Australia, where crew families would've met their loved ones onshore, that was cancelled.

On Wednesday, the Navy quietly slipped a correction into the eight-day-old briefing transcript, inserting a note right after the Secretary's statement about the exercise: "Sic: The ship's port visit to Fremantle, Australia, was cancelled; the exercise with the Royal Australian navy is proceeding as planned."

  

Image: The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Pacific Ocean
The aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 30, 2017. Tom Tonthat / U.S. Navy via Reuters

House Democrat Mum About Trip to Cyprus for Russia Probe

Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago, an intelligence committee member, doesn’t want to say much about his recent trip to Cyprus as part of the Congressional investigation into Russian interference in the election campaign.

“All I can say is, it’s very important to understand how the Russians launder money,” Quigley told NBC News.  “Just look at the public reports — the key Russian and American figures all played in Cyprus.”

NBC News’ Richard Engel reported from Cyprus last month that a ban there investigated accounts associated with President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for possible money-laundering.

The trip, Quigley said, underscored for him the idea that the House investigation could use more resources.  But, he said, he believes the investigation is back on track, now that Republican committee chairman Devin Nunes has stepped aside pending the resolution of ethics complaints.

“We’re going to keep at it,” Quigley said.

Image:  Rep. Mike Quigley
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., speaks at a news conference in Washington on Nov. 15, 2012. Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call file

Paul Manafort Has Not Registered as a Foreign Agent

On April 12, a spokesman for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said that after consulting with federal authorities about whether he should register as a foreign agent because of his past work in Ukraine, Manafort would be taking "appropriate steps."

Many took that to mean Manafort was about to register as an agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

However, when NBC News asked spokesman Jason Maloni directly whether Manafort was going to register, Maloni wouldn't say yes or no. 

A week later, there is no record of any filing on the Justice Department's website. Maloni told NBC News, "I don't have an update."

The Not-So-Little North Korean Missile That Couldn't

The sad history of the Musudan, a missile once hyped as a game-changer for North Korea, shows why skepticism is always warranted when assessing Pyongyang’s military might.

After being rolled out to great fanfare in July 2013, the Musudan wasn’t even test-fired until April 2016, during Kim il Sung’s 104th birthday celebration. The test failed. Two weeks later, another test, another failure. Later the same day, there was a third test. The Musudan, which is supposed to have a 2,500-mile range, flew 200 meters before crashing.

During a May 2016 test, the Musudan had an even shorter flight — it exploded on the launch pad. The missile didn't have its first fully successful launch until June 2016. And since then, there have been more failures. Four years after its debut, the U.S. intelligence community estimates the Musudan has an 88 percent failure rate, crashing, toppling, failing to launch, or exploding.

"The Musudan," said one senior U.S. intelligence official, "comes equipped with a fire extinguisher."

Official: Maybe Those North Korean Missiles Were Just Big Green Tubes

U.S. intelligence officials and private experts are trying to make sense of the missiles they saw displayed in Pyongyang Saturday during a parade to honor the 105th anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder.

The procession’s vast array of ballistic missiles included some models that hadn’t been seen in public before, U.S. intelligence officials said.

"We are currently analyzing the equipment displayed at this year's parade," the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency said in a statement. "While some systems appear consistent with past public displays, others have not been previously observed."

 What isn’t clear is to what extent the new missiles are functional. In the past, North Korea has paraded fake missiles.

"I still don’t know what I saw," said Jeffrey Lewis, a North Korea specialist at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, in California, who said he recognized "things that are familiar that have been subtly redesigned — or in some cases, not so subtly."

Another U.S. intelligence official added, "Pyongyang’s elaborate parade of weaponry was likely intended to telegraph to the world and its own people that North Korea maintains a viable deterrent. Unfortunately, behind the goose-stepping soldiers, parade of missiles and belligerent bluster, lies a country that at its core is only held together by its sheer brutality. As with many things with North Korea, the task is to discern the fact from the fiction. Were they displaying real missiles or just big green tubes?"

One of those tubes was the size of an intercontinental ballistic missile, experts said. But it’s unclear whether it was an actual weapon. Nor is it clear that North Korea has the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on such a missile.

Image: Military experts say this appears to be a North Korean KN-08 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICMB).
Military experts say this appears to be a North Korean KN-08 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICMB). Wong Maye-E / AP

World Trade Center Bomber Is Writing Book Blasting ISIS

A lawyer who represents many of the alleged and convicted al Qaeda terrorists in U.S. custody says nearly all of them view ISIS as "a corruption of Islam" that hurts their religion.

One of Bernard Kleinman’s clients — a World Trade Center bomber — feels so strongly that ISIS is "corrupting Islam" that he’s written a 250-page essay repudiating the group, and Kleinman thinks the U.S. government ought to "somehow try to make use of it."

According to an interview with Kleinman in the Sentinel, published by the Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, Ramzi Yousef "has devoted his efforts to this project solely … on the basis that he believes that ISIS does great harm to Islam throughout the world."

Yousef is serving a life sentence for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people in 1993 but failed to topple the Manhattan towers.

Kleinman said his clients at Guantanamo and the federal Supermax facility in Colorado disagree with ISIS attacks on Shiites and don’t believe that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is really a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s tribe.

Kleinman said he thinks the U.S. ought to use Yousef’s massive essay as a force for good and make it publicly available. "If you can create doubt in just one wannabe ISIS recruit about the religious legitimacy of ISIS’s actions, and by doing that save lives, then I think it would be worth it."

 

Image: Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, shown in these undated file photos, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center explosion and a plot to bomb a dozen U.S. passenger airliners.
Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, shown in these undated file photos, was sentenced to life in prison without parole for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center explosion and a plot to bomb a dozen U.S. passenger airliners. U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy sentenced Yousef to 240 years in prison, with restrictions that amount to solitary confinement, and said that only proven family members could visit him.