Barr: U.S. scrutinizing information ahead of 2020 election, including from Giuliani

By Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday confirmed that the Justice Department has received information from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani ahead of the November election, but that anything originating from Ukraine should not be taken “at face value.”

Barr spoke at a news conference a day after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” that the department had created a process so that Giuliani could provide information and the department would see if it could be verified.

“We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine,” Barr said. “There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine. There are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value.”

Last week, the Senate acquitted Republican Trump largely along party lines on impeachment charges that he had abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump had based his demands on unfounded allegations of corruption. The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives said Giuliani, a former prosecutor, sought information about the Bidens in Ukraine.

On Monday, Barr said that the Justice Department has created an “intake process in the field” that will be used to assess the “provenance and credibility” of any information.

“That is true for all information that comes to the department relating to the Ukraine, including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide,” he added.

Although the department acknowledged on Monday it is receiving and scrutinizing such materials, the FBI’s No. 2 official still stopped short of saying whether it had led to a more formal investigation into the Bidens.

“I am not going to talk about any investigations as I never would. We do not talk about open investigations,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said.

Graham said he would refrain from his own probe of the Bidens and concentrate instead on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s decision to issue warrants that led to a federal investigation into allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in that election.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey; Editing by Grant McCool)

No Iowa caucus results spark Democrat frustration

By Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) – The Democratic Party’s effort to choose an election challenger to Donald Trump got off to a chaotic start in Iowa, with officials blaming “inconsistencies” for an indefinite delay in the state’s caucus results and the president gloating over his rivals’ misfortune.

Long lines and big crowds were reported in some of the more than 1,600 schools, community centers and other locations on Monday night and problems with a new mobile app designed to report the vote forced state party officials to verify the data by other means.

Some Democratic candidates left for New Hampshire, which hosts the next nominating contest on Feb. 11, without a winner announced in Iowa. The chaos was likely to increase criticism from Democrats who have long complained the rural state with a largely white population has an outsized role in determining the presidential candidate.

Shortly after midnight, Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price told reporters to expect results later on Tuesday in the state, the first to hold a nominating contest.

The party said it had to make “quality checks” after finding “inconsistencies” in the reporting of the data from caucus sites, sparking frustration among Democrats and criticism from Republicans.

Trump, a Republican, mocked the Democrats, calling the caucus confusion an “unmitigated disaster” in a Twitter post on Tuesday. “Nothing works, just like they ran the Country.”

The delay prompted two leading candidates in the Iowa race, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg, to release their own tallies.

It was unclear when official results would be released.

Some local officials reported having trouble using the mobile app to report results, but when they turned to the traditional method – the telephone – they were put on hold and could not get through.

“We haven’t had that problem before that I know of. Normally we’ve called it in and got right through,” said Donna Crum, chair of the Democratic party in Mills County, Iowa.

Iowa Democratic Party officials said they were confident in their ability to ensure accurate results, citing a paper trail to validate the votes.

INAUSPICIOUS START

It was an inauspicious beginning for Democrats as the party’s 11 contenders began the state-by-state battle to pick a Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election.

But Republicans in Iowa have their own history of chaos. On the night of the party’s 2012 caucuses, Mitt Romney was declared to have won by eight votes. But the party said two weeks later that Rick Santorum had won by a 34-vote margin. Romney went on to be the nominee.

“Every second that passes undermines the process a little bit,” said Roger Lau, campaign manager for U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren.

A source in Buttigieg’s campaign said the delay would “delegitimize” the win and dampen the immediate benefits of a strong night. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus, told state party officials in a letter there were widespread failures in the party’s system of reporting results.

After more than a year of campaigning and more than $800 million in spending, the results in Iowa were expected to begin to provide answers for a party desperately trying to figure out how to beat the businessman-turned-president.

Voters had to choose whether to back someone with appeal to independents and disaffected Republicans, like moderates Biden, Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar of neighboring Minnesota, or someone who energizes the party’s liberal base and brings out new voters, like progressives Sanders and Warren.

DECLARING VICTORY

With no results to celebrate or mourn, the candidates spun their own upbeat view of the outcome. The Sanders campaign released what it said were its internal numbers collected at 40% of precincts, showing him in first, ahead of Buttigieg, Warren and Biden in fourth place.

“I have a strong feeling that at some point the results will be announced, and when those results are announced I have a good feeling we’re going to be doing very, very well here in Iowa,” Sanders told cheering supporters.

Buttigieg told his supporters in Iowa that “we don’t know the results” but was looking ahead to the New Hampshire contest.

“By all indications, we are going to New Hampshire victorious,” he said.

Several of the candidates, including Biden, Klobuchar and Warren, headed to New Hampshire immediately after the caucuses. Sanders planned to fly there on Tuesday morning.

“Of course we don’t know the results yet – minor problem – but we know we did incredibly well,” Klobuchar told supporters at the Manchester, New Hampshire, airport.

At the caucus sites in Iowa, voters had gathered in groups by candidate preference in a public display of support. If a candidate did not attract 15% of voters, the total needed to be considered viable, that candidates’ supporters were released to back another contender, leading to a further round of persuasion.

Even if one candidate eventually wins by a commanding margin in Iowa, Democrats may still lack clear answers as the race moves on to the other three early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina later in February.

Whoever remains in the race by Super Tuesday on March 3, when 15 states and territories vote, will also confront billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is skipping the early states in favor of focusing on states rich in delegates to the Democratic National Convention in July.

(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Joseph Ax, Tim Reid, Simon Lewis, Jarrett Renshaw and Ginger Gibson; Writing by John Whitesides and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Howard Goller and Giles Elgood)

Facebook to pilot new fact-checking program with community reviewers

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc said on Tuesday it would ask community reviewers to fact check content in a pilot program in the United States, as the social media platform looks to detect misinformation faster.

The company will work with data services provider Appen to source community reviewers.

The social media giant said data company YouGov conducted an independent study of community reviewers and Facebook users, who will be hired as contractors to review content flagged as potentially false through machine learning, before it is sent to Facebook’s third-party fact-checking partners.

Facebook is under pressure to police misinformation on its platform in the United States ahead of the November 2020 presidential election.

The company recently came under fire for its policy of exempting ads run by politicians from fact checking, drawing ire from Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

(Reporting by Neha Malara in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Ex-U.S. security officials urge ‘aggressive steps’ to protect 2020 election

Ex-U.S. security officials urge ‘aggressive steps’ to protect 2020 election
(Reuters) – The United States should boost spending and take other “aggressive steps” to protect next year’s presidential election from foreign meddling, a group of former national security officials said on Monday.

Citing what they said were signs U.S. rivals want to undermine the November 2020 poll, National Security Action – a group led by former advisers to President Barack Obama – said states and agencies should invest in paper ballot backups for digital voting machines, ensure audits of election results, improve cybersecurity and boost training for poll workers.

Election security has become a major concern since U.S. intelligence agencies claimed Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to tilt the vote in Donald Trump’s favor. Moscow has denied https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-usa-election-putin/putin-brushes-off-allegations-of-russian-election-meddling-idUSKBN1WH1CS any interference.

Congress has appropriated some $600 million for election security since 2018 and is working to approve another $250 million, an amount that National Security Action called a “modest start.” Its statement was signed by 70 former security officials from a range of agencies.

The group noted that the state of Pennsylvania alone has spent $125 million upgrading voting machines that will be used during 2020 elections.

The former officials said they had “already learned” of attempts by Iran and Russia to undermine the 2020 U.S. elections, though they offered no specific detail.

The White House had no immediate comment.

Trump has warned of plans by U.S. adversaries to interfere in American elections, and last year signed an executive order https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cyber-election/trump-signs-order-to-allow-sanctions-for-u-s-election-meddling-idUSKCN1LS2NA that would slap sanctions on foreign countries or people trying to interfere in the U.S. political process.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

In Venezuela talks, Maduro allies said they would consider fresh elections: sources

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, attends a session of Venezuela's National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela August 13, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

By Mayela Armas and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – Allies of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had discussed holding a presidential election in the coming months during talks to find a breakthrough in the country’s political crisis, four sources told Reuters on Monday.

Opposition politicians will travel to Washington to speak to U.S. officials this week, the sources said.

Maduro and a delegation representing opposition leader Juan Guaido have been meeting in Barbados as part of talks to resolve a political stalemate in the struggling OPEC nation that is suffering from a hyperinflationary economic collapse.

Guaido’s delegation had proposed a presidential vote in six to nine months on a number of conditions including changes to the elections council and supreme court, said the sources, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential.

The government had, in theory, agreed to a presidential vote on the condition that the United States lift economic sanctions, Maduro be allowed to run as the Socialist Party candidate, and that the vote be held in a year, one of the sources said.

However, the government has since pulled out of the talks to protest a new round of sanctions by Washington, and no new date has been set to resume the discussions, despite a visit by Norway foreign ministry officials – acting as mediators – seeking to revive them.

U.S. officials have expressed support for an election but without Maduro as a candidate, which may be a point of discussion, two of the sources said.

Venezuela’s information ministry, Norway’s foreign ministry and the U.S. State Department did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Preparing the groundwork for an election requires a raft of changes to state institutions, including both the elections council and the supreme court – both of which have aggressively intervened in election processes to favor Maduro.

Another possible roadblock would be the existence of the Constituent Assembly, an all-powerful legislative body controlled by Socialist Party supporters that opposition leaders say could also intervene in any potential vote.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas and Corina Pons in Caracas; additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton in Washington; Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Ukraine says it captured Russian military intelligence hit squad

Head of the Security Service of Ukraine Vasyl Hrytsak (SBU) speaks during a news conference, dedicated to the alleged detention of members of a sabotage-reconnaissance group, who according to SBU were sent by Russian intelligence agencies, in Kiev, Ukraine April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s security service SBU said on Wednesday it had captured a Russian military intelligence hit squad responsible for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian military spy in the run-up to a presidential election on Sunday.

The issue of how to deal with Russia, which annexed Crimea in 2014 and backs pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, is prominent ahead of the vote, with incumbent Petro Poroshenko casting himself as the commander-in-chief Ukraine needs to defend the country.

Vasyl Hrytsak, the head of the SBU, the main intelligence agency, told a news conference in Kiev that seven members of the Russian group had been detained and charged and that an eighth person had been detained on Wednesday morning.

Two of the group’s members were Russian citizens, said Anatoly Matios, Ukraine’s military prosecutor, describing them as staff officers of Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency. The other six were Ukrainians.

There was no immediate reaction from Russia’s GRU.

The SBU has reported before that it captured groups belonging to Russian special agencies.

“Those detained were involved in the attempted murder of an employee of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s intelligence service…in Kiev in April,” said Matios, adding the group had planted a bomb beneath the man’s car which had gone off prematurely, badly injuring one of the accused.

The SBU released a video of the same incident which showed a man placing the bomb under a car before a big explosion. The video showed a man lying in a hospital bed with part of his right arm missing saying he was Russian and born in Moscow.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Congo fire destroys thousands of voting machines for presidential election

A motorcyclist rides near smoke billowing from fire at the independent national electoral commission's (CENI) warehouse in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

By Giulia Paravicini

KINSHASA (Reuters) – A fire overnight at a warehouse in Congo’s capital destroyed thousands of voting machines and ballot boxes that were due to be used in the country’s long-delayed Dec. 23 presidential election, authorities said on Thursday.

Democratic Republic of Congo’s national electoral commission (CENI) said in a statement the blaze had destroyed 8,000 of 10,368 voting machines due to be used in the capital Kinshasa, but said the election would go ahead as scheduled.

CENI did not say who it believed to be responsible for the fire – which broke out about 2 a.m. (0100 GMT) in the Gombe riverside area of Kinshasa that is also home to President Joseph Kabila’s residence – but the ruling coalition and leading opposition candidates immediately traded accusations of blame.

Kabila’s Common Front for Congo (FCC), which is backing former interior minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary in the presidential race, accused opposition candidate Martin Fayulu of inciting violence earlier this month.

“Over the course of this electoral campaign, (Fayulu) called on his supporters and sympathizers to destroy electoral materials,” the FCC said in a statement.

Fayulu rejected the charge and suggested that state security forces might have been behind the blaze.

“The fire erupted in a building guarded by the Republican Guard,” Fayulu told Reuters. “You understand today that the Kabila people do not want to organize elections.”

Felix Tshisekedi, the other leading opposition candidate, also suggested on local radio that the government was responsible. “How is it that what should be the best protected place in the republic at this time can burn so easily?” he said.

Barnabe Kikaya Bin Karubi, a Kabila adviser, said police guarding the warehouse had been arrested and that forensic police had launched an investigation.

Kabila, in power since his father’s assassination in 2001, is due to step down because of constitutional term limits. The vote has already been delayed by two years due to what authorities said were logistical challenges but the opposition said stemmed from Kabila’s reluctance to relinquish power.

This month’s highly anticipated vote could mark Congo’s first peaceful transition of power after decades marked by authoritarian rule, coups d’etat and civil wars in which around five million people are estimated to have died.

ELECTION DATE MAINTAINED

CENI president Corneille Nangaa told a news conference the destroyed equipment represented the materials for 19 of 24 voting districts in Kinshasa.

“Without minimizing the gravity of this damaging situation for the electoral process, CENI is working to pursue the process in conformity with its calendar,” Nangaa said.

Kikaya said voting machines from elsewhere in Congo would be recalled for use in Kinshasa, which is home to more than 15 percent of the Congolese population.

The introduction of the untested tablet-like voting machines for the election has been widely opposed by opposition candidates competing against Shadary.

They say the machines are more vulnerable to vote-rigging than paper and ink and could be compromised by the unreliability of Congos power supply.

The delay in the elections has coincided with a breakdown in security across much of the vast mineral-rich country. Militants fight over land and resources in the east near the border with Uganda and Rwanda.

Campaigning over the past three weeks has been mostly peaceful, though deadly clashes erupted between police and opposition supporters this week in the southeast.

(Additional reporting by Stanis Bujakera and Aaron Ross; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Aaron Ross and Gareth Jones)

Turkey’s main opposition nominates combative former teacher to challenge Erdogan

Muharrem Ince, Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate for the upcoming snap presidential election, greets his supporters at a party gathering in Ankara, Turkey, May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

By Gulsen Solaker

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) on Friday nominated one its most prominent and combative lawmakers to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan in the June 24 snap presidential election.

The secularist CHP, which has never won an election against Erdogan in his decade and a half in power, chose 54-year-old ex- high school physics teacher Muharrem Ince as its candidate.

“I will be everyone’s president, a non-partisan president. The depressing times will end on June 24,” Ince told thousands of flag-waving supporters at a rally in Ankara, where he was introduced by party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), announces Muharrem Ince as their candidate for the upcoming snap presidential election in Ankara, Turkey, May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), announces Muharrem Ince as their candidate for the upcoming snap presidential election in Ankara, Turkey, May 4, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Kilicdaroglu had previously said he would not run for president, saying the head of a party should not simultaneously serve as head of state.

Ince is widely known as one of the most spirited speakers from the opposition in parliament. He ran as the sole challenger for party leadership against Kilicdaroglu in the last two CHP party elections, in 2014 and 2018.

He is seen as a candidate who can match the harsh rhetoric often used by Erdogan, while also drawing in more conservative and right-wing voters, beyond the CHP’s base of secular, Western-oriented Turks.

Ince said that as president, he would not live in the 1,000 room presidential palace built by Erdogan in Ankara, saying he would turn it into a “haven of learning” instead.

Against Erdogan, a masterful campaigner, the CHP has failed to gain momentum outside its core base of secular voters. In the last parliamentary election in November 2015 it took 25.3 percent of the vote, with much of that coming from large cities such as Istanbul and Izmir and the western coastal region.

Ince, a lawmaker from the northwestern province of Yalova, vowed to end partisanship in the judiciary and public services, and make amendments to an ailing economy suffering double-digit inflation, a gaping current account deficit and a slide in the lira of more than 10 percent against dollar this year.

Erdogan’s most credible challenge, however, is seen as coming not from the CHP but former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who last year founded the Iyi (Good) Party after splitting with the nationalist MHP, which is backing Erdogan.

An opinion poll conducted in mid-April put Erdogan well ahead in the race with 40 percent followed by Aksener at 30 percent, Ince 20 percent and the jailed pro-Kurdish opposition HDP party leader Selahattin Demirtas under 10 percent.

The CHP, the Iyi Party and two other parties are this week expected to seal an election alliance to create a broad coalition against Erdogan. This has raised speculation that the CHP could pull its candidate in the second round of voting and back Aksener.

To win in the first round, a candidate needs more than 50 percent of the votes. Polls indicate a second round is likely to transpire and would be on July 8 if necessary.

(This story was refiled to fix typographical error in headline.)

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan/Mark Heinrich)

Honduras awaits presidential vote count as army enforces curfew

Honduras awaits presidential vote count as army enforces curfew

TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduras enforced a curfew on Saturday while still mired in chaos over a contested presidential election that has triggered looting and protests in which at least one person has died.

The government’s move on Friday evening to enact the nationwide curfew for 10 days and expand powers for the army and police was criticized by opposition leaders as a move to stifle protests over a presidential vote count that stalled for a fifth day without leaving a clear winner.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has clawed back a thin lead over his challenger, TV-host Salvador Nasralla, but thousands of disputed votes could still swing the outcome.

Since last Sunday’s election, at least one protester has died, over 20 people were injured and more than 100 others were arrested for looting after opposition leaders accused the government of trying to steal the election by manipulating the vote count.

“The suspension of constitutional guarantees was approved so that the armed forces and the national police can contain this wave of violence that has engulfed the country,” said Ebal Diaz, member of the council of ministers, on Friday.

Under the decree, all local authorities must submit to the authority of the army and national police, which are authorized to break up blockades of roads, bridges and public buildings.

A 10-day dusk-to-dawn curfew started Friday night.

International concern has grown about the electoral crisis in the poor Central American country, which struggles with violent drug gangs and one of the world’s highest murder rates.

In the widely criticized vote count, Nasralla’s early lead on Monday was later reversed in favor of President Hernandez, leading Nasralla to call for protests.

The count stalled on Friday evening when the electoral tribunal said it would hand-count the remaining ballot boxes that had irregularities, comprising nearly 6 percent of the total vote.

The electoral tribunal said it was set to resume the vote count at 9 a.m. local time on Saturday, but Nasralla’s center-left alliance has refused to recognize the tribunal’s authority unless it recounts three regions with alleged vote irregularities.

The 64-year-old Nasralla is one of Honduras’ best-known faces and backed by former President Manuel Zelaya, a leftist ousted in a coup in 2009. He said on Friday that government infiltrators had started the looting and violence to justify a military curfew.

Hernandez, speaking to reporters after the curfew went into effect, said the government put the measure in place at the request of concerned citizen groups.

“As far as the curfew, I want to clarify that various sectors requested it…in order to guarantee the safety of the people,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Ana Isabel Martinez, Adriana Barrera and Daina Beth Solomon; Writing by Dave Graham and Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Michael Perry)

California moves presidential primary for bigger say in candidate choice

FILE PHOTO - A poll worker places a mail-in ballot into a voting box as voters drop off their ballot in the U.S. presidential primary election in San Diego, California, United States, June 7, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California will move its presidential primary from June to March under a bill signed on Wednesday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, a change aimed at giving the liberal-leaning state more influence in choosing candidates from either national party.

The most populous U.S. state, which voted heavily for Democrat Hillary Clinton in November’s presidential election, has traditionally held its primary so late that Democratic and Republican voters in other states had essentially already chosen their parties’ candidates.

“The Golden State will no longer be relegated to last place in the presidential nominating process,” said Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat who backed the change, in a statement. “Candidates will not be able to ignore the largest, most diverse state in the nation as they seek our country’s highest office.”

The bill was passed mostly along party lines in the majority-Democrat legislature.

The new date will leave the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in place as the first and second contests of the presidential election cycle, during which voters in each state choose the candidate they would like their party to nominate for president.

Because California’s primary has been in June while others were held earlier, candidates have largely ignored the state, spending less on outreach than elsewhere, making fewer visits, and failing to prioritize California voters’ concerns in their campaigns, supporters said.

In 2016, California Democrats chose Clinton and Republicans opted for Donald Trump, the populist businessman who ultimately won the presidency.

Backers in the legislature said the early primary would lead to less divisive choices by members of both major parties in the 2020 election cycle, and establish California as a leading voice in the choice of candidates.

Progressive Democrats also believe that moving the primary up could result in their party’s selection of more liberal candidates.

“California is the beating heart of the national resistance to Trump, and California Democrats are defining the progressive agenda for America,” state Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said in a press release. “When it comes to deciding the Democratic nominee, our voices need to be heard early in the process.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Richard Chang)