About the author  ⁄ WFIN

iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) — Russian lawmakers have been reacting with outrage to the resignation of President Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn, calling it the result of American paranoia towards Moscow and a campaign by Trump’s opponents to damage relations between Russia and the United States.

Flynn resigned on Monday after it emerged that he misled White House officials about his discussions with Russia’s ambassador to Washington ahead of Trump’s inauguration.

In his resignation letter, Flynn said he had “inadvertently” briefed Vice President Mike Pence and others with “incomplete information” on calls with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Flynn came under fire for discussing U.S. sanctions on Russia with the ambassador back in December.

The Kremlin has confirmed the calls but denied the sanctions were mentioned.

A series of senior lawmakers in Moscow came to Flynn’s defense on Tuesday, saying he had been forced out for seeking dialogue with Russia.

“Even a readiness for dialogue is perceived by the hawks in Washington as thought-crime,” Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of Russia’s senate foreign affairs committee wrote in a post on his Facebook account.

“To force a national security adviser to resign for contacts with the Russian ambassador (a usual diplomatic practice) -— it’s not even paranoia but something immeasurably worse,” Kosachev wrote.

Flynn has garnered favor in Russia for his efforts to cooperate on terrorism, suggesting that the U.S. should seek to work together militarily with Moscow against the Islamic State in Syria.

Before joining Trump’s team, he traveled to Moscow in 2015 as a private citizen to speak at a conference hosted by RT, the Russian government-backed English language news channel, where he promoted closer cooperation.

Flynn’s attendance at the conference, where he was seated next to Putin, prompted critics to question his independence.

On Tuesday, president Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov called Flynn’s resignation “an internal affair” for America.

The controversy around Flynn came against a backdrop of confusion and suspicion around Trump’s relationship to Russia, even as the president has suggested he hopes to improve relations with Moscow.

A U.S. intelligence assessment released in January accused Putin of meddling in the U.S. election to undermine the democratic process. The report said the Russian interference showed a “clear preference,” for Trump.

Prominent Russian government officials have celebrated Trump’s election victory as a chance to rebuild relations and have derided the accusations of interference as a “red scare” effort to weaken Trump.

On Wednesday, several well-known Russian government figures derided Flynn’s resignation as more of the same anti-Russia provocations.

“Paranoia and a witch-hunt,” Aleksei Pushkov, a prominent Russian senator and television host, wrote on his Twitter account.

Kosachev, the Russian senate committee chairman, said Flynn’s resignation dampened hopes that Trump’s administration would be able to seek warmer relations with Moscow.

“Either Trump has not acquired the sought-for independence,” Kosachev wrote. “Or Russophobia has already permeated the new administration from top to bottom”.

Pushkov, known for his bombastic statements, went further, echoing a state media propaganda line. “The expulsion of Flynn was Act 1. The marked man now is Trump himself.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON) — British Prime Minister Theresa May formally rejected on Tuesday an online petition that called for President Donald Trump to be barred from making an official state visit to the U.K.

In its official response to the petition, the U.K.’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it “recognizes the strong views” of the people who signed the petition, but added that Trump “should be extended the full courtesy of a state visit.”

The petition amassed more than 1.8 million signatures as of Tuesday morning, arguing that a state visit by Trump “would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.”

The petition was launched before Trump announced his controversial executive order on immigration but it went viral and garnered the bulk of the signatures after news of the order emerged.

It is scheduled to be debated in the U.K.’s parliament on Feb. 20. As a part of British law, the parliament must consider debating an issue once it gains the support of at least 100,000 people.

May extended the invitation for a state visit to Trump during a Jan. 27 meeting at the White House.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Verizon is trying to win back customers by offering unlimited data plans again.

After feeling the heat from Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile who have offered discounted unlimited data plans, Verizon announced its new plan would be $80 per month or $45 per line for a family of four.

But for consumers who use a lot of data, if you top 22 gigabytes, the carrier said, “your data connection could slow.”

Verizon stopped offering unlimited data in 2011, so why the change now? Ashley Lutz, deputy editor of business for Business Insider, told ABC News: “Consumers said enough is enough, they wanted their unlimited data. Verizon was forced to do it.”

How can you decide which data plan and which carrier is right for you?

“You should look at your plan, you should look at data, how much you use per month and ask yourself if an unlimited is worth going for,” Lutz said to ABC News.

ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s newly-appointed Vice President Tareck el-Aissami, accusing him of drug trafficking and money laundering and designating him as a “kingpin.”

Companies in the U.S. will be unable to do business with Aissami under the new sanctions, according to a release from the Treasury Department, and his frontman Samark Lopez Bello. Both the vice president and Bello’s U.S. assets were frozen, which included five companies based in Florida.

The release said the sanctions came after a multi-year investigation from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

“This case highlights our continued focus on narcotics traffickers and those who help launder their illicit proceeds through the United States,” OFAC Acting Director John Smith said. “Denying a safe haven for illicit assets in the United States and protecting the U.S. financial system from abuse remain top priorities of the Treasury Department.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The U.N. Security Council “condemned” the recent ballistic missile launch by North Korea, calling it a “grave violation” of Pyongyang’s obligations, a statement said Monday.

The Council also called on member states to “redouble their efforts” to fully implement the measures imposed on North Korea in those resolutions.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley echoed those sentiments, calling on the Security Council to “hold North Korea accountable.”

“We call on all members of the Security Council to use every available resource to make it clear to the North Korean regime – and its enablers – that these launches are unacceptable,” Haley said in a statement. “It is time to hold North Korea accountable – not with our words, but with our actions.”

The statement did not elaborate as to what those actions entail.

In a statement, the spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general condemned the missile launch, saying North Korea’s action “is a further troubling violation of Security Council resolutions.”

“The DPRK leadership must return to full compliance with its international obligations and to the path of denuclearization,” the statement read. “The Secretary-General appeals to the international community to continue to address this situation in a united manner.”

During a joint press conference Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Donald Trump spoke about North Korea briefly, calling the country “a big, big problem, and we will deal with that very strongly.”

A U.S. official said the missile was a KN-11 sub-based missile. It has a maximum range of 1,400 nautical miles, but only traveled 310. Sunday marked the first time North Korea fired a solid-booster missile from land, the official said.

North Korea launched this type of missile last August from a water location, leading the government to claim a successful sub-launched missile test.

South Korea’s acting president and prime minister, Hwang Kyo-ahn, said his country will punish North Korea for the provocation.

The launch came only two days after Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe strongly urged North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and not to take any further provocative actions.

In a brief joint statement with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Saturday night, Abe called the missile launch “absolutely intolerable.”

“North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN security council resolutions,” he said.

Abe, who spent the weekend with Trump in south Florida, said that he and the president were dedicated to working together and strengthening their alliance.

Trump echoed the Japanese prime minister, saying, “The United States of America stands behind Japan a great ally 100 percent, thank you.” He gave no further remarks, and neither leaders answered questions from reporters.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — In the wake of North Korea’s most recent ballistic missile test, the Pentagon is strongly condemning the North Korean program as “a clear grave threat to our national security.”

North Korea has continued to test a variety of mid-range and long range ballistic missiles in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions barring the development of such technologies.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency described the missile launched Sunday as a Pukguksong-2 missile capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. While that claim cannot be proven, the test indicated that North Korea is making progress in using solid booster rockets to launch its newer missiles.

Though the missile was never determined to be a threat to the United States, Davis said the U.S. military has the means of defending itself and its allies from a North Korean missile threat.

Here is a look at North Korea’s ballistic missile technologies and the progress they’ve made in recent years:

What was launched this weekend?

A U.S. official told ABC News that, this weekend, North Korea launched a solid rocket fueled KN-11 missile that is described as an intermediate range missile than can travel 1,400 nautical miles.

It was the first land-based test of a missile designed to be launched from a submarine. It was successfully tested in an underwater launch last year on Aug. 23, though not from a submarine.

According to the official, the KN-11 missile was airborne for 14 minutes on a vertical trajectory and a distance of 310 miles into the Sea of Japan.

The two successful launches indicate North Korea is making progress in developing solid rocket fuel technology, a more stable propellant than the liquid rocket fuel North Korea has used in its other medium and long-range missiles.

The use of solid rocket fuels means North Korea will need less time to prepare making it difficult for American satellites to track potential launches.

Improving Missile Technology

Early this year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced that his country was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). No such test has occurred yet, but the announcement marks North Korea’s growing confidence in its missile programs. North Korea has stated publicly that its goal is to develop a miniaturized nuclear warhead small enough to be placed atop a ballistic missile capable of striking South Korea, Japan or the United States.

North Korea conducted 21 missile tests in 2016, the most significant being launch tests of the mobile launched Musudan mid-range missile and the KN-11 submarine launched missile.

The liquid fueled Mususdan was tested for the first time in 2016, but only one of eight launches was a success with the rest ending as spectacular failures.

The solid rocket fueled KN-11 is a missile designed to be launched from a submarine, but this weekend’s test now shows the missile can also be launched from land. The success of the rocket fueled system advances North Korea’s capabilities and could make future launches harder to detect.

The KN-08 and KN-14 missiles are larger mobile launched ICBM’s potentially capable of reaching the continental United States, but North Korea has yet to test the missiles that have only been seen on parade in Pyongyang.

But North Korea has already demonstrated success in developing long-range rocket technology. Last February, the launch of an Unha 3 successful placed a satellite in orbit. American officials have said the satellite tests are used by North Korea to develop its long range ballistic capabilities.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Wall Street was in the green on Monday as the major indexes posted new records.

The Dow jumped 142.79 (+0.70 percent) to finish at 20,412.16.

The Nasdaq gained 29.83 (+0.52 percent) to close at 5,763.96, while the S&P 500 finished at 2,328.25, up 12.15 (+0.52 percent) from its open.

Crude oil prices were about $53 a barrel; down nearly 2 percent.

Notable Stocks: Shares in Apple rose 1 percent to close at a new all-time high after Goldman Sachs boosted its stock price target.

Verizon Communications, Inc. slid 1 percent after news it would offer unlimited data plans again to wireless customers.

Teva Pharmaceuticals soared nearly 6 percent after beating investors’ expectations with sales in the fourth-quarter.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Playboy is going nude…again.

A year after the magazine decided to stop printing photos of naked women, Cooper Hefner, Playboy’s chief creative officer and son of Hugh Hefner, announced the mag would return to what made it famous in the first place.

“I’ll be the first to admit that the way in which the magazine portrayed nudity was dated, but removing it entirely was a mistake,” Hefner said in a statement on Twitter. “Nudity was never the problem because nudity isn’t a problem. Today we’re taking our identity back and reclaiming who we are.”


— Cooper Hefner (@cooperhefner) February 13, 2017

Playboy’s au naturel look will return in the March/April issue, featuring a title that reads, “Naked Is Normal.”

“Playboy will always be a lifestyle brand focused on men’s interests, but as gender roles continue to evolve in society, so will we,” Hefner said in a statement.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

Al-Furqan Media/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials and some of their Iraqi comrades in arms were skeptical of an official Iraqi military claim Monday that it had wounded ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in an airstrike west of the capital Baghdad, but said that his days may yet be numbered.

American and Iraqi officials contacted by ABC News were in dispute over the strike Monday, with one Iraqi official claiming al-Baghdadi was in the targeted city of al-Qa’im, while most of the others voiced strong skepticism.

Numerous senior American counterterrorism officials made it clear they aren’t uncorking champagne in celebration just yet, though some reiterated that al-Baghdadi is being aggressively hunted amid a stepped-up U.S.-led campaign in Mosul and may not survive for long.

“We don’t have any information to corroborate it. Baghdadi is somebody we’d like to see meet his end but we’ve not had any info to corroborate,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesperson. “It was their strike, they announced it.”

ABC News reported on Jan. 20 that senior American military analysts believe the reclusive terrorist leader has been hunkered down in ISIS-occupied Mosul in northern Iraq since Iraqi government forces moved on the country’s second-largest city last fall, and he has not visited the de facto ISIS capital of Raqqa, Syria in months.

Raqqa itself is increasingly under pressure by the American-directed coalition of Kurdish and Iraqi forces.

The Iraqi government has claimed in the past that al-Baghdadi had been wounded or killed and the latest report centered on a weekend airstrike the Iraqi military said it had launched against ISIS leadership in al-Qa’im, a town in the western Iraqi governate of Anbar.

“The Falcons Intelligence Cell carried out an operation to target ISIS leaders in al-Qa’im, after the cell was able to track, through its sources, a convoy which was carrying the terrorist Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and some other leaders from Syrian territory into Iraqi territory in the Qa’im district,” the Iraqi Army statement said.

The title of the official statement said al-Baghdadi was injured but the statement itself did not provide details beyond claiming that “13 terrorist leaders from ISIS were killed.”

One Iraqi intelligence official, who requested anonymity, claimed the Saturday bombing wounded al-Baghdadi while he met with other ISIS commanders in a one-story house.

But other Iraqi intelligence officials told ABC News that al-Qa’im is far outside of areas he is known to have visited in the past year and another said the reports of his being wounded were “lies, part of psychological warfare. Over the past 72 hours there haven’t been any such operations by the Iraqi Air Force.”

Several U.S. intelligence agencies declined to make any official comment about the Iraqi military claims.

The Mosul offensive, in which the eastern half of the city has been liberated this year, is directed by the U.S. military. The U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, and sometimes CIA, track targets and direct airstrikes in northern Syria and Iraq aimed at ISIS leadership and al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate.

Iraqi officials have claimed al-Baghdadi was wounded or killed in airstrikes numerous times over the past two years, only to have the self-proclaimed “Caliph,” or leader of all Muslims, issue a statement or audio recording as he did last fall rallying followers to defend Mosul, which has been under a U.S.-led siege for months.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →

GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) — Before boarding his plane to Washington D.C., Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on the tarmac in Tel Aviv that he and the new U.S. president see “eye to eye.”

After three weeks of sending mixed messages, Netanyahu and President Trump will finally meet Wednesday.

“Trump and I see eye to eye on the dangers emanating from the region but also on the opportunities,” Netanyahu said Monday. “And we’ll talk about both.”

At first emboldened by the perceived friendlier tone from Washington after eight years of clashing with the Obama administration, Netanyahu may discover that the past three weeks are not necessarily representative of the next four years.

Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, Netanyahu has cranked settlement expansion into high gear, initially suggesting that the White House had given Israel the green light to build in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu announced the approval of more than 6,000 housing units in the first two weeks of Trump’s presidency, all of which the United Nations considers illegal.

But over the weekend, Trump spoke with right-wing Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom, which is supported by Trump donor and Netanyahu patron Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas, appearing to soften his previously stated positions in support of settlements.

“No, I am not somebody that believes that going forward with these settlements is a good thing for peace,” Trump told the paper.

Still, Netanyahu struck an optimistic tone this week.

“We have known each other for years,” he said of Trump Sunday before his weekly cabinet meeting. “I have navigated Israeli-U.S. relations in a prudent manner and I will continue to do so now.”

Sensing opportunity, Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition members have ramped up pressure in recent days to convince the prime minister to take a harder line with Trump, specifically on settlements and peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s chief political rival and leader of the far right, pro-settlement Jewish Home Party, Neftali Bennett, has strongly advocated for annexation of the West Bank and publicly argued for Netanyahu to reverse his established support for the two-state solution when he meets with Trump Wednesday.

“If in their statements after the meeting they mention, for the first time in Trump’s term, their obligation to forming Palestine or two states in one way or another, we will all feel it in our flesh for years to come,” Bennett posted on Facebook. “The earth will shake.”

Trump has voiced support for a peace deal, putting forth his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the man for the job, but has offered few specifics.

Back on the tarmac Monday, Netanyahu reiterated that “the alliance between Israel and America has always been extremely strong and it’s about to get even stronger.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Read More →