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Russia probe
First guilty plea, indictment of Trump aides in Russia probe

WASHINGTON — A former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russians, special counsel Robert Mueller said Monday, while former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort’s business partner pleaded not guilty to felony charges of conspiracy against the United States and other counts.

The guilty plea by former adviser George Papadopoulos marked the first criminal case that cites interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian intermediaries during the 2016 presidential campaign. The developments ushered Mueller’s investigation into a new phase with felony charges and possible prison sentences for key members of the Trump team including Manafort, who led the campaign during critical months, and Rick Gates, a campaign aide.

Court papers also revealed that Papadopoulos was told about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” on April 26, 2016, well before it became public that the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails had been hacked.

Papadopoulos has been cooperating with investigators, according to court papers, a potentially ominous sign for others in the Trump orbit who might be implicated by his statements. Papadopoulos’ lawyers hinted in a statement Monday that their client has more testimony to provide.

During the daily press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders downplayed Papadopoulos’ role in the campaign, saying it was “extremely limited.”

“He was not paid by the campaign,” Sanders said, adding later: “Any actions that he took would have been on his own.”

She said the White House has had “indications” that Mueller’s investigation would conclude “soon.”

The president quickly tweeted about the allegations against Manafort, saying the alleged crimes were “years ago,” and insisting there was “NO COLLUSION” between his campaign and Russia.

He added, as he has a number of times recently, “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”

Manafort and Gates appeared in federal court in Washington and pleaded not guilty to all charges. Manafort and Gates were both released on home confinement. Manafort was freed on a $10 million bond meant to guarantee his future court appearances. Gates’ bond was $5 million.

Outside the courthouse, Manafort attorney Kevin Downing attacked the charges, saying “there is no evidence that Mr. Manafort or the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government.”

Papadopoulos’ plea occurred on Oct. 5 and was unsealed Monday. In court papers, he admitted to lying to FBI agents about the nature of his interactions with “foreign nationals” who he thought had close connections to senior Russian government officials. Those interactions included speaking with Russian intermediaries who were attempting to line up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin and offering “dirt” on Clinton.

The court filings don’t provide details on the emails or whom Papadopoulos may have told about the Russian government effort.

The FBI interviewed Papadopoulos about his Russian connections on Jan. 27, a week after Trump’s inauguration. The interview predates Mueller’s appointment but was part of the FBI probe into Russian election interference that he has taken over.

Papadopoulos was arrested over the summer at Dulles International Airport and has since met with the government “on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.”

The separate charges against Manafort and Rick Gates contend the men acted as unregistered foreign agents for Ukrainian interests. The indictment also includes other financial counts involving tens of millions of dollars routed through offshore accounts.

Manafort’s indictment doesn’t reference the Trump campaign or make any allegations about coordination between the Kremlin and the president’s aides to influence the outcome of the election in Trump’s favor. The indictment does allege a criminal conspiracy was continuing through February of this year, after Trump had taken office.

The indictment filed in federal court in Washington accuses both Manafort and Gates of funneling payments through foreign companies and bank accounts as part of their political work in Ukraine.

The indictment lays out 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered foreign agent, making false statements and several charges related to failing to report foreign bank and financial accounts. The indictment alleges the men moved money through hidden bank accounts in Cyprus, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and the Seychelles.

In total, more than $75 million flowed through the offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort is accused of laundering more than $18 million.

A spokesman for Manafort did not immediately return calls or text messages requesting comment. Manafort and Gates have previously denied any wrongdoing.

Manafort, 68, was fired as Trump’s campaign chairman in August 2016 after word surfaced that he had orchestrated a covert lobbying operation on behalf of pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. The indictment against Manafort and Gates was largely based on activities disclosed in August 2016 by The Associated Press, which reported that the pair had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling political party.

Citing internal emails, the AP noted that Gates personally directed the work of two prominent Washington lobbying firms, Mercury LLC and the Podesta Group. The indictment doesn’t refer to the companies by name.

Specifically, the indictment accuses Manafort of using “his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States, without paying taxes on that income.” That included using offshore accounts to purchase multimillion-dollar properties in the U.S., some of which the government is seeking to seize.

The indictment also cites more than $900,000 in payments to an antique rug store, about $850,000 to a New York men’s clothing store and the purchase of a Mercedes Benz and multiple Range Rovers.

Mueller was appointed as special counsel in May to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into whether the Kremlin worked with associates of the Trump campaign to tip the presidential election.

The appointment came one week after the firing of James Comey, who as FBI director led the investigation, and also followed the recusal months earlier of Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the probe.

Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016 and oversaw the Republican National Convention delegate strategy. Trump pushed him out in August amid a stream of negative headlines about Manafort’s foreign consulting work.

Trump’s middle son, Eric Trump, said in an interview at the time that his father was concerned that questions about Manafort’s past were taking attention away from the billionaire’s presidential bid.

Manafort has been a subject of a longstanding FBI investigation into his dealings in Ukraine and work for the country’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. That investigation was incorporated into Mueller’s broader probe. In July, his investigators raided one of Manafort’s homes in Virginia, searching for tax and international banking records.

Manafort recently registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for parts of Ukrainian work that occurred in Washington. The indictment Monday accuses Manafort and Gates of making several false and misleading statements in that FARA filing.

Mueller’s investigation has also reached into the White House, as he examines the circumstances of Comey’s firing. Investigators have requested extensive documents and have interviewed multiple current and former officials.

Mueller’s grand jury has also heard testimony about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York attended by a Russian lawyer as well as Manafort, Donald Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

In Gates, Mueller brings in not just Manafort’s chief deputy, but a key player from Trump’s campaign who survived Manafort’s ouster last summer. As of two weeks ago, Gates was still working for Tom Barrack, a Trump confidant, helping with the closeout of the inauguration committee’s campaign account.

Michael Bupp, The Sentinel  

A commemorative display for Trisha Marie Edelman during the Domestic Violence Services of Cumberland & Perry Counties 2017 Candlelight Vigil at the Camp Hill Borough building.

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The Prosecution: Felony assault charges rise as new law takes effect

In January, 25-year-old Michael Anthony Woods, of Shippensburg, became the first person in Cumberland County charged under Pennsylvania’s new strangulation law aimed at increasing penalties for domestic violence.

Since his arrest, nearly 60 more people have been charged with the offense in the county, causing felony assault charges to nearly double compared to 2016, according to an analysis of court records conducted by The Sentinel.

“(Strangulation) is a really significant signal that the victim is in significant danger,” Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence Deputy Director Ellen Kramer told The Sentinel in January.

Joshua Vaughn, The Sentinel 

Stats about the use of Pennsylvania's new strangulation law in Cumberland County.

Source: Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System

Pennsylvania’s strangulation law was passed by the Legislature at the end of 2016 and specifically criminalizes the act of impeding a person’s breathing or circulation by applying pressure to the throat or neck or by blocking the person’s mouth or nose.

The crime is graded as a second-degree misdemeanor, similar to simple assault, but increases to a felony in certain situations like a victim being a family or household member, the assailant is subject to a protection from abuse order or the assault takes place during an act of sexual violence.

Kramer said nonfatal strangulation is an indicator the violence could escalate to homicide.

A study by Johns Hopkins University professor Nancy Glass found victims of nonfatal strangulation had a more than six-fold increase in odds of becoming a victim of attempted homicide and a more than seven-fold increase in odds of being killed.

“Strangulation is a unique crime,” Kramer said. “This is a situation where someone is using their hands to bring a person as close to death as we might see.”

A strangulation victim can lose consciousness within a few seconds and death can occur shortly after, she said.

“This is very different than an assault like we normally think of them,” Kramer said.

Felony Assaults 01/01 - 09/30

Prior to implementing the new law, prosecutors had to determine if a strangulation case should be charged as misdemeanor simple assault or felony aggravated assault. The main difference between the two is the injury, or attempted injury, the victim suffers.

Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed said proving strangulation caused serious bodily injury, as required by the aggravated assault statute, was difficult.

“When you get to that argument about serious bodily injury, that’s what makes those cases really tough,” Freed said.

Serious bodily injury is generally defined as causing major impairment or the loss of bodily function or causing major injury or disfigurement, which can be difficult to prove in strangulation cases where the only signs of physical injury may be bruising, according to Freed.

“Whether it deters them or punishes them, (the law) highlights the (offenders) who are of high risk, which will provide more protection for their victims,” he said.

Felony assault charges in Cumberland County are up roughly 94 percent during the first nine months of the year compared to 2016, according to an analysis by The Sentinel.

The increase appears largely to come from felony strangulation cases that did not include a charge of aggravated assault, the analysis found.

During the first nine months of 2017, 47 felony aggravated assault cases were filed in addition to 42 felony strangulation cases, according to court records.

In the same time frame last year only 46 aggravated assaults were filed, court records showed. Aggravated assault was the only felony assault charge available for these types of cases at the time.

Misdemeanor simple assault cases have decreased by roughly 4 percent between 2016 and 2017, and overall assault cases are up 6 percent in the county, according to court records.

This may mean cases that would have been charged as a misdemeanor prior to the new law are now being charged as a felony.

The Sentinel also reviewed assault cases in Franklin, Adams, Perry, Dauphin, York and Bedford counties and found similar trends in all but Perry County.

Felony assault cases rose by roughly 30 percent in Franklin, Adams, Dauphin and Bedford counties following the implementation of the law while overall assaults, simple assaults and aggravated assaults dropped, according to the analysis.

In York County, felony assaults rose by more than 50 percent while filings for simple assault and aggravated assault dropped, The Sentinel found.

The large difference between Cumberland County’s increase and the other counties likely has to do with how infrequently Cumberland County charged felony assault prior to the new strangulation law. Freed attributed this to the county’s requirement that all initial charging decisions be approved by an assistant district attorney before filing. Police in the other counties can make the decision of what to charge in many cases and the prosecutor is brought into the case after.

Cumberland County’s rate of felony assaults in 2016 was roughly 19 per 100,000 residents. The next closest county was York with a rate of roughly 28 cases per 100,000 residents and Dauphin County topped the list at roughly 83 cases per 100,000 residents, The Sentinel’s analysis found.

Perry County was the only outlier in the review of court records. Across the board assaults fell in the county.

However, a roughly 60 percent drop in aggravated assault charges correlated to only a 20 percent decrease in felony assault cases, according to court records.

At the end of 2016, Penn Township moved to eliminate its police department, shifting duties to Pennsylvania State Police. Penn Township operated one of the few municipal police departments in the county, which may contribute to the overall drop in criminal filings.

To conduct the study, The Sentinel reviewed all criminal cases entered into the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System in the seven counties. The assault cases were separated and sorted into categories based on the highest assault charge.

If a case included an aggravated assault charge, regardless of including simple assault or strangulation, it was placed in one category. Strangulation cases charged as a felony that did not include an aggravated assault charge were placed in another, and simple assault cases that did not include felony strangulation or aggravated assault were placed into a third category.

5 Questions: Garden grows for local organization

When Laura Knotts, 17, a homeschooled student from Smithsburg, Maryland, heard about New Hope Ministries, she wanted to do something to help.

That help came in the form of a garden at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg from which more than 1,000 pounds of produce were harvested for the ministry to distribute to those in need through its centers in Mechanicsburg, Dillsburg, Dover, Hanover, New Oxford and Lemoyne.

Q. How did you develop the garden idea?

A. I was searching for a project for my Stars and Stripes Award in American Heritage Girls, a Christ-centered scouting program for girls ages 5-18. The award is the highest honor in the program and equivalent to Eagle Scout. Its main requirement is a community service project of at least 100 hours of planning and implementation.

When I heard about New Hope Ministries, I loved their mission and wanted to become involved. I asked if there was anything I could do for their organization, and found that a long-time need was a constant source of fresh produce for their food pantry. Jeanne Troy, the New Hope Ministries representative, suggested I plant a vegetable garden on the property of our troop’s charter church. I shared this idea with my family, AHG troop and church staff, and decided to pursue it after much prayer. We knew that, with God’s help, it had the potential to benefit New Hope Ministries in a huge way.

Q. Who were the major partners in getting the garden started, and how did they help?

A. Each of my family members, especially my mom, was heavily involved with the project and dedicated many hours to its success. I could not have done it without them. They were a constant source of encouragement and advice, and helped me stay focused and on track.

The New Hope Ministries representative, Jeanne Troy, worked with me closely to let me know exactly what the organization needed and how we could best tailor the garden to work for them. She also spread the word to the surrounding area.

The staff of West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, where the garden was located, were instrumental in setting the idea into motion. They provided the land and temporary storage space for tools/wheelbarrows, obtained the fencing permit and offered gardening advice.

The Ames Charitable Foundation was an essential partner in getting this project off the ground. The vice-president of human resources for the Ames Cos. Inc., Chris Ebling, heard about the project through his longtime friend, Jeanne. He was thrilled about the idea and how well it aligned with the company’s product types and charitable endeavors. He offered that the foundation would donate all tools, wheelbarrows, hoses and other materials; provide assistance with planting and maintenance; pay for the installation of a chain link fence; and pay for a shed to house the tools.

My American Heritage Girls troop was constantly involved, as well. Our troop coordinator, leaders, charter representative, girls and my mentor encouraged and prayed for me, volunteering to assist with installation and maintenance.

Another key partner was our future garden ministry leader, Libby Kiehl. To move this garden past the initial idea phase, we needed to ensure that there was someone willing to take on its responsibilities in future years. She stepped up to meet this need and assisted with installation and maintenance this season.

Q. Once the growing season was underway, how did you take care of the garden and get the produce to New Hope Ministries?

A. After planting, the garden needed to be watered, weeded and harvested frequently. My family and I spent many hours there, but the majority of this work was accomplished by volunteers from AHG and Trail Life USA, a Christ-centered scouting program for boys ages 5-18, families, church members and others.

Within a few weeks of planting, vegetables began growing. However, there was no urgent need for a regular delivery schedule at this point, as harvest was coming in inconsistently. Either Jeanne Troy or the volunteer who picked it would deliver produce to the Mechanicsburg center. When harvest began readying steadily, I worked with the New Hope Ministries’ food program coordinator to establish a pick-up schedule each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

The total pounds of produce donated from our garden to the Mechanicsburg New Hope Ministries food pantry is 1,122 pounds between July and October 2017.

Q. How will the garden be tended in the future?

A. In the future, our ministry leader will be the coordinator of the garden. She will be responsible for donations, workdays and volunteers. I will definitely be involved in the garden next year, but not to the extent I was this season.

Q. What are your plans for the future?

A. My plans for the future are, above all, to follow God’s will for my life and do my best to bring glory to him. I’m not yet sure what path he will lead me to, but I know without a doubt that he will reveal this to me in his perfect timing. My current goal is to be a nutritionist, and I’d like to gain an associate’s degree at a community college before transferring to a Christian college such as Messiah College or Liberty University.

Dickinson College
Dickinson College investigating 'offensive' Halloween costume

Dickinson College officials are investigating an incident involving “an offensive Halloween costume,” according to a letter to the campus community posted to the college’s website.

The letter was sent to the campus community Sunday by Vice President and Dean of Student Life Joyce Bylander.

The letter describes a photo that had been sent to Bylander as “a student dressed in an offensive Halloween costume stereotypically representing a person of color while another student pointed a gun at him.”

The image was also posted to social media.

“We do not believe the gun in the photo was real, but the matter is being investigated. No guns, real or fake, are permitted on campus,” said Christine Baksi, director of media relations for the college.

“The costume and the image were deeply offensive and reflected the exercise of very poor judgment,” Bylander wrote. “These decisions and actions in no way represent our Dickinson values, and we will work with those involved to educate them on the impact of their behavior.”

Bylander also wrote that the action, “however distasteful,” is an expression of free speech, but that expression of free speech does not have to be accepted by the community.

“I call on the community to handle this situation as we have handled other difficult moments,” she wrote. “We must engage each other in conversations about how individual choices can have a negative impact on other community members. We must answer speech with speech.”

Baski said the college is encouraging continuing dialogue and facilitating a number of opportunities for discussion.

“It’s important for all involved to understand how deeply the actions of some affect the entire community,” she said.

Bylander’s letter also indicated that President Margee Ensign is “aware of the situation and deeply concerned,” though she is currently dealing with a family emergency that requires her full attention.

“She asks that we all find ways to talk to each other in supportive, constructive ways when we are confronted with these issues,” Bylander wrote.

Bylander concluded the letter with a call to use the incident to strengthen Dickinson’s values of inclusivity, civil dialogue and cross-cultural understanding.