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White House: Russia prepping pretext for Ukraine invasion

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. intelligence officials have determined a Russian effort is underway to create a pretext for its troops to further invade Ukraine, and Moscow has already prepositioned operatives to conduct “a false-flag operation” in eastern Ukraine, according to the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday the intelligence findings show Russia is also laying the groundwork through a social media disinformation campaign that frames Ukraine as an aggressor that has been preparing an imminent attack against Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine.

Psaki charged that Russia has already dispatched operatives trained in urban warfare who could use explosives to carry out acts of sabotage against Russia’s own proxy forces — blaming the acts on Ukraine — if Russian President Vladimir Putin decides he wants to move forward with an invasion.

“We are concerned that the Russian government is preparing for an invasion in Ukraine that may result in widespread human rights violations and war crimes should diplomacy fail to meet their objectives,” Psaki said.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby described the intelligence as “very credible.” A U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment on the intelligence and spoke on condition of anonymity, said much of it was gleaned from intercepted communications and observations of the movements of people.

The U.S. intelligence findings, which were declassified and shared with U.S. allies before being made public, estimate that a military invasion could begin between mid-January and mid-February.

Ukraine is also monitoring the potential use of disinformation by Russia. Separately, Ukrainian media on Friday reported that authorities believed Russian special services were planning a possible false flag incident to provoke additional conflict.

The new U.S. intelligence was unveiled after a series of talks between Russia and the U.S. and its Western allies this week in Europe aimed at heading off the escalating crisis made little progress.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday said the U.S. intelligence community has not made an assessment that the Russians, who have massed some 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s border, have definitively decided to take a military course of action.

But Sullivan said Russia is laying the groundwork to invade under false pretenses should Putin decide to go that route. He said the Russians have been planning “sabotage activities and information operations” that accuse Ukraine of prepping for its own imminent attack against Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

He said this is similar to what the Kremlin did in the lead-up to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that had been under Ukraine’s jurisdiction since 1954.

The Crimea crisis came at moment when Ukraine was looking to strengthen ties with the West. Russia had stepped up propaganda that Ukraine’s ethnic Russians were being oppressed in eastern Ukraine.

Russia has long been accused of using disinformation as a tactic against adversaries in conjunction with military operations and cyberattacks. In 2014, Russian state media tried to discredit pro-Western protests in Kyiv as “fomented by the U.S. in cooperation with fascist Ukrainian nationalists” and promoted narratives about Crimea’s historical ties to Moscow, according to a report by Stanford University’s Internet Observatory.

Efforts to directly influence Ukrainians appear to have continued during the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, in which at least 14,000 people have died. The Associated Press reported in 2017 that Ukrainian forces in the east were constantly receiving text messages warning that they would be killed and their children would be made orphans.

Nina Jankowicz, a global fellow at the Washington-based Wilson Center, said Russia’s disinformation efforts have evolved between the lead-up to its annexation of Crimea and now. This time, the Kremlin appears to be driving anti-Ukraine narratives with top officials making bellicose public statements, said Jankowicz, author of “How To Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict.”

“The officials are setting the tone for the state media and they’re just running with it,” she said.

So-called “troll farms” that post fake comments are less influential in part because social media companies have gotten better at stopping them, she said. Russian efforts on social media often play on existing doubts in Ukrainian society about whether the U.S. will support Ukraine in a conflict and whether the West can be trusted, she said.

The U.S. intelligence community has taken note of a buildup on social media by Russian influencers justifying intervention by emphasizing deteriorating human rights in Ukraine, suggesting an increased militancy of Ukrainian leaders and blaming the West for escalating tensions.

“We saw this playbook in 2014,” Sullivan told reporters on Thursday. “They are preparing this playbook again.”

The Russians, while maintaining they don’t plan to invade Ukraine, are demanding that the U.S. and NATO provide written guarantees that the alliance will not expand eastward. The U.S. has called such demands nonstarters but said that it’s willing to negotiate with Moscow about possible future deployments of offensive missiles in Ukraine and putting limits on U.S. and NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned on Friday that Moscow wouldn’t wait indefinitely for the Western response, saying he expects the U.S. and NATO to provide a written answer next week.

Lavrov described Moscow’s demands for binding guarantees that NATO will not embrace Ukraine or any other former Soviet nations, or station its forces and weapons there, as essential for the progress of diplomatic efforts to defuse soaring tensions over Ukraine.

He argued that NATO’s deployments and drills near Russia’s borders pose a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.

“We have run out of patience,” Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Jury Selection Underway For Murder Retrial Of Dayonte Resiles

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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Jury selection is underway for the retrial of Dayonte Resiles who is charged in the 2014 stabbing death of Jill Halliburton Su.

Su, a wife, mother, and the grandniece of Halliburton oil founder Erie Halliburton was found stabbed to death in her Davie Home.

READ MORE: Feds To Argue For Transgender Student In Bathroom Case

Prosecutors claim he broke into Su’s home to burglarize it and killed her when he was discovered. Family and friends believe he is innocent.

Resiles has pleaded not guilty.

READ MORE: Suspect In Haitian President’s Murder Charged In Miami Federal Court

Last month, a judge declared a mistrial in Resiles’ first murder trial, after the jury delivered a manslaughter verdict but then a juror said she didn’t agree with it.

Resiles made headlines in 2016 for an escape from the Broward County Courthouse. It took nearly a week to take him back into custody.

MORE NEWS: Hialeah Gardens Man Charged Murder In Killing Of Girlfriend, Injuring Her Son

If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

CBSMiami.com Team

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Feds To Argue For Transgender Student In Bathroom Case

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – The U.S. Department of Justice will argue next month at a federal appeals court on behalf of a transgender male student who was prevented from using boys’ bathrooms at a St. Johns County high school.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this week approved a motion by the Justice Department to participate in oral arguments in a case that has drawn attention from states and groups across the country.

READ MORE: Jury Selection Underway For Murder Retrial Of Dayonte Resiles

Drew Adams, who is transgender, and his mother filed the lawsuit in 2017 after St. Johns County’s Nease High School required him to use a gender-neutral, single-stall bathroom or girls’ bathrooms. A U.S. district judge sided with Adams in the dispute, leading to the St. Johns County School Board taking the case to the Atlanta-based appeals court.

In its Jan. 12 motion to participate in the arguments, the Justice Department contended that the school board’s refusal to allow Adams to use boys’ bathrooms violated equal-protection rights and a federal law known as Title IX, which bars sex-based discrimination. The motion was approved Tuesday.

“The (school) board fails to identify any sound basis for treating Adams differently than cisgender boys for purposes of using the school restrooms, even while treating him as a boy for other purposes,” the Justice Department said in a brief filed in November. “As the district court found, Adams identifies and presents physically as a boy. Even if Adams has some anatomical differences from cisgender boys, those differences are not observable when Adams goes into a private bathroom stall and closes the door. To justify differential treatment, the differences must actually be relevant to the government’s (the school board’s) asserted justification.”

The full federal appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments Feb. 22. A panel of the court ruled in favor of Adams in July, but the full court subsequently vacated the ruling and said it would hear the case — a move known as holding an “en banc’ hearing.

READ MORE: Suspect In Haitian President’s Murder Charged In Miami Federal Court

Attorneys for the school board have pointed to privacy issues in defending the bathroom policy. Adams graduated from the high school as the case moved forward.

“This case has always been about whether a definition of sex founded in the real and enduring biological differences between boys and girls substantially advances the important privacy interests of students to use the bathroom free from members of the opposite biological sex,” the school board’s attorneys wrote in a court document last year.

As a sign of the national interest in the case, 40 states and the District of Columbia chose sides in two briefs that were filed in the fall.

Signing on to a brief supporting Adams were the attorneys general in New York, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Backing the school board in another brief were attorneys general in Tennessee, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia.

MORE NEWS: Hialeah Gardens Man Charged Murder In Killing Of Girlfriend, Injuring Her Son

(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.)

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Georgia DA Asks for Special Grand Jury to Investigate Trump in 2020 Election Probe

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The Georgia prosecutor looking into possible attempts to interfere in the 2020 general election by former President Donald Trump and others has asked for a special grand jury to aid the investigation.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Thursday sent a letter to Fulton County Superior Court Chief Judge Christopher Brasher asking him to impanel a special grand jury. She wrote in the letter that her office “has received information indicating a reasonable probability that the State of Georgia’s administration of elections in 2020, including the State’s election of the President of the United States, was subject to possible criminal disruptions.”

Willis has declined to speak about the specifics of her investigation, but in an interview with The Associated Press earlier this month she confirmed that its scope includes — but is not limited to — a Jan. 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a November 2020 phone call between U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Raffensperger, the abrupt resignation of the U.S. attorney in Atlanta on Jan. 4, 2021, and comments made during December 2020 Georgia legislative committee hearings on the election.

A Trump spokesman has previously dismissed the investigation as a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Graham has also denied any wrongdoing.

In a statement Thursday, Trump said his call to Raffensperger was “perfect.”

“I didn’t say anything wrong in the call, made while I was President on behalf of the United States of America, to look into the massive voter fraud which took place in Georgia,” Trump said. He ended his statement by saying, “No more political witch hunts!”

Federal and state officials have repeatedly said there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Georgia or elsewhere in the country during the 2020 election.

Willis’ office has tried to interview multiple witnesses and gather evidence, but some witnesses and prospective witnesses have refused to cooperate without a subpoena, she wrote in the letter to Brasher. For example, Willis wrote in the letter that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whom she calls an “essential witness,” has “indicated that he will not participate in an interview or otherwise offer evidence until he is presented with a subpoena by my office.” A special grand jury would have the power to subpoena witnesses.

Raffensperger’s office did not immediately respond to an email Thursday asking whether he would decline to participate without a subpoena.

Special grand juries, which are not used often in Georgia, can help in the investigation of complex matters. They do not have the power to return an indictment but can make recommendations to prosecutors on criminal prosecutions.

Willis said the special grand jury is needed because it can serve a term longer than a normal grand jury term. It would also be able to focus on this investigation alone, allowing it to focus on the complex facts and circumstances. And having a special grand jury would mean that the regular seated grand jury wouldn’t have to deal with this investigation in addition to their regular duties, Willis wrote.

She also asked that a superior court judge be appointed to assist and supervise the special grand jury in its investigation.

Willis, who took office in January 2021, sent letters to top elected officials in Georgia in February instructing them to preserve any records related to the general election, particularly any evidence of attempts to influence election officials. The probe includes “potential violations of Georgia law prohibiting the solicitation of election fraud, the making of false statements to state and local government bodies, conspiracy, racketeering, violation of oath of office and any involvement in violence or threats related to the election’s administration,” the letters said.

Willis, a longtime prosecutor, has repeatedly said that she’s aware of the intense public interest in her investigation, but she’s said she won’t be rushed. She told the AP that a decision on whether to seek charges in the case could come in the first half of this year.

In her letter to Brasher, Willis said her office has learned that people who may have tried to influence Georgia’s election have had contact with the secretary of state, the state attorney general and the U.S. attorney’s office in Atlanta. That means her office is the only one with the authority to investigate these matters that is not also a potential witness.

Legislatures in Texas, Florida and other states have proposed limits on ballot drop boxes and other election security measures. The laws come after former President Donald Trump claimed of widespread fraud in the 2020 election, contrary to multiple lawsuits and audits that did not support his claims. Now, governors up for re-election in 2022 could see election policies become a major campaign issue, says Insider Senior Politics Reporter Grace Panetta.

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