Second Steele Report Alleges Foul Play in Death of Russian Media Mogul in Washington D.C.

The FBI is in possession of an additional Steele report that casts doubt on the findings of a Washington D.C. Police Department investigation into the mysterious death of a Russian media mogul in 2015.

Mikhail Lesin, the founder of Russia Today, Russia’s state-owned news outlet, was found dead in a hotel room in Washington D.C. in November of 2015. A Washington D.C. Police Department investigation that lasted eleven months concluded Lesin died of blunt force trauma to the head. The D.C. medical examiner also said that Lesin suffered injuries to his neck, torso and upper and lower extremities.

His death was ruled an “accident,” caused by drunken falls in his hotel room after “days of excessive consumption of alcohol,” according to a federal prosecutor.

It’s being reported that the FBI is in possession of a report, compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, that Lesin was beaten to death by people working for a wealthy Russian oligarch. The report states Lesin was not supposed to be killed but the enforcers got carried away. It’s also being reported that Lesin was killed on the eve of a meeting with officials from the U.S. Justice Department who were investigating Lesin and the inner workings of the network he founded.

Federal prosecutors had also called witnesses to testify before a grand jury in Lesin’s murder in 2016. Officials declined to identify the witnesses or discuss their testimony. A Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit brought to obtain documents relating to the case is ongoing.

Lesin was the former propaganda chief for Russian President Vladimir Putin. He played a prominent role in helping the Russian president consolidate power over Russia’s media in the early part of his term. He helped Putin take over Russia’s independent television station, NTV, which aired reports critical of Putin’s government as well as the war in Chechnya, and also became a platform for Putin’s detractors.

Lesin, while serving as Russia’s information minister, jailed NTV’s funder and majority shareholder, Vladimir Gusinsky. Gusinsky’s holdings in NTV were taken away from him by force after he refused to transfer them over to Russia’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom voluntarily. Lesin would go on to found Russia Today, or RT, as it’s known today. He conceived of the idea while working for Putin and created it in order to counter what he saw as anti-Russian journalism in the West.

Lesin caught the attention of U.S. investigators because it’s believed that money gotten through illegal seizures such as the one from Gusinsky, was laundered and then invested in American real estate. Lesin was under investigation from the FBI and the Justice Department for potentially stashing up to $30 million in luxury real estate purchases in southern California. At least two of the homes are occupied by Lesin’s daughter and son respectively.

In December of 2014, the Justice Department confirmed that it had referred Lesin’s case to the FBI. The FBI, citing Bureau policy declined to say at the time whether an investigation was opened into Lesin, but it’s widely believed one was. Two weeks after the DOJ referred Lesin’s case to the FBI, in fact, Lesin stepped down as the head of Gazprom media. At the time he cited unspecified, “family reasons.” Less than a year later he was found dead in a hotel room in Washington D.C.

Three other sources, separate and apart from Steele, are also telling the FBI that Lesin was beaten to death by men working for the same powerful Russian oligarch that Steele names in his report. While not publicly confirming he cause of Lesin’s death the revelations are consistent with belief on the part of several agents within the Bureau.

“What I can tell you is that there isn’t a single person inside the bureau who believes this guy got drunk, fell down, and died,” an FBI agent told BuzzFeed News last year. “Everyone thinks he was whacked and that Putin or the Kremlin were behind it.”

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Kim Jong Un, in Surprise Visit to Beijing, Shores Up Chinese Support

North Korean President Kim Jong Un made a surprise visit to Beijing, China, this week and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It was the first time the two met face-to-face and the first time the reclusive leader met with a foreign head of state since assuming power in 2011.

The meeting is the first of three of the most potentially significant meetings of Kim’s tenure. Plans have been made for him to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month, and discussions are underway for a summit between Kim and President Trump in May. It would be the first meeting between a sitting U.S. President and a North Korean leader ever.

Although observers note that it would have been highly unusual for Kim to meet with either Moon or Trump without meeting with Xi first, the visit was still a surprise. Plans for the meeting were not announced prior to Kim arriving in Beijing, by train, on Monday. Kim, along with North Korean First Lady Ri Sol Ju, were in Beijing for two days.

Although publicly labeled an unofficial visit, the North Korean leader received full diplomatic treatment of a visiting head of state, including a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People.

“In this spring full of happiness and hopes, I believe my first meeting with General Secretary Xi Jinping will yield abundant fruits of DPRK-China friendship, and facilitate peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” he said in a statement.

Kim began the year by calling for the “melting” of frozen North-South relations and followed up quickly by sending a North Korean athletic delegation to the South Korean Olympic Winter Games last month. Athletes from the two nations marched in the opening ceremony under a unified flag, and also fielded a joint women’s ice hockey team.

A high-ranking delegation from South Korea visited North Korea earlier this month in an attempt to lay the groundwork for talks, which would include the United States, on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In an extraordinary development, that delegation reported, upon arriving in the U.S. to brief U.S. counterparts several days later, that Kim was not only willing to enter into talks but was willing to meet with Trump face-to-face and suspend his nuclear program.

The Trump administration indicated they would open to such a meeting but that crippling economic sanctions would remain in place on the rogue regime until its nuclear development program is halted. China briefed the Trump administration on its meetings this week with Kim yesterday. The recent develops were welcomed by the U.S. President.

“For years and through many administrations, everyone said that peace and the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not even a small possibility. Now there is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity. Look forward to our meeting!” President Trump wrote on Twitter.

It’s widely believed that Kim was shoring up support ahead of meetings with Moon and Trump. China is North Korea’s foremost trading partner and its only military ally. The gambit seems to have paid off.

“We speak highly of this visit,” Xi told Kim during the visit adding that China “appreciates the important efforts made by the DPRK (Democratic Republic of Korea)” and “positive changes” that have taken place since the beginning of the new year.

Further statements by Xi indicate that China considers itself an equal stakeholder in any negotiations to take place in North or South Korea. “China will continue to play a constructive role on the issue (of talks) and work with all parties, including the DPRK, toward the thaw of the situation on the Peninsula,” he said.

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Washington Man Arrested for Sending Packages Containing Explosive Devices to Government Buildings, Military Bases

A Washington State man with a history of writing incoherent notes to the military was arrested late last night for sending suspicious packages to military bases and government buildings in Washington D.C.

Forty-three-year-old Thang Cong Phan was taken into custody shortly before midnight on Monday. Phan had sent eleven packages containing “potential destructive devices” to government locations within the previous twenty-four hours, according to the FBI.

Included in the locations receiving the suspicious packages were CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, Fort Belvoir, in Virginia, Fort Lesly J. McNair in Washington D.C. and the Secret Service.

The package addressed to Fort McNair had black powder inside and what appeared to be a fuse.

All of the packages were detected by scanning devices, neutralized, then sent to the FBI for analysis. There were no reported injuries.

No motive for the sending of the packages was immediately apparent. Phan was taken into custody at his home in Everett, Washington. According to the FBI there doesn’t seem to be any connection to terrorism, but they cautioned that it’s possible additional packages were sent before Phan was apprehended.

The incidents come less than a week after a suspect in a series of package bombings in Austin, Texas, killed himself as authorities were closing in on him. Two people were killed, and several were injured in a string of five package bombs that started on March 2.

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Trump Administration Moves to Include Citizenship Question on Next Census

Attorneys general of several states pledged to sue the Trump administration over a decision to include a question about citizenship on the forthcoming 2020 census.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra already filed suit to prevent the question from being included, and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would lead an effort on behalf of several states to keep the question off of the form.

“Having an accurate Census count should be of the utmost importance for every Californian,” Becerra said. “The Census numbers provide the backbone for planning how our communities can grow and thrive in the coming decade. California simply has too much to lose for us to allow the Trump administration to botch this important decennial obligation.”

“This move directly targets states like New York that have large, thriving immigrant populations — threatening billions of dollars in federal funding for New York as well as fair representation in Congress and the electoral college,” said Schneiderman.

In a memo sent yesterday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross directed Karen Dunn Kelly, the under secretary for economic affairs, to include the question in the upcoming questionnaire. Ross cited potential depressed response rates as reasons to include the question.

“I have carefully considered the argument that the reinstatement of the citizenship question on the decennial census would depress response rate [sic],” Ross wrote.

“Because a lower response rate would lead to increased non-response follow-up costs and less accurate responses, this factor was an important consideration in the decision-making process. I find that the need for accurate citizenship data and the limited burden that the reinstatement of the citizenship question would impose outweigh fears about a potentially lower response rate,” he wrote.

Officials in blue states believe the inclusion of the question will have a chilling effect on the answering of the census, especially by undocumented immigrants, resulting in populations in those states being significantly undercounted. That under-counting could result in considerably less federal funding for an array of social programs like education, healthcare and financial assistance.

The Department of Justice had asked the Commerce Department to reinsert the question into the 2020 census last month. The question has not been an official part of the census since 1950. Nineteen attorneys general plus Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper wrote to Ross requesting that the question be omitted.

“The states would be profoundly harmed by an inaccurate 2020 Census, since it could result in an incorrect calculation of the number of Representatives to which each state is entitled, in violation of the Census Clause of the Constitution, and jeopardize critical federal funding that states depend on,” they wrote.

States whose officials signed on to the letter at that time included New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Mississippi and New Jersey. The Commerce Department oversees the U.S. Census Bureau.

The White House defended the decision to include the question, however. “We’ve contained this question that provides data that is necessary for the Department of Justice to protect voters and specifically help us better comply with the Voting Rights Act,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said today.

But Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill are concerned. House Oversight Committee Ranking Member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) called on Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to call a hearing on the issue.

“The Oversight Committee has jurisdiction over the Census, and I call on Chairman Gowdy to hold hearings as soon as possible on this issue, as well as other troubling examples of politicization at the Census Bureau under President Trump,” Cummings wrote in a statement today.

Gowdy in expecting unease surrounding the issue, requested a briefing last week his office said. “In anticipation of the Census Bureau submitting their questions to Congress by the end of this month, Chairman Gowdy requested a Member briefing from the Department of Commerce and the Census Bureau last week. The briefing will be open to all Oversight Committee Members,” spokesperson Amanda Gonzalez said.

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Former Senator Santorum: Kids Should Learn CPR, Stop Bullying Instead of Protesting for Stricter Gun Laws

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum criticized protesters who took part in the March For Our Lives demonstration for gun control for not taking enough personal action to solve the problem of gun violence.

“How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” he said.

When question whether protesting was taking action, Santorum said, “they took action to ask someone to pass a law. They didn’t take action to say how do I has an individual, deal with this problem.”

“They didn’t take action to say how do I, as an individual, deal with this problem. ‘How am I going to do something about stopping bullying within my own community? What am I going to do to actually help respond to a shooter?’ ” he added.

Hundreds of thousands of protestors descended on Washington D.C. Saturday to demand changes to the nation’s gun laws. The march was organized by survivors of the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, last month. Outcry from students, parents, teachers and lawmakers has failed to spur Congress to enact sweeping changes to gun control laws many are requesting.

Nearly 200,000 people attended the march in Washington while some organizations estimated that more than 850 events took place all over the world, including in all fifty U.S. states. Marchers in countries as far away as Israel, New Zealand, Australia, the U.K., Japan, Belgium, India, France and Chile also participated.

Marchers demanded stricter gun laws including comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases, and a ban on assault weapons. The marchers were protesting gun violence in schools, but the movement expanded to include victims of gun violence more broadly.

Santorum said that CPR classes or stopping bullying within communities “are the kinds of things where you can take it internally and say ‘here’s how I’m going to deal with it, here’s how I’m going to help the situation’ instead of going and protesting, saying ‘Oh, someone else needs to pass a law to protect me.'”

Santorum also criticized the protesters for demanding more restrictive gun measures, saying “phony gun laws” won’t solve the issue.

The former Senator was heavily criticized for his comments including by many doctors who called his comments “uninformed” and “unconscionable.”

“Gobsmackingly uninformed. Rick Santorum ‘instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that– where there is a violent shooter.’ perhaps best to leave #publichealth and #medicine to #docs,” wrote Dr. Heather Sher on Twitter.

“As a surgeon, I’ve operated on gunshot victims who’ve had bullets tear through their intestines, cut through their spinal cord, and pulverize their kidneys and liver. Rick Santorum telling kids to shut up and take CPR classes is simply unconscionable,” Dr. Eugene Gu posted.

Legislation that bolsters the nation’s firearm background check system and provides federal funding to states to address mental health issues and anonymous reporting systems for violence, as well as funding for physical fortifications like metal detectors and response technologies for law enforcement, was included in a massive spending bill signed into law last week.

Other measures, including bills expanding background checks and issuing protective orders against gun possession, have also been introduced in Congress. It is unclear though, when, or if, any additional gun-related bills will be voted on in Congress.

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Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin on Verge of Being Fired, According to Reports

President Donald Trump is on the verge of firing the Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin according to people familiar with the matter. The President is planning on making “one or two major changes,” according to longtime Trump friend and confidant Chris Ruddy, the Newsmax CEO. Ruddy spoke with Trump over the weekend, he said.

“Other White House sources, not the President, tell me that Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is likely to depart the Cabinet very soon,” Ruddy said during an interview yesterday. Another administration official put Shulkin’s chances of being pushed out in the coming days at “50/50.”

Shulkin has been under fire for months as scandals have clouded his tenure and high-ranking officials at the VA have staged an unprecedented rebellion.

Shulkin’s Chief of staff announced her resignation in February after it was learned she lied to investigators about doctoring an email that allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on a trip to Europe last year at taxpayer’s expense. Vivieca Wright Simpson had been with Veterans Affairs for thirty-two years and spent two years working for Shulkin.

An investigation by the VA’s inspector general found Simpson doctored an email sent to an ethics lawyer to show that Shulkin was getting special recognition or an award during a trip to Denmark and London last year. The statements allowed Shulkin’s wife to accompany him on the taxpayer funded trip.

Shulkin apologized and reimbursed the government for his wife’s airfare. He is also seeking to reimburse a British veterans’ advocate for tickets to the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament that he and wife improperly accepted while on that trip.

“I am committed to continuing the work that I came here to do, which is to support the president’s agenda to reform the VA and fix the VA the way that veterans deserve, the care and services they’ve earned,” he said at the time. “And I am going to remain focused on that task and I am not going to get distracted from what we have to do.”

It is unclear what caused Wright Simpson to doctor the email. She declined to comment.

A second internal investigation due out in the next couple of weeks is looking into complaints that Shulkin ordered a member of his round-the-clock security detail to accompany him to Home Depot store and carry furniture items into his home.

Shulkin is also facing what appears to be an extraordinary mutiny from VA officials serving under him. He has refused to comment on events he’s called “subversive,” but political appointees installed by Trump have openly discussed terminating Shulkin. A top communications official has taken an extended leave in the wake of a secret and failed attempt to turn lawmakers against him.

Shulkin has also drawn the ire of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly for repeatedly turning to the media to talk about problems at the VA, as well as claiming unwavering support from the White House in internal battles at the agency. Kelly has made it clear that is something Shulkin does not have.

The President has come to view Shulkin’s tenure as a distraction and is weighing replacements options, officials have said. Among the names being floated are former Service member and former CEO of the conservative Concerned Veterans for America Pete Hegseth, and retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg.

Several Cabinet members have been fired or have resigned in recent weeks including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster. The President hinted at changes earlier this month when he said, “I have gotten to know a lot of people very well over the last year and I’m really at a point where we’re getting close to having the cabinet and other things that I want.”

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Former President Obama: I’d Like to Create a Million Young Barack Obamas or Michelle Obamas

Former President Barack Obama plans to dedicate his work post-presidency to helping to develop the next generation of leaders. “If I could do that effectively, then – you know – I would create a hundred or a thousand or a million young Barack Obamas or Michelle Obamas,” he said. “Or, the next group of people who could take that baton in that relay race that is human progress,” he added.

Obama was speaking at the Fourth Global Opinion Leaders Summit in Tokyo, Japan, yesterday.

The President also addressed the tens of thousands of protesters that participated in the March For Our Lives march for gun safety in Washington D.C. and other cities around the world, the previous day.

“This was all because of the courage and effort of a handful of 15- and 16-year-olds, who took the responsibility that so often adults had failed to take in trying to find a solution to this problem, and I think that’s a testimony to what happens when young people are given opportunities, and I think all institutions have to think about how do we tap into that creativity and that energy and that drive,” he said.

“Because it’s there. It’s just so often we say: ‘Wait your turn.’”

One of the main issue the President says he will be devoting his time to, now that he’s out of office, is the extreme media polarization that exists in the U.S. Obama believes it is to the detriment of politics in the nation.

“One of the things we’re going to be spending time on, through the [Obama] foundation, is finding ways in which we can study this phenomenon of social media and the internet to see are there ways in which we can bring people from different perspectives to start having a more civil debate and listen to each other more carefully,” he said.

The President also discussed climate change and his hopes that the international community comes together to find a global solution that addresses both environmental and economic concerns. “My hope is that building on the Paris Accords, all countries start recognizing that if we join forces then there’s no reason we have to sacrifice economic development,” he said.

Obama also commented on North Korea and the difficulty the U.S. and its allies have had in curbing the regime’s aggression. “North Korea is an example of a country that is so far out of the international norms and so disconnected with the rest of the world,” he told the audience. “That makes them less subject to these kinds of negotiations,” he said, speaking of the deal several U.S. allies struck with Iran to halt the country’s nuclear program.

Obama was in Japan at the invitation of a Japanese non-profit group that organized the Summit. Prior stops on his week-long trip to Asia included Australia, New Zealand and Singapore.

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U.S., 14 EU Nations Announce Coordinated Expulsion of Russian Diplomats

The Trump administration announced that it is expelling sixty Russian diplomats from the U.S. for that government’s alleged role in the poisoning of a Russian ex-patriot living in Britain earlier this month. The announcement is expected to coincide with similar announcements from other European Union countries, many of them also NATO members.

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, a body that sets the political agenda of the EU announced the coordinated announcements this morning shortly after 9 a.m. “Today 14 EU Member States decided to expel Russian diplomats as direct follow-up to #EUCO discussion last week on #SalisburyAttack. Additional measures including further expulsions are not excluded in coming days, weeks.”

Countries such as Poland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have indicated that they will be making their similar, individual announcements throughout the day.

Of the sixty diplomats expelled from the U.S., twelve are stationed at the United Nations in New York. Forty-eight are stationed at the Russian embassy in Washington D.C. In addition to the expulsions, the U.S. government is also closing the Russian consulate in Seattle. That consulate, the administration says, is being closed due to its proximity to a U.S. submarine base as well as Boeing headquarters.

Senior administration officials assert that the Russian officials designated for expulsion are intelligence personnel “being cloaked by diplomatic positions here in the US.” The U.S. considers them “aggressive collection personnel.” The expulsions will leave forty Russians in the U.S. by the administration’s estimates, but the fewer number will make it easier for the FBI to track, they say.

Russia is accused of poisoning sixty-six-year-old Sergey Skripal and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia in Salisbury, a cathedral city in Wilshire, England, about ninety miles southwest of London. They were found slumped on a bench on March 4 and have been hospitalized with their conditions described as critical since. A third victim, a British Detective that visited Skripal’s home at the outset of the investigation has also been hospitalized. His condition has remains serious.

Authorities have determined that the Skripals are suffering from “exposure to a nerve agent.” That nerve agent has been identified as Novichok, a military grade substance developed in the Soviet Union during the 1970s.

Skripal is a former Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted in Russia of spying for the British in 2006. He was released in 2010 as part of a negotiated spy swap between the nations and had been living in Salisbury ever since. His daughter Yulia flew to England the day before the two were found.

In a joint statement between the U.K., France, Germany and the U.S., the countries condemned the attacks and called on Russia to answer all questions raised by it. Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and has called the U.K.’s actions “provocative” and their accusations “unfounded.”

The White House today admonished Russia but said it stands ready to cooperate with the nation if it will alter its behavior. “With these steps, the United States and our allies and partners make clear to Russia that its actions have consequences. The United States stands ready to cooperate to build a better relationship with Russia, but this can only happen with a change in the Russian government’s behavior,” the statement read.

The only reaction so far to the expulsion by the Russian embassy in the U.S. was to post a poll on its Twitter feed asking for votes on which U.S. embassy in Russia respondents would close if it were up to them. “What US Consulate General would you close in ‪@Russia, if it was up to you to decide [sic],” the embassy asked. The poll listed three U.S.-consulate-locations as options: Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok and St. Petersburg, Russia.

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Cambridge Analytica Parent Company Bragged About Foreign Election Interference in Promotional Materials

The parent company of data research firm Cambridge Analytica, Strategic Communications Laboratories, has bragged about interference-tactics in foreign elections according to promotional materials published by the company. SCL, and its subsidiary, use psychometrics, the study of human characteristics to predict human behavior. They then use information gleaned from things like personality tests to help create algorithms that can help predict people’s reactions to online messaging, and ultimately, influence them.

According to marketing materials obtained by the BBC, the London-based company claims to have organized rallies in Nigeria in 2007 in order to weaken political support for the opposition. It also claims to have taken advantage of ethnic tensions in Latvia in order to help their client during that country’s 2006 elections.

In 2010, the company says it coordinated an “ambitious campaign of political graffiti” in Trinidad and Tobago that “ostensibly came from the youth” so that their clients could “claim credit for listening to a ‘united youth'”.

SCL claims in the brochure that potential clients could contact the company through “any British High Commission or Embassy.” The company also claims that it received “List X” authorization which means it had “government endorsed clearance to handle information protectively marked as ‘confidential’ and above.”

SCL was awarded British government contracts in 2008. Most of the activity described in the brochures seems to have taken place before then. The British Ministry of Defense confirms SLC was given List X authorization but that it was discontinued in 2013. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office denies that SCL could be contacted through British diplomatic outposts, and awareness of SCL’s foreign election interference activity.

“It is not now nor ever has been the case that enquiries for SCL ‘can be directed through any British High Commission or Embassy’”, a spokesperson said. “Our understanding is that, at the time of the signing of the contract for project work in 2008/9, the FCO was not aware of SCL’s reported activity during the 2006 Latvian election or 2007 Nigerian election,” the FCO added.

Cambridge Analytica has recently been implicated in the data harvesting of some 50 million Facebook users’ account information, many of whom were U.S. voters. The information is believed to have been used to help Donald Trump’s campaign. Cambridge worked for the Trump campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It has also been revealed that the company may have used the data to influence English voters in the Brexit vote of 2016, where British voters chose to exit the European Union.

British police raided Cambridge’s London office yesterday. One dozen investigators entered the office late Friday night with a search warrant granted from a High Court judge. They reportedly left the offices seven hours later.

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