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More Anti-Trump Rallies Planned In U.S. Cities

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A second consecutive day of protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s month-old administration will unfold on Friday in cities across the country, with activists urging Americans to skip work and school in a show of dissent.

Strike4Democracy, one of the groups organizing what it calls the #F17 General Strike, said more than 100 public protests were expected. About 16,000 people responded to a Facebook page for a march at New York’s Washington Square Park on Friday.

“This is how we stop Trump and the entire corrupt political establishment before they destroy us and the planet we call home,” the F17 Facebook page said.

Protests also were planned in large and small cities across the country, including Chicago, New Orleans, and Mason City, Iowa.

Strike4Democracy urged Americans to stay away from work if possible and take part in a community service. It suggested people refrain from making purchases and instead donate their lunch money to a worthy cause and contact congressional representatives about the strike.

Michelle Rodino-Colocino, an organizer for Strike4Democracy, told NBC News that after the idea of a “general strike” was floated online, it took off on its own, with dozens of organizers working independently to stage events.

The Strike4Democracy website said the protest was aimed at halting “the authoritarian assault on our fundamental, constitutional rights” and the victimization of women, Muslims, immigrants, and others.

The planned actions follow the Day Without Immigrants nationwide protest on Thursday against Trump’s immigration policies. Businesses shut their doors, students skipped class and thousands of demonstrators gathered to highlight the importance of immigrants to the U.S. economy.

Trump, who took office last month, has signed an executive order temporarily banning entry to the United States by travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees. Federal appeals court judges have temporarily blocked the travel ban.

Since his Jan. 20 inauguration, Trump has faced a steady stream of protests and marches, highlighted by a series of mass rallies that drew hundreds of thousands of people on the day after he was sworn in.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Demonstrators march during the “Day Without Immigrants” protest in Chicago, Illinois, February 16, 2017.  REUTERS/Theopolis Waters

Fortress Washington Girds For Days Of Anti-Trump Protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Washington will turn into a virtual fortress ahead of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration on Friday as the U.S. capital braces for more than a quarter-million protesters expected during the Republican’s swearing-in.

Police have forecast that some 900,000 people, both supporters and opponents, will flood Washington for the inauguration ceremony, which includes the swearing-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and a parade to the White House along streets thronged with spectators.

Many of those attending will be protesters irate about the New York real estate developer’s demeaning comments about women, immigrants and Muslims, a vow to repeal the sweeping healthcare reform law known as Obamacare and plans to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

His supporters admire Trump’s experience in business, including as a real estate developer and reality television star, and view him as an outsider and problem-solver.

Outgoing U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said police aim to separate groups to diffuse tensions, similar to last-year’s political conventions.

“The concern is some of these groups are pro-Trump, some of them are con-Trump, and they may not play well together in the same space,” Johnson said on MSNBC on Thursday.

About 28,000 security personnel, miles (kilometers) of fencing, roadblocks, street barricades and dump trucks laden with sand will be part of the security cordon around 3 square miles (almost 8 square km) of central Washington.

About 30 groups that organizers claim will draw about 270,000 protesters or Trump backers have received permits for rallies or marches before, during and after the swearing-in. More protests are expected without permits.

A protest group known as Disrupt J20 has vowed to stage demonstrations at each of 12 security checkpoints and block access to the festivities on the grassy National Mall.

PROTESTS AROUND THE WORLD

By far the biggest protest will be the Women’s March on Washington on Saturday, which organizers expect to draw 250,000 people. Hundreds of Women’s March-related protests are scheduled across the United States and around the world as well.

There will be an anti-Trump protest in New York on Thursday evening when Mayor Bill de Blasio, filmmaker Michael Moore and actors Mark Ruffalo and Alec Baldwin, who portrays Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” take part in a rally outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

One Washington protest will come amid a haze of pot smoke as pro-marijuana activists show their opposition to Trump’s choice for attorney general, Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, a critic of pot legalization.

The group plans to distribute 4,200 joints at the inauguration and urge attendees to light up. Possession of small amounts of marijuana is legal in Washington but public consumption is not.

Interim Police Chief Peter Newsham said officers were prepared for mass arrests, although authorities hoped that would be unnecessary.

“If we do have a mass arrest, we’ll be able to get people processed very quickly,” he told Washington’s NBC 4 television station.

Police and security officials have pledged to guarantee protesters’ constitutional rights to free speech and peaceable assembly.

Friday’s crowds are expected to be less than the 2 million who attended Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, and in line with the million who were at his second, four years ago.

The inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue will pass the Trump International Hotel, a rallying point for protesters since the election now encircled by security fences.

In a sign of the Trump-related angst gripping Washington, the dean of the Washington National Cathedral said this week its choir would sing “God Bless America” at the inauguration despite misgivings by some members.

“Let me be clear: We are not singing for the President. We are singing for God because that is what church choirs do,” the Reverend Randolph Marshall Hollerith said in a letter.

Trump will attend an interfaith prayer service at the cathedral on Saturday, closing out the inaugural ceremonies.

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

IMAGE: Chain link fencing is up around the Washington Monument as a security measure in the days prior to Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

‘Pharma Bro’ Shkreli Suspended From Twitter For Harassment

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. drug executive Martin Shkreli, dubbed the “pharma bro” and vilified for raising the price of a lifesaving drug by 5,000 percent, was suspended by Twitter on Sunday for harassing a female journalist.

Shkreli, a supporter of Republican President-elect Donald Trump, had dogged freelance reporter Lauren Duca, including sending her requests for dates, after she wrote an op-ed piece for Teen Vogue that was critical of Trump.

Shkreli, who caused controversy for hiking the price of an anti-parasitic drug to $750 a dose while head of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, had his Twitter account suspended for harassment, the San Francisco-based microblogging service said in an emailed statement.

After the suspension, Duca tweeted, “Why is harassment an automatic career hazard for a woman receiving any amount of professional attention?”

Duca had drawn media attention for her article in December arguing that Trump had conned U.S. voters. Shkreli then tweeted about trying to date her, and he sent her an invitation on Thursday to attend Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration as his guest.

Duca replied on Twitter, “I would rather eat my own organs.”

Shkreli later posted a collage of photos of Duca, and updated his profile picture with a photo of Duca and her husband showing Shkreli’s face superimposed over that of her spouse.

Duca retweeted the pictures on Sunday, asking Twitter founder and Chief Executive Jack Dorsey why they were allowed on the social network. “I feel sick,” she wrote.

Shkreli, who is in his 30s, became known as the “pharma bro” after he taunted detractors who criticized him for increasing the price of the drug Daraprim.

He was forced to step down as Turing chief executive in 2015 amid criminal and civil securities fraud charges alleging he ran a Ponzi-like scheme while at the hedge fund MSMB Capital Management and while he was top executive at Retrophin Inc, another drug company.

Turing is the subject of antitrust probes by the Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general’s office stemming from its increase in the Daraprim price.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alan Crosby)

IMAGE: Martin Shkreli, former chief executive officer of Turing Pharmaceuticals and KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc, departs after a hearing at U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York, U.S.,October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson – RTSSBLL

Drexel Professor Under Fire For Satirical ‘White Genocide’ Tweet

(Reuters) – A Drexel University professor, whose tweet that he wanted a “white genocide” for Christmas sparked a fire storm of criticism from the school and social media users, said on Monday his comment was satirical.

George Ciccariello-Maher, a white assistant professor of history and politics at the Philadelphia university, posted “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide” on Twitter on Christmas Eve, according to media reports.

He followed up on Sunday by tweeting, “To clarify: when the whites were massacred during the Haitian revolution, that was a good thing indeed.”

Condemnation lit up Twitter after the comments from Ciccariello-Maher, an expert on Latin American social movements, were picked up by such conservative news sites as Breitbart News and The Daily Caller.

“What rock did this cretin crawl out from under?” Sean O’Reilly tweeted. Twitter user Camz wrote, “You want a white genocide, why not be the one who starts it and see where you end up. You coward.”

Drexel University, a private school with about 26,000 students, said in a statement on Sunday that it had contacted Ciccariello-Maher to schedule a meeting about the tweets.

Drexel said that although it recognized the right of faculty members to express their views, the comments were “utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University.”

Ciccariello-Maher said in an email on Monday that the tweets were only aimed at poking fun at white supremacists and that he and Drexel had become targets of a smear campaign.

He said that the concept of “white genocide” was used by white nationalists to denounce everything from interracial relationships to policies aimed at promoting multiple cultures.

“It is a figment of the racist imagination, it should be mocked, and I’m glad to have mocked it,” Ciccariello-Maher wrote. Access to his Twitter account had been restricted on Monday.

He has drawn online support, with a Change.org petition backing him generating almost 3,000 signatures by Monday.

“Let Drexel know – in the midst of the deafening, organized troll-storm – that racist trolls deserve no platform in dictating academic discourse, let alone the off-duty tweets of academics,” the petition said.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Trump Ordered To Give Deposition In D.C. Restaurant Lawsuit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Washington judge has ordered Republican President-elect Donald Trump to give a deposition in a lawsuit against celebrity chef Jose Andres stemming from Trump’s disparaging remarks about Mexican immigrants.

District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Jennifer Di Toro ruled on Wednesday that Trump must testify in New York about Andres’ restaurant deal at Trump’s luxury Washington hotel. The deposition can last up to seven hours and will take place in the first week of January.

His lawyers had sought to limit how long Trump could be questioned and what could be covered, contending he was extremely busy ahead of his Jan. 20 inauguration.

But Di Toro said in her order that limits on the deposition could harm preparations by Andres’ lawyers, and that Trump’s own statements were at the heart of the case.

Trump is suing Andres for $10 million over breach of contract after Andres backed out of a plan to open a restaurant in the Trump International Hotel a few blocks from the White House.

Andres, who was born in Spain and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, has said he canceled the project after Trump denounced Mexican immigrants in June 2015 as drug dealers and rapists.

Andres has argued that the comments made it difficult to attract Hispanic staff and customers and to raise money for a Spanish restaurant.

Trump’s transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

Chef Geoffrey Zakarian also pulled out of a restaurant deal at the hotel, citing Trump’s remarks. Trump has sued Zakarian for breach of contract and was deposed in that case in June.

Andres suggested in a tweet on Tuesday that the two sides wrap up the lawsuit and donate money to a veterans’ group instead. “Why keep litigating? Let’s both of us win,” he said.

The hotel has drawn fire from critics who say it poses a potential conflict of interest since Trump is leasing the site, a historic former post office, from the federal government.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alistair Bell)

Trump’s Washington Hotel A Massive Conflict Of Interest

The General Services Administration, which manages property owned by the federal government, including the Old Post Office housing the Trump International Hotel, has said the lease would violate federal conflict-of-interest rules once the Republican businessman is sworn in on Jan. 20, according to a letter to the agency from lawmakers.

The letter referred to a Dec. 8 briefing to congressional staffers by a GSA official whom the letter did not name.

“The Deputy Commissioner made clear that Mr. Trump must divest himself not only of managerial control, but of all ownership interest as well,” Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland and three other Democrats said in the letter, which was made public on Wednesday.

The hotel is a few blocks from the White House and has become a rallying point for anti-Trump protesters since it opened in September. It is among businesses that could create unprecedented conflicts of interest for Trump, a New York real estate developer and former reality TV star.

Trump’s company has not responded to the GSA’s concerns about the potential conflict, the Democratic lawmakers said. They asked the agency for documents about the lease, profit and expense projections and legal memos about the conflict of interest.

The hotel lease includes a standard GSA provision barring members of Congress or other elected federal officials – such as the president – from having any part of it.

Trump has said he will draw up documents that will remove him from day-to-day business operations. He had planned a Thursday news conference to disclose details, but put that announcement off until next month.

Trump will address the hotel issue in January, spokesman Jason Miller told reporters.

The GSA said in a statement it could not speak definitively about divestment until Trump’s financial arrangements were completed and he had become president.

Federal law does not prohibit the president’s involvement in private business while in office, even though lawmakers and executive branch officials are subject to conflict-of-interest rules.

But most presidents in recent decades have placed their personal assets in blind trusts so they do not know how their decisions influence their personal fortunes.

Trump has said he plans to avoid the conflict issue by transferring control of his businesses to his oldest three children.

But the U.S. Office of Government Ethics said in a letter to Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware on Monday that such a transfer would not qualify legally as a blind trust nor eliminate conflicts of interest.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

IMAGE: Flags fly above the entrance to the new Trump International Hotel on its opening day in Washington, DC, U.S. September 12, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

Hillary Clinton Urges Renewed ‘Fight For Values’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defeated Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton called on Wednesday for a renewed fight for a more-inclusive United States despite disappointment over an election loss that laid bare national divisions.

In her first public remarks since conceding to Republican Donald Trump last week, Clinton said that many Americans were asking whether his victory meant the United States was still the country they thought it was.

“The divisions laid bare by this election run deep, but please listen to me when I say this. America is worth it, our children are worth it,” she said at a Children Defense Fund event honoring scholarship winners.

“Believe in our country, fight for our values and never, ever give up.”

Although Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman called the nonprofit advocacy group’s event “a love-in for Hillary Rodham Clinton,” the former first lady said it had not been easy for her to attend.

“There have been times this past week when all I wanted to do was just to curl up with a good book or our dogs, and never leave the house again,” said Clinton, whose ties to the Children Defense Fund date back to her work there as a young law student.

Clinton, a former secretary of state, won the popular vote but lost the crucial electoral college tally to Trump, a New York real estate magnate who has taken a hard line on immigration and has opposed accepting Syrian refugees.

“I know many of you are deeply disappointed by the results of the election. I am too, more than I can ever express,” Clinton said.

“But as I said last week, our campaign was never about one person or even one election. It was about the country we love, and building an America that is hopeful, inclusive and big hearted.”

She said that help for children backed by Republicans and Democrats was a hopeful sign of both parties working together. The federal Children’s Health Insurance Program, for example, now covers 8 million children and its creation had relied on bipartisan support, Clinton said.

“For the sake of our children, and our families and our country, I ask you to stay engaged, stay engaged on every level,” Clinton said.

She added, “I am as sure of this as anything I have ever known. America is still the greatest country in the world, it is still the place where anyone can beat the odds.”

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Michael Perry)

IMAGE: Hillary Clinton speaks to the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Freedom Or ‘Fool’s Errand’? D.C. To Vote On Statehood Referendum

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Long-frustrated backers of statehood for the District of Columbia are pinning their hopes on a first-ever referendum on Tuesday in a long-shot bid to become the 51st U.S. state.

Invoking the colonial-era demand of “no taxation without representation,” supporters say becoming a state would end Washingtonians’ status as second-class citizens because they lack representation in Congress.

But opponents dismiss the referendum as a “fool’s errand” destined to fail because of partisan political hurdles and the need to amend the U.S. Constitution, a procedure accomplished only 17 times since 1789.

The District of Columbia was carved out to serve as the nation’s capital, but it is not a state. Its 672,000 residents have no voting representative in the Senate or House of Representatives although they pay federal taxes, though they do have a delegate in the House.

A “yes” vote could help pressure the new Congress and president – either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump – to admit the District of Columbia as a new state, though even advocates admit that is unlikely anytime soon.

A “yes” vote would simply be an expression of public support for statehood, a non-binding measure without any legal force.

“Statehood’s the only way that we can have the same rights and responsibilities as all the other citizens of the United States,” District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said.

The overwhelmingly Democratic capital city was fed up with Republican lawmakers espousing the rights of states and cities to self-governance and then interfering with local issues such as abortion and marijuana legalization, Mendelson said.

“That’s so antithetical to democratic principles, but that doesn’t seem to bother some of these folks,” he said.

The referendum seeks to upend the Constitution’s provision giving Congress legislative control over the District of Columbia.

Voters will cast a single “yes” or “no” vote on the referendum’s four parts: admission as a state, its boundaries, approval of a constitution, and guarantees of a representative form of government.

The new state would embrace the current 68-square-mile (176-square-km) district except for a core of federal property around the White House, Capitol and monument-rich National Mall.

The District Council approved the referendum unanimously, and a Washington Post poll in November 2015 showed 67 percent of residents backed statehood. The Democratic Party’s national platform also supports the idea.

“If you’re not part of a state, large parts of the constitution don’t apply to you,” said statehood advocate Ann Loikow.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and other statehood backers took the vote’s design from the successful bid in the 1790s by Tennessee, then a federal territory, to become a state through a referendum and petition to Congress.

Supporters and skeptics say that even if the referendum passes it would face a dead end in Congress, where Republicans would oppose statehood since it would add Democratic senators and a representative to Congress.

Besides the political obstacles, Roger Pilon, a constitutional scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute, called the statehood quest a “fool’s errand” because of constitutional obstacles.

For the District to become a state, Congress would have to propose an amendment to the Constitution, which would then have to win a two-thirds majority vote in both the Senate and the House.

Even if an amendment could win approval in both houses of Congress, it would face another big hurdle: approval by the legislatures of at least three-fourths of the 50 states.

Washingtonians have tried to achieve statehood before, but never by an up-or-down referendum. Congress ignored a statehood petition that included a constitution voters ratified in the 1980s.

The House of Representatives rejected a statehood bill in 1993, and it failed to reach a Senate vote. A constitutional amendment for voting rights in Congress fizzled in the 1980s.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Leslie Adler)

IMAGE: Work begins on building the inaugural parade stands in front of the White House in Washington, U.S. November 3, 2016. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Virginia Governor’s Bid To Restore Felon Voting Rights Advances

(Reuters) – The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday rejected a Republican bid to have Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe held in contempt for his continued effort to restore voting rights to about 206,000 felons.

The high court said it would not require McAuliffe to prove that he is complying with its July 22 ruling that struck down his initial blanket attempt to restore felons’ voting rights.

The one-page order also said justices would not let Republican legislative leaders seek more documents through a discovery process.

McAuliffe’s efforts to restore voting rights to felons is seen as a possible aid in tipping Virginia, a swing state in the Nov. 8 presidential election, toward Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Opinion polls show her leading Republican candidate Donald Trump in the state.

Republican legislative leaders this month filed a contempt motion against McAuliffe. It came after McAuliffe said he had restored voting rights to almost 13,000 felons on a case-by-case basis after the state Supreme Court blocked his blanket clemency effort.

In a statement, McAuliffe said he was pleased by the court’s decision. “Restoring these Virginians’ civil rights is morally the right thing to do,” he said.

McAuliffe has said his original order would move Virginia away from lifetime disenfranchisement that hits African-Americans particularly hard.

Many of the convicts who benefited were African-Americans or Latinos, two groups that have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates in the past. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won Virginia in 2012 and 2008.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Photo: Terry McAuliffe stands onstage during a campaign rally in Dale City, Virginia, October 27, 2013.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Officer Arrested After Three Killed In Washington-Area Shooting Spree

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Police on Friday arrested a federal officer suspected in a two-day shooting rampage in the Washington suburbs that killed his wife and two apparent strangers and revived memories of the “Beltway sniper” attacks of 2002.

Three others were wounded in the three separate attacks.

Eulalio Sevilla Tordil, 62, a police officer with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, was arrested in a doughnut shop near the site of the second of Friday’s two shootings, police said.

He had been suspected of killing his wife and shooting a bystander on Thursday in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

When two more shootings broke out in neighboring Montgomery County on Friday, investigators turned their attention to Tordil, who had threatened to commit “suicide by cop,” police said. A plainclothes officer spotted Tordil in a Dunkin’ Donuts. Police kept him under watch as he walked in and out of stores, but waited until he returned to his car before arresting him, Montgomery County Police Chief Thomas Manger told a news conference.

“We did not want to have a shootout when he was taken into custody,” Manger said.

Surrounded by officers with their weapons drawn, Tordil surrendered without a fight after about five minutes, police said.

Charges should be filed on Friday and Tordil will make a court appearance on Monday, Montgomery County prosecutor John McCarthy said.

The first of Friday’s incidents began with a confrontation in a parking lot at Westfield Montgomery Mall in affluent Bethesda, Maryland, where two men and a woman were shot, police said.

One of the men died, the other was in critical condition, and the woman’s life was not considered in danger, police said.

The second shooting took place about half an hour later, killing a woman at the Aspen Hill Shopping Center in Silver Spring, some 8 miles (13 km) away.

The victim of Thursday’s shooting was Tordil’s estranged wife, Gladys, a high school chemistry teacher who was shot as she went to pick up their two daughters from another school.

Tordil was on leave, having surrendered his gun and badge after his wife obtained a protective order to keep him away, an official with the Federal Protective Service said.

The three-week Beltway sniper ordeal in 2002 rattled Washington and its suburbs until John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, who was 17 at the time, were captured. Malvo was sentenced to life and Muhammad, a Gulf War veteran, was executed in 2009.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson, Suzannah Gonzales, Barbara Goldberg, Joseph Ax and Gina Cherelus; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Bill Trott and James Dalgleish)

 

Former Russian Press Minister Died In U.S. Of Blunt Force Injuries

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Russian Press Minister Mikhail Lesin, who was found dead in a Washington hotel room last year, died of blunt force injuries to the head, U.S. authorities said on Thursday.

Lesin who once headed the state-controlled Gazprom-Media, also had blunt force injuries to the neck, torso, arms and legs, the U.S. capital’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and the Metropolitan Police Department said in a brief statement.

According to a police incident report, Lesin, who was President Vladimir Putin’s press minister from 1999 to 2004, was found unconscious on Nov. 5 on the floor of his room in the Doyle Washington Hotel. The hotel is also known as the Dupont Circle Hotel.

An ambulance was called and he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Russia’s RT television quoted family members at the time as saying he had died of a heart attack.

A U.S. law enforcement source said on Thursday the investigation into Lesin’s death was being led by Washington, D.C. police.

The investigation was focused on Lesin’s death, but that did not rule out a possible change to a murder probe, said the source, who declined to be identified when discussing the matter.

The source said when police first investigated the hotel room where Lesin’s body was found, they did not find any damage or evidence indicating foul play.

A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in the United States said their officials for the past several months have requested through diplomatic channels information regarding the progress of the investigation.

“No substantial information has been provided. With regard to the document that has been released to the public today, we expect the American side to provide us with relevant official explanation,” press secretary Yury Melnik said in an email.

ABC News has said Lesin had been accused of censoring Russia’s independent media. He became head of Gazprom-Media Holding in 2013 but resigned the following year.

 

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Photo: Russia’s Mass Media Minister Mikhail Lesin enters his ministry in central Moscow in this March 27, 2002 file photo. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/Files