Mercedes Schlapp on Michael Flynn asking for immunity

Washington Times columnist Mercedes Schlapp asked Friday on “Special Report with Bret Baier” why the Trump White House is talking about Michael Flynn and his potential immunity in any investigation at all.

“What is a little challenging to understand is why the president would tweet, talking about Michael Flynn and immunity in the same sentence when the president early on and Sean Spicer said we don’t have trust in Michael Flynn anymore. He mislead the vice president…”

Schlapp went on to say that she thinks Flynn is obviously just doing this to protect himself at this point.

“So why bring Michael Flynn back when Michael Flynn inside the White House when Michael Flynn is no longer part of the White House. And this immunity, this is about Michael Flynn protecting Michael Flynn. He’s just trying to protect himself.”

Russia investigation: Adam Schiff releases statement after viewing docs shown to Nunes

Representative Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, released a statement tonight that criticized how the White House handled the documents were first shown to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) earlier this week.

After reviewing what he was told are the same documents that were shown to his colleague.

Rep. Schiff had been critical of Nunes for not sharing the intelligence with the full committee, which — along with the Senate intelligence committee and the FBI — is investigating Russia’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election as well as any potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

The White House this week invited all of the congressional intelligence leaders to view the documents.

After he reviewed the documents, Rep. Schiff put out the following statement:

Viewed docs today at White House invitation. Here are my thoughts: pic.twitter.com/EZ5COuoVVU

— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) March 31, 2017

Japanese fleet returns from Antarctic hunt with 333 whales

Japan’s whaling fleet returned home Friday after killing 333 whales in the Antarctic, achieving its goal for the second year under a revised research whaling program.

The Fisheries Agency said the five-ship fleet finished its four-month expedition without major interference from anti-whaling activists who have attempted to stop it in the past.

Japan says the hunt was for ecological research. Research whaling is allowed as an exception to a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. Opponents of the Japanese program say it’s a cover for commercial whaling because the whales are sold for food.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s Antarctic whaling program should stop because it wasn’t scientific as Tokyo had claimed. Japan conducted non-lethal whaling research in the Antarctic in 2015, and revised its program in 2016 by reducing the catch quota to about one-third of what it used to kill.

“It was great that we have achieved our plan. We will steadily continue our research toward a resumption of commercial whaling,” Fisheries Agency official Shigeto Hase said at a welcome ceremony in Shimonoseki, home port for the fleet’s mother ship, Nisshin Maru.

Officials said the whalers used parts of the whales to determine their age, nutrition, and reproductive conditions. Opponents say such studies can be done using non-lethal methods.

Kitty Block, executive vice president of Humane Society International, an animal protection group based in Washington D.C., said Japan is needlessly killing whales every year. “It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end,” she said in a statement.

Japan has hunted whales for centuries as a source of protein and cheaper alternative to other meats. Its whale catch has fallen in recent years in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat. Protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have also contributed to the decline.

Critics say it’s a dying industry, but Japan’s government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain the whaling operations, saying it’s a Japanese cultural tradition that must be preserved.

Kushner retains scores of real estate holdings while in WH

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and daughter are holding onto scores of real estate investments — part of a portfolio of at least $240 million in assets — while they serve in White House jobs, according to financial disclosures released publicly late Friday.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser, resigned from more than 260 entities and sold off 58 businesses or investments that lawyers identified as posing potential conflicts of interest, the documents show.

But his lawyers, in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics, determined that his real estate assets, many of them in New York City, are unlikely to pose the kinds of conflicts that would trigger a need to divest.

“The remaining conflicts, from a practical perspective, are pretty narrow and very manageable,” said Jamie Gorelick, an attorney who has been working on the ethics agreements for Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

TOP DEM PUSHES BACK ON FLYNN IMMUNITY, AS TRUMP URGES TESTIMONY

Kushner began selling off the most problematic pieces of his portfolio shortly after Trump won the election, and some of those business deals predate what is required to be captured in the financial disclosure forms. For example, Kushner sold his stake in a Manhattan skyscraper to a trust his mother oversees. Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump and their three minor children have no financial interest in that trust, his lawyer said. The Kushner Companies, now run by Jared Kushner’s relatives, are seeking investment partners for a massive redevelopment.

The White House on Friday began released financial disclosure forms for more than 100 or its top administration officials — a mix of people far wealthier, and therefore more entangled in businesses that could conflict with their government duties, than people in previous administrations.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer described the business people who have joined the administration as “very blessed and very successful,” and said the disclosure forms will show that they have set aside “a lot” to go into public service.

The financial disclosures — required by law to be made public — give a snapshot of the employees’ finances as they entered the White House. What’s not being provided: the Office of Government Ethics agreements with those employees on what they must do to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

Those documents will never be made public, White House lawyers said, although the public will eventually have access to “certificates of divestiture” issued to employees who are seeking capital gains tax deferrals for selling off certain assets.

Kushner, for example, received certificates of divestitures for his financial interests in several assets, including several funds tied to Thrive Capital, his brother Joshua Kushner’s investment firm.

He and Ivanka Trump built up companies the documents show are worth at least $50 million each and have stepped away from their businesses while in government service. Like the president himself, however, they retain a financial interest in many of them. Ivanka Trump agreed this week to become a federal employee and will file her own financial disclosure at a later date.

Jared Kushner’s disclosure shows he took on tens of millions of dollars of bank debt in 2015 and 2016, including liabilities with several international banks whose interests could come before the Trump administration.

Financial information for members of Trump’s Cabinet who needed Senate confirmation has, in most cases, been available for weeks through the Office of Government Ethics.

The president must also file periodic financial disclosures, but he is not required to make another disclosure until next year.

Back from blister, Syndergaard pitches Mets past Marlins 5-2

Noah Syndergaard made a blistering return to the mound, overpowering the Miami Marlins for much of the night in the New York Mets‘ 5-2 win Sunday that finished their opening homestand.

Forced from Monday’s season opener against Atlanta by a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand after six scoreless innings, the right-hander was given an extra day of rest. He walked none and struck out nine, including five of his first six batters, as the Marlins struggled to make hard contact early.

Syndergaard (1-0) allowed two runs — one earned — and five hits in seven innings to improve to 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 27 innings against Miami.

Edinson Volquez (0-1), pitching at Citi Field for the first time since starting the World Series clincher for Kansas City in 2015, allowed three runs in a first inning prolonged by catcher J.T. Realmuto’s error. Volquez later gave up solo homers to Jay Bruce and Michael Conforto, who was making his first start this season.

Given a 3-0 lead in the first, Syndergaard gave up a two-run double in the third to Dee Gordon after left fielder Yoenis Cespedes misplayed Miguel Rojas’ fly ball for an error. Still trailing by a run, the Marlins put runners on second and third with two outs in the fifth when Syndergaard struck out Gordon on a high slider.

Rene Rivera, starting in place of regular Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, threw out Gordon trying to steal third base in the third, then ended the inning by cutting down Realmuto trying to swipe second. Syndergaard allowed a major league-high 48 stolen bases last year.

Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton was hitless in three at-bats against Syndergaard, dropping to 0 for 11 against him. Fernando Salas pitched a perfect eighth and Addison Reed got three straight outs for his first save, completing the five-hitter.

New York put runners at second and third with one out in the first when Bruce grounded to first baseman Justin Bour, who threw home in plenty of time to hang up Asdrubal Cabrera, who stopped about two-thirds of the way down the line. But Realmuto took his eyes off the ball and it ricocheted off his glove for an error as Cabrera came home. Neil Walker blooped an RBI single into left, and Volquez forced in a run with a four-pitch, bases-loaded walk to Conforto.

Bruce homered to center in the fifth and Conforto hit a 430-foot drive in the sixth that landed in the seats in front of the Shea Bridge behind the bullpens in right-center.

New York, which avoided a three-game sweep, began the day 29th in the majors in batting average at .192, ahead of only Seattle.

SLUMPING AT THE TOP

New York leadoff hitter Jose Reyes was hitless in four at-bats and is off to a 1-for-23 (.043) start. “It’s tough to play in the cold weather,” he said. “It’s not because of the weather, because everybody here played before in the cold weather. No excuse.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Marlins SS Adeiny Hechavarria was put on the 10-day DL because of a strained left oblique muscle sustained during batting practice before Saturday’s game. SS J.T. Riddle, who has not played in the major leagues, was recalled from Triple-A New Orleans.

UP NEXT

Marlins: RHP Dan Straily (0-1) starts Miami’s home opener Tuesday against Atlanta, which goes with RHP Bartolo Colon.

Mets: RHP Jacob deGrom, who allowed two hits in six shutout innings against the Braves on Wednesday, starts at Philadelphia on Monday in the Mets’ road opener. RHP Jerad Eickhoff (0-1) is slated to pitch for the Phillies.

———

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

India, China navies stop suspected Somali pirate attack on merchant vessel

By Aditya Kalra| DELHI

DELHI A Chinese navy ship supported by an Indian navy helicopter thwarted an attack by suspected Somali pirates on a Tuvalu-flagged merchant ship, India’s defense ministry said on Sunday.

The ship, known as OS 35, was reported to be under attack on Saturday.

The Indian defense ministry said four of its navy ships in the vicinity responded to a distress signal from the ship and reached the bulk carrier early on Sunday.

It said the crew had taken refuge in the ship’s strong room, know as the citadel, once they learnt they were under attack in line with established safe shipping operating procedures.

“An Indian Navy helicopter undertook aerial reconnaissance of the merchant vessel at night, and at sunrise … (to) ascertain the location of pirates, if still on board,” the defense ministry said in a statement.

“Subsequently … a boarding party from the nearby Chinese Navy ship went on board the merchant ship, while the Indian Naval helicopter provided air cover for the operation.”

China’s defense ministry said in a statement a Chinese navy frigate on patrol in the area responded to the distress call from the ship, which it said had been hijacked by pirates. A helicopter conducted surveillance of the ship before 16 navy special forces soldiers were sent aboard to rescue the sailors.

It did not mention the Indian involvement.

The Indian defense ministry said all the 19 Filipino crew of the ship were safe and the captain of the ship thanked the Indian navy for their response and for providing air cover.

John Steed of aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy told Reuters the ship was sailing under navy escort to its next port.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which coordinates shipping in the Gulf of Aden area, said on its website the pirates had used a skiff to approach the vessel.

The attempted hijacking comes days after pirates seized an Indian dhow that was on route to Bossaso from Dubai.

Experts said some ship owners were becoming lax after a long period of calm, and that some were using a route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island, to save time and cost regardless of the piracy risks.

At their peak in 2011, pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau, and took hundreds of hostages.

Their actions cost the world economy $7 billion and earned the pirates some $160 million in ransoms, according to the bureau.

China’s defense ministry said Chinese navy ships had helped patrol the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters since 2008, responding to several pirate attacks and conducting a small number of rescues.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, George Obulutsa in Nairobi, and John Ruwitch in Shanghai; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Jane Merriman and Paul Tait)

Schwartzel sizzles, Scott sputters at Masters

By Rory Carroll| AUGUSTA, Georgia

AUGUSTA, Georgia Two former U.S. Masters champions saw their fortunes diverge on Sunday as 2011 winner Charl Schwartzel rallied to finish third while 2013 victor Adam Scott slipped to a tie for ninth.

South African Schwartzel, 32, said he was proud of his Sunday performance as he reeled off six birdies to just two bogeys, but said he was ultimately too far behind to catch champion Sergio Garcia and runner-up Justin Rose.

“Sergio and Justin, they’re really playing well now,” Schwartzel told reporters after a final-round 68 left him three strokes behind Garcia and Rose, who decided the title in a sudden-death playoff.

After starting the day just three shots back of co-leaders Garcia and Rose and one ahead of Schwartzel, Scott was unable to get it going on Sunday, with four bogeys overshadowing his three birdies.

“I was looking for something special today and it wasn’t even close in all areas,” Australia’s Scott told reporters.

A missed short putt on the third hole threw his momentum off and he said he was never able to get back on track.

“I was fighting and it’s hard to feel comfortable all the time out there, especially on a Sunday. So, it wasn’t going my way,” he said.

The 36-year-old Scott, who has managed just one top-10 on the PGA Tour this season, tipped his cap to Garcia, who finally ended his majors drought in his 75th try by donning the Green Jacket on Sunday.

“It’s almost a more well‑earned major than Phil Mickelson’s first, (and) was quite a lot longer than anyone would have imagined for him,” he said.

(Editing by Larry Fine)

Garcia beats Rose to claim Masters Green Jacket

By Steve Keating| AUGUSTA, Georgia

AUGUSTA, Georgia Spain’s Sergio Garcia ended nearly two decades of major disappointment when he beat England’s Justin Rose in a playoff to win the U.S. Masters on Sunday, donning the Green Jacket on what would have been the 60th birthday of his hero, the late Seve Ballesteros.

After 73 majors, four heartbreaking runner-up finishes and years of self doubt, Garcia finally delivered the long awaited title when his 12-foot birdie putt at the first extra hole dropped into the cup at the par-four 18th, triggering a massive cheer from a gallery that had been on the edge of their seats.

Deadlocked after nine holes, the two friends and rivals produced an enthralling back nine showdown worthy of any Masters champion in what became a head-to-head battle.

Garcia and Rose both carded 69 to finish tied on nine-under-par 279 at the end of regulation and send the year’s first major to a playoff when both missed birdie putts and settled for pars at the 72nd hole.

It marked the first Masters playoff since Adam Scott beat Angel Cabrera to become the first Australian to wear the Green Jacket in 2013 at Augusta National.

All the omens had seemed in place for a Spanish victory with Garcia starting the day perched atop the leaderboard alongside Rose on Ballesteros’s 60th birthday.

Ballesteros, the Spanish talisman who died of brain cancer in 2011, inspired a generation of golfers in his country, winning Green Jacket twice in 1980 and 1983.

Garcia becomes the third Spaniard to wear the Green Jacket, joining Jose Maria Olazabal, who also triumphed twice at Augusta, in 1994 and 1999.

“It is amazing. To do it on his (Ballesteros’s) 60th birthday and to join him and Jose Maria Olazabal, my two idols in golf, it is something amazing,” said Garcia before accepting the Green Jacket from last year’s winner Danny Willett in Butler Cabin.

“Jose Maria texted on Thursday saying how much he believed in me and to believe in myself.

“Everybody has been great. My whole family, my fiancée.”

Garcia, who has been plagued by self doubt when it came to majors, once said he did not have what it takes to be a major champion but demonstrated on Sunday during an enthralling rollercoaster battle with Rose that he does indeed possess the tools, demeanor and determination of a champion.

(Editing by Andrew Both)

American big guns Spieth, Fowler fail to fire

By Ed Osmond| AUGUSTA, Georgia

AUGUSTA, Georgia Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler were supposed to lead the American charge in the final round of the Masters but the U.S. pair fluffed their lines while Sergio Garcia delivered a storybook ending to the first major of the year.

As Garcia and Justin Rose slugged it out in an all-European duel for the Green Jacket, Spieth shot an error-strewn 75 and Fowler an ugly 76, extending his wait for a first major title.

Both Americans finished tied for 11th on one under par, eight shots behind Garcia, who beat Rose in a playoff.

Spieth, who finished second, first and second in his first three Masters, was not unhappy with the way he played despite dropping seven shots over the opening 14 holes.

“I struck the ball well,” he told reporters. “Distance control is so key here and I was two yards into the rough so many times today and it makes a huge difference on controlling the distance out of the rough.”

The 12th hole proved problematic once again for the 23-year-old, who came to grief in spectacular fashion at the same hole while leading the tournament in the final round last year with a quadruple-bogey. He suffered a double bogey at the tricky par three on Sunday.

Spieth, who had birdies on three of his last four holes, was just happy to finish under par.

“I’m really happy with the way that we finished off this round to get back to red,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like I had been doing much wrong and I just look up and it just wasn’t landing where I thought it would.”

Spieth did regret the negative impact his performance had on world number eight Fowler, who had started the day just one shot off the lead.

“I feel bad I went so downhill while Rickie was still in it, because it is tough when you don’t see a ball go in the hole,” he said.

“I was his biggest cheerleader, just being really good friends with Rickie. It was tough.”

Fowler, 28, was still in contention at five under at the turn but five bogeys on the back nine scuppered his chances.

“I played nicely on the front. And hit a good shot into 10, which I rarely do. But every time I chipped it close I missed the putt or I didn’t chip it close enough and I’d still miss the putt,” said Fowler.

“It would have been nice to swing a little better, like I have been but that was a little off. I didn’t just hit the ball up and down or make the putts I needed to.”

Matt Kuchar was the highest finishing American, tied for fourth, followed by Kevin Chappell in joint seventh and Ryan Moore in a share of ninth place.

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Sergio Garcia wins the Masters, ends drought at the majors

Sergio Garcia tugged the lapel of his green jacket with both hands, proud of his prize and how he earned it.

His hopes were fading Sunday in the Masters — two shots behind with six holes to play — when his tee shot bounced off a tree and into an azalea bush, the kind of bad luck he had come to expect in the majors. Instead of pouting, he figured out how to make par.

Five feet away from winning, his birdie putt peeled off to the right. Usually resigned to fail, Garcia proved to be more resilient than ever.

He was a new man with a new title: Masters champion.

Major champion.

“It’s been an amazing week,” Garcia said, “and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”

After nearly two decades of heartache in the tournaments that define careers, Garcia finally showed the mettle to win a major. He overcame a two-shot deficit against Justin Rose and won on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff.

No one ever played more majors as a pro (70) before winning one for the first time.

Garcia got rid of the demons and the doubts with two big moments on the par 5s — one a par, the other an eagle — in closing with a 3-under 69. It was never easy until the end, when Rose sent his drive into the trees on the 18th hole in the playoff, punched out and failed to save par from 15 feet.

That gave the 37-year-old Spaniard two putts from 12 feet for the victory, and his putt swirled into the cup for a birdie.

He crouched in disbelief, both fists clenched and shaking, and he shouted above the loudest roar of the day.

Rose, who also closed with a 69, graciously patted Garcia’s cheek before they embraced. Rose then tapped Garcia on the heart, which turned out to be a lot bigger than anyone realized.

“Ser-gee-oh! Ser-gee-oh!” the delirious gallery chanted to Garcia. He turned with his arms to his side, blew a kiss to the crowd and then crouched again and slammed his fist into the turf of the green.

All that Spanish passion was on display, raw as ever, this time sheer joy.

“Justin wasn’t making it easy. He was playing extremely well,” Garcia said. “But I knew what I was capable of doing, and I believe that I could do it.”

Garcia became the third Spaniard in a green jacket, winning on what would have been the 60th birthday of the late Seve Ballesteros. And it was Jose Maria Olazabal, who won the Masters in 1994 and 1999, who sent him a text on the eve of the Masters telling Garcia to believe and “to not let things get to me like I’ve done in the past.”

He didn’t get down after missing a 6-foot putt on the 16th hole to fall out of the lead, or missing a 5-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole that would have won in regulation.

His chin was up. He battled to the end.

“If there’s anyone to lose to, it’s Sergio. He deserves it,” Rose said. “He’s had his fair share of heartbreak.”

This was shaping up as another, especially after Garcia watched a three-shot lead disappear as quickly as it took Rose to run off three straight birdies on the front nine.

Tied going to the back nine, Garcia immediately fell two shots behind with wild shots into the pine straw bed under the trees. Rose was poised to deliver a knockout on the par-5 13th when Garcia went left beyond the creek and into the bush. He had to take a penalty shot to get out and hit his third shot 89 yards short of the green. Rose was just over the back of the green in two, in position to turn a two-shot lead into four.

Everyone figured this was coming, right?

Garcia himself had said, in a moment of self-pity, that he didn’t have what it takes to win a major. Four times he was runner-up. This was his third time playing in the final group. But right when it looked to be over, momentum shifted to Garcia.

He hit wedge to 7 feet and escaped with par. Rose rolled his chip down to 5 feet and missed the birdie putt. The lead stayed at two shots, and the game was on.

Garcia birdied the 14th to get within one. His 8-iron into the par-5 15th — “One of the best shots I hit all week,” he said — landed inches in front of the hole and nicked the pin, and he holed the 14-foot eagle putt to tie for the lead.

Rose took the lead with an 8-foot birdie on the 16th and gave it back by missing a 7-foot par putt on the 18th.

Not since 1998 have the last two players on the course gone to the 18th tied for the lead, and both had their chances to win. Rose’s approach hit off the side of the bunker and kicked onto the green, stopping 7 feet away. Garcia answered with a wedge that covered the flag and settled 5 feet away.

Both missed.

The playoff didn’t last long. Rose was in trouble from the start with a tee shot that sailed right, leaving him blocked by a Magnolia tree. He chipped out under the tree, hit his third shot to 15 feet and missed the par putt.

Former Masters champion Charl Schwartzel birdied the 18th for a 68 to finish third. Matt Kuchar made a hole-in-one on the 16th that gave him hope but not for very long. He tied for fourth with Thomas Pieters, who ran off four birdies on the back nine.

Jordan Spieth, starting the final round only two shots behind, put another tee shot into the water on No. 12 long after it mattered. He had to birdie three of his last four holes for a 75. Also an afterthought was Rickie Fowler, who started one shot behind and shot 76.

All that mattered was Garcia and Rose, who delivered a final hour as compelling as any at the Masters and a champion who began to wonder if he would ever win a major.

Garcia says he has learned to accept bad bounces. He realized he has a “beautiful life” even if he never won a major.

“If it, for whatever reason, didn’t happen, my life is still going to go on. It’s not going to be a disaster,” Garcia said.

And then smiling, he added, “But it happened.”