CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — A senior U.S. official on Wednesday rejected claims that the government sent an American citizen to Venezuela where he’s been charged with plotting terrorist attacks and labeled a spy.
Venezuelan authorities say they captured a man identified as Matthew John Heath with a trove of photos, specialized weapons and cash. They say it proves he was plotting attacks on military installations, oil refineries and the electrical service.
However, U.S. Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams made the first public comments by a U.S. official on Wednesday about the arrest, denying any involvement by Washington.
“The U.S. government did not send Mr. Heath to Venezuela,” Abrams said.
President Nicolás Maduro last week announced that authorities captured an alleged U.S. spy, and prosecutors later charged him with terrorism, trafficking illegal weapons and conspiracy. They say he’s an ex-U.S. Marine with alleged ties to the CIA operations in Iraq.
The arrest is especially challenging because the U.S. has no embassy in Caracas ever since the two nations broke diplomatic relations over a year ago after the White House endorsed opposition politician Juan Guaidó’s claim to the presidency, calling Maduro’s grip on power illegitimate.
“Obviously we’re always concerned when we get a report about an American who has been jailed in a foreign country,” Abrams said.
The arrest surfaced as this nation, once wealthy from oil, has been gripped by a deep gasoline shortage that has sparked mile-long lines to fuel up, even in the capital of Caracas. Venezuela also struggles to provide electricity to residents, especially in Zulia state, once a major hub of the nation’s vast oil production.
Heath is accused of targeting the Amuay and Cardon refineries — part of the massive Paraguana Refinery Complex on Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast. However, the refineries struggle to produce gasoline, and Venezuela depends on shipments from Iran, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves.
Heath is accused of entering Venezuela illegally, the prosecutor said, adding that he didn’t have a passport but rather had a copy of it hidden in one of his shoes. A coin he was carrying links him to the CIA, officials have said.
The three Venezuelans accused of conspiring with Heath include a military officer, authorities have said. Another four Venezuelans arrested in the case are accused of helping him enter from Colombia.
Two ex-Green Berets were recently sentenced to 20 years in Venezuela for taking part in a failed beach attack in early May that left several rebel Venezuelan fighters dead and dozens more in jail. The group of accused “mercenaries” had set out to arrest Maduro, organizers said.
Mueller prosecutor once said that if Republicans ‘retain the House, we all need to retain criminal lawyers’ because ‘that’s how bats— crazy they are,’ new book says
Former special counsel Robert Mueller’s team was acutely aware that the “third act in this play would be an inevitable investigation of us, by the Trump administration, when our investigation was complete,” Andrew Weissmann, a former prosecutor who worked on Mueller’s team, wrote in his new book.
The jokes about “investigating the investigators” became more serious before the November 2018 midterms, when another prosecutor in Mueller’s office, Jeannie Rhee, said that if Republicans “retain the House, we all need to retain criminal lawyers. That’s how bats— crazy they are. I am not joking.”
“And I knew she wasn’t,” Weissmann wrote. “Jeannie was savvy about the ways of Washington, to a degree that I was not, and I took her seriously.”
In the months since Mueller’s investigation ended, the attorney general has directed multiple internal inquiries into Mueller’s probe, and President Trump has called for several members of his team to be criminally prosecuted, despite no evidence of wrongdoing.
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As the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was picking up speed in 2018, Jeannie Rhee, a prosecutor on his team, warned that if Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives after that year’s midterm election, “we all need to retain criminal lawyers.”
That’s according to “Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation,” a memoir by the former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann that was released Tuesday. Weissmann worked on Mueller’s team and spearheaded its investigation into the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Rhee made the remark about hiring defense attorneys amid a steady drumbeat of claims from the White House and congressional Republicans that Mueller’s office was on a politically motivated “witch hunt” against President Donald Trump.
As Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election gained steam in 2017 and 2018, “one thing that the whole office soon realized was that the third act in this play would be an inevitable investigation of us, by the Trump administration, when our investigation was complete,” Weissmann wrote. “Trump would surely try to undermine every move we had made in order to burnish his standing and consolidate his power.”
“This led to more gallows humor within the office,” he wrote. “Whenever someone gave an opinion or spun out a possible theory to test that out, someone would pipe up: ‘Write that down, that will be for the investigation of the investigators.'”
The jokes “took on a darker hue” ahead of the November 2018 midterm elections, Weissmann continued.
“If they retain the House,” Rhee said, “we all need to retain criminal lawyers. That’s how bats— crazy they are. I am not joking,” according to the book.
“And I knew she wasn’t,” Weissmann wrote. “Jeannie was savvy about the ways of Washington, to a degree that I was not, and I took her seriously.”
Rhee’s comment turned out to be prescient. In the months since Mueller’s team finished its work, Attorney General William Barr has directed multiple internal inquiries into the special counsel’s investigation, even though the Justice Department inspector general determined that the FBI was authorized in launching the Russia probe and that its actions were not motivated by political bias.
Trump has repeatedly accused prosecutors and FBI agents on Mueller’s team of going on a fishing expedition, and he’s called for several members of the special counsel’s office and Justice Department to be criminally prosecuted.
The president and his allies have also amplified a bogus conspiracy theory suggesting that the Obama administration secretly masterminded the Russia probe to sabotage Trump’s campaign and undermine his presidency.
As Weissmann wrote: “The leader of the free world has asked the Department of Justice to go after Democrats, has advocated the indictment of [former FBI director James] Comey [former FBI deputy director Andrew] McCabe, [former FBI special agent Peter] Strzok, and others, and even accused Mueller of perjury. He and Barr have subverted the rule of law by providing unequal treatment to his cronies … They dismissed the Russian hack and dump case against a Russian company … The world has indeed gone topsy-turvy — ‘might makes right’ overwhelming the rule of law.”
Weissmann’s memoir offers one of the most detailed windows yet into the inner workings of Mueller’s team as it conducted an unprecedented investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, and whether the sitting president’s campaign conspired with a foreign power to tilt the race in his favor.
Ultimately, Mueller’s team did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone on the Trump campaign with conspiracy, according to the special counsel’s final report on the investigation. However, Mueller’s team indicted 34 people and three Russian entities, and those indictments resulted in seven guilty pleas and five prison sentences for crimes that included conspiracy, obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, and computer hacking.
Prosecutors also examined whether Trump sought to obstruct justice throughout the course of the inquiry and reached a murkier conclusion.
They declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether the president had obstructed justice but emphasized that if they had confidence that Trump had not committed a crime, they would have said so. As justification for their decision, prosecutors cited a 1973 Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo, which prohibited the indictment of a sitting president. They also noted that the appropriate constitutional remedy for formally accusing the president of wrongdoing lies with Congress.
In his memoir, Weissmann expressed frustration with Mueller’s decision not to take a firm stance in the obstruction case. He said that he decided to write his book after Barr released a four-page letter to the public that deeply mischaracterized Mueller’s findings. In doing so, he wrote, Barr had “betrayed both friend and country,” referring to Barr’s previous friendship with Mueller.
Overall, Weissmann wrote that the Russia probe was hampered by its own internal strife and a special counsel who held back out of fear that Trump would shut down the office altogether and pardon associates who were charged.
“Like Congress, we were guilty of not pressing as hard as we could” for evidence, he wrote. “Part of the reason the president and his enablers were able to spin the report was that we had left the playing field open for them to do so.”
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CEO of Lufthansa airline Swiss to step down
3 Stocks Flashing Signs of Strong Insider Buying
If you really want to know which stocks the experts – and those in the know – are buying, pay attention to what they’re doing. Stock reports, company reviews, and press statements are helpful, but you’ll get significant information from watching what the insiders are up to.The insiders – the corporate officers and board members – have to disclose when they snap up shares to prevent any unfair advantages. Tracking their stock purchases can be a useful strategy because if an insider spends their own money on a stock, it could signal that they believe big gains are in store.So, investors looking for stocks that may be flying ‘under the radar,’ but with potential to climb fast, watching for insider purchases identify some sweet market plays. To make that search easier, the TipRanks Insiders’ Hot Stocks tool gets the footwork started – identifying stocks that have seen informative moves by insiders, highlighting several common strategies used by the insiders, and collecting the data all in one place.Fresh from that database, here are the details on three stocks showing ‘informative buys’ in recent days.TravelCenters of America (TA)We’ll start with a company that you probably don’t think about often, but that does provide an essential service. TravelCenters of America is the largest publicly traded owner, operator, and franchisor of full-service highway rest stops in the US. TA started out operating truck stops for rest, repair, and maintenance, and has since expanded to full-service fueling stations offering both gasoline and diesel, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and other rest stop amenities. Their network of rest stops is part of the infrastructure that makes long-distance motor transport, both private and commercial, possible in the USA.As can be imagined, the social lockdowns and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were not good for TA. The good news is, the worst of the pandemic hit during Q1, and the first quarter is normally TA’s slowest of the year. This year, the first quarter showed a net loss of $1.81 per share. In the second quarter, when warmer weather normally leads to increased driving, the pandemic restrictions were also – at least partially – lifted, and TA reported a sudden turnaround, with a 59 cent EPS profit. Even so, that missed the forecast by almost a dime. The outlook for Q3, normally TA’s strongest of the year, is for EPS of 73 cents.Turning to the insider trades, Adam Portnoy of the Board of Directors has the most recent informative buys. Earlier this month, he purchased over 323,000 shares, laying out more than $5.32 million for the stock. Analyst James Sullivan, of BTIG makes two observations about TravelCenters. First, he points out, “The long-haul trucking industry has an approximate 71% share of total primary tonnage in the U.S. freight industry, making it the primary mode of freight transportation.” Sullivan then adds that this opens up opportunity for TA going forward: “The increasing demands of the nation’s large trucking fleets for consolidated service providers that can provide fuel and truck service on a national basis appear likely to drive additional consolidation in the industry.”Sullivan rates TA shares a Buy, and his $34 price target suggests the stock has an impressive 82% upside potential for the coming year. (To watch Sullivan’s track record, click here)Overall, shares in TA are rated a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus, based on 5 recent reviews including 4 Buys and 1 Hold. The shares are selling for $19.24, and the $22.70 average price target implies room for 18% upside growth. (See TA stock analysis on TipRanks)Highwoods Properties (HIW)The next stock is a real estate investment trust. Highwood operates mostly in the Southeast US, but also in Pittsburgh, where it acquires, develops, leases, and manages a portfolio of suburban office and light industrial properties.Where most companies reported heavy losses during the corona crisis, HIW saw revenues in 1H20 remain stable. EPS has grown sequentially into Q1 and remained flat in Q2 at 93 cents. Both quarter beat EPS expectations.Despite the solid financial results, HIW shares have still not recovered from the market collapse of midwinter. The stock is down 27% year-to-date.Through all of this, Highwoods has maintained its dividend, as is common among REITs. The company has a 17-year history of dividend growth and reliability, and the current payment of 48 cents per common share has been stable for the past 7 quarters. At this level, it annualizes to $1.92 and gives a yield of 5.8%.Highwoods’ insider trading has come from Board member Carlos Evans, who purchased 10,000 shares for $337,000 dollars last week. His move was the first informative buy on HIW in the last 6 months.Truist analyst Michael Lewis is impressed by the quality of HIW’s portfolio. He writes, “We continue to believe that HIW’s portfolio is one of the best-positioned among traditional office REITs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rent collections have been excellent and there are no large near-term lease expirations. More broadly, the portfolio should benefit from being focused in drivable, close-in Sunbelt suburbs.”In line with these comments, Lewis rates the stock a Buy. His price target, $45, indicates a 31% potential upside from current levels. (To watch Lewis’ track record, click here)Overall, HIW has a cautiously optimistic Moderate Buy consensus rating from the Street. This breaks down into 2 Buy ratings and 1 Hold. We can also see from TipRanks that the average analyst price target is $43, which implies a ~25% upside from the current share price. (See HIW stock analysis on TipRanks)VEREIT (VER)The last stock on our insider trading list is another REIT. VEREIT is major owner and manager of retail, restaurant, and commercial real estate, with a portfolio that includes over 3,800 properties worth a collective $14.7 billion. The company’s assets are 45% retail and 20% restaurants; the rest is mainly office and light industrial sites. The total leasable square footage is 88.9 million square feet.So VEREIT is a giant in the REIT sector – but size didn’t protect it from the general downturn this year. Share performance has been lackluster, and revenues have been falling off gradually since Q4 of last year. The second quarter results showed $279 million on the top line, the lowest in a year – but the quarter also saw earnings turn back upwards, reaching 17 cents per share.VER cut back on its dividend earlier this year, reducing the payment to 8 cents per share to keep it in line with earnings. That dividend has been maintained, and the next payment is set for mid-October. The current dividend yield is 4.5%, well over double the average found among S&P stocks.The big insider trade on VER comes from Board member and CEO Glenn Rufrano. He spent over $252K on a block of 40,000 shares, pushing the insider sentiment on this stock into positive territory.Covering the stock for JPMorgan, 5-star analyst Anthony Paolone sees an important strength in VER, noting that the company has been successful in collecting rents during the crisis period. “[Its] collections showed good improvement going into July, with 85% collections in 2Q and 91% in July; when considering all the abatements and deferrals, it appears that at this point about 94% of pre-COVID contractual rental revenue has been addressed, and it seems to us that a normalized run rate for this vast majority of the portfolio should take hold in early 2021; the company is making progress in working through the remaining 5-6% of non-collections,” Paolone noted.Paolone gives VER an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and his $8 price target implies a 22% upside for the next 12 months. (To watch Paolone’s track record, click here)All in all, VER has drawn optimism mixed with caution when it comes to consensus opinion among sell-side analysts. Out of 5 analysts polled in the last 3 months, 3 are bullish on the stock, while 2 remain sidelined. With an 11% upside potential, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $7.25. (See VEREIT’s stock analysis at TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
Collective launches to be the ultimate ‘back office’ platform for freelancers
The U.S. freelancing economy is booming, according to a recent Upwork report, with more than a third of the American workforce carrying out some form of freelance work in the past 12 months. This reportedly created $1.2 trillion of economic value — 22% up on the previous year.
While a number of factors may have contributed to this surge, including the COVID-19 crisis which has left many people out of work, this movement creates a lot of administrative work in terms of incorporating a new business, doing accounts, expenses, taxes, and all the rest. And this is why a new startup is launching out of stealth today backed by an impressive roster of investors to serve as an all-in-one back office for “businesses of one.”
Founded in 2018 originally as Hyke, the San Francisco-based company later changed its name to Collective and brought on Hooman Radfar as a cofounder and CEO. Radfar previously launched a website audience tracking platform called AddThis, acquired by Oracle in 2016 for a reported $175 million, and he subsequently joined startup lab and investment company Expa, which was set up by Uber cofounder Garrett Camp.
To help fund its platform through its beta stage and onto its public launch, Collective has managed to raise $8.65 million in funding from backers including General Catalyst, QED Investors, Google’s AI-focused fund Gradient Ventures, Expa, and a host of notable individual investors including Garrett Camp.
The Collective platform offers an array of tools and services through a single online dashboard, covering S Corp formation, business banking, accounting, expenses categorization, tax filing guidance and advice, and more. The platform also links in directly to third-party financial software such as Gusto and QuickBooks.
Arguably, the platform’s greatest asset is its instant access to professional tax and business advisers, with Collective serving its users with a quarterly review of their accounts and books to provide feedback on ways to adjust salary and “optimize” deductions and expenses.
Members can also access real-time messaging so they can contact their designated bookkeeper or advisor with any specific questions they have.
All of this costs $249 per month, though this is $199 for a limited period, meaning that Collective likely isn’t aimed at those doing a little sporadic freelancing work in their spare time — it’s more likely to appeal to full-time freelancers. But this fee includes company formation support, and access to QuickBooks Online, Gusto, accounting and tax filing guidance, state compliance, and general guidance as and when required.
Moreover, Collective claimed that during its beta phase it saved members an average of $16,800 in 2019, for those earning $80,000 in revenue.
Additionally, Collective said that it’s piloting a full bookkeeping service for an extra $99 – $199 per month, for those who want to completely hand-off their accounts to someone else. Those who prefer to keep their own accounts, and just need help and advice, can forego this part of the service.
“Some members prefer to do their own accounting, and just need our help to set up and advise on bookkeeping, but we are finding that many members prefer that we handle the books, as well,” Radfar told VentureBeat.
Gradient Ventures’ involvement in Collective is also curious, given that the Google-backed VC fund focuses entirely on AI startups. According to Radfar, Collective will use machine learning and AI technologies to “help inform the automation of bookkeeping and accounting.” More specifically, he indicated that Collective can automatically categorize expenses based on their type, which in turn can help “fuel” automatic tax filing. “If you have clean books, it’s much easier to automate taxes,” Radfar said.
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