Mueller charges Manafort & Gates with laundering over $30mn in Ukraine lobbying income

By ethan / February 22, 2018

US special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a new indictment against former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates, which appears unrelated to the 2016 US presidential election.

The 32-count indictment filed on Thursday at the federal court in Washington, DC charges Manafort and Gates with laundering more than $ 30 million in funds they earned from lobbying work in Ukraine, which ended in 2014.

Other charges include sixteen counts of fraudulent individual tax returns, as well as failing to disclose foreign bank accounts and misrepresenting more than $ 10 million in income, from Cyprus-based companies, as loans.

Mueller’s original indictment against Manafort and Gates, filed in October 2017, contained twelve counts, seven of which were “failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.” The rest referred to money-laundering, tax evasion and false or misleading Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) statements.

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Paul Manafort hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. © Jonathan Ernst

Manafort and Gates worked as lobbyists for various governments in Ukraine from 2006 to 2015 and conspired to shield the income derived from the work from being taxed by the US government, according to the indictment.

“In total, more than $ 75,000,000 flowed through the offshore accounts. MANAFORT, with the assistance of GATES, laundered more than $ 30,000,000, income that he concealed from the United States Department of the Treasury (Treasury), the Department of Justice, and others,” the indictment reads.

Gates himself was accused of obtaining $ 3 million from the offshore accounts, and of concealing them from Treasury.

President Donald Trump has maintained that charges against Manafort and Gates have nothing to do with his campaign, which Manafort managed between June and August of 2016.

Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed special counsel in May 2017, after Trump fired James Comey from the FBI top job and Democrats accused him (Trump) of obstructing the probe into their claims that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election.

A grand jury in Virginia has filed a 32-count indictment charging ex-Trump campaign chiefs Paul J. Manafort, Jr., and Richard W. Gates III with federal tax and bank fraud allegations.

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NRA leader LaPierre draws fire from liberals over call for armed guards in schools

By ethan / February 22, 2018

The National Rifle Association’s executive Wayne LaPierre lashed out at “elitist” Democrats for exploiting the Florida school shooting and “hating” freedoms, while liberals reacted angrily to his call for armed guards at schools.

No love was lost between the NRA’s executive vice-president and liberal gun control supporters as LaPierre gave his speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) near Washington, DC on Thursday. The NRA executive accused the Democratic party of using last week’s Florida school shooting to abolish the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

“The opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for political gain,” LaPierre said. “The Democrats hate the NRA. They hate the Second Amendment. They hate individual freedom.”

“Absolute control in every corner of our government is their ultimate dream. These intellectual elites – they think they’re smarter than we are… and they think they’re better than we are. They truly believe it and you know it,” he added.

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US President Donald Trump hosts a listening session to discuss school safety at the White House. February 21, 2018. © Jonathan Ernst

LaPierre called for “security shields” of armed guards around all schools as “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Banks, airports, workplaces, sports events, movie stars and politicians “are all more protected than our children at school,” Lapierre said.

He went on to accuse the gun control lobby of an attempt to “sweep right under the carpet the failure of school security, the failure of family, the failure of America’s mental health system, and even the unbelievable failure of the FBI,” which admitted last week it failed to act on a tip-off about the Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Liberals quickly hit back at LaPierre’s comments, in turn accusing him of using the tragedy for his own gains.

“Gun manufacturers would profit immensely from militarizing our schools,” tweeted Shannon Watts, founder of the gun control campaign Moms Demand Action.

Austin Stang of the anti-Trump group Gun Control Now said LaPierre “made it very clear here that the NRA is playing politics by rejecting any and all democratic ideas merely because they don’t like the Democrats.”

Twitter conservatives, however, lauded the NRA leader’s words. NPR News political writer Dan Gonyea called the speech “defiant”, while Carmine Sabia hailed LaPierre as “a champion for our rights.”

One the comic relief side of things, there was former Bill Clinton White House staffer Claude Taylor claimed the NRA had received millions from… Russian President Vladimir Putin!

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LGBT sex education – Corbyn backs classroom changes

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Gay sex should be part of the national curriculum, according to Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour Party leader backed the coverage of same-sex relationships in schools during an interview on Will Young’s Homo Sapiens podcast.

Currently sex education solely focuses on heterosexual couples practicing safe sex and healthy relationships. Teachers are not instructed to address the LGBTQ sexual experience.

During his appearance on the podcast, which was covered by the Gay Times, Corbyn asserted that he is fully behind a reform of the way sex, especially gay sex, is taught in schools. “Sex education should involve same-sex as well as heterosexual relationships – it’s about relationships.”

“Too much of it is not about relationships and understanding each other, having respect for each other and what is a genuine relationship and what’s an exploitative relationship; there’s a big difference. It’s giving young people the confidence to understand that a loving relationship is something to cherish and be proud of. An exploitative relationship is not.”

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FILE PHOTO © Eloy Alonso

Host and former pop star Young said growing up gay is made harder by people ignoring it. “That’s very important and it makes me think of pornography. I think it’s so rife and people can get… people have phones when they’re younger now and whether you’re heterosexual or gay, bisexual, whatever – people will formulate their opinions on what a relationship is by watching pornography. People are ashamed to talk about sex. We’re so ashamed to talk about it. It’s about loving and being safe.”

Corbyn added: “And those who were frightened to admit their sexuality because of repression, and that goes back a long way more in history. Lord Byron spent a lot of time in Switzerland because there was no prosecutable law there like there was here at that time, like many others. I think we’ve got to learn from our history. I give Alan Turing as an example, I give Oscar Wilde – there’s a lot of others.”

The Labour leader’s support for the issue comes as politics is increasingly being played out in the classroom. Former Tory Education Minister Justine Greening backed plans for compulsory LGBTQ-inclusive sex and relationships education, however, she is no longer in charge. Her replacement, Damian Hinds, caused controversy earlier this week when he backed the suggestion parents could exclude their children from sex education classes.

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West Virginia teachers occupy streets in statewide strike

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Ever single public school in West Virginia is closed. Teachers across the state staged a walkout in protest against one of the lowest salaries in the country and the rising cost of healthcare.

It is the first statewide teachers’ strike in almost 30 years in West Virginia. Over 270,000 students have been affected, according to the latest enrollment figures from the state Education Department.

I never dreamed 19 years ago when I started teaching that I would have to work a second job to provide for my kids. I knew teaching wouldn’t make [me] billions, but I thought it would be enough,” second grade teacher Rebecca Diamond told the Huffington Post.

On Thursday, teachers and their supporters demonstrated outside the state Capitol and in other cities.

A bill signed by Governor Jim Justice on Wednesday night, before the strike took place, offered teachers a 2 percent raise this year and a 1 percent increase in each of the next two years.  The state’s two main teachers unions, however, say the proposal is inadequate.

Teachers in West Virginia have not had a pay rise in four years.

The average starting salary for a teacher in West Virginia is $ 32,435 per year, while the average teacher’s salary is $ 44,701, according to the West Virginia Education Association.

Teacher vacancies are increasing. There are classrooms with no teacher of record. … We’ve actually been educating teachers at our universities in West Virginia and they’re not staying here.” Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia told the Huffington Post.

Teachers in surrounding states make anywhere from $ 5,000 to $ 20,000 more than in West Virginia, according to Campbell. A  further point of dispute is the rising health-care costs at the state Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA).

The problem is it’s only a one year fix,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the Wall Street Journal. “It doesn’t address the real issue, which is continued cost increases and continuing to fund it on the backs of the employees.”  

State authorities have condemned the walkouts.

Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time,” West Virginia Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said in a statement on Tuesday.

There are further walkouts scheduled for Friday.

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‘UFC will come to Russia regardless of Khabib v Ferguson result’ – Artem Lobov

By ethan / February 22, 2018

MMA veteran Artem Lobov believes that the result of the UFC lightweight championship bout between American Tony Ferguson and Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov won’t affect the promotion’s plans to host its first-ever event in Russia.

As soon as news emerged of the UFC’s plans to host its first event on Russian soil, MMA fans and the media started speculating on who would headline the potential card in Moscow. One of the most obvious options seemed to be Russia’s biggest UFC star, the undefeated Nurmagomedov, who is fighting for the lightweight championship belt against Ferguson at the beginning of April on the UFC 223 card in Brooklyn, New York.

READ MORE: First-ever UFC show in Russia booked for September in Moscow

Many also believe that a Nurmagomedov victory could become a key factor in the UFC’s decision regarding the Moscow show, for which the promotion has already secured the Olympic Stadium in the Russian capital – adding, however, that it was a “strategic booking.”

Lobov, meanwhile, says that the event should happen regardless of the Nurmagomedov-Ferguson outcome.

“I think UFC are going there (to Russia) regardless of what happens between Tony and Khabib, you know,” the 31-year-old Dublin resident told RT Sport.

“They’ve been targeting Russia for a very long time, it’s a big market. People in Russia love MMA, they love UFC, so I can see why they want to be in there. And for sure, for me it will be a great honor to be on that card.”

As for the Ferguson-Nurmagomedov fight, Lobov says he’s looking forward to a bout that has been “anticipated for a long time.”

“It’s the fight which I want to see, you know. It’s a fight that has been anticipated for a long time, it was supposed to happen twice or three times before, but it didn’t happen, so I just want to finally see that fight happen, and see who the best man is, you know. I just want to see a good fight.”

READ MORE: ‘I never lack motivation’ – Artem Lobov speaks on ‘decisive’ fight at UFC 223

The pair are set to fight on April 7 in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, on a card that is expected to see a number of Russian fighters, including Lobov, who will face American Alex Caceres.

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It was Russia/Soviets/Stasi/KGB … Political accusers in Britain and US just aren’t trying anymore

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Britain and America’s ability to share should be an example to angry toddlers across the globe. They share a language, Middle Eastern bombing campaigns, and now lame excuses for their political screw-ups.

Hey Washington, are you using Russia at the moment, because London needs it to cover its ass today.”  Donald Trump should never have made it to the White House, it must have been Russia. Brexit should never have happened, it must have been Russia. Old lefty Jeremy Corbyn could become prime minister, it must be…. damn it, that one’s already being used.

Somewhere, there’s a Western political playbook lying in a box, labelled “in case of political emergency break glass.” Inside, Putin, Russia, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, KGB, and Stasi are all listed as synonyms.

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© Steve Marcus

If you want a demonstration of how the establishment is running out of ideas, then just look at the political scandals playing out in Britain and America all at the same time, and see if you can spot the pattern.

The inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the last US election is the one-stop-shop for anyone who isn’t happy with the outcome. The idea that 13 people posting online could swing a vote in the world’s most celebrated democracy would have seemed ridiculous a few years ago.

It’s still ridiculous today, but the bar for political accusations is much lower now. Wait until someone over in Washington reads the Wikipedia page on Slovenia – Melania Trump will be in an FBI interrogation center before you can cry “nyet.”

A parliamentary inquiry in Britain very much likes what it sees going on across the Atlantic, and is also trying to blame Brexit on social media sent from Russia. Twitter and Facebook have both said there’s no evidence, but the committee just keeps on chanting “Russia, Russia, Russia, Russia.” That will probably work in the end if we’re honest.

And now we have Labour leader Corbyn, who can’t really be attacked directly with the Russia stick, because it has already been rented out, so the next best thing is the trusty old Soviet stick.

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February 20, 2018 - London, London, UK . Labour party leader JEREMY CORBYN MP.. makes a speech at the EEF National Manufacturing Conference 2018

Every pro-Tory source who wants to wade in is getting right behind allegations from former Czech spy Jan Sarkocy that Corbyn was a source for the Soviets back in the 1980s. Apparently the two met a few times in Parliament.
Prime Minister Theresa May took the chance to have a dig in Parliament herself, but she’s done far more shameful things in the Commons, so should probably not be too proud of herself.

The right-wing press has been having a field day with this one. But Sarkocy also claimed to have organized the Live Aid concert, and there’s no sign of Tory politicians and right-wing tabloid rags going after Bob Geldof with double-page spreads, unfortunately. They know the Live Aid claim is ridiculous, but they’ll put all cynicism aside when it lets them attack Corbyn.

Some of the coverage is just bizarre, like the Telegraph’s editorial headlined “Why does the Left still love Communism?” – ignoring the fact that it’s the right-wing press that is still banging on about events behind the Iron Curtain from the 1980s.

You could almost hear the anguish when someone found out that East Germany’s notorious Stasi didn’t have any files on Corbyn. (I’ll admit, he does seem the type.)

If you wander through the newsrooms of the Times or the Telegraph, you’ll see the real grizzled features of people that long for the Cold War. The Sun, which first broke the allegations, is owned by you-know-who (Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch), and you can be sure he doesn’t like the idea of Corbyn in Downing Street. Corbyn might ask Murdoch to return the key to the back door!

The most depressing part of the current scandals is not that all the accusers are unable to remove their Russian blinkers, it’s that they can’t think of anything imaginative to smear people with anymore. Why not pick on China for a change?

By Simon Rite, RT

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‘They’d beg us to come back’: Trump mulls pulling ICE from ‘sanctuary’ California

By ethan / February 22, 2018

President Donald Trump said he is “thinking about” ordering border patrol and immigration enforcement out of California over the state’s sanctuary policies, to demonstrate that it would result in a crime wave.

Trump brought up California’s “sanctuary state” policies at Thursday’s meeting about school safety at the White House, prompted by last week’s mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida high school.

“Frankly, it’s a disgrace. The sanctuary city situation,” Trump told a gathering of his Cabinet members, state and local officials. “If we ever pulled our ICE out… in two months they’d be begging for us to come back. They would be begging. And you know what? I’m thinking about doing it.”

If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol were told to leave California alone, “you’d see crime like nobody’s ever seen crime in this country,” Trump argued.

A number of cities and counties in California have adopted “sanctuary” policies, meaning that they refuse to cooperate with federal authorities in detaining immigrants that are in the US illegally. In October, however, Governor Jerry Brown (D) signed a law declaring the entire state a sanctuary. Under the law, local officials can’t use state funds to aid federal immigration enforcement and federal officials are required to obtain a warrant before accessing California work sites.

Employers are also forbidden to share confidential employee information without a subpoena. California attorney general Xavier Becerra has threatened harsh penalties for companies that cooperate with federal authorities in violation of the state law.

Last month, two Democrat senators from California, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, wrote to ICE demanding documents about “troubling” ICE raids in the state. Using scarce ICE resources to punish California and score political points is “an abhorrent abuse of power,” they wrote.

Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan rejected the criticism, saying that ICE is not conducting indiscriminate raids targeting minorities.

“I didn’t think these senators were in the business of enacting laws they didn’t want enforced. I’m enforcing the laws they enacted,” Homan told Fox News on Wednesday.

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UK ‘complicit’ in Duterte’s war on drugs – anti arms-trade group

By ethan / February 22, 2018

The UK is “complicit” in human rights abuses in the Philippines as it has emerged it is selling spying equipment to President Rodrigo Duterte. The country’s leader is currently waging a war on drugs that has killed thousands.

According to the Guardian, the British government has sold some £150,000 worth of spying equipment to Duterte as he endeavors to hunt down drug dealers and users, avowedly as part of his campaign to tackle drug crime. Equipment included IMSI-Catchers, used to eavesdrop on phone conversations, and other internet surveillance tools, the paper reports. 

Duterte has admitted authorizing the wiretapping of at least two mayors, whom he accused of being “narcopoliticians.” One, former Ozamiz mayor Reynaldo Parojino, was killed along with another 14 people when police raided his home last July.

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© Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Following the report, the Campaign Against Arms Trade’s Andrew Smith told RT: “The regime in the Philippines has an appalling human rights record. By providing surveillance equipment and support, the UK is making itself complicit in the abuses taking place. We don’t know how that equipment will be used, or who it will be used against.”

The UK’s relationship with Duterte has also faced censure in parliament. Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, a member of the committees on arms export controls, accused the government of facilitating the deadly war on drugs. Russell-Moyle said the sales “makes us complicit in the deaths of thousands of Filipinos.

“This sad case shows that our arms export control regime is broken. The government is failing in its basic legal duty,” he added.

The arms sales also appear to contravene UK law. It is, in fact, against its statute to “issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression”.

The UK, however, has a record of providing arms to governments accused of internal repression. It has previously sold espionage equipment to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Bahrain and Egypt.

The kit was sold to Duterte’s government in 2016. By that time, the Filipino leader had already made it clear he would resort to any means necessary to follow through with his plans to tackle drug-related crime.

During a rally last year, Duterte said: “Forget the laws on human rights. If I make it to the presidential palace, I will do just what I did as mayor.

“You drug pushers, hold-up men and do-nothings, you better go out. Because I’d kill you, I’ll dump all of you into Manila Bay, and fatten all the fish there.”

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Riot police guard the entrance of Honduras Central Bank as supporters of opposition candidate Salvador Nasralla burn tires during a march to protest against the results of Honduras' general elections in Tegucigalpa, Honduras January 7, 2018. © Jorge Cabrera

But Human Rights Watch (HRW) envoy to the Philippines Phelim Kine called into question the validity of the Guardian’s report, as he said there is “no clarity as to who exactly received” the equipment.

According to evidence garnered by HRW, there is no “no confirmation” that the equipment has actually been handed to the Philippine national police to pursue the President’s “slaughter.”

Moreover, he questioned the likelihood of the equipment being used in the war on drugs, or what he also referred to as the “war on the poor”, as the campaign targets “urban slum-dwellers” who are tracked down through a local government register. “It’s unclear to me why and how high surveillance equipment would be needed to target that population segment,” Kine told RT.

He claimed HRW is well-acquainted with the “modus operandi” of the regime as it has worked in the field for 19 months, and that the anti-drug campaign is an “extremely brutal, low-tech venture”. But he concluded there is “no evidence that national police is sourcing targets through surveillance. We go on verifiable facts. [The Guardian article] raises more questions than it gives answers,” Kine quipped.

The UK department for international trade responded to the allegations. It told the Guardian the “government takes its export responsibilities very seriously.”

According to HRW, Duterte’s war on drugs has claimed the lives of 12,000 people. The anti-drug campaign started in July 30, 2016.

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Blessed are gun-toting couples: Pennsylvania church to host AR-15 ceremony

By ethan / February 22, 2018

A Pennsylvania church is inviting gun-toting couples to bring their AR-15 rifles to a special blessing ceremony, symbolizing the intent and ability of worshippers to defend their family and community.

The blessing is being initiated by the World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland and will take place on February 28, just a half-mile from an elementary school, according to AP.

An AR-15 rifle was allegedly used by Nikolas Cruz in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida on February 14, according to police. Details of the ‘gun blessing’ were posted on the church site the day before the deadly attack.

READ MORE: Florida school shooter was part of NRA-sponsored air-rifle school squad – report

A statement from the church refers to the AR-15 as a symbol of the “rod of iron” mentioned in the Bible’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation. It advises those unable to bring the weapon to bring a gift voucher from a gun store instead.

“If unable to purchase and legally transport such a ‘rod of iron’ because of laws barring the purchase of such weapons, or other reasons, couples are invited to purchase a $ 700 gift certificate from a gun store, as evidence of their intent to purchase a ‘rod of iron’ in the future,” the church advises.

Tim Elder, the Unification Sanctuary’s director of world missions, told AP that the weapons will be unloaded, secured with zip ties and checked at the door. He said the church didn’t consider canceling or moving the ceremony. “Now more than ever, good people need to stand up and claim for themselves the tools that can be used to stop that kind of evil,” he said.

“There is no blessing of guns,” the church wrote on its Facebook page responding to numerous media reports. It’s a blessing of the couples not the weapons, the church insisted.

Newfoundland Sanctuary Church is an offshoot of the Unification Church and is a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. It has about 200 congregants who attend services on Sunday and another 200 who watch online programs.

Its leader, Reverend Hyung “Sean” Jin Moon, is the son of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon – a self-proclaimed messiah who founded the Unification Church. Jin Moon’s brother Kook-Jin Justin Moon is the founder of Kahr Arms, a US gun manufacturer.

READ MORE: Trump suggests arming teachers & staff could prevent school massacres

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We’re not racists, we’re royalists: Henry Bolton defends girlfriend Jo Marney in TV interview

By ethan / February 22, 2018

Former UKIP leader Henry Bolton risked further derision when he cited “social media” and “people in their early 20s” while defending his girlfriend Jo Marney’s racist comments. Bolton was speaking on ITV’s ‘This Morning’ show.

In their first interview together, Bolton and Marney, a former model, appeared on the channel on Thursday morning, interviewed by hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Their appearance came just days after Bolton was ousted as UKIP leader, following a vote of no confidence. Bolton had been under increased pressure after it emerged that Marney had sent racist text messages.

In the texts, leaked from a WhatsApp conversation, Marney said Prince Harry’s fiancée, Meghan Markle, would “taint the royal family” due to her race. She also described black people as “ugly,” and wrote that Grenfell Tower was a “nest of illegal immigrants.”

When challenged over her “outrageous” remarks by ‘This Morning’ the hosts , Marney said they were meant to “shock.” She added the sentiments expressed do not reflect her views.

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© Rob Pinney / Global Look Press

As Marney attempted to shield herself from the hosts’ questioning, Bolton rushed to her rescue, saying a lot of what happened is to be blamed on social media. “There is a bigger issue here with social media.”

Despite the hosts’ perplexed looks, Bolton continued, adding: “A big question for society. Some of the stuff that is being spread around by people in their early 20s on private messages, on Facebook and other social media means is absolutely ‘appalling’ and they are the sort of things they would never say face to face or in public.

“There seems to be a sort of subculture of communication which would be unacceptable if it was out in a more open domain.” Bolton went on: “There are people on social media who say things on social media[…] that they would never ever dream of saying openly.”

The pair were then asked if they were “private racists,” to which Bolton replied: “Absolutely, of course not,” before adding: “No, I’m a dyed in the wool royalist.”

His attempt to qualify and defend his girlfriend were slammed by Tweeters. One user was baffled by the amount of attention the couple were getting from ITV – but when they supply such TV gold, can you really blame them?

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