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Monthly Archives: May 2017

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Bombing in diplomatic area of Kabul kills 80, wounds scores

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A massive explosion rocked a highly secure diplomatic area of Kabul on Wednesday morning, killing 80 people and wounding as many as 350, an attack that left a scene of mayhem and destruction and sent a huge plume of smoke over the Afghan capital.

The target of the attack in the Wazir Akbar Khan area — which officials said was a suicide car bombing — was not immediately known, but Ismail Kawasi, spokesman of the public health ministry, said most of the casualties were civilians, including women and children.

It was one of the worst attacks Kabul had seen since the drawdown of foreign forces from the country at the end of 2014. The explosion also raised serious questions about the Afghan government’s ability to secure the war-battered nation.

Associated Press images from the scene showed the German Embassy and several other embassies located in the area heavily damaged. Germany, Japan and Pakistan said some of their embassy employees and staff were hurt in the explosion.

The BBC said a driver for the British broadcaster was killed and four of its journalists were wounded in the attack. Afghanistan’s private TOLO Television also reported a staffer killed; Germany said an Afghan security guard outside its embassy was among those killed.

The explosion took place at the peak of Kabul’s rush hour when roads are packed with worktime commuters. It went off close to a busy intersection in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, said Najib Danish, deputy spokesman for the Interior Ministry.

The neighborhood is considered Kabul’s safest area, with foreign embassies protected by dozens of 10-foot-high blast walls and government offices, guarded by police and national security forces. The German Embassy, the Foreign Ministry and the Presidential Palace are all in the area, as are the British and the Canadian embassies. The Chinese, Turkish and Iranian embassies are also located there.

The U.S Embassy and the NATO mission in Kabul, located about a kilometer (half mile) away from the site of the explosion, both condemned the attack. The alliance praised “the courage of Afghan Security Forces, especially the police and first responders” following the attack.

Local TV footage showed shocked residents soaked in blood stumbling about, then being ferried away to hospitals. Passers-by stopped and helped the wounded into private cars, others congregated outside the nearby Italian-run Emergency Hospital.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, though both the Taliban and the Islamic State group have staged large-scale attacks in the Afghan capital in the past.

The Taliban later Wednesday issued a statement denying any involvement and condemning all attacks against civilians. Zabihullah Mujahid, spokesman for the Taliban, said the Kabul explosion had “nothing to do with the Mujahedeen of Islamic Emirate,” as the Taliban call themselves. Even though the Taliban claim they are only waging war against the Kabul government and foreign forces in Afghanistan, most of the casualties of their attacks have been civilians.

A statement from the Ministry of Interior Affairs said it condemned “in the strongest terms the terrorist attack” that killed so many, including women and children. “These heinous acts go against the values of humanity as well values of peaceful Afghans,” it added.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani also condemned the attack, which came just days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. A statement from his office quoted Ghani as saying that “the terrorists, even in the holy month of Ramadan, the month of goodness, blessing and prayer, are not stopping the killing of our innocent people.”

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that along with the Afghan guard who was killed, a German diplomat was lightly wounded while an Afghan staffer sustained severe injuries. Gabriel offered his condolences to the guard’s family.

Neighboring Pakistan denounced the “terrorist attack in Kabul” and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it “caused damage to the residences of some Pakistani diplomats and staff, living in the close vicinity, and inflicted minor injuries to some.”

China’s foreign ministry said its embassy was partly damaged but that all embassy staffers were “safe and sound” and that there had been no reports of injured Chinese citizens.

Germany has had troops in Afghanistan for 15 years, primarily concentrated in the north in and around Mazar-e-Sharif. They’re currently one of the biggest contributors to the NATO-led Resolute Support mission with around 980 soldiers on the ground to support and train Afghan security forces.

Wednesday’s explosion was so heavy that more than 50 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged around the site of the attack. “We don’t know at this moment what was the target,” said Danish.

Residents described a mushroom cloud over Kabul and windows were shattered in shops, restaurants and other buildings up to a kilometer (half mile) from the blast site.

“There are a large number of casualties, but I don’t know how many people are killed or wounded,” said an eyewitness, Gul Rahim.

Mohammad Haroon, who owns a sporting goods store near the site, said all the windows on his shop and others around him were shattered. “I’ve never seen such a powerful explosion in my life,” he said.

“Business will be very bad, nobody will come for shopping anymore,” he added.

Kawasi, the health official, said the wounded were admitted to different Kabul hospitals.

Shortly after the explosion, all roads in Wazir Akbar Khan were blocked off by Afghan security forces and helicopters were deployed over the neighborhood.

Last month, the Afghan Taliban announced the beginning of their spring offensive, promising to build their political base in the country while focusing military assaults on the international coalition and Afghan security forces.

U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling the Taliban insurgency for more than 15 years. The United States now has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan, training local forces and conducting counterterrorism operations. In the past year, they have largely concentrated on thwarting a surge of attacks by the Taliban, who have captured key districts, such as Helmand province, which U.S. and British troops had fought bitterly to return to the government.

Yet the Afghan war shows no signs of letting up and the emergence of the local Islamic State branch has made Afghanistan even more volatile.

The affiliate, known as the Islamic State in Khorasan, an ancient name for parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia, has taken credit for several brazen assaults on Kabul, including the attack on a military hospital on March 8 when IS gunmen, wearing white lab coats, stormed a military hospital in Kabul, killing 50 people.

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Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

Russia fires cruise missiles, targets IS positions in Syria

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russians warships in the Mediterranean Sea have fired four cruise missiles at the Islamic State group’s positions in Syria, the Russian defense ministry said on Wednesday.

The announcement came as Syrian government troops pushed ahead in their offensive against IS and militants in central and northern Syria.

Moscow said in a statement that the Admiral Essen frigate and the Krasnodar submarine launched the missiles at IS targets in the area of the ancient town of Palmyra. There was no information on when the missiles were launched.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive for weeks in northern, central and southern part of the country against IS and U.S.-backed rebels under the cover of Russian airstrikes, gaining an area almost half the size of neighboring Lebanon.

Most recently, Syrian troops and their allies have been marching toward the IS stronghold of Sukhna, about 60 kilometers (37 miles) northeast of Palmyra.

The strategic juncture in the Syrian desert aids government plans to go after IS in Deir el-Zour, one of the militants’ last major strongholds in Syria. The oil-rich province straddles the border with Iraq and is the extremist group’s last gateway to the outside world.

Russia, a staunch Damascus ally, has been providing air cover to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offensive on IS and other insurgents since 2015. Moscow had fired cruise missiles from warships in the past, as well as from mainland Russia against Assad’s opponents.

As the fighting against IS militants is underway near Palmyra, Syrian troops clashed with U.S.-backed rebels in the country’s south on Wednesday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Mozahem al-Salloum, of the activist-run Hammurabi Justice News network that tracks developments in eastern Syria.

The fighting came days after the United States told Syrian government forces and their allies to move away from an area near the Jordanian border where the coalition is training allied rebels.

The warning comes less than two weeks after the Americans bombed Iranian-backed troops there after they failed to heed similar warnings.

Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said on Tuesday that the U.S. dropped leaflets over the weekend telling the forces to leave the established protected zone.

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes captured Palmyra in March last year and Moscow even flew in one of its best classical musicians to play a triumphant concert at Palmyra’s ancient theater. IS forces, however, recaptured Palmyra eight months later, before Syrian government troops drove them out again in March this year.

Russia’s defense ministry said its Wednesday statement that the strikes successfully hit IS heavy weapons and fighters whom the group who had deployed and moved to Palmyra from the IS stronghold of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Sunni militant group and its self-proclaimed caliphate.

Moscow said it had notified the U.S., Turkish and Israeli militaries beforehand of the upcoming strike. It added that the Russian strike was promptly executed following the order, a testimony to the navy’s high readiness and capabilities.

Russia has been busy mediating between Assad and Turkey and the West who seek his removal. Earlier this month Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed to establish safe zones in Syria, signing on to a Russian plan under which Assad’s air force would halt flights over designated areas across the war-torn country. Russia says maps delineating the zones should be ready by June 4.

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Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

A new balance of terror: Why North Korea clings to its nukes

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PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Early one winter morning, Kim Jong Un stood at a remote observation post overlooking a valley of rice paddies near the Chinese border.

The North Korean leader beamed with delight as he watched four extended range Scud missiles roar off their mobile launchers, comparing the sight to a team of acrobats performing in unison. Minutes later the projectiles splashed into the sea off the Japanese coast, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) from where he was standing.

It was an unprecedented event. North Korea had just run its first simulated nuclear attack on an American military base.

This scene from March 6, described in government propaganda, shows how the North’s seemingly crazy, suicidal nuclear program is neither crazy nor suicidal. Rather, this is North Korea’s very deliberate strategy to ensure the survival of its ruling regime.

Back in the days of Kim Il Sung, North Korea’s “eternal president” and Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, the ruling regime decided it needed two things to survive: reliable, long-range missiles and small, but potent, nuclear warheads. For a small and relatively poor country, that was, indeed, a distant and ambitious goal. But it detonated its first nuclear device on Oct. 9, 2006.

North Korean soldiers with nuclear symbol packs. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Today, North Korea is testing advanced ballistic missiles faster than ever — a record 24 last year and three in just the past month. With each missile and each nuclear device, it becomes a better equipped, better trained and better prepared adversary. Some experts believe it might be able to build a missile advanced enough to reach the United States’ mainland with a nuclear warhead in two to three years.

So forget, for the moment, how erratic Kim Jong Un and his generals may seem. North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year; one was of the strongest nuclear device it has ever detonated and the other, Pyongyang claims, of its first H-bomb. The U.S. for its part is also escalating — in an explicit warning to Pyongyang, it successfully shot a target ICBM launched from a Pacific island out of the sky with a California-based interceptor missile on Tuesday.

The question is this: if war breaks out and North Korea launches a pre-emptive nuclear strike on an American military base in Japan — for real — would the U.S. recoil and retreat? Would it strike back, and risk losing Washington DC in a second wave of nuclear attacks?

For Pyongyang, forcing Washington to seriously weigh that calamity is a win. And it may become a real-world possibility on President Donald Trump’s watch.

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RISING FROM THE RICE PADDIES

Four extended range Scud missiles lift off. (KCNA/KNS via AP)

The 7:36 a.m. launch on March 6 was conducted in North Pyongan Province near North Korea’s Sohae Satellite Launching Center. It sent the four Scuds into the ocean 300 to 350 kilometers (185 to 220 miles) from the coast of Japan.

Reporting on it the next day, North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun, the ruling party’s newspaper, stated it was not a test to see if the missiles would work, but rather a “drill” to train the troops who will “strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in a contingency.”

To back that up, the North released several photos of Kim in a black overcoat holding a plastic pointer to a map laid out on a wooden table that showed the missiles’ flight path and other data. Analyst Jeffrey Lewis and his colleagues at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, California, quickly realized the Scuds were on a trajectory that, with a simple southerly tweak, would have sent them raining down on Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni.

Kim Jong Un at the missile launching. (KCNA/KNS via AP)

Iwakuni, located 50 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Hiroshima on the southern tip of Japan’s main island, is home to some 10,000 U.S. and Japanese personnel. It was used as a staging area during the 1950-53 Korean War, when it was called the “Gateway to Korea” by U.S. and U.N. forces, and continues to be one of the largest and most important U.S. military facilities in Japan.

Such an attack wouldn’t need to be nuclear to be effective. The deadly Sarin nerve agent or some other chemical weapon could also cause tremendous casualties. But training a nuclear attack on Iwakuni had a special psychological twist for those who follow the ceaseless military game of cat and mouse in the region. North Korea’s media stressed Kim was accompanied at the launch by nuclear weapons specialists.

Marine Corps Air Station, Iwakuni. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

“Before the Iwakuni simulation strike, U.S. and South Korean forces were conducting joint military drills, which involved F-35s based out of Iwakuni,” said analyst David Schmerler, who works with Lewis. “As the U.S. and South Korea were practicing their military drills in the event of a conflict on the peninsula, the North Koreans, in turn, practiced their strike plans.”

The U.S.-South Korea drills reportedly included an F-35 stealth fighter “decapitation strike” on Kim Jong Un and his top lieutenants.

Kim, apparently, was practicing how to take them out first.

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WHY THIS COULD ALL GO NUCLEAR: THREE SCENARIOS

Graphic by Penny Yi Wang

The Cold War concept of “mutually assured destruction” that kept the United States and the Soviet Union from attacking each other requires a “balance of terror” to encourage restraint: Once each side has attained a certain level of destructive power, neither will attack because they are convinced that neither will survive.

North Korea doesn’t have that assurance. If a war were to break out now, it could very well be destroyed. That’s the way things have been for decades.

But here’s where the urgency comes in for the United States and its allies. If North Korea succeeds in building nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland, the dynamic in a contingency would be highly volatile.

A nuclear-armed North Korea would have a strong incentive to go nuclear quickly and go nuclear first if it believed, correctly or not, that it was about to be attacked. But that also would increase Washington’s first-strike incentive, since it doesn’t want its strategic advantage taken away by a surprise attack on its own cities or military bases.

So both sides have good reason to be trigger happy.

U.S. soldiers at military exercises in Paju, South Korea, near the North Korean border. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Bruce Bennett, a leading North Korea expert and senior defense analyst with the RAND Corporation, offers these possible scenarios:

— Consider a case in which North Korea has a stockpile of nuclear warheads and the ability to launch them from submarines or remote, hard-to-detect sites on land. Fearing an attack from the U.S., it launches a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the South Korean port of Busan, then tells the United States that if there is any nuclear retaliation, it will fire nuclear weapons at U.S. cities.

Would Donald Trump, or whoever follows him, back away? Would he risk losing Los Angeles, or Chicago, to defend America’s allies?

— Or North Korea tries another ballistic missile launch like the one on March 6. This time, just before the missiles hit the water near Japan, a nuclear weapon on one or more of the missiles detonates, downing a few commercial aircraft or sinking some cargo ships. This would convince the world that Kim Jong Un has a real nuclear arsenal and isn’t shy about using it.

Would Trump react with a nuclear attack on North Korea?

— Now, picture war breaking out on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea, to convince the United States not to intervene, launches an ICBM that appears to be coming down short, well west of California. But on the way down it bursts in a nuclear explosion, possibly causing some damage to U.S. territory. Pyongyang then threatens more serious damage to the United States if there is any nuclear retaliation or U.S. intervention in the conflict.

Is the U.S. president going to risk millions of people dead and major cities destroyed?

“With the weight of history on his shoulders, how would a U.S. president respond?” Bennett asks. “How should he respond?”

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GOOSE-STEPPING TO THE ‘FINAL VICTORY’

Images by Eric Talmadge

It’s mid-morning on April 15, the “Day of the Sun,” the 105th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth.

Some 100,000 North Koreans are amassed in Kim Il Sung square waving plastic bouquets and holding up lettered cards to create designs like the ruling party’s hammer, sickle and brush logo when seen from the balcony of the Grand People’s Study House. That’s where Kim Jong Un is standing.

Kim watches as military units from each branch of his million-man armed forces goose-step by in what North Koreans like to call “single-minded unity.” He then smiles and applauds at the most varied array of missiles and their transport vehicles the North has ever displayed.

Kim Jong Un at the parade. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The message of the parade, held before reporters from all over the world, is clear. North Korea is, or is near to being, able to launch a pre-emptive strike against a regional target. It is preparing to withstand a retaliatory follow-up attack if it does, and it is building the arsenal it needs to then launch a second wave of strikes, this time at the U.S. mainland.

Unlike the Soviet Union, North Korea can’t annihilate the United States. But if it can clear those three steps, it could conceivably destroy a major U.S. military base in the region or a city on the U.S. mainland.

This vision of a new “balance of terror” built to its crescendo as six submarine-launched “Pukguksong” missiles and their land-based cousin, the “Pukguksong 2,” rumbled through the square.

Pukguksong 2 missiles. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Submarines are the ultimate stealth weapon, mobile and notoriously hard to find. North Korea is believed to have one experimental ballistic missile submarine, and this missile would go in its silos. The Pukguksong 2, meanwhile, represents advances on the ground. It uses solid fuel, which means it can be stored and hidden, is ready for rapid launch and fits on a transport vehicle that can be deployed off-road in rough terrain. Kim Jong Un has ordered it be mass produced.

The big reveal came next.

No one really knew what it was until, in its first flight test a month later on May 14, it was sent an astounding 2,111 kilometers (about 1,240 miles) in altitude — higher than satellites in low Earth orbit. It remained airborne for 30 minutes before plunging to the Pacific. With great fanfare, the North’s media declared it the “perfect weapon system” capable of carrying a “large-size heavy nuclear warhead.”

The Hwasong 12 in Kim Il Sung Square. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

Many analysts believe the missile — which the North calls “Hwasong 12” — could be a stepping stone to the ICBM North Korea needs to attack the U.S. mainland. Kim Jong Un was on hand for its early morning launch, too. He hugged his elated rocket scientists and, according to his official media, claimed he can now hit the United States with an “all-powerful means for retaliatory strike.”

That is bravado. For now. The missile’s estimated striking range is 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles), give or take.

But, put another way, it’s halfway to Chicago.

The Hwasong 12 is launched. (KCNA/KNS via AP)

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Talmadge has been the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief since 2013. Follow him on Twitter at @EricTalmadge and on Instagram at erictalmadge.

Pentagon missile defense program scores a win

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon’s oft-criticized missile defense program has scored a triumph, destroying a mock warhead over the Pacific Ocean with an interceptor that is key to protecting U.S. territory from a North Korean attack.

Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Pentagon agency in charge of developing the missile defense system, called Tuesday’s test result “an incredible accomplishment” and a critical milestone for a program hampered by setbacks over the years.

“This system is vitally important to the defense of our homeland, and this test demonstrates that we have a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat,” Syring said in a written statement announcing the test result.

Despite the success, the $244 million test didn’t confirm that under wartime conditions the U.S. could intercept an intercontinental-range missile fired by North Korea. Pyongyang is understood to be moving closer to the capability of putting a nuclear warhead on such an ICBM and could develop decoys sophisticated enough to trick an interceptor into missing the real warhead.

Syring’s agency sounded a note of caution.

“Initial indications are that the test met its primary objective, but program officials will continue to evaluate system performance based upon telemetry and other data obtained during the test,” his statement said.

Philip E. Coyle, a former head of the Pentagon’s test and evaluation office and a senior fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, said Tuesday’s outcome was a significant success for a test that was three years in preparation, but he noted that it was only the second success in the last five intercept attempts since 2010.

“In several ways, this test was a $244 million-dollar baby step, a baby step that took three years,” Coyle said.

The most recent intercept test, in June 2014, was successful, but the longer track record is spotty. Since the system was declared ready for potential combat use in 2004, only four of nine intercept attempts have been successful.

“This is part of a continuous learning curve,” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, ahead of Tuesday’s test. The Pentagon is still incorporating engineering upgrades to its missile interceptor, which has yet to be fully tested in realistic conditions.

North Korea says its nuclear and missile programs are a defense against perceived U.S. military threats. Its accelerating missile development has complicated Pentagon calculations, most recently by incorporating solid-fuel technology into its rockets. The step would mean even less launch warning time for the United States. Liquid fuel is less stable and rockets using it have to be fueled in the field, a process that takes longer and can be detected by satellites.

Underscoring its uninterrupted efforts, North Korea on Monday fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan’s maritime economic zone.

In Tuesday’s U.S. test, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency launched an interceptor rocket from an underground silo at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The target was an intercontinental-range missile fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific.

According to the plan, a 5-foot-long “kill vehicle” released from atop the interceptor zeroed in on the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead outside Earth’s atmosphere and obliterated it by sheer force of impact, the Pentagon said. The “kill vehicle” carries no explosives, either in testing or in actual combat.

The target was a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it flew faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, the Missile Defense Agency’s spokesman. It was not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM, and details of its exact capabilities weren’t made public.

Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens the defensive tactic to hitting a bullet with a bullet. With congressional support, the Pentagon is increasing by the end of this year the number of deployed interceptors, based in California and Alaska, to 44 from the current total of 36.

While Tuesday’s test wasn’t designed with the expectation of an imminent North Korean missile threat, the military wants progress toward the stated goal of being able to shoot down a small number of ICBMs targeting the United States.

Laura Grego, senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has criticized the missile defense program, called the interceptor an “advanced prototype,” meaning it is not fully matured technologically even if it has been deployed and theoretically available for combat since 2004. A successful test Tuesday, she said, could demonstrate the Pentagon is on the right track with its latest technical fixes.

“Overall,” she wrote in an analysis prior to the test, the military “is not even close to demonstrating that the system works in a real-world setting.”

The interceptors are, in essence, the last line of U.S. defense against an attack by an intercontinental-range missile.

The Pentagon has other elements of missile defense that have shown to be more reliable, although they are designed to work against medium-range or shorter-range ballistic missiles. These include the Patriot missile, which numerous countries have purchased from the U.S., and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the U.S. deployed this year to South Korea to defend against medium-range missiles from North Korea.

AP Source: Flynn agrees to provide some requested documents

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn will provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee as part of its probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, The Associated Press has learned.

Flynn’s decision Tuesday came as President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, rejected a House intelligence committee request for information, and former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the House investigation.

Meanwhile, Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sounded similar tones as they criticized the ongoing U.S. scrutiny of Russia’s attempts to sway the presidential election.

Flynn’s cooperation was the first signal that he and the Senate panel have found common ground. Congressional investigators continue to press for key documents in the ongoing investigation, and the retired lieutenant general is trying to limit damaging disclosures that hostile Democratic lawmakers could use against him.

Flynn had previously invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in declining an earlier subpoena from the committee, which sought a wide array of documents and information related to his contacts with Russia. Flynn’s attorneys had argued the request was too broad and would have required Flynn to turn over information that could have been used against him.

In response, the Senate panel narrowed the scope of its request. It also issued subpoenas seeking records from Flynn’s businesses.

One of the businesses, Flynn Intel Group Inc., did consulting work for a Turkish businessman that required Flynn to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent earlier this year. The other, Flynn Intel Group LLC, was used to accept money from Flynn’s paid speeches. Among the payments was more than $33,000 Flynn received from RT, the Russian state-sponsored television network that U.S. intelligence officials have branded as a propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

On Tuesday, a person close to Flynn said he will turn over documents related to the two businesses as well as some personal documents the committee sought in the narrower request. Flynn plans to produce some of the documents by next week, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Flynn’s private interactions with the committee.

While the Senate committee awaits documents from Flynn, Putin and Trump both dismissed the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by hacking Democratic emails.

In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking. The interview was recorded during Putin’s Monday trip to Paris and released Tuesday. Putin also said the allegations are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.

Trump made a similar claim in a tweet early Tuesday: “Russian officials must be laughing at the U.S. & how a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election has taken over the Fake News.”

Meanwhile, Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, told the AP that he turned down a request for information from the House intelligence committee looking into the Russian interference.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen said. “I find it irresponsible and improper that the request sent to me was leaked by those working on the committee.”

Earlier Tuesday, the AP reported, citing a congressional aide, that the House intelligence committee had subpoenaed Cohen. The aide later retracted the statement. Cohen said if he is subpoenaed, he will comply.

Cohen, a longtime attorney for the Trump Organization, remains a personal lawyer for Trump. He served as a cable television surrogate for the Republican during the presidential campaign.

Cohen told ABC News that he had been asked by both the House and Senate intelligence committees to provide information and testimony about contacts he had with Russian officials.

Cohen’s ties with Russian interests came up in February when The New York Times reported that Cohen helped to broker a Ukraine peace plan that would call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and a referendum to let Ukrainians decide whether the part of the country seized by Russia in 2014 should be leased to Moscow. The Russian government denied knowing anything about such a plan.

The Times reported that the peace plan was the work of Felix Sater, a business associate who has helped Trump try to find business in Russia, and Cohen.

Cohen was a fierce defender of Trump during the campaign, often haranguing probing reporters and famously challenging a CNN reporter live on-air to name the specific polls that showed then-candidate Trump behind his rival, Hillary Clinton.

In the early 2000s, he formed his own firm working on a range of legal matters, including malpractice cases, business law and work on an ethanol business in Ukraine. Cohen also owned and operated a handful of taxi medallions, managing a fleet of cabs in New York.

Cohen’s business associates in the taxi enterprise included a number of men from the former Soviet Union, including his Ukrainian-born father-in-law.

Cohen has made his own unsuccessful attempts at public office, losing a city council race and briefly running for state assembly in New York.

The House intelligence committee has also sought information from Epshteyn, a former staffer in the Trump White House.

Epshteyn said in a statement that he has asked the committee questions to better understand what information it is seeking and will determine whether he can reasonably provide it.

Epshteyn, who grew up in Moscow, worked a short time in the White House press office. He left in March and now works as a political analyst for right-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting.

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Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Eileen Sullivan and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report. Pearson reported from New York.

Business: Global stocks mixed on US political uncertainty, China data

TOKYO (AP) — Global stocks were mixed Wednesday as worries lingered over political uncertainty in Washington and shares drooped overnight in the U.S. while China was boosted by manufacturing data.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 slid 0.4 percent in early trading to 5,287.10. Germany’s DAX was little changed, inching down less than 0.1 percent at 12,588.10. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.2 percent to 7,544.42. U.S. shares were set to be mixed, with Dow futures losing 0.02 percent to 21,010, while S&P 500 futures added 0.04 percent to 2,411.60.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 fell 0.1 percent to finish at 19,650.57. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.1 percent to 5,724.60. South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 2,347.38. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng inched down 0.1 percent to 25,667.10, while the Shanghai Composite was up 0.2 percent at 3,117.18.

TRUMP FACTOR: An ongoing probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election has set off uncertainty about the administration of President Donald Trump. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has decided to provide documents to the Senate intelligence committee, while Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has rejected a House intelligence committee request for information. Former White House staffer Boris Epshteyn confirmed he has been contacted for information as part of the investigation.

CHINA DATA: An official monthly survey showed that growth in China’s factory activity was steady last month in a sign that the recovery in the world’s No. 2 economy is holding up. The purchasing’ managers index, or PMI, released Wednesday came in at 51.2 for May.

THE QUOTE: “This suggests further stablization of the world’s second largest economy and will allow policy makers more room to carry out the de-leverage campaign in an attempt to reduce the country’s heightened debts,” Margaret Yang Yan, analyst with CMC Markets Singapore, said of the China data.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 50 cents to $49.16 a barrel in New York. It lost 14 cents to $49.66 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 50 cents to $51.74 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 110.93 yen from 111.07 yen late Tuesday in Asia. The euro inched up to $1.1186 from $1.1181.

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Yuri Kageyama can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

Nighttime, early morning bombings in Baghdad kill 31

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BAGHDAD (AP) — A massive bombing by the Islamic State group outside a popular ice cream shop in central Baghdad and a rush hour car bomb in another downtown area killed at least 31 people on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said.

The attacks come as IS militants are steadily losing more territory to U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in the battle for Mosul, the country’s second-largest city. The Sunni extremists are increasingly turning to insurgency-style terror attacks to detract from their losses.

The nighttime attack outside the ice cream parlor in the bustling Karrada neighborhood killed 17 people and also wounded 32, police and health officials said.

A camera in Baghdad, Iraq caught the moment early Tuesday that a massive bomb outside a popular ice cream shop killed at least 15 people. The Islamic State group claimed the attack. (May 30)

A closed-circuit camera captured the moment of the explosion, the video showing a busy downtown avenue, with cars driving down the street when the blast strikes. A huge fireball then engulfs a building, forcing the cars to scramble to get away. Other videos of the attack posted on social media show wounded and bloodied people crying for help on the sidewalk outside the ice cream parlor.

In the second attack, an explosives-laden car went off during rush hour near the state-run Public Pension Office in Baghdad’s busy Shawaka area, killing 14, a police officer said. At least 37 people were wounded in that attack, he added.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

In separate online statements, IS claimed responsibility for the two attacks, saying its suicide bombers targeted gatherings of Shiites. The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the statements but they were posted on a militant website commonly used by extremists.

The attacks came just days into the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims fast during daylight hours. After sundown, families break their fast and Baghdad’s restaurants and cafes quickly fill up with people staying up long into the night.

During Ramadan last year, another section of Karrada was hit by massive suicide bombing that killed almost 300 people, the deadliest single attack in the Iraqi capital in 13 years of war. The attack was also claimed by IS.

Details of how the militants managed to stage Tuesday’s attacks were not immediately clear. After last year’s attack, Iraqi authorities stepped up security in Karrada, especially in the area of the bombing.

In the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi troops are pushing IS fighters out of their last strongholds. Iraqi commanders say the offensive, which recently entered its eight month, will mark the end of the IS caliphate in Iraq, but concede the group will likely increase insurgent attacks in the wake of military defeats.

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Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Egypt contributed to this report.

Protest sparks Texas lawmaker threats of gun violence

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Hundreds of protesters opposing Texas’ tough new anti-“sanctuary cities” law launched a raucous demonstration from the public gallery in the Texas House on Monday, briefly halting work and prompting lawmakers on the floor below to scuffle — and even threaten gun violence — as tense divides over hardline immigration policies boiled over.

Activists wearing red T-shirts reading “Lucha,” or “Fight,” quietly filled hundreds of gallery seats as proceedings began. After about 40 minutes, they began to cheer, drowning out the lawmakers below. Protesters also blew whistles and chanted: “Here to stay!” and “Hey, hey, ho, ho, SB4 has got to go,” referring to the bill that Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law this month.

Some unfurled banners reading: “See you in court!” and “See you at the polls!”

State House leadership stopped the session and asked state troopers to clear the gallery. The demonstration continued for about 20 minutes as officers led people out of the chamber peacefully in small groups. There were no reports of arrests.

Texas’ new law is reminiscent of a 2010 Arizona “show your papers” measure that allowed police to inquire about a person’s immigration status during routine interactions such as traffic stops. It was eventually struck down in court.

A legislative session that began in January concluded Monday, and the day was supposed to be reserved for goofy group photos and sappy goodbyes. Lawmakers are constitutionally barred from approving most legislation on the last day.

But even after the protest ended, tensions remained high. Rep. Ramon Romero, a Democrat from Fort Worth, said he was standing with fellow Democratic Rep. Cesar Blanco of El Paso when Republican colleague Matt Rinaldi came over and said: “This is BS. That’s why I called ICE.”

Rinaldi, of Irving in suburban Dallas, and Blanco then began shouting at each other. A scuffle nearly ensued before other lawmakers separated the two.

Later, a group of Democratic lawmakers held a press conference to accuse Rinaldi of threatening to “put a bullet in the head” of someone on the House floor during a second near scuffle. They said the comment was made in the direction of Democratic Rep. Poncho Nevarez, from the border town of Eagle Pass.

In a subsequent Facebook statement, Rinaldi admitted saying he’d called federal authorities and threatened to shoot Nevarez — but said his life was in danger, not the other way around.

“Nevarez threatened my life on the House floor after I called ICE on several illegal immigrants who held signs in the gallery which said ‘I am illegal and here to stay,’” Rinaldi wrote. He said Democrats were encouraging protesters to ignore police instructions and, “When I told the Democrats I called ICE, Representative Ramon Romero physically assaulted me, and other Democrats were held back by colleagues.”

Rinaldi said Nevarez later “told me that he would ‘get me on the way to my car.’” Rinaldi said he responded by making it clear “I would shoot him in self-defense,” adding that he is currently under Texas Department of Public Safety protection.

Texas’ new law requires police chiefs and sheriffs — under the threat of jail and removal from office — to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for possible deportation.

Police also can ask the immigration status of anyone they stop. The bill was viewed as a crackdown on Austin and other “sanctuary cities,” a term that has no legal meaning but describes parts of the country where police are not tasked with helping enforce federal immigration law.

Monday’s protest was organized by activists who canvassed over Memorial Day weekend in Austin. They informed anxious immigrants about the rights they retain despite the law and urged grassroots resistance against it.

Abril Gallardo rode 15 hours in a van to Austin to urge fellow Hispanics to fight back.

“Fear motivated me to get involved,” said Gallardo, a 26-year-old Mexican native who entered the U.S. illegally at age 12.

Texas cities and immigrant rights’ groups have challenged the legality of the law, hopeful for a legal victory like the one in Arizona, but that could take months to have any effect.

But even as some vowed to fight, others have begun fleeing the state. Their ranks are still too small to quantify, but a larger exodus — similar to what occurred in Arizona — could have a profound effect on the Texas economy. The state has more than 1 million immigrants illegally in the country, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Some are abandoning Texas for more liberal states, where they feel safer — even if it means relinquishing lives they’ve spent years building.

Jose, a 43-year-old Mexican living in the U.S. illegally since 2001, and his wife Holly left Austin for Seattle in January in anticipation of Texas’ immigration crackdown. That meant parting with Jose’s grown son, their community of friends and their beloved home of eight years.

“I felt like we ripped our roots up and threw ourselves across the country,” said Holly, a 40-year-old Kentucky native who wanted to protect her husband.

Holly said as soon as Donald Trump was elected president, she and her husband began preparing to move. They expected Texas would “follow Trump’s agenda trying to force local law enforcement to do immigration’s job.” And when they heard Texas had approved a crackdown on “sanctuary cities” she said they “finalized the decision.”

S. Korea’s new leader orders probe on US missile launchers

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Calling it a “very shocking” incident, South Korea’s new liberal president on Tuesday demanded an investigation into why his office wasn’t told by defense officials about the arrival of several additional launchers for a contentious U.S. missile defense system meant to cope with North Korea’s nuclear threats.

Before taking office on May 10, Moon Jae-in vowed to review the deployment of a system that has infuriated both North Korea and China, which consider its powerful radar a security threat. Many of Moon’s supporters don’t want the system, which U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Seoul should pay for.

On Tuesday, senior presidential adviser Yoon Young-chan said in a televised news conference that Moon has discovered that four additional launchers for the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system have arrived in South Korea since the original two launchers were installed in April.

Yoon said that senior Defense Ministry officials didn’t report the arrival of the additional launchers when it gave Moon’s policy advisory committee a policy briefing after Moon’s inauguration.

“President Moon said it’s ‘very shocking’ after receiving a report on” the incident from his top security adviser, Yoon said.

Moon is now working with Cabinet members who were appointed by his conservative predecessor, Park Geun-hye, who was ousted from office in March over a massive corruption scandal. Moon has nominated some of his own Cabinet members, but they haven’t formally taken office. Moon was sworn in as president right after winning a May 9 by-election, and hasn’t had the usual two-month transition period.

The Defense Ministry said it would issue a statement in response to Moon’s investigation order.

A THAAD battery consists of six truck-mounted launchers that can fire up to 48 interceptor missiles, fire control and communication equipment, and a powerful X-band radar officially known as AN/TPY-2. The THAAD system was installed in the southeastern town of Seongju.

It’s unclear if Moon would go ahead with his campaign pledge to re-examine the THAAD deployment because an attempt to request the withdrawal of the system’s components could severely undermine ties with Washington, Seoul’s most important ally, analysts say. The United States stations about 28,500 troops in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.

After facing conservative attacks on his security views during the election race, Moon toned down his THAAD criticism, saying the deployment would be inevitable if North Korea continued provocations.

Since Moon’s inauguration, North Korea has test-fired three ballistic missiles in an apparent demonstration of its resolve to bolster its nuclear and missile arsenals to deal with what it calls U.S. military threats. Moon has said he will employ both dialogue and pressure to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff.

Suspect in Portland light rail slayings to appear in court

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The man police say fatally stabbed two other men who tried to shield young women from an anti-Muslim tirade on a Portland, Oregon, light-rail train makes his initial court appearance Monday and the city’s mayor says he hopes the slayings will inspire “changes in the political dialogue in this country.”

Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, faces two counts of felony aggravated murder and other charges.

The attack happened Friday, the first day of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims. Authorities say Christian started verbally abusing two young women, including one wearing a hijab. Three other men on the train intervened before police say Christian attacked them, killing two and wounding one.

One of two Oregon teenagers who was the target of an anti-muslim tirade on a Portland train thanked the men who were killed after confronting the attacker. (May 29)

President Donald Trump condemned the stabbings, writing Monday on Twitter: “The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable. The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler said he appreciated Trump’s words but stressed the need for action. Wheeler urged organizers to cancel a “Trump Free Speech Rally” in Portland and other similar events next weekend, saying they are inappropriate and could be dangerous.

“I hope we rise to the memory of these two gentlemen who lost their lives,” the mayor told reporters. “Let’s do them honor by standing with them and carrying on their legacy of standing up to hate and bigotry and violence.”

Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche, 23, and Ricky John Best, 53, were killed as they tried to stop the harassment.

Christian’s social media postings indicate an affinity for Nazis and political violence. He is accused of aggravated murder, intimidation — the state equivalent of a hate crime — and being a felon in possession of a weapon.

Christian served prison time after holding up employees at a convenience store with a gun in 2002, court records show. Telephone messages left at the home of Christian’s mother Sunday and Monday were not returned. It was not clear if he had a lawyer yet.

The mother of one of the targets of the rant said she was overwhelmed with gratitude and sadness for the strangers who died defending her daughter, 16-year-old Destinee Mangum.

Mangum told news station KPTV that she and her 17-year-old friend were riding the train when Christian started yelling at them. She said her friend is Muslim, but she’s not.

“He told us to go back to Saudi Arabia, and he told us we shouldn’t be here, to get out of his country,” Mangum said. “He was just telling us that we basically weren’t anything and that we should kill ourselves.”

The teens moved toward the back of the train, preparing to get off at the next stop.

“And then we turned around while they were fighting, and he just started stabbing people, and it was just blood everywhere, and we just started running for our lives,” Mangum said.

Micah David-Cole Fletcher, 21, was stabbed in the neck. His girlfriend, Miranda Helm, told The Oregonian/OregonLive that he was recovering his strength in the hospital.

A Facebook page for the event says there would be speakers and live music in “one of the most liberal areas on the West Coast.” It says it will feature Kyle Chapman, who describes himself as an American nationalist and ardent supporter of Trump.

Chapman was arrested at a March 4 protest in Berkeley, the birthplace of the U.S. free speech movement in the 1960s that has become a flashpoint for the extreme left and right since Trump’s election.

The University of California, Berkeley, has been criticized for canceling an appearance by conservative commentator Ann Coulter in April and another by right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in February. It canceled Coulter’s speech amid threats of violence, fearing a repeat of rioting ahead of the Yiannopoulos event.

Wheeler’s call for the rally to be cancelled comes amid a wider debate in the U.S. about the First Amendment, often in liberal cities like Portland and Berkeley, California, and on college campuses, where violent protests between far-right and far-left protesters have derailed appearances by contentious figures.

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Bellisle reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Joselyn Gecker contributed from San Francisco.

Philippine military: City siege was start of extremist plan

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MARAWI, Philippines (AP) — The militants who have besieged much of a southern Philippine city over the past week include foreign fighters and local gunmen who want to establish a regional branch of the Islamic State group, the military said Tuesday.

Soldiers have taken control of about 70 percent of Marawi, where the gunmen have been fending off the army for a week, military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano said. About 100 militants, troops and civilians have been killed.

“They wanted to show the world that there is an ISIS branch here which can inflict the kind of violence that has been seen in Syria and Iraq,” Ano told The Associated Press, using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

The siege in Marawi followed an unsuccessful army raid that attempted to capture militant commander Isnilon Hapilon, who has been designated by the Islamic State group as its leader in the Philippines.

Marawi is regarded as the heartland of the Islamic faith on the southern Mindanao island.

Hapilon escaped and gunmen loyal to him swept through the city of 200,000 people, torching buildings and taking hostages. Ano said the gunmen were prepared to fight because they had been planning to unleash attacks during the holy month of Ramadan to capture the attention of the IS group.

The unrest has boosted fears that the violent ideology of the IS is gaining a foothold in the restive southern islands, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades.

President Rodrigo Duterte declared martial law in the south through mid-July, but lawmakers on Tuesday asked for a public session of Congress to determine whether it is still necessary.

Duterte’s declaration unnerved Filipinos who lived through the rule of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who imposed martial law in 1972 and used it to hold power for more than a decade.

The army insists the drawn-out fight in Marawi is not a true sign of the militants’ strength because the military has held back to spare civilian lives.

Ano said the military, working house to house, had cleared 70 percent of the city as of Tuesday morning and the remaining militants were isolated.

Still, the fighters have turned out to be remarkably well-armed and resilient. Experts have warned that as IS is weakened in Syria and Iraq, battered by years of American-led attacks, Mindanao could become a focal point for regional fighters.

Three Malaysians, an Indonesian and possibly Arab extremists have been killed in the Marawi fighting, Ano said. He said Hapilon was still hiding somewhere in the city and that authorities were working to confirm whether another top militant had been killed.

At least 65 militants and 15 Philippine troops have been killed, Ano said. The bodies of 19 civilians have been recovered and local authorities have reported more civilian deaths still to be tallied.

The fighters’ support network in Marawi remains unclear, though the power of one militant group — the Mautes —has grown in recent years. Led by members of the city’s Maute clan, the group has become increasingly active across Lanao del Sur province, where Marawi is located, and has been instrumental in the fighting this past week.

Business: Asian shares weaker as investors await economic data

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were weaker on Tuesday as investors stayed on the sideline before the release of a raft of economic data due later this week. Markets in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei were closed on a holiday.

KEEPING SCORE: Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 finished nearly flat at 19,677.85 and South Korea’s Kospi dropped 0.4 percent to 2,343.68. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 percent to 5,717.90. Markets in Singapore, the Philippines, Indonesia and New Zealand were lower.

DATA WATCH: A raft of data being released this week will give investors fresh clues about the status of the global economy. Investors are awaiting for the eurozone business and consumer confidence readings later in the day. On Wednesday, China’s latest official factory and service industry purchasing managers’ indexes will be released. The ISM index for U.S. manufacturing due Thursday and U.S. private and official payroll numbers due Friday will give investors latest clues on the health of the world’s largest economy. Analysts said upcoming economic data will also determine the direction of the U.S. dollar, which has strengthened against the euro that has been losing ground recently due to security concerns.

ANALYST’S VIEWPOINT: “The sustainability of the dollar’s rally will be tested this Friday night, with the non-farm payroll number in focus. A strong jobs report will likely firm up the Fed’s decision to trigger a second rate hike this year, and also reinforce investor confidence in the U.S. economy,” said Margaret Yang, a market analyst at CMC Markets in Singapore.

GLOBAL MARKETS: On Monday, France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.1 percent to close at 5,332.47, while Germany’s DAX edged up 0.2 percent to 12,628.95. Markets in Britain and the United states were closed for holidays.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 10 cents to $49.70 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 90 cents to settle at $49.80 a barrel on Monday. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 37 cents to $52.26 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.03 yen from 111.26. The euro dipped to $1.1137 from $1.1163.

Kelly defends plan for Russia back channel as a ‘good thing’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly is defending an alleged effort by top White House adviser Jared Kushner to create back-channel communications with Russia, describing it as a “good thing” as the Trump administration sought to quell mounting questions over secret ties to the Kremlin.

Speaking on Sunday’s news shows, Kelly said he didn’t know whether the reports by The Associated Press and other news outlets involving Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, were true. But Kelly said such back-channel communications don’t bother him and would not be harmful to U.S. security interests.

“It’s both normal, in my opinion, and acceptable,” Kelly said. “Any way that you can communicate with people, particularly organizations that are maybe not particularly friendly to us, is a good thing.”

Congressional Democrats demanded to hear directly from Kushner over allegations of the proposed secret back-channel, saying his security clearance may need to be revoked. But Trump immediately railed against administration leaks in a flurry of tweets Sunday, calling them “fabricated lies.”

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said it was “obviously very concerning” if a key Trump campaign figure was possibly seeking secret communications during the transition period with a country that intelligence experts say intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Schiff said the government needed to “get to the bottom” of the matter and urged a review of Kushner’s security clearance “to find out whether he was truthful.”

“If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said.

The AP and other news organizations reported that Kushner in December proposed a back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team. Kushner spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about facilitating sensitive discussions to explore the incoming administration’s options with Russia as it developed its Syria policy. The intent was to connect Trump’s chief national security adviser at the time, Michael Flynn, with Russian military leaders, a person familiar with the discussions told the AP. The person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss private policy deliberations and insisted on anonymity.

Russia, a pivotal player in Syria, has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad, often at the expense of civilians and at odds with U.S. policy during Syria’s long civil war.

The White House did not acknowledge the meeting or Kushner’s attendance until March. At the time, a White House official dismissed it as a brief courtesy meeting.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, described the latest allegations involving Kushner as “serious” and called for a thorough investigation.

“He needs to answer for what was happening at the time,” Booker said. “What’s worrying me are the patterns we’re seeing. So one is this administration not talking about our values, cozying up to authoritarian leaders. And the other pattern we have is just a continuous drumbeat of inappropriate contacts with the Russians.”

Lawyers for Kushner said he was willing to talk with federal and congressional investigators about his foreign contacts and his work on the Trump campaign.

The disclosure of the back channel has put the White House on the defensive. Just back from visiting the Middle East and Europe, Trump on Sunday dismissed recent reports as “fake news.”

“It is my opinion that many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies,” Trump tweeted. He added: “Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names … it is very possible that those sources don’t exist.”

Kushner’s involvement in the proposed back channel was first reported by The Washington Post, which said he suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities for the discussions, apparently to make them more difficult to monitor. The newspaper cited anonymous U.S. officials who were briefed on intelligence reports on intercepted Russian communications.

The Post reported that Kislyak was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well for as the Trump team.

According to the person familiar with the Kushner meeting, the Trump team eventually felt there was no need for a back channel once Rex Tillerson was confirmed as secretary of state on Feb. 1.

Flynn served briefly as Trump’s national security adviser before being fired in February. Officials said he misled Vice President Mike Pence about whether he and the ambassador had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in a phone call.

Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, told Congress this month that the deception left Flynn vulnerable to being blackmailed by the Russians. Flynn remains under federal investigation in Virginia over his foreign business ties. He was interviewed by the FBI in January about his contacts with Kislyak.

Kushner was a trusted Trump adviser last year, overseeing the campaign’s digital strategy. He remains an influential confidant within the White House as does his wife, Ivanka Trump.

Reuters has reported that Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Kislyak last year, including two phone calls between April and November. Kushner’s attorney, Jamie Gorelick, told Reuters that Kushner “has no recollection of the calls as described.”

Federal investigators and several congressional committees are looking into any connections between Russia and the Trump campaign, including allegations that there may have been collaboration to help Trump and harm his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, has requested information and documents from Trump’s campaign dating back to July 2015, the AP and other news outlets confirmed.

Kelly appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” NBC’s “Meet the Press” and ABC’s “This Week,” Schiff also spoke on ABC, and Booker was on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Eileen Sullivan, Julie Bykowicz, Chad Day and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Relative ‘devastated’ after shooting kills 8 in Mississippi

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BROOKHAVEN, Miss. (AP) — Head in hands, his voice strained, Vincent Mitchell sat outside his little yellow home and tried to make sense of how a family dispute led to a rampage that killed eight people, including the deputy who tried to keep them safe.

“I’m devastated. It don’t seem like it’s real,” Mitchell said shortly after the arrest of his stepson-in-law, Willie Corey Godbolt. “Him and my stepdaughter, they’ve been going back and forth for a couple of years with that domestic violence.”

A man who got into a dispute with his estranged wife over their children was arrested in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including a sheriff’s deputy. (May 28)

Godbolt showed up at Mitchell’s home in the southern Mississippi town of Bogue Chitto shortly before midnight Saturday to demand that his estranged wife give up their two children. She and the kids had been staying with them for about three weeks, Mitchell told The Associated Press.

“He’d come to get his kids. The deputy was called,” and asked him to leave, and it seemed like Godbolt would comply at first, Mitchell said.

“He acted like, motioned like, he was fixing to go. Then he reached in his back pocket and grabbed a gun,” Mitchell said. “He just started shooting everything.”

Mitchell said he escaped along with Godbolt’s wife, but Mitchell’s wife, her sister and one of the wife’s daughters were killed. Also slain was Deputy William Durr, a two-year sheriff’s department veteran and former police officer in nearby Brookhaven, where authorities said Godbolt fled and killed four more people at two other homes.

Mississippi Bureau of Investigation spokesman Warren Strain said prosecutors plan to charge Godbolt, 35, with murder, but it’s too soon to say what the motive was. Authorities gave no details on his relationship to the victims, but a member of Godbolt’s church told the AP that everyone but the deputy was related to Godbolt by blood or marriage.

Godbolt himself shed some light on what happened, in an interview he gave to The Clarion-Ledger (http://on.thec-l.com/2rbQIq5 ) as he sat with his hands cuffed behind his back on the side of a road in Brookhaven, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Jackson.

“I was having a conversation with her stepdaddy and her mama and her, my wife, about me taking my children home,” he said. “Somebody called the officer, people that didn’t even live at the house. That’s what they do. They intervene.”

“They cost him his life,” he said, apparently referring to Durr. “I’m sorry.”

“My pain wasn’t designed for him. He was just there,” Godbolt said. “I ain’t fit to live, not after what I done.”

Godbolt was hospitalized in good condition with a gunshot wound, though it wasn’t clear who shot him.

“Everybody that got killed was related to him, except the deputy,” said Johnny Hall Sr., a longtime member of the New Zion Union M.B. Church in Bogue Chitto, not far from the initial crime scene, where he said Godbolt also was a member.

At least seven hours elapsed between the first shootings and Godbolt’s arrest near the final crime scene, in a subdivision of ranch houses.

“It breaks everybody’s heart,” said Garrett Smith, a 19-year-old college student who went to high school with one of the victims. “Everybody knows everybody for the most part.”

Durr, 36, was married and had an 11-year-old son, Lincoln County Sheriff Steve Rushing said.

Off duty, he was a ventriloquist who took his puppets to schools and churches. Two weeks ago, Durr entertained preschoolers at Brookhaven Academy, a Christian school in town. The message he shared was that — like fireflies — people can use their inner light to help those around them.

“His character: top-notch,” said Page Nelson, the school’s elementary principal.

Godbolt had a different message — he said he hadn’t planned to be captured alive.

“My intentions was to have God kill me. I ran out of bullets,” he said. “Suicide by cop was my intention.”

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Associated Press writers Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeff Amy in Metairie, Louisiana; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Merkel: Europe must stay united in face of ally uncertainty

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday urged European Union nations to stick together in the face of emerging policy divisions with the U.S., Britain’s decision to leave the bloc and other challenges.

Speaking at a campaign event held in a Bavarian beer tent, Merkel suggested that the G-7 summit in Italy that ended Saturday had served as something of a wakeup call. G-7 leaders were unable to reach unanimous agreement on climate change after U.S. President Donald Trump said he needed more time to decide whether to back a key climate accord.

“The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over, as I have experienced in the past few days,” Merkel told the crowd of some 2,500 that gathered to hear her and Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer.

“And so all I can say is that we Europeans must really take our destiny into our own hands,” she said, according to the dpa news agency.

Merkel emphasized the need for continued friendly relations with the U.S. and Britain and also stressed the importance of being good neighbors “wherever that is possible, including with Russia, but also with others.”

“But we need to know we must fight for our own future, as Europeans, for our destiny,” she said.

Despite the Trump administration’s talk of an “America first” policy and ongoing criticism of Germany for its massive trade surplus, the G-7 leaders in Sicily did vow to fight protectionism, reiterating “a commitment to keep our markets open.”

They also agreed to step up pressure on North Korea, to forge closer cooperation in the fight against terrorism, on the possibility of imposing more sanctions on Russia over role in the conflict in Ukraine.

But while six of the seven G-7 nations agreed to stick with their commitment to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement that aims to slow global warming, Trump said he needed more time to decide if the U.S. would abandon the accord.

His administration has argued that U.S. emissions standards are tougher than those set by China, India and others, and therefore have put American businesses at a disadvantage.

After the summit, Merkel called the climate talks “very difficult, if not to say, very unsatisfactory.”

NKorean missile launch may be testing rivals, not technology

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s latest missile test Monday may have less to do with perfecting its weapons technology than with showing U.S. and South Korean forces in the region that it can strike them at will.

South Korean and Japanese officials said the suspected Scud-type short-range missile flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles) on Monday morning before landing in Japan’s maritime economic zone, setting off the usual round of condemnation from Washington and the North’s neighbors.

It’s the latest in a string of test launches by North Korea as it seeks to build nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland, a drive that puts North Korea high on the list of foreign policy worries for Japan, Washington and Seoul.

North Korea already has an arsenal of reliable short-range missiles. While North Korean scientists could be tweaking them — for instance, developing a new solid-fuel short-range missile — the North tests these shorter-range missiles much less than it does its less dependable, longer-range missiles.

This sets up the possibility that North Korea hopes to use the test to show it can hit U.S. targets near and far and emphasize its defiance of U.S.-led pressure on its missile and nuclear programs, which has included vague threats from President Donald Trump and the arrival in Korean waters of powerful U.S. military hardware. Scuds are capable of striking U.S. troops in South Korea, for instance, and the two newly developed missiles tested earlier this month have potential ranges that include Japan, Guam and even, according to some South Korean analysts, Alaska.

The missile was launched from the coastal town of Wonsan, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It landed in Japan’s exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. He said there was no report of damage to planes or vessels in the area.

North Korea is still thought to be several years from its goal of being able to target U.S. mainland cities with nuclear ICBMs.

South Korea says North Korea has conducted nine ballistic missile tests this year, including one in which four missiles were launched on the same day.

North Korea’s state-controlled media had no immediate comment on Monday’s test, but released a statement, without mentioning the launch, that accused Seoul and Washington of “aggravating the situation” on the Korean Peninsula by conducting joint military drills and other “reckless acts.”

On Sunday, North Korea also said leader Kim Jong Un had watched a separate, successful test of a new type of anti-aircraft guided weapon system. The report didn’t say when the test happened.

The official Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as ordering officials to mass-produce and deploy the system all over the country so as to “completely spoil the enemy’s wild dream to command the air.”

Trump has alternated between bellicosity and flattery in his public statements about North Korea, but his administration is still working to solidify a policy on handling the North’s nuclear ambitions.

Monday’s launch was North’s Korea’s third ballistic missile launch since South Korean President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated on May 10. He has signaled an interest in expanding civilian exchanges with North Korea, but it’s unclear if he’ll be able to push anytime soon for major rapprochement while the North continues to make serious advances in its nuclear and missile programs.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that “North Korea’s provocation by ignoring repeated warnings from international society is absolutely unacceptable.”

Suga, the Japanese Cabinet secretary, said the missile fell about 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of the Oki islands in southwestern Japan and 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of Sado island in central Japan.

Suga said Japanese officials will discuss North Korea with a senior foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yang Jiechi, who was scheduled to visit Japan later Monday. China is North Korea’s only major ally.

Besides its regular ballistic missile test-launches, North Korea carried out two of its five nuclear tests last year — in January and September. Outside analysts believe North Korea may be able to arm some of its shorter-range missiles with nuclear warheads, though the exact state of its secretive weapons program is unknown.

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AP journalists Mari Yamaguchi and Kaori Hitomi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Trump lashes out at leaks, considers staff upheaval

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is assailing internal leaks as he considers an overhaul of his White House staff and grapples with a burgeoning crisis involving alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.

Frustrated with what he views as his team’s inability to push back against the drumbeat of new revelations, Trump is seeking expanded teams of lawyers and experienced public relations hands. While he has called his first trip abroad a “home run,” it was shadowed by reports about Moscow’s interference and possible improper dealings with the Trump campaign and associates.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump returned to the U.S. after a 9-day trip Saturday evening. Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland just before 9pm. (May 27)

The latest reports hit close to the Oval Office, alleging that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia during the presidential transition.

Trump struck back Sunday, after maintaining a limited social media presence throughout his nine-day trip. He unleashed a flurry of tweets, lashing out at what he called the “fake news” media. He focused heavily on leaks — both those coming out of the White House and an intelligence leak blamed on Americans about the deadly bombing at a concert in Britain.

On the bombing investigation Trump wrote: “British Prime Minister May was very angry that the info the U.K. gave to U.S. about Manchester was leaked.”

Trump also wrote that “many of the leaks coming out of the White House are fabricated lies.” He added that it is “very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers.”

Even when authorized, top officials in the Trump White House frequently request anonymity to brief reporters “on background,” meaning their names will not be disclosed.

Trump, who made no public appearances Sunday, was expected to deliver remarks at Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day.

Trump’s longtime lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, has joined a still-forming legal team to help the president shoulder the intensifying Russia investigations. More attorneys with deep experience in Washington investigations are expected to be added, along with crisis communication experts.

During the Monica Lewinsky investigation, the Clinton White House brought on a dedicated group of lawyers and a created a separate media operation to handle investigation-related inquiries so they didn’t completely subsume the president’s agenda.

As he mulls changes, Trump has entertained formally bringing back his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, and former deputy campaign manager, David Bossie. Both Lewandowski and Bossie discussed the prospect with the president before his trip, according to a person told of the conversations.

Lewandowski’s return would be notable, given the fact that he was fired by Trump after clashing with staff and Trump’s adult children. Nonetheless, Lewandowski has the trust of the president — an advantage that many of Trump’s aides lack.

Major issues await Trump. He has signaled he will soon make a decision on whether to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. And the search continues for an FBI director to replace the fired James Comey.

On the policy front, he must defend his budget plan, and the Republican health care bill that narrowly passed the House faces an uncertain future in the Senate. On that topic, Trump tweeted Sunday night: “I suggest that we add more dollars to Healthcare and make it the best anywhere. ObamaCare is dead — the Republicans will do much better!”

Trump also has to decide soon on a Pentagon recommendation to add more U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, as well as boosting reinforcement for the beleaguered Afghan military.

While taxes have taken a back seat in recent weeks, Trump tweeted Sunday: “The massive TAX CUTS/REFORM that I have submitted is moving along in the process very well, actually ahead of schedule. Big benefits to all!”

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Associated Press writers Julie Bykowicz, Vivian Salama and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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On Twitter, follow Thomas at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC and Colvin at https://twitter.com/colvinj

Business: World shares muted as investors await raft of economic data

HONG KONG (AP) — World stock markets were listless Monday as investors hunkered down ahead of a raft of economic data later this week that will provide fresh insight into the world economy. Holidays in several key markets crimped trading volume.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares were mixed in early trading. France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.1 percent to 5,334.15, while Germany’s DAX edged up 0.1 percent to 12,608.00. Markets in Britain and the United states were closed for holidays.

GLOBAL OUTLOOK: A full slate of economic reports this week will give investors plenty to digest, beginning with Eurozone business and consumer confidence readings on Tuesday. China’s latest official factory and service industry purchasing managers’ indexes, out Wednesday, will be among the most watched, with analysts looking to see if the gauge indicates that manufacturing growth momentum slows further. The ISM index for U.S. manufacturing is due a day later. U.S. private and official payroll numbers are also scheduled for release. They’ll give fresh clues on employment and hiring in the world’s No. 1 economy and could bolster Fed policymakers’ reasoning as they prepare to gradually raise interest rates again.

MARKET TALK: “Muted market action on Friday night, holidays in the U.K. and U.S. tonight and a data deluge starting tomorrow all militate against major market moves,” said Michael McCarthy, chief strategist at CMC Markets. “Investors and trader may hold out for important reads on the world’s largest economies this week.”

ASIA’S DAY: Stock indexes in the region drifted between losses and gains. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index ended a fraction lower at 19,682.57, and South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent to 2,352.97. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 percent to 25,701.63, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.8 percent to 5,707.10. Markets in mainland China and Taiwan were closed for holidays.

ENERGY: Oil futures retreated after their bounce at the end of last week. Benchmark U.S. crude dipped 16 cents to $49.64 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 90 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $49.80 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, slipped 14 cents to $52.01 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar climbed to 111.40 yen from 111.32. The euro fell to $1.1169 from $1.1185.

Trump meeting with G-7 leaders after going on offensive

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TAORMINA, Italy (AP) — In the Middle East, President Donald Trump was feted with pageantry, the leaders of Saudi Arabia and Israel seemingly in competition to outdo the other with the warmth of their welcomes and the depth of their pledges of cooperation.

But in Europe, Trump has faced a far cooler reception and has been eager to go on the offensive.

Cajoled on issues like climate change and NATO’s defense pact, he’s responded by scolding some of the United States’ most loyal allies for not paying their fair share. He’s also refused to explicitly back the mutual defense agreement that has been activated only once, during the darkest hours of September 2001.

President Donald Trump appeared to push himself past the prime minister of Montenegro during a tour of NATO’s new headquarters Thursday. (May 25)

Still, Trump hailed the trip a success as he arrived to the G-7 summit in Sicily Friday, the final stop of his maiden international trip, a grueling nine-day, five-stop marathon.

“Getting ready to engage G7 leaders on many issues including economic growth, terrorism, and security,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Trip has been very successful. We made and saved the USA many billions of dollars and millions of jobs.”

Once more, he will likely be received warily, a president who ran on a campaign of “America First” with suggestions of disentangling the United States from international pacts, now engaged in two days of pomp and policy with the leaders of the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said the group’s leaders “sometimes have very different views” on topics such as climate change and trade, “but our role as the EU is to do everything to maintain the unity of the G-7 on all fronts.”

The White House believes that Trump has made personal breakthroughs with his peers, having now met one-on-one with all the leaders of G-7.

“It’s time for him to have an intimate discussion and understand their issues but, more importantly, for them to understand our issues,” national economic adviser Gary Cohn told reporters on Air Force One late Thursday.

One of those relationships was on display as Trump began the day with a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The president hosted Abe at the White House and his Mar-a-Lago resort back in February, where they appeared to hit it off.

Abe was the latest world leader to publicly flatter Trump, saluting his visit to the Middle East and address to NATO on Thursday.

“Unfortunately,” Abe told reporters, “this time around we won’t be able to play golf together.”

The president said he and Abe would cover many topics, including North Korea, which he said “is very much on our minds.”

“It’s a big problem, it’s a world problem, but it will be solved at some point. It will be solved, you can bet on that,” Trump said. North Korea has conducted a series of recent missile tests, rattling its Pacific neighbors.

Foreign policy will be the focus on Friday, with meetings on Syria, Libya, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Other meetings over the two days will include discussions of global economy and climate, a meeting with small African nations — Trump will be seated between the leaders of Niger and Tunisia — and migration issues.

Trade will also be a big topic, with Cohn saying the United States’ guiding principle will be “we will treat you the way you treat us,” suggesting that retaliatory tariffs could be imposed.

The day will feature a welcoming ceremony and concert at the remains of an ancient Greek temple, as well as a relentless number of meetings, many of which White House aides are hoping to keep short in order to keep Trump’s attention. What the Sicily stay will likely not offer: a news conference, as Trump appears set to defy presidential tradition and not hold one during the entire trip.

The Republican president arrived in Italy fresh off delivering an unprecedented, personal rebuke to NATO, traveling to its gleaming new Brussels headquarters to lecture its leaders to their faces on the need for them to spend more on defense.

“This is not fair to the people and taxpayers of the United States,” Trump said. “If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism.”

The 28 member nations, plus soon-to-join Montenegro, will renew an old vow to move toward spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. Only five members meet the target: Britain, Estonia, debt-laden Greece, Poland and the United States, which spends more on defense than all the other allies combined.

Trump refused to say he would adhere to the mutual defense pact, known as Article V, though the White House later claimed that his very presence alongside twisted World Trade Center steel — a memorial outside NATO headquarters — was evidence enough of his commitment.

As Trump spoke, the NATO leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Marcon, stood in awkward silence. Later, as they took the traditional “family photo” group shot, the heads of state quietly kept their distance from Trump, who minutes earlier was caught on video appearing to push the prime minister of Montenegro out of the way to get to his spot.

But while Trump lectured some of the United States’ strongest allies, he cozied up to the repressive regime in Saudi Arabia while pushing for the Arab world to root out extremism at home. It was a similar story in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly greeted Trump and the president reciprocated with emotional appearances at the Western Wall and Holocaust museum and suggested that there was an opening for peace with the Palestinians.

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Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Pace at http://twitter.com/@JPaceDC

Lawyer says Kushner willing to cooperate with investigators

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is willing to cooperate with federal investigators looking into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, his attorney said.

The statement from attorney Jamie Gorelick was issued Thursday amid reports that the FBI was investigating meetings Kushner had in December with Russian officials.

“Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the House oversight committee asked the FBI to turn over more documents about former Director James Comey’s interactions with the White House and Justice Department, including materials dating back nearly four years to the Obama administration.

The FBI and the oversight committee — as well as several other congressional panels — are looking into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign. Trump fired Comey May 9 amid questions about the FBI’s investigation, which is now being overseen by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director.

NBC News and The Washington Post first reported that the FBI’s ongoing investigation includes a look at Kushner, which would place the probe inside the White House.

Kushner, a key White House adviser, had meetings late last year with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov.

The Post story cited anonymous “people familiar with the investigation,” who said the FBI investigation does not mean that Kushner is suspected of a crime.

Earlier Thursday, House oversight committee chairman Jason Chaffetz told acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe that he wants records of Comey’s contacts with the White House and Justice Department dating to September 2013, when Comey was sworn in as FBI director under President Barack Obama.

In a letter to McCabe, Chaffetz said he is seeking to review Comey’s memos and other written materials so he can “better understand” Comey’s communications with the White House and attorney general’s office.

Chaffetz, R-Utah, previously requested Comey’s recent memos about his private contacts with Trump. But the bureau told him Thursday it could not yet turn them over because of Mueller’s probe.

Chaffetz, who said last week he has his “subpoena pen” ready to force Comey or the FBI to turn over the documents, told McCabe that “Congress and the American public have a right and a duty to examine this issue independently of the special counsel’s investigation.”

He added, in a thinly veiled threat, “I trust and hope you understand this and make the right decision — to produce these documents to the committee immediately and on a voluntary basis.”

Chaffetz’s letter comes a month before he is scheduled to leave office after abruptly announcing his resignation earlier this year. He canceled a hearing scheduled Wednesday after Comey declined to testify.

Assistant FBI Director Gregory Brower told Chaffetz on Thursday the agency is evaluating his request and will update him as soon as possible.

Some Republican members of Congress have pressured Chaffetz to step down from the Comey probe, saying it should be led by someone who will remain in Congress.

Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., is considered the front-runner to replace Chaffetz as oversight chair. Gowdy led a special House panel that spent more than two years investigating the deadly 2012 attacks at a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

UK opposition leader links terrorism to foreign wars

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) — British police investigating the Manchester Arena bombing made a new arrest Friday while continuing to search addresses associated with the attacker who killed 22 people.

Seven other men are in custody in connection with Monday’s blast, all are being held on suspicion of offenses violating the Terrorism Act. Their ages ranged from 18 to 38.

A 16-year-old boy and a 34-year-old woman who had been arrested were released without charge, police said.

Authorities are chasing possible links between the bomber, Salman Abedi, and militants in Manchester, elsewhere in Europe, and in North Africa and the Middle East. Britain’s security level has been upgraded to “critical” meaning officials believe another attack may be imminent.

Abedi, a college dropout who had grown up in the Manchester area, was known to security services because of his radical views. He was the son of Libyan parents who migrated to Britain in the early 1990s.

He reportedly was in contact with family members just before the attack.

The name of the man arrested in the early hours Friday and those of the seven others in custody were not released. No one has yet been charged in the bombing.

Campaigning in Britain’s general election, set for June 8, resumed after being suspended because of the bombing late which followed an Ariana Grande concert.

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, speaking in London, linked Britain’s actions overseas to the increased extremist threat at home. He risks being accused of trying to capitalize on the Manchester bombing.

He said many experts including British intelligence professionals see a connection between wars Britain has supported, such as the one in Libya, and terrorism in Britain.

London police say extra security is being added for major sporting events this weekend including the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.

Chief Superintendent Jon Williams said Friday extra protection measures and extra officers are being deployed throughout the capital because of the increased terrorist threat level.

He said fans coming to football and rugby matches this weekend should come earlier than usual because of added security screening.

Williams said “covert and discrete tactics” will also be in place to protect the transport network.

He says police want the approach to be “unpredictable” and to make London “as hostile an environment as possible to terrorists.”

British police working on the case have resumed intelligence-sharing with U.S. counterparts after a brief halt because of anger over leaks to U.S. media thought by Britain to be coming from U.S. officials.

British officials say that have receive assurances from U.S. authorities that confidential material will be protected.

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Katz reported from London.

Trump travel ban showdown headed for Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s administration is pledging a Supreme Court showdown over his travel ban after a federal appeals ruled that the ban “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.”

Citing the president’s duty to protect the country from terrorism, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that the Justice Department will ask the high court to review the case, although he offered no timetable.

The Supreme Court is almost certain to step into the case over the presidential executive order issued by Trump that seeks to temporarily cut off visas for people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The justices almost always have the final say when a lower court strikes down a federal law or presidential action.

The case pits the president’s significant authority over immigration against what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit said was a policy that purported to be about national security but was intended to target Muslims.

Parties generally have 90 days to appeal to the Supreme Court, but if the administration waits until late August to ask the court to step in, the justices probably would not vote on whether to hear the case until October and arguments probably wouldn’t take place until February 2018 at the earliest. That would be more than a year after Trump rolled out the first travel ban.

Administration lawyers could instead seek the justices’ approval to put the travel policy in place on an emergency basis, even as the court weighs what to do with the larger dispute.

If that happens, the justices’ vote on an emergency motion would signal whether the government is likely to win in the end. It takes a majority of the court, five votes, to put a hold on a lower court ruling. If at least five justices vote to let the travel ban take effect, there’s a good chance they also would uphold the policy later on.

Thursday’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit was a loss for the administration. The court ruled 10-3 that the ban likely violates the Constitution and upheld a lower court ruling blocking the Republican administration from enforcing the travel ban unveiled in March, a revised version of the policy first issued in January.

The Richmond, Virginia-based 4th Circuit is the first appeals court to rule on the revised ban. Trump’s administration had hoped it would avoid the legal problems that the first version encountered. A second appeals court, the 9th U.S. Circuit based in San Francisco, is also weighing the revised travel ban after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked it.

A central question in the case is whether courts should consider Trump’s public statements about wanting to bar Muslims from entering the country as evidence that the policy was primarily motivated by the religion.

Trump’s administration argued the 4th Circuit should not look beyond the text of the executive order, which doesn’t mention religion. The countries were not chosen because they are predominantly Muslim but because they present terrorism risks, the administration said.

But Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote that the government’s “asserted national security interest … appears to be a post hoc, secondary justification for an executive action rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country.”

The three dissenting judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, said the majority was wrong to look beyond the text of the order. Judge Paul V. Niemeyer wrote that Supreme Court precedent required the court to consider the order “on its face.” Looked at that way, the executive order “is entirely without constitutional fault,” he wrote.

Sessions said the court’s ruling blocks Trump’s “efforts to strengthen this country’s national security.”

Trump’s first travel ban issued Jan. 27 was aimed at seven countries and triggered chaos and protests across the U.S. as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. Trump tweaked the order after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit refused to reinstate the ban.

The new version made it clear the 90-day ban covering those six countries doesn’t apply to those who already have valid visas. It also got rid of language that would give priority to religious minorities and removed Iraq from the list of banned countries. Critics said the changes don’t erase the legal problems with the ban.

Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, said it’s difficult to make a confident prediction on what the Supreme Court will do with the case. If the Supreme Court follows a partisan divide, the Trump administration may fare better since five of the nine are Republican nominees. Still, he said, “Supreme Court justices don’t always vote in ideological lockstep.”

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Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Richmond, Virginia; Darlene Superville in Washington; and Matt Barakat in McLean, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Politics: Was Montana’s wild House race a Trump test? Not so much

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BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Greg Gianforte spent the day of his greatest political victory out of sight, avoiding questions about the assault charge filed against him on the eve of a congressional race that some cast as a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency.

In the end, though, the Republican emerged Thursday night as Montana’s new congressman, a comfortable win that may temper Democrats’ hopes for a massive anti-Trump wave to sweep them back into power in Washington in 2018.

Yet Gianforte’s single-digit win paled to Trump’s 20-point romp in Montana in November, a sign that Republicans will have to work hard to defend some of their most secure seats to maintain control of Congress.

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s U.S. House seat on Thursday, one day after he was charged with assaulting a reporter. Gianforte apologized to Ben Jacobs by name, saying he should not have responded the way he did, and that he’s sorry. (May 26)

The race ultimately turned on the weaknesses of both Gianforte and his opponent, folk singer and Democrat Rob Quist, making it tough to use as a barometer for the nation’s political mood.

Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault Wednesday night after witnesses said he slammed to the ground a reporter who was asking him questions about the Republican health care bill. A technology entrepreneur who was widely regarded among even Republican strategists as an imperfect candidate, Gianforte could be heard on an audio tape yelling at the reporter, Ben Jacobs of The Guardian.

By the time sheriff’s deputies arrived, more than half of voters had already cast their ballots in the race due to the state’s mail-in voting law. It was difficult to determine on election night to what extent voters who cast a ballot Thursday were influenced by the altercation.

Gianforte’s campaign issued a statement Wednesday blaming the reporter for the altercation. While polls were open Thursday, the Republican candidate canceled television interviews and stayed out of sight.

But after he was declared the winner, Gianforte apologized for the attack. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it. That’s the Montana way,” he said. “Last night, I made a mistake. I took an action I can’t take back and I am not proud of what happened.”

The chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Rep. Steve Stivers, issued a statement hailing Gianforte’s win, as well as his apology. “Now he needs to resolve his legal issue so that he can start off on the right foot serving his constituents,” Stivers said.

Gianforte must appear in court by June 7 on the misdemeanor charge, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail and a $500 fine.

Stivers’ Democratic counterpart, Rep. Ben Lujan of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, contended in a statement that the election was “tainted” by the assault. “There’s no question in my mind that Gianforte should not be sworn into office,” Lujan said. “Regardless of what happens next, we will be competing hard for this seat in 2018.”

The assault allegation didn’t seem to faze voters. Shaun Scott, a computer science professor at Carroll College in Helena, voted for Gianforte despite the assault charge, saying it was barely a factor in his decision.

“If you have somebody sticking a phone in your face, a mic in your face, over and over, and you don’t know how to deal with the situation, you haven’t really done that, you haven’t dealt with that, I can see where it can … make you a little angry,” Scott said.

Gianforte had unsuccessfully challenged the state’s Democratic governor in November, losing that race even as Trump won the state easily. Gianforte had held his party’s nominee at an arm’s length but during the special election, he embraced the president, welcoming Vice President Mike Pence and Donald Trump Jr. for campaign visits and using the president’s “Drain the swamp” catchphrase.

His opponent, Quist, was previously best known as the singer in the Mission Mountain Wood Band. He surprised Democrats by nabbing his party’s nomination at its convention in March. A supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Quist had never run for office before. Democrats were initially hopeful that he’d appeal to Montana’s right-leaning voters who have a history of electing Democratic mavericks.

But Republicans rapidly mounted a wilting attack on the airwaves over Quist’s financial troubles, including a history of unpaid taxes and liens. They bashed him as a tool of liberal Democrats like House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Quist eventually raised more than $6 million but struggled to come back from the early onslaught of negative publicity and advertising. He attacked Gianforte as a transplant from New Jersey — Gianforte moved to the state in the 1990s — which was a potent issue during the gubernatorial race but not enough to get Quist across the finish line.

Gianforte’s support came from people like Bozeman advertising executive Cailley Tonn, who voted early for Gianforte. After the alleged assault, she said she wouldn’t have changed her vote. “I was disappointed to see he flew off the handle like that,” she said.

But in the end, she added, she wanted to back the Republican party’s platform.

Democrats made a late investment in the race. Hours after Gianforte’s scuffle with the reporter, Democrats were blasting Facebook ads at Montana Democrats they thought might otherwise sit out election day. But it was too late to do any more advertising.

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Riccardi reported from Denver.

Business: World stocks dip, oil price stabilizes after big slide

HONG KONG (AP) — World stock markets mostly weakened Friday as investors watched the G-7 summit of leaders and oil prices stabilized after falling sharply over a production cut deal.

KEEPING SCORE: In Europe, France’s CAC 40 was down 0.7 percent to 5,301 and Germany’s DAX lost 0.5 percent to 12,562. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.2 percent to 7,529. Wall Street was poised to open lower, with Dow and S&P 500 futures both slipping 0.1 percent.

WORLD LEADERS: President Donald Trump and other leaders of the Group of Seven wealthy nations are meeting in Italy. The leaders, who once found broad agreement but are now increasingly divided, will be looking to build trust among themselves as they try to find common ground on issues including climate change, trade and the global economy.

QUOTEWORTHY: “The G-7 summit that is starting today is unlikely to bring a much brighter outlook in terms of U.S. policy. As Trump meets with the other world leaders, differences remain large,” Bas van Gaffen of Rabobank said in a commentary. “Indeed, Trump’s protectionist tone doesn’t appear to be weakening.”

CRUDE CUT: Oil prices bottomed out after a sharp selloff triggered by a deal by an alliance of oil-producing nations to extend production cuts for nine months to shore up crude prices. The deal was widely expected by analysts, but disappointed investors who were hoping for a longer extension. Benchmark U.S. crude lost rose 14 cents to $49.04 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract shed $2.46, or 4.8 percent, on Thursday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 21 cents to $51.67 a barrel in London.

JAPAN PRICES: Inflation ticked up to a two-year high last month on rising energy costs, according to the latest official data. The figures offer some hope that people in Asia’s second-largest economy might be spurred to start spending more as growth recovers although economists say the consumer price index’s 0.3 percent increase is not likely to rise further.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index shed 0.6 percent to 19,686.84 but South Korea’s Kospi climbed 0.5 percent to 2,355.30. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was nearly unchanged at 25,639.27 and the Shanghai Composite index in mainland China climbed ended less than 0.1 percent higher at 3,110.06. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.7 percent to 5,751.50. Taiwan’s benchmark fell and indexes in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

CURRENCIES: The dollar dipped to 110.89 yen from 111.84 yen in late Thursday trading. The euro rose to $1.1219 from $1.1209.

Breaking News: Appeals court rules against President Trump’s revised travel ban

(PhatzRadio Sports / USA Today)   —-   A federal appeals court in Richmond delivered yet another blow Thursday to President Trump’s effort to institute a travel ban targeting six majority-Muslim countries, making a final Supreme Court showdown more likely.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled 10-3 to uphold a lower court’s decision that barred the Trump administration from implementing its second attempt at the travel ban. Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that changes made to the revised travel ban removing any mention of religion did not fix the fact that the order unfairly and illegally targets Muslims.

“From the highest elected office in the nation has come an executive order steeped in animus and directed at a single religious group,” the court said in a 79-page opinion, accompanied by several concurrences and dissents.

The court said the administration’s claim that the ban was aimed at protecting national security was a “secondary justification for an executive order rooted in religious animus and intended to bar Muslims from this country.” The scathing opinion consistently referenced Trump’s own words on the campaign trail and after he was elected, which it said made clear his true intention.

Because of that religious animus, the court ruled that Trump’s executive order could never “survive any measure of constitutional review.”

“Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles — that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another,” Gregory wrote for the majority. “Congress granted the president broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

The White House has said the temporary ban is needed to improve vetting procedures to ensure terrorists do not enter the United States as travelers or refugees. Justice Department lawyers have argued in court that statements made during a political campaign should not factor into actions taken by an elected official.

But the judges even questioned whether the government established enough of a national security threat to warrant a blanket ban against people from the six targeted countries. In a separate opinion, Judge Barbara Milano Keenan wrote that Trump needed to show more than “vague uncertainty” about people coming from those countries to deem all 180 million residents as national security risks.

Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall told the judges during oral arguments earlier this month that it was not their job to psychoanalyze a president. Wall argued that candidates’ statements in the midst of a contentious campaign are irrelevant, and that scrutinizing them after the fact would chill political debate in future campaigns.

In his ruling, Gregory wrote that campaign comments absolutely matter. The executive order “cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it,” he wrote. “We find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that (the order’s) primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.”

“To the extent that our review chills campaign promises to condemn and exclude entire religious groups, we think that a welcome restraint,” he wrote.

In a dissenting opinion signed by three judges, Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that the district court and his colleagues in the majority ignored long-held court precedents when they decided that candidate Trump’s campaign statements could be used against him as president.

Niemeyer said there were more than enough reasons for a president to institute the “modest action” of temporarily suspending immigration from the targeted countries, given their ties to terrorism.

“The plaintiffs conceded during oral argument that if another candidate had won the presidential election in November 2016 and thereafter entered this same executive order, they would have had no problem with the order,” he said.

Critics who have called Trump’s revised travel ban “Muslim Ban 2.0,” based on his campaign pledge to stop Muslim immigration into the U.S., celebrated Thursday’s ruling.

“Over and over we are seeing the courts and the public soundly reject this blatant attempt to write bigotry into law,” said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. “Rather then wait for yet another court to rule against it, Congress can and must take action that will end this discriminatory and dangerous policy once and for all.”

A ruling is expected any day in a similar case from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco.

At issue is Trump’s plan to ban most travel from six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — for 90 days and suspend the entire refugee program for 120 days.

Trump first tried to implement the travel ban by signing an executive order on Jan. 27. That order was in effect for seven days before it was blocked by a federal judge in Seattle, a ruling upheld by the 9th Circuit.

Rather than appeal to the Supreme Court, Trump revoked his first travel ban and issued a revised version on March 6. That order was blocked by a federal judge in Hawaii hours before it went into effect, as well as another judge in Maryland. The Justice Department appealed both rulings.

Now that the administration has lost in the 4th Circuit, the Justice Department could appeal to the Supreme Court. The high court, now at full strength with the addition of Trump’s nominee, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, has divided in the past on immigration issues. Those 4-4 ties, which were commonplace following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, could tilt in Trump’s favor with Gorsuch on the bench.

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