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Yearly Archives: 2018

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Former US security leaders blast Trump for yanking clearance

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Former U.S. security officials issued scathing rebukes to President Donald Trump on Thursday, admonishing him for yanking a top former spy chief’s security clearance in what they cast as an act of political vengeance. Trump said he’d had to do “something” about the “rigged” federal probe of Russian election interference.

Trump’s admission that he acted out of frustration about the Russia probe underscored his willingness to use his executive power to fight back against an investigation he sees as a threat to his presidency. Legal experts said the dispute may add to the evidence being reviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, former CIA Director John Brennan said Trump’s decision, announced Wednesday, to deny him access to classified information was a desperate attempt to end Mueller’s investigation. Brennan, who served under President Barack Obama and has become a vocal Trump critic, called Trump’s claims that he did not collude with Russia “hogwash.”

The only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy,” Brennan wrote.

President Donald Trump says Aretha Franklin “brought joy to millions of lives and her extraordinary legacy will thrive and inspire many generations to come.” (Aug. 16)

Later Thursday, the retired Navy admiral who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden called Trump’s moves “McCarthy-era tactics.” Writing in The Washington Post, William H. McRaven said he would “consider it an honor” if Trump would revoke his clearance, as well.

“Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation,” McRaven wrote.

That was followed late Thursday by a joint letter from 12 former senior intelligence officials calling Trump’s action “ill-considered and unprecedented.” They said it “has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances — and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech.”

The signees included six former CIA directors, five former deputy directors and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Two of the signees — Clapper and former CIA Director Michael Hayden — have appeared on a White House list of people who may also have their security clearances revoked.

Trump on Wednesday openly tied his decision to strip Brennan of his clearance — and threaten nearly a dozen other former and current officials — to the ongoing investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with his campaign. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Trump again called the probe a “rigged witch hunt” and said “these people led it!”

“So I think it’s something that had to be done,” he said.

The president’s comments were a swift departure from the official explanation given by the White House earlier Wednesday that cited the “the risks” posed by Brennan’s alleged “erratic conduct and behavior.” It marked the latest example of the president contradicting a story his aides had put forward to explain his motivations.

Attorneys said the revocation appeared to be within the president’s authority. But they noted the power play also could be used to reinforce a case alleging obstruction of justice, following the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his repeated tweets calling for the investigation to end.

Patrick Cotter, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of New York and a longtime white-collar defense attorney, said that while a prosecutor could argue that Trump’s targeting of clearances was intended as a warning that “if you contribute to, participate in, support the Russia probe and I find out about it, I’m going to punish you,” it is likely not obstruction in itself.

But, he said the move would be a “powerful piece of evidence” for prosecutors as part of a pattern to demonstrate an intent to use presidential power in connection with the probe.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor agreed.

“What it shows is that the president is fixated on the Russia investigation, he’s angry about it, and he wants to do everything he can to discourage or slow down the investigation,” he said.

Special Counsel Mueller and his team have been looking at Trump’s public statements and tweets as they investigate whether the president could be guilty of obstruction.

“I don’t think it advances the criminal obstruction case, but I think it’s factually relevant,” said Mark Zaid, a national security attorney. “I think it shows the state of mind and intent to interfere or impede any unfavorable discussion of his potential connection to Russia.”

Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period. But Trump said Wednesday he is reviewing the clearances of several other former top intelligence and law enforcement officials, including former FBI Director Comey and current senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr. All are critics of the president or are people who Trump appears to believe are against him.

The initial White House statement about Brennan’s clearance made no reference to the Russia investigation. Instead, the president said he was fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information,” even though he made no suggestion that Brennan was improperly exposing the nation’s secrets.

“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nations’ most closely held secrets,” Trump said.

Just hours later, his explanation had changed.

“You look at any of them and you see the things they’ve done,” Trump told the Journal. “In some cases, they’ve lied before Congress. The Hillary Clinton whole investigation was a total sham.”

“I don’t trust many of those people on that list,” he said. “I think that they’re very duplicitous. I think they’re not good people.”

The episode was reminiscent of Trump’s shifting explanations for firing Comey and the evolving descriptions of the Trump Tower meeting between top campaign aides and a Kremlin-connected lawyer — both topics of interest to Mueller.

And it underscores why the president’s lawyers are fearful of allowing Trump to sit down for an interview with Mueller’s team, as Trump has repeatedly said he is interested in doing.

In announcing Comey’s firing, the White House initially cited the former FBI director’s handling of the probe into Democratic rival Clinton’s emails, seizing on the FBI director’s decision to divulge details of the probe to the public during her campaign against Trump.

But a few days after Comey was dismissed, Trump told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview that he was really thinking of “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey.

Trump later changed again, tweeting that he “never fired James Comey because of Russia!”

Early this month, he admitted in a tweet that the Trump Tower meeting, which was arranged by his son, Donald Trump Jr., “was a meeting to get information on an opponent.”

That directly contradicted a July 2017 statement from Trump Jr. — written with the consultation of the White House — that claimed the meeting had been primarily about adoption.

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Associated Press writer Jessica Gresko contributed to this report.

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Follow Colvin and Lucey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and https://twitter.com/catherine_lucey

Crews remove major rubble 3 days after Italy bridge collapse

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GENOA, Italy (AP) — Excavators began clearing large sections of the collapsed highway bridge in the Italian city of Genoa on Friday, searching for people still missing three days after the deadly accident that one survivor said ended with an “unreal silence.”

The search entered a new phase as heavy equipment removed a large vertical section, clearing a new area to probe. Rescuers have been tunneling through tons of jagged steel, concrete and crushed vehicles that plunged as many as 45 meters (150 feet) when the bridge suddenly fell during a downpour on Tuesday.

Officials say 38 people are confirmed killed and 15 injured. Prosecutors say 10 to 20 people might be unaccounted-for and the death toll is expected to rise.

The first funerals were being held later Friday, ahead of a state funeral in Genoa on Saturday to be celebrated by Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.

The collapse occurred about midday Tuesday, the eve of Italy’s biggest summer holiday, when traffic was particularly busy on the 51-year-old span that links two highways — one leading to France, the other to Milan — from this northwestern port city.

One survivor, whose car plunged from the bridge to the bottom along with falling sections of highway, told the Associated Press how as a trained firefighter he immediately understood that the structure had collapsed when the road dropped out from under him.

“It came down. everything, the world, came down,” said 33-year-old Davide Capello, who may be the only person to have fallen from the bridge and walk away unharmed. He had been at the midpoint of the bridge, driving across toward Genoa when it collapsed.

“I heard a noise, a dull noise. I saw the columns of the highway in front of me come down. A car in front of me disappeared into the darkness.” His car plunged nose first, then suddenly stopped with a crash, air bags releasing around him. He said he saw only gray. Outside, he said, “there was an unreal silence.”

Capello was released from the hospital Thursday, two days after the collapse. He said had no major physical injuries.

As the cleanup crews went about their work, authorities were worried about the stability large remaining sections of the bridge, prompting a wider evacuation order and forcing about 630 people from nearby apartments, some practically in the shadow of the elevated highway. Firefighters went inside some of the vacated apartments briefly to retrieve documents and, in at least one home, pet cats.

Officials are also urging the quick removal of tons of debris from the dry river bed the bridge had spanned so that the rubble doesn’t create a makeshift dam if heavy rains fall in the flood-prone city on the Mediterranean. Debris also must be cleared from railroad tracks, a vital link especially now that Genoa is largely cut in half by the loss of such a key artery.

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Barry reported from Milan.

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This story has been corrected to give the confirmed death toll as 38.

IS deadly new front in Pakistan’s decades-old terror war

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DHABEJI, Pakistan (AP) — Hafeez Nawaz was 20 years old when he left his religious school in southern Karachi to join the Islamic State group in Afghanistan. Three years later he was back in Pakistan to carry out a deadly mission: with explosives strapped to his body, he blew himself up in the middle of an election rally last month, killing 149 people and wounding 300 others.

The attack in southwestern Baluchistan province near the Afghan border just days before Pakistan’s July 25 parliamentary elections has cast an unwelcome spotlight on Nawaz’s tiny village of Dhabeji, where the presence of an IS cell in their midst has brought the full weight of Pakistan’s security apparatus down on its residents.

“Now we are all under suspicion,” said Nawaz’s neighbor, who gave only his first name, Nadeem, for fear of the local police. “The security agencies now consider Dhabeji a security threat area.”

Nawaz’s trajectory from religiously devout student to jihadi and suicide bomber is an all too familiar one in Pakistan.

Since battlefield successes routed the Islamic State group from its strongholds in Syria and Iraq, hundreds of Pakistanis who traveled to join the extremists’ so-called “caliphate” are unaccounted for and Pakistan’s security personnel worry that they, like Nawaz, have gone underground waiting to strike.

Sitting in his office in a compound surrounded by high walls and heavily armed guards, Karachi’s counterterrorism department chief, Pervez Ahmed Chandio, said IS is the newest and deadliest front in Pakistan’s decades-old war on terror.

“It is one of the most dangerous threats facing Pakistan and we are ready to fight this war,” he said.

It’s the amorphous nature of IS that has counterterrorism officials like Chandio most worried. When one cell is disrupted another emerges, sometimes within weeks and often in an unrelated part of the country.

“It’s what they don’t know that is the most worrying for counterterrorism departments around the country,” said Mohammad Amir Rana, executive director of the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, which tracks militant movements in the region. “Its hideouts, its structure, its strategy are all unknown. They are an invisible enemy who is defeated in one area, only to resurface in another.”

A U.N. Security Council report earlier this year warned of the changing face of IS, saying the extremist group was “entering a new phase, with more focus on less visible networks of individuals and cells acting with a degree of autonomy.”

Hafeez Nawaz was just such a case.

Three years ago, he joined his older brother, Aziz, to study at Siddiquia Madrassa in Karachi’s Shah Faisal Colony neighborhood, an area where the level of sectarian violence at the time was so brutal that even police could not enter. A crackdown by paramilitary Rangers has since led to the arrest and killing of hundreds of militants and criminals.

Today, the religious school is among 94 madrassas under surveillance in Karachi and elsewhere in southern Sindh province, Chandio said. They have been identified as breeding grounds for radicalism, schools where jihadis have emerged and that perpetrators of attacks attended. Many are financed by oil-rich Saudi Arabia to promote the rigid Wahabi sect of Islam practiced in the kingdom, Chandio said. The origin of the money, whether from the Saudi government or Saudi philanthropists, is not clear but the teachings at these schools espouse a rigid interpretation of Islam and the superiority of Sunni Islam.

It was at Siddiquia Mosque that Nawaz’s brother, Aziz, fell in with a crowd of would-be jihadis and was persuaded to travel to Afghanistan’s Spinboldak region on the border with Pakistan in 2014 to join the Taliban. But his allegiance was short-lived as commanders squabbled and Aziz returned to Pakistan. Once back home, he inducted his younger brother, Hafeez, into the jihadi circle but this time, it was the Islamic State group that held sway, said Chandio, who was part of the counterterrorism squad that, using little more than body parts and grainy cell phone pictures, identified Hafeez Nawaz as the suicide bomber behind the July 13 election rally attack.

Chandio learned from the brothers’ father that Nawaz and Aziz packed up their three sisters and their mother and moved them to Afghanistan in 2016 to live among an Islamic State affiliate there. Two of the sisters have since married IS operatives. Their youngest brother, Shakoor, who was sent by their father a year later to plead with them to return, remains in Afghanistan, as does Aziz.

Chandio suspects 19-year-old Shakoor is now an IS operative and could be the next suicide bomber. He said Shakoor fits the criteria: a young man in his late teens or early 20s, religiously devout and susceptible to radicalization.

Hafeez Nawaz was just 23 when he walked into the middle of the election rally in Baluchistan’s Mustang area and detonated the suicide vest that sprayed shrapnel throughout the tent packed with local tribesmen.

Nawaz’s father and his oldest brother, Haq Nawaz, are now in custody, caught trying to flee to Afghanistan, Chandio said.

Some analysts say the threat posed by the Islamic State group in Pakistan is, at least in part, the result of the country’s bewildering attitude toward the toxic mix of militant groups that operate in the country.

Since 2004, the Pakistani military has killed or driven thousands of militants from their mountain redoubts in the tribal regions that border Afghanistan, suffering thousands of casualties in those battles. Yet Pakistan allows banned groups, some with a long history of sectarian violence, to re-emerge and operate under new names, and known militants to move about freely.

“This is a sad reality of Pakistan: if militant leaders are useful to the state’s interests, then they’re free to do as they wish,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center. “So long as terrorist leaders roam free, there’s still a very big terrorism problem.”

A case in point is the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba, a global terrorist organization that has been resurrected as Jamaat-ud-Dawa, a group known to have sent scores of fighters to Syria and Iraq to bolster the Islamic State group, according to Pakistani intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.

Hafiz Saeed, the co-founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, who has a $10 million U.S.-imposed bounty on his head, lives unrestricted in Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province, where 60 per cent of the country’s 200 million people live.

Just last month the U.S. State Department declared another of the group’s senior commanders, Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, a global terrorist, who poses “a significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the security of U.S. nationals or the national security, foreign policy, or economy of the United States.”

Dakhil, who also now lives freely in Lahore, was arrested in Iraq in 2004 and held in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan until 2014, when he was returned to Pakistan, where he spent a brief stint in prison before being released.

“ISIS is cut from the same basic ideological cloth as the other Islamist terror groups in Pakistan,” said Kugelman, using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group. “Marriages of convenience can never be ruled out, whether in terms of operational partnerships or cost-sharing. … We’ve seen a model of Afghanistan-focused ISIS members linking up with local facilitators in Pakistan to stage attacks.”

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Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, Susannah George in Washington and Edie Lederer in New York contributed to this report.

Vatican in ‘shame and sorrow’ over abuses in Pennsylvania

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VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Vatican expressed “shame and sorrow” Thursday over a scathing Pennsylvania grand jury report about clergy who raped and molested children in six dioceses in that state, calling the abuse “criminally and morally reprehensible” and saying Pope Francis wants to eradicate “this tragic horror.”

In a written statement using uncharacteristically strong language for the Holy See even in matters like the long-running abuse scandals staining the U.S. church, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke sought to assure victims that “the pope is on their side.”

Pope Francis himself wasn’t quoted in the statement, and there was no mention of demands in the United States among some Roman Catholics for the resignation of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington.

The grand jury report made public this week accused the cardinal of helping to protect some molester priests while he was bishop of the Pennsylvania city of Pittsburgh. Wuerl has defended his actions in Pittsburgh while apologizing for the damage inflicted on victims.

Burke said the incidents of abuse graphically documented in the report were “betrayals of trust that robbed survivors of their dignity and their faith.”

“The church must learn hard lessons from its past, and there should be accountability for both abusers and those who permitted abuse to occur,” he said.

Victims and their advocates for decades have lamented that top Catholic churchmen repeatedly put the reputation of the church ahead of obligations to protect children from harm from pedophile priests.

In a sign that Pope Francis wants to end that pervasive mind set among church hierachy, including bishops and cardinals, he recently accepted the resignation from cardinal’s rank of former Washington archbishop Theodore McCarrick amid allegations that the American prelate had engaged in sexual misconduct.

Resignations by cardinals are extremely rare, and McCarrick’s was the first time a prelate lost his cardinal’s rank in a sexual abuse scandal.

Burke said Francis “understands well how much these crimes can shake the faith and the spirit of believers and reiterates the call to make every effort to create a safe environment for minors and vulnerable adults in the church and in all of society.”

The grand jury report documented how pedophile priests were often protected by church hierarchy or moved to other postings without the faithful being told of the priests’ sexual predatory history.

The long-awaited grand jury report was full of vivid examples of horrendous abuse. In one such example, a young girl was raped by a priest visiting her while she was in a hospital following surgery to remove her tonsils. In another, a priest tied up a victim with a rope in a confessional booth, and when the victim refused to perform sex, the priest assaulted him with a crucifix.

Speaking about Francis, Burke said: “Those who have suffered are his priority, and the church wants to listen to them to root out this tragic horror that destroys the lives of the innocent.”

Even before the report was released, a series of scandals over the last few decades involving pedophile priests and systematic attempts by pastors and bishops to cover up the abuse by shuttling offenders to new parishes had rocked the faith of many Catholics in the United States.

Similar abuse and determination by protect abusers had also stained the reputation of the Catholic Church in many other countries.

Francis recently did a turnaround on how accusations by victims in Chile were viewed by the Vatican. After casting doubt on the victims’ accounts during his visit to Chile earlier this year, Francis apologized to them, hosted the victims at the Vatican and later accepted the resignations of some of the country’s bishops, who offered en masse to step down.

On Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops invited the Vatican to play a key role in investigating the scandal involving McCarrick, who allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with minors and adult seminarians.

The conference’s president, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, said he would go to Rome to ask the Vatican to conduct a high-level investigation known as an “apostolic visitation” to deal with McCarrick’s case, working together with a group of predominantly lay experts.

US threatens more sanctions, keeping alive Turkish crisis

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and the United States exchanged new threats of sanctions Friday, keeping alive a diplomatic and financial crisis that is threatening the economic stability of the NATO country.

Turkey’s lira fell once again after the trade minister, Ruhsar Pekcan, said Friday that her government would respond to any new trade duties, which U.S. President Donald Trump threatened in an overnight tweet.

Trump is taking issue with the continued detention in Turkey of American pastor Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor who faces 35 years in prison on charges of espionage and terror-related charges.

Trump wrote in a tweet late Thursday: “We will pay nothing for the release of an innocent man, but we are cutting back on Turkey!”

He also urged Brunson to serve as a “great patriot hostage” while he is jailed and criticized Turkey for “holding our wonderful Christian Pastor.”

U.S. Treasury chief Steve Mnuchin earlier said the U.S. could put more sanctions on Turkey.

The United States has already imposed sanctions on two Turkish government ministers and doubled tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports. Turkey retaliated with some $533 million of tariffs on some U.S. imports — including cars, tobacco and alcoholic drinks — and said it would boycott U.S. electronic goods.

“We have responded to (US sanctions) in accordance to World Trade Organization rules and will continue to do so,” Pekcan told reporters on Friday.

Turkey’s currency, which had recovered from record losses against the dollar earlier in the week, was down about 6 percent against the dollar on Friday, at 6.17.

Turkey’s finance chief tried to reassure thousands of international investors on a conference call Thursday, in which he pledged to fix the economic troubles. He ruled out any move to limit money flows — which is a possibility that worries investors — or any assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Investors are concerned that Turkey’s has amassed high levels of foreign debt to fuel growth in recent years. And as the currency drops, that debt becomes so much more expensive to repay, leading to potential bankruptcies.

Also worrying investors has been President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s refusal to allow the central bank to raise interest rates to support the currency, as experts say it should. Erdogan has tightened his grip since consolidating power after general elections this year.

Business: Global shares mostly higher on hopes for China trade talks

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares made moderate gains early Friday after U.S. stocks jumped on news China is preparing to resume trade discussions with the U.S., the first negotiations in more than a month.

KEEPING SCORE: Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.3 percent to 7,575.97 and the CAC 40 in France added 0.2 percent to 5,360.68, while Germany’s DAX edged 0.1 percent lower to 12,229.01. The future contract for the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.1 percent while the contract for the S&P 500 was flat.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index added 0.4 percent to 22,270.38, while the Shanghai Composite index shed 1.3 percent to 2,668.97. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.4 percent to 27,213.41 and India’s Sensex jumped 0.8 percent to 37,957.33. In South Korea, the Kospi gained 0.3 percent to 2,247.05. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 picked up 0.2 percent to 6,339.20. Shares were higher in Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore but fell in Malaysia.

CHINA TRADE: China will send a trade envoy to Washington later this month in a fresh attempt to end the trade dispute before it causes major damage to the global economy. The two sides haven’t talked since early June. After the latest round of talks failed to produce much progress, both countries put taxes on $34 billion in each other’s imports. Those tariffs are set to rise next week, and both countries have threatened even larger increases as early as September.

QUOTABLE: “A temporary wave of relief swept over the markets as China initiated trade talks with the U.S. government. The indication for peace talks is much welcomed by markets after a long, 2 month standoff,” Jayden Loh, a trader at IG in Singapore, said in a commentary.

ENERGY: U.S. crude picked up 17 cents to $65.63 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained 0.7 percent to settle at $65.46 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, climbed 23 cents to $71.66 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 110.70 yen from 110.89 yen. The euro rose to $1.1410 from $1.1379. Turkey’s lira was steady at 5.82 to the dollar.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, August 17:

1. Turkish lira dives on threat of new sanctions

Turkey remained in the spotlight as U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s announced that the U.S. is prepared to slap Turkey with more sanctions if its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refuses the quick release of an American pastor.

 

Trump later tweeted that the U.S. “will pay nothing” for the release of the pastor Andrew Brunson, who is on house arrest in Turkey over terrorism charges.

The Turkish lira took a dive in early morning trade, falling more than 7% against the dollar, now having lost two-thirds of its value since the beginning of the year.

At 6:12 AM ET (10:12 GMT), USD/TRY was up 5.60 at 6.1608.

2. Global stocks flinch as Turkish woes return

Global stocks were mostly lower on Friday as a renewed decline in the Turkish lira brought risk aversion to the forefront. The currency tumbled against the dollar on Friday as the U.S. stance over pastor Andrew Brunson’s arrest hit market sentiment.

U.S. futures extended losses as the lira fell in early morning trade. At 6:15 AM ET (10:15 GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures lost 39 points, or 0.15%, S&P 500 futures fell 5 points, or 0.18%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures traded down 16 points, or 0.21%.

Elsewhere, European shares also extended losses as fears over the region’s banks’ exposure to Turkey sent buyers fleeing.

Earlier, Asian stocks closed mixed on Friday. While Japan’s Nikkei 225 seemed content to follow earlier gains on Wall Street, China’s Shanghai Composite ended lower as caution reigned ahead of further trade talks between Beijing and Washington.

3. U.S. consumer in focus

As a slow week for top tier economic data comes to a close, traders will focus on the consumer mindset later on Friday.

The University of Michigan will release its preliminary measure of August consumer sentiment at 10:00 AM ET (14:00 GMT).

Economists expect that the index rose to 98.1 from 97.9 in July.

Earlier in the week, July retail sales gave a better-than-expected reading, upping optimism for the American consumers’ capability to continue to support the solid economy.

The consumer has also been showing strength if the latest batch of retail earnings are anything to go by. Walmart (NYSE:WMT) was the latest to post strong numbers, sending its stock soaring on Thursday and contributing to the bullish sentiment in stocks.

Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) was also gave a solid showing in quarterly numbers after Thursday’s market close, sending its stock surging in extended hours.

4. Mixed earnings signals to end the week

As mentioned, market participants were expected to react positively on Friday to Nordstrom’s strong earnings. The department store reported a same-store sales increase that smashed expectations and increased its profit guidance for the year. Shares surged more than 9% in pre-market trade Friday.

Tech stocks however, would likely be under pressure as Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA) tumbled 4.06% ahead of the open after the company issued a softer-than-expected guidance when it released quarterly results after Thursday’s close.

Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT) was also expected to add to the carnage with shares sinking 5.69% after the chipmaker forecast weaker-than-expected earnings per share for its fiscal fourth quarter.

Deere & Company (NYSE:DE) will be Friday’s spotlight on the earnings front as the company reports before the opening bell.

5. Oil headed for 7th weekly decline ahead of rig count

Oil prices managed to eke out a second day of gains of Friday, paring yet another sharp weekly decline.

The recovery occurred on the back of hopes that a meeting between Chinese and U.S. officials later in August will seek to offset recent tensions.

Markets were worried a potential full-blown trade war between the U.S. and China would slow global economic growth and curb energy consumption, while a standoff between the U.S. and Turkey subsequently sparked fears of contagion among emerging markets.

U.S. crude was headed for a drop of 3% this week and Brent was on track for weekly losses of 1.7%.

Later on Friday, Baker Hughes will release its most recent data on U.S. crude production.

The U.S. rig count, an early indicator of future output, rose by 10 to 869 last week, the highest level since March 2015, according to the oilfield services firm.

Breaking News: ‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin has died

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NEW YORK (AP) — Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul” who sang with matchless style on such classics as “Think,” ″I Say a Little Prayer” and her signature song, “Respect,” and stood as a cultural icon around the globe, has died at age 76 from pancreatic cancer.

Publicist Gwendolyn Quinn tells The Associated Press through a family statement that Franklin died Thursday at 9:50 a.m. at her home in Detroit. The statement said “Franklin’s official cause of death was due to advanced pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin’s oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute” in Detroit.

The family added: “In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family. The love she had for her children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and cousins knew no bounds.”

The statement continued:

“We have been deeply touched by the incredible outpouring of love and support we have received from close friends, supporters and fans all around the world. Thank you for your compassion and prayers. We have felt your love for Aretha and it brings us comfort to know that her legacy will live on. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”

Funeral arrangements will be announced in the coming days.

Franklin, who had battled undisclosed health issues in recent years, had in 2017 announced her retirement from touring.

A professional singer and accomplished pianist by her late teens, a superstar by her mid-20s, Franklin had long ago settled any arguments over who was the greatest popular vocalist of her time. Her gifts, natural and acquired, were a multi-octave mezzo-soprano, gospel passion and training worthy of a preacher’s daughter, taste sophisticated and eccentric, and the courage to channel private pain into liberating song.

She recorded hundreds of tracks and had dozens of hits over the span of a half century, including 20 that reached No. 1 on the R&B charts. But her reputation was defined by an extraordinary run of top 10 smashes in the late 1960s, from the morning-after bliss of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” to the wised-up “Chain of Fools” to her unstoppable call for “Respect.”

Her records sold millions of copies and the music industry couldn’t honor her enough. Franklin won 18 Grammy awards. In 1987, she became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Fellow singers bowed to her eminence and political and civic leaders treated her as a peer. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was a longtime friend, and she sang at the dedication of King’s memorial, in 2011. She performed at the inaugurations of Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and at the funeral for civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. Clinton gave Franklin the National Medal of Arts. President George W. Bush awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005.

Franklin’s best-known appearance with a president was in January 2009, when she sang “My Country ’tis of Thee” at Barack Obama’s inauguration. She wore a gray felt hat with a huge, Swarovski rhinestone-bordered bow that became an Internet sensation and even had its own website. In 2015, she brought Obama and others to tears with a triumphant performance of “Natural Woman” at a Kennedy Center tribute to the song’s co-writer, Carole King.

Franklin endured the exhausting grind of celebrity and personal troubles dating back to childhood. She was married from 1961 to 1969 to her manager, Ted White, and their battles are widely believed to have inspired her performances on several songs, including “(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone,” ″Think” and her heartbreaking ballad of despair, “Ain’t No Way.” The mother of two sons by age 16 (she later had two more), she was often in turmoil as she struggled with her weight, family problems and financial predicaments. Her best known producer, Jerry Wexler, nicknamed her “Our Lady of Mysterious Sorrows.”

Franklin married actor Glynn Turman in 1978 in Los Angeles but returned to her hometown of Detroit the following year after her father was shot by burglars and left semi-comatose until his death in 1984. She and Turman divorced that year.

Despite growing up in Detroit, and having Smokey Robinson as a childhood friend, Franklin never recorded for Motown Records; stints with Columbia and Arista were sandwiched around her prime years with Atlantic Records. But it was at Detroit’s New Bethel Baptist Church, where her father was pastor, that Franklin learned the gospel fundamentals that would make her a soul institution.

Aretha Louise Franklin was born March 25, 1942, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Rev. C.L. Franklin soon moved his family to Buffalo, New York, then to Detroit, where the Franklins settled after the marriage of Aretha’s parents collapsed and her mother (and reputed sound-alike) Barbara returned to Buffalo.

C.L. Franklin was among the most prominent Baptist ministers of his time. He recorded dozens of albums of sermons and music and knew such gospel stars as Marion Williams and Clara Ward, who mentored Aretha and her sisters Carolyn and Erma. (Both sisters sang on Aretha’s records, and Carolyn also wrote “Ain’t No Way” and other songs for Aretha). Music was the family business and performers from Sam Cooke to Lou Rawls were guests at the Franklin house. In the living room, the shy young Aretha awed friends with her playing on the grand piano.

Franklin occasionally performed at New Bethel Baptist throughout her career; her 1987 gospel album “One Lord One Faith One Baptism” was recorded live at the church.

Her most acclaimed gospel recording came in 1972 with the Grammy-winning album “Amazing Grace,” which was recorded live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in South Central Los Angeles and featured gospel legend James Cleveland, along with her own father (Mick Jagger was one of the celebrities in the audience). It became one of of the best-selling gospel albums ever.

The piano she began learning at age 8 became a jazzy component of much of her work, including arranging as well as songwriting. “If I’m writing and I’m producing and singing, too, you get more of me that way, rather than having four or five different people working on one song,” Franklin told The Detroit News in 2003.

Franklin was in her early teens when she began touring with her father, and she released a gospel album in 1956 through J-V-B Records. Four years later, she signed with Columbia Records producer John Hammond, who called Franklin the most exciting singer he had heard since a vocalist he promoted decades earlier, Billie Holiday. Franklin knew Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and considered joining his label, but decided it was just a local company at the time.

Franklin recorded several albums for Columbia Records over the next six years. She had a handful of minor hits, including “Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools,” but never quite caught on as the label tried to fit into her a variety of styles, from jazz and show songs to such pop numbers as “Mockingbird.” Franklin jumped to Atlantic Records when her contract ran out, in 1966.

“But the years at Columbia also taught her several important things,” critic Russell Gersten later wrote. “She worked hard at controlling and modulating her phrasing, giving her a discipline that most other soul singers lacked. She also developed a versatility with mainstream music that gave her later albums a breadth that was lacking on Motown LPs from the same period.

“Most important, she learned what she didn’t like: to do what she was told to do.”

At Atlantic, Wexler teamed her with veteran R&B musicians from Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, and the result was a tougher, soulful sound, with call-and-response vocals and Franklin’s gospel-style piano, which anchored “I Say a Little Prayer,” ″Natural Woman” and others.

Of Franklin’s dozens of hits, none was linked more firmly to her than the funky, horn-led march “Respect” and its spelled out demand for “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Writing in Rolling Stone magazine in 2004, Wexler said: “It was an appeal for dignity combined with a blatant lubricity. There are songs that are a call to action. There are love songs. There are sex songs. But it’s hard to think of another song where all those elements are combined.”

Franklin had decided she wanted to “embellish” the R&B song written by Otis Redding, whose version had been a modest hit in 1965, Wexler said.

“When she walked into the studio, it was already worked out in her head,” the producer wrote. “Otis came up to my office right before ‘Respect’ was released, and I played him the tape. He said, ‘She done took my song.’ He said it benignly and ruefully. He knew the identity of the song was slipping away from him to her.”

In a 2004 interview with the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times, Franklin was asked whether she sensed in the ’60s that she was helping change popular music.

“Somewhat, certainly with ‘Respect,’ that was a battle cry for freedom and many people of many ethnicities took pride in that word,” she answered. “It was meaningful to all of us.”

In 1968, Franklin was pictured on the cover of Time magazine and had more than 10 Top 20 hits in 1967 and 1968. At a time of rebellion and division, Franklin’s records were a musical union of the church and the secular, man and woman, black and white, North and South, East and West. They were produced and engineered by New Yorkers Wexler and Tom Dowd, arranged by Turkish-born Arif Mardin and backed by an interracial assembly of top session musicians based mostly in Alabama.

Her popularity faded during the 1970s despite such hits as the funky “Rock Steady” and such acclaimed albums as the intimate “Spirit in the Dark.” But her career was revived in 1980 with a cameo appearance in the smash movie “The Blues Brothers” and her switch to Arista Records. Franklin collaborated with such pop and soul artists as Luther Vandross, Elton John, Whitney Houston and George Michael, with whom she recorded a No. 1 single, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me).” Her 1985 album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who” received some of her best reviews and included such hits as the title track and “Freeway of Love.”

Critics consistently praised Franklin’s singing but sometimes questioned her material; she covered songs by Stephen Sondheim, Bread, the Doobie Brothers. For Aretha, anything she performed was “soul.”

From her earliest recording sessions at Columbia, when she asked to sing “Over the Rainbow,” she defied category. The 1998 Grammys gave her a chance to demonstrate her range. Franklin performed “Respect,” then, with only a few minutes’ notice, filled in for an ailing Luciano Pavarotti and drew rave reviews for her rendition of “Nessun Dorma,” a stirring aria for tenors from Puccini’s “Turandot.”

“I’m sure many people were surprised, but I’m not there to prove anything,” Franklin told The Associated Press. “Not necessary.”

Fame never eclipsed Franklin’s charitable works, or her loyalty to Detroit.

Franklin sang the national anthem at Super Bowl in her hometown in 2006, after grousing that Detroit’s rich musical legacy was being snubbed when the Rolling Stones were chosen as halftime performers.

“I didn’t think there was enough (Detroit representation) by any means,” she said. “And it was my feeling, ‘How dare you come to Detroit, a city of legends — musical legends, plural — and not ask one or two of them to participate?’ That’s not the way it should be.”

Franklin did most of her extensive touring by bus after Redding’s death in a 1967 plane crash, and a rough flight to Detroit in 1982 left her with a fear of flying that anti-anxiety tapes and classes couldn’t help. She told Time in 1998 that the custom bus was a comfortable alternative: “You can pull over, go to Red Lobster. You can’t pull over at 35,000 feet.”

She only released a few albums over the past two decades, including “A Rose is Still a Rose,” which featured songs by Sean “Diddy” Combs, Lauryn Hill and other contemporary artists, and “So Damn Happy,” for which Franklin wrote the gratified title ballad. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” came out in 1999, when she was in her 50s. But she always made it clear that her story would continue.

“Music is my thing, it’s who I am. I’m in it for the long run,” she told The Associated Press in 2008. “I’ll be around, singing, ‘What you want, baby I got it.’ Having fun all the way.”

Jury to begin deliberating in Manafort financial fraud trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Paul Manafort lied to keep himself flush with cash for his luxurious lifestyle and lied some more to procure millions in bank loans when his income dropped off, prosecutors told jurors Wednesday in closing arguments at the former Trump campaign chairman’s financial fraud trial. Jurors will begin deliberations Thursday.

In his defense, Manafort’s attorneys told jurors to question the entirety of the prosecution’s case as they sought to tarnish the credibility of Manafort’s longtime protege — and government witness — Rick Gates.

The conflicting strategies played out over several hours of argument that capped nearly three weeks of testimony in the first courtroom test for special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The verdict, now in the hands of 12 jurors, will provide a measure of the special counsel’s ability to make charges stick.

And while the case doesn’t involve allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination by the Trump campaign, it has been closely watched by President Donald Trump as he seeks to publicly undermine Mueller’s probe through a barrage of attacks on Twitter and through his lawyers.

In the closing arguments, prosecutor Greg Andres said the government’s case boils down to “Mr. Manafort and his lies.”

“When you follow the trail of Mr. Manafort’s money, it is littered with lies,” Andres said as he made his final argument that the jury should find Manafort guilty of 18 felony counts.

Attorneys for Manafort, who is accused of tax evasion and bank fraud, spoke next, arguing against his guilt by saying he left the particulars of his finances to other people, including Gates.

Defense attorney Richard Westling noted that Manafort employed a team of accountants, bookkeepers and tax preparers, a fact he said showed his client wasn’t trying to hide anything. Westling also painted the prosecutions’ case as consisting of cherry-picked evidence that doesn’t show jurors the full picture.

“None of the banks involved reported Manafort’s activities as suspicious,” he said, saying Manafort’s dealings only drew scrutiny when Mueller’s investigators started asking questions.

Westling questioned whether prosecutors had proven Manafort willfully violated the law, pointing to documents and emails that the defense lawyer said may well show numerical errors or sloppy bookkeeping or even false information on Manafort’s tax returns but no overt fraud.

During the prosecution’s arguments, jurors took notes as Manafort primarily directed his gaze at a computer screen where documents were shown. The screen showed emails written by Manafort that contained some of the most damning evidence that he was aware of the fraud and not simply a victim of underlings who managed his financial affairs.

Andres highlighted one email in which he said Manafort sent an inflated statement of his income to bank officers reviewing a loan application. He highlighted another in which Manafort acknowledged his control of one of more than 30 holding companies in Cyprus that prosecutors say he used to funnel more than $60 million he earned advising politicians in Ukraine.

Prosecutors say Manafort falsely declared some of that money to be loans rather than income to keep from paying taxes on it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, a loan is not income, and income is not a loan. You do not need to be a tax expert to understand this,” Andres said.

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege, he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.

Manafort chose not to testify or call any witnesses in his defense. His lawyers have tried to blame their client’s financial mistakes on Gates, calling him a liar and philanderer.

Gates, who struck a plea deal with prosecutors, told jurors he helped conceal millions of dollars in foreign income and submitted fake mortgage and tax documents. He was also forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.

Andres said the government isn’t asking jurors to like Gates or take everything he said at “face value.” He said the testimony of other witnesses and the hundreds of documents are enough to convict Manafort on tax evasion and bank fraud charges.

“Does the fact that Mr. Gates had an affair 10 years ago make Mr. Manafort any less guilty?” Andres asked, noting that Manafort didn’t choose a “Boy Scout” to aid a criminal scheme.

Referring to charts compiled by an IRS accounting specialist, Andres told jurors that Manafort declared only some of his foreign income on his federal income tax returns and repeatedly failed to disclose millions of dollars that streamed into the U.S. to pay for luxury items, services and property.

Andres said Manafort should have been well aware he was committing crime each time he signed tax and financial documents indicating that he had no foreign accounts to declare. “Mr. Manafort knew the law and he violated it anyway,” Andres said.

In a brief rebuttal after defense arguments, Andres said the defense “wants to make this case about Rick Gates,” but hasn’t explained “the dozens of documents” Manafort’s name is on.

The argument was in response to the arguments made by Manafort attorney Kevin Downing, who split the closing argument with Westling.

Downing told jurors that the government was so desperate to make a case against Manafort that it gave a sweetheart plea deal to Gates, and he would say whatever was necessary so it would not recommend he serve jail time.

“Mr. Gates, how he was able to get the deal he got, I have no idea,” Downing said.

Several times during their arguments, Downing and Westling referred to the prosecution as the “office of special counsel” and suggested that Manafort was the victim of selective prosecution, an argument the judge had specifically ruled they couldn’t make.

The move drew a quick objection outside the presence of the jurors by Andres. In response, Ellis attempted to repair any improper prejudice created by the defense attorneys, instructing jurors to put aside any argument about the government’s motive in bringing the case.

Leaving the courthouse, Downing said he felt “very good” about Manafort’s chances of being acquitted.

“Mr. Manafort was very happy with how things went today,” Downing said.

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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Church sex scandal: Abuse victims want a full reckoning

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   Six Roman Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania joined the list this week of those around the U.S. that have been forced to face the ugly truth about child-molesting priests in their ranks.

But in dozens of other dioceses, there has been no reckoning, leading victims to wonder if the church will ever truly take responsibility or be held accountable.

“It happens everywhere, so it’s not really so much a question of where has it happened, but instead, where has word gotten out, where is information about it accessible?” said Terry McKiernan, founder of BishopAccountability.org, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit group that tracks clergy sexual abuse cases.

Since the crisis exploded in Boston in 2002, dioceses around the country have dealt with similar revelations of widespread sexual abuse, with many of them forced to come clean by aggressive plaintiffs’ attorneys, assertive prosecutors or relentless journalists.

In a few instances, namely in Tucson, Arizona, and Seattle, dioceses voluntarily named names.

Dioceses in Boston; Los Angeles; Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Denver; San Diego; Louisville, Kentucky; and Dallas have all paid multimillion-dollar settlements to victims. Fifteen dioceses and three Catholic religious orders have filed for bankruptcy to deal with thousands of lawsuits.

Still, only about 40 of the nearly 200 dioceses in the U.S. have released lists of priests accused of abusing children, and there have been only nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the U.S., according to BishopAccountability.org.

In many of the dioceses that have been examined, the numbers have been staggering: in the six Pennsylvania dioceses, 300 abusive priests and more than 1,000 victims since the 1940s; in Boston, at least 250 priests and more than 500 victims.

All told, U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church going back to 1950.

Phil Saviano, a Massachusetts man who said he was sexually abused by a priest in 1960s beginning at age 11, said he hopes the grand jury report in Pennsylvania will prompt attorneys general in other states to conduct similar investigations. He said he doubts dioceses will release names unless forced to do so.

“My personal feeling is that none of them are going to come forward voluntarily. It’s always going to take some pressure from the public, the parishioners or legal authorities,” said Saviano, whose story was one of many exposed by The Boston Globe in its 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning series and later in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight.”

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who estimates he has represented 3,000 clergy sex abuse victims from around the world since the 1990s, said he has sent letters detailing about two dozen allegations of abuse against priests from dioceses in Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island and received similar responses from all three.

“They say, ‘We feel very sorry for your clients, but it’s outside the statute of limitations,’” Garabedian said, adding, “The church knows there is no legal recourse, so the church says it will not act responsibly and will not act appropriately.”

In many states, statutes of limitations allow people abused as children to file civil claims up until only age 21 or slightly older. In Massachusetts and other states hit hard by the crisis, those statutes were amended after the scandal erupted. But in many other states, the laws have remained unchanged.

The Pennsylvania grand jury said that in almost every case there, the statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges has run out.

Echoing what was discovered in Boston and other places, the grand jury report accused senior church officials of hushing up allegations against priests, in some cases by shuffling them from parish to parish.

In a statement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People expressed sorrow over the Pennsylvania findings and said: “We are committed to work in determined ways so that such abuse cannot happen.”

In recent years, the U.S. bishops have adopted widespread reforms, including mandatory criminal background checks for priests and lay employees, a requirement that abuse allegations be reported to law enforcement, the suspension of priests while they are being investigated, and permanent removal from ministry when accusations are substantiated.

The Rev. Thomas Reese, a Jesuit priest who is a senior analyst for the Religion News Service, noted such reforms but said the Pennsylvania grand jury report should be a “wake-up call” to other dioceses that they need to hire outside groups to do independent investigations, then must publish the results. But he said he is doubtful that will happen.

“A lot of bishops feel, ‘Hey, that was done before I got here. I regret that it happened, I’m sorry that it happened, but we’ve changed, this is no longer happening under my watch because of the procedures we’ve put in place,’” Reese said.

“If they had just gotten all of the dirt out at the very beginning, all at the same time, then we wouldn’t be suffering death by 1,000 cuts. It’s just place after place, and frankly, it’s the same story in every place.”

Brennan: Trump worked with Russians and now he’s desperate

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Former CIA Director John Brennan said Thursday that President Donald Trump yanked his security clearance because his campaign colluded with the Russians to sway the 2016 election and is now desperate to end the special counsel’s investigation.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Brennan cites press reports and Trump’s own goading of Russia during the campaign to find Democrat Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

Trump himself drew a direct connection between the revocation of Brennan’s clearance and the Russia probe, telling The Wall Street Journal the investigation is a “sham,” and “these people led it!”

“So I think it’s something that had to be done,” Trump said.

Brennan wrote that Trump’s claims of no collusion with Russia are “hogwash” and that the only question remaining is whether the collusion amounts to a “constituted criminally liable conspiracy.”

“Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him,” he wrote.

President Donald Trump is revoking the security clearance of former CIA director John Brennan, who served in the Obama administration. (Aug. 15)

Brennan’s loss of a security clearance was an unprecedented act of retribution against a vocal critic and politicizes the federal government’s security clearance process. Former CIA directors and other top national security officials are typically allowed to keep their clearances, at least for some period, so they can be in a position to advise their successors and to hold certain jobs.

Trump said Wednesday he is reviewing the security clearances of several other former top intelligence and law enforcement officials, including former FBI Director James Comey. All are critics of the president or are people whom Trump appears to believe are against him.

Democrats called it an “enemies list,” a reference to the Nixon White House, which kept a list of President Richard Nixon’s political opponents to be targeted with punitive measures.

That connection was not in a statement issued earlier Wednesday in which Trump denounced Brennan’s criticism of him and spoke anxiously of “the risks posed by his erratic conduct and behavior.” The president said he was fulfilling his “constitutional responsibility to protect the nation’s classified information.”

Trump, his statement read by his press secretary, accused Brennan of having “leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations, wild outbursts on the internet and television about this administration.”

“Mr. Brennan’s lying and recent conduct characterized by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nations’ most closely held secrets,” Trump said.

In the Journal interview, Trump said he was prepared to yank Brennan’s clearance last week but that it was too “hectic.” The president was on an extended working vacation at his New Jersey golf club last week.

Brennan has indeed been deeply critical of Trump’s conduct, calling his performance at a press conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland “nothing short of treasonous.”

Brennan said Wednesday that he had not heard from the CIA or the Office of the Director of National Intelligence that his security clearance was being revoked, but learned it when the White House announced it. There is no requirement that a president has to notify top intelligence officials of his plan to revoke a security clearance.

Trump’s statement said the Brennan issue raises larger questions about the practice of allowing former officials to maintain their security clearances, and said that others officials’ were under review.

They include Comey; James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence; former CIA Director Michael Hayden; former national security adviser Susan Rice; and Andrew McCabe, who served as Trump’s deputy FBI director until he was fired in March.

Also on the list: fired FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from the Russia investigation over anti-Trump text messages; former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, with whom Strzok exchanged messages; and senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, whom Trump recently accused on Twitter of “helping disgraced Christopher Steele ‘find dirt on Trump.’”

Ohr was friends with Steele, the former British intelligence officer commissioned by an American political research firm to explore Trump’s alleged ties with the Russian government. He is the only current government employee on the list.

At least two of the former officials, Comey and McCabe, do not currently have security clearances, and none of the eight receive intelligence briefings. Trump’s concern apparently is that their former status gives special weight to their statements, both to Americans and foreign foes.

Former intelligence officials said Trump has moved from threatening to revoke security clearances of former intelligence officials who have not been involved in the Russia investigation to former officials who did work on the probe. They spoke on condition of anonymity to share private conversations Trump has had with people who have worked in the field.

The CIA referred questions to the White House.

Clapper, reacting on CNN, called Trump’s actions “unprecedented,” but said he didn’t plan to stop speaking out.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s press secretary, insisted the White House wasn’t targeting only Trump critics. But Trump did not order a review of the clearance held by former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who was fired from the White House for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about his conversations with Russian officials and later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Democrats, and even some Republicans, lined up to denounce the president’s move, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., slamming it as a “stunning abuse of power.” And California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, tweeted, “An enemies list is ugly, undemocratic and un-American.”

Several Republicans also weighed in, with Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., saying, “Unless there’s something tangible that I’m unaware of, it just, as I’ve said before, feels like a banana republic kind of thing.”

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Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann, Zeke Miller, Lisa Mascaro and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj and Flaherty at https://twitter.com/AnneKFlaherty .

Afghan IS branch claims deadly attack on Shiites in Kabul

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — As Afghanistan’s Shiites mourned their dead and held funeral services on Thursday, the Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the horrific suicide bombing the previous day in Kabul that targeted a Shiite neighborhood, killing 34 students.

Grieving families gathered to bury their dead but even amid the somber atmosphere there was no respite from violence.

Gunmen besieged a compound belonging to the Afghan intelligence service in a northwestern Kabul neighborhood early Thursday, opening fire as Afghan security forces moved in to cut them off. The Islamic State group, in a posting on its Aamaq News Agency, claimed more than 200 people were killed or wounded in Wednesday’s attack.

The bomber, who had walked into a classroom in a one-room building at a Shiite educational center in the neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi, where he set off his explosives, was identified as “the martyrdom-seeking brother Abdul Raouf al-Khorasani.” Afghanistan’s IS affiliate is known as The Islamic State in Khorasan Province, the ancient name of an area that encompassed parts of present-day Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia.

The bombing also wounded 57 students, according to Health Ministry spokesman Wahid Majroh. Earlier on Thursday, the ministry revised an earlier death toll from the attack down to 34, not 48.

Most of the victims were young men and women, high school graduates preparing for university entrance exams in the Shiite area’s educational center. Authorities launched an investigation to determine how the bomber had managed to sneak into the compound in the neighborhood, which has its own guards.

Kabul hospitals were completely overwhelmed in the immediate aftermath of the attack as officials collected data on the casualties, leading to the confusion and the initial wrong toll.

The Dasht-e-Barchi area is populated by members of Afghanistan’s minority ethnic Hazaras — a Shiite community that has in the past been targeted by similar large-scale attacks.

The Islamic State group, which considers Shiites to be heretics, frequently targets them, attacking their mosques, schools and cultural centers. In the past two years, there have been at least 13 attacks on the Shiite community in Kabul alone.

Fifteen of the victims’ bodies were taken Thursday to a Hazara community compound in Kabul where a mass funeral service was being held. The remaining victims will be taken to their villages to be buried there, said Gulam Hassan, the cousin of one of the victims.

The attacks, which come at the end of more than a week of assaults that have left scores of Afghan troops and civilians dead, show how militants are still able to stage large-scale attacks — even in the capital of Kabul — and undermine efforts by Afghan forces to provide security and stability on their own.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has condemned the “terrorist” attack on the Shiite center in Kabul that “martyred and wounded the innocent” — students attending class — and ordered an investigation into the attack.

In a Kabul hospital on Thursday, Anifa Ahmadi sat by the bedside of her 17-year-old daughter Sima, who was wounded in the suicide bombing.

Sima was in the front row of the classroom in the single-room building where the explosion occurred.

“I had told her and told her, ‘Don’t go to school. We are under attack everywhere. No place is safe for us.’ But she said ‘No, no, no’,” the mother said.

Sima appeared undeterred despite injuries to her legs and arms and said she would go back to school. “I won’t let anyone stop me, I will resist all terrorist attacks to have the future I want,” she said.

Nahida Rahimi, a doctor at Kabul’s Isteqlal Hospital, where some of the wounded are being treated, said a mother told her she had lost a son in Wednesday’s bombing after already losing another a year earlier in another suicide bombing, also in Kabul, that targeted Shiites.

“We were both crying,” the doctor said.

Meanwhile, police officer Abdul Rahman told The Associated Press from the location of the morning siege in Kabul that the gunmen were holed up in a partially constructed building near the compound from where they were opening fire.

The shooting — which underscored the near-daily, persistent threats in war-battered Afghanistan — was sporadic and it wasn’t immediately clear how many gunmen are involved in the assault. Afghan security personnel have surrounded the building and have the situation under control, he said.

Kabul’s police spokesman, Hashmat Stanekzi, said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Italy says death toll will mount in Genoa bridge collapse

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GENOA, Italy (AP) — The death toll from the collapse of a highway bridge in the Italian city of Genoa that is already confirmed to have claimed 39 lives will certainly rise, a senior official said Thursday.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told reporters: “Unfortunately, the toll will increase, that’s inevitable.” as searchers continued to comb through tons of jagged steel, concrete and dozens of vehicles that plunged as much as 45 meters (150 feet) into a dry river bed on Tuesday, the eve of Italy’s main summer holiday.

Salvini declined to cite a number of the missing, saying that would be “supposition,” but separately Genoa Chief Prosecutor Francesco Cozzi told reporters there could be between 10 and 20 people still buried under the rubble.

“The search and rescue operations will continue until we find all those people that are listed as missing,” Sonia Noci, a spokeswoman for Genoa firefighters, told The Associated Press.

Italy is planning a state funeral for the dead in the port city Saturday, which will be marked as a day of national mourning. The service will be held in a pavilion on the industrial city’s fair grounds and led by Genoa’s archbishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella has said the collapse is an “absurd” catastrophe that has stricken the entire nation.

At least six of the dead are foreigners — four French citizens and two Albanians.

Authorities say they don’t know how many vehicles were on the bridge when it collapsed in a violent rain storm.

Cozzi has said the investigation of the cause is focusing on possible inadequate maintenance of the 1967 Morandi Bridge or possible design flaws.

Premier Giuseppe Conte says his government won’t wait until prosecutors finish investigating the collapse to withdraw the concession from the main private company that maintains Italy’s highways, Atlantia.

The bridge links two heavily traveled highways, one leading to France, the other to Milan.

A 20 million-euro ($22.7 million) project to upgrade the bridge’s safety had already been approved, with public bids to be submitted by September. According to business daily Il Sole, improvement work would have involved two weight-bearing columns that support the bridge — including one that collapsed Tuesday.

The bridge, considered innovative when it opened in 1967 for its use of concrete around its cables, was long due for an upgrade, especially since it carried more traffic than its designers had envisioned. Some architects have said the choice of encasing its cables in reinforced concrete was risky since it’s harder to detect corrosion of the metal cables inside.

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Frances D’Emilio reported from Rome. Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.

Follow D’Emilio at http://www.twitter.com/fdemilio

Business: European stock markets pick up after losses in Asia

TOKYO (AP) — Stock markets are higher in European trading as Turkey’s currency crisis abated somewhat and after a downbeat day in Asia. Benchmarks in Germany and France rose Thursday while shares in Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong declined.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX added 0.5 percent to 12,221 and in France the CAC 40 advanced 0.6 percent to 5,338. Britain’s FTSE 100 climbed 0.6 percent to 7,543. The futures contract for the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.8 percent while the contract for the S&P 500 rose 0.5 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 0.1 percent to 22,192.04 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 0.8 percent to 27,100.06. The Shanghai Composite index sank 0.7 percent to 2,705.19. South Korea’s Kospi reopened from a holiday and tumbled 0.8 percent to 2,240.80. Australia’s S&P ASX 200 was flat at 6,328.30. Shares fell in Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

TENCENT SURPRISE: An unexpected drop in profits for Chinese tech giant Tencent rattled investors, adding to recent concerns about the health of China’s economy. Tencent, a gaming and messaging company, is the most valuable technology company in China. Jefferies & Co. analyst Karen Chan said Tencent’s revenue was also disappointing, mostly because of weak results from its mobile gaming business. Tencent’s stock fell 3.0 percent in Hong Kong on Thursday.

CHINA TRADE: In a rare sign of progress, Beijing said it was sending a trade envoy to Washington in renewed efforts to resolve the worsening tariff dispute with the Trump administration. The delegation led by a deputy commerce minister will visit in late August to discuss “issues of mutual concern,” the Commerce Ministry said, giving no details of a possible agenda. The two governments are poised to impose a new round of tariff hikes on $16 billion of each other’s goods next week in their worsening conflict over Beijing’s technology policy.

TURKEY’S TROUBLES: The Turkish lira rebounded from record losses after Qatar pledged $15 billion in investments to help Turkey’s economy. The currency strengthened some 2 percent against the dollar, trading at around 5.85 per dollar, hours before Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak was scheduled to update international investors about the economy. Turkey’s woes have shaken currencies of other developing economies: India’s rupee was trading at new record lows of around 70.31 to the dollar.

ENERGY: U.S. crude stabilized, edging down 2 cents to $64.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, the standard for international oil prices, picked up 10 cents to $70.86 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.85 yen from 110.72 yen. The euro rose to $1.1378 from $1.1346.

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Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Thursday, August 16:

1. China and U.S. to Resume Trade Talks

China said it will hold a fresh round of trade talks with the United States in Washington later this month, offering a glimmer of hope for progress in resolving a conflict that has set world markets on edge.

A Chinese delegation led by Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen will meet with U.S. representatives led by Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs David Malpass, the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on its website.

The upcoming meeting, which is lower-level compared with four previous rounds of talks, comes at the invitation of the U.S., according to the statement.

The world’s two largest economies have implemented several rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs on each others goods since the start of the year and have threatened further tariffs on exports worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

2. Fresh Trade Talks Spur Relief Bounce in Global Stocks

Global stocks were mostly higher, following the positive overnight developments between the U.S. and China on the trade front.

Asian shares ended mostly lower, but pared some of the steeper losses seen earlier amid easing fears of a trade war. The Shanghai Composite Index closed down around 0.6%, having earlier fallen by as much as 1.9%.

In Europe, nearly all of the region’s major bourses were trading higher, with the exception of Italy, as appetite for riskier assets improved on hopes of a trade war thaw.

Italy’s FTSE MIB sank 1.6% to its lowest level since April 2017 as shares in motorway operator Atlantia (MI:ATL) plunged 25% following the deadly collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa earlier this week.

On Wall Street, U.S. stock futures surged, suggesting a rebound from the previous session’s sharp decline.

The blue-chip Dow futures indicated a gain of 105 points, or around 0.4%, by 5:45AM ET, the S&P 500 futures rose 11 points, or around 0.4%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures pointed to an increase of 42 points, or roughly 0.6%.

Major indexes fell sharply on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 posting its biggest percentage drop since late June.

3. Walmart Reports Earnings

Walmart is one of the last notable names slated to report fiscal second-quarter results before U.S. markets open, as the earnings season continues to wind down.

The retail giant is expected to report earnings of $1.22 per share on revenue of $126.03 billion, according to estimates.

U.S. same-store sales are expected to rise 2.2%, excluding gas.

Investors will be closely watching the results to see whether its efforts to take on Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) in the online retail space have paid off.

Shares of Walmart (NYSE:WMT) were trading little changed in premarket.

Other companies reporting results ahead of the opening bell include JC Penney (NYSE:JCP), and MSG (NYSE:MSG).

After the close, Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA), Applied Materials (NASDAQ:AMAT), and Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) are on deck.

 

4. Dollar Slips From 13-Month High

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar eased from 13-month highs against a basket of major currencies, as risk aversion eased on news that a Chinese delegation will travel to the U.S. in late August to hold trade talks.

The U.S. dollar index was down 0.15% to 96.45, pulling back from 96.76 on Wednesday, which was the most since June 27, 2017.

In the bond market, U.S. Treasury prices ticked lower, pushing yields higher across the curve, with the benchmark 10-year yield ticking up to 2.88%, while the Fed-sensitive 2-year note rose to 2.625%.

On the data front, investors will get the weekly report on initial jobless claims as well as data on manufacturing activity from the Philly Fed and a report on housing starts and building permits for the month of the July.

Elsewhere in foreign exchange markets, the euro pulled away from Wednesday’s 14-month lows, with EUR/USD advancing 0.2% to 1.1370.

Many emerging market currencies, such as the South African rand and Russian rouble also rose, clawing back some of Wednesday’s losses thanks to easing fears over the knock-on effects from a slide in the Turkish lira.

The lira rose for a third straight session against the U.S. dollar supported by reports that Qatar would invest $15 billion in Turkey.

China’s offshore yuan, which has been rough barometer of risk sentiment and fallen in recent months on concerns about the impact on its economy of the trade conflict with the United States, gained 0.7% to 6.9001. That compared to the 6.9500 touched overnight.

5. Copper Leads Commodities Rebound

In commodity markets, industrial metals, such as copper, rebounded after a hammering on Wednesday as the potential for a breakthrough in the trade standoff between China and the U.S. boosted appetite for riskier assets.

Copper futures jumped 1.8% to $2.606 a pound, the biggest increase in more than three weeks. The red metal slumped to a 14-month low of $2.552 a day earlier.

Gold was also higher at $1,186.30 an ounce, having dropped to an overnight low of $1,167.10, a level not seen since January 2017.

Oil prices also recouped some of the previous day’s losses, though gains were limited amid worries over a slowdown in global demand.

Midterm 2018: Night of firsts as Democrats pick diverse slate of nominees

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — In a night of firsts, Democrats in Vermont’s primary chose the nation’s first transgender gubernatorial nominee. In Minnesota, they picked a woman who would be the first Somali-American member of Congress. Connecticut Democrats nominated a candidate who could become the first black woman from the state to serve in Congress.

Democrats embraced diversity in Tuesday primaries, while Republicans in Minnesota rejected a familiar face of the GOP old guard in favor of a rising newcomer aligned with President Donald Trump.

But Minnesota Democrats also backed a national party leader who is facing accusations of domestic violence. He has denied the allegations, yet they threaten to undercut enthusiasm in his state and beyond.

On the other side, Trump tightened his grip on the modern-day Republican Party as the turbulent 2018 primary season lurched toward its finale. A one-time Trump critic, former two-term Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, lost a comeback attempt he was expected to win.

All but 10 states picked their candidates for November’s general election by the time the day’s final votes were counted. While the full political battlefield isn’t quite set, the stakes are clear: Democrats are working to topple Republican control of Congress and governors’ offices across the nation.

The 2018 primary season roars through Wisconsin and Minnesota, two states where President Trump’s appeal among working-class voters threatens to upend decades long political trends. (Aug. 14)

Four states held primaries Tuesday: Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Kansas’ gubernatorial primary, which was held last week, was finalized when Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded defeat.

In Minnesota, Republican County Commissioner Jeff Johnson defeated Pawlenty, who once called Trump “unhinged and unfit” and was hoping to regain his old post. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker, endorsed just this week by Trump, won the right to seek a third term.

The president’s pick for Kansas governor, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, scored a delayed victory against Colyer, who became the first incumbent governor to fall this season.

In Vermont, Democrat Christine Hallquist won the Democratic nomination in her quest to become the nation’s first transgender governor. The former chief executive of Vermont Electric Cooperative bested a field of four Democrats that included a 14-year-old.

While she made history on Tuesday, Hallquist faces a difficult path to the governor’s mansion. Republican incumbent Phil Scott remains more popular with Democrats than members of his own party in the solidly liberal state.

Vermont Democrats also nominated Sen. Bernie Sanders, who hasn’t ruled out a second presidential run in 2020, for a third term in the Senate. The 76-year-old democratic socialist won the Democratic nomination, but he is expected to turn it down and run as an independent.

Democrats appeared particularly motivated in Wisconsin, where eight candidates lined up for the chance to take on Walker.

Walker’s strong anti-union policies made him a villain to Democrats long before Trump’s rise. State schools chief Tony Evers, who has clashed with Walker at times, won the Democratic nomination and will take on Walker this fall.

Once a target of Trump criticism, Walker gained the president’s endorsement in a tweet Monday night calling him “a tremendous Governor who has done incredible things for that Great State.”

Trump also starred, informally at least, in Wisconsin’s Senate primaries as Republicans try to deny Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin a second term.

Longtime state lawmaker Leah Vukmir, who was backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan, won the Republican primary, even after struggling to explain footage recently unearthed from 2016 in which she called Trump “offensive to everyone.”

Tuesday’s primaries served as a test of Democratic enthusiasm in the upper Midwest, a region that has long been associated with liberal politics but has been trending red. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1984.

It was much the same in Minnesota, where Trump lost by less than 3 percentage points in a state that hasn’t backed a Republican presidential contender since 1972.

Nearly twice as many Minnesota Democrats as Republicans cast ballots in their parties’ respective gubernatorial primaries.

Pawlenty had been considered the heavy favorite in a two-person Republican contest for his old job. But he struggled to adapt to a GOP that had changed drastically since he left office in 2011 and flamed out early in a 2012 presidential bid.

The former two-term governor strained to live down his October 2016 comment that Trump was “unhinged and unfit for the presidency,” remarks that incensed many Republican voters in Minnesota and beyond. Johnson, his underfunded opponent, circulated Pawlenty’s critique far and wide, telling voters that he was a steadfast supporter of the president.

Johnson will face Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, who won a three-way race for his party’s nomination.

Three Minnesota women won Senate nominations, including incumbent Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith.

Smith, who had been appointed to replace Democrat Al Franken, will face Republican state Sen. Karin Housley, ensuring a woman will hold the seat once held by Franken, who left Congress amid allegations of sexual misconduct toward women.

Nationwide, a record number of women are running this year for governor and Congress.

Meanwhile, a new scandal threatened to dampen Democratic enthusiasm.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chairman, captured his party’s nomination in the race to become the state’s attorney general. That’s after Ellison’s candidacy was rocked by allegations over the weekend of domestic violence amid a broader national outcry against sexual misconduct by powerful men in business, entertainment and politics.

Ellison has denied a former girlfriend’s allegations that he dragged her off a bed while screaming obscenities during a 2016 relationship she said was plagued by “narcissistic abuse.”

Also in Minnesota, Democrat Ilhan Omar, the nation’s first Somali-American legislator, won her party’s congressional primary in the race to replace Ellison.

In Connecticut, Republican businessman Bob Stefanowski emerged from a field of five Republicans seeking to replace the unpopular outgoing governor, Democrat Dan Malloy. Former gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont won the Democratic nomination.

Connecticut Democrats picked former teacher of the year, Jahana Hayes, to run for the seat vacated by Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, who is leaving Congress after bungling sexual abuse claims levied against a former staffer. Hayes could become the first black woman from the state to serve in Congress.

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Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, contributed to this report.

Manafort jury to hear closing arguments in his fraud trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Closing arguments were expected Wednesday in the trial of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman accused of tax evasion and bank fraud.

Manafort’s defense rested its case Tuesday without calling any witnesses. Manafort himself chose not to testify.

It’s the first trial to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, although the case didn’t address allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller has been tasked with investigating those allegations, as well as possible collusion with the Trump campaign.

But as a result of the ongoing probe, Mueller’s legal team says it discovered Manafort hiding millions of dollars in income he received advising Ukrainian politicians. The defense has tried to blame Manafort’s financial mistakes on his former deputy, Rick Gates. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they’ve sought to undermine his testimony.

Manafort’s decision not to testify and not to call witnesses was announced by his attorney, Kevin Downing, before the jury on Tuesday afternoon. Asked by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III whether he wished to testify in his defense, Manafort responded: “No, sir.”

The announcement came after a more than two-hour hearing that was closed to the public. The judge has not given any explanation for the sealed proceeding, only noting that a transcript of it would become public after Manafort’s case concludes.

After announcing that they were resting their case, Downing told reporters outside the courthouse that they did so because they believe “the government has not met its burden of proof.”

Also Tuesday, Ellis rejected a defense motion that the case should be dismissed on those same grounds. Manafort’s lawyers asked the judge to toss out all the charges, but they focused in particular on four bank-fraud charges.

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising the money he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.

Manafort’s lawyers argued there is no way that one of the banks, Federal Savings Bank, could have been defrauded because its chairman, Stephen Calk, knew full well that Manafort’s finances were in disarray but approved the loan to Manafort anyway. Witnesses testified that Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a post in the Trump administration.

Ellis, in making his ruling, said the defense made a “significant” argument, but he ultimately ruled the question “is an issue for the jury.”

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday, closing two weeks of a testimony in which they introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they sought to prove Manafort’s guilt on 18 separate criminal counts. The prosecution depicted Manafort as using the millions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts to fund a luxurious lifestyle.

The case against Manafort does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign, the main thrust of Mueller’s investigation.

Still, the proceedings have drawn President Donald Trump’s attention — and prompted tweets — as the president has worked to undermine the standing of the Mueller investigation in the public square.

Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who led the campaign from May to August 2016 with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and has provided much of the drama of the trial so far.

Gates testified that he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to lower his tax bill and fund his lavish lifestyle. During testimony, Gates was also forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.

After jurors were excused on Tuesday, lawyers for both sides conferred with the judge in open court on the language Ellis will use to instruct the jurors in their deliberations.

The only dispute was about what jurors should be told about how to interpret questions and comments interjected by the judge during the course of the trial.

Prosecutors, who have been frustrated by Ellis’ tendency to interrupt and chide prosecutors in front of the jury, sought stronger language to make clear that jurors do not need to adopt any opinions expressed by the judge.

At one point in the discussion, Ellis asked prosecutors whether they thought he had ever interjected his own opinions. Prosecutor Greg Andres, who has had the strongest confrontations with Ellis, said “yes.”

Ellis eventually came up with compromise language that was agreeable to both sides.

Death toll hits 39 in Italy bridge collapse; blame begins

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GENOA, Italy (AP) — Italian emergency workers pulled two more bodies out of tons of broken concrete and twisted steel Wednesday after a highway bridge collapsed in Genoa, raising the death toll in the disaster to at least 39 people.

The collapse of the Morandi Bridge sent dozens of cars and three trucks plunging as much as 45 meters (150 feet) to the ground Tuesday as many Italian families were on the road ahead of Wednesday’s major summer holiday. The collapse took place after a violent storm.

Civil protection chief Angelo Borrelli confirmed Wednesday that 39 people had died and 15 were injured. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said three children were among the dead.

Working with heavy equipment, rescuers climbed over concrete slabs with sniffer dogs all through the night and into the day, searching for survivors or bodies. Borrelli said 1,000 of them were at the scene.

Investigators, meanwhile, were working to determine what caused an 80-meter (260-foot) long stretch of highway to break off from the 45-meter (150-foot) high bridge in the northwestern port city.

Italian politicians, for their part, were trying to find who to blame for the deadly tragedy.

The 1967 bridge, considered innovative in its time for its use of concrete around its cables, was long due for an upgrade, especially since the structure was more heavily trafficked than its designers had envisioned. One expert in such construction, Antonio Brencich at the University of Genoa, had previously called the bridge “a failure of engineering.”

An unidentified woman who was standing below the bridge told RAI state TV that it crumbled Tuesday as if it were a mound of baking flour.

Engineering experts, noting that the bridge was 51 years old, said corrosion and weather could have been factors in its collapse.

The Italian CNR civil engineering society said structures dating from when the Morandi Bridge was built had surpassed their lifespan. It called for a “Marshall Plan” to repair or replace tens of thousands of Italian bridges and viaducts built in the 1950s and 1960s. It said that simply updating or reinforcing the bridges would be more expensive than destroying and rebuilding them with new technology.

Mehdi Kashani, an associate professor in structural mechanics at the University of Southampton in the U.K., said pressure from “dynamic loads,” such as heavy traffic or strong winds, could have resulted in “fatigue damage” in the bridge’s parts.

Italy’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, Danilo Toninelli, said there was a plan pending to spend 20 million euro ($22.7 million) on bids for significant safety work on the bridge.

While the collapse’s cause is yet to be determined, political bickering moved into high gear Wednesday.

Toninelli, from the populist 5-Star Movement, threatened in a Facebook post that the state, if necessary, would take direct control of the highway contractor responsible for the bridge if it couldn’t properly care for the roads and bridges it was responsible for.

State radio reported Wednesday that some 5-Star lawmakers in 2013 had questioned the wisdom of an ambitious, expensive infrastructure overhaul program as possibly wasteful, but that a post about that on the Movement’s site was removed Tuesday after the bridge’s collapse.

Within hours after the collapse, Salvini was trying to shift the blame away from Italy’s new populist government, vowing not to let European Union spending strictures on Italy, which is laden with public debt, stop any effort to make the country’s infrastructure safe.

Genoa is a flood-prone city, and officials were warning that the debris from the collapse must be removed as soon as possible. Some of the wreckage landed in a dry riverbed that could flood when the rainy season resumes in a few weeks.

At the Vatican, Pope Francis led prayers Wednesday for the victims of the Genoa bridge collapse.

Speaking to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square, Francis expressed his “spiritual closeness” to the victims, the injured and their families, and the hundreds of local people who were forced to evacuate their homes in the area.

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D’Emilio reported from Rome. Simone Somekh in Rome and Danica Kirka in London contributed.

British police: crash suspect is Briton of Sudanese origin

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LONDON (AP) — British authorities said Wednesday they are considering turning the area around Parliament into a pedestrian zone to prevent future vehicle attacks as police searched three properties for clues about the motivation of a man who plowed a car into cyclists and pedestrians, injuring three.

Suspect Salih Khater, a 29-year-old British citizen of Sudanese origin, was arrested at the scene of Tuesday’s crash on suspicion of “the commission, preparation and instigation of acts of terrorism,” police said.

Police said later he was also suspected of attempted murder.

British authorities do not name suspects until they are charged but media and neighbors said the arrested man was Khater. Police confirmed the suspect was a 29-year-old British man originally from Sudan.

Police said they had finished searching an apartment where the suspect had lived in the central England city of Birmingham, as well as another property in the city and a third in Nottingham, about 50 miles (80 kms) away. They continued to search a third Birmingham property.

A Facebook page for a man of the same name says he lives in Birmingham, works as a shop manager, and has studied at Sudan University of Science and Technology. Coventry University in central England said Khater had studied accounting there between September 2017 and May 2018 but was no longer enrolled.

Ahmed Abdi, a neighbor of Khater in Birmingham, said he recognized him from news footage, “and I was shocked.”

“He was very, very quiet and he never spoke to anybody. He would say nothing to nobody,” Abdi said.

London’s Metropolitan Police force said the suspect was not known to counterterrorism officers or the intelligence services.

The suspect was being held at a London police station as detectives traced the movements of the Ford Fiesta which careered across a road, hitting cyclists and pedestrians, then crashed into a security barrier at Parliament. Three people were injured, but none remains in hospital.

Detectives say the car was driven from Birmingham to London late Monday, and drove around the area near Parliament for an hour and a half on Tuesday morning before the rush-hour crash.

The incident appears to be the second in less than 18 months in which a vehicle has been used to attack the heart of Britain’s government. Over the past two decades authorities have tightened security around Parliament with fences, crash barriers and armed police.

Now the rise of vehicle attacks around the world is triggering calls for traffic to be barred from Parliament Square, currently a busy traffic route.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC that the plan presented challenges, but “it’s possible to have a design solution that meets the objectives … in relation to keeping our buildings and our people as safe as we can do, but also not losing what’s wonderful about our city which is a vibrant democracy.”

Police on Tuesday flooded the streets around the iconic neo-Gothic Parliament buildings and cordoned off the area that attracts tourists as well as lawmakers after the crash in front of Parliament’s House of Lords. Police say they are treating the incident as a terrorist attack.

The crash came less than 18 months after an attacker plowed a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing four people, then fatally stabbed a police officer before being shot dead in a courtyard outside Parliament.

Less than three months later, a van rammed into pedestrians on London Bridge before three men abandoned the vehicle and attacked weekend revelers in the nearby Borough Market. Eight people were killed and 48 injured.

In June 2017, a far-right extremist drove a van into a crowd of worshippers leaving a London mosque, killing one man and injuring eight others.

Security officials say that since March 2017 they have foiled 13 Islamist-inspired plots and four far-right plots, and currently have 676 live counterterrorism investigations.

Priests molested 1,000 children in Pennsylvania, report says

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A priest raped a 7-year-old girl while he was visiting her in the hospital after she’d had her tonsils removed. Another priest forced a 9-year-old boy into having oral sex, then rinsed out the boy’s mouth with holy water. One boy was forced to say confession to the priest who sexually abused him.

Those children are among the victims of roughly 300 Roman Catholic priests in Pennsylvania who molested more than 1,000 children — and possibly many more — since the 1940s, according to a sweeping state grand jury report released Tuesday that accused senior church officials, including a man who is now the archbishop of Washington, D.C., of systematically covering up complaints.

The “real number” of abused children and abusive priests might be higher since some secret church records were lost and some victims never came forward, the grand jury said.

While the grand jury said dioceses have established internal processes and seem to refer complaints to law enforcement more promptly, it suggested that important changes are lacking.

“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote in the roughly 900-page report. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.”

Top church officials have mostly been protected and many, including some named in the report, have been promoted, the grand jury said, concluding that “it is too early to close the book on the Catholic Church sex scandal.”

In nearly every case, prosecutors found that the statute of limitations has run out, meaning that criminal charges cannot be filed. More than 100 of the priests are dead. Many others are retired or have been dismissed from the priesthood or put on leave. Authorities charged just two, including a priest who has since pleaded guilty.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the investigation is ongoing.

The investigation of six of Pennsylvania’s eight dioceses— Allentown, Erie, Greensburg, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Scranton — is the most extensive investigation of Catholic clergy abuse by any state, according to victim advocates. The dioceses represent about 1.7 million Catholics.

Until now, there have been just nine investigations by a prosecutor or grand jury of a Catholic diocese or archdiocese in the United States, according to the Massachusetts-based research and advocacy organization, BishopAccountability.org.

The Philadelphia archdiocese and the Johnstown-Altoona diocese were not included in the investigation because they have been the subject of three previous scathing grand jury investigations.

The grand jury heard from dozens of witnesses and reviewed more than a half-million pages of internal diocesan documents, including reports by bishops to Vatican officials disclosing the details of abusive priests that they had not made public or reported to law enforcement.

The grand jury concluded that a succession of Catholic bishops and other diocesan leaders tried to shield the church from bad publicity and financial liability. They failed to report accused clergy to police, used confidentiality agreements to silence victims and sent abusive priests to so-called “treatment facilities,” which “laundered” the priests and “permitted hundreds of known offenders to return to ministry,” the report said.

The conspiracy of silence extended beyond church grounds: police or prosecutors sometimes did not investigate allegations out of deference to church officials or brushed off complaints as outside the statute of limitations, the grand jury said.

Diocese leaders responded Tuesday by expressing sorrow for the victims, stressing how they’ve changed and unveiling, for the first time, a list of priests accused of some sort of sexual misconduct.

James VanSickle of Pittsburgh, who testified he was sexually attacked in 1981 by a priest in the Erie Diocese, called the report’s release “a major victory to get our voice out there, to get our stories told.”

The report is still the subject of an ongoing legal battle, with redactions shielding the identities of some current and former clergy named in the report while the state Supreme Court weighs their arguments that its wrongful accusations against them violates their constitutional rights. It also is expected to spark another fight by victim advocates to win changes in state law that lawmakers have resisted.

Its findings echoed many earlier church investigations around the country, describing widespread sexual abuse and church officials’ concealment of it. U.S. bishops have acknowledged that more than 17,000 people nationwide have reported being molested by priests and others in the church.

The report comes at a time of fresh scandal at the highest levels of the U.S. Catholic Church. Pope Francis last month stripped 88-year-old Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of his title amid allegations that McCarrick had for years sexually abused boys and committed sexual misconduct with adult seminarians.

One senior American church official named in the grand jury report is Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who leads the Washington archdiocese, for allegedly helping to protect abusive priests when he was Pittsburgh’s bishop. Wuerl, who was bishop of the Pittsburgh diocese from 1988 to 2006, disputed the allegations.

Terry McKiernan of BishopAccountability.org said the report did a good job of highlighting the two crimes of church sex abuse scandals: the abuse of a child and the cover up by church officials that allows the abuse to continue.

“One thing this is going to do is put pressure on prosecutors elsewhere to take a look at what’s going on in their neck of the woods,” McKiernan said.

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Associated Press writers Nicole Winfield in Vatican City, Claudia Lauer and Michael Rubinkam in Pennsylvania and David Porter in New Jersey contributed to this report.

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The grand jury report: http://media-downloads.pacourts.us/InterimRedactedReportandResponses.pdf?cb=22148

 

Turkey increases tariffs on some US goods, escalating feud

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey said Wednesday it is increasing tariffs on imports of certain U.S. products, including rice, cars, alcohol and coal — escalating a feud with the United States that has helped trigger a currency crisis .

The Turkish government said tariffs on American cars will be doubled to 120 percent while those on alcoholic drinks will be hiked by the same rate to 140 percent. Overall, the duties will amount to $533 million, a relatively small sum that is unlikely to hurt U.S. companies much and appears meant instead to make a political point.

Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that the tariffs on certain products were increased “within the framework of the principle of reciprocity in retaliation for the deliberate economic attacks by the United States.”

The tariffs come a day after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would boycott U.S. electronic goods, singling out iPhones. He suggested Turks would buy local or Korean phones instead, though it was unclear how the boycott would be enforced or encouraged.

Apple has 22 percent of the smartphone market in Turkey, where 11.4 million units were sold last year, according to Ramazan Yavuz, research manager at IDC consultancy company.

Although preference for Apple products is strong, their already high prices are curbing demand, Yavuz said adding that the boycott “is expected to reduce Apple’s performance in the country in the upcoming quarters.”

The Turkish lira has dropped to record lows in recent weeks, having fallen some 42 percent so far this year. It recovered a bit, by 4 percent to around 6.12 lira per dollar Wednesday, after the government took steps to shore up the currency by reducing the daily limit in bank foreign currency swap transactions.

Also helping was Turkey’s decision to release two Greek soldiers from prison on Tuesday, increasing prospects for improved relations with the European Union.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin claimed Wednesday that a series of measures aimed at shoring up the Turkish currency were taking effect and that he expected the lira to strengthen further.

“We predict that measures that our institutions will continue to take will result in an even stronger normalization of the Turkish economy,” Kalin said.

But fundamental concerns about the economy persist, experts say.

Investors are worried that about Erdogan’s control over the central bank and his pressure to keep it from raising interest rates. Higher rates would slow economic growth, which he wants to egg on, but are urgently needed to support the currency and tame inflation, experts say.

The currency drop is particularly painful for Turkey because it has accumulated a high debt in foreign currencies.

Attention will turn Thursday to an address by the finance minister to foreign investors for clues on any change in economic policy.

Erdogan has reacted to the financial instability by blaming foreign powers, in particularly the United States, a longtime NATO ally, which he says is waging an “economic war” as part of a plot to harm Turkey.

Washington has imposed financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and doubled steel and aluminum tariffs on Turkey, as U.S. President Donald Trump tries to secure the release of Andrew Brunson, a 50-year-old American pastor being tried in Turkey on espionage and terrorism-related charges.

On Wednesday, a court rejected an appeal for Brunson’s release from detention and for a travel ban against him to be lifted, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported. A higher court was however, was scheduled to review the appeal, the agency said.

Although he was released to home detention, Brunson faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted on both counts at the end of his ongoing trial.

The evangelical pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has lived in Turkey for 23 years and led the Izmir Resurrection Church.

Business: Global shares mixed as Turkey raises tariffs on US goods

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mixed Wednesday after Turkey announced it was increasing tariffs on imports of some U.S. products, escalating a feud with the United States that has helped trigger a currency crisis.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX rose 0.3 percent to 12,392.13 and in France, the CAC 40 added 0.1 percent to 5,407.55. Britain’s FTSE 100 was almost flat at 7,609.37. The futures contracts for the S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average were down 0.1 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 0.7 percent to 22,204.22 and in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 1.6 percent to 27,323.59. The Shanghai Composite index sank 2.1 percent to 2,723.26, while the S&P ASX 200 in Australia added 0.5 percent to 6,329.00. Shares fell in Taiwan, Singapore and Thailand but gained in Indonesia and Malaysia. South Korea’s markets were closed for a holiday.

TURKEY TURMOIL: Before Turkey announced the new tariffs, its currency, the lira had steadied as officials from Turkey and the U.S. said the countries were in talks to ease diplomatic tensions that have led to higher U.S. tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum. Economists say Turkey’s central bank needs to raise interest rates significantly to strengthen its currency, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out that step. The lira was down 4.4 percent at 6.09 to the dollar early Wednesday.

ANALYST’S VIEWPOINT: The Turkish lira continued to drive sentiment, analyst Chris Weston of IG said in a commentary. “With news that Finance Minister Albayrak will hold a teleconference with investors on Thursday, there are hopes of new measures to stabilize the economy, thus providing interim respite.”

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 60 cents to $66.44 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It lost 16 cents to $67.04 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils gave up 60 cents to $71.86 per barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.30 yen from 111.14 yen. The euro slipped to $1.1331 from $1.1348.

___

Investing.com – Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, August 15:

1. Global Stocks Subdued Amid China, Turkey Jitters

In equities, global stocks were mostly lower in subdued trade, as bearish Chinese markets worsened investor sentiment already hurt by Turkey’s financial crisis.

Asian stocks retreated to a one-year low, as investors were rattled by another sell-off in China, which tumbled more than 2% despite a liquidity injection by the People’s Bank of China.

Signs of the world’s second-largest economy losing momentum and the ongoing Sino-U.S. trade conflict have weighed on Chinese equities.

The cautious sentiment carried over to Europe, where the region’s major bourses were lower as concerns over the Turkish currency crisis continued to affect investors’ appetite.

Turkey doubled tariffs on some U.S. imports including cars, alcohol and tobacco on Wednesday in retaliation for U.S. moves, in the latest escalation in tensions between the two countries.

Despite the news, the Turkish lira rallied a further 3% against the dollar, while the BIST 100 index was down 1.5%.

On Wall Street, U.S. stock futures looked set to open lower, as investors focused on the latest batch of corporate earnings and economic data.

The blue-chip Dow futures indicated a loss of 135 points, or around 0.5%, by 6:30AM ET, the S&P 500 futures dipped 15 points, or around 0.5%.

Meanwhile, the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures pointed to a drop of 50 points, or roughly 0.7%, as disappointing results from Chinese tech giant Tencent (OTC:TCEHY) looked set to drag down the sector.

2. Macy’s Reports Earnings

Macy’s (NYSE:M) is one of the last notable names slated to report fiscal second-quarter results before U.S. markets open, as the earnings season continues to wind down.

The retailer is expected to report earnings of 50 cents per share on revenue of $5.56 billion, according to estimates.

Investors will be closely watching the results for a view of general consumer confidence in the economy. Consumer spending accounts for as much as 70% of U.S. economic growth.

Shares of Macy’s were trading little changed in premarket. The stock has more than doubled over the last year as the retail sector – beaten down through 2015 and 2016 – has staged a big comeback over that period.

Other headliners expected out today include S&P 500 members NetApp (NASDAQ:NTAP) and Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO), both due after the bell.

 

3. Dollar Hits Another 13-Month Peak

Away from equities, the U.S. dollar hit another 13-month high against a basket of major currencies, as safe-haven demand rooted in fears over fallout from the Turkish lira’s recent drop boosted the U.S. currency.

The U.S. dollar index was up 0.15% to 96.70, after climbing to an overnight peak of 96.76, its best level since June 27, 2017.

The greenback’s strength has also been bolstered by a drop for the euro, as investors continued to worry over the region’s banking sector exposure to the Turkish economy.

The euro was last down about 0.2% at 1.1325 (EUR/USD), after earlier touching a new 13-month low of 1.1317.

The pound also hit a 13-month low, dropping 0.2% to 1.2692, before crawling back to 1.2715 (GBP/USD).

Elsewhere in foreign exchange markets, China’s offshore yuan weakened about 0.3%, last trading at 6.9175 yuan per dollar after falling as far as 6.9210, its lowest level since March 2017.

In the bond market, the benchmark 10-year Treasury note yield declined 1 basis point to 2.882% after poking above 2.900% on Tuesday.

4. U.S. Retail Sales In Focus

On the data front, the Commerce Department will publish data on retail sales for July at 8:30AM ET.

The consensus forecast is that the report will show retail sales rose 0.2% last month, moderating from a gain of 0.5% in June.

Excluding the automobile sector, sales are expected to increase 0.4%, the same as its increase a month earlier.

Also on the economic calendar will be the New York Fed’s Empire State manufacturing reading for the month of August, followed by the Federal Reserve’s July report on industrial production and the NAHB’s homebuilder sentiment reading for August.

Economists reckon the data will do little to alter expectations that the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates two more times this year, with the next move higher coming at its September meeting.

5. Oil Slips Ahead Of EIA Supply Report

The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its official weekly oil supplies report for the week ended August 10 at 10:30AM ET.

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. oil inventories rose by nearly 3.7 million barrels last week.

New York-traded WTI crude futures shed 77 cents, or 1.2%, to $66.27 per barrel, while Brent futures declined 76 cents $71.69 per barrel.

Sentiment was also clouded by a darkening economic outlook which could start impacting oil demand, traders said.

Elsewhere in commodity markets, gold prices extended their decline to a 19-month low, as the yellow metal found little in the way of safety flows.

Spot gold fell $6.90, or 0.6%, to $1,187.20, its lowest level since January 2017.

Copper futures were also down sharply, slumping 2.7% to hit a 14-month low of $2.608 a pound.

Mueller Probe: Manafort trial turns from prosecution’s case to his defense

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Prosecutors rested their tax evasion and bank fraud case in the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, closing two weeks of testimony that depicted him as using millions of dollars hidden in offshore accounts to fund a luxurious lifestyle — and later obtaining millions more in bank loans under false pretenses.

The trial of the longtime Washington operator turns Tuesday to Manafort’s defense team, which has so far blamed any wrongdoing on Rick Gates, the former Manafort protege who testified he and his former boss committed crimes together for years. Defense attorneys have called Gates a liar, philanderer and embezzler as they’ve sought to undermine his testimony.

Manafort’s lawyers have not yet said whether they will call any witnesses or present other evidence in the case. They will have to disclose that information Tuesday as the case reaches its final stages.

The trial is the first to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, but it does not relate to any allegations of Russian election interference or possible coordination with the Trump campaign. Neither Manafort nor Gates have been charged in connection with their Trump campaign work.

Still, the proceedings have drawn President Donald Trump’s attention — and tweets — as he works to undermine the standing of the Mueller investigation in the public square.

Trump has distanced himself from Manafort, who led the campaign from May to August 2016 — with Gates at his side. Gates struck a plea deal with prosecutors and provided much of the drama of the trial so far.

The government says Manafort hid at least $16 million in income from the IRS between 2010 and 2014 by disguising money he earned advising politicians in Ukraine as loans and hiding it in foreign banks. Then, after his money in Ukraine dried up, they allege he defrauded banks by lying about his income on loan applications and concealing other financial information, such as mortgages.

Gates said he helped Manafort commit crimes in an effort to lower his tax bill and fund his lavish lifestyle. During testimony, Gates was forced to admit embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort and conducting an extramarital affair.

The prosecution has introduced a trove of documentary evidence as they’ve sought to prove Manafort committed 18 separate criminal counts. Along the way, they’ve not only faced an aggressive defense team but tongue-lashings from U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presides over the case. The admittedly impatient judge has pushed the government to speed up its case.

Before the government rested its case Monday afternoon, the court heard testimony from a bank executive who said he found several red flags with Manafort’s finances while he was being considered for more than $16 million in bank loans.

James Brennan, a vice president at Federal Savings Bank, says Manafort failed to disclose mortgages on his loan application. He said he also found several “inconsistencies” in the amount of income Manafort reported for his business.

That information led senior executives to reject one of the loans. But Brennan said Federal Savings Bank chairman Stephen Calk overruled that decision.

“It closed because Mr. Calk wanted it to close,” Brennan said.

Other witnesses have said Calk pushed the loans through because he wanted a post in the Trump administration.

Emails admitted into evidence in the trial show that in the weeks after the 2016 election, Manafort lobbied Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to consider Calk for secretary of the Army, a position Calk had put at the top of his list in an earlier email to Manafort. Calk also listed seven other senior domestic appointments and 18 ambassadorships — ranked in order of preference — that he would accept.

In the Nov. 30, 2016, email to Kushner, Manafort passed along Calk’s resume along with two other names of people he said “should be a part of the Trump administration.”

“The 3 individuals are people who I believe advance DT agenda. They will be totally reliable and responsive to the Trump White House,” Manafort wrote, providing brief biographies for Calk and the other two candidates.

Manafort noted Calk’s background was “strong in defense issues, management and finance.” He also listed three “alternative positions” in the Treasury and Commerce departments.

Kushner responded, “On it!”

Calk ultimately did not get an administration post, though he did approve the loans for Manafort.

Brennan said the Chicago-based bank lost at least $11.8 million because it had to write off the two loans, which he said were the two largest loans the bank had made at that time.

The prosecution also recalled a Treasury Department agent — over the objections of Manafort’s defense team — to testify that two of his companies hadn’t filed any reports disclosing the foreign bank accounts as required by federal law.

Senior special agent Paula Liss said the Treasury Department had no record of DMP International or Davis Manafort Partners filing such reports between 2011 and 2014.

Liss’ testimony came after Manafort’s attorneys signaled they intend to argue that the offshore accounts that he used to pay for millions of dollars in personal expenses, such as fancy suits, landscaping, rugs and homes, were actually controlled by the company and not him personally.

Late Monday, Manafort’s team also made a motion to dismiss all the charges, saying the government hadn’t met its burden of proof. Ellis took the motion under advisement.

Ellis also closed the courtroom from the public while he heard arguments on a sealed motion filed by Manafort’s team. Ellis said the proceedings and the motion will be kept secret until after the case concludes.

The closed hearing came after the judge delayed Manafort’s trial for hours last Friday without explanation. The judge left the courtroom that day toward the jury room, and later admonished jurors repeatedly to not discuss the case.

___

Online:

Emails admitted into evidence Monday: http://apne.ws/gWcMTxH

Taliban overrun Afghan army base, kill 17 troops

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban overran a base in northern Afghanistan, killing 17 soldiers, even as Afghan forces battled the insurgents for the fifth straight day in the eastern provincial capital of Ghazni on Tuesday, trying to flush them out of the city’s outskirts, officials said.

There were fears for the fate of the other troops from the base, known as Camp Chinaya, as the Taliban claimed that dozens had surrendered to them while others were captured in battle.

The attack in the north took place in Faryab province, in the district of Ghormach, according to the spokesman for the defense ministry, Ghafoor Ahmad Jawed. Along with the 17 troops killed, at least 19 soldiers were wounded, he said.

The Taliban had besieged the base, which housed about 140 Afghan troops, for three days before the massive push on it late on Monday night, said the local provincial council chief, Mohammad Tahir Rahmani.

Rahmani said the base fell to the Taliban after the soldiers, who had resisted the three-day onslaught, failed to get any reinforcements and ran out of ammunition, food and water. He said 43 troops were killed and wounded in the attack but didn’t give a breakdown.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attack, saying 57 Afghan soldiers had surrendered to the Taliban while 17 others were captured in battle. He said eight military Humvees were also seized.

Meanwhile, Afghan security forces on Tuesday pushed back the Taliban from Ghazni, the provincial capital of a province with the same name, and were trying to flush the insurgents from the city’s outskirts.

The developments came on the fifth day after a massive Taliban attack on Ghazni. Hundreds of people have fled the fighting in the city, which has so far killed about 100 members of the Afghan security forces and at least 20 civilians.

Nasart Rahimi, a deputy spokesman at the Interior Ministry, said security forces were searching every inch of Ghazni for remaining Taliban fighters on Tuesday.

Military helicopters were supporting the ground forces’ operations in Ghazni, said Abdul Karim Arghandiwal, an army media officer in southeastern Afghanistan.

Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, denied the insurgents have been routed from Ghazni and said sporadic gunbattles were still ongoing.

The Taliban’s multipronged assault on the strategic city of Ghazni, about 120 kilometers (75 miles) from the capital, Kabul, began Friday. The insurgents overwhelmed the city’s defenses, pushed deep into Ghazni and captured several parts of it in a major show of force.

The United States has carried out airstrikes and sent military advisers to aid Afghan forces in the city of 270,000 people.

The fall of Ghazni, which is the capital of the province of the same name, would be an important victory for the Taliban, cutting Highway One, a key route linking Kabul to the southern provinces, the insurgents’ traditional heartland.

The Taliban also destroyed a telecommunications tower on Ghazni’s outskirts, cutting off landline and cellphone links to the city.

The fighting brought civilian life in the city to a standstill, and also severely damaged Ghazni’s historic neighborhoods and cultural treasures.

In recent months, the Taliban have seized several districts across Afghanistan, staging near-daily attacks on security forces, but they have been unable to capture and hold urban areas.

The U.S. and NATO formally concluded their combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, but have since then repeatedly come to the aid of Afghan forces as they struggle to combat the resurgent Taliban

Cooler weather helps crews fight Southern California fire

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LAKE ELSINORE, Calif. (AP) — Aided by slightly cooler temperatures, firefighters made steady progress Sunday in battling a wildfire that destroyed 16 structures as it raged through Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest.

The Holy Fire was 41 percent contained Sunday afternoon after burning across 35.5 square miles (92 kilometers) of dry timber and brush, said Lynne Tolmachoff of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

“The weather out here in California seems to be cooling down today and over the next couple days, and that should hopefully help firefighters get even more containment,” Tolmachoff said. “They should make better progress over the next couple of days.”

They’ll need to, with temperatures, expected to again reach 100 degrees or more by the end of the week.

The Holy Fire — named for Holy Jim Canyon, where it began last Monday — is one of nearly 20 blazes burning across California as the state sees earlier, longer and more destructive wildfire seasons because of drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change and home construction deeper into forests.

With firefighters beginning to get a better handle on the blaze, they began to lift evacuation orders over the weekend for areas previously in its path, said Tolmachoff, who did not have exact numbers. More than 20,000 people were reportedly told to evacuate at one point.

Aircraft have made flight after flight, dumping water and bright pink retardant on the blaze to protect Lake Elsinore and other foothill communities near the flames.

The man accused of deliberately starting the fire appeared in court on Friday, but his arraignment was postponed.

Forrest Clark, 51, made several outbursts, claiming his life was being threatened and saying the arson charge against him was a lie. A court commissioner ordered his bail to remain at $1 million.

Elsewhere, the largest wildfire ever recorded in California — the Mendocino Complex — burning north of Sacramento destroyed more than 100 homes. It was nearly 70 percent contained. On Sunday, it had covered 525 square miles (1,359 square kilometers).

The two-week-old Carr Fire that killed eight people and burned more than 1,000 homes was more than 50 percent contained on Saturday.

Turkey’s Erdogan vows US boycott, but diplomats resume talks

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ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s president appeared to escalate a dispute with the United States that has helped foment a Turkish currency crisis, claiming Tuesday that his country will boycott U.S.-made electronic goods. Behind the scenes, however, diplomats resumed contact to ease tensions.

Addressing a conference of his ruling party faithful in the capital, Recep Tayyip Erdogan added fuel to the spat with the U.S., even as local business groups called on his government to settle the dispute through talks.

Investors seemed to look through the fiery rhetoric, pushing the lira off record lows on confirmation that Turkish and U.S. government officials met on Monday.

“We will implement a boycott against America’s electronic goods,” Erdogan told the conference. He suggested Turks would buy local or Korean phones instead of U.S.-made iPhones, though it was unclear how he intended to enforce the boycott.

The move is seen as retaliation for the United States’ decision to sanction two Turkish ministers over the detention of an American pastor on terror-related charges, and to double tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports.

Behind the scenes, however, diplomatic dialogue appears to have resumed. Turkey’s state-run news agency and U.S. officials say U.S. National Security adviser John Bolton had met with the Turkish ambassador to Washington on Monday.

That helped ease the turmoil in financial markets, with the Turkish lira stabilizing near record lows. It was up 5 percent on Tuesday, at about 6.55 per dollar, having fallen 42 percent so far this year, with most of those losses coming in recent weeks.

Investors are worried not only about Turkey’s souring relations with the U.S., a longtime NATO ally, but also Erdogan’s economic policies and the country’s high debt accumulated in foreign currencies. Independent economists say Erdogan should let the central bank raise interest rates to support the currency, but he wants low rates to keep the economic growth going.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the industrialists’ group TUSIAD and the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges called on the government to allow the central bank to raise interest rates to help overcome the currency crisis.

The business groups also urged diplomatic efforts with the United States and an improvement in relations with the European Union, which is Turkey’s major trading partner.

The finance chief is due to address hundreds of foreign investors on Thursday in a teleconference, the state-run Anadolu Agency said.

Meanwhile, the lawyer representing Andrew Brunson, the American pastor at the center of the dispute, renewed an appeal for his release from house arrest and for a travel ban imposed on him to be lifted. It was not clear when the court would consider the appeal.

Brunson, 50, is being tried on espionage and terror-related charges, which he and the U.S. government vehemently deny. Although he was released to home detention, he faces a prison sentence of up to 35 years if he is convicted at the end of his ongoing trial.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov voiced support for Turkey during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara, saying that the United States’ increased use of sanctions will erode the dollar’s role as the top reserve currency.

Lavrov said the wide use of sanctions reflect Washington’s desire to win domination and secure unilateral advantages for its businesses. He said that Russia and Turkey have set a goal to switch to national currencies in mutual trade.

Independent economists caution it would be difficult to unseat the dollar as the top reserve currency as it is used widely in the global economy, for example to trade in oil and for commercial deals.

“We view the policy of sanctions as unlawful and illegitimate, driven mostly by a desire to dominate everywhere and in everything, dictate policies and call shots in international affairs,” Lavrov said. “Such policy can’t be a basis for normal dialogue and it can’t last long.”

“Such rude abuse will erode the U.S. dollar role and prompt an increasing number of countries, including those not affected by sanctions yet, to rely on currencies issued by more reliable partners,” he said.

Erdogan on Tuesday again maintained that Turkey’s economy was under attack and that the currency turmoil did not reflect the economy’s strength. He renewed a call on Turkish citizens to convert their dollars into the local currency.

“Believe me, if we divert our money to foreign currency … then we will be in the position of having surrendered to the devil,” Erdogan said.

A group of small business owners earlier gathered in front of a currency exchange office in Ankara to change dollar bills they held in their hands in a show of support for Erdogan, local media reports said.

In Istanbul, 35-year-old Sukru Gumus, one of millions of Turks grappling with the country’s economic crisis, said the crisis was raising costs for his business.

The owner of a store that sells goods for brides-to-be said the lira’s devaluation against foreign currencies has affected his ability to import goods.

“Most of the products we sell come from abroad, the raw materials… That’s why we are directly impacted in an extreme way.”

__

Associated Press writers Ayse Wieting in Istanbul and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

Midwest Democrats look to Tuesday’s races to upend GOP gains

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democrats are fighting to beat back Republican gains across the Midwest as the 2018 primary season roars through Wisconsin and Minnesota, two states where President Donald Trump’s appeal among working-class voters threaten to upend decadeslong political trends this fall and beyond.

Tuesday’s primary contests for governor, the U.S. Senate and the House will test the strength of Trump’s fiery coalition against the energy of the Democratic resistance. At the same time, accusations of domestic violence involving the Democratic National Committee’s second-in-command could undermine the blue wave in Minnesota, a state still healing from scandal.

In all, four states will host primary elections Tuesday as the 2018 primary season nears its final chapter. All but 10 states will have picked their candidates for November’s general election by the time all votes are counted in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Vermont and Connecticut. While the full political battlefield isn’t quite set, the stakes are clear: Democrats are working to topple Republican control of Congress and governors’ offices across the nation.

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, who leads the Democratic Governors Association, predicted that Tuesday would offer fresh evidence of a blue wave that would sweep Democrats into power this November.

“Trump has managed to alienate every form of human life on the planet,” Inslee told The Associated Press when asked about his party’s appeal among white working-class voters. “They’re tired of this chaos.”

Democrats appear particularly motivated in Wisconsin, where eight candidates have lined up for the chance to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a two-term incumbent who has warned his party about the prospect of a blue wave.

Walker’s strong anti-union policies made him a Democratic villain long before Trump’s rise. State schools chief Tony Evers, who has clashed with Walker at times, enters the primary as the best-known of the eight Democratic candidates.

Once a target of Trump criticism, Walker gained the president’s endorsement in a tweet Monday night, Trump calling him “a tremendous Governor who has done incredible things for that Great State” on the eve of the primary. But Trump’s persistent attacks on Wisconsin-based motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson put Republican candidates on their heels in recent days, Walker among them.

Trump tweeted Sunday that it was “great” that many Harley owners planned to boycott the Milwaukee company if manufacturing moves overseas, continuing a monthslong tariff dispute with the beloved American motorcycle manufacturer.

Walker avoided addressing the boycott call directly in a written response. His Democratic opponents embraced the fight.

“By attacking Wisconsin workers to cover for failed economic policy, President Trump took a page right out of Scott Walker’s playbook,” said Mahlon Mitchell, one of the candidates and the head of the state firefighters union.

Trump also stars, informally at least, in Wisconsin’s Senate primaries as Republicans try to deny Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin a second term.

The GOP primary features fervent Trump supporters: former Marine Kevin Nicholson, running as an outsider, and longtime state lawmaker Leah Vukmir, who is backed by House Speaker Paul Ryan. While neither candidate was an early Trump supporter, Vukmir has struggled to explain footage recently unearthed from 2016 in which she calls Trump “offensive to everyone.”

Tuesday’s primaries serve as a test of Democratic enthusiasm in the upper Midwest, a region that has long been associated with liberal politics but has been trending red. Trump won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point in 2016, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to carry the state since 1984.

It’s much the same in Minnesota, where Trump lost by less than 3 percentage points in a state that hadn’t backed a Republican presidential contender since 1972.

Minnesota voters will pick candidates in competitive races for governor, the Senate and the House. But a down-ballot race for state attorney general may overshadow them all.

Rep. Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chairman, was expected to capture his party’s nomination in the race to become the state’s top law enforcement official. That was before Ellison’s candidacy was rocked by allegations of domestic violence over the weekend amid a broader national outcry against sexual misconduct by powerful men in business, entertainment and politics.

Ellison has denied an ex-girlfriend’s allegations that he dragged her off a bed while screaming obscenities during a 2016 relationship she said was plagued by “narcissistic abuse.”

Allegations of misconduct are still fresh in Minnesota, where Democratic Sen. Al Franken resigned in December after multiple allegations of unwanted sexual touching. His replacement, Democratic Sen. Tina Smith, is on Tuesday’s ballot as she seeks her first full term. She’s facing Democrat Richard Painter, a former George W. Bush ethics lawyer.

Former two-term Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty may be the biggest name on Minnesota’s ballot, however.

He’s the leading Republican candidate in the high-profile race to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. Having lost his own short-lived bid for president in 2012, Pawlenty spent much of the last six years serving as a top corporate lobbyist.

Like Republican candidates elsewhere, Pawlenty has struggled to live down his blistering critique of Trump in the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. At the time, he called Trump “unhinged and unfit for the presidency.” Pawlenty has since said he voted for Trump and supports his agenda.

The Democratic field for governor features U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, state Rep. Erin Murphy and Attorney General Lori Swanson.

Not to be forgotten: Deep-blue Vermont and Connecticut hold primary contests as well.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who has not ruled out a second presidential run in 2020, is seeking his third term in the Senate. The 76-year-old democratic socialist is running for the Democratic nomination, but he is expected to turn it down and run as an independent.

In Connecticut, five Republicans have lined up to replace the unpopular outgoing governor, Democrat Dan Malloy. The Democratic field features former gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who served several years in prison for political corruption.

___

Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Kyle Potter in St. Paul, Minnesota, contributed to this report.

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