Monthly Archives: January 2018

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Russia researcher testifies that Trump had ‘pattern’ of Kremlin-connected money laundering

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(PhatzNewsRoom / NY Daily News)   —-    A Russian gangster operated an illegal gambling ring out of a Trump Tower apartment. President Trump had a “pattern” of making real estate deals with Russians indicative of money laundering. Eric Trump bragged about having unlimited access to Russian money for his golf course developments. And Trump associates crossed paths with a number of Kremlin-connected oligarchs during the campaign.

Those are just some of the explosive revelations from the newly released testimony that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson gave to the House Intelligence Committee investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Simpson’s organization is first and foremost known for tasking former British spy Christopher Steele with digging into Trump’s Russian entanglements. Steele made international headlines after it was revealed that he compiled the “Trump-Russia dossier” — an infamous cache of documents that claims the Russian government has blackmailed Trump to do its bidding after obtaining damaging information about him, including a video tape allegedly showing him engaging in “perverted sexual acts.”

During his testimony before the House select intelligence committee on Nov. 14, Simpson told investigators that none of the information Steele obtained about Trump stood out as improbable.

“What we did do is look at names and places and people and whether they matched up with information we could get elsewhere. And all of that, as far as it went, checked out,” Simpson told the committee.

Simpson gave similar testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee in August — transcripts of which were made public by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein last month.

Contrary to the Senate testimony, Simpson’s House testimony was predominantly focused on Trump’s alleged history of cutting shady business deals involving Russians and money laundering.

Simpson testified that Russian gangster Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov ran a “high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower” while on the run from authorities trying to arrest him over allegedly rigging a skating competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah.

“Generally speaking, the patterns of activity that we thought might be suggestive of money laundering were, you know, fast turnover deals and deals where there seemed to have been efforts to disguise the identity of the buyer,” Simpson said of Tokhtakhunov’s Trump Tower operation.

Tokhtakhunov has connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Simpson continued, and when Trump went to Moscow in 2013 for the Miss Universe pageant, the gangster was spotted with Trump and “lots of other Kremlin biggies” in a VIP section.

Simpson explained that almost all oligarchs and organized criminals in Russia have ties to the Kremlin and often operate on their behalf or with their blessing.

Based on that premise, Simpson said Trump’s ties to the Kremlin are rather extensive. For several of Trump’s larger real estate developments, Simpson said wealthy Russian criminals with ties to Putin helped him commit fraud by pretending to buy stake in his properties in order to convince actual buyers to chip in after banks had refused to give Trump credit.

“If people who seem to be associated with the Russian mafia are buying Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties or arranging for other people to buy Trump properties, it does raise a question about whether they’re doing it on behalf of the government,” Simpson said.

Simpson added that he has the same suspicions for Trump’s son, Eric Trump, who once bragged about not needing banks to fund his real estate ventures since he supposedly has access to $100 million in Russian cash.

In another glaring part of the testimony, Simpson said that several of Trump’s associates and relatives — including Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump — crossed paths with Russians during the campaign so many times that it could’ve hardly been “coincidences.”

California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee that interviewed Simpson, said the testimony is strong enough to implore Congress to act.

“Simpson raises questions on money laundering the Committee must investigate,” Schiff tweeted after the testimony was made public on Thursday afternoon.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has started digging into Trump’s alleged history of money laundering, according to reports. Mueller’s probe into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government has already produced four federal indictments against Trump associates.

Clues sought in copter crash that killed Zimbabwean leader

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RATON, N.M. (AP) — A husband and wife who pushed for political change in Zimbabwe, an adventurous Texas investor and a pair of decorated pilots died in a fiery helicopter crash in a remote area of New Mexico.

Investigators will comb through the charred wreckage in search for clues as to why the helicopter carrying the group of prominent friends went down after dark Wednesday.

Friends and family members confirmed Thursday that Zimbabwe opposition leader Roy Bennett and his wife, Heather, had traveled to New Mexico to spend their holiday with friend and wealthy businessman Charles Burnett III at his ranch. Burnett’s friends, pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd of Colorado and co-pilot Paul Cobb of Texas, were ferrying the group aboard a Huey UH-1 when it went down.

Despite frigid temperatures that evening, the weather appeared to be clear and the wind was mild as they headed east over a rugged area toward Burnett’s ranch.

The only survivor was Andra Cobb, the co-pilot’s daughter and Burnett’s long-term partner. She was able to escape before the helicopter burst into flames.

Her voice breaking, Martha Cobb told The Associated Press that her 39-year-old daughter was hospitalized with broken bones.

“She’s just very distraught,” the mother said in a telephone interview. “I’m just glad my daughter is OK, but I hate that my husband of 41 years is gone.”

The Cobbs and Bennetts had become friends while traveling on cruises.

Roy Bennett, 60, treasurer-general of Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change. A white man who spoke fluent Shona, he drew the wrath of former President Robert Mugabe.

Bennett survived a traumatic year in jail and death threats over his work. He was known as “Pachedu,” meaning “one of us” in Shona and was often called the sharpest thorn in Mugabe’s side.

Obert Gutu, spokesman for the MDC-T party, described Bennett’s death as a “huge and tragic loss.”

This frame from video provided by KOAT-TV shows the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in a mountainous rural area of northern New Mexico, killing five people and seriously injuring the sixth person aboard, a New Mexico State Police spokeswoman said Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (KOAT-TV via AP)

This frame from video provided by KOAT-TV shows the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed in a mountainous rural area of northern New Mexico, killing five people and seriously injuring the sixth person aboard, a New Mexico State Police spokeswoman said Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. (KOAT-TV via AP)

Born in England, Burnett was an investor and philanthropist with links to a wide range of businesses and a love of entertaining friends extravagantly. In 2009, he drove a steam-powered car at an average speed of 139.8 miles per hour (225 kilometers per hour) to set a world record, The Guardian newspaper reported.

Burnett, 61, was friends with both pilots, according to his personal attorney, Martyn Hill. Both Dodd and Cobb were experienced aviators who would not have taken unnecessary risks in the helicopter, Hill said.

After being shot down while flying a helicopter in the Vietnam War, Cobb returned to the U.S. and served as a police officer for three decades in the Houston suburb of Pasadena, Texas, before becoming police chief, his wife said.

Dodd was a decorated search-and-rescue pilot who helped stranded residents in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. During his time in the military, he flew medical evacuation missions in Central and South America and was inducted in 2010 into the Hall of Fame at the New Mexico Military Institute, where he had gone to school.

Above reproach is how his estranged wife, Jacqueline Dodd, described him.

Authorities were alerted to the crash around 6 p.m. Wednesday by a 911 call from Andra Cobb.

Officials launched a search but said the response was slow because of the rugged terrain and lack of access. Engulfed in flames, the wreckage of the helicopter registered to an aviation company linked to Burnett was spotted on a ranch.

The intended destination was the Emery Gap Ranch, a mountainous property near the Colorado-New Mexico border. Burnett bought it in February 2017, said Sam Middleton, a real estate broker in Lubbock, Texas, who helped with the purchase.

In Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, a prominent opposition leader and a former finance minister, tweeted that the Bennetts’ “tragic passing” was “a blow to our struggle.” David Coltart, an opposition figure, said the couple were “two of Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots.”

In 2004, Roy Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet minister who had said Bennett’s “forefathers were thieves and murderers” during a parliamentary debate. An enraged Bennett charged the minister, who fell to the floor.

He emerged from prison rail-thin and scarred from repeated sunburns. He told of the mistreatment of fellow prisoners, some of whom he said had starved to death in their cells.

After receiving death threats, Bennett fled Zimbabwe but returned in 2009 after his party nominated him for the deputy agriculture minister in a coalition government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Mugabe, who had repeatedly alleged Bennett was the opposition party’s contact with foreign funders, refused to swear him in.

Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe’s rule. He also criticized his former party for allegedly enjoying the comforts of government while ordinary Zimbabweans suffered.


Merchant reported from Houston. Associated Press writers Farai Mutsaka in Harare, Zimbabwe, Mary Hudetz in Albuquerque, and Paul Davenport in Phoenix contributed to this report.

Thorny global issues abound a year into Trump presidency

(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)    —   With a sharp departure from years and sometimes decades of U.S. foreign policy, President Donald Trump has made a seismic global impact during his first year in office.

It has been delivered with his own brand of bombast and occasional threats.

Contentious issues have always existed, especially in conflict-ridden or volatile countries, but has he improved or worsened matters? Twelve months into his presidency, Associated Press correspondents take stock:


Trump repeatedly declared in his campaign that he would improve relations with Russia but was never specific. A year into his presidency, it’s no clearer. Moscow and Washington are at odds over issues ranging from North Korea to Ukraine, despite Trump’s open admiration of President Vladimir Putin.

Russian officials had high hopes that Trump would move to abandon or reduce the sanctions that the United States imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Instead, Trump approved selling lethal weapons to Ukraine for the fight against the rebels, he appointed a Russia hawk as Washington’s envoy for Ukraine’s peace process, and his U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, declared that the Crimea sanctions wouldn’t be lifted unless the peninsula is returned to Ukraine.

With a sharp departure from years of American foreign policy, on numerous fronts, the first year of President Donald Trump’s presidency has made a seismic global impact on foreign affairs not previously witnessed in the modern age. (Jan. 18)

Trump even signed legislation imposing new sanctions on Russia — unwillingly, but effectively forced to by the measure’s near-unanimous Senate approval. Publicly, the Kremlin contends Trump is hogtied by suspicions of Russia held over from the Barack Obama era and by hysteria over allegations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election and that Trump and Russia had colluded.

Trump himself has criticized Russia, saying Moscow “seeks to challenge American values, influence and wealth,” and complaining he is not satisfied with Russia’s role in easing tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

Russia contends the U.S. wants to undermine the deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program and that Washington clandestinely supports Islamic fighters in Syria.

Although Trump has a taste for defying conventional political wisdom, his potential moves toward Russia appear constricted until the investigation into his campaign’s dealings with Russia concludes and leaves him untarnished. While the probe continues, the Kremlin is edging from quiet disappointment into needling suggestions of U.S. weakness.

“Will they show good will? Will they gather courage, exercise common sense?” Putin said.


Asia was one of Trump’s punching bags during his election campaign. Chinese and Japanese exports were destroying U.S. jobs. South Korea and Japan weren’t paying enough for U.S. troops defending their countries.

Then came Kim Jong Un.

Two weeks before Trump took office, the leader of North Korea declared in a New Year’s address that preparations for an intercontinental ballistic missile were in “the final stage.” Trump tweeted in response: “North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!”

Both sides traded threats and insults, and North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test and three ICBM launches that demonstrated at least a theoretical ability to reach the U.S.

Seeking China’s help on isolating North Korea through economic sanctions, Trump backed off a threat to label China a currency manipulator. He was off-and-on conciliatory on trade during an extended visit to Asia in November, and China said it would lift restrictions on foreign investment in its banks and other financial institutions.

As his second year in office dawns, however, Trump appears to be moving steadily toward raising tariffs or restricting imports to try to force China to take steps to narrow its trade surplus with the United States.

Kim began the year with his own conciliatory note: sending a delegation to next month’s Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said in a Jan. 1 speech that North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests have achieved a powerful deterrent that “nothing can reverse.”


Trump can claim credit for the virtual defeat of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria on his watch. He largely continued Obama’s anti-IS strategy and intensified it. U.S. troop levels were increased in both countries, coalition commanders got more authority to call airstrikes and operations focused on killing more militants rather than allowing their escape, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

The biggest victory was retaking the Iraqi city of Mosul, launched under Obama. Iraqi forces later retook nearly all the territory held by IS and the government declared victory over the group in December.

In Syria, Kurdish forces with stepped-up backing from U.S. forces retook the de facto IS capital of Raqqa. Since then, they and Syrian forces have been pushing IS out of most of its remaining territory.

In dealing with Syria’s civil war, Trump made it clear his fight was not against President Bashar Assad, who has presided over killings on a massive scale in order to retain power. Trump has largely continued Obama’s mostly hands-off policy, effectively allowing Russia to take the reins militarily and politically, along with Iran, both Assad allies.

Trump halted a covert CIA program to arm and train moderate rebels fighting Assad. The U.S. has not played any role in the political effort to end the war and is conspicuously absent from U.N.-led talks. Russia has taken the lead, brokering agreements with Turkey and Iran and spearheading a separate political track that has led to four de-escalation zones meant in theory to reduce violence.

In April, the U.S. struck a Syrian air base after a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians that the U.S. blamed on Assad. It marked the first deliberate U.S. military action against Assad’s forces, but it was not followed up by any other action and was largely seen as muscle flexing rather than part of a coherent policy.

The Trump administration has not spelled out post-IS policies for Iraq and Syria. It said it won’t finance a program to rebuild the destruction from the Iraq war. It also hasn’t made clear how it sees the future of those parts of eastern and northern Syria held by the Kurds.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has denounced U.S. plans to form a 30,000-member Kurdish-led border security force in Syria, vowing to “drown this terror force before it is born.”


Trump promised to pursue “the ultimate deal” — an agreement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A year later, he has made little headway and his hoped-for peace push appears to be in tatters.

In December, he upended decades of policy by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The move, seen as siding with Israel, set off weeks of unrest and prompted the Palestinians to declare Trump unfit to mediate peace.

Trump earlier distanced himself from the two-state solution favored by the global community, saying he would support it only if both sides agreed, effectively giving Israel veto power.

The U.S. has said little about Israeli settlement construction, stayed silent over a Likud Party vote in favor of annexing parts of the West Bank and blamed the Palestinians for the impasse in peace efforts.

This week, the Trump administration cut $65 million in money for Palestinian refugees, saying the U.N. agency responsible for the programs must undertake a “fundamental re-examination.”

While Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu is one of Trump’s biggest supporters, the Palestinians have virtually cut off ties and are trying to rally opposition to U.S. efforts.

Palestinian frustrations boiled over in a belligerent speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that ridiculed Trump and some of his closest advisers. Abbas pre-emptively rejected any peace plan Trump offers.

The U.S. peace team, led by Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, has yet to offer a proposal.


Trump and his tough talk on Iran were exactly what Saudi Arabia wanted to hear.

Mohammed bin Salman, King Salman’s assertive young son, traveled to the U.S. to meet with Trump’s administration and became close to Kushner. Mohammed bin Salman was later elevated to crown prince, putting him next in line to the throne.

Trump’s first foreign trip as president was to Riyadh for a summit of more than 50 Arab and Muslim leaders. Saudi Arabia later joined three other Arab nations in boycotting Qatar, home to a U.S. military base. While American officials have tried to defuse the crisis, Trump offered comments seeming to back the boycotters.

Iran’s leaders have mocked and criticized Trump, whose refusal to re-certify the Iran nuclear deal has put the accord in question. Some analysts have suggested Trump’s refusals could doom the deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions allowing it to sell oil again on the world market.

Average Iranians also are angry at Trump for slights such as his travel bans. Yet he voiced support for protests in Iran at the end of the year, unlike Obama’s caution toward demonstrations in 2009 over its disputed presidential election.


Latin America also found Trump’s first year a time of uncertainty.

Trump had made clear in his campaign that relations with Mexico — the neighbor he characterized as a source of drugs and rapists and a thief of jobs — would change. Trump has continued in that vein, saying as recently as this month that Mexico would pay for the border wall — just a day after asking Congress for $18 billion to build it.

His hardball renegotiation of the North American Trade Agreement has kept the Mexican peso dancing for months as he and his team regularly threaten to walk away if Mexico and Canada don’t submit to significant changes. He ended the Obama-era program that allowed young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally to stay and work — a decision recently suspended by a federal judge. His aggressive pursuit of immigrants had several Latin American countries preparing for a flood of deportees that has yet to arrive.

The ride has not been smoother in Central America or the Caribbean. Trump ended the temporary protective status of residents who fled natural disasters in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Haiti. A decision on Honduras, a key U.S. ally in the drug war, was delayed. Shortly after Honduras voted against a U.N. resolution condemning Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, the Trump administration congratulated Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez on his disputed re-election victory.

But Haiti received the region’s final broadside in Trump’s first year. Last week, Trump labeled the island battered by earthquakes and hurricanes a “shithole,” along with unspecified African nations during an immigration meeting with lawmakers. He later said he didn’t say anything derogatory about the Caribbean country.


Trump’s approach to Africa has been one largely of neglect — and that insult.

Concerns emerged about the administration’s proposed cuts to foreign aid and the shift from humanitarian assistance in Africa to one of counterterror operations. The approach was seen in Somalia, where the first U.S. ambassador to the chaotic Horn of Africa nation in 25 years raised eyebrows by handing its new president a hat emblazoned with the words “Make Somalia Great Again.”

An increase in U.S. drone strikes followed as Trump expanded military operations against the Somalia-based extremist group al-Shabab. Some humanitarian workers were appalled, with the country on the brink of a famine.

But it was the deaths of U.S. military service members in Africa that turned Americans’ attention to the continent. For the first time since 1993, a U.S. military member died in combat in Somalia. And in October, the killing of four U.S. soldiers in the West African nation of Niger raised questions about why the U.S. military was there at all.

As key ambassador posts in South Africa, Egypt, Congo and elsewhere stayed vacant, Trump’s rare mentions of Africa signaled a lack of interest or outright ignorance. He referred to a country called “Nambia,” which doesn’t exist. He reportedly mocked Nigeria, one of Africa’s largest economies, by saying its people wouldn’t return to their “huts” once they saw the U.S.

And there was anger and astonishment over Trump’s vulgar reference to African countries. As calls for apologies or boycotts followed, the relatively placid southern African nation of Botswana summoned the U.S. ambassador to clarify whether it, too, was held in such regard.

Many Africans expressed concern that Trump might drag America’s reputation down with him.


Associated Press writers Ken Moritsugu in Tokyo, Joe McDonald in Beijing, Zeina Karam in Beirut, Susannah George in Baghdad, Joe Federman in Jerusalem, Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Christopher Sherman in Mexico City, Jim Heintz in Moscow, and Cara Anna in Johannesburg.

Congress likely racing toward a government shutdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bitterly-divided Congress hurtled toward a government shutdown this weekend in a partisan stare-down over demands by Democrats for a solution on politically fraught legislation to protect about 700,000 younger immigrants from being deported.

Democrats in the Senate have served notice they will filibuster a four-week, government-wide funding bill that passed the House Thursday evening, seeking to shape a subsequent measure but exposing themselves to charges they are responsible for a looming shutdown.

Republicans controlling the narrowly-divided chamber took up the fight, arguing that Democrats were holding the entire government hostage over demands to protect “Dreamer” immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

“Democratic senators’ fixation on illegal immigration has already blocked us from making progress on long-term spending talks,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “That same fixation has them threatening to filibuster funding for the government.”

In the House, Republicans muscled the measure through on a mostly party-line 230-197 vote after making modest concessions to chamber conservatives and defense hawks. House Speaker Paul Ryan immediately summoned reporters to try to pin the blame on top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

United States President Donald Trump travels to the Pentagon for talks with military leaders as Congress is embroiled in a budget battle. (Jan. 18)

A test vote on a filibuster of the measure by Senate Democrats appeared likely before the shutdown deadline of Friday at midnight. Schumer was rebuffed in an attempt to vote Thursday night.

“We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” said Schumer, insisting on more urgency in talks on immigration. “In another month, we’ll be right back here, at this moment, with the same web of problems at our feet, in no better position to solve them.”

The measure would be the fourth stopgap spending bill since the current budget year started in October. A pile of unfinished Capitol Hill business has been on hold, first as Republicans ironed out last fall’s tax bill and now as Democrats insist on progress on immigration. Talks on a budget deal to ease tight spending limits on both the Pentagon and domestic agencies are on hold, as is progress on a huge $80 billion-plus disaster aid bill.

House GOP leaders sweetened the pending stopgap measure with legislation to extend for six years a popular health care program for children from low-income families and two-year delays in unpopular “Obamacare” taxes on medical devices and generous employer-provided health plans.

A shutdown would be the first since 2013, when tea party Republicans — in a strategy not unlike the one Schumer is employing now — sought to use a must-pass funding bill to try to force then-President Barack into delaying implementation of his marquee health care law.

Democrats want a deal to protect around 700,000 immigrants from deportation who arrived in the U.S. as children and have stayed here illegally. Trump has ended an Obama-era program providing those protections and given Congress until March to restore them, and he and Republicans want any immigration deal to include money for the president’s promised wall along the Mexican border and other security measures.

Congress must act by midnight Friday or the government will begin immediately locking its doors. Though the impact would initially be spotty — since most agencies would be closed until Monday — the story would be certain to dominate weekend news coverage, and each party would be gambling the public would blame the other.

In the event of a shutdown, food inspections, federal law enforcement, airport security checks, and other vital services would continue, as would Social Security, other federal benefit programs and military operations. But federal workers wouldn’t be paid.

Turkey says Syria offensive ‘de facto’ underway

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey’s defense minister said Friday there is no turning back from his country’s decision to launch a ground assault on a Syrian Kurdish-controlled enclave in northwest Syria, saying the offensive had “de facto” started with the sporadic Turkish military shelling of the area.

Nurettin Canikli told Turkey’s A Haber television in an interview that the Syrian Kurdish fighters in the enclave of Afrin and other Kurdish-controlled territories pose a “real” and ever increasing threat to Turkey.

“This operation will take place; the terror organization will be cleansed,” Canikli said in reference to the Syrian Kurdish group, the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which Turkey says is an extension of an outlawed Kurdish rebel group that is fighting inside Turkey.

Turkey wants to remove the threat from YPG group and thwart the establishment of a Kurdish corridor along its border. It has been massive troops and tanks along the border in past weeks.

The U.S. however has developed close ties with the YPG over the shared fight against the Islamic State group.

Canikli said Turkey was determined to carry out an offensive in Afrin, and would not be turn back from its decision. He said the operation had “de facto” begun, in reference to Turkish artillery attacks that have been taking place against suspected YPG targets.

He would not say when the operation would take place saying authorities were working out the best timing for the assault. They were also working to minimize possible losses for Turkish troops, he said, without providing details. Canikli said the operation would be conducted by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition fighters with Turkish troop support.

Canikli also said Turkey had detailed information about the YPG’s military capabilities, adding that Turkey had developed sophisticated weapons since its last incursion into Syria in 2016 that were able to counter them.

In a stark warning to Turkey, Syria said on Thursday said its air defense would shoot down any Turkish jets that carry out attacks within Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad said a military incursion into Afrin would be “no picnic” for Turkey and would be considered an “aggressive act.”

U.S. top court blocks redraw of North Carolina congressional maps

(Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a lower court’s order for North Carolina to rework its congressional map because Republicans violated the Constitution by drawing electoral districts intended to maximize their party’s chances of winning.

The conservative-majority court granted a bid by Republican legislators in North Carolina to suspend the Jan. 9 order by a federal court panel in Greensboro that gave the Republican-controlled General Assembly until Jan. 24 to come up with a new map for U.S. House of Representatives districts.

Two liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor, objected to the high court’s action.

The Supreme Court’s decision to stay the order reduces the chance that the current district lines will be altered ahead of the November mid-term congressional elections. The court offered no reason for its decision.

The three-judge panel ruled that the Republican-drawn districts violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law by intentionally hobbling the electoral strength of non-Republican voters. Two of the three judges also said the plan ran afoul of the Constitution’s First Amendment by discriminating based on political belief and association.

Those judges on Tuesday refused to put the ruling on hold.

North Carolina’s congressional maps were challenged in two lawsuits by more than two dozen Democratic voters, the North Carolina Democratic Party and other groups.

Under current North Carolina congressional boundaries, Republicans won 10 of the 13 House districts in 2016, despite getting just 53 percent of the statewide vote.

The Supreme Court is currently examining two other cases from Wisconsin and Maryland involving claims that electoral districts were manipulated to keep the majority party in power in a manner that violated voters’ constitutional rights. That practice is called partisan gerrymandering.

In the Wisconsin case, Democratic voters are challenging Republican-drawn legislative districts. In the Maryland case, Republicans are claiming Democratic lawmakers drew a congressional district in a way that would prevent a Republican candidate from winning.

The North Carolina dispute centers on a congressional redistricting plan adopted by the Republican-led legislature in 2016. The Republican lawmaker in charge of the plan said it was crafted to favor his party because he thinks “electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats.”

“But that is not a choice the Constitution allows legislative mapdrawers to make,” the lower court said in unanimously striking down the plan.

Business: Modest gains for world shares as US government closure looms

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HONG KONG (AP) — Asian and European stock markets were moderately higher and the dollar retreated Friday as the threat loomed of a U.S. federal government shutdown.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares were higher in early trading. Germany’s DAX rose 0.4 percent to 13,334.81 and France’s CAC 40 was up 0.1 percent to 5,500.45. Britain’s FTSE 100 gained 0.1 percent to 7,701.11. Wall Street was poised to open higher. Dow futures added 0.1 percent to 25,968.00 and broader S&P 500 futures inched up less than 0.1 percent to 2,797.50.

SHUTDOWN: U.S. House lawmakers voted for a stopgap funding bill to keep agency doors open and federal workers at their jobs until mid-February, but Senate Democrats and some Republicans were expected to block it on Friday. A shutdown could hurt consumer spending and rattle markets, though it’s unlikely to cause widespread economic damage, Credit Suisse economists said in a note on Thursday.

TRADER TALK: “A predictable air of caution has engulfed global equity markets as we approach the final bell for U.S. budget showdown,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA. “But in the bigger scheme of things this case of hiccups is likely to pass as quickly as it arrived.”

GLOBAL OUTLOOK: Most Asian stock indexes posted gains for the week, with benchmarks such as the Hang Seng near record highs driven by optimism over the global outlook and corporate earnings. Next week brings a raft of economic data along with meetings by the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 edged 0.2 percent higher to 23,808.06 and South Korea’s Kospi gained 0.2 percent to 2,520.26. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng ended 0.4 percent higher at 32,254.89 while the Shanghai Composite in mainland China added 0.4 percent to 3,487.86. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.2 percent to 6,005.80. Shares were mixed in Southeast Asia and Taiwan’s benchmark rose.

CURRENCIES: The dollar weakened to 110.60 yen from 111.07 yen in late trading Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.2280 from $1.2237.

ENERGY: Oil futures retreated. Benchmark U.S. crude lost 62 cents to $63.33 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract dipped 2 cents to settle at $63.95 a barrel on Thursday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, sank 63 cents to $68.68 a barrel.

Nuclear Alert: Federal responsibility in nuclear attack alerts is unclear

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HONOLULU (AP) — A timeline shows Hawaii officials botched efforts to immediately correct a false missile alert over the weekend, taking more than 20 minutes to contact federal authorities for approval they didn’t need and then taking another 15 minutes to cancel the alert that was sent to mobile devices statewide.

The astonishing error and dismal response has prompted both state and federal investigations and left one of the state’s U.S. senators wondering aloud if top brass at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency should be replaced.

“I think (Gov.) David Ige has a tough decision in front of him, and it’s his call,” Sen. Brian Schatz told reporters Wednesday. Either way, the state has a long road ahead in restoring the public’s confidence in the alert system, the Democrat said.

Nearly 40 minutes passed between the time Hawaii officials fired off the bogus alert about an incoming missile over the weekend and the moment the notice was canceled.

The confusion raises questions about whether any state should be solely responsible for notifying the public of such an event. The debate comes as North Korea claims it is testing weapons that could deliver a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile to Hawaii, Guam and even the U.S. mainland.

Hawaii is the only state in the nation with a pre-programmed alert that can be quickly sent to wireless devices if a ballistic missile is heading toward the U.S. FEMA said Hawaii did not require its approval to cancel the alert on Saturday.

U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard, both of Hawaii, have asked the House Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing on the issue.

They said in a letter to the committee Tuesday that it’s understandable for states to have primary jurisdiction over warnings for floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“However, when it comes to matters of national security, including whether a ballistic missile has been launched against the United States, one must question whether any state emergency management agency is best suited for that role,” the letter says.

The two networks that were activated in Hawaii were the Wireless Emergency Alert and the Emergency Alert System, both of which use a federal system to send messages to people in certain geographic areas.

The systems can be used by state and federal agencies for weather events, natural disasters, law enforcement notifications and alerts issued by the president.

Signal carriers allow people to block alerts from state and law enforcement agencies, but not those issued by the president.

“The decision to send a national alert directly to the public rests with the president,” FEMA spokeswoman Jenny Burke told The Associated Press in an email.

FEMA has the ability to send alerts to targeted audiences but has not yet taken on that responsibility, said Daniel Gonzales, a senior scientist at RAND Corp. who was contracted by Homeland Security to study the Wireless Emergency Alert.

Gonzales said under the current system, it makes sense for states to handle alerts because they may be more familiar with local needs. But he acknowledged that since no state except Hawaii has a prepared message, it could take other states as long as 30 minutes to create, enter and distribute a missile alert.

In addition, there is uncertainty about how long it takes for an alert to make its way to all cellphones since the nationwide system for mobile devices has never been tested, Gonzales said.

He said the process could add another five minutes, further cutting into the time that people have to prepare for a disaster.

Sending a national alert could cause more problems than a targeted alert, he said.

“I think you want to be careful about not causing panic everywhere,” he said.

In case of a real launch, U.S. Pacific Command would notify Hawaii state officials, who would then activate their warning systems for residents and visitors.

It is estimated that a ballistic missile would take about 20 minutes to reach Hawaii from North Korea. State officials say it would take about five minutes for the military to analyze the launch trajectory, leaving only 12 to 15 minutes of warning time for residents.

There has never been a national emergency warning sent to mobile devices, radio or television, FEMA said. The agency has conducted three tests of the national public warning system for radios and television only.

President Donald Trump did not make any public comments about the false alert on Saturday. He was at his golf club in West Palm Beach, accompanied by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Asked about the alert on Sunday, the president said it was “a state thing.”

“I love that they took responsibility. They took total responsibility,” Trump said. “But we’re going to get involved. Their attitude and their — what they want to do, I think it’s terrific. They took responsibility. They made a mistake.”

Trump acknowledged people’s fears, saying that “part of it is that people are on edge, but maybe, eventually, we’ll solve the problem so they won’t have to be so on edge.”


AP writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu contributed to this report.

Haitians face hurdles after protected status renewal delays

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BOSTON (AP) — Thousands of Haitian immigrants living in the U.S. legally will face employment and travel hurdles because President Donald Trump’s administration delayed the process of re-registering those with temporary protected status, Haitian community leaders and immigrant activists say.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will release details Thursday about the next steps for the 60,000 Haitians with the special status, an agency spokeswoman told The Associated Press.

But the information comes too late to help the thousands of Haitians who hold immigration documents that show their legal and work status expiring Monday, said immigrants and advocates, some of whom wondered — in light of the president’s recent remarks about Haiti — if the bureaucratic slowdown was deliberate.

“They told me that if I don’t bring the work papers, they will send me home because it is the law. You have to have work papers. I am under pressure,” said Edelyne Jean, a 35-year-old nursing assistant in Coral Springs, Florida, who supports four younger siblings still in Haiti. “They say that if I don’t bring anything new by Jan. 22 or the 23rd at the most, I am jobless.”

Haitian workers like Jean will be left at the mercy of employers, who could simply choose to let them go or hire someone else rather than wait for a process that could take months, says Rev. Dieufort Fleurissaint, chairman of Haitian Americans United, a Boston-based community group.

“They’re putting a lot of people in a very, very difficult situation,” he said of federal officials. “Employers are not going to take time to understand this. People will be in limbo come Monday.”

Haitians were granted temporary protected status to live and work in the U.S. after a devastating earthquake struck their Caribbean homeland in 2010. The status has been renewed a number of times over the past seven years, to the chagrin of critics who say the humanitarian measure was never meant to allow immigrants to establish roots in the U.S.

The Trump administration announced in November that Haitians living under the temporary status would have until July 2019 to get their affairs in order and return home.

The problem is that officials haven’t told people with that status how to go about renewing it. Other groups eligible for similar status have received more lead time to re-register; the administration announced extensions for Nicaraguans and Hondurans last month and has already issued renewal guidelines for them.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wasn’t able to release details about the re-registration process for Haitians sooner because officials had to work out the work authorization language, among other things.

But Thursday’s announcement will automatically extend the work permits for Haitians on temporary protected status through July, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services spokeswoman Sharon Scheidhauer said.

And Haitian workers will be able to simply show employers the agency’s Thursday notice as proof their work status is still valid until their new employment documents arrive, she added.

Nevertheless, the bureaucratic slowdown “reinforces the message” that Haitians aren’t welcome in America, says Geralde Gabeau, a Haitian immigrant who heads the Immigrant Family Services Institute, a Boston-based nonprofit that provide academic support to immigrant youths.

“It goes hand-in-hand with what the president said last week,” she said, referring to the closed-door meeting Trump held with U.S. senators during which he profanely disparaged African countries and asked why the U.S. would want more Haitians. “It’s not just words. It’s actions. They don’t want Haitians here, so they’re doing whatever they can to discourage them so that they go back to their country.”

At least in Boston, which has the nation’s third-largest Haitian community after Miami and New York, the delays have already led to job losses, Fleurissaint said. Some Haitians working as porters, janitors and food service workers at Boston’s Logan International Airport were let go this summer because they didn’t receive new work permits before the most recent expiration date for temporary protected status, which was in July, he said.

And a woman in Massachusetts was warned by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services this week that she wouldn’t be able to re-enter the country if she attempted to attend her father’s funeral in Haiti this weekend, Gabeau said.

Haitians on temporary protected status could encounter other hurdles, like renewing their driver’s licenses, says Sarang Sekhavat, director of federal policy at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, or MIRA.

Haitian community leaders are gathering lawyers to assist families as problems arise.

“We’re going to be fighting back,” Gabeau said. “We will not stay silent. This is not acceptable.”


Follow Philip Marcelo at twitter.com/philmarcelo. His work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/philip_marcelo.


Gomez Licon reported from Miami.

Pence visit showcases dilemma facing Egypt, Jordan leaders

CAIRO (AP) — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s upcoming visit to the Middle East comes at a time of intensely publicized friction between his administration and the Palestinian leadership, posing a dilemma for his Arab hosts — Egypt’s president and Jordan’s king — on how to safeguard their vital ties with Washington without appearing to ignore Palestinian misgivings.

Both countries are heavily dependent on U.S. military and economic aid, and talks with a senior Trump administration official like Pence offer them an opportunity to strengthen those ties.

It’s a tall order given that Pence is visiting at a time of rising anti-U.S. sentiments in the region, stoked by President Donald Trump’s recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The city is home to major Muslim sites, along with Christian and Jewish shrines, and its Israeli-annexed eastern sector is sought by the Palestinians as the capital of a future state.

Egypt’s elder statesman, Amr Moussa, warned Arab leaders against altering their longstanding objective: A Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital. In a jarring article published recently, the former foreign minister and Arab league chief warned that making concessions on the Palestinian issue would be a “gross strategic mistake.”

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has openly cursed Trump over his Jerusalem decision, showed just how deep the gap is between him and the United States after Trump’s decision. Addressing a Cairo conference Wednesday, he repeated that Washington removed itself from its role as an honest peace broker. He added: “Jerusalem will be a gate for peace only if it is Palestine’s capital, and it will be a gate of war, fear and the absence of security and stability, God forbid, if it is not.”

Pence was to have visited the region in mid-December, but rescheduled as Trump’s dramatic policy shift on Jerusalem just a few days earlier triggered Arab condemnation and region-wide protests.

At the time, Abbas said he would not receive Pence in the biblical city of Bethlehem, as originally planned, and the spiritual leaders of Egypt’s Muslims and Orthodox Christians — Al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb and Tawadros II respectively — also canceled their meetings with him.

The U.S.-Palestinian crisis has escalated since, with Abbas publicly attacking Trump this week over what he fears is an emerging U.S. plan to propose a Palestinian mini-state in only some of the land Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and without a foothold in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the Trump administration on Tuesday said it was sharply reducing funding to a U.N. aid agency serving millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants, blaming the Palestinians for lack of progress in Mideast peace efforts.

Egypt’s president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, reassured Abbas on Wednesday of Cairo’s continued efforts to secure an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, according to a statement by presidential spokesman Bassem Radi. That may in part have been designed to put to rest the fallout from a New York Times report last week which claimed that while Egypt publicly condemned Trump’s Jerusalem decision, it privately supported the move.

El-Sissi has repeatedly appealed to Trump to be more involved in the fight against Islamic militancy in the region. With his security forces struggling to contain an insurgency by an Islamic State affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the general-turned president will show little willingness to allow anything to diminish what he sees as a strategic alliance with Washington.

Sounding a realistic note, Abbas aide Ahmed Majdalani said the Palestinians did not expect Arab countries to follow suit in their strong response to Trump’s Jerusalem’s decision. At the same time, he explained, they don’t believe the Trump administration will win support for any peace plan that weakens Arab ties to Jerusalem.

Still, Jordan’s king faces a particular conundrum, as U.S.-Palestinian ties deteriorate. Palestinians make up a large segment of his country’s population.

His Hashemite dynasty largely derives its political legitimacy from its historic role as custodian of Jerusalem’s main Muslim shrine, the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is Islam’s third holiest site. Any perceived threats to Muslim claims to the city, such as Trump’s shift on Jerusalem, undermine its vital role there.

Over the years, Abdullah has tried to soften continued domestic opposition to Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel, struck by his father in 1994, in part by offering his services as mediator on behalf of the Palestinians, in dealings with Israel and the U.S.

Pence’s meeting with Abdullah on Sunday follows a series of anti-U.S. protests in the kingdom — including some organized by Islamists.

Musa Shteiwi, director of Jordan University’s Center for Strategic Studies, said Amman cannot afford to disengage from the U.S. But, he explained, Pence needs to “carefully listen” to what U.S. allies are saying about the risk involved in Trump’s Jerusalem decision.

Jordan is the recipient of $1.5 billion in 2015 and $1.6 billion last year in U.S. aid, partially given to fund humanitarian assistance and help Jordan shoulder the burden of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Jordan, with its deteriorating economy and rising unemployment, is bracing for the fallout from the cuts in U.S. funding for the U.N. agency that has for decades provided education, health and welfare services to some 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in the region.

In contrast, Pence can expect a warm welcome in Israel, whose hard-line government is one of the Trump administration’s biggest supporters on the international stage. Trump has adopted a series of decisions seen as sympathetic to the Israeli government, distancing himself from the two-state solution favored by the international community, expressing little opposition to settlement construction and most recently, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Pence’s visit will be highlighted by an address to Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, an honor rarely accorded to visiting dignitaries. When Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, he insisted that it did not preclude Palestinian claims or the city’s future borders. But the Pence visit, particularly if he refers to the area as being Israeli, will deepen the Palestinian suspicions that Trump has sided with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Su reported from Amman, Jordan. Associated Press writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank, and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Russia probes come up against claims of executive privilege

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s White House is relying on a sweeping interpretation of executive privilege that is rankling members of Congress on both sides of the aisle as current and former advisers parade to Capitol Hill for questioning about possible connections with Russia.

The White House’s contention: Pretty much everything is off limits until the president says it’s not.

The argument was laid bare this week during former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with the House Intelligence Committee. As lawmakers in the closed-door session probed Bannon’s time working for Trump, his attorney got on the phone with the White House counsel’s office, relaying questions and asking what Bannon could tell Congress, according to a White House official and a second person familiar with the interview.

The answer was a broad one. Bannon couldn’t discuss anything to do with his work on the presidential transition or later in the White House itself.

The development brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what current and former aides may or may not tell Congress about their time in Trump’s inner circle, and whether Republicans who hold majorities on Capitol Hill will force the issue. It was also the broadest example yet of the White House using executive privilege to limit a witness’ testimony without making a formal invocation of that presidential power.

Steve Bannon’s attorney relayed questions, in real time, to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former Trump chief strategist, people familiar with the closed-door session told The Associated Press. (Jan. 17)

On Wednesday, White House officials said that the phone calls with the counsel’s office were standard procedure followed by past administrations in dealings with Congress. They argued that Bannon, like every current and former member of the administration, starts under the assumption that he is covered by executive privilege and can only answer certain questions unless Trump explicitly says otherwise.

But members of Congress, including Republicans, criticized the move. The House panel’s top Democrat called it effectively a “gag order.” The committee’s Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, served a subpoena on Bannon in an attempt to compel him to answer.

Lawmakers will be closely watching another interview later this week to see how the White House responds. Trump’s longtime spokeswoman Hope Hicks is to appear Friday for a closed-door interview with committee, according to a person familiar with the panel’s work. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The criticisms echoed those from last summer when Attorney General Jeff Sessions baffled some lawmakers by refusing to answer questions about his conversations with the president, while also maintaining he was not citing executive privilege. Following Sessions’ testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse said, “As someone who served in the Justice Department, I would love to know what he is talking about.”

Michael Dorf, a constitutional law professor at Cornell University, said that while traditionally Congress has required a formal assertion of executive privilege in order for a witness to refuse to answer a question, more recently “we’ve seen people just not answer questions without asserting privilege.”

“It’s kind of a game of separation-of-powers chicken that’s going on there,” he said. “Because nobody knows the full scope of executive privilege — other than that it’s not absolute from the Nixon case — no one really wants to push it.”

Dorf referred to the court case surrounding the Supreme Court’s rejection in 1974 of President Richard Nixon’s assertion that he could use executive privilege to prevent the release of tape recordings involving him and other aides. Dorf said it does seem unusual for a witness’ lawyer to consult in real time with the White House about which questions can be answered, it is a “bit more respectful” than a pre-emptive blanket refusal to answer questions.

Bannon’s attorney, Bill Burck, spoke with Uttam Dhillon, deputy White House counsel. Burck is also representing top White House lawyer Don McGahn in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The White House official and a second person familiar with Bannon’s interview who confirmed the conversations spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the questions were relayed over the phone and said it was a typical process.

“Sometimes they actually have a White House attorney present in the room,” she said. “This time it was something that was relayed via phone and again was following standard procedure for an instance like this and something that will likely happen again on any other number of occasions, not just within this administration but future administrations.”

On Wednesday, the AP also confirmed that Bannon will meet with Mueller’s investigators for an interview instead of appearing before a grand jury. A person familiar with that issue confirmed the interview. That person was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, declined comment.

White House lawyers to date have prided themselves on their cooperation with Mueller, making documents and witnesses available upon request without asserting privileges that could slow the investigation in a protracted legal fight. The goal of the cooperation, from the White House perspective, has been to help the investigation conclude as quickly as possible.

That posture has not been uniformly extended to Congress, though. And Wednesday, there were new signs other Trump associates would be less than totally forthcoming.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who never served in the Trump administration, had adopted the administration’s posture in his interview with the committee. After saying he would answer all of the committee’s questions, Lewandowski on Wednesday refused to answer any about things that happened after his time on the campaign, saying he wasn’t prepared, Schiff said.

“We as an investigative committee cannot allow that to become routine,” Schiff said.

There were signs, though, that not all administration officials were expected to do the same.

Schiff said that in an interview with another administration official, “there was no claim of privilege, no claim that these periods of time were off limits. And no effort to hide behind a later potential invocation of privilege by the executive,” Schiff said.

He didn’t refer to the official by name, but it was White House deputy chief of staff, Rick Dearborn.


Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

Slow-moving winter storm leaves lingering effect in South

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DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — Several Southern states will be dealing with the lingering effects of a slow-moving winter storm that dumped a half-foot (15 centimeters) of snow on North Carolina’s largest cities, dusted the Deep South and killed at least 10 people.

From Charlotte to Raleigh, North Carolina’s five most populous cities all saw significant snow from a system that followed an atypical west-to-east path across the state — and moved more slowly than forecasters had predicted. By late Wednesday afternoon, Winston-Salem, Greensboro and Durham each had more than 6 inches (15 centimeters), while some places saw as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters)

In northern Durham County, Ben Kimmel marveled as snow blew across his property all day Wednesday. Meteorologists say parts of the county saw 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow. Kimmel said he had propane to heat his house if he lost electricity and has extra water, too.

“This is really unusual for this area to have this much snow,” said the 49-year-old, who has lived in the state most of his life.

Kimmel said his shoveling priorities would be walkways for him and his wife, as well as their dogs.

“We have two little dogs that are not in the mood for this, so I’ll probably try to clear some paths for them,” he said.

The frigid air that brought snow and ice to the South has ushered in record-breaking low temperatures for New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as other cities in the South. (Jan. 17)

Elsewhere, icicles hung from a statue of jazz musicians in normally balmy New Orleans on Wednesday, and drivers unaccustomed to ice spun their wheels across Atlanta, which was brought to a near-standstill by little more than an inch (2.5 centimeters) of snow.

At least four people died in Louisiana, including a man knocked off an elevated portion of Interstate 10 in New Orleans when a pickup spun out on ice, and an 8-month-old baby in a car that slid into a canal in suburban New Orleans. The baby’s mother was in critical condition.

Two others died along an icy stretch of I-75 southeast of Atlanta when a driver lost control and hit them, one of them inside a stopped car and the other standing beside it, authorities said.

One person died in a weather-related traffic accident in West Virginia. In the freezing Houston area, a homeless man was found dead behind a trash bin, apparently of exposure, while an 82-year-old woman with dementia succumbed to the cold after walking away from her home. Also, a woman was discovered dead in a snowy park near City Hall in Memphis. The temperature was around 10 degrees (minus 12 Celsius) when she was found.

In North Carolina, state troopers responded to 1,600 crashes while Charlotte police reported another nearly 200 by late Wednesday. Gov. Roy Cooper said state officials weren’t aware of any fatalities. About 30,000 homes and businesses were without power, including about half in Durham and Wake counties.

“This has been quite a white-out for our state,” Cooper said at a weather briefing late Wednesday. “This has been a slower-moving storm than anticipated so it’s dumping more snow on us.”

The cold drove soaring electrical usage in parts of the South, where many homes rely on electricity for heating and hot water. A regional electricity grid manager, the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, asked Wednesday that customers in most of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and a slice of eastern Texas reduce their power usage Thursday morning after usage Wednesday hit a winter record. If supply can’t meet demand, local utilities would have to resort to rolling blackouts.

Cities from Atlanta to Raleigh saw business slow to a crawl. Downtown Atlanta was eerily quiet. Dozens of accidents were reported across the metropolitan area, one involving a salt truck.

After raking North Carolina, forecasters expected the system to move offshore. Snow tapered across the state by late Wednesday, but wind chill warnings remained in effect overnight.

“This system should actually transition off the coast and not give too many more people issues after (Wednesday),” said James Morrow, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Raleigh.

He said one reason that so many North Carolina cities have gotten hit is the storm’s west-east motion, which differs from many winter storms that move in a more northeastern direction.

In Charlotte, North Carolina, minor league hockey team the Charlotte Checkers played a game in an empty building. Fans were not allowed in because of the wintry conditions.

Connor Howe, who does application engineering for a home smart metering company, trudged through neighborhood streets with his girlfriend, Allie Eidson, who had the day off from classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west. Between study and online work, they said they’d taken breaks to cook and go outside to toss snowballs.

“I just got snowed in for the day, but we’re happy about it,” Eidson said.

To the west, in Winston-Salem, which got more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow, Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach Bill Ferguson said the latest snowstorm marked his third since moving from Los Angeles 18 months ago. He and his family found a hill on the campus and christened it their sledding spot.

“I don’t know if this is real winter for most of the country, but for us, it is,” Ferguson said.

Michelle Klosterman, a ninth-grade biology teacher, brought her two children out.

“This one was a real surprise, so it makes it more fun,” Klosterman said.


Foreman reported from Winston-Salem. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Gary D. Robertson in Cary and Emery P. Dalesio in Raleigh; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama and Kate Brumback in Atlanta.

‘Very strong’ Democratic sentiment to oppose GOP budget bill

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said Wednesday there’s “very, very strong” sentiment among Democrats in the chamber to oppose GOP-drafted legislation to keep the government’s doors open, comments that could indicate the chances are increasing that the government could shut down at midnight Friday night.

Democrats’ votes are needed to advance the stopgap measure through the Senate, but they have been rebuffed in their demands to add protections against deportation for younger immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children.

“The overwhelming number in our caucus have said they don’t like this deal and they believe if we kick the can down the road this time we’ll be back where we started from next time,” Schumer said. “So there’s very, very strong support not to go along with their deal.”

Talks among a bipartisan group of leaders of both the House and Senate convened Wednesday, but participants reported little progress.

“Good will but no progress,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., a negotiator but one whose loyalties lie chiefly with separate compromise legislation on the so-called “Dreamer” immigrants that he’s co-authored with Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., some of the Senate’s most dovish Republicans on immigration.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she is confident a budget deal can be reached before a potential government shutdown at midnight Friday night. Sanders also called Democrats’ claims that Trump is a racist “outrageous.” (Jan. 16)

House GOP leaders unveiled the spending bill Tuesday night, sweetening it with a six-year renewal of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program and with provisions to temporarily suspend three “Obamacare” taxes, including a tax on generous “Cadillac” health plans.

Some conservatives oppose the short-term spending bill and said GOP leaders lacked the votes to pass it. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., declined to say if he had enough Republican support to push it through the House this week. Vote counters gauged GOP support Wednesday in advance of a vote planned for Thursday.

Ryan said it was “baffling” why Democrats would oppose the spending measure, noting it contains money for the military and the widely supported children’s health insurance program. Republicans are hoping the money for children will pressure some Democrats to back the overall bill.

“I think cool heads hopefully will prevail,” Ryan told reporters. Congress must approve the measure, called a continuing resolution, or CR, by Friday night to prevent a shutdown.

Ryan also said he wants to reach a compromise on immigration but won’t bring such a measure to the House floor unless President Donald Trump supports it. He said Trump is being “completely rational” in demanding that the bill have stronger border security provisions than a bipartisan immigration proposal from six senators that he rejected last week.

Separately, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and other Democrats met privately in the Capitol with White House chief of staff John Kelly, and some emerged citing little progress. The talks were on legislation aimed at shielding the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants from deportation.

“They have a disproportionate focus on the border more than anything else,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., one of the six senators who crafted the bipartisan proposal, said after the meeting. He added that in return for protecting the young immigrants, “what they want in return is continuously a moving target and it continuously expands.”

It seems certain that no immigration accord will be reached this week, in time to affect the outcome on the vote on the separate bill preventing a federal shutdown. If Congress can’t temporarily finance the government by Friday, a shutdown would begin the next day, an election-year debacle that GOP leaders and many Democrats are eager to avoid for fear of alienating voters.

House Republican leaders tried to win over wary conservatives for the spending bill by sweetening it. They added a two-year delay on implementation of unpopular taxes on medical devices and generous employer-subsidized health care plans. The taxes, also unpopular with many Democrats, are part of former President Barack Obama’s marquee health law.

In a bid to pressure Democrats, GOP leaders also included a long-delayed, six-year renewal of the health insurance program for children of low-income families. The overall measure would fund the government through Feb. 16 and was well received by most GOP lawmakers when Ryan proposed it Tuesday.

But some conservatives have yet to be won over.

“At what point do you quit kicking the can down the road and passing just another CR in hopes that things get better in a few weeks,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a leader of the chamber’s most conservative faction.

Even if the spending measure succeeds in the House, Republicans would still need at least nine Democratic votes to push it through the Senate, which the GOP controls 51-49. Democrats seeking leverage are forcing that bill to require 60 votes for passage.

When the Senate approved a similar short-term spending bill in December, 17 Democrats plus Maine independent Angus King voted to keep the government open. Seven of those Democrats face re-election in November in states Trump won — including West Virginia, North Dakota and Montana, which have small numbers of minority voters.

Democrats voting against that December bill included some senators — including Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California — who might seek the presidency in 2020 and would love support from their party’s liberal voters.

Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, late last year but gave Congress until March 5 to pass legislation extending the initiative created by Obama. It has protected around 800,000 young immigrants from deportation.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Marcy Gordon and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

Business: Global shares mixed as China reports strong growth data

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TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mixed on Thursday, with the Nikkei erasing earlier gains. Chinese indexes got a boost from news that the economy expanded at a robust 6.9 percent annual pace in 2017.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 added 0.1 percent in early trading to 5,501.09 and Germany’s DAX rose nearly 0.3 percent to 13,219.70. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.1 percent to 7,715.20. U.S. shares were set to drift lower with Dow futures down nearly 0.1 percent at 26,084. S&P 500 futures were also down nearly 0.1 percent at 2,802.30.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 0.4 percent to finish at 23,763.37. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was little changed at 6,014.60 after zigzagging during the day, and South Korea’s Kospi inched up less than 0.1 percent to 2,515.81. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.4 percent to 32,121.94 while the Shanghai Composite jumped 0.9 percent to 3,474.75. India’s Sensex climbed 0.9 percent to 35,393.88. Shares in Taiwan and Southeast Asia were mostly higher.

CHINA FACTOR: China’s economy expanded at a 6.9 percent pace in 2017, faster than expected and the first annual increase in seven years, according to government data. The numbers beat forecasts, including China’s growth target of 6.5 percent. Growth in the fourth quarter held steady at 6.8 percent, though it was a tick slower than the 6.9 percent pace of growth in the first half of the year. Buoyant consumer spending helped drive the faster expansion, the report said.

THE QUOTE: “Economic growth in China probably slowed last quarter, even though the official figures paint a picture of continued stability,” Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics said in a commentary. “We have doubts about the accuracy of the official figures given how implausibly stable they have been in recent years.”

ENERGY: Benchmark crude fell 8 cents to $63.89 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It added 24 cents to $63.97 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell 18 cents to $69.20 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 111.24 yen from 110.77 yen late Wednesday in Asia. The euro slipped to $1.2204 from $1.2207.


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple is planning to build a new corporate campus and hire 20,000 U.S. workers in an expansion driven in part by a tax cut that will enable the iPhone maker to bring an estimated $245 billion back to its home country.

The pledge announced Wednesday comes less than a month after Congress approved a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code championed by President Donald Trump that will increase corporate profits.

Besides dramatically lowering the standard corporate tax rate, the reforms offer a one-time break on cash held overseas.

Apple plans to take advantage of that provision to bring back most of its roughly $252 billion in offshore cash, generating a tax bill of about $38 billion. That anticipated tax bill implies Apple intends to bring back about $245 billion of its overseas cash, based on the temporary tax rate of 15.5 percent on foreign profits.

Apple has earmarked about $75 billion of the money currently overseas to finance $350 billion in spending during the next five years. The spree will include the new campus, new data centers and other investments.

But most of the $350 billion reflects money that Apple planned to spend with its suppliers and manufacturers in the U.S. anyway, even if corporate taxes had remained at the old 35 percent rate.

Analysts have also predicted that most of those overseas profits will flow into stock buybacks and dividend payments. That’s what happened the last time a one-time break on offshore profits was offered more than a decade ago.

The new law lowers the corporate tax rate to 21 percent on U.S. profits while providing a sharper discount on overseas cash this year.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is now delivering on a longtime promised to bring back most of the company’s overseas cash if the taxes on the money were slashed.

Other U.S. companies, including American Airlines, AT&T and Comcast, have handed out $1,000 bonuses to all their workers to share the wealth they will gain from the lower rate on their domestic earnings.

Excluding banks and other financial services companies, Moody’s Investors Service estimates corporate America has an estimated $1.6 trillion in overseas cash. Most of that is in the technology industry, with Apple at the top of the heap.

Trump and lawmakers are hoping companies use the money to raise wages, expand payrolls, open more offices and invest in new equipment.

After plowing nearly $46 billion into dividends and stock repurchases in its last fiscal year, Apple is likely to funnel a big chunk of overseas money to its shareholders. But Wednesday’s announcement was clearly designed to be a sign of its allegiance to the U.S., Apple’s most lucrative market.

The public show of support also helps the optics of a company that will still make most of its iPhones, iPads and other gadgets in factories located in China and other faraway countries that offer cheaper labor — a practice that Trump and others have criticized.

“Apple is a success that could only have happened in America, and we always felt a very big sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who have made our success possible,” Cook said during a ceremony Wednesday celebrating a new warehouse being built in Reno, Nevada.

The White House applauded Apple’s commitment.

“Just as the president promised, making our businesses more competitive internationally is translating directly into benefits for the American worker, through increased wages, better benefits, and new jobs,” White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

Apple Inc., which just spent an estimated $5 billion building a Cupertino, California, headquarters that resembles a giant spaceship, plans to announce the location of a second campus devoted to customer support later this year.

The company didn’t say how big the second campus will be, or how many of the additional 20,000 workers that it plans to hire will be based there. About 84,000 of Apple’s 123,000 workers currently are in the U.S.

One thing seems certain: Cities from across the U.S. will likely be offering Apple tax breaks and other incentives in an attempt to persuade the company to build its second campus in their towns.

That’s what happened last year after Amazon announced it would build a second headquarters in North America to expand beyond its current Seattle home. The online retailer received 238 proposals from cities and regions in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Amazon is expected to announce the winning bid later this year.

Unlike Amazon, Apple isn’t openly soliciting bids from cities interested in its new campus.


AP writers Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Josh Boak in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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

Adult-film star reportedly spoke to journalist in 2016 about Trump settlement

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(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)    —    An adult-film star who was reportedly paid to remain silent about a sexual relationship with Donald Trump a decade before he became president spoke to a journalist because she feared he would not pay up, according to a new account.

Stephanie Clifford, whose professional name is Stormy Daniels, spoke to the online magazine Slate multiple times in 2016 before breaking off contact a week before the election, Jacob Weisberg, chairman and editor in chief of the Slate Group, wrote in an article published Tuesday.

In the story, Clifford is described as having “worked out an agreement for the presidential candidate to pay her a six-figure sum to keep quiet.” This document would have shielded the names of the parties involved, the Slate article added.

“Daniels said she was talking to me and sharing these details because Trump was stalling on finalizing the confidentiality agreement and paying her,” Weisberg wrote. “Given her experience with Trump, she suspected he would stall her until after the election, and then refuse to sign or pay up.”

Clifford suggested that she was keeping to herself some tabloid-ready details “that only someone who had seen him naked would know,” Weisberg wrote.

Also Tuesday, Alana Evans, another adult-film star, said in a television interview on “Megyn Kelly Today” that Clifford had called her to invite her to a hotel room with Trump, who at the time was a reality television star.

“This was 2006, he wasn’t president, there was nothing in the foreseeable future at that time that looked like that was going to be the future,” Evans noted.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment about the Slate article or Evans’s interview.

Both accounts emerged four days after the Wall Street Journal reported that not long before the 2016 presidential election, Clifford was paid $130,000 by a lawyer for Trump to remain quiet about any relationship she had with the future president.

While not specifically responding to the alleged payout, the White House said when the Journal’s story was published that “these are old, recycled reports, which were published and strongly denied prior to the election.”

The Washington Post has not been able to independently confirm this payment. The Journal reported that Michael Cohen, a longtime lawyer at the Trump Organization, arranged the payment to Clifford after negotiating the nondisclosure agreement.

Cohen has dismissed “rumors [that] have circulated time and again since 2011″ and said that Trump “vehemently denies any such occurrence,” as does Clifford. Cohen also issued a statement he said was signed by Clifford, which describes rumors that she got “hush money from Donald Trump” as “completely false.”

Keith Davidson, identified in media accounts as a lawyer representing Clifford, did not respond to a message sent to his firm seeking comment.

The Slate story adds another layer to the Journal report, which landed amid a furor over profane remarks Trump made during a meeting on immigration last week.

According to Weisberg’s account, he got in touch with Clifford in the summer of 2016 after receiving a tip, and then spoke with her multiple times on the phone and through text messages between August and October of that year.

Clifford said she had met Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006 — the year after he married Melania Trump, now the first lady — and they began a relationship that lasted nearly a year, Weisberg wrote.

Weisberg wrote that Clifford did not allege any abuse, saying only that Trump had made promises he would break, such as vowing to feature her on his “Apprentice” television show. To try to corroborate Clifford’s account, Weisberg said, he spoke to three of her friends, all of whom said they knew about the relationship and “confirmed the outlines of her story.”

Slate also published a two-page unsigned document Weisberg said he received from Clifford related to the settlement that would have paid for her silence. The document, which The Washington Post has not independently verified, is labeled: “Exhibit ‘A’ To The Confidential Settlement Agreement and Release: Assignment of Copyright and Non-Disparagement Agreement.”

The document lists three parties at the bottom: “Peggy Peterson a.k.a. Stephanie Gregory Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels,” Keith M. Davidson and “David Dennison a.k.a. [blank].” Weisberg notes that he never saw the main settlement, only the two-page letter.

Clifford sought money for her story and was also motivated by “her anger about Trump’s newfound opposition to abortion and gay marriage,” Weisberg wrote. However, Clifford stopped responding to Slate a week before the election, and a friend said she had “taken the money from Trump after all,” he wrote.

At that time, Trump’s history with women was a significant factor in the campaign. In October 2016, The Washington Post published a recording from 2005 that captured Trump bragging in graphic terms about groping women. A parade of women soon emerged to accuse Trump of sexual misconduct, charges that he denied during the campaign.

As the country has confronted a wave of sexual misconduct claims against high-profile men in recent months, the accusations against Trump have flooded back into the news. Some of the women who had accused him questioned why similar charges felled men like Harvey Weinstein while Trump was unscathed, and late last year, they made a renewed push for public attention. The White House dismissed the allegations and said any questions were answered when Trump won the presidency.

One of Trump’s accusers, a former “Apprentice” contestant, filed a defamation case against him because of his denials during the campaign. If a judge allows the case to proceed, attorneys could call other women to the stand to testify about their encounters with Trump.

After the Journal’s story reporting the settlement was published last week, Trump and the White House assailed the publication for a different article, arguing that the newspaper deliberately misquoted one of his comments during an interview he gave to multiple reporters. (The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp., which is led by Rupert Murdoch, who speaks privately with Trump.)

In that interview, Trump said he had good relationships with other Asian leaders dealing with North Korea. The newspaper quoted him as saying, “I probably have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un.” The White House insisted he said “I’d probably have a good relationship,” rather than “I probably.”

Trump, in a message posted on his Twitter account, said the Journal “knew exactly what I said and meant. They just wanted a story.” The Journal said it stood by its report. (On audio recordings released of the exchange, it is unclear whether Trump said “I” or “I’d.”)

Weisberg wrote that after Clifford stopped speaking to Slate, he considered publishing her account, since she had not declared anything off the record. But he said he assumed she would disavow the account, and since he lacked independent corroboration of the confidentiality settlement, the story remained untold until this month.

Mueller team would hardly be first lawyers to question Trump

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump was in a roomful of lawyers, venting about unfair treatment in the media that he said had understated his net worth and damaged his brand.

It was December 2007, a decade before Trump would become president and routinely excoriate reporters for “fake news.” This time, the businessman was facing a daylong deposition in his lawsuit against a journalist he’d accused of downplaying his wealth.

Had he, one lawyer wanted to know, ever lied about his real estate properties? I try not to, Trump said. Ever exaggerated? Who wouldn’t, he replied.

“You always want to put the best possible spin on a property that you can,” Trump explained. “No different than any other real estate developer, no different than any other businessman, no different than any politician.”

That exchange and others like it could be instructive as Trump braces for the possibility of an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team of investigators, who are looking into potential coordination between Russia and his presidential campaign, and into possible obstruction of justice.

The Associated Press reviewed hundreds of pages of depositions taken of Trump in the past decade, including in contract and defamation lawsuits. The interviews, taken together, not only reflect his deep experience in providing sworn statements to lawyers but also offer clues to a rhetorical style that could again be on display in the event Trump is questioned by Mueller’s team.

The transcripts reveal a witness who is by turns voluble, giving expansive answers far beyond the questions asked; boastful, using unrelated queries to expound on his wealth or popularity; unapologetic, swift to defend incendiary comments or criticized actions; and occasionally combative, once deriding a lawyer for “very stupid” questions.

The garrulous style belies the “just the facts, ma’am” approach many defense lawyers advocate.

“On the one hand, you generally tell witnesses not to volunteer, to answer the question as asked,” said New York lawyer Gary Naftalis. “Don’t answer a question that isn’t asked. You always tell the witness not to guess or speculate or try to fill in the blanks.”

Yet there’s an unmistakable deftness, too, a tendency by Trump to pass blame for certain decisions, to deflect probing questions to lawyers or accountants and to answer others with hedged, vague or non-responsive language that frustrates his interrogators.

Though the possibility of a Mueller interview has been broached, it’s not clear when such a conversation would take place, or if Trump’s lawyers would work to narrow the scope of the questioning or to avoid a face-to-face interrogation. Trump has said it “seems unlikely” he’ll be interviewed, but his lawyers have cooperated throughout the probe, and Mueller has indicated interest in speaking with the president.

The stakes would certainly be higher than what Trump has faced in the past, and the questioning, unlike past interviews focused on real estate and business, would delve into areas outside of his life’s work.

He’d almost certainly be asked about the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, a decision he’s offered different explanations for, and about multiple one-on-one interactions that Comey has documented but Trump has disputed. Investigators would likely want to discuss an incomplete, perhaps misleading previous statement regarding a Trump Tower meeting Trump relatives had with Russians.

But it would hardly be the first time he’s been asked to reconcile conflicting statements, or been pressed about controversial actions.

That was the theme of a contentious 2007 deposition with lawyers for journalist Timothy O’Brien, whom Trump sued over a book he felt had maligned him.

How could he explain an assertion in his own book that placed his debt at $9.2 billion? A mistaken figure written by someone else.

A bank’s estimation that he was worth $1.2 billion instead of $3.5 billion, as he maintained? Impossible, the bank didn’t fully scour his assets.

A statement that a golf club was zoned for 50 home sites, not 75? Another mistake, by another person.

In a 2013 deposition involving a failed Florida condominium project, Trump was asked why his bio said he was developing a project he actually was not. He blamed the wording on an employee.

“I have a woman that does it,” he said. Then he added, “But you know, developing, the word develop, it can be used in a lot of different contexts.”

In other instances, as when asked about overstating in a television interview the number of units sold in a Las Vegas tower, he’s suggested he didn’t intend to be taken so literally: “But I also want to put the building in good light. I’m being asked a question. Would you like me to say, ‘Oh, gee, the building is not doing well, blah, blah, blah, come by, the building’ — nobody talks that way. Who would ever talk that way?”

His penchant as president for putting a glossy spin on criticized decisions — he told The Wall Street Journal last week “everybody” wanted Comey fired although employee surveys indicate otherwise — is also manifest in his depositions.

He said investors suing him over a failed condo project were lucky they didn’t close on the properties and saved money. Dissatisfied Trump University students who sued him were fortunate he offered refunds, he said.

In 2016, he answered a question about a restaurateur’s decision to withdraw from his hotel over derogatory comments on Mexican immigrants by observing, unprompted, that he had vanquished his political opponents.

“I obviously have credibility because I now, as it turns out, became the Republican nominee running against, we have a total of 17 people that were mostly senators and governors, highly respected people. So it’s not like, you know, like I’ve said anything that could be so bad.”

For all Trump’s experience parrying tough lawyer questioning, it’s impossible to say with certainty how he’d fare with Mueller. One attorney not part of the case, Peter Zeidenberg, said he thought Trump’s disposition would make it “white knuckles the entire time.”

“If you’re asked a question and you don’t really answer it, and you sort of go off on tangents that don’t really respond to your question,” said Washington defense lawyer Justin Dillon, “that might work sometimes if your questioner is not skilled enough to bring you back to the question that was asked.”

But, he added, “They’re not going to let the B-team question Donald Trump.”


Associated Press writers Chad Day and Desmond Butler contributed to this report.

House panel subpoenas Bannon in Russia probe showdown

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on Tuesday refused to answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence Committee about his time working for President Donald Trump, provoking a subpoena from the panel’s Republican chairman.

The development brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what the former adviser tells Congress about his time in Trump’s inner circle — and whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would force the issue.

The congressional subpoena came the same day The New York Times reported that Bannon — a former far-right media executive and recently scorned political adversary of the president’s — has been subpoenaed by special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before a federal grand jury.

With the issuance of Mueller’s subpoena, Bannon became the highest-ranking person who served in the Trump White House to be called before a grand jury as part of the special counsel’s investigation.

By itself, the move doesn’t confirm that Mueller is presenting evidence to support future criminal charges. But it does show that Mueller is still actively using a grand jury as he probes the actions of Trump, his family and his staff during the campaign, the presidential transition and the early months of the administration.

Steven Bannon, a former aide to US President Donald Trump, arrived to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed session on Tuesday. (Jan. 16)

Congressional officials declined to say whether Bannon disclosed Mueller’s subpoena during an all-day, closed-door interview with members of the House Intelligence Committee.

The members grilled Bannon as part of the committee’s investigation into Russian election inference. Lawmakers also wanted answers about Trump’s thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.

But Bannon refused to answer questions about that crucial period, prompting the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, to issue the subpoena, said Nunes spokesman Jack Langer.

Late Tuesday, Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the committee, said Bannon’s refusal to answer those questions came at the instruction of the White House.

“This was effectively a gag order by the White House,” Schiff said shortly after Bannon’s interview concluded. Schiff said the committee plans to call Bannon back for a second interview.

A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday afternoon.

At the White House, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “no one” had encouraged Bannon not to be transparent during questioning but there’s a “process of what that looks like.”

“As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades,” Sanders told reporters.

A White House official said the president did not seek to formally exert executive privilege over Bannon — a move that would have barred him from answering certain questions. The official said the administration believes it doesn’t have to invoke the privilege to keep Bannon from answering questions about his time in the White House. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The House committee had planned to press Bannon on “executive actions” taken by Trump that have drawn interest from congressional investigators prying into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives, said another person, who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record about the closed-door session and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those key elements bear directly on the criminal investigation led by Mueller, who is charged with investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and whether the president obstructed justice by firing Comey or by taking other actions to thwart investigators.

The focus on Bannon follows his spectacular fall from power after being quoted in a book saying that he sees the president’s son and others as engaging in “treasonous” behavior for taking a meeting with Russians during the 2016 campaign.

In Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury,” Bannon accuses Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort of essentially betraying the nation by meeting with a group of Russian lawyers and lobbyists who they believed were ready to offer “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

More recently, Bannon has said he was not referring to Trump Jr. but rather to Manafort. Wolff stands by his account.

After the book’s release, Trump quickly disavowed “Sloppy Steve Bannon” and repeatedly argued there was no evidence of collusion between his presidential campaign and operatives tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bannon apologized a few days later but was stripped of his job leading the pro-Trump website Breitbart News.

Bannon last year had largely avoided the scrutiny of congressional investigators, who instead focused much of their energy on trying to secure interviews with top witnesses like Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

But Bannon played a critical role in the campaign, the presidential transition and the White House — all now under scrutiny from congressional investigators.


Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick and Chad Day contributed to this report.

DOJ Considering Arresting Sanctuary City Politicians

(PhatzNewsRoom / NewsWeek)   —    The Department of Justice is considering subjecting state and local officials to criminal charges if they implement or enforce so-called sanctuary policies that bar jurisdictions from cooperating with immigration authorities. Immigration advocates argue such a move would be illegal.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen made the disclosure Tuesday during a Senate committee hearing on the department’s operations.

“The Department of Justice is reviewing what avenues might be available,” Nielsen said. “The context of this is of course not only putting my [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] officers at risk, but also finding an efficient and effective way to enforce our immigration laws.”

She said it’s safer for immigration agents to do their jobs if they have the assistance of local and state jurisdictions.

The Justice Department’s review follows a chilling warning earlier this month from the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Thomas Homan, who said California would feel the wrath of his agency because of its decision to become a sanctuary state. Homan also called for local and state elected officials to be charged with federal crimes for adhering to santuary policies.

“We gotta take [sanctuary cities] to court, and we gotta start charging some of these politicians with crimes,” Homan said during an interview with Fox News’s Neil Cavuto. He said politicians who pushed sanctuary city legislation should be held  “personally accountable” for their actions.

The Department of Justice declined to comment. The Department of Homeland Security could not be reached for comment.

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Immigration advocates said charging local or state officials with crimes for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities would be unlawful and a violation of the Constitution.

“These are really troubling intimidation tactics by the Trump administration,” Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Newsweek. “If they’re threatening to prosecute state and local officials, it raises a number of concerns, including if they end up going after state or local officials who have been outspoken in opposing the Trump administration’s draconian and unlawful immigration enforcement policies. I think you’ve got a serious First Amendment problem.”

She added: “The Constitution doesn’t let the federal government force state and local officials to do the president’s bidding in this way.”

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who grilled Nielsen on the issue, “was deeply disturbed to hear that this Administration is actively looking for ways to prosecute California elected officials who have passed laws to protect public safety and combat the damaging effects of this Administration’s immigration enforcement policies,” her press secretary, Tyrone Gayle, told Newsweek via email.

The Justice Department move is the latest escalation in the battle between the Trump administration and cities and states over sanctuary city policies. A federal judge in November blocked a Trump executive order that sought to strip sanctuary cities of federal funding.

Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration

(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)    —-    Three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service abruptly quit Monday night out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year.

The resignation of nine out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work.

In a letter to the secretary, departing board chairman Tony Knowles, a former Alaska governor, wrote that he and eight other members “have stood by waiting for the chance to meet and continue the partnership . . . as prescribed by law.” All of the signatories had terms set to expire in May.

“We understand the complexity of transition but our requests to engage have been ignored and the matters on which we wanted to brief the new Department team are clearly not part of its agenda,” Knowles wrote. “I wish the National Park System and Service well and will always be dedicated to their success.”

In an email earlier this month inquiring about the status of the more than 200 boards that had come under review, Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said, “Boards have restarted.” She did not provide any further details and did not respond to an inquiry Tuesday.

Some advisory bodies apparently are operating. But others are still frozen because the department has yet to approve their updated charters, as is legally required under the Federal Advisory Committee Act.

Two of the Bureau of Land Management’s 38 resource advisory councils (RACs) — Rocky Mountain and Southwest Colorado — had to postpone meetings scheduled for Thursday because their charters were out of date. Other panels, such as the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission, have been reinstated but are still awaiting department approval for their agendas.

“It’s concerning that our advisory council has been unable to meet for over a year,” said Scott Braden, a member of the Rocky Mountain RAC who is a wilderness and public lands advocate at Conservation Colorado. “Secretary Zinke has said that local input is important for BLM to consider, and yet these councils, which provide just such input, have been sidelined.”

Braden added that the council planned to discuss a new management plan for BLM land in eastern Colorado, how to implement fee increases in the region and the problem of homelessness on public lands.

In at least two instances, Zinke has disbanded existing advisory bodies — the Wildlife and Hunting Heritage Conservation Council and the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science. He replaced the first one with the Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, which just started soliciting nominations Jan. 9. It will place a heavier emphasis on sport shooting while promoting hunters’ and fishermen’s access to public lands.

The National Park System Advisory Board, which was established in 1935, has typically included social and natural science academics as well as former elected officials from both parties. In recent years, it has advised Interior on how to address climate change, among other issues, and how to encourage younger visitors to frequent the parks.

The board is required to meet twice a year but has not convened since Trump took office last January, Knowles said Tuesday. Members, most of whom have worked together for seven years, were surprised to not be consulted on Interior’s recent decisions to increase visitor fees and reverse a ban on plastic water bottles in the park system.

“We were frozen out,” said Knowles, who emphasized that the group recognized Zinke would select new members this year but wanted “the momentum to continue” from what the board accomplished in 2016 during the park system’s centennial year.

Gretchen Long, a board member from Wilson, Wyo., said in an email that the nine board members resigned given the administration’s seeming attitude that the group’s work “could be so summarily dismissed. . . . And we worry greatly that the new initiatives incorporated in the [National Park System] are now being rescinded.”

The three board members who did not resign include Harvard University public finance professor Linda Bilmes, University of Maryland marine science professor Rita Colwell and Carolyn Hessler Radelet, the chief executive of Project Concern International. Terms for the first two end in May, while Radelet’s term does not expire until 2021.

In an email, Bilmes said she did not resign her post because she is conducting research with other colleagues funded by the National Park Foundation, and wanted to complete her project.

The board members’ action comes as one of Zinke’s top deputies, Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas, plans to move into the Washington offices that the National Park Service has occupied for half a century. NPS will be relocated elsewhere in the building, according to individuals briefed on the plans.

Zinke has identified repairing the park system’s aging infrastructure as one of his top priorities, though he has yet to nominate a National Park Service director.

The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, which is made up of current, former and retired Park Service staff, sharply criticized the secretary’s treatment of the long-standing board.

“This discourteous and disrespectful treatment of the board is inexcusable and, unfortunately, consistent with a decidedly anti-park pattern demonstrated by Secretary Zinke’s department,” coalition chair Phil Francis said. “We keep waiting for a pro-park agenda to emerge, but we are now convinced we are waiting in vain.”

EU maintains offer to keep Britain in despite vote to leave

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday maintained the offer for Britain to remain in the EU even after both sides have entered the second phase of Brexit negotiations.

Juncker told the EU legislature that even if the famed Article 50 is set up to let Britain leave the bloc, there is another article that “would allow them to accede again and I would be happy to facilitate that.”

Juncker told the lawmakers that “we are not throwing the British out. We would like them to stay. And if they so wish they should be allowed to do so.”

The British voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the EU, and the date is set for March 29, 2019.

Both sides came to a partial and tentative agreement last month on specific issues like the amount of money that Britain will have to pay upon its departure, and the status of the now border between the EU’s Republic of Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.

The border has largely disappeared since Britain and Ireland joined the EU’s single market in 1993 and Northern Ireland’s violent “Troubles” wound down after the 1998 Good Friday peace accord.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told legislators that it was essential there would be no backsliding on those commitments made at the summit last month.

“The U.K. has guaranteed that whatever the future relationship with the EU is, a hard border on the island will be avoided,” Varadkar said. “There can be no backsliding on this.”

The December agreement indicated that Britain would promise to keep trade flowing by maintaining full regulatory alignment with issues affecting Ireland, especially on trade rules.

Business: Asian shares track weakness on Wall St; China shares higher

TOKYO (AP) — Shares were lower Wednesday in Asia after a flip-flop session on Wall Street, where the Dow industrial average ended almost flat after backtracking from a broad rally earlier in the day.

KEEPING SCORE: Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 0.4 percent to 23,868.34 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.1 percent to 31,870.40. The Kospi in South Korea shed 0.3 percent to 2,513.43 while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dropped 0.5 percent to 6,015.80. The Shanghai Composite index added 0.2 percent to 3,443.44 and shares in Southeast Asia were mostly lower.

ANALYST VIEWPOINT: “U.S. equity markets flip flopped returning from the Martin Luther King Day holiday and coupled with the softer oil prices, set Asian markets for a day of contemplation,” Jingyi Pan of IG said in a commentary.

JAPAN MACHINERY: Orders for machinery were the highest in almost a decade in November, rising nearly 12 percent from a month earlier, the government reported Wednesday. The strong demand suggests companies are investing to expand production capacity that likely would support growth in coming months, analysts said.

WALL STREET BOUNCE: Losses by industrial and technology companies helped pull shares back from their latest record highs. The slide erased some of the gains from a broad rally earlier Tuesday that had pushed the Dow Jones industrial average past the 26,000-point threshold for the first time. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.4 percent to 2,776.42. The Dow lost 0.04 percent to 25,792.86 and the Nasdaq shed 0.5 percent to 7,223.69. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 1.2 percent to 1,572.97.

BITCOIN: The price of bitcoin extended its slump, triggered by comments by a South Korean financial policymaker who said that banning trading in digital currencies was an option. The price of one bitcoin fell 1.2 percent to $11,210.12 as of 0700 GMT Wednesday according to the tracking site CoinDesk. Bitcoin futures on the Cboe Futures Exchange were up 2.3 percent at $11,310. The futures allow investors to make bets on the future price of bitcoin. The price of bitcoin soared last year after starting 2017 under $1,000, but has languished this year amid signs of increased scrutiny from governments. Many finance pros believe bitcoin is in a speculative bubble that could burst any time.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude picked up 3 cents to $63.76 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It fell 57 cents to $63.73 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, lost 10 cents to $69.05.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 110.83 yen from 110.49 yen on Tuesday. The euro weakened to $1.2223 from $1.2258.



Ford expects its profits to be trimmed this year due to higher commodity costs and its investing in new electric and hybrid vehicles. The automaker said it expects to earn between $1.45 and $1.70 per share this year. That would be down from 2017′s preliminary adjusted earnings of $1.78 a share.


An Apple Inc. supplier in eastern China has denied allegations by a New York rights group that its workers toil for ten-hour shifts in loud, polluted conditions, without proper overtime pay or adequate safety protections to make MacBook and iPhone parts, before returning to filthy dormitories with cold showers.


A survey by the World Economic Forum finds that more than nine in 10 experts are worried about worsening economic or political confrontation between world powers, amid a trend toward “charismatic strongman politics.”


Shares were lower Wednesday in Asia after a flip-flop session on Wall Street, where the Dow industrial average ended almost flat after backtracking from a broad rally earlier in the day. Germany’s DAX lost 0.2 percent to 13,220.70,  Wall Street looked set to regain momentum, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 0.4 percent to 23,868.34 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rebounded from earlier losses to gain 0.3 percent, closing at 31,983.41.


Car sales in Europe rose for the fourth straight year in 2017, topping 15 million units for the first time in a decade.

Analysis: Big decisions await Congress on immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) — Before a potential government shutdown at midnight Friday night, a host of leftover Washington business is bottled up in Congress, waiting on a deal to prevent the deportation of young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children and an agreement on other immigration-related issues, including President Donald Trump’s long-sought U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Lawmakers in both major parties are confronted with a consequential week that includes shutdown brinksmanship linked to politically freighted negotiations over immigration.

Meanwhile, there are increasingly urgent deadlines for disaster aid and renewal of the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program.

A government-wide spending deal, billions of dollars in help for hurricane-slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and health care financing for 9 million children from low-income families have been on hold for weeks, caught first in a crossfire over taxes and now held up in a standoff on immigration.

Lawmakers are angry that their pet priorities are stuck and are getting fed up. That rank-and-file anger has GOP leaders in a bind as they work to deliver a stopgap spending bill to stave off a shutdown. They are privately worried that if there’s no breakthrough on immigration, they could blunder their way into a shutdown that all say they want to avoid.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, both Republicans, focused on immigration and DACA when asked about President Trump’s reported comments about African countries and Haiti on Monday. (Jan. 16)

Here are the moving parts in Capitol Hill’s high-wire week:



Trump has dismissed a bipartisan deal by Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that would pair protections for the young immigrants with border security money and other measures. Instead, Republicans are invested in a rival bipartisan group led by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Four issues are the focus of the talks: protection for the young immigrants, limits on family migration for their parents, border security, and elimination of a diversity visa lottery system. But there are huge obstacles to a deal, considering intense political pressure from both the right and the left, Trump’s erratic and impulsive behavior, months of hard feelings, and suspicion of bad faith harbored on both sides.

On the other hand, pressure is intense for an agreement because, without one, much of the rest of Washington’s agenda is on hold.



The government is financed through Friday, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. In a shutdown, vital government services like law enforcement and air traffic control would continue, as would benefit programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But national parks would close, and many federal bureaucrats would be sent home.

No one says they want a government shutdown, though House Democrats — whose votes may be needed for another stopgap spending bill — opposed two stopgap spending bills last month. House GOP leaders overcame the obstacle then but aren’t so sure they can produce the votes now.

Democrats are demanding real progress on immigration to vote to stave off a shutdown. But what happens if the pressure is really cranked up isn’t necessarily clear — either for GOP holdouts or House Democrats. It’s more than likely that if a stopgap bill passes the House, it would again glide through the Senate.



Both sides say they want a deal to increase spending caps that limit money for both the military and domestic programs. A 2015 budget agreement negotiated by then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has expired, bringing the return of stringent limits imposed by a 2011 fiscal deal.

Talks to increase these caps have proceeded behind the scenes toward a two-year deal that could increase spending by more than $200 billion over that span when compared with the legal cap. An agreement could snap into place quickly once immigration is resolved, but GOP defense hawks are increasingly anxious. A caps agreement is a prerequisite for smooth completion of the more than $1.1 trillion budget for annual agency operations.



An $81 billion disaster aid bill that passed in the House has stalled in the Senate, where leaders have been hoping to add it to other legislation such as the broader budget agreement. Lawmakers from hurricane-slammed states such as Texas and Florida and the territory of Puerto Rico are increasingly anxious over the delays.



Because of the recently passed GOP tax bill, which eliminates the individual mandate to purchase health insurance in “Obamacare” in 2019, the Congressional Budget Office has found that it doesn’t cost money to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

It pays for health care for 9 million children from low-income families, and authorization for it expired Oct. 1. States have been limping along on unused funds and prior short-term fixes. Several states are at risk of running out of CHIP money soon, and it’s looking as though a multiyear extension of the program may be added to the stopgap funding bill.

Trump accuses Democrat of undermining trust on immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump turned his Twitter torment on the Democrat in the room where immigration talks with lawmakers took a famously coarse turn, saying Sen. Dick Durbin misrepresented what he had said about African nations and Haiti and, in the process, undermined the trust needed to make a deal.

On a day of remembrance for Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Trump spent time Monday at his golf course with no public events, bypassing the acts of service that his predecessor staged in honor of the civil rights leader. Instead Trump dedicated his weekly address to King’s memory, saying King’s dream and America’s are the same: “a world where people are judged by who they are, not how they look or where they come from.”

That message was a distinct counterpoint to words attributed to Trump by Durbin and others at a meeting last week, when the question of where immigrants come from seemed at the forefront of Trump’s concerns. Some participants and others familiar with the conversation said Trump challenged immigration from “shithole” countries of Africa and disparaged Haiti as well.

Without explicitly denying using that word, Trump lashed out at the Democratic senator, who said Trump uttered it on several occasions.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, both Republicans, focused on immigration and DACA when asked about President Trump’s reported comments about African countries and Haiti on Monday. (Jan. 16)

“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting,” Trump tweeted, using a nickname to needle the Illinois senator. “Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”

He was referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which protects young people who came to the U.S. illegally as children. Members of Congress from both parties are trying to strike a deal that Trump would support to extend that protection.

Durbin said Monday the White House should release whatever recording it might have of the meeting.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the six senators in the meeting with Trump on Thursday, supported Durbin’s account.

As well, Durbin and people who were briefed on the conversation but were not authorized to describe it publicly said Trump also questioned the need to admit more Haitians. They said Trump expressed a preference for immigrants from countries like Norway, which is overwhelmingly white.

Republican Sens. David Perdue of Georgia and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who also attended, initially said they did not hear Trump utter the word in question, then revised their account to deny he said it at all.

There is some internal West Wing debate over whether Trump said “shithole” or “shithouse.” One person who attended the meeting told aides they heard the latter expletive, while others recall the president saying the more widely reported “shithole,” according to a person briefed on the meeting but not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.

The person believes the discrepancy may be why some Republican senators are denying having heard the president say “shithouse.”

Trump has not clarified to aides what he said. The White House has not denied that Trump used a vulgar term, and there appears to be little difference in meaning between the two words.

The reverberations kept coming Monday.

Martin Luther King III, King’s elder son, said: “When a president insists that our nation needs more citizens from white states like Norway, I don’t even think we need to spend any time even talking about what it says and what it is.”

He added, “We got to find a way to work on this man’s heart.”

A sizeable crowd of expatriate Haitians, waving their country’s flag, gathered near the foot of a bridge leading to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, to jeer at Trump as the motorcade returned from the golf club where the president capped his weekend before returning later Monday to Washington.

The Haitians and their supporters shouted, “Our country is not a shithole,” according to video posted by WPEC-TV, and engaged in a shouting match with the pro-Trump demonstrators who typically gather on the other side of the street.

On Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence, who worshipped at a Baptist church in Maryland, listened as the pastor denounced Trump’s use of vulgarity.

Maurice Watson, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Largo, called the reported remark “dehumanizing” and “ugly” and said “whoever made such a statement … is wrong and they ought to be held accountable.” Worshippers stood and applauded as Watson spoke.

Durbin said after the Oval Office meeting that Trump’s words to the senators were “vile, hate-filled and clearly racial in their content.”

A confidant of Trump told The Associated Press that the president spent Thursday evening calling friends and outside advisers to judge their reaction to his remarks. Trump wasn’t apologetic and denied he was racist, said the confidant, who wasn’t authorized to disclose a private conversation and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Afterward Trump insisted in a tweet that he “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country. Never said ‘take them out.’ Made up by Dems.” Trump wrote, “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians.

The contentious comments came as Durbin was presenting details of a compromise immigration plan that had money for a first installment of the president’s long-sought border wall.

Trump took particular issue with the idea that people who’d fled to the U.S. after disasters hit their homes in places such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Haiti would be allowed to stay as part of the deal, according to the people briefed on the conversation.

When it came to talk of extending protections for Haitians, Durbin said Trump replied, “We don’t need more Haitians.’”

“He said, ‘Put me down for wanting more Europeans to come to this country. Why don’t we get more people from Norway?’” Durbin said.

Word of Trump’s comments threatened to upend delicate negotiations over resolving the status of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children. Trump announced last year that he will end the Obama-era program unless lawmakers come up with a solution by March.


Lemire reported from New York City.

Entertainment: DuVernay, ‘black-ish,’ ‘Power’ win at NAACP Image Awards

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A jubilant Ava DuVernay was named entertainer of the year at an NAACP Image Awards ceremony that focused on the black community’s power to create change.

DuVernay lauded other black artists from the stage as she accepted her award Monday night, naming writers and directors such as Shonda Rhimes, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Kenya Barris and “Black Panther” Ryan Coogler.

“This is our time,” DuVernay said. “We can say we were here when all this gorgeous art was happening, and that we supported it — that we lifted each other up, that we did as Dr. King said we would do: Live the dream. We’re the dream.”

Anthony Anderson hosted the ceremony at the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California, on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 89th birthday. While his politically tinged monologue poked fun at the presidential administration and Omarosa Manigault, others used their time onstage to encourage more civic involvement and the fight for social justice.

Producer Will Packer took a dig at President Donald Trump’s recent comments about immigration as the producer accepted an award for “Girls Trip,” which won for outstanding film.

“Sisters, especially the ones from Haiti and Africa, we love you as your brothers,” he said.

Ava DuVernay, Daniel Kaluuya and the cast of “black-ish” were among the big winners at a politcally-charged NAACP Image Awards ceremony in Pasadena. (Jan. 16)

Kerry Washington, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laverne Cox, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Lena Waithe and Angela Robinson set the tone for the evening when they emerged onstage holding hands to dramatically issue a get-out-the-vote call.

The six women declared support for the Time’s Up initiative to stop sexual harassment and gender discrimination and urged viewers to speak up at the polls as well.

“The midterms are a perfect moment for us to use our voices,” Robinson said. “If we can take back a senate seat in Alabama…”

“Then we have the ability to shift the imbalance of power,” Smollet-Bell said.

Barris’ show “black-ish” was the night’s big winner. The ABC hit was named best comedy series and took acting honors for stars Ross and Anderson.

“It’s an extraordinary thing to be able to show what a beautiful black family looks like on television,” Ross said as the cast accepted the comedy series honor.

“Power” was named best drama series, and star Omari Hardwick won for dramatic actor.

Other winners included “Gifted” actress Octavia Spencer and “Empire” star Taraji P. Henson, who were both absent, and Daniel Kaluuya, who won for his leading role in “Get Out.”

The British actor was clearly delighted at his victory.

“I don’t think you’re allowed to beat Denzel Washington in acting competitions,” said Kaluuya, who bested Washington for the prize. The 28-year-old actor thanked his mom and “Get Out” writer-director Jordan Peele.

“So many people didn’t believe in me, and you did, and you made all of us feel included,” Kaluuya said. “Thank you so much for letting us be seen.”

NAACP president Derrik Johnson asked viewers to text in their pledge to vote in 2018 before presenting the President’s Award to Danny Glover.

Glover was recognized for his professional and philanthropic contributions, particularly his work with the United Nations and his advocacy for labor unions.

Glover spoke specifically of a Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, where 80 percent of employees are black, that has yet to organize.

“Civil rights and labor rights have always been one and the same,” he said.

The special awards provided some of the night’s most poignant moments.

Halle Berry talked about the significance of presenting the NAACP Image Awards on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

“We need to take heed to his eloquent words: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter,’” she said. “Today is an affirmation that we will never ever, ever, ever be silent again.”

She presented the Music Makes a Difference award to Charlie Wilson, who talked about his road from addiction and homelessness to musical success and philanthropy.

He said he prayed and promised that if he could survive the streets, he would return to serve others. Wilson said Monday that he has been sober for 22 years and is focused on helping homeless addicts.

Labor organizer William Lucy received the Chairman’s Award for his more than 40 years of service. Beyond his union leadership, Lucy was also an activist who fought apartheid in South Africa.

He dedicated his award to the Memphis sanitation workers who went on strike in 1968, several of whom were in the audience at the Image Awards. King spoke to the striking employees the night before he was assassinated.

Another arresting moment in the show came during singer Andra Day’s chilling performance of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Rapper Common joined her for their song “Stand Up for Something,” and the whole audience rose to its feet.


Follow AP Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen at www.twitter.com/APSandy .

US allies from Korean War meet on North Korean nuke threat

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Secretary of State Rex Tillerson huddles Tuesday with nations that fought on America’s side in the Korean War, looking to tighten the economic noose around North Korea over its nuclear weapons even as hopes rise for diplomacy.

The 20-nation gathering on Canada’s western coast comes days after a mistaken missile alert caused panic on Hawaii, a stark reminder of the fears of conflict with the North after a year of escalating tension.

The meeting in Vancouver, hosted by Tillerson and his Canadian counterpart Chrystia Freeland, was called before the recent start of talks between North and South Korea, the first in two years. The North restored a military hotline and agreed to participate in the Winter Olympics being hosted in February by the South, a close U.S. ally.

President Donald Trump has also signaled openness to talks with North Korea under the right circumstances. Despite the insults and blood-curdling threats he’s traded with its leader Kim Jong Un, he suggested in an interview that the two leaders could have a positive relationship.

But Kim, widely viewed as seeking to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, shows no sign of making concessions toward Washington as his totalitarian government comes close to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the United States.

The Vancouver meeting is intended to boost the campaign of “maximum pressure” that the Trump administration has championed to deprive the North of revenue for weapons development. Officials will discuss cooperation on sanctions, preventing the spread of weapons by North Korea, and diplomacy.

Brian Hook, Tillerson’s senior policy adviser, said more needs to be done to interdict ships conducting illicit trade with North Korea. He said the U.S. wants the United Nations to mandate a port entry ban for such vessels.

The meeting is being attended by foreign ministers and senior diplomats of nations that sent troops or humanitarian aid to the U.N. Command that supported South Korea in the fight against the communist North and its allies during the 1950-53 Korean War. It’s a diverse gathering of mostly European and Asian nations, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Columbia. Japan and South Korea are also taking part.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was to join a welcoming dinner for the delegates on Monday night.

China and Russia, which fought on the communist side in the war, oppose the meeting. They were not invited although they have the closest economic and diplomatic ties to North Korea.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters that a meeting that “doesn’t include important parties to the Korean peninsula nuclear issue” cannot help resolve it.

Hook said China and Russia would be briefed afterward, and said the inter-Korean talks won’t change Tuesday’s agenda.

“We believe that this pressure campaign remains the best avenue to force change in Kim Jong Un’s behavior and to get him to the negotiating table for meaningful discussions,” he said.

The latest U.N. Security Council resolution against North Korea, adopted in December in response to an intercontinental ballistic missile test, calls on member states to impound vessels suspected of illicit trade with the North, and authorizes interdictions in a member state’s territorial waters.

It also restricts North Korean imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products, and further cuts into its ability to raise revenue for its weapons programs. Combined with previous U.N resolutions, more than 90 percent of North Korea’s publicly reported exports as of 2016 are now banned.

Tillerson told The Associated Press in a recent interview that convening the so-called “sending states” to the U.N. Command in the Korean War was done deliberately to show that diplomacy “has to be backed up by a strong military alternative.”

“It’s just part of the necessity of impressing upon all parties the serious nature of this and the resolve of the United States and others that we are not going to accept a nuclear North Korea,” Tillerson said.

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