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Monthly Archives: April 2018

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Opinion: Shut up about Michelle Wolf if you’ve been silent on Trump’s offenses

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(PhatzNewsRoom / WAPO)   —    As happens after every White House Correspondents’ Association dinner (a.k.a. Nerd Prom), the question is “What did you think?” What did you think of the comedian hired to skewer the president, the press corps and the political class gathered in the Washington Hilton for a dinner that raises money for scholarships, awards and other things done by the WHCA? The query takes on an added urgency when the comedian crosses a line that offends the glittering precious souls in the ballroom.

Michelle Wolf, the former correspondent and writer for Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” whose eponymous special HBO cemented her on the comedic map, didn’t just cross the line. She blithely blew past it like a bank robber through a red light — after plowing through a cement-truck barricade. I’m no shrinking violet. I love a well-executed salty joke wrapped in blue. But Wolf even had me agape and clutching my pearls.

She was a riot!

There are two things everyone should keep in mind about the comedian with the Nerd Prom gig. First, it’s a thankless job. Only delivering the response to the State of the Union is more a thankless task. Both have to thread a needle so difficult that most who attempt it fail. Only one person in each job has been successful in recent memory.

Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) did a good job in his Democratic Party response to President Trump’s first State of the Union address in January. Hasan Minhaj of “The Daily Show” killed it at Nerd Prom last year. His comedic flame alternately roasted, baked or flambéed his targets in the heart of This Town while paying respectful homage to the First Amendment. He got a standing ovation for it. Wolf did not.

Second, the comedian tends to be judged on how his or her performance comports with the tenor and tone of the president. Remember what happened when Larry Wilmore dropped the n-bomb at Nerd Prom 2016, the last for the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama? But when it came to Trump? Wolf totally killed it.

She was rough, vulgar, lewd, crass and every other synonym for offensive while delivering a set of remarkable personal attacks in a loud, grating voice. Sound familiar? Wolf said three of George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words.” There were also references to male and female genitalia, feminine hygiene and male sexual performance, Trump’s sexual performance and porn stars. Wolf wasn’t even halfway through her 20-minute bit when I tweeted from the scene of comedic carnage, “This is definitely the most sexual #whcd comedy act…..perhaps ever.” It was accompanied by a “face with hand over mouth” emoji.

Like her predecessors, Wolf went after members of the press, the Democratic Party and Trump administration officials. No one was spared. Trump wasn’t there for a second year in a row, which didn’t stop Wolf from taking him down a peg (times infinite). And it didn’t stop Wolf from tearing into the person sitting at the dais in the president’s stead: Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Here is comedian Michelle Wolf’s full set of jokes about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the correspondents’ dinner.

The press secretary doesn’t engender empathy, what with her complicated relationship with truth and a demeanor at the podium that is a mix of rushed annoyance and condescension. Yet I couldn’t help feel a twinge of OMG as Wolf mercilessly ridiculed Sanders seated just feet away. It was as comfortable as when a comic uses a member of the audience as a punchline punching bag. But that feeling was fleeting. Wolf’s eye-popping routine was simply a comedic reflection of Trump, whose presidential library will overflow with coarse, rude, ugly and personal attacks. It probably won’t mention other things like, oh, being embroiled in a scandal involving hush-money for a porn star that was paid by his personal lawyer who was raided by federal investigators. Trump, his staff and Cabinet emulate his rhetorical disregard for the norms, customs and respect we expect from the presidency.

The criticism of Wolf by Republicans, the press and the public was inevitable. Comes with the job, and some of it I agree with. What makes it galling is that those screaming the loudest about Wolf are mute when it comes to Trump. The former is a comedian hired to tell jokes at a dinner where jokes are traditionally told. The latter is the president of the United States. His words, even the jokes, carry weight. They have real consequences and affect real lives. But we’ve become so used to the garbage that sloshes from his Twitter feed and his presidency that we have grown numb to how it sluices over our collective national psyche.

So, until some of this righteous indignation and moral outrage at Wolf is directed at Trump for his inattention to the Flint water crisis and the devastation in Puerto Rico; his silence on the heroism of James Shaw Jr. and the demands for gun control; his disrespect for the rule of law and his inability to effectively govern without striking fear in the hearts of American families, folks need to shut up about Michelle Wolf.

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F.B.I. Letter Casts Further Doubt on White House’s Rob Porter Timeline

(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. first gave the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, a file containing spousal abuse allegations against Rob Porter in March 2017, according to a detailed new timeline the bureau has given to Congress that casts further doubt on the West Wing’s account of how accusations against one of President Trump’s closest advisers were handled.

Mr. Porter, Mr. Trump’s staff secretary, resigned under pressure in February after allegations that he had been physically violent toward two former wives were aired in the press. The White House — which initially sprang to his defense — has issued several competing accounts of how Mr. Trump’s team handled the allegations, which they insisted no senior officials knew about until just before Mr. Porter left his job.

But in a letter this month to the leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is investigating how Mr. Porter could have received a security clearance given the allegations, a top official at the F.B.I. said that on March 3, 2017, the bureau sent a “partial report” on Mr. Porter “addressed to the Counsel to the President, Donald F. McGahn, which contained derogatory information.” A former federal law enforcement official said the violent abuse allegations were included in that file.

The F.B.I. furnished a more complete report to the White House personnel security office in July, according to the letter, which did not detail the nature of the derogatory information.

Mr. McGahn could not be reached for comment on the report. But a White House official said that he never saw it, and that aides believe it was reviewed by an underling and passed on to the White House personnel security office, which reviews F.B.I. background investigations as part of its process for evaluating whether officials should receive security clearances.

Mr. McGahn, the official said, was busy at the time juggling the Supreme Court confirmation process for Neil M. Gorsuch, the selection of appeals court judges and the vetting of numerous cabinet nominees.

“Don never saw it,” the official said, insisting on anonymity to describe internal procedures. “The right people never saw it.”

The White House previously claimed that the March report contained only basic employment information about Mr. Porter, not allegations of abuse.

The F.B.I.’s attempt to inform Mr. McGahn of damaging information about Mr. Porter was described in an April 13 letter from Gerald Roberts Jr., the assistant director of the F.B.I.’s security division, to Representative Trey Gowdy, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the oversight panel, and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the committee’s ranking Democrat. The Times obtained a copy of the letter.

Mr. Porter’s former wives have said the F.B.I. interviewed them about their abuse claims in January 2017. Mr. Porter himself also alerted Mr. McGahn that an aggrieved ex-wife was making potentially damaging accusations about him, according to a person familiar with the discussion. Mr. Roberts’s letter says that in August, the bureau received a request from the White House personnel security office for additional information on Mr. Porter, “including, but not limited to, re-interviews of Mr. Porter, his ex-wives and his girlfriend at the time.”

In November, the F.B.I. gave the White House another report, Mr. Roberts wrote, “which contained additional derogatory information.”

The F.B.I.’s timeline is at odds with the one given by top officials including John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, who acknowledged in March that he had stumbled in his response to the allegations against Mr. Porter but insisted that he had not known of the damaging accusations until the week Mr. Porter left.

Background investigations often uncover derogatory information, and one person familiar with Mr. Porter’s said the allegations of abuse and the circumstances surrounding them were not as clear-cut as they were portrayed to be when they surfaced in the press, making it difficult to discern whether they warranted action. Even though the White House now appears to have known for months about the claims against Mr. Porter, his temporary clearance was never revoked.

The White House’s contention that Mr. McGahn never saw the original F.B.I. report comes at a time it is facing fresh questions about its process for vetting personnel for top posts in Mr. Trump’s administration, after Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician who was his pick to be the secretary of veterans affairs, withdrew on Thursday amid damaging allegations that he drank on the job, overprescribed medication and presided over a hostile work environment.

Like Dr. Jackson, Mr. Porter was among a small circle of senior officials who spent their days in proximity to Mr. Trump. As staff secretary, Mr. Porter handled the reams of sensitive documents that flow through the president’s office on a daily basis. The allegations against him were one reason he could not obtain a permanent security clearance, and the scandal surrounding his departure highlighted a pattern at the White House of allowing senior officials who had not been given permanent clearance to see classified information to serve in the highest echelons of the White House.

Mr. Kelly has since revised clearance procedures at the White House, stripping interim clearances from some senior officials who had been working with temporary ones for months, most prominently Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

Among the changes Mr. Kelly instituted was a new requirement that if the F.B.I. uncovers “significantly derogatory” information about a White House official, it must brief the White House counsel in person on the material. The White House official said Mr. McGahn specifically requested the change to rectify what happened in Mr. Porter’s case, when he felt that he was being held responsible for having information that he had, in fact, never seen.

Mr. Cummings said the new information showed a cavalier attitude at the White House toward granting access to classified information.

“The F.B.I. has now confirmed that it repeatedly provided derogatory information to the White House about Rob Porter as far back as March of 2017,” he said. “But White House officials ignored this information and continued granting Porter access to our nation’s most highly classified secrets — just as they did with Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.”

Mr. Cummings said the White House had refused to give the oversight panel documents it had requested or make staff members available for interviews on the matter, and he criticized Mr. Gowdy for failing to issue subpoenas to obtain the material.

Congressional officials said the White House Counsel’s Office had briefed Mr. Gowdy and Mr. Cummings on April 11, but had declined to give the lawmakers any information about how security clearances had been handled in the past, speaking only about how they would be handled in the future.

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Here’s the timeline of the FBI’s interactions between the bureau and the White House on Porter’s security clearance, according to the letter.

• January 2017—Porter’s wives said they were interviewed by the FBI as part of the security clearance process in January 2017 as the Trump presidency was just kicking off.

• March 3, 2017—The FBI sent a “partial report” on Porter “addressed to the Counsel to the President, Donald F. McGahn, which contained derogatory information,” which, the Times reports, included the abuse allegations. The White House said that the information never reached McGahn, instead was reviewed by a low-level employee in the personnel office never elevated the report. “The White House previously claimed that the March report contained only basic employment information about Mr. Porter, not allegations of abuse,” according to the Times. “Mr. Porter himself also alerted Mr. McGahn that an aggrieved ex-wife was making potentially damaging accusations about him, according to a person familiar with the discussion.”

• July 2017—The FBI supplied “a completed background investigation” to the White House personnel security office.

• August 2017—The White House personnel security office requested additional information on Porter from the FBI, “including, but not limited to, re-interviews of Mr. Porter, his ex-wives and his girlfriend at the time.”

• November 2017—The FBI submitted another report on Porter to the White House, according the FBI letter, “which contained additional derogatory information.”

Double Kabul suicide bombing kills 25, including 9 reporters

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A coordinated double suicide bombing by the Islamic State group hit central Kabul on Monday morning, killing at least 25 people, including nine Afghan journalists, officials said.

An AFP photographer, a cameraman for the local Tolo TV station and several reporters for the Afghan branch of Radio Free Europe were among the fatalities, police said.

At least 45 people were wounded in the twin attacks, according to Kabul police spokesman, Hashmat Stanekzai, who also said four policemen were among those killed.

The attack was the latest in a relentless string of deadly large-scale bombings and assaults that have struck Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan so far this year. And even as the Afghan capital reeled from Monday’s assault, a suicide car bombing a few hours later in the southern province of Kandahar killed 11 children, a police spokesman said. Eight Romanian NATO soldiers were wounded in that bombing.

In a statement posted on an IS-affiliated website, the Islamic State group said two of its martyrdom seekers carried out the Kabul bombings, targeting the headquarters of the “renegade” Afghan intelligence services.

The blasts took place in the central Shash Darak area, home to NATO headquarters and a number of embassies and foreign offices — as well as the Afghan intelligence service.

Stanekzai, the police spokesman, said the first suicide bomber was on a motor bike while the second explosion meant to hit those scrambling to get to the scene to help the victims of the first blast.

The second attacker was on foot, in a crowd of reporters rushing to the site of the first attack, pretending to be one of the media, the spokesman said. The bomber then detonated his explosives while still among the reporters, Stanekzai said, intentionally targeting journalists.

Agence France-Presse said the news agency’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was among those killed. AFP said Marai died in a blast that struck journalists who had rushed to the scene of the earlier attack.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said along with the nine journalists killed, six were wounded. However, Sediqullah Tawhidi, an official with the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee, sad only five journalists wounded. Conflicting casualty tolls are common in the immediate aftermath of big attacks.

The Paris-based group named the journalists, working for media organizations from multiple countries, adding that Monday’s attack was the deadliest targeting reporters since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. The group, also known by its French acronym RSF, said 36 media workers have been killed in Afghanistan in attacks by IS or the Taliban since 2016.

RSF urged the Afghan government to do more to protect journalists.

Survivors and witnesses recounted scenes of mayhem.

Jawed Ghulam Sakhi, a 28-year-old a taxi driver said “when the explosion happened, everywhere was covered with dust and fire, it was such a horrific scene” with bodies and body parts “thrown about on the street and the pavement.”

“I saw journalists covered with blood, this time they targeted the media,” Sakhi added.

Masouda, a young woman who was with her husband nearby, assailed the authorities. Her husband was wounded and was taken to the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital.

“I don’t know who is responsible for all these attacks, every day we lose our loved ones and no one in this government is taking responsibility for the killing of these innocent people,” she said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani condemned the attacks. The presidential palace released a statement saying that attacks targeting innocent civilians, worshippers inside the mosques, national and democratic processes, reporters and freedom of speech all are war crimes.

The U.S. Embassy also condemned the “savage bombings” in Kabul and reiterated its support for the Afghan people and Ghani’s government in their fight against terrorism.”

“We extend our deepest condolences to the families, friends, and colleagues of all the victims, including a number of brave journalists among the dead and injured,” it said, adding that “where media are in danger, all other human rights are under greater threat.”

Kabul chief of police Dawood Amin said the area hit was quickly sealed off and authorities were investigating. Mohammad Mousa Zahir, director of Wazir Akbarkhan Hospital, said several people suffering injuries from the blasts were being treated at his hospital.

In its claim of responsibility, the Afghan affiliate of IS, known as Khorasan Province, said the first martyrdom seeker detonated his explosive vest near the intelligence service in central Kabul, forcing officers to head to the area of the explosion. The statement said the second attacker detonated his explosives vest after that. The statement, which exaggerated the overall death toll as militant claims often do, did not say journalists were specifically targeted.

In the Kandahar attack, an Afghan official said a suicide bomber targeted a NATO convoy in the district of Daman but killed 11 children from a religious school nearby. The children had gathered around the NATO convoy for fun when the bomber struck, said Abdul Rahim Ayubi, a lawmaker from Kandahar.

Matiullah Helal, deputy spokesman for the provincial police chief, said 16 people were also wounded in that attack, including NATO soldiers, civilians and policemen.

Romania’ defense minister, Mihai Fifor, said eight Romanian troops with the “Carpathian Eagles” were among the wounded. NATO said the wounded service members, who are all in stable condition, were taken to Kandahar Airfield’s hospital for treatment.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support mission, said in a statement that “if the enemies of Afghanistan think their cowardly actions will deter the commitment of the brave Afghan forces and our Resolute Support advisers, or the call by the Afghan people for peace, they are sorely mistaken.”

In other violence Monday, at least four Afghan policemen were killed in northern Balkh province, said Sher Mohammad Abu-Tariq, the district chief in Nahri Shahi. The insurgents ambushed the police vehicle and fired RPGs.

Also, an Afghan police officer was killed and four people were wounded in an explosion in eastern Nangarhar province, said Attuhullah Khogynai, spokesman for the provincial governor. He said the slain officer was the chief of the criminal investigations unit for Behsud district.

No one claimed responsibility for the other attacks. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan first emerged in Nangarhar a few years ago, then expanded its footprint to elsewhere across the country.

IS and the more firmly established Taliban carry out regular attacks, with the Taliban usually targeting the Afghan government and security forces and IS targeting members of the country’s the Shiite minority, whom the affiliate perceives as apostates.

The relentless assaults underscore the struggles that Afghan security forces have faced to reign in the militant groups since the United States and NATO concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. Both groups want to establish strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan.

Last week, an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.

And the month before, an IS suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in Kabul where people had gathered celebrating the Persian new year. That attack killed 31 people and wounded 65 others.

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Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Angela Charlton in Paris and Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.

South Korea to remove propaganda loudspeakers at border

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea will remove propaganda-broadcasting loudspeakers from the border with North Korea this week, officials said Monday, as the rivals move to follow through with their leaders’ summit declaration that produced reconciliation steps without a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff.

During their historic meeting Friday at a Korean border village, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed to end hostile acts against each other along their tense border, establish a liaison office and resume reunions of separated families. They also agreed to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, but failed to produce specific time frames and disarmament steps.

Seoul’s Defense Ministry said it would pull back dozens of its front-line loudspeakers on Tuesday before media cameras. Ministry spokeswoman Choi Hyunsoo said Seoul expected Pyongyang to do the same.

South Korea had already turned off its loudspeakers ahead of Friday’s summit talks, and North Korea responded by halting its own broadcasts.

The two Koreas had been engaged in Cold War-era psychological warfare since the North’s fourth nuclear test in early 2016. Seoul began blaring anti-Pyongyang broadcasts and K-Pop songs via border loudspeakers, and Pyongyang quickly matched the South’s action with its own border broadcasts and launches of balloons carrying anti-South leaflets.

Seoul’s announcement came a day after it said Kim told Moon during the summit that he would shut down his country’s only known nuclear testing site and allow outside experts and journalists to watch the process.

South Korean officials also cited Kim as saying he would be willing to give up his nuclear programs if the United States commits to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North. Kim had already suspended his nuclear and missile tests while offering to put his nukes up for negotiations.

The closing of the Punggy-ri test site, where all six of North Korea’s atomic bomb tests occurred, could be an eye-catching disarmament step by Pyongyang. But there is still deep skepticism over whether Kim is truly willing to negotiate away the nukes that his country has built after decades of struggle.

According to a summit accord, Kim and Moon agreed to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization,” rather than clearly stating “a nuclear-free North Korea.” Pyongyang has long said the term “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” must include the United States pulling its 28,500 troops out of South Korea and removing its so-called “nuclear umbrella” security commitment to South Korea and Japan.

Kim could offer more disarmament concessions during his meeting with President Donald Trump, expected in May or June, but it’s unclear what specific steps he would take. Some experts say Kim may announce scraping North Korea’s long-range missile program, which has posed a direct threat to the United States.

U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton reacted coolly to word that Kim would abandon his weapons if the United States pledged not to invade.

Asked on CBS’s “Face the Nation” whether the U.S. would make such a promise, Bolton said: “Well, we’ve heard this before. This is — the North Korean propaganda playbook is an infinitely rich resource. What we want to see from them is evidence that it’s real and not just rhetoric.”

Kim’s meeting with Moon was his second summit with a foreign leader since he took office in late 2011. In March, he traveled to Beijing and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping. While meeting with Xi, Kim suggested he prefers a step-by-step disarmament process in line with corresponding outside rewards, according to Chinese state media. U.S. officials want the North to take complete, verifiable and irreversible disarmament measures.

China said Monday that its foreign minister, Wang Yi, will visit Pyongyang on Wednesday and Thursday.

China is North Korea’s only major economic partner, but trade has declined by about 90 percent following Beijing’s implementation of economic sanctions imposed over the North’s nuclear and missile tests. Some analysts say Kim’s recent charm offensive was aimed at weakening the sanctions.

Also on Monday, the North’s parliament adopted a decree to sync its time zone with South Korea’s this Saturday. North Korea’s official news agency said the move was made at the proposal of Kim, who found it was “a painful wrench to see two clocks indicating Pyongyang and Seoul times hanging on a wall of the summit venue.”

Moon’s office said Sunday that Kim made similar remarks to Moon during the summit.

The North in 2015 had set its clock 30 minutes behind South Korea and Japan, saying the measure was aimed at rooting out the legacy of Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

US says border crossing doesn’t have room for asylum seekers

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — After traveling through Mexico with great fanfare for a month under the Trump administration’s watchful eye, nearly 200 Central American migrants attempting to seek asylum in the United States were stopped in their tracks when border inspectors said that a crossing facility didn’t have enough space to accommodate them.

President Donald Trump vowed last week to “stop” the caravan while Cabinet members said they would deliver a swift response. The asylum seekers held firm, setting up a possible showdown.

In an anticlimactic twist, about 50 asylum seekers were allowed past a gate controlled by Mexican officials to walk across a long bridge but were stopped at the entrance to the U.S. inspection facility at the other end. They were allowed to wait outside the building, technically on Mexican soil, without word of when U.S. officials would let them claim asylum.

Another 50 or so camped on blankets and backpacks in Tijuana outside the Mexican side of the crossing, prohibited from even getting close to the U.S. inspection building.

The asylum-seekers began the day with anticipation, traveling in red-and-white school buses under police escort to a beachfront rally in Tijuana, where a steel fence juts out into the Pacific Ocean. They sang the Honduran national anthem, and supporters on the San Diego side of the fence waved a Honduran flag.

A caravan of Central Americans that has traveled through Mexico in protest of US immigration laws reached the US-border on Sunday, staging a demonstration at a border fence on the beach in Tijuana, Mexico. (April 29)

After a final briefing from lawyers and minutes before they were to begin a short walk to the border crossing, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan announced that the San Ysidro border crossing, the nation’s busiest, had “reached capacity” for people without legal documents and that asylum-seekers may need to wait in Mexico temporarily.

Trump has commented frequently on the caravan since it started in Mexico on March 25 near the Guatemala border and headed north to Tijuana. His broadsides came as his administration vowed to end what officials call “legal loopholes” and “catch-and-release” policies that allow people requesting asylum to be released from custody into the U.S. while their claims make their way through the courts, which can take years.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called the caravan “a deliberate attempt to undermine our laws and overwhelm our system.” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said asylum claims will be resolved “efficiently and expeditiously” and warned that anyone making false claims could be prosecuted.

The administration’s stern warnings left organizers in disbelief that border inspectors were not ready for them.

“They have been well aware that a caravan is going to arrive at the border,” Nicole Ramos, an attorney working on behalf of caravan members, said at a news conference. “The failure to prepare and failure to get sufficient agents and resources is not the fault of the most vulnerable among us. We can build a base in Iraq in under a week. We can’t process 200 refugees. I don’t believe it.”

The caravan that left the Guatemala-Mexico border in late March grew over the last month to more than 1,000 migrants who found safety travelling in numbers. Organizer Irineo Mujica said earlier in April that Mexico City was the caravan’s last official stop.

Some have decided to seek asylum in Mexico. But many of the migrants wanted to continue together on the final leg north and decided to keep travelling en masse. The caravan has also appeared to gain momentum from Trump’s comments and the publicity that followed.

The San Ysidro border inspection facility can hold about 300 people, according to Pete Flores, Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office director, suggesting the bottleneck may be short-lived. The agency processed about 8,000 asylum cases from October through February, or about 50 a day.

Asylum-seekers are typically held for up to three days at the border and then turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. If they pass an asylum officer’s initial screening, they may be detained or released into the U.S. with ankle monitors.

Asylum seekers didn’t appear to be thrown off the by the delay.

Wendi Yaneri Garcia said she was confident she will be released while her asylum case is pending because she is traveling alone with her 2-year-old son, who has been sick. She said that police in her hometown of Atlantida, Honduras, jailed her for protesting construction of a hydroelectric plant and that she received death threats after being released.

“All I want is a place where I can work and raise my son,” the 36-year-old said.

Elin Orrellana, a 23-year-old pregnant woman from El Salvador, said she is fleeing the violent MS-13 street gang, a favorite target of both Sessions and Trump because of their brutal killings in communities in the United States. She said her older sister had been killed by the gang in El Salvador, so she is attempting to join other family members in the Kansas City area.

“Fighting on is worth it,” she said as she camped out for chilly night outside the border crossing.

Pompeo says Israel, Palestinian peace still a US priority

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains a priority for the Trump administration, despite its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its planned move of the U.S. Embassy to the holy city over Palestinian protests.

Pompeo also said the U.S. is “fully supportive” of Israel’s right to defend itself and declined to criticize the Israeli military for its use of live fire against Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border.

He spoke in the Jordanian capital of Amman as he wrapped up the Middle East leg of his first overseas trip as America’s top diplomat.

Pompeo called on the Palestinians to return to long-stalled peace talks with Israel. He said the United States is open to a two-state solution to the conflict if both parties agree, calling it a “likely outcome.”

But he would not agree with Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi’s characterization of the conflict as “the main cause of instability” in the region.

“The parties will ultimately make the decision as to what the correct resolution is,” Pompeo told reporters at a joint news conference with Safadi. “We are certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome.”

But, he said, the Palestinians had to return to a political dialogue to get there.

“An important piece of achieving Middle East stability is to resolve this conflict,” he added. “Precisely how to rank it among all the various challenges, I’ll defer on that. Know that it is an incredible priority for the United States to provide whatever assistance we can to allow the two parties to come to a resolution.”

Safadi had opened the news conference with an apparent appeal for the U.S. to boost efforts to end the conflict.

“This is the main cause of instability in the region and its resolution is the key to achieving the peace and stability we want,” he said. “Yes, the two-state solution is being challenged. Yes, there are many obstacles. But what is the alternative? We cannot give up in our efforts and there is no viable alternative.”

Pompeo’s comments came at the end of a two-day visit to Israel and Jordan during which he did not meet Palestinian representatives.

The Palestinians have essentially boycotted contacts with the U.S. since Trump announced in December that the United States was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem — captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed — as the capital of a future state.

Pompeo’s visit is also taking place just two weeks before the planned May 14 opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and expected massive Palestinian protests the following day.

Over the past month, 39 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1,600 wounded in weekly border protests along the Gaza border, prompting human rights groups to ask Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday to restrict or ban the use of live ammunition. They say the military’s use of lethal force against unarmed protesters is unlawful. Israel’s military argues that the border protests are part of a long-running conflict with Gaza’s ruling Hamas, which it considers a terror group, and that the rules of armed conflict apply.

Asked about the situation, Pompeo demurred, referring to “activities in Gaza over the past days and weeks.”

“We do believe the Israelis have the right to defend themselves and we are fully supportive of that,” he said.

In addition to the Jerusalem decisions, the Trump administration has also angered the Palestinians in recent months by ordering their office in Washington closed, although it remains open for business related to negotiations, slashing funding for the U.N. agency that supports Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and elsewhere in the region, and putting on hold all bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.

Although the White House sponsored a conference on aid to Gaza last month, the Palestinians did not attend. And, a peace plan devised by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and his special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt appears to be on hold.

Syria monitor: Missile attack kills 26, mostly Iranians

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BEIRUT (AP) — A missile attack targeting government outposts in Syria’s northern region killed 26 pro-government fighters, mostly Iranians, a Syria war monitoring group said Monday, amid soaring Mideast tensions between regional archenemies Israel and Iran.

Iranian media gave conflicting reports about the overnight incident amid speculation that it was carried out by neighboring Israel.

The attack came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talked to President Donald Trump on the phone. The White House said the two leaders discussed the continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East, “especially the problems posed by the Iranian regime’s destabilizing activities.”

A day earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ratcheted up the Trump administration’s rhetoric against Iran and offered warm support to Israel and Saudi Arabia in their standoff with Tehran.

“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats to Israel and the region and Iran’s ambition to dominate the Middle East remains,” Pompeo said after a nearly two-hour meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The United States is with Israel in this fight,” he added on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.

Israel has cited Iran’s hostile rhetoric, support for anti-Israel militant groups and development of long-range missiles.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the late Sunday night attack appears to have been carried out by Israel and targeted an arms depot for surface-to-surface missiles at a base in northern Syria known as Brigade 47. The Observatory said four Syrians were also among the casualties.

It said the death toll could rise as the attack also wounded 60 fighters and there were several others still missing.

Iranian state television, citing Syrian media, reported the attack.

However, an Iranian semi-official news agency denied reports that Iranian fighters were killed or that Iranian-run bases were hit. The Tasnim news agency quoted an unnamed Iranian informed official in its report but did not elaborate on the denial.

Another semi-official news agency, ISNA, said the strike killed 18 Iranians, including a commander, in a suburb of the central city of Hama. It cited “local sources and activists” for its report.

The missiles targeted buildings and centers which likely include a weapons depot, ISNA reported.

The Syrian government-owned Tishrin newspaper quoted what it called “sources on the ground” as saying that the attack on military positions in Aleppo and Hama provinces consisted of nine ballistic missiles fired from American-British bases in north Jordan. The report could not be independently confirmed.

There was also no immediate comment from Israel, which rarely confirms or denies its attacks in Israel. Israeli media reported that the security cabinet will hold an unscheduled meeting later Monday on the subject of the nuclear deal with Iran.

President Donald Trump has set a May 12 deadline to decide whether to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal — something he appears likely to do despite heavy pressure to stay in from European and other parties.

Tehran has sent thousands of Iran-backed fighters to back Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s seven-year civil war.

The attack comes amid soaring tensions between Iran and Israel following an airstrike earlier this month on Syria’s T4 air base in central province of Homs that killed seven Iranian military personnel. Tehran has vowed to retaliate for the T4 attack.

Syria, Iran and Russia blamed Israel for that T4 attack. Israel did not confirm or deny it.

On Monday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the time when Iran’s enemies can “hit and run” is over.

“They know if they enter military conflict with Iran, they will be hit multiple times,” he said in comments during a meeting with workers, according to his website. He did not specifically refer to the latest attack in Syria.

Israel Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said in an interview published last Thursday that his country will strike Tehran if attacked by archenemy Iran, escalating an already tense war of words between the two adversaries.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency on Monday quoted chief of Fatimayoun Brigade, an Iran-backed Afghan militia in Syria fighting alongside Iranian forces, as saying their base near Aleppo was not targeted during the strikes and they had no casualties. It did not elaborate.

Earlier on Monday, Syrian TV reported a “new aggression,” with missiles targeting military outposts in northern Syria. The state-run television reported that the missiles targeted several military positions before midnight Sunday outposts in the Hama and Aleppo countryside.

Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar daily, that is considered close to the militant Iranian-backed Hezbollah group and the Syrian government said the attack targeted “important arms depots used by the (Syrian) army and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.” It said that missiles used in the attack appear to have been bunker buster.

Syria-based opposition media activist Mohamad Rasheed said that base that came under attack is about 10 kilometers (7 miles) outside the city of Hama, adding that the airstrike led to several explosions in the arms depot. He added that the area is known as the Maarin Mountain or Mountain 47.

Rasheed said that some of the exploding missiles in the arms depot struck parts of Hama, adding that residents in areas near the base fled their homes. He said the base has been run by Iranian and Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Business: Global shares advance on strong China factory data

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(PhatzNewsRoom / AP)   —   Shares were higher in Europe and Asia on Monday following the release of better-than-expected manufacturing data for China. Markets were closed in Japan and mainland China.

KEEPING SCORE: Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 percent to 12,608.52 and the CAC 40 of France added 0.2 percent to 5,494.72. The FTSE 100 of Britain climbed 0.4 percent to 7,533.71. The future for the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.4 percent to 24,372.00 and the future for the S&P 500 advanced 0.3 percent to 2,878.70.

THE DAY IN ASIA: The Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 1.7 percent to 30,808.45 and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.9 percent to 2,515.38. The S&P ASX 200 in Australia added 0.5 percent to 5,982.70. India’s Sensex advanced 0.5 percent to 35,135.41. Shares also rose in Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Markets in mainland China and Japan were closed for holidays.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks were mostly higher Friday after a wobbly day of trading. The S&P 500 index gained 0.1 percent to 2,669.91. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 11.15 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 24,311.19. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.12 points to 7,119.80. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks lost 1.66 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,556.24. Most of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange finished higher.

CHINA MANUFACTURING: The official purchasing managers’ index for Chinese factory growth eased slightly in April, according to a monthly survey released Monday. It showed activity in the world’s No. 2 economy is holding up despite worries over trade tensions with the U.S. The PMI registered 51.4 for April, easing from 51.5 in the previous month but still above the 50-point mark that separates expansion from contraction on the index’s 100-point scale.

ANALYST’S VIEWPOINT: “The official manufacturing PMI points to economic conditions having remained healthy in April. But with headwinds from the property sector and slower credit growth building, we don’t think this strength will last,” Chang Liu of Capital Economics said in a commentary.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell lost 59 cents to $67.51 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday it gave up 9 cents to $68.10 a barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 60 cents to $73.19 per barrel. On Friday it lost 9 cents to $73.79 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The U.S. dollar rose to 109.29 yen from 109.05 late Friday. The euro slipped to $1.2101 from $1.2131.

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– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Monday, April 30:

1. Merger Monday

Investors digested news of a few multi-billion dollar mergers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Shaking up the UK supermarket sector, Sainsbury ‘s and Asda, the UK arm of Walmart (NYSE:WMT), confirmed they had agreed a £15 billion merger to create Britain’s biggest supermarket group by market share, surpassing current leader Tesco .

Shares of Sainsbury’s (LON:SBRY) jumped 15% after the deal news, while major competitor Tesco (LON:TSCO) lost 1.3%.

Stateside, T-Mobile and Sprint announced on Sunday they had agreed to a $26 billion all-stock deal that, if allowed by antitrust enforcers, will create the country’s third-largest wireless carrier.

Sprint (NYSE:S) shares tumbled around 7% in premarket trade, while T-Mobile (NASDAQ:TMUS) shares gained a little over 1%.

Finally, Marathon Petroleum (NYSE:MPC) is set to buy refining peer Andeavor (NYSE:ANDV) for more than $20 billion, in a combination that would create the largest U.S. refiner by capacity, leapfrogging Valero Energy (NYSE:VLO).

The potential cash-and-stock deal, which is expected to be announced on Monday, values Andeavor at about $150 per share, according to people familiar with the matter.

The offer would represent a premium of 22.6% to Andeavor stock’s Friday close.

2. U.S. Stock Futures Point To Positive Open

U.S. stock futures pointed to a positive open, as investors prepped for another busy week of earnings and economic data heading into a traditionally difficult month for financial markets.

The blue-chip Dow futures rose 105 points, or about 0.4%, the S&P 500 futures tacked on 8 points, or nearly 0.3%, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 futures added 38 points, or roughly 0.6%.

The coming week will be dominated by several market-moving events, with the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting, April’s jobs report and earnings from Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) on the agenda.

Elsewhere, in Europe, the continent’s major bourses posted slight gains, as companies delivered strong earnings figures.

Earlier, in Asia, markets in the region closed mostly higher on the last trading day of the month, as tensions in the Korean Peninsula eased and first-quarter earnings shone.

3. Dollar, Yields Tick Higher Ahead Of Fresh Batch Of Data

The dollar ticked higher against a basket of currencies, as investors looked ahead of a fresh batch of U.S. economic data.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback’s strength against a basket of six major currencies, was around 0.3% higher at 91.53, not from Friday’s high of 91.79, its strongest level since Jan. 11.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield stood at 2.964%, staying below the 3%-threshold. It climbed to a more than four-year peak of 3.035% last week.

The recent bounce in the dollar and yields came as strengthening inflation prospects added to expectations of a more hawkish approach from the Federal Reserve this year.

4. Fed’s Preferred Inflation Metric in Focus

Monday’s calendar features a closely-watched report on personal income and spending for March, which includes the personal consumption expenditures inflation data – the Federal Reserve’s preferred metric for inflation – at 8:30AM ET (1230GMT).

The consensus forecast is that the report will show that the core PCE price index inched up 0.2% last month, after rising at a similar rate a month earlier.

On an annualized basis, core PCE prices are expected to rise 1.9%, compared to a 1.6%-increase in the preceding month.

The Fed uses core PCE as a tool to help determine whether to raise or lower interest rates, with the aim of keeping inflation at a rate of 2% or below.

Rising inflation would be a catalyst to push the Fed toward raising interest rates at a faster pace than currently expected.

Investors will also get the April reading on manufacturing activity in the Midwest at 9:45AM ET (1345GMT), followed by a report on March pending home sales at 10AM ET (1400GMT).

The Fed is not expected to take any action on interest rates at this week’s meeting. The majority of economists believe the central bank will hike rates three more times this year, with the next move higher coming at its meeting in June.

5. Oil Slips On Rising U.S. Rig Count

Crude prices started the week in negative territory, weighed down by a rise in U.S. drilling for new production.

U.S. drillers added five oil rigs in the week to April 27, bringing the total count to 825, General Electric (NYSE:GE)’s Baker Hughes energy services firm said in its closely followed report on Friday.

That was the highest number since March 2015, underscoring worries about rising U.S. output.

New York-traded WTI crude futures lost 66 cents, or about 1%, to $67.44 per barrel, while Brent futures declined 71 cents, or roughly 1%, to $73.08 per barrel.

Korea leaders avoid specific measures to address nuke crisis

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GOYANG, South Korea (AP) — The leaders of North and South Korea played it safe Friday, repeating a previous vow to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons but failing to provide any specific measures or forge a potential breakthrough on an issue that has captivated and terrified many since the rivals seemed on the verge of war last year.

In a sense, the vague joint statement produced by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to achieve “a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula through complete denuclearization” kicks one of the world’s most pressing issues down the road to a much-anticipated summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in coming weeks.

Even so, the Koreas’ historic summit Friday might be remembered as much for the sight of two men from nations with a deep and bitter history of acrimony holding each other’s hands and grinning from ear to ear after Kim walked over the border to greet Moon, and then both briefly stepped together into the North and back to the South.

Standing at a podium next to Moon after the talks ended, Kim faced a wall of cameras beaming his image live to the world and declared that the Koreas are “linked by blood as a family and compatriots who cannot live separately.”

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in ended their talks with a warm embrace and a pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons. They also say there will be talks to formally end the Korean War. (April 27)

What happened Friday must be seen in the context of the last year — when the United States, its ally South Korea and the North threatened and raged as the North unleashed a torrent of weapons tests — but also in light of the long, destructive history of the rival Koreas, who fought one of the 20th century’s bloodiest conflicts and even today occupy a divided peninsula that’s still technically in a state of war.

It marks a surreal, whiplash swing in relations for the countries, from nuclear threats and missile tests to intimations of peace and cooperation. Perhaps the change is best illustrated by geography: Kim and Moon’s historic handshake and a later 30-minute conversation at a footbridge on the border occurred only meters (feet) from the spot where a North Korean soldier fled south in a hail of gunfire months earlier, and within walking distance of where North Korean soldiers axe-murdered two U.S. soldiers in 1976.

The latest declaration between the Koreas, Kim said, should not repeat the “unfortunate history of past inter-Korean agreements that only reached the starting line” before becoming derailed.

Many will be judging the summit based on the weak nuclear language. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests last year likely put it on the threshold of becoming a legitimate nuclear power. The North, which has spent decades doggedly building its bombs despite crippling sanctions and near-constant international opprobrium, claims it has already risen to that level.

But the Koreas made inroads on a raft of other points of friction between them. They agreed to settle their disagreement over their western maritime border by designating it as a peace area and securing fishing activities for both countries.

Moon agreed to visit Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, sometime in the autumn, and both leaders said they’d meet on a regular basis and exchange calls via a recently established hotline. They said they’d open a permanent communication office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong and resume temporary reunions of relatives separated by the 1950-53 Korean War. Both Koreas will also jointly push for talks with the United State and also potentially China to officially end the Korean War, which stopped in an armistice that never ended the war.

“I feel like I’m firing a flare at the starting line in the moment of (the two Koreas) writing a new history in North-South relations, peace and prosperity,” Kim told Moon as they sat at a table, which had been built so that exactly 2018 millimeters separated them, to begin their closed-door talks. Moon responded that there were high expectations that they produce an agreement that will be a “big gift to the entire Korean nation and every peace-loving person in the world.”

Kim acknowledged the widespread skepticism over their summit. “We have reached big agreements before but were unable to fulfill them. … There are skeptical views on whether the meeting today will yield meaningful results,” Kim said. “If we maintain a firm will and proceed forward hand in hand, it will be impossible at least for things to get worse than they are now.”

Kim, during their talks, joked that he would make sure not to interrupt Moon’s sleep anymore, a reference to the North’s drumbeat of early-morning missile tests last year, according to Moon’s spokesman, Yoon Young-chan. Kim also referred to a South Korean island that North Korea attacked with artillery in 2010, killing four, saying the residents of Yeonpyeong Island who have been living in fear of North Korean artillery have high hopes the summit will help heal past scars. Kim said he’d visit Seoul’s presidential Blue House if invited.

The historic greeting of the two leaders, which may be the images most remembered from the summit, was planned to the last detail, though the multiple border crossings may have been impromptu. As thousands of journalists, who were kept in a huge conference center well away from the summit, except for a small group of tightly controlled pool reporters at the border, waited and watched, Moon stood near the Koreas’ dividing line, moving forward the moment he glimpsed Kim, dressed in dark, Mao-style suit, appearing in front of a building on the northern side. They smiled broadly and shook hands with the border line between them. Moon then invited Kim to cross into the South, and, after Kim did so, Moon said, “You have crossed into the South, but when do I get to go across?” Kim replied, “Why don’t we go across now?” and then grasped Moon’s hand and led him into the North and then back into the South.

Moon then led Kim along a blindingly red carpet into South Korean territory, where two fifth-grade students from the Daesongdong Elementary School, the only South Korean school within the DMZ, greeted the leaders and gave Kim flowers. An honor guard stood at attention for inspection, a military band playing traditional Korean folk songs beloved by both Koreas and the South Korean equivalent of “Hail to the Chief.”

They then took a photo inside the Peace House, where the summit took place, in front of a painting of South Korea’s Bukhan Mountain, which towers over the South Korean Blue House presidential mansion and where dozens of North Korean commandos trying to assassinate the then-dictator in Seoul were killed in 1968. Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, was by Kim’s side throughout the ceremony, handing him a pen to sign a guestbook, taking the schoolchildren’s flowers from his hand and scribbling notes at the start of the talks with Moon.

Expectations were generally low on the nuclear issue, given that past so-called breakthroughs on North Korea’s weapons have collapsed amid acrimonious charges of cheating and bad faith. Skeptics of engagement have long said that the North often turns to interminable rounds of diplomacy meant to ease the pain of sanctions — giving it time to perfect its weapons and win aid for unfulfilled nuclear promises.

Advocates of engagement, however, say the only way to get a deal is to do what the Koreas tried Friday: Sit down and see what’s possible.

The White House said in a statement that it is “hopeful that talks will achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula. … (and) looks forward to continuing robust discussions in preparation for the planned meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un in the coming weeks.”

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AP writers Kim Tong-hyung, Hyung-jin Kim and Eric Talmadge contributed to this report.

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Foster Klug, the AP’s bureau chief for South Korea, has covered the Koreas since 2005. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apklug

Cohen loaned millions to Ukraine-born cab mogul

NEW YORK (AP) — President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, whose business dealings are being investigated by the FBI, and his father-in-law have lent $26 million in recent years to a taxi mogul who is shifting into the legalized marijuana industry, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Semyon “Sam” Shtayner, a longtime business associate of Michael Cohen’s father-in-law, created Nevada-based Cannaboss LLC the day before the 2016 election. A few months later, he took a majority position in a company that is provisionally licensed to cultivate medicinal marijuana and produce edibles, the records show.

“He personally manages over 500 taxi medallions, but he is looking to transition from the medallion business to the cannibas (sic),” according to the personal narrative Shtayner submitted last October to city officials in Henderson, Nevada, that was obtained by the AP under the state’s public records law.

It’s not clear whether Shtayner used any of the loans — $6 million of which have come directly from Cohen since 2014 — to finance his grow operation.

Earlier this month, FBI agents searched Cohen’s hotel, office and home seeking banking records, as well as records related to his dealings in the taxi industry, people familiar with the probe told the AP, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation.

Public records show the Ukraine-born Shtayner, 63, his wife and companies they control have used their properties in Chicago and Sunny Isles, Florida, as collateral for the loans from Cohen and his father-in-law, Fima Shusterman.

Neither Cohen nor his attorney responded to phone messages or an email seeking comment about the loans.

An attorney representing Shtayner in his Nevada marijuana ventures told the AP his client had no comment.

Reached on his cellphone, Shusterman declined to discuss his loans or Shtayner.

News of Shtayner’s ties to the medical marijuana industry comes as the Trump administration finds itself somewhat split on marijuana policy.

Trump recently indicated he will support a law protecting states that already have legalized the drug — a position counter to that of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who stridently opposes any such effort and in January lifted restrictions that had kept federal prosecutors from pursuing cases against those complying with state marijuana laws.

Marijuana use is fully legal in Nevada, seven other states and Washington, D.C., and 38 states allow medicinal or other limited uses.

It was not clear why Shtayner has decided to move out of taxis and into the grow business. But the rapid rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Lyft has disrupted the taxi industry, and Shtayner is among a handful of prominent taxi owners who face lawsuits from creditors who once lent liberally to medallion owners.

The value of medallions — the physical plates affixed to cabs that owners are required to display — have dropped precipitously in recent years from highs of over $1 million apiece in New York just a few years ago to nearly half those amounts today.

The subsequent drop has left many taxi medallion owners overleveraged.

One former Cohen business partner, who managed Cohen’s taxis for years, is accused in a lawsuit by creditors of hiding his assets in financial disclosures to his bank — including a luxury apartment in a Trump skyscraper.

Another former cab manager of Cohen’s has declared bankruptcy and is facing criminal charges from state prosecutors in New York, who accuse him of pocketing nearly $5 million in taxes.

The business relationship among Cohen, Shusterman and Shtayner stretches back years. Property records in New York show that Shtayner and Shusterman were among the investors in an upper Manhattan taxi garage and auto repair shop in the 1990s.

Last August, Shusterman lent at least $12 million against properties owned by Shtayner, his wife or their companies, Chicago real estate records show. In a second series of four transactions in March, Shusterman lent the Shtayners or their companies an additional $8 million.

Four of the loans were made to Shtayner’s wife, Yasya, and four others were directed to two Chicago taxi companies she manages, according to corporate documents. The Chicago Sun-Times first reported those transactions.

Cohen has been involved in the New York City yellow cab industry since the 1990s. He has a fleet of 22 cabs in Chicago and, along with his wife and father-in-law, has owned some 30 medallions in New York after initially going into business with his father-in-law, records show.

Shusterman — who, like Shtayner, started as a cab driver after emigrating from Ukraine — pleaded guilty in 1993 to federal money-laundering charges in a tax-evasion case involving cab drivers and a Brooklyn accountant.

Shtayner’s Chicago cab empire has grown rapidly, though records show that 99 of his medallions are in foreclosure and 15 have some sort of violation. Forty-nine have already been taken over by the city for failure to pay taxes and fees.

Although Shtayner has been sued by creditors, operates a taxi business in a harrowing time for his industry and is borrowing heavily in nontraditional loans, the city of Henderson concluded that he is adequately liquid financially. The city’s business operation division found that Shtayner and his business partner, a Las Vegas-based steel and aluminum provider, each had liquid assets that exceed the state’s requirement that they be able to free up to $250,000 within 30 days if needed, according to the records obtained by the AP.

Pompeo dives in at NATO on 1st trip as top US diplomat

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(PhatzNewsRom / AP)   —   BRUSSELS — Newly minted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hit the ground running on Friday at NATO headquarters on his first trip abroad as America’s top diplomat.

Just hours after being sworn in, Pompeo flew to Brussels where the alliance’s foreign ministers are meeting to prepare a leaders’ summit in July.

“I did come straight away, I was sworn in yesterday and I hopped on a plane,” Pompeo told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg as he arrived. “There’s good reason for that. The work that’s being done here today is invaluable and our objectives are important and this mission means a lot to the United States of America. The president very much wanted me to get here and I’m glad we were able to make it, and I look forward to a productive visit here today.”

Stoltenberg said Pompeo’s presence at the meeting so soon after taking the reins of the State Department was “a great expression of the importance of the alliance and the importance we attach to the alliance.”

“I very much look forward to talking with you, on the need to adapt NATO to a more demanding security environment,” he added.

A senior U.S. official says Pompeo’s aim is to ensure that NATO maintains a unified position of “no business as usual” with Russia and to prod members, particularly Germany, to meet their commitments to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense by 2024. That commitment was made in 2014 and thus far only six of the 28 countries who made the pledge meet the goal. Nine have produced realistic plans for reaching it by 2024, but the rest, including Germany, have not.

That spending level, frequently incorrectly referred to by Trump as a contribution to NATO itself, is particularly important given the allies’ need to combat increased Russian aggression, said the official, who was not authorized to preview Pompeo’s meetings publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The official said the U.S. delegation would make the point that NATO is more relevant today that at any point since the end of the Cold War. Russian efforts to destabilize Western democracies as well as encroach on neighbors like Ukraine will be a major theme of the meeting, the official said. The ministers will hold sessions on Russia, Afghanistan and NATO’s “open door policy” for accepting new members.

In addition, Pompeo will have separate talks with the foreign ministers of Italy and Turkey. Relations with the latter are notably strained. The senior official said one of Pompeo’s main goals with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is to refocus on coordination in northern Syria, where Turkey has been attacking Kurdish rebels supported by the U.S. That coordination was started by Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, who was fired by Trump last month, and had languished in the absence of a new secretary of state.

Pompeo will also renew calls for the release of a jailed American pastor accused by Turkey of espionage, and encourage Turkey not to pursue the purchase of an advanced air defense system from Russia.

From Brussels, Pompeo will travel on to the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, where the future of the Iran nuclear deal and the conflict in Syria will be significant agenda items, officials said.

Pompeo will arrive in Riyadh on Saturday ahead of a series of events that could potentially plunge the region into deeper disarray, including Trump’s decision by May 12 on whether to pull out of the Iran deal, and the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem two days later. The embassy move is deeply opposed by the Palestinians, who on May 15 will mark the anniversary of what they term the “nabka,” or catastrophe, when they fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 Palestine war.

Looming over Pompeo’s trip is uncertainty over Trump’s policy on Syria, which has shifted between a speedy all-out withdrawal of American forces from the country and leaving a lasting footprint to deter Iran from completing a land bridge from Tehran to Beirut.

Cosby could spend rest of life in prison for sex assault

NORRISTOWN, Pa. (AP) — After decades of whispers, lawsuits, investigations and close calls, Bill Cosby could be headed to prison at age 80 for sexual assault for the rest of his life, vindicating a multitude of women who doubted anyone would ever believe their word against that of America’s Dad.

The comedian was convicted Thursday of drugging and molesting Temple University employee Andrea Constand at his suburban Philadelphia mansion in January 2004. Women’s advocates called the verdict a turning point in the #MeToo movement that proved what Cosby’s accusers had been saying all along: his nice-guy image was a sham.

Lili Bernard, who said Cosby sexually assaulted her before giving her a one-time role on “The Cosby Show” in 1992, became so emotional in the courtroom gallery that she accidentally banged her forehead on the bench in front of her.

“I’m overcome with gratitude,” Bernard, sobbing, said outside the courthouse. “I feel like I have to pinch myself. Am I awake? It’s a miracle.”

The verdict, in the first big celebrity trial of the #MeToo era, sealed the spectacular late-in-life downfall of an entertainer who broke racial barriers in Hollywood on his way to TV superstardom as sweater-wearing, wisdom-dispensing Dr. Cliff Huxtable.

Prosecutor says jurors provided Bill Cosby’s accuser Andrea Constand with “justice” after Cosby was convicted at his retrial. (April 26)

It was the only criminal case to arise from a barrage of allegations from more than 60 women who said Cosby drugged and molested them over five decades but whose stories were often disbelieved or ignored years before #MeToo put a spotlight on sexual misconduct by powerful men.

Cosby stared straight ahead as the verdict was read but moments later lashed out loudly at District Attorney Kevin Steele after the prosecutor demanded Cosby be sent immediately to jail. Steele told the judge they’d learned through the trial that Cosby has an airplane, and feared he could flee.

Cosby angrily denied he has a plane and called Steele an “a–hole,” shouting, “I’m sick of him!”

Judge Steven O’Neill decided Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail while he awaits sentencing but restricted him to Montgomery County and the mansion where the encounter with Constand occurred.

Cosby was convicted of three counts of aggravated indecent assault, each carrying a standard sentence of five to 10 years in prison. The counts are likely to be merged for sentencing purposes, but given Cosby’s age even a modest term could mean he will die behind bars.

Sentencing will likely be held within three months. Before that, Cosby must face assessment to determine if he is a sexually violent predator. He will also be required to register as a sex offender under Megan’s Law.

The jury of seven men and five women deliberated 14 hours over two days before convicting Cosby.

Constand, a 45-year-old Temple University women’s basketball administrator, said Cosby knocked her out with three blue pills he called “your friends” and then penetrated her with his fingers as she lay immobilized, unable to resist or say no. Cosby claimed the encounter was consensual, saying he gave her the cold and allergy medicine Benadryl to relax.

Cosby waved to the crowd outside the courthouse, got into an SUV and left without saying anything. His lawyer Tom Mesereau declared “the fight is not over” and said he will appeal.

Shrieks erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced, and some of Cosby’s accusers whimpered and cried. Constand remained stoic, then hugged her lawyer and members of the prosecution team.

The verdict came after a two-week retrial in which prosecutors had more courtroom weapons at their disposal than they did the first time: They put on the stand five other women who testified that Cosby, married for 54 years, drugged and violated them, too.

At Cosby’s first trial, which ended in a deadlocked jury less than a year ago, only one additional accuser was allowed to testify.

“Justice has been done!” celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who represented some of Cosby’s accusers, said on the courthouse steps. “We are so happy that finally we can say women are believed.”

The district attorney became teary-eyed as he commended Constand for what he said was courage in coming forward. As Constand stood silently behind him, Steele apologized to her for a previous DA’s decision in 2005 not to charge Cosby.

Cosby “was a man who had evaded this moment for far too long,” Steele said. “He used his celebrity, he used his wealth, he used his network of supporters to help him conceal his crimes.”

He added: “Now, we really know today who was really behind that act, who the real Bill Cosby was.”

Since Cosby’s first trial, the #MeToo movement has taken down powerful men in rapid succession, among them Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Kevin Spacey and Sen. Al Franken. During closing arguments, Cosby’s lawyers slammed #MeToo, calling Cosby its victim and likening it to a witch hunt or a lynching.

Cosby’s new defense team, led by Mesereau, the celebrity attorney who won an acquittal for Michael Jackson on child-molestation charges, launched a ferocious attack on Constand during the trial, calling her a “con artist” and “pathological liar” who framed Cosby to get rich.

Cosby’s defense team derided the other accusers as home-wreckers and suggested they made up their stories in a bid for money and fame.

But Cosby had long ago confirmed some of the rumors about drugs and extramarital sex. In a deposition he gave more than a decade ago as part of Constand’s lawsuit, he acknowledged he had obtained quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with.

A federal judge, acting on a request from The Associated Press, unsealed portions of Cosby’s deposition about quaaludes and sexual conquests in 2015, citing the disconnect between Cosby’s private behavior and his reputation as a public moralist.

That prompted authorities to reopen the criminal investigation, and they eventually brought charges.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission. Constand has done so.

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Follow Mike Sisak at https://twitter.com/mikesisak .

Follow Claudia Lauer at https://twitter.com/ClaudiaLauer .

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For more coverage visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/CosbyonTrial .

Use of DNA in serial killer probe sparks privacy concerns

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Investigators who used a genealogical website to find the ex-policeman they believe is a shadowy serial killer and rapist who terrified California decades ago call the technique ground-breaking.

But others say it raises troubling legal and privacy concerns for the millions of people who submit their DNA to such sites to discover their heritage.

There aren’t strong privacy laws to keep police from trolling ancestry site databases, said Steve Mercer, the chief attorney for the forensic division of the Maryland Office of the Public Defender.

“People who submit DNA for ancestors testing are unwittingly becoming genetic informants on their innocent family,” Mercer said, adding that they “have fewer privacy protections than convicted offenders whose DNA is contained in regulated databanks.”

Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested Tuesday after investigators matched crime-scene DNA with genetic material stored by a distant relative on an online site. From there, they narrowed it down to the Sacramento-area grandfather using DNA obtained from material he’d discarded, Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said.

(April 26)

Authorities declined to name the online site. However, two of the largest, Ancestry.com and 23andMe, said Thursday that they weren’t involved in the case.

DNA potentially may have played an earlier role in the case. It was just coming into use as a criminal investigative tool in 1986 when the predator variously known as the East Area Rapist and the Golden State Killer apparently ended his decade-long wave of attacks.

DeAngelo, a former police officer, probably would have known about the new method, experts said.

“He knew police techniques,” said John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Louis Schlesinger. “He was smart.”

No one who knew DeAngelo over the decades connected him with the string of at least a dozen murders, 50 rapes and dozens of burglaries from 1976 to 1986 throughout the state.

After he was identified as the suspect, however, prosecutors rushed to charge him with eight killings.

In addition, police in the central California farming town of Visalia said Thursday that DeAngelo is a suspect in a 13th killing and about 100 burglaries in the area.

In 1975, of community college teacher Claude Snelling was shot while trying to stop a masked intruder from kidnapping his 16-year-old daughter from his home.

Investigators lacked DNA evidence so Snelling’s death and the burglaries weren’t included in the tally of Golden State Killer crimes but fingerprints and shoe tracks will be reviewed for matches to DeAngelo, Visalia Police Chief Jason Salazar said.

Investigators searched DeAngelo’s home on Thursday, looking for class rings, earrings, dishes and other items that were taken from crime scenes as well as weapons.

Meanwhile, DeAngelo’s neighbors, relatives and former acquaintances all say they had no inkling that he could be a serial killer. He worked nearly three decades in a Sacramento-area supermarket warehouse as a truck mechanic, retiring last year. As a neighbor, he was known for taking meticulous care of his lawn in suburban Citrus Heights.

DeAngelo worked as a police officer in the farming town of Exeter, not far from Visalia, from 1973 to 1976.

DeAngelo was a “black sheep” who didn’t joke around with other officers, said Farrel Ward, 75, who served on the force with DeAngelo.

Ward said it’s possible that DeAngelo helped with the search for Snelling’s killer and the elusive burglar but he doesn’t recall DeAngelo directly investigating the killing.

“I’ve been thinking, but there’s no indication whatsoever that anything was wrong,” Ward said. “How could you just go out and kill somebody and go back and go to work? I don’t understand that.”

Later, DeAngelo joined the Auburn Police Department outside of Sacramento but was fired in 1979 after he was caught shoplifting a hammer and dog repellant.

Investigators say they have linked DeAngelo to 11 killings that occurred after he was fired.

An arrest had been made in the case of a man responsible for at least 12 killings and 50 rapes throughout California in the 1970s and 80s.

James Huddle said he always hoped police would catch the killer whose attacks prompted him to buy a pistol.

But he was stunned to find out the man arrested was DeAngelo, his former brother-in-law.

Huddle said it was “still just going crazy in my mind.”

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Balsamo reported from Los Angeles. AP Writer Paul Elias contributed to this story from San Francisco.

Business: Global stocks follow Wall Street higher after strong results

BEIJING (AP) — Most global stock markets followed Wall Street higher on Friday on strong U.S. earnings, as investors watched the inter-Korean summit.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX rose 0.8 percent to 12,600.90 and France’s CAC 40 added 0.1 percent to 5,460.95. London’s FTSE 100 edged up 7 points to 7,428.50. On Wall Street, futures for the Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 0.2 percent and the future for the Dow Jones industrial average lost 0.3 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.2 percent to 3,082.23 and Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 added 0.7 percent to 22,467.87. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng advanced 0.9 percent to 30,280.67 and Seoul’s Kospi was 0.7 percent higher at 2,492.40. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 gained 0.7 percent to 5,939.60 and India’s Sensex climbed 0.8 percent to 35,003.46. New Zealand, Taiwan and Southeast Asian markets also rose.

WALL STREET: Stocks climbed as Facebook led a rally by technology companies. Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks and United Parcel Service reported higher first-quarter profits. Strong results from companies including Chipotle Mexican Grill and O’Reilly Automotive helped retailers and other consumer-focused companies. Energy companies also climbed. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 1 percent to 2,666.94. The Dow Jones industrial average added 1 percent to 24,322.34. The technology-heavy Nasdaq composite advanced 1.6 percent to 7,118.68.

KOREA SUMMIT: Kim Jong Un became the first North Korean leader to visit South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953 when he stepped across their heavily armed border for talks Friday with the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, about the North’s nuclear program. The meeting comes amid mounting pressure on Kim’s government to give up nuclear and missile development. Kim and Moon greeted other warmly and then held a private meeting. A White House statement expressed hope the meeting will “achieve progress toward a future of peace and prosperity for the entire Korean Peninsula.”

ANALYST’S TAKE: “For good reasons, U.S. markets rose overnight and this change looks set to play into higher Asia Pacific markets into the end of the week,” said Jingyi Pan of IG in a report. “However, eyes remain on key items including the Bank of Japan and the two Koreas’ meetings alongside a slew of data to keep us occupied.”

JAPAN ECONOMY: Japan’s central bank left its ultra-easy monetary policy and inflation forecast unchanged. The Bank of Japan’s short-term policy interest rate is negative 0.1 percent and it aims to keep the yield on 10-year government bonds at zero percent. The meeting was the first since BOJ Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda began a new five-year term this month.

EURO ZONE: The head of the European Central Bank says recent signs of weakening economic growth are grounds for caution but not worrisome enough yet to consider changing the bank’s stimulus and interest rate policy. Mario Draghi said data point to “some moderation” in growth in the 19 countries that use the euro, while remaining “consistent with a broad-based expansion.” Draghi noted the potential for damage from tensions over trade, which have grown since U.S. President Donald Trump announced tariffs on some imports.

JAPAN MANUFACTURING: Japanese factory output rose by an unexpectedly strong 1.2 percent in March from a month earlier while retail spending declined 0.7 percent. It was the second monthly gain in factory activity following a plunge in January. However, output declined in the January-March quarter. Demand for labor increased but manufacturers reported inventories also rose, suggesting they may cut production in coming months.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 26 cents to $67.93 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 14 cents on Thursday to close at $68.19. Brent crude, used to price international oils, shed 27 cents to $73.61 per barrel in London. It jumped 65 cents the previous session to $73.88.

CURRENCY: The dollar declined to 109.33 yen from Thursday’s 109.29 yen. The euro slipped to $1.2081 from $1.2104.

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– Here are the top five things you need to know in financial markets on Friday, April 27:

1. U.S. advanced first quarter GDP in focus

Investors will keep an eye on a preliminary reading of first-quarter U.S. growth due at 8:30AM ET (12:30GMT) Friday to gauge if the world’s largest economy is strong enough to withstand multiple rate hikes in the coming months.

The report is expected to show growth in the January-March period slowing from an annual rate of 2.9% to 2.0%, as consumer spending is forecast to have slowed sharply from the last quarter.

Despite the expected slowdown, the data is unlikely to make much impact on Fed policymakers given the expected boost over the coming months from the Trump administration tax cuts.

However, central banks are closely watching growth figures for signs of a global slowdown. The U.S. data will arrive after the UK registered its slowest growth in five years earlier on Friday, while the French economy also slowed more than expected to its lowest level since the third quarter of 2016.

Besides the GDP report, the University of Michigan will publish its revision of consumer sentiment for April at 10:00AM ET (14:00GMT). A slight uptick to 98.0 from the initial reading of 97.8 is the consensus forecast.

2. Amazon and Microsoft expected to support tech stocks

Shares of Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) rallied nearly 7% to in pre-market trade on Friday, after the e-commerce giant posted earnings that beat on both the top and bottom line.

Amazon reported earnings of $3.27 per share on $51.04 billion in revenue, which was well above analysts’ expectations for earnings of $1.26 per share on $49.78 billion in revenue.

Amazon Web Services, the cloud service platform, continued to show robust growth, as revenue rose 49% to $5.44 billion, topping expectations of $5.25 billion.

Shares of Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) also gained nearly 2% in pre-market trade on Friday after topping consensus expectations.

Microsoft reported earnings of 95 cents per share on $26.82 billion in revenue, beating analysts’ expectations for earnings of 85 cents per share on $25.77 billion in revenue.

Microsoft’s personal computing segment posted revenue of $9.92 billion for the quarter, above analysts’ estimates of $9.25 billion.

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s transition from its legacy businesses to cloud remained on track as its Intelligent Cloud segment posted revenues of $7.90 billion beating Wall Street estimates of $7.68 billion.

Also on watch Friday, oil giants Chevron (NYSE:CVX) and Exxon (NYSE:XOM) will release quarterly earnings before the opening bell.

3. U.S. stocks point to mixed open ahead of GDP

After solid gains a day earlier, U.S. futures pointed to a more cautious stance on Friday ahead of first quarter GDP data. While both the Dow and S&P 500 looked set to register slight losses, tech stocks were holding onto slight gains as Amazon and Microsoft supported sentiment. At 5:36AM ET (9:36GMT), the blue-chip Dow futures fell 114 points, or 0.47%, S&P 500 futures lost 8 points, or 0.30%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures inched up 3 points, or 0.04%.

Elsewhere, European stocks headed for a fifth straight week of gains as well-received earnings from Spanish banks and a recovery in tech shares buoyed sentiment.

Earlier, Asian stocks closed higher as investors celebrated a rebound in tech stocks while markets in Seoul were underpinned by optimism as leaders of North and South Korea held their first summit in over a decade.

4. Oils cautious ahead of U.S. shale production data

The weekly installment of drilling activity from Baker Hughes on Friday at 1:00PM ET (17:00GMT) will provide investors with fresh insight into U.S. oil production and demand after data last week showed the number of U.S. oil rigs rose for the third straight week.

The weekly rig count is an important barometer for the drilling industry and serves as a proxy for oil production and oil services demand.

Market participants remain concerned that rising U.S. output could potentially derail OPEC’s effort to end a supply glut.

Domestic oil production – driven by shale extraction – rose to an all-time high of 10.52 million bpd last week, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said, staying above Saudi Arabia’s output levels and within reach of Russia, the world’s biggest crude producer.

OPEC and other producers, including Russia, agreed to cut output by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in November last year to slash global inventories to the five year-average. The arrangement is set to expire at the end of 2018 although traders hold hopes that it could be extended into next year when OPEC gathers for its meeting in June.

U.S. crude oil futures fell 0.45% to $67.88 at 5:38AM ET (9:38GMT), while Brent oil traded down 0.45% to $74.40.

5. BoJ stands pat amid central bank immobility

The Bank of Japan left its monetary stimulus program unchanged on Friday, as expected, but removed previous wording on reaching its 2% inflation around fiscal 2019, underscoring just how much more time will be needed to reach its 2% target. Its overall inflation forecasts were largely unchanged.

The move came after the European Central Bank also held steady on Thursday with ECB president Mario Draghi refraining from discussing the end of asset purchases or even the stronger euro as they focused on gauging the health of the region’s economy. Momentum has waned since the start of the year, and any pickup in underlying inflation appears to have stalled.

Although the Federal Reserve has led the central banker pack with six interest rate increases since 2015, global policymakers are in a wait-and-see mode as they look for signs of a slowdown in global growth. The Fed is expected to hold steady at its meeting next week, though markets are pricing in the next rate hike for June and odds for an additional two posterior increases by the end of the year were hovering just below the 50% threshold.

Rival Koreas’ leaders face high stakes at historic summit

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — It may lack the punch of President Donald Trump’s vow to unleash “fire and fury” and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s “nuclear button” boasts, but the stakes will be high on Friday when Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in sit down on the southern side of the no man’s land that forms the world’s most heavily armed border.

Kim may never abandon the nuclear weapons that he claims are all that stand between him and annihilation, but if the Koreas and the United States are going to begin stepping away from what, until a few months ago, looked like a real possibility of nuclear war, then Kim and Moon must lay the foundation with a successful summit of their own. The fate of a planned Trump-Kim meeting, possibly next month, is also linked to what happens Friday.

The rival Koreas’ long, bitter history will provide skeptics with ample fodder to doubt that any real deal can be reached. Since a tenuous Korean War cease-fire took hold in 1953, every major initiative to settle the world’s last remaining Cold War standoff has eventually stalled.

So what’s the goal? What would “success” look like?

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon-Jae-in will plant a commemorative tree and inspect an honor guard together after Kim walks across the border Friday for their historic summit, South Korean officials say. (April 26)

Some sort of progress on nuclear weapons, even it falls short of a “breakthrough,” headlines the list, but there’s also, from the North Korean perspective, the “problem” of nearly 30,000 heavily armed U.S. troops stationed in the South, and the failure to agree on a peace treaty formally ending the war, a situation that the North routinely says creates the hostility that makes its own nuclear weapons necessary.

Here is a look at how we got here, what the two sides want, and the chances that a real deal can be achieved:

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FROM THREATS TO TALKS

Moon, a liberal who cut his political teeth as a lead architect of a previous government’s “sunshine policy” of engagement with North Korea, came into office last year hoping for better ties with the North. Instead, one of the most heated North Korean weapons-testing outbursts in recent memory forced him to follow Washington in ramping up pressure on the North.

Then, in January, Kim began a charm offensive by declaring that North Korea had “achieved the goal of completing our state nuclear force” and opening the door to diplomacy. Analysts believe that North Korean technicians still have some work to do to make this a fact, but the important thing, from Moon’s viewpoint, was the shift to engagement.

The Olympic Games in the South Korean mountain resort of Pyeongchang in February provided the perfect backdrop for that diplomacy to flourish. Kim sent his sister to Pyeongchang with a summit invitation for Moon, and the two Koreas marched together at the opening ceremony and formed a single women’s hockey team.

During a visit by a high-level South Korean official to North Korea, Kim reportedly announced that he wouldn’t need nuclear weapons if his government’s security could be guaranteed and external threats were removed. He also reportedly offered to meet with Trump and stop weapons testing as the diplomacy plays out.

After learning from South Korea of Kim’s offer to meet, Trump shocked the world by accepting.

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WHERE’S THIS HAPPENING?

The short answer: Someplace where Kim won’t feel entirely comfortable.

Succeed or fail, there will be some indelible images from this summit as the North Korean leader ventures out of his stronghold in Pyongyang and onto what is technically South Korean soil — the first of the three Kim family rulers to cross the border since the Korean War.

To get to the South Korean-controlled Peace House on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone, in the border village of Panmunjom, Kim will walk across the border, and then inspect with Moon a South Korean honor guard, near the spot where a defecting North Korean soldier recently fled south in a hail of bullets fired by his former comrades.

Panmunjom is about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Seoul and the site of the signing of the armistice that ended fighting in 1953 — but not the war, which technically continues to this day. Staging the summit there gives Moon a bit of a home-field advantage, but the South Korean president seems intent on making sure Kim feels at ease, and has sequestered most of the media far away.

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WHO WANTS WHAT?

Here’s where it gets complicated.

North Korea may want to use its new nuclear muscle, and the legitimacy it believes a Trump meeting will bestow, to win a peace treaty that ends the Korean War and eventually drives U.S. forces off the Korean Peninsula. It presumably hopes that will pave the way, in time, for a unified Korea that’s led by the North and is beholden to neither the United States nor China.

That’s one strain of thinking for the North’s long-term dream, anyway; under current circumstances it’s not likely that Washington would leave, given the bloodshed that occurred the last time North Korea thought there was a vacuum of power on the peninsula in 1950 and invaded the South.

In the short term, the skeptical argument goes that if the North can dangle disarmament in a series of meetings that follows these two summits, it could win more time — and an easing of crippling sanctions — to push forward in perfecting its weapons, while also collecting aid and concessions for nuclear promises that will never be met.

Seoul, on the other hand, wants to control the process, especially after the last year, when Trump repeatedly threatened a war that would overwhelmingly kill Koreans.

“We are preparing to take the leading role in a great transition in world history — a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, the establishment of a permanent peace and the sustainable development of relations between the South and North,” Moon said recently.

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COULD THEY GET A REAL DEAL?

It is very unlikely that Kim is ready to give up his nuclear weapons — the benchmark for any real breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula. Kim, after all, is portraying his nation as finally being able, after years of suffering, to meet the United States as a nuclear equal.

But there are other measurements of success, and proponents of engagement say you’ll never know what’s possible until you sit down and talk.

Already the Koreas have set up a leaders’ hotline, a big deal for countries that still spend a lot of time either not talking, aside from war threats, or communicating by fax.

One possible “get” could be if North Korea offers to freeze its weapons as a first step toward denuclearization, according to Robert Manning, a former State Department official, and James Przystup, with the National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies. But, they wrote, Seoul and Washington must make clear that any freeze needs to come with unfettered U.N. inspections and visible dismantling of the North’s nuclear infrastructure.

South Korea acknowledged Thursday that the most difficult part of the summit will be negotiating North Korea’s level of denuclearization commitment.

Ralph Cossa, a Koreas expert and president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank, is skeptical of any real breakthrough. The talks with Seoul are merely “a vehicle for pressuring Washington to talk,” he said in an email. “From North Korea’s perspective, the U.S. meeting is the real prize. Just holding the meeting enhances Kim Jong Un’s legitimacy.”

Even if no grand deal emerges, simply getting Kim in front of the world’s cameras on South Korean-controlled territory could prove valuable.

The recent visit by South Korea’s envoys to Pyongyang that set up the Trump meeting “has already told us more about Kim than we have learned over the past six years,” Siegfried Hecker, the former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and a frequent visitor to North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists webpage.

And, he said, “it moved us at least one step away from the nuclear brink.”

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— North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon-Jae-in will plant a commemorative tree and inspect an honor guard together after Kim walks across the border Friday for their historic summit, Seoul officials said Thursday.

The talks on the southern side of the border village of Panmunjom are expected to focus on North Korea’s nuclear program, but there will be plenty of symbolism when Kim becomes the first North Korean leader to be in the southern section of the border since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Moon will receive Kim after he crosses the concrete slabs that form the rivals’ military demarcation line Friday morning. They will then walk together for about 10 minutes to a plaza where they’ll inspect a South Korean honor guard, Moon’s chief of staff Im Jong-seok told reporters.

After signing the guestbook and taking a photo together at Peace House, the venue for Friday’s summit, the two leaders will start formal talks at 10:30 a.m. (0130 GMT). They will later plant a pine tree on the border using a mixture of soil from both counties’ mountains and water from their respective rivers. The tree, which is beloved by both Koreas, dates to 1953, the year the war ended, Im said.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon-Jae-in will plant a commemorative tree and inspect an honor guard together after Kim walks across the border Friday for their historic summit, South Korean officials say. (April 26)

Engraved on the stone plaque for the tree will be the phrase, “Peace and Prosperity Are Planted,” as well as the signatures of the leaders. After the tree-planting, the two plan to stroll together to a footbridge where a signpost for the military demarcation line stands, Im said.

The leaders will meet again in the afternoon and later attend a banquet, Im said.

Im said Kim is to be accompanied by nine top North Korean officials, including his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong. Im said South Korea hopes Kim’s wife, Ri Sol Ju, will attend parts of Friday’s summit, but Ri’s attendance hasn’t been agreed to yet.

It’s also not clear how the leaders will announce the results of the summit. The most difficult part, Im said, centers on North Korea’s level of denuclearization commitment.

Friday’s summit and Kim’s planned meeting with President Donald Trump in May or early June were arranged after Kim recently expressed a wiliness to put his nuclear program up for negotiation after a year of nuclear and missile tests.

Senate committee poised for vote on bill to protect Mueller

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Judiciary Committee is poised to vote Thursday on a bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job — legislation that has split Republicans as President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized Mueller’s Russia investigation.

Two Republicans and two Democrats introduced the bill earlier this month as Trump ramped up criticism of the special counsel. Mueller is investigating potential ties between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign as well as possible obstruction of justice by the president.

The measure under consideration would give any special counsel a 10-day window to seek expedited judicial review of a firing and would put into law existing Justice Department regulations that a special counsel must be fired for good cause. A handful of Republicans have supported it, but most have opposed it, arguing that it is unconstitutional or unnecessary. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has argued that Trump won’t move to fire Mueller and has insisted he will not hold a full Senate vote on the legislation.

Republicans who support the bill could be at risk of angering Trump and some of his supporters they represent. But the four lawmakers who wrote the legislation — GOP Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Cory Booker of New Jersey — are hoping to win enough bipartisan support to move it out of committee. Then, they say, they could try and find enough support in the full Senate to persuade McConnell to change his mind.

With most Democrats on board, the bipartisan group has been working in recent days to gather additional Republican votes. They have been negotiating with Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who had floated an amendment that included increased reporting to Congress by the special counsel.

Democrats had initially opposed Grassley’s amendment, saying it could undermine the investigation if the special counsel had to reveal too much to Congress during the investigation. But a revised Grassley amendment released Wednesday evening appeared to be a potential compromise, dropping a section that would have required the special counsel’s office to report to Congress if the scope of the investigation changed while it was ongoing. The revised amendment would require that notification after the investigation was done, along with a report detailing the investigation’s findings and explanations of any charges.

The Grassley amendment would also require notification if a special counsel were removed.

Republicans opposing the bipartisan bill are expected to vote for an alternative resolution that would express a nonbinding “sense of the Senate” that Mueller should be left alone to do his job.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate and a member of the Judiciary panel, endorsed that idea Wednesday, saying it had a more realistic chance of passing than the bipartisan bill. He is expected to propose the resolution at Thursday’s vote.

The resolution “may be a way forward because it avoids the unconstitutionality issue on a bill that the president won’t sign and the House won’t pass,” Cornyn said. “So that may be a place for us to land.”

Trump’s legislative director, Marc Short, said in a broadcast interview Sunday that “as far as I know, the president has no intention of firing” either Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller’s investigation. Short said he couldn’t rule it out in the long term, though, because it’s not known “how far off this investigation is going to veer.”

The bipartisan group of four senators introduced two separate bills last August when Trump first started to criticize Mueller publicly. That legislation stalled for months, but was revived and the two bills were combined two weeks ago as Trump fumed about a raid of his personal lawyer’s office, in an investigation overseen by federal prosecutors in New York.

After the raid, Trump said the Mueller investigation is “an attack on our country” and is “corrupt.”

VA nominee accused of drunken behavior, reckless prescribing

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WASHINGTON (AP) — White House doctor Ronny Jackson withdrew from consideration as Veterans Affairs secretary on Thursday, saying “false allegations” against him have become a distraction.

In a statement the White House issued from Jackson, he said he “did not expect to have to dignify baseless and anonymous attacks on my character and integrity.”

Shortly after Jackson dropped out, President Donald Trump called into the Fox & Friends morning show to praise Jackson as an “incredible man” who “runs a fantastic operation.”

Trump said Jackson had a “beautiful record” and that there was no proof of the allegations. Added Trump, “I think Jon Tester has a big price to pay.” The president declined to say who he may nominate next.

Jackson faced a series of accusations about his workplace conduct. The latest blow to his nomination to lead the government’s second-largest Cabinet agency came Wednesday with a set of accusations compiled by Democratic staff on the committee considering his nomination.

Based on conversations with 23 of Jackson’s current and former colleagues at the White House Medical Unit, the summary said Jackson exhibited a pattern of recklessly prescribing drugs and drunken behavior, including crashing a government vehicle while intoxicated and doling out such a large supply of a prescription opioid that staffers panicked because they thought the drugs were missing.

In just a matter of days, the allegations transformed Jackson’s reputation as a celebrated doctor attending the president to an embattled nominee accused of drinking on the job and over-prescribing drugs. He was seen pacing back and forth on the White House grounds Wednesday.

Jackson huddled late Wednesday evening with top White House press staff. They declined to comment on the situation.

A former colleague who spoke to The Associated Press described Jackson as a gregarious, Type A charmer who knew how to position himself for success — attentive to bosses but also causing unnecessary grief and consternation among colleagues.

He said Jackson became known as “Candyman” because of the way he handed out drugs. The ex-colleague spoke on condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation.

The “Candyman” nickname was also cited in the summary released by the Democrats.

In a section on Jackson’s prescribing practices, the summary said that in one case, missing Percocet tabs threw members of the White House Medical Unit into a panic — but it turned out he had prescribed a “large supply” of the opioid to a White House Military Office staffer.

The allegations also referred to multiple incidents of Jackson’s intoxication while on duty, often on overseas trips. On at least one occasion he was nowhere to be found when his medical help was needed because “he was passed out drunk in his hotel room,” according to the summary.

At a Secret Service going-away party, the summary says, Jackson got drunk and wrecked a government vehicle.

Jackson has denied allegations of bad behavior.

“I never wrecked a car,” he said. “I have no idea where that is coming from.”

Reports of overprescribing and alcohol-related behavior problems can jeopardize a doctor’s license. Many state medical boards allow doctors to keep their licenses and return to practice if they complete special treatment programs and submit to random urine screens.

The allegations were publicly released on the day that Jackson’s confirmation hearing was to have been held. The hearing was postponed indefinitely while the allegations against him are reviewed.

“He treated the people above him very, very well. He treated the people below him very, very poorly,” Sen. Jon Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, told the AP. “It’s not surprising the people above him think he was doing a really, really good job.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that Jackson had passed “at least four independent background checks” that found “no areas of concern.”

“He has received more vetting than most nominees,” she said.

Marc Short, the White House legislative director, could not say he was confident the allegations were false. He was “not familiar” with car wreck episode.

But Short also suggested Tester was airing the allegations for political gain.

“It’s quite unusual for a United States senator to take allegations that have not been fully investigated, but to flaunt them to the national public to suggest he’s the ‘candyman’ I think is outrageous,” Short said.

Tester, speaking on MSNBC, acknowledged that not all the allegations had been verified.

“Am I 100% rock solid sure that he did this? No,” Tester said. “But I’ve seen a pattern here that continues on and on and on.”

Veterans groups are dismayed over the continuing uncertainty at the VA, already beset by infighting over improvements to veterans care.

“The American Legion is very concerned about the current lack of permanent leadership,” said Denise Rohan, national commander of The American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans organization.

A watchdog report requested in 2012 and reviewed by the AP found that Jackson and a rival physician exhibited “unprofessional behaviors” as they engaged in a power struggle over the White House medical unit.

That report by the Navy’s Medical Inspector General found a lack of trust in the leadership and low morale among staff members, who described the working environment as “being caught between parents going through a bitter divorce.”

It included no references to improper prescribing of drugs or the use of alcohol, as alleged in the summary compiled by the Senate Democratic staff members.

The White House has released handwritten reports from Trump and former President Barack Obama praising Jackson’s leadership and medical care and recommending him for promotion.

Trump’s first VA secretary, David Shulkin, was dismissed after an ethics scandal and mounting rebellion within the agency. But Jackson has faced numerous questions from lawmakers and veterans groups about whether he has the experience to manage the department of 360,000 employees serving 9 million veterans.

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville, Lisa Mascaro, Catherine Lucey, Matthew Daly and Jill Colvin in Washington and AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Thousands of teachers in Arizona, Colorado to protest

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PHOENIX (AP) — A wave of red-clad teachers will crash upon the Arizona state Capitol on Thursday for an unprecedented job action that will close schools for a majority of the state’s public school students, part of an educator uprising that’s also bubbled up in Colorado.

Around 30,000 to 50,000 teachers and their supporters are expected to march through Phoenix to rally at the Arizona state Capitol to demand a 20 percent raise for teachers, about $1 billion to return school funding to pre-Great Recession levels and increased pay for support staff, among other things.

In Colorado, more than 10,000 teachers are expected to demonstrate in Denver as part of a burgeoning teacher uprising. About half of the student population will have shuttered schools as a result, with teachers using personal leave time to take off.

The walkouts are the climax of an uprising that began weeks ago with the grass-roots #RedforEd movement that spread from West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

Colorado lawmakers from both parties have agreed to give schools their largest budget increase since the Great Recession. But teachers say that the state has a long way to go to make up for ground lost during the recession and before that due to the state’s strict tax and spending limits.

Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas said that tomorrow’s march to the Capitol is necessary after attempts at outreach have been ignored. There’s no end date for the walkout and he said educators may have to consider a ballot initiative for education funding if lawmakers do not come up with a plan on their own.

“How it ends is up to the governor and up to those legislative leaders,” Thomas said. “If they’re courageous, if they have the political capital to come down and speak with us, we all get a win.”

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey has laid out a plan for a 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020, but organizers of the so-called #RedforEd movement say his plan relies on rosy revenue projections and doesn’t address the other issues.

Districts around the state have said they will close as a result of the walkout. More than 840,000 Arizona students are expected to be out of school on Thursday, according to an analysis from the Arizona Republic that tallied up at least 100 school districts and charter schools are closing. The state Department of Education said the state has more than 200 districts and more than 1.1 million school children.

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AP writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Felicia Fonesca in Flagstaff, Arizona, contributed to this report.

EPA chief faces Capitol Hill grilling over ethical missteps

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt faces potentially make-or-break hearings Thursday on Capitol Hill, where he is expected to be peppered with questions about spending and ethics scandals that have triggered bipartisan calls for his ouster.

Pruitt was scheduled to testify about his agency’s budget in back-to-back hearings before two House subcommittees.

The public grilling comes amid notable erosion in support for Pruitt among fellow Republicans after a nearly monthlong hammering of negative headlines about outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease.

President Donald Trump has continued to stand by his EPA chief, but behind closed doors, White House officials concede Pruitt’s job is in serious jeopardy. In the last week, a growing list of Republican lawmakers has joined the chorus of Democrats calling for new investigations into Pruitt’s actions.

Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said Pruitt’s behavior has begun to hurt Trump’s credibility, as well as the Republican Party generally.

“I don’t mean to be too harsh, but you can’t just go around acting like a big shot, and you can’t go around seeing how close you can come to the line, and you can’t go around disrespecting taxpayer dollars,” Kennedy said Tuesday. “It shouldn’t be tolerated. That’s part of the swamp that we’re trying to clean up.”

Pruitt has faced a steady trickle of revelations involving pricey trips in first-class seats and unusual security spending, including a $43,000 soundproof booth for making private phone calls. He also demanded 24-hour-a-day protection from armed officers, resulting in a swollen, 20-member security detail that blew through overtime budgets and racked up expenses approaching $3 million.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said officials were “evaluating these concerns and we expect the EPA administrator to answer for them.”

Pruitt’s prepared testimony for the House environment subcommittee made no reference to ethics issues. Released ahead of the hearing, Pruitt promoted his prior accomplishments and remarked on his priorities for the coming budget year.

EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox said congressional hearings were an opportunity to describe the agency’s accomplishments, which he said included efforts to repeal the Obama administration’s clean power plan, eliminating lead and reducing staffing levels at EPA.

Pruitt in the past has often sought to deflect questions about any missteps by blaming his subordinates.

Asked about his frequent use of premium-class airfare in February media interviews, Pruitt said, “I’m not involved in any of those decisions.” The administrator said his security chief made the decision for him to fly in first class after an unpleasant interaction with another traveler raised safety concerns.

Pruitt’s troubles began in earnest last month, when ABC News first reported he had leased a Capitol Hill condo last year for just $50 a night that was co-owned by the wife of a veteran fossil fuels lobbyist whose firm had sought regulatory rollbacks from EPA.

Both Pruitt and the lobbyist, Steven Hart, denied he had conducted any recent business with EPA. But Hart was forced to admit last week he had met with Pruitt at EPA headquarters last summer after his firm, Williams & Jensen, revealed he had lobbied the agency on a required federal disclosure form.

EPA’s press office has declined to discuss the meeting.

Thursday’s hearings will be Pruitt’s first major appearance since a Fox News interview in early April that was widely considered to be disastrous within the West Wing.

Pressed on reports of significant raises awarded to two close aides he had brought with him to EPA from Oklahoma, Pruitt denied having any role in the decision. Documents later showed Pruitt’s chief of staff signed off on the pay increases, indicating he had the administrator’s consent.

A lawyer and former Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt is known to meticulously prepare for congressional hearings, with his office schedule showing he often blocks off hours huddled with top political aides.

An administration official confirmed that Pruitt declined an offer of White House assistance in preparing for the latest congressional hearings. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal conversations.

Environmental groups opposed to Pruitt’s efforts to gut anti-pollution regulations have attempted to ramp up the pressure this week, paying for TV ads attacking Pruitt to be aired during the “Fox & Friends” morning show on Fox News. Trump is known to be a devoted viewer.

A union representing EPA employees also rallied Wednesday outside the agency’s headquarters in Washington to denounce Pruitt’s leadership.

Republican Sens. John Barrasso of Wyoming and John Thune of South Dakota said Pruitt faces “serious questions” about his use of taxpayer money.

“I want to make sure taxpayers are getting value for their dollars, make sure money is being spent appropriately. So there continue to be serious questions,” said Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “We’ll see what comes out of the hearings.”

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

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Follow Associated Press environmental reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck

Gaza’s Hamas embraces ‘non-violence’ _ opportunism or shift?

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — In a sit-in tent camp near the Gaza border with Israel, a lecturer answered questions from activists grappling with the concept of non-violent protest.

They asked what’s allowed, listing different actions. Throwing stones and holding rallies is permitted, he said. Throwing firebombs is a “maybe” and using knives a definite “no.”

Such workshops — held amid weekly mass marches on the border for the past month — are the latest sign of the Hamas militant group’s search for new tactics for breaking the debilitating blockade of Gaza. Israel and Egypt closed the borders after Hamas overran Gaza in 2007, and Israel blockades the sea and controls the skies, making it increasingly difficult for the group to govern.

The border protests were the idea of grassroots activists several months ago, and the project, envisioned as non-violent, was quickly embraced by Hamas. The militant group has led the organization and been careful to contain the protests by keeping its armed men far away and out of sight.

Hamas has been supportive, said workshop lecturer Issam Hammad, a self-described independent who runs a medical supplies company. “They encourage young people to take part.”

Any degree of non-violence would be a striking departure for Hamas, which over the years has attacked Israelis with suicide bombings, shootings and rockets. For more than a decade the group has tightly controlled Gaza, quashing dissent.

The large-scale protests are the only card the group has left, three high-ranking Hamas officials told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal strategy.

They said Hamas rules out other options — either disarming or fighting another cross-border war with Israel. The last one, in 2014, devastated Gaza, a coastal territory with 2 million people squeezed into 140 square miles (365 square kilometers).

Bassem Naim, another senior Hamas official, believes the new method has refocused world attention on Gaza’s misery. The territory suffers from grueling power cuts and a two-thirds unemployment rate among young men.

“The momentum of the marches is going strong and will continue,” he said. “People can no longer endure the siege and will not stop until the siege is stopped.”

Each Friday, thousands of people have gathered in five tent camps near the border, while smaller groups throw stones and burn tires closer to the border fence.

Since protests began in late March, 35 Palestinians were killed and more than 1,500 wounded by Israeli soldiers firing across the border. Rights groups say open-fire regulations are unlawful because they permit troops to use potentially lethal force against unarmed protesters.

Israel says it’s defending its sovereign border, including nearby communities, and that troops only target instigators. It accuses Hamas of using the protests as a cover for damaging the fence and preparing to infiltrate and carry out attacks. There is considerable fear among Israelis of a mass breach in which Gazans stream across, militants mixed in, wreaking havoc.

Nonetheless, the European Union urged Israel to stop using deadly force against unarmed protesters, and a senior U.N. envoy to the region called Israel’s deadly shooting of a 14-year-old Gaza boy last week “outrageous.”

Hamas has kept the pressure on Israel by at least telegraphing an embrace of nonviolence. For example, top leader Ismail Haniyeh recently spoke against the backdrop of posters of icons such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.

The senior Hamas officials said the movement has learned from mistakes, such as confronting Israel’s powerful military with crude rocket fire. They said Hamas is offering Israel an open-ended truce in exchange for lifting the blockade.

Hamas says it wants to keep its weapons for defensive purposes — a claim undercut by the group’s tunnel program. Hamas had built tunnels from Gaza into Israel in recent years, for attacks, before Israel began destroying them.

But Israel and Hamas’ main Palestinian rival, West Bank-based President Mahmoud Abbas, are skeptical because of the group’s refusal to disarm.

Hamas “is changing its tactics, but it’s not changing its nature and strategies,” said Palestinian analyst Abdel Majed Sweilem.

Abbas has told Egyptian mediators that he will only return to Gaza if Hamas hands over all powers, including control over weapons. Hamas drove out Abbas’ forces a year after it won 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

Organizers say that in addition to compelling an end to the blockade, the marches are meant to press for the “right of return” of refugees and their descendants to what is now Israel.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were driven from their homes in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation, and march organizers see May 15, the anniversary of Israel’s founding, as a key target day.

Some Hamas leaders have called for a mass border breach, while others are vague. Haniyeh told protesters that “we will return to Palestine,” without giving specifics.

Either way, Hamas faces a tough decision ahead of May 15.

If it stops short of a mass breach, momentum may falter.

Israel has warned that a mass breach could lead to many casualties. If huge crowds break through the fence, Israel could have a stronger case for using lethal force.

Hamas leaders would face renewed accusations of cynically exploiting Gaza civilians — especially if senior leaders stay back while desperate young men rush into danger. A high casualty toll also risks triggering another war.

Hammad, who began holding non-violence workshops a week ago, offers a definition of non-violence disputed by Israel, whose military considers stone-throwing and burning tires “acts of terrorism.”

But it’s new to Gaza, where young people grew up with Hamas’ fiery rhetoric and lived through three wars, including massive Israeli air strikes.

Participant Yousef al-Qishawi, 27, said he grew up thinking the use of force was the only language Israel understands, but has realized it only hurts Palestinians.

“Now, we are learning about more ways and peaceful methods that are more effective,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Karin Laub in Ramallah, West Bank, contributed.

Business: World stocks mixed as investors mull earnings, await ECB

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HONG KONG (AP) — World share benchmarks were mixed on Thursday as investors digested the latest quarterly corporate earnings and awaited the outcome of a European Central Bank meeting.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares were uneven in early trading. France’s CAC 40 rose 0.4 percent to 5,433.59 but Germany’s DAX was flat at 12,422.73. Britain’s FTSE 100 edged less than 0.1 percent lower to 7,376.87. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures dipped 0.1 percent to 24,052.00 and broader S&P 500 futures crept less than 0.1 percent lower to 2,643.60.

EARNINGS: South Korea’s Samsung Electronics reported its net income grew 52 percent in the first quarter on robust demand for its memory chips. Automaker Hyundai’s quarterly profit fell to an eight-year low on slowing sales while German’s Volkswagen said profit slipped because of accounting changes. Energy company Royal Dutch Shell’s profits rose by two-thirds on higher crude prices. Deutsche Bank eked out a profit after a big loss in the previous period. Earlier, U.S. companies reported strong numbers, with aerospace company Boeing and railroad operator Norfolk Southern both topping Wall Street’s estimates.

UPCOMING: Investors are hunkering down ahead of a few other events with market-moving potential, starting with a European Central Bank policy decision later Thursday. No changes to interest rates are expected but markets will be watching for any hints from ECB Chief Mario Draghi on the outlook for the eurozone economy and future rate policy. On Friday there’s a historic meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea as well as U.S. quarterly GDP data.

YIELDS: Rising interest rates for U.S. Treasurys remained on investors’ minds, with the yield on the 10-year note hovering at a four-year high as it climbed to 3.03 percent from 3 percent. There were worries that markets would be rattled when the yield crossed the 3 percent threshold because it might cause the Federal Reserve to alter its outlook for interest rates but they now appear to be unfounded. Higher rates, which are rising on expectations of stronger U.S. economic growth and inflation, are also helping shore up the dollar.

ASIAN SCORECARD: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index climbed 0.5 percent to 22,319.61 and South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.1 percent to 2,475.64 after Samsung reported better than expected earnings. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.1 percent to 30,007.68 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China lost 1.4 percent to 3,075.03. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.2 percent to 5,910.80. Markets in Southeast Asia were lower.

CHINA TENSIONS: A report that U.S. authorities are investigating whether Chinese tech giant Huawei violated sanctions on Iran weighed on Chinese markets and tech shares. It also threatens to rekindle trade tensions between the two countries ahead of a visit to Beijing by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to discuss trade and economic issues. Asked about the report by the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Ministry spokewoman Hua Chuying said China opposes countries imposing unilateral sanctions and urged the U.S. to avoid taking actions that could harm “normal, open, transparent and win-win international trade.”

QUOTEWORTHY: “The market has sort of oversold their equity hand, I think the 3 percent got overplayed,” said Stephen Innes, head of Asian trading at OANDA. On the U.S.-China trade meeting, he added, “With the U.S. making that olive branch offering and making the step to go over there, I think it would be highly unlikely if they didn’t come back with some sort of outcome.”

ENERGY: Oil futures extended gains. Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 15 cents to $68.20 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 35 cents to settle at $68.05 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 34 cents to $74.34 a barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 109.36 yen from 109.43 yen. The euro rose to $1.2176 from $1.2162.

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  • US 10-year Treasury yields retreat but hold above 3 percent
  • Dollar resumes upside breakout of a potential bottom
  • Earnings beats from Facebook and Samsung ease tech sector worries
  • European automakers pop as China mulls lowering import tariffs
  • Chinese tech shares plunge on US probe

Key Events

US futures offered up a mixed picture this morning, with S&P 500 barely in the green after initially sliding, though the NASDAQ 100 and Dow looked a bit more robust. Stocks in Europe bounced back from a lower open with enough gusto to turn losses into gains. Shares of auto manufacturers popped, driving the STOXX Europe 600 into positive territory, after China announced it was considering a proposal to cut import duties on passenger cars.

Earlier, during the Asian session, most local indices pared declines, with both South Korea’s KOSPI and Japan’s TOPIX pushed higher by technology stocks. The South Korean index jumped 1.1 percent on optimism that the upcoming summit between the US and North Korea may yield economic benefits to the southern portion of the peninsula too. Japanese equities gained 0.25 percent, hitting a two-month high.

Chinese shares bucked the trend. They struggled to join the upbeat tech ride after a US probe into Huawei Technology (SZ:002502) exacerbated investor fears of an escalating trade war. The Shanghai Composite and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng closed 1.35 percent and 0.9 percent lower respectively.

Global Financial Affairs

S&P 500 Daily Chart

S&P 500 Daily Chart

Yesterday, the S&P 500 bounced back from an early loss, climbing 0.18 percent. Energy shares outperformed with a 0.8 percent leap. However, the biggest story was posted by Technology shares, which manage to rebound—albeit by a paltry 0.2 percent—from a slide that had pulled the broader market down. Technically, the SPX price formed a bullish hammer, right on top of the uptrend line since the February 2016 bottom, after bouncing off the 200 DMA.

FB Daily Chart

FB Daily Chart

As had been predicted, Facebook’s (NASDAQ:FB) user privacy scandal didn’t stop the social media heavyweight from crushing earnings estimates. The tech giant reported a 62.5 percent YoY growth, with a $1.69 EPS against $1.35 forecast.

While it may be understandable that advertisers can’t afford to drop the world’s largest social media platform, what surprised is that even after the user privacy scandal Facebook is still trying to rectify, user growth met expectations; 70 million users were added in the first quarter, despite the data breech. It may be true that there’ss no such thing as bad publicity. Facebook also announced another stock buyback, to the tune of $9 billion.

Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) also posted record earnings on Wednesday, for a fourth straight quarter; net income rose to $10.7 billion. However, the company warned of softer phone demand, adding fuel to fears that chipmakers may have peaked.

10-Year Chart

10-Year Chart

 

After closing above 3 percent for the first time in four years yesterday, yields on US 10-year Treasurys retreated, though they held above that key level. Meanwhile, the dollar trimmed an earlier decline and advanced.

DXY Daily Chart

DXY Daily Chart

In the short term, the general perception of rising interest rates and softer European growth is boosting the greenback. However, if one looks at the bigger picture, the global de-dollarization of central bank reserves threatens to severely squeeze demand for the US currency.

At present, the euro is the preferred reserve currency for central banks, as an alternative to the USD. As well, the yuan may also become a strong contestant if China’s efforts in that direction, including the recent launch of yuan-denominated oil contracts, succeed.

The euro extended a decline ahead of the European Central Bank rate decision, as German 10-year bund yields tumbled more than 3 percent—far more than the 0.25 percent decline seen in their US counterparts.

WTI crude pushed further above $68 a barrel after French President Emmanuel Macron said he believes US President Donald Trump will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, casting a cloud over Middle East geopolitics.

Up Ahead

  • US GDP data is due Friday.
  • Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) releases its corporate results after the close today, for the quarter ending March, with a $1.22 EPS forecast, versus $1.48 for the same quarter last year.
  • After today’s ECB rate decision, investors will watching for any sign during Mario Draghi’s press conference that officials are preparing a shift in stimulus plans.
  • The Bank of Japan announces its latest policy decision on Friday and releases updated economic projections.
  • The leaders of North and South Korea meet on Friday.

Market Moves

Stocks

  • The STOXX Europe 600 jumped 0.2 percent.
  • Futures on the S&P 500 climbed less than 0.05 percent.
  • The MSCI All-Country World Index gained less than 0.05 percent, the first advance in more than a week.
  • The UK’s FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent.
  • Germany’s DAX dropped 0.3 percent, the largest climb in more than a week.
  • The MSCI Emerging Market Index jumped 0.1 percent, the first advance in a week.
  • The MSCI Asia Pacific Index slid less than 0.05 percent to the lowest level in almost three weeks.

Currencies

  • The Dollar Index climbed less than 0.05 percent to the highest since January 15, extending its upside breakout of a bullish ascending triangle, which may turn into a bottom.
  • The euro gained less than 0.05 percent to $1.2167.
  • The British pound dipped less than 0.05 percent to $1.3927, the weakest in more than six weeks.
  • The Japanese yen advanced 0.1 percent to 109.31 per dollar, the first advance in more than a week.

Bonds

  • The yield on 10-year Treasuries decreased two basis points to 3.01 percent, the first retreat in more than a week and the biggest tumble in more than two weeks.
  • Germany’s 10-year yield declined two basis points to 0.62 percent, the largest decrease in more than a week.
  • Britain’s 10-year yield decreased one basis point to 1.525 percent.

Commodities

  • WTI crude increased 0.1 percent to $68.14 a barrel.
  • Copper declined 0.4 percent to $3.15 a pound.
  • Gold increased 0.1 percent to $1,324.99 an ounce.

Analysis: Russia, China Pledge New Military Ties, Challenge U.S.

(PhatzNewsRoom / Newsweek)   —   Russia and China have pledged to strengthen their bilateral military and political ties as part of a strategic cooperation that challenges U.S. interests, especially to Washington’s stance on Middle East allies Syria and Iran.

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu met Tuesday with Air Force General Xu Qiliang, deputy vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, and other regional military officials as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the eastern city of Qingdao. As increasingly powerful Russia and China built up their clout on the world stage, they sought a more united front against the U.S., which frequently challenged their rise.

“Time changes everything,” Shoigu said, according to the Russian Defense Ministry. “But, fortunately, it does not change our relations both personally between us and between our states, and the very close, friendly relations of the heads of our states serve as a guarantee of this.”

Shoigu praised “the privileged character of intergovernmental ties” evidenced by numerous meetings between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, both of whom secured enough national support to extend their terms last month. He said the two nations were continuing “their strategic course towards further boosting friendly and trustworthy ties in the defense sphere,” calling this relationship “an important factor for maintaining global and regional security.”

“In contemporary global politics, our countries are in similar positions,” he told Xu.

Shoigu also praised China’s position on Syria, where Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continued to battle the remnants of an uprising by rebel and jihadi groups. The 2011 rebellion was supported and sponsored by the West, Turkey and Gulf Arab states, but was deeply opposed by Assad allies Russia and Iran. When the West sought to condemn the Syrian government’s crackdown at the United Nations Security Council in the early years of the conflict, China joined Russia in vetoing resolutions targeting Assad.

As fundamentalist organizations such as the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) began to dominate the fight, the focus switched to defeating the jihadi forces and both the U.S. and Russia staged military interventions. ISIS has since lost at least 90 percent of its territory in both Iraq and Syria and the rivalry between the U.S. and Russia has again risen to the forefront of the issue.

The U.S. and its allies have accused Assad of using chemical weapons in rebel-held territory, and President Donald Trump has twice ordered missile strikes against Syrian government facilities. The U.K. and France joined in the latest and most intense round earlier this month, despite warnings not only from Russia and Iran, but China as well, all of whom doubt Assad’s role in alleged toxic gas attacks. China has also joined Russia, Iran and other countries in investing in the war-torn country’s reconstruction.

“I am grateful to you for the support you have provided to us at the United Nations Security Council meeting dedicated to the missile attack on Syria. It undoubtedly was a violation of all the international and humanitarian rules,” Shoigu added, describing the attack as “Western-style” in the way it occurred before an international inquiry could be conducted.

“I would also like to thank our friend China for supporting us on the Syria issue and condemning the irresponsible behavior of some Western countries that, under a false pretext, attacked a sovereign state,” he added.

In his own remarks to toward the Russian general, “Xu said the Sino-Russian relationship has reached new heights, thanks to a strong push by leaders from both countries. Sino-Russia bilateral relations are now at an all-time high, characterized by deepening strategic mutual trust and expanding cooperation,” the official Chinese Military Online reported. Xu also reportedly recognized “new security challenges and issues are emerging due to growing uncertainties around the world.”

As a result, “China is willing to deepen mutual support with Russia, increase comprehensive cooperation and enhance bilateral relations, especially in military relations, he said,” according to the state-run defense website. “China and Russia also will jointly protect the security interests of both countries and maintain regional strategic balance.”

To illustrate this point, Xi met with Shoigu as well as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The Chinese leader said Monday that “a high level of Sino-Russian relations is a precious asset of both countries,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and stressed deepening this cooperation, as well as ties to all eight nations of the SCO.

The group was first established in 2001 and now includes China, India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. When asked if the alliance was attempting to forge a direct challenge to the West, Lavrov told reporters Tuesday that they “do not contain anyone; our role is to uphold the principles of international law in the political, military-political and economic areas,” according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

He did emphasize that SCO countries “also maintain military cooperation” and prioritized global security, including the fight against ISIS and other designated terrorist groups. Lavrov complained that “several countries openly adopted a policy of Syria’s disintegration” and accused the U.S. going beyond its stated mission of fighting ISIS by maintaining a military presence and “creating local governments” in an attempt to challenge Assad.

After meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi the previous day, Lavrov said Russia and China would also work together to prevent the U.S. from disrupting the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which was a multinational nuclear deal between the U.S. and Iran. Trump has said the deal was too lenient on Iran, which received sanctions relief in exchange for promising to cut nuclear production, but the deal’s other signatories—China, Russia, France, Germany and the U.K.—have fought to keep it alive.

The U.S. military has maintained a sizeable lead over its top two competitors, Russia and China, respectively. The two Eastern powers, however, have moved to expand and modernize their own military forces in an effort to close the gap. Despite Trump and Putin’s efforts to reconcile their nations, both leaders have noted an all-time low in relations. When asked by the state-run Tass Russian News Agency, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan said Washington still valued a relationship with Moscow, but saw it mainly as a competitor.

“Russia continues to be a strategic competitor. And its efforts undermine the West,” he said during a Defense Writers Group on Tuesday, according to Tass. “Relationships are important. We all understand their value, he added. [But] we are in a strategic competition, and I’ll just leave it at that.”

Trump travel ban is focus of Supreme Court’s last arguments

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is saving one of its biggest cases for last. The justices are hearing arguments Wednesday over President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim countries.

It’s the last case the justices will hear until October.

The Trump administration is asking the court to reverse lower court rulings striking down the ban. The policy has been fully in effect since December, but this is the first time the justices are considering whether it violates immigration law or the Constitution.

The court will consider whether the president can indefinitely keep people out of the country based on nationality. It will also look at whether the policy is aimed at excluding Muslims from the United States.

People have been waiting in line for a seat for days. In another sign of heightened public interest, the court is taking the rare step of making an audio recording of the proceedings available just hours after the arguments end. The last time was the gay marriage arguments in 2015.

The travel ban is the first Trump policy to undergo a full-blown Supreme Court review. The justices are looking at the third version of a policy that Trump first rolled out a week after taking office, triggering chaos and protests across the U.S. as travelers were stopped from boarding international flights and detained at airports for hours. The first version was blocked by courts and withdrawn. Its replacement was allowed to take partial effect, but expired in September.

The current version is indefinite and now applies to travelers from five countries with overwhelmingly Muslim populations — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. It also affects two non-Muslim countries: blocking travelers from North Korea and some Venezuelan government officials and their families. A sixth majority Muslim country, Chad, was removed from the list this month after improving “its identity-management and information sharing practices,” Trump said in a proclamation.

Trump’s campaign pledge to shut down Muslim entry into the U.S., his presidential tweets about the travel ban and last fall’s retweets of inflammatory videos that stoked anti-Islam sentiment all could feature in the justices’ questioning of Solicitor General Noel Francisco, defending the ban, and Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general under President Barack Obama. Katyal is representing the challengers.

The administration has argued that courts have no role to play because the president has broad powers over immigration and national security, and foreigners have no right to enter the country. Francisco also has said in written arguments that Trump’s September proclamation laying out the current policy comports with immigration law and does not violate the Constitution because it does not single out Muslims.

The challengers, backed by a diverse array of supporting legal briefs, have said that Trump is flouting immigration law by trying to keep more than 150 million people, the vast majority of them Muslim, from entering the country. They also argue that it amounts to the Muslim ban that Trump called for as a candidate, violating the Constitution’s prohibition against religious bias.

A decision in Trump v. Hawaii, 17-965, is expected by late June.

Waffle House suspect’s ex-bosses asked FBI to keep, help him

SALIDA, Colorado (AP) — The co-owner of a Colorado crane company where the suspect in a deadly weekend shooting at a Nashville restaurant once worked said she had urged federal officials to keep him in custody after he was arrested at the White House last year.

Travis Reinking, 29, is accused of opening fire Sunday outside a Waffle House with an AR-15 rifle and then storming the restaurant, wearing only a green jacket. Four people were killed and four others were wounded in the shooting.

But Reinking had exhibited erratic behavior for years before the shooting. Darlene Sustrich, who co-owns a Colorado crane company where Reinking once worked, said they got a call from the FBI after he allegedly tried to jump the White House fence last July.

“We told them, ‘Hang onto him if you can. Help him if you can,’” Sustrich said.

Federal officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reinking has been charged with four counts of criminal homicide. And a tweet from the Metro Nashville Police Department said he also faces four counts of attempted murder and one count of unlawful possession in the commission of a violent felony.

A Tennessee Sheriff says the suspect in the slayings of four people at a Nashville Waffle House will remain under close observation at a maximum-security facility near Nashville. Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said 29-year-old Travis Reinking has been “compliant” and “cooperative” since he was transferred to the jail late Monday (April 24)

Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall said Tuesday that Reinking has been “compliant” and “cooperative” since he was transferred to the jail late Monday after he was captured near the apartment where he lived. Reinking is wearing a vest known informally as a “suicide smock” and will remain under close observation at a maximum-security facility in Nashville.

An attorney listed as Reinking’s lawyer did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Meanwhile, the man who snatched the rifle away from the gunman during the shooting told Tennessee lawmakers Tuesday he faced “the true test of a man,” drawing a standing ovation during his brief address. As the state House hailed him as a hero, James Shaw Jr. said he acted to save his own life early Sunday and saved others in the process.

“I never thought I’d be in a room with all the eyes on me, but you know, I’m very grateful to be here,” Shaw told House members. Shaw said he has gone to see some of the shooting victims in the hospital and they all remembered him. He apologized to the people whose loved ones died in the attack.

The state Senate also honored Shaw on Tuesday.

After the shooting, authorities say Reinking escaped on foot from the restaurant and shed his only item of clothing. By the time he was captured in the woods nearby, police had searched his apartment and found the key fob to a stolen BMW they had recovered in the parking lot days earlier. The BMW theft had not initially been tied to Reinking.

Police seized multiple items from his apartment including: a Remington rifle with a magazine, cartridges for different calibers of guns, two rifle scopes and gun cleaning equipment. Police also found three books on patents in the apartment, along with a sketchbook, two iPhones and a number of pieces of computer equipment, court records show.

Nashville Police Department Lt. Carlos Lara told reporters Reinking was arrested Monday after detectives were tipped to the suspect’s presence by some construction workers. He carried a black backpack with a silver semi-automatic weapon and .45-caliber ammunition.

The arrest ended a 24-hour manhunt involving more than 160 law enforcement officers, but it left troubling unanswered questions about official responses to months of bizarre behavior before the restaurant attack, including encounters with police in Illinois and Colorado and an arrest at the White House that raised red flags.

Sustrich, Reinking’s former boss, described him as appearing paranoid and delusional at times. A former co-worker told a Salida, Colorado, police detective Reinking was infatuated with singer Taylor Swift and claimed to be a sovereign citizen.

Last July, Reinking was arrested by the U.S. Secret Service after he entered a restricted area near the White House and refused to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Donald Trump. The suspect told Washington, D.C., police he was a sovereign citizen and had a right to inspect the grounds, according to an incident report.

Reinking was not armed at the time, but at the FBI’s request, Illinois police revoked his state firearms card. Four guns, including the AR-15 used in the shootings, were transferred to his father, a procedure allowed under Illinois law.

Tazewell County Sheriff Robert Huston said Jeffrey Reinking pledged he would “keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis.” Don Aaron, a Nashville Police spokesman, said Reinking’s father “has now acknowledged giving them back” to his son.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special Agent Marcus Watson said Monday that his father’s action is “potentially a violation of federal law.”

Phone calls to a number listed for the father went unanswered.

___

Burke and Mattise reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Other contributors include John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Ed White in Detroit; Michael Kunzelman in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Kathleen Foody in Denver, Colorado; and Justin Pritchard in Los Angeles.

Toronto van attack suspect may have felt anger against women

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TORONTO (AP) — A chilling Facebook message posted before a van plowed onto a crowded Toronto sidewalk has raised the possibility the suspect in the attack nursed grudges against women and it is bringing back memories of a 1989 massacre of 14 women that remains one of Canada’s most traumatic acts of violence.

A crowd gathered late Tuesday in Toronto’s North York community to pay their respects to the van victims at a makeshift memorial of roses, candles and messages of condolence.

“I needed to come here to show that I’m not afraid of this city,” said Meena Chowdry, wiping away tears. “That one man’s actions cannot taint an otherwise beautiful, welcoming city.”

Earlier in the day, the 25-year-old suspect, Alek Minassian, was charged with first degree murder in the deaths of 10 pedestrians mowed down by a rented van that he sent careening along a mile of a busy walkway. Fourteen others were injured.

Toronto Police Services Det. Sgt. Graham Gibson said at a news conference that those killed and injured were “predominantly” women, though he declined to discuss a possible motive.

“All the lanes are open with this investigation,” said Police Chief Mark Saunders.

A Toronto police official says the man accused of driving a rental van into a crowd of pedestrians in Toronto posted a “cryptic” Facebook message minutes before the attack. (April 24)

Authorities had yet to release a list of victims. Those known to have been killed include a 30-year-old woman from Toronto, Anne Marie D’Amico, who was active in volunteer work, as well as a female student at Seneca College, which Minassian attended. A Jordanian citizen and two South Koreans were also among those killed.

The gender issue arose because of what police called a “cryptic” Facebook message posted by Minassian just before the incident that suggested he was part of an online community angry over their inability to form relationships with women.

The now-deleted post saluted Elliot Rodger, a community college student who killed six people and wounded 13 in shooting and stabbing attacks near the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2014.

Calling Rodger “the Supreme Gentleman,” the Facebook post declared: “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys!”

Rodger had used the term “incel” — for involuntarily celibate — in online posts raging at women for rejecting him romantically. Like-minded people in internet forums sometimes use “Chad” and “Stacy” as dismissive slang for men and women with more robust sex lives.

The anti-women sentiment also recalled Canada’s 1989 massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique, an engineering college in Montreal, when 25-year-old Marc Lepine entered a classroom, separated the men from the women, told the men to leave and opened fire, killing 14 women before killing himself. In a suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life.

Since then, there have been sporadic mass shootings in Canada, but none with a higher death toll — reinforcing the view among many Canadians that their country is less violent than the United States.

Wendy Cukier, a professor in the business school at Toronto’s Ryerson University and president of Canada’s Coalition for Gun Control, said Canada may avoid some types of violence because its social programs are stronger than those in many U.S. states and there is less income inequality. But the main difference, she contends, is tighter gun regulations in Canada.

“If you take guns out of the mix, Canada and the U.S. are identical,” she said, citing statistics indicating the two countries have similar rates of non-firearm homicides.

Although police said Monday’s rampage did not appear linked to international terrorism, the use of a vehicle to kill mirrored tactics used by terrorists in France, Germany, Spain, New York City and elsewhere.

Since 2014, there have been at least two terror-related cases in Canada of vehicles being used as weapons — they caused several injuries and one death. But overall, Canada has been spared high-casualty terror attacks.

Its most striking incidents of violence over the past 50 years have varied widely in nature.

In 2014 a Canadian Muslim fatally shot a member of the honor guard at Ottawa’s national war memorial, then stormed Parliament, where he was shot to death by a sergeant-at arms. Last year, a French-Canadian man fatally shot six Muslim men during evening prayers at a mosque in Quebec City. Back in 1972, 37 people died in a Montreal cafe deliberately set on fire by three men who had been refused entry.

Canadian rapper Maestro Fresh Wes returned to the scene of the van rampage Tuesday, pausing by a newly erected memorial. Wes, who lives nearby, was strolling down Yonge Street to get a haircut when he saw a body bag on the ground.

“Yesterday was the most beautiful day of the year and then look what happened,” he said. “Toronto is a safe city but things could happen anywhere. When these things happen, you have to reflect.”

Also revisiting the site was Saman Tabasinejad, a New Democrat Party politician who was canvassing in the area when the attack occurred.

“I saw shattered glass everywhere, a fire hydrant knocked over and then five body bags,” she said. “People were holding others and I saw solidarity all over, people trying to help others.”

“When something like this happens, you think people are going to run away from the tragedy, but people didn’t — they ran toward it to try to help others,” she added. “It shows that something like this could happen at the hands of one person, but so many more stand against it and show their humanity.”

___

Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha reported this story in Toronto and AP writer David Crary reported from New York. AP writer Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.

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